20 July, 1969... Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down in the Sea of Tranquility on the Moon. And they had a reasonable expectation that their visit would not be their last. However 35 years later, Neil and Buzz and the rest of us aren't any closer to re-visiting their first Base Camp on that dusty plain.
What was once only a dream, became a reality, and yet is now a mere memory - why?
A hint can be found in how they did it - Apollo/Saturn. Cost a lot to develop and then NASA abandoned it, yet it never had a failure. In fact, aside from Apollo XIII in 1970, the system had fewer malfunctions than the Space Shuttle. But NASA had to give it away to sell a "cheaper" manned program to Nixon - or else there was going to be NO manned program, and maybe not much of an unmanned one either.
Nixon wanted to end the whole mad Moon-rush and redeploy the resources for all sorts of things. Hence no Apollo 18 or 19, though the equipment had all been built and was ready to go. Skylab survived by being too close to completion.
Another point is that the Shuttle got sold partly because of it fit in with the USAF's needs - something the purely civilian Apollo-Saturn could never do because it wasn't an aerospace plane. The USAF loved aerospace planes - the X-15 had been flying for years, the Dyna-Soar program had come close to fruition and they were actively researching lifting-bodies - and a huge manned vehicle just didn't suit. The Gemini program suited them better - it used their Titan rockets and was the basis of their Manned Orbital Laboratory. Apollo-Saturn stank too much of NASA.
So Neil and Buzz and all the rest never got to go back. A shame IMHO. A few more Apollo Moon-shots into the 1970s would have made for a greater impetus in the 1980s. But maybe Voyage is right - all the spectacular unmanned achievements of the 1970s/80s been passed-up to pay for it.
Posted at 11:56 am by Adam