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  • Hank: Thanks to Hack The Moon for sponsoring this very special episode of

  • SciShow. Go to wehackthemoon.com to learn even more about the Apollo 11 mission.

  • Almost 50 years ago on July 20th, 1969, space exploration changed forever.

  • That day the United States landed the first astronauts on the moon as part of

  • the Apollo 11 Mission.

  • And with that famous one small step, they changed the way we think about our planet

  • and ourselves.

  • Apollo 11 wasn't the first time humans had been to space or anything, that happened

  • in 1961 with a Soviet flight followed shortly by an American one.

  • But space, we didn't even really know what that was until fairly recently.

  • The moon, on the other hand, we've been staring at since we existed.

  • Watching it wander through the sky, chasing or being chased by the Sun, moving

  • through its phases.

  • It is another world -- one that has profound effects on our world and also on

  • our species.

  • There's never been a time in human history when we did not gaze at the moon and

  • wonder.

  • And sending people to walk on the surface of another world --the enormity of that

  • giant leap-- It's something that changed us, something that has inspired us as

  • individuals and as a species ever since.

  • So we wanted to do something special to celebrate.

  • We wanted to ask a pretty bold question because while the whole SciShow team loves

  • Apollo, we couldn't help but wonder--and we hope you won't get too mad at us if we

  • ask, was the Apollo program a bad idea?

  • Many people remember it as this beautiful thing that united the world, but if you

  • really think about it, it kind of seems like..

  • I don't know ridiculous?

  • Only five years passed between when the Soviet Union flung the first satellite

  • into orbit and when President John F.

  • Kennedy said these words,

  • President Kennedy: "We choose to go to the Moon.

  • We choose to go to the Moon.

  • We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things.

  • Not because they are easy but because they are hard."

  • Hank: A year after that Kennedy was dead and only six years later Neil Armstrong

  • and Buzz Aldrin were standing on another world.

  • In hindsight this looks like a work of genius, but lives were lost and other

  • disasters were only narrowly averted.

  • And if that happened, how far back with those tragedies have pushed space

  • exploration.

  • Ultimately was the risk worth the reward and how many close calls were there,

  • really?

  • These are big questions and ones that you can spend a lot of time thinking about but

  • at the end of the day, we're SciShow.

  • Sitting around in wondering isn't really our thing.

  • So we decided to get to the bottom of it.

  • [ ♪INTRO ]

  • Hank: We realized we weren't gonna get to the bottom of this by looking at

  • peer-reviewed journals.

  • It's pretty subjective stuff.

  • So we decided to talk to experts.

  • And to talk to experts, we have Alexis who has gone all over America to talk to those people.

  • I went to London to talk to one person.

  • Alexis.

  • What do you have for us?

  • Alexis: Yeah, honestly, I think a really good place to start with this is just to

  • know about the politics.

  • If you want to understand why the Apollo program happened, it's important to

  • understand that the political climate of the 1950s and 60s.

  • During this time the United States and the Soviet Union were in the middle of the

  • Cold War which was essentially the showdown between two ideologies.

  • You had the Soviet Union and communism on one hand and the US and capitalism on the

  • other hand.

  • And during this conflict, space became a battleground for these two superpowers to

  • prove which ideology was best.

  • Initially, the Soviet Union was actually winning this race.

  • They launched the first satellite.

  • They sent the first human into space.

  • And in the US, people were concerned that these achievements would cause the public

  • to believe that communism was the better option which the US was just not okay with.

  • So that's when the moon became the goal.

  • Ultimately the United States wanted to be the first to send someone to the Moon to

  • prove how great capitalism was.

  • And the Soviet Union wanted to do it to prove the same thing about communism.

  • So even if most people today remember Apollo as a primarily scientific program, it wasn't.

  • In the beginning, it was mainly about proving a political point.

  • Margaret Weitekamp: The Apollo program came with a lot of risk, political risk.

  • This was a big gamble on a large technology program that was funded and

  • started because they wanted to be able to show it to the world.

  • Brady Haran: The other thing a lot of people would say is we only did it because

  • of politics and the Cold War and a stick it up the Russians and cuz there was this

  • competition going on.

  • And you know what?

  • That's true.

  • Hank: Yeah.

  • Brady Haran: That's completely true.

  • But like I see absolutely nothing wrong with that.

  • Like, that is just the circumstances that it took.

  • The technology had to be in the right place and the political climate, the

  • economic climate all had to align in this very unique way and that's what happened

  • and I don't see anything wrong with that.

  • Yes, Apollo was only made possible because of this unique set of circumstances in

  • this competitive political climate that was created, but you know, I don't think

  • that's a negative.

  • I just think we should kind of be a little bit grateful that it happened because if

  • that if that circumstance hadn't happened, we probably --you're right -- we probably

  • wouldn't have gone to the Moon.

  • There probably wouldn't have been the will to spend that much money and do that.

  • Noah Petro: Apollo scientifically started where science had to fit into the corners

  • as much as they could.

  • The initial plan for Apollo 11 included one astronaut getting out, collecting

  • samples, and getting back in and coming back.

  • And several scientists including Jack Schmitt who at the time was an astronaut

  • and training the other astronauts on what they would do when they got to the moon

  • was able to convince NASA management that, No, no, no, we really need to make the

  • most of this one mission.

  • If Apollo 11 is the only time we go to the Moon, we need to deploy experiments on the Moon.

  • Alexis: It's really interesting to think about because like people pointed out,

  • it's this thing that took all of this time and all of these resources.

  • And it brings up the question of like if there had been no conflict to motivate

  • that when we have bothered?

  • Margaret Weitekamp: If you look at the public opinion polls from the time,

  • especially when you asked a question phrased as, "Do you think it's worth the

  • money that's being spent?"

  • Almost never did you get a majority saying that they were fully in support of the

  • Apollo program.

  • When the missions were actually successful, people recognized in the

  • moment that they were seeing history in the making and they wanted to celebrate

  • that and be some part of that so that I think there's a fundamental disconnect

  • between what you see in public opinion polling in terms of our willingness to

  • revert national resources to this program from a general American interest in the

  • idea that we as Americans are explorers and that space is a part of what we do now.

  • Alexis: So growing up something I heard a lot about Apollo is because it was crammed

  • into this really short time period, you had the situation where engineers were

  • working like eight days a week and 25 hours a day to get this done.

  • What was it actually like working on the program?

  • Bob Sieck: Well, it was, it was high activity, high intensity work and the work

  • weeks, work days were long.

  • And in retrospect I would for those of us that did the operations down here where

  • the spacecraft were assembled, the rockets were assembled, and we processed and

  • launched, and it was about as...

  • A marathon at lasted about seven years.

  • That was pretty much it.

  • Hank: So far, it's feeling like the experts aren't really alleviating my concerns here.

  • We have this sort of politically motivated program that you kind of have to eeck some

  • science out of.

  • It's tremendously costly and it's a huge amount of effort necessary to make it happen.

  • We had people in space but the period of time it took for us to go from one person

  • in space to this giant leap into deep space-- it was so fast.

  • Alexis: You hear people say of just like we worked on Apollo around the clock for

  • seven years or how many years or whatever...

  • You think that was like the best idea, of just like trying to cram that in in such a

  • short time frame like--

  • Destin Sandlin: Deadlines are good.

  • Alexis: Okay.

  • Yeah

  • Destin Sandlin: Yeah, deadlines are good.

  • Like, this video you're making, right?

  • Alexis: Yeah.

  • Destin Sandlin: You got a deadline, don't you?

  • Alexis: Right.

  • Destin Sandlin: Okay, and so it's good to have like we call it popping a chalk line.

  • It's good to have a moment in time, like that's the line.

  • We got to do this by then.

  • Alexis: Yeah.

  • Destin Sandlin: I think it's a good thing to have things like that.

  • Yeah, ultimately.

  • You need if you're going to have a massive engineering program, you have to have a

  • schedule because schedule helps you mitigate different things.

  • Like for example, as an engineer.

  • I can keep working on something forever until it's absolutely perfect.

  • But at some point in time, you have to get it good enough and unless you have a

  • schedule to motivate you to shed all of your uncertainties.

  • You're never going to think it's good enough.

  • Hank: We also don't know very much about space at this point in the '60s.

  • How often are there solar flares that could be completely devastating to a

  • crewed mission?

  • We don't know any of this stuff.

  • It's all guesses.

  • There was so much we didn't know.

  • Alexis: And even as I was talking to people on my trip, they kept bringing up

  • things that I had no idea about.

  • Hank: Of course

  • Alexis: Right, so I talked to you to environmental engineers at Kennedy Space

  • Center and they brought up the fact that during the Apollo program because of all

  • of these things we didn't know, the environment around Kennedy got kind of wrecked.

  • Jacqueline Quinn: You did a little history the US Environmental Protection Agency was

  • established December 2nd of 1970.

  • So there was a year and a half between when we're putting men on the moon and

  • leaving footprints behind and when the regulatory agency started up within the

  • United States, so there's a lot of -- from an environmental perspective, there's a

  • timeline that needs to be understood so that you can understand that, you know,

  • all industries followed regulations, but regulations didn't happen at that point,

  • you know, in 1940, 1950 or 1960.

  • They didn't even begin or come into fruition until 1970 until we'd already put

  • men on the moon.

  • So a lot of our regulations that we do now as protectors and stewards of what you see

  • behind us is different than what we did back in that era.

  • Rosaly Santos: Any industry that use, store, or dispose chemicals in the 50s,

  • 60s, and 70s had some environmental impact that was unforeseen.

  • The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act was enacted in the 1970s which provided

  • some guidance of how to manage the waste from whenever you start using it until you

  • dispose of it.

  • And then the Hazardous Waste amendments was enacted in the 1980s.

  • That provided initiated corrective action for any impact that may have happened in the past.

  • So from then on all the industries were in tune with environmental regulations and

  • they complied with all those new requirements that needed to get done.

  • Hank: Basically what I'm getting from this is that you can't be expected to follow a

  • regulation that doesn't exist.

  • Alexis: Right exactly.

  • That was kind of the point they were trying to make.

  • Like technically we could have sat around for like 10 or 20 years to figure all of

  • this stuff out, but it's like we didn't know what we didn't know and we weren't

  • from a political standpoint -- the Soviet Union probably would have landed on the Moon.

  • Hank: Yeah, but that doesn't explain everything here.

  • Like this was a very rushed engineering project, people died, Apollo 1 happened.

  • Apollo 1 was going to be the first crewed mission of the Apollo program.

  • Crewed by Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.

  • On January 27, 1967, during a crewed launch rehearsal, the cabin was

  • pressurized with pure oxygen, higher than atmospheric pressure.

  • After an electrical short nylon in the capsule caught fire and the environment.

  • Because the internal pressure of the capsule was higher than the external

  • pressure of the atmosphere, it was impossible to quickly remove the door and

  • all three astronauts were killed.

  • After the accident, all flights were stopped for 20 months.

  • Alexis: But it's actually possible that Apollo one is the reason the rest of the

  • program didn't go terribly, terribly wrong.

  • Bob Sieck: And there were a number of those close calls and then and then right

  • before our first manned mission on Apollo, the tragedy occured.

  • And everything comes to a stop and you go look at everything you're doing.

  • The first to figure out what happened and and fix that before you get on with the goal.

  • And from a big picture standpoint, and this is not rationalizing to me, the whole

  • purpose of Apollo 1 was to be the first step in getting humans to the Moon.

  • Because of what happened with Apollo 1, we looked at all of our preparation up to

  • that point in time and what everyone said is well, these are the things we got to fix.

  • This is what we really learned from Apollo 1.

  • Margaret Weitekamp: Without the changes that came after Apollo 1, we would not

  • have gotten to the Moon.

  • We were on a path that ultimately would not have worked and that dramatic change

  • cost three lives and people were forever after very aware of the high personal cost

  • because those were people they knew.

  • Those were people they were friends with, they knew their families.

  • They knew their children.

  • So the change that in trajectory there in some ways they did Apollo better starting from 1967.

  • Noah Petro: At the time, it was really important to understand what had happened

  • in the Apollo 1 fire make sure that something like that never happen again,

  • but also that we, you know created a culture of safety acceptance.

  • But at the same time with some risk tolerance too.