With Meghna Chakrabarti
As the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing approaches, we’ll take a fresh look at one of humankind’s most audacious efforts, and whether a 21st century moonshot is worth aiming for.
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Douglas Brinkley, presidential historian and professor of history at Rice University in Houston. (@RiceUniversity). Author of “American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race.”
Alex Stuckey, NASA, science and environment reporter for the Houston Chronicle. Co-host of the Chronicle’s podcast “Cigarettes and Rocket Fuel,” a week-by-week dramatization of the 1969 Apollo missions and the U.S.-Soviet space race. Pulitzer Prize winner. (@alexdstuckey)
From The Reading List
Boston Globe: “When JFK started us on a race that maybe wasn’t” — “Maniacally determined that a US astronaut walk on the lunar surface before a Soviet cosmonaut did, Kennedy prodded and badgered top administration officials and congressional chieftains to adopt his sense of urgency, batted away skepticism from scientists and lawmakers, turned aside repeated entreaties to devote the billions required instead to domestic programs, and by force of will assured that the nation would win a space race that may have been mostly in his head.
“The nation won that race, unless of course you are one of those who believe the entire enterprise was a hoax perpetrated in an underwater tank. Neil Armstrong took that giant lunar leap, and the irony was that he did it during the presidency of Richard Nixon, JFK’s rival in the 1960 election. But the greater irony may be that it may never be known for sure whether the Soviets wanted to get to the moon at all — they never did reach it, nor did anyone else — or whether they abandoned their effort for technological, economic, or maybe even ideological reasons.
“One way or another, Brinkley’s story is a gripping one, matching the passion and idealism of the New Frontier with the technological, engineering, and physics challenges inherent in converting rudimentary rockets into space boosters for Project Mercury and then, with an eye on the main prize, developing the giant Saturn V rocket and concocting the notion of sending a lunar-excursion module to the lunar surface while a command module orbited above the moon waiting to ferry the astronauts (and their cache of moon rocks) home to a breathless Earth.”
Houston Chronicle: “VP Pence to NASA: Put Americans on the moon in the next 5 years” — “Prior to Pence’s speech Tuesday, the administration’s plans were to build a mini-space station orbiting the moon, known as the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway, and build and send commercial lunar probes to the surface before humans left boot prints on the celestial body again.
“Based on that, humans would have returned to the surface by 2028. But Pence said Tuesday that is ‘not good enough.’
“‘We have the technology to return to the moon, and we have the renewed American leadership in human space exploration,’ Pence said. ‘What we need now is the urgency.’ ”
The Atlantic: “Why Trump Wants to Go to the Moon So Badly” — “The déjà vu in Pence’s speech was palpable. “We’re in a space race today, just as we were in the 1960s, and the stakes are even higher,” he said. As proof, he brought up China’s historic landing on the far side of the moon in January, and the United States’ costly reliance on Russian launch systems to deliver American astronauts to the ISS. “The first woman and the next man on the moon will both be American astronauts, launched by American rockets, from American soil,” Pence said.
“In other words, the Trump administration wants to make the moon American again. The last president to set his sights on the moon, George W. Bush, called for a similar return in 2004, but he set the deadline for 2020, long after he’d leave the White House, taking his slogans with him. The fact that the Trump administration has picked 2024, the final year of a potential second term, is telling. Trump might be trying to produce a decisive accomplishment on a timeline that can’t be undermined by his successor.
Brian Hardzinski produced this hour for broadcast.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.