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Looking Back At Apollo 17, and Why We Stopped Going To the Moon ( 189

MarkWhittington writes: The 43rd anniversary of the mission of Apollo 17, the last time men walked on the moon, has elicited a strange kind of nostalgia, and no little melancholia in some parts of the media. These qualities are captured in a story in IO9 that purports to tell us why no one has been back to the moon in over four decades and why we might soon return at last. Deadline Hollywood informs us that "The Last Man on the Moon," a documentary on Apollo moonwalker Gene Cernan, is set for a release to both theaters and video on demand in February, having been shown at film festivals for the past year or so,
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Looking Back At Apollo 17, and Why We Stopped Going To the Moon

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  • Nazis (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Ther worst thing about the moon is all the damned Nazis.

  • to much military (Score:5, Informative)

    by Revek ( 133289 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @12:39PM (#51109863) Homepage

    Why spend money on peace when war pays off now.

    • Re:to much military (Score:5, Informative)

      by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @01:19PM (#51110035)

      We're not as afraid of war now as we were then.

      • People have largely forgotten how dangerous war really is.

        Today, war is like a video game. A guy presses a button and a bunch of bad guys disappear. It's almost cute.

        Back then, war was terrifying mushroom clouds and entire cities in flames.

        We've forgotten how fast the former could lead to the latter.

      • Lack of experience which is a good thing
  • having been shown at film festivals for the past year or so,

    Do you intend to complete the summary later ?

    Why We Stopped Going To the Moon

    NASA and White House shifting priorities. More demand for a space station (Skylab).

    • Re:TL;DR (Score:5, Insightful)

      by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @01:22PM (#51110045)
      We stopped going to the moon because we beat the Soviet Union and they eventually collapsed. The space race was a dick waving contest with the possibility of learning how to put weapons in orbit.

      The only reason the U.S. goes back to the moon will be because China wants to try doing it. Otherwise a moon landing is in the hands of the rich entrepreneurs who are holding their own private dick waving contests.
      • by mothlos ( 832302 )

        The Soviets were never in the 'race to the moon'. The Apollo program had many goals:

        1. Catch up to the Soviet rocket program.
        2. Prepare for the possibility of wars and espionage in space.
        3. Improve domestic opinion regarding the balance of power in the cold war.
        4. Scientific discovery.

        By the time the USA was finally putting people on the moon, their rocket program was highly competitive, the military/espionage value of humans in space was seen to be low, domestic opinion of the program was mixed (although people did s

        • The Soviets were never in the 'race to the moon'.

          First attempt to land on the moon: Luna 1, 1959 []
          First hard landing on the moon: Luna 2, 1959 []
          First soft landing on the moon: Luna 9, 1966 []
          First unmanned sample return from the moon: Luna 16, 1970 []
          First unmanned moon rover: Luna 17, 1970 []

          • by KGIII ( 973947 )

            There's a whole lot of revisionist and bias-by-omission-of-data history going on with the space race. I like to try to figure things out, I like to figure out the reason for things. I've yet to fathom the reasons for this. I see it a lot with WWII history as well. I don't know the motives and I'm unsure of the source but, at this point, I'm inclined to think it's not people coming up with these things on their own but are people parroting things they've heard/read elsewhere and, probably due to confirmation

      • The US might have been dick waving the Kremlin wasn't even paying attention until about 1965. The Russian space program was the brain child of Sergie Korolyev who essentially blagged the Kremlin left right and centre for example he told the Kremlin that if they were going to send up a satellite to spy on the Americans they should at least send someone up to listen to the radio and that's how Uri Gagarin became the first man in space. America only took the lead after Korolyev became ill and died in Jan 196
      • Private enterprise, esp. Bigelow , wants to go to the moon because so many nations will be happy to pay to go. Few have the resources to really go to space, let alone the moon. But if bigelow and other companies create a low cost path to the moon, then nearly every nation will happily pay to put at least 1 person there, to search for anything interesting.
    • Bull. O, boldens and nasa's priority is to go BEO. Even now, they are working hard to lower the costs of the ISS so that private space will handle that and the moon, while NASA goes to asteroids and Mars.
  • by unimacs ( 597299 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @12:54PM (#51109929)
    I'm in my 50's and remember the moon shots. They were awe inspiring at first but they became more routine (for the public) over time. I believe NASA and the public were ready for the next big thing. The shuttles were exciting at first too and it seemed we were on a track that could lead to ordinary people getting into space. Of course the shuttle program ended and manned space flight hasn't really broken any new ground for awhile.

    43 years ago, we quit going to the moon and it didn't seem like a bad decision given the expense and that we'd already been there several times. But I don't think anyone believed that it would be 50 years or more before a person would set foot on another planetary body.
    • People who say they never became somewhat routine may be looking back through time-tinted lenses. They never became quite as routine as the space shuttle though. During the 80s-90s, they shot off so frequently that often they'd get just a 5 second blurb on the nightly news, or not even that if something more important was going on.

      There are obviously benefits to manned spaceflight with regard to public awareness. Whether those benefits outweight the per diem science cost might be up for debate. Publi

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )

      The shuttles were exciting at first too and it seemed we were on a track that could lead to ordinary people getting into space.

      The shuttle program was designed to appear like an airplane with booster was able to reach high orbit. The image was more important than the reality.

  • Too the moon, Alice! Too the moon!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I was a teen then, and recall all the stories, the promises in the popular press about how we'd be sending men to Mars by the 1980's and have a permanent base there by 2000. It seemed like a time of unbounded, and in hindsight naive optimism.

    Since I was not very old at the time I was not able to rationally evaluate those claims on my own, so I bought into them. It was the popular consensus, and I had no basis to reject it.

    Now, as someone much older, I believe there is a place for manned space exploration,

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Why would we? What do we get out of cool photos of Pluto? Even if we do want the cool photos, how many cool photos of Pluto do we really need?

      Space missions are a step away from a waste of money. NASA's budget should be 90% developing alternative propulsion methods, because ultimately the Space Age will never start if we're just shooting V-2 rockets at Mars.

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      I think I was 12. I was born in 1957, at the end of it. I got astronaut pajamas a few days later and was very happy with them. They had feet and I could slide across the hardwood floor at supersonic speeds, or slightly faster. I, too, was going to be an astronaut some day. I was going to go to the moon and figure out the age of the craters. I wrote a letter to Buzz Aldrin and I got back a pack of information and a stamped signature and I joined some sort of club (I forget the name).

      I never did make it to th

  • by mschuyler ( 197441 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @12:58PM (#51109949) Homepage Journal

    I thought it was because the aliens told us to keep off their lawn.

  • economics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by swell ( 195815 ) <jabberwock@poet[ ]com ['ic.' in gap]> on Sunday December 13, 2015 @01:42PM (#51110121)

    Kennedy sent us to the moon for prestige. "Look at America, aren't we wonderful!"

    Where's the incentive now. It's a huge expense for little reward. Any mistakes cost billions, lives and ... prestige. Compare the costs and benefits and there is no logical reason to go. Some country more desperate for prestige will go next.

    • You know super rich have a different idea what stuff is worth, e.g. extended lifespan in low gravity ...
      What about this: []
      Imagine you could brew 100l beer on the moon or make wine/champagne there, using lunar water.
      Or build up a grave yard ...
      Heck, people would pay extraordinary sums just for having a keg of beer orbit the moon once or twice ...

    • Re:economics (Score:5, Insightful)

      by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @03:07PM (#51110439) Journal

      I'd actually disagree.

      There is a tangible benefit as substantial as having a coaling station on the coast of Africa was in the 19th century, or having an unsinkable aircraft carrier called Hawaii or Diego Garcia today: the poles.

      There are precisely 2 points on the moon that have (basically) uninterrupted line-of-sight to earth AND line of sight to the sun (ie power). Whoever gets there, and plants at least a basic base there, has a de-facto ownership based on occupancy.

      Short of ejecting them by violence, that's forever. That's pretty important.

      • Re:economics (Score:4, Interesting)

        by quenda ( 644621 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @07:58PM (#51111477)

        There are precisely 2 points on the moon that have (basically) uninterrupted line-of-sight to earth AND line of sight to the sun (ie power).

        Nice idea, but the lunar axis is inclined 1.5 degrees to the ecliptic. Not as bad as earth, but you are going to need a tower half a mile high holding up your massive solar array, to catch the winter sun. Small engineering problem there.

        Worse, the lunar orbit has a 5 degree inclination, so the Earth (2 degrees across) will be rising and setting on a monthly cycle. Hardly uninterrupted.
        What were you planning to do with this polar base?

        has a de-facto ownership based on occupancy.

        You might want to google the South Pole of the earth for a precedent that contradicts that.

        • It is amazing how easy it is to run several cables about 50 miles. That would allow for building 2 separate plants and having 24x7 power. In addition, solar should be initial power. After that, nukes should used
    • Might cost lives? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by swb ( 14022 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @03:08PM (#51110443)

      Why is the loss of life in going into space always seen as such a big, scary risk with ruinous repercussions?

      You want safe? Stay home and play in the back yard.

      Pretty much any human exploration endeavor worth a damn risks life and limb -- exploring the poles, sailing to "the new world", etc.

      Limiting space travel because somebody might die? That's lame.

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        They're the same people who need safe spaces, need to disarm the populace, need to have equal outcomes, need to take away liberties for the sake of freedom, need to control how you speak, need to control how you think, need to know what you're doing, need to ensure that you're doing things the way they feel they need to be done, need to tell you what to eat, need to tell you what to put in your body, need to tell you who to worship, and need to tell you that you're doing it wrong.

        They are cowards. They hold

        • by unimacs ( 597299 )
          People on the left want to spend tax money on other stuff. People on the right don't trust the government with anything costing that much money except the military (which is sort of ironic).

          Getting Apollo funded was not a slam dunk and it was a unique period in American history that may never be repeated. Explorers of the past were sometimes funded by governments but often had to get money from private sources. Either way many times it was in exchange for the promise of territory or riches. Further, none
      • by murdocj ( 543661 )

        Everyone accepts that people might die. What's hard to justify is spending a trillion dollars to send a few people to Mars, when for a few billion you can have rovers running for years. It's pretty simple math.

        • by swb ( 14022 )

          But it's not just about studying Mars or any other planet for just scientific reasons. That's myopic.

          Space travel is an end unto itself.

  • by Gonoff ( 88518 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @01:47PM (#51110135)

    It is depressing to me just how few people admit haw mind bendingly awful it is that we have not been back for what used to be a lifetime.

    As to why, I can think of several reasons that nobody from earth has been back in this time...

    1. Lack of political leadership globally.
    2. There are easier ways to fill pork barrels.
    3. The press in the developed world is in the hands of an ever smaller bunch of sociopaths who take pride in being unscientific.
    4. The world is too comfortable for the 1%
    5. There is a myth that if we don't spend it on progress, the money will be used to feed/house the poor and hungry.
    6. Fear by the powerful that once people are off earth, they will become "global citizens", not just good Americans, Russians, Brits or whatever.

    • by Yergle143 ( 848772 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @03:14PM (#51110461)

      Space exploration is for the patient. Science fiction is for phonies.
      The popular science fiction (always endemic on this board) with its fantasy physics always ignores immense distances, energies, time, politics and money.
      Most importantly money.
      During the last 43 years we have probed the entire solar system and are currently roving the sands of Mars as we peck away at our keyboards at a safe distance and for costs that do not over burden society. Space exploration is a constant source of scientific achievement and with advanced directives and equipment (Kepler, Webb) we are going to explore the galaxy in the comfort of our sofas without breaking the bank
      Because that's the trick, our robotics can pave the way for us because Space is a harsh place.
      Now the next step, and it could take 50 years, is the when we land a lathe and a robot to operate it on the Moon. Soon after there will be an image of a dome and behind it the earth and in the dome there will be a bunch of green leafy things curling up from the lunar soil to reach for the sun. And then things will probably go a lot faster.

  • It's a space station...
  • by bfwebster ( 90513 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @03:00PM (#51110405) Homepage

    (A comment I made over at io9 as well.)

    As someone who lived through the ‘false dawn of space travel’ (to use Heinlein’s phrase), who grew up intensely following the space program, and who actually worked at NASA/JSC on the Space Shuttle flight simulators back in 1979-80, I can give you my observation: the American people got bored with space. Seriously. No one (outside of a small group of space enthusiasts, such as myself) was clamoring for yet more Apollo missions. TV ratings of flight and moonwalk coverage sank to the basement. It was all just more men in space suits skipping around in a black-and-white environment.

    With no public demand or support, neither Congress nor the White House had much stomach for pushing things forward, not when the funds had other uses. The NASA manned flight division evolved into a jobs program, which is why NASA fought against privatization of space flight for so long. (The NASA unmanned space exploration division continued to work miracles, even as it does to this day.)

    Of course, the real root problem was that the Apollo approach was fundamentally flawed in the first place; as some wag put it decades ago, it was like building a cruise liner for a single crossing of the Atlantic and sinking everything but one lifeboat at the end of the trip. Prior to Kennedy’s challenge, the US was working on an incremental approach: SSTO (single stage to orbit), gliding re-entry, and a space station. We basically lost half a century due to the Apollo approach (and the horribly expensive, horribly fragile kludge that was the Space Shuttle). Frankly, NASA’s current Orion effort is a repeat of just about all the mistakes we made with Apollo and threatens to soak up NASA’s budget for years to come, even as goal dates keep getting pushed back more and more.

    The night that Apollo 11 landed, I was part of a group of friends (we were all high school students) who stayed up all night to watch the coverage. When I heard the words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”, I felt the future had begun. I was sure I would live long enough to visit LEO myself and to see humans colonize the moon and land on Mars. If you had described to me back in 1969 what the state of space exploration (and, in particular, US space exploration) would be in 2015, I would not have believed you. And yet here we are.

    • I can give you my observation: the American people got bored with space. Seriously. No one (outside of a small group of space enthusiasts, such as myself) was clamoring for yet more Apollo missions.

      I'd say the American people were never interested in space. They got all interested in it during Mercury/Gemini/Apollo not because they were actually interested in space, but because they wanted to beat the Soviets. Apollo was particularly interesting because going to the moon was a new shiny. Once newness wo

      • by clovis ( 4684 )

        I'd say the American people were never interested in space. They got all interested in it during Mercury/Gemini/Apollo not because they were actually interested in space, but because they wanted to beat the Soviets.

        Old guy here.
        I'm certain that you are mistaken. Almost everyone during that time was excited about going to space in itself for the sense of exploration. That was the heyday of science fiction - it was very popular among adults and the general sense most people had was of new world excitement.

        I would say that the beat the soviets thing was key to getting the support of politicians and the ultra rich because it answered the only question those people ever have: "What's in it for me?"

  • by k6mfw ( 1182893 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @03:12PM (#51110449)

    Primary objective was to beat the Reds to the stars, back then it was them or us. When Apollo program started, USSR scored a number of firsts in the Space Race that demonstrated the superiority of Communism (not really but there's extensive discussions on all that). Whatever, Hugh Dryden suggested putting a man on the moon and there was already the Saturn rocket and F1 engine in development. Kennedy used his great oral skills, Johnson used his huge political power, James Webb used his knowledge on how to work the system to maintain budgets over a multi-year period.

    Once we achieved a manned landing the race was over. What's even interesting is Bob Gilruth suggested no more Apollo flights as each one had so many opportunities for things to go wrong and lose a crew (and almost did with 13). Apollo 18, 19, 20 were cancelled to save money (wouldn't have saved much as hardware ready to go, crews pretty much fully trained).

    There is the "What If" Gargarin never made the first space flight? Would we have worked on economic development of space like we are trying to do now? Dennis Wingo has some articles including past studies from those years after Sputnik but before Gargarin's flight. https://denniswingo.wordpress.... []

  • by Max_W ( 812974 ) on Sunday December 13, 2015 @05:31PM (#51110937)
    Lunokhod automatic vehicle was the actual victor of the Luna race: []

    This approach was copied for Mars exploration, and will be used in many other expeditions. Not an Apollo type approach.
  • We now have much more advanced robots. And robots just need energy, which can be collected from sunlight. No water, food, air. If we go back we would first do it with non-humanoid remote controlled robots. I see that leading on to humanoid telepresence systems with humanoid devices remote controlled from earth. Sure its a time lag, but it would give long term presence at a lot lower cost.

    • Please watch the series From the Earth to the Moon, especially the episode 'Galileo was Right' to see why its so important to send men and women and not only robots.
  • Watch this video and tell me you believe: []

  • Seriously, if the GOP would quit trying to kill new space, we will get to the moon sooner. The fact is, that bigelow wants to put a base on the moon around 2020. At this point, it will likely be 2022 since the GOP continues to hold back human launchers. For bigelow to send up a station, they need at least 2 reliable western launchers.
  • If you are a supporter of "small government", congratulations, you helped end the space program.

    And I'm not being facetious. There are a lot of people who thought it was a waste of money and they successfully destroyed the space program using "small government" as the talking point. I'm not on their political team, but I congratulate their success.

"An organization dries up if you don't challenge it with growth." -- Mark Shepherd, former President and CEO of Texas Instruments