The prodigal son returns
September 26, 2013 7:51 PM   Subscribe

It's been determined that near-Earth Asteroid J002E3 is actually the third stage of the Saturn V used by Apollo 12. It was in solar orbit, but recently was captured temporarily by the Earth and made 6 orbits, then escaped again. Animation here.
posted by Chocolate Pickle (65 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's kind of poetic the way the moon draws it in to begin with only to cast it away a few months later. Maybe it rebuffed the moon's demand for sandwiches.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:02 PM on September 26, 2013 [17 favorites]


I knew all that spirograph training would pay off in the future.
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:09 PM on September 26, 2013 [14 favorites]


Space junk: it's not just for Earth orbit any more.
posted by localroger at 8:14 PM on September 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sun, I just can't quit you.
posted by srboisvert at 8:22 PM on September 26, 2013


Huh. I wouldn't have expected any part of Apollo 12 to be in a solar orbit. Does this mean that Apollo 12 temporarily was, or did this bit of debris get bumped out of Earth orbit by lunar perturbations at some point?
posted by figurant at 8:22 PM on September 26, 2013


did this bit of debris get bumped out of Earth orbit by lunar perturbations at some point?

Yes, it was in Earth orbit and then got jostled out (in 1971). It was originally NASA's intention to launch the S-IVB stage into solar orbit, but the jettison didn't go exactly to plan, so it ended up in Earth orbit by accident.

Later Apollo missions deliberately crashed the S-IVB stage into the lunar surface, which aided seismographic study of the moon (and I imagine flinging things at the moon is good fun).
posted by ddbeck at 8:43 PM on September 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


After reaching Earth orbit, the third stage (S-IVB) fires one more time to send the Apollo stack to the moon. Then the idea is they separate, and the stage flies alone into solar orbit. However on this mission a miscalculation made the final trajectory just a little short of escape velocity. Lunar perturbations eventually slung it out.

I can't find the full text of the 2003 paper linked in the article, but here are a few more details.

The animation is a really cool visual aid though. The object enters and exits at the L1 point, where gravity is roughly equal between the Earth and Sun. You can see the moon perturbing the orbit a little bit, but especially at the end when it's ejected back toward the L1.

Mission designers iterate through thousands of equally wacky trajectories when planning a trip to other planets. Sometimes they revisit Earth, sometimes more than once. And they have names like VEEGA -- Venus-Earth-Earth, as Galileo took. Things get even wackier when you get to Jupiter and start slingshotting around multiple moons. It's some seriously crazy mathematical analysis.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:43 PM on September 26, 2013 [9 favorites]


I wouldn't have expected any part of Apollo 12 to be in a solar orbit.

The S-IVB stages of Apollo 8 through 12 were all deliberatly put into a heliocentric orbit. After they plucked the LEM out of the spacecraft adapter atop the stage, NASA remotely fired the auxiliary propulsion system to deliberately slingshot the stage around the moon and into solar orbit, to make sure it couldn't hit the CSM/LEM.

From Apollo 13 onwards, instead of a slingshot around the moon, they were deliberately crashed into the moon, the impacts being picked up by the seismometers left by Apollo 11 and 12, to try to characterize the deeper interior of the moon.

Aside: The final S-IVB built for the Saturn V, S-IVB-515, and the final one built for the Saturn IB, S-IVB-212, were converted into space stations. S-IVB-212 flew as Skylab. S-IVB-515, the backup, is now in the National Air and Space Museum.
posted by eriko at 8:48 PM on September 26, 2013 [14 favorites]


OK, so that's cool as fuck.
posted by Artw at 8:51 PM on September 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


Later Apollo missions deliberately crashed the S-IVB stage into the lunar surface, which aided seismographic study of the moon (and I imagine flinging things at the moon is good fun).

That's exceptionally awesome. And on preview, that's just genius levels of awesome. I assumed you used up all your delta-v before you separated a stage. I had no idea this was possible.
posted by figurant at 8:52 PM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


And onboard this "asteroid" is Jebediah Kerbin, heroically arranging an intercept with Kerbal orbit using nothing but his RCS thrusters to alter his ∂v. He was certain that someone at Space Command would figure out how to send up an improbably jury-rigged rescue mission if he could just arrange orbital capture. And so he orbits Kerbin six times, waving to the planet below, and then is ejected back into Kerbol orbit. The lights are growing dim, but he is still smiling. Jebediah always smiles.
posted by Nelson at 8:54 PM on September 26, 2013 [37 favorites]


Thank you, Nelson, for capturing the thought I didn't know I had, the unscratched itch at the back of my mind upon reading this story.

Jebediah smiles.
posted by 256 at 9:27 PM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Apparently there was a slight error in the Apollo 12 Trans Lunar Injection and "the abort curve is very sensitive to dispersions in the TLI." See 078:23:32 here.

And speaking of Kerbal Space Program (where I am not as delta V efficient or as fail safe as NASA) I do know that if I blow my insertion burn a solar orbit is what I end up with about 9 times out of 10.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:33 PM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I assumed you used up all your delta-v before you separated a stage.

if you've used up all your ΔV at stage separation then you have no margin for error - anything doesn't quite go as planned further down the stack and you're screwed.

The lights are growing dim, but he is still smiling. Jebediah always smiles.

I would feel a lot worse about playing KSP if the Kerbals required life support. I've got one little dude who's been hanging out on Vall next to the ruins of his lander for 4+ years in-game, and he's got a long wait yet until I get around to launching a rescue mission.
posted by russm at 9:47 PM on September 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


(and I imagine flinging things at the moon is good fun)

Apparently it is. At DARPA's 100 Year Starship Study Symposium in 2011, I was sitting next to Stewart Brand and Dave Worden during a special preview screening of the robot boxer movie Metal Men. I think Dave Neyland was seated in front of us. Or some arrangement like so.

Anyhow, either Dave Neyland or Stewart Brand introduces me to Dave Worden with the opener, "This is the only person in the world who has bombed the moon."

Pete Worden then explains—to me—the LCROSS impact mission, where he, as NASA Ames Center Director, headed the slamming of NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite into the surface of the moon at over 6,000 miles-per-hour.

Seeing all of us were notably awed at his recounting of the story, Worden loosed a schoolboy grin and said with touching glee, "I have the best job in the world!"



PS Worden (and Brand) both really enjoyed the film.
posted by Mike Mongo at 9:48 PM on September 26, 2013 [17 favorites]


Apparently there was a slight error in the Apollo 12 Trans Lunar Injection

To say the least. Going strictly from memory (errr...of reading about it) Apollo 12 got struck by lightning twice during primary ascent, lost their entire "platform" (I.e. "everything location/orientation related) during the first stage, and Dick Gordon had to pretty much enter in a shitload of numbers by hand.

That being said, the Yankee Clipper still managed a pinpoint-accurate landing on the moon.

Apollo 12 is hands-down my favorite crew, and I'd love to believe that this all is just one last prank played by Pete Conrad.

Go Navy.
posted by ShutterBun at 10:21 PM on September 26, 2013 [13 favorites]


The graphics make me want to find a Space War emulator out there on the web.
posted by happyroach at 10:59 PM on September 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dick Gordon had to pretty much enter in a shitload of numbers by hand.

It was Al Bean who saved the mission, when the Steely Eyed Missile Man* EECOM John Aaron realized that the reason they weren't getting telemetry was the equipment that encoded it was bad and sent the call "SCE to Aux" to the CAPCOM and up to the spacecraft.

I recall Pete Conrad saying "What the hell is that?"** and Gordon trying to find it -- and Al Bean just flipped the switch and saved the flight.

Good Old Al Bean.

If you're going to read an entire flight transcript, read Apollo 12. Apollo 11 was all business, all the time. Apollo 13 was, of course, stressful. Apollo 12, though? They're up there, and they are having a blast.


* There was no higher accolade in NASA.

** Went and looked at the launch transcripts. He, in fact said "FCE to Aux? What the hell is that?"*** Pete was a good guy, a great Astronaut, a hell of a pilot, and quite the prankster, but he wasn't exactly the most elegant of speakers. Indeed, in the entire A12 transcript, there are several times where Houston has to remind him he's on VOX, because, well, he's fucking swearing a whole fucking lot. His personal maxim is "If you can't be good, be colorful", and somehow, he managed to be both.

*** Gordon then goes "NCE to auxillary..." proving he didn't hear the call right either. Meanwhile, Bean, who know's that it's the Signal Conditioning Equipment, has flipped SCE to Aux and says "It looks - Everything looks good." I love me some Al Bean.
posted by eriko at 11:15 PM on September 26, 2013 [31 favorites]


Oh, yeah -- Apollo 12 was the flight that NASA realized that giant plumes of fire are in fact giant plumes of conductive plasma, so flying a rocket into a thunderstorm was basically bringing a ground wire up into a thunderstorm.

Which is why, after A12, they don't fly if there's one too close. This is sort of a problem, because in summer, there's *always* a thunderstorm somewhere near KSC.
posted by eriko at 11:17 PM on September 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


And onboard this "asteroid" is Jebediah Kerbin, heroically arranging an intercept with Kerbal orbit using nothing but his RCS thrusters to alter his ∂v. He was certain that someone at Space Command would figure out how to send up an improbably jury-rigged rescue mission if he could just arrange orbital capture. And so he orbits Kerbin six times, waving to the planet below, and then is ejected back into Kerbol orbit. The lights are growing dim, but he is still smiling. Jebediah always smiles.

This made me a lot sadder than I would have expected.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 12:01 AM on September 27, 2013


This might be the coolest thing I have seen on the Internet. Thanks Chocolate Pickle.
posted by three blind mice at 2:51 AM on September 27, 2013


This is, in my opinion, the single greatest artifact our civilization has ever produced. We launched it to land on the moon, do it's job, then we sent three guys to pick it up and bring it back. We proved that we could "get the job done" on the fucking moon. Then what?

NOTHING.

Nixon killed Apollo, let 'em run out the program with Skylab, then destroyed NASA with the Shuttle. I will go to my grave believing that Richard Nixon and his cabal brought down that lightning in an attempt to destroy the spacecraft, finally getting his full revenge on Kennedy. Didn't work, so he destroyed our children's future in space instead. *fume*
posted by mikelieman at 2:55 AM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I literally told my 9 year old yesterday that Richard Nixon is the reason they don't live on the moon.
posted by mikelieman at 3:04 AM on September 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


I just was thinking, there's someone else waiting to come home, and I'm tearful that we have no plans to bring them back.

Isn't THAT worth the effort of sending people to mars, and returning them safely to the earth. Think of the display at the NASM it would make!
posted by mikelieman at 4:24 AM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Good Old Al Bean.

Hear, hear.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 4:56 AM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


The earth is a matador and the moon his red cape.
posted by klarck at 4:57 AM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Words: Bill Higgins and Barry Gehm c. 1978
Music: "Home on the Range"

Oh, give me a locus where the gravitons focus
And the three-body problem is solved,
Where the microwaves play down at three degrees K
And the cold virus never evolved.

CHORUS: Home, home on LaGrange,
Where the space debris always collects.
We possess, so it seems, two of man's greatest dreams:
Solar power and zero-gee sex.

We eat algae pie, our vacuum is high,
Our ball bearings are perfectly round.
Our horizon is curved, our warheads are MIRVed,
And a kilogram weighs half a pound. CHORUS

You don't need no oil, nor a tokamak coil,
Solar stations provide Earth with juice.
Power beams are sublime, so nobody will mind
If we cook an occasional goose.

INTERLUDE (to Oh, What A Beautiful Morning)
All the cattle are standing like statues.
All the cattle are standing like statues.
They smell of roast beef every time I ride by,
And the hawks and the falcons are dropping like flies...

I've been feeling quite blue since the crystals I grew
Became too big to fit through the door.
But from slices I sold, Hewlett-Packard, I'm told,
Made a chip that was seven foot four. CHORUS

If we run out of space for our burgeoning race
No more Lebensraum left for the Mensch,
When we're ready to start, we can take Mars apart
If we just find a big enough wrench. CHORUS

I'm sick of this place, it's just McDonald's in space
And living up here is a bore.
Tell the shiggies "Don't cry," they can kiss me goodby,
'Cause I'm moving next week to L4!
posted by kaibutsu at 5:10 AM on September 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


The Apollo 12 crew would have been the first to land on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission, but the crews got swapped for engineering and training reasons back around the Apollo 8 mission. As awesome as Neil Armstrong was, Pete Conrad would have been a riot as first man on the Moon.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:13 AM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Aww it came back to draw a flower! Thanks, Apollo 12 third stage!
posted by Mister_A at 5:27 AM on September 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


I am fascinated by space and space travel. I certainly do not know the maths and science behind any of it. I simply wish to fly in outer space with a jet pack on once before I die. I will settle for just a ride up and back.

The space/Apollo threads on the blue are the best of the best. Intelligent and knowledgeable folks telling stories and recanting history. Thank you all.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:07 AM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am fascinated by space and space travel. I certainly do not know the maths and science behind any of it. I simply wish to fly in outer space with a jet pack on once before I die. I will settle for just a ride up and back.

If enjoy video games in the slightest, then you might get a kick out of Kerbal Space Program. The basics are fairly realistic, but simplified for fun and excitement. Warning, it can up absolutely suck up your time, use it wisely.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:10 AM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


What are Jeff Bezos's plans to recover it?
posted by Rob Rockets at 6:30 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


The animation explains why I have so much trouble with Osmos.
posted by sonascope at 6:35 AM on September 27, 2013


Thanks for this post. Metafilter totally fucking rocks on space stuff. I'm always thrilled when I see an FPP about anything spacey bc I know the comments will be awesome.
posted by nevercalm at 6:42 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I literally told my 9 year old yesterday that Richard Nixon is the reason they don't live on the moon.

It was robots, science, and economics that killed it. Politics were the reason there was/is manned spaceflight in the first place, so it's pretty hard to pin that one on a politician, particularly one that was such a cold war cheerleader.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:58 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


It was robots, science, and economics that killed it.

How did robots and science kill it?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:21 AM on September 27, 2013


Robots are better and way cheaper at flying through space and sending back useful scientific data than a bunch of delicate meat sacks that require silly things like sleep, excercise, toilets, radiation shielding, food, and air. Plus you don't have to bring them back.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:31 AM on September 27, 2013


Robots are better and way cheaper at flying through space and sending back useful scientific data than a bunch of delicate meat sacks that require silly things like sleep, excercise, toilets, radiation shielding, food, and air. Plus you don't have to bring them back.

Those points are debatable, but I'm not aware of those reasons being among those that killed the Apollo program. I'm really curious about Apollo in general, so would love more information if you got it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:40 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Robots are better and way cheaper at flying through space and sending back useful scientific data

I suppose that's relevant if that's your only goal. I tend to think a bit broader however.
posted by mikelieman at 7:53 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


What are James Cameron's plans to recover it and make a movie out of it? Will the seminal song be "My Parts Will Go On"?
posted by tilde at 8:09 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Robots are best at exploring space. Humans are best at appreciating space.
posted by nevercalm at 8:16 AM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


You just don't get it, metal-man!
posted by forgetful snow at 8:27 AM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Plus you don't have to bring them back.

Do NOT remind me of that XKCD strip that always makes me cry, even if it is just a robot rover...
posted by dnash at 8:40 AM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Another one of those "science is stranger than science fiction" things! At least it's not V'ger.
posted by immlass at 8:43 AM on September 27, 2013


I re-read James Michener's book Space recently and one of the characters (a german scientist) insists throughout the novel that it was a mistake to send a manned mission to the moon as it would effectively tie humans to a barren wasteland.
posted by smcniven at 9:04 AM on September 27, 2013


Specific to Apollo (a source here), people require a lot of expensive support, that's why Apollo cost $3 billion per year while the entire NASA space science budget at the same time was $600-650 million anually, that much is pretty solid fact. Once we'd accomplished the primary Apollo mission, which was putting a man on the moon, then NASA turned to actual lunar exploration. Heck, they didn't even plan for having scientific instruments in the lander or much less giving the crew time to use them until Apollo 14!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:10 AM on September 27, 2013


"Do NOT remind me of that XKCD strip that always makes me cry, even if it is just a robot rover..."

I once got a chance at a friend's party to ask one of the Mars Rover drivers about that comic! He did in fact know about it and winced visibly, and then told me that he liked the remix better. I got the impression that the comic had had an effect...
posted by Asparagirl at 9:51 AM on September 27, 2013 [15 favorites]


Once we'd accomplished the primary Apollo mission, which was putting a man on the moon, then NASA turned to actual lunar exploration. Heck, they didn't even plan for having scientific instruments in the lander or much less giving the crew time to use them until Apollo 14!

Nah, there was science and rock collection done on the early lunar landing missions.

The goal of Apollo 11 was simply to land on the Moon, do a short EVA and get everyone home safely. Thus it only had a few experiments.

Apollo 12 was designed to verify that lunar missions could make an accurate landing a specific spot. This technique was needed because all missions, starting with Apollo 13 were designed to be heavily science oriented and scientists wanted to target different areas of the Moon to explore. Apollo 12 also had longer and multiple EVAs to do its science experiments.

Apollo 13 was supposed to be where things got really good in terms of science and exploration, but we all know how that went. Still, the mission managed to accomplish a few experiments.

Specific to Apollo (a source here), people require a lot of expensive support, that's why Apollo cost $3 billion per year while the entire NASA space science budget at the same time was $600-650 million anually, that much is pretty solid fact.

I'm taking your numbers at their word 'cause they sound about right, but so what? Plenty of science was done designing and building all the equipment that would be used on the manned missions. And there's no guarantee that specific science missions would have gotten some or any of that $3 billion.

Honestly, I don't understand why people keep championing the cheaper unmanned missions as being superior. You don't get far by constantly undercutting yourself. Apollo had the right idea, have a big grand adventure that people can connect with and politicians will fund and sneak as much science as you can into the mission. We got almost a ton of lunar rock and dust from six different locations via Apollo along with other surface experiments, while the Soviets got under a pound with their unmanned sample return mission. Manned expiration seems like a clear winner in that area.

Apollo didn't prematurely end because of science or robots. It ended because there wasn't much there that was useful to humanity and once we realized that, not many countries wanted to spend money going there.

After the Soviet sample return mission in 1976, nobody went to the moon until 1994. NOBODY, not a manned spacecraft or an unmanned impacter or orbiter or lander. Zip, nada, nothing.

Since then, there's been a nice resurgence in Moon orbiters and China is set to send Chang'e 3, the first lunar rover since the '70s, to the Moon later this year (December launch, I think). You know why they're sending a rover? Because they want to send humans to the Moon.

Unmanned robots are great and I've absolutely love to see more of them sent throughout our solar system. But it shouldn't be an either/or situation, humans should be working with machines to extend our knowledge of our system and the universe.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:25 AM on September 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


He did in fact know about it and winced visibly, and then told me that he liked the remix better.

Thank you for that, I hadn't seen it. Nice way to re-spin the story!
posted by dnash at 10:53 AM on September 27, 2013


2010 Blog entry about J002E3 and 2010 AL30. The latter turned out to be an asteroid. The former, well: "spectral analysis of the J002E3 showed that it has titanium dioxide paint."

Some other interesting junk: 6Q0B44E, 2006 RH120, 3753 Cruithne.

JPL's Solar System Dynamics Group keeps an eye on it all.
posted by Twang at 11:37 AM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]




The Sovereign?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:02 PM on September 27, 2013


Don't get me wrong, manned space flight is badass particularly outside earth orbit and particularly particularly landing on the freakin' moon, but some would argue $45 some odd billion dollars in the 1960s and 70s (@$286 Billion in 2013) would have gone a long ways towards poverty reduction or education. It's baddassitude is its real value over robots. Even if robots can perform analysis WAY better than a guy in a sealed space suit, they can't wave to cameras and make kids want to fly rockets.

We got almost a ton of lunar rock and dust from six different locations via Apollo along with other surface experiments, while the Soviets got under a pound with their unmanned sample return mission.

So if you just do a pure dollars for dognut comparison the entire Luna program was @$4.5 Billion and Apolo was @$286 Billion. Luna brought back @ 1/3 of a kilo and visited 15 locations successfully. Apollo brought back 22 kilos (not tons) and hit 6 spots. So that's roughly $300 million a landing for Luna and $47 billion per landing for Apollo. Just the rocks then would have been worth $13.5 million per gram on the Soviet side and $13 million on the side of the free world. Had the Soviets had a better success rate all of those numbers would have obviously come down but they kept blowing up, failing, or crashing.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:37 PM on September 27, 2013


Is there a way they could trace J002E3's path backyward all the way back to 1969 and show that it probably came from Earth? That would be a cool animation to watch.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:42 PM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Joe, no, it can't be done. The "butterfly effect" (accumulating errors in iterative computation) prevents simulations like that from running that long.

It's the same reason you'll never see accurate detailed weather forecasts 6 months out.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:00 PM on September 27, 2013


What did we piss away on the F35 so far?

How much did the war in Iraq cost again?
posted by mikelieman at 2:39 PM on September 27, 2013


Those points are debatable, but I'm not aware of those reasons being among those that killed the Apollo program. I'm really curious about Apollo in general, so would love more information if you got it.

Curiously, no one has yet mentioned "Vietnam", but that was pretty much conventional wisdom when I was younger and more steeped in this stuff. One thing I never realized until I was much older was how constrained Apollo, the Shuttle, and even arguably ISS were by decisions made through political wrangling in the 1960s. NASA's budget actually peaked in 1966 (at 4% (!) of federal discretionary outlays), before a single Apollo astronaut flew. The tail-end missions -- e.g. Apollo 20 -- were actually cut in the 1970-71 budget, because of lead times and engineering prep such as building out the vehicles.

But also remember that for all the supposed popularity of the program, Apollo 13 was falling off the media radar until the "problem".

that XKCD strip that always makes me cry, even if it is just a robot rover

See, I don't get this. Why would you anthropomorphize a rover as a robot that wants to come back to Earth? Why not anthropomorphize it as a robot that wants to stay as long as its batteries hold out? Lord knows the history of human exploration is full of the latter type.

Is there a way they could trace J002E3's path backyward all the way back to 1969 and show that it probably came from Earth? That would be a cool animation to watch.

I'd actually love it if there were, so to speak, dashcam video.
posted by dhartung at 1:47 AM on September 28, 2013


...but some would argue $45 some odd billion dollars in the 1960s and 70s (@$286 Billion in 2013) would have gone a long ways towards poverty reduction or education.

It's not as though NASA took billions of dollars in raw cash, loaded them up into the Saturn V and used that power the rocket. That $45 billion injected a lot of jobs into local and national economies.

The problems of black people being systematically screwed over were not going to be fixed by deciding not to send people to the Moon. Had a a black astronaut landed on the Moon during the Apollo, it probably would have helped speed up America's general acceptance of some of its own people.

But there were very few qualified black pilots at the time, again due to racism and the one that was died in a training accident. Even if he hadn't been killed, he probably would have joined NASA to late to get a seat on Apollo. The groups of astronatus to include Apollo moon walkers was selected in 1966. A lot of the early Shuttle astronauts worked in support positions in Apollo, but had to wait over a decade before getting their first space flight.


Luna brought back @ 1/3 of a kilo and visited 15 locations successfully

Where are you getting the information that Luna brought back soil samples from 15 locations?

Curiously, no one has yet mentioned "Vietnam", but that was pretty much conventional wisdom when I was younger and more steeped in this stuff.

The issue with Vietnam was that President Johnson, himself a major player in getting NASA and Apollo funded, got involved in Vietnam. Then he decided not run again, which let Nixon in during the crucial time period of Apollo planing and budgeting for later missions. Had Johnson stuck around for another 4 years, Apollo probably would have flown two more flights at least. Don't know if the Saturn V production line would have started up again, allowing more flights beyond, but I doubt it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:15 AM on September 28, 2013


some would argue $45 some odd billion dollars in the 1960s and 70s (@$286 Billion in 2013) would have gone a long ways towards poverty reduction or education

They'd be wrong. Even Apollo was a minor tick in the federal budget, and small potatoes compared to the scale of total educational spending in the US.

Even if we take your $45 billion -- which I'm guessing is probably total NASA spending for this time, not Apollo spending that I've usually seen at around $25 billion nominal -- it pales in comparison to the $700-750 billion that the US spent on education during the Apollo program. Unlike current NASA spending, it was more than just a rounding error, but it still would have been only about 1/14 of educational spending. The more likely figure of $25 billion would be only about 1/30 of educational spending.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:12 AM on September 28, 2013


Luna brought back @ 1/3 of a kilo and visited 15 locations successfully

Where are you getting the information that Luna brought back soil samples from 15 locations?


Luna returned 1/3 of a kilo. Luna visited 15 locations. Nobody is saying that every mission was a sample return.
posted by russm at 4:55 PM on September 28, 2013


Apollo brought back 22 kilos (not tons) and hit 6 spots.

Erm...Apollo brought back 382 kilos of moon samples, not 22. They brought back 2200 distinct, hand-picked samples. Whereas the Luna program had to pretty much "drill into whatever was nearby when it landed."

Apollo astronauts were also able to pick out (by sight) a super-important sample, the Genesis Rock, which would have been impossible for a robot.

And let's face it, you really can't put a price tag on the kind of ass-kicking that the phrase "we walked on the moon" entails.

Putting a man on the moon is often held up as kind of a zinger preface to things like "...but we can't make a toaster that works" or whatever. But think about the flipside:

"Talk to me once you've put a man on the moon."

Sure, people might argue "if you hadn't, someone else would have, so quit milkin' it!" But hey: Russia was as close as anyone, and they never even really got close. Apollo 8 was enough to knock the wind out of their sails. It's easy to sympathize with the fact that 2nd place is not exactly the "feather in the cap" one might bust their ass over, but you know who DID bust their ass in order to be 2nd?

Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, and Dick Gordon.

Russia quit.

U!S!A! and all that...
posted by ShutterBun at 1:45 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not bad for the second guys in space.
posted by Artw at 6:12 PM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not bad for the second guys in space.

We try harder.
posted by localroger at 7:08 PM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


So, back when you had a goverment how was it getting it's astronauts up to the ISS?
posted by Artw at 4:20 PM on October 1, 2013


It was hard, but manageable.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:34 PM on October 1, 2013


« Older CHECKSUM ERROR. CONTINUE? (Y/N)   |   The Future Gets Closer, Part VI Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments