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Old 08-09-2019, 09:49 PM
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The Apollo program was started because of the Cold War. Sputnik scared the bejeebus out of the US government because of fears of how space might alter the strategic balance between the US and USSR. People thought that nuclear warheads would be based in space (an idea that survived even as long as the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey).

Before Apollo became focused on sending men to the moon, the defense establishment was thinking in terms of a crash program to develop a massive "spacelift" capability to put men, vehicles, warheads and bases in space as fast as possible. There were a couple of different proposals to establish USAF bases on the moon that would have called for dozens of launches per year to assemble and fuel vehicles in Earth orbit. All this was taking place in a development environment of multiple military and government agencies continually revising their plans. What shook out was that different proposals and programs evolved into Saturn/Apollo, which would focus its efforts on an absolutely-soonest manned landing, with hardware adequate to support any other national strategic goals in space.

But by the mid-1960s it became obvious that the earlier Cold War scenarios weren't necessary. Chiefmost was the realization that ICBMs could deliver warheads as quickly and far more reliably than any space-based program; and that there was little men could do in space (e.g. reconnaissance) that couldn't be done almost as well and vastly cheaper by remote controlled satellites. The improvement of guidance systems and electronics in less than ten years had made manned systems redundant, despite the Air Force's best attempts to keep piloted vehicles in the loop.

All this culminated in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty which more or less ended the "Space Race" in purely military terms. It banned nationalizing celestial bodies, basing nukes in space, and interfering with other nations' peaceful exploration of space. In other words, the original purpose of Saturn/Apollo ceased to exist before the first manned missions even flew.

So in summary, Apollo wasn't a boondoggle in 1961; but it came to fruition too late.
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