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What do you Make of the “Houston, we have a problem” Film Claiming that a Secret Yugoslavian Space Program was the Source of American Success in the Space Race?

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They have got to be kidding! At least that’s what I thought, but apparently not. I received a call from Richard Solash, a reporter with Radio Free Europe about ten days ago to discuss a film being made by Slovene director Ziga Virc and writer Bostjan Virc that alleges that Tito’s Yugoslavia had a secret space program and secretly sold space knowledge to NASA, in the process making Tito rich and making if possible for the U.S. to achieve its Apollo program. Here is a Radio Free Europe news story about it. The filmmakers made a trailer offering the thrust of their argument and it quickly generated quite a lot of buzz in the Balkans. The trailer is here:

It is a fascinating, misleading, and in places highly contentious trailer for what is being billed as a “docudrama.” It claims that in 1960 the CIA discovered a secret Yugoslav space program, one that the United States exploited to win the space race with the Soviet Union, “buying” the whole shebang from Yugoslav strongman Tito in March 1961, not long before President Kennedy’s announcement of an American lunar landing program. The Yugoslavian space effort was based, according to this trailer, on the work of Hermann Noordung, a Slovenian-born artillery officer in the Austrian Army who wrote a book, The Problem of Space Travel, that was published in 1929 not long before his death. When I served as the NASA Chief Historian between 1990 and 2002 the history program had this work translated into English and published in the NASA History Series. It has recently been reprinted with additional prefatory material in an excellent new edition by the Centre of European Space Technologies (KSEVT) in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

JFK

President John F. Kennedy in his historic message to a joint session of the Congress, on May 25, 1961 declared, "...I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." This goal was achieved when astronaut Neil A. Armstrong became the first human to set foot upon the Moon at 10:56 p.m. EDT, July 20, 1969. Shown in the background are, (left) Vice President Lyndon Johnson, and (right) Speaker of the House Sam T. Rayburn.

Those commenting on the assertions made in this film have been highly critical. Viewers of the trailer have referred to it as a “mockumentary,” a “documentary,” and a “fantasy.” Of those three characterizations “documentary” is probably the term least closely related to what is being proposed for this film. William Barry, the current NASA Chief Historian, was kinder than most when he said that “I would be very curious to see if there is any real historical evidence that holds up…” Full disclosure, I was also quoted in the same news story as Bill Barry questioning the assertions made in the film trailer.

Buzz Aldrin

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Lunar Module LM pilot, stands beside the Passive Seismic Experiments Package PSEP. The Laser Ranging Retroreflector LRRR, U.S. Flag, television camera and the Apollo Lunar Surface Closeup Camera ALSCC and LM are visible also. Image taken at Tranquility Base during the Apollo 11 Mission.

Since that time there have been many comments back and forth. The film’s principals, Bostjan Virc and Ziga Virc, contacted me by e-mail insisting that “most media misinterpreted our project without asking us anything. Some of them stated it as a real documentary and some of them claimed it’s a spoof or mockumentary. From the first beginning we present it as a docudrama…That means a movie, where the basis is a reality with added dramatisation and some fiction elements.”

As a “documdrama” I’m curious as to whether this proposed film will be something like “The King’s Speech” just recently released that is presumably a true story, but also has some notable fictional elements and at least one gross distortion of the historical record in the position of Winston Churchill on the abdication of Edward VIII from the British throne? Or will it look and feel like a documentary with an announcer narrating events but have fictional elements in it? The meaning of “docudrama” appears to serve as a license to make up whatever might be desired and to include it in the film. Where is the line between fact and fiction in this proposed work? I’ll look forward to seeing what the Vircs come up with.

flag

Geologist-Astronaut Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17 Lunar Module pilot, is photographed next to the American Flag during extravehicular activity (EVA) of NASA's final lunar landing mission in the Apollo series. The photo was taken at the Taurus-Littrow landing site. The highest part of the flag appears to point toward our planet earth in the distant background.

I will be fascinated to see how this unfolds. I have many questions about the trailer’s arguments. Many of the connections made seem ridiculous at best; disingenuous at worst. As Carl Sagan said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The “post hoc ergo propter hoc” approach to arguments in the trailer are solipsistic and I await the proof to support them. I’m also interested in the filmmaker’s documentation about Hermann Noordung, additional papers he may have, etc. I truly question this story, but I want to hear what others have to say about it. Any thoughts?

Roger Launius is a curator in the Space History Division of the National Air and Space Museum.

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9 thoughts on “What do you Make of the “Houston, we have a problem” Film Claiming that a Secret Yugoslavian Space Program was the Source of American Success in the Space Race?

  1. I think if the documentary/docudrama (whatever it ultimately turns out to be) proves to hold new information regarding the thousands of people that made the lunar landing possible, then it will be fascinating to hear about and dive deeper into the historical data that supports it. Otherwise, I feel that this will likely turn out to be another bunch of hogwash, fueling the flames of the conspiracy theorists.

  2. …Of course, all the Moon Hoax Morons will have a field day with this mess. And to make matters worse, Betty and “scott” Grissom will be screaming that Gus, Ed and Roger died “in a Yugo”. Between this mess and “Apollo 18″, wankers like Bart Sibrel and Richard Hoagland must be in pr0n heaven right about now :/

  3. I don’t understand how people can say that humans landing on the moon is a myth. It’s been done and proven. @Stanislav, why do you think it never happened?

  4. Mandy, I care, and many other people I know, please don’t make dumb assumptions and waste space on pages like this one.

    Jesse K – it never happened as there is no real evidence.

  5. Mandy I think you need a special care. I do agree that you are a space waster on this page.

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