Popularity is a fickle thing.
Not that I know anything about being popular.* But I have been told by people who actually experienced popularity, that it is fickle.
NASA learned this fact in 1970 and it resulted in one of the most elaborate hoaxes in NASA’s long history of elaborate hoaxes.
In 1969, if you actually believe them, NASA landed astronauts on the moon. It was kind of a big deal at the time and for a short while, NASA was the belle of the ball.
Everybody loved NASA. People were naming their children “NASA” and “LEM” and buying anything with the NASA logo on it – towels, toilet paper, women’s lingerie.
But by the spring of 1970, popularity had gone to NASA’s head. NASA started acting cocky and bragging about how awesome it was.
And just like that, NASA wasn’t cool anymore.
America turned it’s attention to the Orlando Pop Festival in Florida, where the Allman Brothers were playing, along with Edgar and Johnny Winters. People forgot about NASA and started naming their children “Melissa” and “Frankenstein.”
NASA had to do something and fast.
They called together a meeting of all their best writers and asked them to come up with something to thrust NASA back into the spotlight. They agreed the best way to regain the public’s attention was to fake a life threatening crisis in outer space.
So just as the Allman Brothers were finishing their final encore in Orlando, NASA came up with Apollo XIII.
NASA administrators concocted a story that while en route to the moon “an explosion” would occur resulting in the loss of oxygen and electrical power, endangering the astronaut’s lives. The race to save the astronauts would ensue right on television!
And it did.
Apollo XIII launched without incident.
But then came the famous words from Jack Swigert, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”
The entire world was mesmerized by the unfolding drama occurring in orbit and back at mission control.
But while the public was transfixed, Commander Jim Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise were actually prancing about the moon, collecting rocks and popping wheelies with the new Lunar Rover Vehicle.
When the astronauts finished collecting the necessary rocks and taking a few “selfies” for posterity, the crisis was deemed over by flight controllers in Houston and the world saw the crew splashing down in the Indian Ocean.
The proof that this was all a hoax is quite compelling. Look here:
Why would these men appear to be in such good moods after being in a cramped spacecraft together for four days with their lives in the balance ? Wouldn’t they be upset that they did not get to the moon and that their mission was a failure?
Meanwhile, back in Houston, the flight controllers are lighting cigars and having a grand old time.
Why all the celebrating?
Because they got the Nielsen ratings.
Everybody loved NASA again.
NASA made untold sums selling Apollo XIII key chains, magnets, pins, stickers, inflatable dolls, coffee cups, bandannas, Frisbees and countless other trinkets.
They even made a movie about the incident, but decided people were not smart enough to understand roman numerals, and just used standard numbers instead.
The Apollo XIII mission motto was the Latin Phrase ‘Ex Luna, scientia’ which translates to ‘From the Moon, knowledge.’ No doubt. How to make a buck.
*In grammar school I was actually the Designated Punching Bag, but I never got hurt too bad. I always wore full catcher’s gear to school, complete with mask and cup. I wore that until high school when I obtained my first suit of armor.
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