This Week in Space 93 Transcript

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Rod Pyle (00:00:00):
On this episode of this Week in Space, it's high time. We all figured out what people think about space exploration and why some don't seem to think about it at all. We're joined by Roger Lanius, former NASA and Smithsonian Institution, space historian. Stay with US podcasts you love from people you trust. This this is twit. This is this week in space, episode number 93, recorded on January 12th, 2024. Does America really want to go back to the moon? This episode of this Week in Space is brought to you by Rocket Money. If I asked you how many subscriptions you have, would you be able to list all of them and how much you're paying? If you would've asked me this question before I started using Rocket Money, I would've said yes. But let me tell you, I would've been so wrong. Our friend Leo made what he thought was a one-time political contribution that turned out to be a recurring political contribution he'd forgotten all about and Rocket Money got 'em off the hook.

Rocket Money is a personal finance app that finds and cancels your unwanted subscriptions, monitors your spending, and helps lower your bills. Rocket Money is more than 5 million users and has helped save its members an average of $720 per year with more than $500 million in cancel subscriptions. You can see all of your subscriptions in one place, and if you see something you don't want, you can cancel it with a tap. You never have to get on the phone with customer service. Stop wasting money on things you don't use. Cancel your unwanted subscriptions by going to rocket That's rocket Rocket Hello and welcome to another episode of This Week in Space, the Why we Go Edition. I'm Rod Pyle, Editor-in-Chief Van Astor Magazine. It's my enduring pleasure to be joined, as always by the illuminating Tarek Malick editor chief of Hello?

Tariq Malik (00:01:55):
Hello. Hello, rod. How's it going? Happy Friday. Happy

Rod Pyle (00:01:59):
Podcasting. You're not only illuminating your uplifting, and today in a few moments, we're going to be joined by Roger Lanius, who is the former chief NASA historian, former associate director for collections and curatorial affairs of the Smithsonian. A deep seeker of the truth about many things, space flight, including what the heck people really think about space flight in the us, which is a thornier topic than you might think. A couple of housekeeping memos before we get rolling. First, TWIT needs your help. We want to keep our show in the air and twit available the all so you can help for just $7 a month by joining Club Twit. I'll give the usual plea at the end of the episode, but please consider it. It would help us all and we know you love us because we get your fan mail. Second up, it's survey time. The annual TWIT survey helps keep us informed of audience wants and thoughts and helps us to make your listening experience better and better despite my lame dad space jokes. So go to twit tv slash survey 24. That's TWIT slash survey 24. It'll only take you a few minutes last day to do the survey is January 31st, so don't be a lolly gagger. Make sure you get your opinions in early and often. Now you can only do it once. Speaking of bad dad space jokes,

Tariq Malik (00:03:15):
Your jokes are the best Rod, they're not bad at

Rod Pyle (00:03:17):
All. This isn't mine. Thank God. More from our pal Tucker Drake who wrote to remind me that the credit or blame as the case may be for the jokes that we're getting from him, should go to the book 101 Outer Space Jokes written by Will Eisner. It was a classic humorous, so the blame goes there.

Tariq Malik (00:03:37):
We got to look for that book.

Rod Pyle (00:03:39):
Well, all we have to do is keep talking to Tucker. Thank God.

Tariq Malik (00:03:42):
There you go.

Rod Pyle (00:03:43):
Who has his own podcast? I think it's, oh God, I had it written down The Lonely Trailer Park or something. I'll have to get it into another, but Tucker Drake, look it up under Tucker Drake under Podcasts. Alright. Hey Tarek.

Tariq Malik (00:03:57):
Yes. Ron

Rod Pyle (00:03:59):
Asteroid, hotel guest got on the space phone and said hello. Get me the manager. Manager said, manager speaking. How can I help you guest what kind of rundown place you're running here? I'm mad enough to report this place, the Interstellar Health Patrol manager. Calm down and tell me what's eating you. Hotel guest. I don't know, but you'd better send someone up here quick to kill it.

As always, we invite you to join Rod's rangers and send us your best or worst space joke. I'm just going to do one this week. We got a lot to cover here, and please don't forget to do us a solid and make sure to subscribe and all that cool podcast stuff and give us five thumbs up or 20 or whatever you can because it's free and we love you and we don't want to come over and blow out your airplane hatches. Oh, I'm sorry. Was that a Boeing joke? I didn't mean to do that. Tar. Let's go. Let's go to

Tariq Malik (00:04:56):
Headlines too soon. Too soon.

Rod Pyle (00:04:58):
Well come on guys. You've been building airplanes a long time. Just bolt down the hatch properly. Speaking of things, Boeing, good News, ULA, which is a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin launched their United Launch Alliance. United Lawrence Alliance launched their Vulcan rocket, their long anticipated Vulcan rocket, but it worked, which is that's how ULA rolls takes Monger, costs more money, works every time, and has basically since they redesigned the atlas from an ICBM into their workhorse of some 25 years and now they have the Vulcan, which is their new rocket with engines from Blue Origin. Tell us what to think. Yeah,

Tariq Malik (00:05:43):
I have my own Vulcan rocket as

Rod Pyle (00:05:46):
Well. Yeah, where's mine by the way? You got that from them, I'm thinking, right?

Tariq Malik (00:05:51):
I did, yeah. United Launch Alliance, actually, they sent me this, it's like for folks who can't see it, it's a two foot model of oh, oh my gosh, the falling out of broken rocket and it's six side boosters. But unfortunately when it arrived, all six of the strap-on boosters had broken off. So I actually spent the weekend before the launch gluing them on. Okay, super glue.

Rod Pyle (00:06:16):
We got a headline here. What I really want to know is where's mine? I'm sure you to them, but your good friend and Carlos

Tariq Malik (00:06:23):
Carlos's. Well, we invited them on the show, so hopefully they'll come on to tell us about this amazing launch, which I'm going to talk about right now because as this week started, you A began it with the Bang, the United Launch Lines with their first ever Vulcan Centar rocket. This will be Olas new workhorse rocket to replace the Atlas five when they retire. There are not very many flights to that in the next five years or so, and they've sold a lot of fights on this and it's the first launch of a rocket. We've already seen SpaceX launch a brand new rocket twice and it didn't make it a space. So you always expect maybe things aren't going to go that great. It has been, and this was delayed from Christmas Eve too in their initial attempts to launch it. And it was a stunning success.

The launch part of it, they launched it with two solid rocket boosters and the twin BE four engines built by Boeing, which they had, or pardon me, by Blue Origin, by Blue Origin. And Blue Origin had a lot of problems with this engine getting it to ULA for this rocket. So kind of like a two for here. You get the unqualified success of the launch part of this mission, which says that Olas new rocket seems like it's ready to go. I mean it seemed spotless. A flawless countdown, flawless launch, and it looked absolutely gorgeous with this Preda launch. And then you have the first orbital launches of the Be four engine for Blue Origin, which wants to put half dozen of these things at the bottom end of their new Glen Rocket, which this week they rolled out to the launch pad for some tests, the first stage of that, they know now that that engine will get all the way to space with a full burn.

So really just spectacular to watch. I was so impressed at how smooth it was, but there was kind of a flip side, the payload on this, and this is our second story. Both these stories, by the way, you can find them met, but they were widely covered. The second story from this launch is that the first payload on this rocket was this private mainlander called Peregrine, built by Astrobotic. They're based in Pittsburgh and it's separated and was deployed in its nominal orbit on time. So U a's job was done. And unfortunately this mission, which is NASA's first commercial lunar payload services mission, it's their first partnership to try get NASA Payless to the moon on a private lander. It developed a leak in its propulsion system. It is limping through space right now. It will not be able to land on the moon. So it's a bit of a sad ending for what was a glorious launch. And so every day this week as we're recording this kind of hardy lander has been fighting for its life. It's about 94% of the way to the moon, but it will not be able to land there next month as scheduled, which is kind of sad.

Rod Pyle (00:09:26):
Well, that's a bummer. Speaking of malfunctioning space hardware, we have been watching the Osiris Rex return capsule for months, scratching our heads over what does it take to lever open something that stuck because of a springs and catch mechanisms, but according to you, they finally got it open. They do.

Tariq Malik (00:09:50):
That's right. Well, they got it unlocked and I think that's the key part here. I think NASA might want to make a little bit of a big deal out of the opening itself, but as you mentioned, the Osirus Rex sample return capsule from asteroid be a returned to earth in September, late September. And NASA has had it in its receiving facility at the Johnson Space Center, Astro Materials Center. What about, well since then, basically it arrived in late September, early October is when they debuted it to everybody and they had all the samples, we talked about it before of asteroid benu on top of the capsule itself. It didn't make it all the way in. It was already bolted Shep, but it has these 35 fasteners on the top of the lid that keep it closed. And they were only able to get 33 of them off and two of them were jammed stuck.

So for the last four or five months, they haven't been able to open the thing to know that. And that's where all the samples are. The coffee cup full of samples, the most ever returned by a mission are there in that thing. And so now, as of this week, it happened on January 10th, they built these special tools to try to pry open these fasteners and they got both of them out. So now they're ready to start opening the lid and getting to the bottom of the sample. And I mean, there's a lot of material in there. We heard it on the show before that they're really, they're going to be digging into this stuff for a long time.

Rod Pyle (00:11:27):
Yeah, it's like a cup or more, right?

Tariq Malik (00:11:29):
Yeah. And they had to build a whole new tool, like a special tool to be able to pry this thing open. It really looks weird the way that they were able to do, it's like a ring that goes around it and then the tool itself goes through a hatch to get to the fastener rod. It's rocket science to me. But they were able to make it work and not ruin their samples or contaminate them, which was the big thing. They want these samples as pristine as day. They were collected billions of miles away by millions of miles away by the Osiris spacecraft. And it seems like they got that job done.

Rod Pyle (00:12:03):
Alright, and before we jump to our break, I just need to remind myself to remind you that if you do tune over to Tucker Drake's podcast, there's a little r-rated language there, so it isn't friendly like ours. It's a stream of consciousness sort of thing with some language that will curl some people's toes. So just consider yourself forewarned. Alright, we will be right back after this short break with our guest for today. NASA Space historian Roger Lanius, stay with us.

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Rod Pyle (00:12:50):
Alright, Roger, again, thank you so much for joining us. It's a real pleasure having you here. It's something I've wanted to do for a long time and I think even longer than that, I've been bugging you to try and get an article out of you, but that's a whole separate conversation because that's a big ask at the rates that we pay. But it's great to have you here and at the open of the show. I gave a very brief sort of nod to your resume, but let's take a slightly deeper look because I have a question that relates to this. So currently principal of Lanius Historical Services, formerly it's Smithsonian Institution. You left there I believe as associate director for collections and curatorial affairs.

Roger Launius (00:13:33):
That's correct.

Rod Pyle (00:13:34):
Which is a heck of a title. It's a mouthful. Before that you were the chair of the division of Space History. And before that, did you just have two positions there or three?

Roger Launius (00:13:48):
Well, first I was a curator. My career path, I spent 35 years working for the feds as a historian US government, and

Rod Pyle (00:14:00):
That sounds very black hat when you say it,

Roger Launius (00:14:04):
That's whatever. Anyway, and I worked for the Air Force for a while and then after eight years moved to NASA as the chief historian. Spent 12 years there all through the 1990s and into the two thousands. And then after that I moved over to the Smithsonian, first a curator. Then as the chair of that space history department, there's about 15 or 16 people that do space history there. And then after I rotated out of that chair job and it, it's a rotation of after five years, I moved to senior curator position and then I was tapped in my last few years there as the associate director that you've already mentioned.

Rod Pyle (00:14:51):
Well, so for those of us who are often labeled as base historians, although don't call myself that and for a lot of, I can only speak for me, I don't want to besmirch anybody else. I kind of feel like I'm nibbling around the crumbs on the floor of the hallowed halls of places like the Smithsonian and NASA headquarters and so forth. How does one become a real space historian? I backed into it through short television, like 44 minute documentaries that where they history channel said, tell us the whole history of Apollo in 44 minutes. I'm thinking, that's not

Roger Launius (00:15:30):
Good luck with

Rod Pyle (00:15:31):
That. Yeah, well, and it ends up being horrible, so that's not the way to do it. But I was lucky enough to get into books after that where they kind of leave you alone, let you do your thing, but you've made a real career out of it in a very disciplined, probably almost always peer reviewed way. So how does that happen and what's it like?

Roger Launius (00:15:49):
Yeah, well, I mean, I did a PhD in history, American history at LSU, and I never studied space history at all or any kind of aerospace for that matter. I was a historian of the American West. And my interest at that point, which is still one of my interests, I still work in this area, was the history of Mormonism. And most of us are familiar with Mormonism and in some form or another, and I was doing religious history on the American West, that's what I was focused on. But when I went looking for a job, there's not a lot of room Mormon historians out there. And I found this job with the Air Force and I realized very quickly that this flying stuff was really interesting. At that point, it wasn't space, it was about airplanes. But one time, the person who hired me, I asked him one day after I hadn't been there, but more than about a month or so, and I said, why'd you hire me?

I don't have any background in this field. And he says, I don't care about that. What I care about is do you have the skills to research, write, present orally and in writing historical analysis? And you clearly have that. I can teach you the particular subject matter that we're talking about aviation. And he put me on a reading list and he says, here, read these 10 books, come back and talk to me about them. And we did that for months. And so I learned aviation history through that process. Never had a class in it anywhere. The same was true with space. I literally, I saw a job in the year 1990, the spring of 1990 that NASA was looking for the chief of story. And I thought, well, that might be fun. So I applied, and this was the days before the internet. You didn't send in a resume through some system.

You literally copied your resume and you sent it into them. And lo and behold, I got an interview and they hired me for this particular position. And that was a great opportunity. And at that point I decided I better become a space historian. So I did the same thing there. I started working on a reading list to learn the subject matter, everything I could about it. I was especially interested in the policy world. That was one of the areas that I focused on when I worked for the Air Force. And I still think that's one of the really important areas that needs to be focused on. There were other people doing things about how rockets work and how much thrust they have and all that kind of stuff. None of that really interested me all that much. So I didn't focus on it, but I did sort of through this process long and involved years in the making. I've spent 35 plus years now working in aerospace history as my day job. And I guess if that's how you're in your chops, at least that's how I did it. Well,

Tariq Malik (00:19:01):
I can only guess, Roger, if I'm a NASA recruiter seeing 12 years at the Air Force doesn't look too shabby on an application.

Roger Launius (00:19:11):
No, no, no. The Air Force and NASA has a longstanding relationship. No question about that. It was viewed as a plus that I had been there. And quite frankly, when you think about the chief historians for nasa, the very first one was hired out of the Air Force history program and the Air Force has a huge history program. More than 250 civilian historians scattered literally all over the world and that many more who are military working in all kinds of areas. Everything from the Air Force Academy to the various other organizations that do research for the Air Force to unit historians who are assigned to particular base, doing things associated those activities.

Tariq Malik (00:20:02):
How many does NASA have?

Roger Launius (00:20:04):
NASA has a smaller group obviously, and so much smaller organization. But when I arrived at NASA in 1990, there were six people in the history office for the agency at headquarters, and there were historians, or sometimes they were archivists more than they were historians at the various centers. We tried to plus that up as much as we could, had some successes, some not successes, but it has also a very strong and robust history program done in a different way than the Air Force did. The Air Force would hire people, give them the clearances that they need and have them work directly for the Air Force. The NASA program is built on contractors who are as often as not academics who are working at some university who come on to work on a particular project. And we've had a lot of people over the years who've done that kind of work at NASA and are still doing it today.

Tariq Malik (00:21:11):
I had a basic question that I ask a lot of our guests, Roger, about that seed or that kind of led you on the path that you're on now. And you mentioned you were super into the Western history and Mormonism. I'm very curious where that began. Was that something that started in university or before, but also just as, I guess I would be remiss to ask if you had any exposure to space prior to school, like Rod and I both have these childhood connections to it. If there was anything like that that caught your eye that as you looked back while you were at NASA and beyond are like, wow, I didn't think I'd be here. That kind of a thing.

Roger Launius (00:22:02):
Well, yeah, of course that happens when I was a kid and I'm old enough to remember the moon landing. So hey, yeah, there's fewer and fewer of us, quite frankly, that are in that category. So I was an early teenager when the moon landings took place and I was jazzed by this stuff. There's no doubt about it. I figured out pretty early on that I could write letters to the various NASA centers and ask them for information about the programs, and they would send the package of materials back to me. I did this over and over and over again. They'd send mission patches, information sheets, and sometimes little booklets, all kinds of stuff. And unfortunately I didn't keep any of that stuff, which I wish I had. Now I was just

Rod Pyle (00:22:56):
Going to ask you about your eBay site. Okay,

Roger Launius (00:22:58):
EBay. Yeah. When I went off to college, I left it at home and my mother immediately threw it all out, but got to love them just like she did with my baseball cards, which I'm still haven't forgotten for.

Rod Pyle (00:23:11):
That's worth a little more. Yeah,

Roger Launius (00:23:12):
Yeah, clearly there's a lot going on there, but she didn't see stuff in the closet, so she got rid of it. But yeah, so I was jazzed by this all through the 1960s and seventies and when I went off to college. Then in the early, I graduated from high school in 72, immediately went on to college and I was interested in, as I said before, Mormon, I have a heritage in that movement. And consequently, it's an area that's of special interest to me. And it has been all along. I've written several books that relate to this. My dissertation, both my master's thesis and my dissertation were turned into books. They were both about Mormon history and I've done other things associated with that over the years. But once I started working first for the Air Force and then at nasa, I really started focusing more and more on that particular arena. And I've been there most of the time since. Now I've done some other stuff too. I did two books on the history of baseball. I'm very interested in that. In fact, you can see Stan Musial behind the Ear, and I've done some 19th century military history, which I've also found quite interesting. So no one thing is the only thing that I do, but I have several interests, but clearly aerospace and especially space has been the dominant thing.

Rod Pyle (00:24:56):
That's great advice for everybody. Not one thing, but someday we'll have to share my collection of 1870s and 1880s British military rivals. But that's a whole nother thing. Yeah,

Roger Launius (00:25:08):
I, I'm like learning new

Rod Pyle (00:25:10):
Things. I saw, do you remember as a kid, did you see the movie Zulu we're about the same age? I graduated high school to 74. So do you remember seeing Zulu one time? Oh yeah,

Roger Launius (00:25:17):
I saw it when it first came out and we've watched it periodically since that time. I never get tired of watching Michael Kane. Well,

Rod Pyle (00:25:25):
Exactly it his first role, right? Yeah,

Roger Launius (00:25:28):
First major role. Right. And

Rod Pyle (00:25:29):
The fact that they actually, the lead actor, Stanley, oh, good lord. Stanley Baker, was that his name?

Roger Launius (00:25:35):
Yeah, Stanley Baker. That's

Rod Pyle (00:25:36):
Right. So he was the creative force behind that movie. He put it together, he found the money, all that. And the fact that they showed respect for the people of the other side in 1964 was on candy. But that's not what we're here to talk about. So I have a burning question because of the stuff I've read of yours mostly on, because unlike Tars publication, mine can't afford the good databases. But we do see a lot of good stuff on academia. You've written a lot about, and I think this puts you in a very small group of people, very small. You've written a lot about public perceptions about the space race. You've written about support for the space race over the decades. So this is kind of a multi-part question. I'm doing what always does around those NASA telecoms. They say, okay, you only get one question.

And then guys, like CarX said, I have one question with three parts. So the three part question is, you've obviously studied this length, there is this overriding perception, and some really smart people I know still believe this. And I constantly disabuse 'em of the notion that there was this golden fuzzy period back in the 1960s when the nation was united behind Apollo and we were all in it for the good fight and all for one-on-one for all and all that. And that wasn't the case as you and I remember we were. But the country was kind of, and what I find really astonishing is that, and I know polling instruments change, polling institutions change the audience that you're polling changes a lot, but at least in the US it seems like public perceptions of the big questions. Do you support nasa? Should the US be a leader in space? That kind of stuff has been pretty remarkably consistent for 60 years. But if you ask people about landing on the moon, for instance, today only about 12 to 15% say that's a good idea. So could you comment on that great big thorny question I just tossed at you? Yeah,

Roger Launius (00:27:36):
Sure. So one of the things that happened almost as soon as I got at NASA was people around the agency saying if we just had the public support that we had during nasa, all would be well. And I began then looking at these polls and there's lots of polls over time that sort of ask the same question. And so I could sort of run an analysis of the same question asked in 1965 and 1966 and 67, 68, so on. And one of the things that we found over and over and over again was when you ask the question, do you approve of Apollo, for instance, at that particular time, you get an overwhelmingly positive response, which is sort of like saying, do you like nasa? And generally speaking, people say, yeah, we like nasa. When you ask the question, are we spending too much money on this Apollo program?

What you get is, oh yeah, we're spending way too much money. And it's always the characterization of the NASA program against the backdrop of the money being expended to do it that leads people to say, oh, I don't think we should do this kind of stuff. That then led me into other areas where I was looking to say, okay, so what was happening in the 1960s? And one of the things that we find is that on both the political left and the political right, people are saying, yeah, we shouldn't be doing this. We should take this money and do something else more worthwhile with it. If you're on the political right, maybe you want to put it in national defense, maybe you want to give it back to the American public as a tax break. If you're on the political left, you're saying, God, we need to feed the starving people and house the homeless and do all these other kinds of social kinds of things that are all important.

All of them are important, and we could better spend our money doing that rather than put people on the moon or choose the program of your choice that NASA's engaged in. And that I found fascinating because clearly we didn't have a consensus that this was the right thing to do, but we had enough people sort of in the middle supporting this that we did it. So that leads to the next question, why did we do it? And I would contend, and I don't think there's any way around this that we did it because of the Cold War context in which it was carried out. And absent that Cold War context, we never would've undertaken it. So that was sort of where I was coming from with this Poland. And one of the things that we found all the time since that time is people stand up and say, we like nasa, we think it's cool, but we don't want to pay for it. And whatever there is that's out there that we could spend our money on, we want to spend it on that instead of nasa. That's one of the reasons why as soon as the moon program is over, the NASA budget drops to about one half of 1% of the federal budget is a little lower than that today, but it's right around there. And it's been there since the mid 1970s.

Rod Pyle (00:31:14):
And a lot of people don't realize, I mean, you see these polls and it's gotten better over the last decade, but I remember at one point reading something about some percentage of the America public thinking that NASA was grinding up 25% of the federal budget. It's like, whoa, where did you get that idea?

Roger Launius (00:31:33):
Well, there's actually some polling to say that there was a Rockwell poll done in the late 1990s. Maybe they've done them since. But it asks that question, how much money goes to nasa? And overwhelmingly 25, 30% of federal dollars are going there. I mean, anybody who looks at the federal budget knows that that's not true, but most people don't pay a lot of attention to that kind of stuff.

Rod Pyle (00:32:04):
That's right. We know that that money went for the F 35 program. Oh, I'm sorry.

Roger Launius (00:32:09):
Well, there's, there's a jab.

Rod Pyle (00:32:13):
Yeah, sorry. Stay away from the

Roger Launius (00:32:14):
F 35. My

Rod Pyle (00:32:15):
Sister worked on that plane. Yeah, yeah. Okay. She

Roger Launius (00:32:18):
Listens to the show.

Rod Pyle (00:32:19):
We got to take a quick break, so stay with us. Don't go anywhere. We'll be right back with my next burning question. So how do we get AI

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Rod Pyle (00:32:36):
Search HPE GreenLake. Okay, so I don't know if you've written about this. If so, I haven't seen it, and I'm not sure it's a question that can be answered, but in your opinion, was part of the reason Apollo was able to soldier on through the early 1970s, even though there was political opposition on both sides of the aisle? Because we had a martyred president thing going on here. I mean, it seemed to me, Kennedy, having made this bold declaration, which is a speech I still think is remarkable, it's 1967, and was it Walter Mondale who was saying, why are we doing this and so forth. That's a pretty hot potato to be thrown in somebody's lap after what happened. What's your opinion there?

Roger Launius (00:33:26):
Well, it's interesting because the decision in 1961 leading to the May 25th 61 speech by Kennedy to the joint session of Congress, the urgent national needs speech in which he says, I choose to go to the moon. Well, actually, yes, he said that in 62. I believe this nation should commit itself before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. By the way, buzz Aldrin told me one time, he says his favorite part of that speech was returning and safely to

Rod Pyle (00:33:58):

Roger Launius (00:34:00):
Buzz being a Witt went right there. But within about 10 days of him giving that speech, the budget director David Bell has gone and went into the Oval Office and told the president, NASA is going to break the bank doing this. What can we do about this? And Kennedy was a little flabbergasted at that because he said twice during that speech, once was written into the speech, and another time he ad-libbed, he says, I believe we should do this, but it's going to cost a lot of money. And if you don't agree, tell me now, and let's not even start. And those were wise words, and as I said, he said it twice, once in the text of the speech and once in an ad lib that he just said at the speech, and he was right about that. But when the budget director says, wow, this is going to be incredible in terms of the costs involved, Kennedy then went to his one and only summit with Khrushchev in early June of 1961, and suggests to him that they turn this moon landing program into a joint effort.

And that was in response to this concern about the budget. And the initial Khrushchev response was, well, something to think about. Let's talk about it some more. Then they go back to their quarters that after that first meeting and the hardliners get to Kennedy on the American side and the hardliners on the Soviet side get to Khrushchev, and they come back the next day and Khrushchev says, it's an interesting idea, but it really needs to wait until we get some arms control limitation underway and a nuclear test ban treaty and some other stuff that needs to come first. And so they dropped it. But Kennedy came back to this over and over and over again throughout his administration with the intention of trying to turn Apollo into a joint program, and it was fundamentally a way to save money in 1963. Then this is before his assassination, Kennedy calls the NASA administrator, Jim Webb into the Oval Office and says, here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to go give a speech at the UN in which I'm going to propose that we turn Apollo into a jump program. And he basically said, and I don't want your advice on this. I've already made my decision. I want you to keep your guys in line.

I don't want V Brown and I don't want any of these other guys who are out there, any of the astronauts saying, this is a dumb idea. Keep 'em under control. And he does indeed. Then in September, go to the un, give this speech about doing the big things together, talking about Apollo. Sergei Khrushchev, the son of the premier, the Soviet premier who was working in the Russian design bureau, CoLab's Design Bureau in Russia at the time, said he got a call to come to the Kremlin and his dad wanted to talk to him about this proposal and ask him what he thought. And he said, well, there's a couple of things that are good about it. One is we can save some money because they were spending themselves into bankruptcy as well.

And oh, by the way, there's at least a tip of the hat to the capabilities that we have demonstrated in space that we're on a par with the Americans and we'll be better with them by our side than working against them. And that seemed to persuaded Khrushchev to pursue this. But then Kennedy's assassinated in November, Khrushchev has deposed the next year, nothing happens. But I would contend that had Kennedy in office, there probably would've been a way to reduce the costs involved, not that they would ever not do the program, but it would've been so easy in 19 65, 66, as the Gemini program is showing astounding success for the President to say, we don't need to do this on the clock by the end of the decade. Let us take a more leisurely approach to this and spend money. And if we don't arrive at the moon until 1975, so why is that a problem?

And that might've been what happened then, or they might've turned it into a joint program, which would be fascinating. Now, the military and the technical people associated with national security would not like that one little bit because that would be giving the Russians some knowledge of our technical capabilities. And oh, by the way, the Russians would feel the same way about them giving the Americans that knowledge of their technical capabilities as well. So none of that happened, but I think that Kennedy's death, you can't say with a certainty, Kennedy's death was a boon for the program. And literally Jim Webb, the NASA administrator, pulled it like a gun whenever somebody tried to cut the NASA budget on this. He says, you mean, do you mean to tell me that you don't not want to complete the dying wish of our slain president? It wasn't his dying wish, but that doesn't matter politically. It was a good argument, and he used it all the time.

Rod Pyle (00:40:25):
Well, and that's particularly interesting because I recall Kennedy was behind this for geopolitical reasons, but certainly not for reasons of exploration science. Now, if I do remember correctly though, even though the cooperation on the human space flight side died rather quickly on the robotics space flight side, there actually was some progress towards the mid to late 1960s of at least sharing information in some technical data. Is that right?

Roger Launius (00:40:52):
Yeah, no, I mean, very early on they made deals to share data sets of what they found there. There was also a joint effort to do some satellite capabilities together, mostly just talking to the satellites without any difficulty. There were other joint efforts tried. There was a lot of support for those at the working level. And if they could do it sort of under the radar, they always did it. But if it rose to the level where national leaders were

Tariq Malik (00:41:32):
Involved, then usually it didn't happen. It's interesting, Roger, the case you made about how much the whole moon program was going to cost there in the speech, because I recall in 2004 seeing a new Moon speech from then NASA administrator Michael Griffin, talking about what was then the Constellation program, and very clearly laying out that it was going to be X amount of years and we're going to build these rockets and it's going to cost a hundred billion. I mean, that was laid out there that that's how much it was going to cost, and that if we don't have the a hundred billion dollars, then we're not going to make it to the moon. And then lo and behold, that money never gets passed through the powers that be with Kennedy with Congress. And in 2011, everyone is surprised that the space shuttles are retiring and that there is no spacecraft, there's no follow, there's no follow up, there's nothing.

And not only is there nothing, but there's the Augustine Commission that says, oh, you could go to the moon, but you can't land on it. Or you could build a lander but not go to the moon because of all of this stuff that never got passed with the budget and everything. And it brings to mind that it's 2024 now, and I'm sorry, this is a very long-winded question, and it is of course a presidential election, and you just made a really strong point about that tie between presidential directions and achievements with the national program like nasa. And of course, NASA administrators are appointed by the presidents. And I guess the question that I, I'm kind of dancing around is, is there a difference between the longevity of goals in the US based program now because of that political affiliation that is different than what we saw during the Apollo era where you had this kind of multi administration not through choice, right? Because there was an assassination through line where you had that continuity that was able to achieve three different crew vehicles in a decade, a lunar landing that was followed up within the same year, that kind of a thing, because things they take forever. We just watched the SLS launch. It took, how long Rod? How long did it take? 18 years? Well,

Rod Pyle (00:44:09):
It was kind of constellation reborn, right? So pick your date.

Tariq Malik (00:44:13):
So I guess the question there is what we're seeing always been the case and that the story of Apollo is a special case because of the circumstances? Yeah, exactly. Or is there a sea change now with this kind of private, public NASA commercial partnership that could change all of that?

Roger Launius (00:44:37):
Yeah, no, I think the situation really hasn't fundamentally changed regardless of who's building the rockets and new space, old space. And I ask everybody, I talk to what is new space as opposed to old space? And the answers range across the board, and some of them don't necessarily hold a lot of water, but that's beside the point. The reality is our political system is built upon two, four and six year timeframes. And if you're a member of Congress, you're only looking out two years, that's a max. You may have an agenda that you'd like to go farther than that, and that's great, but if you're not reelected, that doesn't matter. And so you have to start from ground zero every two years, four years for a president, six years for a senator. And consequently, unless those are all working in sync, it doesn't happen. It's only when we've got a major agenda item that pushes everybody in this direction, in my mind, and the reality today is NASA's not going to get a lot more money. I mean, it's just not, it's going to bump along about where it's been. And if we can go back to the moon on that budget, everyone will cheer. But if we can't do that, then we're not going to go.

And we've had some successes of late greater successes, and I think a lot of people thought were going to take place with the rise of SpaceX and that launch system as well as the one from what's its name now, it used to be Orbital Sciences, and it was Orbital a TK, and now it's something else.

Tariq Malik (00:46:34):
Northrop Grumman Space Systems there,

Roger Launius (00:46:36):
It's there. And having those systems in place has been a real boon for supporting earth orbital activities. And those same sort of companies and others like them may be able to bounce beyond or earth orbit and go other places as well. But we've not seen a lot of demonstration of that yet. And once we do, once again, I'll cheer, but I'm going to be circumspect until I see some capability there.

Rod Pyle (00:47:12):
Well, I just want to say for just in case Mr. Musk and Mr. Bezos are listening, if you took some of your catering money from your next party, you could probably have my condo on Pluto in about six years. So please feel free to take over budgeting the American effort. We're going to go to a break and we'll be right back. Stay with us. Okay. I'm grabbing the next question. So you kind of touched on this, but so NASA's doing business in a new way, cost plus contracts, hopefully everything of the past, although SLS soldiers on, I don't know, was the, what do they call it? There's an ongoing contract for support and building of more SLS rockets. Was that finally completed cost plus or fixed fee? I don't remember.

Tariq Malik (00:48:02):
I don't don't have that offhand either.

Rod Pyle (00:48:04):
Yeah, I know it was part of the conversation, but we are in a new space age. We've got the Billionaires Boys club, which has been great, frankly. I mean, when you look at last year, Tark and I were talking about this last couple of weeks. I forget what the actual number at the end of the year was, but when I was checking in, we had 105 launches in 2023 and 93 of them or something with SpaceX. So that's a very telling story right there.

Tariq Malik (00:48:31):
I think they had 98 launches last year, 98, 96 orbital, and then the two Starship flight.

Rod Pyle (00:48:36):
So this is doing business in a new way. So here's another one of those thorny multi-part questions. A, do we ever get another Kennedy moment of somebody standing up and saying, okay, here's my bold assertion, because we've all heard the story about Mars. I remember about 2012, I think it was that graphic came out from nasa, the big Mars tentacle that went from earth to Mars like a squid. And I actually, I was teaching university at that point, and one of my students asked me when it was, we landed people on Mars so long ago, they had seen so many great computer graphics, they thought we had done it. So part one, do we get that bold assertion? And part two is doing business in this new way going to make the difference, we all hope it will, or are we going to get our shoe laces cross tied again? Well, I'm putting you right out there. I apologize. This is really skating and towards the thin eyes.

Roger Launius (00:49:38):
Yeah. Well, I mean, my initial response is, your guess is as good as mine. But the reality is you have to ask yourself the question. When a president were to stand up and make a statement like Kennedy made, what would dry that decision? We know what drove Kennedy's decision. It was all about the Cold War. And absent that Cold War, he never would've done it. We've had other presidents a couple of times now stand up and say, back to the moon and on to Mars, and how well did that turn out? So for somebody else to do that, you have to ask the question, what is the overarching political problem that they are seeking to solve? Because first and foremost, they're want to solve a political problem. That's what they're doing. It's not that they think that they may think it's a little cool, but they're not going to expend political capital on this unless they think there's some broader overarching concern. And I used Mars as an example of this repeatedly.

What would it take to get a president to stand up and say, look, we need to begin an all overarching effort to reach Mars by some date certain, and how well would that be responded to by other people who don't necessarily agree with them? And what is the political trigger, the overarching concern that would drive that decision? What is it that would make a president stand up and say, this is what we need to do, and I just don't see it. Somebody immediately said when I said that in a public speech, well, what have you found Life on Mars? And I said, well, then maybe the best thing to do is leave 'em alone.

Rod Pyle (00:51:42):
Did they throw rocks?

Roger Launius (00:51:44):
Well, they might. I got out of there. But anyway,

Tariq Malik (00:51:49):
Is the China argument, because Bill Nelson, the NASA chief former senator, brought it up again this week with the Artemis delay announcement that the US was still going to beat China to get astronauts back to the moon. Maybe it's more of a lukewarm driver than the Cold War was, but it's one that has been ramped up in Nelson's session leading NASA as that is like a chief driver. He brings it up to Congress in almost every appearance to remind them and whatnot. But it doesn't seem to have the same verve or that the Soviets are coming to the moon had during the Cold War.

Rod Pyle (00:52:39):
Well, and you mis phrased it, it was Red Moon. I think that was the big shaking fist that Johnson used. So effectively, sorry, go ahead, Roger.

Roger Launius (00:52:49):
Yeah, no, I mean, the reality is we don't have a fear of the Chinese the way we had a fear of the existential crisis with the Soviet Union. I mean, it's just not the same at all. Yeah, there are things we disagree with them on. There are things they do that we don't like one little bit, but if they make it to the moon before we get back there, who really cares? And there's probably polling on that, by the way, but I haven't seen it.

Rod Pyle (00:53:22):
I'll bet there is most probably go, huh?

Roger Launius (00:53:26):
Yeah. And beyond that, if we're talking about Mars, is there a concern that the Chinese are going to get there before us? I don't think so. As I said, there is some tensions between the United States and China, but it's nothing like the existential threat that we felt in the 1960s. I mean, when I was a kid in grammar school, we crawled under our desk and duck and cover exercises like that would protect us from a nuclear blast. I thought it was stupid when I was 10.

Rod Pyle (00:54:02):
Where did you grow up? I'm

Roger Launius (00:54:03):
Curious. South Carolina.

Rod Pyle (00:54:05):
So we did the same thing in Pasadena, pat, California where I grew up. And I remember as a kid thinking, okay, this is a half inch of Formica supposed to protect me through these big huge windows from a 5,000 degree nuclear fireball. And then I grew up later, I was working on some history channel documentary about the Cold War, and I actually saw a map, a Russian targeting map of Pasadena with three overlapping circles. One for Caltech, one for jpl,

Roger Launius (00:54:33):
L totally.

Rod Pyle (00:54:34):
You were on the target one for the we. And our school was right in the overlap point. And I thought, well, that would've been pretty quick. But yeah, that was a silly time.

Tariq Malik (00:54:41):
That can cover Rod. That can cover, yeah.

Rod Pyle (00:54:43):
Sorry, you have another question, Tara? No,

Tariq Malik (00:54:45):
I had a clarification, rod. You asked about the SLS contracts earlier, and I did confirm that last year it's NASA finalized a 3.2 billion contract to do not just core stages for Artemis three and four, but also to build the exploration upper stage for five and six. It's the same evolution of the main contract, but it's operational now as opposed to all of the research.

Rod Pyle (00:55:10):
What you're saying is it's still cost plus

Tariq Malik (00:55:12):
Basis. That's what it looks like.

Rod Pyle (00:55:14):

Tariq Malik (00:55:15):
But I can tell you that NASA's watching a lot closely now than they were before,

Roger Launius (00:55:21):
And they should. One of the things that was very common during the Apollo era was people who were complaining about the budget, they get responses from nasa, well, it's going to cost what it costs. And if you've got an overarching concern to get this done on a time certain, then you accept that. And the sort of iron triangle of project management is cost, schedule and reliability. And the answer is pick two because you can't have all three.

Tariq Malik (00:55:51):

Rod Pyle (00:55:53):
So can I ask an archivist question?

Roger Launius (00:55:56):

Rod Pyle (00:55:57):
Years ago, I was working on a show. Oh, it was the real right stuff, I think for Disney Net Geo. So I was over at University of Houston across from JSC where they have their archive now. And I was stunned to find one person and an assistant that was in charge of the whole thing, and they're really nice and really helpful. They kind of had this tired used up look like, please don't ask us to find this specific thing. So I went into the archive and it was like NASA had backed a cube van up just gently, but just pushed out these boxes of stuff. And so I was going through things that they hadn't even cataloged yet, and I was finding eight inch reel to reel tape boxes that were marked just John and Gus 61. It's like, well, what? Oh, John Glenn and Gus Grissom.

So there's some real gems there. It makes one wonder what's in the archives at this point that we still don't necessarily know is there. But I guess my specific question is at the time they were racing to get to the moon, and I don't think when you and I were teenagers, all the people at NASA were thinking, we have to preserve this stuff for the historians 50 years, hence. So when you're doing research for, in my case, a book or for you books or what have you find even a lot of primary references that disagree on stuff or incomplete, what's your experience been?

Roger Launius (00:57:32):
Well, that's always the case. And there's tons of stuff in the archives that haven't been plowed by very many people at all. Occasionally you'll find something new and different that really kind of sets things in a different light, but mostly it confirms what you already know. So you don't necessarily think all that much about it. At University of Houston Clear Lake where they've got the material there from Johnson Space Center, space Center, generally speaking, that's a decent repository, and they're trying to do the right thing in terms of maintaining it. They don't have a lot of capability to catalog it and make it available. And so they're doing the best they can, but that's better than what the National Archives does most of the time. I mean, literally when you go to one of these federal record centers and the record center that supports the Southeast or Kennedy Space Center and Marshall Space Flight Centers in their materials is just outside of Atlanta. And literally, you will have thousands upon thousands of boxes, and they'll just be labeled NASA

Whatever, NASA organizational materials or something like this, and you have no idea what's in those boxes. Now you can go look at 'em, but there's no finding aid, there's no nothing associated with this. And so you just literally pull the boxes out and go through 'em one at a time and find whatever's in there. It's a very slow process. And for those of us who are sort of on a clock and trying to get things done, it is hard to find that material. And you have to ask yourself the question, is it worthwhile going through all those boxes to some gym someplace that you may not find for a month if you spend a month in that archive?

Rod Pyle (00:59:28):

Roger Launius (00:59:28):
It's hard. I mean, it's a hard thing to do.

Rod Pyle (00:59:31):
We're both at that point, at least I am in life where I can start seeing that brick wall. It's like, okay, how much of the time I have left, and again, I don't know your experience in this area, but I had four books come out in 2019. A couple of 'em sold. Well, a couple kind of did what Niche Space Books usually do, but I had two first look deals out of that and a bunch of very happy publishers. And I went back to 'em this year for a much cooler project. And the two first look places either went out of business or got acquired, and the rest of 'em were kind of

Tariq Malik (01:00:06):

Rod Pyle (01:00:07):
Books. And it suddenly has gotten a lot harder to do that. So on top of the difficulty of finding the material, now, it's this uphill struggle of just trying to get the word out. If you actually want to earn anything from being an author, which is I guess a luxury now,

Roger Launius (01:00:29):
It's hard to make a living as solely as a freelance author. There's no doubt about that. It is been that way for a while and it better than I do. I mean, I always had a day job. So

Tariq Malik (01:00:42):
I had a quick follow up about the challenge of being an archivist. And you were just talking about these, maybe these hidden records that are just out there that no one has found yet, or just opened that box. Yeah,

Roger Launius (01:00:58):
Let's rephrase that. They're not hidden. Nobody's hiding them. It's

Tariq Malik (01:01:01):
Just undiscovered, undiscovered, nice

Rod Pyle (01:01:04):
Conspiracy shot, Tarik. Nice drive. No,

Tariq Malik (01:01:07):
No. But it gets me thinking about when I first started my career, in order to get video for, we would've to write to Johnson and get a Johnson Space Center and get approvals. And then the beta tapes would arrive for every flight day's highlights, and then I'd have to send them back at the end. And now 20 some odd years later, you have astronauts sending photos and reports on Twitter, but also on Instagram, but also through tiktoks. And you have all these different formats of information telling one small piece of the story that is space exploration, not just NASA and astronauts, but also companies themselves and the scientists that are releasing studies through different ways. And it seems to me that the job of being a space historian 30 years from now, looking back at this, is going to be so much more difficult to try to piece all of those different things together because they're all in different places and in different formats on an internet that may change entirely in the next 20 years. But he and I aren't going to be here. Well, just, this is your problem. Is there an event horizon, I guess, about what we will be able to preserve from this digital age of space chronicling that is out there that we have to worry about?

Roger Launius (01:02:41):
This is one of the biggest topics in the archival world. It's not just about nasa, it's about everything. And in the context of nasa, there is an organization that made up of volunteers called to boldly preserve about trying to capture information about these various entities that are engaged in space activities. And we're concerned about this in a lot of settings, but one of the biggest ones is in the corporate world, no one guards their materials more carefully than corporations. And it doesn't matter what corporation we're talking about. I had on my advisory committee in the 1990s at NASA for the history program, the general council for Rockwell International before they got bought out by Boeing. And he said, look, personally, I love what you guys are doing, but I treat every document like a ticking time bomb. What is going to be in there that we're going to have to go to court over at some point?

So I don't want anybody to see anything. Wow. And he was being honest, I think in the way in which a lot of general counsels and corporations look at documents. So how do we preserve those? And NASA is great because they work through the Federal Records Act and while it's hard to find stuff, at least it's there. And if you want to spend enough time, you can find it. And of course, they require their contractors to put in reports pretty regularly about what they're doing and why they're doing it. And so that's all fine. So that makes it easier. So the corporate piece of this has been hard all along. It remains hard. The other part of this, which is everybody's now their own archivist because they're creating their own materials and putting it out on the internet or name the name the web thing of your choice at this point.

I mean, there's all kinds of stuff that's out there and they become, they're curating their own sites and whether or not that's going to be captured in any real way over time as anybody's guess. But we've had these debates all along. One of the things that happened in the first part of the 20th century when the telephone became ubiquitous, all the historians and the archivists were running around thinking we're going to lose all of our records because there's no record of a telephone call unless somebody actually does a memo about it. And that's sort of true, but not really. So let's not overblow the crisis, but let's be mindful that there can be a problem.

Rod Pyle (01:05:40):
In 2009, 2010, I was teaching at executive, it was the Apollo executive learning experience or something at Johnson Space Center with a delightful lady named Jeannie Engel who was at the time, she was getting ready for retirement a few years, but at the time she was her Chief Knowledge Retention officer, I think was the title. And talking to her about that job and the task of that tiny department, I just thought, my god, this feels hopeless. And we've all been involved in sort of noble, probably the hopeless deeds in our lives. But that one was big. And then a few years later, maybe it was a few years prior, they were shutting down North American, Rockwell and Downey, where they now have that little Columbia Memorial Museum and just tossing tons of paperwork from the shuttle era. And you're standing there watching these forklifts put stuff into these 40 foot dumpsters wanting to scream, but I don't have a place to put it and neither do they. So at a certain point, I guess you just have to learn to let go of these things. But that's a down note on an up note. I have a completely unfair question to ask you for our close. When do we see boots on Mars?

Roger Launius (01:06:57):
2033. Right? 30 years.

My time horizons a little longer than that. It is possible we might see somebody land on Mars in the 2030s. It's conceivable. I think on the outside we'll see it by 2050, in which case I probably won't be here to see it. But I would like to mean there are two things I'd love to see happen before I'm gone. And I'm 69 years old now, so another 10 years, another 15 years about probably what I've got. I'd like to see boots on the ground on Moon again. I think I will. I that's going to happen. There's no reason to believe it. It won't and certainly it can. And I'd like to see us on Mars as well. Something that I have not seen yet. I saw the first time around on the moon. I want to see the next one

Rod Pyle (01:07:57):
As well. Well, I'll pass the collection dish around and maybe we can get our brain stuck in jars with a couple of eyeballs on top, side by side, somewhere in front of a TV screen. And wait for the next Walter Cronkite to come along and say, there they are. Boots on Mars. Roger, thank you so much for coming today. I got through about half my questions.

Roger Launius (01:08:17):

Rod Pyle (01:08:17):
So maybe if we're lucky, we can drag you back for another episode at some point.

Roger Launius (01:08:22):
Absolutely. Anytime.

Rod Pyle (01:08:23):
I really appreciate you coming to talk to us about why we go to space and who thinks we should and possibly shouldn't. Is there a place online we could sort of track your future developments and writings and so forth?

Roger Launius (01:08:36):
Well, I'm on LinkedIn. You can look at me on there if you like. I put a lot of things that are a little older on, but I don't have a web presence other than that. I used to keep a blog, but I sort of gave that up. I think it's still out there. I mean you can look at it, but I haven't added anything to it in almost 10 years. So it's a little bit dated.

Tariq Malik (01:08:58):
It's archived.

Rod Pyle (01:08:59):
Well, you're a historian, so that's okay. Yeah. Alright, Tarik, where could we keep an eye on your bright rising star cough, cough?

Tariq Malik (01:09:07):
Well, as always, you can find, also on the Twitter at Tarik j Malik. And this weekend, I guess we're going to be watching what happens with the rest of the Peregrine Moon mission. It's got, as we're recording this, it's got two days of fuel left, maybe a little bit more. And that leak keeps getting better. It's getting smaller and smaller. So we'll see how far they can go.

Rod Pyle (01:09:36):
Fingers crossed. Great. And of course you can always find and add as Please don't forget to drop us a line at Twist at twit tv. That's t We welcome your comments, suggestions, and ideas. And you know this already because I say this every week and we do answer our emails. Well, I do. I have to kick Tark every now and then to answer a couple, but I will answer.

Tariq Malik (01:09:59):
He kicks hard too

Rod Pyle (01:10:00):
Because we love you. Don't forget to check out The websites and the name and the National Space, both are good places to satisfy your space. Flight cravings. New episodes of this podcast published every Friday on your favorite pod catcher. So make sure to subscribe, tell your friends and give us reviews. Give us reviews, give us reviews that they tell you in advertising when I was working there. Say everything three times, give us reviews, I'll say it forth. Also head to our website at twit tv slash tws. Don't forget, you can get all the great programming on the TWIT Network ad free on Club Twit, as well as some extras that are only available there for $7 a month. You also support TWIT programming, which needs that support desperately, please. So do join Club twit. We all have. It's a good thing. And you can follow the TWI Tech podcast network at twit on Twitter and on Facebook and twit TV on Instagram. Thank you very much, and we'll see you next time.

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