This Week in Space

Jan 12th 2024

This Week in Space 93

Does America Really Want to Go Back to the Moon?

Hosted by Rod Pyle, Tariq Malik

With Former NASA Historian Roger Launius

New episodes posted every Friday.
Guests: Roger Launius
Category: News

America's heading back to the Moon, but what does the public really think? This week, we talk with former NASA Chief Historian and Smithsonian Curator Dr. Roger Launius, who has studied, among many other things, public perceptions of NASA and spaceflight. Some spoilers: no, there was no "Golden Age" in the 1960s when the public was hugely behind the Apollo Moon landings; being a space historian is a lot of fun; and it probably doesn't really matter if China lands people on the Moon before the US does so *again*. Join us.

• Successful first flight of ULA’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket with engines from Blue Origin
• Payload - Astrobotic’s Peregrine commercial lunar lander suffers propulsion leak en route to the Moon
• NASA engineers finally open stuck cover on OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample capsule

Main Topic: Public Perceptions of Space Exploration
• Common perception of widespread public support and national unity around Apollo program is a myth 
• Polls at the time showed concerns about cost and other spending priorities
• Support depended heavily on Cold War context; would not have happened otherwise
• Public support and approval polling for space exploration has remained fairly consistent over decades
• But support drops when funds are weighed against other priorities like social programs
• JFK tried multiple times to make Apollo a joint U.S.-Soviet program to save money
• His assassination allowed NASA to leverage his legacy to maintain support and funding
• Presidential bold visions for space require an urgent political problem to address
• Competition with China lacks the existential threat of the Cold War space race

Additional Topics: 
• NASA is now doing business with more private-public and commercial partnerships
• But political factors and election cycles still hamper long-term continuity
• Preserving history and archives from the digital era will be extremely difficult
• Predictions: Boots on the Moon again within 10-15 years, Mars by 2040s

Download or subscribe to this show at

Get episodes ad-free with Club TWiT at