July 5, 2010 by jamesessj
Going through a bit of a sci-fi phase at the moment, and as a subset, doing some reading on NASA — specifically, finishing up a book I started a while back entitled Lost in Space, authored by Greg Klerkx and published in 2004, which takes a long hard look at the agency and its chillingly effective campaigns to stifle almost any variety of privately-funded competition. As with Kicking the Sacred Cow, there’s some information here I’d previously been familiar with, but much I hadn’t: to take one shining example, here is a portion of a recorded conversation between JFK and NASA’s second and most powerful administrator, James Webb:
Kennedy: Everything we do ought to be tied into getting onto the moon ahead of the Russians.
Webb: Why can’t it be tied to preeminence in space?
Kennedy: By God, we’ve been telling everybody for five years that we’re preeminent in space and nobody believes us!
And, later in the same conversation, two quotes from Kennedy:
“We’re talking about these fantastic expenditures which wreck our budget and all these other domestic programs, and the only justification for it in my opinion…is because we hope to beat them, to demonstrate that starting behind a couple of years, by God we passed them!”
“[If not for the goal of beating the Russians to the moon], we shouldn’t be spending this kind of money, because I’m not that interested in space.”
In short, Kennedy’s famous goal of landing a man on the moon “by the end of this decade” came almost entirely from the mentality of a dyed-in-the-wool Cold Warrior, not from any lofty vision of mankind’s future in space. And yet how often have we seen that clip from his 1962 Rice University speech? “We choose to go to the moon…and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”* I saw the clip myself only yesterday, on an episode of The Universe. We are not supposed to question Kennedy’s dedication to the Space Program — not supposed to question his legacy, his dream, his martyred vision of mankind’s future in space.
Well, apparently Kennedy had no such vision. Or, at best, he had a calculated, pragmatic, politician’s version of that vision. Let’s get to the moon before the Soviets do, dammit!
Which, as motives go, is not so terrible — how many of our technological advances during the Cold War would have happened without the Cold War? But it’s a far cry, as motives go, from Let’s get to the moon for the betterment of all mankind, as a human achievement, which is the way it’s always presented.
On some level I hate learning these hidden nuggets…I’d almost rather live with my illusions. The scary thing is, up until reading this book, I had no idea they were illusions. The tapes are public, why hasn’t the record been corrected? Because folks who should know better don’t want us to know better.
But let me decide, please. Let us decide. Tell me, tell me everything.
* Only Kennedy could get away with a line like “and do the other things.” Also, I always felt this line ought to be applied to SDI — or missile defense, as it’s now termed. Every liberal scientist ever interviewed on the topic told us how impossibly difficult the project was. Well, duh. That was the point. They were so concerned about nuclear war, and yet they didn’t want to pursue the one technology that might conceivably have freed us from that particular worry.