The head of Russia’s Roscosmos told the media over the weekend that his agency has a mission on the books that aims to find out once and for all if the United States really did put men on the moon in the 1960s and 70s — though it seems likely that the former deputy prime minister was kidding, despite how his remarks have been presented in the media.

In the decades since Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, there has been a growing contingent of conspiracy theorists claiming that the entire Apollo program was a hoax perpetrated by the U.S. government amidst an increasingly tense Cold War. The evidence these theorists cite may not often withstand much of a critical eye — but there’s something about the idea of such a dramatic conspiracy that seems to keep people coming back for more.

In fact, the world over, belief that the United States faked the moon landing has actually gone up in recent decades — with a reported 25% of America’s allies in the U.K. self-identifying as “skeptical” of America’s moon-claims, and perhaps unsurprisingly, nearly a third of Russians believing the entire Apollo program was a carefully crafted hoax. Here at NEWSREP, we’ve already dug into some of the more prominent conspiracy theories regarding the moon landing, as well as the mountain of evidence to show that the Apollo missions were real. The evidence that the United States reached the moon in 1969 is overwhelming — but historic evidence alone doesn’t seem to be enough to squash this lasting theory.

That’s where Russia’s NASA equivalent, Roscosmos, comes in. In remarks to the media over the weekend, recently appointed head of the agency, Dmitry Rogozin, told the press that his space agency has plans to fly a lunar satellite over at least one of the Apollo landing sites, where it will be able to confirm the presence of American hardware and assess whether or not Armstrong and company ever truly set foot on our nearest neighbor.

Apollo 11 landing site captured from 24 km (15 miles) above the surface by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Credits: NASA Goddard/Arizona State University

“We have set this objective to fly and verify whether they’ve been there or not,” said Dmitry Rogozin. That was enough to get the internet’s saliva glands working over time — but the quote written in black and white doesn’t convey the sly smile and shrug of the shoulders that accompanied his remark. It seems possible that Rogozin, who has a strained history with the United States, was simply kidding.

In the past, the Apollo landings have been independently corroborated not only by NASA’s own equipment, but via un-manned moon missions mounted by both the Chinese and Japanese governments. The Soviet Union and its massive intelligence gathering apparatus throughout the Cold War likewise found no evidence that the Apollo missions were a fraud, or they certainly would have outed their American competitors for faking their way to victory in the space race — a race the Soviets had maintained a commanding lead in throughout much of the Cold War to that point. The success of Apollo 11 was no sure thing — in fact, President Nixon had a speech prepared to deliver in the event Armstrong and Aldrin found themselves stranded on the moon.

Apollo 15 landing site imaged from an altitude of 15.5 miles (25 km).
Credits: NASA Goddard/Arizona State University

Rogozin, who was named personally in U.S. sanctions following the Russian military annexation of Crimea in 2014, also made headlines earlier this year when he suggested that a drilled hole discovered inside a Soyuz capsule docked with the International Space Station may have been sabotage. Russia’s space program made news the hard way again just a few weeks ago, when another Soyuz rocket, this one carrying one American and one Russian en route to the Space Station, failed spectacularly mid-launch. The two-man crew survived a ballistic reentry after ejecting their capsule from the rocket and were later recovered by search and rescue teams.

If anything, Rogozin may have hoped his wit would draw attention away from his deeply troubled space agency — but if anyone’s expecting Russia to deliver proof of an American lunar-hoax… you may not want to hold your breath.