Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1050/29383

From The Socialist newspaper, 17 July 2019

50 years since Apollo 11 - 'One giant leap': how political conflict launched the moon landing

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin during the first moon landing, photo by Nasa

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin during the first moon landing, photo by Nasa   (Click to enlarge)

Ian Pattison, Socialist Party national committee

On 20 July 1969, for the first time in history, humans walked on the moon. Since 1972, we haven't been back.

In 1961, US president John F Kennedy promised to put a man on the moon "before this decade is out." Following those words, the government ploughed a huge amount of resources into space agency Nasa. Its annual budget rose 60-fold in just a few years to almost $50 billion in today's money.

The moon landing captivated a generation then and still does now. 600 million people watched it happen on TV. But what drove people to land on the moon? Was it scientific exploration, or to test the limits of human endeavour?

The answer is no, even according to Nasa. Geophysicist Paul Lowman, writing for the Nasa website in 2007, accurately said: "The primary motivation for sending a man to the moon was political, not scientific."

Kennedy told Nasa administrator James Webb that the moon landing should be the organisation's top priority "for political reasons, international political reasons. This is, whether we like it or not, an intensive race. We hope to beat them."

Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, first person in space

Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, first person in space   (Click to enlarge)

Ideological battle

The US was locked in an ideological battle. The space race was part of the Cold War - the proxy conflict fought over five decades between the world's two superpowers at the time, the capitalist United States and Stalinist Soviet Union.

'Winning' the space race would be a propaganda coup in that struggle between two irreconcilable social systems. The Soviet Union achieved a string of firsts: first satellite, live creatures to orbit Earth, moon landing, man and woman in space, spacewalk.

The huge expense put paid to both space programmes in the end. But before that, all the US had left to 'prove' capitalism's superiority was getting the first person to walk on the moon.

Kennedy told Webb this was the only reason why Nasa came to possess "fantastic" sums of money. "Otherwise," Kennedy admitted, "we shouldn't be spending this kind of money, because I'm not that interested in space."

The 1917 workers' revolution in Russia had established a publicly owned, planned economy - an existential threat to big business and the super-rich around the world. The planned economy propelled Russia from a backward, semi-feudal country to a global superpower.

Leon Trotsky, one of the leaders of the Russian revolution, said "a planned economy needs democracy as the human body needs oxygen." But democratic workers' control and management of that planned economy was extinguished, due to the isolation of the revolution and the crystallisation of a bureaucracy within the Communist Party and Soviet state.

Apollo 11 taking off, photo by Nasa

Apollo 11 taking off, photo by Nasa   (Click to enlarge)

However, the capitalist US was no beacon of progress. The 2016 film Hidden Figures exposed the racism and sexism Nasa employees really faced.

And the commander of the earlier Apollo 8 mission, Frank Borman, said that as he sat in the spaceship waiting to take off, he thought: "Every one of the one million parts behind and beneath me was built by the guy who put in the lowest tender."

US government writer Robert Longley says "survivability... was rarely the main go/no-go factor for Kennedy." The US fatalities in the Challenger and Columbia disasters, the death of all Apollo 1 crew during a training exercise, and other incidents, further illustrate that capitalism's political and economic concerns trump human ones.

Writing in the Socialist ten years ago on the 40th anniversary, Tom Baldwin commented that the moon landings "illustrate the extreme limitations of a capitalist society... The phrase 'they can put a man on the moon but they can't - get the trains on time; keep me in a job; provide the world with clean water; etc' is common."

In fact, hundreds of civil rights activists did protest around the Apollo 11 mission launch. They demanded that Nasa support their movement, use its expertise "to tackle the problem of hunger," and that ten protesting families be allowed to view the launch.

US president Richard Nixon cancelled future planned moon landings. They weren't tenable as the world sank deeper into economic crisis, with an explosion of social movements, industrial strikes and revolutions in the 1960s and 1970s.

We can't escape the class struggle in space either. On 28 December 1973, US astronauts on the Skylab mission reportedly went on strike over high workload and lack of rest time. Although the exact nature of their action is disputed, the crew did successfully negotiate more time for leisure, and changed for the better how astronauts are treated in space.

Global powers are once more engaged in a space race, including renewed talk of moonwalks, photo by Gregory H Revera/CC

Global powers are once more engaged in a space race, including renewed talk of moonwalks, photo by Gregory H Revera/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Renewed race

A renewed space race is now opening up. George Bush Jr promised another US moonwalk by 2020; Donald Trump has promised one by 2024. This is unlikely given Nasa's different focus and lower levels of funding today. Maybe the Chinese regime will manage one by 2025, maybe not.

James Ivens, writing in Socialism Today magazine this month, explains that "the propaganda value of planting a flag on the moon is not a goal in itself anymore, although that is part of the motivation for the emerging powers that have yet to do it.

"More than that, they see the moon as a staging post for exploiting and industrialising near space." Bosses are "seeing the profit potential in satellites, near-Earth tourism, and mineral extraction."

Nasa estimates that 400,000 engineers were needed, over several decades, to successfully land the first person on the moon. A socialist world, based on public ownership and democratic planning by the working class, would free spaceflight from the interference of profit and prestige. That would allow us to pool the resources of humankind, to learn and explore for the benefit of all.

Further reading

Donate to the Socialist Party

Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our special coronavirus appeal.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation

 

Your message: 

 


In The Socialist 17 July 2019:


What we think

Stop Boris - general election now


News

Fraudsters thrive and claimants suffer in despicable Universal Credit scam

Wales: chronic NHS underfunding exposed

Them & Us


Imperial typewriters dispute

The 45th anniversary of the strike


Workplace news

NSSN conference 2019: at the heart of trade union struggle

Health visitors strike for the first time ever

Bradford NHS workers strike against privatisation

Victory for Stagecoach bus strikers!

Newham housing repairs workers announce strike dates

Council seeks to take budget deficit out on school staff and pupils


Moon landing 50 years on

50 years since Apollo 11 - 'One giant leap': how political conflict launched the moon landing


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Socialist change to end climate change

Residents mobilise to stop eviction

Stop the fire service cuts

Durham Miners' Gala

Campaigners force U-turn over NHS privatisation

Leicestershire - No more austerity!

Excellent response to building fund appeal

Socialist Party Fighting Fund


International socialist news and analysis

Greece elections: Syriza ousted amid voter disillusionment

Sudan masses mobilise against state repression

Interview: protests over killing in Israel


Opinion

The Socialist Inbox


 

Home   |   The Socialist 17 July 2019   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook






Related links:

US:

trianglePandemic doesn't stop Socialist Party educating organisers: northern meeting

triangleGoing viral: Socialist comments and letters

triangleUSA - another cop killing of unarmed black man sparks widespread protests

triangleFurlough: We are not 'all in the same boat'

triangle"Test, trace, isolate, support" - the Tories' scheme fails on all counts

Planned economy:

triangleChina after the 1949 revolution: the benefits of the planned economy stifled by bureaucracy

triangleTV Review: Chernobyl - Workers' heroism vs sclerotic Stalinism

triangleWhat lies behind the US-China trade war?

triangleA socialist approach to Corbyn and a customs union

Economy:

triangleProtect every job, nationalise don't subsidise

triangleTrump, coronavirus, capitalism, and the presidential race

triangleSouth East London Socialist Party: Covid-19's impact on the economy

Capitalism:

triangleFight racism and class inequality, fight capitalism!

triangleThe Jungle: capitalism's remorseless attack on workers' safety and conditions

Historic events

Historic events

27/5/20

Britain

1920s Britain: A "country nearer Bolshevism than at any time since"

27/5/20

Lucas Aerospace

The 'Lucas Plan'

13/5/20

War

A new world order - global reconstruction after World War Two

13/5/20

War

The Spanish Flu of 1918 and how it "fanned the flames of revolt"

13/5/20

Europe

'Victory in Europe' 75th anniversary: A resurgent workers' movement and the fight for socialism

6/5/20

Obituary

Peter Hadden remembered

6/5/20

Tyneside

The Tyneside apprentices' strike during WW2

29/4/20

May Day

130 Years of May Day in Britain: Fight for workers' rights more relevant than ever

29/4/20

War

No return to the 1930s: World War Two and 'a land fit for heroes'

22/4/20

Lenin

Lenin at 150: A revolutionary life - and the relevance of his ideas for today

15/4/20

WW1

How the catastrophe of WW1 sparked revolution

8/4/20

War

Class collaboration and worker militancy in World War Two Britain

1/4/20

War

All in this together? The 'Blitz spirit' myth

25/3/20

Poll tax

30 years since the huge anti-poll tax demo... And how mass non-payment of the tax was built

18/3/20

Apartheid

South Africa: 60 years marking the Sharpeville Massacre

triangleMore Historic events articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

LATEST POSTS

CONTACT US

Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: info@socialistparty.org.uk

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 07748 534 891

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 079 3539 1947

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 077 0671 0041

ABOUT US

ARCHIVE

Alphabetical listing


June 2020

May 2020

April 2020

March 2020

February 2020

January 2020

2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999