Home' Technology Review : September October 2009 Contents 40 YEARS AGO
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER
This summer, as the world looked
back 40 years to the day man first
landed on the moon, many were
also looking forward and wondering
when he would return. There has not
been a lunar landing since 1972, and as
the glories of the Apollo 11 mission were
recalled---the audacity of taking a walk
on the moon, mainly to show that it
could be done at all---there was a call for
renewed commitment to manned space
exploration. But critics question why we
would make such an enormous invest-
ment again when almost all our scientific
objectives can be met with unmanned
rockets and rovers.
This is not a new debate, of course.
Forty years ago, in the issue immediately
following the successful lunar landing,
Technology Review devoted two pages to
a dispatch from the legendary journalist
Victor Cohn detailing a contentious and
surprisingly public tussle between scien-
tists and NASA o cials in what should
have been the agency's finest hour.
The inquiring scientist---to the lovers and
leaders of America's space program---is a kind
of anointed hitchhiker. You can't fly without
him, but you keep him in the back seat.
This became abrasively apparent last
summer when, at the height of the success of
Apollo 11, a set of key scientists' resignations
were received by the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration. At the same time,
the very lunar scientists who were so thrilled
to get lunar samples were complaining sadly
that "N.A.S.A.'s glad enough to say a mis-
sion is 'for science.' But as far as really doing
science---'Sure, they say, take too much time,
if, if, if.' In other words, for the flight planners
and engineers, getting there and back is the
big job. They don't see science playing more
than a secondary role, which can be dropped
when it gets in the way of a mission."...
Ever since Apollo 11---among other things,
certainly a very expensive geological field
expedition---there have been pointed symbols
of scientists' lowly position in the N.A.S.A.
pecking order. More than a week after the
landing, Dr. Shoemaker---PI for all lunar
geology and rock collecting---still had not o -
cially received any of the photos taken on the
moon, though he was supposed to figure out
precisely where the rocks were picked up. His
group was 14th on the priority list, far below
Dr. Shoemaker got his first photos from
Jules Bergman, ABC science editor, and with
this and other information he was able to tell
the mission controllers just where the space-
craft had landed---an unexpected dividend;
the rather hairy landing had left N.A.S.A.
(For a fresh look at the photos NASA
used to plan the Apollo missions, see "Sur-
face Restoration," p. 34.)
Shoemaker himself would soon leave
NASA, convinced that the Apollo project
would never achieve its scientific objec-
tives. A longtime advocate for the space
program, he now became a prominent
critic, complaining that NASA engi-
neers saw the lunar landing as an end
in itself rather than as the beginning of
the agency's true mission. "We are now,"
Shoemaker wrote in October of 1969, "in
the embarrassing position of having a
system that is very good for getting to the
moon and getting back, and di cult to
use for anything else."
NASA engineers may have objected
that getting humans safely to the moon
and back was not as trivial or incidental
an accomplishment as Shoemaker and
others were making it out to be. But the
public too, then as now, was more inter-
ested in the journey than in the results. All
the same, in the end it may have been the
disgruntled scientists who saw the future
of space exploration more clearly.
"The vehicle everyone wants," says one
scientist, "is an automated vehicle, to be left
behind on one flight, sent on a TV-guided
traverse with an automatic scoop to pick up
samples, then sent to a point to meet astro-
nauts on the next trip." Neither this concept
nor a simpler one is yet "in the program." One
well-informed scientist says, "It's another
case of scientific priorities and budgeting
always coming last."
One Small Step for Science?
THE CELEBRATION OF THE APOLLO 11 ANNIVERSARY
RENEWS THE DEBATE OVER THE SCIENTIFIC VALUE
OF MANNED SPACE EXPLORATION
By MATT MAHONEY
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40 YEARS AGO IN TR
SAFE RETU RN Neil Armstrong and Buzz
Aldrin head back up to the Apollo 11 command
module, manned by Michael Collins, after 22
hours on the moon.
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