What is more important, means or motivation?

 

Companies like SpaceX have developed new launch vehicles that can lower the cost of space access and enable new applications. (credit: SpaceX)



Almost 50 years after the first Apollo Moon landing, there is still no “There” up there. By that I mean there is no Earth-Moon infrastructure, no transportation network, no commercial platforms (except the International Space Station, which remains mostly the province of NASA astronauts and scientists, and the occasional space tourist). And especially, no bases or colonies on the Moon, let alone Mars. The first lunar landings were supposed to be harbingers of future space development upon which a true spacefaring civilization could evolve. That did not happen.

The brute force approach of putting men on top of giant rockets and blasting them into space certainly accomplished the goal of beating the Russians to the Moon. But it did not, simultaneously, create a reliable and inexpensive transportation system.

As we have known for many years, the Apollo moon program, despite its auspicious beginning with John F. Kennedy’s inspiring speech to Congress on May 25, 1961, and its stunning success on July 20, 1969, was destined to be a dead end. The true motivation behind Kennedy’s drive to put a man on the moon was the Cold War, and the political/military goal of beating the Soviet Union. As John Logsdon made clear in his book John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon, Kennedy was no starry-eyed romantic who bought into some great adventure unfolding. He simply wanted to increase national power and prestige.

However, in addition to the overall motivation for Apollo, the method or means used to accomplish the mission also hurt the space program. The brute force approach of putting men on top of giant rockets and blasting them into space certainly accomplished the goal of beating the Russians to the Moon. But it did not, simultaneously, create a reliable…

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