Mythos is a Greek word meaning story or legend. Many myths throughout culture were just that, myths. But, sometimes, those myths actually had some truth to them. How does a real event become a myth? How does something that we accept today become a legend or myth to future generations?
The Euhemerism theory about myths claims that myths are real historical events that have been embellished so much over time that the characters or event reach the level of the supernatural, therefore, not believable. This progression actually doesn’t take too much time when you look at it in historical sense. All it takes is a generation or two before that event is questioned, ridiculed, and in time, dismissed as legend or myth.
Fred Becker, a former engineer for the space program, gave another theory as to how something becomes a myth: “The other thing that can fade with time is motivation, such as the motivation to explore space or be the best country in the world. Thus mythology develops as a way of explaining away the greatness of the past so as not to feel so guilty about the present.”
The city of Troy, from the Trojan Wars, is a good example of mythology becoming reality again. Mentioned in two epic legends, the Iliad and Homer’s Odyssey, historians had dismissed the city and what had happened there as a myth of ancient Greece. It took two men, in the early 19th century, using the epic poems; to locate the actual city (in fact 9 cities buried on top of each other) before the existence of Troy was finally confirmed about 3,350 years after the Trojan War.
The existence of Jesus Christ is another example. Non-believers of the Bible, a religious text, raised serious doubts that there was a man called Jesus the Christ that actually existed 2,000 years ago. If it was not for the Roman-Jewish Historian Josephus who lived at that time and wrote a line confirming that a man “if he could be called a man” named Jesus did exist at that point of history in that particular place there would still be many who consider that the actual man Jesus to be a myth. The writings of Josephus have independently confirmed in a secular way many of the events that were recorded in the New Testament and previously regarded as Jewish/Christian myths. Did he confirm Jesus was the Son of God? No. He just confirmed that a man did exist and taught at that time by that name. Until the works of Josephus had been discovered and translated for the common scholar in 1544, there was no secular confirmation of Jesus nor of many of the main characters of the four gospels such as King Herod. In fact, Josephus writings led archeologists to the location of King Herod’s tomb in 2006 and was also instrumental in helping historians understand the context of political and religious culture of the time when the Dead Sea Scrolls (discovered between 1947 and 1956) were written.
There are other examples throughout history of events or people becoming myths due to time and lack of records, until suddenly discovered anew generations later such as the possible true existence of a man we now know as King Arthur, or the great flood of Noah mentioned not only in the Bible but many other cultural myths (though it was likely regional not worldly). I suspect there are other myths that may have a kernel of truth that will never be independently confirmed because no more accurate records exist, just stories.
Do you think that man started to fly when the Wright brothers first took to the air? Maybe not, if you look at some of the myths in our past. Are we the most advanced civilization of humans ever to walk the Earth? Maybe not. We don’t really know. With the weathering and turmoil that occurs in our world, many records are lost to time and decay. Matthew Brady, the famous Civil War photographer had to sell thousands of his photos as scrap to pay his debts. Those historic photos are lost forever. The Smithsonian has written before about having trouble accessing data from older storage devices due to the lack of equipment that was used to play them such as Thomas Edison’s phonograph. Even NASA has had trouble accessing data from the Apollo mission due to equipment to play them being obsolete and gone or the actual tapes went missing. Some of the oldest structures that still exist are things such as the Pyramids of Egypt which is 3,000 years old (The Sphinx is said by some to be a thousand years older than the pyramids), and they exist because they are made of stone and are in an area where the weather and decay has been slowed, but not stopped.
Things as recent (a little over 200 years ago) as the Constitution is questioned by many in our culture and government today and it’s ideas are heading towards mythology. For an extraordinary document created and written by 50 ordinary men to help found the notion that the individual is a sovereign state and not the government, it is now not taught in the schools, laughed at, and ignored on a regular basis. Time, ignorance, and intentional dismissal of our supreme law for this Republic have taken its wear on not only the document, but more importantly the ideas. When the Health Care Law was being debated last year in Congress, then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (3rd in line to the presidency according to the Constitution) was asked if the law being debated was Constitutional. She laughed and replied, “Are you serious?” The Constitution and its role as the guardian of our liberties was the furthest thing from her mind though she had sworn an oath every two years to it since she first took office. Time magazine recently wrote a front page article proposing that the Constitution was not relevant anymore. Even government employees, such as TSA, routinely ignore the limitations placed on them by the Constitution and feel they have the “right” to examine an old lady’s soiled diapers. And we, as members of this Republic (not a democracy as some now teach), choose to ignore this either due to our ignorance of the Constitution or our willingness to make it irrelevant. The Constitution and its principals of individual sovereignty and liberty is rapidly becoming a myth.
What is this leading too and what does it have to do with the Space Shuttle? Bear with me for a little while longer.
A new generation occurs every 33 years according to many sociology textbooks. That generation during that time period is born, schooled, and finally takes their place in our society as adult members.
It has been 39 years since an American has last walked on the Moon. One generation has come into being and has started to produce the next generation. That same generation has never seen us walk on the Moon, never seen our first space station Skylab, and is starting to voice doubts that it ever happened. All they have ever known is the Space Shuttle, which will retire in 3 weeks after 30 years of flying.
If you do a Google search on “Moon Landing Hoax,” you will find hundreds of listings advocating that the landings on the Moon was a hoax and never happened. It doesn’t help that the baby boomer generation that witnessed man on the Moon is now retiring at a rate of 10,000 per day since January 1st, 2011 and that will continue for the next 15 years. Eventually the boomers will die off disappearing from this world and taking their eyewitness accounts with them. Only 9 of the 12 astronauts that walked on the Moon still live and their ages range from 76 to 81 years old. They will soon be gone along with their firsthand accounts of what it was like to travel to another world. The human proof and the witnesses will be gone forever. The digital media will not be far behind it since it cannot last as long as stone pyramids.
Dozens of books, TV shows, etc. have been made in the last 30 years claiming the Moon landing was a hoax. Though 400,000 people worked on the Apollo program and many still live, along with most of the Apollo Moonwalkers, “In 2009, a poll held by the United Kingdom’s Engineering & Technology magazine found that 25% of those surveyed did not believe that men landed on the Moon. Another poll gives that 25% of 18–25 year olds surveyed were unsure that the landings happened.”
25%! One out of every four now does not believe that the Moon Landings happened. One out of four! Throw in the fact that some of this new generation, intended or not, is now teaching our grandchildren and great grandchildren in our public schools that the Moon Landings were not real; it won’t be long before that number of disbelievers climb. Fortunately, there are still enough people alive still walked on the Moon, worked in Apollo, and witnessed the landings to refute them, but what happens when they are gone?
Some laugh and say that our accomplishments in space can never be forgotten and even better things are yet to come. But, once you lose something, it is hard to get it back. It’s been 39 years, over one generation, and we have not returned to the Moon nor will we in our lifetimes no matter how many promises NASA has made in the past.
“But, we still have the Apollo hardware and capsules that went to the Moon in the museums!” some would say. Yes we do, but for how long? Just a few short years ago, the Russian Space Shuttle Buran was destroyed in a hanger collapse, never to be seen again. Did you know they had a Space Shuttle program of their own? I’m sure most of you didn’t and I am sure it is not taught in your schools to your children. The other remains of the Russian Space Shuttle program are now rusting in junkyards, parts being sold on EBay, or being used as tourist attractions in the Middle East. With the fact that our government is broke financially, it is only a matter of time that museums such as the Smithsonian will see their budgets cut drastically forcing upkeep on the buildings and exhibits to be diminished. Possibly the Smithsonian would be forced to sell off some of their collection. Can’t happen you say? There is already a huge market for Russian space artifacts that are being sold. Egypt lost a large amount of their heritage to buyers, thieves, and other nations. It has happened in the past and can happen to us.
Metal rusts, buildings crumble, people die, space stations and satellites fall from the sky, and money runs out. Spaceships and everything associated with them are made of perishable items. They will rust, they will decay, and they will eventually disappear no matter how much is spent or not spent on the upkeep. Remember, the only thing left in our human history that actually has a chance to survive long term after we are gone are the stone monuments such as the pyramids and they are showing their age. They look nothing like they were described in the historical documents that have been found in Greece or Rome.
The only monument from the Moon landings that will be left a thousand years from now is the hardware we left on the Moon because the weathering is not severe nor like anything we have on Earth. But, if we do not return to the Moon anytime soon, those monuments will be forgotten and not discovered unless mankind someday returns there in the far future. What would they say when they find it? Will they know who we were? Will they know our nation even existed? Will they think aliens left it there? Will they just ignore it so they can claim they were there first? Will they acknowledge that giants of our time once walked on another world? Will they rediscover that the myths were actually true?
This will happen to the Space Shuttle program and the International Space Station eventually. There are many now that have spent the last few years claiming that the Space Shuttle Program has been an utter failure. I suspect it will only be ten years or less before you see the first book out claiming the Space Shuttle program was a total hoax. Thirty three years from now, a new generation will start to question if we ever really had a Space Shuttle. By that time the ISS, the 3 football fields’ wide engineering marvel and world class science research facility, will have crashed to the Earth over 20 years ago. (Most people today don’t even know the ISS has six humans flying on it and that it’s been continuously occupied for over ten years now.) Once that is lost, it will be hard to get back no matter how many PowerPoint’s and promises New Space makes.
In a way, it already is starting. The two most popular attractions at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center are two works of fiction; the Star Trek exhibit and the Transformers 3 movie shot at KSC using a fictional story of Apollo 11. Not the Shuttle, not Apollo, not Mercury, or Gemini. Two science fiction series! Imagine a young child visiting there and seeing both the real and unreal being merged together. How long before they associate our Human Space Flight program with science fiction? How long before they associate it with a myth? The children of today are being taught that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin discovered a Transformer on the Moon in a science fiction story.
My children know what I did for a living. My grandchildren will hear stories from me about it and will see the things I’ve saved from my time at KSC. My great grandchildren will never know me and probably will not know what I did. How long before our descendants never know nor believe that we once walked on the Moon, orbited the earth in giant structures, and flew shuttles? How long before our HSF becomes a myth to be told around the campfire?