In 1996 and 1999 the Gallup Organization surveyed people about the possible existence of extraterrestrial (not Earth-related) life. The results are shown in Figure 9.18. Each time a fairly strong majority of poll participants expressed the opinion that some form of life does exist on other planets in the universe. Belief in extraterrestrial life dropped somewhat between 1996 and 1999, dropping from 72 percent to 61 percent.
According to several Gallup polls conducted between 1973 and 1999, Americans are less convinced in the possibility of extraterrestrial human life. (See Figure 9.19.) Only 38 to 51 percent of poll participants agreed that there could be people somewhat like us living elsewhere
Public opinion poll on whether people would like to go to the Moon, 1965 and 1999
in the universe. The latest poll, taken in 1999, reflects the greatest skepticism for the idea of extraterrestrial people. For the first time a majority (54 percent) of those asked did not believe that such people exist.
In a March 1999 poll the Gallup Organization asked 535 adults if they believed there is life of some form on Mars. Slightly more than a third (35 percent) expressed optimism that there is life on Mars, while 59 percent did not believe so. Another 6 percent had no opinion.
A few months later in July 1999 Gallup asked 1,061 adults if they would favor or oppose a project to send astronauts to Mars. A slim majority (54 percent) opposed the plan, while 43 percent supported it. These percentages are virtually identical to results obtained when Gallup asked the same question back in 1969.
A Moon Hoax?
One of the most off-beat stories of the Space Age is that the U.S. government faked the Apollo moon landings. In 2001 the Fox television network broadcast a show called Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon? Guests on the show claimed that the Apollo program never actually put a man on the Moon, but faked the lunar landing for television cameras. The theory continues to be supported on various web sites on the Internet.
Advocates of the hoax theory rely on several key points to support their position. Chief among these are:
- NASA's moon photographs do not show stars in the background behind the astronauts.
Public opinion poll on whether people would like to be passengers on a space shuttle flight, 1986, 1991, and 2003
- The American flag supposedly planted on the Moon by Apollo 11 astronauts is rippling in a breeze, yet there is no atmosphere on the Moon.
- Humans could not have survived exposure to the intense radiation of the Van Allen belts lying between Earth and the Moon.
In general, NASA ignores the hoax claims and does not address them publicly. The NASA website does include one article of rebuttal titled "The Great Moon Hoax" In it Dr. Tony Phillips addresses questions about moon photographs and the rippling flag. He points out that the exposure on the moon cameras had to be adjusted to tone down the dazzling brightness of the astronauts' sunlit spacesuits. This caused the background stars to be too faint to appear in the photographs. The rippling flag is explained by the wire inserts built into the fabric and by the twisting motion the astronauts used to push the flagpole into the lunar ground.
Phillips notes that Moon rocks are the best evidence that astronauts visited the Moon. There are more than 800 pounds of these rocks and they have been investigated by researchers all over the world. Moon rocks differ greatly in mineral and water content from any rocks found on Earth. They also contain isotopes created by long-term exposure to high-energy cosmic rays on the lunar surface.
Another NASA website addresses the hoax issue concerning the Van Allen Radiation Belts, which are regions of highly energized ionized particles trapped within the geomagnetic fields surrounding Earth. Astronomer Laura
Public opinion poll on desire to take a space shuttle flight, by age and gender, 2003
Public opinion poll on life on other planets, 1996 and 1999
Public opinion poll on whether there are people on other planets, 1973–99
Whitlock of the Laboratory for High-Energy astrophysics says that early NASA researchers were also worried about the radiation belts. Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, devised experiments in which bacteria and blood cells were sent aboard unmanned probes into space and returned to Earth. Animal experiments were also performed. ORNL used the resulting data to design special radiation shields for
Public opinion poll on whether the government faked the Apollo Moon landing, 1995 and 1999
THINKING ABOUT THE SPACE EXPLORATION, DO YOU THINK THE GOVERNMENT STAGED OR FAKED THE APOLLO MOON LANDING, OR DON'T YOU FEEL THAT WAY?
|1999 Jul 13–14
|1995 Jul 19–20**
SOURCE: "Thinking about the space exploration, do you think the government staged or faked the Apollo moon landing, or don't you feel that way?," in Did Men Really Land on the Moon? The Gallup Organization, Princeton, NJ, February 15, 2001 [Online] http://www.gallup.com/poll/releases/pr010215f.asp?Version=p [accessed January 12, 2004]
the Apollo spacecraft. The shields utilized materials left over from nuclear testing performed during the 1950s. Whitlock also notes that the Apollo spacecraft traveled so fast that the astronauts were exposed to Van Allen radiation for only a short time.
In its July 1999 survey Gallup asked poll participants their view about a possible moon landing hoax. As shown in table 9.3 the vast majority of those asked (89 percent) did not believe that the government staged the Apollo moon landing. Only 6 percent agreed that the landing was a hoax. Another 5 percent had no opinion. The results closely match those of a poll taken in 1995 by Time, CNN, and Yankelovich Partners, Inc. That poll also found that 6 percent of the people asked believe the moon landing was staged. Most people (83 percent) did not.