An opinion on the future of manned spaceflight
Last updated: 25 Jan 2007
[As the anniversary of the 1970 Apollo 13 mishap arrives,
this item from 1995 is being posted here as it first
appeared in the Battle Creek Enquirer, subsequent to the
author's meeting with Capt. James Lovell, who had visited
Battle Creek while on a speaking tour. It is a somewhat
pessimistic item, and events since 1995 have substantiated
that pessimism to some extent. In the hope that the bleak
view can be dispelled, this item is offered in an
optimistic spirit. -- jcs]
CAN THRILL OF SPACE BE REKINDLED?
Enquirer's View, Battle Creek (MI) Enquirer, Sept. 28,
Written by John C. Sherwood
Such a difference luck, tenacity and ingenuity make. They
distance the gap between a celebration of heroism and the
lamentations of a tragedy.
Standing within that gap, the American people must learn
not to allow past tragedies and near-tragedies to prevent
the possibility of future heroics and greater successes.
That observation applies to any venture. Today we speak of
the U.S. manned space program, and dreams that haven't come
true. Tomorrow, because of the failure of those dreams to
materialize, it may apply to something else.
In 1970, three American astronauts on their way to the moon
nearly lost their lives when a faulty thermostat spawned an
explosion that ripped their spacecraft open.
The full story is well known to those who've seen the film
"Apollo 13" or who heard Tuesday's Battle Creek Town Hall
Celebrity Series speaker Capt. James Lovell -- or who lived
through those events a quarter-century ago.
After that mishap, the Apollo program remained buoyed by
the fact that technical expertise still had paid off, and
no lives were lost save the three men who had died in the
Apollo 1 disaster during a test on the ground.
The United States continued to send astronauts to the moon,
with four more successful landings -- six in all -- before
the program ended in 1972. The nation fulfilled President
Kennedy's quest, set in 1961, to reach the moon before the
decade's end, achieving it with Apollo 11 in 1969.
With lots of momentum but no further inspiration, the
manned space program shifted to Earth-orbit missions. Even
their purpose was questioned when, in 1986, the space
shuttle Challenger blew apart after launch, killing seven
Faulty equipment again was blamed, but the outcome was
different. For the first time, U.S. astronauts had died in
flight. Faith in manned space research and public interest
in the program plummeted. Where adventure once had captured
enthusiasm, now there
seemed only risk and expense.
Beyond the political ramifications of being at the
forefront in technological research, the United States has
benefitted vastly from continuing space research. spinoff
discoveries in health care, computers, communications,
physics and a host of other areas, all derived from
manned-spaceflight research, easily justify the investment
Americans have made in the enterprise.
What is lacking is interest beyond the government and
quasigovernmental sectors. Indeed, it's possible that
budget cuts in the newly conservative Congress could
scuttle the space station that was the U.S. space program's
last best hope.
Private U.S. business and technological interests should
take advantage of nearly four decades of space research,
and find ways to invest further in the future of
Earth-orbit and lunar research:
* There are prospects for manufacture of some materials in
orbit, where gravity's absence would allow creation of
objects impossible on Earth.
* Similar enterprises might be possible on the moon, whose
gravity is one-sixth of Earth's.
* It may be possible to download solar-generated
electrical energy from orbit 24 hours a day, to power every
city on the planet.
* Mining enterprises and colonies on the moon have long
been a vision of science-fiction writers, many of whom
foresaw them built by now.
* Problems associated with the dumping of nuclear wastes
on Earth might be solved if they could be lifted to orbit
and then "dumped" into the sun.
Are these pipe dreams that have no hope of coming true? Is
there a place for the American entrepreneurial spirit in
When asked backstage at W.K. Kellogg Auditorium [in Battle Creek, Michigan] about such possibilities, Apollo 13's Capt. Lovell admitted that he had no idea whether they ever might become reality. It was
a sad prediction, coming from the man who probably is the
nation's most visible and popular spokesperson for taking
Americans back to the moon.
Lovell said Al Rockwell of the Rockwell Corp. had once
proposed to him that a bond issue might allow private
investors to launch their own space program -- one not
controlled by governments or subject to political
Was there a hangup? Yes, Lovell said, shaking his head:
Insurance. No one would back such an enterprise with the
It's like a knife in the back. Those futuristic visions of
interplanetary flight, sightseeing excursions on the moon,
domed cities on Mars -- fading into oblivion because the
actuarial tables forbid it.
Unless a new enthusiasm for manned space travel re-emerges
in the form of a new national -- or multi-national -- goal,
the year 2001 may come with humankind still lounging
listlessly on its home planet, aspiring to no greater new
act of discovery than what occurred between 1969 and 1972.
And even that brief period someday may be forgotten, or
regarded as a pointless exercise, too difficult or costly
to bother with. Like climbing Everest. Or crossing an
ocean. Or conceiving of anything new and strange and
by APOLLO 13 astronaut FRED HAISE
The following questions posed by John C. Sherwood to Apollo
13 astronaut Fred Haise are excerpted from the Space.com
live chat conducted April 11, 2000, on the 30th anniversary
of the launch of Apollo 13. (To read the complete chat,
go to the transcript.)
John Sherwood: Do you believe the problems encountered
and/or revealed during the Apollo 13 mission contributed to
the funding cuts that curtailed the Apollo program?
Fred Haise: No, I do not believe that is the case.
NASA was concerned with moving on to the next program with
sufficient funding, which was Skylab.
John Sherwood: When I interviewed Jim Lovell for a
newspaper in 1995, I asked if he had any insight into why
private enterprise has not "gone orbital" -- for example,
with "space factories." He replied that insurers are
unwilling to cover the potential liability. Do you agree,
and do you have any additional insights or comments about
the issues of "space insurance" or "space industry"?
Fred Haise: Jim is right as far as ongoing
operations, but a very basic problem is to gather enough investor money to get through the development cycle, which is very costly.
John Sherwood: Do you believe that
Jim Lovell's book, "Lost Moon," presented an accurate,
balanced account of your Apollo mission? Can the same be said for Ron Howard's film version?
Fred Haise: Yes, Jim's book was very good, well
documented, particularly for the flight side. For the ground side there was a book by Cooper called "Thirteen: The Flight That
Failed." That was a very accurate portrayal of what
happened on the ground. The movie was accurate, where it showed
technical things like a launch or the actors free-floating
and entry, the artifacts. The spacecraft, for example, were
very accurate, as well as the Mission Control they built.
Computer graphics were well done as well. There were a few
exaggerations, of maneuvers that were done manually, of the
vehicle motion. And most of the funny or spicy lines in the
script were not ours.