Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry is backpedaling from his quip last week on the Winging It podcast endorsing a classic conspiracy theory: that NASA’s six-manned landings on the moon from 1969-1972 somehow didn’t occur.
On the podcast, Curry disagreed that anyone has ever been to the moon, saying, “They’re going to come get us. Sorry, I don’t want to start conspiracies.” Though Curry later said he was just kidding—and there’s not really much reason to suspect otherwise—the sentiment quickly attracted attention on social media, culminating in a chain of events that ended in him interviewing astronaut Scott Kelly on Instagram Live this weekend.
The Washington Post called it the “biggest faked-moon-landing story” since legendary Buzz Aldrin punched a man in 2002 for calling him a “coward and a liar” engaged in a lunar landing coverup. The apparent joke also drew unfavorable comparisons to incidents when the Boston Celtics’ Kyrie Irving said the Earth was flat and definitely did not seem to be kidding, and later questioned whether dinosaurs really existed. (They might just be reassembled skeletons of other creatures, Irving seemed to suggest, though he later bashfully blamed his conspiracy spree on a YouTube binge.) The Warriors’ rivals, the Sacramento Kings, played moon landing videos during player introductions last week to mock Curry.
NASA responded by inviting Curry to come visit the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where they said he could view both “hundreds of pounds of moon rocks” and the original Apollo mission control room. And the Post reported that on Saturday, after accepting NASA’s offer, Curry paired up with Kelly for an interview that was in part a mea culpa for starting this whole mess—though it was also a canny opportunity for the space agency to get some free high-profile publicity.
“I made a comment about the moon landing, it was a very unfortunate situation for me because it’s a comment that was made in jest and not to be taken seriously,” Curry said in the video (copy on YouTube here). “Uh, but headlines and the reaction kind of took a life of its own.”
The Post wrote:
“I’m genuinely sorry for how that came across and I want to use this as an opportunity for some positivity,” Curry told Kelly, who spent 340 consecutive days aboard the International Space Station in 2015 and 2016, a period of time in orbit that physically changed his DNA.
“When people believe [flat Earth or moon landing conspiracies],” Kelly told Curry, “they believe the other things that are more important like climate change not being real or vaccines and 9/11 being a conspiracy theory.”
The two used the cordial conversation mostly to harp on the importance of scientific literacy, but also talked about how Kelly became an astronaut, his time in orbit and NASA’s lunar lab.
“We got 800 pounds of those rocks from the moon, spread ‘em out through universities all over the world,” Kelly told Curry. “They’re... older than any rock on Earth. So uh, clearly they didn’t come from Earth, they came from the moon on the lunar space program.”
Kelly also discussed the urgent need for the U.S. to not fall behind in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, adding: “One thing I try to encourage kids with, especially using the space program as an example, is our country has this incredible capacity to do really amazing technical things. We went to the moon in the 1960s, we built this international space station that we’ve been operating for 20 years, and I think that’s the hardest thing we’ve ever done.”
“I think it’s harder than going to the moon, we’ve done this safely,” Kelly concluded. “... A million-pound space station built by an international partnership of 15 countries. We’ve built this in space, in a vacuum, in extremes of temperatures and pressures, connecting modules together, some which had never touched each other before on Earth. This is the hardest thing we’ve ever done. And if we can do this, and if we believe we can do this, we should believe we can do other things, we can solve the other problems we have in our country.”
The interview itself did not go without further bemusement by observers.
“LMAO look who Steph Curry is doing an Instagram live with,” the New York Times’ Sopan Deb tweeted. “Man.”
Curry suggested that his visit to Johnson Space Center may fall in mid-March, when the Warriors visit Houston, the Post added. Kelly told Curry he could expect a warm reception, but only if he visited before beating the Houston Rockets.
Does this seem like an awful lot of hoops for Curry to jump through over a joke? Sure. But hey, there are worse ways to resolve a silly controversy than interviewing one of NASA’s best-known astronauts or getting a guided tour of Johnson Space Center. For example, he could have had dodge Aldrin’s fist, or worse, interview Elon Musk.