Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Moon NASA Space Science

What If the Apollo Program Never Happened? 756

Posted by Soulskill
from the what-happens-on-luna-stays-on-luna dept.
astroengine writes "In a recent debate, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said he would like to beat the Chinese back to the moon. He has even been so bold as to propose setting up a manned base by 2020, driven by empowering private industry to take the initiative. It's ironic to hear moon travel still being debated 40 years after the last Apollo landing in 1972. Between then and now, NASA's small space shuttle fleet filled in for space travel, but astronauts could only venture as far a low earth orbit — at an altitude much lower than the early pioneers reached. If there were no Apollo crash program to beat the Soviets to the moon, would we have planned to go to the moon eventually? But this time with a commitment of staying? Or would we never go?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

What If the Apollo Program Never Happened?

Comments Filter:
  • Ironic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Scutter (18425) on Monday January 30, 2012 @01:56PM (#38867433) Journal

    It's ironic to hear moon travel still being debated 40 years after the last Apollo landing in 1972.

    I think that word doesn't mean what you think it means.

  • Well (Score:5, Insightful)

    by masternerdguy (2468142) on Monday January 30, 2012 @01:56PM (#38867437)
    Without space exploration there isn't much point to our civilization.
  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by paiute (550198) on Monday January 30, 2012 @01:57PM (#38867455)
    Without the lash of the Communist menace, Congress would not have spend trillions to shoot people into space.
  • Re:Well (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rubycodez (864176) on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:00PM (#38867489)
    is that sarcasm? most of human culture and endeavors and civilization had existed fine before there ever was space travel, and will continue to do so with or without it.
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:00PM (#38867501)

    The Cold War and the sudden and unexpected advances the Soviets made in their remarkable early space program (thanks to the sadly underrated and largely forgotten genius of Sergei Korolev [wikipedia.org]) where the primary motivators that led to Apollo. Without the strong desire of the U.S. to have a major "first" in space over such a military rival, it's very unlikely the U.S. would have ever gone beyond LEO. Unlike LEO, there was relatively little to gain strategically or technologically from a manned moon mission. It was mostly a nationalistic pride thing. Apollo was designed to show that the U.S. was capable of space firsts too, and everything about the mission--from its highly public nature to the planting of the U.S. flag--was meant to highlight that.

  • by assertation (1255714) on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:02PM (#38867529)

    I know Newt is just making vaporous campaign promises and that there are "trickle down" benefits for ordinary people from the space program, but if you are going to spend big to have new technology why not do something more people can benefit from directly?

    - a national network of bullet trains?

    - a "space race" for an electric car with the same range as a gas powered car and that can be recharged in under 10 min?

  • Re:Travel Vs Base (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gregulator (756993) on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:03PM (#38867537)

    "I challenge you to name one thing that requires government spending that hasn't been debated off and on over the years. Oh, the massive Department of Defense spending, right, for some reason nobody debates that ballooning military industrial complex and that's about it"

    Umm, liberals and others rally against .mil/DOD spending all the time. You are doing it right now.

  • by LastGunslinger (1976776) on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:06PM (#38867577)
    Gingrich's speech was no more than pandering to the crowd ahead of the primary election. He's made bullshit promises in every state he's campaigned in so far. How does funding a new moon mission mesh with the Republican party's insistence on deep budget cuts on everything but military spending? Face it, we aren't going to the moon or Mars anytime soon. One side of the aisle wants to overspend on the military, the other wants to overspend on social programs. All the debate over taxes and discretionary spending is political theatre. Neither party is willing to make the sacrifices necessary to fix budgetary problems and neither really gives a damn about space exploration.
  • Re:Ironic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by similar_name (1164087) on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:10PM (#38867631)
    When I look at Dictionary.com [reference.com] I find this for irony:

    5. an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.

    It seems reasonable that debating moon travel 40 years after Apollo might be considered unexpected. What am I missing?

  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:13PM (#38867689)

    He has even been so bold as to propose setting up a manned base by 2020, driven by empowering private industry to take the initiative.

    What's the economic incentive for private industry to build/support a moon base? Without government funding, what's the return on investment? More moon rocks? Mining what minerals? A good view of the ocean? Seriously. Companies don't really invest in altruistic endeavors without a profit motive.

  • by Tastecicles (1153671) on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:13PM (#38867691)

    No, the only reason the US sent *people* to the Moon was because the Russians had already beaten them to the punch regarding both farside orbit and robotic softlanding. Manned landing was the only milestone left.

  • Re:Ironic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dogtanian (588974) on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:17PM (#38867753) Homepage

    He's probably gen-X. That stupid Alanis song ruined that word for an entire generation.

    I doubt that. Do you realise how many times it's been pointed out by various parties how ironic it is that all "Ironic's" examples of irony aren't?

    They've probably heard that more times than they've heard the song itself...

  • Re:Ironic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by yotto (590067) on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:17PM (#38867775) Homepage

    I don't know. I think nobody expected it to take 50 years to get back (assuming Newt can do it, which even if elected he can't/won't) or more (see previous parenthetical)

    And that thought amuses me in a sad kind of way.

  • Re:Travel Vs Base (Score:5, Insightful)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:18PM (#38867777)

    Well, that and the fact that he happens to be campaigning in Florida this week.

  • by assertation (1255714) on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:20PM (#38867811)

    Because compared to those two, a moon base is easy to achieve, for different reasons

    "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"

    - John F Kennedy

    and we know a moon base can be achieved with current technology

    and the Japanese don't have bullet trains?

  • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cavreader (1903280) on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:20PM (#38867819)

    Society has become too risk adverse to do anything as innovative and risky as the first moon landings. The minute something goes wrong everyone immediately starts arguing about whose fault it was instead of acknowledging the entire venture is risky so don't be too surprised if a couple of things blow up. The rocket disasters in the early space program did not shelve the project until endless analyses could be conducted to guarantee 100% future success. The astronauts who participate in the space program certainly understand and are willing to take the risk and as long as that is the case we should continue pushing outwards. Thousands of years ago people blindly set off to sail the oceans when they thought the world was flat but they went anyway and eventually new discoveries were made, Early scientific minds were willing to chance being charged as religious heretics in order to study and eventually publish information about the solar system and basic physics models. We can't depend on any politicians to say or support any risky venture because they are afraid of being blamed for any failures. The only way the US will get back to the moon is if China (or any other country) starts working in that direction. Then the politicians might be willing to fund and promote a risky project in the sacred cause of national security.

  • Re:Well (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jamvger (2526832) on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:22PM (#38867853) Homepage
    I hate this "all-eggs-in-one-basket" argument for preserving the human race. It misses the point entirely, because in the bigger picture Earth is not a sustainable system. The Sun is getting brighter; in less than a billion years it will be too intense for Earth's oceans to continue to exist. Like Mars did in ages past, Earth is going to lose its water [bbc.co.uk]. On the other side of the balance, Earth's interior is cooling, geological activity is diminishing, and so volcanic replenishment of the atmosphere [wikipedia.org] is slowly winding down.It is clear, at such time scales, that if the entirety of life on Earth is to avoid extinction then life must branch out off the planet. That means launching equipment and people to build massive, robust infrastructure. Crops. Botanical gardens. Zoos.

    Except that space is HARD. It's really expensive to get there and it is a high-vacuum radiation hell. It would take a long time and an expensive, sustained effort to construct off-planet habitats - a *tremendous* amount of effort and money before there is any payoff at all.

    On the other hand, for example the asteroid 16 Psyche contains enough metal to construct a solid cylinder fivekm in diameter stretching from here to the Moon. Or cover North America in a layer 280 meters thick.The resources available to an outer space civilization are great enough to insure that if outer space habitats do reach the point where they can expand and grow, the payoff would be big enough to sustain life past the death of the Sun [wikipedia.org].

    We are half-way through the era of animals on Earth. There have been at least a half dozen mass extinctions [wikipedia.org] since animals first started evolving a half-billion years ago; there will be more. The glaciers [wikipedia.org] have grown and retreated dozens of times over the last two million years; they will return. Yellowstone [usgs.gov] is going to explode again. And again. And again. Time is not unlimited.

    But we have time. Abundant fossil fuels, and the internet - we are right now living in the decades of maximum wealth. At some point, within a few decades, we will either run out of fuel [wikipedia.org] or we will run out of the capacity to sink carbon emissions [wikipedia.org]. When this happens, it will mean the end of a way of life. Maximum wealth *right now* means that *right now* is the best and possibly the only time to lift off. Life on Earth only gets one pass at the fossil fuel heritage; if the next extinction event brings us to a place where launching is not possible, life will have missed its chance.

    I'm not a nutter, I am a realist. I'm certain that outer space settlements will not solve our current growth vs. environment problems - the payoff will come way too late for that. None of our current issues will be solved, or even mitigated, by vigorous and immediate launches into the great expanse. Nonetheless, if DNA is to avoid extinction we need to start moving now [space.com] as rapidly as we can. Nothing else matters.

    The cocoon we call Earth is going to wither; whether or not she gives birthbefore she dies is entirely in the hands of human civilization. Our civilization,right now, we're the only chance. Sure, leaving Eden is a horrible burden. Suckit up. We have to go. Now.

    Or, we can continue toasting marshmallows at the planet's one-time-only oil burning party [wikipedia.org].
  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:25PM (#38867895)

    Gingrich's speech was no more than pandering to the crowd ahead of the primary election. He's made bullshit promises in every state he's campaigned in so far.

    The idea of a more permanent return to the moon is something Newt has talked about for decades, and also pushed forward a bill or two on.

    Newt has been really "into" space for a long, long time. I agree the timing of talking about this is pandering but fundamentally Newt really is interested in furthering space exploration.

    How does funding a new moon mission mesh with the Republican party's insistence on deep budget cuts on everything but military spending?

    Here is where your ignorance shows. You didn't even finish reading the SUMMARY much less the actual story!

    Newt wants to take some small portion of the NASA budget to issue X-Prize style prizes that move private industry forward in the goal of a lunar space colony.

    When put the way he actually means, does it sound so crazy? The tax payers pay very little, private industry takes all the risk. It would accelerate the already growing private space industry but with a very beneficial focus beyond just "going to space".

    Regardless of who actually becomes president this is a very good idea to support private space travel and to reduce government spending in space at the same time.

  • Re:Well (Score:5, Insightful)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:34PM (#38868043)

    Our civilization,right now, we're the only chance. Sure, leaving Eden is a horrible burden. Suckit up. We have to go. Now.

    People who say stuff like this usually have no idea the distances involved. It would probably take us MILLIONS of years to reach the nearest planet that's even remotely habitable. We don't have any kind of technology that could possibly survive that long, much less that could keep fragile human bodies alive that long.

    We're just stuck here. Don't feel bad, though. We're going to go extinct eventually, even if we made it out into space. If an asteroid doesn't get you, the heat death of the universe certainly will.

  • Re:Well (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jamvger (2526832) on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:40PM (#38868129) Homepage
    I'm not talking about going to other star systems, I'm talking about settling within the solar system we already inhabit.

    Succeed at that, and then we have a few billion years to find a way to get to other stars.

    Succeed at that, and then we have time to explore ways to deal with the death of the universe [wikipedia.org].
  • Re:Well (Score:2, Insightful)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:44PM (#38868225)

    Ever heard of a generation ship?

    Yes. I read science fiction.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:45PM (#38868231)
    The first & second south pole expeditions arrived exactly 100 years ago. But the third one was in 1956. The technology and motivations had improved by then.
  • Re:Travel Vs Base (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:48PM (#38868303)

    It's seriously still a nontrivial problem today, it's not like riding a bike. In my mind, the fact that they did it forty years ago doesn't take away the danger and knowledge involved with such a feat but instead just proves how badass and ahead of their time those people who worked on the Apollo Program were (yes, yes, Wernher von Braun and Nazi scientists, I'm aware).
     

    My dad worked on Apollo (and Mercury and Gemini and the space station and shuttle) while we lived next to the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. He died a while back from cancer, but during his life, he was the consummate cool engineer: loved to solve problems, never said much, very calm, worked very hard. He focused on the electrical systems, and he just worked on it all the time. He turned down promotions, because all he wanted to do was be an engineer, solve problems and get the systems working.

    So when I read your comment, I had to laugh just imagining my dad's reaction to being called a "badass". He would have loved it, and he probably would have even cracked a slight smile. He was one of the hundreds of thousands of people who made it all happen, and then when the money dried up in the 70s, they just tossed him aside. What a waste. But for 15 years, the space program was one point of optimism and hope in a very violent era. Yes, I know it was driven by military objectives, but man, was it fun and so much good came out of it.

  • Re:Well (Score:5, Insightful)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:50PM (#38868343)

    None of the other bodies in our solar system is habitable by humans. Terraforming is a silly fiction. Think about it. If we had the level of technology to radically transform an entire planet's atmosphere, generate soil and water, etc. it would be a LOT easier to use it on earth in the wake of anything short of an earth-SHATTERING asteroid than to use it on Mars.

    Humans should make the most of our time here, and stop worrying so much about all the silly ways we can imagine our doom.

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Monday January 30, 2012 @03:21PM (#38868785) Journal

    The UK still likes to think of itself as a powerful country but it has a debt crisis that is worse then the Greek are facing while their spending is far higher and with a "need/want" to defend pieces of land on the other side of the globe. Yes, the Falkland conflict is back and the UK just had to sell of half its fleet but don't worry, they shall never be slaves or something.

    The UK believed for a long time that the country side need not be ruined by efficient farms, the real food production could be shifted offshore and manufacturing followed soon after. The country that started the industrial revolution (according to the brits and who is going to doubt them) is now an industrial reject. Does it really matter if a sailing nation has its port cranes and ships made in China? No, surely not, all those workers can find different jobs, in service industries... any day now... jobs are bound to arrive in Manchester and Liverpool to replace those dirty smelly jobs with nice burger flipping and insurance sellling jobs... just give it a decade or two more, they already been waiting for half a century so a bit more can't hurt.

    The economy is like a jenga puzzle with a time delay build in, so you start pulling blocks and think, wow I can remove whole sections and the tower doesn't fall over so it must be okay... and then the time delay kicks in and BOOM, it all comes crumbling down.

    Take the Apple/Foxconn boycott discussion below, some posters actually excuse Apple for doing this because there are no factories left in the west that can do this kind of production... they might be right... so they are defending outsourcing as the right thing to do because outsourcing ripped production capacity that once existed from the west... godwin be damned but the nazi's put jews in ghetto's and then used the fact that jews lived in ghetto's as justification for the holocaust.

    To far? The same story ALSO had people supporting Apple by saying that American workers no longer had the skills for that type of work... so you remove the jobs and then claim that since no Americans are doing those jobs, they can't do them anymore... NICE!

    The UK still invents stuff but if someone then wants to produce it, China is the place to go and what is produced in China is copied in China. The top talent certainly still exists but the support base is gone. It can still be found in isolated places, that metal shop that can produce any spare part just from looking at the broken parts. That painter who can restore a 500 year old house... I seen them work. They are old men, old men working alone because nobody young takes it up anymore. But these are the kind of people that once could have produced the first steam engines, or build rocket engines from scratch. The Space Shuttle had plenty of production line work, just with workers who through the years became really good at their individual tasks. Now they are gone. Some retired, some finding other work but their skills are lost and no new kids are replacing the old farts, learning on the job.

    The problem is that the economy is to fragile and small changes take to long to show their effect to leave it to the market. Or for that matter to politicians who can only see to the next election. There is a reason high speed trains were neither a commerical NOR a political project but rather the work of civil engineers. Goverment workers who could see beyond the next quarter and the next election and look for the long term benefits.

    Leave it up to business or the politicians and you get Amtrak and British Rail... both disasters. A businessman asks"does it make a profit next yet" and public rail is about how it benefits the entire country (make the workforce more mobile, relieve congestion on the roads) not pure profit margins. The politician asks "if we delay maintence now, can I offer a tax cut to my voters" and that happens then for 2 decades until people start dying.

    Move the factory and you can not longer produce locally, the workers will loose the skills and kids will seek

  • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday January 30, 2012 @04:06PM (#38869355) Homepage Journal

    Society has become too risk adverse to do anything as innovative and risky as the first moon landings.

    No it hasn't. Yes, we've minimized risk where possible, but not minimizing risk as much as you can for a particular feat is just stupid. But people still bungi jump, climb mountains, do extreme motocross and snowboarding/skateboarding, drag racing 200mph in a quarter mile, etc.

    The minute something goes wrong everyone immediately starts arguing about whose fault it was instead of acknowledging the entire venture is risky so don't be too surprised if a couple of things blow up.

    I take it you weren't yet born when Apollo 7 blew up.

    The rocket disasters in the early space program did not shelve the project until endless analyses could be conducted to guarantee 100% future success.

    What early rocket disasters? Yeah, a lot of UNMANNED rockets blew up, why do you think they were unmanned? Apollo 7 set the program back by two years rather than their saying "well, accidents happen, let's launch another one."

    Thousands of years ago people blindly set off to sail the oceans when they thought the world was flat

    Sailors knew the world wasn't flat, as they coud see the land slowly sinking into the horizon as they got farther away.

    Early scientific minds were willing to chance being charged as religious heretics in order to study and eventually publish information about the solar system and basic physics models.

    Yeah, that's why Leonardo spoke in code.

    The reason government isn't sponsoring moon exploration is because there's no need for government to do so, especially since robots seem to be doing a pretty good job on Mars and other planets.

    We're not going to ever leave the solar system and colonize another one unless someone discovers a way around the lightspeed limit, and if it ever happesn it will be generations from now.

    Politicians aren't afraid of dead soldiers in Iraq, or dead Navy Seals in Afghanistan and Somalia, are they? So why would they be afraid of dead astronauts? Rather than parrot what you hear, give it a little thought.

  • by icebraining (1313345) on Monday January 30, 2012 @05:15PM (#38870129) Homepage

    Wasn't that more or less how the US went to the moon the first time?

  • Re:Ironic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Teancum (67324) <.robert_horning. .at. .netzero.net.> on Monday January 30, 2012 @05:25PM (#38870271) Homepage Journal

    The problem wasn't the creation of the Saturn V, but rather the cancellation of that rocket and shutting down the factories that built it. Werner Von Braun had the vision for an extensive program built upon mass production of that rocket, with the test stands in Texas, Alabama, and the facilities in Florida built to send hundreds of copies of that rocket into space at a rate of about one per month. There was even an "Apollo II" capsule design that could have held up to seven astronauts at the same time.

    I've argued in a "what if" situation that for the money spent on the Space Shuttle program, an equal number or even larger number of astronauts could have flown on the Saturn V, build space stations much larger than the ISS, continued with manned exploration of the Moon, and might have even made the trip to Mars by now. Had the Space Shuttle never happened, the infrastructure to do everything else would have been in place. Skylab alone would have remained in orbit for likely another decade, or at least a couple more missions before its septic tanks finally filled up. Perhaps the Skylab backup that is currently sitting in the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC would have flown rather than rotting away as a tourist curiosity.

    Some changes needed to happen and the same tempo that was going on in the late 1960's did have to change, but the Saturn V did not need to be abandoned. The Soyuz rocket and capsule, designed during the same era, is still going today and has proven to be a genuine workhorse of a vehicle. There is no reason why Saturn I/V rockets could not have been allowed to continue in their production queue once the infrastructure to make them had finally been built and the cost of making those factories had already been paid for.

  • Make peace not war (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AmiMoJo (196126) <[ten.3dlrow] [ta] [ojom]> on Monday January 30, 2012 @06:37PM (#38871265) Homepage

    Most of our military spending is really about government contracts for private companies. A kind of stimulus package, except that to justify it we have to keep having wars and exaggerating threats. Not only is space is a much more worthy subject for funding, and if we tolerated even 0.01% of the losses we do for the military we could get people on Mars in a decade.

  • Re:Ironic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lennier (44736) on Monday January 30, 2012 @10:24PM (#38873405) Homepage

    If America closes its frontier completely and doesn't move out to the rest of the Solar System...

    And there I think you've hit the nail on the head.

    The reason America has both dreams and handwringing about space in the first place is that it still is living on dreams of a frontier - and on an economic system adapted to 500 years of exploitation of that frontier. But the frontier has long closed. And yet, the frontier-capitalist hyper-growth model - "there's always somewhere new to move to" - has now been exported to the rest of the world. That's a problem.

    We can't solve this, realistically, by going back into space, because space just isn't an exploitable frontier in the same way that the Americas were 500 years ago. It might become such a frontier in the future, but we can't get there from here using the exploitative, expansive, unsustainable economic systems we currently have.

    We'll have to build closed life-support ships-in-bottles to do long-duration spaceflight, and those are likely to be the exact opposite of frontier communities unless we have some kind of near-organic magitech, on the order of Star Trek's Genesis bomb, which can insta-smelt biospheres out of lunar regolith. And if we had that on Earth, we could make the deserts bloom and bring back the whales first.

"Text processing has made it possible to right-justify any idea, even one which cannot be justified on any other grounds." -- J. Finnegan, USC.

Working...