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How the Critics of the Apollo Program Were Proven Wrong 421

Posted by samzenpus
from the on-second-thought dept.
MarkWhittington writes "A recent story in The Atlantic reminds us that the Apollo program, so fondly remembered in the 21st Century, was opposed by a great many people while it was ongoing, on the theory that the money spent going to the moon would have been better spent on poverty programs. The problem with this view was that spending for Lyndon Johnson's Great Society dwarfed the Apollo program, that the programs in the Great Society largely failed to address poverty and other social ills, and that the Apollo program actually had a stimulative effect on the economy that fostered economic growth and created jobs by driving the development of technology,"
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How the Critics of the Apollo Program Were Proven Wrong

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  • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Monday September 17, 2012 @01:36AM (#41359477) Journal

    So there just wasn't any other way to get this stimulative effect besides the Apollo program?

    Well ...

    Let's compared the stimulative effects of space programs (manned or unmanned) to welfare program, shall we ?

    I'll take one from each category - For space program, let's take the Hubble Space Telescope

    Including all the delays and all the budget over-runs of the Hubble Space Telescope, the total cost for the entire program (some 20+ years) came to about a whopping U$ 6 Billions.

    http://www.astrophys-assist.com/educate/hubble/hubble.htm [astrophys-assist.com]

    On the other hand, on the welfare side of the equation --

    http://blog.heritage.org/2012/04/20/welfare-tackling-the-fastest-growing-part-of-government-spending/ [heritage.org]

    In fiscal year 2011, total welfare costs equaled $927 billion ($717 billion from the federal government and $210 billion from states).

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterferrara/2011/04/22/americas-ever-expanding-welfare-empire/ [forbes.com]

    Just one program, Medicaid, cost the federal government $275 billion in 2010, which is slated to rise to $451 billion by 2018.

    Do I need to say more ?

  • by Noughmad (1044096) <miha.cancula@gmail.com> on Monday September 17, 2012 @01:47AM (#41359531) Homepage

    They may not be cheap, but they are cheap enough to be economical. Private companies launch satellites regularly. On the other hand, there were only 7 people privately in space.

    Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_tourism#List_of_flown_space_tourists) says that mark Shuttleworth was one of them, I didn't know that. Apparently he had to fly in a Soyus, he wasn't Shuttle-worthy.

  • by ppanon (16583) on Monday September 17, 2012 @02:07AM (#41359619) Homepage Journal
    All of the seven private space tourists flew on Russian Soyouz. The Russian space program was pretty desperate for money for a few years. NASA don't pimp no shuttle.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 17, 2012 @02:09AM (#41359625)

    No, I don't think he's stupid. Are you?

    Did you actually understand what it is he wrote?

    Let me clear it up for you: "You cannot spend the same money twice".

    You could give half the money to the Apollo program, and half to the poverty reduction program, but you cannot give them both all of the money.

    Did that clear it up?

  • by wienerschnizzel (1409447) on Monday September 17, 2012 @02:37AM (#41359709)

    NASA invested its money and brainpower into many things to push them to higher durability and power and lower size and weight.

    The first practical integrated circuit was developed on the order of NASA for the use on the Apollo guidance computer. (And yes DoD pitched in too on that for their ICBM).

    They worked with Black and Decker on modernizing their first generation of battery operated power tools.

    They contributed to research and funding of countless computing systems to make them smaller and more robust.

    As well as developments of new lightweight durable fabrics and materials for the spacecraft as well as the devices and clothing.

    The list goes on - optics, food preservation and purification, robotics, guidance systems etc. etc.

  • by bickerdyke (670000) on Monday September 17, 2012 @03:24AM (#41359885)

    And what was so special about the moon to create that brand value? As compared to:

    first man made object in orbit
    first animal in orbit
    first man in space
    first woman in space first

    and I'm going to copy&paste the rest from wikipedia as I'm too lazy to type:

    The first man-made object to escape Earth's gravity and pass near the Moon was Luna 1; the first man-made object to impact the lunar surface was Luna 2, and the first photographs of the normally occluded far side of the Moon were made by Luna 3, all in 1959. The first spacecraft to perform a successful lunar soft landing was Luna 9 and the first unmanned vehicle to orbit the Moon was Luna 10, both in 1966.[43] Rock and soil samples were brought back to Earth by three Luna sample return missions.

    Getting a man on the moon was the only "first" the US ever scored in the space race. (What's even wors as mpst milestone swere pretty much arbitrary)

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday September 17, 2012 @04:10AM (#41360049) Journal

    Now there's some thinking that will really piss off people in a few billion years should you continue down the path of isolation.

    If manned space travel isn't feasible in a few hundred years, then we're doing something badly wrong. The problem is that it, like many other things, has a number of technical prerequisites. A lot of them are in materials science, where research is very expensive and the space program doesn't have enough funding (even if it spent all of its money) to meaningfully influence the speed of development. Apollo needed high-termperature ceramics and it needed computers. Regular, cheap, travel from the Earth to orbit requires a space elevator which requires (among other things) something with the tensile strength on the order of carbon nanotubes (but which can be mass produced) and either 80+% efficient photovoltaic cells or cheap superconductors. These are both likely to appear independent of a space program well within the next 50 years. A space elevator will probably take 10 years to construct and be phenomenally expensive (it will make the Channel Tunnel seem cheap) but has a potentially huge return on investment.

    Look at sea and air travel. Current ships and planes are vastly more efficient and safe than early endeavours and a lot of the technology that made this possible was originally created for other uses. To put the cost of manned space travel into perspective, a single shuttle launch cost enough to completely fund about 1,500 PhDs to completion, or to fund about 200 DARPA advanced research projects. And that's just to get the ship into orbit, not counting the costs of the equipment for the mission, the training, the ground personnel, and so on.

    A man on the surface of mars could do more in a single day than all the probes have done to date.

    At a vastly higher cost. The current rovers mass far less than a man, but on a trip to Mars, the cost of radiation shielding, water recycling and food would dwarf the mass of the man. Plus, of course, all of the propellant required to move all of this into orbit and then to Mars. And the larger landing craft required. The cost of sending a man on a one-way trip to Mars with a year of supplies would be well over a thousand times the cost of sending a rover.

  • by icebrain (944107) on Monday September 17, 2012 @05:54AM (#41360503)

    What I have found [thelivingmoon.com] is showing around 15 military missions, not nearly the 2/3 figure you're suggesting.

    Now, if we're talking design features of the shuttle, those were heavily influenced by military requirements. The only way NASA could get enough funding to build the shuttle was to ask the military, which imposed significant performance requirements that drove up the weight and complexity of the shuttle. And, while useful, the additional capability was never fully used, nor was it ever used for its intended purpose.

  • by silentcoder (1241496) on Monday September 17, 2012 @06:50AM (#41360751) Homepage

    Actually, 20 years ago lots of satelites were launched by private citizens without any great financial expense. There are loads of satelites up there that were designed, built and launch by ham radio clubs for example.

    The trick was - they didn't use their own trips. NASA being public meant they were quite open to ways of helping ordinary taxpaying citizens get some benefit from space expenses and most of those satelites would hitch a ride on other planned launches. Since you're flying up anyway, and a small hammy satellite weighs almost nothing it didn't add any real cost to take it up along and put it in orbit while you're up there anyway, so they did it.
    Generally it wasn't added on to commercial launches as that would amount to making the customer pay for the (tiny) extra cost - but academic launches (like weather satellites) were fair game.

    Of course Ham radio has all but gone the way of the dodo in the past 2 decades so I honestly don't know if this is still common practise today.

  • by khallow (566160) on Monday September 17, 2012 @07:20AM (#41360971)

    a circumstance that is largely due to the excellent way FDR lead the country into and out of WWII.

    If FDR was such an excellent leader, then why did the Second World War happen in the first place? He didn't have the power to stop things like the French leaders and Stalin had, but his economic policies (for example, state-enforced oligopolies, special labor union powers, clunky work programs that didn't do much of anything) directly contributed to US weakness at a time when that was a really bad idea. A strong US would have kept Japan at bay. And there were times during 1936-1938 when Germany could have been thwarted by determined intervention from the other European powers.

    And FDR died in 1944 a year before the end of the war. So he can't take credit for leading the country out of the Second World War, especially since he'd have likely have put back into place the failed policies that caused so much trouble leading up to the Second World War.

  • by Q-Hack! (37846) * on Monday September 17, 2012 @07:24AM (#41361011)

    Look at you being all space nutter-y and refering to satellites as 'birds', silly slashdotter you're not a spaceman.

    Those of us that work in the satellite communications buisness commonly refer to satellites as 'birds'. It's called workplace jargon. Perhaps you posted as AC to keep us from pulling your geek card.

  • by khallow (566160) on Monday September 17, 2012 @07:43AM (#41361179)

    It was Japan's containment by the Western powers that led to it's desperation.

    And better containment might well have changed their strategy from aggression to something a lot less bloody.

    And FDR's programs were leading the nation into recovery by getting people back into work.

    We can't know for sure, but it's worth noting that there have been a large number of recessions since, and for the most part, job loss and recovery is fairly symmetrical with respect to the point of maximum job loss. The Great Depression is one of the few where it isn't. A natural explanation is that the attempts to "lead the nation into recovery" made the problem worse. As an aside, we see similar effects in the US economy today from Obama's attempts.

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