Feb 03 2009

Was the 1960s Apollo Moon program an "anomaly"?

Those of you not yet in your 50’s won’t remember it. And since then, there’s never been a time like it. The 1960s — the time of Camelot and Apollo — were special. Letting your mind casually drift through space events of the last few decades, and remembering that no human has ventured beyond Earth orbit since 1972, sometimes it’s easy to believe that Apollo must have been a historical fluke.

Was Apollo just blind, premature luck? Or is it starting to happen again right on schedule? Click apollo_rover.jpg.

This sentiment surfaced again recently in Aerospace America (January, 2009). In his summary of NASA’s current lunar agenda, Leonard David quotes well-known author Andrew Chaiken (A Man On the Moon) who asserts that Apollo was an anomaly because “political forces made the Moon our destiny … and all the forces aligned, however briefly. And by the time we got to the Moon, those forces were already starting to diverge.”

And Chaikin is hardly alone.

Actor Tom HanksApollo 13 star and major space advocate — suggests Apollo might have been early, “There was a national will and a mobilization of forces that could only come about by an executive order. We can….say we’re going to Mars someday, but it could be 120 years from now.” Without Kennedy we might not have traveled to the Moon “until the mid-1970s — maybe not even until the 1980s.”

Famous physicist Freeman Dyson (e.g., Dyson Sphere) expressed frustration with the political nature of the Space Station program during its development; although it’s a huge source of jobs, its utility for the human future in space wasn’t always the focus. Plus Dyson doesn’t “think we’re going to Mars in the next 50 years.”

I used to suffer from similar frustrations. For example, in my 1991 op-ed piece in Space News I saw the successful conduct of the first Gulf War as providing possible generic lessons for a future human planetary program. But it still wasn’t obvious to me what would drive it: “Perhaps the key hurdle facing SEI (Space Exploration Initiative) is identifying a motivation analogous to the Iraqi threat…There is little doubt that SEI would benefit science and international relations, and it would certainly elevate the human spirit. The question remains: can these worthy SEI rationales be formulated and communicated so that they become motivations as powerful as was the Iraqi threat?”

As I’ve since realized, looking for parallels between human space exploration and military conflicts can be misleading; they’re different creatures driven by fundamentally different forces. For example, a war is a “Survival Program” that can occur at any time, and funding isn’t an issue because national survival is Job #1. Although it’s never yet occurred (except in the movies), the challenge of deflecting an Earth-approaching asteroid might develop the same international urgency as a war. One could also argue that combating our current global economic crisis is also a “Survival Program,” at least in the financial sense. The Obama administration has given it great urgency and “stimulus” packages seem unlimited!

Notice also that our Economic Survival Program trumps human spaceflight. The champion of a U.S. return to the Moon by 2020 (Mike Griffin) has departed, and it is widely agreed that greater economic stability is a prerequisite for exporting human civilization to the Moon and beyond.

Although of great long-term value to civilization, this hierarchy suggests that NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) isn’t a “Survival Program.” It’s what I call a “Maslow Program.” Maslow programs are triggered only during unparalleled economic booms that occur twice per century, when large segments of society experience affluence-induced ebullience. For many, this short-lived ebullience propels them to elevated levels in Maslow’s hierarchy where great explorations and macro-engineering projects are not only supported, but seem almost irresistible. But for those who do not ascend to elevated Maslow states, their affluence-induced ebullience often results in tragically destructive pursuits like initiating major wars.

Macroeconomic data and historical trends over the last 200 years indicate that this model is closely allied with reality and has predictive power for the 21st Century. In fact, Apollo seems like a historical “anomaly” only because Maslow Windows (i.e., the decade-long intervals when Maslow Programs flourish) are typically separated by 55 to 60 years.

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Was the 1960s Apollo Moon program an "anomaly"?”

  1. […] Bruce Cordell Fecha Original: 3 de febrero de 2009 Enlace Original Articulos RelacionadosLa misión lunar SELENE observa el lugar de aterrizaje de Apolo XVEncontrada […]

  2. Chrison 06 Aug 2009 at 6:08 pm

    I think, if we can come through the problems we have now (like our over-reliance on fossil fuels), then we’ll have a chance of making meaningful progress in space sometime in the next century or so. It definitely won’t be 2020.

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your comment. Thanks also for your skepticism. In a world like this where so many in positions of authority are so confused about reality, skepticism is a very healthy response.

    Also, there’s only one thing we can say “definitely” about the future: It definitely cannot be predicted with certainty!

    That’s why I use a technique based on 200+ years of global economic, technology, and political trends. When you see patterns popping up repeatedly over 2+ centuries you have to be impressed. The media and most commentators have us so saturated with ultra-short term thinking that it’s hard for most to identify with a long-term perspective — that’s one reason 21stCenturyWaves.com was created.

    But I think you’ve got it a little backwards, we aren’t waiting to solve all our problems on Earth before we go into space; that’s like waiting until we get well before we go to the doctor! :)

    In reality, we’re going into space to help solve our problems on Earth !! A very important point. Energy is a perfect example of how this will work.

    It’s 2009. By 2025 — within 16 years or so of right now, based on the Maslow WIndows on the past 200 years — we should have international bases on the Moon, space power satellites near Earth, and maybe the first folks on Mars. But saying this is like time-traveling back to 1953 and walking up to someone and saying, “Do you realize that in 16 years or so the first men will land on the Moon?” But of course it happened! And it’s getting ready to happen again for the same economic and psychological reasons it did before.

    That’s why this website exists: To show how how these brief, but magnificent Maslow Windows originate and how they enable unprecendented exploration and technology programs that transform the world. And that it’s starting again, right now! Even our current global recession is a typical part of this picture; please check my archived posts on this topic.

    Keep thinking and reading…best regards,

  3. Anonymouson 27 Oct 2009 at 11:23 pm

    The mention of asteroids with earthbound vectors has always sent chills down my spine since I saw the movie Armageddon. While I know the plot is very unbelievable and has many holes and errors I do think there needs to be some sort of semblance of an idea as to what needs to be done should earth be hit by an asteroid. Take a look at this chilling video about what would happen if earth got hit by one.



    Thanks Jack.
    As Charleton Heston says at the beginning of Bruce Willis’ movie, “It’s happened before, and it will happen again.”

  4. Russon 06 Oct 2010 at 3:04 pm

    The 1960’s – was not an anomaly. It was exactly how SCIENCE & MODERN living should be. However, the awakening of the American public.. as to what was going on around the world, as well as here.. was not to the liking of those requiring a doclile & dumbed-down public. (“the docile masses of an enslaved nation”)..

    JFK changed everything. He basically.. ‘turned on the lights’ – and changed our stagnant.. fresh out of the WAR & ‘great’ DEPRESSION that those in power created for.. ‘us’. No more..!! People rose up & DEMANDED change..!!

    Our scientific & engineering expertise were quite up to the challenge..! And.. we DID walk on the Moon.. and DRIVE on the MOON..!!! We were officially.. an ‘inter-planetary’ society..!!!

    And then.. John F Kennedy, our GREATEST President EVER..!! …was MURDERED..!!! By the same scumbags that began the dismantling of our great science & technical society.. when RFK, Kennedy’s younger brother, who had worked tirelessly with President Kennedy.. working to make America the MODERN leader of the WORLD, they attempted to dismantle the WAR machine.. CIA, the Military-Industry complex that Eisenhower discovered as his experience during & after WWII.. the one that stiffed him & US.. by sending out the U-2 (Gary Powers) over Russia, just when Ike & Khrushchev were to meet.. seeking to reduce the huge buildup of NUKES..!! They – the same slimy syndicate that runs America, of course didn’t want PEACE..!!

    Khrushchev quote: “The more bombers, the less room for doves of peace.”

    I could (and should..!!) write a book..!! I’ll stop here though. Just understand this: We were ready for the moon & we are WAY beyond capable of building bases on the moon & Mars.. and so MUCH MORE ON EARTH…!!! Medical CURES..!! MODERN LIVING…!!! BUT.. the dark-ager’s that have emasculated America & dumbed the populace down.. down.. down.. have DESTROYED us. America is a corpse waiting for burial. What crawls out of this corpse will be another kind of life..

    Hi Russ,
    Thanks for your comment.

    The Sixties was a very special time, although NOT unique; indeed, there have been 4 transformative Maslow Windows since Lewis & Clark.

    I think JFK was a spectacular leader and the perfect symbol of Camelot for his times. But after looking closely at all 4 Maslow Windows I am inclined to conclude that: Great leaders help, but the economy rules!

    In other words if JFK had come along much earlier or later than he did, he would not have had as much impact. I’ve written about this a few times in the blog because it’s such an intriguing topic.

    Best regards,

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