Blog , Technology

Artemis, Moon, and American Resolve

Posted on Tuesday, September 6, 2022
by AMAC, Robert B. Charles

Are you watching the moon? It is at about three-quarters, and by September 10 will loom – full. The first American rocket attempting a manned return to the moon is Artemis, a public-private venture with great promise. Unfortunately, the first unmanned test last week got scrubbed. But stay tuned.

In 1967, all American eyes were on the moon – and on Cape Canaveral. America was locked in a death battle – or what seemed like it – with the Soviet Union. The national security imperative was to get men to the moon first, a surrogate for nuclear war between two nations with thousands of warheads.

In January of that year, after the Soviets put up the first satellite in 1957 and first man in 1961, and after America put up Mercury and Gemini near-earth missions, Apollo stood on the pad. The giant Saturn rockets were like something out of pure fiction, enormous, ground shaking, able to get us to the moon.

Apollo 1, manned by veteran astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and seasoned naval aviator Roger Chaffee, was locked and loaded, scheduled for launch in February. Then, tragedy struck. A short circuit ignited the pure oxygen capsule environment (why we no longer use pure oxygen), and all three died.

The nation was heartsick, well beyond a fuel leak, software glitch, or design rethink – we had lost three brave men, and compounding that lost precious time. Doing the impossible was part of the American ethos. We are pioneers, dare devils, doers who “damn the torpedoes,” but hit square in the chest hurts.

The nation took the loss hard. Enthusiasm for doing the impossible wobbled. Engineers returned to the drawing board. An investigation and five unmanned missions followed, opening a fresh attempt, Apollo 7.  If successful, this would be the first manned Apollo mission, making possible a moon landing. If it failed, confidence in the program would be rocked, Soviets empowered, history forever changed.

Walt Cunningham, one of the three who flew Apollo 7, served on the Apollo 1 review board, had offered redesign ideas, was himself a physicist, combat pilot, and confident – ready to fly. But in a conversation with him on this topic, he also knew the stakes. They were high. They needed to make it work.

“After Apollo 1 … We all knew that if we had another unsuccessful mission or crew, we might not get to moon, and public might lose enthusiasm – We knew the public might lose enthusiasm about putting people on top of these big candles …”

Walt’s wisdom is still in play. Artemis is a giant among rockets. So were the early Saturn rockets. The Saturn V stood 363 feet high, Artemis is 322, both taller than the Statue of Liberty. Artemis has 5.7 million pounds of thrust, Saturn V 7.6 million, but both are bruisers, veritable monsters.

So, here is the lesson, the point, the history we cannot forget, especially right now – with China and other aggressors pressing the case for dominating space: good things take time, take patience, require persistence, resolve, and often involve steps backward and forward, risk, reward, cost, and loss. 

No major advancement or ambitious American program, public or private, involving sea, land, flight, or space – especially space – has ever advanced without setbacks, delays, constant adjustments. None of the great wars we have won, battles we have fought, challenges embraced, steps forward we have made “for all Mankind” – ever came smoothly, without pain, delays, concentration, and recalibration.

We will get there. We will get to the moon again, soon. We will get to Mars in time, humans settling that visible Red Planet. We will do these things with uniquely American resolve, can-do, without hesitation, understanding risks are what they are, and delays occur – with no loss of enthusiasm.

Odds two-to-one the first to walk on Mars will be Americans, but not if we lose faith in who we are, in our past, present, future, and temperament, our will to win, our never-say-die attitude. The glass and moon are half full, going to full. Delays happen, did this past week, but stay tuned. Our future roars.

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, ten-year naval intelligence officer, author, and National Spokesman for AMAC. He conducted congressional oversight of NASA 1995-1999.

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1 year ago

Are there not laws against hate speech such as biden made???… Arrest and prosecute him and the rest of his administration for treason a murder!!!!…. SEND THEM ALL TO GITMO FOR PUNISHMENT!…………M,

1 year ago

Very nice article. I agree with you that yes we will ultimately get there. However, the important lesson I take away from Artemis to date is that we largely perfected the skills to do this type of mission fairly easily over 50 years ago, but like anything else a knowledge and skill not used regularly usually deteriorates over time. Will virtually all the old rocket engineers, custom machinists, precision welders and scientists of the time now either long retired or dead, we are very much having to relearn much of the needed physical skills essential to assembling a more modern version of a 50 plus year old design. As a result, yes we will get there. We will just encounter some hiccups along the way as the current generation develops the necessary skillsets needed for the moon and eventually beyond.

By the way, I see the same issue also cropping up in reports concerning the construction of new nuclear reactors in the United States. Another very specialized skillset that goes well beyond the garden variety knowledge most construction personnel possess. Lots of rework having to be doone on welds and concrete work, all because all the specialists that built our last generation of nuclear plants are either retired or gone. So skills atrophy is an issue touching a number of our more advanced areas of science and engineering.

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