Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Gene Cernan has died (nasa.gov)
409 points by cletusw on Jan 16, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 172 comments

Of the 12 men who walked on the moon, six are still alive, the youngest, Charlie Duke is 81. Aldrin, the oldest, is 86. Its becoming less and less likely we'll have someone back on the moon before these men are gone. That is a goddamn tragedy.

On the scale of tragedies that are currently occurring or for which there is a significant threat of occurring in the near future, the possibility that there might be a period of time with no living humans who have walked on the moon is so trivial as to trivialize the entire concept of "tragedy" by using that term to describe it.

Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.

― Mel Brooks

> On the scale of tragedies that are currently occurring or for which there is a significant threat of occurring in the near future, the possibility that there might be a period of time with no living humans who have walked on the moon is so trivial

No. There is an argument to be made that in the absence of drama occurring up there (space, theistic mythology, etc), people will invent and create drama down here (Earth), except with more dire consequences. Considering alternative timelines, therefore, there is a decent chance that there is a real, though indirect, human cost associated with choosing not to explore. What is the human cost, for example, of boys and girls not being inspired by daring feats accomplished at the edge of possible? Nobody is quantifying it, no research grants are given to study it, but I have almost no doubt that it exists.

Isn't that idea also in Asimov's The End of Eternity? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_End_of_Eternity

In this book humans have at some point invented time travel. Subsequently an organization ('Eternity') is born out of it to regulate and protect humans accross centuries. But, because of it, Humanity never left Earth. The main protagonist stops time travel from being invented and kickstarts the nuclear age, this is supposed to start robots and later Foundation.

At least that's what I remember, I tried to summarize without reading Wikipedia for a change.

The key of the story is that either humans invent space travel and have a chance to thrive, or stay on Earth and are guaranteed to become extinct.

Eternity is made.

The keepers keep disasters from happening, thus humanity is kept in a generally mediocre state, no major struggles, etc.

By the time humanity, with no struggle, reach the ability to travel the stars, the stars are occupied, we're late.

The future eternity (eternity itself has a timeline independent of the original) realized this and decided to let humans fend for themselves and thus fix the long term problem.

That's one of my favorite sci-fi novels and it's eerily ahead of its time IMO. Among many difficult questions, it also deals with

"is it good for humankind to be ruled by an invisible technocratic elite?"

"are we unknowingly increasing long-term existential risk by concerning ourselves first with short-term safety?"

And then what's "good" in relation to "what's good for humankind", what's "humankind". Same process for the second sentence.

I think in some defintion I could argue either side of the Eternity.

Before man walked on the moon, no one had walked on the moon, and society seemed to cope.

Before man walked on the moon, it wasn't long before man first flew in a heavier-than-air apparatus, and before that it wasn't long before nobody has ever set foot on the South Pole. You can keep going. And do define "cope". We had two world wars and we almost annihilated each other in 1962 and then once in the 1980s. No, I'm not saying that if we explored space, world wars wouldn't happen. Yes, I'm fully aware that space exploration is in a way a byproduct of military endeavors.

Consider why sports exist. They are also a (cultural) byproduct of military endeavors. Sports bring us a variety of benefits, including things like giving people meaning, making them bond with each other, helping maintain a healthy lifestyle, and lifting many kids out of poverty. There is a role for something like that---for exploring places like space. Consider also human (primate) psychology and how team sports can satisfy urges we would otherwise want to unleash in more destructive way on each other---and do so in a positive, constructive way. I wouldn't be surprised that in an alternative timeline where sports don't exist our newspapers would be filled with a lot more grizzly headlines on a daily basis. Consider now that we're living in an alternative/dystopian timeline where one of the most fascinating sports (exploring the unknown) had mysteriously nearly disappeared. Purely as sport, space exploration would have been of a sufficient benefit to pursue in my opinion. But of course, it is a lot more than just a sport.

"No, I'm not saying that if we explored space, world wars wouldn't happen."

One actually could argue such. Being able to permanently and self-sustainably inhabit space means being able to reduce the strain on Earth's own resources, thus reducing the need to compete for said resources (said need being a major contributor to plenty of wars, both current and historical).

It's a stretch, sure, but it's still an argument one could make.

> Being able to permanently and self-sustainably inhabit space means being able to ..

Going to into space and making something of yourself rather than grabbing a gun and killing each other like rats in a cage?

A bit of a nitpick, but I don't think sports in the modern sense is a military outgrowth.

I think it's something that came out of industrialization in the late 19th century. Look at the famous football clubs, they're all founded late 1800s/early 1900s, in cities. Basically guys who needed some entertainment on the one day off that many countries had instituted by then.

Soccer and rugby are formalized and tamed down versions of communal games going back to the middle ages

In cultural-psychological sense, team sport sports absolutely are.

>What is the human cost, for example, of boys and girls not being inspired by daring feats accomplished at the edge of possible?

People deciding to sit at home, live sensibly, and peacefully for a chance?

I hope you're being sarcastic :D

No, I'm being serious.

> There is an argument to be made that in the absence of drama occurring up there (space, theistic mythology, etc), people will invent and create drama down here (Earth), except with more dire consequences.

Not a good argument, since all of the examples of what you call "drama up there" that have ever existed have simply been projections of "drama down here", rather than alternatives to such drama.

That's very speculative, and seems to give undue credit to "revolutionary narrative"...

It's a tragedy because of how little we did with the accomplishment. Putting men on the moon could have ushered in a new age of exploration and we could be much farther along the path to being multi-planetary than we are today. It's tragic because it means our future is less bright.

How little we did?

Society has accomplished a ton due to the space race. Furthermore, just because we haven't put humans anywhere doesn't mean we haven't explored anywhere. We have a robot on Mars, had a robot on Venus. We have ships nearing the end of our solar system and sending data back. We have learned tons, and keep learning tons, and have used all of this knowledge to make life on earth better. GPS alone is worth it, let alone everything we've done.

Putting more men on the moon does us absolutely no good besides letting a country puff its chest out more.

I disagree. Putting men back on the moon would require developing technology we don't currently possess and it would serve as a stepping stone to further exploration. Yes, we accomplished a ton due to the space race, so why would we not continue doing that?

We _are_ making progress in space exploration but the moon isn't of much interest anymore. The technology that is being developed to reach Mars for example is "technology we don't currently posses."

You're right, why should we build a city in Illinois when one already exists in New York.

The moon has no resources to enable living there. You will always have to bring in air, water and food. Also, no current idea for something profitable to do there (Helium-3 mining is very theoretical). Some people want a moon base before a mars base, but I think they're mostly thinking about how much closer it is, not about what they want it for.

There's actually plenty of oxygen on the Moon, trapped in various rocks.

Water and food are indeed trickier; the Moon does have some trace amounts of carbon (deposited by solar wind) and hydrogen (at the poles), but extracting enough of those elements to sustainably support living there is unlikely unless we make some major discoveries or figure out a more reasonable way to import such things (one idea is to capture hydrocarbon-rich asteroids and park them in lunar orbit, but that ain't exactly my idea of "reasonable").

As for profitability, the Moon happens to be rich in silicon; a far-fetched idea might be to build a whole bunch of lunar microchip factories. The Moon is also full of raw materials in general, and getting them into space (e.g. to build spacecraft or to import to Earth) is a lot easier than getting such material into space from Earth. This makes the Moon a potentially-valuable staging point for missions to Mars and elsewhere.

If there is indeed water (or some other hydrogen source) on the Moon in sufficiently-abundant quantities, lunar fuel depots would actually be feasible; there's been quite a bit of work in recent decades around using silanes (hydrosilicons) as a useful fuel, replacing the need for hydrocarbon-based fuels (or using hydrogen directly).

The Moon could certainly be lived on easily, but with a mere 1-second communications lag between Earth and Moon, using remotely-operated drones to completely build a self-sustaining habitation before sending even a single human there would make more sense.

Indeed it would. I recall some work being done on a giant 3D printer than that print buildings out of concrete; figuring out a way to do the same with lunar materials would be a huge step in the right direction.

Complete nonsense. The moon has water which can obviously be broken down into oxygen and rocket fuel. The idea that we know the extent of the moon's resources is naive.

I thought it was only in permanently shadowed craters? If it's accessible and is concentrated enough, then you're right.

There is reason to believe the moon is wetter than we thought.


You're correct in that large, (comparatively) easily mined water ice deposits are located in permanent shadow at the poles, but there is likely water available in most locations, if you dig down below the surface.

Illinois isn't the moon.

And a metaphor isn't the thing it is used to convey. So?

Are you saying you where talking metaphorically? Because the metaphor compares two similar things.

Also, why is a metaphor needed here?

>Are you saying you where talking metaphorically? Because the metaphor compares two similar things.

A metaphor compares two things similar from a certain aspect -- they could still differ in every other way. One could use a metaphor from agriculture to clarify their point on a political issue, for example.

>Also, why is a metaphor needed here?

For the same reasons that it's needed elsewhere. To get the point across in a simplified way, because people can understand a phenomenon better in one domain than they can in another (aka "domain dependence").

> A metaphor compares two things similar from a certain aspect

When I said "the metaphor compares two similar thing" I didn't mean metaphors in general, I meant your metaphor specifically compares two things that are similar. The relevant differences between NY and the moon do not exist between NY and Illinois.

> For the same reasons that it's needed elsewhere

Metaphors are often of dubious value. They can be used to clarify unfamiliar situation, where the bounds of the metaphor are clear; or, perhaps as in this case, encourage similar thinking about two related concepts.

But you provided a metaphor here without providing clarity on what the point was. When I think "why would I build a city in Illinois, when there already one in NY", none of the answers I come up with apply equally to the moon. e.g. land is cheaper/convenient (not on the moon), the scenery is better (maybe true, but not to outweight other more pressing concerns) etc.

> We have ships nearing the end of our galaxy and sending data back

While that certainly would be awesome, I'm pretty sure you meant "solar system".

Ha, yeah. Of course.

"We have a robot on Mars"

We actually have more than that; in addition to Curiosity, the Opportunity rover is (by some miracle) still in active service and fully operational.


Not just a robot on Mars - a nuclear-powered, laser-toting, semi-autonomous robot on Mars, relaying its data via one of the permanent space ships orbiting Mars to one of the many ground-based receivers hosted by different countries. It's a feat of science, engineering and human ingenuity that crosses geopolitical borders, which is why it's so important.

I feel a lot of the return on spacefaring is as simple as making groups of humans, a long way from each other, work together because of shared interests.

>Putting men on the moon could have ushered in a new age of exploration

Not really. Solving the propulsion and energy generation problems would have done that, but not merely sending a bunch more people to a space rock for a few days using chemical rockets. EMDrive is interesting if it works, but significantly more efficient energy generation still eludes us.

We spent 2.2% of the all federal outlays during the peak period. Could you imagine the political outrage if that happen today. That would be spending 88 billion dollars on putting a man on the moon.

We might even be further along today if we had not gone for the moon shot. Getting to the moon was great for bragging, but it left us with very little in the way of stepping stones for further progress. Maybe we should have focused on building the technology from the ground up for an ongoing program instead of purpose-building it for a single goal.

Things like the moonshot, and the ISS, and getting to Mars, despite everyone's continual criticism of them, are essential because with projects that stretch large timeframes, and rapidly changing Congresses, you need something politically unkillable - otherwise it will be killed, to pay for someone else's pet spending increase.

Which of these do you think would generate outrage? Axing the moonshot, or defunding an experimental thruster research program?

Doing cool stuff might not be the most efficient way to do research, but it's a hell of a lot better than nothing, and it inspires generations.

we wouldn't be in space at all if it weren't for the purpose of bragging.

Maybe space travel's biggest contribution so far is that it somehow helped to keep the cold war from going hot - as a substitute contest for the real war. RIP Gene Cernan.

Did we really do "little" with the technology and energy born of the space race?

Th tragedy is that we didn't continue the expansion of our species off a single planet. Yes, we learned a lot from the Apollo program and later space programs but without more projects like Apollo we won't continue doing so.

So the work companies like SpaceX are doing can't culminate in something that continues our expansion off a single planet?

I mean, honestly I'm not so sure what the huge rush is to expand to another planet when we're having so much trouble with just one.

It's not that I don't want to see us move past the boundaries of this planet, but on the list of things I'd want to see before my time is up on this planet, there's plenty of things like the end of world hunger or bringing the poorest people in the world to an infinitely better standard of living that come way before us living on another planet.

In the very long term moving to another planet is a way to stave off the end of our species (amongst other positive things), but in the very very long term the odds are we won't live on indefinitely, I think improving the lives of those who come before now and that time is probably the most worthwhile thing we can do.

You're making a huge mistake if you think we have to pick between solving social issues and colonizing other planets. Spacex is doing what NASA should have done in the 80s. That's the tragedy.

I have no clue how the money for space exploration is allocated, but they could possibly put that money into the things the GP (did I use that right) said. I think a better use would be to perhaps continue funding small explorations as we've done, but put the brakes on something like actually colonizing another planet, moon, satellite, etc. I agree that we have plenty to deal with here.

No government money is being spent on space settlement. NASA's budget is about $18B per year.

Some stuff is actually awesome and worthwhile (and cost effective) like the robotic exploration of the solar system, and a little supports SpaceX which uses the money to develop technology that enables cheap access to space.

But I think most of that money is a jobs program for high paying jobs congressmen want in their districts which help the economy tactically but might not be the best use of those people's effort. But, the provided jobs also support a skills base and supplier ecosystem that would allow shifting some of those people and parts suppliers into doing something more necessary to the government like defense stuff. The thinking is that if that money goes away and those people get laid off, they'll stop working in aerospace, move into finance or whatever, college kids will not study space engineering because they'll hear there are no jobs, and defense contractors will have a harder time hiring the next time a big defense program is funded.

Nothing I said implies that I "think we have to pick between solving social issues and colonizing other planets.", it's not really fair to imply that I did.

SpaceX is doing what you feel NASA should have been doing in the 80s with 3 decades between then and now, with all that comes with 3 decades.

On the scale of HN stereotypes, you're "pedantic off-topic guy".

But you could be a woman. And it's more of a 2D scale.

I don't think GP wanted to compare this to various real tragedies. Hyperbole is a figure of speech.

That said, whatever you point to, you can always find greater tragedies. I don't think such comparisons would help much here.

If I get a paper cut, that hurts.

If I'm shot, that hurts.

That these are different in scale and scope doesn't mean they can't share a (vague) label. Tragedy exists at many scales.

It dilutes the word though. Like how "awesome" used to mean something.

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary." --James D. Nicoll

I read this quote in the other thread where there was a discussion on the origins of English language and the loss of some characters in the alphabet. In that context, this quote made sense.

Apart from the first line, this quote doesn't apply here and frankly makes no sense. Yes, English may borrow (or steal forcefully, apparently) words from other languages, but that does not mean the language internally must not have its purity defended. Devaluating terms to have little meaning (awesome, terrible, fantastic) is not my idea of progress.

(Foreign languages on the other hand are a good source of new words which can be introduced, already inflated, into English.)

You can't really rip the first part of this quote from the rest. The entire point of it is that the language does not exist on a pedestal worth defending. Everything about the language we use right now exists because of a gradual and occasionally sudden process of evolution where meanings shift and words occupy new niches and occasionally die.

Awesome, terrible, and fantastic all have meaning. They have as much meaning as they ever have. They have different meanings, and the broadening and shifting of their meanings has allowed people to communicate with more effectiveness and nuance.

There is no inherent value in words having "strong" (as in forceful) meanings. If people do not use them that way it's because they do not need them that way.

Don't worry, language is remarkably resilient - if we need a stronger word than "awesome", we'll come up with one. And we almost certainly already have.

Yes awesomesauce, apparently

Litotes (Mercutio's "a scratch, a scratch, marry, 'tis enough") and hyperbole have been figurative techniques used for thousands of years.

Black Knight: "Tis but a scratch!"

King Arthur: "A scratch?! Your arm's off!"

In the long term, there are only two paths that life can take: the stars, or extinction. By not choosing one, we are choosing the other. And yes, that is a fucking tragedy.

In the long term there's just the heat death of the universe and extinction.

Agree. And a similar thing happens when the word hero is bandied about.


- Jump on train tracks (when it's not your job) to save a complete stranger even though it might leave your own family without you: HERO!

- Fireman runs into burning building to save people? HERO! (Even though that is the job description).

But 'be a hero' is pretty much the job description of a firefighter.

See also 'badass' for special forces and 'brainy' for scientists. It's not wrong to describe them that way even if it's all in a day's work.

That depends on the fire service. The FDNY fight fires aggressively. I know of other fire services where the number 1 priority is firefighter heath and safety, ie above that of the potential victims of fires. They still like to run marathons in their fire kit and play on the hero rep at every opportunity though.

The FDNY fight fires aggressively. I know of other fire services where the number 1 priority is firefighter heath and safety, ie above that of the potential victims of fires.

Those two things are not mutually exclusive. Saying "we make aggressive interior attacks and perform primary search" is fine, but you don't do that when you see signs of imminent structural collapse on arrival. All firefighters take risk, but it's a calculated risk. Now granted, the line is somewhat subjective and different departments do have different policies but still... I don't know of any department that preaches the idea that you display no judgment at all, and wantonly waste your life.

If all the firemen die, who will fight fires in the future?

If you're in a town of 3,000 people, there are a very limited number of potential firemen you can have. If they die rescuing someone, dozens of others die because there is no one else to rescue them.

In many rural settings there is no dedicated fire department and it all operates on a volunteer basis.

Around harvest time it was expected that the neighbors would have their tractors standing by hooked up with discs to till the crops and build fire lines.

Dedicated fire fighters aren't the only people who can put out fires.

My town doesn't even have dedicated firefighters. Everyone is a volunteer. And the guy saying that they're not a real firefighter unless they choose to die in a structure collapse is sickening to me.

At least both of those are examples of people saving lives. To be analogous with the parent commenter's tragedy claim, if need to claim to be a hero for something like complimenting someone's socks.

The way word "hero" is used, it pretty much excludes paid professionals by definition. You could argue that society doesn't need heroes but trained experts instead, but that's an orthogonal discussion.

So I guess nobody actually deserves a Medal of Honor then?

That medal is specifically for people who go above and beyond the call of duty, meaning their act of heroism was not simply the job they signed up for.

I think this is pretty huge actually.

We went to the moon. We were temporarily a space-fearing species.

Shit went down on earth.

We're now back to terrestrial only.

Hopefully one day we will be a multi-planetary species.

"Hope you got a backup plan"

-- Giant Space Rock

It is metonym; it is a symbol of a zeitgeist of backbiting defeatism, where the word ‘progress’ can not be spoken without an ironic sneer,

Let alone a "Goddamn tragedy"

What would be the reason to go back to the moon? I'm not being sarcastic either, I'm genuinely curious why.

To me, it just seemed like landing on the moon was more important than what we could learn from it, or possibly use it as a remote scientific base or something else. It was the idea of simply getting their that seemed the most important. I never thought we had any long term plans for the moon, so it would seem we've already accomplished what we wanted to do.

In terms of what there is to gain, Habitation of the moon would promote the development of more self sustainable technology, new and improved materials (lightweight rad shielding, cheap building materials such as regolith construction, etc), higher semiconductor yields, and cheaper methods of producing previously very expensive compounds and structures for the pharmaceutical industry.

IIRC the economics of a moon base (which is presumably what you're referring to) don't make sense in terms of fuel costs vs potential revenue. Could you illustrate what a "cash crop" might be for the moon?

The economy doesn't come into it. Consider the continued operation of such things as the IIS, which have no compelling reason to continue to exist. Research alone is a good enough reason, plus the potential for sponsorship/tv rights etc also recouping some of the costs for such things

That is depressing as hell: we'll just throw money at something that makes good propaganda rather than makes sense to invest in.

well, the moon would likely only serve for research purposes until space faring society is a bit more established. The most likely "cash crop" for the moon would be serving as a drydock for spacecrafts. The low gravity would majorly reduce the cost and remove the size and profile constraints of said spacecrafts.

I think you're interpreting me wrong: the gravity well is the source of the cost. It'd make more sense to land and mine asteroids than the moon.

The gravity well is partially a cost and partially a benefit. By having low gravity, the capacity to manipulate objects is greatly improved but having at least some gravity enables a lot of manufacturing processes that would otherwise be complicated by the lack of gravity. One example is laser sintering which needs some force to hold the powder in place. This process in particular is beneficial as it is very heavily utilised in rocket engine production.

Also I agree that asteroid mining needs to happen however the moon would serve as a very good base of operations for such industries.

Thanks. The starting paragraph made me think he was the last person ever worked on moon alive until now.

> Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, died Monday, Jan. 16, surrounded by his family.

There's 3 possible meanings:

* the last of the men who walked on the Moon has died

* the last man who stepped onto the Moon for the first time, died

* the last man who ever stood on the Moon before stepping off, died

Perhaps those last 2 refer to the same person, perhaps not.

Hover over the image. Interesting way to add context and opinion, above an image that's flat/non-opinionated. Nice!

> The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there's no good reason to go into space--each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision.

Looks like we're pretty much at the 5th percentile :-(

Actualy closer to the middle line, we'd be down to 4 still alive if we were on the 5th percentile.

We don't need people on the moon. Robots are better.

As someone who worked on a NASA Lunar mission (LROC), I can tell you that there are opinions both ways. With NASA on a shoestring budget, some scientists feel the best science return on investment is robots. But there are plans to put humans back on the moon that would not cost all that much more. If it weren't for the fixed budget, I'm sure almost all scientists would want manned missions.

Why? Go read some more about Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, who was on the Moon with Gene Cernan. Having a geologist on the moon enabled spotting things, making judgements, and then following up on the spot. Sending a scientist who can also pilot (and Schmitt was damned good) rather than only having military pilots changes the game as far as the science return.

Thanks, you obviously know your stuff.

I wonder if with AI advances though, we can have robots that are 'damned good' pilots that can also spot things.

(The judgements would need to be made back on Earth though, admittedly, with speed of light lag as an annoying factor.)

I think the real answer is that there should be some balance of manned vs. robotic missions. Where that balance lies is a matter for debate. Having worked on a robotic mission I am very much in favor of doing more of that.

As for me knowing about this... I have more perspective than most people, but it all comes from listening to scientists, who are the ones with knowledge of the science gains. I wish they had a bit more voice than they do.

Why not both? For the money we waste destabilizing the middle east we could build a small city on the moon and still have money left over.

There are enough environmental, economic and social problems we need to solve on Earth first.

That's a ridiculous attitude. You could use the same logic to say we should ignore our problems with income inequality until we solve global warming, or vice versa. It turns out there are billions of people on earth with a wide variety of skills and we can do a lot in parallel.

At its peak NASA used 4.41% of the federal budget. In 2014 it was 0.5%. We can afford to do more and as we know from experience the payoff is worth the expense.

Well earlier in this thread I heard someone talk about spending money on the moon instead of wars. We all have our own priority order (or partial order perhaps) for how we'd like public money to be spent.

In US history (see, e.g. 'A History of the American People', Johnson), environmental, economic, and social problems were often solved by moving in to new territory. If you can think of the Moon as the Eighth continent, it may well be how we solve our present, pressing environmental, economic and social problems.

A small sacrifice to avoid angering the aliens.

The guts these folks had to fly such tiny primitive compared-to-today spaceships is still amazing to me. Sadly back then I always thought I'd be able to walk on the moon in my lifetime but clearly that will not happen. I still think watching a Saturn V launch was more impressive than the Space Shuttle was.

I've read enough about space technology to have a bit of disbelief in your statement.

The technology to launch someone skyward is basically identical, the technology in the craft, while benefited by more modern computing (as well as enhanced material science), also largely identical.

>The technology to launch someone skyward is basically identical, the technology in the craft, while benefited by more modern computing (as well as enhanced material science), also largely identical.

I really don't get your statement. The Saturn V is the most powerful machine humans have ever made. No rocket has since come anywhere close to it, despite the benefits of modern computing and material science. The Space Shuttle program killed 14 astronauts, in spite of the more modern technology and the huge steps that were taken in the decades prior.

The Saturn V sent 24 men to the moon, and launched America's first space station with technology built by people using slide rules. 13 successful launches without casualties - indeed it handled situations like lightning strikes and violent POGO oscillations. It's the only machine that has ever taken humans past LEO.

True enough, and new info to me!

Saturn V remains the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful (highest total impulse) rocket ever brought to operational status, and holds records for the heaviest payload launched and largest payload capacity to low Earth orbit (LEO) of 140,000 kg (310,000 lb).

To date, the Saturn V remains the only launch vehicle to launch missions to carry humans beyond low Earth orbit. A total of 15 flight-capable vehicles were built, but only 13 were flown. An additional three vehicles were built for ground testing purposes. [0]

So why aren't we just building more of these damn things and iterating on the (proven!) design? While we're at it let's un-mothball the SR-71 and those wicked Buick start carts! [1]

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturn_V [1]: http://www.sr-71.org/blackbird/startercart.php

I'd have to dig around to find the source - but honestly, its because we dont have good drawings, or even partially complete understanding on how to build the pieces. The Saturn V was not mass produced, and was built on something less then an assembly line - it was semi-bespoke basically.

On a related note, ars technica has an absolutely fantastic article on reverse engineering and re-building the Saturn V.


Perhaps it would be orders of magnitude more expensive to make it now? At least compared to the rockets we currently need and build regularly for LEO and so on.

And the technology we used today to launch skyward today, is substantively identical in form and type to the Saturn V. The CSM and LM are substantively similar to what Russia is still using to put people in low earth orbit. The shuttle arguably was a much more complex platform with very little return.

Comparing 13 missions to 135 missions, and trying to extrapolate from those 13 missions is disingenuous (slide rules or not) - the fact is Apollo 1 did kill 3 people (on the ground) - and almost killed another 3 in Apollo 13.

As much as I disliked the STS - it only had one launch failure (Challenger), due to operating the launcher out of design parameters (which was quite arguably a faulty design) - it had one other failure (Columbia) on reentry which is in some ways is similar to the defect that hit Apollo 13, it was basically a manufacturing defect.

The reason I say technology has not greatly changed is to compare it Orion Spacecraft - which is essentially a modern implementation of the Apollo CSM. Same technology, but with better and more advanced materials. This is no different than comparing a 1929 Model A to a 1969 Ford Galaxie 500.

If the political will was present, we could build another Saturn V Class launcher today - we choose not to, but even the replacements for the Shuttle (SLS and Constellation) have proposed reusing literal technology from the Saturn Era.

Didn't a crew die in a pad fire?

A cabin fire during a launch rehearsal test on January 27 at Cape Kennedy Air Force Station Launch Complex 34 killed all three crew members—Command Pilot Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward H. White II, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee—and destroyed the Command Module (CM). The name Apollo 1, chosen by the crew, was officially retired by NASA in commemoration of them on April 24, 1967.


Arguably not a launch, as it was a rehearsal.

You probably are thinking of Apollo 1? That was a fire in the capsule during a test, not a launch situation, and unrelated to the rocket -> might not be fair to attach those deaths to the Saturn V, only to the moon program.


It may be close, but back then we didn't "know". They were still exploring and figuring out what works. Pretty brave.

Being drunk off their ass [1] might help them having the guts. Can't blame them, they are sitting on a 2000 metric ton bomb.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/jul/27/spaceexplorati...

Gene was a boss.

He used to walk into my sister-in-law's restaurant when I was a kid. Great person and welcoming smile. Sad to see the pioneer disapear.

When we walked out, my father told me "that was greatness, don't forget it." I didn't understand it till years later.

I think there's something surreal about the astronauts, not an ounce of negativity out of them toward other humans. Wish I had talked to him then.

Just two days ago I watched "The Last Man on the Moon" with my son (on Netflix). Good documentary, but sad to see him pass. Those Apollo astronauts were truly remarkable people.

I highly and frequently recommend "For All Mankind" as another great documentary if you haven't already seen it.

I second your recommendation - a great film. The Saturn V launch sequence is always extremely impressive.

I'd also recommend "In the Shadow of the Moon" [1], which focuses on the more recent recollections of the Apollo astronauts, including Gene Cernan.

[1] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0925248/

The HBO mini series "From the Earth to the Moon" is also excellent. It's based on Andrew Chaikin's book, "A Man on the Moon" which I also recommend.


In case the headline in the article confuses anyone, there still are living people who walked on the moon (for instance Buzz Aldrin), but Gene Cernan was the most recent person to do so, having been on the final Apollo mission. Nobody has walked on the moon since

Also Apollos 15-17 were much more awesome missions than the earlier ones. If you had the choice of being the first man to walk on the moon for just over an hour, or the last man to walk on the moon for three days and nights with a car and a real life geologist to explain the sights, I'd take the latter.

wow three days! I did not know that.

Gene Cernan flew on Apollo 10, the "dress rehearsal" for Apollo 11 (the first mission to land on the moon).

The command module for Apollo 10 was named "Charlie Brown" [0] who continuously had the football yanked before he could kick it[1]. A little joke from NASA, I think.

0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_10#Mission_parameters

1: https://www.google.com/search?q=charlie+brown+football+yank

I never got the chance to meet Gene Cernan, but I spent some time chatting with Gen Tom Stafford, and part of that covered Gemini IX which they flew together. Stafford was the consummate gentleman and never said anything negative about anyone, but it was clear that he had tremendous respect and no little affection for Cernan.

Another loss.

I see nobody has mentioned my favorite fact about him: while the rovers were designed to have a top speed of 8mph, Gene Cernan pushed his to 11.2 mph, more than a 40% increase of the maximum speed.

If 11.2 mph sounds slow to you, he also set another speed record: highest speed attained by any manned vehicle, 24,791 mph or almost 40,000 kilometers per hour, on Apollo 10's return to Earth.

Also, prior missions didn't go more than 3 miles from the LM, but Cernan pushed his to go five miles away. This meant that if the rover failed - remember, this thing had driven on the moon exactly twice at this point - he would have had to walk five miles to the LM in a bulky, heavy spacesuit, in unforgiving conditions on the surface of the Moon.

Honest question: what is the incentive/motive to go back to the moon now? Part of the motive for the Apollo missions was initial exploration. What is the motive now? We've already proven that we can do it.

Does a moon base help? And if it's mining for minerals, is it economically a viable plan?

Science, exploration, and personal satisfaction. Don't underestimate that last; frontier exploration is a massive part of many of our cultures, but the painful truth is that there aren't any left on Earth. Everything's owned by somebody. Moving into space could have an almost religious impact down here.

The science is mostly geology and astronomy --- the moon is a great place for observatories --- but mainly it's engineering and life sciences; the moon makes a great place to learn about how to solve the kinds of problems that you have to solve when living somewhere like the moon. Which sounds tautological, but it's all stuff that we have no idea about and the moon, being on Earth's doorstep, as a good place to start.

Much further down the line, mineral exploitation. Trying to establish a proper presence in space by hauling everything out of Earth's gravity well is ludicrous, and the moon's the obvious place to go for resources. But that's much further down the line; we need to have people living on a regular basis on the moon first. Even learning how to do simple things like refining metal there is going to be hard. (See above, under 'engineering'.)

The sea is still a frontier. There is a lot about the oceans that we still do not understand.

I don't see how the existence of one frontier of exploration precludes pursuing other frontiers of exploration. Has there ever been a period in which humanity chose to dedicate itself to one particular field of endeavor at the exclusion of others? If that's not what you're suggesting, what exactly is this comment supposed to mean?

I was responding to the idea that there are no more frontiers on earth left to explore. "frontier exploration is a massive part of many of our cultures, but the painful truth is that there aren't any left on Earth."


Long term, we probably want to have facilities at the Earth/Moon and Earth/Sun Lagrange points. These can be used as part of a system for cheap (but slow) interplanetary transport network (ITN). (See [1]). When we have that we can start sending supplies ahead on a regular schedule to places that we want to establish human occupied facilities at later.

The idea is that if we plan to put humans at X, we start sending cargo drops to X every few months via the slow but cheap ITN.

After those start arriving at X, we send the humans. The ship for transporting humans only has to carry enough supplies to keep the humans alive during the trip. It doesn't have to carry supplies to keep them alive at X, or equipment to set up their base or colony at X, because those have already been sent via the ITN. The ship for the humans can be optimized for one task: moving humans fast.

Setting all of the above up working with materials from the Moon and from bases on the Moon will be a lot less expensive than doing it from Earth. First, the gravity difference makes it a lot cheaper to get something from the Moon to an arbitrary point (like one of those Lagrange points) than it does to get it from Earth to there.

Second, because the Moon has no significant atmosphere you can do things on the surface that would not work well on Earth. For instance, on the Moon you could build a long linear electric motor on the surface and use it to speed a vehicle up to escape velocity. Try that on the surface of the Earth and your vehicle is going to get destroyed by friction in the atmosphere.

The Moon is the key to long term human utilization of the rest of the solar system.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interplanetary_Transport_Netwo...

Because it's a step in the process of making moon bases, and eventually Mars bases, asteroid bases, Jovian-moon bases, deep-space bases, and eventually interstellar bases economically viable.

The Earth is very small, and the universe is very large. Eventually, we're going to want to use more than an earth-sized corner of it. Why not start now?

The Moon is rich in Helium 3, which is useful in nuclear applications. It's also a good place to coordinate missions to other destinations in the solar system, as the escape velocity is significantly less than that of Earth's, and there's no atmosphere to get in the way - an ideal place to launch from. There are also interesting astronomical benefits to studying the cosmos from the far side of the Moon - no radio interference from Earth to get in the way. It's also a nice place to test new ideas like space elevators from, since a space elevator on the Moon could be built with today's technology. This would play exceedingly well with the idea of using the Moon as a starting point for future missions, since you could get pretty much anywhere in the solar system on a very cheap fuel budget if you launched from a Moon-based space elevator.

Helium-3 would be useful for nuclear fusion reactors, but only once we get that actually working. If.

Also has it actually been confirmed that He-3 can be found in abundance on the Moon? I think it's assumed with good reason, but not necessarily confirmed.

Don't hold your breath on Helium 3: http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2834/1

Building a moon base would probably be good practice for building one on another planet. It could also provide opportunities for lots of research that isn't possible on Earth or on the ISS.

Going to the moon, and space exploration more generally, is not something that can be justified based on economics. We simply don't know enough about the future to know the potential upsides vs. the potential downsides of going vs. not going, particularly when the most significant consequences could be decades or centuries or more away. Those of us who advocate doing it are basing that on a general principle that exploration can eventually pay dividends, or, to look at it from the other side, not exploring can eventually lead to extinction.

There are a lot of benefits, as others have mentioned, that come from science and exploration. There is another related one, which is the many kids in high school who will then decide that maybe going into Sciences or some space related field is really worth pursing and making a living out of, rather than, say, decide to focus on building an app that makes a whipping sound when you shake your phone, or various funny noises: you get the idea.

Step outside. Look up.

There's your incentive.

Not sure if you meant it as snark but didn't we already do that with the moon specifically 45y ago? My question was just trying to understand incentives beyond looking up.

No snark intended, and none, I trust, taken.

There will be grubby, workaday incentives galore, all the usual politics, power, and pecuniae. "Because it's there" just grabs my fancy somewhat tighter.

From the link: "On their way to the moon, the Apollo 17 crew took one of the most iconic photographs in space-program history, the full view of the Earth dubbed "The Blue Marble." Despite it's fame, the photograph hasn't really been appreciated, Cernan said in 2007.

"What is the real meaning of seeing this picture? I've always said, I've said for a long time, I still believe it, it's going to be -- well it's almost fifty now, but fifty or a hundred years in the history of mankind before we look back and really understand the meaning of Apollo. Really understand what humankind had done when we left, when we truly left this planet, we're able to call another body in this universe our home. We did it way too early considering what we're doing now in space. It's almost as if JFK reached out into the twenty-first century where we are today, grabbed hold of a decade of time, slipped it neatly into the (nineteen) sixties and seventies (and) called it Apollo."

Gene Cernan had poetry in his soul.

None taken :)

It has been written ('Apollo', Murray and Cox, highly recommended) that the Apollo engineers did exactly that.

Frankly there is very little reason if the costs are similar to that of the Apollo program. It's just too expensive for any reasonable return compared to sending robot probes.

However if the costs can be cut by a couple of orders of magnitude, that picture changes considerably. All of a sudden the scientific payback in terms of geological insight into the history of the Earth/Moon system or resource extraction such as water and fuel become a lot more attractive. With SpaceX and Blue Origin working hard to do exactly that, it's quite possible we might return to the moon in a decade or two.

Is Blue Origin trying to reach the Moon? I'm not aware of a project from Spacex or Blue Origin to do so. Spacex has their sights on Mars and Blue Origin seems to be about space tourism (orbit maybe). I admit to not being aware of the long term goals of Blue Origin though so maybe I missed something.

Honest answer: because on the moon (in a pressurized environment), you can fly with wings strapped to your arms. That's enough for me.

To develop the technology for further exploration into space. Why explore? Man has been asking that question since the beginning.

I didn't realize the Apollo program covered the entire Moon and that we now know everything about it. /s

Godspeed Gene. I hope another generation soon has the fortitude to put forth the effort you and everyone else did to make Apollo happen.

It's a shame to see the mantle of the last man on the moon not be passed on before he passed on himself.

His words as he left the moon for the last time:

"We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return with peace and hope for all mankind."

Amen. Some day.

What really gets me is how modern and futuristic the gear in the two photos of Cernan looks--although unfortunately we haven't had any contemporary lunar history to make anything from Apollo look old-fashioned (except for maybe the computers).

"It's almost as if JFK reached out into the twenty-first century where we are today, grabbed hold of a decade of time, slipped it neatly into the (nineteen) sixties and seventies (and) called it Apollo." - Cernan

That quote stood out to me.

Coincidentally, I was looking at my Plantronics headset today before this news came out, and was amused at the fact that it looked so similar to the Mission Control headsets of the 1960s. I then discovered that this is because Plantronics made those NASA headsets, as well as the "Snoopy cap" flight gear the astronauts used in space.

Godspeed, Mr. Cernan.

During a recent winter storm, we started re-watching 'From The Earth To The Moon', the HBO mini-series on the Apollo program. Highly recommended.

A week ago I found http://apollo17.org/ which has an amazing presentation of the photos, videos, and audio that came out of the Apollo 17 mission.

Gene seemed like a really fun guy to go to the moon with.

There's also some really great material at the JSC Oral History project:


> The mission included a descent to within eight nautical miles of the moon's surface.

Nautical miles are used in navigation to account for the extra distance created by the earth's curvature. Why would it be used for distance measurements in space?

Huh? Nautical miles are a fixed unit of measurement equivalent to 1852 meters today but originally defined as a minute of latitude. They are still commonly used for distances, e.g., range of a Boeing 777 as reported in Wikipedia. [1, 2] They are a logical unit to use for flight to the moon.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nautical_mile [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_777#Specifications

Tradition. The space program grew out of aviation which uses nautical miles.

50 years ago we went to the moon. Incredible to contemplate!

R.I.P. The XKCD (893) truly nailed it.

And, NASA made a typo.

   > He went into private business and served as television
   > commentator for early fights of the space shuttle.

I noticed the typo too, emailed the author and he has fixed it now.


Please comment civilly and substantively on HN or not at all.



Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact