Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

July 20, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Apollo 11 Moonwalk - 40th Anniversary


  • July 20th is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Space and science experts from Arizona State University talk about that moment in history and the future of space exploration.


View Transcript
John F. Kennedy: I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.

Ted Simons: President Kennedy's words marked the start of something special -- the race to put a man on the moon. The United States won that race 40 years ago on July 20th, 1969, when Neal Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface. It was a proud moment in our nation's history. One that captured our imagination and changed our lives. Here to talk about the impact of the moon landings and the future of space exploration is the director of A.S.U.'s Origins Initiative, physicist Lawrence Krauss, and Kip Hodges, director of the university's school of earth and space exploration. Getting all tongue tied here on this anniversary. Thanks for joining us.
Guests: Thank you for having us.
Ted Simons: We just finished talking about Walter Cronkite and his legacy and most of us remember watching Walter Cronkite and/or this historic episode. Start with you. Where were you 40 years ago tonight?

Lawrence Krauss: I was a young high school student and had set up a command center in my parent's basement and I had the command module and I stayed home from school and it was just a -- and I wanted to be an astronaut.

Ted Simons: Kip, where were you?

Kip Hodges: At a baseball game. I had gone with my dad and mom and in the middle of the baseball game, they broke into the P.A. system and broadcast the actual landing process. And it was amazing. No announcement, it just came on the speakers, these old cone speakers and it was amazing. The game stopped and everybody in the stands just stopped and listened and there was a big cheer when the landing actually occurred. It was remarkable.

Ted Simons: It's hard -- the impact of television on this event, correct?

Lawrence Krauss: The fact it was broadcast and it was hard to see what was going on, but given the time, the fact you felt like you were there and it was the first major exploration of anywhere new that you had a live contact for. I was reading, surprised at the time the role television played in the whole expedition.

Ted Simons: Do you agree, the fact that we could watch it as it was happening?

Kip Hodges: Oh, absolutely. I remember having a tripod and a camera set up to trying to get the images. I think for everybody, it was a wonderful event. Really the first television event.


Lawrence Krauss: I was talking at NASA, actually, yesterday, they had a big celebration and I was speaking and I had gotten a copy of the footage and I showed it again and you still get chills.


Ted Simons: 1969, tough year, tough couple of years there. Would television's impact and just the fact that you could look up there and see someone's up there. Did it help unite a troubled nation?


Lawrence Krauss: I think for a short time it did. It was a difficult time. I grew up in Canada, I was watching in Canada, and there was no sense that one sense it was an American event particularly, it was something that I think for a moment united the world.

Ted Simons: What do you think?

Kip Hodges: newspaper documentation of that particular day. There were many other news things going on that day. But the interesting thing you felt when you read all of these was the number of greetings from France and different countries around the world. It was a very much a global humanity event rather than something that was just considered to be an American event.

Ted Simons: Arthur C. Clarke -- paraphrasing here -- amazed not so much that we went to the moon, but after 1972, never went back.

Kip Hodges: True. If you talk to the people who worked on the Apollo program, from the astronauts to the engineers and stenographers, you find a lot of people are shocked that we let them down. Like we had a huge inertia and when the rest of the program was canceled. It was supposed to go on after Apollo 17, the last event in 1972, but when it was canceled, it was air was pulled out of the process. Many are saddened, even today that we lost that opportunity to continue to explore.

Lawrence Krauss: You know, although I think in retrospect, it's not that surprising, the same time I showed that footage, showed 2001. We'd have hotels in space and the point was what we should have realized is how hard it is to send people in space and costly and dangerous and in retrospect, I think it's not that surprising -- that was a specific mission and to some extent, it was political, and it's costly and you have to be committed to spending money if you want to reproduce it.

Ted Simons: I have a quote here from you: Human space travel is all about adventure and almost nothing about science. Explain, please.

Lawrence Krauss: The point is if you want to send a human into space, maybe 99.9% of the cost is spent getting them there, keeping them alive while there and getting them back and that leaves not much money left for science. I'm not convinced there was any science done on the international space station. Really what you want to do, when you -- what you learn about sending people to space for the most part is how they can survive in space. That's the science you learn and you do that because maybe we want to send people out in the universe. I'd go. That's not a question, but there's little money left for the science.

Ted Simons: What do you think about that?

Kip Hodges: I think that it is about adventure and exploration, I also think that there's quite a lot of really good science you can do as an individual on a planet like the moon and the astronauts and people like Harrison Schmidt, who was the only one who went on Apollo 17, got a lot of work done while there. It's a costly thing. Right now, even today, 40 years later, we have a very difficult time doing things robotically, that we can ask a human scientist. For the foreseeable future, for the problems -- using a three-pound water-cooled brain, it's an effective way to get it done.

Kip Hodges: The big argument one could make -- and I have friends who work in robotics who make this point. What we do is human exploration of space using robotic tools. Essentially using tools that are long-range tools and as long as we use tools, we have to realize there's a loss of tactile capacity of looking at the scientific problem when using tools and doing remote sensing. I think the balance that you have to make is the balance between the cost of sending humans, the overhead associated with it, which is a costly endeavor to send humans, but on the other hand, we were successful at it 40 years ago and the science we brought back from that time was tremendous.

Lawrence Krauss: Yeah, I'm not sure it's tremendous enough for $200 billion. Talking earlier, you could probably send 200 robotic missions for that. And I think in 20 years, they'll be better and I think we're already there. People say we want to return to the moon and go to Mars. We're on Mars. I love watching the rovers and the pictures that come from them. When the satellite landed on TITAN -- we'll never send humans there -I felt the chills that I felt when astronauts were on the moon.

Ted Simons: Don't you need that sense of adventure and challenge? I bring it up because I've heard on more than one occasions the biggest reason we went to the moon wasn't science, it was to beat the Soviet Union.

Lawrence Krauss: And I think it was inspiring. It inspired me. I like science already, but I think there's no doubt that astronauts inspire kids and seeing humans in space do and many go on to do science and I think you're right that there are many reasons apart from what you actually learn in doing it, and, therefore, I actually think we should. I'm not against spending money on it. I think we should just be honest about it. I said, look, we should just explain we're sending humans there because it's a human imperative to explore the universe. But when there's a cost overrun, you're going to take money from the science programs and put it into human space exploration and that was my concern.

Ted Simons: Do we need a China to give us a kick in the rear end like that the Soviet Union did?

Kip Hodges: I think right now when we think about human space exploration, we have to think about what the impact is going to be with relation to those countries.Right now, China has its eyes set on exploration of space, and even Japan. I believe we can go into space as a community, work together, and there's some effort right now at NASA to go in that direction and I think that would spread the cost out and make it a global initiative.

Lawrence Krauss: If you look at major science programs, from the big accelerator in Geneva, they're so expensive that they're international programs.

Ted Simons: And if there's anything that should be, it should be space. The last question here: Was this landing on the moon the biggest event of the 20th Century? [Laughter]

Lawrence Krauss: You first. [Laughter]

Kip Hodges: Well, I mean, I think you have to look at it in the context of the question that you asked a while ago, which is what was the principle driver for it, and I think even at the time, a great many people thought that it was scientifically interesting but whether or not they would have said that was the greatest scientific thing that happened, even in the 1960s, I think you'd get disagreement about it. The most important thing, as Lawrence said before, the fact that people -- so many people, so many kids were just enthused about this and we're still feeling the repercussions of people who went into science and engineering in the '60s because of the Apollo program.


Lawrence Krauss: Probably the explosion of the first atomic bomb was probably more significant for our future.

Ted Simons: I was going to say. Gentlemen, thank you. Great discussion. Appreciate you being here on "Horizon."

Guests: Pleased to be here.

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