In 1962, US President John F. Kennedy offered an explanation of why NASA made his view of the moon. "We…
In 1962, US President John F. Kennedy offered an explanation of why NASA made his view of the moon.
“We choose to go to the moon during this decade and do other things, not because they are easy but because they are difficult,” Kennedy said, suggesting that Americans pushed the limits of space exploration because the desire to discover and learn was in its nature. “We set sail on this new ocean,” he said, “because there is new knowledge to win and new rights to win, and they must be won and used for all people’s progress.”
Now we know the end: The Americans really made it to the moon, and it makes it easy to look back on Apollo missions with pink glasses. But was very difficult: An estimated 400,000 engineers played a hand in putting the man on the moon. And it cost us not only billions of dollars, but the life of three Apollo astronauts. So it is sensible that, despite Kennedy’s declaration of a nation with a united vision, a large number of Americans were skeptical of the mission of the moon or completely against them.
Now the often neglected part of American history is returned to the progress of cultural memory thanks to First Man the new Neil Armstrong biopic. The film shows a series of objections to the moon mission, through scenes with protesters, dubious newspaper headlines, and, memorably, a recitation of Gil Scott-Heron’s poem “Whitey on the Moon.”
Despite his moving words, Kennedy himself did not have much faith in space exploration. In a white house in 1
962, meeting just a few months after his famous month, Kennedy informed NASA administrator Jim Webb that he was not “interested in space” and the “amazing spending” for the moon program had “lost our budget.” Kennedy said that his main motivation to keep the lunar program in progress was political: during the Cold War, one came to the moon before Russia was a priority. “This is – if we like it or not – an intense race.”
The crowd was not wild about NASA’s moon program. In 2003, space historian Roger Launius reviewed public opinion polls on space exploration between the 1960s and 1990s, revealing the deep skepticism of Americans about space exploration. A majority of the public were not convinced that space exploration was an important issue for earning funding, and that the billions spent on NASA instead would go to fix other social misconduct. In Launius’s paper, published in the magazine’s space policy he referred to a vote of 1965, where more than half of the respondents asked questions such as national defense, education, poverty programs and even water deprivation research more worthy of government spending than space exploration.
In a survey from the summer of 1965, Launaius explains that one third of Americans support lowering the space program budget and 1969, which had increased to 40%. Even after the landing of the moon, still was skeptical:
The only point on which polls show that more than 50 percent of the public thought Apollo was worth its expense came in 1969 at the time of the Apollo 11 landing … and even then it was only a rough 53 percent who agreed that the outcome calculated the expenditure even though the landing was perhaps the most significant event in human history since it became the first instance where humanity became bi-planetary.
However, public opinion can still be influenced by media and popular culture. Launius points to polls between 1989 and 1997 and asks about people’s attitudes on staffed as opposed to unmanned assignments. During most of the time people supported unmanned assignments over manned. This is not extremely surprising, given the tragic explosion
However, Launius observed that the general sentiment was shifted towards supportive manned missions again in 1995, which was temporarily the year as
was released. Other films like
may have helped bend interest in manned space exploration through the late 90’s and early 2000s. Now that NASA was aiming for a Mars mission, movies such as
along with films such as
-will play a role in maintaining public interest in human exploration of the universe.