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The many planned moon landings of 2023 (ieee.org)
108 points by rbanffy 7 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 150 comments

The feats accomplished over half a century ago with the very limited resources of that era are truly astonishing. Today, our technological prowess has advanced exponentially, boasting computers that are magnitudes more powerful. Yet, despite these technological leaps, we have not succeeded in replicating that milestone of landing a human on the moon since those historic missions.

A little background:

The first moon landing was accomplished by the Apollo 11 mission from NASA, which landed astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969.

The computer used for this mission was the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC). It had approximately 64 kilobytes of memory, with 2048 words of erasable magnetic core memory and 36,864 words of read-only core rope memory. The computer operated at a speed of 1.024 MHz. The software for the AGC was written in assembly language, specifically a language developed by MIT engineers called AGC Assembly.

There were a total of six manned U.S. landings (between 1969 and 1972) as a part of the Apollo program.

> we have not succeeded in replicating that milestone

it's hard to succeed at something you aren't even trying for in the first place. the moon landing was funded during the cold war where ICBM adjacent knowledge was required in the face of an existential threat. it wasn't solely for the benefit of shared global human knowledge/progress or whatever. for the US, there's a lot more to lose than gain in terms of "face" by attempting a victory lap against the rest of the world. executing any sort of manned moon or mars mission won't be taken seriously by the US until there's real political/economic pressure to do so (in the form of maybe China laying down a roadmap to land on mars or something).

Actually, I'm glad they didn't. There are finite resources available, and it may be a less popular opinion but I think it can be used in better ways than to explore Moon more.

If we'd put more efforts into settling space, the demand for photovoltaics would have been higher. That might have pushed us down the learning curve faster and PV might have started turning coal power plants into stranded assets in the aughts or even the 90's instead of the teens. It's a tough what-if to model.

I'm saying this as a former aerospace worker, but this logic was always lost on me. If something isn't worth doing for it's own sake, then I don't think it's worth doing. If we want better PV, we should prioritize developing PV irrespective of a space program. The idea of tangential benefits strikes me as just looking for a silver lining on otherwise indefensible reasoning.

No one embarks on enterprises of this scale for their own sake, they do it because it's profitable. Sometimes the R&D needed to bootstrap new technology isn't profitable, even if it would be once developed. The only way to force organizational structures (e.g. the government) to do this development is to tie it to another goal, like beating the USSR. This was the case with a lot of other technologies we got out of the space program.

The hardest part of any progress is the social engineering.

>The only way to force organizational structures (e.g. the government) to do this development is to tie it to another goal

I’m usually pretty much against the “The ends justify the means” philosophy. It’s just too easy to rationalize doing bad things as a way to a potentially good result.

I don’t think the profit motive needs to always be aligned, but the value system does. In this case, the US valued “beating” the USSR for existential reasons. Whether it was profitable or not didn’t factor into the equation much.

I think the point is there would probably be many positive side effects and discoveries on the way somewhere that we should be going anyway. Some consider space and becoming interplanetary not just worth doing but completely imperative.

Sadly it would be such a long way no politician is incentivized to get behind it. Also people can be jerks so while you're busy with this someone could just start a war with you.

>I think the point is there would probably be many positive side effects and discoveries on the way

My issue with this is that it's so nebulous it can be used for practically anything. And that, in turn, makes it an argument of limited value.

Read the sentence to the end?

>I think the point is there would probably be many positive side effects and discoveries on the way somewhere that we should be going anyway

“Doing it for side effects” misses the whole point. Like I already said, if you can state the desired side effects, it’s better just to focus on developing them directly. If you can’t specify the desired side effects, it’s not a good goal. It’s just wishful, optimistic thinking and a bad strategy in a resource constrained environment.

Would you take a medication, not for its prescribed goal, but rather for its “potential” (yet undefined) side effects? Wouldn’t you rather just take a different medication that targets the desired outcome directly?

If you’re alluding to the idea of becoming an interplanetary species, I think the counter argument is that any risk that would mitigate would be more easily mitigated by other means. E.g., it would be much, much easier to “fix” the earth climate than terraform Mars. Redirecting an asteroid is potentially a good case, but the nature of the space program is mostly focused on human rated programs which aren’t needed for that.

Its not for side effects it's for direct effects. Side effects are bonuses. If you disagree that direct effects are useful and think we should never leave the planet then that's a different discussion.

That's exactly the discussion, though. The OP was saying the photovoltaic industry wouldn't be at where's it is today without the space program and it could be even further along if we dedicated more resources to space. Their value of the space program was explicitly defined by it's side effects. They made no claim that the space program was implicitly good for it's own sake. They never claimed we "should be going to outer space anyway," they claimed if we had dedicated more effort to fiddling around in space we'd be closer to replacing coal plants with PV.

> Their value of the space program was explicitly defined by it's side effects

where did it imply so? that's your conjecture

>"If we'd put more efforts into settling space, the demand for photovoltaics would have been higher. That might have pushed us down the learning curve faster and PV might have started turning coal power plants into stranded assets in the aughts or even the 90's instead of the teens."

They mentioned nothing of value inherent to exploring space but they certainly imply the real value is in "turning coal power plants into stranded assets." Space exploration is only a means to that end, not an end unto itself.

Can you point to anything in that statement that implies space exploration is (in your words) the intended direct effect? I think you're layering your own bias/values into their statement rather than taking their statement at face value.

To some people like me and possibly that commenter it is just imperative and is not worth stating separately, but I see your point

I get where you’re coming from, but I think that’s wrong given the context. The OP was in response to someone saying they wish we didn’t spend so money on the space program. So we’re starting from a place where whether or not it is imperative is being questioned, and in response they pointed to its tangential effects.

Sure. But if those two groups can never see eye to eye it makes sense: one group feels good for moving towards an end goal, the other group gets positive side effects from relevant progress. Everyone wins.

To me there is no question about it, putting all eggs in one basket is always bad and diversification is good and the only reason not to explore space is short sighted thinking ("I personally don't get to reap the results in my lifetime so it is a waste to me"). Environmental issues on the planet also suffer from this.

It’s an argument about prioritization in a resource constrained environment. They’re saying there are bigger fish to fry. You can even be “pro-space exploration for its own sake” and still think it’s not a wise investment at a particular time. They aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive groups.

Lack of resources may be one of those things it helps with in the first place. Guess where resources are especially constrained...

You're still stuck in the mindset that space is a means to an end. If your plan is to exploit space for resources, it’s proving my point. You’re implying space exploration is just a means for resources and not an end unto itself. The fact that you use "may" is implying you're stretching to look for a silver lining to justify the answer.

And at least with current tech, the ARM programs show its too resource intensive to make sense in that regard. In other words, if there are other short-to-medium term problems that are competing for that funding (ie reality), there isn’t really a good case to be made that it’s a good way to spend constrained resources

Nothing is generally an end in itself. You get somewhere and then you see more figurative places to go. But staying home is the best way to never know they exist.

This is a very SV, production-oriented mindset. Everything is a means to an end, to check a box, to move to the next. However, not everyone thinks that way. I'd argue it's not a particularly healthy point of view. If you extend it to its inevitable conclusion, every step in your life is only meaningful because it leads to the next...and ultimately everything culminates in one's death, meaning nothing except your death was of any meaning. I'd encourage you to read Oliver Burkeman's "Four Thousand Weeks" to get a different perspective on how some things are an end to themselves.

I think there's a case to be made that exploration is an end of itself (this is the case made in the movie Interstellar) but that seems to be different that the point the OP made and that you're arguing with resources etc.

Ah, yes, the old fallacious trope of "if they didn't spend the money on X they would have spent it on Y". It is, of course, true as long a Y is luxury yachts or maybe the enforcement of personal power such as weapons of mass destruction.

Even today there is very little effort to end poverty or cure cancer but trillions spent on massive manly flexes and the accumulation of every-increasing personal wealth by ever decreasing numbers of individuals. Since we haven't spent the money here on Earth to explore the moon in the last 50 years do we have any proof we have spent it on the better ways instead?

"there is very little effort to end poverty or cure cancer"

Social spending tends to be the most important budget item across most of the West and cancer is being attacked from all sides, with significant improvements. It is nevertheless a really complicated set of diseases (I recommend "The Emperor of All Maladies", an interesting book on cancer).

If this is "very little", I am not sure what would satisfy you.

Cancer treatment spending is astronomical, but cancer research spending is indeed low. It's less than $5 billion per year across the entire planet, and funding has been declining year-on-year [0]. That's less than Twitter's annual revenue (before recent events). Seems like "very little" to me.

[0] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2...

> Even today there is very little effort to end poverty

Why would powers 'in power' ever even attempted that? Yes it looks nice on the paper (just before the elections), but if you do primary-school math there are few obvious benefits for the ones on the rich side, and many drawbacks. Drawbacks that electorate notices immediately.

Cheap chinese (or anywhere else) electronics, clothing, heck almost anything. Almost everybody wants that, even posh Swiss folks I interact daily with, which put a lot of emphasis on quality over quantity, save here and there and go for the cheapest stuff available, at cheapest store possible.

If you want to see real effects of cca equality go to places with strong middle class, ie Nordics or Switzerland (where I live). Very different than pyramid bubbles like ie Singapore, at least as per my colleagues feedback. You can afford significantly less than in cheaper neighbors, services cost a small fortune. Yes even Luigi fixing your drain will send you eye-watering bill, he still lives in same expensive society like rest of us and wants to send his kids to same university like you. The cost of stability and semi-equality is not small. I am still up for it due to overall positive effects on society and its future, but not everybody automatically is - focusing just on numbers can easily sway people towards different opinions.

I'd say best efforts I've seen are 'we help you to help yourself', with very variable success, ie large parts of Africa seems to be stuck in some form of vicious circle for decades.

Exactly. Everything has an opportunity cost. And there's diminishing marginal returns on every subsequent moon landing.

Resources being finite is the best reason to go up there and start extracting more

Except the Moon only has less-valuable elements than we already have on earth. [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geology_of_the_Moon#Elemental_...

Luckily there is a lot more bodies in space than the moon.

Actually space is (probably) infinite, so there are potentially infinite ressources avaiable, if we choose to invest in the next step, even if that investment only will pay out in the long run.

I am not an astrophysicist, but my understanding is that due to the expansion of the universe and the speed of light, the volume of space we will ever be able to access is finite, roughly that of the galactic supercluster we're in.

For all practical matters, I think it can be considered infinite. (And the theoretical limits might not be fixed either)

But the question is always, how much of that is within our reach.

Currently nothing out of earth on an economical base. So I also see the point we have to set priorities.

But currently there is a big focus on war, rather than climate change etc. and with more crisis, people tend to think even more short term. Space on the other hand can give that long term thinking effect, that can people make consider whether fighting for the limited ressources on earth is the only way. And maybe instead unite forces for benefit of all of mankind (and possibly life itself).

This isn't even close to true. In addition to what the other comment points out about eventually losing causal contact with all parts of the observable universe that aren't already gravitionally bound to the same supercluster as the Milky Way, even something like breadth-first search of the entire local supercluster at near the speed of light would take more time than the local supercluster will still exist. The universe will run out of hydrogen and stars won't exist any more long before you can cover all of even the tiniest portions of infinite space.

No. For all practical matters, accessible space is FINITE, and actually gets smaller all the time due to accelerating expansion of the universe. In about 150 billion years all galaxies outside the Local Supercluster will pass behind the cosmological horizon.


"For all practical matters, accessible space is FINITE"

I think, this is what I said:

"But the question is always, how much of that is within our reach."

Currently that is only earth. With some steps up, you can have all the other planets in this system plus the asteroid belt. Step further up and you have lots and lots of other star systems, the cosmological theoretical limits you are citing are not really an issue on the timeframe that matters to us - space tech is and the limits how fast we can make rockets, or find other ways to take a short path.

he probably just meant resources as in tax dollars

In the 1970's many thought we'd be mining asteroids by now for precious metals, making commercial missions profitable, or at least financially viable.

The particularly informed of humanity are very commonly wrong in their assessments, persistent underestimation, of the speed of change and what actually changes. It's because very few people know how to think effectively.

Failures of extrapolation are most often the cause; not understanding how to think properly, tripping into 2D thinking (extrapolating via some magic forward line, thinking that's how things actually work in reality) and bumping into ignorant logic failures over and over again (associating progress on one thing into broad assumptions that everything of course will progress just like that too, when the things and their potential for progress aren't so tightly bound).

Because X thing progressed rapidly, of course we'll have flying cars in 30 or 50 years. One of the classic failures of ignorant flat thinking of the 20th century. People should ask more questions.

Nobody has proven that they can predict the future reliably, and I doubt anyone can. They'd be golfing with Warren Buffett if they could. For one, predicting the future requires intimate knowledge of multiple disciplines. A space expert isn't going to understand computer chips well enough, for example.

In the 1970s it was also popular to fear grave resource shortages here on Earth. Turning to space was an easy low-imagination solution when you weren’t seriously considering the logistics of how to make it happen. It’s more a manifestation of the fears of the day than anything else.

This shortages haven’t really materialized. If anything we have far too much oil, not too little, and can keep on burning it for a long long time (and suffering consequences). Minerals for your car batteries? We can have lots by just seabed-mining right next to some sensitive ecosystems. Etc, etc.

The Space Shuttle was developed as a covert weapons program as well, for deploying nuclear warheads directly from orbit to give enemies a much shorter response window. This is why the Soviets quickly developed their own space shuttle program, because they recognized the military purpose behind it.

There's a radical school of thinking of which I don't agree 100%, which is that the Space Shuttle program was a Cold War remnant stuck in a sunk cost fallacy, and set back space exploration for decades since it was extremely expensive and completely limited to LEO and siphoned funds that could've been used for more efficient rockets and modular stations beyond LEO.

> The Space Shuttle was developed as a covert weapons program as well, for deploying nuclear warheads directly from orbit to give enemies a much shorter response window.

You need to cite this.

While NASA's own history ("The Space Shuttle Decision", pub. no. SP-4221) describes the way in which the STS design was rescued from cancellation through Air Force-requested modifications to support satellite-capture missions which after Challenger never materialized, I have never seen any reference in any source to support the idea that the Shuttle was designed to serve as an orbital bombardment system in direct violation of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.


Why do you think Outer Space Treaty will matter in event of a hot war between two nuclear superpowers? NPT was signed a year earlier and it has been continuously violated by signatory powers to this day.

Your own source describes the idea that this was a program design goal as a "myth," and clarifies that it was born of a Soviet capabilities analysis suggesting that this theoretically could be done with the Shuttle, not that there existed any evidence that it was intended.

On the latter point you have your causation backward. The intent of treaties like the Outer Space Treaty was to reduce the likelihood of a hot war by interdicting the use of technologies that would destabilize the strategic balance.

Treaties work until they don't, and what can cause an escalation is future knowledge beyond our abilities to predict. In event of a hot war, none of these treaties would've mattered.

Obviously. Again, the point of the treaty is to make it less likely things will go that far. Otherwise, why bother with it at all?

Political theatre, of course. But if you buy into that discourse then you are being duped. Do you think propaganda doesn't exist in your home country?

No more than it doesn't in yours, comrade.

Enjoy the blissful ignorance while it lasts for you.

What ignorance? That was sarcasm; I'm an American, but I like to hope I'm not a stupid American.

It's fair to say that a promise not to risk escalation isn't the same as not risking escalation. But having made the promise used to count for something, too. Now? Especially with all the reciprocal geopolitical damnfoolishness going on in Eastern Europe, who the hell knows?

That said, Russia has telescopes, and the X-37B by all reports isn't as stealthy as its designers would like it to be. While the absurdity of US (and Russian!) military planners is always hard to overestimate, I'd still be surprised to learn anyone seriously expected to successfully steal a march this way.

Huh? I've never read about the shuttle being developed to deploy nuclear weapons. The idea of launching a warhead with the shuttle, which itself requires an immense amount of resources to leave the launch pad, only to just send the warhead back down to earth instead of just... launching the warhead from a slim little ICBM that a submarine is carrying... doesn't make a lot of sense. Warheads aren't designed to sit orbiting in space waiting to launch either--their payloads are constantly decaying and only have a limited service life. I can't see it ever making sense to not launch them from subs under the ocean.

AFAIK the shuttle was intended to be a "tow truck" for satellites, able to launch and service them in low Earth orbit. Many of those satellites were for spying and espionage.

Why do you think shuttles can "tow" satellites but not warheads? Shuttles can stay in orbit for weeks so they are reserved for when tensions are high. Launching anything from the surface will be almost immediately detected, giving opponents far more time to respond than something that immediately begins re-entry the moment it is deployed from orbit.

If you're going full fantasy thinking (since launching weapons from space would violate every weapons treaty both the US and USSR signed) the shuttle would have been an enormous and obvious target as it orbited Earth. The shuttle could have easily been knocked out by an ICBM and sub orbital weapon detonation--it had no real way to avoid it even if it knew weapons were being launched at it.

If you're arguing there's some need for faster response than a nuclear sub launch, launching nuclear cruise missiles from B2 bombers makes far more sense than lugging warheads up to low orbit. We have more B2s than we ever had shuttles.

But it just does not make sense vs. submarines as a launch platform. Three or four shuttles worth of weapons is nothing compared to a single Ohio class nuclear sub (20 missiles alone, and there are 18 of those subs in the US Navy).

Fantasy thinking? Good joke.

You are not getting it. You simply are not getting it. That's okay though, conventional thinking is overly predominant after all and it's okay that you can't escape from it.

Also, treaties mean jack shit. Both countries pledged ultimate elimination of nuclear armament in NPT and look at where we are now? Do you think any treaty will matter if a hot nuclear war breaks out between two nuclear powers? Pure naïveté is what you have.

This is ridiculous logic. Sure, the Shuttle was technically capable of carrying a nuclear weapon since well, it could carry payloads. But it wasn't specifically designed for that purpose, just as how the Falcon 9 isn't designed specifically to carry loitering nuclear weapons either, but is perfectly capable of doing so.

If the US wanted to station nukes in orbit, they wouldn't do something as dumb as putting them up using a crew. They'd do what any sane person would do and put them on an uncrewed nuclear rated vehicle (ie the Delta/Atlas rockets). It would be way cheaper, and most importantly, would get around the concern of risking the crew.

If the concern was only launching them when tensions are high, the US has a 'rapid launch availability' program for launch providers to be paid to be always available for emergency launches. The Shuttle was essentially incapable of a similar rapid availability due to how delicate it was.

On top of all that, what exactly do you think a ~30 minute early nuke launch (compared against ICBMs) would accomplish against the only two targets the US has been in any position of potentially going to nuclear war against? The number of nukes (optimistically ~14) that a Shuttle could carry can't take out Russia or China's retaliation framework on its own.

Fifty years is either a remarkably long time for the world to have remained dormant with regard to exploring the surface of the Moon, or Apollo was a minor miracle of the 20th Century.

James Burke has called the Apollo moon landing the final culmination of the Industrial Age. Or something to that effect.

I also like the comment (also James Burke?) that Apollo was as if someone had taken a bit of the 21st Century back in time to the 1960's.

Remarkable what national will and extraordinarily deep pockets can produce. I was thinking about this very thing the other day as I was putting together a replica of the KIM-1 (8 bit computer from the 1970's) and considering what a game-changer integrated circuits were ... and I understand the push of the Cold War space program was the major contributing factor to their creation.

I think a "moonshot" requires some external motivation.

I also think that Apollo was EXTREMELY risky by modern standards, and that risk was paid for many times in many ways.

This is exactly it.

At the time, the US believed the USSR/communism was an existential threat to our way of life.

Beating the USSR to the moon, beating them in proxy wars, etc was all part of larger effort to ensure capitalism won. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, that external motivation evaporated.

I wouldn’t call landing on the moon a miracle per se. It was just a priority enough to justify spending huge amounts of money on it. And because we deprioritized scientific showmanship afterwards, our ability to repeat the same feat atrophied a bit (but not entirely).

We probably could do a lot of space stuff in the next decade or two if we devoted obscene amounts of resources to it: establishing a lunar base, a bigger LEO base, putting humans on mars, setting up permanent satellites around many celestial bodies in our solar system. It’s just that it would consume so many resources for so long before it benefitted people on Earth - very hard to justify doing it just for the sake of doing it

I don't think a distinction between "don't have the technical ability" and "don't have the political ability" is meaningful. The result is the same.

I think it is very meaningful. Human psychology is probably more malleable than physics, so political will/ability can change relatively quickly.

Don't discount feat of humanity sending numerous autonomous and semi-autonomous probes and robots across the space around us. This is what technological advancement enabled us to do instead of more expensive and limited human expeditions. On top of that, we also have permanent human presence in space.

Could space be more engaged? Of course.. but it didn't stop with Apollos.

Exactly, as a particularly impressive example we have the footage of Perseverance's skycrane powered landing on Mars. An extremely precise maneuver, performed entirely autonomously, which would definitely not have been possible with the technology of Apollo's time, and even now is a bit of a challenge considering all the automated landing failures around the Moon in recent years.

You could look at the attempt to create AGI as an extension of human exploration. Presumably if we do create AGI it will eventually leave Earth (either because we send it, or because it "wants" to go).

That will happen long before we reach AGI.

We'll be sending AI bots out into the universe (off planet) - that are considerably far away from being AGI - within two decades. It's going to take a lot longer than two decades to develop AGI (without fail the tech industry over-estimates progress in the relative near-term and underestimates it more in the longer term).

Wondering how long they would hold, especially because of radiations. Or micro impacts? What about material stability? 100, 1000, 10000 years, more or less?

The rocket engines we had in 1950 are as good as we have today. You can add a little carbon fiber to the ship to make it lighter but 95% of the mass is fuel anyway, so you don't win much.

Rockets going to space is a basic physics problem with no post 1950 innovations that give you huge wins. Hence why re-usability to bring costs down is what everyone is focusing on, it is about all you can do. Maybe raptor will prove to be a wee bit better than the best engines of the 1950s but only a bit.

I was surprised to learn (I think this is correct!) that putting boots on the moon was purely a Newtonian physics problem.

I, too, am disappointed that manned space exploration sort of just stopped with Apollo, and I have long wondered what could have been, but . . .

A quick google tells me that the Apollo program cost about 2.5% of U.S. GDP annually over about 10 years (I remembered 3%, so that is in the ballpark). You can begin to understand why the U.S. government and the public at large decided that the rewards maybe weren't worth the cost. It is still somewhat unclear what benefit we get from spending massive (but relatively much smaller) sums on manned space travel (and to be clear, I wholeheartedly support it regardless).

Manned exploration is expensive and risky. In general the science-per-dollar is much higher for unmanned probes. I won't claim on-premises analyses can't be helpful, but the ability of bots to survey more areas usually offsets that advantage. The real benefit of manned missions is learning how to live in space for future colonies and long-distance travel. Space is not easy on the body, we'll have to figure out how to adapt if we want to spread.

Not everything is about science, and I wish people would stop pretending it was. People like to explore, it’s why the world is covered in them.

Some try to dress it as science, but when people find the truth, they feel mislead, and want to yank all the funding in frustration. But like I mentioned, it is "body science" and survival lessons.

> It is still somewhat unclear what benefit we get from spending massive (but relatively much smaller) sums on manned space travel (and to be clear, I wholeheartedly support it regardless)

The two sides of this question were already perfectly argued 54 years ago.

German Rocket Engineer Helmut Gröttrup (who didn't want to leave his family to join Operation Paperclip and was then instead forced by the Soviets to work for them in Russia until he managed to get back to West Germany) said in 1969 (Wikipedia):

> In an interview on the occasion of the US moon landing in July 1969, Gröttrup criticized the high costs of manned spaceflight and confronted Wernher von Braun with the thesis that automated space probes can achieve the same scientific data with an effort of only 10 or 20 percent of the costs and that the money should be better spent on other purposes. Von Braun justified manned spaceflight with the argument that "it would help humanity achieve immortality".

As computers got better, risking human lives where automatic probes could do was becoming somewhat unjustifiable.

Also, the life support systems needed to keep us alive are heavy and complicated. Robots don't need them.

Also, we have yet to find a way to prevent the profound adverse effects of prolonged periods of weightlessness on the human body, which is why there are still zero permanent residents of space--contrary to expectations at the start of the era of space exploration.

We do have a way--large rotating cylinders--it's just expensive, and hard to engineer depending on the method. If Starship can really bring down launch costs per ton anywhere near what Elon claims, it will finally become feasible.

After Apollo the US economy wasn't doing so hot in the 1970s and the military already got their ICBMs and spy satellites out of it.

The US spent a sizable chunk of it’s GDP on the moon missions

An average of 2.5% per year for 10 years. It would be like spending $575B per year now on a percentage of GDP basis.

You can do a lot of things with that money. Now we're talking about missions doing it for a once off $100M. So yes, massive progress has been made.

I think people do not give the shoulders that SpaceX stands on as much credit, some do of course, but the general populace doesn't think that way like those that are space nerds. NASA tried things, ULA tried things, Russia tried things, ESA tried things, and then SpaceX comes along and gets make decisions with all of that historical knowledge. This isn't an indictment on SpaceX, but acknowledging that historical money spent wasn't wasted. Space and rocket R&D is expensive, but it's cheap if you can have it funded by the tax payer. Not having the burden of requiring Congressional approval also avoids the moving at the pace of a herd of turtles.

Not nearly as much as it spent in military operations.

Apollo is a wonder of soft power - The US inspired countless children all over the world with those voyages. In terms of international good will, it was extremely cheap.

> Not nearly as much as it spent in military operations.

The entire space program was a military program wrapped in a very successful propaganda program.

It showed off US technological and engineering prowess and showed the US as advancing human culture and progress. It also greatly advanced US rocketry and led to rapid advancements in the design of ICBMs and their countermeasures (see Reagan's "Star Wars" programme). The entire space race was motivated by the belief that losing ground to the Soviet Union in spaceflight meant losing real strategic ground in military capabilities - a belief that was probably correct.

That's true, but it still inspired many people of the concept of peaceful space exploration. And I think it is still amazing, that despite the war, russian tech and US tech and personal are still cooperating in space today, even though that seems to be fading out.

The point of soft power is that you do with propaganda and diplomacy (and also building schools and hospitals) what less clever people would do through war. It's also much cheaper than war and gets us to cool places such as the Moon and Mars.

It really should be a no-brainer.

The only downside is that it takes a lot longer than war.

The resources weren't 'limited' at the time. A staggering portion of our GDP was poured into the space race.

Better computers are nice, but most of the problems of going to the Moon don't have much to do with computers. The physics hasn't changed in 60 years.

In relative scales, I wouldn't call them 'staggering'. By percentage, they are roughly about what we spend (individually) on Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Dept. of Education, or Dept. of Agriculture today as a percentage of GDP.

> The feats accomplished over half a century ago with the very limited resources of that era are truly astonishing.

I'm always amazed by this image of how they accomplished the rendezvous with the ascent stage. Note the poor condition of the aft panels:


Absolutely no excuse why we haven't done it since then when they did it with that, and our technology is so much better now.

> Absolutely no excuse why we haven't done it since then

Well there is the fact that Apollo had (at its peak) something like 400,000 people working on it and involved a spend of $164bn (in 2021 dollars) [0]. I think we could get back to the moon if we had that sort of commitment.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_program#Costs

Just imagine what we could accomplish if we were able to mobilize a massive number of people in this age.

A 21st century equivalent of the pyramids or the great wall of China.

What will our descendants look at and say "I can't believe they built this 2000 years ago!"?

apple silicon? ;)

We had two highly trained wetware intelligence systems on board Apollo to land that thing successfully.

If Apollo 11 was unmanned and that 1202 alarm came up? It probably would have aborted or crashed.

It may have landed at a steep angle on a boulder, like Viking 1 did. Fortunately, Viking 1 still worked.

The Project Surveyor landings,[1] which preceded manned missions by several years are the more analogous (pun intended) comparison and were done with ever more nascent technology than Apollo.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveyor_program

Am I wrong in thinking the manned missions were not really necessary to be manned? As far as I understand, they put humans at massive risk sending them out like they did with zero emergency recovery plans at all, and probably greatly inflated the cost of the mission owing to having to engineer life support, sufficient radiation shielding, and controls fit for humans. Sure, they were really ICBM programs in sheeps clothing, but the landing modules weren't.

The modern rover is so much safer. There's no purpose for humans or really any life to spend any time in outer space, except for vanity. Apollo astronauts would report seeing flashes with their eyes closed. This was due to being bombarded with cosmic radiation that the magnetosphere protects you from on earth. Space is an environment unfit for life that is adapted to specific planetary conditions.

Restoring the Apollo Guidance Computer [video] - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=36648529

Also I again highly recommend the book Sunburst and Luminary, by Don Eyles. http://sunburstandluminary.com/SLhome.html

A very interesting read about the Apollo guidance computer, it's development and testing, it's easy to understand and exciting, even though you know the outcome. There are also very nice referrals to things happening in the world at the time: Viet Nam war, protests, etc.

The AGC also had one of the first virtual machines implemented on it

A little background: The moon landings were faked in an attempt to bankrupt the Soviet Union.

Sadly, I run into more and more younger people that absolutely believe this because there's so much of this on the internet. They happen to follow influencers that hold these types of beliefs, and that becomes their belief. This obviously leads into other discussions about disinformation, but after recently rewatching Insterstellar where Murph gets in trouble for believing in the moon landings, I can see where we are heading in that direction.

Do we have lenses and cameras yet that are good enough to photograph irrefutable proof of debris/disturbance of the landings from earth?

Planted by subsequent unmanned missions.

The real proof is that the Russians had every incentive to call out a fake, and they didn't. And that can only mean one thing .......


...... The Russians were in on it!

gotta love how many conspiracy theories required an absolutely absurd amount of people to be in on it with no real tangible benefit.

The lunar orbiter recently found the lander that was recently lost from China (I thin it was). So yes, we can see things on the surface. NRO says can read your license plate, so just keep that resolution in mind.

The internet is crack to conspiracy nuts. They can always find new half-truth tidbits to reinforce their whackadoodle notions.

If institutions want to be respected, they need to be respectable.

I am more sympathetic to conspiracy theorists, who are trying to make sense of a world that they know they are being lied to about.

In some ways complaining about them is doing the bidding of the deep state. Which does absolutely exist.

Again someone that refuses to accept the overwhelming preponderance of evidence. We brought things back from the moon. We've left things on the moon. I have family members that worked on the Apollo missions. I have other acquaintances that pulled the gold wiring through the capsule.

You say I'm doing the bidding of the deep state, while all your doing promoting unfounded nonsense gleefully willfully and moronically because you claim to be doing research but are just unable to accept the results because it doesn't fit whatever preconceived notions you have.

I'm not arguing for the moon landing being faked specifically, I just think you should be more empathetic when discussing conspiracy theories.

It's not just people peddling nonsense for no reason. The reason is very simple: a distrust in institutions.

I have very little time and patience for these conspiracies, but that’s because I spent several years working for someone that was into this. I’ve seen families destroyed because someone getting so overtaken that they lose connection with reality.

There’s a huge difference between healthy skepticism and questioning authority to believing George Bush is one of the Lizzard People and JFK is coming back to Dallas. Fake moon landing is right there in gone round the bend territory.

I wish you would have more patience with conspiracy theorists and less patience for the institutions that act in such ways that cause people to lose faith in them.

If only everyone diverted their attention to that direction, rather than blame the individuals, maybe we would have the political pressure to make them change.

> Yet, despite these technological leaps, we have not succeeded in replicating that milestone of landing a human on the moon since those historic missions.

It's been over 60 years, more than 3 generations, since the first moon landing. Technology has advanced so much since then that one has to wonder why?

When columbus 'discovered' the americas, it set off dozens or hundreds of ships to explore the americas in the next few decades. When the US navy carried out the first transatlantic flight, it set off dozens of cross-atlantic and cross-oceanic flights within the next decade or two. When the US developed nukes, the soviets, brits, french, chinese, etc developed nukes within a decade or two. When the soviets launched a satellite into space, the US did so within a few weeks. There is this pattern with all major discoveries and technologies.

Why is the moon landing so unique? All major nations have tech today that far exceeds what the US had in the 1960s. In orders of magnitude terms, it is beyond comprehension. In purely computational terms, the 1960s US is computational closer to the first human 300,000 years ago than they are to us today. And yet the 1960s US was able to do something that we aren't able to do today. Not only that, why hasn't any other nation ( russia, japan, germany, china, etc ) done so. The prestige of being the 2nd to land on the moon should be a draw. No? Has there been any great achievement in recent memory that parallels the moon landing. Where something monumental happens and nobody else tries to match it?

There was money to be made and multi-month voyages were already normalized. If the moon was made out of some easily extractable and essential mineral and the economics worked out, Standard Oil, Wall Street, and the rest would have been setting up launch pads immediately.

It might make more sense when you don't simply view it as demonstration of scientific achievement. Demonstrating dominance in the field of rapidly delivering large payloads, at the press of a button, to anywhere on the surface of the earth (even the damn moon!) likely played/still plays an outsized role in game-theoretic political/military calculations aiming to deter existential threats.

> The prestige of being the 2nd to land on the moon should be a draw. No? Has there been any great achievement in recent memory that parallels the moon landing. Where something monumental happens and nobody else tries to match it?

Other countries have been to the moon -- Russia and China even landed vehicles and brought them back[1]. What they did not do is send people. Only the wealthiest countries in the world can afford to do space exploration, and they have better things to spend that money on than sending astronauts on sightseeing tours.

> Technology has advanced so much since then that one has to wonder why?

"Technology" is not a uniform thing. Computers are many, many orders of magnitude better than they were in the 1960s. Rockets have not improved nearly as much. It currently costs thousands of dollars per kilogram to get a payload to low earth orbit. If you want to send a ~70 kg human with hundreds of kg of support equipment into space, they had better have something to do that's worth at least a million dollars. That's way too expensive for almost any kind of human work, which is why the target market for commercial human spaceflight is "bored rich people" rather than "people with something useful to do".

For a longer answer on why human space travel (and especially colonization) probably isn't going to happen the way we'd like, see Charles Stross's essay "The High Frontier, Redux".[2]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_missions_to_the_Moon#S...

[2] http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2007/06/the_high...

There's zero value in traveling to the moon. It has no resources.

Do we actually know that? The Moon's surface is twice as big as Russia, and only a tiny part of it has been analyzed by geologists.

It would be more meaningful to say that it has no resources that are accessible or valuable to us at our current level of development. At some point the deuterium deposits may be valuable for nuclear fusion and the ability to produce and launch fuel from the lunar surface may be a big deal, those things just weren't valuable while orbital refueling was effectively 'banned' by Congress until Shelby finally retired.

Now that such an absurd restriction has been lifted and we have at least 2 large refuelable vehicles under development, perhaps in a few decades we will see some value to having some industry on the Moon.


Promises of material wealth and resources created an economic and political incentive


Extremely cheap - and having been demonstrated as possible encouraged many fame seekers or flight enthusiasts to recreate the feat


Obvious reasons - not to lose geopolitical leverage


Both in development at the same time. Also there is a real technological benefit in the ability to launch controlled orbital antennas which was obvious even to lowly radio engineers

The obvious answer as to why no one ever did it the second time is that it was never done the first time and that space is, in fact, fake. For the sake of argument (assuming space is real) it would probably be too costly for any other nation for no material/tangible benefit. USSR surely could have done it, but the risk of losing the crew and experiencing bad PR probably outweighed the potential benefit of being the first loser. Even a perfect series of missions wouldn’t have helped them with the very serious problems they were dealing with on the ground. They knew they could get their precious space rocks cheaply and with less risk just by waiting a while. China (more specifically the CCP), on the other hand, could very seriously use a moon landing right about now.

"space is fake"? What?

I've been planning a moon landing for the last 15 years, still early stages.

I still believe in you!

We see you, Bezos.

Just out of curiosity, what happened in 2008 to motivate you to go to the moon?

The Bitcoin whitepaper, probably.

Looked up at the moon, thought "I should go there."

In the industry, this is called "TRL 1".

A long string of bad decisions :-)

Maybe love failuere

I think while it's impressive to think that the moon landings achieved an incredibly bold and complicated task, it just shows what's possible if you siphon off a big chunk of GDP into big projects and an organization capable of execution.

A lot of that wealth since has been distributed around the globe, or poured into industry, medicare or social security. With that global wealth distribution, incredible medical advances have been made, and we have blown past the UN millennium goals. It's all a matter of priorities. Gill Scott Haron had this funny critique of Apollo program. https://youtu.be/goh2x_G0ct4

With that said, not all priorities are chosen well in my opinion. The vast economic capacity required for a program like a moon landing have since been sequestered by shareholders benefiting from the returns of selling consumer data, building guided missiles, and seeking rents on privatized access to healthcare.

Think even bigger than the moon landing. During WWII, the US economy was centrally planned. Civilian production lines were retooled; what once was a ford plant became a 24 hour production site of B24 bombers. Instruments of war were rapidly iterated upon and developed. We accomplished the Manhattan project in three years with massive investment and access to resources and technical staff.

Imagine if that organized planning carried forward into the golden age that followed when half the world was still in smoking ruin. Instead we see all that intellectual and production capacity squandered off into the free market system, where we now have the reality we see today, basically the 1970s with internet as far as actual standards of living go when you scrape off the layer of consumerist tech on top, instead of perhaps more of the expectations we set upon ourselves in the mid century. Things like access to limitless clean energy through atomic power. Supersonic transport. The ability to actually build out new and modern infrastructure, at scale, on time, without decades of litigation and political footballing. But sure, the new iphone that can't sit flat on a table really is nice too.

Central planning only worked because it was war time and everyone was willing to put aside their life and deal with a lower standard of living for a short time to help Japan and Germany find out after fucking around.

If you only focus on the positives of how ridiculous American war production became it seems great, but return to reality and it becomes clear that it wouldn't have been sustainable in the long term considering how people were having to compromise with rationing of basic goods like fuel, sugar, meat, metal, paper etc.

   Imagine if that organized planning carried forward
imagine communism in the US?

imagine the Soviet Union?

"According to ispace, the lander’s onboard sensors indicated a sharp rise in altitude when the craft passed over a 3-kilometer-high cliff. The cliff was later determined to be the rim of a crater. But the onboard computer had not been programmed for any cliff that high; it was told that in case of a large discrepancy in its expected position, the computer should assume something was wrong with the ship’s radar altimeter and disregard its input. "

are we still at the stage where we don't know about a crater rim that is 3KM high on the moon? I would assume that by now, imaging satellites have captured information like this?

If I recall correctly, the landing location changed long after the software was written. When written, they were planning on a location without such cliffs.

Yikes, didn't they discuss this in their daily standup? Maybe open a task in Jira to handle high cliffs on Mars?


The one thing you can be absolutely sure about software is that the requirements will always change.

That was actually the lamest space mission live stream I have ever seen.

It switched between a virtual rendering of the mission ( think game ) and a group of people watching the same simulation. Not once was there actual camera footage ever.

When things went south, the simulation was halted of course. I guess the programmers didn't account for that eventuality.

I mean, an explosion would have been nice ...

At least a banner with a red diagonal pattern and large letters saying "TELEMETRY LOSS" or something equally dramatic and spectacular we came to expect from movies.

I know every gram of extra mass has to justify being there, and that bandwidth is an expensive commodity, but, for an experimental vehicle (and every version 1 is experimental) I would really like to have a couple down-facing and side-facing wide-angle cameras streaming the descent. Having that, even a manual override is possible (2-second lag is a pain, but better than having no good idea of what happened and a lost vehicle with a payload).

Last time I checked, we have very good topological maps of the Moon since, at least, the Clementine orbiter.

Maybe the lander expected to be at a different place that didn't have the rim of a crater in its path.

I believe they had to change the landing site for some reason, and the simulations they ran were for the initial landing site, where a 3KM crater would not have been encountered.

The Eagle ended up off course, but I've seen multiple reasons given. One is that they modelled the moon as perfectly round, which turned out to be incorrect, mucking up timing plans. The side facing Earth is more dense, due in part to being tidally locked I believe.

The control room was sweating when the landing deadline passed beyond the expected margin of error and they were still flying.

Lesson: always leave a margin of error, especially on the first mission. Armstrong's calmness and clear thinking under duress paid off.

I noticed the Columbia logo on one of the pictures and thought it had to be something other than the clothing company, but apparently it is: https://www.intuitivemachines.com/_files/ugd/7c27f7_149bfecc...

Anyone can simulate going to the moon with Kerbal Space Program.

Nowadays going to the moon is so boring nobody remembers the successful launch of the SLS rocket. Everyone thinks it is rubbish and shouldn't exist. Meanwhile unfinished rockets that can't go to the moon get praised for their failed launches despite the fact that the first stage is working flawlessly and there is literally nothing wrong with the spacecraft itself. The failure was provoked by an incompetently constructed launchpad. Now there is a bandaid attempt to fix the launchpad that will most likely not work and will set back work on a proper solution, which in itself would take more than a year.

But it's ok. We can hate on the SLS in the meantime and also hate on NASA accomplishing it's missions.

I was very happy to see the SLS succeed on its first launch, they did a great job. But it is also a boondoggle of a project costing us billions and taking over a decade to reconfigure space shuttle components. The space shuttle was also an amazing accomplishment but also stupid, costing more than twice as much to get cargo to orbit than a normal rocket would have, while being more dangerous too.

Starship meanwhile costs you nothing, and the "Fix" for the launchpad isn't a bandaid, it was planned before the old pad failed because they knew the old pad was failed, and if it works, it will be an order of magnitude cheaper than SLS.

Might not work though! Good thing it doesn't cost taxpayers anything.

SLS was the safe bet and I can't imagine NASA opting for a risky one - and should have been even safer had they reused more of the Shuttle's parts. Starship is yet to demonstrate the same capability.

But yes. SLS is hideously expensive and severely limits our ability to leave the Earth.

People think SLS is rubbish and shouldn't exist because it costs an insane amount and it's old tech. It's indefensible.

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