This inevitably led to questions about the space program, and whether the approach need more consideration. The use of pure oxygen-based breathing systems in the spacecraft had been questioned for a while, especially given the risk of flash fires. The escape mechanisms also came under scrutiny, asking why the instant release hatch of the earlier Mercury spacecrafts had been replaced by hatches that could take up to 40 seconds to open. This had been highlighted by one of the disturbing elements of the tragedy revealed in the preliminary report: despite NASA initially claiming the deaths were instant, recordings revealed that the men had been alive for several seconds in the blaze.
As more information became public, more deficiencies were revealed. Early reports did not establish the primary cause of the fire, though it did establish “the Apollo team…in its devotion to the many difficult problems of space travel…failed to give adequate attention to certain mundane but equally vital questions of crew safety”, as quoted in The Times. A list of faults had been identified: the use of pure oxygen, inadequate escape mechanisms, ‘vulnerable’ electric wiring and plumbing, the presence of too many flammable materials in the cabin, and inadequate rescue options.
Although astronauts defended the space program whilst admitting there were issues , the consensus after the tragedy was that the desire to win the space race had led to shortcuts, and that “both Nasa [sic] and North American Aviation Incorporated, the prime contractor for the man-on-the-moon project, stand accused of tolerating faulty workmanship and inferior design. The review board did not venture to explain the reason for such sloppiness”. To NASA’s credit, they did not deny their responsibility, admitting that they had made mistakes and even publicly releasing images showing instances of negligence.
As the Financial Times reported later in the year, the lesser-known Phillips Report by NASA had shown that, despite many failings within North American Aviation around quality control and general management in the years leading up to Apollo 1, “NASA officials, far from being negligent, had been on top of the troubles besetting Apollo for some time”, as in 1966 they had been satisfied that North American Aviation “had made substantial progress to correct many of the deficiencies noted”. NASA had been working toward improving many issues before Apollo 1, and calls for abandoning the moon landing were overcautious.
It would not be easy though, as NASA were facing many issues: expected budget cuts, personnel issues with industry jobs dropping by half in a four year period, and the controversial slowing-down of non-Apollo projects (including the Apollo Application Program).
In September, things looked even more bleak. “The Americans will not get a man on and off the moon by the end of next year. That is the unavoidable conclusion to be drawn from the resignation of Mr James Webb, the fiery North Carolinian who had presided over [NASA] throughout the $20 billion preparations for Project Apollo […]. That the Americans cannot make the deadline…has been common talk among space scientists outside of Nasa [sic] for some time now […]. [Webb] was not so much discontented with the severe cuts handed to the space agency’s budget this year as with the curtailments of America’s plans for future space programmes”.
Despite the reduction in support for space exploration after the moon landing (even President Nixon had yet to commit to any significant projects), the renewed optimism that President Kennedy’s goal may be achieved did not stop the speculation, ranging from space laboratories to previously unimaginable physics experiments.
Dr. George Edwin Meuller (1918-2015), who took over from James Edwin Webb (1906-1992) at the top of the Apollo program, had to make sure the optimism and enthusiasm did not get out of hand, especially among politicians. In an interview with The Times, Dr. Meuller admitted “he must try to restrain people from becoming too enthusiastic and rushing the programme as a result of the successful Apollo 8 flight”. Many improvements had been made since Apollo 1, but there is a problem “duplicating anywhere the conditions of a landing on the moon”.
In response to the question of the Soviet Union pulling ahead of America, Dr. Meuller’s response was “It’s not a fear: it’s a fact”. With the decreasing budgets and resources, in the future NASA would “inevitably be out of the manned spacecraft business” while the Soviet Union continued to progress. He was also realistic about the space program beyond landing a man on the moon: “it would be a mistake to expect we would learn a great deal from the lunar landing”, and that “funding restrictions have not permitted the full development of the equipment” to achieve a meaningful post-moon landing program.
In regards to possible collaboration with the Soviets in a space program, Dr. Meuller echoed the message that had existed for the past several years: America knows very little about the plans, equipment and capabilities the Soviet Union had. The lack of information meant that cooperation was unlikely: “If you want to have cooperation…you have got to have people who will cooperate”.
John M. Logsdon: Discoveries in Modern Science: Exploration, Invention, Technology. Ed. James Trefil. Vol. 1. Farmington Hills, MI:Macmillan Reference USA, 2015. p21-26.
The Apollo 11 mission was launched precisely on time at 9:32A.M. EDT (1:32P.M. GMT) on July 16, 1969. Almost a million people crowded the Kennedy Space Center and its vicinity to witness the historic beginning of humanity's first voyage to the surface of another celestial body. After an uneventful three days, Apollo 11 entered lunar orbit on July 19. The next day, the lunar module the crew had named Eagle, with Armstrong and Aldrin aboard, separated from the command and service module Columbia and began the descent to the lunar surface, leaving Collins behind to circle the Moon. In the mission control center at Houston's Manned Spacecraft Center, flight director Gene Kranz (1933–) integrated inputs from his staff, who were monitoring all elements of the spacecraft's performance. As the landing site came into view, Armstrong recognized that the on-board computer was guiding the lunar module to a landing in a crater surrounded by large boulders, and in a remarkable demonstration of piloting skill took over manual control of the lunar module. With Aldrin calling out velocity and altitude, Armstrong flew slowly over the lunar surface until he found a level spot to land. He nearly exhausted the module's fuel, coming close to the point where by flight rules he would have had to abort the landing. When he finally brought the lunar module to rest on the Moon's Sea of Tranquility, 6 kilometers (4 mi) beyond the planned landing point, there were only twenty seconds of fuel left.
The lunar landing took place 4:18P.M. EDT on Sunday, July 20. Armstrong announced the crew's arrival, saying “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” The flight plan called for the astronauts to have a sleep period before exiting the lunar module to begin their excursion to the lunar surface, but with Eagle safe on the Moon's surface, that plan was quickly abandoned. Preparing for leaving the lunar module to explore the lunar surface took longer than anticipated, but at 10:56P.M. EDT Armstrong with his left foot took the first human step on another celestial body, marking the moment with the memorable words “That's one small step for man, one great leap for mankind.” (Armstrong had planned to say “a man” but in the excitement of the moment either forgot to include the “a” or did not say it clearly.) Armstrong's first task was to collect a small sample of lunar material in case he had to return to the lunar module quickly. Aldrin joined his colleague on the lunar surface nineteen minutes later, reporting an impression of “magnificent desolation.” The two explorers planted an American flag and unveiled a plaque attached to the portion of the lunar module that would remain on the Moon. The plaque read “Here men from Planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon” and “We came in peace for all mankind.” Armstrong talked briefly with US President Richard Nixon, calling from the White House. Armstrong and Aldrin collected 22 kilograms (49 lb) of lunar samples and deployed a solar wind experiment, a seismometer, and a laser ranging reflector. An estimated 530 million people watched the blurry televised images of the astronauts on the Moon. Made possible by the completion of a worldwide communications satellite network, the Apollo 11 moonwalk was the first example of globally shared exploration.
At 1:11A.M. EDT on July 21, Armstrong shut the hatch behind himself as he re-entered the lunar module; Aldrin had returned forty-one minutes earlier. Armstrong had spent two hours and thirty-one minutes outside the spacecraft. After a period of restless sleep, Armstrong and Aldrin lifted off at 1:54P.M. EDT on July 21, docking with the command module Columbia just under four hours later. At 12:55A.M. EDT on July 22, the astronauts fired the service module main engine to send the spacecraft heading back to Earth. The Apollo 11 mission came to a successful close on July 24 as Columbia landed in the Pacific Ocean west of Hawaii at 5:51A.M. local time (12:51P.M. EDT) and were carried by helicopter to their recovery ship, the aircraft carrier Hornet. President Nixon was aboard the ship to welcome the crew back from their historic voyage.
The trend seemed to be that when a mission was successful, public optimism and enthusiasm for the project grew. Commentators became more positive, speculation got more fanciful, and concerns became less pressing. Throughout the space race, the opposite was also true. When things were not going well, or there were slower periods of activity, the optimism would decline and enthusiasm became muted. More questions were asked, and more commentary and criticism of the economics, the potential (and actual) human cost in both lives and employment, and the original motivations and long-term benefits of the programs came under scrutiny.
There was never a clear consensus on who was winning the race. Much like the public reception, it followed the waves of success between the two nations. When America was in patches of high activity, America was taking the lead. When the Soviet Union hit another milestone, America was still behind and needed to catch up. From publicly available coverage, it seemed even senior figures within NASA were never convinced that America were ever ahead.
 "Apollo Programme May Be Delayed Two Years." Financial Times, 2 Feb. 1967 | RETURN
 "'Many Deficiencies' In Spacecraft." Times, 10 Apr. 1967 | RETURN
 "Lessons of Apollo." Economist, 15 Apr. 1967 | RETURN
 "U. S. Space Programme Still Aimed at the Moon." Aerospace: A Financial Times Survey. Financial Times, 30 May 1967 | RETURN
 "Is It All worth It?" The Sunday Times Magazine. Sunday Times, 14 July 1968 | RETURN
 "Tattered Apollo." Economist, 21 Sept. 1968 | RETURN
 Cable Dispatches. "Cosmonaut to Orbit Moon before Another Lands." New York Herald Tribune [European Edition], 18 Apr. 1966 | RETURN
 Sometimes spelled Bregevoy | RETURN
 "What lies behind the moon for America?" Times, 10 Jan. 1969 | RETURN
 "Apollo 11 Launching Plans Going Ahead." Financial Times, 27 May 1969 | RETURN
 "Apollo: The Deadly Flaws." Sunday Times, 13 July 1969 | RETURN
 "Frontier Moon." Economist, 19 July 1969 | RETURN
Man On The Moon (1969), from British Pathé
'1969': NASA engineers recall the historic Apollo 11 moon landing, from ABC News
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