It’s like an immovable object coming into contact with an unstoppable force. On one side, you have a great living hero of the space age. On the other, a man with an unshakable belief that the moon landings didn’t happen. When these two met, it was almost inevitable that there was going to be trouble. However, few expected it to happen in the way it did.
Buzz Aldrin is still a household name, and with good reason. While almost 50 years might have passed since his greatest accomplishment, it’s the sort of thing that people are going to remember. Neil Armstrong may have been the first human to set foot on the Moon in 1969, but Aldrin was close behind him.
Aldrin’s career in space is a long and illustrious one. As well as just nine minutes separating him and Armstrong, his pioneering work allowed the moon landings to happen. His work on the Gemini program of space missions showed that the technology of the time could achieve what the Apollo Program would aspire to.
One of Aldrin’s first experiences in space came on Gemini 12. Here he spent almost six hours outside of the rocket, showing that extravehicular activity could be carried out. This set NASA on the course that led it to the moon landings. And while Armstrong was the first man on the moon, Aldrin can claim his own fair share of firsts as well.
Not only was Aldrin the first man to pass water while on the surface of the Moon, he was also the first person to consume food and drink while on the satellite. Aldrin was also the first person to conduct a religious rite on the surface of a body in space other than the Earth. He took communion while on the Moon and quoted from the psalms on the return journey as well.
It’s fair to say that Aldrin wasn’t just a driven man, but also a religious one. This adds even more interest to his 2002 altercation with the disputatious filmmaker Bart Sibrel. Sibrel has made four films about the moon landings, claiming in each of them that NASA and the CIA faked the landings.
On September 9, 2002, Sibrel invited Aldrin to a hotel in California. Sibrel lied to Aldrin to get him there, saying that he was conducting interviews for a children’s program in Japan. This wasn’t the only time that Sibrel had approached astronauts to confront them about the moon landings, but it’s definitely the most infamous.
After the false interview, Sibrel waited outside the hotel for Aldrin. In his hand, he held a bible. He asked Aldrin to place his hand on the bible and make an oath that he really did spend time on the Moon. Considering his history and his strongly held beliefs, this likely annoyed Aldrin. But Sibrel had much more in store for him that day.
When Aldrin refused to swear on the bible, Sibrel pursued him, asking him questions as he did. Aldrin, who was with his stepdaughter at the time, tried to move away from the filmmaker. But Sibrel shouted after him, saying, “You’re the one who said you walked on the Moon when you didn’t.” But, perhaps unfortunately for Sibrel, he didn’t end the taunting there.
Next, Sibrel became even more confrontational. After he and his camera crew had followed Armstrong a little longer, Sibrel branded Aldrin “a coward, a liar and a thief.” For Aldrin, understandably, that was the last straw. What happened next was caught on camera for the whole world to see – much like the moon landings themselves.
Aldrin asked Sibrel to move away from him and his stepdaughter, but the filmmaker did not. So Aldrin socked him square in the jaw. The footage ends just a few seconds after Aldrin’s punch lands, but there’s much more to the story than the altercation. Afterwards, Sibrel decided to get the police involved.
Sibrel took the tape of the incident to the police and prosecutors. The footage was reviewed, and the relevant authorities considered whether Aldrin should be punished. But several factors spoke in Aldrin’s favor when it came time to make the final decision, and the police’s choice may well surprise you.
For one thing, Sibrel had suffered no obvious injury due to the punch. The filmmaker did not attend a doctor after he took the blow either. Aldrin’s past was also taken into consideration, including having no criminal record. But one last piece of evidence was also key to the charges being dropped.
Witnesses to the punch in Beverly Hills explained to the police that just before it happened, Sibrel had, according to the BBC, “aggressively poked Mr. Aldrin with the bible.” That had been the last straw for Aldrin, who had lashed out because he felt threatened. Perhaps if Sibrel had done his research on Aldrin, he wouldn’t have come at him with a bible.
You can see footage from the interview in the hotel, which took place before the incident, in Sibrel’s 2004 documentary film Astronauts Gone Wild. The film also shows the reactions of the other astronauts that Sibrel managed to get in touch with about the moon landings. While none of them are as dramatic as the altercation with Aldrin, all of them strongly deny Sibrel’s claims.
Three other astronauts were interviewed by Sibrel for the film, and he confronted five more, including Neil Armstrong, at public events. According to Edgar Mitchell, the sixth person to walk on the Moon, once he had grasped who Sibrel was, “I maintained my cool enough to swear on his bible, then ended the interview and tossed him out of the house, with a boot in his rear.”
In his own terse fashion, Armstrong rebuked Sibrel as well. Confronted at a meeting in New York, he is reported to have told the filmmaker that he did “not deserve answers.” But Sibrel’s fracas with Aldrin isn’t the only time he’s been in contact with the law. In 2009 he had his own run-in with the police.
Sibrel was working as a taxi driver in his hometown of Nashville at the time. After an argument with a woman over a parking space, Sibrel climbed onto the hood of the woman’s car and started jumping up and down on top of it. The filmmaker admitted a charge of vandalism and received probation as a punishment.
It’s fair to say that Aldrin’s story after the 2002 punch is a little different. In 2003 a children’s charity gave him an award for his contribution to mankind’s empathy and understanding of itself. And in 2006 the Space Foundation handed him the General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award, its highest accolade.
As well as having six honorary doctorates from different colleges and universities, and being named chancellor of the International Space University in 2015, Aldrin continues to work on what’s known as the Aldrin Cycler, a new way of getting humans to Mars. He even has a star on the Hollywood walk of fame. On the other hand, Sibrel’s most recent YouTube video, posted in July 2018 on his own channel, has just under 2,000 views.