Why did we RETURN to the moon?

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Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby jules.LT » Mon Apr 08, 2013 12:03 pm UTC

It seems to me that with Apollo 11 what seemed to be the objective had been attained: be there before the soviet and assert technological superiority. I could understand that more samples For Science! could have required another trip (and even of that I'm not sure...). But why did we send SIX landing missions, all the way to Apollo 20??
What possible purpose could these have served that the US government would have been willing to pay an average of 18 billion (in today's dollars) for each?
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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby BattleMoose » Mon Apr 08, 2013 12:14 pm UTC

Undoubtedly the second trip was hugely cheaper than the first and the risks well less. The technology had already been developed and proven.

From what I understand we did learn a lot about the Earth from the rock samples from the Moon and considering the diversity of geology on the Earth, a level of diversity may also exist on the Moon, and we wouldn't know unless we took samples from a number of locations. I'm not trying to argue science was the core motive, but it did benefit hugely.

Perhaps more likely, NASA just achieved a huge goal, which required a huge amount of people to achieve and once mission was accomplished, with the organization and bureaucracy, what do they then do? Laying off most of them at that time, probably wasn't politically feasible. Nor was another goal directly practical or could use the infrastructure that had already been constructed.

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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby morriswalters » Mon Apr 08, 2013 5:47 pm UTC

Momentum. They went as many times as they could before congress cut the purse strings and stopped it. The program was never as popular as people like to believe. Pretty much like defense spending today the program had is constituency. Contractors who profited and Pols who saw money flowing to their districts. When that sputtered out so did the program.

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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby induction » Mon Apr 08, 2013 6:13 pm UTC

BattleMoose wrote:From what I understand we did learn a lot about the Earth from the rock samples from the Moon and considering the diversity of geology on the Earth, a level of diversity may also exist on the Moon, and we wouldn't know unless we took samples from a number of locations. I'm not trying to argue science was the core motive, but it did benefit hugely.


I agree. Whether science was The Motivating Force of the Apollo missions or not I couldn't say, but a fuck-ton of science has been carried out because of missions to several different sites.

A small sampling:

The Apollo 11, 14, and 15 missions each installed retro-reflectors on the moon. They are used for pinging lasers off of the moon, and are still in use today.
Wikipedia wrote:Some of the findings of this long-term experiment are:

The Moon is spiraling away from Earth at a rate of 3.8 cm per year.[6] This rate has been described as anomalously high.[8]
The Moon probably has a liquid core of about 20% of the Moon's radius.[3]
The universal force of gravity is very stable. The experiments have put an upper limit on the change in Newton's gravitational constant G of less than 1 part in 1011 since 1969.[3]
The likelihood of any "Nordtvedt effect" (a composition-dependent differential acceleration of the Moon and Earth towards the Sun) has been ruled out to high precision,[9][10] strongly supporting the validity of the Strong Equivalence Principle.
Einstein's theory of gravity (the general theory of relativity) predicts the Moon's orbit to within the accuracy of the laser ranging measurements.[3]

The presence of reflectors on the Moon has been used to rebut claims that the Apollo landings were faked. For example, the APOLLO Collaboration photon pulse return graph, shown here, has a pattern consistent with a retroreflector array near a known landing site.

I have met researchers who want to use these mirrors in an experiment that could provide an empirical test of string theory.

Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, and 16 each installed seismometers near the landing sites. Data from an extended seismometer network is much more scientifically useful than data from a single site. The seismometers stopped transmitting in 1977, but the data has been in continual use since then. New results and publications are generated from this data every year. For example.



BattleMoose wrote:Perhaps more likely, NASA just achieved a huge goal, which required a huge amount of people to achieve and once mission was accomplished, with the organization and bureaucracy, what do they then do? Laying off most of them at that time, probably wasn't politically feasible. Nor was another goal directly practical or could use the infrastructure that had already been constructed.


The space program paid off hugely, at least in scientific and engineering terms. I don't know much about benefits to the economy, but it's possible (meaning I'm just guessing) that NASA's predictions of the extent of the spin-off technology were enough to justify the cost of the missions to the decision makers. The value of spin-offs was known at the time, and the lunar missions may have been seen as a good platform for continuing the space mission as a whole, which may have been predicted to be a net positive to the economy in the long term.

Wikipedia wrote:In 1957, notable science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein was asked to appear before a joint committee of the House and Senate after recovering from one of the earliest known carotid bypass operations to correct a blocked artery that was causing transient ischemic attacks; in his testimony, reprinted in the book Expanded Universe, he characterized the technology that made the surgery possible as merely one of a long list of spinoff technologies from space development.

For more than 50 years, the NASA Innovative Partnerships Program has connected NASA resources to private industry, referring to the commercial products as spin-offs. Well-known products that NASA claims as spin-offs include memory foam (originally named temper foam), freeze-dried food, firefighting equipment, emergency "space blankets", Dustbusters, cochlear implants, and now Speedo's LZR Racer swimsuits. NASA claims that there are over 1650 other spin-offs in the fields of computer technology, environment and agriculture, health and medicine, public safety, transportation, recreation, and industrial productivity. Contrary to common belief, NASA did not invent Tang, Velcro, or Teflon.[1]

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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby Zamfir » Mon Apr 08, 2013 8:26 pm UTC

When people planning the missions in the 1960s, they were not aiming at the prestige of having been to the moon, they were aiming at the prestige of being first. And at the advantages of being a first mover ahead if the crowds. A lot of the people involved honestly thought that moon trips would eventually become routine, and of great practical importance. They pictured themselves as Vasco da Gamas rounding Africa, not Jacques Piccards diving to the Mariana trench.

I think Thunderbird 5 is a good symbol of the underlying issue. In those days, spaceflight and electronics were both new and promising fields. In hindsight, people generally overestimated the difficulties lying ahead for electronics and underestimated those of space. The Thunderbids were fictional, but even knowledgeable experts predicted manned battle satellites and stuff. Given the state of autonomous systems in 1960, people in space were expected to be a crucial component of the technology, not just a showcase payload.

By 1969 the tide was probably turning, though even then people were still planning Skylabs and Salyuts and Space Shuttles. Apollo finished on momentum, but even during the landings it was already clear that they were not the first of a wave of moon visitors.

It's telling that no other country after the US and USSRmade manned space flight a strategic priority, as opposed to rockets and satellites. They were 5 to 10 years behind, enough to see the shift. I suspect that if the American and Russians programs had moved a bit slower, manned space flight would have been a curiosity of history, cancelled after a few flights.

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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby wumpus » Tue Apr 09, 2013 1:47 pm UTC

[http://www.themoonfaqs.com/2010/02/apollo-mission-summaries.html] from here. No idea of the accuracy.]

On the first landing, they spent 21 hours? on the moon, 2 hours outside the lander on the surface. [19 hours just to launch? I suppose there was a sleep attempt in there, and that launching from the moon was the single most dangerous (most likely to fail) part of the mission, but that seems excessive.]

Apollo 15: 55.9 hours on the moon, "3 EVAs of 10 hrs, 36 min"

Apollo 17 (last moon shot): 75 hours on the moond, "3 EVAs of 22 hrs, 04 min", 33km on the lunar buggy.

So the point of the first mission was to walk around a bit, plant the flag and the plaque and get back to Earth.

Also, as mentioned above, the biggest costs were the design of the whole Saturn V. There were 7 Saturn 1 (test) missions, but I can't tell how many involved building an entire Saturn rocket. There were 6 launches of the entire Saturn V rocket before Apollo 11 took off, including Apollo 10 which orbited the moon (but didn't land). Six more missions to the moon certainly doesn't mean 6 times the price.

Had I been running things, I would have been sorely tempted to use one of those (probably Apollo 12) in an unmanned mission that would just leave supplies on the moon. Since this wouldn't have to deal with the "and back again" fuel issues, it would certainly include far more supplies than any mission could possibly carry. This likely wouldn't work at all since Apollo's autolander failed (it wanted to land in a patch of boulders, Neil Armstrong took over and landed on near zero fuel) and of course Apollo 13 would never get near those supplies. When (when, damnit when) we go back our current unmanned landing systems should be good enough to have supplies sent on non-man-rated rockets, possibly even slow-boating them from LEO via ion thrusters.

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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby ucim » Tue Apr 09, 2013 9:15 pm UTC

jules.LT wrote:...but why did we send SIX landing missions, all the way to Apollo 20??
Are you actually suggesting that going to the moon was a waste, and that we should never return? Because that is the sense I get from your question.

We (humanity) didn't go to the moon just so we could say we did. Perhaps that was the United States' political reason, but there is more to life than politics.

(If there isn't, I'm done here.) :)

Going to the moon (and going anywhere in outer space, for that matter) is a matter of exploration - a matter of not being satisfied to sit in the rocking chair and get old. It is a fundamental driving force of all mobile life forms (a driving force that leads to all manner of complex activity, which leads to intelligence in the first place). Going to the moon, and returning to the moon, and going beyond the moon, is inevitable in any vibrant, curious, and able species. Missions were planned out to Apollo 20, but the last three were cancelled abandoned.

The United States budget is on the order of three thousand billion dollars. Using your figures, the moonshots were only eighteen billion (inflation adjusted) dollars each - less than one percent of the US budget, and an even smaller part of the world economy.

What I don't understand is why we haven't returned.

Or actually, I do understand, and it makes me sad.

Are we really no longer a vibrant, curious, and able species? Sure, there are "problems at home"; there will always be problems at home to be solved. Sure, the One True Comic shows us the Way Of All Things, but an insightful reading of the Book of Aubron cannot fail to instill in us a sense of wonder at what might be Out There, and to go, ourselves, and seek satisfaction. Sure, it is springtime (in the northern hemisphere, and a gorgeous fall down under) and sitting in the back yard sipping margaritas in the shadow of the sunset is comforting, but the sunset does not last forever, and it is followed by cold night, and perhaps, if we survive, a sunrise not of our own making.

And I suppose that is the point. So long as there are people who want a destiny of their own making, there will be people who will return to the moon, and step far beyond it. And so long as there are people who question doing so, there will be people to fill the gilded (or not so gilded) cage that will be left behind.

I wonder if they will be content.

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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby morriswalters » Tue Apr 09, 2013 9:31 pm UTC

The Chinese won't. I suspect they will be the next to set foot on the moon. Explorers may have explored for the thrill, but the people who financed it, generally speaking, had other motives. However in my opinion there is nothing in any gravity well at this time that makes going there worth what it costs. The future, if there is any in space, is in deep space where there are resources that would make hauling and tugging out of the gravity well, a thing of the past. Water, fuel and metals which cost too much money to loft.

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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby jules.LT » Tue Apr 09, 2013 11:13 pm UTC

If you want to expand scientific knowledge, there are way cheaper alternatives. For comparison, the LHC cost $4.4bn...
And I won't go into the massive things that can be done with this kind of money.
Ok, just one: the Green Wall of China (planting vast areas of forest all along the Gobi desert to stop it from advancing) is worth about half a trip to the moon.
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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby ucim » Wed Apr 10, 2013 2:18 am UTC

jules.LT wrote:If you want to expand scientific knowledge, there are way cheaper alternatives.
That's not why we do science. And it also presupposes that one science is "just as good as" another science, so we should choose by price.

You can see a ball game much better on TV than at a real stadium, and for far less money. Google Earth sure beats flying a real airplane cost-wise, and without the danger of actually crashing anything except Microsoft Windows. Reading books and watching anime and pottery videos is arguably much cheaper than actually going to Japan, and if you're really into different cultures, there's a small park in Orlando (Florida, USA) that has the whole world in walking distance. High school science labs are mostly useless; students can learn just as much from the internet and an occasional teacher demo on video without the risk and expense of dangerous chemicals, expensive lab equipment, and all the floor space devoted to lab tables, fume hoods, and dead frogs.

Somehow, it's just not the same.

And as for the other ways we could spend the money (and time and effort, which is what money is a proxy for)... they actually require scientific and engineering knowhow to execute, and even to determine whether or not the project would be worthwhile in the first place.

Some things are just inherently more expensive than others. I bet the math department gets by on far less money than the science department does in a typical high school. Math is therefore much more cost-effective, and science is relatively speaking, a waste. No?

I looked at the list of megaprojects you provided. None of them were very inspiring at all... until I got to the scientific and spaceflight projects. Then, they started being awesome. Those are projects that are bigger than mankind.

Why do we want to "expand scientific knowledge" anyway? I'm not asking what benefits it would provide; I am asking what the force is inside of you, or inside of humanity, that drives people to spend all this time and effort, often at great risk, in order to learn some little arcane bit of something or other? I have an answer, but I'd like to hear yours.

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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby BattleMoose » Wed Apr 10, 2013 3:48 am UTC

Why do we do science?

Peoples individual answers will vary but thats not really the question. The real question is, why does society fund science?

And generally thats where scientists have to defend what they are doing, in terms of possible benefits. Studying something just for the sake of studying something is neat and could result in useful unknown benefits, but it will always lose out to studying an area that could have real impacts on real people. For the funding of science, it really is a cost effective game of, getting the most out of the funding.

Space flight is just one of these things that almost everyone can relate to, its majestic, its inspirational and we did learn a lot. But theres still so much to learn down here.

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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby ucim » Wed Apr 10, 2013 4:25 am UTC

BattleMoose wrote:The real question is, why does society fund science?
For the same reason people do science, with a step or two of politics in between. The real question is my original question, because without people who want to do science, there would be no science to fund. The answer to my original question plays into the answer to why people would find spaceflight (as you put it) "majestic and inspirational", and thus, why it gets funded. It still took a politician to make an inspirational speech about it before the United States got its act together, but why was this speech so inspirational in the first place? I think it reminded us that we... we!... could be part of something that is bigger than mankind.

When Russia was doing it, it was pretty much a bunch of cloistered engineers playing with toys, and when they did something neat, Russia boasted about it. When it didn't work, they said nothing. But when JFK woke up the United States, he made it a public thing... probably in part to say how great an open society is, but it also had the effect of making all of us, worldwide, a participant in man's greatest adventure. Good science was done, but it was primarily an engineering achievement and an expansion of the limits of humankind.

A child reaches a point where he or she can cross the street for the first time. It would be a disappointing child who does this, and then comes back home and spends the rest of his life watching the internet from an easy chair.

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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby Fire Brns » Wed Apr 10, 2013 4:30 am UTC

To answer Jules original question.

In terms of funding the Apollo program:

Short story: McCarthyism.
Long story: The Soviet Union was showing the US up repeatedly: first satellite, first man, ect. America which was supposed to be this beacon of freedom and progress against the communist scourge. We had to not only even the score but 1 up them, landing got the US big points but sending another half a dozen landers was just a giant middle finger to Moscow as far as any congressman who supported it was concerned.

Yes science got done but that wasn't why it was funded. If nasa went to congress and said "hey, we want several million dollars to stick a few mirrors on the moon" they would have been laughed out of the capitol, sticking it to the Reds was why the government backed multiple rockets. This even correlates to the drop in funding after successive successful landings because the US was so far ahead in the space race that they didn't need to invest to stay ahead.
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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby BattleMoose » Wed Apr 10, 2013 5:24 am UTC

ucim wrote:The answer to my original question plays into the answer to why people would find spaceflight (as you put it) "majestic and inspirational", and thus, why it gets funded.


It got funded because of the Soviets, I thought we covered that.

Society funds science for tangible and real benefits to society, this can include showing the Soviets up.

People do science for a large variety of reasons, ranging from a passion in a particular subject, wanting to do good for society, have a job that challenges them intellectually, adding to the human base of knowledge and I am sure there are many more but usually personal reasons, relating to the person and not to the benefits of society.

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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby ucim » Thu Apr 11, 2013 3:34 am UTC

BattleMoose wrote:It got funded because of the Soviets, I thought we covered that.
No, funding was accelerated because of the Soviets. I'm pretty sure we would have gone anyway, eventually. It's too tantalizing - just close enough, and just far enough. It challenges us - rising every night and to wink "I betcha can't do it!", and then slithering back down below the horizon while we try to figure out how to prove it wrong.

I say we went to the moon for the same reason we get up in the morning. We are mobile creatures, and have evolved to "want" to move around and explore... essentially to be restless and curious. Were this not the case, our ancestors would have been eaten long before they could have become our ancestors. It's fundamental, and as we evolve further, it manifests itself in more and more complex ways.

This is why we do science. Because we are fundamentally curious and restless, we are driven to do, and to support, various kinds of activities that fulfill those drives, and exploration is one of them. Art is another outlet for our restless minds, and derives from the same source.

So, while the short answer to the original question is that going to the moon only once seems almost pointless, but going several times as part of an organized program made much more sense (and made an easier sale to boot), that's a short-sighted view. I'm quite disappointed that we have not returned and set up more of an infrastructure for this kind of exploration, especially since it's so cheap (compared to the world economy), but I'm sure that we will return soon.

I doubt however that the next words coming from the moon will be English.

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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby morriswalters » Thu Apr 11, 2013 9:58 am UTC

You would probably be right. And thy aren't going on a voyage of discovery. They are going to show that they have the prowess to do it. The moonshot never had majority support from the American people. A large portion on the money to go to the moon was spent up front to develop the technology. And that is why we kept going after we got there. It would have been impossible to stop, the machine was too massive. And portions of it have been used to the present. The crawler and the VAB. Most people don't understand what science going to the moon enabled and the trickle down effects were sold using Tang and Velcro, and most people couldn't tell you that.

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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu Apr 11, 2013 11:03 am UTC

ucim wrote:
BattleMoose wrote:It got funded because of the Soviets, I thought we covered that.
No, funding was accelerated because of the Soviets. I'm pretty sure we would have gone anyway, eventually. It's too tantalizing - just close enough, and just far enough. It challenges us - rising every night and to wink "I betcha can't do it!", and then slithering back down below the horizon while we try to figure out how to prove it wrong.

I say we went to the moon for the same reason we get up in the morning. We are mobile creatures, and have evolved to "want" to move around and explore... essentially to be restless and curious. Were this not the case, our ancestors would have been eaten long before they could have become our ancestors. It's fundamental, and as we evolve further, it manifests itself in more and more complex ways.

This is why we do science. Because we are fundamentally curious and restless, we are driven to do, and to support, various kinds of activities that fulfill those drives, and exploration is one of them. Art is another outlet for our restless minds, and derives from the same source.


I wish. Realistically, even while we were engaged in the space race, a majority of people always opposed the space program. The money all went there because JFK embraced it. Without the money, it wouldn't have happened, and NASA would have had much slower, much more modest beginnings if it had been restrained to what people actually wanted.

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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby Alexius » Thu Apr 11, 2013 1:39 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:I think Thunderbird 5 is a good symbol of the underlying issue. In those days, spaceflight and electronics were both new and promising fields. In hindsight, people generally overestimated the difficulties lying ahead for electronics and underestimated those of space. The Thunderbids were fictional, but even knowledgeable experts predicted manned battle satellites and stuff. Given the state of autonomous systems in 1960, people in space were expected to be a crucial component of the technology, not just a showcase payload.

Well, manned battle satellites were built- of course, the Soviets had less advanced electronics, so into the late 70s it made sense for them to have people on board their reconnaissance satellites.

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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby jules.LT » Thu Apr 11, 2013 2:11 pm UTC

They were built and flown, and they were mounted with a machine gun :-D
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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby cphite » Thu Apr 11, 2013 9:05 pm UTC

jules.LT wrote:It seems to me that with Apollo 11 what seemed to be the objective had been attained: be there before the soviet and assert technological superiority. I could understand that more samples For Science! could have required another trip (and even of that I'm not sure...). But why did we send SIX landing missions, all the way to Apollo 20??
What possible purpose could these have served that the US government would have been willing to pay an average of 18 billion (in today's dollars) for each?


Because we already had the infrastructure in place, including a lot of people working and a lot of money flowing. This was the US government... what were they going to do, just stop spending it? :roll:

Because we wanted to continue to improve the technology; bear in mind that we were still in an ongoing pissing contest with the Soviet Union. It wasn't enough to just get to the moon because it was only a matter of time before they could replicate the technology. We had to (in the minds of the powers that be) keep pushing the envelope.

And yeah, science was done up there.

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Re: Why did we RETURN to the moon?

Postby Heisenberg » Tue Apr 23, 2013 9:33 pm UTC

jules.LT wrote:It seems to me that with Apollo 11 what seemed to be the objective had been attained: be there before the soviet and assert technological superiority. I could understand that more samples For Science! could have required another trip (and even of that I'm not sure...).
We also decided to send an actual scientist to the Moon. Why bring rocks to the geologist when you can bring a geologist to the rocks?
jules.LT wrote:But why did we send SIX landing missions, all the way to Apollo 20??
We stopped at Apollo 17, but you're correct, that was 6 landings, exempting Apollo 13 which did not land.
jules.LT wrote:What possible purpose could these have served that the US government would have been willing to pay an average of 18 billion (in today's dollars) for each?
You're asking that question the wrong way. We had built 15 rockets at a cost of $45 billion. #6 got us to the Moon. The cost of launching a rocket was $0.18 billion, and we ended up grounding the last 2 to save that tiny sum. Why throw away perfectly good rockets? It's like buying a Corvette and never driving it because gas is too expensive.


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