Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


On President Kennedy, the Space Race, legacies and politics
May 25, 2011 12:13 PM   Subscribe

50 years ago today, on May 25 1961, US President John F. Kennedy decided "...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." Eight years later the Apollo program fulfilled the task, leaving the world with a legacy that includes advances in computers and communciation, lessons in managing complex projects, technological innovations and new views of the Earth. posted by Brandon Blatcher (79 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Apparently it's not this speech, but the clip I keep seeing over and over again, the only thing I really know of Kennedy's involvement in the Apollo program, is him saying something like, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard!"

What I've always wondered is, what were the other things? What else was on Kennedy's bucket list?

I imagine something like:

Be badass war hero. check

Be President. check

Score with Marilyn Monroe. check

Go to moon in this decade. in progress

Figure out lyrics to Louie, Louie. TBD
posted by Naberius at 12:20 PM on May 25, 2011 [15 favorites]


The space program was about a good many other things than space -- missile development, ideological supremacy, big contracts to the military-industrial complex beyond the 'mere' demands of Vietnam. As such, I suspect that whatever doubts he had about the project, those other factors would largely have decided for him in favour of continuation, beyond the pressures of having made a bold political promise on the matter.

Not that these doubts were uncommon, either -- there's a moment on Tom Lehrer's '65 "That Was The Year That Was" where he complains about two billion dollars being spent to send "some clown" to the moon. And Tom Lehrer is/was a pretty smart sciencey-type person, precisely the kind to see a lot of opportunity under the project.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:21 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Naberius, I think the answer to your question is that "do the other things" was not part of the quote. You put that in there.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:23 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


He decided on the day of the speech? Did he have two speeches prepared in case he was still indecisive?
posted by Eideteker at 12:23 PM on May 25, 2011


posted by Naberius What else was on Kennedy's bucket list?

1. By end of 1960s: Put man on moon
2. By end of 1970s: Start rumor that we did not put man on moon
posted by mattdidthat at 12:24 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Naberius is referring to the September 1962 Address at Rice University on the Nation's Space Effort, in which Kennedy said,
There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
posted by nonane at 12:26 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Naberius, the speech you're thinking of is this one, when he was Rice University, September 12th, 1962 (Link to full speech).

Eideteker, may you stuck in orbit for 14 days with Buzz Aldrin
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:27 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stepping back from the politics for a moment, the thing I love about the moonshots (and eventually landings) was the degree to which these guys were basically just mad hot-rodders, except instead of building and driving "rocketships" that would prove themselves in quarter-mile drags, they were building and piloting actual rocketships that would bust the f*** out of the earth's orbit ... and so on.
posted by philip-random at 12:28 PM on May 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Indeed. And although a lot of people tend to forget, Kennedy's speech was presaged by visionary transportation engineer Ralph Kramden, who made a promise to beloved wife Alice six years earlier (and I'm paraphrasing here) "One of these days, Alice. One of these days. Bang! Zoom! [We as a nation will send a manned lunar expedition] straight to the moon!"
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:28 PM on May 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


Whoops, here's the short excerpt.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:28 PM on May 25, 2011


Interesting times, and interesting information. Of course, why should we be surprised? Kennedy was the President, not a space-geek. He saw an opportunity to 1)unite the country in a non-controversial way and 2)beat the Soviets at the same time. Win-win.

I'm no history major, but I'm guessing Kennedy's bucket list was well connected to his political ambitions. So yeah, NASA and going to the moon fit in well with that, but undoubtedly he would have moved on to other things (what good politician wouldn't?).
posted by jnrussell at 12:29 PM on May 25, 2011


Sigh. Today would have been the idea day to announce a goal for us to send a manned mission to Mars.
posted by strixus at 12:31 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


ideal*
posted by strixus at 12:31 PM on May 25, 2011


Why does Rice play Texas?

Because once in a while they win.

*cries*
posted by kmz at 12:32 PM on May 25, 2011


@strixus: I think they only way we're getting to Mars nowadays is if Al Qaeda decides to start a space program...
posted by jnrussell at 12:33 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apparently if he won reelection and if there were no military necessity he was thinking about canning the trip to the moon.

The whole Space Program was not to one-up the Russkies in Space exploration. In fact Eisenhower delayed the launch of our first satellite until the Russians launched theirs so that we could confidently do a flyover of Russian Airspace without violating any international laws or treaties. Russia having already established the precedent.
posted by Gungho at 12:33 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


"We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard!"

A while back I saw this on the great Apollo documentary, For All Mankind with a friend, who pointed out that this speech demonstrates how good an orator Kennedy was: as written, it is quite ridiculous, and barely makes sense - but he managed to make it sound incredibly important and stately.
posted by iotic at 12:35 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also Today NASA announces that yes, Houston we have a capsule. * But we don't have a rocket capable of lifting it.
posted by Gungho at 12:37 PM on May 25, 2011


posted by Gungho Eisenhower delayed the launch of our first satellite until the Russians launched theirs so that we could confidently do a flyover of Russian Airspace without violating any international laws or treaties. Russia having already established the precedent.

Do you have a cite for this?
posted by mattdidthat at 12:38 PM on May 25, 2011


It was fun while it lasted.
posted by notyou at 12:38 PM on May 25, 2011


We have the technology. The time is now. Science can wait no longer. Children are our future. America can, should, must, and will blow up the moon.
posted by davel at 12:41 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


In this speech: "I have not asked for a single program which did not cause one or all Americans some inconvenience, or some hardship, or some sacrifice."

In the speech at Rice: "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard..."

Can you imagine a US President today announcing anything hard or requiring hardship and sacrifice?
posted by tommasz at 12:41 PM on May 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


Whatever the motivation, the space program has inspired much technical innovation (broadcast satellites, pocket calculators, freeze-dried food, smoke alarms, etc). I remember having to watch a couple of live NASA happenings in grade school during the early 1970s on a TV set that a room parent had brought in....I was so not interested in space stuff that I remember feeling wistful for social studies or math. NASA's influence apparently has had some far-reaching benefits, as well....for example, the Congolese space program is boosting the economy ever-so-slightly by providing jobs for many local residents and supply companies.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:42 PM on May 25, 2011


This is one of the few areas in which I think President Obama has erred. Cancelling the Constellation manned space program is penny wise and pound foolish, not least because of the spinoff benefits from the technology advances that flow from these programs.
posted by bearwife at 12:44 PM on May 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Seeing the Earth from space ought to have made us realise how small, blue and vulnerable we were, and are. It should have fostered an understanding of our proximity, of how our fortunes were locally interlinked. That we could understand the planet parochially and consider each other in those terms. But instead we were all like "We put a man in space, given limitless resources we can really fuck shit up, yeah!!!" This, for me, is one of the great disappointments of the late twentieth century.
posted by tigrefacile at 12:49 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Along those lines, Bush's 'Back to the Moon' address:
Mankind is drawn to the heavens for the same reason we were once drawn into unknown lands and across the open sea. We choose to explore space because doing so improves our lives and lifts our national spirit.

So let us continue the journey.
posted by smackfu at 12:49 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not that these doubts were uncommon, either -- there's a moment on Tom Lehrer's '65 "That Was The Year That Was" where he complains about two billion dollars being spent to send "some clown" to the moon. And Tom Lehrer is/was a pretty smart sciencey-type person, precisely the kind to see a lot of opportunity under the project.

Seems to me that the space program is one of those ideas / policies / enterprises that changed during the 1970s from being generally favored by conservatives and viewed with suspicion by liberals to something generally favored by liberals and viewed with suspicion by conservatives.

For what it's worth, Tom Lehrer himself, like Steve Allen and Stan Freberg, disdained rock and roll music (he refers to "rock-n-roll and other children's music" to applause on (I believe) the live An Evening Wasted With. . . album). So what did he know about the future?
posted by Herodios at 12:49 PM on May 25, 2011


Cancelling the Constellation manned space program is penny wise and pound foolish, not least because of the spinoff benefits from the technology advances that flow from these programs.

Much wiser we spend the money on R&D that has tangible benefits: energy, transportation, biotech, etc. How much more rocket & freeze-dried ice cream technology do we really need?
posted by davel at 12:50 PM on May 25, 2011


Stepping back from the politics for a moment, the thing I love about the moonshots (and eventually landings) was the degree to which these guys were basically just mad hot-rodders, except instead of building and driving "rocketships" that would prove themselves in quarter-mile drags, they were building and piloting actual rocketships that would bust the f*** out of the earth's orbit ... and so on.

There's a quote I recall from John Glenn, it appears in Wolfe's book The Right Stuff. Glenn was asked what it was like sitting on top of a rocket ready for launch. He said something like, "How would you feel, sitting on top of 200,000 pounds of explosive fuel, inside a machine built by the lowest bidder on a government contract?"
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:50 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Much wiser we spend the money on R&D that has tangible benefits: energy, transportation, biotech, etc. How much more rocket & freeze-dried ice cream technology do we really need?

Is there any way we can just invest the money directly into more freeze-dried ice cream?

I think I may be immune to novelty
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:55 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


posted by charlie don't surf There's a quote I recall from John Glenn, it appears in Wolfe's book The Right Stuff. Glenn was asked what it was like sitting on top of a rocket ready for launch. He said something like, "How would you feel, sitting on top of 200,000 pounds of explosive fuel, inside a machine built by the lowest bidder on a government contract?"

That was Alan Shepard.
posted by mattdidthat at 12:55 PM on May 25, 2011


I stand corrected. That does sound more like Shepard. I remember the quote as longer, but I will have to go reread the book. It really is a great book, better than the movie.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:59 PM on May 25, 2011


Eisenhower delayed the launch of our first satellite until the Russians launched theirs so that we could confidently do a flyover of Russian Airspace without violating any international laws or treaties. Russia having already established the precedent.

From what I remember reading, Eisenhower was reluctant to spend much on a space program because it was part of the military industrial complex and he was uneasy about the chief engineer of our rockets being a ex Nazi. NASA was a civilian agency because he figured if we had to have a space agency he wanted it out military control.

But it seems he did get a kick out of Russia launching Sputnik first:
Sputnik: a Soviet blunder?
But then, on October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union—as part of the “International Geophysical Year”—used one of those big ICBM rockets it had been developing to launch Sputnik 1, an 83-kilogram aluminum sphere that did little more than emit radio beeps. Eisenhower was secretly thrilled! Now the US could go full steam ahead on its top secret spy satellite project, called “Corona”. By being the first to launch a satellite, the Soviets had lost their ability to object diplomatically.

Eisenhower, though, was in an awkward position. He couldn’t very well crow about what he saw as a Soviet blunder because the very idea of spy satellites was still one of America’s biggest secrets. So he just tried to brush off the launch of Sputnik as unimportant. As the New York Times put it on October 13th, (way back on page 181): “President Eisenhower expressed no alarm over the incident” and added that “this country has never been in ‘a race’”. Even the Russian leader, Nikita Khrushchev, made light of Sputnik’s significance. The same Times article reported that, when asked if he had witnessed the takeoff, Khrushchev replied:

No, I didn’t see it. When the satellite was launched, they phoned me that the rocket had taken the right course and that the satellite was already revolving around the earth. I congratulated the …engineers and technicians …and calmly went to bed.
The Washington Post, (October 10, 1957, pg A14), ran an article on the President’s position headlined “On Refusing to Race”.

Clearly, both Eisenhower and Khrushchev expected Sputnik to have its 15 minutes of fame and then fade to a footnote in the history books.
Much wiser we spend the money on R&D that has tangible benefits: energy, transportation, biotech, etc. How much more rocket & freeze-dried ice cream technology do we really need

You should read some of the links in the post about technical innovations.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:01 PM on May 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is one of the few areas in which I think President Obama has erred. Cancelling the Constellation manned space program is penny wise and pound foolish, not least because of the spinoff benefits from the technology advances that flow from these programs.

Don't get me wrong, I've been a space nut for a long, long, time. But after reading book after book, I was really struck by The Heavens and the Earth, A Political History of the Space Age by Walter A. McDougall. It won the Pulitzer in 1986. McDougall really got me thinking about why we are in space and what the purpose of exploration is.

And the fact is that I cannot come up with a reason why it is critical that men and women be along for the ride in outer space. Don't get me wrong, from my pretty heavy reading about Apollo, it is clear that having astronauts there (and even a real geologist, Harrison Schmitt), made a difference in the level of science we could do. But I don't think it was worth all the money we spent on it. 25 billion dollars in 1974 dollars, which is a lot of cash.

The emotional part of me has always loved the space program and reading about landing on the moon. But I think of what that money could do on earth. Even direct investment of 25 billion on each and every "advance" that Apollo gave us could have probably gotten us a lot more on those technologies.

More importantly, what is the goal in putting men and women in a box and putting them into space? To say we have done it? To provide us with emotional entertainment and excitement? I do not think those things are worth 25 billion.

Science, however, is a worthy goal. That is why my main space interest now is the space probes. We're announcing another program today. Machines sent in to space to do science, now that is something I can support.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:02 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


"The other things" are spelled out in Kennedy's speech to congress:


I therefore ask the Congress, above and beyond the increases I have earlier requested for space activities, to provide the funds which are needed to meet the following national goals:
First, I believe that 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. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior.

We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations -- explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon-if we make this judgement affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.

Secondly, an additional 23 million dollars, together with 7 million dollars already available, will accelerate development of the Rover [sic, probably the Nerva rocket] nuclear rocket. This gives promise of some day providing a means for even more exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the moon, perhaps to the very end of the solar system itself.

Third, an additional 50 million dollars will make the most of our present leadership, by accelerating the use of space satellites for world-wide communications.

Fourth, an additional 75 million dollars-of which 53 million dollars is for the Weather Bureau-will help give us at the earliest possible time a satellite system for world-wide weather observation.


So there you go:
1. Man on moon.
2. Nuclear powered rocket.
3. Communications satellites.
4. Weather satellites.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 1:03 PM on May 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Geesh, such negativity. I grew up in the 1960s and the space program was exciting. Yes, Sputnik got everyone going on a competitive, nationalistic level but Americans going into space--it seemed that there was nothing we could not do if we tried. To kids, it wasn't militaristic--it was about the next adventure. And while that sounds jingoistic, it was indeed seen as a space race between us and the Russians, who seemed to have a lot of mysterious launches and dead cosmonauts. Though I recall Americans celebrating Yuri Gagarin's accomplishments. To kids, it was as idealistic as going in the Peace Corps. Then all the shit started happening, starting in 1963.
posted by etaoin at 1:05 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth:

I sincerely doubt that you'd be able to convince any politician to directly earmark 25 billion 1974 dollars directly to research without some ostensible pissing contest to pin it on.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:05 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth:

I sincerely doubt that you'd be able to convince any politician to directly earmark 25 billion 1974 dollars directly to research without some ostensible pissing contest to pin it on


Without doubt.

I don't think that makes it worth it, however.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:08 PM on May 25, 2011


But I don't think it was worth all the money we spent on it. 25 billion dollars in 1974 dollars, which is a lot of cash.

I'm curious, how much DO you think it was worth?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:09 PM on May 25, 2011


Spin-off by Robert A. Heinlein (comment #50 of the linked discussion (about a Neil DeGrasse Tyson article defending the space program) includes the full text.)

Meanwhile:
A rat done bit my sister Nell (with Whitey on the moon).
posted by Herodios at 1:13 PM on May 25, 2011


John F. Kennedy Presidential Library | May 25, 2011: Newly Released Recording of JFK Discussing Race to the Moon.
posted by ericb at 1:14 PM on May 25, 2011


posted by Gungho Eisenhower delayed the launch of our first satellite until the Russians launched theirs so that we could confidently do a flyover of Russian Airspace without violating any international laws or treaties. Russia having already established the precedent.

Do you have a cite for this?
posted by mattdidthat at 3:38 PM on May 25 [+] [!]


try here for starters: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/48812/stephen-e-ambrose/the-sputnik-challenge-eisenhowers-response-to-the-soviet-satelli There has been a whole bunch of papers and History channel and PBS shows that state this. I think the information was recently declassified.
posted by Gungho at 1:14 PM on May 25, 2011


You should read some of the links in the post about technical innovations.


Yes, we stumbled upon many useful innovations. But do you spend your R&D budget on “maybe we’ll get lucky” or do you spend it on trying to solve actual, pressing problems?
posted by davel at 1:16 PM on May 25, 2011


I think you could directly trace the breakup of the Soviet Union to the flagging of conservative ardor for the space program.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:17 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


If Kennedy had lived, what would have happened to the Apollo program?

And, if Kennedy had lived, would NASA have been located in Cambridge/Boston and not Houston?

"In May, 1964, MIT President James R. Killian '26, presented to the Cambridge (Massachusetss) City Council the prospect of attracting NASA to Kendall Square."*

In 1965 by the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) lobbied for NASA to be located there -- supposedly a wish expressed by J.F.K.

The CRA "delivered 14 acres for NASA buildings within the 42 acre Kendall Square urban renewal area." However, in December 1969 NASA "pulled out of the Kendall Square project without prior notification to Cambridge or the CRA" and settled on Houston (President Johnson's home state).
posted by ericb at 1:20 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Eisenhower was reluctant to spend much on a space program because it was part of the military industrial complex and he was uneasy about the chief engineer of our rockets being a ex Nazi.
You too may be a big hero,
Once you've learned to count backwards to zero.
"In German oder English I know how to count down,
Und I'm learning Chinese, now" says Wernher von Braun.

-- Tom Lehrer
posted by Herodios at 1:21 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


*Massachusetts*
posted by ericb at 1:22 PM on May 25, 2011


Yes, we stumbled upon many useful innovations. But do you spend your R&D budget on “maybe we’ll get lucky” or do you spend it on trying to solve actual, pressing problems?

Getting a person into space, keeping them there and returning them alive was an actual, pressing problem. The technology turned out to have a lot of uses on Earth.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:24 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]



Getting a person into space, keeping them there and returning them alive was an actual, pressing problem.


What?
posted by 2N2222 at 1:28 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]



NASA Spinoffs (publication):
When spinoff products began to emerge from space technologies, NASA considered the possibility of an annual report to present at congressional budget hearings. The result was a black and white “Technology Utilization Program Report,” published in 1973, followed by another one in 1974. The technologies in these reports created interest in the technology transfer concept, its successes, and its use as a public awareness tool. The reports generated such keen interest by the public that NASA decided to make them into an attractive publication. Thus, the first four-color edition of Spinoff was published in 1976.

Each year since, a new issue has highlighted the transfer of NASA technology to the private sector. The Agency distributes copies to politicians, economic decision makers, company CEOs, academics, professionals in technology transfer, the news media, and the general public.

The total number of stories published since 1976 is over 1,700, which does not include approximately 100 stories featured in the 1973 and 1974 reports.
posted by Herodios at 1:31 PM on May 25, 2011


Getting a person into space, keeping them there and returning them alive was an actual, pressing problem.

Putting people in space was only a pressing issue in terms of a political pissing match.
Putting them on the moon was even less “pressing̦”.
Unmanned satellites, however, were obviously useful.
posted by davel at 1:31 PM on May 25, 2011


Putting people in space was only a pressing issue in terms of a political pissing match.

Nothing saying pressing like beating the Commies.

Putting them on the moon was even less “pressing̦”.

No, we had timetable, end of the decade. Talk about pressing!

Unmanned satellites, however, were obviously useful.

And still are.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:53 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can you imagine a US President today announcing anything hard or requiring hardship and sacrifice?

Yeah, President Obama in his acceptance speech.
posted by subdee at 1:56 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mmm... no. The space program addressed a pressing problem the way the 2003 invasion of Iraq addressed a pressing problem. This was a "pressing problem" made so entirely by choice.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:17 PM on May 25, 2011


This was a "pressing problem" made so entirely by choice.

We can say that now, with the benefit of history. But it would have been irresponsible from a military and practical perspective for for the US to say "Nah, we'll let the Soviets do the manned space flight thing, we're gonna skip that."

The pressing problem was that a clear enemy was advancing ahead of the US and pointedly showing the world it was doing it. There was no real choice other than attempt to beat them.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:40 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


We can say that now, with the benefit of history.

Just like Iraq.

You speak as if it absolves the folly of human space flight. The case for such an endeavor was not entirely solid even back then. The "pressing problem" was nationalistic and political. And most of those politics were domestic. This is not some uniquely modern view we can entertain as a benefit of 20/20 hindsight. I suppose one could argue that politics and nationalism constitutes a pressing problem. But this ventures into the realm of political absurdities, as politics tends to do.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is how little things have changed. The justifying veneer of manned space flight is now science instead of commies. Yet, it's still only a veneer.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:51 PM on May 25, 2011


Spending money on technical research almost always pays a huge dividend, much of which is entirely unpredictable. Spending money on studies to social problems i am not so sure about. So spending the money on something like putting men into space gave us the launch capacity to put anything into space, at a high price, but we can do it. The rest of the technical challenges in manned space flight has paid off a lot in the bio sciences and you never know what is going to give you the pay off-research is chaotic and unpredictable and the biggest finds are usually the result of "huh-thats weird" moments. However i think ultimately space technology has matured to the point we don't need it to be a government run bureacracy to get a space infrastructure developed. We are seeing the beginnings of this with virgin galactic, and other private space start ups.

I think the real answer to the space program moving forward is a series of prizes, like 1 billion for the first solar power satellite or 10 billion for the first moon colony to keep 30 men alive for a year and a day (obscure english common law time limit). First asteriod deliverd to earth orbit for mining, and so on. I don't know what the exact monetary reward amount should be but that is a detail that can be worked out. This is a big way the US developed a thriving and rapidly developing aviation industry. We could even get a bigger reward if we agree to pay for the first Terrawatt of power beamed down at the rate of 20 cents a kilowatt hour or whatever that amount is appropriate.

This way we get the benefits of the technology (part of the prize terms is that you share the technology so if the chinese do it first the US still benefits)and take none of the risks with public money. There is much less politcial fallout in case of failure and we avoid creating another government bureacracy that requires a budget item every year. Everybody wins and space will likely be opened up as the right technology and needs are developed here on earth.
posted by bartonlong at 3:53 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


This thread saddens me in a way that few things on metafilter ever have.

I will never cease to be flabbergasted that there exists humans who, upon learning of the boundless frontiers and unknown wonders that exist outside of this earth, are content to shrug their shoulders and assert that there is no need to ever experience them firsthand.

I want to see the dust dance in the dying rays of sunset through the visor of my spacesuit on Mars. I want to see if there are waves breaking on Titan. I want to see the sulfuric acid rain and thunderstorms on Venus. I want to pole vault in Lunar gravity. I want to pilot a spaceship underneath and through Saturn's rings. I want to visit the Oort cloud and see where comets are born. I want to take deep breaths of new air on the first inhabited extrasolar planet.

I want all of those things, and many more unknown. And if I can't have them, I want to know that someday, someone will.

I firmly believe that all of those experiences are quite literally priceless, and that we as a species simply must do everything in our power to make them possible, no matter the cost (in dollars or in lives.)

The alternative? We continue to stagnate in increasing squalor on a planet whose useful resources we have almost depleted; whose frontiers are almost wholly conquered; whose promise is all but spent - all while a universal abundance lies ignored.

Humanity is by nature explorative - why should we chose to focus on our own navels when we can choose to focus on the stars?
posted by namewithoutwords at 3:55 PM on May 25, 2011 [15 favorites]


Beautifully said, namewithoutwords. When I look up at the night sky, I always feel humbled and amazed and think "I wanna know so much more about what's up there."
posted by futureisunwritten at 4:10 PM on May 25, 2011


Thanky ou namewithoutwords for stating the biggest reason manned spaceflight is worth it. Because WE are worth it.
posted by bartonlong at 4:18 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I will never cease to be flabbergasted that there exists humans who, upon learning of the boundless frontiers and unknown wonders that exist outside of this earth, are content to shrug their shoulders and assert that there is no need to ever experience them firsthand.


It never ceases to amaze me that people vomit up a mess of purple prose whenever space travel is mentioned, regardless of the feasibility or results of the project. Or how they desperately cling to the notion that scientific spin offs somehow make up for the loss in money. Our affairs in Afghanistan and Iraq have done wonders in the fields of UAVs prosthetics and blunt force trauma medicine, but you don't see people trying to justify the costs of the war with "look at all the science!"

I firmly believe that all of those experiences are quite literally priceless, and that we as a species simply must do everything in our power to make them possible, no matter the cost (in dollars or in lives.)

This is a cowardly statement. It takes making tough decisions off the table. It tries to remove the speaker from actually bargaining or compromise. All things have a price.

all while a universal abundance lies ignored.

What abundance? Is there some oil reserve on the moon? The cost of getting anything into the space, much less getting it back, far exceeds anything we stand to gain right now. The rest of it vast quantities of treasure spent to go joyriding near Saturn's rings.
posted by zabuni at 4:23 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I firmly believe that all of those experiences are quite literally priceless, and that we as a species simply must do everything in our power to make them possible, no matter the cost (in dollars or in lives.)

Okay, you vote for that, and 99% of the rest of us will vote against it.


The alternative? We continue to stagnate in increasing squalor on a planet whose useful resources we have almost depleted.

I live in a pleasant urban neighborhood, and I’m confident it will stay pleasant for generations to come. Resource conservation is going to work; moving us all to another planet isn’t.
posted by davel at 4:36 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Resource conservation is going to work; moving us all to another planet isn’t.

Fine, you can stay here then.
posted by elizardbits at 4:39 PM on May 25, 2011


I just finished watching the excellent anime Planetes. It's one of the most realistic depictions in media I've seen of living and working in space (even though the job the characters perform is a little silly and unrealistic). It's a fascinating exploration of the motivations for and the cost of space development.

I'm an advocate of manned space missions but for settlement, not exploration. Space is a natural habitat for a technological society. A small near-earth asteroid contains over $20 trillion worth of metals. There's access to 24/7, powerful solar energy, a hard vacuum, extremes of heat and cold, all of which could support a vibrant industry. There's enough material available in the asteroid belts to eventually build enough colonies to support a human population into the trillions.

I don't much see the value in a Mars shot or in repeating the Moon missions, so cutting Constellation actually made sense to me. Al Globus writes about space settlement and about why cancelling Constellation was actually a good move.
posted by heathkit at 4:40 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just like Iraq.

Yes, except for the whole war part.

You speak as if it absolves the folly of human space flight.

There was no folly and concrete results shows that human space flight was not and will never be the total waste you claimed.

The case for such an endeavor was not entirely solid even back then. The "pressing problem" was nationalistic and political.

Look, the Soviets were launching satellites and men into space and it was clear there were military uses of doing so. Kennedy offered to work together with Soviets on space flight, they turned him down.

When you're biggest enemy is actively gaining a technical advantage over you, it makes perfect sense to at least try to even, let alone beat them.

I firmly believe that all of those experiences are quite literally priceless, and that we as a species simply must do everything in our power to make them possible, no matter the cost (in dollars or in lives.)

Easy there bub. Money and human lives don't grow on trees, they're precious resources not to be squandered lightly. NASA or whoever should not be given unlimited money. There are pressing concerns on Earth which also need to be attended to.

Or how they desperately cling to the notion that scientific spin offs somehow make up for the loss in money.

READ THIS, PLEASE.

And then follow up on the Wikipedia page about NASA's budget:
A November 1971 study of NASA released by the Midwest Research Institute of Kansas City, Missouri ("Technological Progress and Commercialization of Communications Satellites." In: "Economic Impact of Stimulated Technological Activity") concluded that “the $25 billion in 1958 dollars spent on civilian space R & D during the 1958-1969 period has returned $52 billion through 1971 -- and will continue to produce pay offs through 1987, at which time the total pay off will have been $181 billion. The discounted rate of return for this investment will have been 33 percent.”
There don't seem to be a loss in money. Benefits of NASA actually seem to have contributed to the American economy via spin offs.

Our affairs in Afghanistan and Iraq have done wonders in the fields of UAVs prosthetics and blunt force trauma medicine, but you don't see people trying to justify the costs of the war with "look at all the science!"

Well, there is the 4,000 dead and 50,000 wounded that kinda put a damper on the party, you know?

One of the things i like about NASA is that it's a huge expenditure of money toward a common goal that isn't about getting people killed.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:37 PM on May 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


When I look back at how primitive computers were in the early 60s I am amazed humans even reached the moon, let alone landed on it and came back.
posted by bwg at 6:43 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of the things i like about NASA is that it's a huge expenditure of money toward a common goal that isn't about getting people killed.

Well at least it's not the goal, it's just collateral damage.

I don't think people quite realize what NASA did. You can talk about Spin-offs and calculate their economic value, but that is missing one thing of incalculable value. I read one report back in the late 70s that said NASA's greatest achievement was the invention of Systems Analysis. He argued that there were no prior engineering methods that would enable thousands of contractors to work together to build mission-critical equipment that had to work together perfectly, the first time, every time. Even the concept of "mission-critical" came from NASA, as well as engineering methods to implement it like fault tolerance and triple redundancy.

There's a huge difference between Eli Whitney manufacturing muskets with interchangeable parts, and thousands of subcontractors working on small parts of a larger system like a Saturn V rocket. They had to invent everything from Molex connectors to plug electronics together, to the technologies that could test individual parts as if they were connected to other parts that hadn't been built yet. Nobody had ever engineered something so complex, involving so many parts made by so many people. We take it for granted today, but Systems Analysis is the fundamental engineering method that will be used basically forever, to implement any major project on a societal scale. In that regard, NASA has shaped society itself to a degree that is not really recognized.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:56 PM on May 25, 2011 [12 favorites]


Obama erred, big time, and demonstrated not only that he doesn't much care for the space program, but that he simply doesn't understand how big political agencies (NASA) flounder without a direct mission and goal. Obama's aim to have NASA "focus on technologies" is a a laughable translation for: "I don't give two shits about rockets or astronauts, so let's let the bureaucrats and lobbyists duke it out now."

That's what we've had since Obama's non-announcement announcement about the future for NASA. See, without a specific goal in mind you can research whatever the hell it is you want to research without ever having to turn out an endgame or product. When Kennedy said "put someone on the moon by 1969" he set a timeline, he marshalled the political capital necessary and gave a specific goal and parameter. NASA's mission at that point was to find the fastest, safest way to do it. They CREATED the technology. No, it's not an efficient thing to do and it is costly, but in reality it's the ONLY way to do it.

The failure in the STS program that followed was that there was no direction and NASA floundered with both the mission and the financing, as political capital disappeared. NASA, arguably, pushed the technological boundaries with the shuttle much further than they did with the Apollo program.

We're in a far worse position today because NASA has not been given a specific goal, rather very nebulous direction. If you've read some history on NASA in the early 70s you'd understand why the failure of political leadership today is very dangerous to the space program. Their job is to push boundaries and do what hasn't been done before. Lacking a clearly defined goal we are effectively placing NASA into the dustbin of history.
posted by tgrundke at 7:12 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


...and for the record, I'll say that the Constellation program was half-baked, over-porked and poorly led at best. That NASA couldn't turn out a fully-functional prototype of what is essentially recycled hardware for $10 billion is a sham and directly attributable to the atrophy and sclerosis the agency now faces.

That all said, I also argue that the STS retirement and privatization plans are also half-baked and based upon wild-ass guesses. NASA would have been far better served by scaling back STS operations to two flights annually until the private contractors prove themselves fully, which won't be until the 2013-2015 timeframe. Further, I get irritated when journalists conveniently forget that organizations like SpaceX (whom I do support) derived the vast majority of their engineering studies from work previously done by NASA engineers.

It's the NASA bureaucracy that is killing the agency's ability to execute. If you know any of the rank and file that work for them you'd know these are some of the most honest, hardworking and truly inspired people in the country.
posted by tgrundke at 7:17 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I look back at how primitive computers were in the early 60s I am amazed humans even reached the moon, let alone landed on it and came back.

Oh you have no idea. When I was a wee young programmer around 1980, I had a government job translating NASA legacy programs written in FORTRAN II in the early 1960s. They were completely undocumented, they didn't have comments or even a description of what they did. I had to translate them from an unknown 4-bit computer to our fancy new 16-bit Data General Eclipse minicomputer. Oh it was a nightmare. The original coders used all sorts of incomprehensible algorithms to squeeze more precision out of 4 bits than should have been possible. They went nuts with a new, untested technology called a "subroutine." It was a nightmare to figure it all out, even though FORTRAN was my specialty in college.

I spent weeks and weeks translating the first program in the queue. I didn't really know what these programs were supposed to do, they seemed to be some sort of 2D data analysis. I was working at the USGS so I presumed these were image processing algorithms, or some sort of spatial calculations done across a map. But I could translate the code and algorithms well enough on a first pass to get them to compile, even if I didn't know what they really did.

So.. I went to the boss with my first successful compile and test run, and I finally pressed him with the question he had been dodging for months, what the hell do these programs actually do? He said he didn't know, he thought maybe I could tell him, but he was told by his boss that they were important somehow. So I told him maybe I could figure out what they did, if he had a data set to run it on. He said there weren't any data sets available, maybe I could create one. I said that if I didn't know what the programs do, how the hell was I supposed to create a data set for it?

That job didn't last very long.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:19 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Cambridge, we have a problem."

That could work, I guess.
posted by notyou at 7:55 PM on May 25, 2011


The only thing sadder than the lack of progress in manned spaceflight over the last forty (!) years is the lack of enthusiasm for young people in doing anything more ambitious than playing The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings for eighteen hours at a stretch and yapping about their IPod2 as if that, rather than Apollo, was their civilisation's crowning technological achievement. I don't think it's cool to give up on the future, I don't think it's hip to turn out backs on the universe. Let's go to Mars.
posted by joannemullen at 8:24 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Why does Rice play Texas?"

I know it was the equivalent of a "Hello, Houston!" shout out, but I'm always sad when it gets cut out of transcripts of the speech. It adds something that I'm not sure I can quantify. Of all of the impossible things he lists, asking why Rice plays Texas does seem to be the most impossible.

I have to admit, though, that after doing some research, I found that Rice is 21-70 against Texas. That's better than I thought it would be.
posted by SNWidget at 9:31 PM on May 25, 2011


It also gave us the saddest XKCD comic ever.

.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:59 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here is a great rundown of those management principals that were learned in the wake of the Apollo missions

Also a good book on the subject
posted by AndrewKemendo at 5:06 AM on May 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


The only thing sadder than the lack of progress in manned spaceflight over the last forty (!) years is the lack of enthusiasm for young people in doing anything more ambitious than playing The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings for eighteen hours at a stretch and yapping about their IPod2 as if that, rather than Apollo, was their civilisation's crowning technological achievement. I don't think it's cool to give up on the future, I don't think it's hip to turn out backs on the universe. Let's go to Mars.

Goddamnit joannemullen, every thread is not a referendum on young people. If you actually bothered to talk to any of us, you'd find that there are a ton of people extremely interested in space travel.

Anyways, looking at your profile, you're only 30 years old. I bet the generation that actually put a man on the moon spent the 80's bitching about how kids these days only cared about MTV and dayglo. You're not old enough yet to be bitching and moaning about "kids these days".
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 8:01 AM on May 26, 2011


Andrew, that first link was amazing, you convinced me that I understated the impact of Systems Analysis and Project Management, and I thought I was almost overemphasizing how important it was.

In particular one of those sublinks to a NASA site was particularly fascinating, 100 Lessons Learned for Project Managers. Now all these lessons are probably based on complex management principles that have been proven with mathematical precision. But they are expressed in simple language that anyone could understand (not that most managers actually will Oh man, even the #1 tip astonished me:

There is no such thing as previously flown hardware, i.e., the people who build the next unit probably never saw the previous unit; there are probably minor changes; the operational environment has probably changed; and the people who check the unit out will in most cases not understand the unit or the test equipment.

This is like the most astonishing reversal of "kaizen" (continual improvement) I ever heard of. It's as if Newton said "If I have seen farther than others, it's goddam astonishing because I have giants standing on my shoulders."

I found a personal resonance in one principle, since I am notorious on one temp job I do a lot, I keep boasting of my previous record of a 93 hour work week, and that that I couldn't break the record on my last run, I only got 82 hours in on my best week.

One must pay attention to workaholics -- if they get going in the wrong direction, they can do a lot of damage in a short time -- it is possible to overload them, causing premature burnout, but hard to determine if the load is too much, since much of it is self-generated. It is important to make sure such people take enough time off and that the workload does not exceed 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 times what is normal.

Yep, when I get going, I really get going, so you better point me in the right direction. Sorry about that incident where the instructions were not clear and I clicked the wrong box on every damn form for a whole day, and it took someone a week to contact customers and sort it out.

Oh there are tons of one-liners with great wisdom there:

It is mainly the incompetent that don't like to show off their work.

Mistakes are all right, but failure is not. Failure is just a mistake you can't recover from; therefore, try to create contingency plans and alternate approaches for the items or plans that have high risk.

Running does not take the place of thinking. For yourself, you must take time to smell the roses. For your work, you must take time to understand the consequences of your actions.

The first sign of trouble comes from the schedule or the cost curve. Engineers are the last to know they are in trouble. Engineers are born optimists.

Software now has taken on all the parameters of hardware, i.e., requirement creep, high percent-age of flight mission cost, need for quality control, need for validation procedures, etc. It has the added feature that it is hard as hell to determine it is not flawed. Get the basic system working and then add the bells and whistles. Never throw away a version that works even if you have all the confidence in the world the newer version works. It is necessary to have contingency plans for software.

People who monitor work and don't help get it done, never seem to know exactly what is going on.

Bastards, gentlemen, and ladies can be project manager. Lost souls, procrastinators, and wishy-washers cannot.

The seeds of problems are laid down early. Initial planning is the most vital part of a project. Review of most failed projects or of project problems indicates that the disasters were well planned to happen from the start.

The project manager who is the smartest man on his project has done a lousy job of recruitment.


Damn, now I want to be a manager and implement this sort of stuff. I never wanted to be in management before, my previous management model was The Peter Principle. But now I want to buy that astonishingly expensive book at the second link and find out why this stuff works, and how they figured it out.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:02 AM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


But now I want to buy that astonishingly expensive book at the second link and find out why this stuff works, and how they figured it out.

By having a goal and working towards that goal, making mistakes, and realizing something needs to be done differently. They had to do that on a number of levels and areas.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:15 AM on May 26, 2011


I think we'll get to Mars eventually. But if you're not gobsmacked by the last 30 years of space exploration, which has supported long-term missions to five different planets, two rovers, landing probes for Jupiter and Titan, development of satellite communications systems around the moon and Mars, remotely-programmable robotics, 24/7 monitoring of solar weather covering both sides of the star, ion-propulsion drives, successful insertion of a probe into orbit around the most unreachable body in the solar system (Mercury), exploration of the heliopause, telescopes covering em frequencies from hard gamma to radio and even gravity waves, and the discovery of hundreds of extrasolar planets, you're probably not paying attention.

All of this is likely directly applicable to any future manned exploration outside of the moon.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:58 AM on May 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


« Older Atari Teenage Riot is the sound of punk, breakbeat...   |   What follows is a D.I.Y. cooki... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments