Why Did The Apollo Missions Stop?

The Apollo program began as a geopolitical prestige project to protect America in the Cold War space race; however, it quickly ran into difficulty.

After the Apollo 1 fire of 1967 and Vietnam War escalation, NASA funding was reduced, forcing NASA to mothball equipment intended for final three Apollo missions that was scheduled to fly.

The cost

The Apollo program cost approximately $25 billion in today’s dollars, employing nearly 400,000 people at its height. That money paid for rockets, spacecraft, computers, ground control and crew members – but was it all worthwhile? By 1967, polling revealed that many Americans weren’t convinced it should spend its resources on outer space projects at all – some even questioning whether government should devote any funds at all towards exploring space at all!

Public outrage over the costs associated with Apollo missions was considerable, prompting critics to suggest the money could have been better used alleviating poverty at home. Yet such reasoning overlooks a key Washington reality: every dollar spent on one project cannot be moved onto another project and therefore arguing for alternative spending priorities would only serve to delay funding out-of-this-world endeavours and focus instead on social problems is futile.

NASA was immediately crippled by budget cuts after Armstrong and Aldrin left humanity’s first footsteps on the Moon, rendering further lunar missions unfeasible. There had originally been 20 planned Apollo missions planned; those not specifically research-oriented were cancelled after Apollo 11 to release funds for technological projects.

NASA officials realized they had no choice but to cancel three more planned missions after reaching their objective of landing on the Moon: E (later known as Apollo 13) was cancelled in 1969, followed by D and F missions being abandoned in 1970; Apollo 17 launched in 1973 with a geologist aboard to identify rock samples for collection.

Apollo 13 was an unqualified success, yet its astronauts had to use their lunar module as a lifeboat during the return trip due to an oxygen tank explosion en route home. This incident, depicted in the film Apollo 13, cemented public perception that this program was dangerous and costly; ultimately leading to its cancellation in early 1970 due to high costs and decreasing public support.

The politics

As the Apollo missions came to a close, public interest in space exploration had gradually diminished. This decline can be partially attributed to mechanical problems afflicting Apollo 13, forcing its crew to miss their lunar landing and spend almost one month inside cramped confines; also Skylab and shuttle programs competing for money and resources from NASA were seen as distractions that took away public support for space travel.

The Apollo program was intended to demonstrate United States supremacy in space; beating the Soviets to the Moon was a striking representation of that achievement. Unfortunately, economic problems during this period dampened enthusiasm for costly programs with little tangible return.

NASA’s managers lacked confidence that the Moon would make for an ideal research destination; many scientists had already collected enough Moon rocks that could be studied back on Earth, without needing manned missions for further discoveries.

Harrison Schmitt worked to keep the Moon landing programme going by convincing his fellow astronauts that humans could perform superior science than robot lander technology. With enough support from fellow astronauts, Schmitt managed to persuade enough astronauts to accept his arguments, becoming part of Apollo 17 mission which launched on April 1970.

This mission would prove dramatic: soon after launch, an oxygen tank exploded and caused a fire that destroyed their command module, trapping their crew in cramped confines with limited supplies for three long days before finally returning safely home. Their accomplishment was widely celebrated.

Apollo 13 marked a turning point, leading to unprecedented cooperation between the US and Soviet Union in space exploration. Following its disaster, the two powers entered an unprecedented period of cooperation through projects like Apollo-Soyuz – in which American and Soviet spacecraft docked to orbit together – providing a rare moment between Cold War rivals to meet halfway and establish lasting relations. International cooperation continued after launch of International Space Station in 1998 and plans for permanent human settlements on both Moon and low Earth orbit.

The safety

As the space race dwindled down, NASA began experiencing significant funding cuts. Government was no longer willing to invest in Apollo without real tangible benefits for their future; although expensive as ever, only nine missions were ever produced under Apollo; it never produced enough returns on its expensive price tag.

NASA’s decision to send men to the moon coincided with an extended peak period for solar activity – every 11 years at which point radiation storms could potentially threaten astronauts and cause unfavorable results for NASA.

NASA developed a survival plan for the astronauts should their craft fail. If forced to abandon Apollo in space, they would find sustenance stored within their spacecraft and drink water from their lunar module for survival on the lunar surface. Following three days exploring Taurus-Littrow valley’s landslides and volcanic cinder cones with their lunar rover, as well as discovering and collecting 110 kilograms of rocks to bring home.

The initial Apollo tragedy took place during a test of its oxygen system. Due to an atmosphere composed of pure oxygen, increased risk of fire by burning more rapidly was elevated dramatically; engineers raised concerns, however NASA and North American Aviation believed their trained crews could handle any risks involved.

After the Apollo 1 incident, Kranz immediately implemented changes to safety protocols and procedures. Subsequent Congressional inquiries resulting from this accident resulted in recommendations being implemented across the program as a whole. NASA used these lessons learned from this accident to improve safety protocols further and create a culture of safety that persists today.

At a time when space travel is becoming increasingly mainstream, practicality is making a comeback in our conversations. People are becoming more wary of risks associated with space exploration – though thanks to modern technology we now have ways to be safer in space than ever before.

The technology

At its inception, Project Apollo was one of the largest research and development initiatives ever attempted. Employing over 400,000 workers throughout the US and consuming nearly half of NASA’s budget in the 1960s, it consumed nearly all public interest for space exploration until public and political interest declined after the moon landing. Coupled with budget cuts this made Project Apollo untenable and eventually led to its cancellation.

As soon as President Kennedy first proposed the Apollo mission, it was seen as a geopolitical prestige project. After all, Russia had just successfully launched their first artificial satellite and put Yuri Gagarin into orbit just one year prior.

U.S. space efforts had fallen far behind during the Cold War space race. NASA managers were cautious, according to astronaut Harrison Schmitt who initially was due to fly on Apollo 20 but later had his assignment changed to Apollo 17 instead – becoming one of only 12 men ever to walk on the moon and one geologist ever to do so!

At MIT, much of the technology that enabled Apollo was designed and created. Charles Stark Draper ’26, SM ’28, ScD ’38 from MIT’s Instrumentation Lab was instrumental in designing and creating many key systems of Apollo. Over 1,700 people from MIT’s Instrumentation Lab worked on its system at any given point during development.

Apollo-related technology included spacesuits that needed to be completely sealed around astronauts to protect them from the elements. Each spacesuit featured 300 feet of tubing snaking along it for liquid cooling and ventilation, helping keep astronauts cool by drawing heat away from their bodies while keeping them comfortable.

Apollo concluded in December 1972 with the launch of Apollo 17 and provided 12 astronauts with valuable scientific data that has since led to new discoveries. At its core, however, were decisions which shaped future human spaceflight missions – even today! For example, US approach to moon landing relied heavily on sound engineering practices, efficient organization structures, and cutting edge technologies; those same components remain at play today in spaceflight technology development.

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