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Moon Government NASA The Almighty Buck Politics

How the Critics of the Apollo Program Were Proven Wrong 421

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 phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Monday September 17, 2012 @02:13AM (#41359385) Journal
    Johnson supported Apollo and the Great Society. I ran across this quote about the Great Society:

    We are going to assemble the best thought and broadest knowledge from all over the world to find these answers. I intend to establish working groups to prepare a series of conferences and meetings—on the cities, on natural beauty, on the quality of education, and on other emerging challenges. From these studies, we will begin to set our course toward the Great Society.

    Imagine if we did the same today, to solve our problems. Then readjusted them once we found out what worked and what didn't. Read the whole speech [utexas.edu], we don't have any politicians today who are anywhere near as eloquent. We are the generation of incompetent politicians.

  • by wermske ( 1781984 ) * on Monday September 17, 2012 @02:40AM (#41359503) Homepage

    It is an old dilemma... do philosopher kings use the carrot, the stick, or some combination incentive. Very often possibility is better expressed as probability. Put another way, how well is a destination communicated to a mob, how well is a mob moved to action, and the persistence (and consistency) with which the mob continues to be shepherded.

    This when said mob consists of a minimum N+1 political fractures (population samples) with a minimum N^N^X+1 combinations of orthogonal, parallel, and skewed agenda.

    In short, possibility is not the limiting factor... charisma, communication, and the shepherd's crook controls what can be achieved. Just because something is perceived as right when looking through a prism just so...while holding the tongue just thusly -- doesn't mean that everyone in everyplace having walked in every shoes also perceives the same to hold true. Perception is reality. Making reality (measuring what can be or has been achieved) is one of the hallmarks of exceptional leadership. Historians have the luxury of analvision. Their visual acuity doesn't necessarily mean revisionist hypothesis have or hold any value except for philosophers. That is, unless they can alter perception!

    INAM - But, I'm confident my finger-in-the-wind is measuring the right direction.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday September 17, 2012 @02:58AM (#41359567) Homepage

    This is the usual bullshit about how NASA advanced semiconductor and computer technology. About the only real advance to come from NASA was NASTRAN, the first finite-element analysis program. The paper talks about "space and defense". It was DoD, especially the USAF, that pushed semiconductor and computer technology hard. SAGE, the Atlas Missile Guidance Computer, the Navy's nuclear submarine program, and the various huge missile and radar programs of the 1950s and 1960s all advanced computer and electronics technology.

    NASA was a consumer of those technologies, and in terms of units purchased, not a big one. NASA bought a few tens of rockets a year; at the peak, missile programs bought hundreds to thousands.

    NASA was big on materials and weight reduction, and some interesting materials came out of NASA. But more of them came out of the USAF. At the time, much of that was classified. The SR-71 was a titanium aircraft flown in the 1960s. Lockheed's Skunk Works actually pioneered the use of liquid hydrogen as a propellant, although NASA took the credit. Heat shield materials came from missile nose cones.

    NASA was #1 at public relations, and still has a huge PR operation. DoD and the USAF were trying to keep the USSR from finding out what we had. So NASA got to take the credit for a lot of stuff they didn't pioneer.

    After all, Alan Shepard went into space atop a Redstone ICBM booster. John Glenn went into space atop an Atlas ICBM booster. The Gemini program used modified Titan II ICBM boosters. Only Apollo had its own booster.

  • Job creators (Score:5, Interesting)

    by br00tus ( 528477 ) on Monday September 17, 2012 @02:59AM (#41359573)

    The double-think which one has to perform to try to understand talk about job creators is mind-boggling to me. I can barely wrap my head around what mental gymnastics I'd have to do to buy into this nonsense. I look out my window and see birds flying around and eating food. They are free and need no one to "create jobs" for them, yet we humans seem to supposedly need heirs like the Koch brothers and others to create jobs for us. There was a poster in during the strikes and near-uprising in 1968 France (one fifth of France's population was on strike, de Gaulle fled the country) that said "Le patron a besoin de toi, tu n'as pas besoin de lui", but in this day and age of low VC investment, longer hours, boring work, high unemployment etc., people seem more enslaved to the heirs and their broken system then at any time - at least in the USA anyhow. In other countries they're trying to burn down US embassies as I type.

    You used to be able to go to the federal government's BLS and see inflation-adjusted historical average hourly wages, but they removed that functionality, perhaps because it looked so bad. Here's a fellow who did it [blogspot.com] back in 2007, with links to the Federal Reserve and BLS data. As you can see, the hourly wage in the US was higher in the early 1970s then it is now. In fact, it was higher for the whole decade of 1968-1978 then it is now. All of this wonderful economic growth and job creation - what has it done for the majority of Americans over the past decades? Absolutely nothing. It all goes to the 1%, the majority of whom inherited it, if you're to believe the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances, Forbes 400 richest list etc.

    Political scientists, historians, astronauts etc. are also pretty much in universal agreement that if communist parties had not come to power in Russia, China, eastern Europe etc. in the 1960s, that there is no way Congress would have ever financed the moon shot. Sputnik and the advancements in science and engineering in the Soviet Union are what loosened the purse strings in the US - the Soviets were winning the Space Race from Sputnik up until the end of 1968 where they were still winning the moon race. By that time the USSR was busy with Poland and Czechoslovakia and the like and Apollo 8 did its moon flyby, the first time the US really pulled ahead in the space race, which was followed by the next important US achievement, Apollo 11. It took the US over a decade to catch up and finally surpass the USSR. Then after a moon flyby and landing, that was pretty much the end of any major space spending. I don't see the point of The Atlantic talking about ancient history - it's not like if the US had any leftover money it would spend it on a project like that, not that it has any spare money.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 17, 2012 @03:03AM (#41359595)

    Actually, Johnson did not care about the space program itself... he cared about the prestige it provided him. As a senator from Texas, he saw the new agency Eisenhower created (NASA) as a new source or pork and prestige. As Kennedy's VP, he was assigned to oversee NASA and he used his muscle to get the astronauts and mission control into his state (hence the "Johnson Space Center"). The reality, however, was that for the long-term, Johnson saw the social spending as vital to future Democrat electoral dominance and when given the choice between the two, he gutted NASA.

    Most people do not realize it, but it was Johnson rather then Nixon who cancelled the production of Saturn V moon rockets. By the time Neil Armstrong put that first bootprint in the lunar soil, the Saturn V production line was already shutting down. By the time Nixon was sworn in, it was as impossible to build more Saturn V moon rockets as it would be now to re-start shuttle operations (which is to say "not absolutely technically impossible" but so expensive to bring-back workers and re-open production lines of all the components that no politician would be willing to spend the money)

  • by wermske ( 1781984 ) * on Monday September 17, 2012 @03:11AM (#41359637) Homepage

    The Toba catastrophe theory suggests that the human population was reduced to 15,000, however, a paper in Molecular Biology and Evolution (15 Sep 99) intimates that the human population may have dropped to as low as 2,000 prior to the Late Stone Age.

    I've seen numbers for a viable gene pool for humans that range from 80/80 distinct, unrelated males/females to 660 with a ratio of 1 male to every 2 females. Biologists I've spoken to seem to agree that the 80/80 mix that seems to be popular on the net is simply non-viable in except perhaps in a laboratory with eugenic sanctions and cleansing of (suggestive) non-viable breeding stock which is a nasty moral/ethical rabbit hole this thread doesn't need to pursue.

    Regardless, cultural norms (and quasi-taboos) that we broadly hold today would be challenged. Sustaining a village of 300-800 mixed age individuals in frontier conditions is vastly different than growing an outpost for a couple dozen adult professional pioneers from a modular deployment.

    Fundamental values... the essence of law itself would be unlike anything we know in civil society today.

  • by guttentag ( 313541 ) on Monday September 17, 2012 @04:13AM (#41359845) Journal
    The Apollo program's critics said that the massive sums of money that were being spent on going to the moon could be better spent solving problems closer to home, and there's this perception that NASA somehow proved those critics wrong because they achieved something amazing (landing men on the moon). But what benefit has that really imparted to society? Hope? Pride? Entertainment? If that's all it was worth, that's what we have major league sports teams for. That is the argument you will get from critics.

    To counter that argument, let's talk about what else society got from the Apollo program:
    • Integrated circuits [wikipedia.org] benefited from the development of the Apollo guidance computer. Without integrated circuits we wouldn't have personal computers, cell phones, DVD players, video games, GPS and a lot of other things.
    • Fuel cell [wikipedia.org] development got a boost from Apollo funding, but it may be harder to convince the general public of their usefulness because there aren't any commercially-available fuel cell cars on the market, but they're apparently widely used in forklifts at Coca Cola, Whole Foods, FedEx and others where they are cutting down on emissions.

    What else owes its development to the Apollo program, and how does it benefit society? Please, add to this list so we can rebuff the people who say money spent on space is wasted.

  • by lightknight ( 213164 ) on Monday September 17, 2012 @05:35AM (#41360159) Homepage

    The problem is not one of feeding the poor -> there is, from a strictly quantity perspective, more than enough food to feed everyone (in the US), for a little while, at least; the problem comes when the next planting season rolls around, and some farmers decide that it's easier to claim you are poor (and receive free food), than to work the fields; when enough farmers do this, a deficit of food appears, which is colloquially called a famine. Due to the way a famine operates, I imagine that once you have one, it persists indefinitely, as people begin raiding the storehouses for seeds that are normally used for planting next year or when too many cattle are slaughtered (reducing herd's ability to replace lost members) to sustain themselves in present times, thus ensuring that once a famine starts, only powerful discipline can stop it (you will have to eat less this year to eat more next year). And that's all assuming that the weather cooperates, or that you are on God Almighty's good side.

    Thus our economy is built on people wanting things, and more importantly, a willingness to work and hope of achieving them. Where the Apollo program beat out strictly handing out money or food is that it, from a very subjective standpoint, increased investment in technology, which we all know when properly done, pays dividends. Better technology leads to better living. Previously untreatable diseases are now treatable, and the fields are more fertile.


  • by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Monday September 17, 2012 @07:56AM (#41360801)

    >In 50 years your kids will be a lot better off than you are

    That is hardly axiomatic. Were the Jewish kids born in Germany in the 1930's better off in their teens than their Grandparents who lived there in the 1890s ?

    Were the Afrikaans children in the concentration camps in 1902 better off than their grandparents who worried about the power of the British empire and moved away from it in 1838 ?

    There are both good and bad times in history. Nobody has absolute control over what comes, but we definitely DO have an influence on the future. We can help make it better or help make it worse. We can play a role toward a future that is an improvement over our lives, or one where the freedoms and technology we have has been lost.

    Every society comes to an end. Every empire falls. The great western empire is showing many of the signs that other great empires showed in their final days. It could be that the end of our civilization is close by.
    If it is, would you prefer it be replaced by a better or a worse one ? History is full of either.

  • by Vaphell ( 1489021 ) on Monday September 17, 2012 @08:32AM (#41361083)

    i am not self-centered selfish prick hoarding untold riches at the expense of unwashed masses, my carbon footprint is probably much smaller than yours, no offspring. I realized that ultimately there is no point in worrying whether or not humanity dies with this rock called Earth or not.
    I have no influence on things after my death, hell, i have next to none influence on things that happen right now. If I could bitchslap my govt for fucking us in the ass, or USians for their wasteful lifestyles (and fucking everybody in the ass) or Chinese for their retarded nationalism, or Muslims for their inability to deal with any criticism of Islam, or teen retards for being too cool to learn science maybe i'd care, but i can't so why bother? The world is going to do what the world is going to do.

  • by FatLittleMonkey ( 1341387 ) on Monday September 17, 2012 @08:40AM (#41361147)

    Perhaps we're spending too much money causing poverty. If there are other aspects of society working against anti-poverty programs, removing that resistance will have a greater effect than adding more money or improving the efficiency on just the anti-poverty side.

    Example: The War on Drugs. If it causes more harm than good, then taking money away from it will actually make anti-harm programs seem more effective, even though we don't actually improve the efficiency of anti-harm programs.

    So Apollo, as relatively harmless Cold War cock waving, may have helped reduce poverty by taking money (on both sides) away from other, more destructive (poverty causing) forms of Cold War cock waving.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday September 17, 2012 @08:58AM (#41361313) Journal

    Even if we accept the article's premise(that the 'great society' collection of programs was a failure), the best that that proves is that some contemporary critics of the Apollo program chose dubious grounds for criticism. As we have learned(and, incidentally, only by trying) social engineering is one of the trickier flavors of engineering.

    Where TFA seems to go off the rails a bit is the jump from 'people who think we should have spent the money on 'great society' were wrong because great society failed' to 'Apollo program: Vindicated!'. If you want to assess the worth of a spaceflight R&D program, compare it to other possible spaceflight R&D programs(or to non-spaceflight R&D programs designed to produce interesting technologies: variations on the 'well, set the grad students loose to do basic research' are pretty cheap...)

    As with any sufficiently large engineering project, there were some side effects. Somebody had to build the thing, and certain technological advances had to be made or perfected to get it working; but the same would be true of building a sufficiently large bridge to nowhere. If you actually want to vindicate a space program, you either have to admit that you are doing it because space is pretty cool, or seriously examine it against other possible technology programs, rather than digging up some overt failure to run against...

  • by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Monday September 17, 2012 @09:51AM (#41361883) Homepage Journal

    There were private efforts to buy a Shuttle, including several investors that wanted to simply be permitted to have Rockwell International (the company who built the Space Shuttle) to simply keep the production line going to make a couple Space Shuttles for private industry.

    NASA wouldn't even let it happen. They controlled the design and it couldn't be used for anything but government work.

    That those investors were lucky because it ended up costing way more to actually fly the Shuttle than NASA was originally advertising, the fact that private efforts to get into space had been happening at all should have been a sign that there were better ways to get things like that done.

    There were a few astronauts who flew on the Space Shuttle that could be seen as from outside of the traditional NASA astronaut corps recruitment process. At least one Saudi prince and an Israeli engineer flew on the Space Shuttle, as well as a few NASA contractors has some of their personnel go up too. Serious proposals to send private citizens on their own dime were proposed, but didn't happen and in particular after the loss of the Challenger all such proposals were openly dismissed.

    It really should be seen as a sad statement of the state of American spaceflight where the first private commercial spaceflight crews were launched with equipment designed by a Communist country.

  • by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Monday September 17, 2012 @11:01AM (#41362735) Homepage Journal

    There is more than enough food on the Earth to feed everybody with plenty to spare. If you took all of humanity and put them into an area roughly the size of Texas, you could not only house everybody and be able to provide for factories and such, but you could even have space for farms and almost everything else that we need as people. That could even leave the rest of the Earth available as a wilderness area.

    I'm not saying I would enjoy living in such high density housing, but it is possible.

    Even today, the largest impediments to getting food to people involve a combination of logistics and politics getting in the way that prevents the food getting to those people who need it the most. It has almost nothing to do with the capacity of the Earth being able to feed that many people. It isn't even an issue with money as there are plenty of "relief agencies" and people who have excess money and resources willing to send food to those who are less fortunate.

    It is a problem when you have tyrants as the head of countries who deliberately wish to starve portions of their country for political purposes... usually because they have withheld their support for that tyrant and reject the soul crushing lack of freedom that comes from such leaders. Define tyranny how ever you want, but you can't feed yourself if you are a slave that isn't permitted to eat and kept from doing that at the point of a gun.

"The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception a neccessity." - Oscar Wilde