'Fly Me to the Moon' trailer mixes real-life Apollo history with moon landing hoax

If you are even a casual space history enthusiast, watching the new trailer for the upcoming movie "Fly Me to the Moon" might leave you thinking that it is an entire work of fiction.

And for the most part, you would be correct.

As the trailer reveals and Columbia Pictures and Apple Original Films' synopsis reads, "Fly Me to the Moon" is a "comedy-drama set against the high-stakes backdrop of NASA's historic Apollo 11 moon landing." Scarlett Johansson plays the fictional Kelly Jones, a marketing maven who is brought in to fix NASA's public image, and in the process, "wreaks havoc" on the task set forth for launch director Cole Davis (Channing Tatum).

"I work here now, to sell the moon," says Jones (Johansson), explaining why she is at NASA to Davis (Tatum) in the trailer.

Channing Tatum and Ray Romano in the Launch Control Center in a scence from the new movie "Fly Me to the Moon."  (Image credit: Sony Pictures)

In the 2-minute and 30-second video, Jones is shown organizing commercial product placements for the Apollo astronauts to endorse and, when she cannot get NASA's team of engineers to do interviews, replaces them with actors. All of which leads to the film's crux, "Project Artemis" (not to be confused with NASA's Artemis program, which seeks to return astronauts to the moon today, 50 years after the Apollo program ended).

"The whole world will be watching, we can't afford to lose to the Russians. We need to shoot a backup version," says Woody Harrelson, as a yet to be identified NASA official.

In other words, they need to fake the moon landing.

While that may sound like fodder for conspiracy theorists, it does have a kernel of truth to it, though not in the way the film seems to show.

As the trailer wraps up, Johansson is shown recruiting a director (Jim Rash) and setting about recreating the lunar surface on a sound stage.

"If you fake this mission," warns Davis (Tatum), "every single thing that we have sacrificed will have been for nothing!"

Related: 25 space conspiracy theories debunked

Channing Tatum and Ray Romano in the Launch Control Center in a scence from the new movie "Fly Me to the Moon." (Image credit: Sony Pictures)

Suffice to say, NASA in real life did not film a backup or fake the moon landings. But the television networks like CBS and NBC did, using puppets and stand-ins (including test pilots from Grumman [today, Northrop Grumman], the company that built the lunar lander) to fill in visuals when live video was not available.

As for product placements, while NASA did not pay for companies to promote the Apollo program, manufacturers whose items were used by the astronauts were quick to see the appeal of advertising that fact to the public.

Based on the trailer, "Fly Me to the Moon" includes a mix of real life and made up endorsements. Omega, to this day, hinges part of its marketing to the fact that it made the first watch worn on the moon. And Snoopy, who can be spotted on a poster in one of the trailer's scenes, has had a long time role as NASA's safety mascot through an agreement with Charles M. Schulz and Peanuts Worldwide.

Based on the trailer, the filmmakers went to some extent to match the look of the era, sourcing props and costumes that match the real hardware that was used for the Apollo missions (the spacesuits, for example, were made by expert replica artist Ryan Nagata, who previously provided garments for the Neil Armstrong bio pic "First Man"). There are some diversions from reality, though, including a scene showing the horizontal integration of a Saturn V rocket and a Saturn IB standing atop a mobile launch platform with a umbilical tower (such a configuration was not used until the Skylab program).

A fictional advertisement from "Fly Me to the Moon" for the real-life Omega Speedmaster that was worn on the moon. (Image credit: Sony Pictures)

Some of the movie's scenes were shot on location, with NASA granting permission for the production to film at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in March 2023.

And, while the film uses fictional names for its leads, there are actors portraying real people, including the ill-fated Apollo 1 crew and the Apollo 11 astronauts.

Jones' (Johansson) position at NASA is also not entirely fictional. The agency did make a concerted effort and was mostly successful in marketing the moon through the work of a team of public relations specialists. More than just providing mission commentary, the members of NASA's public affairs offices churned out pamphlets, press kits, bylined articles and ready-to-air radio and television features.

"You know you couldn't make it to this day without me," says Jones (Johansson) in the trailer, stressing the role marketing had in making the moon landings happen.

"Project Artemis" from the new movie "Fly Me to the Moon," not to be confused with NASA's Artemis moon program. (Image credit: Sony Pictures)

"Fly Me to the Moon," which opens in theaters on July 12, was directed by Greg Berlanti, based on a screenplay by Rose Gilroy and a story by Bill Kirstein and Keenan Flynn. In addition to Johansson, Tatum, Harrelson and Rash, the cast includes Nick Dillenburg, Anna Garcia, Noah Robbins, Colin Woodell, Christian Zuber, Donald Elise Watkins and Ray Romano.

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Robert Z. Pearlman
collectSPACE.com Editor, Space.com Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.

  • orsobubu
    my best guess to date is that apollo missions flew around the moon, maybe also landed with astronauts, but there is something faked in photo and video documentation; if men didnt land, maybe some robotic rovers roamed around, if they landed, a lot of the material was shooted on earth studios; and the main hint to me is the inconsistent performing of jumps and acrobatics on the surface.
  • billslugg
    The "inconsistent" acrobatics were due to the 1/6 gravity. Plus, that was their very first practice session.
  • orsobubu
    billslugg said:
    The "inconsistent" acrobatics were due to the 1/6 gravity. Plus, that was their very first practice session.
    hi billslugg, yes but there are a lot of considerations to make in this regard, as i have already said other times i have started an original nice research on this topic which i hope to complete when i have identified the right collaborator for the mathematical part. Furthermore, i haven't forgotten about the question of solar cycles which was left open with you, as soon as i have some time i will answer you as promised.
  • Unclear Engineer
    If NASA was faking the human part of the Moon landing, I think that NASA would have done a retake of Neil Armstrong's obviously pre-planned but flubbed line about "One small step for man - one giant leap for mankind!" They sure tried to talk their way around it as being just a data dropout in the voice transmission to Earth, but the cadence of the spoken sentence makes that seem impossible.

    Not that I criticize Armstrong for making the flub. Considering the circumstances, I probably would have just said something more like "Wow!!!" if I could have spoken at all in such a moment.
  • sarg314
    The article is fine, as usual with Space.com. I saw the trailer and I was very disappointed that Apple Studios would reinforce this old, repugnant conspiracy theory. I made a post to that effect on AppleTV's X account and I urge every one to do that. I'm retired now, but was at Northwestern as an astronomy major when Apollo launched. I knew lots of NASA people - my NU advisor was a scientist astronaut. I worked on the Hubble project and knew people who received moon rocks gathered by Apollo, etc. This is especially offensive to me.