October 6, 2013
Study Authors Claim NASA Used Moon Landing To Create A Vision Of The Future That Never Happened
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
While the Apollo 11 moon landing is remembered as a landmark moment in space travel, a new study by three UK professors suggests that it is not the events themselves, but rather a carefully crafted set of images used by NASA to promote a future of sci-fi heroism that most people recall of the event.
In their paper, which has been published by the International Journal of Management Concepts and Philosophy, University of Leicester School of Management professors Steve Brown and Martin Parker, as well as Dr. Lewis Goodings of the University of Roehampton, explained that they set out to “explore the gap between the colossal project of managing the visual representation of the space program” by NASA officials during the second half of the 20th century and “what remains of that project now in terms of the complex, mediated series of images that serve as objects of recollection.”
Most people look back on the 1969 moon landing as an exciting and important turning point in history, as well as an event that continues to inspire space exploration projects in the modern era. However, the report penned by Brown, Parker and Goodings asserts that NASA manipulated images from the landing to create a narrative of its own importance for the future, the University of Leicester said Friday in a statement.
“The academics claim NASA carefully selected footage to present Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts as pioneering ‘cowboys’ supported by ‘technological efficiency,’” the university added. “NASA's shots of the astronauts walking purposefully towards the launch bay – repeated regularly in TV coverage of the landing – were carefully crafted to mimic the slow walk of Cowboys in the cinematic tradition of Westerns, they argue.”
The study authors went on to compare NASA’s claim to historical importance to that of Walt Disney Productions, and said that repeating images from the moon landing helped “premeditate” the notion that it represented the future. They also contrasted that notion with the actual progression of space travel, which only saw five additional manned missions to the lunar surface – none of which occurred after 1972.
“The images that constitute the majority of the memories of moon landings come from a relatively small field. For example, the Earthrise photo taken from Apollo 8, Neil Armstrong climbing down the ladder of the Eagle lunar module, the astronauts experiencing weightlessness, or the moments where the space travelers finally returned to Earth,” Brown, Parker and Goodings wrote. “Each of these events were carefully managed at the time by NASA as part of the process of mediatizing the moon landings – of ensuring that a narrative of individual heroism supported by technological/organizational efficiency would be central to public understanding of the Apollo program.”
The iconic nature of the images was strengthened by the number of times that they were repeated across both broadcast and print media, they said. As mediatized images (and consequently, the narrative they are being used to create) are repeated over and over in different forms, they become interconnected with one another.
“For example, the famous images of astronauts dressed in their bulky protective suits walking towards the launch bay was repeated in the television programming for the majority of NASA launches, and subsequently became the key visual motif for the film of Tom Wolfe’s book about the first Mercury spaceflights, The Right Stuff,” the authors wrote. “But the image itself deliberately references the slow walk of Cowboys in the cinematic tradition of Westerns, who are usually depicted at the beginning of a long journey to the ‘Wild Frontier’.”
“This remediation also invokes the television reimagining of the popular Western show Wagon Train as the science fiction of Star Trek. Each successive remediation refers back to the previous as it hops across medial forms and genres to drive home an overarching heroic – and deeply sedimented – narrative of ‘boldly going’ into the great unknown,” they added. It also helped ensure the space agency would continue to receive funding from Congress, due to the perception that they were completing important work necessary for the future.
As part of their research, the three UK professors also analyzed over 400 “memory cards” that had been left by visitors to the National Space Center. Each of those cards contained one person’s recollection about the moon landing and the 1960s. Brown, Parker and Goodings reported that approximately half of those cards included some type of reference to the moon landing as a peek into a future which never actually came about.
“This research highlights the intersections between our personal experiences of the event and the particular version of the past that is given to us through the media and other sources,” Dr. Goodings said in a statement. “I recall that one memory card recalled the moon landing as 'a really exciting event that seemed to open an exciting and modern era' and then added that this era was 'so quickly lost'. I feel that is a good example of the coming together of the NASA-inspired image of the moon landing and the actual experience of very little changing.”