Editor Note: Hyperlinks in this article are direct links to referenced documents discussed in this missive.
Why the Lessons of Apollo Have Still Not Been Learned 50 Years Later
There is an old saying that history is his-story, or the story of whoever the victors are in war or society. We know that Roman and Greek civilization was superior to others at the time because we have the Roman and Greek records that tell us so. The Celts or Chinese might have thought differently. In some respects the same is true of all history. This is not to indict historians that have written on the subject of space but it is to say that everyone has a viewpoint and sometimes the official history does not fully illuminate a subject.
I have never been satisfied with the “official” NASA history of the Apollo program. I lived in Huntsville Alabama for a long time and it mystified me to an extreme why we did not at least launch the last two flight worthy Saturn V’s and their payloads, Apollo’s 18 and 19. Over the years since I left the computer industry in 1987 and moved to Huntsville to begin my space career I have collected a pretty good library of space books and I have read them all. I have participated in conferences, talked to and worked with many Apollo veterans, and have been a part of NASA’s attempts at new efforts to get exploration beyond Earth orbit going. None of it has ever made sense to me, so I have spent time researching the history to try to understand why we were able to do it then, and why it has been so hard since Apollo to make progress.
To me the best history is the Pulitzer prize winning book “The Heavens and the Earth, A Political History of the Space Age” by Walter McDougall. I read the book probably twenty five years ago but did not fully understand its importance. I re-read it often now. The official NASA history, NASA SP-4407, “Exploring the Unknown” edited by Dr. John Logsdon is also a great resource. Chapter two was written by Dr. Logsdon (which is an excerpt of his 1970 book “The Decision to Go to the Moon“) deals directly with the history of the Apollo program. There is an extensive bibliography of histories but these two encapsulate the prevailing consensus. However…..
A Tale of Two Space Programs
In rereading McDougall and Logsdon, as well as other books and documents recently I had a revelation. The U.S. has always had two space programs, the first being the one that the politicians wanted, and the one that was sold to the American people. This is I call the political space program vs the American space program.
Kennedy Administration Space Priorities
My first piece of evidence in this is derived from a November 21st 1962 White House meeting between president John F. Kennedy, NASA administrator James Webb, associate administrator Robert Seamans, Hugh Dryden, and presidential science advisor Jerome Wiesner. The issue was the Apollo program, its purpose and priority within the federal government. This is over a year and a half after the famous May 25, 1961 Kennedy speech announcing the program and it is interesting the level of ambivalence if not outright opposition that NASA administrator Webb had to having the lunar landing be the priority goal of the agency. Webb wanted “preeminence” in space. Here is the beginning of the Kennedy audio tape transcript:
Part of Webb’s reluctance was political as well as technical, in that at the time we knew nothing of the surface of the Moon, and this was still four years before the first high resolution images of the Moon from Lunar Orbiter were obtained. Webb also had a sense that the space program was much more than just the Apollo effort. Presidential advisor Wiesner echoed these concerns later in the recording.
It is quite clear from the transcripts that if the Soviets had not chosen this battlefield in the global battle of prestige, that Kennedy would not have pushed to give NASA the money to go to the Moon. Kennedy even put it in context of solving other problems. Here is his definitive statement:
It does not get any clearer than this. If it were not, and Webb continued to make the prominence argument, Kennedy shut it down and provided his view on the relative priority of the Apollo lunar landing:
Finally, Kennedy was only interested in spending the money, wrecking the budget as he called it, because in his opinion we had to beat the Russians to the Moon. Also, look at the highlighted text in figure 4 following:
The president directly says that he is just not that interested in space, when it is compared to other priorities, except as a means to beat the Russians in the prestige game for global public opinion that McDougal illuminates so well in his book.
There is additional evidence that points to the prestige game that drove Apollo in a manner not known publicly at the time, but which was given extraordinary weight. This is embodied in the Webb-McNamara report as it is known or the Recommendations For Our National Space Program: Changes, Policies, Goals. This was a classified report prepared under the direction of NASA administrator James Webb and Department of Defense head Robert McNamara. It was the key guidance noted by both Logsdon and McDougall that provided the plan, budgets and the rationale for the Apollo program and the rest of NASA’s portfolio of activities. It is now available from the national archives. I collated it and published at this link. Here is an excerpt from the section called Space Projects for Prestige.
Space Projects for Prestige
All large scale space projects require the mobilization of resources on a national scale. They require the development and successful application of the most advanced technologies. They call for skillful management, centralized control and unflagging pursuit of long range goals. Dramatic achievements in space, therefore, symbolize the technological power and organizing capacity of a nation.
It is for reasons such as these that major achievements in space contribute to national prestige. major successes, such as orbiting a man as the Soviets have just done, lend national prestige even though the scientific, commercial, or military value of the undertaking may by ordinary standards be marginal or economically unjustified.
This nation needs to make a positive decision to pursue space projects aimed at enhancing national prestige. (emphasis by the authors)
This is the opening paragraph on planning.
It is vital to establish specific missions aimed mainly at national prestige. Such planning must be aimed at both the near term and the long range future. Near term objective along will not suffice. The management mechanisms established to implement long range plans must be capable of sustained centralized direction and control. An immediate task is to specify long range goals, to describe the missions to be accomplished, to define improved management mechanism, to select the launch vehicles, the spacecraft, and the essential building blocks needed to meet missions goals. The long term task is to manage national resources from the national level to make sure our goals are met.
The entire document is filled with this kind of language. The political space program was basically a global public relations campaign (McDougal goes into this in great detail) aimed at the third world as part of the “fluid battleground” of the cold war. To achieve this required “centralized direction and control”. This word usage was conscious as the people involved in the Apollo decision had great faith in the power of government for good. This is important later on as it was the management process developed for Apollo that was later to be integrated into most government programs of that era through today, including anti poverty programs, the war on drugs, and Obamacare.
To enable the successful execution of the Apollo program, a little known (to the public) prioritization within the federal government was granted. This same meeting (it had been established earlier with the announcement of the Apollo program) mentioned the Apollo program’s “DX” classification. According to the Department of Defense (DoD), this is the DX classification’s definition:
The Department of Defense has authority under the Defense Priorities and Allocations System (DPAS) (15 CFR 700) to place industrial priority ratings on its contracts. DoD uses two ratings: “DO” and “DX.” If necessary to meet required delivery dates at any level in the supply chain, DO-rated orders must be given production preference over unrated (commercial) orders, and DX-rated orders must be given preference over DO-rated orders and unrated orders.
The above quoted text (provided in the link in the previous paragraph) is from a DoD document outlining the number of programs as of 2011 that had a DX classification. There are only 13 DX classified contracts as of 2011 and most of them deal with nuclear weapons. In my research I have found no time since the Apollo program that space had a DX classification. This is important as the first call on resources from defense contractors, especially during Vietnam would have been for the war, but the Apollo program was on an equal footing in terms of allocations of manpower, contractor plant and equipment, and federal government support.
Administration’s Various Postures On Apollo
While of course NASA was focused on the Saturn V to the moon, the agency used its priority to push well beyond the limited mandate of Apollo. This was not done stealthily, and it was part of the sales process to the American people for the Apollo program. Kennedy himself used the rhetoric of the “New Frontier” to sell not only space but his other priorities. NASA, with the most to gain from this rhetoric, enthusiastically used the frontier meme in its efforts to keep the funds flying. Another exceedingly interesting book on this subject is Selling Outer Space, Kennedy, the Media, and Funding for Project Apollo, 1961-1963 by James Kauffman. Here is an excerpt from the Amazon summary of the book that encapsulates the position of the author regarding the rhetoric used to sell the program:
This book examines the Kennedy administration’s rhetoric to understand why Project Apollo received so little opposition. Although the Kennedy administration advanced a number of political, scientific, military, and economic arguments for a manned moon mission, its rhetoric ultimately “sold” the space project as a great frontier adventure story with deep roots in American history and culture. The administration enticed Congress, the media, and the public to think of Project Apollo not in “logical” terms, but as a reaffirmation of the romantic American frontier myth. By describing space as the New Frontier, the Kennedy administration shaped the way Americans interpreted and gave meaning to space exploration for years to come. The frontier narrative subsumed arguments about the technology and economics of the program, and it established a presumption in favor of massive commitments of the nation’s resources to staffed space flight.
The administration, NASA, and their congressional allies used various arguments to sell the Apollo program to congress, especially after the bills started mounting shortly before Kennedy’s death. To some congress people it was sold as a jobs program, to others for its role in absorbing what would otherwise be a major surplus in aerospace employment as the missile gap closed and spending decreased there. In the sales pitch it was the American space program that was sold. However, deep down philosophically, the leadership now in place in the Kennedy administration, the generation that grew up on the perceived success of FDR’s New Deal and the government led victory in WWII, it was the faith in the technocratic direction of government itself that drove the plan. The Apollo program was a tool, to show that government and its skill in organizing, managing, and executing on large programs could do anything. From McDougall:
…Apollo signaled a new age. The technology race that began with weaponry now extended to a civilian pursuit, held in turn to be a symbol of overall national prowess. Where the Eisenhower men doubled and tripled spending on science, education, and R&D, it was their intention to contain as far as possible the effects on traditional values and social institutions and the relationship of the public an private sectors. The men who launched Apollo came to office dissatisfied with existing state management of the national treasure and talent, and began to view the space program as a catalyst for technological revolution, social progress, and even the “restructuring of institutions” in ways that were dimly foreseen but assumed to be progressive.
How this change occurred in so short a time is not a mystery, but rather that most vexing of historical problems, the “overdetermined event.” New men arrived and brought with them those ideas of the “seed time” of the 1950’s. Among those ideas were the notion that the Third World was the main theater of the Cold war and that in that contest prestige was as important as power. Their new ideas validated a far greater role for government in planning and executing social change. The new men also cared more for imagery and felt increasing pressure to display their control over affairs in the wake of early setbacks in foreign policy. Finally, each major figure in space policy—Kennedy, Johnson, Webb, Dryden, McNamara, Welsh, Kerr, and others– saw ways in which an accelerated space program could help them solve problems in their own shop or serve their own interests. This is not to say that they were petty; it is to say that they were technocratic, applying command technology to political problems.
Stating this in more modern terms, the “overdetermined event” was the challenge of the Soviets in space and as the former chief of staff of president Obama once opined, never let a crisis go to waste. Thus it can be seen that the Apollo program, from the perspective of the politicians, had nothing to do with the Moon, nothing to do with opening the space frontier, nothing about our future in space. McDougall captures this betrayal of the people that executed the American space program in his closing paragraph of chapter 15 of his book:
Of all those who contributed to the moon decision, the ones farthest in the background were the engineers of Langley and Goddard and Marshall, many of whom devoted their lives to spaceflight, designing dreams. Their reports and studies were necessary buttresses to the political arguments: they had to persuade that the thing could be done. Otherwise, they were absent. Some of their visionary talk about exploration and destiny found place in the political speeches, but their efforts to stretch the minds and hearts of their fellows, to sow wonder for its own sake, got lost in their very adoption by the technocratic state. What Constantine’s conversion did to the Christian Church, Apollo did to spaceflight: It linked it to Caesar. The new faith might conquer the empire, but its immaculate ability to stir hears was accordingly diminished. Of course, it could not have been otherwise.
In other words, the real American space program was ignored for the political space program and when this program ceased to be useful, the political geniuses like McNamara (the brilliant architect of the Vietnam war), and the rest, especially LBJ, took the money from Apollo and spent it on other political problems that in their perception had more value. The ironic thing is, that if they had not been so focused on their own rice bowls and had continued the focus on space at the Apollo spending levels, many of the problems that they sought to spend money on other than the Apollo program, could have been fixed.
The American Space Program
The nation made dramatic strides in technology in the 1960’s and foundation of our economic power today derives from these advances. Solar cells were invented and first used for Vanguard 1, one of the first satellites that the United States placed into orbit. Integrated circuit development was funded by NASA and DoD space appropriations. The first real time embedded computers and operating systems were built for the Saturn V by IBM (first surface mount chips) and for the Apollo Command and Lunar Modules. Precision matching, robotic welding and assembly, all were first implemented for the Apollo program. These are just the spin off’s, the systems advances were just as dramatic.
I acquired a book that is the official congressional record of the “NASA Authorization for Fiscal Year 1966”. The book is a record of the Hearings Before the Committee On Aeronautical and Space Sciences United States Senate. This was from the 89th congress, first session, bill S.927, the NASA Authorization for FY 1966. This is part 1, Scientific and Technical Programs and Program Management. There is a lot of interesting testimony in this document, from NASA administrator Webb, deputy administrator Dr. Hugh Dryden, as well as associate administrator Robert Seamans and Wherner Von Braun.
The Apollo program known to history was called the approved program, which constituted the 15 first production run Saturn V’s (all that were ever built), and their associated support systems, the Command/Service modules (that carried the crew to the moon) as well as the Lunar Module landers. Many statements were made that the production rate for the vehicles, not just the Saturn V but the Saturn 1/1B as well was 6 per year. Additionally NASA was moving in the direction of the flight qualification of the NERVA nuclear upper stage, which would have increased the throw weight of the Saturn V to the Moon from 48 metric tons to 98 tons, more that doubling its capability. Figure 1 here shows a chart from the book (page 251) showing the next step in the Apollo program:
This was part of Dr. George Mueller’s testimony. The AES capabilities shown in the bottom half of the chart would be with only modest increases in Apollo capabilities and or with a dual Saturn V launch. It is mind blowing to think that in the early 1970’s we could have put two crew persons on the lunar surface in the polar regions for up to a month. The continued production of Saturn V vehicles and the associated hardware could have been done to support these missions at the ~$5.5-6 billion a year peak NASA budget from FY 1966. The proof of this is in Dr. Mueller’s testimony (page 256):
…In carrying out the extended lunar missions on the lunar surface it does require, if we are going to use the present equipment, two launches of a Saturn V are required to carry out one mission (fig. 82, p. 210). One of the lunar excursion modules is landed unmanned and is modified to be a lunar laboratory on the surface, and is modified by taking off the ascent propulsion and the propulsion tanks. Then you land a manned lunar excursion module along side of it, and the men live in this laboratory for the 2 weeks, return to the original lunar excursion module that brought them down, and return in that to the command module….
This is shown in the figure below:
Here is where we were at with nuclear engine technology in March of 1965:
These graphics are all from the same Senate hearings from March of 1965. Can there be any doubt whatsoever that the American space program as it was unfolding was starkly different than what the political space program intended?
A more formal version of the advanced post approved Apollo program ideas and others for further uprating of the Saturn V for Mars missions was presented to president Johnson and VP Humphrey in February of 1967 as The Space Program in the Post-Apollo Period, A Report of the President’s Science Advisory Committee. The cover is shown in figure 7:
President Johnson simply ignored this report. President Johnson had other priorities and was simply unwilling to expend further national capital on sustaining the momentum built up by the Apollo program. John Logsdon’s history states it this way (page 421 of NASA SP-4407):
Soon after Lyndon Johnson became President, he had asked NASA to begin to identify post-Apollo options. NASA responded by January 1965 with a “laundry list” of future possibilities. (Volume I, III-18) But by that time, “Johnson did not want to hear about the possibilities, nor did he particularly want Congress to hear them.” Recognizing that a second Apollo-like initiative was not in the offing, NASA focused its post-Apollo planning on an interim effort that became known as the Apollo Applications Program.
McDougal strangely enough blames NASA’s lack of a plan for the lack of interest by the White House and congress in pushing forward a new program but in looking at the FY 1966 bill S.927 hearings, it is impossible to sustain that conclusion. The only caveat to this was (for me) the shocking revelation in Logsdon’s history (page 434) by Robert Gilruth of NASA that no more lunar missions be flown after the successful landing of Apollo 11. It boggles my mind that anyone inside of the agency, especially one of Gilruth’s stature, would suggest such a thing. Fortunately, this sentiment was not shared by many, but in recalling some other histories that I have read, I remember that by the time Apollo 17 had flown that there was a lot of concern about the continuing risk and that this may have played a role in the decision to not fly Apollo 18 and 19 with the hardware already in hand.
Just think how the history of the space program would have been different had they flown the Apollo AES mission (the lower half of figure 1), to one of the lunar poles! As far back as 1969, Dr. James Arnold, of the University of California San Diego, and Dr. Harold Urey (who won a nobel prize in chemistry) postulated, based on their examination of lunar samples and theoretical calculations of thermodynamics, that water could exist in cold traps at the lunar poles. This has only recently been confirmed, with the current NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), the LCROSS impactor, coupled with earlier measurements from the DoD Clementine and NASA’s Lunar Prospector, providing the definitive confirmations. However, if we could have flown the AES to one of the lunar poles, science would have confirmed the water over 40 years ago and indeed the last 40 years of quagmire in lunar exploration could have been avoided.
If We Can Put a Man on the Moon, Why Can’t We Put a Man on the Moon?
This journey into the history of the Apollo program and why we have not followed up on it has been been both satisfying and yet frustrating. I now have satisfied my curiosity regarding why we have not followed up on the Apollo program, even to today and the current indecision regarding exploration beyond low Earth orbit. We have not done it simply because the political space program has no interest in it, nor have they ever really been interested. For the political space program was never more than a tool, the ultimate appeal to authority for what they were really interested in, which has been buying votes, for trillions of dollars that have been spent on “other priorities” over the years. McDougall goes into this in the closing chapters of his book:
…By 1969 Anderson’s [Democrat Senator Clinton Anderson of New Mexico; ed] colleagues mostly had other hopes and fears than nose of 1961: the fear of social disintegration and the hope that the Apollo method might help alleviate poverty, pollution, decaying cities. The hope that rode on Apollo was the hope for human adequacy in the face of awful challenges. NASA had whipped the Soviets, and now technocracy—state-managed R&D, state regulation, state mobilization, and systems analysis—could be applied to “down-to-earth” problems. Now that the technocratic method was proven out, space travel was becoming dispensable….But the first irony of Apollo was that over time, the means had become more important than the end, even though that means—technocracy–was to prove inapplicable to most of the items on the new national agenda. Going to the moon was an engineering problem; eliminating discrimination or poverty or even urban blight was not…..
Thus what can be said here is that the Apollo program became the ultimate appeal to authority by those who had the ultimate faith that government could cure all of societies ills. Indeed, for most of my own youth I remember hearing that used as a clarion call of “If we can put a man on the moon surely we can solve X, Y, or Z!” Today this has crept into the general vernacular in that some writers call the current administration’s Affordable Care Act as Obama’s “moonshot”. I don’t know McDougall’s politics but he zeroed in on the whole technocratic meme. Democratic leaning historians such as Logsdon would not go into this subject in the depth of McDougall though he did illustrate the mechanics of what happened accurately. Here is what Logsdon had to say about the later stages of the Apollo program and Nixon administration’s response to the Space Task Group’s expansive plans for post Apollo (page 436):
This type of recommendation was not at all what the Nixon administration had in mind; its top goal was reducing government spending……Richard Nixon finally responded to the Space Task Group in a statement issued on 7 March 1970, saying, “space expenditures must take their proper place within a rigorous system of national priorities. What we do in space from here on in must become a normal and regular part of our national life and must therefore be planned in conjunction with all of the other undertakings which are important to us.” It was clear that there would be no more Apollo-like space goals set while Nixon was in office.
Logsdon uses the excuse here of the Nixon administration’s desire to cut the budget, but that is only true of the NASA budget. Nixon’s first budget, for fiscal year 1970 came in at $195.649 billion total dollars. Nixon’s last budget, FY 1975 was $332.332 billion, an increase of over $138 billion per year in that period. Another three billion to keep NASA at its 1966 level would have not even been noticed. The bold text above indicates that it was not a desire to reduce the general federal budget, which obviously did not happen, but a shift in national priorities that started years before by LBJ and Nixon just continued the trend. The numbers I use here are from the historical federal budget as obtained from the White House OMB website. Table 1 shows the NASA budget in comparison with other large federal agencies.
I have published this before but it bears repeating. I normalized the NASA budget to 1 and then compared the other budgets as a fraction of NASA’s budget. In FY-1966 only the DoD had a higher proportion of the budget than NASA. By FY 1970 the Department of Education, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Department of Transportation all had higher budgets. By FY 1975 this list included the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Energy, DoD Civil Programs, International Assistance, and even the Office of Personnel Management had higher budgets than NASA. The Department of Health and Human Services budget was over ten times that of NASA by FY 1975. Thus it is absurd to make the claim that it was some general effort to reduce the budget that NASA had to take, along with the rest of government.
NASA’s budget had already been cut from its peak of $5.933 billion in FY 1966 to $3.752 billion for Nixon’s first budget. There has been this fantasy, repeated by Logsdon, that somehow the Saturn V production line could have continued to operate and that the final decision to end production was not until 1972. However, as far back as 1968 and the completion of subsystems and with the main contract only for 15 flight units, the subcontractors had long been shut down by then. As early as mid 1968 conference papers were indicating a loss of employment of 4-5000 per week in critical areas. Saying that the Saturn V production could have continued as far down the road as 1972 is as absurd as saying that Space Shuttle flights could have been continued without interruption by the last flight in 2010.
It is exactly this shift in priorities that has not been substantially changed since that era. The Reagan and Bush 1 administration’s more than doubled NASA’s budget but by then, with inflation and the growing sclerosis of the American aerospace industry, the increases, while allowing NASA to fly the Shuttle up to 9 times in 1985 and start on the development of the Space Station Freedom, was not as effective as before. There was some shift at the policy level with Reagan advisor Dr. George Keyworth and George H. Bush in 1989 boldly began the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI). However, by then the partisanship in congress was so bad that the democrat caucus strongly opposed any increased spending on space, so much so that with large majorities in 1992 forced through a budget recission that specifically cut funds for the first lunar orbiter since Apollo (the Lunar Resource Mapper that yours truly was a PI on) after the production contracts were signed with Boeing. Again the excuse was deficit reduction, but during the Clinton years the federal budget increased from $1.46 trillion dollars to $1.87 trillion dollars while NASA’s budget for a time was reduced by almost a billion a year.
In 2004 the Bush II administration began another attempt at an expanded space program with the Vision for Space Exploration. George W. Bush’s administration increased the NASA budget from the last Clinton budget of $14.092 billion (still less than the last Bush 1 budget of $14.305 billion), to $19.17 billion in the last Bush budget in FY-09 to support the completion of the International Space Station and the beginning of what became the Constellation program. When the Obama administration came into office the Constellation program was immediately cut, and the budget was again cut, by $2 billion a year by FY 2013, recovering this year but still less (at about $18.5 billion) than the last Bush budget.
It should be indisputable to any rational observer that the reason for the Apollo quagmire is that the politicians in our government, both congress and the White House, simply have other priorities. Our federal budget has increased by over a $1.5 trillion a year since the Bush announcement in 2004 while NASA’s budget has declined in the past five years of the current administration. The Augustine commission’s Review of Human Space Flight Plans Committee in their final report stated that for NASA to be able to execute on its beyond earth orbit human spaceflight efforts, it would need an additional $3 billion a year, over and above the $19.1 billion dollar budget. Instead, the budget decreased, again in the name of deficit reduction, which is counterfactual considering how much the federal budget has increased.
Thus, in conclusion, the only conclusion that we can draw is that the political space program has been a failure. It was a failure in concept, brilliant for a few years in execution in landing men on the moon, and then a failure in philosophy, spirit, and execution since that time. The truth of the matter is that if the political space program had been in actuality what the American space program was in spirit, many of the political problems that money was diverted from the Apollo program to solve, would probably have been solved by a continued emphasis on space development. It was only with the George W. Bush administration that an articulation of the American space program was finally made. Here it is from a speech by Dr. John Marburger at the Goddard symposium in 2006:
The ultimate goal is not to impress others, or merely to explore our planetary system, but to use accessible space for the benefit of humankind. It is a goal that is not confined to a decade or a century. Nor is it confined to a single nearby destination, or to a fleeting dash to plant a flag. The idea is to begin preparing now for a future in which the material trapped in the Sun’s vicinity is available for incorporation into our way of life.
This is the first articulation in the political sphere that I have ever seen of a true American space program. Indeed Marburger took a slap at the whole prestige rational in his above statement. Unfortunately, the NASA administrator who understood Marburger and who had the ear of the president, gave way to an administrator and a program (Constellation) that was a throw back to the Apollo program, but without the funding profile to match.
This also goes back to my opening about his-story. I first started noticing discrepancies between the official NASA history, some other written histories, and my personal experiences and relationships with the people involved. This was reinforced in my personal participation in both the Space Exploration Initiative and the Vision for Space Exploration. I also gained insight by going back over the writing of people who were opposed to the technocratic character of the Apollo program like Ralph Cordiner, CEO of General Electric, president Eisenhower, and Von Braun’s army boss, General Bruce Medaris. Though I don’t like what I found, it does make sense. The politicians of the era, especially those like whiz kid Robert McNamara who had a lot of influence on space policy, simply had no vision of what our first steps into the cosmos meant. There were many of that era who did, but this did not penetrate the self assured intellect of the new men that surrounded Kennedy and later Lyndon Johnson.
I hope that the reader, in following the links that I have provided here, as well as the development in this missive of the idea of the political vs American space program, can gain insights on why we have been stuck in this quagmire for so long.
Just this past week an article was published in Aviation Week by Marcia Smith, regarding the anniversary of yet another report, the National Commission on Space report. Chaired by then former NASA administrator Tom Paine (who I had the honor of having lunch with in 1989), it was another attempt at pushing on the government space program an expansive effort, this time with the focus on Mars. She wonders why, after thirty years, that we still have these questions about destinations and NASA’s direction.
To the reader of this missive, the answer is clear, it is not a priority of the political space program. There was no money provided in the 80’s for it, or in the 90’s or 2000’s, even with the dramatic expansion of the federal budget in this same time period. Mars simply has not be placed in the proper context of the economic development of the solar system. It has been considered a province of science alone for decades. Any base on Mars built by NASA will look like the National Science Foundation’s base in Antarctica, the sole province of science. It is hardly remarkable that this does not cross the threshold of a positive tipping point in government funding when compared against competing earthly priorities.
Marburger had it right, but he is dead, and the other real or perceived sins of the George W. Bush administration has consigned the brilliant construct of the economic development of the solar system to yet another speech lost to the ether.
I added this a couple of days after the original post of this article. It helps to drive the point home even more, and here it is, out of the mouth of the former president of the United States, specifically that he wanted to use the management techniques that proved effective for the Apollo program and use them for “world peace” and other progressive ideals.
The American Space Program
Stated simply, the goal of the American space program is the economic development of the solar system, beginning with the industrialization of the Moon, free space, and asteroids, with settlement of Mars. With the death of the Apollo program the American space program moved outside of NASA. Dr. Von Braun, after his retirement from NASA, helped found the National Space Institute, which later merged with the populist L5 Society, to form the National Space Society. Von Braun’s goal with the founding of the NSI-NSS was to educate the American people on the value of space, beyond the confines of the political space program. It is here where I will pick up in my next missive. I will just leave the reader with the thought that it is the American space program that is growing at this time while the political space program is dying. That is a good thing.