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A Political History of Apollo

A limited-series podcast from The Planetary Society

Why did the United States send humans to the Moon—and why did the nation pull back after landing only six times?

This special edition podcast attempts to answer those questions by engaging some of the world's leading space policy experts and historians. Hosted by Casey Dreier, the Chief Advocate and Senior Space Policy Adviser at The Planetary Society, this podcast goes beyond flags and footprints to the political pre-history of the space age, the cold war, and the collapse of the political consensus that led the United States to retreat from the Moon.

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Episodes

Episodes 1 & 2 were released on Monday, July 15th, 2019. Subsequent episodes are released every Monday through the completion of the series.

Episode 1: Why It Happened

When President Kennedy announced Project Apollo, the United States was locked in a global ideological conflict with the Soviet Union. But how did the idea of a Moon shot come to be the answer to a political problem? And why did it happen when it did? Dr. Roger Launius, former Chief Historian of NASA and currently the Principal at Launius Historical Services, explains why Apollo happened and where it came from. His latest book, Apollo's Legacy: Perspectives on the Moon Landings is available now.

Episode 2: The Soviet Moonshot

The Soviet space program launched the first artificial satellite, the first man, and the first woman into space. Soviet cosmonauts performed the first spacewalk and piloted the first two-person spacecraft. But it was the United States that placed the first humans on the surface of the Moon. What happened? Dr. Asif Siddiqi, author of Challenge to Apollo: The Soviet Union and the Space Race (PDF Download), helps answer that question.

Episode 3: The Home Front

In 1964, 40% of the public did not approve of Project Apollo, and more than 50% did not think the moon shot was "worth the cost" throughout the 1960s. Kennedy himself questioned the commitment and considered cooperating—instead of competing—with the Soviet Union in space. At the same time, there was an explosion of space-related pop culture and citizen engagement with the space race. Dr. Emily Margolis, whose dissertation was titled Space Travel at 1G: Space Tourism in Cold War America, joins the show to explore the complicated politics of the home front during Project Apollo.

Episode 4: Why it Ended

After more than a decade's worth of work and billions of dollars spent, the United States could send humans to the surface of the Moon whenever it wanted. But after landing only six times, the country just walked away, closing down production lines, laying off tens of thousands of workers, and committing humans to low-Earth orbit seemingly indefinitely. Why did it end? And was this inevitable?

Episode 5: A Gift or a Curse?

In the final episode, producer Mat Kaplan joins Casey to reflect on the lessons and legacy of Apollo. Was it a burden on the space program or a gift for future generations? What can we take away from this single data point of humans walking on another world? And what should we be wary of?

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