The End Of The Space Race

…happened forty-three years ago today. In an excerpt from the book I’m working on:

…sadly for the enthusiasts, as already noted, it wasn’t really about space. As even the supposedly visionary Kennedy told his NASA administrator, James Webb, a few months before his assassination in 1963, “I don’t care that much about space.” It was about national prestige, not space per se – space was just the venue in which the competition was to be fought. Had Kennedy not been assassinated, it’s not clear that the Apollo program would have continued, or at least no more than it was under Lyndon Johnson who, under pressure from the Congress with the rising costs in blood and treasure from Vietnam, and the Great Society (and riots in Newark, Watts and Detroit, and other inner cities), actually ordered the end of production of new hardware in 1967, two years before the first landing. In fact, it was likely only the perceived martyrdom of the president who started the program that allowed it to go on as long as it did.

Beyond that, the space race was viewed as so expensive that many in the government (particularly those of a socialistic bent in the State Department) wanted to end it permanently, and in a sense they did, by signing and ratifying the Outer Space Treaty in 1967, which banned claims of national sovereignty off planet. Absent claims of national sovereignty, private off-planet property claims became, if not impossible, problematic. This had the intended effect of significantly reducing the incentive for nations to race to other worlds, including the moon. It also dramatically reduced the incentive for private enterprise to invest its own resources in doing so, even if there were some way of getting a return on the investment, by creating uncertainty in the legality of extraterrestrial property and real estate.

Alan Wasser is trying to do something about that. This is the sort of thing a Congress truly interested in conservative space policy would do, instead of keeping the pork flowing.

26 thoughts on “The End Of The Space Race”

  1. Wasn’t the moon landing simply one of many tech demonstrations JFK toyed with? I once read somewhere that even massive desalinization plants for the Third World were brought up in a ’61-ish meeting.

  2. I always figured the end of the Space Race came when the Apollo manuvered to and docked with the Soyuz.

  3. I always figured the end of the Space Race came when the Apollo manuvered to and docked with the Soyuz.

    Nope. It was over long before that. ASTP was part of detente, but not the ending of the space race.

  4. One other justification for Apollo was that it was “impressive”, in a literal sense, as a demonstration to the world of American technological prowess and wealth. A large case of conspicuous consumption (don’t get me wrong here, I was and always will be a big fan of Apollo; I’m just trying to have a deeper understanding of why things were done the way they were).

    For example, why use the Saturn V? The Saturn 1B was perfectly capable of lofting the Apollo spacecraft into LEO using multiple launches (Lunar module & adapter, S-IVB stage, and then the CSM).

    I don’t have time to go through all the notes of the Saturn Program Office, but I have to wonder if the Saturn V was built _specifically_ to be impressive. After all, you don’t get over a million people at the KSC and a big chunk of the world’s population to watch yet another Saturn 1B launch another lunar module, for example.

  5. The claim is rather pointless if the claimant can’t actually get to it… It would prevent ‘frivolous claims’ done just to prevent others from making a claim to the site.

  6. Why use the Saturn V? Because you need it to get to the moon. And most of the Apollo flights that didn’t go there were still dry runs for a moon mission, so they were flown with the same hardware that would be used for the real thing. The one mission that didn’t fit that description was Apollo 7, and it did use a Saturn IB.

  7. Paul, Saturn 1B could not have launched the S-IVB stage needed to push the CSM and LM to the moon. Even an empty S-IVB (e.g. Skylab) needed a Saturn V to get it to orbit. Even if some other more modular version of an S-IVB could be designed, you’d require large numbers of Saturn 1B launches to get it up in pieces, then figure out how to assemble it in orbit and transfer fuel. All those launches would need to take place within a very short time period and somehow get all the pieces together and fuel transferred. Assembly on that scale and with massive fuel transfer had never been done at that time. With the large number of launches for even just one lunar mission, the risk of failure goes up significantly. It was far simpler and much lower risk to launch everything needed, already assembled and tested, in a single launch per mission.

  8. Pat, above, is absolutely correct. The Saturn V was the only rocket available that would allow a trans lunar injection. That is, the maneuver that breaks earth gravity and propels you toward the moon. The service module engine, more importantly it’s fuel, was required for the return injection. The Saturn 1B is, or was a two stage Saturn V (minus the additional stage). The actual cost difference between the two was nominal. Apollo’s IX could have used the Saturn 1B, but more testing and experience was required on the Saturn V, as a dress rehearsal, for the epic Apollo 11 shot.

  9. For example, why use the Saturn V? The Saturn 1B was perfectly capable of lofting the Apollo spacecraft into LEO using multiple launches (Lunar module & adapter, S-IVB stage, and then the CSM).

    And three more (at least) Saturn IB launches to refuel the S-IVB and CSM, for a total of six. Then wait for the TLI window to open (Saturn V could use variable-azimuth steering to lengthen the window since it launched everything at once. With multiple S-IB launches, it’s all nailed to the first launch.)

  10. @Paul – I think, to look at Apollo as a case of conspicuous consumption is too superficial. Yes, the original intent was to beat the Russians and to just do it. It also became a welcome distraction from the increasingly unpopular Vietnam involvement. The importance of Apollo lies in the sense of accomplishment and the pride inherent in that. You feel it and so do I. The side benefits of material synthesizing, electronics and miniaturization, food processing, computer processing and on and on were, quite remarkable. Almost overnight, a wave of new tech overtook the old in the consumer sector. We became more efficient, hence more productive.

    As much as we learned about the near reaches of outer space, I think we learned a lot more about ourselves, during a very tumultuous time.

  11. The actual reason for LOR over EOR was that NASA was afraid of docking, they wanted it minimized. LOR was considered impossible by many because of its single docking, they wanted a “direct” mission mode where the heavy lift vehicle launched a single stage vehicle to the Moon, landed and then returned to Earth. They thought Saturn V wasn’t big enough.

    Lunar Surface Rendezvous wasn’t even considered a sensible option. This is where you first send a fuel tank to the Moon (storable propellant, so there’s no issues with boiloff) and then take the direct mission mode and merely have to refuel to get back to Earth.

    Note that this is what Mars Direct does.. so it’s more accurate to call it Mars Surface Rendezvous, but then it might not be considered a serious option. 🙂 Apparently adding ISRU makes surface rendezvous sensible, at least for Mars anyway. Enthusiasm has already been tempered by Apollo, and people have trouble imagining any other way to do it than LOR.

  12. Oh yeah, I should mention that the LOR concept originally only had one docking, in LLO. What Apollo actually did, I’m sure you’ll remember, was a docking between the CM and the LM on the way to the Moon.. with the extraction of the LM from its interstage. I don’t remember who it was I heard talking about it, but they said this was met with outright howling when it was first proposed. Everyone on the EOR side felt cheated. Everyone on the LOR side wanted that docking eliminated. The remaining Direct holdouts were shaking their heads saying it would never work.

  13. IT is interesting to note that, according to some people and now some reading, that if Hubert Humphrey had been elected in 1968 there is every possibility that the lunar program would have continued and been expanded. He was very passionate about space.

    Alternative history 101.

  14. As has happened throughout history, the first one to a new territory will establish property claims regardless of what everyone else does. Then the other people will become irrelevant.

  15. That fits with my reading: President Kennedy was only peripherally interested in space exploration, and had even been somewhat hostile to it prior to his Presidency. Every President at least since H.W. Bush has proclaimed bold new NASA intitiatives but eventually forgotten them in the face of other issues. I don’t remember if Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, and Johnson did the same; but I wouldn’t be surprised. And so too I wouldn’t be surprised if President Kennedy had lost interest in NASA had he lived. In particular, had he gotten involved in the increasing mess in Vietnam, I suspect he would’ve thrown Apollo to the wolves whenever it was politically expedient.

    So I think the martyr theory has some merit: I don’t think we would’ve had the national will to commit to Apollo had it not been President Kennedy’s legacy.

    On the other hand, in an alternate history where he lived, we might’ve seen a very different NASA and a very different situation today. Many experts in NASA and elsewhere argued that the right strategy for exploiting space was to first pursue an orbital platform, make that successful, and THEN go to the Moon. If he had lost interest in the Moon, and we had pulled back from that commitment, we might have pursued the orbital strategy instead. And if those experts were correct, perhaps today we would have an industrialized presence in orbit; and from there, we might have colonized the Moon, and maybe even Mars.

    It’s all mighta beens and never knows…

    As far as the Outer Space Treaty… I can only hope some day that some wealthy enthusiast finances his (or her) own expedition and settlement and claim; and when the various governments say “You gotta give it up,” he (or she) replies “Come up here and make me.” A treaty is only as powerful as your willingness and ability to enforce it; and if we had the ability to go up and enforce it, we’d have the ability to establish a colony. Which, sadly, we don’t — which is why I’m hoping for a wealthy enthusiast to make the claim instead.

  16. 5.1 Exactly as you said Trent.

    5.2 Is the property owned? Then the owner, reasonable or not should be able to deny landing rights. Practically speaking they probably wouldn’t but it is their property and their right. This is also why any particular claim should not be unreasonably large which is why this section is probably so ridiculous in the first place.

    5.3 You are a guest when on if on someones property. You must leave if asked. It’s worded badly (in a statist sort of way.) I agree with anti-anti-competition but a title document isn’t where it goes.

    5.4 Related to 5.1. It’s the tin gods overreaching again.

    Section 5 should just say a persons title is absolute and as long as the claim isn’t abandoned they can do with it what they will. Share it or deny access to it at will. They own it and can sell it in part or whole. Any part sold must have access to the properties border or an easement (you can not sell a landlocked parcel.) A public road exists on the border of all properties (maintained to whatever degree by the property owner.)

    6) The entire surface of a planet is divided into one degree parcels (some bigger than others of course.) You claim a parcel by maintaining one or more methane refueling stations of a minimum capacity on the parcel. You can claim as many parcels as you like as long as another refueling station is established somewhere on the parcel (yes, four parcels could be claimed by four stations close together in the corner.)

    As you go toward the poles and the east-west distance falls below ten kilometers a parcel becomes two degrees, etc. The two poles each have a one degree circular parcel.

    Claims are recorded in a title office once validated.

  17. 5.2 is an extension of aviation laws on Earth. You have the legal right to land anywhere you need to.. no-one can deny you the right to land. They might charge you a reasonable fee, but they can’t send you on to the next airport or, worse yet, demand that you crash someplace else. It’s reasonable I think, even if it’s not an absolute property law. A similar, non-aviation law, is the right thoroughfare – should going around be impractical.

  18. If you deny landing to someone and they crash or die you should be held responsible because that is unreasonable. It’s a sticky question because the pilot should get permission to land before getting to the point of an emergency. Otherwise anybody could take away your property rights to a small extent by landing in your garden.

    “methane refueling stations” is actually a flaw in my argument. It’s meant to be something that potentially provides a public service and has some cost to prevent someone from just claiming all the property of a large body (6.3 asteroids being fine as defined.)

  19. Then the other people will become irrelevant

    While true, this is how wars are started. Having people agree to some reasonable protocol beforehand can make things happen a little smoother.

    Having a public border road is sort of a universal. Requiring it to be marked and recorded in a standard way could limit how fast land could be acquired allowing others to get in on the game. Having predefined parcels may be my petty tyranny showing through? I hate tyranny.

  20. …and when the various governments say “You gotta give it up,” he (or she) replies “Come up here and make me.”

    Quite a number of speculative-fiction stories have postulated someone thinking to do this, only to back off when they realize they’re not really fully independent of Earth and might want to come back, or engage in commercial trade with terrestrial businesses, both of which are more practically controllable by said “various governments”. Better to accept a regime now, declare independence later if need be.

  21. Actually if President Kennedy had lived the Moon Race would had very likely ended in 1964.


    Soviets Planned to Accept JFK’s Joint Lunar Mission Offer
    by Frank Sietzen
    SpaceCast News Service
    Washington DC – October 2, 1997

    [[[Soviet Premiere Nikita S. Khrushchev reversed himself in early November, 1963 and had at the time, decided to accept U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s offer to convert the Apollo lunar landing program into a joint project to explore the Moon with Soviet and U.S. astronauts, SpaceCast learned Wednesday from one of the last remaining participants in the decision still alive.

    On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the world’s first space satellite, the Soviet Sputnik 1, Sergei Khrushchev, eldest son of the former Premiere and Soviet Union Communist Party General Secretary said that his father made the decision in November 1963 following a renewed Kennedy initiative to sell the Soviets on a joint manned lunar program.]]]

  22. Thanks very much Rand.

    Trent Waddington asked why US recognition of a claim (allowing parts of it to be sold in the US) should require the settlement to sell passage on their ships to any law abiding person willing to pay the fare.

    For those with questions about the proposed law, I’d urge you to read The Space Settlement Initiative at .

    It explains the background and purpose of the law, and has the answers to 25 FAQs.- one of which, #10, is: “Why must the space line and settlement be open to all paying passengers regardless of nationality?”

    Legally, there is no choice. International law, esp. the Outer Space Treaty, clearly requires that opening the space frontier must “benefit all mankind” and that there must be “access to all areas of celestial bodies”. See for details.

    But the deeper reason is that, for us, the establishment of a property rights regime for space is only a means to an end, not an end in itself. The real purpose is to enable the expansion of the habitat of the human species beyond the Earth by offering a huge financial reward for privately funded settlement. It is the only way to create an economic incentive sufficient to encourage private investment to develop affordable human transport to the Moon and Mars.

    The purpose of the law is to open the space frontier to everyone.

    Finally, for any space lawyers out there who’d like a fully detailed, footnoted discussion of the many legal questions, opinions and precedents involved, as published in SMU Law School’s Journal of Air Law & Commerce, the oldest and most respected law journal in its field, see: “Space Settlements, Property Rights, and International Law: Could a Lunar Settlement Claim the Lunar Real Estate It Needs to Survive?”.

    Thanks for your interest and support.

    Alan Wasser

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