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Not About Space

I've often said that Apollo wasn't about space, and that was one of the reasons that those who hope to resurrect the "space program" on an Apollo model are doomed to failure. The implication, of course, is that space activities that "aren't about space" are a bad thing. My old friend (old in the sense that I've known him a long time, not that either he or I are old...) Jim Muncy has a different opinion:

Space exploration is not merely about the wonders of science and technology, although it produces countless discoveries and innovations. It is not merely about stunning images and daring adventures, although it has those aplenty. And to the disbelief of so many space professionals and aficionados alike, it is not even really about outer space.

Rather, space exploration is about strengthening and spreading the very essence of freedom: the magic of going and doing what you want, where you want, when you want and why you want. It is about the endless and innately human quest for a better, wiser and richer life, not just for yourself today but for generations hence. Freedom is as much about the creation and pursuit of new dreams, horizons and challenges as it is about achieving them.


[via Mark Whittington]

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 23, 2004 10:51 PM
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I would like to add on to Mr. Muncy's observation. Space exploration is also about kindling the flame that young children get for science when we talk about the future of space. Who as a child did not want to be an astronaut? When we give up on space, we give up the flame in potential great minds for the fields of mathematics, science, and engineering that were first ignited by a passion to leave the bounds of earth.

Posted by Robert Murphy at February 24, 2004 04:36 AM

Can we all please stop waiting for some "Pied Piper" to lead space advocates to the promised land? One reason JFK remained the mythic hero of Apollo was that he was shot to death in Dallas and America wasn't ready to let go of the shared illusion we called Camelot.

Still, I would very much enjoy a debate between Mr. Muncy and Professor Jeffrey Bell. That would be fun!

= = =

Anyway, what America needs is a bi-partisan space policy that can survive transitions in political power and does not depend on the charisma or political power of any one man.

Posted by Bill White at February 24, 2004 07:42 AM

Do we or should we have a presumption of liberty? I'm interested in getting a copy of this book... Restoring the Lost Constitution : The Presumption of Liberty

I'm not sure what in total is meant by the "Apollo model." For me, born in 1959, the Apollo model has two meanings. The first was the political space race, which never really was about the Moon... the Moon was only a convenient finish line so we could say we won.

The second was the can do attitude, failure was not an option. As a result, designs were not based on somebodies fantasy of what they should be, but rather on what worked. Buck Rogers was STO, but staging works. We gained experience thru Mercury and Gemini, including space walks and rendezvous, but we didn't put together a Moon expedition in orbit using Gemini LVs... we build the Saturn V. OTOH, we didn't wait for some exotic new technology, we used what we had along with building what we needed.

To me, the highlight of the space program was getting the Apollo 13 astronauts back alive. That is what it's all about, having difficulties and overcoming them. Ok, that's not quite true. Neil and Buzz really stole the show, but as I've matured, so has my perspective.

The presumption of liberty is something I always thought of as obvious, realizing that at the same time we all oppose it in different ways. Living off the Earth is a liberty that I for one, want to presume.

Sometimes, in the course of human events, governments must be part of the fight for liberty... but after they immediately assume a role in opposition to personal liberty. I want freedom and I want liberty... and yes, that's part of what the space program is about.

Posted by ken anthony at February 24, 2004 07:48 AM

Having been in my late 20's when the seminal event of the time occured, the Appolo model to me has always meant the single minded pursuit of a singular goal with no thought whatsoever of what comes next.
With Gemini we had an excellent system for delivering man to orbit, with Saturn we had an excellent system for heavy lifting into orbit, especially as the system itself was an excellent raw material, see SpaceLab. In orbit assembly and all of the necessary accouterments to accomplishing it were at our fingertips.
However, good Republican that I am notwithstanding, Nixon's biggest failure was not Watergate but the bean counting, no vision drop all except the re-usable launch vehicle, the Shuttle.
Tens of billions of dollars in awards to private industry will put us back on the Moon, take us to Mars, bring asteroids into Earth orbit for processing into space habitats, ala O'Neal and start humankind on the next great diaspora, into the Universe.

Posted by Mike Daley at February 24, 2004 07:20 PM


It will take more than scientists, engineers, and mathematicians to settle space. There will need to be miners, doctors, bankers, lawyers, architects, bartenders, musicians, and all other walks of life. I would like to start inspiring some of those people to start looking for ways to go to space, too.

Posted by John Lanius at February 24, 2004 09:04 PM


I remember the price freeze during Nixon's admin, but have never studied or read about that period from an economic point of view... it was an extraordinary time.

There's a truism that thinking slows you down. Taking your definition of the Apollo model I might draw the conclusion that the only problem with it was the definition of the goal (I've been in management training in other settings where they say essentially that.) Now that I've set up this little strawman, let me knock him down... Vision is something beyond just setting goals and achieving them. Vision, JFK's famous speech being one example, was never expressed in a way that would lead to expansion of efforts. GWB has to some extent expressed that kind of vision.

In my mind, the problem is confusing the Apollo model... the single minded determination to reach a goal... with vision. Vision and goals are NOT the same thing.

Of course, goals themselves can be open ended or closed. Let's plant a flag is closed. Let's start a colony is open. I'd like for people to remember those distinctions when making decisions about a seminal event in human history, our outward migration.

Posted by ken anthony at February 25, 2004 08:03 AM

In my dotage I think you're agreeing with me. Kennedy notwithstanding, Appolo was a goal, not part of a vision of humankind entering the extra-terrestrial universe.
If Kennedy had had the vision it appears GW "might" have, we would be walking on Mars and bringing nickel iron asteroids from the Belt to near earth orbit for the construction of L5 habitats.
Given the political vagaries of funding for space is the main reason I support the huge rewards, 10's of to 100's of billions of dollars, for private accomplishment of stated goals. Of course I was also influenced by reading Heinlein and other SF authors in the early 50's who always had an altruistic tycoon underwriting the Moon/Mars or whereever.
You guys are all so obviously better informed than me I wonder what the H I'm doing here.

Posted by Mike Daley at February 25, 2004 08:02 PM

In response to this:

>> If Kennedy had had the vision it appears GW "might" have, we would be walking on Mars and bringing nickel iron asteroids from the Belt to near earth orbit for the construction of L5 habitats.

Kennedy died long before his vision was fulfilled.

Since GWB intends for NASA to fly the orbiter through 2010, and perhaps longer if ISS remains uncompleted, I suspect that the "vision" of Bill Frist may be of more importance than the "vision" of GWB.

Posted by Bill White at February 26, 2004 12:47 PM

Mike, there's a purpose for us old guys... I don't know what it is, but I know we got one. ;)

Posted by ken anthony at February 27, 2004 12:22 PM

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