Borealis Basin, Nevada, United States

On Friday, Curiosity (the NASA rover on Mars) posted a ‘self-portrait’ on her social networking sites, along with a brief message – “wish you were here” – and an update on her recent drilling activities. Here is the image:


If you look at the picture, the one thing that immediately stands out, other than the grim Martian landscape, is the absence of the arm used to take the photograph. It could appear that the photograph was taken by a third party – a passing Martian, perhaps.

The omission is easily explained. Curiosity took the photo with her Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), an optical device attached to her robotic arm. The rover snapped a number of smaller images, which were then assembled into the picture you see above.

The arm, to quote NASA, is not visible because “[it] was positioned out of the shot in the images or portions of images used in the mosaic”.

However, the tinfoil hat brigade has taken the absence of the robotic arm from the image as concrete evidence that Curiosity is not on Mars. The image, they claim, was taken by a human photographer, as the rover drives in circles in some desert in the southern United States. Round and round in circles, at a cost of billions of dollars in tax payer money.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love conspiracy theories – Nikola Tesla’s missing technologies, Area 51; the idea that the British royal family are shape-shifting alien reptiles. It’s all good stuff. However, it’s important to keep an open mind with these things; the Queen is probably not a chameleonic frog, but, on the flip side, there may have been dead aliens at Roswell. Some theories are feasible; some are just plain stupid.


Another idea propagated by the conspiracists is – of course – that the Moon Landings were a fabrication, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

In the sixties and seventies, such scepticism was understandable; the Moon might as well have been at the other side of the Universe, for all we knew about it. However, the idea that people in 2013 can openly deny that interplanetary travel is a thing is outrageous.

Returning to Curiosity’s holiday snap: amidst the 400 comments that say “who took this picture?” and the 200 comments that explain how the picture was taken are several posts from our friends in metal headgear:


Here are some more from the Daily Mail and BBC websites; note the guy with the highest number of ‘likes’, who, despite the fact that his observations have not taken account of any recent developments with the rover, is anointed king of the internet:


Now, to put a positive slant on it, we could argue that the conspiracy theorists are searching for mystery in a world that contains virtually none. However, it’s hard to see ‘rover-denial’ as anything other than ignorance for the sake of ignorance, a desire to avoid mainstream opinion and belief at all costs.

Curiosity has been imaged from orbit by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) – the rover itself during her descent into the atmosphere and, also, her tracks in Gale Crater. The thing is on Mars, alongside Spirit and Opportunity, two earlier Mars rovers, and three orbiters, the MRO, Mars Express, and Mars Odyssey.

However, if people are to continue believing that Curiosity is not on the Red Planet, the following question must be answered – how to you force everybody involved with the mission – scientists, journalists, family members – to keep quiet about the forgery until the end of time?

The same applies to the original Moon landings in 1969; how would NASA hide the hoax from the public? How would they maintain a perfect, water-tight façade for four decades, without a peep from the many tens or hundreds of people involved? It simply would not happen.

“[…] if the Moon landing had been simulated and faked, I would have to have been part of the conspiracy.” – BBC space correspondent, Reg Turnill

Unfortunately, if the internet has taught me anything, it’s that conspiracy theorists cannot be reasoned with; they cling to tenuous ‘facts’ and actively ignore any evidence that contradicts their opinions or beliefs.

For example, recent images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter depicting the landing sites of Apollo 11, 15, 16, and 17; the footprints of astronauts, and both the lunar module from Apollo 14 and its associated scientific instruments are still not enough evidence to dissuade people from perpetuating the Moon Landings hoax.


Their reasoning is simple, if not hugely flawed; every new piece of evidence released by NASA is merely the latest lie in a series of falsehoods that began in 1969. The institution exists not to further human understanding, but to cover it’s own tracks.

Of course, in a world in which the above is true, NASA becomes a government funded entertainment company, producing science-fiction movies and computer-generated imagery, and occasionally putting a satellite into space to monitor ozone depletion.

Everybody is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs, but to openly deny evidence; to persist in the belief that interplanetary space travel is a myth; to voluntarily live in a world governed by small-minded paranoia is as abhorrent as it is sad.


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