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What If the Apollo Program Never Happened? 756

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?"
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What If the Apollo Program Never Happened?

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  • Travel Vs Base (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:56PM (#38867441) Journal

    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.

    How is that ironic? Establishing a base versus traveling to are two fairly different goals in magnitude with one totally encompassing the other. Aside from that, I don't think it's ironic that 40 years have passed and we need to reevaluate a moon mission. 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).

    And as far as it's being "debated" 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. Wouldn't want to look "weak" going into office now, would we. Speaking of which, I'm all for a shift of some of those funds to space exploration. It took a space race with 'the ruskies' to get us to the moon maybe another 'rah rah USA' race with those other 'commies' will help us establish a presence and research lab?

  • We'd have never gone (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Gideon Wells ( 1412675 ) on Monday January 30, 2012 @02:57PM (#38867461)

    Part of what got our country into gear was JFK's death. JFK was even trying to covertly kill the program by rigging it so Republicans would kill it for lack of favorable earmark kick backs and similar games.

  • What if ...? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sehlat ( 180760 ) on Monday January 30, 2012 @03:03PM (#38867543)

    For one thing, we might have practical fusion power by now.

    The Apollo program taught a lot of lessons, but one of them was "If you're a government-funded research program, DO NOT SUCCEED." Congress began axing the budget for space exploration about ten minutes after Armstrong's "One small step for a man..." After all, we did the job, beat the Rooskies, hallelujah now we can quit wasting all that money.

    I've noticed one thing about fusion: it's *always* "twenty years off" and has been since the early fifties. Tiny little steps, "we need more funding", and "maybe we'll get something in (this year+20). And over the past forty years, a lot of bold proposals for testbeds that, while crude and inefficient, might actually have WORKED so they could be improved, have been shot down. (cf. Bussard's proposal to use heavy, water-cooled high-strength magnets to brute-force a solution.)

    See you in 2032, when "We'll have fusion in 2052." will be the rallying cry.

  • by smpoole7 ( 1467717 ) on Monday January 30, 2012 @03:07PM (#38867591) Homepage

    It isn't ironic, it's sad, that 40 years later, there are people who honestly believe that the moon landings were faked.

    The fact that you can see the landing site with a powerful telescope apparently isn't good enough for some people.

    -- Stephen

  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Monday January 30, 2012 @03:11PM (#38867659)

    Seriously, the moon and Mars are a waste of time and money. Near earth orbit, in constrast, has a lot of potential for power generation, enhanced telecommunications, earth observation and eventually, permanent, self-sustaining living environments. As "cool" as it would be to get to Mars or the moon (again), there's just no compelling reason to do so that's not served better by near earth orbital stations and satellites.

  • by JSBiff ( 87824 ) on Monday January 30, 2012 @03:16PM (#38867747) Journal

    Just like a politician to bring up a massive government boondoggle which might have some scientific benefits, but which provides no possibility of a payoff in practical terms.

    I propose a different science/engineering race with China:

    The first to build and get patents on associated technology for the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor []. China announced a year or two back that they had begun.

    LFTR most likely would provide a trillion dollar+ payoff to whoever gets there first and can deploy it both domestically and sell exports to other countries within the lifespan of the patents.

    Or how about the closely related WAMSR - the Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor [].

    Those look both doable, almost certainly cheaper than a moonbase (though possibly still somewhat expensive), and would have enormous benefits for mankind.

    But, no doubt Republicans would decry a program to rapidly get the LFTR or WAMSR up and running as a socialist, big-government program. . . but somehow, a freaking moonbase isn't. Oh, I know why - because there's no actual money to be made on a moonbase, so the private sector doesn't care about it and thus doesn't need "protection" from government programs.

  • by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Monday January 30, 2012 @03:18PM (#38867795)

    'Waste anything but time'.
    These are truly magical words to a bureaucracy.

    When they were uttered, NASA became an enormously powerful agency, with a massive budget, and the resulting craft was guaranteed to be ridiculously expensive, and optimised entirely wrongly for an ongoing space program.

    NASA then set the precedent for the 'right way' to do space - which proceeded on, helped by space being seen not as a place to do things in, but a convenient way to feed aerospace companies welfare.

    For example, NASAs last attempt to 'reduce the cost of space launch' (x33/venturestar) had not one, not two, but three completely untried technologies on it.

    SpaceX - by doing it in a much leaner manner, have developed a rocket and engines for a tiny fraction of the budget of what NASAs estimation tools say it'd cost them.
    And you know that it'd have overrun in reality.

    If you look at a typical NASA procurement requirement, you do not see 'Must deliver cargo of mass M to position P with speed S'.
    You see a long list of requirements that are only incidental, but so happen to require expertise only available from the two or three 'usual suspects', meaning only they can make credible bids.

    The lack of funding, and the clear utility of satellites may well have lead to much cheaper rockets being developed a lot sooner.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday January 30, 2012 @03:29PM (#38867961) Homepage

    Space would have become a USAF business in the US. The USAF had the Dyna-Soar program (small manned craft, launched on a rocket, lands on wings), which was cancelled in favor of Apollo. The USAF also had the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, which was a lot like Skylab, but earlier. The USAF would probably have sizable manned space stations by now, equipped with missile defenses.

    The Gusmobile (the six-seat Gemini) might have flown. With both the Gusmobile and Dyna-Soar, the US would have had a solid low-orbit manned capability.

    More robotic landers would have been sent to the Moon. The USSR sent several large ones, which explored more of the Moon than the astronauts did. But landing and retrieving humans from the moon probably would have been skipped. Face it, the place is rather dull.

    Recoverable boosters probably would have been developed. (A parachute system almost went into the Saturn V.) At some point, a large shuttle might have been built. Probably more like Buran than the US shuttle. Although Buran looks like the US shuttle, it has no launch engines; it's purely a payload at launch. Buran was much less fragile than the US shuttle; the USSR once flew one to Farnborough for an air show. Also, it was realized after a few US shuttle launches that a titanium-based design could stand the heat load, which would have eliminated the ceramic tile headache. A more robust shuttle with mostly reusable boosters could achieve a respectable launch rate.

  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Monday January 30, 2012 @03:51PM (#38868355)

    (I am assuming that all the unmanned missions would have been flown same as in the real world, and of course that is a big assumption .)

    We would know very little about the formation and early evolution of the solar system. Apollo nailed that, and our current knowledge is largely based on Apollo samples. The Soviet Luna samples would help, but I don't think they would be enough.

    We also probably wouldn't have any Lunar Laser Ranging (that's a harder call, but all of the early LLR was US, and I don't think that without the Apollo LLR
    the French would have put retroreflectors on the Lunakhods). That, plus no Apollo ALSEP seimo network, would mean we would know very little about Moon's deep interior, such as whether or not it has a core.

    I think that those are the two biggest ones.

    Of course, if Apollo had never happened, Alexi Leonid would probably have been the first man on the Moon, but the implications of that are too far outside the reach of my crystal ball.

  • Re:Well (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jamvger ( 2526832 ) on Monday January 30, 2012 @04:10PM (#38868603) Homepage
    You don't need to terraform to have a place to live. Multiple large vessels [], freely orbiting and rotating to supply artificial gravity, would do nicely.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 30, 2012 @04:13PM (#38868655)

    On the night before the launch of Apollo 11, Wernher von Baun made this comment about the future

    “If it had been our intention merely to go to the moon, bring back a handful of rocks and soil, and forget the entire enterprise, then we would certainly have been history’s biggest fools.”
            - Wernher von Braun

      and yet, that’s exactly what we did

  • by GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Monday January 30, 2012 @04:30PM (#38868877)

    I'm not a historian, physicist, or engineer so I'm going off of my layman's interpretations. But, we kind of had parallel "space" efforts with our rocket planes like the X-51 that lost out to rockets. Had we not gone with massive, wasteful brute force rockets and gradually transitioned into space with reusable rockets and aerospace planes, maybe we'd have grown our space program more organically from high altitude flights, to LEO, to the moon?

  • Re:Travel Vs Base (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Samantha Wright ( 1324923 ) on Monday January 30, 2012 @05:09PM (#38869387) Homepage Journal

    I think you may've overshot a point here. Yes, he could just order it shut down, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't amass very powerful entities. If Congress or the Senate or another committee hates the President, they're petty enough to vote against all of his initiatives regardless of merit. If you run afoul of the CIA, then no matter who you are, that's going to cause problems for you. Members of Congress have forced each other into voting for pork by attaching it to defense bills and attacking their opponents for lacking patriotism. The fucking NSA and DoJ have been caught conspiring to ruin lives []. Robocalling. Filibusters. These are not people who fight fairly.

    Did you assume that corruption went no further than simple bribes and kickbacks of lobbying, with no defences should they get caught? How do you think ACTA got so much support from inside the government? The depth and complexity of corruption at the elected and senior levels far outstrips what we see in the newspapers. The system is so utterly entrenched that there is very little hope of fixing it.

    No matter who had been elected President, he or she would be receiving the same blame. If anything, the rest of the Democrats let the new guy take the fall. Obama's short and bland track record suggests he was a relative outsider, and that he faced a great deal of adversity when his rhetoric fell upon the ears of the all-too-established old boys' clubs when he got in the door—although I guess you could say that Fox News's lack of pre-election hatred for him might have been some kind of foreshadowing that this was going to happen; either they knew he'd comply, had no chances of winning, or were too afraid of being accused of playing the race card.

"To take a significant step forward, you must make a series of finite improvements." -- Donald J. Atwood, General Motors