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The Astronaut Assault Hoax

Bart Sibrel, a man who claims that man never set foot on the moon, also claims that famous Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin punched him in the jaw on Tuesday in Beverly Hills.

There's a small cottage industry of people who, like people who still believe that the earth is flat, or alternatively, that it's round but hollow, live in an alternate reality--one in which NASA was not capable of sending men to our sister orb in the 1960s. Unfortunately, it's not small enough. While just a few percent believe this, according to most polling, that still constitutes millions of people deluding themselves about what many consider the greatest achievement of the 20th century, and perhaps in history to date.

Anyway, for most of them, it doesn't matter to their everyday lives, but for a few, like Mr. Sibrel, it becomes an obsession.

The arguments made for his position are seductive to the scientifically illiterate and innumerate, but they are equally fallacious. They usually hinge on lack of knowledge about the behavior of light, lenses and film, and a misunderstanding of orbital mechanics and the physics of particles in a vacuum. In addition, they are always entangled with conspiracy theories and suspicion about NASA's veracity, necessary to sustain the belief. I don't have time or page space to debunk them here, but they have been amply debunked.

Of course, the hardest part of the theory to buy is that NASA, an organization of thousands of people in a position to know, and its contractors, were all paid off, or threatened into never talking about how the lunar landings were staged. If NASA could actually pull that off, it would be a greater achievement than landing people on the moon. This would be one of the biggest stories of the century, but we're asked to believe that in a government that leaks to the press like a shotgunned sieve, not only is no one talking, but also that all of the astronauts are lying as well. None of them will break ranks.

Which brings us to Tuesday's reported incident.

Mr. Sibrel makes a living at promulgating this nonsense by filming one-sided "documentaries" on the subject. It's not clear whether he actually believes it, or is just saying he does to get publicity and notoriety. What is clear is that he makes himself a nuisance to the men who he should instead be honoring.

Tuesday's incident wasn't the first time Sibrel interacted with a former moon walker. According to Rob Pearlman at Collect Space, Sibrel was thrown out of the Astronaut Hall of Fame induction ceremony last year for similarly harassing John Young, Bill Anders and Al Worden.

On Tuesday, in Sibrel's own words, referring to Buzz, "I approached him and asked him again to swear on a Bible that he went to the moon, and told him he was a thief for taking money to give an interview for something he didn't do..."

So, by his own admission, he walked up to a man who risked his life to help us win the Cold War, and called him a liar and a thief to his face. Is this sufficient provocation for an assault? I don't know what the legal situation is in Beverly Hills, and I'm not generally in favor of fisticuffs, but next time I see Buzz, his beer will be on me.

Anyway, while socking Bart Sibrel in the jaw would be a magnificent accomplishment, worthy of recording in the historical annals of come-uppance-- and the story of “one small punch for a man, one giant blow for intelligent mankind” is truly inspiring -- I just don't believe it really happened.

Think about it. Buzz is no Ralph Kramden, capable of sending his wife to the moon with a single blow.

By all reports, Mr. Sibrel is much larger than Buzz. Astronauts were always shorter than average in stature, because they had to fit first into fighter cockpits, and later into small cramped spacecraft. He's also much younger. Buzz is into his eighth decade, while Sibrel is 37, a little over half Buzz's age. Yet we're supposed to believe that Buzz, a Ph.D from MIT, would risk a fight with a younger, stronger man? It defies physics and common sense.

Sibrel has a sore, bruised jaw?

How hard is that to fake? He probably went home and hit himself in the face with a monkey wrench.

There were witnesses? It was reported on all the news services?

It doesn't say what the lighting conditions were, but it's possible that it could play tricks to make it look as though Buzz's fist was propelled into Bart's face. Or maybe Bart attacked Buzz's helpless knuckles with his chin.

Or maybe nothing happened at all. We're supposed to believe that Sibrel's not capable of bribing people? All those Beverly Hills types on Rodeo Drive don't think about anything except money. It would be easy to just pay them all off to lie for him, and to relay the story to Reuters and AP. After all, if NASA could get thousands of people to keep their mouths shut, it would be a piece of cake for him to get a few dozen to keep their story straight.

You say he has videotape?

What a shocker. A man who makes his living creating documentaries has a videotape. He also probably has an expensive production studio, or knows people who do. How hard is it these days, with fancy computer-generated imagery, to fake up a video showing the impossible--a 72-year-old fist reaching up to strike a 37-year-old jaw?

This is clearly just an elaborate and diabolical hoax to gain sympathy, and to make us believe that he "won the moral high ground." It's ludicrous to believe that Buzz Aldrin actually punched Bart Sibrel in the jaw on Tuesday.

Why, you might as well believe that Buzz walked on the moon...

Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally biting commentary about infinity and beyond at his Web log, Transterrestrial Musings.

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