On This Episode
Board of Directors of The Planetary Society; Professor Emeritus and founder, Space Policy Institute, The George Washington University
Chief Advocate & Senior Space Policy Adviser for The Planetary Society
Planetary Radio Host and Producer for The Planetary Society
As NASA struggles to return humans to the Moon by 2024, it's worth asking: why did it stop in the first place? Space historian John Logsdon joins the show to discuss the politics behind the decision to abandon the Moon in 1972. Casey and Mat also discuss the proposal to offer a $2 billion prize for sending humans back to the Moon and establishing a base there, and why that's not good public policy.
NOTE: This automated transcript is currently being edited by a human. Check back soon for updates.
[00:00:00] Welcome space policy folks. This is madcap the most to planetary radio back with the September 2019 space policy edition of our show joining me. Once again is the chief advocate for the planetary Society. BK she dryer Casey. I want to welcome you and I'm looking forward to yet. Another of these great interviews that you did as part of that Apollo miniseries.
Well, thanks Matt always love to be on my favorite podcast in the entire world was made policy Edition. And why am I not surprised? It's pretty good. It's pretty good as an objective opinion. Well, we're going to provide some other objective. We hope opinions of some of the things going on the [00:01:00] news in the news today before we get to that interview with one of your faves one of my faves the great John logsdon.
Yeah, we had a very good discussion capping off our series of interviews here on the 50th anniversary of Apollo. We talked with John logsdon about why Apollo stopped and what were the motivations what happened in order to walk away from building up hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure capability for the United States just to say well we did it and to move on John logsdon was there while it happened he obviously found at the space policy Institute one of the.
Space historians in the world today. I think it's a really interesting cap and really nice comparison to the original discussion. We had with Roger launius. Why did Apollo happen? Why did it end and kind of has the same story of what sorts of external political forces were going on? To drive the need for a moon program and then of course once we landed to make it [00:02:00] effectively irrelevant going forward from political perspective.
I think every space Advocate should listen to this interview and really internalized. The lessons learned from this going forward if we want to have a long-term sustainable human presence Beyond low-earth orbit, and we will have that interview for you in just a few minutes as promised a couple of other things that we will talk about before that and even before that.
I want to make our usual pitch to those of you who enjoy this program. Maybe it's your favorite podcast to maybe you love the work of the planetary Society, but you haven't yet gotten around to go into planetary dot org slash. Membership and becoming part of the organization part of our society, which is a word that I love to use in describing our organization.
I'm so glad it's part of our title. We are a society of Believers in the potential of space exploration and space development. I hope that you will consider joining our community [00:03:00] there lots of levels to do it at and every single one of them supports this effort planetary radio and the space policy Edition.
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Please take a look and. Join us think of it as patreon but directly funding the planetary society as a membership and Matt. I want to make one more plug in addition to our usual membership plug, which is we have opened up registration now for next year's. Congressional visits day at the planetary Society the day of action 2020.
We have selected the dates. [00:04:00] It's going to be February 9th and 10th a little earlier next year. We have our training space. We're going to be working on scheduling meetings. And we want to have even more members of the planetary Society want to blow past our last year's new record of about a hundred people and we want to have people from around the country.
Bring your kids bring your family bring your friends and advocate for space directly to the offices and to the people that make it happen. We schedule your meetings for you. We provide you training we provide you talking points and experience and we provide you an opportunity to meet your fellow planetary Society members who love space as much as you do it is so much fun.
And and so many people who have come have enjoyed it. I had someone talk to me last year saying that they actually left the experience feeling more optimistic. About our system of government than when they walked into it and I would say that's a pretty damn good bit of feedback. It's [00:05:00] really fun intense experience, but it's really worth it.
So planetary dot org slash day of action. If you want to register now, you have early bird registration discounts going on through the end of the year planetary dot org slash day of action. You know, I hear the same thing from listeners Casey who let me know that they joined you at the 2019 days of action and they feel the same way if they left it more optimistic.
They left it with greater faith and believe it or not in our federal government. It was a real affirming experience in many many ways. Apparently and I sure hope that I can join you this time. I know you've invited me in the past. I'm going to have to add it to my list. Travel request for fiscal year 2019 because it's something that I would love to be a part of a Gannett.
I've had a little taste of this not with these big groups of our members and others who get involved at the Grassroots level. It [00:06:00] really is an exciting and very rewarding experience to visit with our lawmakers and and their staffs and feel like you're making a difference. And not just feel actually make a difference.
We as I pointed out to our folks last year all of the requests that they made to Congress just about all of them have been reflected in the houses budget for NASA going through for 2020. It really is an important thing to be able to do and Matt if you come if this works out. We should seriously consider maybe doing one of these live with our members if they come we will consider it.
That's the thing that I would most want to do there during one of these enthusiastic Gatherings. That would be a great time to capture some material for if not space policy dish in the maybe the weekly show but I think it could make a great live spe. I think we should look into it. So again, if you want to be there for that if it happens or just join me and [00:07:00] our chief of Washington.
Operations Brendan Curry and hundreds of other planetary Society members and space fans and Advocates planetary dot org slash day of action come and join us register now. It's so much fun. It's really worth it. You will make a difference. All right, Casey. There are other games in town. Of course the sixth meeting of the National Space Council led by vice president Mike Pence took place.
Well as we speak more recently because we're having to record this opening up pretty early this time, but a couple of weeks ago as this program becomes available. Let's talk a little bit about what this latest Gathering of the Year space. Considered there were some some interesting conclusions or at least recommendations.
Yeah, the recommendations were to me the most interesting part space Council meetings. They're pretty scripted. Honestly that you know, there's not usually too many surprises that come out of these what they like to do I think is the ideas [00:08:00] that you're raising attention and you're also making the agencies like NASA, but also Department defense the Commerce Department all these agencies that have a.
And in space of some sort whether it's defense civil or commercial that they're being held to account pretty regularly by the vice president at a very public forum. That is a really interesting way to address space policy. This is very very different than we saw really with the last two or three administrations that it wasn't just one speech about space and then they just disappeared they being the president or vice-president.
We're seeing regular high profile. Eating's being led by the Vice President about major issues in space and what we're seeing them use that for is basically tray. It's almost it's not quite a public shaming but it's definitely a public accounting of where these agencies are depress them on their schedule the fifth meeting that we had earlier this year.
Vice president Pence kind of [00:09:00] did the equivalent of a high-profile excoriation of Boeing that to you. No, he didn't mention them by name but basically criticizing NASA for their management of the space launch system rocket for being over budget and far behind schedule. So you're seeing NASA try to scramble to react to that in the last few months.
Of course, then we've also had the sudden announcement at the 2024 moon landing goal. And then kind of a lot of mixed signals from the president himself about whether the Moon is the goal or Landing humans on Mars is the goal. So we saw that reflected at this most recent meeting by a tonal shift or a really maybe a vocabulary shift say that.
Now NASA is looking at how the moon is going to lead to Mars again, which is familiar rhetoric for a lot of us who've been following space policy for a long time. But again, no giant surprises, but the recommendations made it interesting for I think the next space council meeting so that some of the things that they recommended that NASA or not really recommended demanded that [00:10:00] the NASA do for next time is that NASA needs to submit a plan.
For a sustainable lunar surface exploration and development including how it's going to lead on to Mars. And so that includes dates for Artemis one and two and three really the test missions and then Landing date for the lunar program and then trying to pitch it. How is this going to feed into a long-term Mars exploration?
So now we're not just talking about long-term sustainable exploration of the Moon NASA has to then. Or has to now really show how it's going to be going on to Mars with that architecture. This is exactly what the planetary Society recommended all of five years ago at this point that if you're going to use Moon as a stepping stone to Mars.
You really have to keep Mars as the goal the whole time. You can't just you can't just solve for the moon problem. You need to say anything that we do for the moon has to feed forward into a Mars application as very [00:11:00] easy to ignore that long-term requirement and focus on the immediate problem. So this is actually really good from policy perspective if Mars is the goal and so we're seeing these comments from President Trump.
Start to trickle down to the actual policy making apparatus of the National Space Council and to NASA fundamentally to say how are these? Immediate Moon goals going to feed into this longer Mars goal. I thought it was also interesting that while they said or vice president Pence said that SLS and Orion the capsule are now on track.
That they said that they want to see in Fairly short order a plan for stabilization of those projects by NASA a stabilization interesting interesting word. Yeah, it's hard to read into that at a certain level. I think. From the last space Council [00:12:00] my guess is I don't have any internal inside of this but my guess is you saw Boeing and their lobbyists basically work up into overdrive to try to react to this threatening political situation beginning to form against their very lucrative.
Very large contract with NASA in the federal government for the SLS. Boeing has a lot of support particularly with key members of Congress. Senator Shelby in Alabama who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee that funds NASA among many other agencies are all literally all agencies. I suppose he's chair of the full committee.
And of course other key Republicans and that in the house who are in Alabama who all really benefit politically at some level from the jobs from the funding that comes into their states through this program. They have to walk a very fine line. In order to keep the support of these key members of Congress for their goals at the moon and now on to Mars without alienating them by taking away their kind of favored Local District funding.
This is just how [00:13:00] funding and politics work in a democracy where you don't have to spend money on a program. So I think you're trying to see a little more of a positive spin being put on this and you know and Jim bridenstine NASA administrator. He is gone to michoud. He's gone to Marshall space flight center.
You know, he's trying to highlight the progress. That's being made on the SLS. He claims now that 90% of the first rocket is completed that they're getting on track to launch relatively soon though a course at the same time. We just learned that the first launch of the SLS is very likely going to happen in 2021 at this point later than the 2020 deadline that was earlier stated David reincorporated or they re committed to this idea of doing a green run.
This is a test firing of the whole first stage of the SLS rocket. Down in Mississippi that adds to the schedule. There's only so much time you can accelerate that but according to bridenstine and according to vice [00:14:00] president Pence. They are seeing some progress. But again the stabilization, what does that mean?
Your guess is as good as mine at this point. I you know, it's stabilization to me says how do they maintain a program over time one of the big issues with SLS and Orion? Is that you know that both of them have been going on for almost over a decade about a decade kind of each one of them? They still haven't produced really the first flight rocket yet and they you know, they've produced a flight version a test version of the Orion that's been modified quite a bit.
But ultimately you need to have a production line need to be able to make these that are pretty regular Cadence to serve the needs of launching regularly to the moon or wherever and right now the build time for a space launch system rocket is five years and a five-year lead time to build one rocket.
That is not. A good sign so my guess is maybe stabilization has more to do with production level expectations. Then first time launch and testing. Yeah that makes sense the council also addressed [00:15:00] some other important areas like commercial space development and international collaboration and you know will note that the service module for the Orion capsule has arrived the first article arrive sometime ago actually to be made.
With the Orion capsule the equivalent to the Command Module and in Apollo days. Do you want to talk a little bit about about these areas? Nothing too surprising here. I think NASA was already expected and has been going out trying to build International collaborative opportunities with Artemis and frankly with most of its missions the issue with the state department.
I mean, I think that the big gold standard here is the International Space Station, right? We have over a dozen different countries. You have bilateral agreements you have it. Very high-level diplomatic agreement not just between NASA but using through the state department very high levels of government signing agreements to work together.
I point to this level of diplomatic [00:16:00] peaceful integration and cooperation as actually one of the best return on investment from human space flight. That's something that's big enough. It has to be big and complex enough which human spaceflight is to demand a certain amount of awareness because you're committing large sums of money to it.
It's a very very good diplomatic tool and in terms of a very practical way of engaging allies and even Frenemies in space right now, I'd say with with with Russia is a good example having this peaceful collaborative technically inclined. Problem solving Force which is what human spaceflight is is actually such a it's such a great diplomatic tool to one of the great benefits of spaceflight.
So I'm glad they're doing it's obvious. I don't think it's anything surprising, but they are basically saying that the state department is here in the vice president is telling you to work with NASA to not just. Keep these going but to find new opportunities to bring other nations in who want to work together.
[00:17:00] Unfortunately, China is not going to be one of those due to a variety of other political factors particularly with Congress passing an annual writer to their Appropriations legislation saying that NASA cannot enter into bilateral projects with China. It is a great idea. But I think they're actually missing one of the strongest potential collaborative opportunities by working with China in human spaceflight.
All that said these are it weighs. I think also that you're seeing that civil space flight and human space flight is being pitched as a solution for problems, or at least a useful widely used tool throughout government. Not just. As a way to explain, you know spend money in Alabama functionally, right or Florida or Texas or what have you.
This is a way for NASA to solve diplomatic problems or to be a tool in the Diplomatic tool set to help them solve or work with Nathan nations in a peaceful way. [00:18:00] And of course China proceeding with its own plans for a separate space station and development of a moon base. That's the ultimate goal. I suppose with lots of international collaboration.
So you could have parallel International developments going on on both those fronts before long. In fact, it's already underway. What about on the commercial side? I know that the. Had some more directions of for the Commerce department and others as they appear to be achieving some success in smoothing the way for a lot of levels of commercial space development.
Yeah that they have a number of reports that are going to be due at the next meeting in terms of how Commerce it is developing and space more potential for Commerce particularly in low earth orbit. So they can free up theoretically NASA resources to focus on deep space exploration. They are going to be.
Can't more ways to quantify perhaps the resource potential [00:19:00] at the moon for commercial uses again. It's more of a way that I think start to engage other departments Within. To get them thinking about this issue and also to raise the profile of NASA inside government. So it's not just this space agency that does its own kind of thing.
It's actually a wide load wide application of opportunities. The Department of Commerce starts to align with their goals of promoting Economic Development, not just in the United States, but potentially now out in space. As the National Space Council sat right under a space shuttle and they're very public.
And as you said somewhat scripted presentation, there was a lot going on behind the scenes. Of course, there always is in the Beltway and in this case just outside it. One of those developments is something else that I know that you wanted to talk about and I'm really glad because this is fascinating here is the headline from Politico that was covering this Newt Gingrich trying to sell Trump on a cheap [00:20:00] Moon plan.
This is a fascinating proposal that apparently is coming from quite a group of of Odd Fellows who have the ear of the president and very possibly a number of members on the National Space. Yeah, it's this is this is a fascinating right? This is fascinating. I've written a piece about this that's online that folks can read more about their ideas to put out two billion dollar prize to incentivize private entities, you know to basically send humans to the moon and establish a lunar base details exactly to be worked out but basically flip it from saying instead of the United States paying for the companies to build this the United States would pay as a reward.
For providing the capability and this is pitch by Newt Gingrich. This is why it's getting so much press obviously Newt Gingrich is well-connected in the DC political. Press World other folks like Bob Walker [00:21:00] ex-congressman influential lobbyists. Now on Space issues. He was part of the transition team under President Trump for space issues.
Three right? It's an interesting idea. And I don't think it's a good idea. And this is what I wrote about in my article fundamentally. What it is is that when you have a prize incentive you have to carefully structure those in order for them to work to deliver the results that you want and not just to have.
In entity over solve for the specific goal of winning the prize if that makes sense a good example A lot of people look back and say oh, what about the Ansari X prize the one that motivated Burton and Scaled Composites to build spaceship-1 launching a human twice within two weeks into suborbital flight crossing a hundred kilometers of Von Karman line.
Well, that was a successful prize. But if you take that as a success and apply it to launching a moon base, you [00:22:00] would have the United States pay out a two billion dollar prize for establishing a moon base. And then the company being basically bought out by another company retiring and then not doing anything at the moon for 15 years.
I mean, we still haven't seen spaceship to fly as we're talking right now. Well at least not with paying passengers now with paying passenger, you're correct. Yeah the revolution of low earth orbit or. Even suborbital commercial human tourism in space has not happened the way that many people predicted.
It would in 2004 after this flight of spaceship one. Obviously Virgin Galactic is working their way closer and closer to that. And again, it's not that it didn't inspire people or create companies like Virgin Galactic, but it's a qualified success, right? It didn't deliver exactly what the Ansari X prize was looking for, which was.
Regular cheap reliable access to space with humans that has not delivered yet. And I think the Google lunar [00:23:00] xprize is another good example of this because of course nobody won that prize. Nobody was able to achieve the goals that were set out, but I had John Thornton the chairman of astrobotic who was on the show just a few days ago talk about how he feels that that Prize did serve its its purpose that competition because it provided so much.
Richmond to companies like his and of course his company astrobotic is one of those it's just received tens of millions of dollars from NASA's part of the clips program and will be sending a payload to the moon. So yeah, I guess these benefits that have to be weighed pretty carefully but in this case.
You're thinking that this is the wrong approach. Well again, if your approach if your goal is to stimulate competitive ideas new entrance into the market to raise awareness of a particular area prizes can be great. But what [00:24:00] this prize is pitched as doing is saying. This will be the infrastructure for NASA and the United States to work live explore the moon.
Those are two very different things and it's not just me making this up by there are studies about this that I reference in my article. About how you design prize cup win is a prize competition appropriate and when is it not and when it's not really appropriate is when you don't have a large pool of people who can participate in it.
I mean think of it this way in order to succeed at Landing people on the moon and then getting a prize you need to be insanely well capitalized right you need to be able to sustain billions of dollars of spending four years on your own and raise investment. On the potential that on the risk that someone won't win instead of you.
It's not impossible, but for something with such a high barrier to entry again Google lunar xprize great idea a great comparison to this. [00:25:00] It's very very difficult. And so if the goal of the United States is to have humans on the moon. You're basically using a prize competition. You're basically shifting it and taking a much much riskier posture and it's not that the United States would risk the money.
What they're risking is is loss of time say four years go by and no one wins sure. You may have helped the stimulate an industry and so forth. That's all good. But you still aren't Landing people on the moon. It's a Time opportunity cost and your you're basically pitching to a very very very small group of organizations that may be able to just do it.
Anyway, there's really only two or three that I can think of that would even be in that competition. And again, this is how you structure a prize competition. So actually, you know government uses lots of prize competitions all over the place. They're actually legislation was passed about 10 years ago authorizing.
Prize competitions through all areas of government you see DARPA doing that now with this launch [00:26:00] competition trying to launch very rapidly into arbitrary orbits. You see NASA running lots of small competitions if human spaceflight is as important as this Administration believes it is and if you need that capability, That price competition is senses, like throwing a piece of bread into a flock of seagulls in the hoping one catches it right and they'll fight for maybe one will catch it or maybe whatever metaphor you want to use.
It sounds like a good idea and a lot of levels but if you want the result and this is actually another aspect of this that I think is really fascinating that deserves a lot more thought. It's also the abrogation of responsibility of policymaking. It's basically saying throwing your hands up and saying that the system that we have designed as a polity no longer works and all the government should be responsible for now is putting up sums of money stepping away and hoping someone can solve a problem.
[00:27:00] So instead of going about and doing the hard work of defining the needs defining the reasons building coalitions, politically and in public support, you're trying to sidestep all of that. It's the absence of public policy and I don't think the absence of public policy. Is going to be useful in this context.
So perhaps it's not surprising to see this spearheaded by Newt Gingrich one of the founders of the neoconservative movement. Certainly somebody who has in the past attempted to upset lots of Apple carts the reaction to it is also been interesting at least as of we say as of the time the were speaking blue origin has not reacted, but there was a kind of.
Semi positive reaction from a representative at SpaceX. I guess the tension was called to a quote from Elon Musk, which I I told you before we started recording. I thought was such an interesting quote must said incent outcome. [00:28:00] Not path I fall on the inline with the argument that you're making that prizes like this probably can be extremely useful as a stimulus for new approaches new technology.
But for this kind of this kind of thing, it's a time to be very wary. Well to be Lon. Point and I think that's interesting. There's a difference you can draw from here between those two things. You can incentivize outcomes pay for Success. Don't pay to build it or even pay for experimentation that that's a fundamental Contracting difference and NASA has already been doing this.
And so this thing you can actually have a hybrid version of this is the flip side of this whole discussion. This is exactly what cots was the commercial cargo basically a competition where the prize wasn't cash the prize was multi-year billion dollar contracts to [00:29:00] service the space station NASA had a highly structured.
Modified system where basically you had multiple companies competing for these contracts NASA would actually give them fixed amounts of money, right NASA put in roughly half the development cost of the Falcon 9. SpaceX funded the other half and then of course you had orbital Sciences doing the the Antares rocket now part of Northrop Grumman basically running a similar motivation where the amount of upfront cost by the government is minimizes capped more money would be released by the government to these companies once they demonstrated capability.
So that's totally in line with what Elon Musk is saying, but it wasn't at the same time. It wasn't just a fixed prize outcome. It was a carefully designed system and and highly structured by NASA to say these are the requirements. We need you to solve it wasn't it was still a contract that was a fixed-price contract.
So [00:30:00] there's a way to do this and I think that's what ultimately where NASA's even moving in general already. With its approach, you know, we've seen now contracts being awarded for the Gateway the space station orbiting the moon that's coming up NASA awarded a fixed-price contract to the max. Our company was fascinating about that contract.
The deal is that NASA will buy it from Max are so max our gets a fixed cost from NASA to build it if they can't do it in the cost. They have to absorb the difference after a year. It's an orbit NASA can. As its contract to purchase it basically from the company take on ownership. So if they don't like it if it doesn't perform.
NASA doesn't have to buy it. They don't have to fill out the rest of the cost of the contract and you're seeing this also with the lunar lander that they're putting together. They're trying to take a very hybrid approach between incentivizing outcomes through fixed cost [00:31:00] contracts and still retaining responsibility to demonstrate.
These are the types of expectations we have for safety for performance. For needs and so, you know trying to find a way to kind of thread that needle between the two so I absolutely think there's a lot of opportunity for new ways of Contracting it we no one has been impressed with the old school of cost-plus contract and coming out.
That's that's feeding the SLS program. That is obviously not working that well at the moment however going and throwing your hands up completely and absolving. Ourselves as a public of a much responsibility and just saying hey, we'll just put up cash. Maybe someone else can solve the problem. We no longer have a say in this that's going too far.
I think to the other side. Yeah, I like your suggestion of a hybrid approach. Will note in passing that it'll be interesting to see how the Marshall space flight center leads development of a human lunar lander [00:32:00] in the direction. That was just handed down by NASA headquarters that Marshall Marshall will head that effort not without some controversy.
So they were some Texas Congress people. I know who were. Not thrilled about that decision. They wanted to see that the lead of that program take place at the Johnson Space Center. Yeah, it's fat human spaceflight can be so dramatic. Sometimes met the this is an old old story of in the internal political battles between NASA centers.
This same debate happened in 1981 1982 with the space station project of who would get to own the space station. Marshall was putting out their ideas for. And said, we know human spaceflight we should do it. Not much has changed in that if anything it tells you how unlikely a prize competition would be to even happen politically because again, this debate is happening about which NASA Center gets to manage that program [00:33:00] think they were talking about on the order of hundreds of new jobs per NASA Center and then of course all the Contracting and so forth, but.
That itself cause the entire delegation of Texas to write a very Stern upset letter to the NASA administrator saying that you know, they weren't just angry. They were disappointed. They they said basically that Alabama course has Shelby who's the chair of the Appropriations Committee, but Texas has Cruz who chairs the committee that writes NASA's authorization bill.
I can set it as a policy. So it's like whose toes do they step on and this is for this a relatively. Program compared to something like the space station. So politically I see literally no way. We're the same Texas delegation that got really upset that they didn't get the moon program would be willing to fund two billion dollars to anyone.
Probably outside of Texas to solve this problem for us the whole solve this problem for us and most likely being [00:34:00] won by a company based in Southern California or Washington State the whole politics, you know, beyond the feasibility and the quality of the policy the whole politics behind a prize incentive at that scale is very very unlikely because again what we're already seeing quite a bit of squabbling to get the rewards, As its head progressing now through this hybrid approach and this is the kind of drama that makes it so interesting to talk to you on a monthly basis in these space policy Edition programs Casey.
There will be more developments. I'm sure new ones and ones that build on this discussion that we've just had by the time we talk again in October, but we can get on to the main attraction of this month's show know it would that conversation with John logsdon. You want to say anything else to introduce this?
Well again, you know, this is somewhat relevant in the sense that says try to connect the dots a little. Yeah. Well first let me actually [00:35:00] plug a political history of Apollo are limited series podcasts. This interview is from that series. It has a little more context that's part of the whole story.
You want to hear the whole political story of Apollo from beginning to end that's on a political history of Apollo. You can find that on every podcast aggregator. You can find Google play Spotify Stitcher and apple podcasts. But in this context we're talking about here the politics of establishing a large lunar program or amidst functionally midsize lunar program here with John Locke's and we're going to be talking about how the politics no longer could support the implementation of a lunar program after it succeeded.
And so it's a we have to put ourselves into a just an incredibly different political situation in the early 1970s. Where. Even the marginal costs of going to the Moon to land on the moon to get to Apollo 11 the u.s. Spent about [00:36:00] 21 billion dollars of then year dollars, right? This is roughly 200 billion today to continue the last from Apollo 12 to Apollo 17 over the next three years NASA spent a little less than 5 billion dollars.
For those ongoing missions, right? So that's a dramatically lower cost right? You spent all the money building up the infrastructure. The ongoing cost was a couple billion a year even that was deemed too expensive for the country to continue paying for that capability, even though they had spent all the money to get to that point what I tried to get into with John was trying to understand what was happening in the nation and in politics, too.
Allow that complete turning of the back of the Nation on everything. It had just done how had things changed so much and how are people willing to just basically throw away that investment going into the future in an obviously. Look what [00:37:00] we're talking about. We're struggling 50 years later. To rebuild a fraction of that capability that the nation had built up in just eight years at that point the politics again that that underlines everything we're able to do in space.
What's the political agreement? What type of fertile ground or not? Do we have to continue these Investments or even to continue a marginal version of those Investments and in a sense? I think it says a lot about the state of the nation and the cultural state of the nation what it's interested in.
And what it's not in order to take on those risks or two not so I think that kind of connects these two ideas. We were just talking about and of course John logsdon will bring a great insight into that. He's literally written the book on this. It's called after Apollo. It's about Richard Nixon president at the time the internal policy process that occurred.
Through 69 271 a [00:38:00] basically ended Apollo and left us with the space shuttle as the national policy and and what types of debates happened internally and what. The United States was willing and not willing to do any more in terms of humans in space. It's a fascinating tale and you're about to hear it as Casey sits down with the great John logsdon.
Here's that conversation. Okay, John, welcome to the show. I want to pick up maybe Midway through the 1960s when everything is looking really good for NASA. The funding is extraordinarily High historically high as it turned out you have Gemini is wrapping up you it's clear that the u.s. Probably going to succeed at this.
By the mid 60s. But politically they're starting to be a lot of hesitation and critique of the spending levels the Apollo program. And what I notice is not happening at this point is a real serious discussion of what a post Apollo world. Looks like we had the beginning of Apollo applications as a.
But Lyndon Johnson himself didn't seem to be pushing a [00:39:00] post Apollo future is that an accurate way to characterize the situation? And what was Lyndon Johnson's thinking at this point in the mid-60s? Well by the mid-60s certainly by 67 the United States was bogged down in a war in Southeast Asia.
There were riots in the cities. The Great Society programs were just getting underway Johnson was kind of perceiving himself as failing in his presidency. He had no appetite for another big new space program, even though he had been one of the leading advocates for Apollo. He said that's really something for the next president.
I'm not going to run again. I'm not going to run in 68. And those decisions can wait and so indeed they did there there was some funding for Apollo applications, which were basically ideas for using the Apollo Hardware to do other things which ended up [00:40:00] basically going none nowhere and just resulted in the Skylab experimental space station and nothing else.
It has the Apollo funding ramp down. The NASA budget decrease there wasn't a new program initiatives to take up the released funding. What point did Johnson decided he wasn't going to run again? And he must have decided internally long before he said it publicly if it did that have something to do with his lack of.
Direction on the Space Program throws Pier. Well, he announced his decision not to run again in March of nineteen sixty eight, but he had made his mind up well before that their stories that he told Jim Webb and NASA administrator that he wasn't going to run again sometime in 1967. So I think he was was not.
Thinking about making decisions that would result in large Financial commitments in the years after he would [00:41:00] leave the White House. So there just wasn't much forward momentum behind the program do Apollo meet Kennedy's goal. And then let somebody else worry. Is it as simple as the fact that Vietnam basically consumed his presidency because I mean he really was.
On the kind of the Vanguard of this pushing space as a critical National Security infrastructure back in the late 50s, he who controls Space controls the world. I find really telling in a sense that you were there for the beginning of space history basically and created this field you have a book about JFK and have a book about Nixon.
But you don't have a book about Lyndon Johnson in that middle part. And so it's striking to me that someone who started out. So strong would seem in retrospect have such a small impact on the program. Well, I think there are a couple things that explain that one is that once Kennedy decided space was important.
He took it. Back is an issue. He had given it to Johnson as he came into [00:42:00] the White House, but he took it back and basically LBJ was marginalized on Space issues from same a of 61 on and then after the assassination, his other priorities is other responsibilities. It's president kind of consumed when he said either it was an interview with Walter Cronkite or in his autobiography.
I'm not sure which that he spent more time on space as vice president than he did on as president. It just was not very high on his agenda given all the other things that were. Yeah. I mean it's easy to say Vietnam consumed it but I mean Vietnam was spending an Apollo in aggregate budget every year and lives our own it wasn't.
And yeah, Great Society civil rights society. Say the urban problems in the 60s. There were plenty of things on on President Johnson's plate without worrying about the [00:43:00] future of the Space Program. Do you think he abrogated his responsibilities there? Did you think he missed stepped by not putting his stamp on that in the long term?
No, I don't think so. I think he also recognized that. Starting something new before we finished Apollo was unlikely to get much of a positive reception. So I think there was a political judgment that it was not something that's been a lot of his waning political credibility in support of yeah. I just spent a whole episode talking about some of the domestic political opposition to Apollo and would you say that that grew over time even as the program became more successful or do you.
Kind of maintained its position and then the support diminished as the. The program succeeded. Well, I think the the criticisms of Apollo and the sense of misplaced priorities and that kind of argument started in [00:44:00] 63 and I would say peaked in the 66-67 period it was hard to criticize the program after the Apollo fire because that means you're criticizing the sacrifice of three lives and I mean the reaction of to the Apollo 1 fire.
We got to keep going the reaction was not oh my heavens. We lost the three people. Let's quit. So like after that. Yeah. So I think the criticism kind of tempered down in the 67 68 period peaked in the mid-60s what role if any did space play in the 68 elections. Oh, I think it virtually none.
That's what I mean. Again. That's that we're about to land on the moon and it was well 68 elections November of 68 was after the first Apollo human flight Apollo 7 was October of 68 but in looking back, I don't see it was an [00:45:00] area of contention between Hubert Humphrey Humphrey had been chair of the space Council as vice president under LBJ, but.
Didn't do much didn't make space a major Humphrey issue and Nixon as he started the campaign said we've got to have a strong space program, but it's a place that we're probably going to have to cut the budget. So typical kind of ambivalence with with Nixon and the in his attitude toward the space program.
So it really was not an electoral issue of any significance as a consequence of that. There is no fear of our. For political price to pay from the public right? Like you could Apollo wasn't driving there whether they would get votes or not Beyond maybe the fact that they were jobs related to it, right but little bit of fear about the politics of it
No, I don't think so. I Humphrey wasn't going to get votes because of his involvement in space and [00:46:00] Nixon wasn't going to get votes because of his attitude towards space. It just it just was not an electorally. Relevant issue. Coming in to the presidency. What attitudes are what lessons did Nixon bring from when he was vice president at the very birth of the Space Age working with Eisenhower
What did he internalized any lessons from that or did he bring things back to it? Maybe a pre JFK attitude? Well, I think first of all, he hadn't paid much attention to the Space Program once he left the vice presidency in his campaign for. Governor in California, and then his his retirement getting ready to run for president again space was not Central to anything he had been doing
Immediately after Sputnik, he was a strong proponent of a civilian Space Program rather than putting the emphasis on Military and he was proponent of international [00:47:00] cooperation. I mean, the reason he favored us civilian program back in the 5758 period was so a new civilian space agency could engage in international cooperation
So I think he brought those biases but they weren't. Very high up on his priority list to the extent that he thought about it I guess is should we preface every statement about Nixon in space with that? No, that's not fair. He had a transition team on space. That was composed of very senior people that told him major decisions were going to be needed in the first months of his administration and Nixon did his homework
So he I'm sure read that transition team report and was very much aware as he came to the White House that one of the things on his short term agenda was [00:48:00] post Apollo space efforts. What was in that report telling. Do is basically you need to decide now because we don't have the time to ramp up something new immediately after Apollo or was there ever a consideration of just saying why don't we just keep doing
Apollo missions. Well, I think that the main thrust of the transition team report was that there was justification for continuing to human space flight program, but not at the budget level that had been reached at the peak of Apollo and was already on the way down and I think the transition report said reduce it even more there were some Skeptics of the value of human spaceflight in that report
Lili do bridge president Caltech who Nixon picked as His science advisor, the general tone of the report was yes, we have to continue a leadership program but not like Apollo not on a crash basis not setting deadlines [00:49:00] and not at a high budget level Nixon assumes office January of 69. Great timing sick, press six months to the day before the first steps on the moon
It's a great time to be right. He just he doesn't have to politically push that program through he's doing his own thing at the time yet. He gets to be kind of the face of the government that celebrating this achievement. Was there any indication that enjoying that basking in the glow of Apollo or celebrating the success
Changed his thinking about whether space should be a priority or did he was that just kind of a cherry on top of whatever he was dealing with him. Well, I think Nixon was quite aware that when the United States landed on the moon it was going to be a world event everybody paying attention and consistent with some of the themes of his that he wanted to stress in his presidency Humanities unity and and peace and goodness for all and so
Like kind of come Bobby [00:50:00] there, but there's a quote in my post Apollo both Nixon book from his then speech writer Bill Sapphire who says he was recognized it was going to be shot. In the arm in terms of national morale and he was determined to be a very visible part of it. Also, we should just acknowledge
It's easy to look back in this with hindsight and say it would succeed but it could have easily not right. There's the famous alternate speech written by it. Was it Bill Sapphire? Yeah about what would have happened if the Apollo Astronauts hadn't lifted off well, but but as he came into office, Nixon was still able to bask in the glow of the Apollo 8 mission at Christmas time of 68
LBJ had had the Apollo 8 crew to the White House after the mission and and they found a kind of somber place in him very down. But then they Nixon invited them back and apparently had a great time and Nixon and [00:51:00] the Apollo 8 Commander Frank Borman hit it off very well and Foreman became Nixon's kind of Chief space advisor with respect to Apollo 11 over the following few months
I found that really kind of funny because Borman isn't known as a big space booster. He's a very kind of no-nonsense guy, right which is maybe why Nixon enjoyed his advice on that, but he wasn't coming in as carrying the fire of. No. No, I mean that the issue there was who would Nixon pick as head of NASA
Jim Webb had left NASA and the fall his Deputy. Tom Paine was acting administrator and the Nixon Administration searched kind of far and wide for a good Republican. With with strong technical credentials to be the NASA administrator know because of the uncertainty of the future. Nobody wanted the job and people knew that that Tom Paine was a space Visionary as a space [00:52:00] Crusader and a liberal Democrat
His wife had campaigned for Hubert Humphrey. Despite all that kind of by default paying was selected for the job. How important was that NASA administrator transition into ultimately, what could Jim's Jim Webb have changed this trajectory at all through his presence and experience. Well, I think by 1968
Mr. Webb was tired beaten down kind of said I'm done with my job. My job was to get us ready to land on the moon fulfill President Kennedy's. I don't think he had the appetite to continue political battles. And again, mr. Webb was a very committed Democrat. He didn't get along with Humphrey. So he said if Humphries elected, I don't want to be there or he won't be there and if Republican is elected
I certainly don't want to be there. So it seems just like the trajectory coming into 68 [00:53:00] 69. It is looking just very poor for the future of the program. Just Baseline, right? The the fundamental structure seems weak for continuing Apollo. Well, uncertain is word. I would use the the everybody recognized that we were coming up on and kind of epochal event with the first moon landing and that that would provide potentially the support the political excitement for a major newest initiative
So, I don't think the program was on the edge of collapse. UPS kind of condition it was a very high level of uncertainty this seems like a lot of poorly timed things happened all at once but the trend of the presidential transition happened to be right before the first landing. Yeah, the NASA administrator transition you had issues with Vietnam and then all the other domestic issues really destabilizing the country
I mean the the country of 1961 of JFK announcing. A [00:54:00] project Apollo to the country of the moon landing in 69 was almost unrecognizable in some ways. Right sure. I mean we had had in the assassinations of the 60s the urban riots of the 60s the Vietnam South East Asia bogged down a president basically being driven by a from office by public protest
The only positive thing at the end of 68 was a space program was the beginning of the Apollo. Light and particularly the success of Apollo 8, I think coming and Christmas Eve of 68 and bringing back. The earthrise photo was it was a very positive thing so that the program was not in horrible political
I want to introduce you as a character into this story, since you were there following the program right and following this a academic as an academic at this point in your perspective. Then right before Nixon came into office. What did you see as the future? [00:55:00] For NASA at this point if you can put yourself back in your shoes
Okay, I didn't know that's a long time and I really don't remember Casey. I remember what I was doing at that point. I had chosen in 1967 finishing up my graduate work at New York University to write my PhD dissertation on the foreign policy uses of the American space program and when I started
Research on that topic. I realized that everything I was interested in was tied up with the decision to go to the moon. And so I decided to do the dissertation as a case study of Kennedy's decision to go to the moon. So that's what I was doing 67 and 68 early 68 was doing the interviews writing the dissertation getting ready to defend
In 68 69 and I think I finished the manuscript just before [00:56:00] Apollo 11 or in certainly was almost finished by by Apollo 11. I was so tunneled into why we were doing what we were about to do that. I don't think I gave much thought to the future of the program. Yeah, let's move into Nixon and the space task group then at this point
So what was the space task group? How did it come together? Think more even interesting what were their recommendations coming out of this? As I said The Nixons transition team for space said immediate decisions are necessary to keep the engineering Apollo engineering team together to keep the momentum of the program to do that
Nixon turned to his science advisor to lead to bridge president Caltech former president Caltech and do bridge. Proposed a blue ribbon committee to take a quick look at the space program and make definitive recommendations on a post Apollo program. We do [00:57:00] birds thought he would run that committee
He was viewed with skepticism by Tom Paine and others at Nasa as being anti Human spaceflight. And so they were able to get to the White House and say this kind of task force is fine, but. To bridge is not a person that we think is is balanced in his judgment or get will give us NASA a fair shake and so find somebody else the space Council carried over National Aeronautics and Space councils still at that time with the new vice president is the chair vice president was Spiro Agnew
I was in the position with my governor in Maryland, and he was had been the liberal candidate for governor. The year I moved to Maryland which shows how conservative the Democrats were Agnew was put in as kind of a substitute chair of this group and called the space task group, but it was still staffed by the science [00:58:00] advisors office by the office of Science and Technology and consist of the head of NASA Secretary of Defense
But the new secretary of the Air Force was the former deputy at Nasa Bob Siemens. So Mel Laird ask him to do the job the chairman of the atomic energy commission. And so this group began its process in March of 1969 with the aim of having recommendations on a post Apollo program by September NASA, of course had been thinking about its future and a very dynamic head of I'll say manned spaceflight
That's what it was called back then associate administrator for manned space flight man named George Miller and Miller and his associates had come up with an ambitious plan that involved a 12-person space station. Or at least a space station there was a big debate. Some people wanted a hundred person space station, [00:59:00] but a space station as a staging base for outward movement and a reusable Logistics vehicle to go back and forth to the space station called a shuttle
That was the program that NASA wanted to get approved and fact pain tried an end run to the of the space task group went directly to Nixon and said. The next step is a space station. Why don't you approve it now or at the time of Apollo 11 and let's just get going on it and never mind this whole process of that
We don't control that didn't sell and go anywhere and so pain and Miller basically convinced Agnew. Of the attractiveness in the wisdom of this so-called integrated plan for the future pain said well, yeah, but it's no gold there. It's building infrastructure. It needs a goal. It needs something Jazzy
He [01:00:00] liked very dramatic Jazz. He thinks he said, how about Mars is the goal. He had NASA study options for early missions to Mars and then. Brought in to present to the space task group Verner Von Braun to present the idea of a mission leaving November the 12th 1981 aiming at Mars in 1982 late 1982 and returning to Earth in August of 1983
And that was presented in detail to the space task group about three weeks after Apollo 11 was August the 4th, maybe two weeks after a pause. 11 and became the core of the space task group report was recommendation of setting Mars. It got toned down. When the White House found out what they were going to be presented in the your first version
It was Mars in 82 and [01:01:00] or something like that and and John ehrlichman saw a draft the report said don't give that the present because you'll have to reject it. Give me a recommendation that he can accept and the. Ended up being Mars by the end of the century as the goal with all these intermediate steps of shuttles and space stations lunar bases along the way
I love this chart that was ultimately presented and it was it's just like a fantasy. It looks like the the Verner Von Braun fantasy from the 50s almost right where you see were usable shuttles nuclear tug. Yeah, you know 100 crew Space Station's permanent lunar bases and then just maybe a six person based on the surface of Mars, you know, just that can see why they were excited to do this
Right? This is in delicious landed on together we could do anything exactly right the most exciting and they just had this huge marshalling of resources and political support for it. Was there anyone on the space task group who were saying like, wait a minute like this maybe a misreading of the political situation
There was [01:02:00] the the dod. Secretary of the Air Force Bob Seaman's wrote a letter to Agnew when he saw what the recommendation was going to be saying. Yes slow down a little bit, but we're not either technically ready or politically ready to take on another Apollo like commitment. So even within the group
Questions were raised and the the report itself was revised to tone down the language at least the front of the report was when the back room ain't unchanged and chart that you're talking about was in the back of the report still had the mid-80s Mars goals as possible Alternatives, but there was so much momentum with Agnew supporting and Agnew at the Apollo 11 launch
Leaked to the press it was a very conscious leak. I think we should go to Mars. Yeah, and next creative flurry of interest in probably more criticism than not so I can [01:03:00] understand Thomas Paine and others in NASA misreading this but how did Spiro Agnew? Not understand who he was working for or even read the political situation
They had a couple recommendations for funding levels to achieve this but one of them was roughly 10 billion a year. Yeah per year, which is higher than the Apollo Peak sustained almost to the next decade. Yeah. Well, Agni was not a very good pilot. He was out of his element in National politics. I think he had been a local Baltimore politician and then governor of Maryland for a couple of years before he was plucked by Nixon to be his vice president little side note
I have a letter signed by Spiro Agnew thanking me for helping him support the. Most qualified to be president Nelson Rockefeller. He led Governors for Rockefeller and to Rockefeller pulled out of the race without alerting [01:04:00] him and it made him kind of a prime candidate to to Ally with Nixon. He was basically snowed by Von Braun and and pain and drank the Kool-Aid of mars or nothing Well, if anyone can mix a good Kool-Aid it would be Von Braun right on this
What happens is they present this to the White House does Nixon even read it or does this go through? I don't know whether he read it or not. He didn't take any did his homework. So his budget director man named Robert mayo and the science advisor lead to Bridge and he had a special assistant named Peter Flanagan who was came from Wall Street and Flanagan had a 30-year old very bright young assistant named clay Whitehead Thomas clay Whitehead
Who actually was the top space policy person in the White House political Circle and they were all skeptically they they let NASA know as it prepared [01:05:00] its budget request that it should not. Assume that the White House would have proved anything close to the space task group report and so should prepare a much more modest budget request in accordance with a a slow-paced not very ambitious program for the 70s
What a modest budget request. To NASA ultimately was very different than what the budget office thought. Oh, yeah, that's budget office was talking about maybe a three billion dollar budget NASA was talking about 4 and 1/2 or 5 billion dollar. Budget which is what they submit it. It was kind of Amateur hour in the White House
The White House had all kinds of trouble formulating its first budget their revenue estimates were way off. They were trying to put in a tax cut and they didn't know how much influence that would have. They didn't want to run. Deficit so there were successive ratchets in the [01:06:00] NASA as many and many other but particularly the NASA budget request went down to I don't remember off the top of my head the numbers but say, let's say from 4.5 23.3 or 3.2 billion before the final budget went to the Congress and this was 1970
This was the fall of 1969 and they had January of. Every day praying for the 71 but preparing for fiscal 71. Yeah and in there there were trades that were very interesting the production of Saturn V. Moon Rockets had been temporarily halted I wanted to touch on this is the first time I read this memo
There's one I'm thinking of in particular that 1968 Memo from James Webb. Yeah, which is on the procurement of bone lead time items for Saturn. Yeah, and. It was basically saying we're not going to produce any more first stage Saturn rocket. We're not going to start the production rights for any more beyond [01:07:00] the 15 that were ordered for Apollo because there's no program to use them to use them
Yeah, and so like in 68 this isn't 60. This is the summer of 68, I think before Apollo even started before the first human launch of Apollo Apollo 7, the program had functionally ended right that mean the hardware wasn't going to bless the decision was reversed. The program had functionally and yeah, and then reverse quickly, right because that was part of the problem that you either sustained some big standing army cost of engineer sitting around doing nothing where they disperse and so the Nixon transition team had pointed this out
Yeah, and it said be probably should invest in. Sustaining the ability to produce Saturn V until you make a decision what you want to do Post Apollo when you get to the the budget formulation and now had Apollo 11 and Apollo 12, which was November of 69 Nixon. I was already saying I don't see any need to go back to the Moon six more [01:08:00] times
He was not a fan of continued lunar exploration even early on. NASA wanted to get started on studies for the space station and incidentally the shuttle the station with the top priority not the shuttle. So when did the Saturn V production functionally and then well, let's that was the the budget people mayo and ultimately Nixon made an offer
To pain it says you can either restart Saturn V production or get started on these new programs. You can't do both pain oriented toward the future said if I have to I will give up Saturn 5 and that week that was in The Proposal went to the Congress in February 1970. So with within eight months of landing on the moon, we basically threw away the capability
For future exploration. It's truly hard for me to understand that thinking and [01:09:00] you point out in your book that the nation had spent tens of billions of dollars just to I mean the Saturn V was I think roughly half of the total cost of Apollo at all. The Saturn family of rockets the F-1 engines that I mean that was launch complex
Yeah, you're right. Yeah, all the associated capabilities and infrastructure. And they were done after 15 times roughly. Well, not even 50. I'll make sure yeah, there's a couple extra what what was there any hand-wringing like did Verner Von Braun like did his head explode mean just like metaphorically
Like how was there not some sort of national awareness or conversation or thought about this as well. I think it's reflective. Of the national mood at the time and it was part of the problem of Kennedy defining Apollo as a race to the moon. We had won the race. There was no compelling reason offered to continue a program of lunar exploration after having
Done what Kennedy [01:10:00] told NASA to do. It was clear that the Nixon Administration was not going to approve a program of continued deep space exploration that would require the Saturn V. So there was no requirement for that capability. And in the public mood of the time I'm Nixon said to Tom Paine has a discussed these issues
I'm hearing from the public that they don't want a continued Strong's ambitious space program. And and so I don't think politically I can approve it anything. And that was correct here is never a strong public right man for this but but the public interest in in Apollo peaked with Apollo 11 and very quickly disappeared one remembers that by the time of Apollo 13 in April 1970
It wasn't carried live on television until the accident attention span was very short. Yeah. It almost seems like a different era in terms [01:11:00] of lobbying and investment. I mean Boeing and Rocketdyne. Grumman and all these contractors who stood to gain or lose financially seemed completely out of the picture on this whole yeah, there's no evidence that there was a lobbying campaign a campaign by the Aerospace industry there weren't organized groups in support of the space program
So the Saturn V was allowed to die with a win. Betting on the Future Been betting on the station right and station service by a space shuttle. Yeah, but station was a top priority shuttle was really not Center to the argument in 1970 thinking about this the other night when preparing for this interview and it seemed like there was just this overwhelming desire to say, all right, we've gone to the Moon where we going next
Low earth orbit. Why is it was that the big step? I never quite understood why that was the well, it wasn't going to low earth orbit. It was going back [01:12:00] to the quote. Right unquote way to do a space program, which has been called the Von Braun Paradigm, but it's not only Von Braun, which is it first step in a long term sustainable program is learning to operate in low earth orbit, and then gradually moving outward
By setting the moon before the decade is out deadline. Kennedy had jumped over that step. So what was being proposed was going back to basically starting over the station service by a shuttle. I mean that was in your Colliers article Yeah by this time George Miller had left NASA or was in the process of leaving NASA, but but his
Vision of this integrated plan of station and shuttle and until uggs and all of that lived on so. I think it had captured the support [01:13:00] of the senior people at Nasa that this kind of future program was more important priority than continuing Apollo. It is telling that unless I haven't seen it which is very possible
But I've never seen like a New York Times editorial or anything at that point saying. The US has invested so much into creating this capability. How dare we just throw this away. We just waste all this money now, it's truly a ways but there didn't seem to be any public hand-wringing about this decision at all
Certainly, not much and almost as a consequence of as we've talked about before and in other episodes the. The reasons for Kennedy's call for Apollo because it was very top-down because it wasn't in response to a big public Grassroots demand when that shifted when that change there wasn't some big public demand waiting in the wings to step in and sustain it know like NASA had
Cultivated that really to the point where they could sustain itself. I think [01:14:00] that there was a certain arrogance maybe hubris even among NASA that that look what we did for the country. We got Armstrong and Aldrin to the Moon Conrad in being the country will love it. Whatever we decide we would like to do it will be supported and and it came as a very rude awakening I think in these late months and 16 I early months of 1970
That that support was not there that they were dealing with a white house that wanted to cut the budget that had no stomach for Apollo like initiatives that wanted a good space program but one at significantly lower share of the federal budget. Also, we didn't have a competitor. There was no driving
Need for an ambitious program. I think people said at the time Mars will always be there and the Soviets clearly. Weren't in a [01:15:00] position to really challenge us on that and at that point well by that point the Soviets have tried twice and failed twice to launch their big and one rocket. So we knew from our intelligence capabilities that that they were basically out of the race
So going back to the 71 budget negotiations where NASA had to trade basically what it had for This Promise of the future is that also when they gave up Apollo's 19 and 20 or the head though? We Fallen by the wayside by that point. That was more the next budget negotiations later in 1970. It's a fairly complicated story and worth worth talking about there were people in NASA
Most notably the director of what was still in the manned spacecraft Center later Johnson Robert gilruth and his Deputy who became NASA Deputy Administrator George Lowe who recognize that Apollo. [01:16:00] Operating right on the edge of its capability and was an extremely high-risk operation. They didn't fight very hard
The idea that maybe they should quit while they were ahead and then then get a budget Mark a budget Target from with right then that Bureau the budget became Office of Management and budget. So it's a transition from B.o.B. To OMB the house a OMB from from now on that that said there's no way they could afford an ambitious
Program and if they even if they needed money for the space station, they'd have to cut something else cutting to Apollo missions reduce the risk and saved a lot of money and and it was NASA. That came up with that proposal. It was not the White House and they won't you know, the White House gave a budget context that that kind of force enhances hand, but it was NASA that [01:17:00] said we're going to cut one of the remaining missions without the lunar rover the original Apollo 15
Yeah, rigell 15 and 19 20 had already when it was clear that Apollo. Was going to succeed in getting people to the Moon 20 had been canceled and its booster reassigned to become the Skylab space station. So that was already done. So 20 was already gone. So what was canceled was then 15 and 19 in the remaining missions were numbered 15 through 17, and that was September of
Obviously there must have been a reaction part of that to Apollo 13, right which isn't that skit. I mean that just reinforced again play the dates out Apollo 13 was April of 1970 the decision to truncate the program and cancel. 15 and [01:18:00] 19 was made in the summer of 1970. So 13 just dramatized the risk that that the NASA human spaceflight leadership already was very much aware of I mean, I think that's a really important point to just dwell on a bit here because I mean we're looking back
I mean I grew up in an era where people had always walked on the moon right and you look back and they were successful and they had this near catastrophe, but they pulled it off we forget that every time. They landed there's always some problem right to every Mission wasn't free from problems. It was extol mission was free from broke
Yeah, it was extraordinarily dangerous. And so and if you just look at the numbers one out of seven missions failed, right, which is a pretty high potential but Lisa's been crippled kill the crew. Yeah, but it still it had almost should have in the sense like this by how bad it was. It's fascinating to see people inside of NASA basically saying this may be lets you know, this is what you just said
Let's quit while we're ahead as and but Nixon was kind of shaken by this Nixon was very [01:19:00] got emotionally very vested in the fate of the Apollo 13 crew and ignored according to Henry Kissinger ignored his foreign policy issues by focusing on the conduct of the mission and getting the crew back safely
He was already skeptical. The value of continued lunar exploration this just reinforce that skepticism. Maybe it's getting a little ahead of the story. But but he tried very hard to cancel 16 and 17. Also extended Nixon did yeah. He he kept telling his advisors and we don't need to do this. Let's let's quit and then when he got close to 72 re-election said no mission
I'm not going to risk anything like Apollo 13 right before my re-election. So no missions before the election and this is why Apollo 17 happened in December indeed. I mean, yeah and Apollo 16 was moved [01:20:00] forward a couple of months. I think till April of 72 to keep it away from the election. That's it and good reminder
That politics was never that far from why Paulo was happening or what was going on. The program is being trimmed. The budgets going down there was never at sounds like any serious discussion of saying what if we just don't do anything and just keep doing what we're doing and the sense I would almost be the cheapest ways
You wouldn't have new development program. You could just keep lending maybe a couple times a year ago all different parts of the Moon slowly incremented. Why is it there were some peat there were some people saying that that said you had that kind of status quo program flying with longer times between Saturn 5 launches
Like nine months between launches as so that you could extend the program out through the mid 70s and maybe budget situation would be better by then and you would have some new hardware. Under development, but that didn't get [01:21:00] any traction. Is that basically what the Soviet space program did from the 70 that the small incremental changes like nothing drastically new
They just kind of kept the capability they had and slowly improved it over time the Soviet program. In this time period made a fundamental shift it gave up on God trying to go to the Moon Yeah and said well once they have like the proton and soyuz is what I was thinking. Yeah, right, but they gave up on developing their N1 Moon rocket and an ambitious Soviet program and took what they had and began a program of Earth orbital
Modest space stations with a solute space station and which extended through the 70s and the early 80s until mirror in 1986. So the Soviet Union once it had lost its the raced Moon lowered its Ambitions and was still a strong space power but. Not [01:22:00] competing with the United States. In fact, they compete in a different way
They started flying well before we did non Soviet cosmonauts, right visiting cosmonauts and they began to use it as a tool vis-à-vis their satellites and their allies you've described something that you characterizes the Nixon space Doctrine and if I remember correctly, it's not formalized necessarily as such but you've kind of condensed.
Deaf attitude of the White House was at this point. So when did that really come into being was at the 70 budget and maybe just like discuss the three points of that. The term Nixon's face Doctrine is mine. Hmm Nixon never gave a space speech in his house. Not just the Apollo congratulatory. Yeah, I mean, you know ritual ceremonial speeches, but nothing the equivalent of Kennedy at rice in 1962.
Finally the White House in reaction to the September 69 [01:23:00] space task group report issued a statement on March the 7th. 70 and then and said here's what we intend to do in the future and laid out some initiatives and said the space has to take its place as one of the things that we do as a normal part of our life and adjust and compete in priority with everything else that we want to do and not be a series of expensive highly energetic jumps.
So that's what I call the doctrine is is. Base is a normal part of government. What government does competing for Budget priority with everything else? And in that competition from NYX and on it has settled at a level 1 V 1 tenth now the level at the peak of Apollo. Yeah, you say that the day in day out activity is right there.
This is part of what the government does and [01:24:00] by restructuring it that way. The kind of the trade space of what NASA could do the substantially diminished. Let's maybe move on closing out here to what became the Paradigm of the human space flight program up until just a few years ago, which is the space shuttle you were talking about here how the space station was really the goal NASA's been one to put up a space station.
They Skylab is kind of a test station yet stuck on top of a Saturn booster. How did we get to this shuttle first before that? And why did that end up dominating everything? Well, if one goes back and looks at the Congressional justifications for the NASA program in 1970, there's one program that's called station shuttle.
Tom Paine disappointed by all of this left nests in September 1970 George low became acting administrator in September of nineteen seventy and mr. Lowe was much more politically sensible than Tom Paine had [01:25:00] been. It engineer and very judicious in his judgment during the fall of 1970 going into the spring of 71.
It became clear that NASA was not going to get approval for the space station and the shuttle together and basically had to pick one. The Judgment was made and I think it was the correct judgment that a station without the shuttle was not viable because of the economics of operating it would drive the cost too high, but that you could have a human spaceflight program.
With the shuttle without setting a major goal that the shuttle could do a wide variety of things that it was attractive to at least some in the military and that there could be a case made for the shuttle. Independent of the space station we're giving up on the space station reduced deferring the space station and developing the to sequentially with the [01:26:00] shuttle first.
So, mr. Lowe's contribution. I think was was adopting the policy beginning in the fall of 70 that the. Program that NASA would seek approval for was the shuttle because they have called the Nixon administration's Bluff because I mean fundamentally you also I think an important aspect of this is that some of the internal memos you have from the Nixon White House is saying that you know that we don't want to be.
The presidency that ends human spaceflight now that we've done that had to continue they took that as a given and so us Nixon like bastard not if I have it, right? Yeah, remember John ehrlichman in a 1983 interview telling me that that they were the sons that Nixon never had our interests. Yeah the visible that right the the kind of the symbols right?
Thank you wanted. Do you think NASA could have called his bluff and said look we can't do anything at this level. We're going to cancel the he all of human spaceflight. We're just going to focus on robotic probes. Do you think they could have then gotten something [01:27:00] better or were they really facing down?
The barrel of the gun here. So to speak. I think they made a political judgment. I think it was the correct political judgment that that there was insufficient support at the White House level or the kind of program that might have resulted by calling NASA's Bluff. And again Lo wrote a letter to the deputy director of OMB in the fall of 70 who was cap Weinberger saying with the space shuttle, you could have a continuing program.
Man's face flight human spaceflight and not set a made another major goal and I think that you know in the sense that played. The face card if NASA's tells you that OMB is certainly going to say okay, let's do it. But let's now start putting the squeeze on the shuttle. Let's make it cost-effective.
So there's economic analysis got to apply to the program beginning in 1970 the show that [01:28:00] it. Cheaper than continuing to use Expendable launch vehicles and NASA decided that it had to have National Security support for the shuttle. So the shuttle had to neat a set of rather demanding National Security requirements, which largely determined the the design of the shuttle as it finally turned out.
This is a complete Inversion from how human spaceflight was really. Perceived at the very beginning in particular in 61 under Kennedy where we had to do this big thing to show off our capability to show up our technological rival in the Soviet Union and there's one or two ways that we can do that you chose that one way.
It's going to the moon now NASA is doing this day in and day out competition with everything else in the federal government to show here's what we can do for you now, right, right, and so. They have to shop around for customers and shop around for their raison d'etre so we'll oh yeah, we can launch DOD [01:29:00] payloads.
We can launch things into space more cheaply. We can eventually maybe make a space station, but we're building a capability. It's like building a highway system as opposed to its building infrastructure. Yeah. It's an infrastructure project and and there's also maybe. We don't dwell on this but also kind of a political reason I Nixon wanted to go with the shuttle right right before the 72 elections.
Yeah, but there's a lot that we have to talk about before we get that. I mean the shuttle that NASA was trying to sell in the fall of 1970 was a fully reusable to Stage shuttle with a 747 sized booster stage and a. These days I would say in 767 size upper stage. So it was a big thing. They were still and they thought they would take maybe 10 billion dollars to develop and the OMB said well, you can maybe have five right this this was.
[01:30:00] May of 71 and at that point NASA was faced with another dilemma not enough money to develop even the one thing we want to develop. What do we do about it? There were proposals to just give up on the shuttle and stretch out the Rockets we have and do a very modest program or give up on the full weary usability and build a shuttle with the uppers.
Dage turning into the Orbiter which will be reusable and then you have to figure out how to get it into orbit that so basically what was driving the design and again just in comparison to Apollo were that you had the goal then the design met the needs of that goal right need to get humans on the moon bring him back safely.
So that drove all your design decisions engineering decisions. This was being limited by budget budget and and fundamental which is an arbitrary concept based on who is the budget. Actor with the president's priorities are what the economy is like right. So [01:31:00] they're trying to do their engineering trade space in this shifting arbitrary field where someone says this sounds like too much right?
So this you fit to this and so the idea of this fully reusable shuttle was. Undermine from the very start then well undermine once they got that budget Mark as their studies progress and of 70s start of 71. They were still studying two-stage fully reusable until May of 71 when the the first budget Mark for the fiscal 73 budget would have been I think came out the budget that would be decided at the end of the year and it.
Totally inadequate for the thing. They wanted to build then everybody became a shuttle designer, but you still had to meet the dod requirements 15-foot but in particularly 60-foot long payload basic can launch the large reconnaissance satellites Delta wings so you can maneuver. On [01:32:00] re-entry to get back basically back to Vandenberg Air Force Base on the west coast, which is where you had launched from but in one orbit, it would have moved 90 in how many miles of Thousand Miles and so you had to be able to maneuver sideways to get back to that secure landing spot.
And you had that particular amount of weight to get into Polar orbit because of these intelligence satellites there were requirements that drove the design and there were budgets limits that drove the design and finally somebody figured out. Well, if you threw away the fuel tank and use solid rocket strap-ons and and reuse them as much as you could that you could make the economic calculations fit.
You could project that. You can launch this thing at at development for five billion and launch it at 10 or 14 million. [01:33:00] Launch where the numbers that were floated around as as the time for decision approached in the fall of 71. Was there any sort of public or cultural reaction? To this idea of a reusable shuttle or is this, you know, it was this kind of an idea that was being hashed out broadly or was this all very internal inside of NASA that no one internal to NASA NASA had study contracts with a major Aerospace contractors Grumman by this time North American Rockwell.
McDonnell Douglas to study shuttle designs so is being hashed out inside the Aerospace Community. I don't think there was a public debate people because we were still doing Apollo missions after all Apollo 15 was the summer of 71. This was this was a debate internal to the space Community OMB was very much involved the science advisor [01:34:00] by now a man named Ed Davis.
And his staff were very much involved. I wrote was writing an article. For MIT magazine technology review right about this time 1971 the title The Articles should we build the space shuttle and I was in good contact with with the staff at the White House Science office and and I showed them a draft the article and.
The guy named Russ Drew. He said you better wait a little bit things are changing very quickly. That was right as the article was talking about the two-stage fully reusable, and it was right as NASA was coming off of that and moving to advocating the single stage strap on design. So what were your feelings then about another?
Well, I'm a product of. The Apollo generation. I like human spaceflight. I wanted it to [01:35:00] continue and if this and the proposition sounded very attractive lowering the cost of access to space I could look back at that article and see what I concluded. But I'm pretty sure I said this shuttle is something the country should do.
Yeah, the shuttle as proposed was pretty different than the shuttle as manifested all well. Yes, no shuttle. It turned out was designed the way it was designed in 71 and just didn't have the economic or the. Um, the launch rate never quite well the the how operability I guess. It's the jargon word.
I mean this was back when we were in a launched 40 50 60 a year and Airline type operation ice and all those kind of Illusions. I mean, you're the one who wrote the paper a space shuttle a policy failure. Yeah, which is true, right? It did fail and it's. Policy goals be evidence the engineering aspects of it but going back [01:36:00] again just to look at this to think of this as kind of a Capstone of the Apollo ERA.
This future has been kind of. Focus down to a point where shuttle seems to be everyone kind of got in line behind the shuttle or else it seems like they left the agency and I'm thinking about this code of Von Braun here it did he leave because of his frustrations with the the end of the Moon program.
Did he see? I mean in some ways it's a very tragic end for someone who his life was this dream and he made so many compromises for this dream then at the end. We just decide to stop. Well the end of it. I think after Apollo 11 Von Braun was tired. He was tired of running a large organization. He got along well in his Visionary manifestation with the fellow Visionary Tom pain and pain said will come to Washington and be our planner for the future and Von Braun agreed to do that and came up to Washington and then pain left and his successor George Lowe.
It was [01:37:00] very representative of the Houston culture deep roots in the manned spacecraft Center. They Houston and Huntsville had never gotten alone. Basically low was not very interested in using Von Braun and marginalized him and the reality was Von Braun had some serious doubts about the shuttle design that was emerging that that that it could meet any or all the promises that were being made.
I think a combination of fatigue being marginalized and not agreeing to the company program. If you wish caused him to leave the agency as you suggested kind of sadly. I mean this this man do whatever you think about his total background was one of the four or five people responsible for getting us to the Moon.
So at this point, you know NASA finds this kind of compromise design that match fills out all these obligations. They [01:38:00] have to the military to the budget office and so forth. What is the final kicker that makes Nixon support it. Was that pretty much it. What did what did he make this decision did his advisors Rahman that he make it it's one I think will never know the end game was November December of 71 and then New Year.
Again, it was clear that a decision on the shuttle had to be made and Nixon in discussing that said. Well, it's going to produce a lot of jobs in California. Isn't it by this time? The taping system was in so this stuff is on tape, you know, he's talking earlier cumin and he said it's jobs. That's what it's about is jobs.
He was concerned about whether this again have to go out a bit in context his opponent at that time was Ed Muskie. He Nixon was behind in the polls in the fall of 71. And California was a [01:39:00] critical election state. And he said, you know this there was a California jobs project in the White House and looking for ways to create new jobs in California across the board and the the shuttle and and making sure that the shuttle contract went to a California firm was key to a lot of job creation.
And so I think the final. Decision was driven by the reality that whatever else its merits it would also help Nixon's re-election by job creation. But then the White House Science office came in with an alternate shuttle design to NASA's, which somehow had. Suggested to them by the one or more contractors which again in doing the my research.
I could never get anybody to admit who it was but all [01:40:00] singers kind of point at Rockwell, which is ironic since Rockwell ended up building the full-size shuttle. So there was a smaller shuttle which Nixon approved in early December and NASA's loudly protested and the rest of December of. 71 was spent arguing between the NASA full-size shuttle full capability shuttle and this smaller version with a few other Alternatives kind of floating around the edge, but those were the two main contenders and it finally came down at the very end of the month to a decision of whether NASA would.
What size shuttle NASA would build NASA came in and said we still think that for full capability is the right one to build but one a little smaller is still acceptable and can let us do most of the things we want to do. Which [01:41:00] one OMB will you approve in? This George Schultz was the head of OMB Weinberger his Deputy Schultz said go away and let us think about it over the.
Come back on Monday. Monday was January the 3rd. I think and NASA went back to when be and we're told we're going to go with the full-size one NASA walked out of the meeting amazed that was very much a surprise that they had gotten permission to build the shuttle that they actually built whether Nixon was involved over that weekend or whether it was Schultz.
Weinberger that made the decision to over the protests of the science advisor to go ahead with the full-size shuttle Schultz knows probably he's still alive, but he won't talk about it. The decision was announced to NASA January. The 3rd. Nixon was out on the west coast said fly out. To the Western White [01:42:00] House in San Clemente and Nixon meet with Nixon.
There's a classic picture of and by now NASA administrator James Fletcher. The Nixon looking at a shuttle model. Once again, a statement was issued that said the president has approved the shuttle will take the the astronomical cost out of astronautics by routine izing access to space or some words like that.
Nixon didn't get up and announce it since the rest is history. Yes literally was there. An awareness at that point. I mean was it seen as that this was the end of. Deep space presents for Humanity for the next half a century the half century. I don't think but Nixon issued another statement is Apollo 17 left the moon, which was December of 72.
So again, 12 months after approving shuttle, and he said this is the last time in this Century that humans will [01:43:00] walk on the moon. So saying that and 72 is in basically a 30-year forecast which by his decisions he made true. Quite true. It wasn't even close really nothing. Well, we're not rolling 250 miles up in 2019.
Yes, and I remember was it a wasn't Gene cernan. It was Jack Schmitt who felt I think it was written about being profoundly disappointed by he was still on coming home from Apollo 17 and seeing that this is the last of the century so you mix and statement. Yeah, and that's that that seems like a fitting coda in a sense to all of this that that that in.
Fonts this the greatest achievement I would say argue easily arguably of human spaceflight. The response was to lessen our Ambitions lower our sights. Yeah fundamentally. Do you think that was a function of the political? And cultural expectations at the time. That was a period. I know [01:44:00] that ultimately Jimmy Carter talked about the malaise and well 26 Casey.
This is a tricky question. Was it a good thing to go to the moon in the first place? Yeah, maybe the mistake was skipping all the intermediate steps and and and going on a crash basis to the moon and using up that destination creating the expectations. That this was what a successful space program was about was deep space exploration.
I don't want to believe that because I was there. I mean, you know, I'm whose wisdom closed in observer of the Apollo program went to three Apollo 11 Apollo 14 Apollo 17 launches. So they were Grand things were they. Mistakes in the grand scheme of human progress You could argue it, but I don't want to I mean, it's almost like the reformulation of Kennedy statement is almost slipped week we go into low earth orbit, and we do [01:45:00] space stations and the other things not because they are hard but because they are easy and because they're perceived as useful.
Yeah. Maybe that's more than anything. Dr. Larson. Thank you for joining us today. It's been a pleasure John loxton author space historian space policy expert with the chief advocate for the planetary Society our own Casey dryer a Casey great conversation a thank you for that. And I do want to note.
Once again that you're limited series about Apollo. This was the penultimate the second-to-last episode your conversation with John logsdon in that separate series that you did great work of preparing and. Special introductions and other content around but there is one other episode which I take special interest in because you invited me to join you for sort of a wrap-up conversation all of that now available as part of that miniseries.
Yeah, and that's our last and I think excellent conversation [01:46:00] that we had. I was very happy with that conversation. We are not going to include that on the space policy addition to listen to that you have to go. To that special edition show that is a that is a bonus episode for subscribers of that show, but it's not hard to subscribe because it's free.
You can just go online a political history of Apollo on any podcast aggregator out there. Let's wrap up with a couple of reminders including and I'm so impressed that you're on top of this already the day of action if people want to take a personal role in the kinds of policy decisions that led to and eventually LED away from the Apollo program and are still determining what happens in space in the United States today bring us up-to-date.
Once again Casey on how people can participate go to planetary dot org slash. Of action, it has links about the thing if you have questions, we've got answers for you background and then there's a link you can register to attend. It's February 9th [01:47:00] and 10th of 2020. Again, we provide training will schedule the meetings for you.
You might actually be meeting face to face. Your representative to talk about space and you get to hang out with me Brandon Currie other members of the planetary society and talk about space and how awesome it is. That's one of the great benefits of it. So they'll be all kinds of special stuff with that meeting opportunities special briefings by Folks at Nasa and scientists and everything.
We try to make it really fun and you get to stand and speak for space, you know metaphorically. So it's it's great fun. It's really worth it you really do? Make a difference and I really hope you consider signing up where we want to break our records again this year try to get more than a hundred members in attendance.
All speaking for space. I think we did something like a hundred and thirty meetings last year. I'd like to get way more than that so it'll be. Really worth your time and we've only heard really great feedback from everyone who's participated. So I hope you join us while you're there. By the way when you visit planetary dot [01:48:00] org slash day of action look for the little button up at the top left that says join or go to planetary dot org slash.
And become part of the planetary society that is standing behind the day of action behind Casey behind the space policy Edition and the weekly program planetary radio that it is my pleasure to host and produce join us become part of this organization become part of this movement Casey been great talking to you once again, and I look forward to the next opportunity on the first Friday in October as always Matt.
I will be there Casey dryer Chief advocate of the planetary Society. I'm at Kaplan the host of planetary radio. Hope that you will again join us in October for the next spe and on Wednesday morning when yet another weekly edition of planetary radio will come out just as they have been for nearly the last 17 years at Astro everyone [01:49:00] .