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Fright-monger scientists

Flying the flag of fear to Congress and the press

If you think that there is something special and new in the reaction of some in Congress and many in the media to the 'Global Cooling" and lately 'Global Warming' scare, then consider what happened more than 50 years ago in the space program ...

Excerpts from Chris Kraft's Flight. My Life in Mission Control, 2011

Chris Kraft played a key role in establishing mission control for the U.S. manned flight program; he was the first NASA flight director. He served as director of NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center, later named Johnson Space Center, from 1972–1982.

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Chris Kraft, Fllight. My Life in Mission Control, 2001, pp. 311, 312, 349, 350

There'd been some arguments getting ready [for the first man landing on the moon in Apollo 11 in 1969]. The science and medical community had raised a fuss years ago about the possibility of contaminating Earth with some alien organism brought back from the moon. It was so far fetched that only Hollywood could turn it into a script. But nothing succeeds in this world like a few scientists crying wolf and flying the flag of fear to Congress and the press.

So now we had a quarantine facility. [Apollo 11 astronauts] Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin would be handed sterile jumpsuits and hoods while they floated on the Pacific. They'd have to struggle into them, then on the aircraft carrier go through a tunnel into a sterile trailer that would be loaded onto a C-140 [aircraft] and flown home to Houston. Once back home, they'd be confined for weeks. At least we could debrief them through windows, and the doctors, quarantined with them, could do examinations. But whatever samples they brought home from the moon would be under seal and kept away from humanity until scientists were certain that astronauts weren't about to unleash a plague upon the world.

It was stupid, disgusting, and politically mandatory. We [at NASA] went along with the game because we had to. The same thing will happen, I'm sure, when men and women first return from Mars. Hysteria cows common sense every time ...

I learned so much [in my life in the space program]. One of the most important lessons was that any apocalyptic prediction by a scientist would almost certainly be wrong. Tommy Gold is the classic example. While we sat in mission control waiting for Apollo 11 to begin descent to the moon, [the first (founding) director (1961–1972) of the Manned Spacecraft Center] Bob Gilruth and I chatted about Tommy. He was a scientist who'd gotten more than his share of press by predicting that the moon's dust layer was up to a mile deep and that the lunar module would simply sink out of sight when it attempted to land. The scary thing was that some people took him seriously.

The fright-monger scientists won another of their battles. They forced us to spend millions on quarantine facilities and to put astronauts, doctors, technicians, and even public affairs men through long weeks of isolation after early moon flights. Somehow they made a case for the absurd idea that moon germs might kill off all life on Earth. Instead they proved that fear is more powerful than common sense, but by then the money was spent and the public's attention was elsewhere. Now the apocalyptists are saying that any discovery of life on Mars should lead to an immediate cessation of planetary exploration. Hogwash.


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