Space conspiracy theories


The Dead Cosmonaut

During the 1960s, the Soviet Union and United States raced to become the world leader in space exploration. The winner would be able to claim technological superiority over the other. The Soviet Union had the early edge: In 1957, it launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite. In 1961, the Soviet Union dealt the American space program another blow when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. But, according to the Judica-Cordiglia ­brothers from Italy, Gagarin wasn’t the first.

The brothers set up a listening station in Italy to intercept communication transmissions between ground operations and spacecraft for both American and Soviet missions. Weeks before Gagarin’s successful flight, the brothers claimed to have detected and recorded radio transmissions of a cosmonaut slowly dying while adrift in space. The Soviet Union denied the brothers’ claim. Supporters of the theory believe the Soviet government hid the cosmonaut’s death to preserve the country’s reputation as a leader in space exploration. The truth remains a mystery, though the recordings are available online, if you’re curious to hear for yourself.


The Secret Moon Base

Our moon factors heavily into a few different space conspiracy theories. One such theory is that not only have we been to the moon, but someone has built a fully functional lunar base on the far side.

The moon is in tidal lock with the Earth. That means the rotation of the moon has slowed down over millions of years to the point where the same side of the moon always faces our planet. It’s called tidal locking, and it means that whenever you look up at the moon you’ll always see the same features. It also means the far side of the moon — sometimes mistakenly called the dark side — is out of view.
You have to admit, a base located on the far side would be safe from prying eyes. But who could have built such a thing? The theories postulate everything from the Nazis in World War II to the United States to aliens. We’ve certainly had a look at the far side of the moon a few times — many of the Apollo missions passed the other side and took amazing photographs. But images and video from these passes show no signs of secret moon bases.

It doesn’t help the conspiracy theorists that some of the evidence they’ve pointed to in the past turned out to be promotional efforts for movies like “Iron Sky” or “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” So far, it appears that science fiction is the only place you’re likely to find a lunar base.


The Secret Planet X

Does our solar system contain a giant, unnamed planet? It does, according to the Planet X theory. This theory says that our solar system h­as a 10th planet (if you count Pluto as a planet, otherwise the mystery planet is no. 9). The planet is supposed to be enormous and on an orbital path that will bring it close to Earth soon. Proponents of this theory cite earthquake and weather data as evidence of this planet’s growing influence on Earth. They also claim that the government is forcing observatories to close to keep the planet’s approach secret and prevent panic. Several astronomers have said that there’s no evidence for the Planet X theory, and that if the planet did exist, humans would be able to see it even without a telescope.

Even if you did need a telescope to see this planet, very little would stop amateur astronomers from seeing it. Keeping countless amateur stargazers quiet about such a massive discovery would be impossible. Unless the world’s governments have collaborated in secret planet-sized stealth technology, this theory seems pretty flimsy.


The USA 193 Spy Satellite

On Dec. 14, 2006, Vandenberg Air Force Base launched a rocket carrying a satellite called USA 193. The satellite was part of the National Reconnaissance Office’s (NRO) intelligence program. In other words, it was a spy satellite. T­he satellite had trouble maintaining orbit, and by late 2007 the Air Force determined that it would soon crash to Earth. The U.S. government announced in January 2008 that it intended to shoot the satellite down with a missile.

Why shoot down the satellite? The government said it was because the satellite’s fuel tank contained hydrazine, which is toxic. If the fuel tank survived re-entry, it could land on a populated area. On Feb. 20, 2008, the U.S. fired a missile and struck USA 193. Some people believe the government didn’t tell the entire story. They say that the government also wanted to prevent the satellite from falling into another country’s possession. Others go even further and suggest the United States only wanted to show the world that it’s capable of shooting down a satellite with a missile. In 2007, China destroyed a weather satellite with a missile, calling it a test. That test spread debris in an area around the Earth filled with other satellites, endangering those machines. By contrast, the United States’ approach was to fire on USA 193 when it reached a low enough orbit to minimize danger to other satellites. Was the U.S. government using USA 193 as an excuse to respond to China’s test missile? Some people think so.