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Fifty years after his death, JFK still casts a shadow on space policy

Today, 50 years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, some are using the anniversary to make a call for a return of the robust space program so closely associated with him. “We should put the space program back at the center of American life. Let’s begin a national discussion to decide the next great mission for NASA,” wrote Brent Budowsky, a former congressional aide, in an op-ed in The Hill.

Budowsky’s essay follows familiar lines for those looking for guidance from the space program’s past: the leadership offered by Kennedy, the right stuff of those early astronauts (“Knights of the Round Table,” he calls them in an extension of the “Camelot” mythos), and the spinoffs created by space exploration, among other familiar tropes. He himself doesn’t know what that “next great mission” for NASA should be, other than presumably not NASA’s current plans to redirect an asteroid as a stepping stone to eventual human missions to Mars.

“I propose a national discussion seeking ideas for the next great mission of NASA from astronauts past and present, Nobel laureates, leaders in science and technology, educators, entrepreneurs, media commentators and, above all, young people,” he says, but is vague on how that “national discussion” would lead to anything like he admired about the early space program.

What he doesn’t mention, though, is that energy from the early Space Age was driven by a Cold War competition with existential stakes. And, even fifty years ago, there were doubts about the direction of the program: Kennedy was in discussions with the Soviets about potential cooperation versus competition weeks before his death, although as John Logsdon writes in his recent book about Kennedy’s space policy, a review he initiated, but not completed until after his assassination, advocated for continuing Apollo in some form.

“So it is quite possible, and even likely, that had Kennedy lived, what many view as one of his signature achievements, if not indeed the one — sending America to the moon — would not have happened,” argues Rand Simberg in an op-ed in USA Today. “Kennedy’s legacy in space is a NASA human-spaceflight program that has been rudderless for half a century, because its purpose was never articulated in terms that would justify the massive amounts of money expended on it.”

Kennedy’s influence on space policy, in that respect, continues to this day. But what could have happened to Apollo, and space policy in general, had Kennedy lived will remain a tragic what-if.

66 comments to Fifty years after his death, JFK still casts a shadow on space policy

  • Brett

    I wonder what would have happened had Apollo never happened. Would we even have people in space, or really care that we didn’t have them if we didn’t? Most of the programs that absolutely required humans no longer needed them after the late 1970s (when the military moved towards robotic missions), so all that would leave is either tourism or some other nation doing it for nationalistic reasons.

    I don’t know. I don’t really care about space colonization anymore, although I still care about space exploration and space science. Those don’t require human programs, though – and especially don’t require human programs that don’t go anywhere and just exist as an excuse to keep funneling money to key Congressional districts.

    • Vladislaw

      The Russians put people in space first, long before apollo was even conceived. I can not imagine any senerio were the U.S. would not have responded in kind.

  • Hiram

    “some are using the anniversary to make a call for a return of the robust space program so closely associated with him.”

    I’d attach to that the obvious corollary of using the anniversary to make a call for a return of the robust American exceptionalism program so closely associated with JFK. Because that’s what Apollo was. In JFK’s mind, human space exploration was the means to the end, and the end was to assert technical superiority over the USSR (with an admixture of exciting bravery and personal courage). Re Simberg’s point about JFK’s legacy being a human spaceflight program that was rudderless for half a century, that’s hardly the fault of JFK, because JFK’s vision was to beat the USSR, and NOT to create a lasting, and enormously expensive, human space flight enterprise. His vision was fulfilled in spades. It was a complete success. To this day the U.S. is regarded as the technical superior to what is left of the Soviet dream. That it failed to do what others hoped it would do is a different issue entirely.

    It should be understood that JFK’s excuse that human spaceflight was in the interest of exploration, and not explicitly in stuffing the Soviets, was classical Harvardian courtesy. That was where you exercise your superiority by doing great things, rather than beating someone up and thumbing your nose at them. But the ultimate purpose was exercising superiority, and not doing great things.

    The lesson from Apollo may well be that in order to foster a robust human spaceflight effort, a cold war, with scary missle capbility threats, are clear enablers. As is, unfortunately, the tragic death of the President who started that human spaceflight effort, and in whose memory it was continued.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Actually there is no reason that the space program could not have continued as a Cold War instrument. Apollo ended in 1972 whereas the Cold War ended in 1989 or thereabouts. Imagine what could have been accomplished if America had decided to rub it in and continue to show up the Soviets in space.

    • common sense

      The “program” continued, it was eventually called the International Space Station, a then instrument of the Cold War. An ending Cold War that’s all.

      Soviets? I thought nowadays it was the “Chicom”? 20th Century warmongering nonsense will not help your case.

      Oh well.

      • Mark R. Whittington

        You forgot the space shuttle, of course, which led the Soviets to do Buran. But we could have done so much more.

        As for the Chinese, we need to hope they don’t get to the moon before we do.

        • common sense

          For the Chinese to go to the Moon before we do they would have to invent a time machine. Unfortunately said time machine cannot travel further back than when it was invented. Therefore if the Chinese had a time machine in 1968 they might make it before us. In the meantime, if I dare say so myself, nobody really knows what they might do if they were to make it before us in 1968, to the Moon.

          • Were you paying attention: If the Chinese get to the Moon before we do—-in the 21st century!! In the here & now! You people out there, who disparage the great Lunar acheivement of 1968-1972, fail to realize that there is vastly more ground to conquer, as far as dealing with the Moon is concerned! We Americans just tapped the surface, all those decades ago! There is an immense, undone list of further accomplishments left to do, on the Moon, by astronauts. There is much further work to do. And if China has the bravery & the guts to acheive the 21st century base occupation of another world, before we do, then indeed it’ll be a tragic loss for the U.S.of A.

            • common sense

              Blah blah blahblahblah blah blahblah Moon blah blahblah China.

            • Coastal Ron

              Chris Castro said:

              We Americans just tapped the surface, all those decades ago!

              What do we need there that we have only just tapped?

              Until we have a need – IN SPACE – for whatever you think is untapped there, then it’s not untapped, just not needed. And if it’s not yet needed, then going to the Moon is currently a luxury. For anyone.

              So what is it Chris?

        • common sense

          Forgot. So for comprehension and I hope it helps.

          e·ven·tu·al·ly
          iˈvenCHo͞oəlē/
          adverb

          1. in the end, esp. after a long delay, dispute, or series of problems.

          Which means loosely speaking the “program” ended with ISS

        • pathfinder_01

          Once Apollo landed on the moon and the Soviets were not there it served it purpose. There was no point in contiued landings, Apollo was risky and limited to a mere 3 days on the surface on the moon and extremely expensive. We would learn much more at a much lower cost in LEO.

          • @pathfinder,….There is NOTHING in LEO!!! The Moon is replete of natural resources. Simply getting there, is NOT enough. Bear in mind that during the Cold War, we basically did whatever the Soviet Union did—-or had strong designs of doing. If they had arrived at the Moon, with successful, higher-capability, second-gen-type of landings—-particularly if they’d have planted a base of some kind—-then America would’ve felt obligated to compete with them. But sadly for future history, the Soviets acheived nothing more than further LEO station exploits, and we’ve done nothing more than play copycat with them, ever since. Low Earth Orbit is a dead, freaking end!!!

            • pathfinder_01

              The problem is the moon isn’t much better than LEO. Any moon base is going to need substantial resupply from earth for decades if not centuries. The moon contains little to nothing of value that can be sold on earth and the cost of extracting anything on the moon is going to be so expensive that it is hard to make any business case for it. About the only use I can see for it is tourist spot.

              The trouble was no one was willing to spend that kind of money to send government workers there for a very short time. Until someone can afford to go there or get the sums privately there will probably be very few moon to no use for the moon beyond looking at from earth.

              • Coastal Ron

                pathfinder_01 said:

                The trouble was no one was willing to spend that kind of money to send government workers there for a very short time.

                Nicely said, and it’s amazing that Chris doesn’t understand why we haven’t been back to the Moon in 40 years – that it hasn’t been worth the money, and still isn’t.

            • “@pathfinder,….There is NOTHING in LEO!!!

              Infinite hard vacuum and indefinite microgravity (variable between zero and one, if you have a centrifuge), for research and possible manufacturing, and various forms of monitoring Earth, that’s only 5km/sec away from everyone?

              Chris, it’s not all about material resources. Some locations are valuable for reasons of what and where they are, not what’s there.

              There was a time when ‘nothing’ was in geostationary orbit too, for that matter. What’s there now, is carefully controlled and regulated because the area is of great value, but finite.

              “Simply getting there, is NOT enough

              Nope. Getting tho the Moon in a regular, affordable, and thereby more justifiable manner, is too. Apollo wasn’t. That’s one of the reasons we stopped (though we’ve also become too comfortable with the idea that it must continue to necessarily be Apollo-expensive to do so), it’s why China isn’t doing it soon, and won’t be able to do it for long (if they also do it in an Apollo-esq manner that’s too expensive to support development).

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “there is no reason that the space program could not have continued as a Cold War instrument”

      It did. The Soviets opened a new front with LEO space stations like Salyut and Mir, and Reagan answered with Freedom.

      Duh…

    • Hiram

      I guess it depends how one defines the Cold War. It’s true that what has been termed the “Second Cold War” was when Reagan and Andropov ramped up at least the spirit of conflict between the U.S. and the USSR in the late 1970s though 1989, but most of the 1970s were a period of relaxed conflict which Brezhnev and Kosygin considered “detente”. The USSR was facing their own internal economic problems then, and were also facing some new tensions with China. That wasn’t a period when Nixon and Ford had a lot of incentive to “rub it in”.

    • Coastal Ron

      Mark R. Whittington said:

      Actually there is no reason that the space program could not have continued as a Cold War instrument.

      No reason, except for, you know, no reason. There needs to be a point, and if you can’t articulate – in a very clear way – what that point is, then what’s the point?

      Other than “rubbing it in”, what point would it have served to keep moving on past Apollo?

    • Vladislaw

      Actually, if human spaceflight would have been taken away from NASA after Apollo and commercialized with NASA acting as a consumer of services, it would have did more to move us ahead of the Soviet Union then billions in worthless pork spending that produced nothing of lasting value.

      • pathfinder_01

        I agree but the Shuttle prevented that becuase it was not capable of running at a profit for a commercial company. The other rockets could but they did not carry manned craft and so the space progeam got stuck in nuetral.

    • @Vladislaw;…..Those billions of dollars of “pork spending” got us to deep space, with our spacemen, between 1968 & 1972!! The commercial boys can’t even get a manned capsule to LEO yet, in this decade (the 2010′s)!! The technological details of a manned Lunar journey are far more complex than mere LEO flight. Apollo serves as the prime engineering model, on how to design a viable deep space manned mission. THAT is a lasting asset, that could be reclaimed.

      • Coastal Ron

        Chris Castro said:

        The commercial boys can’t even get a manned capsule to LEO yet, in this decade…

        And why is that? Why is it that commercial companies don’t want to duplicate what the government has done?

        Could it be that, as commercial entities, they haven’t had a NEED to duplicate everything the government has done in space? Hmm?

        Commercial and government have different motivations Chris, and maybe you just don’t know that.

        In case you haven’t noticed it, here in the U.S. commercial launch providers move most the cargo to space for the U.S. Government, and all of it for the commercial sector. The SLS, if it ever flies, won’t change that either.

        Moving people to/from space? It’s just a matter of time, of which it will be based on when the commercial folks want to do it, not you. They will do it when they think they can sustain doing it for a long time, because that’s how the roll.

        It’s amazing that you are so ignorant about how the world actually works…

      • Coastal Ron

        Chris Castro said:

        Apollo serves as the prime engineering model, on how to design a viable deep space manned mission. THAT is a lasting asset, that could be reclaimed.

        If you go back and look at what Von Braun actually wanted to do, it was not the Apollo model. Apollo was designed to get the job done quickly, and with the least number of launches, but was not designed to be the platform for staying in space.

        Apollo ended because it was pretty much built to be unaffordable as a way to stay in space for the least amount of taxpayer dollars. So if your goal is to be wasteful, then by all means hope that the U.S. Government will try to duplicate that model with the SLS and MPCV.

        • pathfinder_01

          Yeap, the inherent flaw in Apollo was also the Saturn V rocket. It pretty much has no commercial, military or other purpose outside of a lunar trip and thus the budget for it falls 100% on NASA. Rockets like Titan II and the R7 family had other purposes. Titan II launched Gemini, acted as a medium range ICBM, and launched other satellites it evolved into Titan III and so on. Saturn V having no other use outside a very limited set of human space flight goals became a museum piece(and rightfully so). If you want a sustainable program heavy lift seems to be the worse way to do it(as, Saturn V, N1, and Energia) seem to say.

          • “If you want a sustainable program heavy lift seems to be the worse way to do it(as, Saturn V, N1, and Energia) seem to say.”

            And when the China fanboys who hope they’ll do something major (and why then the US must commit to a Cold War-ish, Apollo-esq response, right?), think that they see any evidence of a Chinese HLV program, this is why I yawn.

            There’s a reason Russia never did much with Energia, even though it worked…

      • Hiram

        “The commercial boys can’t even get a manned capsule to LEO yet, in this decade (the 2010′s)!!”

        Have to pity the “NASA boys” as well, They managed to squeeze in a human+cargo trip to the ISS in this decade, but haven’t been capable of it since. The “commercial boys” have sent hugely successful cargo craft to ISS several times since that is rated for human travel. You and DCSCA need to pour yourself some stiff drinks.

        “Apollo serves as the prime engineering model, on how to design a viable deep space manned mission. THAT is a lasting asset, that could be reclaimed.”

        Splutter, splutter, cough, cough … Apollo is an engineering model for a “lasting asset”? Please take your pills and zip up your straightjacket. Apollo may well have been a glorious achievement, but as a model for a lasting asset (which it never even tried to do), it came up pretty short. The only thing that was lasting from Apollo was the pride it engendered.

        Oh, here are a few exclamation marks for you— !!!!!!!!!!!!!!, you’re probably getting low on them.

        • @Hiram,….Ha, ha!! Very funny! Look, guys, I feel emotional, over the current downtrodden state of the space program! The future fate of this nation’s spacefaring, is a topic which I have much ardor about. I truly hate the space policy of President Obama! The demolishment of Project Constellation was a horrid, long-run mistake. I despise the backward-going course that NASA is now taking, under his direction! America should’ve just about out-grown the whole LEO station exercise, by now, and be pushing for cis-lunar space anew. I detest the fact that for ALL of my personal lifetime, to date, no new manned Lunar enterprise has been launched, nor is one being planned from now until the year 2030—–in all likelihood. The commercial people seem to be entirely content with further ISS activities going on clear until that date, with NO manned ventures beyond Earth’s ionosphere at all.

          • Coastal Ron

            Chris Castro said:

            America should’ve just about out-grown the whole LEO station exercise, by now, and be pushing for cis-lunar space anew.

            If you understood what we were doing in LEO at the ISS, then you’d know why that’s not a good idea yet.

            That is, unless human lives and money are not your concern…

          • Hiram

            “Look, guys, I feel emotional, over the current downtrodden state of the space program!”

            No kidding. You used up more than a third of the exclamation points I gave you. Well, now that we’ve gotten past what you hate, detest, and think is horrid and backward, maybe we can move on to something constructive from something emotional.

            This isn’t about your ardor, or what has transpired in your personal lifetime. It’s about what is good for the nation, and is worth national expenditure on. It is remarkable that in your rants, like this one, you never refer to that worth. It’s all about you, isn’t it?

            It all boils down to why we need to go somewhere in deep space soon. (By the way, Constellation was not going to achieve that.) What are the drivers for that compulsion? Is it about expression of geopolitical superiority? That rationale is getting somewhat stale, and at least our technical superiority is no longer measured in footprints. Is it about “inspiration”? You mean like the American youth was inspired by Apollo’s expression of American geopolitical superiority? Same thing. It is about land and material rights? Yeah, that lunar water is priceless, for all those non-existent travelers to Mars. Its value on Earth is zero.

            In a limited fiscal environment, with rationale for human spaceflight that is hardly well understood, our activities in LEO are not just about learning how humans can live and travel in space, but about challenging us to come up with reasons why humans should be spacefaring at all. If we were stuck on the ground right now, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. That challenge is still unmet. If you want to get emotional, get emotional about that challenge.

            While JFK succeeded completely in a convincing statement of American technological superiority over the Soviet Union, he perhaps can be accused of leaving us with misperceived expectations about what human spaceflight was about. That, I think, is that shadow that his legacy leaves our space policy with. Deep in that shadow, at least Budowsky properly calls for a national discussion about that challenge. That’s not something that you’re doing here.

          • pathfinder_01

            Here is why LEO space stations became the norm. In today’s money a single Saturn V launch not including capsule or lander was around $1.18 billion. For that all you get is 2 guys spending a total of 3 days on the moon.

            The ISS and the Shuttle have brought far more people into space and people have stayed in space longer than the mere 12-14 day lunar missions. For $1.18 billion you could buy 19 flights of Soyuz at 60million each. You could buy about 3 flights of the shuttle (if you are just counting per flight costs and not costs to keep the program up…and keeping Saturn V up was even more costly). Space stations like the ISS might be costly but they last a lot longer than three days (unlike the lunar module) and are reusable. You don’t need special rockets to get to the station (just the rockets you were planning to use to launch other satellites). This makes LEO a much more cost effective location in terms of bang for the buck and is why Apollo was a mere flash in the pan.

            Commercial will start in LEO as that is the most cost effective location right now but there is no limit to how far they could go. Technology and competition have brought the cost of spaceflight down some. Today it would be possible to buy about 7 fights of an FH for that price and given that you would only need 2 of them to go to the moon, leaves lots of other money for payload development. Given Dragon was built with BEO exploration in mind you wouldn’t have to spend near as much money for payload development and could concentrate on a lander and do this while still having people in LEO. The trick to sustainable progress in space isn’t repeating what was done in the past at best all you can do is get the same result. The trick is doing new things in new ways that is the way mankind advances in everything.

            • @Pathfinder,…There is NO comparison to sending astronauts to mere LEO and sending them to the Moon! Reaching another world is far more profound of an accomplishment, & requires vastly more superior technological systems. One could just as easily say “so what” to the mundane & continuous placing of humans into the giant aluminum can known as the ISS. The reality is that our astronauts are doing far less important work, going into mere Low Earth Orbit, than they were doing forty years ago by voyaging to a distant world. Just “going into space” is NO longer remarkable. It’s like the difference between wading in the beach water and actually going on a boat trip somewhere.

              • Coastal Ron

                Chris Castro said:

                The reality is that our astronauts are doing far less important work, going into mere Low Earth Orbit, than they were doing forty years ago by voyaging to a distant world.

                40 years ago we were testing the boundaries of what we could do in 12 days while in space. Those 12 days don’t do much harm to the human body, and the amount of technology that is needed to keep someone alive is far less than what it takes to spend months in space.

                Since we can’t afford a space program that relies on people only spending 12 days in space, or even 30 days in space, we need to figure out how to keep people alive and well for much longer periods of time – months and years.

                We didn’t learn how to do that with Apollo or the Shuttle, but we are learning how to live and work for long periods of time on the ISS.

                So if all you want to do is short “Flags & Footprints” type trips to space, then sure, we don’t need the ISS. But if we as a nation are going to learn how to live and work in space for long periods of time, then laboratories in space like the ISS are absolutely mandatory.

                I think you should consider Virgin Galactic as the entity to back Chris, since all they plan to do is what you advocate for – quick trips to/from space. NASA doesn’t have the money, or charter, to do that.

      • Vladislaw

        Actually I said after apollo. Once the program ended the porkonauts didn’t wnat their ox to be gored and everyone was fighting to keep the pork rolling for their district. 10 NASA centers? Come on .. at billions a year producing nothing how is THAT getting us to deep space? sheesh

    • Robert G. Oler

      Really Mark what wouldhave been accomplished? You have got it all wrong for decades straight question straight answer had JFK lived or the Cold War continued what would be accomplished?

      I was the other day at the Chinese space center…I went through their vehicles. I was not impressed.

      Have you done that?

      Robert G. Oler

  • The Soviets were first to place a satellite into orbit in 1957 which put enormous pressure on President Eisenhower to create a civilian space program to match Soviet efforts. The US military would have preferred to continue American’s manned and unmanned space program themselves. And even Wernher von Braun was reluctant to abandon the Army’s space program for the new civilian space program (NASA).

    But Eisenhower was afraid that a US military industrial complex that was already spending astronomical amounts of money on Earth– would do the same in space. So creating a peaceful civilian space program was Eisenhower’s attempt to curtail massive expenditures on space travel by the US military.

    But people forget that during the Kennedy administration the US was still well behind the Soviet Union in space achievements and in space technology. The Soviets placed the first human being in orbit during the Kennedy administration, further demonstrating their growing technological and political superiority over the United States and the non-communist world. Afterwards, they paraded Yuri Gagarin around the world as an international super star, a political ambassador for the wonders of communism!

    Kennedy’s reason for entertaining the idea of cooperating with the Soviet Union in space was because no one really knew what the manned Soviet goals in space really were. Would the Soviets claim the Moon and eventually the rest of the Solar System as part of the growing Soviet communist empire? And with the US so far behind in space technology, could the US even stop them from doing so!

    Kennedy was told that America was so far behind the Soviet Union in space technology that they would have to spend titanic amounts of more money on space if the US was to avoid Soviet domination of the new frontiers of space. So that’s why he did it! That’s why Kennedy used the Moon as a way of leaping ahead of Soviet efforts in space– just a week after the Soviets humiliated the US again by placing the first human in orbit.

    International communism and Soviet influence at that time was threatening the United States in practically every region of the planet. We were still in the middle of the Cold War– and it wasn’t a joke! Just a year after Kennedy came into office, the Cuban missile crisis between the US and the Soviet Union almost started World War III and a possible thermonuclear war.

    However, the race between the US and Soviet Union in space ended during the Johnson administration when both the US and the Soviet Union signed the Outer Space Treaty in 1967. The law forbid any country from placing weapons of mass destruction on the lunar surface or on any other celestial body and also made it illegal for any single country to own the Moon or any other celestial body in space. So the US fear of a militarized communist Moon was finally over and so were the reasons for a space race between the US and the Soviet Union.

    Marcel F. William

  • Hiram

    “So the US fear of a militarized communist Moon was finally over and so were the reasons for a space race between the US and the Soviet Union.”

    The American public couldn’t care less about Soviet domination of the Moon or other frontiers of at least deep space. They cared about Soviet domination of THEM. They cared that the Soviet Union could present a veiled threat with a satellite orbiting over their heads. Just imagine what a satellite might contain! They cared about a Soviet Union whose powerful missles could lob enormous bombs with frightening accuracy into their cities. What, they’re digging bomb shelters in their backyard because they’re worried that the Soviets were going to domineer the Moon? They cared about the threat of technology. As a result, what Kennedy was faced with was a showdown in technological capability, and that showdown is what he stood up to. Space was a sidelight of that showdown that happened to pertain to missles.

    The Outer Space Treaty was indeed relevant in the cooling of U.S.-Soviet space competition, but it was less about not putting weapons of mass destruction on the Moon than it was about not putting them in orbit over our heads. Outer space, in this context, was just Cuba. In that respect, the Outer Space Treaty was simply aimed at preventing a Space Missle Crisis, where missles sited nearby were a serious threat. The real target of the Outer Space Treaty was Earth orbit, in that Earth orbit could be perceived to be a site for basing nearby threats that was outside the space equivalent of the maritime boundary. It was right next to us, but out of our control. But yes, the Moon went right overhead too. Now, the U.S. military had no illusions that Soviet missles on the Moon could present a nearby threat, but they threw that in for good measure.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    If only JFK’s ghost could fix MPCV:

    “The European Space Agency (ESA) on Nov. 22 announced that its work on the propulsion module for NASA’s Orion crew-transport vehicle has been slowed by a further six months as it considers design tradeoffs… The first flight with the ESA-produced propulsion module for Orion had been scheduled for 2017.”

    Full article:

    ESA Work on Orion Propulsion System Delayed Six Months
    http://www.spacenews.com/article/civil-space/38312esa-work-on-orion-propulsion-system-delayed-six-months

    • @DBN,…..JFK’s ghost would be appalled at our current lack of progress, 50 years plus after he set Project Apollo into motion! He’d be shocked at how much time we are wasting & blowing on LEO stations, and in constructing taxi capsules specialized only for reaching LEO!

      • Hiram

        “JFK’s ghost would be appalled at our current lack of progress”

        Nope. JFK’s ghost would be proud and happy. Because the Apollo program stuffed it to the USSR in demonstrating American exceptionality in technology. Box checked. Give him a medal. Move on. JFK was NOT, NOT, NOT out for starting an ambitious program of solar system human exploration. JFK admitted that he wasn’t that interested in space. His contribution to the progress of human spaceflight was enormous, but you need to get it through your head that the idolatry that JFK really deserves was about stuffing it to the Soviets when we really needed to do that, and not about sending people to the Moon.

        JFK would be appalled at what has developed as false idolatry, where he is perceived as a hero who ultimately failed in a fervent quest to send humans to the stars. That false idolatry is insulting to his memory. Please get that through your head.

        • @Hiram,…The JFK space idolatry stems largely from the fact that under his leadership, a robust plan was set into motion, that within a ten-year-span got American astronauts to deep space & the Moon—-a feat that Commercial Crew will never match in the next twenty years, given what we know about the commercial space game-plan!

          • Coastal Ron

            Chris Castro said:

            …that within a ten-year-span got American astronauts to deep space & the Moon…

            Since the Moon orbits the Earth, the Moon would not be considered “deep space”.

            We don’t know how to survive in deep space yet, which is why our research at the ISS is so important, and why we’ll need another research platform further out in space too.

            Unlike you, when we go to space I want us to be able to stay there in a permanent fashion. We’ve had humans in space continuously on the ISS for over 13 years now, and the next place we go in space should be permanently occupied too.

            The occasional government-paid vacations that you and others advocate for are really pointless, since we can pick up grey rocks far less expensively with robotic systems. Living in space, and increasing humanities presence out into space, is the real challenge.

            Too bad you can’t understand that…

            • @Coastal Ron,….The Moon IS in deep space!! You commercial-space enthusiasts just say that falsehood in order to denigrate the Apollo acheivement. By trivializing what was done, forty years ago, you all can keep up the fallacious narrative of how a Heavy Lift rocket is not needed, plus make your manifesto of ignoring Luna seem sensible, plus keep up the facade that LEO stations are so important. All of those assumptions are wrong, and will be proven by future history to be so.
              I dare those commercial space cowboys to send one of their capsules with a crew onto a lunar orbital trip, lasting three or four weeks, once there, and have to cope with the radiation environs in cislunar space, for the full duration! They seem to believe that sending astronauts beyond the ionosphere is so easy!

              • Coastal Ron

                Chris Castro said:

                The Moon IS in deep space!

                The definition I see for “deep space” is:

                The regions beyond the gravitational influence of Earth encompassing interplanetary, interstellar, and intergalactic space.

                Since the Moon is in orbit around the Earth, and obviously influenced by the Earth, then no, it’s not in deep space.

                Sorry to burst your bubble.

                …you all can keep up the fallacious narrative of how a Heavy Lift rocket is not needed…

                Can you show us a funded government program that requires an HLV? Because until you can, then an HLV isn’t really needed, is it?

                I dare those commercial space cowboys…

                You are SO emotional, aren’t you? But those “commercial space cowboys” ideas of yours are just a bunch of fiction Chris.

                What we really have are business people that are simply testing out new business models that involve doing things in space. You can dare them all you want, but they most likely ignore stupid challenges like yours because they are focused on building successful businesses. Like SpaceX with their SES-8 launch tomorrow, the Thaicom 6 launch next month, and the CRS-3 flight the month after that.

                SpaceX is definitely too busy doing real launches to bother with your silly challenges.

              • Hiram

                “The definition I see for “deep space” is …”

                You’re arguing with a guy who thinks that LEO is in the ionosphere. See discussion in the Inspiration Mars thread. Don’t strain his brain by explaining “deep space”.

  • MrEarl

    Space has always had a following that’s a mile wide but only an inch deep. People will support it as long as they don’t see it as negatively impacting their pet causes. There is the dedicated core who are constantly arguing how to spend the limited resources, but most people think NASA spends much, much more then it actually does.

    In the 60′s space was new and a martyred president had given the country the goal of being first to land a man on the moon. After that was accomplished with Apollo 11 interest faded. The country was different then too. It was younger, self confident without being cocky and more adventurous. Between the assassinations of the 60′s, Watergate, Vietnam, 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the shuttle tragedies, we have become very hardened, entitled, cynical, risk adverse and frankly scared. People in general will not have the same kind of enthusiasm for space again until their livelihood or security depends on the US becoming a truly space-faring people.
    It’s up to our leaders to have the foresight to see that space, scientific research, and other ventures that don’t have immediate payback, are pursued. Our politicians today are only panderers to the most base instincts of their perceived constituencys. So until large gold deposits are found on the moon or Mars, or ET, lands I only see limited budgets and the dedicated core fighting over the scraps.
    (Wow, that was a ray of sun shine on a cold November morning.) :-)

  • Egad

    Just a reminder, but Dwayne Day has written on the crucial meeting of 21 November 1962 and related events that clarify just what view Kennedy had of the lunar program and, to some extent, space in general:

    A Historic Meeting on Spaceflight
    http://history.nasa.gov/JFK-Webbconv/pages/backgnd.html

  • Gregori

    Another vacuous right wing propaganda piece by Simberg. Dear lord…..

    The opposite of the state funded centralized space program isn’t a free market of unicorns. Its no space program at all! Space exploration doesn’t pay for itself so its prone to politics. People can decry jobs all they want but without political payback, there would be no NASA.

  • pathfinder_01

    “Space exploration doesn’t pay for itself so its prone to politics. People can decry jobs all they want but without political payback, there would be no NASA.”

    However that polical payback could be done in a more efficient manner. The free market is good at certain things take package delivery. When you want to send something to the anartic polar base you use Fed Ex, UPS, or other service to deliver to an air base. The goverment then only has to worry about getting the cargo from the airbase to the polar station. This is a lot cheaper than having the airforce pick up all cargo to deliver to the base.

    Also NASA role is deeper or should be deeper than manned spaceflight.

    In the case of spaceflight the free market has lowered prices. It isn’t perfect and spaceflight isn’t cheap but it is cheaper than the days when NASA launched everything into space and the politcal winds often don’t favor the best or even a good solution to the problem of getting things into space(a.k.a. The time when the Shuttle was supposed to replace the expendables…only to lead to Challenger and learning what a bad idea that was.).

    What needs to happen is that the politcal winds aline around more efficent and more important parts of manned spaceflight.

    • Coastal Ron

      pathfinder_01 said:

      Also NASA role is deeper or should be deeper than manned spaceflight.

      Certainly one of the problems NASA has today is that it doesn’t have a clearly acknowledged charter. Oh sure, it does have a charter (you can see it here), but it’s pretty well ignored by our politicians.

      Until that changes, and everyone agrees to follow whatever it is they agree NASA should be doing, then maybe NASA can restore some of the luster it has lost over the past decade.

      What needs to happen is that the politcal winds aline around more efficent and more important parts of manned spaceflight.

      That would be nice, especially since we’d have to agree on what the term “more important parts of manned spaceflight” really means, and I think that would be an improvement over the piecemeal situation we have today.

      • Hiram

        “That would be nice, especially since we’d have to agree on what the term “more important parts of manned spaceflight” really means ..”

        Precisely. That’s the conundrum that human space flight is faced with right now. Those “important parts” of human space flight are far from clear. In fact, with regard to alignment of political winds, there is nothing to align around. In the context of JFK and his creation of the program that would put humans on the Moon, the important parts of human spaceflight were then profound. Human spaceflight was the route to expressing American exceptionalism over the USSR, not just with technology in general, but with missles in particular. Missles were then, of course, the most potent expression of technological power. They made students hide under desks and families dig holes in their backyards. Using missles to do ambitious things with people attached to them was command-and-control muscle flexing of the highest order. But the technology of human spaceflight is no longer threatening. ISS is about friendship, and Dragon proves itself by carrying cheese. In fact, missles aren’t a fearsome tool of nations anymore, but warm and fuzzy tools of commerce and entrepreneurship. We’re supposed to be scared about the Chinese putting habitats into space, and perhaps landing taikonauts on the Moon. But those fears are trite compared to the fears we endured in the Cold War.

        Yep, what we need to figure out is what the important parts of human spaceflight really are. Human spaceflight is no doubt exciting, but that isn’t what makes for importance.

        • Coastal Ron

          Hiram said:

          We’re supposed to be scared about the Chinese putting habitats into space, and perhaps landing taikonauts on the Moon. But those fears are trite compared to the fears we endured in the Cold War.

          Having lived through the 60′s, and the Cold War with it’s constant threat of nuclear annihilation, I agree. I don’t get too excited by the Chinese trying to become more active in space, because we have companies here in the U.S. – COMPANIES – that are more capable of producing 21st Century space hardware than then entire country of China is.

          And since I’m a firm believer of engagement, partnering with China in space has no downsides. None. The more partners the better, as long as their pull their own weight of course, but partnerships spread the risk and allow for larger efforts. Everybody wins.

  • Neil Shipley

    Crunch time for SpaceX Monday and all going well, launching way beyond ISS to 80,000 kms.
    This company is actually the future of hsf for the U.S. and JFK would have been happy to see it happen but, it should have happened a long time ago.

    • Robert G. Oler

      Yeah this is the most important launch so far they have done…it either opens or closes the money pit…Mark Whittington is hoping for failure he hates the free enterprise system

      Look Mark..Jeff sees where am blogging from i RGO

  • Back in October 2011, I wrote a blog article titled “Nationalized Space.” about General Electric chairman and CEO Ralph Cordiner, who in 1961 warned of the consequences of Apollo. Cordiner was a staunch Republican, and believed that JFK was creating “a nationalized industry in space.”

    Cordiner wrote an essay titled “Competitive Private Enterprise in Space.” It was cited in 2011 by now-retired NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver.

    In his 1961 essay, Cordiner wrote:

    Since the space effort will, for a long time, be primarily a research and development effort, this tendency could lead to an unexpected, and perhaps undesirable, build-up of government-controlled facilities. Looking to the future, when the space frontier has been explored and is ready for economic development, we might well find the area pre-empted by the government, which would then have most of the personnel and facilities available. This would leave the nation almost no choice except to settle for nationalized industry in space …

    As we step up our activities on the space frontier, many companies, universities, and individual citizens will become increasingly dependent on the political whims and necessities of the Federal government. And if that drift continues without check, the United States may find itself becoming the very kind of society that it is struggling against — a regimented society whose people and institutions are dominated by a central government.

    The unintended consequence of Apollo was that it created a space-industrial complex, much like the military-industrial complex Dwight Eisenhower warned about in his farewell address. No one gave much thought to what the government would do with its massive space infrastructure once boots were on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. Parochial politics in Congress for 45 years since have protected “the standing army” as Jerry Pournelle calls it, giving NASA no purpose but to protect the jobs of voters and the contracts of those who employ them.

    A scandal hit KSC last week, when Florida Today published an article about former Commercial Crew executive Ed Mango pleading guilty to a felony of having abused the power of his office to protect a woman in his office who’d committed forgery to keep her job after her driver’s license was suspended twice for drunk driving. Mr. Mango went out of his way to protect her job, trying to get Human Resources to violate federal rules.

    Mango wasn’t fired. He was transferred into a $100,000+ a year job. Neither was the woman he was protecting. They created a new job for her and paid her $75,000 a year.

    KSC has become a job protection racket. It seems that even felonies can’t get you fired any more. It’s the nationalized industry in space manifested.

    • Robert G. Oler

      well he got that right Robert G. Oler onthe Indian subcontinent

    • Coastal Ron

      Stephen C. Smith said:

      Parochial politics in Congress for 45 years since have protected “the standing army” as Jerry Pournelle calls it, giving NASA no purpose but to protect the jobs of voters and the contracts of those who employ them.

      Yep. That’s why the Commercial Crew and Cargo programs are so important for the future of NASA, as well as the nation. They create capabilities without creating new “standing armies”, and they are more likely to produce enduring industries that are tax-revenue positive.

      As long as the politicians keep squabbling over funding for the government as a whole, pure pork programs like the SLS will continue to lose steam and become more and more vulnerable to cancellation.

    • DCSCA

      What Stephen fails to grasp is how private industry has repeatedly failed, over the 80-plus year history of rocketry, to take the initiative and to lead in space, chiefly due to the high risk, largess of capital investment and and low to no return. It has been governments, for geo-political purposes, that hve moved the technology forward.

      Commercial HSF today ia still a paper project and ultimately, a dead end. LEO ibn 2013 is a ticket to no place, gonig in cierrcles, no where, fast.

      Commerncial HSF had no future in 1961. And today, as a PRC rover is on its way to Luna, it has no future either. And citing anything Garver as a source for support does nothing to enhance that position. You might as well start quoting Newt Gingrich, ‘Moon President’ as well.

      The future for HSF in this era- for space exploration and exploitation- is with govermnent space projects of scale. And the next logical step is a return to Luna, establishing a base and servicing same. And as usual, The United States will find itself in a position of reacting to events by other nations.

  • DCSCA

    The United States had a nebulous psce program before JFK. What Jack Kennedy did was sharpen its focus, gave it a goal and actively supported it– expressing support and actively doing so right up to the day before he was slain.

    What Kenndy did was demonstrate that the establishment of goals for the space program rests with the leadership in the White House. That has not changed as Space X fizzles and the PRC, much to the astonishing chagrin of Oler and his like, launches a soft-landing rover to Luna— as part of their plans for a manned lunar effort, per NBC News. It is another Sputnik moment making Obama more akin to Ike, than JFK.

  • DCSCA

    “…NASA human-spaceflight program that has been rudderless for half a century, because its purpose was never articulated in terms that would justify the massive amounts of money expended on it.” sputters Rand.

    Except it was.

    The rationale for HSF by the United States government in the 21st century was made in the 20th century by President Kennedy. It is as valid today as it was in 1960s: “We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.”

    That’s it.

    HSF is an instrument of politics; a means of projecting national policy– it’s political science, not rocket science that fuels it. Human spaceflight in this era projects geo-political influence, economic vigor and technical prowess, around the globe for the nation(s) that choose to do it. And it plays out on a stage with high visibility that demands performance with engineering excellence from all the actors. The bounties from which are reaped by the participating nation(s) on Earth. That’s why government’s do it.

    It is space projects of scale that matter. Which is why, in the long run, short-sighted forays by deep-pocketed NewSpace hobbyists do not.

    HSF is, in effect, a loss leader in this era for projecting national power and nurturing a perception of leadership. And in politics, perception is a reality.

    Which makes a drive to establishing a permanent foothold on Luna, seen around the world by all peoples in their evening skies, is all the more imperative for the United States in this century.

    Commercial is welcome to come along for the ride– to supplement and service an exploration/exploitation outpost on Luna, established by governent(s). But commercial will never lead the way in establishing such a facility on their own. The largess of the capital requirements involved coupled w/t low to no ROI prevents it; the very parameters of the market it is trying to create and service. That’s why governments do it. And will continue to do so. End of story.

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