The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

Apollo lunar rover and astronaut
Despite the photographic evidence, why does Apollo seem like a fantasy to many young Americans? (credit: NASA)

Generation Y and lunar disbelief

In a recent article, Jeff Foust discussed the survey conducted by Dittmar Associates that revealed a shocking number of 18 to 26 year-olds questioned or even doubted NASA succeeded in landing astronauts on the Moon. (See “The medium and the message”, The Space Review, January 2, 2007) This is not the response from victims of a misinformation campaign waged by the propeller hat fringe, but from college-educated students. The Dittmar market study stated that among this age group, “27 percent expressed some doubt that NASA went to the Moon, with 10 percent indicating that it was ‘highly unlikely’ that a Moon landing had ever taken place.”

This survey did not explain why these respondents questioned the Apollo lunar landing missions, but I have several educated guesses:

  1. None of the respondents had even been born during the Apollo lunar landing missions, and no manned lunar landing missions have been conducted in their lifetime.
  2. The only launches of astronauts they have witnessed (on TV) have been of the space shuttle, which they understand remains in low Earth orbit (LEO). The shuttle is incapable, of course, of leaving LEO.
  3. There is no space race to speak of and thus no national pride to be “first in space.”
  4. With no frame of reference, landing astronauts on the Moon and returning them safely to Earth seems like a fantasy. Having learned of the destruction of the shuttle Columbia and the death of its crew upon its re-entry on February 1, 2003, they do not believe America had the technological capability in the 1960s to send astronauts to the Moon and return them safely to Earth.
  5. The cynical respondents believe the video images they see of US astronauts on the Moon are somehow faked, for whatever reason, being ignorant of the geopolitical ramifications of the cold war during the 1960s that drove America to beat the Soviets to the Moon.

The Moonwalkers respond

With no frame of reference, landing astronauts on the Moon and returning them safely to Earth seems like a fantasy to many young people.

Several years ago I attended a “breakfast with the astronauts” at Kennedy Space Center. Edgar Mitchell of Apollo 14, John Young and Charlie Duke of Apollo 16, and Eugene Cernan of Apollo 17 answered questions from those attending. One person asked them how they answered those who didn’t believe astronauts landed on the Moon and that the missions were faked. Duke stated, “If we faked going to the Moon, why did we fake it nine times?” John Young added it would have cost more to fake the missions than to actually do them. Eugene Cernan got a laugh from the crowd when he said, “When you strap a Saturn 5 to your butt, you know you are going somewhere.”

It is indeed unfortunate that a significant number of Generation Y can’t believe Americans explored the Moon. The Vision for Space Exploration must be made real for them and millions of other Americans. This can only be done by NASA staying focused on the goal of returning to the Moon and involving as many as possible in this exciting journey.