One Small Do-Over For Man

Here is a thought experiment: imagine if computer technology halted with the 70-pound / 16-bit guidance computers used on the Apollo program’s command and lunar modules. In 2024, writing a program in BASIC language that printed out “Hello World” would be a headline-grabbing critical milestone.

NSAS’s testimony last week to the House Science and Space subcommittee sounded like it was from a “bizarro world” similar to one described on an episode of the TV comedy Seinfeld. The Daily Wire summarized it thus: “The subcommittee reiterated the nation’s goal of landing a human crew within the decade, and emphasized the importance of beating other countries in landing the first crew on the moon: the first country there would establish precedence on the conduct and possibility of future lunar activities.”

This has a bit of a “been there, done that” vibe, as back in 1961 President John F. Kennedy (“JFK”) stated in a 1961 speech to Congress that America should: “commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

Of course, that decade was the 1960s — when color television was state of the art, and smartphones, Uber drivers, and Amazon Prime were science fiction.

NASA spokesperson Catherine Koerner said to the subcommittee: “We believe that we will be on the surface of the moon before China is, and it’s our intent for that to happen.”

Per the wisdom of Yogi Berra, that sounds like “deja vu all over again”.

JFK’s Vice President Lyndon Johnson spoke to NASA leaders in 1961 and reported in a memo to JFK that “with a strong effort” the United States “could conceivably” beat the Soviets in sending a person around the Moon or landing a person on the Moon.

It sounds like a bad Hollywood reboot of another classic science fiction franchise. The Chinese are now the bad guys instead of the Soviets, and in keeping with good wokeness, the lunar program is now called “Artemis”, who in Greek Mythology was the goddess sister of Apollo.

Like a lady who makes her date wait at the door while she fixes her hair and makeup just right, the Artemis program has been rife with technical problems and delays. Difficulties persist with such systems as batteries, a heat shield, air ventilation, and temperature control. Artemis II was to be a manned mission to orbit the Moon — but has been delayed from November 2024 to September 2025. Artemis III was to land humans on the Moon — but has been delayed from December 2025 to December 2026.

Nealy 55 years ago, Apollo 11 landed on the lunar surface. Five more manned missions occurred through Apollo 17 in 1972, resulting in a total of 12 humans to have ever walked on the moon.

By 2024, only the uber-wealthy can travel to space —and only just barely at that. Jeff Bezos in 2021 flew a ten-minute journey 66 miles above the ground in a vehicle he financed. After 55 years, space travel should be accessible to far more people and there should be a base on the Moon.

The Artemis program is intended to prepare for manned missions to Mars — but humanity is a very long way from being ready for that. For openers, travel to Mars would mean two years in space for the astronauts involved.

The space suits worn by the Apollo mission astronauts were not constructed for more than a single use of a few days duration, let alone two years. Lack of weather, moisture, and erosion on the Moon’s surface results in sharp sand grains that would quickly clog filters and wreak havoc on gauges and instrumentation. The pressure of the Apollo suits can be compared to wearing a football. This results in many limitations of mobility and precision manual tasks.

What happened to the U.S. Space program?

It has fallen victim to politics in the past five decades. For manned space missions, NASA abandoned expendable vehicles in favor of the Shuttle program in the late 1970s. The Shuttle was useful for travel to the International Space Station or for repair and maintenance of satellites. It could not, however, leave Earth’s orbit — let alone land on the Moon and return. The shuttle looked “cool”, was reusable, and could be sold to the public.

President Barack Hussein Obama had better uses for NASA: namely, reach out to the Muslim world and let them know how great they are at math. All that boring space stuff was just soooo 1969 to progressives such as Obama.

Obama’s NASA chief Charlie Bolden said: “One, he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math; he wanted me to expand our international relationships; and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering,”

Maybe Obama had bad information that “Algebra” was named after “Algeria”. Spoiler alert: it’s not.

Manned space travel in general under the Obama administration was apparently beneath the United States. When the Shuttle program ended in 2011 with no replacement, America’s solution for sending people to space was to use Russia’s Soyuz vehicles as a space Uber. Hitching a ride with our “BFF” allies in this manner came at the bargain basement price of $85 million per astronaut per mission.

Add the recent Artemis difficulties, and the upshot is that America’s manned space program is a hot mess in 2024.

Basement-dwelling conspiracists have been peddling the theory that no one has ever landed on the Moon, and that the lunar landing footage was faked in various ways. An amusing twist on this is that the late film director Stanley Kubrick was hired by NASA to film the false landing. His horror classic The Shining supposedly has numerous coded messages pointing to this.

Yet another comical spin is the notion that Kubrick, a perfectionist known for reshooting scenes over 100 times, became frustrated at the extreme difficulty involved in the project. As a result, he gave up and decided to just film on the Moon itself.

Based on the “keystone cops” difficulties NASA is encountering repeating a 50-year-old accomplishment, it’s unfortunate Kubrick has passed away. He might be able to help.