Today marks the 47th anniversary of American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind, that moment when human beings first stepped onto the surface of the moon. Except that according to an article in the October 2, 1909, issue of Scientific American, written by John Elfreth Watkins, Armstrong may not have actually been the first.
Watkins relays an old Chinese legend that claims an official by the name of Wan Hu (or sometimes Wang Tu or Wan Hoo, depending on the source) launched a lunar mission around 2000 BC. According to this legend, Wan Hu strapped forty-seven small rockets to a large wicker chair, sat down, and told his assistants to light him up. Neither the man nor his rocket chair were ever seen again, perhaps an indication of success. And so after Soviet probe Zond 3 did a flyby of the moon in 1965, a crater on the dark side of the moon was deservedly named for famed Chinese astronaut.
Of course some people believe that Wan Hu faked the entire stunt with the assistance of some fancy camera work under the direction of Stanley Kubrick, a scheme long covered over by a joint effort from the Chinese government and the cryogenically frozen head of Walt Disney. The evidence is far too involved to go into detail here, but it stems from the numerous drawings of the events that, to the well trained eye, reveal peculiar shadow angles, an oddly marked rock, and an unfurling flag, among other truly alarming details. Don’t even get me started on the secret clues buried within The Shining.
Now, I’m not generally a big believer in conspiracy theories, but this one, to me, seems entirely plausible. Because it turns out that prior to the 9th century, the Chinese didn’t yet have gunpowder, and they most certainly weren’t launching rockets in 2000 BC, strapped to a chair or not.
About thirty-five years after the publication of the Scientific American article, American author Herbert S. Zim offered a thoughtful update to the tale in his book Rockets and Jets. He logically placed the story of Wan Hu in the early 16th century. And it was some time after that when the Chinese began to adopt the tale, eventually erecting a statue of this hero of space travel at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.
But if that’s not enough to convince you that the whole thing might just be made up, MythBusters Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage attempted to recreate Wan Hu’s famous flight using technology that would have been available in 16th century China. They weren’t successful. And when they cheated and used more modern technology in an attempt to duplicate the results, their trusty dummy Buster wound up blown to bits and, most notably, not on the moon.
So, I think it’s safe to assume the conspiracy theorists have it right this time. Wan Hu could not have been the first man to step on the moon. The honor still belongs to Neil Armstrong, and thankfully, there’s no reasonable debate about that.
Apollo 11 Moon landing: conspiracy theories debunked
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4 thoughts on “And Once Again Conspiracy Theorists Get it Right”
Fantastic stuff – as ever. What about the cow that jumped over the moon? Perhaps Jonah was hidden inside…?
That’s a great question, Bruce! Much like Wan Hu, the origin of Hey Diddle Diddle can be traced back to the 16th century and so, in theory, there could have been rockets to aid the cow in her space journey. But as the typical cow weighs a good 8 times that of the average man, it would surely take at least 376 16th century rockets to blast a cow to the moon. Now, I’m no expert and I didn’t take into account the additional mass of a cow-sized wicker chair, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the cow didn’t make it either.
I don’t believe for a second that NASA faked the moon landings with help from Stanley Kubrick. What actually happened was that Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke instead invented the whole of the modern world. It goes like this… In 1946 Clarke invented the communications satellite (but didn’t patent it), and by the 1960s was publishing exact descriptions of how a world would work if it had essentially free communications between everybody. Social media? Internet? Remote working? He nailed it, and he’s the only one who did. He invented the iPAD idea in the 1960s for ‘Space Odyssey’ (you can see the designs in the ‘Discovery’ carousel set) and precisely described its functionality in the novel. The inescapable conclusion is that the the whole of modern society was invented by Clarke and Kubrick for their movie. Except for waterbeds. They were invented by Robert A. Heinlein (who eventually got the patents).
It’s truly terrifying to see how much of our modern world becomes patterned after our art. It’s almost enough to make one wish we would stop publishing dystopian fiction. If only it weren’t so fun to read.