The conspiracy theories, the supposed television sets and the flags waving in the void of space aside, is there any secret to reveal about the Apollo missions?
“There is nothing secret, but there are many chapters that society in general does not know,” says Roger D. Launius, former chief historian of NASA and undoubtedly one of the greatest experts of what is surely the most famous space program to date .
For example, Launius recalls how Glynn Lunney initiated an investigation to determine the real risk of astronauts following the explosion of the oxygen tank that put the Apollo 13 mission at critical risk.
“Engineers told him there was a 50% chance of losing the crew, and he said the probability of death was too high,” he tells ABC.
Even so, the weight of continuing with the objective of reaching the Moon in the middle of the Cold War was too great, and the program continued.
“This chapter wobbled the entire program, of course. But most people don’t know that it could end there.”
At that time he did not imagine that some time later he would have to gather all the information about those men. “I wasn’t good at math, so I opted for history,” he says with a smile.
It is in Spain on the occasion of BBVA Values Day, to tell the employees of the bank how the United States achieved that milestone in the space race thanks to the motivation of all its participants, from the lady who cleaned the facilities of Cape Canaveral to own John F. Kennedy, who inspired the nation with his words on May 25, 61: “We chose to go to the Moon”.
“We did not go to the Moon for scientific reasons. Rather, science took advantage of the engineering program, which in turn was an initiative framed within the Cold War,” says the former NASA historian without hesitation.
The goal was to convince nations that had not yet positioned themselves that the United States was the best option, and not the communist bloc.
“You just have to see that among the crew there was only one scientist, and in the last mission”.
In this regard, remember that Alan Shepard, the American astronaut who followed Yuri Gagarin in space and was the fifth man to step on the moon, he had as his main objective to plant a miniature golf on the lunar surface.
“He was the typical airplane pilot who wanted to do that kind of thing there. It was also a matter of personality.”
Even so, there is no doubt the role that the Apollo program has played in our understanding not only of our satellite, but of the Universe.
“It took many years to reach the conclusion of how the Moon formed. When we went in the sixties and seventies, three theories were in force that ultimately proved to be wrong.”
“But it was not until 1984, twelve years after the end of Apollo, at a meeting in Hawaii, when researchers really set out to know how our satellite was created.”
“There, several teams from different disciplines were able to analyze the information we obtained, and they all reached the same conclusion: an object the size of Mars crashed into the Earth and the pieces of the impact ended up forming the Moon”.
But even with all the certainties that the moon exploration has given us, there are still people who don’t believe that the man was there.
“My grandfather never believed that we had set foot on the Moon. He was 60 years old when all this happened and he thought that anything could be built in Hollywood.”
“It is also true that he, who was a farmer, never had a tractor because he thought it was a fad. I didn’t lie, I just didn’t understand,” he says.
He also points out to those people “who love to believe that they know something you don’t know” or to those who “want to sell books or videos at all costs.”
“I have been accused several times of being part of the NASA conspiracy and I tell you that such a thing does not exist.”
What Launius does expect is to see the man on the Moon again.
“I think it’s a lot to ask, because we don’t have the team, but maybe at the end of the decade with an international collaboration program we can do it.”
The ex-historian of the US space agency doubts that he can see our arrival on Mars.
“But the Apollo program showed that anything is possible if you have the political will.”
The future is yet to be written in the history books.