Sixty years ago today, on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy appeared before Congress and argued that “before this decade is over, we must commit ourselves to the goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” Should? “
The goal was achieved, but since the last time any man has landed on the moon or any other terrestrial natural body, the space raises the question of why the big dreams of spaceflight 49 years later have not materialized. The first part of the answer, acknowledging that moon sighting was not an inevitable development, at least in the 20th century, indicated that most American presidents opposed the idea, despite having a high-end rating. Congress was not sure about releasing the funds needed to make Kennedy’s vision a reality.
More than a year later, with Kennedy’s more famous speech, Immortal Lines, “We chose to go to the moon and do other things this decade, because they’re easy, they’re not tough,” the mood needed to change. After his assassination, continuing the Kennedy campaign became a way to honor him, but once the goal was achieved, the momentum ran out. In the meantime, the program’s costs have been mounted: to Apollo and related missions $28 billion was spent and everyone had their own ideas about better use for money. Many attacked the program because it removed resources from military purposes. The Vietnam War and more recently Afghanistan and Iraq failed to recoup American capabilities.
Moon missions had a lot of technological advantages and inspired a generation of future scientists, but it was almost impossible to measure how much they had to weigh with alternatives. After the historic Moon landing in 1969, the next two obvious steps were either to go to Mars or to establish a permanent lunar base, requiring at least a commitment from everyone to take Neil Armstrong in the first place. Meanwhile, the tragedy of Apollo 1 and the technical problems of Apollo 13 have strengthened the dangers of spaceflight.