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The Moon Landings

History, Politics, and Social Responsibility in Science


Melanie R. Nilsson
Chemistry Department
McDaniel College


This discussion-based, modular case study provides students an opportunity to examine historical, political, and social issues that impact scientists and the publics they serve. It was designed with flexibility in mind, and can be easily tailored depending on the level of the audience, time constraints, and instructor interest. The scientific theme of the case revolves around the manned moon landings, but the case does not cover any specific scientific content, although it could easily be incorporated. The case can be used to introduce science into a humanities or social science course, or to infuse societal elements into a science course, or to supplement traditional astronomy, astrobiology, or earth and space sciences courses. The teaching notes include discussion of optional visual and literary art works that can be introduced to provoke discussion and stimulate interest in the case content. Due to the unusually open-ended nature of the material, an answer key is not provided.


  • Explore how the historic context often sets the stage for scientific and technological endeavors.
  • Discuss the role of scientists, the general public, and politicians in determining how scientific priorities are established and funded.
  • Examine the extent to which the exclusion of specific groups of people from decision-making can lead to science and technology “advancements” that preferentially benefit some populations over others.
  • Consider how scientific objectivity may be impacted based on the funding sources or motivations for conducting the work.


Moon; space exploration; Apollo missions; Operation Paperclip; scientific funding; objectivity; politics; race; Nazi; NASA; science funding; civil rights; social responsibility; art; music; STEM; STEAM

Topical Areas

Ethics, History of science, Policy issues, Regulatory issues, Science and the media, Social issues, Social justice issues

Educational Level

Middle school, High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division



Type / Methods

N/A, Analysis (Issues), Dilemma/Decision, Discussion



Subject Headings

Aerospace Engineering  |   Astronomy  |   Science (General)  |   Earth Science  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.