Mormonism and science/Joseph Fielding Smith claimed that man would never walk on the Moon
Did Joseph Fielding Smith prophesy that men would never walk on the moon?
Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that "it is doubtful that man will ever be permitted to make any instrument or ship to travel through space and visit the moon or any distant planet." Was this a false prophecy? Does this mean that President Smith was a false prophet?
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
Latter-day Saint doctrine allows prophets their own opinions and views, which are not regarded as either infallible or binding upon Church members. Only Jesus Christ was perfect; LDS prophets follow the biblical model of being fallible men of their time called by God to accomplish his purposes. So safeguard against the foibles or mistakes of individuals, God uses the united voice of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve apostles to establish official doctrine and interpretation.
No one need trust a prophet's word alone on any issue—either of great or small importance. All members are encouraged to seek their own revelation from God, and to accept and act on the truth that he reveals to them by scriptures, by prophets, and by the Holy Ghost.
Question: Did Joseph Fielding Smith state that man would never visit the moon?
Answer: He wrote that he did not believe that this would ever happen.
In the first edition of his work Answers to Gospel Questions, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:
- The Savior said that preceding his coming there would be signs in the heavens. No doubt there will be appearances of commotion among the heavenly bodies. We are informed by prophecy that the earth will reel to and fro. This will make it appear like the stars are falling. The sun will be darkened and the moon look like blood. All of these wonders will take place before Christ comes. Naturally the wonders in the heavens that man has created will be numbered among the signs which have been predicted—the airplanes, the guided missiles, and man-made planets that revolve around the earth. Keep it in mind, however, that such man-made planets belong to this earth, and it is doubtful that man will ever be permitted to make any instrument or ship to travel through space and visit the moon or any distant planet. 
Question: Was Joseph Fielding Smith issuing a prophecy when he said this?
Attempting to make this is a "prophesy," or a declarative statement of Church doctrine is improper, for the following reasons:
- President Smith was not the president of the Church when this statement was made. Only the President of the Church, sustained by his counselors and the Quorum of the Twelve, may declare new official doctrine.
- The statement merely expresses doubt about the idea, clearly an expression of personal belief or conclusion.
- Latter-day Saints do not believe in the doctrine of prophetic infallibility.
Question: Did Joseph Fielding Smith acknowledge that he was wrong when he said this?
Following the Apollo moon landings and the death of President David O. McKay, President Smith became president of the Church. At a press conference following his assumption of Church leadership, he was asked by a reporter about this statement. President Smith replied:
- Well, I was wrong, wasn't I? 
A grandson of President Smith noted:
- Growing up as a son of Bruce R. McConkie and a grandson of Joseph Fielding Smith had its moments. One of the experiences that my brothers and sisters and I shared regularly was to listen to people make disparaging remarks about our father or grandfather in Sunday School or other church classes. You could pretty well depend on the fact that if someone quoted either Elder McConkie or President Smith, that someone else would immediately respond with some kind of an insulting retort. I don't think it bothered any of us to have someone disagree with our father or grandfather, we just couldn't understand why the disagreement seemed so mean-spirited. One of the classic responses that is made to discredit anything Joseph Fielding Smith said is to remind everyone that he said that men would never get to the moon. The idea being that if he said one thing that was incorrect then how can we possibly be expected to believe anything else he said....
- As to the men on the moon issue, I was present on at least one occasion when President Smith said it. It was a Sunday dinner at our house. My grandfather, Oscar W. McConkie, had asked President Smith if he thought the Lord would allow us to get to other worlds and communicate with the people on them. President Smith indicated that he did not. He reasoned that because the atonement that Christ worked out on this earth applies to all the creations of the Father, that our getting to other worlds and discovering that they had the same Savior and the same plan of salvation would dispense with the necessity of our accepting the gospel on the basis of faith. To dramatize the point he said, "I don't even think the Lord will let men get to the moon." I concurred with President Smith's reasoning then and do so now. What he said, in my judgment, was right. The illustration he used to dramatize his point has since proven to be in error. It, however, has nothing to do with the point he was making. To dismiss everything else he said on the basis of one faulty illustration is, I would suggest, a far greater error and may frankly be grounds to question whether those saying it deserve credence, not whether Joseph Fielding Smith does. 
- Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions [1st edition] (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957), 2:190-191 (italics added)
- Personal reminiscence of David Farnsworth provided to FAIR (21 November 2010). The press conference took place on 23 January 1970. 
- Joseph Fielding McConkie, "On Second Thought: Growing up as a son of Bruce R. McConkie," as quoted by John W. Redelfs on his blog The Iron Rod, Aug 19, 2005.