RS Classic: What's Right About Our Manned Space Program

>> Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I wrote this in 2008 and, although some of the financial data might have changed, my amazement at the achievements has not.

I said I have some opinions about what’s wrong with today’s human space program.

I do, but I need to preface them with saying they are just my opinions. I’m not speaking for my company and I’m not speaking for NASA.

But, before I do that, here’s a little lesson in what amazing things have been done by this country for manned space exploration (and I will probably take some time to do the same for Russia since they have many sizable achievements as well, but today, let’s focus on the US). There are a plethora of wonderful unmanned achievements as well, but, for today, let’s focus on the manned stuff.

The NACA/NASA (and other US agencies) have done some amazing things, some things that we’re trying to duplicate right now and are just about stumped to do, that’s how amazing they were. Let me give you a brief timeline (or you can look it up on Wikipedia if you prefer). And it starts before NASA.

1955: The decision is made to have the Naval Research Laboratory design the first rocket to put a satellite up. Von Braun (with the Army) is told to stop work on his plan using a modified Redstone rocket (his design) and work on mid-range ballistic missiles. He does work on missiles but does so by designing the Jupiter C which, coincidentally, is capable of launching a satellite into orbit.

1957 (October): Russia beats us to the punch by launching Sputnik (and launches a second satellite in November, that same year)

1957 (December): The NRL program tries and fails (spectacularly) to launch the first US satellite. (They were successful in putting up the second US satellite, Vanguard 1, in orbit in March 1958 - and it’s still out there now, though it stopped working and is now debris)

1958 (January): The US launches Explorer 1 on a modified Jupiter C rocket - note that this involved modifying a Jupiter C rocket and building a satellite in 84 days. JPL was impressive even then.

1958 (June): NASA created. Von Braun is working on Saturn rocket concepts.

1960 (July): Von Braun transferred to NASA (on the condition he can still work on the Saturn rockets).

1961: Alan Shepherd is the first US man in space with a suborbital hop on a Redstone rocket.

1962: John Glenn is the first US man to orbit the earth, this time atop an Atlas rocket.

1965: First Gemini mission (2 astronauts)

1967: Apollo 1 Fire.

1968: Orbit the Moon with Apollo 8.

1969: Apollo 11 lands on moon and we walk on it. Apollo 11 is followed by Apollo 12 (1969), Apollo 14 (1971), Apollo 15 (1971), Apollo 16 (1972) and Apollo 17 (1972). Apollo 13 was flown as well but did not land.

1973-1974: Skylab was our first “station” using a Saturn second stage. Russia, by the way, has had several space stations of various sizes and complexity.

1975: Apollo-Soyuz rendezvoused with a Soyuz craft (using Apollo craft).

1981: First Space Shuttle flown. The Space Shuttle was originally conceived in 1968 and planned in 1970.

1998: International Space Station assembly begun.

By the way:

Mercury Program cost $384 million ($2.7 billion in 2007 dollars)
Gemini Program cost $5.4 billion ($ 30+ billion in 2007 dollars)
Apollo Program cost $25.4 billion ($135 billion in 2007 dollars)

Our entire 50 year space program has costs us $810.459 billion. The last 7 years of Iraqi and Afghanistan warfare have cost us $604 billion (per NASA Budget on Wikipedia) [Remember, this was 2008. I suspect they're closer to neck and neck by now.]

You decide which one leaves the kind of legacy we can be proud of.

Just sayin’.


  • Roy

    Absolutely no question about which one gives us more value for our dollar! Good work on this, Steph.

  • The Mother

    We have lots to be proud of, don't we?

    Moving forward, I hope people remember that.

  • Jeff King

    Awesome, thx for sharing.

  • Rocketscienist

    And we are not counting the good will NASA fosters for us around the world. When I was at Kennedy Space Center for the last launch of Atlantis, about half the people I met were foreigners. Everyone was so positive about NASA and our mission. Even more the people giving tours at the center believed in our Space program, not just for the benefit of America, but the entire world. I spoke with one tour guide about NASA's history and future. The most striking thing was our shared passion about being part of something that is specifically meant for peace for American and humankind.

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