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  1. Apollo, a sales engagement startup boasting a database of more than 200 million contact records, has been hacked. The YC Combinator-backed company, formerly known as ZenProspect, helps salespeople connect with prospective customers. Using its massive prospect database of 200 million contacts at 10 million companies, Apollo matches sellers with potential buyers. Apollo said that the bulk of the stolen data was from its prospect database. Bjoern Zinssmeister, co-founder of Templarbit, which posts details of data breaches on its Breachroom page, obtained a copy of the email sent to affected customers and forwarded it to TechCrunch. The email said that company said the breach was discovered weeks after system upgrades in July. “We have confirmed that the majority of exposed information came from our publicly gathered prospect database, which could include name, email address, company names, and other business contact information,” said the email to customers. “Some client-imported data was also accessed without authorization,” the company said, but did not say what kind of data that included. Apollo’s database contains publicly available data, including names, job titles, employers, social media handles, phone numbers and email addresses. It doesn’t include Social Security numbers, financial data or email addresses and passwords, Apollo said. Although the company’s chief executive Tim Zheng said that the company had contacted customers in line with its “values of transparency,” Zheng declined to answer TechCrunch’s questions — including what data was taken and how many customers were affected. “The investigation is still ongoing,” said Zheng in an email. He added that the “only statement that we’re making to press at this time is the customer communication” sent to affected users. Zheng also refused to say if the company has informed state authorities of the breach. A spokesperson for the California attorney general did not immediately comment on whether Apollo has notified the state about the breach. Apollo may also face action from European authorities under GDPR. The data breach may not pose an immediate security risk to users such as if usernames and passwords are stolen, but exposed contact information can have a long-term effect on user security, such as making it easier for attackers to send targeted phishing emails. Even if the stolen data isn’t considered that sensitive, the breach adds to a growing pile of companies hoarding vast amounts of data but failing to keep it safe. Source
  2. Marketing firm parts with massive trove of customer data The last time an Apollo effort went this badly, Tom Hanks made a movie about it. Marketing intelligence (read: data broker) startup Apollo fessed up to being the victim of a massive theft that saw it reveal something in the neighborhood of nine billion points of data and contact information of 212 million people. As per usual, the massive trove was discovered online in a misconfigured database that had mistakenly been set to be accessible by anyone. Those "data points" include things like addresses and contact information, as well as contacts and connections on services like LinkedIn. Not particularly sensitive information, but a fairly valuable cache of data for marketers or, in the worst case, potential attackers looking to build spear-phishing emails. Source
  3. NASA’s restored Apollo Mission Control is a slice of ’60s life, frozen in amber It took two years and cost $5 million—but the results are absolutely spectacular. HOUSTON—Following the completion of a multi-year, multi-million-dollar restoration, NASA's historic Apollo Mission Operations Control Room 2 ("MOCR 2") is set to reopen to the public next week. The $5 million in funding for the restoration was partially provided by Space Center Houston, but the majority of the money was donated by the city of Webster, the Houston suburb where the Johnson Space Center is located. Another half-million in funding came from the general public via a Kickstarter campaign (disclosure: your humble author was a backer). For the past two years, historians and engineers from the Kansas Cosmosphere's Spaceworks team have been lovingly restoring and detailing the 1,200-pound (544kg) historic sage green Ford-Philco consoles that populated the control room—repairing damage from decades of casual neglect and also adding in the correct control panels so that each console now correctly mirrors how it would have been configured for an Apollo flight. Ars was invited to view the restored MOCR 2 last week as the final finishing restoration touches were still being applied. We conducted some interviews and shot some photos while technicians and construction workers bustled around us, hammering and screwing the last bits and bobs into place. The room's lighting system was in the process of being worked on, and the room flickered several times between fully illuminated daytime lighting and dim twilight—providing an even more accurate glimpse of what it might have looked like during an actual mission. How we got to now Do you want to know more? If you'd like to dig in deep on exactly how Mission Control worked during the Apollo era and learn a bit more about how the consoles worked, head on over to our detailed 2012 write-up of the MOCR. Today, the Mission Control Center in JSC's Building 30 (renamed a few years ago to the "Chris Kraft Mission Control Center" to honor Christopher Columbus Kraft Jr., the person most directly responsible for defining how NASA's Mission Control would come to function) includes multiple Flight Control Rooms, referred to in NASA shorthand as FCRs ("fickers"). But during the Apollo era, there were two control rooms in the building—Mission Operations Control Room 1, on the second floor, and Mission Operations Control Room 2, on the third floor (referred to as MOCR 1 and MOCR 2, it's pronounced "mo'-ker"). MOCR 1 was only used for a few flights prior to the shuttle era and was primarily used for simulations and as a backup. MOCR 2, on the other hand, was where controllers sat and ran every Apollo flight except for Apollo 7. "The Eagle has landed" and "Houston, we've had a problem" both happened in MOCR 2. After Apollo, the room served as a shuttle FCR until 1992, when it was converted back to something resembling its early Apollo configuration and transformed into a tour stop. It was also used for other NASA events—personnel could book the room for meetings or show movies there. It was a frequent stop for VIP visitors and media who wanted to do something Apollo-related (Ars included, more than once!), and over the decades, the room slowly deteriorated. The carpet was stained and bare. The paint faded. And the consoles themselves, the objects of so much studious attention from generations of flight controllers, sat dark and silent. Random visitors could even run hands over the artifacts, casually pressing buttons and toggling switches that once perhaps were used for life-and-death purposes. But with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing fast approaching in 2019, NASA finally had the ammunition it needed to push for the restoration—and now MOCR 2 shines like new. A thousand points of light Standing in the front area of the MOCR between the first row of consoles ("the Trench") and the large bank of theater-sized up-front displays, we talked about the restoration effort with Sandra Tetley, JSC's historic preservation officer. Tetley has been involved with the process for years, and she was able to emphasize exactly how much effort had been spent ensuring that MOCR 2 didn't just look kinda-sorta correct—NASA wanted it to be exact. To start with, each console has been rebuilt to resemble its Apollo 15 configuration, down to, in many cases, even having period-correct labels on individual panels and buttons. The MOCR changed a bit in between flights, and NASA chose to go with an Apollo 15 configuration rather than an Apollo 11 configuration for a couple of reasons—the first and most important is that there's a large amount of Apollo 15 documentation readily available, including a complete MCC configuration guide that details all the panels and button layouts (documentation for earlier mission configurations is more difficult to come by). Further, Apollos 15, 16, and 17 were "J" missions, which were the most complex of all the Apollo flights. Configuring the room Apollo 15-style meant having the most stuff on display and provided the best showcase of MOCR 2's capabilities and design. The consoles are beautifully done, rigged up for the first time in decades with functioning lighting and screens. Tetley explained that rather than reconnecting the buttons' built-in lighting, technicians had painstakingly wired new LEDs inside each individual button so that their lighting could be managed by a central Crestron automation controller. The screens themselves are LCDs dressed with a new fascia, though the original tube displays have been saved and preserved elsewhere. While we were taking pictures, the screens mostly showed off the same handful of Apollo-era displays (which were all dead-on accurate, even down to the typeface). Tetley explained that during an actual tour, the console screens will run through preprogrammed sequences of static images and video. It's the little things But that doesn't really tell the whole story of just how committed Tetley and NASA have been to historical fidelity—there has been a lot of effort spent getting things exactly right. How right? Tetley reeled off a few examples, starting with finding swatches of the room's original 1960s carpet under the consoles. "It's a woven method, which they don't do any more. They do a tufted method," she explained. "So, we took that to Shaw Carpet, and they analyzed how to do it, and using the tufted method, they added an additional yarn and so they were able to recreate this carpet. So, over here was like a patch of original carpet that we saved as a time capsule, and then they were able to recreate this carpet." It didn't stop with the room's carpet. "We found a piece of [original] wallpaper behind a fire extinguisher somebody had removed," Tetley explained. The original wallpaper manufacturer was located, but the company had long ago been acquired by another manufacturer. "But they went to that company," she continued, "and they found the roller in their warehouse." With a bit of retooling, the company was able to churn out a custom order of new vintage wallpaper for the room. "This is an exact copy of the wallpaper that we have," she pointed out. Tetley confided that they also saved the original bit they'd found behind the fire extinguisher—it's still in the MOCR, just behind the coat rack in the front. Perhaps the most bonkers bit of restoration has to do with the ashtrays that decorate the consoles, exactly as they did in the '60s. They were empty when we did our photo shoot, but the restoration team has plans for those, as well. "We're going to have cigarettes, cigarette butts," she said, laughing. "All the cigarette butts that were found when they cleaned the consoles and when they cleaned under the floor, we saved all those. I have people smoking cigars and they have to lay them out so they don't stink. So those'll be put back in." That commitment to authenticity extended even to the dressings applied to the consoles, which are each festooned with three-ring binders (empty when we took our pictures but set to be stuffed full of correct and accurate mission logs and procedures before the room reopens), ashtrays, mugs, thermoses, empty cigarette cartons, and soda cans. Tetley and team even located the correct brands of tobacco products for each of the controllers—Ars reached out in email to former EECOM controller Sy Liebergot about the can of tobacco on the EECOM console and whether it belonged to him or his counterpart John Aaron, and we got a fast response: "The can of Mac Baren's burley is pipe tobacco," he replied. "So it was probably mine since John smoked cigarettes." The overall effect is of a functional MOCR frozen in amber—as if the room's complement of flight controllers had all merely slipped off their headsets and stepped out to the hallway for just a moment. The binders, the mugs, the pens and pencils and notebooks and pipes—it's easy to imagine them in the hands of men with famous names like Kranz and Lunney, Llewellyn and Deitreich, Lowe and Greene. If you stand there and squint a little... you can almost see them. Stop reading, go and see it I wish I had more than just images to show you all—the room is simply beautiful, and it now functions as a living tribute to the men and women who worked countless hours and sacrificed their personal lives to shepherd humans from the Earth to the Moon. If you find yourself in the Houston area, it's absolutely worth a trip down to Clear Lake to do the tour. "I've been working on this for over six years. It's been a battle. It still is a battle. Every day something comes up. But to me it's a great honor, really, and it's a privilege for me to be able to work on this," Tetley said. "We have worked and fought very, very hard to make it completely historically accurate. From the paint colors to the channel numbers, to where things were put, it's a great honor to leave this kind of a legacy for the Apollo controllers. There's so much focus on the astronauts and all that, and it's neat to be here making this come back to life." The restored Apollo MOCR 2 will reopen for public viewing (from the visitor's gallery, via tram tours departing from Space Center Houston) starting July 1, 2019. Source: NASA’s restored Apollo Mission Control is a slice of ’60s life, frozen in amber (Ars Technica) (To view the article's many extensive image galleries, please visit the above link)
  4. Computer from NASA’s Apollo program reprogrammed to mine bitcoin It takes the Apollo Guidance Computer 10 seconds to compute a single hash value. Enlarge / DSKY unit of the Apollo Guidance Computer in the National Air and Space Museum. Shirriff used a different unit that belongs to a private collector. Tamorlan Among the many technological breakthroughs of NASA's Apollo project to land a man on the Moon was the Apollo Guidance Computer that flew onboard Apollo spacecraft. In an era when most computers were refrigerator-sized—if not room-sized—the AGC weighed only about 70 pounds. It was one of the first computers to use integrated circuits. A team of computer historians got its hands on one of the original AGCs and got it working. A member of the team, Ken Shirriff, then decided to see if the computer could be used for bitcoin mining. Mining is a key part of the process for maintaining bitcoin's shared transaction ledger, or blockchain. To win the right to add a block to the blockchain, you have to solve a difficult problem: finding a block whose SHA-256 hash starts with a minimum number of zeros. The only known way to accomplish this is by brute force: miners create a block with a random nonce and compute its hash value. If the hash value doesn't have enough leading zeros, the miner changes the nonce and tries again. The required number of zeros is automatically adjusted so that the network produces a new block once every 10 minutes, on average. Currently, a block's hash needs at least around 18 zeros (in its hexadecimal representation) to be accepted by the network—which translates to around 1022 trials to find a valid block. Today, most bitcoin mining is done using specialized hardware capable of computing trillions of hashes per second. Shirriff's software for the Apollo Guidance Computer was quite a bit slower than that: each bitcoin hash calculation takes about 10 seconds. The Apollo Guidance Computer isn’t a very good bitcoin miner "The computer is so slow that it would take about a billion times the age of the universe to successfully mine a bitcoin block," Shirriff wrote. This mostly reflects 50 years of progress in computing hardware. Thanks to Moore's law, modern chips have vastly more transistors and can operate at much higher clock rates. Custom mining ASICs can compute a huge number of hashes in parallel. But Shirriff also had to struggle with idiosyncrasies of the AGC that made it a poor fit for bitcoin mining. For example, the AGC used a 15-bit word, in contrast to modern computers that generally use 32- or 64-bit words. The SHA-256 algorithm performs a lot of 32-bit operations, so Shiriff had to split each 32-bit integer into three pieces—a 4-bit piece and two 14-bit pieces—and perform calculations on them separately. The AGC also lacked the shift and rotate instructions that are standard on modern computers—and heavily used in a SHA-256 calculation—forcing Shirriff to write subroutines to perform these operations. The AGC's limited memory was also a handicap: The AGC, like most computers of the 1960s, used magnetic core memory, storing each bit in a tiny magnetized ferrite ring. Since core memory was fairly bulky, the AGC had just 2K words (approximately 4K bytes) of RAM. The AGC's addressing scheme made things more complicated since you could only access 256 words unless you used an inconvenient bank-switching mechanism. The problem is that the SHA-256 algorithm uses eight (32-bit) hash values, a 64-word message table, and 8 words of intermediate values. These three arrays alone used up 240 AGC words, leaving about 16 words for everything else (temporary values, subroutine return addresses, loop counters, pointers, etc.) I managed to get everything to fit in one bank by reusing these 16 words for multiple purposes, but I spent a lot of time debugging problems when a variable clobbered a location still in use. This is not the first time Shirriff has implemented bitcoin mining on ancient hardware. A few years back he implemented bitcoin mining on an old IBM 1401 computer from the mid-1960s. This machine was even slower than the AGC, taking 80 seconds to compute a single hash. He also programmed a 1970s Xerox Alto to mine bitcoin—it could compute 1.5 hashes per second. Source: Computer from NASA’s Apollo program reprogrammed to mine bitcoin (Ars Technica)
  5. Half a century after Apollo, why haven’t we been back to the Moon? After we beat the Soviets in 1969, there wasn't much left to prove. Enlarge / Since Apollo, NASA's human spaceflight plans for deep space have been all hat and no cattle. Unlike this photo of two cattle in Johnson Space Center's Rocket Park. NASA The 50th anniversary of NASA’s historic landing on the Moon—this Saturday, July 20th—provokes a decidedly bittersweet feeling. Certainly, this marks an appropriate time to pause and celebrate a singular moment in our shared history, the first time humans ever set foot on another world. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins really did push back the frontier for all of humanity And yet, for all that this technological and geopolitical tour de force achieved, there has been a decided lack of follow through by the US spaceflight enterprise since Apollo 11. On such an anniversary, this raises uncomfortable questions. Why have we not gone back? Was the Apollo Program really America’s high water mark in space? And will we actually return in the next half century? Why we went Beginning with Sputnik in 1957 and continuing through the flights of Yuri Gagarin and other cosmonauts, the Soviet Union ticked off an impressive succession of “firsts” in space during the middle of the Cold War. As the United States waged a hearts-and-minds campaign against the Soviets around the world, technological superiority represented a key battlefront. Newsworthy space achievements offered critical wins for the Russians. As Charles Fishman's entertaining new book One Giant Leap notes, Gallup polling in 1960 showed that large majorities of people in countries such as Great Britain, France, West Germany, and India believed the Soviet Union would lead the world in science during the 1960s. Shortly after becoming president in 1961, John F. Kennedy sought ideas to demonstrate American, rather than Soviet, technological superiority. His first notion did not concern space exploration, rather he wanted to find a means of desalinating sea water to provide a fresh source of drinking water for the developing world. This was deemed not splashy enough. Eventually, Kennedy was persuaded that America would have to go tit-for-tat with the Soviets in space. Because the Russian space program had flown so far ahead of NASA, Kennedy had to choose a goal far enough into the future that the United States would have a chance to catch up—and this became the genesis of the audacious Moon landing program. Before his assassination, Kennedy had already begun to rethink the America-first nature of the space program. After the Cuba missile crisis, he envisioned space as a potential uniter of the two superpowers, and in 1963 he proposed a joint mission to the Moon between NASA and the Soviet Union. However, just six days after his death that November, new president Lyndon B. Johnson announced in a nationwide television address that he would rename NASA’s Florida launch site in Kennedy’s honor. The program soon became entrenched as a way to honor the slain leader. Thus, the Apollo Program was born out of a desire to strengthen the geopolitical standing of the United States during the Cold War, and it was sustained in the memory of its author’s untimely death. Why we failed to return Whenever the White House directs NASA on a program to send humans back to the Moon, or Mars, or elsewhere, one of the first things the agency does is scramble together advisory panels to provide messaging advice. How, best, can the need for such exploration be explained to the public? How can NASA justify costs in the tens or hundreds of billions of dollars? There is little economic justification. By going to Mars, NASA will not generate new wealth for the United States. And while humans in space can explore with more dexterity than robots, that hardly justifies a hundred-fold cost increase or the ultra-high safety risks of sending people instead of machines to explore distant worlds. This leaves NASA with fuzzy explanations, often along the lines of it is human nature to explore and expand our horizons. The American public has been unmoved by such appeals. A recent poll found that only about one in four Americans believes sending humans to the Moon or Mars is "very" or "extremely" important, and this poll is consistent with other surveys of public opinion since the end of the Apollo program. Large majorities of Americans say the space program should mostly focus on protecting Earth from asteroid strikes, studying this planet, and the robotic exploration of other worlds. The hard reality is that, since the Cold War, the human exploration of deep space has not been part of the strategic national interest. NASA had already sent humans to the Moon, and the United States was universally viewed as the global science superpower. How would landing more men and women on the Moon change that? Unfortunately, difficult though it was to reach, the Moon was low-hanging fruit. There isn’t anywhere else for humans to reasonably go in deep space that could make a similar statement. The engineering challenge of mounting a human mission to Mars—complete with pre-supplying the planet, surviving the radiation environment, providing surface power, launching from the Martian surface, and safely returning to Earth—represents an order of magnitude greater challenge. As NASA astronaut Don Pettit says, if the toilet breaks on the International Space Station, NASA can send a replacement up. If a toilet breaks on the way to Mars, the crew dies. Mars or the Moon? It’s a debate that has bedeviled NASA for decades. Aurich Lawson / Getty Images In contemplating a deep space exploration program, NASA has been stuck between Scylla and Charybdis. A choice to return to the Moon would be met by a “been there, done that” attitude from most Americans, whereas a decision to embark upon a multi-decade, enormously expensive program to send humans to Mars would be met with a “just send the robots” response. So for the last 30 years, presidential administrations have bounced between the Moon and Mars for NASA’s human exploration program. Crippling lack of unity From a practical standpoint, the post-Apollo aerospace community has been hampered by a great fracturing of desires. During the 1960s, pretty much everyone, from the president through the contractors and the agency’s work force, lined up behind landing on the Moon. Today, there is no unity of purpose among human spaceflight stakeholders. The White House, generally, has wanted some big human achievement in space. Dating back to George H.W. Bush in 1989, every president except Bill Clinton has established either a lunar return or a Mars landing as the overarching goal of NASA’s human spaceflight program. But although NASA is an executive agency, the president cannot set its budget. The White House must get congressional consent. Accordingly, Congress has often been a major impediment. It generally has parochial priorities, as individual members want to stack funding and jobs into the NASA field centers and contractor hubs in local districts and states. For example, the chairman of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, has near absolute control over the agency’s budget. As a result, most of the major aerospace companies have expanded or opened offices or factories in Alabama. The field centers themselves often seek to consolidate their power and funding into local fiefdoms. Even during Apollo, there was a rivalry between Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama and the Johnson Space Center in Texas. But these tensions were exacerbated during the blame game that followed the loss of space shuttle Challenger in 1986. NASA centers want to make progress, certainly, but they don’t want to cede power to other centers in order to do so. The large, legacy aerospace contractors are also jealous of their funding and influence. When the space shuttle program ended in 2011, the major players went along with this decision because they smoothly transferred into new programs. Boeing, responsible for the shuttle orbiter, took over the core stage of the Space Launch System rocket. Orbital ATK, which built the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters, would do the same for the SLS rocket. Aerojet Rocketdyne would continue making shuttle engines for the SLS. Lockheed Martin, which built the external fuel tank, had the Orion spacecraft. And so on. Today, there is yet another community with increasing influence. Advocates for new space, most publicly Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, seek to leverage private funding and modern technology to lower the cost of reaching space. They are battling with the legacy aerospace contractors for influence and funding, with mixed success. Each of these different entities—the White House, Congress (which is itself often divided between Republican and Democratic interests), NASA’s top-heavy bureaucracy, legacy aerospace companies, and new space interests—are all pushing and pulling civil spaceflight in various directions. The end result is that no one can ever really agree where to go, how to go, and how to pay for it. Will we ever go back? The last three US presidents have been more or less committed to sending humans beyond low-Earth orbit, and NASA has engaged in building the "capabilities" for a deep-space exploration program (principally the Orion spacecraft and two large rockets, the Ares V and then the Space Launch System rocket). As glacial as the progress has been on these vehicles—humans are unlikely to use them to fly into deep space before the early or mid-2020s—the costs have been equally staggering. NASA has spent $50 billion over the last 15 years on deep space vehicle development alone. During a notable space policy speech in Huntsville, Alabama, in March, Vice President Mike Pence summarized the problem this way: “After years of cost overruns and slipped deadlines, we’re actually being told that the earliest we can get back to the moon is 2028,” Pence said. “Now, that would be 18 years after the SLS program was started and 11 years after the president of the United States directed NASA to return American astronauts to the Moon. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s just not good enough. We’re better than that.” Pence has since pushed NASA to return to the Moon by 2024. The Trump administration settled on a Moon-first exploration plan, and for good reasons. There is an emerging recognition that water ice exists at the lunar poles in large quantities, and harvesting this could eventually provide a valuable source of fuel for deep-space propulsion. A return to the Moon also supports nascent commercial companies that want to harvest these resources. This has become the Artemis program, which has promise but also faces political peril. There are a couple of reasons to believe that the current effort may have some legs. One is the revolution in private efforts to develop low-cost rockets led by SpaceX. By reducing the cost of access to space, commercial companies are opening the door to a future of in-space refueling, staging in low-Earth orbit, and different approaches to the everything-on-one-rocket approach of Apollo. The second factor is that, for the first time in decades, NASA and the United States have a major rival in outer space in China. The Asian country views space much the way Kennedy did in the 1960s, as a means of demonstrating its technological capability to the world and placing itself on equal footing with the United States. What better way to do that than send Chinese taikonauts to the lunar surface? This is the path China is on, if not in 2030, then probably in the early 2030s. China already is seeking to peel off NASA’s longtime partners in Europe to join its efforts to build a space station and tag along for eventual missions to the lunar surface. Therefore, if the White House and Congress don’t get serious about identifying an exploration program most people can agree on—one that uses modern technology and that they agree to fund fully—then America’s half century of greatness in space will prove to be transient rather than permanent. On the 50th anniversary of America's, if not humanity's, crowning scientific achievement, that outcome feels like it would be a real disservice to Neil, Buzz, and Mike. Source: Half a century after Apollo, why haven’t we been back to the Moon? (Ars Technica) (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
  6. Ever since Apollo 11 carried the first people to the Moon, NASA has vowed that it will surpass its most historic achievement — either by returning to the Moon or by sending people to Mars. But after half a century, NASA hasn’t managed to turn their grand visions into reality, and it’s possible the agency’s most prized accomplishment, the Apollo program, may be partially to blame for the stall. “There are few things in life that we could look back on and say that have regressed since 1969,” Mark Sirangelo, who recently helped to lead NASA’s Moon return plans before departing in May, tells The Verge. “And I could say, very objectively, that human spaceflight in America has gone backwards. The agency’s latest human spaceflight flagship is the Artemis mission. Its goal is to establish a long-term presence near the Moon and put the first woman on the lunar surface. To get Artemis off the ground, NASA is using much of the same established infrastructure it’s used since the dawn of the space age. Just like it did 50 years ago, the agency is insisting on building and overseeing the most crucial pieces of hardware itself: the rockets and spacecraft. But this Apollo-era model requires massive space budgets that haven’t materialized since the Cold War, leading to delays and stagnation as workers attempt to do more complicated work with less resources. Compounding the problem, a national sense of urgency is simply missing. Instead, NASA is at the whims of lawmakers who prioritize employment in their districts over finding the most efficient route to deep space. Many of these things must change before the United States can once again take up a position at the vanguard of human exploration. A return to Apollo’s glory days will require a different hardware pipeline, a new funding structure, and a soul-searching assessment of NASA’s role in the entire process. And there needs to be more clarity about why NASA is doing any of this at all. “I think it’s a mess to assume that NASA has to be all about humans going into deep space to be important and of value,” Lori Garver, the former deputy administrator of NASA under the Obama administration, tells The Verge. “And I think that is the mess of Apollo.” The Apollo precedent Apollo’s success is inextricable from its context. The missions took place at the height of the Cold War, when the United States was looking for ways to show off its strength against the Soviet Union. Advisors to President John F. Kennedy told him that the best way to beat the Soviets in space was to send a man to the Moon. So in 1962, Kennedy publicly promised to send humans to the lunar surface by the end of the decade in his famous speech at Rice University. Driven by patriotic one-upmanship, Congress followed through and supported the initiative. NASA’s budget increased, swelling from $500 million a year in 1960 to more than $5 billion in 1965, according to NASA. At the time, that was about 4.31 percent of the overall federal budget. Today, NASA only receives about 0.5 percent of the annual federal budget. Still, support was tenuous at best. Throughout the 1960s, up to 60 percent of the US population opposed how much money the government was spending on the Apollo initiative. At one point, Congress was poised to reduce the amount of money for the program, and Kennedy himself became concerned that the pros of Apollo didn’t outweigh the cons. Then in 1963, Kennedy was assassinated. In the aftermath, the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson determined that Kennedy’s ambitious dream should become reality. Johnson called for an increase in funds to NASA’s budget and maintained funding for the Apollo program through the pivotal Apollo 11 mission. “No Congress, no subsequent president could dare to take that away from the memory of Kennedy,” Robert Pearlman, a space historian and founder of collectSPACE, tells The Verge. “Even Nixon understood completely — he couldn’t cancel Apollo until after it was achieved or the Russians won.” But once Apollo succeeded, its necessity in the eyes of politicians quickly diminished, and crewed landings came to an end in 1972. Eventually, the Cold War ended, too, leaving the United States without a human spaceflight rival to measure themselves against. “The perfect storm that set up Apollo will never exist again,” says Pearlman. What Apollo left behind Fifty years later, Apollo’s ghost still haunts our space agency. The program created an expectation that NASA must always have some kind of flagship human exploration initiative. “That notion of having a big central government program that was going to manage this frontier — to manage this whole zone of activity for human exploration and eventually for robots — was really born,” Jim Muncy, founder of PoliSpace, a space policy consulting agency, tells The Verge. Over the last few decades, presidents including both Bushes, Obama, and now Trump, have all proposed big human spaceflight endeavors like sending people to the Moon and Mars. Each of these lofty plans have floundered, and one of the biggest reasons is money; NASA just hasn’t received the same substantial budget boost it received during Apollo. “Now what we have is the structure of [Apollo], except we don’t have a national crisis,” says Muncy. “There’s plenty of other things for people to work on, and they can’t hire as many people as they did back then, because they don’t have as much money.” Instead of a devoted human spaceflight budget, if NASA needs extra funding, administrations are often forced to cut within the space agency itself. The result is that other areas of NASA — like planetary science, Earth science, astrophysics, education, and more — get cannibalized to meet the “worthier” goal. Whatever money NASA can scrape together is poured into an established system that dates to the earliest days of the space program. Apollo created an army of contractors and built NASA centers with expertise in building rockets. Now — long after the program’s end — both remain hungry for contracts and jobs from the space agency. NASA has obliged, and continues to use these institutions to spearhead the agency’s biggest projects and build rocket hardware. “For a large contractor, you know your job is stable,” Laura Forczyk, a space consultant and owner of space research and consulting firm Astralytical, tells The Verge. “That’s the way NASA operates, with these really large contracts that extend on and on, year after year.” A prime example is Boeing. The company, along with North American Aviation and Douglas Aircraft Company, were the biggest contractors on the Saturn V rocket that took humans to the Moon during the Apollo era. Now Boeing, which acquired Douglas and North American, is the prime contractor on the Space Launch System — the giant rocket NASA is building to take humans into deep space. It was also one of the biggest contractors for the Space Shuttle and the US component of the International Space Station. Other companies like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Aerojet Rocketdyne all have ties to Apollo and continue to work on NASA’s biggest projects today. What Apollo did was create a space industrial complex,” John Logsdon, founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, tells The Verge. NASA centers like Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, and Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana were built for the Apollo program, and continue to build rocket hardware for the agency. They create thousands of jobs and are putting billions of dollars into local economies. “Across the exploration portfolio — the Orion spacecraft, the Space Launch System rocket, the exploration grounds systems that comprise the ability to fly the rocket and the spacecraft and launch it — we’ve got all 50 states involved. And it’s a lot of jobs across the United States,” Mike Sarafin, the Artemis mission manager at NASA, tells The Verge. All of these companies, centers, and states have become accustomed to getting these jobs and contracts, without much competition or urgency to deliver. “We have been building to the infrastructure and centers versus building a program that is responsive to the needs of the country in current times,” says Garver. “Because we had those centers, and we had to use them. And same with the people. It’s almost impossible to imagine what you would do differently without that, but you wouldn’t recreate them.” Changing the status quo Numerous government audits and investigations have found problems with NASA’s sprawling way of managing human exploration. These organizational problems are perhaps one of the biggest reasons NASA hasn’t reached any major human spaceflight milestones on par with Apollo, according to Sirangelo. “People look at the technology as the only piece of the puzzle,” he says. “But oftentimes, it’s the way you manage the technology. It’s the way that you manage the contracting. It’s how you set up the program. Those things need to be innovative as well.” After all this time, getting rid of the army left by Apollo is tricky. The SLS program alone supports more than 25,000 jobs across the country and is responsible for an economic output of $4.75 billion, according to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Uprooting people’s livelihoods can be devastating. And because NASA human exploration missions have sustained a lot of jobs in the South, many southern lawmakers are hellbent on keeping this employment intact. Just look what happened when the Obama administration tried to cancel Bush’s Constellation program, an effort to send people back to the Moon. The White House claimed the budget needed to sustain Constellation just wasn’t realistic. But cancellation didn’t sit well with lawmakers whose constituents were about to lose a bunch of jobs, according to Garver. “Some of the people within NASA who were really committed to keeping these jobs sold Congress, and we were given an ultimatum that we had to do a big rocket, or we wouldn’t get commercial crew, and the technology programs, and the Earth sciences programs that we wanted,” says Garver. “So we took the deal.” The Constellation rocket morphed into the Space Launch System, and NASA has been working on it ever since. And lawmakers like Richard Shelby (R-AL) or Mo Brooks (R-AL), who represent the districts where the rocket is being built in Alabama, will defend it at all costs. Meanwhile, the SLS has cost NASA around $14 billion so far over the last decade. It was originally supposed to fly in 2017, but probably won’t fly until 2021. This mentality preserves economies, but makes it difficult to achieve NASA’s long-term goals — something Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos has pointed out. “Now your objective is not to get a man to the Moon, or a woman to the Moon, but to get a woman to the Moon while preserving X number of jobs in my district,” Bezos said during a talk, according to GeekWire. “That is a complexifier, and not a healthy one… They didn’t have that back in 1961 and 1962. They were moving fast.” The commercial option The agency will have to change how it does business, or it will remain stuck in the same repetitive cycle. Fortunately, a burgeoning private space industry may provide NASA with a way out of the loop. For the longest time, NASA was the leader in creating rockets that could get a lot of stuff into space at once. There simply weren’t any options for outsourcing this kind of development to companies outside the space industrial complex. That’s starting to change. Companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and the United Launch Alliance (an outgrowth of Lockheed Martin and Boeing) are developing less expensive rockets. “What if the answer for putting humans to the Moon was: we let Blue Origin and SpaceX and other companies compete against each other for how to do that?” says Muncy. “And we’ll buy from the ones that we think have the smartest approach, and we’ll partner with them.” In some ways, that’s exactly what NASA is trying to do. The agency selected various companies to send robotic landers to the Moon, and NASA officials claim commercial rockets will be needed in the lunar return. Additionally, NASA plans to select one or two companies to build human lunar landers in their own way, without as much agency oversight. “It’s an ‘and’ approach where we’re using the stalwarts of the aerospace industry and some new entrants,” says Sarafin. The problem is that the private industry hasn’t fully surpassed NASA yet. Some vehicles like SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and ULA’s Delta IV Heavy are reliably flying, but many of the more ambitious projects promised by commercial companies have yet to take shape. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program — an experiment to see if the commercial space industry can take the reins of sending people to low Earth orbit — was first funded in 2010, but has yet to actually fly any astronauts due to struggles in development. While commercial space is finding its footing, NASA is inextricable from almost any major American space endeavor. Its guidance is needed to jump-start big initiatives — especially since there is no obvious market yet for sending people into deep space. And private industry really needs NASA’s money. The agency’s investment can often make or break a space startup, even for the largest players on the stage today. SpaceX, one of NASA’s biggest partners, owes its success in large part to NASA development contracts it received as it was getting off the ground. Until the commercial space industry starts to repeatedly fly giant rockets more often than NASA does, the agency will probably continue to build its own vehicles. “There are just a lot of promises, and we can see the history of how much companies have overpromised and under-delivered,” says Forczyk. “It is really a bit of a Catch-22 in that you want to open up the possibilities for including commercial players, but there’s multiple companies who have not yet proven themselves. But can they prove themselves without the massive funding?” But why? Breaking down the Apollo model has been NASA’s biggest challenge for decades, and perhaps one of the key ways that NASA can overcome this is by articulating why we need to send humans into deep space so badly. The current White House claims the goal is to maintain American leadership in space, harvest materials on the Moon and help the commercial sector. Those goals aren’t measuring up to the passion ignited by the Red Scare and the national mourning of a slain president. The current administration is trying to push NASA to accelerate their timelines to create a feeling of urgency once again. In March, Vice President Mike Pence challenged the agency to put humans on the lunar surface in 2024 instead of 2028 as originally planned. But even with a time crunch, NASA is struggling to get a requested $1.6 billion boost in funds from Congress. The House ignored this increase when drafting a budget for NASA for 2020, and lawmakers have expressed concern over the cost of a lunar initiative and where the money will be coming from. Compared to the piles of money bulldozed over to NASA by Congress in the 1960s, the trickle of funds is damning. Domestically, there’s no need for politicians outside the districts that house NASA contractors and centers to push for increased funds. And from a foreign policy perspective, no other superpower poses enough of a threat to spur a substantial space race once again. Many experts looked to China as a potential motivator, as the country expanded its efforts in space by launching robotic landers to the Moon and by sending humans to a space station in low Earth orbit. But some argue China’s ambitions are not lofty enough to spur action from the United States. “The Chinese landing on the Moon with rovers that we did 40 years ago, it’s not the same,” says Garver. “It’s not threatening.” Ultimately, it’s going to be difficult to sustain anything ambitious when the public support for deep-space human exploration is even lower now than it was under Apollo. So until NASA can articulate the need of doing another Moon program or going to Mars, any growth will move slowly — as long as the Apollo paradigm lives on. “You don’t have to create a war, we have to create a purpose,” says Sirangelo. Apollo had a purpose. It was a major relay in the Space Race, and it showcased the incredible feats of engineering people can achieve when they bend their wills toward a common, monumental goal. It let people dream, and inspired innovation. But if NASA can’t find a new purpose that motivates in the same way as the Cold War did, it’s possible that the agency may remain trapped in its current cycle of development for human exploration for some time. The agency is trying to break out of this mold, but the politics of NASA and the space industrial complex that have been developing rocket hardware for decades make it difficult to evolve. And the agency may have the Apollo program to thank. To see more photos please visit the source Source
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