Friday, July 24, 2009

August 1969: Demonstrators at Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles say “Fuck Mars”

A newly-released CBS News poll finds that 43% of Americans are opposed to the United States sending astronauts on a mission to Mars. In 2004, 47% were opposed; in 1999, 35% were opposed; in 1994, 40% were opposed. Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that back in the summer of 1969, shortly after the astronauts of NASA's Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon, some Americans opposed the idea of the United States sending humans to the Red Planet:
Shortly after the Apollo 11 mission was completed, President Nixon hosted a large formal dinner to celebrate the event. The dinner was scheduled for August 13, 1969, and was to be held at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. As a NASA center director, I was invited to attend the party along with my wife. I want to describe what happened at the dinner, not because it was intrinsically important, but because it illustrated the attitudes toward the space program that were prevalent at the time. My wife and I were pleased to be able to attend, and we were excited because this was the first time that we had been invited to go to a party hosted by the president of the United States. Accordingly, we made the necessary preparations to attend.

On the appointed day, we flew to Los Angeles and drove to our hotel. We changed clothes and then drove to the Century Plaza. In the politically heated atmosphere of the time, there were almost certain to be pickets in front of the Century Plaza, and there was the possibility of a more active demonstration as well. Sure enough, the pickets and the demonstrators were out in force. A major feature of the demonstration was a huge sign with the legend
“Fuck Mars” printed on it in large letters that the demonstrators had somehow been able to hang along the upper floors of one of the office buildings across the street from the Century Plaza. The same message was clearly repeated on signs that some of the demonstrators carried. It was very apparent to us where the demonstrators stood on the value of the space program and on some of the plans then being considered for the post-Apollo effort. (I thought that the way the message was presented was also typical of the intellectual level on which the protests of the 1960s - with few exceptions - were conducted.)
An excerpt from The Space Station (1987), a nonfiction book written by Hans Mark, former director of NASA’s Ames Research Center and secretary of the United States Air Force.


Republibot 3.0 said...

A little bit later on - early 1970, I believe - Spiro Agnew gave a big speech on the White House steps outlining an ambitious plan to put people on Mars by 1981. This was just six months after Apollo 11, and he was openly booed.

Paul said...

Thanks for the tip. I didn't know that.