Monday, July 20, 2009

Won't Get Mooned Again

The guy who took that first small step for man, that first giant step for Mankind, wants us to stop shooting for the Moon.

Neil Armstrong, who stepped down on the surface of the Moon forty years ago--on July 20, 1969-- thinks America should set its sights higher. To Mars. In a rare joint appearance on the eve of the big anniversary, the Apollo 11 crew: Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, all echoed that lofty aspiration. Aldrin, the second guy to step on lunar territory ( Collins stayed aboard the Mother Ship), said, "America, do you still dream great dreams? Do you believe in yourself? Are you ready for a great national challenge?"

The Moon landings were historic, of course, and inspirational. Not only did they round out President Kennedy's promising legacy, they served as a peaceful stand-in for the Cold War hostilities between the United States and the Soviets.

That is if we really made those landings. Yep, there are those who believe the whole program was one big hoax, cooked up in an elaborate collaboration between NASA and Hollywood. The granddaddy of hoax hucksters, Bill Kaysing self-published, We Never Went to the Moon:America's 30 Billion Dollar Swindle in 1974, shortly after the Apollo Moon program was scrapped. The movement picked up steam in 1978 after the release of the the film Capricorn One, about a faked Mars landing. On the heels of Vietnam and Watergate, with growing skepticism about the government, more people latched onto the hoax theory. But it was always a small cadre. In a 1999 poll, only 6% of Americans believed the Moon landings were a hoax. But after a Fox TV special: Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon? aired in 2001, the number of skeptics jumped to 20%.

And they're still at it. Fly through cyberspace and you'll find a slew of sites dedicated to proving the hoax theory; some feature characters recreating a plausible Hollywood orchestration. Recent revelations by NASA that they had misplaced videos of the original landing--and then had to to get what video they recovered digitally re-mastered-- only fueled the hoax hucksters engines. But there is solid independent evidence to support the landings' veracity including images taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, showing the landings, astronauts standing on the moon, science experiments and even-- in the case of Apollo 14-- footprints.

So it seems the Moon landing hoax is not well grounded in fact. And that's a relief. Because if you buy that, you'll have to wonder about Woodstock, too. Maybe it was just a Hollywood movie musical. And what about those Miracle Mets? Maybe they're just a myth. That one I'll never believe.

As for the laudable manned mission to Mars, it's a pretty expensive dream. According to most reports, such a program would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 Billion dollars a year,for say, 10 years. You do the math. That kind of money could fund health coverage for a lot of Americans. So given our current economic straights, a manned Mars mission seems like reaching for the stars. But that,of course, is the most American of all American dreams.

Drive safe. Play nice. Think peace.


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