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Capricorn One and Other Conspiracies November 18, 2019

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
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Capricorn One was a 1977 movie about a purported Mars space mission.  It turned out that the three astronauts were escorted off the spacecraft just before liftoff, and were told that the spacecraft was not capable of supporting life during the journey.  Months (more like two years) later, the entire spacecraft malfunctioned on the way home, and the astronauts realized that they out of necessity must die to maintain the illusion of success.  Thanks to an intrepid reporter and one astronaut who made it briefly to freedom, they exposed the conspiracy to fake the Mars landing.

It was a really good conspiracy movie.  But there were many situations where in real life the conspiracy could have been exposed.  Essentially, it took all of NASA to maintain the illusion of a successful mission up until the point the capsule malfunctioned.

That simply won’t happen.  As it won’t in any secret conspiracy.  In Capricorn One, it couldn’t have happened like this, because much of NASA would have known.  Yes, there was a NASA worker who thought there was something suspicious, but in reality it would be far more than a single control room worker.  And they can just speak up, without threat of an untimely death.  There is absolutely nothing that motivates them to keep a conspiracy.

That’s not to say that people won’t try to conspire.  It simply means that they are all doomed to failure.

So this leads us to the Flat Earth conspiracy.  You can personally see the Earth curve at altitude, and the images of Earth from space are convincing to all but the conspiracy-minded.  Yet people, for reasons unknown, are convinced that the Earth is flat.

I’m sorry, the physics of rotation and gravity and the like (some apparently claim that because they haven’t seen gravity, they are convinced it doesn’t exist.  Whatever that means.) are pretty unambiguous.  Apparently the members of Flat Earth are growing rapidly.  It’s really a shame that people, even seemingly intelligent people, don’t have a fundamental grasp of science.

The psychology behind this and other conspiracies is fascinating.  According to the experts, conspiracies are a way for people to believe they are in control of events.  Yet it’s not at all clear to me how believing in a massive conspiracy makes people in control.  So in reality, we have people rejecting hard science because, well, because they want to.  And that’s not a reason that will help them through life at all.

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