What do you think of the space race?

The thread on when the “Space Age” ended made me think about the race to the moon. Specifically I thought “what a waste of effort”. Some reasons:
–It looks more and more like the moon was a dead end of manned exploration. Had we gone on to colonize Mars and beyond, the moon landing in my mind would have been equal to Columbus’ voyage. However, the fact we haven’t even gotten back to the moon makes the voyage seem pointless.
–The whole “we needed to beat the Russians for prestige” seems ridiculous. Wouldn’t our way higher standard of living and liberty matter if the Russian got to the moon first? Plus I bet people in the third world were influenced far more by MLK’s murder or footage from Vietnam than some guys landing on the moon.
What’s you view? (I’m 33 if that makes any difference.)

The space race was important. We didn’t know what we would find on the moon once we got there. It turned out to be dick but the prestige was still important. I think you underestimate how much it inspired people. I am 34 and the first missions happened before my time but it still seems very important to me.

Even if the moon is a desolate wasteland, the research involved is still invaluable to this day. InterContinental Ballistic Missiles that can nuke any country in the world within 1 hours notice depends on that technology. The U.S. needs that.

As stated above, the reason we have never gone back to the moon is because it is pointless. China is trying to do it which is pathetic. We already know there is nothing there. Mars would be cool but we already have rovers and probes there. There may be some type of life on Mars but there is no reason actual humans need to be there to figure it out. The trip there could be done but the trip back would be a real bitch.

The total failure of the USSR’s N-1 lunar booster amounted to an involuntary unilateral withdrawl from the space race. Apparently there were two rival rocket bureaus in the USSR, one backing the N-1 design and one backing a completely different design called the UR-700. When Khrushchev was deposed the alternate design lost it’s backers, and the Soviet Union bet it’s money on the wrong horse.

If the Soviet Union had beaten the US to the Moon by as little as a month, Apollo/Skylab would probably have been continued into the 1980s.

Semiconductor reliability.

We didn’t stop going to the moon because nothing was there. We stopped because we as a country decided the money was better spent in the jungles of Vietnam instead of on the future, and because Richard Nixon was damned if he would continue something JFK started. Kennedy had vision - the later presidents no.

You might say he had eyes in the back of his head.

A) Things were different then. The Cold War had the potential to devolve into, essentially, the end of the world. As such, pretty much any and all alternate races, battles, and games we could compete with the USSR on, the better as this gave the politicians on their side something to work on that wasn’t immediately dangerous.

B) Since the space race has ended, the main issue has been that what NASA would like to do keeps getting scrapped by the government, and new objectives imposed. Unfortunately, the sorts of things that are meaningful (i.e. have the potential to lead to more and better things) would involve 20, 40, or 100 year if not more commitments. The US government just isn’t willing to set aside large chunks of money for some other group to arbitrarily use on scales that large, nor are they that patient.

Space race? It was cool and we should do it again.

I question this. What we found closely matched what was predicted.

Yes, and what we found wasn’t much.

The “space race” was mostly political. And when Bush said he had a plan to send manned spacecraft to Mars, he was doing it for political reasons. Or maybe just rhetorical reasons (“Look everybody, I have vision, like JFK”).

I’m sure there’s something to be learned by the zero-gravity experiments in the Space Station, but I’m not sure what those experiments have yielded so far.

I think they’re actually planning to have a manned, permanent station on the moon. I don’t really know why. What’s so special about the moon, other than less gravity and no life?

The Space Race? I’ve always been convinced it was 50% prestige – which IS important. Appearance isn’t everything, but it’s a big thing. The Russians were damned glad that they got the first successful satellite launch and the first human into space. That had a major morale boost for them (It proved they were a technologically capable people) and a major downer for the US – read any contemporary accounts. Read memoirs of people about what it felt like then.
The other 50% was an excuse to devlop ballistic missile technology. What freaked people out after Sputnik was the thought that, instead of a radio transmitter or a dog, the Soviets could as easily have put a nuke in that missile, and that really bothered people. You could shoot down a Soviet bomber on its way to New York, but not a missile.

It’s not an accident that the missiles used in the US space race were platforms for lobbing military hardware – Redstone, Atlas, and Titan boosters existed in non-astronaut versions. We practiced shooting up rockets that wouldn’t blow up, tracking them, performing rendezvous and other maneuvers. It was all great practice.
So then we got to the moon, so we punched that major ticket, and we had developed the basic skills. And sending things into orbit was incredibly expensive, so there wasn’t any point in a wagon wheel space station, or a base on the moon, or a manned expedition to Mars. Plenty of people hoped for it, but the government didn’t want to fund it.

ICBM development occured entirely independent of the manned space program, and indeed, it was the adaptation of ICBM boosters (Redstone, Atlas, Titan II) to man-rated space launch vehicles that facilitated the rapid pace of the early space program before the Saturn family of rockets was in production. Concerted IRBM and ICBM research in the United States stems back to 1956-1957, when the US discovered that the Soviets were working on the R-7 rocket, which is before anybody but a few rocket enthusiasts and science fiction authors sincerely believed that humanity would place people in space in the 20th century.

For China, going to the Moon is a smart move for long term space exploration, allowing them to gain experience in flying to and landing on extraterrestrial bodies, and demonstrating technological parity with the US. There may be “nothing there” (and even if there is, it is certainly less accessible than resources to be found in smaller Near Earth Objects) but politically it puts them on the forefront of spacefaring nations. For the US the effort is somewhat more questionable, although our previous efforts are the work of two generations past now and it might be a good step just to develop the experience. The value of a permanent base on the Moon, however, is highly questionable; there is little to be done on the Moon that can’t be more readily done in orbit, and the challenges of travelling to and landing upon other planets or moons are different enough that its value is limited to being a weighholding project until propulsion and space habitat technology is sufficiently advanced to make the proposition of a manned interplanetary journey a manageable risk.

Nope. The development of prodcution-grade integrated circuits was done for the D-37C computer of the Minuteman II guidence set. The same technology was used for the Apollo flight computers, but it was developed and deployed on Minuteman several years before the first Apollo SM was ever built. In general, ICs used in the space program and space launch vehicles have lagged behind IC development for commercial applications in the interest of reliability and ruggedness in the radiation environment of space. The modern semiconductor computers that allow you to play World of Warcraft and download porn are reliable and robust because semiconductor manufacturers have implemented high grade quality control programs for commercial production.

The value of the space race? Well, for one it permitted the reigning superpowers to compete in a way that didn’t involve invading small Southeast Asian nations (at least, for a while). For another, it demonstrated that there are peaceful applications for rockets, and supported a large research and engineering base outside of (or at least to the side of) the military-industrial establishment, providing jobs and supporting technology development at a cost of a few pennies a day to the American taxpayer. It has also developed communications and climate observation technology that we now take for granted, and facilitated the transfer of technology developed for military programs to the general engineering public. And while it is only a small fraction of the total budget for the space program (most of which goes to manned programs) it has allowed us a window into the Universe which has confirmed, refined, and altered our understanding of how nature works.

Some would ignore the former advances and focus upon the latter, arguing that this is of no value to the average taxpayer, and that we should instead spend such monies on planet Earth; say, for social spending, or building more highways, or perhaps constructing another dozen air-conditioned sliding roof sports stadiums. But that supposedly abstract knowledge, only of immediate interest to a small group of eggheads, will almost certainly yield vastly more returns than any terrestrial investment. Even if we, as a species, never leave the planet and colonize elsewhere–a prospect that is debatable–the understanding that we gain from observations made by spacecraft allow us to predict changes in Earth’s climate, observe the behavior of the Sun, watch for (and perhaps someday avert) potential space hazards, peer upon other each other and make it harder for one nation to commit subterfuge, et cetera. It’s a comparative bargin relative to much government spending.


I think it was a waste of resources. Much better to launch cheap, empty rockets, then film landings on sound stages to get bragging rights. Pity no-one else thought of that idea.

What? The hell you say…

No it wasn’t an accident - but not the way you think. The reason man missions before Apollo used military hardware was that the military hardware existed, was proved in, and could do the job. Saturn was developed because no ICBMs had lift capacity for a moon mission. As Explorer I demonstrated, we had orbital capacity before Sputnik, but Eisenhower and Jerry Wiesner prevented von Braun from launching it.

There was more to the impact of Sputnik than just the military one. We were very confident that we were technologically ahead of the Russians. When they beat us into space - and into manned spaceflight, it was quite a slap at American exceptionalism. The Commies beat capitalism,. which we knew led to the very best technology.

True, but also because the Japanese told HP their products sucked. Which they did, along with everyone elses. In the early '80s Teletype used to note the serial numbers on shipments from Intel, since they had the experience of getting a lot they rejected back again.
A government lab I have worked with has its own fab, since they have to be quite a few generations behind the industry to get feature sizes big enough for rad hardening. They also had very low volumes.

But far more important than IC reliability is integration. A system with more stuff on-chip and fewer components on a board is more reliable, since the IC is the last thing to fail.

But in support of your major point, I know the background of this area pretty well, and most IC reliability work was done by the big companies like AT&T and IBM. I’ve never seen any papers from NASA. I’ve just started working with people in the current defense sector, and they are way behind us in the commercial sector.

Yeah, this is an example of nobody realizing the application potential until they had it. Initial development of ICs was done for ICBM guidance systems, but once the very lucrative commercial applications were found it was commercial development, not military or space, which caused and funded the massive growth in semiconductor technology. The AP-101 computer on the Apollo was pretty cutting edge for 1965, but by 1975 it has been superseded by high end programmable ‘pocket’ calculators (in raw computation capability, although as a real time avionics controller the comparison is apples and oranges, or at least Granny Smiths and Fujis). The AP-101s that flew the Shuttles were positively archaic compared to something you could buy off the shelf at Radio Shack, though they had two advantages; a vast legacy of avionics code and experience, and known reliability via the robustness of the architecture and ferrite core memory.

Defense technology is a curious mix of bleeding edge development (for high performance) and obsolescent technology, sometimes for reliability and robustness, but often just cost-savings, commonality, and COTS (commercial off the shelf). It’s amazing how much of current technology started off from military funding and then developed onward, far past what anyone needed or asked for. Cellular communications, superalloys, and microprocessors are just a few examples of this.