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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True enough, except that the astronauts didn’t use the Fisher Space Pen. Aldrin relied on a felt-tip marker, since the non-conductive tip would close the contact without shorting it out, or causing a spark.

The myth endures, in part, because the Fisher Space Pen company knew an opportunity when it saw one. They began promoting their product as the writing instrument that had “brought the astronauts home.”

9. “President John F. Kennedy wanted America to beat the Soviet Union to the Moon.”

Had JFK not been assassinated in 1963, it is possible that the space race to the Moon would instead have been a joint venture with the Soviet Union.

Initially, the young president saw winning the space race as a way to enhance America’s prestige and, more broadly, to demonstrate to the world what democratic societies could accomplish.

However, JFK began to think differently as relations with the Soviet Union gradually thawed in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis and the costs of the Moon program became increasingly exorbitant. Nor was America confident at that time that it could beat the Soviet Union. And, in his recent book, John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon, space historian John Logsdon notes that the president also believed that the offer of a cooperative mission could be used as a bargaining chip in Washington’s diplomatic dealings with Moscow.

In a September 1963 speech before the United Nations, JFK publicly raised the possibility of a joint expedition: “Space offers no problems of sovereignty…why, therefore, should man’s first flight to the moon be a matter of national competition? Why should the United States and the Soviet Union, in preparing for such expeditions, become involved in immense duplications of research, construction and expenditure?”

But, the prospect of a U.S.-Soviet mission to the Moon died with Kennedy. Winning the space race continued to drive the Apollo program. Eventually, “the U.S. space program, and particularly the lunar landing effort,” Logsdon writes, became “a memorial” to JFK, who had pledged to send a man to the Moon and return him safely by the end of the decade.

10. “No Buck Rogers, No Bucks.”

For decades, scientists and policy-makers have debated whether space exploration is better suited to human beings or robots.

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