October 25, 2012
Why We Can't Solve Big Problems
Jason Pontin, Technology Review
If Apollo commanded a significant portion of the treasure of the world's richest nation and the coöperation of all its estates, that was because Kennedy's challenge required NASA to solve a bewildering number of smaller problems decades ahead of technology's evolutionary schedule. The agency's solutions were often inelegant. To escape from orbit, NASA constructed 13 giant, single--use multistage rockets, capable of lifting 50 tons of payload and generating 7.6 million pounds of thrust. Only an ungainly modular spacecraft could be flown by the deadline; but docking the command and lunar modules midflight, sending the lunar module to the moon's surface, and then reuniting the modules in lunar orbit demanded a kind of spastic space dance and forced the agency's engineers to develop...