Can you believe the moon walk was 40 years ago today? I think if I survive to the 50th anniversary of the moon walk I’m going to start to feel old.

In July 1969 I had just graduated high school and was taking a couple of summer classes at the local junior college. I remember watching the moon walk live on television, with Walter Cronkite providing the voice-over. Sweet.

I had forgotten about the moon conspiracy theories, that the moon walk was faked and filmed in some big movie lot in a western state somewhere. (Wasn’t there a movie about faking the moon landing? Oh, yes, Capricorn One.) I have a postulation that people believe absurd conspiracy stories because there’s something in the story they want to believe. I’d like to know if anyone ever did a social-psychological study of moon landing conspiracy theorists to determine why they wanted to believe such a thing.

I do dimly remember some grumbling about the costs of the Apollo missions, but I think most Americans were proud of and happy about landing on the moon. We thought it was just the beginning of glorious things. If someone had told us that 40 years later the moon landing would remain the pinnacle of manned space exploration, I don’t think we would have believed it. Even though the Vietnam War was going on hot and heavy at the time, the country today still seems so much smaller and shabbier and diminished from what it seemed in 1969.

29 thoughts on “Mooned

  1. We could be that country again, and better too, if only we would (could?) rip that cancerous Reaganism out of our national psyche.

  2. maha,
    Right at about that time, we went from a ‘can do,’ to a ‘we can’t do that,’ or ‘we can’t afford that,’ nation
    There’s an excellent article about it in yesterday’s NY Times Week in Review by Tom Wolfe. In it, he said that we had the engineering expertise to go on, but we didn’t have the philosophical rational. And that, since the moon race was a surrogate for war in some senses, and that we won the race, we started cutting NASA’s budget right after Apollo 11. Read it yourself:

    And a little over a decade later came the election of Reagan, which didn’t herald “Morning in America,” instead, it signalled the setting of the sun on American enterprise and ingenuity. ‘Mourning for America.’
    When will we decide to go to Mars in the future? When Goldman Sachs can make money selling derivitives off of it.

  3. I always point to the moon landing as one of the many tangible signs of a high water mark of American civilization, which in my view peaked around the late 60s.

  4. Not to be a pedant or anything, but Capricorn One, besides featuring a scene of James Brolin munching on a raw snake — that one’ll stick with you (and which also co-starred OJ Simpson as America’s “first Black astronaut,” if you can believe that) — was about a faked landing on Mars, not the Moon.


  5. “I’d like to know if anyone ever did a social-psychological study of moon landing conspiracy theorists to determine why they wanted to believe such a thing.”

    My quess would be the kind of people who love to hate all things collective, you know the type, the government can’t do anything right, the post office sucks, what a waste of tax dollars, etc. They have to think the moon landing was a fake; to think otherwise would be condoning “socialism”. I know that’s a pretty broad generalization but the 4-5 moonwalk-deniers I know also happen to be rabid right wing libertarians of the Ron Paul variety.

  6. As a boy who grew up fascinated by the space program and who was 9 when Armstrong took his small step, I’ve never quite gotten over a feeling that I was robbed of the career I was promised as a scientist on the Moon base. Now instead of expanding the frontiers of the species, I’ll feel lucky if we can manage to keep from destroying our (sadly only) habitat before I die.

    It feels weird that the entire upward arrow of human history has taken a downward turn during my lifetime.

  7. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that a larger percentage of Americans believe that the earth is flat today compared to 40 years ago. It’s been a long, long anti-intellectual while since 1969.

  8. Sorry Maha…But the war in Vietnam wasn’t hardly going “hot & heavy” in July of ’69…By then we were about a year into the gigantic game of charades that featured “ticket-punching” above all else…

    Things were hot & heavy in 66-67…But all that ended shortly after the “Tet Offensive”.

  9. Some good observations in the comments. It is sort of hard for the folks who say the government mucks up anything they touch to square with the facts of sending people to the moon and back alive. I do not know whether I can agree with it being a high water mark. I might think that personally, but when you are 17 it is sort of a high water mark in any event. As to Viet Nam, it surely was going hot and heavy in 1969 as my older pals coming home in body bags will attest. Half the U.S. dead were during Nixon’s administration which began in January 1969.

  10. If you’ve never read it before, you ought to download this article (PDF) written by Nobel-winning physicist Steven Weinberg. Written in 2004, it’s titled “The Wrong Stuff:”

    Although Weinberg doesn’t go into the politics behind the bad decisions made by NASA, it did have much to do with lobbying by the aerospace industry to extract maximum profit from the space program, which turned the whole thing into a farce. That, of course, is more-or-less what has happened to our entire government.


  11. For about a decade I lived in North Carolina ‘where they believe that rasslin’ is real and the moon walk was fake’. I can’t remeber who the author is, but I wish I had said it.

  12. Once upon a time, forty years ago today, America could send a man to the moon. After the space shuttle program winds down next year, we won’t even be able to send a man into orbit.

    We went from can-do America to can’t-do America so fast…

  13. Let me just throw this out there. In many ways I think the MANNED space program wasted resources that could have been used in space for many more useful things. Most of all the lives that have been lost are a terrible waste. So much could have been done with unmanned exploration. Look at Hubble. Look at the Mars explorer. Great science there. What did we really get from the moon landing but the great feeling that we were better than the rest of the world. The space station has contributed to science I am sure, but how much of that could have been done by robots and well designed non manned adventures. We have found that people loose bone mass at a very accelerated pace. WE are not adapted to space. We will probably never live there. I think those resources spent on making this planet more livable would have had a better return. Earth has deteriorated in the last 40 years. Should we have spent more of our time worrying about that than adding to our ‘exceptionalism’ in yet another way? As for 1969 being a high water mark in American civilization, I’d like to ask people of color or professional women for that matter, about that.
    Eager to see your responses.

  14. Deaths in Vietnam by year, 1966-1970: (1966: 6,143), (1967:11,153), (1968: 16592), (1969: 11,616), (1970: 6,081).

    What had changed by 1968 was that the majority of people had realized that the war was pointless.

    I think we could formulate a fairly accurate law of government that says that the longer a government program goes on, the more probable it will turn into corporate welfare.

    It got so bad at NASA that, in the late 70’s, when I put in some time there, NASA employees were simply contract supervisors. They had laboratories filled with equipment but no time to work with the stuff. They instead spent their days sitting in reviews for contracts.

    The trend can be withstood if the program resists privatization or if it has highly defined goals. Since there really can be no tightly defined goal for manned spaceflight, and it was highly privatized, the result was perfectly predictable.

    I believe that any manned spaceflight program in the current political environment will end the same way.

  15. As I recall, one Bart Sibrel confronted Buzz Aldrin at a Beverly Hills hotel about supposedly faking the moon landing, and received a well deserved blow to the face for his pains. One of the best sites debunking the conspiracy nuts is It’s not that far a leap for some to go from believing in creationism to believing we never had men land on the moon. Sometimes I fear Americans are becoming more ignorant, and glorying in their ignorance.

  16. Contra Dr. Marvel, the ground war might have been less heavy in 1969, (although the number of US troops in country reached it’s peak, at 543,000), but the “secret” bombing of Cambodia was in full swing for most of that year, as were incursions into Laos and Thailand. In all, over 2.5 million tons of high explosives were dumped on Cambodia alone.

  17. my unrefined speculation: dumb people can’t believe anyone is so much smarter than they are as to be capable of such an achievement. Anyway, Maha, if you feel old, I have calculated myself (from the year you graduated high school) to be one year older. Ah, the societal events we have endured.

  18. How can we not give Ole Henry Kissinger his due by not honoring his saturation bombing campaign ? Kissinger is the Godfather of Terror…Tommy Franks couldn’t make a pimple on Kissinger’s ass with his measly Shock & Awe® campaign. And let’s not forget Henry’s fine terrorist work south of the border.

  19. I ain’t no “Dr.”…And I don’t play one on the TeeVee…That’s D.R. as in David R.

    And I don’t give a fuck what the number of recorded deaths says…There was no “war” going on by mid-1969…What there was instead was a “game” by which as many “Lifers” as possible did as much career-building as they could stand before finding themselves a spot to hunker down for whatever remained of their tour…
    Sure a lot of people got killed…But not for any recognizable purpose…They ran the same “operations” over the same ground…Usually with different “Grunts” (they tend to catch on after a while)…With the only purpose being to get some dickhead of a Lt.Col. ‘qualified’ for his next promotion…
    “You gotta have a war every 10-12 years, or the civilians forget you’re there”.

  20. “[T]he country today still seems so much smaller and shabbier and diminished from what it seemed in 1969.” To my eyes, also, although for reasons different from those advanced by several of the other commenters.

  21. I remember that time well. It was 3 years after I had completed my second (and last) tour in Vietnam with the Navy. I was newly married, working for Conic Corporation and just completed my first semester at San Diego State. [I completed 2 years at LaSalle College in Philadelphia before joining the Navy in 1962.] The anti-war demonstrations were happening at State and I was supportive; although my full time job rather limited my participation. Two tours in ‘Nam had converted me to pacifism.

    At Conic we designed and built state of the art electronics for the Apollo missions and other aerospace projects. One of my favorites was the transmitter the sent the video back from the moon dune buggy. Back then every unit we produced was hand built. The technology was in its infancy and was not capable of being mass produced. Integrated circuits were not yet available and transistors were sorted according to the tested parameters into several categories. The research and development programs funded by the government to develop the products needed to send a man to the moon provided improved product quality, reliability and safety which later resulted in many advances in commercial materials, processes and products.

    Had men not been a part of the plan I doubt the emphasis on product quality, reliability and safety would have been as strong. Unfortunately this emphasis wound down with the end of the program.

    To sum it up I was a ‘Nam vet, working in the aerospace industry, attending college and supporting the anti-war demonstrations. I was one conflicted fellow. But I still don’t feel old.

  22. “It feels weird that the entire upward arrow of human history has taken a downward turn during my lifetime.”

    Come on Biggerbox since then we have the ipod, the iphone and flatfuckinscreen TV’s, that aint enough?

  23. My mom was one of those who doubted the Apollo lunar landing. I never thought much about the conspiracy “theory” possibility. One thing I’ve learned over the past 55 years is don’t believe something just because the majority believes it.We must investagate and draw our own conclusions..

    Do I think the lunar landing was faked? I really don’t know, none of us does.’Same with the Kennedy assasinations.
    The “zeitgeist” at the time was the intense paranoia brought on by the irrational fear of communism, the cold war, the proxy war in indochina, the social fabric of our country unraveling. The line between fact and fantasy has never been clear to many,perhaps it is blurred intentionally. Belief in the supernatural abounds world wide.
    When you really think about it, how preposterous is the story of a 15 year old girl from a tribe of desert wandering Jews declaring to her husband she was impregnated by a heavenly being, upon which much of humanity bases a religion .
    This same religion teaches peace and forgiveness, yet some of its most fervent followers really love capturing and killing “folks” of a different religion, and don’t mind killing innocents in the process.

    Same ol’ same ol’ throughout history, it never stops, the weapons get more high tech, and the enemy shifts from Godless communists to primative religious mountain men in a land far away with small arms who we need to democratize.

    I believe the space program brought us many wonders which make our lives easier, from medical break throughs, to GPS navigation, but I’m also convinced that the main idea is total military dominance of the planet.We really don’t need men on the moon or Mars if we can dominate the Earth with satelites and space based weapons.The common thread throughout history is military dominance and wealth, and the many sacrificing for the few.
    Some things never change, and the words of Voltaire ring just as true today, “If they can make you believe absuridities, they can make you commit atrocities”
    Henry the K is a prime example.

  24. “I believe the space program brought us many wonders which make our lives easier, from medical break throughs, to GPS navigation”

    What medical breakthroughs exactly? I would really like to know. I’m sure some happened but what exactly. But GPS navigation? Really its quite a novelty for us, I can find out how fast my go-fast boat is running, I can get directions easier than looking at a map, but really do we need GPS to survive as citizens? GPS was conceived and is still used for military purposes, commercial uses seem a little contrived, just another toy.

    The rest of your post? What do godless communists have to do with anything? And isn’t that a bit redundant?

  25. What better way to describe the America of today than a country that makes endless shuttle trips to a space station (airport) yet never goes anywhere.

  26. Compared to the military, NASA was money well spent, and that’s just for inspiring kids to dream and achieve. And I’ve always like the idea of building infrastructures that nobody else would have built which facilitates the creation of things that nobody would have created otherwise.

    But my long view is suggesting that our ability to compete successfully in future space races, such against an EU or China, are gradually being diminished.

    And of course, if Kennedy didn’t have an evil empire to compete with, conservatives probably would have been conditioned to call any space programs socialist.

  27. What break throughs exactly?
    Computer science in general.
    GPS is far more than what you may realize. I use it daily in my engineering job, many pilots and mariners rely on it.
    “Godless communists” just what they have been called as far as I can remember, and redundant it is!
    ‘Love you dude!

    Marvel, she spanked you good! ‘Love your reply….

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