July 15, 2009

Horse 1015 - Beating the Soviets

Ever wondered why the manned space programme took a back seat after the US got to the moon?
Cos the point of going to the moon - was ONLY to beat the Soviets.
Nothing more.
- BJD, July 14, 2009

I say, Thank you Mr Kennedy.

I've read through my esteemed colleague BJD's post and the corresponding comments about the theory that the only reason why America went to the moon was to beat the Soviets; whilst I agree both in principle and fact, I suspect that Kennedy's reasons for placing a man on the moon were bound up ultimately in a much bigger fear - namely the diversion from what could have been a nuclear war.

When the bleeping tin ball Sputnik was launched on October 4, 1957, it was done so using the R-7 launch vehicle which was designed initially to carry nuclear warheads. Did this send waves of fear through the US Defence Dept? You bet.

"It is of great urgency and importance to our country both from consideration of our prestige as a nation as well as military necessity that this challenge [Sputnik] be met by an energetic program of research and development for the conquest of space.... It is accordingly proposed that the scientific research be the responsibility of a national civilian agency.... NACA is capable, by rapid extension and expansion of its effort, of providing leadership in space technology."
- National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Director, Hugh Dryden, 14 January 1958.

Personally I think that the only reason why a civilian agency was even mooted was to make the proposal palatable to the US Congress. Suddenly it was possible to land a nuclear warhead on any point on the planet, and so it was very much "spare underpants time" in the Pentagon.

So what does this have to do with putting a man on the moon? Kennedy I think was very much scared about the possibility that the Soviets intended to do nasty things to the USA.

Less than three months after Kennedy assumed the Presidency in April 1961, he ordered the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion in Communist Cuba. US-trained force of Cuban exiles were to invade southern Cuba with support from US government armed forces to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. The Cubans themselves were backed by the Soviets.

In September of 1962, Nikita Khrushchev agreed to place nuclear missiles in Cuba; these facilities were discovered by U-2 Spy Planes, and by about October 8 the world probably came very very close to nuclear war. The only reason that the Cuban Missile Crisis came to and end was to do with a no-invasion agreement brokered by the United Nations Secretary-General U Thant, Kennedy and Khrushchev on October 28, 1962.

"It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union."
- John F Kennedy, October 22 1962.

Is it little wonder therefore that Kennedy wanted to engage the USA and the Soviet Union in a race to the moon whatever the cost? "Fantastic expenditures which wreck the budget"? Kennedy himself said that only justification for it was to beat them [The Soviets]. I also think that "beating the Soviets" given the events that immediately preceded the quote of November 21 1962 was inexorably bound up with "defense, the top priority of the United States government"

Money after all is said and done is merely a tool. By committing monies untold and fantastic, I think that Kennedy probably saved maybe 100 million people's lives. If nuclear war actually had broken out, then I shudder to think what would have happened.


Me The B said...

I don't see how you can claim that lives were saved.

What would have happened if the US didn't go to the moon?

Probably nothing.

The soviets couldn't get their act together to ever send a man to the moon.

The US was well placed in Europe to attack the USSR and had submarines and aircraft and IRBM located in Great Britain, Turkey and Italy.

Plus the US was and still is the only country in the World to use Nuclear Weapons during a war.

If anyone should have felt threatened it was the USSR.

The moon programme did not mean the Cuban missile crisis was resolved - it was over before the announcement anyway - intelligence, communication, discussion and staying firm did. Even though I can't see how the US justified stopping the USSR placing Missiles in Cuba when the the US was so entrenched in Europe. To me it was hypocrisy of the highest level.

But by standing up to the USSR over missiles in cuba then it was probably the turning point that ensured that the USSR kept their distance and never again directly threatened the US.

What the moon programme did do was divert great amounts of money that could have been spent on other science. And we have no idea how many 100's of millions of people have died due to that.

Rollo said...

The Soviets came very very close though, they were outspent and lost political impetus.

Some interesting bits of hardware were the N1 rocket, the Luna and Lunokhod unmanned landing probes and Cosmos 379, 398 & 434 which were test vehicles of the manned LK Lander.

As for what would have happened if the US didn't go to the moon? Well, they probably would have ramped up efforts in Vietnam or elsewhere.

One of the major reasons why the Cold War was cold was due to the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction; if just one completely hatstand leader had decided to "push the button", then who knows?