On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, right, stands beside the U.S. flag planted on the surface of the moon. Buzz Aldrin is seen closer to the craft. ((Associated Press))

NASA's release of newly "enhanced" footage of the first moonwalk, and the admission the original tapes which captured Neil Armstrong's 'giant leap for mankind' had likely been erased, are only helping fuel skeptics' doubts that the Apollo missions even took place.

Grainy archive footage has been digitally remastered in Hollywood, after NASA admitted it likely recycled (taped over) the original tapes as a cost-saving measure. A common practice for the U.S. space agency in the 1970s and '80s.

Some conspiracy theorists suggest NASA footage – original or not – which depicts Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during the first lunar landing, shows an American flag flapping in the breeze, even though the surface of the moon is in the vacuum of space, with no air or wind.

The original conspiracy theorist

Many regard author William Kaysing (1922 - 2005) as the father of the moon landing hoax theory, thanks to his 1974 self-published book We Never Went To The Moon. Kaysing had worked at a Saturn V rocket engine manufacturing plant.

His theory is built on a series of observations and suppositions regarding the 1969 mission to the moon, including:

  • His claim that NASA did not possess the technical know-how to reach the moon.
  • The absence of stars in photos taken on the moon's surface, even though there would have been no atmosphere to obscure the cosmos.
  • The very survival of the film, which captured astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon's surface. Kaysing claimed it should have melted, due to radiation in space.

According to a 1999 Gallup poll conducted on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, six per cent of Americans believed the moon landings were staged, and never really took place. Another five per cent had no opinion.

Disbelievers suggest NASA and the U.S. government faked it in order to appear to win the space race with Russia, and to divert attention away from the war in Vietnam.

Proof of landings rock hard

But officials appear to defend the authenticity of the lunar landings. An article which appears on NASA's website states:

"Evidence that the Apollo program really happened is compelling: A dozen astronauts (laden with cameras) walked on the moon between 1969 and 1972. Nine of them are still alive and can testify to their experience.

"They didn't return from the moon empty-handed, either. Just as Columbus carried a few hundred natives back to Spain as evidence of his trip to the New World, Apollo astronauts brought 841 pounds of moon rock home to Earth."

In a separate article, NASA says Armstrong and Aldrin not only brought home proof of their lunar conquest, but also left a relic of their visit: the Lunar Laser Ranging Retroreflector Array. It's a two-foot wide panel studded with 100 mirrors pointing at Earth, which reflects laser pulses sent to measure the distance between our planet and the moon. NASA says it's the only Apollo science experiment still running.