“A Nation of Quitters”: NASA’s Lunar Withdrawal

Pictured during their training as the Apollo 15 backup landing team, astronauts Dick Gordon (left) and Jack Schmitt work with a mockup of the Rover. According to Deke Slayton’s manifest predictions, both men should have flown on Apollo 18, but Schmitt’s geological expertise assured him a move to Apollo 17. Sadly, Gordon was not so lucky. Photo Credit: NASA

In 2011, Hollywood had us believe that the crew of Apollo 18 fell victim to spider-like aliens and a sinister conspiracy, spearheaded by the Department of Defense, to eliminate the chance of extraterrestrial contamination. The reality is quite different: for the three men who might have flown the real Apollo 18 are alive and well to this day…and one of them did get to walk on the lunar surface. Further, the astronauts tentatively assigned to Apollo 19 are also still with us. More than four decades ago, in September 1970, NASA executed one of the most controversial – and perhaps misguided – decisions in its history, by cancelling the last two piloted voyages to the Moon. In doing so, the agency and a short-sighted Washington administration condemned humanity to at least two generations in which exploration beyond Earth orbit was only possible with robotic craft.

It was a lost opportunity whose echoes resonate to this very day.

Early in July of that year, the Washington Post published a disturbing article. Three months after the near-disaster of Apollo 13, it was already clear that only a few more lunar missions lay ahead; bumper stickers appeared in Florida, bearing the legend ‘Apollo 14: One Giant Leap for Unemployment’. The Post’s article, however, revealed publicly for the first time that as many as four missions might face the budgetary axe, as the Republican government of Richard Nixon, keen to seek a timely exit from Vietnam and resolve lingering social issues at home, repeatedly slashed the space budget. His hands thus tied, George Low – former manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office, who had taken over as Acting Administrator of NASA after the resignation of Tom Paine – formally announced the cancellation of Apollos 15 and 19.

These flights belonged, respectively, to the so-called ‘H-series’ and ‘J-series’ of lunar missions. The former involved a stay time of no more than 33 hours on the lunar surface and two EVAs, whilst the latter involved up to 70 hours on the surface, three EVAs, a battery-powered Rover to enhance the range of exploration and a bay of scientific equipment in the Apollo service module for geophysical and other studies from orbit. Baselined to last around 12 days, the J-series missions marked a 20-percent duration hike over their H-series counterparts. Before the cancellation, NASA envisaged four H-series missions (Apollos 12-15) and four J-series missions (Apollos 16-19). After September 1970, the manifests changed and the remaining missions were renumbered. Apollo 14 would be the last H-series mission and the newly-renumbered Apollo 15, 16 and 17 would form the J-series flights. Thus, the two ‘lost’ missions would be forever remembered as Apollos 18 and 19.

This dramatic image of Jim Irwin on the Moon during Apollo 15 – the first J-series mission, a voyage which even today is recognised as one of the most brilliant missions ever undertaken in space science – raises the haunting question of what might have been if Apollos 18 and 19 had been allowed to fly. Photo Credit: NASA

The astronauts to support these missions were already in place…at least, that is, in their backup capacity for other flights. Deke Slayton, head of Flight Crew Operations in Houston, Texas, had exercised a three-mission rotation system during Project Apollo, whereby a backup team for a given flight would move into the prime crew slot three flights later. Thus, the Apollo 15 backup team – Commander Dick Gordon, Command Module Pilot Vance Brand and Lunar Module Pilot Harrison ‘Jack’ Schmitt – could have anticipated a subsequent assignment to Apollo 18. By following this logic, the Apollo 16 backups, Commander Fred Haise, Command Module Pilot Bill Pogue and Lunar Module Pilot Gerry Carr, would have been tentatively pointed towards the Apollo 19 mission.

In that hot, violent summer of 1970 – a summer haunted by Richard Nixon’s controversial incursion into Cambodia, despite pledges to withdraw troops, and the resultant student protests, most notably at Kent State University in Ohio – the astronauts for these two would-be lunar missions trained feverishly for flights which they knew might never come to pass. When the truth finally reached them, it was devastating. “We had lost our opportunity to go to the Moon,” Carr told the NASA oral historian. “We moped around for quite a few weeks.” From Bill Pogue’s perspective, he knew that “it looked pretty bad in Washington” and recalled that his crew was on a training expedition in Arizona when they heard the news. They were staying in a motel in Flagstaff. One morning, Fred Haise brought him a newspaper, emblazoned with the front-page banner headline: Apollos 18 and 19 Cancelled. “That’s how we found out about it,” remembered Pogue, grimly.

The cancellations came about through a series of meetings in August 1970, organised by Tom Paine and George Low, which included representatives of NASA’s Lunar and Planetary Sciences Board and the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences. In such a dire budgetary situation, there were few ‘good’ options. One called for the execution of four of the six remaining Apollo missions, at six-monthly intervals, from January 1971, before taking a break to conduct three lengthy Skylab flights in 1972-73, then staging the last two lunar voyages in 1974. The second option was to cancel Apollos 18 and 19 and make their Saturn V launch vehicles “available for possible future uses”. One such ‘use’, NASA revealed, might be to insert a large space station into orbit at some indeterminate time in the future.

Another lunar mission, Apollo 20, had been formally cancelled in January 1970, to allow its Saturn V to be used to orbit Skylab. No one could have guessed at this point that the mammoth Saturn – the only vehicle ever to have propelled humans beyond Earth orbit and, to this day, the largest and most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status – would end its days with a whimper…as a museum exhibit.

The closest that Dick Gordon ever got to reaching the foot of the lunar module’s ladder was during training. After flying to the Moon on Apollo 12 and training for more than a year as backup Commander of Apollo 15, he confidently anticipated assignment to lead Apollo 18. Alas, it was not to be. Photo Credit: NASA

Yet the cancellation enabled NASA to bitterly cut its Apollo budget by the required $42.1 million to a total of $914.4  million and thus fit snugly into the $3.27 billion allocation for Fiscal Year 1971. Chris Kraft – then-deputy head of the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), later the Johnson Space Center – wrote in his memoir Flight that everyone at NASA would have fought much harder to keep Apollos 18 and 19 if they had known that humanity would be waiting for half a century before the chance of more boots on the Moon. “None of us,” Kraft reflected, “thought that America would turn into a nation of quitters and lose its will to lead an outward-bound manned exploration of our Solar System. That just wasn’t possible.”

In hindsight, Kraft felt that MSC Director Bob Gilruth, who feared another Apollo 13-like failure, would have supported the final two missions, had he known that low-Earth orbit would be the only domain for astronauts for at least the next five decades. In his autobiography, Failure is Not an Option, veteran flight director Gene Kranz was similarly disgusted. “It was as if Congress was ripping our heart out,” he noted, “gutting the programme we had fought so hard to build.”

Nevertheless, the J-series was eagerly awaited, for its upgraded lunar module and space suits could facilitate EVAs lasting up to seven hours apiece. As backup Commander of Apollo 13, John Young must have been disappointed that by rotating into the Apollo 16 prime crew, he would no longer be leading the first of this ambitious series of missions…but the second. The ‘new’ Apollo 15, which had now gained J-status, would carry astronauts Dave Scott, Al Worden and Jim Irwin on a mission which would rewrite the textbooks on lunar geology and, even today, continues to stand as one of the most remarkable voyages of exploration in human history.

The cancellations of Apollos 18 and 19 changed the situation significantly, not least in terms of where the final few missions would land. Two touchdowns on relatively flat plains of lunar mare (‘seas’) had been performed by the crews of Apollo 11 and 12 and the astronauts of Apollo 13 were directed toward a hilly region, known as Fra Mauro, where it was hoped that ejected material from the massive Imbrium impact crater could be directly sampled, thus yielding the first accurate estimate of the age of this ancient feature. The near-loss of Jim Lovell’s mission left the importance of Fra Mauro undiminished and it eventually became the destination for Al Shepard’s Apollo 14 team…and this, in turn, meant that the original Apollo 14 destination of the Littrow crater – a yawning bowl, heavily eroded, to the north-north-east of the Taurus-Littrow region, later visited by the Apollo 17 crew – was removed from consideration. This opened up the question of considering where to send the three J-series missions…and the lunar mountains exerted an attractive pull.

The lunar mountains were always a prime destination for Apollo 16 crewmen Charlie Duke (left) and John Young, pictured here during geology training. Theirs should have been the first J-series mission, but when Apollo 15 morphed from the H-series to the J-series, everything changed. Photo Credit: NASA

In September 1970 a conference in Houston on the structure, composition and history of the lunar surface considered a number of options for the final landings. These included Descartes in the central highlands, which was deemed to be volcanic in nature, together with the very prominent crater Tycho in the south, the crater chain Davy Rille in the north-eastern corner of Mare Nubium, the low domes of the Marius Hills and finally the 3,000-foot-tall central peak complex of the large crater Copernicus.

Descartes, firstly, looked as if it would offer geologists a chance to sample ‘typical’ terrain from the central highlands, rather than around their periphery, and many believed that the many fissures, grooves and hills of such regions had been formed through ancient volcanic activity and remained essentially unchanged since shortly after the Moon’s formation. “Samples from the Descartes site,” read a NASA press release, issued on 1 October 1970, “would be important in determining whether or not highlands were formed by a very early differentiation of the Moon or whether they represent a primitive, undifferentiated planetary surface.”

Davy Rille, too, would have offered ancient highland material, with some craters which some geologists thought might have been formed by explosive eruptions which ejected material from over 60 miles below the surface, although limited photographic coverage rendered it inadequate for detailed mission planning. “It does not appear likely,” the NASA release concluded, “that adequate photography of Davy will be obtained on Apollo 14 or 15.” The collection of domes and cones known as Marius Hills had already been extensively documented by the Lunar Orbiters and, situated near the centre of the Ocean of Storms, would have been the most westerly Apollo landing site.  On the other hand, the Marius Hills were thought to offer little hope of yielding any highland material. Tycho had been visited by the Surveyor 7 probe in January 1968. Considered one of the last major impacts in lunar history, it was hoped that Tycho would turn up primordial material from seven miles beneath the highlands…but its drawbacks were twofold: firstly, it would be the most difficult terrain yet negotiated by a landing crew and secondly, reaching it would demand a trajectory “far removed from the free-return path”. In recognition of Apollo 13’s troubles, it is unsurprising that Tycho was not selected. Lastly, the 60-mile-wide Copernicus, with its vast terraced walls, central peaks and brightly-rayed ejecta blankets, appeared to mark where an impact blasted a hole through the mare surface of the Ocean of Storms into the underlying highland material. The central peak of Tycho was beyond reach, but Copernicus, near the lunar equator, was attainable. A landing in Copernicus was expected to reveal clues about the differentiation of the Moon.

Pictured in Mission Control during his role as backup Commander of Apollo 15, Dick Gordon (centre) lost his chance to one day walk on the Moon. Photo Credit: NASA

Marius Hills and another site, called Hadley, were eventually pinned down as candidates for the Apollo 15 mission. Unlike Marius, the Hadley region, which lay on the very edge of one of the Moon’s great mountain chains – the Apennines, whose peaks rose to heights of 3,000 feet – offered the chance to sample both Imbrium ejecta and the primordial lunar material thrust upwards by the enormous shock of the Imbrium impact. “The chunks of basalt from Tranquillity Base and the Ocean of Storms,” wrote Andrew Chaikin in his book A Man on the Moon, “had taken geologists back to the era of mare volcanism. The Apennines promised to open a window on an even earlier time, perhaps all the way back to the Moon’s birth.” The choice of Hadley was aided by the presence of lava plains as a ready-made landing strip for a lunar module. Moreover, the relatively gentle topography of the area would more than likely allow the astronauts to drive the Rover partway up the slopes of a mountain called Hadley Delta. Also within reach was the long, winding channel of Hadley Rille, which geologists suspected had once been a sinuous ‘river’ of lava.

As a target for the first J-mission, it was enticing.

Geologically, if Apollo 15 discovered a single fragment of primordial, almost unchanged lunar crust, it would make the entire Apollo effort worthwhile. Fittingly, it was Apollo 15 Commander Dave Scott who was offered the final decision. Privately, he felt that he could land at either Marius or Hadley, but he favoured the latter, not just on the basis of its scientific promise, but because of its sheer grandeur. Scott felt that it was good for the human spirit to explore beautiful places.

As exuberant as Scott and his crew must have been, their backups – Dick Gordon, Vance Brand and Jack Schmitt – were dealt a hammer blow that month of September 1970, when their mission, Apollo 18, was scrubbed from the books. John Young and his team of Ken Mattingly and Charlie Duke seemed firmly pointed towards Apollo 16 and the crew of the final mission were not expected to be announced for several more months, though Apollo 14 backups Gene Cernan, Ron Evans and Joe Engle seemed to have the edge. Regardless, Gordon decided, he and his team would sweat it out, in the hope that Deke Slayton would break the rotation system and assign them instead. After all, surely the presence of Schmitt – a professional geologist – on his crew might make Slayton’s decision easier.

For his part, Cernan had the same future goal in mind. Yet there were mutterings, even in the astronaut offices, that Apollo 14 itself might be the last lunar landing; that Congress might pull the plug entirely on the project. If Apollo 17 survived the budgetary axe – and it was a big ‘if’ – there were no guarantees that Cernan, Evans and Engle would be aboard. Consequently, Cernan took it upon himself to ensure that his crew did the best backup job possible on Apollo 14.

Pictured during geology training in Germany in August 1970, the Apollo 14 prime crew of Al Shepard (far left) and Ed Mitchell (inspecting rock sample) is shown with tyheir backups Gene Cernan and Joe Engle (far right). Had Apollos 18 and 19 remained on the manifest, it is highly likely that Cernan and Engle would both have walked on the Moon on Apollo 17. Photo Credit: NASA

In his autobiography, The Last Man on the Moon, Cernan noted that Engle was not as knowledgeable about the lunar module’s quirky systems as he would have liked. However, Engle was one of the most gifted pilots in the Astronaut Office, having flown the X-15 rocket-propelled aircraft before he was even selected by NASA, and Cernan felt that Engle’s deficiencies did not preclude them from forming an outstanding crew. None of them could ever have guessed that by the end of 1971 Engle would have lost his chance to walk on the Moon…and not through any fault of his own. It is ironic that, in December 1970, Cernan attended a meeting with Shepard and Slayton to discuss a concern about the Apollo 14 Lunar Module Pilot, Ed Mitchell.

“He was fed up with Mitchell’s penchant for playing around with experiments in extrasensory perception,” Cernan wrote of Slayton’s worries, “even wanting to take some ESP tests along to the Moon. Ed just wouldn’t let it go and Deke said he was uncomfortable with the possibility that Mitchell’s full attention might not be on the mission.” Moreover, Mitchell had refused to take on ‘dead-end’ backup duties for Apollo 16 and an annoyed Slayton had given him a choice: he would either fulfil these important duties or he would lose his place on Apollo 14. Mitchell complied, but the doubts remained. In an exchange of opinions he would later regret, Cernan was asked for his input over whether to drop Mitchell from Shepard’s crew and replace him with Joe Engle. Both Shepard and Cernan felt that Mitchell was more than qualified, in terms of his knowledge about the lander’s systems. However, the very fact that Engle was not quite at the same level of proficiency led both Shepard and Cernan to stand by Mitchell. When Engle lost his chance to fly Apollo 17 later in 1971, Cernan lamented not fighting a little harder to get his former crewmate a seat on a landing mission.

Today, one of the main questions asked of those final, would-be lunar missions is who would have flown them. To an extent, this is an easy question to answer: for Deke Slayton’s crew rotation process offers us an easy roadmap. Dick Gordon, Vance Brand and Jack Schmitt would have been aboard Apollo 18 and Fred Haise, Bill Pogue and Gerry Carr aboard Apollo 19.

Of course, we know today that the programme continued through to Apollo 17 and that, as expected, the J-series missions proved to be remarkable in their spectacular accomplishment. Yet as late as August 1971, even after the triumph of Apollo 15, Richard Nixon proposed the cancellation of Apollos 16 and 17, a move only reversed by the intervention of Caspar Weinberger, deputy head of his Office of Management and Budget, who recommended their retention.

Aside from Hollywood’s glamorisation of a hypothetical Apollo 18, had the real mission flown – and Apollo 19, too – we can expect them to have been no less spectacular than the final few missions which actually took place. They would have seen Gordon and Schmitt and Haise and Carr bouncing across the lunar terrain in their own Rovers, performing three EVAs and potentially making astounding discoveries which might have unlocked more of the Moon’s mysteries. In orbit, aboard their command and service modules, Brand and Pogue would have operated complex arrays of scientific instrumentation to study our closest celestial neighbour in unprecedented detail. The discoveries of the Apollo landing missions which did fly – from Dave Scott’s identification of the ‘Genesis Rock’ on Apollo 15 to Jack Schmitt spotting orange soil on Apollo 17 – serve only to whet our appetites for what might have been.

It is one of the most damning indictments of numerous short-sighted administrations, whether Democrat or Republican and whether influenced by external influences or not, to have effectively cut us off from deep-space exploration for half a century and eliminated dreams of the Moon and Mars for two generations of children. Depressingly, the saga of the ongoing Obama-Romney battle for the White House incumbency in January 2013 illustrates a similar lack of real support for space exploration. To an extent, it is understandable – as in 1970 – that events on Earth took precedence over events on a barren celestial body, a quarter of a million miles away, and politicians have other pressing issues to address which not only affect their election chances, but also the very lives of their electorate.

Yet it must be wondered if our descendants will forgive us for having achieved, all those years ago, one of the greatest technical and scientific accomplishments in human history…and then stopped. Chris Kraft could never have foreseen that a nation which boldly committed itself to boots on the Moon would conceivably transform into “a nation of quitters”. Nor could Gene Kranz imagine having the hearts of himself and his team ripped out by Congressional demand. The arrival of Curiosity on the surface of Mars reminds us, if we need reminding, that NASA continues to be filled with the best and the brightest…and those minds and that talent will be needed to rise above politics and enable the explorations of the next generation.

 

Tomorrow’s article will focus on the cancelled ‘I-series’ of Apollo missions, which would have explored the Moon from orbit with some of the most advanced scientific equipment of their time.

Missions » Apollo »

14 comments to “A Nation of Quitters”: NASA’s Lunar Withdrawal

  • Leonidas

    The article was very painfull for me to read, because the abandoning of human space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit was a tragedy and a complete disaster of stellar proportions. Had the Apollo program continued uninterrupted after Apollo 11, and the Apollo Applications Program had materialised, we would most probably be celebrating today the second generation of children born on the Moon or Mars, and we would be a spacefaring civilisation. But today, we’re just ‘celebrating’ the 40th anniversary of Apollo 17 instead and the second generation of people lamenting on the lost potential and opportunities… And as if this isn’t depressing enough, to add insult to injury, we have countless of idiots upon idiots vocally decrying Apollo as a hoax.

    It’s one of the biggest bitter ironies of history, that the Vietnam War and the ‘Great Society’ project that the US exchanged Apollo for, got us nowhere, but Apollo could have taken us everywhere…

    I have thought and read a lot about the reasons as to why the US just caved in after Apollo 17. Financial reasons, I beleive, are just excuses on a first level. I beleive that the deeper issue was just failure of nerve. Humanity gazed upon the eternity of space(‘Earthrise’ photo anyone?) and just run for cover.

    “We needed a shelter to protect us from two kinds of fears: fear of Death and fear of Space. We are a diseased spieces and we didn’t want to win more place in the Universe – so we pretended it didn’t exist. We saw the chaos raging between the stars and we longed for calmness and stability instead”.

    – Arthur C. Clark, “The City and the Stars” (1956)

  • Karol

    Ben, please excuse my presumptuousness, but this is one of your best works yet. The fact that you are not a professor at a major university proves that there is truly no justice in the world. Absolutely unbelievable. Leonidas, your comment was exceptionally well-written, and your right-on-point Arthur C. Clark quote was superlative. Please continue to avail yourself of the “University of AmericaSpace” and your homework assignment is to continue writing comments. I’ll probably write more later, but after reading of the appalling crushing of our space program and the remarkable aerospace geniuses (who probably belong in a much farther advanced, collectively more intelligent population), I need to go find where I left my bottle of scotch.

    • Leonidas

      Thank you Karol, I really appreciate it! 🙂 I also enjoy your comments, and it’s really heart-warming to find other people who also value the importance of human space exploration and expansion and get the bigger picture and what it really means.

      I may sound far-off, but my personal belief is that space exploration (if done properly and pursued with commitment like in the 1960’s and ’70’s) is a true spiritual experience, and I have it up there with any other ‘spiritual awakening’. It’s not just ‘flags and ‘footprints’ or ‘cool robots’ on another world. It’s a paradigm shift, a change of consciousness and a realisation of our true nature and infinite potential and one of the very fiew things (if not the only one) that can save us from the ‘acceptance of limits’ mindset that we have allowed ourselves to cling on. Technology isn’t the goal. Its the means and the ride there.

      More often than not, while contemplating on the state of the world today and contrasting that to what I stated above, I really feel like the ‘crazy guy in town’.

      And now its my turn to go after that bottle of scotch…

  • Excellent article very well written.
    I too lament on what might have been.
    It was so thrilling growing up in an era where we watched men walk upon the Moon, it never became common place, yet the networks showed less and less and I think a lot of the public became bored with the whole thing.
    It never ceased to amaze me how missions to the Moon were deemed mundane that networks would preempt their broadcasts!
    Perhaps this too was a factor in the cancellation of the Apollo program.
    So sad that had we persevered we might well have had a permanent base on the Moon by now, Just think of the incredible research which could have been carried out.
    From a Moon base we could possibly image planets around distant stars, so many opportunities lost.
    I am in my fifties now and I very much doubt I will see another person walk on the Moon in my lifetime.
    How sad is that.

  • Greg Kennedy

    I recently purchased a cardboard “spaceship” for my 2-year old grandson. Some days I feel like I should apologize to him and my other grandchildren because I fear that may be the closest they will ever be able to get to a spacecraft. Apollo let us aspire to greatness — what is there today?

  • JohnDB

    Another great article by Mr. Evans, thanks. It brings home the point that US space exploration has always been, and probably always will be, dependent on political factors. Unless those politicians set goals AND follow up with sufficient funding, progress is not going to happen. It’s just that simple. “No bucks, no Buck Rogers”.

    • Leonidas

      It was supposed to be what the electorate wanted and not what the politicians want. But if the politicians role is to only react to the whims of the people, then it’s obvious that the people don’t want space exploration also.

  • Karol

    Greg, JohnDB, and Leonidas, thank you so very much for your comments. After reading the excellent, but soul-rending article by Ben Evans (he really is a fantastic historian/writer, isn’t he) your comments were quite uplifting. I know that, with such individuals on “our side” of the space program, somehow space exploration will survive . . . and thrive. Greg, how can it be wrong for those of us who knew of the excitement, the hope, and the glory of Apollo to want to share what we loved with those we love. Someday a commander of a future mission to Europa may tell a reporter, “It all began when my grandfather gave me cardboard spaceship . . .”. Any child would be fortunate to have such a really cool grandfather Greg. Excellent points very well made JohnDB, our space program seems to lurch back and forth like a drunk driving a Cadillac down a narrow alley, but there may be hope in sight. Rep. Frank Wolf (R. Va.) of the House Appropriations Committee is drafting legislation to “de-politicize” NASA. He hopes to provide long term funding consistent with the long term planning and development necessary for space missions, to provide a presidential nomination/senate confirmation process for NASA Administrator and a ten year term like the FBI Director, and an overall more professionally managed NASA. Leonidas, I admire your appreciation of the spiritual heart of space exploration, that which drives us to the stars, and that which we “gear-head, pocket-protector” types sometimes overlook. Apollo 17 Commander Gene Cernan, although not a strictly observant Catholic, nonetheless felt that his experience going to the moon was indeed, a deeply spiritually moving one. If you are “the crazy guy in town” then we’re both “crazy on a ship of fools”, but remember Robert Goddard said that yesterday’s dream is today’s hope and tomorrow’s reality. To my immigrant grandfather, America was a land of dreams. Perhaps it is still a land built by those with the courage to dream. Leonidas, I too wonder if Americans no longer wish to explore space. Television networks wouldn’t pre-empt “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Gomer Pyle” for Jim Lovell’s live broadcast from Apollo 13 until . . . What would get higher television ratings, a live transmission of the Curiosity MSL traversing the Martian surface on it’s way to Mt. Sharp, or spandex-clad Paris Hilton and Lady GaGa wrestling in a tub of Jello? Has the most recent mug shot of Lindsay Lohan been seen by more people than the astounding landscape photograph of the surface of Titan transmitted through a billion kilometers of space by the Huygens lander? Carl Sagan said we stand at the very edge of a vast ocean of space, beckoning us to explore the unknown. How many Americans would rather turn their back to that ocean if they could witness Charlie Sheen slap around a call girl? You are absolutely right Leonidas, we who want a dynamic, vibrant space program that so many gave so much to create, a space program of which all Americans can be proud, must do something , before it is too late.

    • Leonidas

      Karol, I applaud your heart-felt appreciation and commitment for the space program! I wish there were more I could do personally. I’m not an American citizen and I don’t live in the US, otherwise I’d have taken every congressional representative by storm! I live in Greece and I can tell you only that: If the majority of the US is somewhat apathetic towards space exploration, you can’t imagine what’s happening to a country like Greece. I’m really ashamed and embarassed for my country.

      The only way I see that the space program can become popular again in the US, is for the general public to realise what it means, on an a) emotional and b) financial level. A) Emotionally they have to sense and understand what it means to explore and how that changes the world and has a direct impact on everyone’s tomorrow. And B) financially people need to understand what is the space program contributing to the economy, and realise how the act of innovation on the space industry itself drives the whole economy forward

      (It’s tough I know. I never said it was easy! :p)

      Until then, people will continue to see the space program as a luxury exercise for ‘crazy scientists’ and a ‘waste of resources’ which is really sad. But when people finally understand, they will be knocking down the doors and run in hordes demanding a robust space exploration.

      But there is always hope! There is a growing community of people in the US that values all these, and actively tries to reverse the status quo. One such recent example that so much made me happy and had me jumping up and down with joy, is director Paul Hildebrandt, who is currently working on creating his documentary ‘Fight for Space’ and got it funded entirely through his Kickstarter campaign, by people who share his views. If you haven’t seen it, you can take a look here:

      http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/420606009/fight-for-space-space-program-and-nasa-documentary

      And I was pleased to see representatives from Congress (I don’t really mind which political party they belong to) supporting space exploration.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvfZPjkHEp8&list=PL57B8D5FFF5B55A62&index=10&feature=plpp_video

      And last but not least, there’s Neil deGrasse Tyson himself, who can really be described as a ‘NASA ambassador’!

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbSoIAKcpj8

      I really hope I’m not overwhelming you with all these links, but I really felt like sharing them 🙂

      Take care!

  • Unfortunately at this time I would suspect that the majority of the American people see the Space program as an expensive luxury which at this time they cannot afford. Look how quickly people got bored of the Space Shuttle.
    I am not surprised that a lot of the younger generation refuse to believe that men walked upon the Moon.
    Since 1972 all we have done is low Earth-orbit stuff (with regard to the Manned Space program).
    And even then two shuttles blew up so we can’t even do that right !.
    If I had been born less than twenty years ago I would have a hard time believing that Men walked upon the Moon.

  • Karol

    Although the history of Apollo is discouraging at best, space exploration is far to important to be forsaken. We owe it not only to ourselves, but to future generations to use our every best effort to re-vitalize OUR space program. Imagine if Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee knew at their very final moments as they sat in Apollo 1 that their ultimate sacrifice in such a terrible manner would eventually lead to our current space program. I grieve their loss. Leonides, I wish I could show your comment to all Americans and tell them of a remarkable person, not a U.S. citizen and living in Greece, who has a greater love for, and pride in, the American space program than most Americans. Don’t be ashamed of Greece, the cradle of Democracy, for not having an advanced space program. It is far worse to have had an incredible space program in place that so many exceptional individuals worked so hard to create, and to throw it all away for political gain (which translates into votes, money, power, and privilege). Leonidas, America probably would not have made it to the moon if we had not been terrified by the beep, beep, beep of Sputnik and the image of godless Soviet cosmonauts raining nuclear death upon us from orbit. You are certainly correct in that we did not go to the moon because of a “genetic imperative” or that science beckoned, we went out of fear . . . fear of Soviet supremacy in space. Perhaps it is now the financial, economic consequences that Americans will understand, and fear. As Dr. Tyson states, “NASA is a force of nature, like no other.” Nothing drives technological innovation, the very lifesblood of our future economic success, like space exploration. As Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R. Tx.) stated, “Funding for NASA is not an expenditure, it is an investment.” The problem is, how do we convince an uninformed general population of this fact. You’re absolutely right StephenJ, Apollo offered us so much, and we just let it slip through our fingers. We could have had a base on the moon, we could have made our first human landing on Mars, we could be looking to Europa and Titan. You are again correct as to the limited attention span of the American public, as proof, just ask a few people the name of the space probe that is about to leave our solar system, the one that is about to be first to explore Pluto, or the vehicle roving Mars other than Curiosity. With HD television versus grainy black and white images, I can see how a few young people may question the moon landings, but I still would like to think that the overwhelming majority have not become so jaded as to doubt that they really occurred. I can’t imagine how discouraging it must be for those who devoted heart and soul to the Apollo program to hear such rumors. Although I am absolutely convinced that we did land on the moon because of the extraordinary, enormous amount of evidence, there is probably no way to convince someone who is steadfastly determined to refute any and all evidence by any means necessary. Foremost, I unequivocally trust the courageous, impeccably honest, extremely intelligent astronauts of Apollo, better men than I could ever hope to be. If Alan Shepard or Neil Armstrong said they went, I would bet my life that their footprints are still on the lunar surface. What is very clear StephenJ is that we need some way to organize into a cohesive organization individuals such as yourself, Leonidas, JohnDB, and Greg who are obviously highly intelligent, articulate, aware of the extreme importance of a dynamic space program, and who are not afraid to speak truth to power. Posting comments is like masturbation – there’s a lot of activity, it feels good, but it really doesn’t accomplish much. It’s going to take a great deal more than that to return to the moon and on to Mars.

  • Leonidas

    Karol, once again, thank you very much for your kind words! You make some excellent points also!

    As for the conspiracy thinking of our days, even though I want to punch every conspiracist in the face, I tend to ignore them for two basic reasons:

    a)”Paranoia is a thought process believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of irrationality and delusion. Paranoid thinking typically includes persecutory beliefs, or beliefs of conspiracy concerning a perceived threat towards oneself. (e.g. “Everyone is out to get me.”) Making false accusations and the general distrust of others also frequently accompany paranoia. For example, an incident most people would view as an accident or coincidence, a paranoid person might believe was intentional” (Source: Wikipedia).

    b)If we are to follow the conspiracists train of thought, then we should also question every other major historical event, like the Normandy landings in 1944, the Wright brothers flight in 1903, the Lindberg crossing of the Atlantic in 1927, the First World War of 1914 and the Nazi Germany defeat in 1945. In essence, if we were to follow the conspiracy thinking, we’d have to question most of modern history! The conspiracists disbelieve the Moon landings, but I haven’t seen anyone of them disbeleiving WW1 which happened 100 years ago! What stops us from claiming that the Nazi Germany really won WWII and that we’re living in a big conspiracy to make us believe that the Americans and the Allies won the war? Actually it’s our sanity, logic and reason that stops us from making such a claim, but that’s exactly the type of claim the Moon landing disbeleivers are making when they say Apollo was a hoax! So, we don’t just have to beleive Armstrong or Sheppard. We come to the realisation by examining the facts.

    You’re right about the US, that had it not been for the USSR, the space program wouldn’t have been started like it was. Maybe it would have been, eventually, by some other nation, and by some other group of scientists like the German rocket team of WWII. I think it was inevitable. If the USSR hadn’t started it, someone else would have sooner or later. But the important thing is that it was started! No matter how mired it was in Cold War thinking, it eventually transcended this thinking or else it would have ended with the end of the Cold War in 1991.Sometimes good things happen for the wrong reasons, but they happen! The question is how do we keep them happening for the right reasons.

    As for the US, what would history eventually say about the epic realisation of Apollo, and the tragic abandoning of it?

    “…To do this – to avoid that failure of nerve for which history exacts so merciless a penalty – we must have the courage to follow all technical extrapolations to their logical conclusion”. – Arthur C. Clark

    If Clark is right, then history will be merciless towards the US. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the US is finding itself in such a sad decline with the passing decades, and mired in debt. And maybe it’s a blessing that China and India are slowly advancing their space program, and may replace the US some day eventually in this field if the US chooses to continue the road it had taken.

    The biggest lesson that history can teach us, is that there isn’t a civilisation that flourished after abandoning the outward growth, exploration and expansion. The Ming Dynasty in 15th-16th China was the biggest power in marine manufacturing and gloab sea commerce. The voyages that the Chinese commited to back then, gave them wealth and prosperity, by establishing worlwide trade routes. When the Dynasty pulled back from that, the Chinese superiority at sea and commerce ended. The Dutch during the 17th century commited themselves to a robust sea exploration, for the same economic reasons. This brought them not only wealth, but made Holland the intellectuall center of Europe, and a free market of ideas, advancement of science and general well-being. When the voyages ended, so did the Dutch superiority. The Ancient Greeks had their brightest peak during their exploration and settlement of the Mediterranean Sea.

    It’s something like a cliche, but whoever doesn’t study or chooses to ignore history, will repeat the mistakes of the past.

    And I share your view of organising the space community of individuals in better ways. Yet I don’t have any ideas or solutions to give you at the present. Not only that, I’m living in a country that actively tries to kill every hope and dream, and stagnate its citizens. Just a couple hours ago, I came back from a job interview, the monthly salary of which for a full-time 6-day job, was $600 (no, it’s not a joke!). And as the corporate saying goes, ‘blame it to the finacial crisis, take it or leave it!’ And I’m still unemployed.

    But my saying is one of Oscar Wilde’s: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”.

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  • Rick

    I traded my dinosaur toys for rockets when the X-15 took flight. Decided I was going to be an astronaut until I grew too tall. Figured I would go to a moon base later in life as a geologist.

    We might have been back to the moon permanently except NASA spreads what resources it gets too thin. I’ve received $$$ from NASA that could have been better used for the exploration of space. In thinking about the Mars missions, $2.5 billion for Curiosity’s hi res Viking images does little for getting humans off the earth. And how long will it be before NASA deorbits ISS?