If we could land on the Moon 35 years ago, why can't we now?

This has bugged me forever. Well, not literally “forever”, but you get what I’m saying. If we could put someone on the Moon over three decades ago, using, as Spock might say, the technological equivalent of Stone Knives and Bearskins, why can’t we do the same thing NOW?

Seriously, can somebody, anybody, explain to me how we managed to land men on the moon clear back when Slide-rules were considered High Tech, but now NASA bascially says it’d take 20 years for them to put together a manned lunar mission?

Now, I’m not saying that the lunar landing was a hoax. But given the massive leaps forward that we’ve made in every single area of science and engineering, why is it that we seem LESS able to stage a lunar landing now than we were over three decades ago?

There’s no doubt we can do it again. All it takes is money.

Of course, it would take a lot more money to go again, even when accounting for inflation. This is because we have tolerance for things going wrong vs. back then. Plus there’s the environmental impact stuff.

I should have said we have less tolerance for things going wrong… :smack:

Two other problems:
First is that the talent we had for building aircraft/spacecraft has retired, or moved away.
Back in the 60’s new military aircraft were being designed and built all the time. Many (most?) of those companies were located in and near Southern California. Lockheed, Northrup, North American just to name the first three that came to mind. Nowadays we don’t have that concentration of talent in any one area.

The other problem is a lack of national will. In the 60’s we wanted to go to the moon. Try to get a majority of Americans to agree that we should go again. Good luck.

Of course we could put a man on the moon again, and in certainly less than 20 years if we wanted to. It would cost a lot a money, though. While we could certainly build on the knowledge gained from Apollo, note that a great deal of information stored on obsolete, decaying computer tape from the 1960s and '70s has been irretrievably lost. Also, today’s safety standards are higher, NASA is more conservative and hidebound, and politicians as well as the public are less forgiving of accidents (or at least NASA perceives that to be the case).

For all of these reasons, the entire second lunar program would have to be basically restarted from scratch.

BTW, realize that the Apollo program followed directly from the Gemini and Mercury programs. Project Mercury began on October 7, 1958, so from the start of this first manned program, it took 11 years to put a man on the moon. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it took longer the second time around, but what it comes down to is how much funding we are willing to put into the effort, and how much risk we are willing to accept.

Interesting and compelling answers. I’m basically boiling it down to “red tape and apathy”. :slight_smile: Yet that’s probably the reason MOST things don’t get done in the world- too hard to get permission, and most people don’t care if it doesn’t directly benefit them.

No. I was around then. Slide rulers were considered low tech. Computers were considered high tech.

Red tape has nothing to do with it. If folks could generate some compelling reasons to go to the moon – compelling to the tune of billions upon billions of dollars – that red tape would be sliced through in an instant.

If you recall, earlier this year, President Bush proposed that we establish a permanent base on the moon as a launching pad for a mission to Mars. Many folks looked at the cost of that proposal, looked at the budget deficit, and said simply, “No freakin’ way.”

That being said, with the recent first commercial venture into space, there’s been more talk of space tourism, including a possible commercial trip to the moon. These folks seem rather serious about that.

Well the common wisdom when I was in engineer school was that the plans and tooling for the Saturn V rockets – the only things with enough lift to get that much equipment out of Earth’s gravity well – were destroyed in the 80’s at the behest of conservative Senators, led by one Sen. Proxmire, IIRC. But this was probably just legend.

A quick Google reveals this site that claims that the plans are on still on file. As for the tooling, it’s probably in useless condition by now, 40 years later, even if it’s not destroyed or recycled.

Considering what we spent on the International Space Station, it’s not technically impossible to go to the moon again. We just can’t do it next week.

But considering all of the safety and reliability hoops that have to be jumped through just to get a shuttle flight to the space station, especially after two failures with all hands lost, it may well be impossible bureaucratically to send a man all the way to the frickin’ moon.

What, are you mad? The moon far too risky! Heck, NASA won’t even go to Hubble, fercrissakes.

JFK, and certainly many others at the time, felt that whoever ruled space would also rule the earth. Therefore it was absolute priority number one that we get to space and then to the moon. Cost and resources weren’t an issue, because everyone was certain that if we didn’t do it we’d all be speaking Russian by the end of the next decade (ok, I’m exaggerating a bit, but not much). Without the same lack of budget constraints and the same motivation it is definately going to take a lot longer.

Another thing to consider is that the average automobile today driving down the highway has a more powerful computer than the one that took the astronauts to the moon. Simplicity has its advantages. Modern computers, with their triple redudancy and more computing horsepower, can do a LOT more than older computers (I believe part of the Apollo navigation was actually done on the ground and sent via radio up to the computer on the spacecraft, just because it didn’t have enough computing power) but this added complexity means it takes longer to design and debug the thing.

A legend starting with the idea that William Proxmire was a conservative!

There are some major differences between developing aircraft and spacecraft. In some ways, today’s workforce is better qualified than the workforce at the beginning of Gemini (Mercury was just a man-in-a-can; Gemini was the real beginning of the moon landing effort). (Unmanned) space launch vehicles are being actively developed today and there are plenty of experienced engineers in that area. The Apollo project management was modeled on the ICBM systems engineering from the 50s, but the engineers themselves were needed on such a huge scale that many had practically no experience in spaceflight. The average age at NASA was something like 30. On the other hand, today there seems to be a lack of the real giants like von Braun who were around for Apollo. The big thinkers tend to go into computers or biotech these days.

I think the heart of it is the lack of will. Every few years someone does a study of the aerospace workforce and how all the talent is being lost to retirement, and they recommend increasing spending on development programs and raising salaries, but nobody ever does it.

There was a UL going around that “the plans” for the Saturn V rocket and the command and service modules had been destroyed; but it’s not true. The real problem with re-creating a Saturn V system would be finding things like 30-year-old transistors and such. We have better computers, better systems, better engines, better everything. It would be a waste to re-create a Saturn V. We would have to do it all from scratch using the modern components we have now.

Well, I actually “work” in this field (I’m a grad student in planetary geology). So maybe I can answer a bit.

The main reason we haven’t gone back since Apollo 17 was the lack of interest among the American people. Folks found it novel at first, and we proved our “superiority” to the USSR. But then it bored folks and people found it a waste of money. It was very expensive then, much more so than any solar system mission going on now.
We certainly have the technology to get back there, and we don’t need the Saturn V. Folks are looking into a trip to orbit in a vehicle like the shuttle and then launch from orbit. But this is all very much on the drawing board. We are lacking the very important money.

The president’s address, although not really financialy backed, has stirred furvor among space scientists, and they are planning missions that fit in with the president’s agenda.

However, a lot of scientists feel robotic missions are a lot more worthwhile and cost efficient, so active planning still involves this type of mission. For instance there is a mission in development to return samples from the far side of the Moon (South Pole-Aitken). This is robotic. My advisor is involved in a mission to deploy a set of seismometers on the Moon. This will give us invaluable information about the Moon’s interior structure.

To get more information about the topic of people returning to the Moon from people that are loud and respected voices in this field, check out an excellent book by Paul Spudis called “The Once and Future Moon”.
Also try a Google search for some of the well written rants by Harrison Schmitt (the last man to set foot on the Moon , and a geologist) proposing our return to the Moon. Schmitt is a big proponent of mining He3 from the Moon and returning it to Earth for energy purposes. He believes we need humans to do the mining.

What is the payload of the shuttle compared to a Saturn V? Wouldn’t you have to haul a hell of a lot of fuel to orbit in several shuttle trips?

Sorry, I don’t know. I am on the science side, and pretty ignorant of that aspect.
I’m just reporting what I’ve heard, and as I said, it’s still just at the discussion stage.

I think, though, that the point about launching from orbit is that once you’re out of the irresistable influence of our planet’s gravity, you don’t need much fuel to get to the Moon. Fuel would be needed for landing and taking off from the Moon mostly.

You have to get your mass there first. Moving the mass from orbit, which of course the shuttle doesn’t leave, to the moon requires a lot of gas.

Have you heard any discussion about why to go back? If you go into the Moon’s gravity well for a mission to, say, Mars, you have to use more fuel to leave the moon. Seems like a waste of effort.

A really, really big rocket is needed if you want to get people to Mars from the surface of the Earth in one go, so it’s probably better to assemble the vehicle in orbit.

Now, I’ve heard the argument that you could use the Moon as a good jumping off point too, but only if you can make the fuel there. If there’s water on the moon, then you could build a big-ass rocket using stuff you mine right there, fuel it with hydrogen and oxygen from split water, and it might be easier than building the thing in orbit, easy enough that there’s a net gain.

Personally, I don’t know if I buy it. It must take a lot of effort to build a rocket factory on the Moon. Maybe this would work out if you already plan on having a major presence on the Moon to begin with. Still leaves us with the question of why go to the Moon in the first place.

If there’s no water on the Moon, it’s definitely pointless to use the Moon as your launch platform.

I thought the whole point about using the moon was because it was practice for Mars. Most of the manned missions to Mars proposals include quite a stay on Mars - with shelters being built, rocket fuel being made for the trip home, etc. The moon is not like Mars in many ways - but it’s a lot closer. Lets make our mistakes three days away rather than 6 months.


That, sir, is a very good point.

Apollo 13 got back with power from the LEM, Newtonian Mechanics and navigating with a sextant.

You’ve converted me to going back to the Moon. You’d just have to keep a LEM ready for every two guys and a lifeboat of some sort in lunar orbit.