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Moon Space

What If the Apollo Program Had Continued? 389

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the man-that-would-be-a-cool-trip dept.
proslack writes "The die had been cast years before Apollo 11 had even reached the moon. In the late 1960s, the Vietnam war was straining US finances. A fatal fire on the Apollo launch pad in January 1967 had blotted NASA's copybook. The Soviet moon effort seemed to be going nowhere. In the budget debates during the summer of 1967, Congress refused NASA's request to fund an extended moon programme. What if things had been different that summer? Suppose Congress had granted NASA's wish, then fast-forward 40-odd years..." A nice little what-if sort of story that makes sorta nostalgic for a non-existent present.
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What If the Apollo Program Had Continued?

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  • by MarkvW (1037596) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @12:31PM (#28718487)

    We wouldn't have had Vietnam (this frees up the money) and the Cold War would still be going on (this motivates rocket development).

  • Consequences (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @12:35PM (#28718559)

    We'd all be dead from toxic levels of perchlorate in our drinking water?

  • Re:Bad news (Score:1, Interesting)

    by thisnamestoolong (1584383) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @12:50PM (#28718811)
    I can't see that this argument really follows... are you arguing that the cessation of the space program brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union? The Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse either way until Gorbachev (wisely) decided to try to make the collapse as painless as possible. It is perfectly feasible that would could have continued going to the moon through all of this, and I would argue that our society would be a better place if we had maintained the same zeal for space exploration that we had during the 60's. Certainly the "space race" pissing contest was a very large part of it, but you seem to be falsely assuming that correlation implies causation, space exploration would certainly not have continued the Cold War.
  • Rosy bullshit (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ShooterNeo (555040) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @12:57PM (#28718917)

    All the discussions about the space program overlook a critical fact. It costs about $10,000 a kilogram or more to lift anything into low earth orbit. That means that the entire manned space program is virtually useless : there's no point in learning how to put people into space and have them survive if no affordable way for a lot of people and supplies to go into space exists. If every kilo costs 10 grand, it makes a heck of a lot more sense to send robots and equipment into space than to send people. Even repairing Hubble never made any sense : it would have been a lot cheaper to build a brand new telescope every time than to pay for each repair mission.

    The only way a moon base or a space station or a space hotel or anything else will ever be practical is if that launch cost is reduced through new technology. Personally, out of all the proposals I've ever seen, only one new technology makes the slightest bit of sense : laser launch.

  • 4) No Space Shuttle. Rockets all the way. (Why mess with something that works)

    We would have a space shuttle. It simply wouldn't be the "jack of all trades, master of none" we got.

    The space shuttle was supposed to be a lightweight launch craft for transporting people to/from LEO where they could rendezvous with a space station and take a transport to a location like the moon. Economically, it made a lot of sense. It would have been fairly simple, cheap to operate, and with fewer disposable parts than the Saturn V. (Which basically throws away millions of pounds of hardware to return barely a few tons of mass. Very wasteful.)

    So what went wrong?

    Obviously, the same politics that killed the moon program. Nixon told NASA that they could have one launch vehicle, and the Saturn V was too expensive to be "it". Oh, and they needed to meet the military's needs for a launch vehicle as well, because the Titan rockets were also too expensive.

    NASA got out their abacuses, ran some numbers, decided that the shuttle was key to a future space station, and committed to producing a super-shuttle that could be all things to all people. After all, they had the technology, right? Right?

    Well, sort of. The engineers did an amazing job of producing the most sophisticated piece of space equipment ever designed. The power curves were incredible and the engines left the Saturn V in the dust. Only problem: It was a hellva lot of mass to send up and bring back, leaving little room for cargo. Worse yet, it was so complex that maintenance costs were through the roof. In the end, it would have been cheaper to continue operating the Saturn V with the economics of scale resulting in MORE cost reductions than the Shuttle ever realized!

    What I'm getting at is that if we're going to play along with this dream-world where politics don't kill off programs, we'd have the Saturn V, the space shuttle, the space station (with artificial gravity!), and transport tugs originally envisioned by NASA. Because all those pieces have to fit together to make this mythical lunar base of 5,000 people possible.

    Back here in reality, all those ideas were doomed from the beginning. The politicians only ever supported the space program to combat the USSR. By the 1970's, the Soviet Union had already collapsed. They were just coasting on momentum from there on out. That's why (save for a push by Regan to push the USSR to the brink of bankruptcy) the space program never recovered. There was no political need. And anyone who knows anything about politics knows that there has to be a need commiserate with size of the solution before there will be a large commitment. Hopes, dreams, and peaceful exploration ala Star Trek just don't cut it. :-(

  • by Dracos (107777) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:06PM (#28719061)

    Would the Cold War have fizzled in the way that it really did, with Saudi Arabia flooding the oil market in 1984 and causing the oil dependent Soviet economy to collapse?

  • by theendlessnow (516149) * on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:13PM (#28719163)
    If the Apollo program had continued:
    1. Children would still be drinking Tang.
    2. Saddam could have hid his WMDs on the moon instead of a suburb of New Jersey (shhh! it's a secret).
    3. Even more things could have been made from "space age materials".
    4. Apple would prohibit the Palm Pre from using iTunes (arguably, this happens no matter what).
    5. Michael Jackson's funeral would have been in space. Saving LA the hassle.
    6. Mythbusters would get to see if a large scale nuclear explosion really would push the moon out of earth's orbit.
  • Re:I see (Score:2, Interesting)

    by hattig (47930) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:16PM (#28719211) Journal

    "Gosh" said Billy.

    Jane looked up, quizzically. "What's up?"

    "I'm still coughing up blood," said Billy, who had stopped trying to revise his airlock safety certificate paper. "It's not getting any better. This moon dust is horrible. I wish we could go back to Earth, but sadly our bones are too damn weak. If only we had done some basic research before striking out into space and setting up colonies."

    "Gosh", said Jane. "Anyway, it's time for your monthly wash, we've bought enough credits for 1 minute of hot water."

  • Re:Rosy bullshit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tgd (2822) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:34PM (#28719519)

    Designing, building the Hubble was about $1.5billion, although there's some funny math there because in reality a lot of the hardware was shared with CIA Keyhole satellites.

    Launch cost was nearly a billion because it was done in a Shuttle rather than on a rocket.

    Hubble weights about 11000kg.

    A Saturn V, for example, could launch TEN of them in a single shot, based on weight at almost an identical cost to a single shuttle launch.

    An Ariene 5 is $120m and can carry the Hubble up to the appropriate orbit.

    For the price of the repair mission, with all the delays and the costs NASA tends to hide in their normal operating budget, they could've build and launched two brand new HSTs.

  • by mcgrew (92797) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:37PM (#28719567) Homepage Journal

    Interesting, maybe, but incorrect. The US first got involved in VietNam in the fifties, before the first Cosmonaut reached space. We landed on the moon in 1969, only four years before we stopped bombing North Vietnam (I was stationed in Thailand then and saw the last B-52 leave Utapao to drop the last bomb).

    The cold war ended during the Reagan Presidency and had nothing to do with rocket development; it was economics that stopped the cold war, the USSR went broke. If you have a Saturn V rocket that can get to the moon and back, an ICBM is trivial by comparison.

  • What if... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gmuslera (3436) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:48PM (#28719765) Homepage Journal
    If you change a single moment in your past, will everything change?

    In The end of Eternity, Asimov said that there was some "inertia" in time, if something changed in the past things somewhat keep being more or less the same, as most significative changes arent isolated events but more massive trends. If french revolution didnt happened that exact day, could had happened anyway a day or a year after. The apollo program could had been cancelled in a later date anyway.

    Also, if it continued everything could had changed, even things that could look unrelated. Maybe arpanet and then internet would not exist now, as all could have been more focused in space, or maybe the IBM PC never saw the light, You know, the kind of stuff that make that if you kill a butterfly in the past, you get another president in the present
  • by mcgrew (92797) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:55PM (#28719863) Homepage Journal

    No, but history says [] you can extrapolate it twenty years into the future.

    Business was booming when Warren Harding died, and in a primitive Vermont farmhouse, by the light of an old-fashioned kerosene lamp, Colonel John Coolidge administered to his son Calvin the oath of office as President of the United States. The hopeless depression of 1921 had given way to the hopeful improvement of 1922 and the rushing revival of 1923.

    The prices of common stocks, to be sure, suggested no unreasonable optimism. On August 2, 1923, the day of Harding's death, United States Steel (paying a five-dollar dividend) stood at 87, Atchison (paying six dollars) at 95, New York Central (paying seven) at 97, and American Telephone and Telegraph (paying nine) at 122; and the total turnover for the day on the New York Exchange amounted to only a little over 600,000 shares. The Big Bull Market was still far in the future. Nevertheless the tide of prosperity was in full flood.

    Pick up one of those graphs with which statisticians measure the economic ups and downs of the Post-war Decade. You will find that the line of business activity rises to a jagged peak in 1920, drops precipitously into a deep valley in late 1920 and 1921, climbs uncertainly upward through 1922 to another peak at the middle of 1923, dips somewhat in 1924 (but not nearly so far as in 1921), rises again in 1925 and zigzags up to a perfect Everest of prosperity in 1929-only to plunge down at last into the bottomless abyss of 1930 and 1931.

    Hold the graph at arm's-length and glance at it again, and you will see that the clefts of 1924 and 1927 are mere indentations in a lofty and irregular plateau which reaches from early 1923 to late 1929. That plateau represents nearly seven years of unparalleled plenty; nearly seven years during which men an women might be disillusioned about politics and religion and love, but believed that at the end of the rainbow there was at least a pot of negotiable legal tender consisting of the profits of American industry and American salesmanship; nearly seven years during which the businessman was, as Stuart Chase put it, "the dictator of our destinies," ousting "the statesman, the priest, the philosopher, as the creator of standards of ethics and behavior" and becoming "the final authority on the conduct of American society." For nearly seven years, the prosperity band-wagon rolled down Main Street.

    The book chronicles a real estate boom (like our generation had a few years ago) and the aforementioned stock market boom. The similarities between that time and ours, economically and sociologically, are astounding.

    Give us another fifteen to twenty five years and our economy will be ok, most likely.

    In view of what was about to happen, it is enlightening to recall how things looked at this juncture to the financial prophets, those gentlemen whose wizardly reputations were based upon their supposed ability to examine a set of graphs brought to them by a statistician and discover, from the relation of curve to curve and index to index, whether things were going to get better or worse. Their opinions differed, of course; there never has been a moment when the best financial opinion was unanimous. In examining these opinions, and the outgivings of eminent bankers, it must furthermore be acknowledged that a bullish statement cannot always be taken at its face value: few men like to assume the responsibility of spreading alarm by making dire predictions, nor is a banker with unsold securities on his hands likely to say anything which will make it more difficult to dispose of them, unquiet as his private mind may be. Finally, one must admit that prophecy is at best the most hazardous of occupations. Nevertheless, the general state of financial opinion in October, 1929, makes an instructive contrast with that in February and March, 1928, when, as we have seen, the skies had not appeared any too brig

  • First, your numbers for the shuttle are flat out wrong. You forgot to account for the thrust from the SRBs. Second, your numbers for the SatV are missing. Third, the F-1 and the SSMEs are not comparable. The F-1 == SRB and the SSME == J2. Look them both up and you'll find that the shuttle is WAY more powerful on a per-engine basis.

    Here are some corrected numbers:

    Saturn V

    Thrust: 34.02 MN
    Mass: 3,038,500 kg
    Thrust to weight ratio: 11.19:1


    Thrust: 30.45MN
    Mass: 2,030,000 kg
    Thrust to weight ratio: 15:1

    As you can see, the shuttle has 34% more power for its weight than the Saturn V. This is more than sufficient to accomplish the liftoff goals. The SRBs are actually shaped internally to REDUCE thrust during flight to prevent overstressing of the Shuttle hardware. The idea is to get up to Max-Q as quickly and smoothly as possible, then throttle back until the thickest part of the atmosphere is cleared.

    There's a reason why the cosmonauts always like hitching a ride on the shuttle. As launch vehicles go, it's a really nice ride both on the way up and on the way down. ;-)

  • by c6gunner (950153) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @02:20PM (#28720287)

    When a 12 trillion dollar economy cannot provide basic health care to all (no, ER visits don't count) there's a goddamned problem.


  • The space shuttle was a noble goal: "Make a reusable launch vehicle, one that can be operated every few days without having to be thrown away." "Every few days" turned into "every several months" and "without having to be thrown away" turned into "with only part of it being thrown away, part fished out of the ocean, and part torn apart and rebuilt", but the long term goal was good. No matter how many incremental improvements you make to an expendible rocket, you either need to make the non-incremental change of adding flyback systems or you need to accept that the price of each trip will include building and discarding one of the largest and highest performance vehicles in history. The Delta, Atlas, etc. people made the latter choice, and although iteration still led them to better satellite launchers than Shuttle, it's not something we can build a real space program on.

    The trouble with the RLV alternative is that, if making a reusable orbital vehicle in shot is too hard (as I'd agree NASA proved), the only way to get there incrementally is from reusable suborbital vehicles. Start with something like the DC-X, bump up to something that can hit Mach 10, Mach 15, Mach 20, Mach 25, increasing the size and performance as necessary. But long before you've made enough incremental improvements to reach orbit, you'll probably have made too many for the public's patience. "We made it to the moon in 1969!" they'll tell their Congressmen; "why are we wasting so much money" (i.e. a tiny fraction of that expense) "on rockets that can't even stay in space?" Or worse, you'll lose the program to administrators who think "Here's a great opportunity to experiment with multi-lobed tanks, lifting bodies, linear aerospike engines, and a bunch of other untested technology all at once, just as soon as we weed the competition down to a single contract to the guys who made the best Powerpoint slides! What could possibly go wrong? Whateration, did you say?"

  • by argent (18001) <peter.slashdot@2006@taronga@com> on Thursday July 16, 2009 @07:08PM (#28724285) Homepage Journal

    Build a linear induction motor up the side of Mauna Kea and launch all your bulk materials that way, leave the low-acceleration launch capacity for humans.

  • by mdwh2 (535323) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @09:10PM (#28725191) Journal

    There are degrees of "good". We moan about the NHS in the UK, in that we might have to wait a few hours to be seen to, but it's still miles better than not having any treatment at all, or being lumbered with a massive bill.

    Same with the public transport. Yeah, we moan about the trains being crap here - but that doesn't mean it's anywhere near comparable to not having any at all!

  • by Veyasu (1505999) on Friday July 17, 2009 @03:58AM (#28726917)
    I don't get this post. I'm from Norway and I've never had anything to complain about concerning government health care. Neither has my family, any of my friends, or their families.

    I can give examples until I'm blue in the face and some people still wont be convinced.

    If you dig for shit in any system, even one you'd think was perfect, you'll find it.

Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig. -- Lazarus Long, "Time Enough for Love"