Was the Apollo Program an Anomaly?

Article written: 25 Jan , 2011
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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How often have you heard (or thought) the sentiment that all NASA really needs is a President who will issue a bold challenge for the space agency, like Kennedy did in 1961, initiating the Apollo program to the Moon? Can we ever expect to witness such a call to action again?

“It is very unlikely,” said space historian and author Andrew Chaikin, who believes Apollo was an historical anomaly. “I think for many decades people saw Apollo as a model for how to do a space program; that you get a President to get up and make a challenge and the country follows along and does great things. But that was only true that one time in the context of the Cold War.”

We went to the Moon when we did not because we were a nation devoted to exploration, Chaikin believes, but because it seemed a politically important course of action in the context of our Cold War with the Soviet Union. “Once that was accomplished, then that political imperative evaporated,” he said.

On May 25, 1961, Kennedy announced his support for the Apollo program as part of a special address to a joint session of Congress:

Likely, we won’t hear any bold space-related challenge in tonight’s State of the Union Address by President Obama. Given the state of the economy, NASA might be facing a cut or freeze on their budget, a fact which might emphasize how unique an event the Apollo program ended up to be.

“What is required now is the development of technologies that will allow us to explore space in a sustainable way,” said Chaikin, author of “A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts,” who I interviewed for the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast, “a way that won’t break the bank and will allow us to do more and more with reliable transportation systems that get us up into low Earth orbit. Then perhaps we can build the machines that can actually be stored in space to allow us to venture beyond low Earth orbit to the Moon and even further, to Mars and other destinations in the solar system.”

Chaikin said he’s actually very excited about the work being done in the private sector, such as by SpaceX, one of several commercial space companies trying to develop new transportation systems to provide sustainable hardware and sustainable architecture. “That can allow us to really get back in the game of exploring, not only with robots as we have been doing all along, but with humans again,” Chaikin said.

But Apollo’s uniqueness doesn’t mean it wasn’t important, or hasn’t left a lasting legacy for human spaceflight, and the human race in general.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon for Apollo 11. Credit: NASA

“Simply put Apollo was the opening act in a story that has no end,” Chaikin said. “It’s a story of human beings leaving their home planet and venturing out into the universe, and as far as we go into space in some distant epoch, when we are living in other star systems and venturing throughout the galaxy, Apollo will have been the first step, so it is absolutely monumental when you look at it in that scale. I think Apollo is a lasting inspiration about what humans can accomplish when they work together.”

Apollo also showed people that anything was possible. “There was a phrase that went into our language after Apollo, and that was ‘If we can put a man on the Moon, why can’t we…’ fill in the blank,” said Chaikin. “The spirit that humans can overcome monumental challenges by working together, I think, is a valid legacy of Apollo culturally.”

Chaikin said Apollo was also important because of the technology development it spurred.

“A lot of the challenges that Apollo presented forced the industries to accelerate their development,” he said, “particularly in microelectronics. It is not that NASA invented all of the microelectronics that we use today but rather that the requirements of building a moon-ship and cramming it with all of the electronics that it needed to do its job required the electronics industry to miniaturize at a faster pace, it required the development of computers that could fit on a spacecraft, it required all kinds of analytical techniques and real-time tracking of the spacecraft as it went to and from the Moon. The legacy today is all the communications technologies and information processing technology that we are surrounded by. That really got an amazing jump start as part of the Apollo program.”

Earthrise from Apollo 8

Earthrise from Apollo 8

And Apollo also affected our culture, in unique ways we observe even today. How often have you seen the “Earthrise” image taken by Apollo 8 or the picture of Buzz Aldrin standing on the Moon or other Apollo-related imagery in non-space-related venues?

“We got to a place where humans had never been before,” Chaikin said, “and the other lasting legacy is the view that we got from that ‘mountaintop,’ of our Earth as a very precious oasis of life in space, and a world that really is to be cherished and protected.”

We knew even as it was happening, Chaikin said, that seeing our world floating alone in space was perhaps the most profound impact of the voyage.

“In fact, if you look at the front page of the New York Times the very day after Frank Borman and his crew became the first humans to orbit the Moon,” Chaikin said, “you will see an essay by a poet named Archibald MacLeish talking about the impact of that view and the perspective of us as ‘brothers in the eternal cold riding on spaceship Earth.’ So this is one of the things sets Apollo apart from other earlier explorations is that we were experiencing it as it happened through live television and we were actually absorbing and processing the impact in real time.”

Launch of Apollo 8 lunar orbit mission

Launch of Apollo 8 lunar orbit mission

But then, humans being as attention-challenged as we are, it didn’t take very long for all of it to become old hat and to kind of recede into history. “And that is where we are today,” Chaikin said.

That being said, Chaikin does not see the Moon as a “been there, done that” world.

“As you know, we’ve been finding frozen water at the poles of the Moon and this is a completely different view of the Moon than we had 40 years ago,” Chaikin said. “And there are more and more intricacies that we are finding all the time. The Moon itself is a Rosetta Stone for deciphering the history of the solar system, and is profoundly valuable world for us on so many levels. And it is a spectacular place. The Apollo astronauts – I’ve spent hours talking to all of them about the Moon, about the experience of being on the Moon and they just say it is a spectacular place.”

“It is too bad that the political impetus for going to the Moon was so short-lived because it was part of the Cold war,” Chaikin continued, “and looking back we can see why that was the case. It is too bad we lost interest in the Moon and it has taken us so long to turn our attention back to the Moon and all it has to offer.”


Listen to the entire interview with Chaikin on the NLSI podcast, which can also be heard on the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast.

For more information about Andrew Chaikin, see his website, andrewchaikin.com

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34 Responses

  1. Nafin says

    The events of the Apollo program may have happened decades before I was around to witness them, but reading about Gemini and Apollo brings chills to my spine like nothing else. We got it right back then, we took the best we had and we shot for the moon. Today its all about profitability, no one gives a damn what you do anymore, what you accomplish, they just want to know how much it will make them.

    Prove we can profitably mine gold on the moon, we’ll be back in a heartbeat.

    • Andy F says

      I’m afraid Nafin has hit the nail on the head. While the West is obsessed with consumerism, (a habit we pay for not by making things anymore, but with foreign credit ) the developing nations invest in their space programs. The next person to land on the Moon, and probably Mars too will be either from India and China. And good luck to them.

      • And if India and China don’t do it in a more cost-effective way than Apollo, they won’t be able to sustain it, either. Those same lessons apply to any other country.

    • gopher65 says

      What you’re missing is that it was all about profitability then too, it was just about making a political profit, not a monetary one. And really, that’s true today too. The only difference is that it is not currently politically profitable to invest in space travel (IE, space doesn’t win you votes, because the American public doesn’t give a darn about it).

      If that changed and it once again became politically profitable for them to support space, then you would see a push to the moon… or mars… or an asteroid. But it isn’t profitable for politicians to do that kind of thing, so they don’t.

      They’re really being quite logical in their own fashion, given the things that they care about (staying in power, not ticking off the majority of voters by “wasting” money on space).

      • gopher65 says

        One last thing: if you want another big push into space (whether human or robotic it doesn’t matter), the politicians aren’t the ones you have to convince. You have to convince the people in their districts. Politicians are nothing but weather vanes. They blow in the direction that their constituents, business interests, and allied lobbyists point. If you want a politician to do something, you have to convince one of those three groups to support your goal.

        So either start a massive lobby group (not likely unless you’re rich), make space profitable enough for companies that they start asking the government for subsidies and technological development assistance (starting to happen), or convince the public that your idea is a good one (very hard).

        Those are the only paths forward.

      • Maxwell says

        It was a different kind of profitability.
        Faith in the US government was shaken, democracy was losing out to the unstoppable and practically global communist revolution. If we didn’t prove our own capability then we would have lost trading partners and businesses would have failed.
        When tested, the politicians responded by throwing resources at smart men with big ambitions for mankind. Its the kind of odd moment that seems to come along every few decades.

        Half of me wants to think that our current withdrawal from space may be a good thing in the long run. The public needs to have its faith shaken every now and then, our leadership needs to be embarrassed and our will tested.
        Its a bad deal for the man in the hot seat when a sputnik moment comes along, but in part its earned by years of short sightedness.

        The half of me that wants to see NASA’s downfall only does so because it hopes that will herald in another golden age of spaceflight. A few political heads may roll, but that’s not always a bad thing.

    • therealdavidn says

      I agree – It still almost makes me tear up. Every time i read about it i realize more how difficult it was. Most things become more ordinary the more you contemplate them, but this just gets more awe inspiring.

      I hope my kids can adequately grasp the significance of this, and they will pass it on to their kids…

      This achievement should never be forgotten.

  2. Member
    ToSeek says

    I try to make the point when arguing with the more reasonable Moon-landing deniers that the amazing thing is not that we haven’t been back but that we went in the first place. The NASA budget peaked in 1966 at 4.41% of the federal budget. If that pace had been maintained, the current budget would be $169 billion, and we’d have a von Braun-style space station, a Moon base, and manned missions to Mars. But without some justification beyond the science and technology – profit, global politics, or whatever – it was never going to happen. There’s no way NASA’s going to get more than a tiny fraction of that kind of money today.

  3. Lawrence B. Crowell says

    At the end of it all you can get to the moon, but then what? We are not able to make use of much there, certainly not in a way which can recover costs. There is nothing which can be mined in a way which would recover the resources used to get there.

    The Apollo program might be compared to building pyramids, though the Apollo program was much briefer. It amounts to a lot of effort that ultimately pays little back. It stands as a historical monument, and even if China puts Taikonauts on the moon they may come to the same conclusion. If the moon is a Rosetta stone for the formation of the solar system it can be studied robotically and with telepresent downlinks. The need for having astronauts on the moon is problematic at best.

    LC

  4. William928 says

    @gopher65: I agree with most of what you say with the exception of constituents having any influence over politician’s decisions. Huge money lobbyists are the only group these folks are beholden to.

  5. maxmart says

    It is good to see this mythology finally deflated. We did not go to the moon because the president wanted it, we went because our technology was ready for it. Likewise, it is meaningless to blame politicians or profiteers, as if they were all-powerful figures arbitrarily controlling our fates. Our society rose suddenly from economic obscurity in the last century, but we have quickly reached our material and affordable limit. We are now headed just as quickly back to the society we left behind 100 years ago, of hard work, entrepreneurship, and real, but now global, competition. Human space exploration is grossly unrealistic, and neither China nor India will be able to afford it either. We will only get to Mars by a huge national or international expenditure of money and lives, and our stay will be brief. It’s hardly worth it.

    • Member
      ToSeek says

      I think that’s completely off the mark. We went because there was the political will to go. At the time of Kennedy’s announcement we didn’t remotely have the technology – we hadn’t even put a human in orbit, for goodness’ sake! The political will drove the technology, not the other way ’round. If technology drove, then we’d have bases on the Moon and missions to Mars because certainly the technology for that is as good as it was for going to the Moon in 1961.

      • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

        Well said!
        Also. Who says any other country doesn’t have the drive for space explorations. America is proud as punch for its achievements (and rightfully so, IMO).
        I read this and ask. Why can’t some one else have a dream? (or are dreams now exclusively American owned?)

  6. Nafin says

    So doesn’t that make it our jobs as the few individuals who see worth in the marvel of exploration and expansion of humanity to compel our society towards it? Profitability be damned, there are many more compelling reasons to colonize the rest of the solar system than profit. Not to mention there are certain long term profit opportunities that come to mind. Somewhere I read an article about the people that would comprise the crew of the ship that colonizes Mars and what life would be like for them. It is bleak, involves a rather large amount of manual labor and danger with little in the way of rewards and no hope of return to Earth. Still I would go in a heart beat, just for historical significance if nothing else. But fifty years down the line you’ve got the start of a stable civilization, hopefully an independent and sustainable one. Eventually, one hundred years or so down the line trade will be possible. Two planets of humans are a lot harder to kill off than one planet of humans. Now I’m not sure if you’ve heard but Yellowstone National Park is the caldera of a mantle plume volcano (with rumors of a rising floor level), periodically asteroids and comets the size and general shape of Texas come hurtling towards the East coast, Iran, North Korea, Israel, Pakistan, and China all have nukes (not to mention weaponized diseases, lasers, sea mammals, etc. and tense local climates, not to worried about Russia though…), BP’s little accident, mass extinction, melting ice caps, Obama failing and failing to get reelected (it will happen, trust me), and the ever steadily increasing margin between the exorbitantly rich and the marginally surviving, is it not wise to spread out so that when the shit does hit the fan, and it will, some might pull through?

    • Member
      ToSeek says

      You make some good points, but you shouldn’t believe Hollywood. The only minor solar system body the size of Texas is Ceres, and it isn’t going anywhere. But of course it doesn’t take something that size to wipe us out – the asteroid that eliminated the dinosaurs was only about half the size of the District of Columbia.

  7. Greg says

    There is much to be learned from the history of the U.S. over the last century. It has strong religious and anti-intellectual underpinnings best embodied by the Republican party that focuses on the military/industry as the prioity. Think Ike here. Scientific pursuits usually fall under the purview of the Democratic Party so it is no surprise that Kennedy was the one to push Apollo along. The Soviet Union and fear of anihilation is what brought these two sides together when it came to Apollo. The Cold War forced politicians to put the nation first rather than just global economic and military exploitation. Once the cold war ended it was back to business as usual. Narrow-minded greed and self-interest took over completely (which sadly is likely the default nature of the human race) and there was no longer any need to promote the sciences to overcome the scientifically minded Soviets. Our leaders abandoned the concept of putting the nation first and everything literally began crumbling down around us, including the space program. The author of this article did not lose sight of the fact that every dollar spent on science pays tenfold back in economic gain from eventual applications that otherwise would never have happened or never happened so quickly. It is an investment, better than any other. Our massive, but rapidly declining edge on electronics and communications had everything to do with the Apollo program. Similarly our military dominance has everything to do with the same advances. By progressively abandoning the sciences and projects related, the writing is on the wall for this nation. Eventually it shall be surpassed, and much faster than you might realize.

    • Lawrence B. Crowell says

      Of course Eisenhower warned against the military industrial complex.

      The intellectual and technological trajectory of the US had its pre WWII tradition of inventiveness. We had a few physicists of note, such as Gibbs and Oppenheimer. Yet the United States was not on the same par with Europe. We also had considerable mass production on a scale surpassing European nations. With the rise of fascism and end of WWII much of the intellectual body of Europe ended up in the United States. This includes von Braun and the German rocket scientists. Europe was bombed into ruins and became economically second rate until the late 1960s. The Korean War prompted the cold war and this lead to the missile race and ultimately the space race. So our position with respect to science and technology is not largely due to an intrinsic cultural force within the nation.

      Unfortunately there is an anti-intellectual streak in American society. The early founders of this nation in its colonial period were people escaping the emergent cosmopolitanism of England to form a puritanical theocracy, and further south in Virginia and Carolinas the disinherited sons from England who came as profiteers to establish a plantanocracy. We live with the heritage of this today in the forms of religious fundamentalism and social elitism. The so called “birthers,” and others who claim Obama is not a US citizen, are basically spreading a message, “He is not one of us.” The belief Obama is a foreigner persists, even though it is nonsense, amongst about 20% of American. This society is besotted with this sort of nonsense we have not shaken off.

      Curiously, Russia is similar in a way. In the 19th century there were intellectual developments, Mendeleev etc, and works in literature, music and the arts. However Russia had one foot firmly planted in the middle ages until 1917. Russia is a society with a lot of backwards vision of things. With the end of WWII the Soviet Union found itself in a position Russia had never experienced. They too inherited some of Europe’s brain power. The Soviet system was of course a hollow shell, and it fell apart in the 1980s. The Russian proclivity to love authority persists and the nation struggles with problems that have plagued it since the time if Ivan. Yet they did give the US a run for its money in the space race, and with the end of this year the Russians will have the largest functioning manned space program.

      • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

        Obama said;
        “America has to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world”

        That it seems to be the keystone for the road ahead, especially in education and generating the minds to be able to do the research and development.

        All this does is seem to support your statements here.

      • Lawrence B. Crowell says

        This State of the Union address will go down into the silence of entropy as most of them do. During the 1970s Nixon, Ford and then Carter sounded off on renewable energy and so called “energy independence.” Nothing much came of these. I question whether much will come of Obama’s proposals he made yesterday.

        LC

    • Zephyr says

      Greg, yes the right has its problems, in all states, the right is under plutocratic hegemony. The wealthy enslave all the politicians. Polluters profit at the expensive of all of us.
      What ever you think of Bush, that man nearly took you back to the moon, that puts him next to Kennedy in my books, and Obama pointed you (America) at asteroids and mars, as yet unvisited.
      Out the theory of Marx, the petty bourgeois (small businesses) have emerged, big business has no problem with that as we still enslaved by capitalism. The is still that human drive to continue, even with resistance and economic coercion we still vote dreamers in. OK Obama has a social focus, look after yourselves or you will end up arguing over the scraps of your society.
      http://www.nasa.gov/about/obamaspeechfeature.html
      http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2002/s603826.htm
      Does anyone know what happened to the spare skylab? I would lobby to put it in orbit around the moon, if I were going to the moon, I would want a safe port as close as possible.
      Also a X15 type vehicle is needed, the X-37 and, as in Obamas speech a larger vessel needs to be developed, something the size of a submarine that can journey 30 + lunar distances and return.
      There are still plenty of firsts in space, and competition should came from military and civilian parts of government and businesses.
      The lunar distance Just over 1 light second takes three days, as the speed of sound was a target, so should the speed of light.
      A manned orbit of the sun, first human on an asteroid, first human to climb Olympus mons, and mars isn’t half as interesting as Io.
      Space isn’t going anywhere we are.

  8. Uncle Fred says

    I agree with LC and others sentiments.

    A manned return to the moon is an unwise investment. Colonizing Space, the Moon or Mars is not rational. A better return on investment could be had by building a city on the South Pole. At first thought, a space colony sounds progressive and forward-thinking. Certainly, there will always be people that would choose a life of hardship off the Earth. Yet this is no reason to ask the rest of us to carry the multi-decade, trillion dollar burden of supporting anyone for unknown timescales. For what? To say we did? To ensure our survival? Those multi-trillions, and national/international efforts could do that here.

    I would sing a different tune if the Solar system offered us reasonable opportunities to expand our population and invest manpower into planetary ventures. Honestly I don’t see this. Had Venus been another Earth, I’d be writing letters to local representatives urging extra-planetary colonization. The hard fact is, our Solar system offers no reasonable places to settle.

    If or when we can reasonably reach other Earths, then maybe colonization has a chance. Yet by then, who knows? Empires may rise and fall, even biological life may find itself marginalized by the very tools it created. This is so far in the future (if at all) Who’s to say?

    We have a great place right under our feet. Lets focus on making this planet habitable for mankind so that some man-made catastrophe doesn’t jeopardize the pace of our technological advancement.

    • Member
      platomica says

      <>

      had venus been another earth, we’d be probably fighting interplanetary wars with the life forms having developed there… 😉 everyone just exploits the kingdom they have access to.

      but seriously, you’re right – not much out there in this star system other than earth that is remotely as promising to live on than earth.

    • Greg says

      There has not been a single major science initiative that has not resulted in dramatically accelerated technological innovations here on Earth. Almost always it was never clear what the benefits would be until well after the fact. The investments do pay off handsomely in the end and much more reliably than the stock market. If you set you sights on reaching a near Earth asteroid and mining it, for example, the breakthroughs necessary would likely lead to a much earlier ability to utilize the arctic reigons or exploit resources under the oceans here on Earth. The moon and Mars are much bigger projects, but would correspondingly lead to larger and more sustained technological advances here on Earth. If your nation can afford such projects, then they are worth doing as an investment. People who think there is nothing to gain are as naiively complacent as those who saw the voyages of Columbus as a lavish waste of time and treasury. Spain made out pretty well from that venture, I would say. Within a century or two or so it went from a war torn, ravaged nation to a dominant world power. I certainly am not advocating for colonization, as that is impossible now, but exploration and discovery are the first steps, and the process keeps the nation on the technological cutting edge. BTW mining NEOs for rare metals may in fact be a near-term lucrative result of such efforts once cheap access to orbit is achieved. There was a recent article that I read that nearly all of the surface gold on this planet arrived here from just a handful of asteroid impacts.

      • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

        As for “People who think there is nothing to gain are as naiively complacent..”
        This is irrelevant. People are thinking and wanting more of a stable economy and maintaining the essentials of life.

        Let’s see.
        1:7 Americans need assistance to buy food stamps so they don’t starve.
        Go to central district of Los Angeles, and what do you see?
        20% of people are on or below the poverty line…
        Most of the poor have no health insurance.
        The US life expectancy is declining

        …and yet you want to go to the Moon and do all the space empire things, yet you’re all living huge amounts of borrowed money for elsewhere, while the federal and state deficits keeps ring-up the cash register.

        Obama just tells you the facts in his State of the Union address, saying the austerity might have to last five years to get out of the economic hole.
        So what don’t you understand… your nation cannot afford such luxuries at the moment. Your government is at least maintaing the preexisting programs, and pulling its belt in on anything new — for awhile.

        As for arrogant “I certainly am not advocating for colonization..” Please show me ONE American who would dare to say this! Isn’t what you are really saying here is that “dominant world power” should have that option?

        I’m sorry. Myopic insensitive individuals like you really get my goat!

  9. Feenixx says

    I’ve been saying this for decades now: the Apollo landings cannot be done now, because the Cold War is over.

    I was 18 at the time, and excited and starry-eyed.
    Looking back, I can see what I have come to believe is the real story: It was a (Cold) War effort. The astronauts were soldiers in that war, and soldiers in any war are expendable, that’s the nature of any war – a risk any kind of military command will take. Humankind didn’t really have the technology and know-how to do it, and it was great fortune, indeed, that there were no casualties.

    Yes, absolutely, I most definitely can see the Apollo program as an anomaly.

    I also go along with the feeling of at least some of the commentators here: Shelf human space exploration for now, focus on robotic exploration while developing and fine-tuning the technology… and I reckon that human exploration and colonization will simply just fall into position… whenever the time is right and when our race is ready for it…

    …and by then, we will also have gathered much valuable information how to cope with some of the more extreme environments right here, back home – a very important “spin-off”, imo.

  10. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    All this story is is the usual verbose aphorism to substantiate space exploration. All you needs is the fervour of American patriotism, speak in terms of all humanity, then sit back on ones laurels and victories being smug in our cleverness and inherent superiority. However, I for one, don’t buy this openly self engrossing illusion.

    This same story appears just as Obama gives his State of the Union address, where he has to face the reality of the need for austerity to save the flagging US economy from stalling or faltering by placing a five year hilt on domestic spending. Yet you guys want to spend monies on chasing dreams instead of the basic necessities of infrastructure and education. Even more remarkable is that you still expect governments to exact your every wishes, even though economically the place is almost in taters! For government, fixing the economy is the number one priority.

    The picture of JFK did remind me of what Kennedy said about spending on the 14th December 1962 to the Economic Club of New York;

    “If government is to retain the confidence of the people, it must not spend more than can be justified on grounds of national need or spent with maximum efficiency”

    So please be realistic. Returning to the glory days of space exploration may just have to wait a little while…

    Note: It also reminded of this important JFK quote too;

    “Defense and space expenditures will necessarily rise in order to carry out programs which are demanded and are necessary for our own security, and which have largely been authorised by Members in both parties of the Congress with overwhelming majorities.”

    This simply shows the delusion of the eve of the space program that the drive was sold to the public as necessary for defence and NOT exploration per se. Kennedy famous speech of 25th May 1961 was just useful propaganda produced by the master of political seduction. His true agenda was different, which he discussed differently in private than to the people.

  11. Torbjorn Larsson OM says

    As for the achievement of going to the Moon, and how it relates to further achievement, I am always reminded of this xkcd graphic.

    Not that space colonization will scale exponentially in all things thanks to relativity speed limits, but note how the log scale brings out that going to the Moon was the hardest exploration goal _ever_. Mars will still be steep, and the Oort cloud close after that, but the stars are relatively easy. 😀 (Especially since the Oort clouds overlap.)

    As for history, I agree with HSBC. History is storytelling without much or any underlying theory, even worse than the contingency of biology that at least stems from a basic process. For example, even though it may be possible to estimate I have never seen any statistics on claimed ‘acceleration’ of development. Interesting article nevertheless.

    We are not able to make use of much there, certainly not in a way which can recover costs. There is nothing which can be mined in a way which would recover the resources used to get there.

    Depends. Now that there will be an orbital tourist industry for the time horizont we can see (since some people will collect enough resources, as evidenced by the first space tourists), it may be that it can recuperate the development costs. Moon water promises to be a cheaper LEO fuel/water resource than lifting it up Earth’s gravity well.

    Of course that will only have so much window of opportunity, since asteroid mining will be even cheaper once we learn how to do it (and/or tugging them to NEO). Oh well, many tourists will want to go the the Moon once LEO becomes mundane, in teh same way that people want to go to Antarctica despite it lacking cities and fun parks. So there is no urgency in exploiting the Moon before the asteroids, it will happen anyway. Or _that_ will be an anomaly.

  12. Member
    platomica says

    wonderful article and comments!

    the apollo moon landings were the culmination point of modernity as an epoch in human civilization, as such the will never cease to be the inspiring event they’ve been. what followed had other achievements we can be proud of (or bicker about), but apollo is D.O.N.E. if we’ll ever exploit asteroids or mars or draw energy from the greenhouse of venus, none of this would ever be possible without the achievements of the apollo area, but yet that epoch is over and we’re now a little bit more down to earth, interconnected globally and concerned about our survival on this pale blue dot to be following that line of heroic “small step for a man” giant leaps.

    one day, it might be appropriate to shift ideology back to what was a necessary foundation in the 60ies, and then we’ll do something like that again… but actually, i hope not.

  13. Nafin says

    It seems to me that any exploitation of the asteroids would necessitate a moon base for refueling and fabrication. NASA has pretty conclusively proved that theres enough resources on the moon to do both (at least circuitry for the fabrication part). It is a whole heck of a lot more likely that we would launch a vehicle from lunar orbit towards Mars or the asteroid belt than from the ground or Earth orbit

  14. Astrofiend says

    There will be other cold wars, and there is no better way of proving that you’re a big swinging d___ of an economic and intellectual powerhouse than to rocket into space and make a few ground-breaking achievements there. I don’t think that the US/USSR cold war was a once-off. I think it is a once in 50 year thing, where newly emerging world powers flex their muscles and have a bit of a pissing contest. More’s the better for us, unless they get itchy trigger fingers with the nukes.

    There is arguably already a cold war starting between America and China – each are investing heavily in technology that can counter offensive threats and defensive capability of the other, and each are responding to one-another’s technological developments with additional spending in programs of their own.

  15. Uncle Fred says

    I think this debate can be partially resolved if we can find common ground over space resource extraction.

    When it comes to recovering resources from space, what are the realistic possibilities? I have heard both sides of the story on this one, and honestly don’t know where the truth lies. Some say that the resources are limitless, and a huge effort and initial expenditure would eventually make this extraction process worthwhile. On the flip side, I have heard the exact opposite; that no amount of investment into near-term technology could ever recover the costs.

    Since there is little impetus on a nationalistic front for America to partake in costly space races, this seems like the only realistic possibility of getting anything significant beyond NEO. It is not realistic to assume that either the fledgling commercial space industries or nations such as China/India will be going beyond NEO with anything significant for some time to come (if at all).

    Does anyone have any links to material that argues for or against resource extraction and provides hard numbers on the possibilities of taking such ventures beyond NEO?

    UF

  16. Member
    platomica says

    maybe it’s a little bit off-topic, but it seems to me that the underlying question is: should the we undertake EITHER human space flight OR invest the necessary amount of money in producing more profitable earthbound solutions for our self made problems? it always looks to me like a question of balancing the budgets – but budgets rarely are EITHER/OR questions, they reflect a society’s development as well in maintaining it’s achievements as exploring new grounds. but that’s where human space exploration at the moment has a bad disadvantage; the costs for pushing it forward in the desired speed is just not justified by what the benefits are; which was different in the apollo aera. as much as i find this sad from a cultural view point, it makes perfect sense that we focus on less heroic, national pride projects today and more on solving some really pressing issues that have been let slide down the hill for too long. we haven’t really stopped or slowed down developing technological progress since the apollo times; we’ve just shifted the impetus to other goals and resources than those very likely to be found in space. it just makes more sense right now.

    as for exploiting possible space resources, the question has to be asked – what for? to build more cities? to cover more of our scared landscapes with the pest that humanity has become to nature? to allow replacement of the missing resources we’ve been using up here on earth, so basically the population growth can continue to explode on this planet? don’t get me wrong, i’m not trying to be cynical about it – but before we start importing more and more and more from elsewhere, i believe we should give some serious thought about how much we’re actually already cramming on this surface; a much better argument for space flight would be to get our population overflow off this sphere… but i don’t see any other place remotely reachable where they could go.

  17. Paul Eaton-Jones says

    A well reasoned, historical argument LBC. I don’t think the present is seen often enough within the flow of history and how the past impacts in a major way on [any] present. Your points about how the U.S. and U.S.S.R./Russia benefitted from the intellectual rush from post-war Germany is quite valid and pertinent. If one looks at U.S. isolation in the inter-war years is difficult to see where their major intellectual thrust might have come from. Their industrial muscle has of course never been in doubt for over 100 years. Europe still has a great and continuing intellectual base but factional infighting within the E.U. means we’ll never challenge the U.S., China or Japan in the economic field.

  18. Paul Eaton-Jones says

    Still. Being a teenager during the Apollo era was such a thrill and watching a the lift-off of one of the Saturn V’s even now brings a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye.
    If I can borrow from and paraphrase Winston Churchill, In a thousand years people will look at that era and say, This was their finest hour.

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