The space race actually had tenuous public support at best. It was considered wasteful by many.
Going to the moon had far from universal support; many people thought it was a frivolous partisan dream, or that it was a waste of time to "one-up" the Russians.
The Space Shuttle had numerous critics even back then; many people saw it as the epitome of pork barrel spending (which it was).
Most of the space race was DoD cash flooding into NASA for defense-related projects. The Shuttle was mostly paid for by the DoD, and it had ridiculous payload requirements because of it. This is also why it had the obviously unattainable turnaround time goals.
The Shuttle didn't have to be the way it was. A major design decision that had to be scrapped due to insane DoD payload requirements was the painting of the tanks (which would have stopped foam shedding) and titanium heat shielding.
The original shuttles (Enterprise and Columbia) were built with ejection systems. But because of absurd crew requirements, it was wholly unworkable and they were later removed.
The DoD was also extremely insistent on overkill cross-range capability in case of sensitive payloads and the need for an abort. That's why it took so long to glide home.
But as aforementioned, the Shuttle required DoD funding, or it would never have been built. Congress was tepid to the idea of a reusable vehicle (they knew the promises were somewhat pie-in-the-sky), but the DoD wanted the ability to launch massive spy satellites. We're talking things the size of school busses. Mind you, this was in an era where the best way to get high-res photographs was to use film, and send it back into the atmosphere and thus back home for developing.
Another fun fact:
The DoD almost killed the crew of Atlantis.
I'm not even joking.
"Commander Gibson did not believe that the shuttle would survive reentry; if instruments indicated that the shuttle was disintegrating, he planned to "tell mission control what I thought of their analysis" in the remaining seconds before his death.""
This is the Eliza way to go out as well.
@Elizafox Interesting. I find it curious that the Americas declared the space race as won, even though USSR was in space first and going to the moon was then simply an act of moving the goal post. Tremendously wasteful at that, as you say.
I can see the benefit of going into space generally, but how going to the moon is useful I am not sure, especially if the journey was never repeated. I am curious if there will be another moon mission at some point in the future...
@Elizafox @mareklach unlike the launching of satellites, which are genuinely useful things for a lot of purposes, although maybe USA wanted something that was "theirs allone" rather than shared with "socialist" public sector PTT organisations (such as UK GPO and PTT FR) and nationalised state broadcasters , as Telstar was already operational by 1962..
@mareklach @vfrmedia In fairness, at the time of its invention it definitely was not terribly useful for this purpose since communication is unilateral (and it would actually be very bad to have that capability for defense reasons, obviously).
Remember, ubiquitous cellphone networks didn't exist, and the idea of using data like that was far from mature.
@Elizafox @mareklach I obtained a GPS in late 1990s to use for plotting rave locations and distinctly remember when the accuracy suddenly improved (you still used it with a traditional Ordnance survey map as those were still copyright and there wasn't enough RAM or graphics capability in the device for anything else..)
@mareklach @Elizafox and Europe is switching on Galileo this year because EU (understandably) does not want to become dependent on GPS or GLONASS (RU), and both of which have been subject to jamming/disruption of various levels (to the point many people in RU and nearby were having transport problems themselves due to deliberate GNSS falsification that is sometimes switched on to protect VIPs),
'By 2018, Galileo will be found in every new type-approved vehicle sold in Europe'.
'Galileo smartphone by Spanish technology company BQ is already on the market.'
But here's more info:
@Elizafox @vfrmedia Yeah, it's talked about through the grapevine for years now, hopefully it launches before it gets cancelled. I know there was talk about abandoning it at one point, but that would be foolish... Europe should make a stand of their own at least once in a while, regardless if the US government gets upset. Galileo could be a significant independent step to prove North Korea wrong that EU countries are not always just America's puppet forces :-)
@Elizafox Yeah, it was a good way to win a space race even after essentially loosing. But you're right it really doesn't seem like there's was any bigger vision behind it other than to feel good. Honestly, I don't think that even nowadays companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin have any real space vision, other than to receive federal dollars, and then fail to take off most of the time :-)
@Elizafox Yeah, Musk is launching bombastic companies to woo federal dollars, and is essentially running on promises only, not even aiming for real profitability ever, I think. There was that Mars One mission some years back... another giant scam essentially...