The Moon landing in 1969 was the culmination of a decade of event-driven technology and it lent momentum to a generation of belief in the promise of a space-faring future. By 1975, the premise of the television show "Space:1999" had a believable manned base on Luna - and why not, if we had gone to the Moon after 10 years of trying, why wouldn't we have a permanent station there 30 years after the first landing and subsequent technological improvement? "Lost In Space" a decade earlier had been clearly fiction, "Space:1999" was the future.

Such sci-fi heroism never came to pass. The NASA that had originally been based on bold adventure became a government job works program with a zero-defects tolerance for risk.  The disappointment is profound and primarily the fault of the government that created such a Wild West narrative, argue scholars in the International Journal of Management Concepts and Philosophy.

To draw their conclusions, the academics analyzed more than 400 "memory cards" left by visitors to the The National Space Centre is one of the United Kingdom's leading visitor attractions that is devoted to space science and astronomy. It is located in the city of Leicester – which contained people's recollections of the moon landing and the 1960s.

They found around half of the visitors' accounts contained included a reference to the moon landing as a glimpse into a future which never came true.

How did it happen? They claim NASA carefully selected footage to present Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts as pioneering "cowboys" supported by "technological efficiency". 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 academics compare NASA's claim to historical importance with organizations like Walt Disney Productions and Pan American World Airways and note how often the images were repeated in media, which "premeditated" the idea that the moon landing represented the future.

Instead of the daring venture into the unknown, we got 5 more manned moon landings, and those ended in 1972. We have a cute robot on Mars, and for science that is far more beneficial than people, but that is not inspirational. The new administration immediately canceled its predecessor's 'return trip to the moon' idea.

Professor Martin Parker of the University of Leicester School of Management. Credit: University of Leicester

Co-author Professor Martin Parker, Professor of Organisation and Culture in the University of Leicester's School of Management, said, "I have always been fascinated by science fiction and space travel. When I saw the moon landing in 1969, I had the idea that the future was going to be radically different – but it was a future that never happened."

Parker said that in order to guarantee that it kept getting money from Congress, NASA worked very hard to from the 1960s onwards to develop belief in its importance for the future. "The cards at the National Space Centre are very poignant. Lots of people will be able to say exactly where they were when they saw Neil Armstrong land on the Moon. It became part of the narrative of your life.

"But the notions of progress which were common in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s are now no longer as universally accepted. I don't think anyone believes that things only move forward for the better anymore."

Co-author Dr. Lewis Goodings said, "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. 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 - 'so quickly lost'. It is here in this personal response where we find that the image of space travel never came true."


I was one of the generation inspired by Apollo (the Apollo 11 landing was two days before my 13th birthday) and now I am privileged to be one of 11 principal investigators (experiment leaders) for a spacecraft going to Mercury.

So for me, the hopes of that time did come true.

It is abundantly plain that Apollo was a historic anomaly, which could not be sustained economically then and could hardly be repeated now. But NASA, if it is to be criticized for not colonizing Mars, should be praised for giving us a view of the solar system so comprehensive that science fiction is dull by comparison, all in less than 50 years.

As for the gunfighter walk down the gantry…these were mostly test pilots.
They knew the odds.
Two years before Apollo 11, the crew of Apollo 1 had made the same walk, and had burned to death.
Yet still these men took those steps.
And that was not image, but courage.

Citation: Lewis Goodings, Steven D. Brown, Martin Parker, 'Organising images of futures-past: remembering the Apollo moon landings', Int. J. of Management Concepts and Philosophy 2013 - Vol. 7, No.3/4 pp. 263 - 283 DOI: 10.1504/IJMCP.2013.056504