The hidden but essential lesson from Apollo 11

Summary: On this day 50 years ago, Apollo 11 blasted off. Amidst the triumphal celebrations this week, let’s take a moment to see the real lesson from Project Apollo. It was a grim inflection point in US history. We can chart a better future for America if we learn from it.

Apollo-11: flag

At 8:32 on this day fifty years ago, Apollo 11 blasted off on its historic journey to the moon. Like our wars after 9/11, it was expensive. Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo – plus the robot lunar landers (necessary for the Apollo landings) – a rough estimate of the manned space program’s cost through 1972. In our dollars, it cost aprox. $300 billion. As a fraction of our GDP, it is equivalent to roughly $700 billion today (these numbers from this excellent analysis by Casey Dreier).

Like our mad wars, the race to the moon was done primarily in pursuit of national security. In both, we had tactical goals but no strategic goals beyond vast delusional ones: the conquest of space, and nation-building in the Middle East. The 1961 report by President Kennedy’s advisory committee on space gave one of the reasons for the manned space program (word predating Star Trek by five years).

“Given time, a desire, considerable innovation, and sufficient effort and money, man can eventually explore our solar system. Given his enormous curiosity about the universe in which he lives and his compelling urge to go where no one has ever been before, this will be done.”

That is an absurdly inadequate justification for such an expensive program. The rationale for the program was national security. The Soviet Union might use space to gain a military advantage, perhaps with a base on the moon. And prestige: the US would look weak if they “beat us” in space. Both were debunked at the time as specious, as time has proven them to be. But in the hysteria at the time, people took them seriously (much as they did our nation-building projects in Iraq and Afghanistan).

The justifications people give for the race to the moon – and the manned space program as a whole – show its madness. It produced little useful science, certainly far less than if the money was spent in other areas – as many scientists warned at the time. Reports to Presidents Ike and JFK by the Hornig Committee and the Weisner Committee both warned of this. Philip Abelson, editor of Science magazine testified in 1963 before the Senate Aeronautical and Space Sciences Committee about his poll of 113 scientists. He asked if they supported putting a man on the moon: 3 said yes, the rest said no.

The boost to technology was even smaller than the gains to science. Many commonly cited ones are myths, such as Tang, Teflon, Velcro, MRI, barcodes, quartz clocks, and smoke detectors. NASA’s buying did not accelerate the use and power of computers.

It did not unify Americans or change their view of America. It was not even highly popular.

As for the drive to explore, Gerard J. DeGroot debunks that in his powerful book, Dark Side of the Moon (2006) – “The magnificent madness of the American lunar quest.”

“Those who justified the presence of men in space argued that the early astronauts were like the medieval seafarers, looking for places to colonize. But the efforts of Columbus and Magellan were inspired by the commercial potential of new territories – exploration was pointless unless commerce followed. The Portuguese and Spanish courts would have pulled the plug on the explorers quicker than you can say Vasco da Gama if their voyages had been exclusively esoteric, or if they had brought back only worthless rocks. Instead, they returned with valuable commodities – precious metals, spices, trinkets, potatoes – which thrilled the medieval money crunchers.

“In addition, the places they sought to explore were, by virtue of their existence on Earth, actually habitable. The same could not be said for colonies on the Moon or Mars. …The Moon makes Antarctica seem like an oasis.”

The madness continues. NASA, with some help from other nations, built a $150 billion space station that does little of commercial or scientific value proportional to its cost (it has a planned operating life of 30 years).

In 1952 Robert Heinlein wrote “Where To”, giving predictions about the year 2000 (included in the collection Expanded Universe). He was bullish about space.

“If you’re willing to settle today for a constant-boost on the close order of magnitude of 1/1000 G we can start the project later this afternoon, as there are several known ways of building constant-boost jobs with that tiny acceleration. …Ten weeks to Mars, a round trip to Pluto in two years and nine months. It took the Pilgrims in the Mayflower nine weeks and three days to cross the Atlantic. …England, Holland, Spain, and Portugal all created worldwide empires with ships that took as long to get anywhere and back as would a 1/1000 G spaceship. …

“Even the tiniest constant boost turns sailing the Solar System into a money-making commercial venture.”

But he did not describe a single “money-making commercial venture” in space. And in the next 67 years, nobody else has done so – plausibly.

The big lesson from Apollo and the War on Terror

Project Apollo was a decisive turn in American history from practical to magical thinking. The justifications for the manned space program were debunked at the beginning by several commissions – but we did it anyway. Other equally delusional and expensive projects followed. Massive spending on social engineering projects in America. Decades of progress at balancing the Federal budget have been undone repeatedly by conservatives selling snake oil about the benefits of tax cuts for the rich (i.e., by Presidents Reagan, Bush Jr., and Trump). We began open-ended spending on the War on Terror with less thought than a typical woman spends on buying a new pair of shoes. All left nothing behind but debts and casualties.

Meanwhile, America’s population grows but we let America’s Infrastructure rot instead of expanding it (the 2017 Report Card us a D+). Our education system and key government departments have eroded away into hot messes desperately needing reform.

The vital lesson is that we are feckless with our money. We can do great things but have poor judgement about the great projects worth doing. To put it bluntly, we have become marks, easily conned into programs that create vast benefits for special interests but do little for America. No nation has the wealth and power to keep throwing away its resources and neglecting its essential needs. We must change in order to prosper, perhaps even to survive. Keep that in mind as you see the triumphal stories and shows about the “mission accomplished” in July 1969.

For a deeper discussion about space, see Why we have not gone into space. Why we must.

For More Information

For another look at our race to the moon, see “Moondoggle: The Forgotten Opposition to the Apollo Program” by Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic (2012).

They are still at it, giving absurdly shallow advocacy for traveling to the moon and beyond. See “Why Space Exploration Is Worth the Effort” by Ellen Stofan in Aviation Week & Space Technology (a magazine for the industry with the most to gain from such spending). She is a director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.

Here is the best discussion I have found of the pros and cons of putting people into space. Discusses Rome, science fiction, NASA, technology, and many other aspects of the subject. Great links, too!

Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

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What happened to Project Apollo?

On 20 July 1969 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Eagle on the moon’s Sea of Tranquility and Armstrong took his giant leap for humanity. To understand why the Apollo program accomplished so little I recommend reading Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest by Gerard J. Degroot. From the publisher …

"Dark Side of the Moon" by Gerald J. Degroot
Available at Amazon.

“For a very brief moment during the 1960s, America was moonstruck. Boys dreamt of being an astronaut; girls dreamed of marrying one. Americans drank Tang, bought “space pens” that wrote upside down, wore clothes made of space age Mylar, and took imaginary rockets to the moon from theme parks scattered around the country.

“But despite the best efforts of a generation of scientists, the almost foolhardy heroics of the astronauts, and 35 billion dollars, the moon turned out to be a place of “magnificent desolation,” to use Buzz Aldrin’s words: a sterile rock of no purpose to anyone.

“In Dark Side of the Moon, Gerard J. DeGroot reveals how NASA cashed in on the Americans’ thirst for heroes in an age of discontent and became obsessed with putting men in space. The moon mission was sold as a race that America could not afford to lose. Landing on the moon, it was argued, would be good for the economy, for politics, and for the soul. It could even win the Cold War. The great tragedy is that so much effort and expense were devoted to a small step that did virtually nothing for mankind.

“Drawing on meticulous archival research, DeGroot cuts through the myths constructed by the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations and sustained by NASA ever since. He finds a gang of cynics, demagogues, scheming politicians, and corporations who amassed enormous power and profits by exploiting the fear of what the Russians might do in space.

“Exposing the truth behind one of the most revered fictions of American history, Dark Side of the Moon explains why the American space program has been caught in a state of purposeless wandering ever since Neil Armstrong descended from Apollo 11 and stepped onto the moon. The effort devoted to the space program was indeed magnificent and its cultural impact was profound, but the purpose of the program was as desolate and dry as lunar dust.”

37 thoughts on “The hidden but essential lesson from Apollo 11

  1. Good post.

    I would put forth that the commerce expansion argument with respect to space exploration should have had its eye always focused on the Earth. That is, freeing up more financial resources down here amongst the population. You do that by constructing solar platforms orbiting the Earth and beaming energy down to collectors and distributing it across the grid. Dr. Peter Glaser of NASA came up with that idea in the 70’s. This kind of program would eventually unshackle nations from the never ending battles we fight over ground based energy resources that keeps all of us chained to a system that enriches the few and impoverishes the many.

    1. Craig,

      Solar power satellites are an interesting idea. They have not been funded much, even during the hysteria about energy during the 1980s, because the technical problems seem overwhelming. Launch costs alone make it not competitive with conventional sources, and appear to remain so for the foreseeable future.

  2. There are moments when I think of the government as a jobs program for the crazy and the feckless. The push to reach the moon in less than 10 years was definitely a jobs program for the crazy but NOT the feckless simply because the number of ways to die in space is almost infinite when you challenge it with 1960’s technology (it isn’t that much shorter with current technology).

    You are correct that all of the economic arguments were specious at best (because it is easy to die (and hard and expensive to live) in space). The real reason to go to the moon (once the goal had been announced) was national pride. We said we were going to do it and we did. You’ll notice that once we proved we could do it again (Apollo 12) and survived near disaster for a picture postcard mission (Apollo 13 and 14), support fell through the floor and the program was cancelled a couple of years later.

    Was it worth the money spent? From a purely objective perspective, the answer is a resounding “No” in every measurable way. But you and I lived through the 1960’s and 70’s, an awful lot of things were going horribly wrong back then and the manned space effort brought a lot of honor, pride, and work-ethic back to this country when it desperately needed it. That alone almost justifies the effort to me.

    But further efforts beyond that time do not deserve rose colored glasses. You are absolutely right about the current manned space station, what a boondoggle! About the only thing it has done well so far is continually prove how hard and expensive life is in zero gravity. Even 1/6 gravity of the moon is much cheaper, better, and easier than zero gravity.

    By the way, Heinlein’s 1952 argument was only valid if you ignore the costs of getting out of Earth’s gravity and constant acceleration engines use up an amazing amount of fuel when used for years at a time (which would compound the cost of getting out of Earth’s gravity even further).

    I will not be surprised if we go to the stars someday but I cannot yet imagine a valid economic reason for setting up a manned Moon transit base (in large part because there’s nowhere other than Earth in the solar system that makes a decent destination) and transit would be the only valid reason to set up a Lunar base because of its harsh climate and high costs.

    The sole potential destination (Europa, moon of Jupiter) deserves another 50+ years of robotic examination and some truly creative planning before I’d be willing to change the above statement.

    1. Pluto,

      “Heinlein’s 1952 argument was only valid if you ignore the costs of getting out of Earth’s gravity”

      That’s an important and seldom mentioned point.

      “I will not be surprised if we go to the stars someday”

      I hope we don’t – until we become much better people. I now find old-time science fiction, with us taking our pathologies to the stars (e.g., Star Wars), as depressing. The Star Trek vision, of humanity helping build a better future for the galaxy (esp in TOS and Enterprise) as aspirational.

      1. Larry, you’ve gone way beyond the level of thinking I have put into what humanity will be like when we reach the stars.

        It would not surprise me if it took 10-20,000 years (barely a blink in geological time) and we would definitely be different by then but I could not possibly predict with any degree of accuracy how we would be different.

      2. Pluto,

        We can only guess at the future evolution of science. Space exploration and development requires more powerful energy sources. Fusion would help. Perhaps concentrated energy storage media would also work – such as the manufacture of anti-matter (it’s not a primary source unless we mine it).

        My guess: in the next century, perhaps two.

        Alternatively, we might find a more efficient propulsion system. Such as anti-gravity or inertialess projectors (aka reactionless engines).

        My guess is that these lie even further in the future. Perhaps two to five centuries.

    2. Pluto,

      “The real reason to go to the moon (once the goal had been announced) was national pride.”

      Taking pride in burning money with no gain is a bit odd. Even the hottest advocates of space flight don’t try to show that any foreigners were impressed.

      “the manned space effort brought a lot of honor, pride, and work-ethic back to this country when it desperately needed it. That alone almost justifies the effort to me.”

      That is a nice example of just making stuff up. Can you provide the slightest evidence for those broad statements? Esp given the effects of that money (almost 5% of GDP per year at peak)?

      I’ve re-written the Conclusion, since the comments show that it wasn’t clear.

      1. Larry: “Taking pride in burning money with no gain is a bit odd. Even the hottest advocates of space flight don’t try to show that any foreigners were impressed.”

        Darn it, there you go being logical again! At the time I firmly recall that everybody (even Walter Cronkite) was impressed. I can’t possibly say that they were impressed 10 minutes later, but I do thoroughly recall them being impressed at that time and it isn’t worth the effort to me at the moment to dig out the details so I concede defeat on this point.

        Larry: “That is a nice example of just making stuff up.”

        It’s possible that it is made up but I did NOT make it up. Think about this for a moment, Larry. In the late 1960’s Vietnam was a major quagmire, the boomers were in full rebellion about most social issues (some with good cause and some just looking for a good fight), the last hundred years of racism suddenly came to light with a vengeance and drove people out into the streets. Quite a number of cities were BURNING (mostly emotionally, sometimes in reality, look at hte summer of 1968). But everybody stopped fight and screaming at each other for a few minutes to watch the astronauts. The workers building the Gemini and Apollo project hardware (tens of thousands of people) mentioned continually on TV (until I personally was sick of it) how much they liked working for a peaceful national goal that united the country rather than broke it into smaller pieces as almost everything else seemed to be doing at the time.

        As I mentioned earlier, I CANNOT justify the cost, I can just come a lot closer than at any other point in NASA’s history.

      2. Pluto,

        (1) Walter Cronkite was quite critical of the Apollo party, and history has proven him correct. He, of course, did not let that affect his coverage of the event.

        (2) “But everybody stopped fight and screaming at each other for a few minutes to watch the astronauts. ”

        That people stopped and watched TV for a few minutes does not mean that they were impressed or felt a swell of national pride – let alone justify spending a big chunk of GDP on the spectacle.

        You’re making stuff up. It is a bad habit. Most comment threads consist of people making stuff up. I strongly discourage it here.

        “Quite a number of cities were BURNING (mostly emotionally, sometimes in reality, look at hte summer of 1968). ”

        False. The 1960s race riots had climaxed in April and May 1968, following MLK Jr’s assassination – 2 months before Apollo 11 landed on the moon. The last big summer of inner city riots was in 1967. See the list.

      3. Larry: “(1) Walter Cronkite was quite critical of the Apollo party, and history has proven him correct. He, of course, did not let that affect his coverage of the event.”

        I did not know that. I assume the “Dark Side of the Moon” is your source for that statement. Please let me know if it is not. I might have to take some time to read the “Dark Side of the Moon” (which I have not read yet due to time constraints and my doubt that I would learn enough new information to make it worth the time).

        Larry: “That people stopped and watched TV for a few minutes does not mean that they were impressed or felt a swell of national pride – let alone justify spending a big chunk of GDP on the spectacle.”

        As mentioned earlier, I agree with you that spending that big a hunk of the GDP on the lunar program was not worth what we got from it. I also stated that the social turmoil of 1960’s and 70’s made it somewhat less unacceptable than during the rest of NASA’s history.

        Larry: “False. The 1960s race riots had climaxed in April and May 1968, following MLK Jr’s assassination – 2 months before Apollo 11 landed on the moon. The last big summer of inner city riots was in 1967. See the list.”

        Sorry, but I’m going to have to count this as a very rare reading failure on your part, Larry.

        As I said in my earlier comments, both the Gemini and Apollo programs (Gemini started manned launches in 1965) commanded high TV ratings. As you said, we cannot know why people kept coming back to watch over each mission but it is unlikely that they did so from neutral or negative emotions. TV ratings did not drop substantially until the Apollo 15 mission (which showed considerable weakness compared to Apollo 14) and then really tanked in the last two missions which demonstrated lack of interest you described that got the program cancelled.

        Also, I agree that the physical riots and city burnings peaked with MLK’s assassination in 1968 before the main Apollo moon landing (but not before Apollo 8, 9, or 10) but that doesn’t mean that my statement “Quite a number of cities were BURNING (mostly emotionally” is inaccurate after 1968. There enormous social and racial tensions brewing under the surface after 1968 and civic leaders of the time were very afraid for the next 5-10 years that the summer of 1968 was just a prelude to even more severe race riots.

        My final note is in reference to your comment in the article: “Project Apollo was a decisive turn in American history from practical to magical thinking.”

        There is some truth to this but it is incomplete. Like many unfortunate memes in US government today, the failings of Project Apollo can be laid at the feet of the Kennedy administration. In 3 short years, those young, eager beavers changed so much about the US government it is almost unbelievable. What’s worse is that after Kennedy died, Johnson (who SHOULD have known better, at least in some cases) did nothing to correct the problems that were becoming obvious and just dialed up the volume of the programs to drown out his critics.

        The single worst meme that JFK left us (which you frequently discuss) is that brush wars like Vietnam (and Iraq and Afghanistan) are easy and can be won quickly and at low cost by our current conventionally armed and led US military. Compared to that, the Apollo project is a tiny drop in the bucket (especially if you count lives lost by each meme).

      4. Pluto,

        You’re just making stuff up, so there is no point in replying. I’ll ask one question, note one fact, and give one reply.

        (1) “TV ratings did not drop substantially until the Apollo 15 mission”

        What’s your evidence for that? I’ve seen nothing about TV ratings of the missions. In the Apollo 13 film, which I’ve read is quite accurate, they mention that the Apollo’s ratings had fallen so low the networks didn’t even give it much coverage.

        (2) Your glowing about the effects of Apollo seem odd since polls at the time showed that the manned space program was not very popular.

        (3) “There is some truth to this but it is incomplete.”

        That’s the among the most generic and bs of comments. It’s not possible to write for a general audience about complex events and be “complete.” Long books have been written about these things, and they are not “complete.”

      5. Larry, I apologize for irritating you so much. I highly value your opinion articles and only contribute when I feel I have something of value. Evidently you disagree, so we will, in general, leave this topic where it currently lies.

        Because you have accused me of “making things up”, I want to point out that I had found the same article you posted but it supports both of our cases for support on the Apollo program. As you say, I should have posted a link to the article but was pushed for time and a bit lazy.

        The article says that when asked which programs they would cut, more than half of Americans put the space program towards the top (I agree with their choice).

        The article also mentions: “When you divorce it from the numbers and you ask people if they like NASA and spaceflight, people say yes,” Launius told SPACE.com. “75 to 80 percent are in favor.” and “Public support for overall space funding has hovered around 80 percent in favor of the status quo since 1965, except for a major dip in support during the early 1970s.”

        This is the support I mentioned when people watched the actual launches. Obviously it was not deep support but a successful launch has always been a “feel good” moment which is all I wanted to say. I’m sorry if you read more into my comments than I intended.

    3. Lunar mineral extraction would be the only reason I see for a base location there; however, the activity would of necessity have to be economically practical.

      1. Chad,

        The pursuit of minerals is a commonly cited reason. It is quite daft. Mineral prices today do not remotely justify space flight. Since they have been flat or declining in real terms for well over a century, there is no reason to believe they will justify space flight in the foreseeable future.

      2. The only logical reason for lunar mineral extraction is to make spacecraft on the moon that would fly to other planets. This has two huge advantages:
        1. Not having to push a vessel designed for deep space out of Earth’s gravity and atmosphere (which automatically warps the design so it can survive long enough to be used)
        2. The moon can serve as a truly giant slingshot (250,000 or so miles long) if used to launch spacecraft at the right time (not sure how frequently that would occur) and could save an enormous amount of money getting the spacecraft up to speed and moving in the right direction.

      3. Pluto,

        All true. But the cost of lifting that equipment to the moon, plus the people and their sustenance, would be mind-blowing. Then there would the cost of running deep space operations (going out and back).

        As said before, there is nothing known today that would justify such expenditure.

      4. Larry: “the cost of lifting that equipment to the moon, plus the people and their sustenance, would be mind-blowing. Then there would the cost of running deep space operations (going out and back).”

        Basically agreed with the following additional notes:
        1) You don’t have to lift people to the moon. The tools that build and fuel the spacecraft on the moon could be remotely controlled, removing the people from the lift equation from Earth and solving the sustainability issues at the same time
        2) I wasn’t talking about even building enough deep space infrastructure to have the spacecraft come back. In theory this could be const-effective for very large, (probably complex) automated probes sent to other locations in the solar system.

        3) Additional note: the fuel source for deep space missions launched from the moon would be hydrogen (from the solar wind) and oxygen (most common element in the lunar crust).

        I’m not sure if that fuel would work under all circumstances. For example, course corrections need relatively little push at any given moment but the Hydrogen-Oxygen mix is very potent, so it might not be appropriate for course corrections and similar situations.

      5. Pluto,

        “The tools that build and fuel the spacecraft on the moon could be remotely controlled, …the fuel source for deep space missions launched from the moon would be hydrogen (from the solar wind) and oxygen (most common element in the lunar crust).”

        We don’t have the ability to do such elaborate remote control over such distances to do such elaborate constructino, operation and maintenance of equipment. The ability to harvest large amounts of hydrogen from the solar wind is far beyond our science.

        At some point this becomes a magic ward, dismissing any objections to future dreams. Then what’s the point of the discussion? Just say “in the far future we can do anything,” and be done with it.

        “In theory this could be const-effective for very large, (probably complex) automated probes sent to other locations in the solar system.”

        We’re going in circles. The cost of that would be mind-blowing. It will be a long long time before anyone spends that kind of money on “probes” in space.

  3. Larry,

    As much as I enjoy space flight, sadly I must agree with you. I see no good reason to put men back on the Moon or going to Mars, for the reasons you mentioned.
    The first man on the Moon was something to behold in real time, been there, done that. But a second time seems pointless.

    1. Ron,

      I am amazed at the number of people who believe going to the moon was a fine thing. They can’t state a coherent reason why, other than it was a great TV show. They almost never ask what else we might have done with that money that would have been equally uplifting but provided actual benefits to us.

      This delusional thinking about Apollo 11 is the subject of this post, not the dreams of a few about going again. Apollo was a decisive turn in American history from practical to magical thinking. Tax cuts for the rich, massive social engineering, foreign wars for nation-building — all followed from that point.

      1. Larry,

        “I am amazed at the number of people who believe going to the moon was a fine thing.”

        If I recall correctly, it was the “Space Race” with the Russians.

        “They almost never ask what else we might have done with that money that would have been equally uplifting but provided actual benefits to us.”

        My Dad was a buyer, working for a small manufacturing company, in Pa., the Ludwig Honold Manufacturing Co. where he worked on some of the Apollo projects there in the mid 1960’s.
        It put bread on the table. How much trickle down to local companies nationwide came from NASA, I wouldn’t know.

        Imo, the biggest waste for NASA is their climate research pushing CAGW. I believe Trump put a lot of climate scientists somewhere else. That is a good thing.

        Not going back to the Moon would be another good thing.

  4. Good post.
    It’s somewhat disheartening to realize that the space race was simply testosterone fueled macho paosturing.

    Ps I saw in a comment where you chastised a libertarian on the ratio of federal money going to the various outlets of spending. Could you send me said breakdown, I can’t find the comment

    1. Isaac,

      “It’s somewhat disheartening to realize that the space race was simply testosterone fueled macho paosturing.”

      Good news! That’s not at all so. As I said in the post:

      “To put it bluntly, we have become marks, easily conned into programs that create vast benefits for special interests but do little for America.”

    1. Ron,

      That poll is not quite what you describe.

      (1) It conflates the manned space program (subject of this post) with non-manned activities in space. I doubt many except flat-earthers believe doubt the importance of the latter.

      (2) Few think more adventures in space are worthwhile: “37% and 44%, respectively, express the view that these missions are not too important or that NASA shouldn’t undertake these missions.”

      (3) Asking people if they approve of grand projects gives exciting answers. They mean nothing if not accompanied by the price tag. I’d like to have a mansion like Bill Gate’s! Don’t mention the cost.

      1. Ron,

        That’s interesting data! I did not realize that spending on manned space programs was so small. The big bucks were most recently spent building the space station. No point in closing the program now, wasting the sunk costs.

      2. Larry,

        ” No point in closing the program now, wasting the sunk costs”

        Water over the dam, but “eliminating human space programs would save $89 billion between 2020 and 2028”.

      3. Ron,

        True. But that’s best – like most economic stats – expressed as a percent. In this case, the percent of government spending. It’s a dot, and spending that makes use of an very expensive piece of infrastructure. It would be quite mad to compound the initial error by throwing it away.

  5. The spending on the lunar project was dwarfed by the costs of the Viet-Nam war, a vastly more harmful initiative.
    So while the premise, that the country is damaging itself by stupid mal-investments of its physical and human resources is correct, it is also important to focus on the worst examples first. Otherwise, we just suppress symptoms rather than effect cures.

    1. etudiant,

      Now that is an important point! Still, I wonder if starting our war in Vietnam was as an obvious error as was the manned space program and the WOT. The two commissions set up to advise both Ike and JFK both recommended against it, for reasons which proved correct. A poll of scientists gave a similar result. These were done conducted because of the widespread opposition to the program at the beginning, including low public support. Doing it against their advice was dumb.

      What was the equivalent for Vietnam, people giving prescient warnings that we would get our asses kicked?

      The invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan were obviously bad decisions at the time based on our experience in Vietnam – as many people said at the time.

      1. There was a lot more information available on the obvious stupidity of Viet Nam than there was about the dumbness of the lunar space program. I think even LBJ made the comment that he thought it difficult to win a popular war fighting on behalf of the landlords.
        The US had excellent intelligence on the defeat of the French there, partly perhaps because we were footing the bills. Yet nothing was learned.
        I blame the Dulles brothers, as malign an influence on the national destiny as anyone since the days of Aaron Burr.

      2. etudiant,

        You ignored what I just said. I suggest you re-read my comment – which gives actual facts. Unlike your speculation. Can you cite any expert analysis supporting your theory?

        For more information contradicting your theory, I suggest that you read The Pentagon Papers, The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan, or Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam is a 1997 book written by H. R. McMaster (Major, US Army – later NSA).

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