Was the Apollo Program a Bad Idea? | A SciShow Documentary

Was the Apollo Program a Bad Idea? | A SciShow Documentary

Hank: Thanks to Hack The Moon for
sponsoring this very special episode of
SciShow. Go to wehackthemoon.com to learn
even more about the Apollo 11 mission.
Almost 50 years ago on July 20th, 1969,
space exploration changed forever.
That day the United States landed the
first astronauts on the moon as part of
the Apollo 11 Mission.
And with that famous one small step, they
changed the way we think about our planet
and ourselves.
Apollo 11 wasn’t the first time humans had
been to space or anything, that happened
in 1961 with a Soviet flight
followed shortly by an American one.
But space, we didn’t even really know
what that was until fairly recently.
The moon, on the other hand, we’ve
been staring at since we existed.
Watching it wander through the sky,
chasing or being chased by the Sun, moving
through its phases.
It is another world — one that has
profound effects on our world and also on
our species.
There’s never been a time in human history
when we did not gaze at the moon and
And sending people to walk on the surface
of another world –the enormity of that
giant leap– It’s something that changed
us, something that has inspired us as
individuals and as a species ever since.
So we wanted to do something
special to celebrate.
We wanted to ask a pretty bold question
because while the whole SciShow team loves
Apollo, we couldn’t help but wonder–and
we hope you won’t get too mad at us if we
ask, was the Apollo program a bad idea?
Many people remember it as this beautiful
thing that united the world, but if you
really think about it,
it kind of seems like..
I don’t know ridiculous?
Only five years passed between when the
Soviet Union flung the first satellite
into orbit and when President John F.
Kennedy said these words,
President Kennedy: “We
choose to go to the Moon.
We choose to go to the Moon.
We choose to go to the moon in this
decade and do the other things.
Not because they are easy
but because they are hard.”
Hank: A year after that Kennedy was dead
and only six years later Neil Armstrong
and Buzz Aldrin were
standing on another world.
In hindsight this looks like a work of
genius, but lives were lost and other
disasters were only narrowly averted.
And if that happened, how far back
with those tragedies have pushed space
Ultimately was the risk worth the reward
and how many close calls were there,
These are big questions and ones that you
can spend a lot of time thinking about but
at the end of the day, we’re SciShow.
Sitting around in wondering
isn’t really our thing.
So we decided to get to the bottom of it.
[ ♪INTRO ]
Hank: We realized we weren’t gonna get
to the bottom of this by looking at
peer-reviewed journals.
It’s pretty subjective stuff.
So we decided to talk to experts.
And to talk to experts, we have Alexis who
has gone all over America to talk to those people.
I went to London to talk to one person.
What do you have for us?
Alexis: Yeah, honestly, I think a really
good place to start with this is just to
know about the politics.
If you want to understand why the Apollo
program happened, it’s important to
understand that the political
climate of the 1950s and 60s.
During this time the United States and
the Soviet Union were in the middle of the
Cold War which was essentially the
showdown between two ideologies.
You had the Soviet Union and communism on
one hand and the US and capitalism on the
other hand.
And during this conflict, space became a
battleground for these two superpowers to
prove which ideology was best.
Initially, the Soviet Union
was actually winning this race.
They launched the first satellite.
They sent the first human into space.
And in the US, people were concerned that
these achievements would cause the public
to believe that communism was the better
option which the US was just not okay with.
So that’s when the moon became the goal.
Ultimately the United States wanted to be
the first to send someone to the Moon to
prove how great capitalism was.
And the Soviet Union wanted to do it to
prove the same thing about communism.
So even if most people today remember
Apollo as a primarily scientific program, it wasn’t.
In the beginning, it was mainly
about proving a political point.
Margaret Weitekamp: The Apollo program
came with a lot of risk, political risk.
This was a big gamble on a large
technology program that was funded and
started because they wanted to
be able to show it to the world.
Brady Haran: The other thing a lot of
people would say is we only did it because
of politics and the Cold War and a stick
it up the Russians and cuz there was this
competition going on.
And you know what?
That’s true.
Hank: Yeah.
Brady Haran: That’s completely true.
But like I see absolutely
nothing wrong with that.
Like, that is just the
circumstances that it took.
The technology had to be in the right
place and the political climate, the
economic climate all had to align in this
very unique way and that’s what happened
and I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Yes, Apollo was only made possible because
of this unique set of circumstances in
this competitive political climate that
was created, but you know, I don’t think
that’s a negative.
I just think we should kind of be a little
bit grateful that it happened because if
that if that circumstance hadn’t happened,
we probably –you’re right — we probably
wouldn’t have gone to the Moon.
There probably wouldn’t have been the
will to spend that much money and do that.
Noah Petro: Apollo scientifically started
where science had to fit into the corners
as much as they could.
The initial plan for Apollo 11 included
one astronaut getting out, collecting
samples, and getting
back in and coming back.
And several scientists including Jack
Schmitt who at the time was an astronaut
and training the other astronauts on what
they would do when they got to the moon
was able to convince NASA management that,
No, no, no, we really need to make the
most of this one mission.
If Apollo 11 is the only time we go to the
Moon, we need to deploy experiments on the Moon.
Alexis: It’s really interesting to think
about because like people pointed out,
it’s this thing that took all of
this time and all of these resources.
And it brings up the question of like if
there had been no conflict to motivate
that when we have bothered?
Margaret Weitekamp: If you look at the
public opinion polls from the time,
especially when you asked a question
phrased as, “Do you think it’s worth the
money that’s being spent?”
Almost never did you get a majority saying
that they were fully in support of the
Apollo program.
When the missions were actually
successful, people recognized in the
moment that they were seeing history in
the making and they wanted to celebrate
that and be some part of that so that I
think there’s a fundamental disconnect
between what you see in public opinion
polling in terms of our willingness to
revert national resources to this program
from a general American interest in the
idea that we as Americans are explorers
and that space is a part of what we do now.
Alexis: So growing up something I heard a
lot about Apollo is because it was crammed
into this really short time period, you
had the situation where engineers were
working like eight days a week and
25 hours a day to get this done.
What was it actually like
working on the program?
Bob Sieck: Well, it was, it was high
activity, high intensity work and the work
weeks, work days were long.
And in retrospect I would for those of us
that did the operations down here where
the spacecraft were assembled, the rockets
were assembled, and we processed and
launched, and it was about as…
A marathon at lasted about seven years.
That was pretty much it.
Hank: So far, it’s feeling like the
experts aren’t really alleviating my concerns here.
We have this sort of politically motivated
program that you kind of have to eeck some
science out of.
It’s tremendously costly and it’s a huge
amount of effort necessary to make it happen.
We had people in space but the period of
time it took for us to go from one person
in space to this giant leap into
deep space– it was so fast.
Alexis: You hear people say of just like
we worked on Apollo around the clock for
seven years or how many
years or whatever…
You think that was like the best idea, of
just like trying to cram that in in such a
short time frame like–
Destin Sandlin: Deadlines are good.
Alexis: Okay.
Destin Sandlin: Yeah, deadlines are good.
Like, this video you’re making, right?
Alexis: Yeah.
Destin Sandlin: You got
a deadline, don’t you?
Alexis: Right.
Destin Sandlin: Okay, and so it’s good to
have like we call it popping a chalk line.
It’s good to have a moment in
time, like that’s the line.
We got to do this by then.
Alexis: Yeah.
Destin Sandlin: I think it’s a good
thing to have things like that.
Yeah, ultimately.
You need if you’re going to have a massive
engineering program, you have to have a
schedule because schedule helps
you mitigate different things.
Like for example, as an engineer.
I can keep working on something
forever until it’s absolutely perfect.
But at some point in time, you have to
get it good enough and unless you have a
schedule to motivate you to
shed all of your uncertainties.
You’re never going to
think it’s good enough.
Hank: We also don’t know very much
about space at this point in the ’60s.
How often are there solar flares that
could be completely devastating to a
crewed mission?
We don’t know any of this stuff.
It’s all guesses.
There was so much we didn’t know.
Alexis: And even as I was talking to
people on my trip, they kept bringing up
things that I had no idea about.
Hank: Of course
Alexis: Right, so I talked to you to
environmental engineers at Kennedy Space
Center and they brought up the fact that
during the Apollo program because of all
of these things we didn’t know, the
environment around Kennedy got kind of wrecked.
Jacqueline Quinn: You did a little history
the US Environmental Protection Agency was
established December 2nd of 1970.
So there was a year and a half between
when we’re putting men on the moon and
leaving footprints behind and when the
regulatory agency started up within the
United States, so there’s a lot of — from
an environmental perspective, there’s a
timeline that needs to be understood so
that you can understand that, you know,
all industries followed regulations, but
regulations didn’t happen at that point,
you know, in 1940, 1950 or 1960.
They didn’t even begin or come into
fruition until 1970 until we’d already put
men on the moon.
So a lot of our regulations that we do now
as protectors and stewards of what you see
behind us is different than
what we did back in that era.
Rosaly Santos: Any industry that use,
store, or dispose chemicals in the 50s,
60s, and 70s had some environmental
impact that was unforeseen.
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
was enacted in the 1970s which provided
some guidance of how to manage the waste
from whenever you start using it until you
dispose of it.
And then the Hazardous Waste
amendments was enacted in the 1980s.
That provided initiated corrective action
for any impact that may have happened in the past.
So from then on all the industries were
in tune with environmental regulations and
they complied with all those new
requirements that needed to get done.
Hank: Basically what I’m getting from this
is that you can’t be expected to follow a
regulation that doesn’t exist.
Alexis: Right exactly.
That was kind of the point
they were trying to make.
Like technically we could have sat around
for like 10 or 20 years to figure all of
this stuff out, but it’s like we didn’t
know what we didn’t know and we weren’t
from a political standpoint — the Soviet
Union probably would have landed on the Moon.
Hank: Yeah, but that doesn’t
explain everything here.
Like this was a very rushed engineering
project, people died, Apollo 1 happened.
Apollo 1 was going to be the first
crewed mission of the Apollo program.
Crewed by Gus Grissom, Ed
White, and Roger Chaffee.
On January 27, 1967, during a crewed
launch rehearsal, the cabin was
pressurized with pure oxygen,
higher than atmospheric pressure.
After an electrical short nylon in the
capsule caught fire and the environment.
Because the internal pressure of the
capsule was higher than the external
pressure of the atmosphere, it was
impossible to quickly remove the door and
all three astronauts were killed.
After the accident, all flights
were stopped for 20 months.
Alexis: But it’s actually possible that
Apollo one is the reason the rest of the
program didn’t go
terribly, terribly wrong.
Bob Sieck: And there were a number of
those close calls and then and then right
before our first manned mission
on Apollo, the tragedy occured.
And everything comes to a stop and you
go look at everything you’re doing.
The first to figure out what happened and
and fix that before you get on with the goal.
And from a big picture standpoint, and
this is not rationalizing to me, the whole
purpose of Apollo 1 was to be the first
step in getting humans to the Moon.
Because of what happened with Apollo 1,
we looked at all of our preparation up to
that point in time and what everyone said
is well, these are the things we got to fix.
This is what we really
learned from Apollo 1.
Margaret Weitekamp: Without the changes
that came after Apollo 1, we would not
have gotten to the Moon.
We were on a path that ultimately would
not have worked and that dramatic change
cost three lives and people were forever
after very aware of the high personal cost
because those were people they knew.
Those were people they were friends
with, they knew their families.
They knew their children.
So the change that in trajectory there in
some ways they did Apollo better starting from 1967.
Noah Petro: At the time, it was really
important to understand what had happened
in the Apollo 1 fire make sure that
something like that never happen again,
but also that we, you know created
a culture of safety acceptance.
But at the same time with
some risk tolerance too.
You know, if we were terrified of any
problem happening, we would never have
gone back into space, but we do because
that’s our job and there’s things to be
learned there.
So you take a risk, you weigh what might
happen and the mitigations to those things
and move forward.
Alexis: When I went into all of these
interviews, I was like, oh yeah, there is
no way we could have done this safely in
the length of time that we took to do it.
But people kept telling me is like, yes,
the Apollo program was risky, but like so is space.
The Apollo engineer’s built all of these
safeguards to try and mitigate as much
risk as possible.
Bob Sieck: Even though yes, it was fun,
but it was serious business and people
would often stay over overlapping the next
shift coming on board because they wanted
to see how well the stuff that they
thought they fixed on their shift if it
really worked right.
And but there was that kind of dedication
and passion for the for the effort and we
never lost sight of the fact and, this
was drilled into us as soon as we came on
board, that the crew returning safely from
whichever mission your assigned to is the
most important thing about your work.
Noah Petro: I think the reason that Apollo
is so successful is that in their training
regimen they went through in excruciating
detail all of these potential problems
that could crop up and
how they would solve them.
And we learned that Apollo 13; that when
one of the most catastrophic things that
could happen in space: you lose oxygen
tanks and you lose your power source, oh,
well, we know how to fix that.
Hank: Apollo 13 nearly ended in disaster
56 hours after takeoff when an electrical
short in the cryogenic oxygen tanks
resulted in the following call from Apollo
13 to Mission Control.
Jim Lovell: “Uh, Houston,
we’ve had a problem.
We’ve had a main B bus undervolt.”
Mission Control: “Roger, main B undervolt.
Okay stand by 13, we’re looking at it.”
Fred Haise: “Okay.
Right now, Houston, the
voltage is — is looking good.
And we had a pretty large bang associated
with the caution and warning there.”
Hank: The pretty large bang in question
eventually resulted in a loss of all the
oxygen in the Command Module.
That meant no oxygen to breathe, no water
to drink, and no power for the fuel cells.
After some significant engineering
challenges were overcome, the astronauts
rode out the majority of the
mission in the lunar lander.
And though they were not able to land on
the moon, everyone did at least return
home safely.
Noah Petro: Apollo 11, they left the lunar
module operating after they left the Moon.
It was in lunar orbit.
They left it operating to basically
see how long past its design life.
It could go and that informed
what they did on Apollo 13.
So, you know, there was this entire
culture of maximizing what you had to
learn what you could do in the event of
both success and in the case of something
going wrong.
If you listen to the the tapes of launch
of Apollo 11 or any of the missions
they’re always reporting out, “okay, you
know, we’re in mode 1 Bravo were in what
abort sequence..”
You know, it wasn’t up the moment the
rocket launch, we’re on our way to the Moon.
The moment the rocket launched is okay if
something happens wrong now, How do we get out of it?
And that happens throughout the whole
breadth of Apollo even by Apollo 17, the
time they’re getting ready to lift off,
they had checklists and sequences they
could do if the rocket
didn’t ignite the first time.
The idea that something wouldn’t work
as planned was so deeply embedded in
everything that was done in Apollo, that I
don’t know that there was time to stop and
think, “well actually,
what would happen if..”
“Well, if the rocket doesn’t launch, we’ll do
this and then we’ll do this and we’ll do…
“They all had, there was solutions
to every potential problem.
Hank: So the thing that maybe we’ve all
heard that the Apollo Astronauts were just
a bunch of cowboys in space
might not be quite accurate.
Alexis: Yeah.
I feel like that problem comes up when
you really only focus on the astronauts.
There was a group of guys who were really
risk tolerant and really well acquainted with risk.
But when you look at the engineers and the
people who built this program, that wasn’t
really the case.
The thing is, though, the people I talked
to weren’t arguing that there was no risk.
Hank: Right
Alexis: They pointed out that
space is just really risky.
So when I ask them like if we could
have done Apollo better or safer.
They had some really interesting answers.
Noah Petro: There were risks involved and
you know, all of the astronauts all the
people part of it realize that exploration
has inherent risks and you’re going
whether you’re trying to climb the highest
mountain or swim across an ocean or do whatever.
You’re taking risks and you always want to
minimize the hazards that are involved but
there is hazards involved.
I think exploration has
inherent risks in it.
Margaret Weitekamp: Anytime you’re doing
human spaceflight, there’s a lot of risk
because you’re putting a life at stake.
And the human in the technological
equation is the only part that you really
can’t re-engineer or perfect.
Humans like a very narrow temperature
spectrum, we get too cold very easily, we
get too hot very easily.
We human beings don’t like to be shaken
very hard or it gets very hard for them to function.
They need to eat.
As they breathe, they foul their own are
so you need to keep replenishing that.
So the human factor is a tremendous risk,
if you will, in putting this together,
this is also happening in a moment when
there weren’t really computer smaller than a room.
There weren’t really ways of taking
photographs without physical film which
meant you had to carry it
there and carry it back.
The kind of uncrewed robotic exploration
that starts in the 1970s, going to other
planets, putting landers on other
planets, wasn’t possible in the mid-1960s.
Destin Sandlin: These
astronauts, they know the risk.
Alexis: Yeah.
Destin Sandlin: I mean they know there’s
a chance of death and they sign up for it.
Some people have always been willing to
accept a higher level of risk to make a
better life for others that
aren’t willing to do that.
Hank: Throughout the
course of this episode.
We’ve said a lot about risk, but it’s
worth remembering that there’s still so
many stories.
We could not dive into like the story
of the Apollo guidance computer.
For context computers before Apollo were
mostly made with tiny switches called
transistors connected by a bunch of wires,
but that could get bulky and computers
often filled large rooms.
So that had to change if we
were going to fly to the moon.
Listen to what these engineers had to say.
John Miller, Draper Engineer: The
guidance computer was really an advance.
And the only way to get the weight and
the size down was to go to integrated circuits.
That’s something that
hadn’t been done before.
George Schmidt, Draper Flight Simulation
Team: I’ve heard that at one time we were
testing one-third of all integrated
circuits that were being manufactured in
the United States.
Hank: Integrated circuits combined
transistors and wires on a small piece of
silicon, making them more
durable and much lighter.
While it took a lot of testing to
get them ready, it all worked out.
These interviews came from Engineers who
worked at the MIT instrumentation lab and
now called Draper during
the Apollo program.
Draper played a major role in the program
and was among other things responsible for
developing the navigation and guidance
system including the first digital flight
computer that navigated the
astronauts to the moon and back.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of
the Apollo 11 Landing, they’ve created a
website called Hack the Moon which
explores the technology behind the
missions and features imagery and
interviews of many of the people who made it possible.
In the rest of this video we’re going to
talk more about whether or not the risks
we took with Apollo we’re worth it.
But if you want to learn more about the
people behind the missions when we’re
done, you can head over to hack the
moon’s website at we hackthemoon.com.
Now, more about those risks.
So you take all these
risks you do the thing.
What do we get from it?
Alexis: A lot.
Which, thank goodness.
That’s my non-risk tolerance speaking.
Thank goodness it was worth it.
Hank: Yeah.
Alexis: Yeah, you get a lot from it.
We’ve talked about this a lot on various
SciShow Space episodes, but we learned
more about what space is like, what the
human body does in space, we learned about the moon.
Noah Petro: Subsequent Apollo missions
had something called the ALSEP the Apollo
Lunar Surface Experiments Package.
That wasn’t going to be ready for Apollo
11, but Jack Schmitt was able to convince
NASA basically that, “No, let’s just
deploy a very simple experiment that only
one astronaut needs to deploy.
Take about 20 minutes, set it up and make
very basic measurements at the time that
the the idea was the only measurements
that we would want to make our the
fundamentals of what the lunar seismicity
like and deploy a retroreflector, a mirror
on the surface that we could laze to from
the earth, that we still used to this day,
50 years later now.
First samples that came
back from Apollo 11.
And it’s actually important to remember
that Apollo 11 launched on July 16th.
Those samples were in a lab in Houston
less than two weeks later, you know,
that’s fast sample return.
And so within two weeks of launch, they
had those samples and their preliminary
examination went on and very soon
realize that the moon is very old.
Those basalts that they landed on were,
you know, well over three and a half
billion years old.
Also, very dry.
There’s no water in them.
That was the surprise and that they were
volcanic and had a lot of titanium and an
elements and minerals
that we see here on Earth.
They also found minerals that had not
yet been identified on the earth as well.
And so it was this this real discovery of
what the moon is made of and how old it is.
That was the great unanswered question.
I think much of what we do today is
informed from Apollo samples, and we’re
still learning things
from the Apollo samples.
They were analyzed initially 50 years ago
and are still being analyzed today and
we’re still learning new things from
those samples, you know, we didn’t learn
everything from them 50 years ago when
we put them in the safe and walk away.
With new instruments and new techniques
we learn new things and that informs our
understanding of the Moon and by
association the rest of the solar system.
Margaret Weitekamp: There is a very
legitimate argument to be made that all of
the money that was spent on the Apollo
program was spent on the ground.
It created engineering jobs.
It created whole communities
in Florida, in Alabama.
And in fact the federal government as a
funder of this big science project was
able then to push communities in say the
deep south to say you can’t be segregated
and take Federal funding.
You need to find housing for the African
American engineers that we want you to be hiring.
And so you need to be thinking
differently about say race relations.
And so in that way the space program is
part of that larger push in the 1960s
where Federal money is being used not only
to fund a technology program, but also to
push some social issues.
Hank: We did this gigantic thing not to
like, you know, get stronger and kill
people but to like do a big amazing thing.
And it’s big, right, like we’ve been
looking at the moon since humans existed
and then we walked on it.
Alexis: That’s weird.
Hank: Yeah.
Alexis: That’s so good.
A couple people also said some just
like really beautiful poetic things.
Hank: Yeah.
Margaret Weitekamp: So we just had Jim
Lovell here at the museum in December for
the anniversary of Apollo 8, which was
that famous mission at Christmas time of
1968 where they circled the moon.
They went all the way around.
In fact, because they were not on a
trajectory that was intended to be a
practice for a landing, they went farther
than any human beings have ever been away
from the earth and Lovell talked very
persuasively about the earthrise image–
that color picture that they took as they
came back around the moon and looked back
and saw the Earth hanging in shadow,
but hanging in space in front of them.
And said really, you know, we went to the
moon but what we discovered was the Earth,
was looking back at ourselves.
And it was not a picture that had never
been taken before; there had been robotic
missions that had taken a
picture very much like that.
So it was not completely unexpected.
But the power of knowing that that image
had been taken by a person, by someone
like you or me who was behind a camera
pushing the shutter and seeing that with
his own eyes really was electric.
That image ended up on the cover of
newspapers across the world and really it
begins a kind of much more complex
cultural process of us thinking of
ourselves as a planet, or starting to
imagine and understand who we are all on
this little globe together.
Brady Haran: What’s the
point of living longer?
And what’s the point of having a slightly
more comfortable life and just having more
heart beats and more days here on Earth,
if you don’t do things like go to the
Moon, if you don’t create art, if you
don’t do amazing things, I don’t see why
we would want to spend all this money
living longer if you don’t do great things.
I don’t think the point of our existence
is just to try and prolong our existence.
I think the point of our
existence is to do great things.
And to do amazing things and I think
Apollo is one of the real amazing things
that humans did.
Hank: So count of three was it worth it?
1 2 3.
Hank & Alexis: Yes.
Hank: So a question I asked Brady was if
this was all worth it then can we do it again?
Brady Haran: I do find it hard to imagine
us doing something as high risk as that
now in this kind of era of like health
and safety, but I don’t think it’s just
because we live in an
era of health and safety.
I think it’s because we haven’t got that
same hyper-competitiveness that forces
people to take bold risks that, you know,
some of these really amazing things that
happen: getting to the South Pole, getting
to the top of Mount Everest, getting to
the Moon come about because humans
are scared of being beaten to it.
They want it they want to be first and
they and they’re willing to take risks for that prize.
And those top prizes those those prizes
that are most sought after, are risky to get to.
Because if they weren’t someone
would have already done it.
So I do feel a bit like, you
know, at those frontiers,
if there’s enough competition, people
are willing to be a little bit risky.
I don’t know what will happen with Mars.
If it’s companies that end up getting
their first, if it’s the Elon Musks and
it’s not NASA that gets there first and
two or three companies are vying for it.
Are they going to take a risk?
I don’t know, you know, are
they going to risk their brand?
America kinda risked its brand, didn’t it?
If they killed a bunch
of astronauts, you know?
Are companies as willing to take a risk
with their brand as a nation that maybe
can absorb failure more easily?
I don’t know.
I don’t know.
It was risky.
We don’t take those risks now.
Will we take those risks, will
we take those risks again?
I don’t know.
Alexis: When I talk to other people about
it, they actually had a slightly different answer.
Noah Petro: You know,
Apollo is nothing else.
I mean, it was a great accomplishment.
It was an incredible achievement, but also
showed, you know, what you can do when you
have a goal.
Apollo: land on the moon,
back to Earth in a decade.
With a goal of landing humans anywhere in
the solar system with a destination and
the right data, that can be accomplished.
You know, we know more about almost all
of the planets in the solar system than we
knew certainly 50 years ago.
But any object you want to go to today
whether it’s moon, Mars, an asteroid, we
have ample data to accommodate human
exploration of any of those destinations.
And so it’s just a matter of having the
prerogative in the the interest in going.
Destin Sandlin: I think what’s necessary
in order to do something huge like this is
technical capability.
You know, economic ability, you know,
money and then a a political will to do it.
And so I think we had a unique mixture of
all three of those things back in the 60s
and we were able to do it.
Sputnik just freaked people out.
And so at that point it was
like, yeah we can do this.
So now you get into this risk
versus reward discussion, right?
And I think we’re finally getting to the
place now where people realize that space
is awesome and we should do
things because we should explore.
But it’s a lot harder because
there’s no, there’s no timeline.
Bob Sieck: Today, not only industry but
people in general will dwell too much on
the, well, yeah, but what
if we don’t succeed in this.
We can’t accept you know stuff not working
or having a tragedy or an accident.
We don’t want to, you know, we don’t
want to have to deal with that.
So as a result, let’s not do it.
Alexis: Mmm.
Bob Sieck: Take the easy way out.
Financial standpoint: why should we invest
a lot of money in this and the project may
have to come to, you know, have to be cut
off because we didn’t make the progress we
wanted in the amount of time.
We don’t want to take that risk.
So since we don’t want to
take the risk, don’t even try.
Alexis: Yeah.
Bob Sieck: And I think
that’s bad for our society.
There’s a difference between analyzing and
accepting a risk as opposed to gambling.
I’m not a gambler.
I would never propose we gamble on making
the decision to spend this much money for
this program or whatever
but look at the risk.
Look at the benefit, assess it and you
know, if the goal is worth the risk, don’t
worry about it.
Just go do it.
Hank: From the beginning I wasn’t coming
at this question as like was it worth it
to go to the moon.
It’s was it the right way to do it.
Was it too risky?
If things had gone wrong, how much would
that have set us back and after these
conversations that, mostly you had, I’m
starting to feel like this might have been
the only time we could have done it.
Alexis: Yeah, like if you fast
forward even 10, 20, 30 years…
Did that perfect storm
of conditions exist?
Kind of not.
And Interesting to think about too is when
I talk to people they had said, you know,
you need that timeline and that motivation
but at least in the US, if we were going
to do something like Apollo again through
NASA, that’s under the control of the
executive branch.
So it’s like, if a president comes in,
wants one thing and the next person in
office wants something else…
Hank: Doesn’t want to be just sort of
enacting the previous president’s vision.
Alexis: Right.
Hank: Which makes you think like, John F.
Kennedy having that mission unfulfilled
not just because he was voted out of
office but because he was assassinated,
like we have to sort of like come together
to try and have that vision be completed.
Alexis: Yeah.
Hank: So Apollo was a good idea.
It was just a hard one.
Which doesn’t mean it’s bad.
Alexis: Yes.
In talking about Apollo, it really makes
you think about kind of space exploration
in general.
Like, if it’s risky and
it’s hard, why do we do it?
And there are a lot of reasons for it.
Hank: Yeah, and one of those
reasons, is because it’s hard.
Alexis: Yeah, we like to explore things.
Hank: Yeah, we like to test our limits.
So, there you have it.
The Apollo program was one of the most
difficult scientific projects of the 20th
century, possibly one of the most
difficult scientific projects ever, but
just because something is hard
doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.
When you remember the full story of
Apollo, you start to realize that history
is more complicated than you might think
and that this achievement would not have
been possible without the hundreds
or thousands of people supporting it.
Thanks to the engineers who work to put
these missions together, we were able to
go to a place that we had
been staring at for Millenia.
Not just because we got lucky but because
we had a goal and because people worked
really hard to achieve it.
And honestly, that’s pretty encouraging
because like some of our experts said, it
means that maybe with the right teams and
enough perseverance, we could do something
like this again.
We couldn’t have made this episode of
scishow without our experts, so thank you
to everyone who took the time to talk to
us and share your wisdom about the Apollo program.
And thank you to Alexis for traveling
around and talking to all those very cool people.
We also of course could not have tried
a big new thing without support from our
viewers and from our patrons on Patreon.
So thank you so much for watching, your
support allows us to take risks, like
making a new kind of episode.
It was really fun.
And we hope you enjoyed it.
If you did we have some cool news for you
to celebrate Apollo 11 and our new project
here, we made mission patches just like
the kind that actual astronauts wear.
They’re very good and you can put them on
backpacks or jean jackets or space suits
to show your support
for Sideshow and Apollo.
They’ll only be available through the end
of July, though, so if you want one, you
can click the link in the description.
I, for one, am gonna go put
it on the backpack right now.
[ ♪MUSIC ]

100 thoughts on “Was the Apollo Program a Bad Idea? | A SciShow Documentary”

  1. Here's something else that the Apollo moon landings deniers can get their panties in a knot about.
    Trump meets with Apollo 11 astronauts
    Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins 50 years after moon landing.
    President Trump welcomes the two surviving Apollo Astronauts at the
    White House on PBS Newshour. (Public Broadcasting Service) This was broadcasted worldwide
    last Saturday. As an educated guess, most of these silly people voted for this obnoxious fellow.

  2. So are you contending that the Democrats, John F. Kennedy & Lyndon Johnson, wasted money and lives in a political stunt to make themselves relevant after Eisenhower left office? The Bay of Pigs, expansion of the Vietnam War, loss of Elliot See and Charles Bassett Gemini 9 crew, Apollo 1 crew Grissom, White & Chaffee. That’s your contention, don’t back track.
    FYI, Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency.

  3. “Let's ask a bunch of hardcore space enthusiasts whether going to the moon was a bad idea – and for the opposing view, let's ask the strawmen created by these same hardcore space enthusiasts .”

    Yes, I personally agree that the Apollo program was a tremendous net positive, but it's intellectually dishonest to ask such a question without honestly seeking out the best reasonable cases against it. If anything, having a complete discussion can only help us do better in the future.

    BTW, I also agree that the throbbing background music throughout was tremendously irritating. This may help explain why: https://current.org/2014/07/why-youre-doing-audio-levels-wrong-and-why-it-really-does-matter/

  4. I was 15 when I watched the moon landing live on TV. Things were bad; we were always afraid of atomic warfare and the Vietnam war was ripping the country apart. It gave us a focus of hope and progress. During the Vietnam war they did something they never do anymore; showed the death count on the tv news every night and also showed flag-draped coffins arriving day after day. It took a huge occurrence to get our minds off all that. And compared the the number of women and children who died on the trail to the west, the death toll was about right for a great endeavor. So yeah, as someone who lived through all this it was what we needed to get us through a time that made us doubt our futures.

  5. I'm loving this long form content. For Kennedy speech the most important part is, "whether it [space science] will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war."

  6. B4 i start > watch the NASA best of the best & then tell me is NASA a good idea 😳? https://youtu.be/vFwqZ4qAUkE 🚀👩‍🚀🤘
    If this cool video 🎬👍 dont get U excited nothing will
    🐨🗯true dinks Oz Straya received the 1st video transfer from the moon the data was very low so they boosted it 100x's to see it
    that's another 1969 youtube clip abc australia > watch 👍🐨💃

  7. before apollo, electronic technology hadn't changed much since wwii. by 1970, we had hand-held battery powered transistor radios that were inexpensive to buy. 5 years later we had video games and microwave ovens, a few years later we had vcr's and electronic calculators and early home computers. none of that would have happened without the space race.

  8. In a totalitarian society every goal is by design useless & pointless. Goals in totalitarian society serve to enslave and control the people, not to achieve anything or benefit their lives.

  9. I think that going back to the moon, what are we going there for? the risk is anything we do there except for making a base for future space exploration especially if it involves the private sector (ie mining) could have a devastating effect on Earth. we need a world treaty to say we will only make low impact development for space exploration on the moon as it has such a possible devastating effect on the ocean

  10. The points at the end of our health and safety-focused society & our unwillingness to take risks are so good. Of course, it is good that we have such a focus on people's health and minimising risks, but it's really starting to limit what we're willing to do and how far we're willing to go. Some risks are unavoidable, but these days there's a lot of stigma with taking them. Like, if the Apollo 1 accident happened today, I think there would be so much backlash from the media and people that any Apollo-related mission would be cancelled. People would turn it into a moral dilemma, and the worry that such an accident could occur again would basically put an indefinite stop on everything. I wish we were still willing to accept that risks are just a part of trying to achieve these great things.

  11. The Atlantic was crossed under a similar set of circumstances. Everest was climbed. Humanity does things that are risky but rewarding, and that happens on all scales in most people's lives. We have to do these things, it's the nature of the beast. Nobody died that didn't know the risks, of course it was a good idea. A tiger takes a risk every time it's hungry, trying to stop one hunting is a bigger risk however.

  12. “Rocket Men” latest book on Apollo 8 would be helpful research for this episode.
    If you think risking lives and mission failure from fear of being beaten by the Russian yet again was a bad idea, then yeah, Apollo program had a lot of bad decisions. Then again, the fact that we stopped going is proof that had we not taken the risks for the ‘wrong’ reasons, we would never have gone

  13. Government funded research, government funded, planned, designed, implemented and orchestrated technological and engineering breakthroughs for real time functional mission programs – yeah – WAY TO PROVE CAPITALISM 👍👍 😂😂

  14. freedom of thought. government was not ok with what people think? if they think this or that ideology is better?

  15. The crazy thing is had JFK not been killed, Apollo may never have happened. Since right before he died he had been planning to cancel the whole mission. Then of course after his death it sort of became something to fulfill in his name, that and before he died the mission was sort of Johnson's 'thing'. So when he became President he naturally wanted to continue with it.

  16. Dang it. Now I have a firm belief that every undertaking I'm ever involved in will never be as epic as Apollo because we're not competing against Soviets and presidents aren't getting assassinated.

  17. One of the items on my bucket-list; live long enough to see a permanent human presence on the surface of the Moon (similar to the ISS, but ON DA MOON)!

  18. About taking risks to do great amazing things, here's how it works:

    "Brave knights. You are the best and brightest in all the land. […] Some of you may die, but it's a sacrifice I am willing to make."
    – Lord Farquaad, "Shrek"

  19. Summary: it wouldn't have been possible without a bunch of psychopaths trying to show who has bigger balls to each other while committing lots of other people's resources and risking other people's lives. Coming to you from the same amazing people who build nukes to impress each other.

  20. We haven't figured out how to supply clean water for large parts humanity, but we have a rock from the moon. Yay for science, politics, and it's AMAZING risk takers. And the people who celebrate it to this day.

  21. Oh come on now… we didn't go to the moon to "explore" the Americans did it to one-up the Russians, end of story! The same goes for Columbus. He didn't sail the high-seas to "explore", he was government-backed he did it for economic and geopolitical reasons!

  22. Was the Apollo program a bad idea? That's ridiculous. The Vietnam War was a bad idea. The Battle of Blair Mountain was a bad thing for corporate America to do. The Apollo program maybe wasn't the best way to do space exploration, but compared to some of the gigantic mistakes of the 20th century, it was the best idea.

  23. One interesting detail I recently found out was that Kennedy tried to kill the Apollo project shortly before his death. He wanted to propose to the Russians a joint venture to the moon. I doubt the rest of the U.S. would have gone for that (especially since Russia was "ahead" at the time), but I do think it was a really cool idea.

    However, with Kennedy's assassination, the project took on a life of its own. This is why later attempts at the same thing (both Bushs have tried) have failed. It's not JUST the lack of competition; it's honoring a man by seeing his dream become a reality.

  24. The bad idea is what NASA is doing now rehashing its old achievements n thinking about doing the same think that it did 50 yrs ago 🤦‍♂️

  25. And now here we are
    Communism and capitalism is both trash 😂
    But I am not here to leave a big political statement, this is a channel for legit stuff

  26. I think you forgot your question like did Apollo leave problems for us going back to the moon or did it cause us to be less motivated to go back like vintage space said

  27. probably, could have waited longer. we haven't really cared to go back until recently.

    to be fair the russians had more close calls and disasters trying to keep up tho…

  28. If humans aren't prepared to die in the pursuit of furthering humanity then we dont deserve to survive, everthing in life requires sacrifice.

  29. I heard that Kennedy was about to close of the Apollo program, to become a joint Russia/US program, just before he was shot. It was just too expensive in his and a lot of other people's opinions.
    LBJ provided the ongoing political momentum. Check out the "Apollo's Legacy is Keeping Us Grounded" video for extra detail.

  30. If Apollo didn’t happen then we would’ve never gone to the moon. You know how I know? Because we haven’t gone back.

  31. (24:31) Is she having trouble breathing because she's so excited? (Listen right after she says the word "housing".) Why does my mind zero in on crap like this? 😛

  32. Was the Apollo program a bad idea? Hard to figure out what its ulterior purpose might have been. Was it just an extravagant pissing match with Russia spurred by Kennedy or some kind of a sham to distract the American people? Is it not true that trillions of dollars are constantly being taken from social problems today that would benefit all Americans and diverted, instead, into wasteful, endless wars for the benefit of war profiteers? One might ask where the taxpayer's money winds up? When the Pentagon was bombed, on 9/11, the section destroyed was where records of a missing two trillion dollars were being investigated.

    Kennedy viewed winning the space race as key to keeping the United States ahead of the Soviet Union technologically and militarily, as his next words make clear.

    "Yet the vows of this nation can only be fulfilled if we in this nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first," he said. "In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world's leading space-faring nation."

    ''“There was a debate about what America was at the time,” says Neil Maher, author of 2017’s Apollo in the Age of Aquarius, and a professor of history at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Maher says the Apollo space program divided Americans among supporters who thought it would energize a country that had gotten lost, and those who believed that it represented a huge waste of money that instead should go to solving societal problems.'' Was it a country to spend $20 billion to land two men on a dead rock in space or try to solve some of the problems closer to home on Earth?” Maher says. “A lot of grass roots movements argued to use the [NASA] money to solve problems here.”

    What was the Apollo program, a will-o'-the-wisp said to mislead travelers, a goal that leads one on but is impossible to reach?

  33. Was the Apollo Mission a bad idea compared to what? Spending the money on welfare? Then Apollo was better because we learned stuff, i.e., humanity profited scientifically and that knowledge will be built on forever. That knowledge is essential to our species existence. We will need to abandon earth. 
    But, is a govt. program the best way to learn? Down through the ages progress has been secularly inspired, govt. has been highly destructive and regressive. Would lives have been saved if bureaucrats whose goal was a propaganda advantage hadn't rushed the project? Risks were kept secret, cost was no object as is always the case when authoritarians are controlling other people's money (taxes) and lives. 
    What if the project HAD to show a profit and participation was voluntary? Would robots have been used to land and collect samples? At 5% of the cost with 10 times the efficiency? Probably, if you remove the politics and substitute the reasoning and discipline used by business.
    But govt. is not reason, it is force. That's why it can't compete with the voluntary private sector.

  34. "Just because something is hard doesn't mean we shouldn't do it". Or, not do it. The project must be weighed against the expense and reward.
    The Moon Race didn't do this. It was pure politics, not reason. It was politicians playing with other people's money and lives.

  35. Communications. Navigation, including the GPS. Modern computing. Non stick frying pans. EVERYTHING IN THE 2!st CENTURY! Without Apollo it would all be on someone's drawing board. Why ever we did it doesn't matter.

  36. It was a "space race", which means it had a "finish line". The US was able to make a big rocket that got off the launch pad fist. Yay conspicous consumption of capitalism. We bough really cool suits, drove a cool moon car, and took selfies. When we got home, we gave expensive rocks as gifts.

  37. At 3:32 it's kinda odd to see Communism compared to Capitalism. Communism is an ideology, while capitalism is an economic system. So a more correct comparison would be Soviet Centralized Economy V.S. U.S. Capitalism in case you're comparing different economical systems. Or Communism V.S. U.S. Democracy if you're comparing political ideologies.


  39. Communism vs Capitalism is a non-starter. Capitalism is not a government policy. I'm sure the rest of the video is interesting but if this is the angle you are presenting your subjective opinions from, I'm not interested in watching the rest because your paradigms are probably likewise flawed.

    My subjective take: Was it a mistake? No. Was it worth it? Yes. Do we need to go back? Yes, and set up a colony this time.

  40. okay but capitalism didnt send anyone to the moon as of yet. the government did not the free market or anything. the government isnt a capitalist enity

  41. 25:30 Apollo 8 did not go the farthest from Earth. That was Apollo 13, because it never went into lunar orbit, but just swung around and returned.

  42. The computer system alone was worth the whole program eh? Artemis program reusing old techs can never be as that impactful

  43. $298 billion in today's dollars for 840 lbs of common rock to win a contest. We humans are a funny bunch. We can't help it. It''s in our DNA. An automatic reflex without even planning or thinking. Mob mentality.

  44. Brought to you by NASA, very one-sided, no thumb. White elephants are beautiful and can stand for centuries but the benefit is not in the same class with electricity, planes, automobiles, paper, etc. there were few benefits, it was not developed with private funds, those who paid were not compensated.

  45. No it is NOT "completely true". The scientists and aeronautical engineers had valid reasons to want to go to the moon that had nothing to do with politics or grandstanding… but that aspect was the main reason why Politics were okay with the enormous budget. But even though politicians are the ones in control of the purse strings, they are not ALL there is behind any such project and their reasons are not the endall.

  46. Project Apollo is humanity's greatest acheivement to date with no close second.
    Getting to the moon required the shared resources of 150,000,000 people along with 8 years of day and night work from over 400,000 motivated people.
    Kennedy's challenge in 1961was so daunting, the modem equivalent would be putting a million people on Mars by 2027.
    It was such a mind-boggling accomplishment that a few percent of people today STILL don't think we actually did it.

  47. 'enormously expensive?' it cost less in toto than any single year of the VietNam (Cambodia, Laos) War – and unlike the latter, Apollo accomplished something useful and good. The cost was never a factor, only a cheap headline.

  48. It was a good idea. Yes, people died, and though tragic, they understood and accepted the risks. The ultimate payoff–technological advancements, scientific discovery, etc.–has been outstanding.

  49. Ok, gave me an idea for a world in my scifi background, A planet discovered "out there" that the race went through a "competition" like US/USSR. and USSR analog collapse's BEFORE… They breath a sigh of relief, and stop funding there space program, we find them as ruins of an extinct species….

  50. As liberal and socialist leaning this channel is I'm just surprised you aren't claiming the moon landing was a hoax.

  51. Has… has nobody mentioned CuriousMarc's channel and his recent involvement with a project to restore an Apollo AGC to working order??

  52. Your facts are wrong, your analysis is specious, and your weights and values bespeak the ignorance with which you arrived at your so-called conclusion.

  53. Her nodding reactions are totally random, and very distracting. She tries to mimic the emotion conveyed through the speaker's voice (and the valence/construction of the sentence), but does so by semi-randomly picking facial expressions that rarely match the context. Sometimes she seems too concerned, sometimes too happy, sometimes too sad and sometimes too self-assured. Kinda seems like behavior that could be characterized as stemming from the autism spectrum.

    She seems like a really smart and intelligent person, but probably needs to dial down the facial expressions, and try to better match them to what the person is actually saying instead of automatizing or "exaggerating" them.

    nice documentary though.

    PS: And oh, please dial down the music also. That is an amateur mistake.

  54. We take death defying risks every day for various aims and goals big or trivial just by driving our motor vehicles. Automobile manufacturers calculate user death risks whenever they ponder cutting corners in favor of corporate profits. For instance, in 2017, for the U.S. alone, motor vehicle deaths numbered 37,133 people. I wish our corporations, automotive, and others, were as mindful as NASA has been in mortality risk assessment. We all can learn a lot about risk taking and safety measures from the space industry.

  55. This is so full of nonsense. The lunar landing program was not begun in the 1960's it was born in the mid-1950's, by the Eisenhower admin. The paper that described the lunar mission procedure was written at NASA in 1956 with a planned lunar landing for 1975. I remember  in 1957 when I learned of the lunar landing how far away 1975 seemed. All Kennedy did was to move the target date from 1975 to 1969 and that is why you always hear Kennedy use the words "in this decade". The mission was already under development well before Kennedy took office. Read "The Right Stuff" by Tom Wolf for more insight into the reasons for the new date. The first Earth orbit was in 1959, Alan Shepard and then John Glen had orbited the Earth by 1960, Soviets did it before that.

  56. I have to point out something. The comparison was made, in your film, between Communism and Capitalism. However, it was between Communism and Democracy. Ideologies, not economies.

  57. From the Vietnamese school test.

    In 1960 USA was at war with USSR and put a USA man on the Moon, in 2020 USA is at war with Russia and China and will put USA African-American women on Mars, in 2070 USA will be at war with the rest of the world and will put a Native-American no gender on Jupiter's moon Europa. In what year will USA put something on nearest star system – Alpha Centauri?

  58. Brady Haran is on Sci Show! He doesn't look nearly as much like a cave man as I was expecting from Hello Internet.

  59. I was surprised that there was not a discussion of "spinoffs" and ROI (Return On Investment), as both the Apollo program in its entirety, and current projects today, all have insanely high spinoff and ROI rates.

    Quotes from nss.org (https://space.nss.org/settlement/nasa/spaceresvol4/newspace3.html):

    "Spinoffs from NASA's development of space technology not only provide products and services to the society but also are a significant boon to the American economy. […] Estimates of the return on investment in the space program range from $7 for every $1 spent on the Apollo Program to $40 for every $1 spent on space development today."

    "In words President George Bush quoted from a news magazine, the Apollo Program was "the best return on investment since Leonardo da Vinci bought himself a sketchpad" (Chandler 1989)."

    For more information worth noting, follow the link below:

    The ROI Of Space Exploration (https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0812/the-roi-of-space-exploration.aspx)"

  60. Experts = YouTube science channel celebrities. They do communicate to us dumber masses way more effectively than the egotistical talking heads in the panels though.

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