A study of the Nixon Administration is used to determine the potential impact that it had on the waning Apollo program in the ‘70s.
The Lost Apollo Missions
by Ray Villard
September 2, 2011
‘The tumultuous political climate of the early 1970s pulled [space exploration] aspirations down to Earth like the tug of gravity.
The early 1970s turmoil was fueled by the Vietnam War, soaring inflation, and social upheaval. The counterculture movement had no love for science, which was seen as being at the root of environmental damage. Our country had lost its will and its vision to boldly go deeper into space.
What's more, President Richard Nixon was no fan of former President John F. Kennedy’s Apollo moon project -- though Nixon was in office and got all the glory when we actually landed on the moon in 1969.
Nixon could have easily one-upped the Kennedy vision by proclaiming Mars as our next target. In fact, his Vice President Spiro Agnew touted the idea.
The mighty Saturn V booster could have gotten us to Mars by the mid 1980s using nuclear engines that were under development.
But declaring a "Man on Mars" program would have looked extravagant and would not have gotten popular support in the 1970s. (A human Mars flight would have probably cost at least $100 billion in 1970s dollars.)
There was also a "less than Right Stuff" fear of losing an Apollo crew. The Apollo 13 mishap was a very close call. The Apollo flights were the space age equivalent of seat-of-pants barnstorming.
A fatal accident seemed statistically likely. And, the consequences could be that the nation would lose its will to hurtle more humans deeper into space. (To the contrary, the deadly Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle accidents actually spurred more public support for space travel.)
The timidity of avoiding increasingly risky moon missions is antithetical to the core American value of conquering the unknown frontier.
Following the recommendations of a presidential task force in 1969, Nixon directed NASA to stop building the muscular Saturn V’s and instead build the Space Shuttle, the first leg of an as yet realized space transportation infrastructure.’
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