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Video Space Exploration Politics -- and an Explanation of the Apollo Flag 'Mystery' (Video) 39

Meet Tom Moser. And here's another NASA oral history interview with him. And we interviewed him last week ourselves. Tom has been involved, one way or another, as engineer or manager, with every American manned space flight program since 1963. Now, among other things, he's thinking of ways multiple governments and private companies can share their resources to make future space exploration feasible, which may not be engineering -- but in many cases politics can be more important than designing and building the hardware, which is why it's worth learning about.

And thinking of hardware, do you remember the conspiracy people talking about how the U.S. flag on the moon was faked because there's no way it could wave in the breeze without an atmosphere? Moser gives us the inside scoop on that: it was an engineering screwup, and at least partly his fault. Whoops!

Tom: ...Well, not necessarily. Not necessarily. You can have multiple authorities depending on what you want to accomplish. So that if there is a different objective, you can have different authorities to do that. This morning I talked about an evolvable lunar architecture okay, with having an international lunar authority as the governance, as the governing body--one not only to govern it but also to provide the resources to manage it, operate it, to lead the technology and the development. That makes sense if you go into the Moon. If you go into directly to Mars or something, maybe there is another one, but I personally believe that there shouldn’t be let’s go to the Moon, or let’s go to Mars, I think that that’s wrong to say that I think what we ought to do is we ought to evolve, we ought to go a step at a time, we ought to go back to the Moon, learn how to live and work there use those resources that are on the Moon, then to go to other things, use the resources there, is fuel, is oxygen to breathe, use that, then to go to Mars or to develop a satellite solar power station, to provide energy to the earth. So if you get back to the Moon, then that’s the base from which you can do that. Plus, there will be a lot don’t ask me specifically what, there will be a lot that will be learned inhabiting the Moon. We have learned a lot in space--one of the arguments that I used in Congress in developing the space station or getting the space station approved was some of the members of Congress kept asking what is the return on investment. There were looking for some fantastic things that would be developed pharmaceutically or something like that where you get a million dollars per pound of something you are going to create. I went on to ask the Congressman I am not smart enough to do that, but I think what you would say is that if we got the return on investment that we made in space, like we have in 1957, we committed to go into space, we’ve created weather satellites, communications satellites, intelligence satellites, global positioning satellites, all those things which every person on earth benefits, every single day. Every single day, every person benefits.

Slashdot: But they were largely unforeseen at that time?

Tom: They were totally unforeseen. Totally unforeseen. That’s it. Call them serendipity, if you will, but huge returns on this. So Space Station, I said, I can’t tell you what is going to come out of that. Try it. We’ve never had a gravity-free environment in which to experiment, I don’t know what will come out of it, congressmen, and neither do you. It is not you know, give it a try, if it doesn’t work after x number of years then put it in the Pacific Ocean, but I think you need to try it, and I think things will come in. Same way with going back to the Moon, none of us are smart enough even to envision what we will learn by doing that. So it is the type of thing, if you were investing in a venture, if it had those kind of returns to date, you will probably keep investing in it. So I rested my case, we got a space station, probably in spite of me.

Slashdot: What technologies now excite you the most, when it comes to space exploration? There has been evolution obviously in propulsion, in reusability. What sort of the things do you think are the key right now?

Tom: I think the big keys are propellant, how to utilize the Moon for propellant sources, but first of all, the first step is how to take propellant from the earth and get it away from the gravity well of earth. Put it in space, where it can be a fuel depot. Now that’s going to take some technology, especially if it is cryogenic, okay. That is going to be tough to do. Then I think propulsion system, I think just being able to live on a place like that in a closed environment, with few people, I think the psychological things the physiological things that will come out of that are huge, people haven’t thought about that, for living long duration. So I think there will be big benefits from it. Those are the technologies, I think if you are talking about harvesting the resources on the Moon, being able to be able to mine the resources there, be it ice or whatever, okay, that is going to be a huge advancement in robotic technology to be able to do that. Humans should be involved okay, but the more the robots are doing that the better.

Slashdot: Sending a few robots takes a lot less space, and less oxygen and less food.

Tom: Well it is. And I think it is a good 9:50____. Something I learned in the late ‘80s I was talking to a company that does a combination of robots and humans, and these are people that work in a very harsh, dangerous environment, these are people who work thousands of feet below the sea surface, in providing different types of services there, and one of the companies decided that they were going to do it all robotically. And I said that’s the way to do it, you don’t have to have humans down thousands of feet deep. They couldn’t do it. They said you couldn’t do it. They learned that if you have the right combination of people and robots, is the way to do it. And I think that will be the same thing in the other harsh environments away from the earth is using robots and people to do it. So it is the right balance between the two. Use robots where you can, and where they are more efficient. But a lot of times, without having the human intelligence, then there are too many failures that can occur.

Slashdot: Let me ask you one more thing. Can you tell us a little bit about finding some pieces of a flag?

Tom: Well, yeah, I can tell you something about that. This is the United States flag story. I was a young designer engineer at that time at NASA during Apollo, and my boss came in late one afternoon, and he says, we are going to put a flag on the Moon. He said there has been an international agreement, no one would claim the moon. But Congress wants a flag on the Moon. And they said, you are not to talk to anybody about this, this is to be only you and a couple of other people that will help make the thing so figure out a way to get the flag on the Apollo 11, it can’t go on the limb of the lunar module because there is not room for it, put it on the outside, it can’t burn up, and astronauts have to get to it easily and so I said 11:34______I can do that, so myself and a couple of other people we designed and built the flag got it to on the ladder of the lunar module. And a little inside story, when Neil Armstrong started down the ladder, we all saw him jump, I thought the ladder broke because we put it on air, I did all the analysis to say that ladder wasn’t going to break, no one checked my analysis, I thought the whole program was over, because he failed it broke cut his space suit, and the program was over. One, but there was another little funny thing that happened on that, is the flag looks like it is blowing in the breeze. Well it is not, it was a telescoping rod that held the flag out, it had the wrong coding on it, it wouldn’t extend all the way. So it looks like the flag is waving, really it is not. So we made all the other ones in the past, shorter rods so they will look the same. So we hid it.

Slashdot: That you feel is the conspiracy theory.

Tom: Yeah, that was part of the conspiracy. Wrong! It was an engineering screw-up, okay, and I will admit to part of it, alright, that’s what it was, but we made it, have a little bit more character that way, and so that was it was a commercial flag that we had on the moon, that we sent up to the moon, we cut off all the indications of who manufactured it and had to trim it a bit, and so threw it in the trash can, I thought, you know, someday a scrap of that flag of the first one which went to the moon might be a collectors’ item. So I grabbed a piece out of the trash can, stuck it in my pocket, and so a couple of pieces still exist.

Slashdot: That’s a great outcome for it, at least it didn’t go straight to the landfill.

Tom: It did not go to the landfill, right.

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Space Exploration Politics -- and an Explanation of the Apollo Flag 'Mystery' (Video)

Comments Filter:
  • It's the American Dream to accidentally create one of the world's most enduring conspiracy theories.

  • I have seen several cases of conspiracy theorists trying to point to that as evidence. Clearly if they can't see the rod through the top and take in account that gravity will wave a flag as it's being moved around and planted, then you probably shouldn't take the time to explain to them. Stop paying attention to the crazies, that only gives them unneeded attention!

  • Tripod (Score:4, Insightful)

    by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @05:23PM (#50925663) Journal

    Either get a really cheap tripod when you do these types of interviews or a monopod. Having the image wander back and forth for five minutes is not good.

  • Mythbusters (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jklovanc ( 1603149 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @05:46PM (#50925865)

    Mythbusters debunked the flag theory []. It is caused by momentum and lack of air resistance.

  • >> in many cases politics can be more important than designing and building the hardware, which is why it's worth learning about

    No, it's why we're all pretty much pinning our hopes on private enterprise to figure out the next generation of space. NASA's manned flight program was defanged long ago, as evidenced by the need to drag out guys like Tom Moser, the hunt for prototype moon rovers, and other nostalgic efforts dredging up a period that happened decades before I was born.

  • ... then you can be 100 percent sure that there wouldn't be a flag fluttering in the wind. "Hey boss, I checked the film, and the wind is making the flag move". "Don't worry, nobody will notice". Really? What kind of idiot do you have to be to believe that could happen? If there was a flag moving in the wind, the recording would have been repeated.

The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable. -- John Kenneth Galbraith