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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 SuperKendall (25149) on Monday September 17, 2012 @01:57AM (#41359317)

    The next time we have a story about sending more humans/robots to Mars, can we all keep this historical context in mind please?

    Sometimes the best way to help people is to help humanity move forward.

    There is always a hidden benefit to trying things never before attempted beyond just the goal.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 17, 2012 @02:11AM (#41359369)

    The Great Society programs are, quite literally, bankrupting our country. Meanwhile, the advance of technology has afforded that even the poorest of our poor (in the US) has cable televisions, cellular phones and a beater car to drive.

  • by Omnifarious (11933) * <eric-slash&omnifarious,org> on Monday September 17, 2012 @02:21AM (#41359411) Homepage Journal

    It will never be economical to send people into space until we start doing it regularly. The only way to make something like that economical is to keep on fixing and fiddling things to make them cheaper. And that won't happen if you don't have anything to fix and fiddle.

    The 'eggs in one basket' problem is the biggest reason I want us to get off the planet sooner rather than later.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Monday September 17, 2012 @02:27AM (#41359441)

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

    Sure there was.

    Just dumping the Apollo money into feeding the poor wasn't it though.

    Again, to truly help people in general you must advance the human race.

    Manned spaceflight as a whole seems like a bust too me. Way too expensive for far too little gain.

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

    Probes (and robots) have done so much more and cost so much less.

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

    Now which is looking more wasteful... the truth is the probes are tools of caution, but they are anything but cost efficient compared to sending a human.

    Your problem is thinking the human must return.

    Yes, I would volunteer.

    Someday maybe it will be more economical to send a man to Mars.

    Not if we never try or think about it hard now.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 17, 2012 @02:30AM (#41359453)

    It will never be economical to send people into space until we start doing it regularly.

    Wrong. Satellites are launched frequently and it's far from cheap (it's cheap compared to launching fragile humans, though). Rockets are expensive. There's no way around it until we find a more efficient way to send things into space than blowing up tons of very expensive fuel every launch.

  • by robot5x (1035276) on Monday September 17, 2012 @02:44AM (#41359517)

    Do I need to say more ?

    Yes you do - you promised to

    compared the stimulative effects of space programs (manned or unmanned) to welfare program

    but all you actually did was show that more has been spent on welfare than space programmes.
    not the same thing at all.

  • by someone1234 (830754) on Monday September 17, 2012 @02:46AM (#41359525)

    Launching satellites is cheap compared to the benefit. Launching humans is not, yet.

  • by Bronster (13157) <slashdot@brong.net> on Monday September 17, 2012 @02:48AM (#41359533) Homepage

    No, because there are other things blocking your body from flying. But if you get thrown in water and flap your arms around in different ways, each time seeing what worked and adding more of that - eventually you might become a pretty good swimmer.

  • by AchilleTalon (540925) on Monday September 17, 2012 @02:50AM (#41359547) Homepage

    I agree, the manned spaceflight were nothing more than the response to the Cold War running wild. It was all about the national chauvinism and proving you can get there before the adversary. It wasn't about the economy, neither about innovation, etc. All these were necessary things, but were never ever the goal.

    I do not believe the money would have been better spent on poverty, I believe it could have been better spent for scientific advancement in other fields. As manned spaceflight today do not have all the virtues ones would like to attribute to them. Probes, robots, rovers, satellites are doing better cheaper. The cost to send a single man into space could be better spend on direct scientific research. But I guess the taxpayer doesn't buy this. It's manned spaceflights or don't pick a penny from my pocket.

    The reality is the government isn't able to sell science to taxpayers because it isn't convince itself, on another hand increasing national chauvinism has a direct return for the governing party.

  • by viperidaenz (2515578) on Monday September 17, 2012 @02:58AM (#41359565)
    ... and he'll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and you've fed him for a life time (or until the fish run out).

    Same applies to poverty. Give a bunch of poor people aid and they'll be forever dependent on you. Give them all jobs and they'll forever be a source of tax revenue.
  • by Sir_Sri (199544) on Monday September 17, 2012 @03:00AM (#41359575)

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

    Spending is spending.

    If you can find work for people to do, and then pay them for honestly doing it, and that work can in some way have some sort of positive benefit it will be better than just giving people things and hoping they stop being poor.

    Now that means you have to recognize education as a form of productive work, it means you have to be willing to capitalize on under utilized labour, it means you have to have valid benchmarks for achievement. Hiring 1000 random people off the street and asking them to be teachers in classrooms with 100 students each might but 100 000 kids in school but it's unlikely to give them a useful education. It means when you have an under utilized labour market you have to be willing to tax or borrow the money to get something out of that labour and so on.

    Governments are largely giant insurance systems - that's good, healthcare, police, army etc. are all basically forms of insurance. But they are also able to create markets for products and drive investment and innovation, that's good too (and in fact is in many cases a part of their spending as an insurance system, think police cars and fire trucks - innovation and demand for a new product to serve a useful roll, also, they aren't reinventing the wheel when they don't have to). Governments, as giant insurance systems, are actually a good place for risk. If any random company lost 40 billion dollars tomorrow (including Apple or Exxon) it would be a disaster for that company, big enough companies can survive of course, but a lot of investors would lose a lot of money and so on. Just about all of the western governments, including greece, could lose 40 billion dollars tomorrow and it would be inconvenient but not catastrophic (well, except that greece is trapped in the Euro but lets not get into that, they could survive an added 40 billion in debt, they'd just be stuck with 8-12% interest on it). It's also very hard for a government to actually lose 40 billion dollars in a rich country, it can very inefficiently use 40 billion dollars, but 40 billion dollars trying to build a tunnel to china and failing would still have put people to work for 40 billion dollars and driven up consumer demand for all the stuff they bought, so the government would have spent 40 billion, taxed back 15 or 20 billion, and benefited some from the spillover effect. And be left with a hole in the ground that goes no where. If the apollo programme had been a complete failure (all the rockets blew up for example), or if it turned out that for whatever reason you could never actually get any equipment that would be functional on the moon (people or otherwise) then at least all the people put to work trying would have had jobs, no small subset of the population would have borne the burden of eating the lost investment.

    There are more complicated layers of course, about what to do in various states of employment, when just giving stuff away is the right course of action (emergencies for example), there's spending money to prevent disasters rather than recovering from them, which then looks like you've wasted money on a problem that never materialized. And sometimes you are only putting enough money into a problem to prevent it from getting worse.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 17, 2012 @03:02AM (#41359585)

    The flaw in your argument: you think the poor are only poor because they have responded to incentives that lead them to be poor. Change the incentives, and voila! They will make themselves rich.

    For a lot of poor people, this is not true. They just aren't very good at responding to incentives, or making themselves rich. Turns out everyone is different. Some are not as smart as others. There is no reason to suppose a modern economy will provide a neat, well-suited "job" for everyone. The function of the modern economy is to eliminate labour costs as fast and as creatively as possible. Jobs are increasingly the preserve of only the smartest people.

    Get rid of welfare, and you'll eventually find out what all these dumb people are good at: getting confused, angry, voting for Chavez, smashing things they don't understand.

    Welfare is a bargain.

  • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Monday September 17, 2012 @03:04AM (#41359601) Journal

    Imagine how many more benefits could the US have received if that kind of money was not used up for a stupid political competition.

    Look at it this way ---- The US would have received a total of nada, zilch, zero, if the money that was spent on the Apollo program (or any other space program, manned or unmanned) was spent on welfare checks
     
    The one spinoff that you guys have failed to take account of --- the brand value of the "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA"
     
    It is precisely because of Neil Armstrong's landing on the moon, it is precisely because of the WHOLE WORLD get to witness that particular landing, and it is precisely because of the combined AWESTRUCK of the human population from the entire planet, watching the black and white image of a guy in a very fat suit, bouncing up and down on a rocky / sandy surface, that the BRAND VALUE of the United States of America shot up !
     
    The effect is tremendous.
     
    Ever since the moon landing (back in the 60's) millions of very bright people emigrated from their homeland to America.
     
    It is precisely because of those bright minded people that America leads the world in term of technology, economy and might.
     
    America gets to be so strong not because of Americans alone.
     
      Without new ideas from those who moved into America, based on their perception that America being the BEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, America wouldn't be able to churn out so many wonderful inventions, from electronics to bio-tech to many other fields, and it is precisely those inventions and the value of those IPs (intellectual properties) that have propped up the living standard of America.
     

  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Monday September 17, 2012 @03:06AM (#41359613)

    The Republican's voting base tends to be the better off, those not looking for handouts from the government and generally wanting less government, not more. They tend to understand that they actually have to pay for anything that the "government" gives them, and passing that money through several greedy hands in Washington before getting some of it back isn't very efficient.

    LMAO.

    Oh, wait - you were serious?

  • by siddesu (698447) on Monday September 17, 2012 @03:14AM (#41359643)
    Ridiculous. People did not emigrate to the US because of the brand value of the Apollo program. People emigrated to the US because the US was a rich country, which could pay much more than any other place in the world post WWII -- a circumstance that is largely due to the excellent way FDR lead the country into and out of WWII.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 17, 2012 @03:16AM (#41359645)

    why would you care? in 50 years fate of humans won't be of your concern.

    Because not everyone is a self-centered selfish prick their whole lives, and actually give a damn for the well-being of others, including wildlife, and future generations.

  • by wienerschnizzel (1409447) on Monday September 17, 2012 @03:19AM (#41359657)

    Neil deGrasse Tyson mentioned that in a Science Friday episode that at the time the Apollo program was the biggest thing out there. Every kid wanted to be an astronaut - or at least work in the industry. It inspired a whole generation to be scientists and engineers - that might be even more valuable than the technologies that were directly developed by the program.

    Nowdays there's no such thing in the US. Instead the space program is big in China [wikipedia.org] and a generation of science hungry kids is growing up there.

  • by Maimun (631984) on Monday September 17, 2012 @03:31AM (#41359691)
    Poverty is an inevitability, not a social ill. What is social ill is the attempt to eradicate poverty at any cost -- since people's capabilities are vastly different, the stratification of a free society is inevitable, so 1) it takes a huge (and unnecessary) effort to bring the so called minimum standard of living to those that are incapable and/or lazy, and 2) the said effort decreases the overall freedom.
  • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Monday September 17, 2012 @04:21AM (#41359869)

    I think you're only seeing one side of it.

    people are happier, work harder and pull together more when they feel they're part of something bigger, doing something grand.

    the race to the moon was just that. Something remarkable.

    A generation of kids grew up wanting to be astronauts or to build rockets: something of huge value when so many young people don't really know what they want to do or be.

    a bigger telescope or a some slightly better motors might be of more scientific value but they only make a rare few dream of being anything or doing anything.

  • by chrismcb (983081) on Monday September 17, 2012 @06:12AM (#41360315) Homepage

    Manned spaceflight as a whole seems like a bust too me. Way too expensive for far too little gain.

    Do you know how big or little the gain from the space program was? Things from NASA: LEDs, better prosthetics, scratch resistan lenses, anti icing systems for aircraft, better tires, fire resistant stuff, temper foam found in tempurpedic beds, freeze drying food, water purification, among other things. Could we have got the same gains for less money? Perhaps, it is difficult to say. But the space race wasn't just about getting to the moon.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday September 17, 2012 @06:16AM (#41360333) Homepage

    If we spent only 10% of the Military budget on NASA, we would see most of science fiction become a reality within only 2 generations (If physics plays nicely)
    Instead we dont even spend the amount of money used by the military to air condition tents on NASA. We value killing people far more than advancing technology.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday September 17, 2012 @06:18AM (#41360347) Homepage

    Cheap is not the issue. each satellite launch can cost $90 bajillion dollars, but if it will turn a handsome profit, they will be launched. You think that DISH and SIRIUS/XM put their birds up there because they were told how cheap it was?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 17, 2012 @06:22AM (#41360359)

    "In 50 years your kids will be a lot better off than you are" Assuming that society does not cave in on it's self because we stupidly elect someone like Romney? yes.

    Otherwise, in 50 years my kids will be worse off, because they dont have the education to forge metal, grow food, or do anything I learned to do. Living in the wastelands will not be easy. And reloading benches are few and far between...

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday September 17, 2012 @06:24AM (#41360367) Homepage

    "That doesn't seem quite right. Like if I jump up and down enough, regularly, while flapping my arms, eventually things will work out and I'll fly? No, there are things missing there that time and repetition won't solve."

    Yet it does not stop the fools that believe that "trickle down" economics will save us all.

  • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmai l . c om> on Monday September 17, 2012 @08:26AM (#41361035) Homepage

    The 'eggs in one basket' problem is the biggest reason I want us to get off the planet sooner rather than later.

    The problem is, with current and foreseeable technology, going into space is like moving out of your parent's basement into a tent in their backyard. You're still reliant on the house for vital services (kitchen, bathroom, water, electricity) and the structure you've moved into is more vulnerable (structurally weaker) and less habitable (less insulation) than the one you've left. You can claim your independence because you're "no longer living in your parent's basement", but it's a hollow boast - because any disaster that engulfs the house is going to swallow your tent as well.

  • by Shadowmist (57488) on Monday September 17, 2012 @08:31AM (#41361069)

    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. r.

    It was Japan's containment by the Western powers that led to it's desperation. It's an island nation heavily dependent on imports yet the U.S. and the West were shutting them out of the Asian market. And FDR's programs were leading the nation into recovery by getting people back into work. Prior to Pearl Harbor his and the United State's priorities were domestic, not foreign. He had inherited a nation that had gone isolationist ever since the end of the Great War. The Second World War happened because not only were the causes of the first never addressed, the post war handling of the European powers created a nation that was hell-bent on reversing both it's defeat, and the death spiral the reparations enforced had plunged it into.

  • by Ellis D. Tripp (755736) on Monday September 17, 2012 @08:32AM (#41361077) Homepage

    compared to the cost of the rocket itself. High reliability aerospace hardware isn't something you can buy off the shelf at WalMart, after all.

  • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Monday September 17, 2012 @08:38AM (#41361135)

    It will never be economical to send people into space until we start doing it regularly. The only way to make something like that economical is to keep on fixing and fiddling things to make them cheaper. And that won't happen if you don't have anything to fix and fiddle.

    The 'eggs in one basket' problem is the biggest reason I want us to get off the planet sooner rather than later.

    It's not about economics, it's about safety. Getting to space and back is the relatively easy part, when it comes to safety. The effects of zero-gravity, solar radiation/flares, micrometeors and a slew of other things is the hard part. The reason it costs so much more to launch a human being into space than a satellite has to do with the economics of safety, not the economics of the physics involved.

    As far as the "eggs in one basket" problem, you better look at some other solution than cheap space flights. Prevention and protection are much more achievable goals than escape.

  • by Teancum (67324) <(robert_horning) (at) (netzero.net)> on Monday September 17, 2012 @09:42AM (#41361789) Homepage Journal

    So there just wasn't any other way to get this stimulative effect besides the Apollo program? Manned spaceflight as a whole seems like a bust too me. Way too expensive for far too little gain. Probes (and robots) have done so much more and cost so much less. Someday maybe it will be more economical to send a man to Mars. Until then, why the rush?

    I wish that Carl Sagan had not stuck his head out and spread this blatant lie.

    Remote probes and robots do have a role to play in the exploration of space, particularly because they are cheaper and can go to places that are hard or even impossible for people to be at. Don't mistake the rest of what I say as dismissing robotic exploration, as I think it is a good thing. The problem is with having robots be the only way to get stuff done in space and it sort of misses the whole point of why it is being done.

    The point of a probe is to do the initial reconnaissance and to do general surveys. I should point out that is also being done here on the Earth. There reaches a point where the probes no longer really get the job done and the initial reconnaissance is done. I would even go out on a limb and say that the Curiosity rover is about as good as it gets with current technology. The next step to go further is to send people to Mars to at the very least control the robots from orbit around Mars or perhaps to even land on Mars and leverage their efforts by controlling the robots locally.

    It also helps to have somebody on site to be able to do things like repair a wheel or to simply push a little bit when things get stuck.

    None of this even begins to touch what impact having people living on other worlds can have for the range of human experience that will help enable new thoughts and thought processes that can in turn be used to reflect upon other problems that humanity is facing. Very frequently knowledge gained in one field of endeavor can be applied in a completely different field and be used to solve problems that were previously thought to be unsolvable.

    To suggest that we may need to do more robotic missions or to be more intelligent about how those robotic missions are being performed, I'd have to agree. To suggest that the manned spaceflight program as a whole needs to be nuked and all of the "money" being dumped on that manned spaceflight effort should be redirected to robotic missions.... please don't get started. You are living in a fantasy land if you think that is going to happen in more ways I can count.

    That makes as much sense as oceanographers who think that eliminating NASA is going to somehow increase their ocean research budgets. I've even heard that argument expressed before by oceanographers.

  • by funwithBSD (245349) on Monday September 17, 2012 @10:07AM (#41362091)

    Wow, being an evolutionary dead end sure is a bitter lifestyle.

Aren't you glad you're not getting all the government you pay for now?

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