038: The Giant Leap for Mankind

Uncommon Sense: the This is True Podcast show

Summary: In This Episode: I’m recording this episode the evening of July 20th: the 50th anniversary of the first humans landing on the moon. If you think it maybe took Uncommon Sense to get there, you’re right: it took an extraordinary amount, and this episode talks about some of the details that you may not have heard about before.<br> <br> <a class="twitter-share-button" href="https://twitter.com/share?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">Tweet</a><br> <a href="#transcript">Jump to Transcript</a><br> <a href="https://thisistrue.com/category/podcasts/">How to Subscribe and List of All Episodes</a><br> Show Notes<br> <br> * NASA budget information (historical through 2017) is <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_of_NASA" rel="nofollow">here</a>. The military budget info is from <a href="https://www.nationalpriorities.org/budget-basics/federal-budget-101/spending/" rel="nofollow">here</a> and <a href="https://www.nationalpriorities.org/campaigns/us-military-spending-vs-world/" rel="nofollow">here</a>.<br> * The several photos noted are interspersed in the transcript.<br> * Errata Note: I said at the time of Kennedy’s go-to-the-moon challenge, humanity had less than 2 hours of experience in space. It’s actually barely over 2 hours. (The most important number in this context remains the same: the U.S. was publicly making this challenge to itself after it had a single manned space flight that lasted a mere 15 minutes!<br> <br> <a name="transcript"></a><br> Transcript<br> Welcome to Uncommon Sense. I’m Randy Cassingham.<br> When President John F. Kennedy announced the goal, “before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth,” there certainly wasn’t a universal feeling of that being a great goal, even from Americans. The war in Vietnam was raging, and so were civil rights protests. And NASA wasn’t even sure it could be done.<br> When Kennedy gave that proposal as a speech to Congress on May 25, 1961, humankind — and I mean the Russians and Americans combined — had a total experience of less than two hours of human flight in space: 108 minutes by the USSR’s Yuri Gagarin, and a mere 15 minutes by American Alan Shepard, who had flown just 20 days prior to that speech. Russia was certainly not going to give us any lessons learned from their efforts: the whole thing was known as a “space race” — and landing humans on the moon was the biggest possible goal available at the time …and Russia was in the lead.<br> Flying to the moon and back wasn’t an order of magnitude more complex than Freedom 7’s suborbital flight: it was multiple orders of magnitude more complex, especially with JFK’s added difficulty factor: we have to return those guys to Earth “safely”!<br> So how did we do it? First, NASA was given enough money to do it. You often hear about the huge cost of the Apollo program, but NASA’s budget peaked out at just 4.4 percent of the federal budget, in 1966. By comparison, today NASA’s budget is less than one-half of one percent of the federal budget. By the way, in 2015 — the most recent figures I could find — our military spending was just shy of 16 percent of the entire budget, and is more than the next seven countries combined.<br> Still, that meant NASA was able to hire lots of engineers: they could hire Uncommon Sense, and the project was interesting enough that those engineers were willing to take government salaries.<br> But what was it they had to invent? It wasn’t just rockets, even though that technology was complex enough all by itself.<br> They knew they’d need computers,