Home > Uncategorized > Moondoggle: The Forgotten Opposition to the Apollo Program – Alexis C. Madrigal – The Atlantic

Moondoggle: The Forgotten Opposition to the Apollo Program – Alexis C. Madrigal – The Atlantic

September 13, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

For most of our lunar adventure, a majority of Americans did not support going to the moon. On the 50th anniversary of JFK’s “We choose to go the moon” speech, we examine why.

Today, we recall the speech John F. Kennedy made 50 years ago as the beginning of a glorious and inexorable process in which the nation united behind the goal of a manned lunar landing even as the presidency swapped between parties. Time has tidied things up.

Polls both by USA Today and Gallup have shown support for the moon landing has increased the farther we’ve gotten away from it. 77 percent of people in 1989 thought the moon landing was worth it; only 47 percent felt that way in 1979.

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, a process began that has all but eradicated any reference to the substantial opposition by scientists, scholars, and regular old people to spending money on sending humans to the moon. Part jobs program, part science cash cow, the American space program in the 1960s placed the funding halo of military action on the heads of civilians. It bent the whole research apparatus of the United States to a symbolic goal in the Cold War.

This chart from the Congressional Research Service shows just how extreme the Space Race’s funding levels were, even in comparison to the Manhattan Project or the brief fluorescence of energy R&D after the OPEC oil embargo of 1973.

Given this outlay during the 1960s, a time of great social unrest, you can bet people protested spending this much money on a moon landing. Many more quietly opposed the missions. Space historian Roger Launius of the National Air and Space Museum has called attention to public-opinion polls conducted during the Apollo missions. Here is his conclusion:

For example, many people believe that Project Apollo was popular, probably because it garnered significant media attention, but the polls do not support a contention that Americans embraced the lunar landing mission. Consistently throughout the 1960s a majority of Americans did not believe Apollo was worth the cost, with the one exception to this a poll taken at the time of the Apollo 11 lunar landing in July 1969. And consistently throughout the decade 45-60 percent of Americans believed that the government was spending too much onspace, indicative of a lack of commitment to the spaceflight agenda. These data do not support a contention that most people approved of Apollo and thought it important to explore space.

via Moondoggle: The Forgotten Opposition to the Apollo Program – Alexis C. Madrigal – The Atlantic.

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