Ten Enduring Myths About the U.S. Space Program

Outer space has many mysteries, among them are these fables about NASA that have permeated the public’s memory

The Moon landing conspiracy theory has endured for more than 40 years, thanks in part to a thriving cottage industry of conspiracy entrepreneurs. (NASA)

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5. “Alan Shepard is A-Okay.”

Several famous inventions have been mistakenly attributed to the space program—Tang, Velcro and Teflon, just to name a few.

Most of these claims have been widely debunked. However, one of the most enduring spinoffs attributed to NASA is the introduction of the expression “A-Okay” into everyday vernacular.

The quote is attributed to astronaut Alan Shepard, during the first U.S. suborbital spaceflight on May 5, 1961. The catchphrase caught on—not unlike the expression “five-by-five,” which began as a radio term describing a clear signal.

Transcripts from that space mission, however, reveal that Shepard never said “A-Okay.” It was NASA’s public relations officer for Project Mercury, Col. John “Shorty” Powers, who coined the phrase—attributing it to Shepard—during a post-mission press briefing.

6. “NASA's budget accounts for nearly one-fourth of government spending.”

A 2007 poll conducted by a Houston-based consulting company found that Americans believe that 24 percent of the federal budget is allocated to NASA. That figure is in keeping with earlier surveys, such as a 1997 poll that reported the average estimate was 20 percent.

In truth, NASA’s budget as a percentage of federal spending peaked at 4.4 percent in 1966, and hasn’t risen above 1 percent since 1993. Today, the U.S. space program accounts for less than one-half of 1 percent of all federal spending.

A 2009 Gallup poll found that most Americans—when told the actual amount spent by the space program—continue to express support for the current level of funding for NASA (46 percent) or an expansion of it (14 percent).

7. “The STS-48 UFO”

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