Yesterday, Vladimir Markin, the spokesperson for Russia’s Investigative Committee, proposed that an “international probe” be launched into the details of America’s Apollo moon landings. While this sounds like a wet dream for the aluminum-fedora’d set, it actually could be a really great thing for everyone, if done just right.

First, though, let’s just make a couple of things very clear: the investigation is a ridiculous bit of political hissy-fitting in retaliation for the US-led probe of corruption in FIFA, the international football association. Really. Here’s what he said he was frustrated about:

“U.S. prosecutors having declared themselves the supreme arbiters of international football affairs.”

So, as a way to retaliate, Markin suggested an international investigation into “mysteries” of the Apollo moon landings was in order. Because soccer and space exploration are, you know, basically the same thing. Markin was clear to state that the investigation wasn’t about whether or not the moon landings happened, but what happened to certain footage and lunar rocks and other artifacts:

“We are not contending that they did not fly [to the moon], and simply made a film about it. But all of these scientific — or perhaps cultural — artifacts are part of the legacy of humanity, and their disappearance without a trace is our common loss. An investigation will reveal what happened.”

So, this isn’t really quite what the crazy moon landing deniers are hoping for, and the whole thing is really just silly petulant posturing.

But it doesn’t have to be.

See, now that this can of worms has been opened, it could present a real opportunity for both the US and Russia’s space programs. How? Relax, hypothetical, impatient question-asker, I’ll explain.

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What Russia should do is go ahead and broaden the investigation into what everyone’s assuming it is anyway — an investigation to see if the US landed men on the moon at all, period. To finally prove this conclusively (for all the simpletons for whom all the actual proof isn’t enough) they should actually send a manned, lunar-orbiting mission to collect actual photographic evidence from a low lunar orbit of the landing sites.

This would accomplish several things: it would turn an embarrassing PR stunt into a genuinely status-raising global event. And, since it’s Russia, when they find the evidence of the landing sites, it would finally shut up the deniers — and it has to be a country like Russia to come back with the evidence, since they’d never believe anything from NASA. Finally, it would be a real victory for the Russian Space Agency — a manned translunar mission has been a Soviet/Russian goal since the late 60s, so why not check it off the list?

Even better, this isn’t some far-fetched dream idea that would take millions of rubles and a crapload of new development to achieve — almost all the hardware needed is already made, and detailed plans for such a mission have been made, most recently by a private company, Space Adventures.

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The Space Adventures plan uses an existing Russian Soyuz spacecraft — the same ones used to ferry astronauts and cosmonauts to the International Space Station — and docks it with a combination hab module (for a bit of extra living room on the roughly week-long flight) and an auxiliary propulsion module with the power and fuel for a trip to lunar orbit and back.

According to Space Adventures’ website, they say they’re ready to launch this year. It’s a viable plan, based on decades of study. It’s not even the only way to accomplish this sort of mission — in fact, in September 1968, a Soviet mission called Zond 5 was the first ever mission to launch a spacecraft around the moon and return it to earth.

Zond 5 used a reduced-mass Soyuz (they deleted the orbital module) and a more powerful launcher (Proton instead of a Soyuz rocket) to get from earth orbit all the way to the moon. The mission was a success, and even had passengers, with the one minor detail that they were turtles instead of people. People, turtles, same damn thing.

Even a Zond-type spacecraft with a solitary cosmonaut and the right surveillance/camera equipment should be easily capable of finding at least one Apollo landing site and taking enough photographs to empirically prove that, yes, all our flags and crap are still there.

Yes, any number of robotic probes could accomplish this same thing, but that’s not the point. By giving the Russians a chance to show off a bit again and become only the second nation in history to send a person around the moon and return them home (we did it 1968, with Apollo 8) the Russians get a chance to shine in space again, and I think live-streamed commentary and video from the lunar-orbiting craft, finding the old US landing sites, would be fascinating to see.

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Really, this could be great. We could take a pissy little “investigation” and turn it into something that would have a real, lasting positive impact for both the Russians and the United States. Plus, the benefit of finally being able to shut up the moon-landing deniers (I know, I know, some will always find a way to keep denying) once and for all will be so very satisfying.

I mean, we can’t all just deck these moon-landing-denying morons like Buzz Aldrin did, though we may as well watch that again, why not?

So, Russia. If you’re going to talk the talk, walk the goddamn walk. You want to investigate the moon landings? Fine. Get your asses into a little can and launch that shit to the moon. That’s the best way to turn this silliness into something great.

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Besides, as anyone knows, the only cool denier-subculture are World’s Fair Deniers. Knoxville had one? Really? We’re supposed to believe that? Please.


Contact the author at jason@jalopnik.com.

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