It’s really no secret that Earth is spherical. After all, hundreds of images taken from space have proved as much over the past few decades. What’s more, prominent thinkers had even come to the same conclusion two millennia ago. But according to some conspiracy theorists, our planet is actually in the shape of a disc. And when one proponent of the “flat Earth” hypothesis gave his argument to a real-life astronaut, the other man was left in absolute disbelief.
Up until around a couple of thousand years ago, though, people predominantly thought of Earth as a flat plane. Things began to change in the sixth century BC, however. That was when philosopher Pythagoras introduced the idea of a round planet to his fellow Greeks. Then, a few hundred years later, Aristotle would give his own conclusive empirical proof of Pythagoras’ theory.
From then on, word started to spread, and people gradually accepted that Earth is in fact spherical. And while it took different lengths of time for the world’s various societies to catch up – China, for instance, didn’t come round to the idea until the 1600s – eventually everyone appeared to be unanimous on the truth.
In the second half of the 20th century, however, modern flat Earth theorists began to come to the fore. The International Flat Earth Society was founded in 1956, for instance, with Samuel Shenton at its head. The organization was somewhat of a descendant of the 19th century Universal Zetetic Society, which itself was prompted by writer Samuel Rowbotham and the hypothesis he had outlined in his book Earth Not a Globe.
And in the late 1970s the International Flat Earth Society would put forward its vision of what the planet truly looks like. According to the group, Earth is in fact a disc: the North Pole is at its midpoint, while Antarctica is on its outer edge. Charles K. Johnson, Shenton’s successor, pointed to the fact that the society’s map of the world looks like the UN flag as “proof” of the hidden truth.
Today, meanwhile, there are a number of flat Earth theorists all over the world, including several high-profile celebrities. NBA star Kyrie Irving, for instance, revealed in early 2017 that he subscribes to the hypothesis. In September 2017, moreover, hip-hop artist B.o.B. launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $1 million. With that money, the rapper hopes to send satellites and weather balloons into the atmosphere to “help [him] find [Earth’s] curve.”
Another such “flat Earther” is Mark Sargent, who is based in Washington. And in November 2017 Sargent phoned into British daytime TV show Good Morning Britain to discuss his beliefs with none other than Terry Virts, a one-time astronaut for NASA. The show itself was hosted by ex-CNN presenter and America’s Got Talent judge Piers Morgan and English journalist Susanna Reid.
And as part of a segment on the flat Earth theory, Morgan and Reid introduced Virts onto the show. Morgan would go on to ask the former astronaut, moreover, how he knows that Earth is round. Virts stated that he’d flown around the planet at 17,000 miles an hour. If Earth was flat, then, he wouldn’t have come back. Then the hosts introduced Sargent, who revealed his own reasons for his beliefs.
“Go to the beach with a high-powered HD camera and look off into the distance,” Sargent said on the show. “About ten or 15 years ago, you could see ships go over the horizon. Now you can bring them back into frame. All you have to do is crank up the zoom. Technology has changed everything… All the world’s a stage.”
When the studio camera panned back to Virts, however, he appeared to be bemused by Sargent’s explanation. And that probably comes as no surprise. After all, he’s a man who has traveled into outer space and even spent months aboard the International Space Station. Therefore, he’s someone who’s seen with his own two eyes just how round Earth is. And he seemingly couldn’t just sit there and let Sargent tell the British public that the planet is actually flat.
In response, then, Virts pulled out a copy of his latest book, featuring multiple astonishing photographs taken in space. He showed one of these to the camera, taken over the U.K. and with the Northern Lights overhead, that clearly seemed to depict the planet’s curvature. Reid then joked that the picture could have been doctored – a common argument put forward by flat Earth theorists.
Morgan then suggested to Sargent that he was talking “utter nonsense.” But the flat Earther countered the host by pointing out that the first “Blue Marble” shot of Earth, which takes in the entire diameter of the planet, was taken in 1972. However, the second such image, Sargent went on, was captured in 2015 – some 43 years later. And Sargent then openly wondered why we had gone four decades without any similar pictures of Earth being taken.
However, a seemingly incredulous Morgan replied by asking why anybody would bother making up the lie in the first place. What would they have to gain from it? In response, Sargent simply dialed his conspiracy theory up to 11 by saying that the flat Earth “cover-up” is simply one part of a much bigger falsehood.
Pulling out a model of the supposed flat Earth, Sargent said, “If this place was built, that means it was built by someone.” He then suggested that whoever was responsible for creating Earth might also have been responsible for coming up with the round Earth theory that most of humanity subscribes to, passing it down as a way to throw us off the truth.
Virts’ response, though, was simply to laugh and point out how impossible it is to keep secrets these days. Indeed, thanks to the internet and the rise of social media, how would these kind of large-scale cover-ups even work? That’s a common counterargument not only to the flat Earth theory but to most conspiracies in general.
Not that that stopped Sargent, who once again had an answer to Virts and the Good Morning Britain hosts. “You don’t need 100,000 people to keep this thing a secret,” he argued. “The only guys who need to be on in this are none of the wrench-turners at NASA; all you need are the telemetry guys and those bosses. And, of course, guys like Terry.”
Then in order to find out how deep Sargent’s conspiracy theorizing goes, the presenters probed him on his other convictions. And in the process, they found that he doesn’t agree that humans have landed on the moon – another matter that has been the subject of debate over the decades. Sargent doesn’t believe that Elvis Presley is still alive, however, perhaps proving that there is a limit to what he’s willing to question after all.
And the Good Morning Britain segment hadn’t marked the first time an astronaut had clashed with a flat Earth theorist. When B.o.B. first launched his campaign, for example, both Virts and Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, tweeted about how they knew Earth is round: because they’d flown around it themselves.
Back in February 2017, meanwhile, astronaut Thomas Pasquet took a selfie during a spacewalk. He later tweeted the picture, captioned, “Here’s for conspiracy theorists who believe we are in a hangar, on a fake Space Station… oh, they will think this picture is fake too.”
Indeed, no matter how much conspiracy theorists like Sargent insist that Earth is flat, there’s plenty of evidence out there to prove otherwise. And when that evidence is totally and systematically ignored, it’s no wonder that astronauts who have seen the truth for themselves – like Terry Virts – are left in disbelief.