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Moon Space

What If the Apollo Program Had Continued? 389

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).

    • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @12:36PM (#28718571)
      ...Vietnam was effectively the cold war. Rather than fight each other an an arena that had very high stakes (an invasion of Russia and the USA) the USA and Russia decided to fight in a number of "proxy" wars such as Vietnam and Korea.

      And similarly, the cold war would have already ended itself. Soviet Russia while an interesting "experiment" ended up failing due to the fact that human nature plus the Soviet version of communism ended up with a government who could not financially sustain itself.
      • 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?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by cdrguru ( 88047 )

      What? In 1969 Vietnam had been "won" already. If not for the US Congress deciding to pull the plug the whole fall of Saigon thing wouldn't have happened. But the most important thing is that the money for Vietnam was already spent. The remaining six years until the fall of Saigon was the US pulling out and telling the NVA to come back and be friends with their brothers in the South.

      Too bad they didn't get the message amd decided that a brother that disagreed with them about politics was better off dead.

    • 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.

  • Bad news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday July 16, 2009 @12:31PM (#28718493)
    The whole thing was fueled by the ongoing Cold War pissing contest. Continuation of the space race would have meant dealing with the ever-increasing tension of the Cold War. So I'm sad we never got our cities on the moon, but it's a damn good trade-off for not having to worry so much about all-out nuclear war.
    • Re:Bad news (Score:5, Funny)

      by CAIMLAS ( 41445 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:06PM (#28719063) Homepage

      If we'd continued the Apollo missions, we'd have found either:

      1) That there was indeed a prehistoric alien civilization on the backside of the moon.
      2) That it was almost impossible to hide the continued war between advanced US and Russian spaceships on the backside of the moon.
      3) There was indeed a better alternative to space icecream.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by flowsnake ( 1051494 )

        3) There was indeed a better alternative to space icecream.

        In Space No One Can Eat Ice Cream

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by pyrrhonist ( 701154 )

          In Space No One Can Eat Ice Cream

          In space no one can hear you scream for ice cream. We all do it, though.

    • The monumental amount of technical achievements which were instigated and generated by the moon program boggle the mind: digital electronics, computer engineering and microcomputers, satellite remote sensing technology, vast areas of communications, biomedical engineering, materials science and polymer chemistry, the list goes on and on ---- and lest we forget: TANG!

      The Apollo moon shot required 90,000 lines of Fortran code....imagine what Windows Vista could accomplish!!! (OK - just kidding here...)


    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hatta ( 162192 ) *

      If you haven't noticed, there are still thousands of nuclear weapons on both sides, and perhaps dozens in the hands of smaller states. Personally, I'd worry a lot less about nuclear war if we did have cities on the moon. At least then nuclear war wouldn't wipe out all of us.

    • Re:Bad news (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Thursday July 16, 2009 @02:22PM (#28720323) Homepage Journal

      It's hard to imagine Cold War tensions getting much higher than they actually did. If we'd continued the "space race" (treated the race as a marathon rather than a sprint, so to speak) we'd simply have substituted one form of competition with the Soviets for another -- and you know, seeing who could build the most space stations and Lunar colonies would have been a much better form of competition than seeing who could blow each other up the most times over.

      We could have built half the military-industrial complex we did, still had more than enough for MAD, and put the money into NASA. The USSR would almost surely still have collapsed, and today we'd have an American solar system instead of a bunch of missiles and silos that we're not sure what to do with.

  • by ArhcAngel ( 247594 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @12:32PM (#28718501)

    We would be working with Zoidberg and be drinking Slurm.

  • by freedom_india ( 780002 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @12:34PM (#28718545) Homepage Journal

    Highly likely that:
    1) We would have full time orbital manned space station at all times.
    2) Visits between Moon and Orbital station would be LESS frequent.
    3) Visits between Moon and Earth would be MORE frequent. (because Apollo lifts off from Earth. Public-Private partnership would see to it that NASA doesn't use the most economical way of transport)
    4) No Space Shuttle. Rockets all the way. (Why mess with something that works)
    5) Ion Spacecraft launched to Asteroids.
    6) Still no man on Mars. But a permanent computerized research station on Mars that operates from fixed locations.
    7) No Mars Rover. The Rover was a roaming answer. Fixed stations would necessitate no rover.
    8) SALT II would have long been abandoned and Earth would be surrounded by nuke armed stations.
    9) No Cruise missiles. Why build a Mosquito when an Elephant would be cheaper.

    • 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. :-(

      • The irony is that the replacement for the shuttle is going to be... a rocket >.>
      • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:35PM (#28719527)

        By artificial gravity, I assume you mean using rotation to produce centrifugal force? I just don't see that being likely until we have a more efficient way than rockets to get material into space, or possible until we have a way to mine and refine metal from space.

        Human physiology limits you to 2 RPM, any higher than this and motion sickness becomes very common. That means that to get a full G of apparent gravity, you need a station with a radius of nearly 225 meters. Obviously, you could probably make do with less than a full G. How much less while still maintaining muscle mass and bone density is an unanswered question so far. If a half G is enough, you're in a much better situation, the radius would only have to be 110 meters. If you don't care about everyone not getting motion sickness you could probably up the RPMs to 4, getting the radius down to 28 meters. Of course, that means that your head will be under 10% less force than your feet, which I imagine might take some getting used to.

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @02:08PM (#28720071) Homepage Journal

        NASA got out their abacuses

        Pedantic nit: they used slide rules back then. Abacuses (the electronic ones that use bits for balls that you have on your desk) were for heavy-duty computations.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by 0xdeadbeef ( 28836 )

      You forgot warp drive and space elevator.

    • 8) SALT II would have long been abandoned and Earth would be surrounded by nuke armed stations.
      9) No Cruise missiles. Why build a Mosquito when an Elephant would be cheaper.

      Read up on the Revolt of the Admirals [wikipedia.org] sometime. There's a good reason why we have cruise missiles and not nukes. It's not for want of orbital platforms.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pha7boy ( 1242512 )

      I don't see the connection between rocket development, moon exploration, and SALT II. Reagan would still have been a nuclear abolitionist, his meetings with Gorbachev would still have discussed the reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons, maybe even more so if there had ever been nuclear bases in space.

      To me it's sad that what seems like a very plausible counterfactual of what would have happend had congress not hamstrung NASA in the late 1960s is now a work of science fiction. Then again, all is not

  • 1: We would be whooshing around in solid fuel powered Jet Packs, and global warming would be a non-issue.

    2: We would be whooshing around in liquid hydrocarbon Jet Cars, and global warming would be tripled.

    3: We would be whooshing around on in intergalactic cruise ships, reclining in hovering lounge chairs, clapping for robot-delivered lunch-in-a-cup.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      Ironically, if you ahve number 3, then by necessity you wouldn't ahve a trash problem.
      I mean, they could ahve just build self sufficient high rises. And it would have been cheaper.

      I mean, how to do live on a ship for so many generation and dump your waste? Stupid.

      Still a great movie.

  • 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?

  • What if Kennedy had set a lesser goal, such as orbiting the moon?

    The Russians quite probably could have achieved with with Soyuz-based technology. We "know" this, sorta, because recently someone proposed putting a Soyuz capsule around the moon [constellat...rvices.com] for a rich billionaire with $100m to spare.

    Now you're in the situation where both superpowers are orbiting the moon, which makes it a military race. You can drop stuff easily from lunar orbit down to the earth, so both powers have to remain there.

    Assuming we ha

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by flowsnake ( 1051494 )

      What if Kennedy had set a lesser goal, such as orbiting the moon?

      The Russians quite probably could have achieved with with Soyuz-based technology. We "know" this, sorta, because recently someone proposed putting a Soyuz capsule around the moon [constellat...rvices.com] for a rich billionaire with $100m to spare.

      The Soviets did have the Luna programme [wikipedia.org] - including Luna 10, the first artificial satellite of the moon. Interestingly, they focussed on robot exploration of the moon and remote collection of samples - probably closer in principle to the methods that will be used for future exploration of other planets in our solar system than manned flights.

  • by flowsnake ( 1051494 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @12:36PM (#28718567)
    The rate of spending was unsustainable; we simply could not afford it, no matter how useful the research outputs might have been. On a more prosaic level, once the Cold War posturing had been successfully implemented, the political benefits would be virtually zero - even if the science would be extremely valuable.
  • Nice (Score:4, Funny)

    by EnterDaMatrix ( 845617 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @12:36PM (#28718579)
    No mention of Walmart anywhere in this article. I like this alter-verse.
  • I'm sceptical. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @12:37PM (#28718583) Journal
    Had we spent more on Apollo, we would have had more stuff on the moon. It is much less clear, though, that the economic relevance of doing so would have been any brighter than it is now.

    TFA presents a fairly rosy picture, where lifting stuff, including vationers, out of Earth's gravity is routine and (relatively) cheap. Presumably, more Apollo would have driven some cost reduction; but that much?

    TFA's predictions of bustling free markets on the moon seem even less plausible. With the possible exception of helium-3, the moon contains basically nothing worth shipping back to earth. Exploiting lunar resources really only makes sense to support lunar research activities(like big huge telescopes on the dark side) which might be "private" in the sense of "conducted by people not directly employed by the feds"; but would be largely publicly supported basic research stuff.

    I'm not seeing it.
    • far side, not dark side. You know, the side Gary Larson lives on, not the one Pink Floyd lives on.
    • With the possible exception of helium-3, the moon contains basically nothing worth shipping back to earth.

      Au contraire. [lunarrepublic.com] The place is full of Titanium.

    • by cmowire ( 254489 )

      Aluminum, Iron, and Titanium. All in sufficient quantities to be worth extracting. And putting a mass driver to get it up to space cheaply is not in anybody's backyard, especially if you do it on the dark side of the moon. For building large things in space (like a version of Iridium where the ERP was the same as a cellphone tower's or solar power satellites or space habitats or any number of other things) it's cheaper to mass-driver it from the moon and have a refinery in orbit than to ship it up from E

  • by Tetsujin ( 103070 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @12:38PM (#28718607) Homepage Journal

    ...but it's got no atmosphere...

  • by jameskojiro ( 705701 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @12:38PM (#28718609) Journal

    The Secret studios in Nevada where they faked the moon landings would be really busy, they would be having to fake not only the moon bases, but the Mars landings and the bases there as well.

    Because we never made it past low earth orbit.

    The Above thread is sarcastic, if you hadn't noticed.

    • Orbit? The last message I got through my tin foil hat was that they were still trying to figure out suborbital flight which I think is bogus. This whole flight thing is all a bunch of smoke and mirrors fueled by the liberal media so we will watch more television.

      In any case, you should check out the movie Capricorn One [wikipedia.org]. It's an oldie but goodie where NASA fakes a mars landing. Would you believe it stars at young OJ?
      • Why do you think they framed him for murdering his Ex-wife and her boyfriend???

        Lucky for us OJ fought the power.

        But that didn't help him as those sneaky snakes framed him for something else.

  • by sjfoland ( 1565277 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @12:39PM (#28718615)
    Arizona would be littered with soundstages by now.
  • Both programmes followed up on the German research, USSR took the workers, US the lead engineers and in the end the USSR was the first in space. Sputnik crisis. That was shocking for the US. The US space program was an attempt to catch up with the Soviets. So if the US had not succeeded the USSR would.

  • what i mean is, just going out there just to have a look-see isn't a valid reason to spend quadrillions. we need to

    1. discover an alien race, or
    2. be faced with the definitive soon upcoming extinction of earth as a supportive biosphere for some reason, whether man made or cosmic or terrestrial in origin, or
    3. discover some fantastic energy source or resource out there (or drug... spice?)
    4. more tribal chest thumping and grandstanding a la the cold war

    these are reasons that are easy to grasp and easily capture the attention and the imagination of all. this provides the political and cultural and popular compunction to spend large sums of cash on the endeavour

    sure, there are lots of reasons to go out there right now. except they are all amorphous and ill-defined and longwinded. something pressing and urgent and/ or clear and easy to grasp is what is needed to get us motivated

    there really is no motivation to go out there right now. again, i mean solid, clear, urgent, and earnest motivation

    • The question is, 'is there life out there?'

      The answer is a profound one whether it's yes or no.

      • you have to put the question in concrete direct and compelling terms, like: holy fucking shit, that planet we just found near regulus is showing clear signs of photosynthesis

        then we have a deep and strong desire to get our asses to regulus. not some sort of vague idea to go "out there"

        we need concrete goals, not nebulous ones (pun intended)

    • discover an alien race

      all we have to do is wait for ww3 to be over and wait for vulcans to show up once we construct a warp drive in montana :D

    • by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:17PM (#28719229) Homepage

      Item 2 is a dead certainty. Take a look around with Google maps. See if you can find spots on the planet where there are marks of impact craters. Look at the small one in Arizona - it is 3 miles across and a mile deep still after 50,000 years of erosion. Now think about what the day was like 50,000 year ago when it hit. Likely to have been a very, very bad day in the Southwest US. I suspect stuff was falling in what is now San Francisco. Lots of stuff. Big stuff. If that rock hit us today it would likely wipe out all life in most of the Southwest US and possibly take out everyone in Mexico as well. Remember, 50,000 years ago there were people on the planet, people that you would recognize as human.

      Take a look at Wolfe Creek in Australia - it is 35 million years old and you can still easily see it from space. Think about the day that hit.

      There are plenty more examples. Look around for nice round lakes in Canada. A good portion of them are impact craters.

      OK, these things are spread out over a long period of time. But the key here is that we haven't been hit in a long time. We haven't been hit by anything big in a very long time. Over a long enough period, it is an absolute certainty we will be hit again. Even a small rock is going to cause a massive loss of life, whereas a big one could wipe out all life on a continent. A water strike - actually the most likely - would probably scoure everything off the grouund for hundreds of miles on all nearby coasts. An Atlantic hit would utterly destroy Europe to nearly Switzerland and Indiana on the US side. South America would be almost devoid of life.

      There are three choices: hope that God will protect us and it will never happen to his Chosen people (whoever they are), be able to go out and prevent an impact, or be somewhere else when it comes. Right now, we are operating under the first alternative which I suspect most people will agree sucks. The second is not utterly beyond our capabilities, but it would be tough and require plenty of warning. I'm certainly in favor of a combination of the second and third alternatives. The third implies a self-sustaining outpost that could survive if Earth was wiped out. We are a long way from that being a realistic possibility. But it is something to strive for.

      The way things are now, all we can do is hope for a benevolent God that will protect us. And maybe hope for Santa Clause to come and give us all what we need if it did happen. Sorry, I gave up on these options when I was about eight.

      • between the following situations:

        1. there are lions out there who want to eat you

        fills you with a vague unsettling feeling. you know this to be 100% true, but what to do about it? nothing more is done

        2. look, on the other end of the valley, that's a lion staring at us

        your mind instantly begins to scheme, your hands are instantly filled with intent: build a trap, build a defense, run away, go and kill it, etc

        its psychological. you have to see the threat/ treasure in front of you before you actually do anythi

    • by swb ( 14022 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:32PM (#28719477)

      I think what the space program lacks now is that grand, unifying sense of adventure. Getting there and seeing what's out there are the kind of thing EVERYBODY can get behind -- there's no specific religious, political or racial bias to outer space exploration.

      One thing we've stopped figuring out and stopped doing due our own personal greed are the grand, public gestures of government that provide some kind of bigger purpose. People stopped what they were doing to watch the NASA launches and the Apollo missions; literally -- cars pulled over to listen to the radio, people gathered round and took in its majesty. Kids wanted to be astronauts. It looked like we were *going somewhere* as a civilization.

      Now we've sharpened our pencil and realized the "better" science is robots, shuttle missions and other non-inspiring projects designed by bean counters, not visionaries. And what do we have? An underfunded, bureaucratic NASA seen as a cash soak and a civilization bent on narcissism, egocentric enrichment and sectarian bias.

      I say, send guys to the moon and beyond. Yes, it's expensive (think of the good engineering jobs!), yes the science isn't as "good" as your robots and deep space cameras, but my god, we could USE the civilization-enhancing awe and purpose. North Korea and Iran lambasting our cultural decline? OK fine, but we're reaching for the stars, not getting lost fighting the unwinnable.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MaWeiTao ( 908546 )

        I think it's more than a lack of adventure. There's this undercurrent in society, particularly American society, of extreme cynicism. There's this excessive, irrational desire to be iconoclastic. Not everyone, but the attitudes are prevalent enough that I think it hurts the nation as a whole. And of course, it's a vicious cycle. Why should anyone care when nobody else seems to?

        I think chances are good we're going to see progress in space exploration come from nations like China where there still is strong n

  • by goffster ( 1104287 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @12:56PM (#28718901)

    Even the Earth has a whole lot of undeveloped acreage in the ocean.

  • 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.

  • We would still be driving around the planet in gasoline driven speedsters.

    We would not have not cured world hunger.

    We would have more than enough nuclear warheads to destroy the planet.

    Wars would not have been abolished.

    The 747 wouldn't still be the largest airliner.

    Oh yeah.. wait a minute, where have I been?

  • Nothing too good (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @12:57PM (#28718927)

    We would have some buildings on the Moon, a much less unmanned space exploration history, a few more advances in the relevant technology, and even bigger a debt.

    As interesting as going to the Moon can be, going there ourselves for 40 years continuously would serve little scientific purpose (cue the responses that we are meant to live in space like in all the cool scifi novels and that it should be our #1 priority regardless of reality), waste a lot of money (more than it'd be worth, scientifically) and divert resources from higher ROI science, like huge space telescopes and such.

    So yeah, it was cool while it lasted, but I won't cry over what could have been, because it's not like there could possibly have been any drive to do more after over a decade of space racing.

  • Apparently this alternate time line would be just like a 50s Science Fiction aimed at children, awesome! So I'll guess, the moon would be primarily inhabited by boy explorers who say "Gosh" a lot.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by hattig ( 47930 )

      "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 wat

  • Seems to me to be the best use of the moon. Hearts last longer, perhaps, in less gravity ?
    Old rich people squander their children's inheritance to gain another 10 years living
    on the moon. Retirement homes on Earth are about as lonely as living on the moon.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Xtravar ( 725372 )

      Less gravity is good for the arthritis, too.
      That's a brilliant plan. Moon = new Florida.

  • by cmowire ( 254489 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:07PM (#28719073) Homepage

    We still haven't established what happens long-term in low-gravity. We know that zero-g is not someplace you could live forever. Is lunar gravity sufficient? We don't actually know. And it's one thing to follow the science fiction cliche that the martians and moonies couldn't adapt to Earth gravity anymore.... it's another thing if the first moonie baby is horribly disfigured.

    We don't even know if, were you to raise ten generations of rats in a 1-g centerfuge and ten generations on Earth if the centerfuge rats would be healthy by comparison.

    Helium-3 is also present on Earth. You can buy it by the tank. If just getting access to Helium-3 was enough to make fusion possible, we'd at least have one pilot reactor that was able to produce a decent sized net energy gain.

    There was a significant concern inside of NASA that our flawless luck of moon launches would run out. What if we had done a few more missions and 19 left us with dead astronauts on the moon when the LM couldn't lift off? Do you think we'd have continued at that point? Remember, there could have been one more moon landing with the hardware we had but NASA didn't want to launch it.

    The problem is, cutting off the Apollo program in favor of the Space Shuttle made fairly good sense at the time and awful sense in retrospect. Even a fool can predict the past.

  • by viralMeme ( 1461143 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:07PM (#28719075)
    While a great triumph for NASA, the Apollo program was chiefly devised to beat the USSR to the moon and thereby provide an immense propaganda victory over the commies. Once that was achieved, it had little practical use in developing space exploration.

    The US actually put its own space plane on the back burner for the duration of the Apollo program. What would have happened if the Apollo program never happened, they might have continued development of the X-15 and we would have had a safe reliable Space Shuttle decades sooner.

    'The .. X-15 [wikipedia.org] rocket-powered aircraft .. set speed and altitude records in the early 1960s'
  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:10PM (#28719113)
    Kind silly spending $100B on something that only lasts 6 years.
  • Small moon base (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PPH ( 736903 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:11PM (#28719125)

    The ISS and Hubble would probably be replaced with a small moon based research lab and observatory. While the value of the lab wouldn't be greater than the current ISS, moon-based telescopes (optical and radio) would probably far outperform anything we've got today.

    The other changes would be the trickle-down effects of the technology developed to support such a base. Specifically, higher performance and cheaper solar power arrays would probably be commonplace.

    I don't think a lunar base would be a stepping off point for a manned Mars mission. Robotics would be more or less where they are today, since the state of the art is not driven by NASA or military requirements. Unless the moon base revealed some necessity for having people on the ground, it might be an argument against further manned missions.

  • 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.
  • America is going in the wrong direction. The Apollo missions were one of many highlights of America at its peak. Now U.S. schools barely prepare kids to be service workers, not scientists or engineers. America doesn't teach industrial education very much anymore (why bother when other countries with lower costs of living offer the same products at cheaper rates).

    There are so many reasons why America as the world once it is coming to an end.

  • After Apollo Twenty Congress took the manned space program away from NASA and handed it over to the Navy, there are now half a dozen space stations, two moon bases, and Admiral Heinlein never let the Soviets build spacecraft.

    Or did I read the wrong article?

  • More missions would have lead to colonization of the moon, and would inevitably lead to us finding the secret alien outpost, which would piss them off and force them to eradicate us.

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:24PM (#28719325)
    ... but on the Moon (and without the penguins)

    What benefits would we have got? Hard to say, probably nothing tangible - just a group of half-a-dozen scientists and technicians spending a few months at a time far out of the public gaze. There might be the occasional documentary, but there's only so much footage of rocks and dust - and one patch of dirt looks a lot like any other. So I doubt there'd be much about it in the news (again, just like antarctica). Just about the only time it would make the headlines is when there's a debate about cutting funding (again), or when something goes wrong - or when there's an expose about the billions being spent on it, for not-much in the way of returns.

    Is that what we thought we'd get?

  • 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
  • Iterations (Score:5, Insightful)

    by steveha ( 103154 ) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @02:18PM (#28720241) Homepage

    While we are daydreaming about what might have been, I'd like to imagine an alternate history where NASA didn't stop iterating.

    NASA got the Saturn V through an iterative development cycle. Get Werner von Braun, have him build rockets very similar to ones he had built before; fly them, collect data, improve the design. Fly the new ones, collect data, improve the design. Over and over.

    And then, for the Space Shuttle, NASA essentially said "We don't need to do that test and improve cycle anymore; we are just going to design the Space Shuttle on paper, build it, and be done." NASA's unsung heroes of rocket surgery managed to make it work, but that's a triumph of hard work and overtime against management stupidity.

    It would have been cheaper to keep the test/improve cycle going than to spend ten years building the shuttle and flying nothing. According to Wikipedia, the Shuttle program will have cost $174 billion by its conclusion in 2010; the Saturn V program cost $32 to $45 billion in today's dollars ($6.5 billion in 1960's dollars; the inflation is depressing, isn't it?). But at the time the Shuttle project was started, the Saturn V had already been paid for; just keeping it flying would have cost even less than those numbers suggest. And besides, you wouldn't need a Saturn V for every flight; just for ones where you need that kind of crazy lift capacity.

    It would actually have been far cheaper to keep flying expendables, but keep developing them, and hopefully iterate into something reusable. Take the rockets from the 1960's, and spend 20 years flying and improving them, and what would you have in the 1980's? A lot more stuff flying, more safely, and a lot cheaper.

    The Shuttle was a mistake, of management more than anything else.


    • 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 cha

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