Eisenhower was a moon landing denier…

… at least when it came to the value of the Apollo project. Here’s a June 18, 1965 letter in the EAA Aviation Museum, from former President Eisenhower to astronaut Frank Borman:

He describes JFK’s pledge to race to the moon as “a stunt” and points out that the timing of the announcement was calculated to distract the public from the “Bay of Pigs fiasco” (JFK and his team discarded militarily superior plans left over from the Eisenhower Administration).

Eisenhower points out that it would have made sense to spend $2 billion per year on stuff that might have “definite benefits to the peoples of the earth.” But the river of tax dollars dumped into Apollo did not make sense to him.

The other big learning from the museum visit was how Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne was able to work without the exotic materials of the Space Shuttle. The museum explains that the spacecraft/aircraft essentially pancakes or belly flops into the atmosphere, thus slowing down quickly and not building up high speed and high heat like the Shuttle does.

[Update after seeing comments from readers and talking to a friend who is an actual rocket scientist at NASA: the main reason that SpaceShipOne does not need the elaborate heat shielding is that it is suborbital and going much slower than the Space Shuttle. There is no new technology better than the Shuttle’s old tiles, but the old technology of ablative heat shielding is what most current space ship designs are using. One good feature of ablative shielding is that as it flakes off it carries away built up heat. The one promising innovation is establishing a boundary layer of gas on top of the surface exposed to re-entry heat, much as jet engine components are cooled by a layer of flowing fresh air.]

A portion of the museum concentrates on machines of war, which inevitably produce death. What is sufficiently upsetting as to require a trigger warning?

How about a double secret trigger warning and substantial drapery?

This is why God gave us always-with-us camera phones: (the “Fat Man” atomic bomb model directly across from a patron)

Eisenhower’s Air Force One for shorter hops, a twin-engine piston:

(Today a Boeing 757 would be used instead of this six-seater.)

15 thoughts on “Eisenhower was a moon landing denier…

  1. Good reminder of the general public’s awareness of the space program. Spaceship 1 worked because it was at suborbital velocity, but it was the same blunt body shape that the shuttle used. The shuttle was oriented as a blunt body for re-entry.

    Falcon 9 is the current workhorse of the space program. It has a reusable fairing that goes slightly faster than spaceship 1 without a heat shield but turns brown from heating.

    The latest rocket is made out of a new stainless steel alloy which manely doesn’t require a heat shield. The entire 2nd stage returns from orbital velocity.

  2. https://www.popsci.com/military-aviation-space/article/2007-08/gossamer-condor-inventor-dies/

    Everyone knows the thermal protection system of the Shuttle was its s biggest Achilles’ heel, don’t they by now? Complicated, absolutely unique down to the individual tile, seven different kinds, and many of them absolutely crucial to the survival of the astronauts and crew. They didn’t need monomethyl hydrazine to make that thing dangerous, it was in the skin. Extremely vulnerable to debris impacts and other kinds of damage, like pieces of insulation flaking off the ET. Can you imagine it? Of course it was exacerbated by things like thermal insulation on the external tank flaking off and impacting the wing, and every time one launched I thought: “So many tiles. What’s the real probability one of the crucial ones gets damaged?”


    As for the rest of the photos: they’re beautiful, obviously the men who adorned those planes thought they might die, but they loved women, and risked their existences. Those were hopes and dreams while they flew into danger and death. There’s nothing degrading about them.

    Well, except for the Fat Man photo. It was perfect in a completely different way, you have a knack for taking those kinds of photos.

    How can I put this? I think Eisenhower was right when he wrote his letter, because his job really was to be skeptical of JFK’s plan for the moon, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. He didn’t win the argument, obviously, but JFK also relied on him for advice during the Bay of Pigs. Having contrary advice and criticism was important.

  3. And well, John von Neumann was “violently anti-communist and much more militaristic than the norm.” I’m quite sure you know who he was. There aren’t many videos of him, but I’m not alone in thinking von Neumann had a lot to do with America’s success over the years. Who are the Chinese von Neumanns today?

    • Frank Yang: returned to China and is now a professor at Tsinghua. IMHO, this is an unbelievable loos to the US. (As said before, if I were the president, I would have spent whatever it takes to keep Frank happy at Stony Brook.)

      We’ve had this discussion here before. It’s hard to fully appreciate Frank’s legacy unless you happen to be a theoretical physicist or a mathematician by training. He is an ultimate nerd’s nerd; he was our national treasure. Don’t believe me? How many other researchers serve as a director of a hardcore science institute named after them?

    • That’s amazing. Do you really believe predictions about the state of the world’s GDP in 2060? I ask this seriously because I don’t believe the predictions of the world’s GDP two years from from now. What are people at nikkei smoking to publish something like that? It’s got to be some good Japanese stuff.

      Let’s have some good humor: in the next Democrat presidential debate, the moderators should ask Joe Biden and Maryanne Williamson what they think about the U.S. leapfrogging China in 2060. It’s right up her alley, and I’ll bet Biden won’t remember the question.

  4. I think his worries were perhaps justified at the time, but misplaced in the end. We did spend a lot of money on the moon landing, but it didn’t detract from other space projects. In the end, we beat the Russians pretty soundly in space technology, and having turned it over to private industry, appear to be at the point of a permanent manned presence in space plus tens of thousands of satellites for various purposes. Even if we didn’t go as far and as fast and I (and Stanley Kubrick) would have liked to have seen, nobody has shown that we followed the wrong path by actually beating us anywhere.

  5. When Kennedy said go to the moon and the “other things”, they were nuclear propulsion, communications satellites and weather satellites. Three out of four is in the C+/B- range.

    The Ted Smith 500/600 series is my all time favorite plane. Tecnam can copy it 60 years later and it is still pretty cool.

  6. So much for personal and confidential.

    Also, for a former Ivy League university president, Ike seems intellectually incurious. He may be the only one without even a master’s degree.

  7. You gotta love those old Aero Commanders. As a marketing stunt, they would remove one propeller, store in in the cargo area and takeoff and fly on one engine to demonstrate the single engine performance.

Comments are closed.