However, the “Skylab 4 mutiny” story persisted throughout the lives of its astronauts, and still mostly does (William Pogue died in 2014, forty years post-mission). Skylab 4 did not go on “strike,” the three astronauts accidentally cut off their communications at the same time, without any ill intentions. But nobody seems to want to hear or read about the lessons learned from these missions that improved future spaceflight endeavors; they seem most attached to the specter of “high drama.”
- People are inherently narcissistic, and like to make historic events about themselves: Many like to claim involvement in historic events even though they had absolutely no involvement in them. I can’t count how many times I have posted up my refutation (boosted by facts) that there was no mutiny on Skylab, and a person writes back, “I know there was, I was THERE.” Huh? So you were aboard Skylab at the time? Maybe the commenter(s) read a newspaper article during that period alleging a “mutiny” or falling-out of sorts, but that hardly means he or she was actually “there.” Many news stories – spaceflight or not – have been written with no background information, or interviews from involved subjects.
- People are attracted to conspiracy theories: This is kind of a broad and easy answer. Often conspiracies about momentous events being “hidden from the public” hold a lot of intrigue. Even so, many spaceflight events happened in full view of the public (for example, the Saturn V lunar launches were pretty difficult to hide), and still generated plenty of conspiracy theories (i.e. “The Moon landings were faked”). Also, stories about death and/or wrongdoing, however untrue or unlikely, are very appealing to some on an emotional level.
- The “telephone game” effect, worsened by the advent of clickbait: The ease of placing content on the Internet makes these stories hard to source. Almost anyone can call themselves a “blogger” and/or an “expert,” and put out content on a website. However, making everybody an “expert” makes no one an expert. Professionalism and expertise in any field takes a very long time to hone and develop. In addition, inaccurate information can be quickly disseminated on the Internet, making it ubiquitous – perhaps more “popular” than the true story, and the facts. Some (not all, I want to add) science and/or space websites champion page views over accuracy. A long, well-researched, beautifully photographed news or history piece might get less hits than, say, something that runs 250 words in length, and gives the reader the barest information about a historic event. But the shorter piece was easier to put together, is easier for readers to comprehend at a more basic level, and the “writer” probably didn’t get paid much, if at all, for it. Which leads to...
- Scientific illiteracy and anti-intellectualism: Large numbers of people seem more apt to run with a short “bite” of information, accurate or not, versus actually reading a well-researched book on the topic. Taking the time to learn a topic is more difficult than just reading a breezy headline on an iPhone.
- Mistrust of government and/or agencies that control spaceflight: If you look at the comments on NASA’s Facebook page on any given day, you will see comments accusing the agency of faking Moon landings, covering up the existence of aliens/UFOs, faking the recent SpaceX Falcon Heavy triumph (even though SpaceX is a private company), and more increasingly shrill accusations. It’s clear a large segment of the public does not trust that a government agency would give them the truth about where their tax dollars are going, even though NASA has been for a large part open with the public about their activities.