One Small Step for Man, One Giant Weep for Mankind?

Group 80

On July 20th 1969, America celebrated a global triumph when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped foot on the Moon. However, the US government spent the equivalent of over $150 billion and lost the lives of eight US citizens. This begs the question,

“Should America have sent man to the Moon?”

At the end of World War II, tensions between the US and USSR escalated into a nuclear arms race. Missile technology was developing fast and scientists soon recognised they could exploit this to launch rockets into space. The first step in space exploration came in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik 1 satellite, a huge blow to the Americans. To add insult to injury, the Soviets then sent the first man into orbit four years later.

With these devastating blows dealt, America were roused to deliver a spectacular feat.

Space Race – Goose Chase?

The US government should keep the taxpayers’ interests at heart, this is their main duty to the public.

Kantian ethics states that people have a duty to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences. The US government’s direct duty is to fulfill their taxpayers’ interests by investing back into society to benefit the public as much as possible. In 1966 alone, the US government allocated $5.9 billion to NASA and only $4.3 billion to education. Satisfying mankind’s curiosity to explore the Moon had no immediate benefits to American citizens, thus the US government did not fulfill their duty to its people.

Had the $5.9 billion been invested in public health, education or infrastructure, the US taxpayer would have seen significant improvements to society. This was clearly a concern for American citizens at the time as public opinion about funding trips to space was never clear cut during the 1960s.

Kant also described another principle, universalisability, where an action is only permitted if it can be extrapolated to all people. This can be applied to the US government’s funding of NASA. Would the government have comfortably put themselves in NASA’s shoes, knowing the potential implications of a major disaster?

According to Kantian ethics, America should not have sent man to the Moon. However, Kant’s theory does not acknowledge the consequences of a decision and it applies general moral principles to all situations, regardless of the details.

While Kant’s theory examines the duty that the government have to the public, care ethics considers the relationship between these two parties. The same conclusion can be reached from a care ethics perspective, as the relationship between the public and the US government is one of trust. The government is obliged to care for its people but they neglected this relationship by spending taxpayers’ money on the race to the Moon and not on public services, despite the obvious opposition.

Unlike Kantian ethics, virtue ethics dictates that decisions should be made in a manner most aligned with an actor possessing the ideal personality traits. If the traits of an actor are flawed, then any decision this actor makes is likely to be unethical.

America portrayed the decision to send man to the Moon as a great step for mankind, exhibiting noble characteristics such as ambition and determination. However, the underlying motivations were of an egotistical nature to demonstrate America’s superiority over the USSR, which led to a neglect of the public’s interest.

America showed unvirtuous traits and displayed a lack of regard for the public. Virtue ethics would suggest America made an immoral decision in sending man to the Moon.

With this in mind, what could possibly justify the Apollo mission?

Saturn V Rocket launching astronauts to the Moon

It’s Not All Doom and Gloom, We Can Go to the Moon!

Sending man to the Moon spread happiness around the world, with 600 million people tuning in to watch. We have profited from many technological advancements, such as satellites and microelectronics, which continue to bring a whole host of benefits to this day. What’s more, it created thousands of jobs, whilst also inspiring the next generation of engineers and scientists.

However, we cannot forget that the Space Race took the lives of eight American citizens and cost the taxpayer the equivalent of a colossal $150 billion. Although the American public at the time missed out on investment into public services, how could we overlook the technology that we now take for granted in everyday life? From a utilitarian perspective, surely sending man to the Moon was the right thing to do.

But then again, America could never have predicted the spin-off technologies that we now enjoy. This demonstrates a problem with utilitarianism; it is difficult to apply retrospectively because it is hard to ignore the true consequences of a decision.

Situational ethics differs from the theories of Kant and utilitarianism in that it considers the importance of the context of a decision, and as such has no absolute method of distinguishing right from wrong. The underlying philosophy of situational ethics is that each unique case requires a unique solution.

Without consideration of the position America was in, one could argue that there was no moral basis for the Apollo mission. The billions of dollars spent and the deaths of American citizens could have easily been avoided by simply not joining the race.

However, it was almost inevitable that America, with their great ambition and wealth, would want to be at the forefront of mankind’s efforts to reach the Moon. Not only to cement their position as a world superpower, but to make their mark on this huge milestone in human history. As JFK said in his ‘We choose to go to the Moon’ speech in 1962:

“The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.” Surely to sit back and let the Soviet Union undertake this great mission for mankind would have been an unthinkable course of action for America?

Initial Decision

Our initial decision is that America should have sent man to the Moon.

16 thoughts on “One Small Step for Man, One Giant Weep for Mankind?

  1. Nice article but it seems to have a very limited scope.
    This focuses very much around America and expenditure. What would the world be like if Russia or China had been first to the moon? or if we had never made it?
    How would this race have been affected if more people had died during the first attempts?
    NASA were essentially given a blank cheque to put man on the moon, they could have been given less funding and sill made it, just a few extra years later.

    Personally, I disagree with the notion that they didn’t know the technological knock-on effect to going to the moon. It’s been proven in history that when people face a great challenge huge technology advances occur, this is most prominently shown through war.

    1. Thanks for the comments! Perhaps it wasn’t clear enough, but the question we were addressing was “Should America have sent man to the Moon?”, so we focused on America. However it would definitely be interesting to consider the suggestions you make, such as if Russia had been the first to the moon.

      I like your point about history proving that huge technological advances often occur when facing a great challenge. Perhaps America saw this as an opportunity for an investment in science and engineering research, which they predicted would boost the economy in future years. This would support the decision to reduce the public services budget. Perhaps NASA could have been given less funding, and the lunar landing would have just happened a few years later, but maybe the value of beating the Russians and of reaching the moon as fast as possible, increased the impact of the event so much as to outweigh the increased costs.

  2. I think this is very interesting, especially considering just yesterday President Trump has directed NASA to return astronauts to the moon. Mike Pence said: “The United States were the first nation to reach the moon in the 20th century, so to, we will be the first nation to return astronauts to the moon in the 21st century”.

    I agree with your statement that: the government should make decisions with the taxpayers interest at heart. These decisions should be based on where funding goes and what on. I read that 13.5% of US citizens (40 million people) live in poverty. This begs the question on where funding should go. I personally believe more money should be directed to the US citizens, especially those in poverty, to help and improve their livelihood (healthcare, education etc). I therefore think Trumps decision to return of astronauts to the moon is unjustifiable and not worthwhile.

    While I agree with you that sending man to the moon in the 20th century was beneficial, after reading your article I think that resending astronauts to the moon is beyond stupidity and selfishness and that funding should be directed towards the US citizens instead.

  3. I’m struggling to convince myself of the integrity of your article when you’ve made such a glaring misjudgement with your choice of pictures and captioning.

    Titled ‘Saturn V Rocket launching astronauts to the Moon’, the final photograph of your article clearly depicts the launch of SL-1, the unmanned launch of Skylab.

    This is not a mission launching astronauts. It is not a mission destined for the moon. It is not even a Saturn V.

    Skylab was a modified Saturn V, left over after the shortening of the Apollo programme, in which the upper stage was converted into a manned orbital laboratory.

    If you’d like to learn more, may I suggest the following as a good place to start your research: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skylab

    1. Hi Upset Space Nerd,

      Thanks for highlighting the incorrect rocket in the image, I’d change it if I could.

      However to say this is a glaring misjudgement is a bit unreasonable. As you said yourself, Skylab was a modified Saturn V rocket and is clearly very similar in appearance.
      We focused on learning about ethical theories and producing an informed discussion, not playing spot-the-difference between each of NASA’s rockets.

      May I make a suggestion that you consider reading the article, instead of just criticising the images.

      Maybe then you’d be able to leave a more meaningful comment.

  4. You say: “In 1966 alone, the US government allocated $5.9 billion to NASA and only $4.3 billion to education.” It would be interesting to know what percentages of the budget each of these values were. Actually, you can see that information here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_of_NASA
    It looks like a decision was made to invest and expand, then move funding to maintain.
    Interestingly, the US education budget is now higher than NASA’s.

    This is a good article. The argument against is strong – lots of exploration of the various ethical theories, the argument for is less strong.

  5. Good article, I enjoyed reading it. Nice of Upset_Space_Nerd to drop in with some completely unnecessary feedback.. Got nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all, am I right?

    Would be interesting to hear your thoughts on how the arms race between the USA and USSR has contributed towards the advancement of technology. So much so, that we are now visualising terraforming and colonisation of Mars etc. This is surely a huge benefit, with this action likely to be able to prolong human life, not only on our current planet but in entire existence.

    1. Thanks for the comments Harry, really appreciate it.
      I think it’s true that warfare is potentially the biggest driver of research in space technology. I agree that there have been significant benefits, including ‘spin-off’ technologies, that would not have come about if it were not for the space race.

      However I think this is a very unpredictable consequence, and when facing a decision like the US government did, the potential for space research to develop other useful non-military technologies, is not a solid enough reason to justify spending more money on the space race. It’s too unpredictable.

      A similar consequence of space research that is hard to define is the inspiration that the moon landing created. The event inspired many successful people, such as Jeff Bezos who was once a leader of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) during his time at Princeton university. Although it is hard to predict how such an event might inspire a new inventor or engineer, I think the development of new technology in an unrelated field is more reliably driven by inspiration from big projects, than by possible spin-off technologies that are derived from work in that particular project.

      What I’m trying to say is that perhaps the inspiration of the lunar landing is a more reliable reason for America to pursue the race to the moon, than the possibility of creating spin-off technologies from space research.

      I think this highlights my difficulty when trying to articulate the pros of the lunar landing. Most of the consequences that we see as benefits are all retrospective, and could not have been accurately predicted at the time of making the decision. This makes it difficult to use these reasons in an ethical argument, yet we all instinctively feel like we should have gone to the moon.

  6. Really liked your article, I had never thought of the mission to mars from this perspective but you’ve definitely convinced me that the way it was carried out as a ‘competition’ made it unethical.

    How do you think the ethical view of this project would have changed if there was not a ‘space race’ but the US doing it in their own time? Or even better if the USSR and US had been working together?

  7. I enjoyed this article, especially the rhyming sub-titles. When I was younger I never really considered that sending a person to the moon wasn’t a good thing, as it seemed to be the epitome of scientific progress. However after watching the film ‘Interstellar’, in which the future government of the United States falsely educates its school children that the moon landings were faked to suppress the desire to look towards the stars and subsequently potentially forget about the planet we have here, it made me realise the negative consequences of the space race. This article articulates these negatives comprehensively, however it would of been nice to have a stronger argument for sending a person to the moon in order to better support the conclusion.

  8. I enjoyed reading this article especially the subtitles! I think your argument against is stronger than your argument for and yet you conclude for and it would’ve been helpful to explore the argument for in more depth.
    It would’ve been interesting to examine the Russian populations views of Budget priorities and so put the American leaderships ethics in a wider context. Some of the benefits of exploring space have clearly have strategic military importance. For example during the Cold War remote sensing was used by USA to predict the Russian wheat harvest , if this was poor they would need to import from USA so politically the West were on a stronger footing. Whereas in a good Russian harvest year they would be more cautious in their working with Russia. This is just one old example but from that era, it was possibly helped following the initial exploration to the moon.

  9. Quite a thought-interesting article

    Really informative and weighed up both sides of the argument really well. Like others I did feel the against argument was slightly stronger but I found this quite interesting as in today’s world everyone would not be against side but this was a real eye opener!

  10. Really good actually guys, yeah. There was never a good time for the space race to go down, but with NASA they got up there anyway. Excellent use of a ‘pun’ in the title, really helped the essay to lift off. However, to describe the Russians sending a man into orbit first as a ‘devastating blow’ seems a bit of an overstatement, was it much more than a transatlantic flight to their favourite holiday destination?

  11. Very thorough points made looking clearly at both sides of the argument. Through analysis of each point made and is very professionally constructed. Well done

  12. As someone who is an outsider to the engineering world, i think this article opens up quite a few interesting questions about space travel and its necessity. Space travel has played such an integral part in our understanding of the universe and I believe that the curiosity inherent in humans will constantly yearn to know more and more about what lies out there. Even though it is a massive drain on resources, the benefits of such exploration may not become apparent to us until something revolutionary does happen.

  13. This article has helped look into pathways of developing technology, which is how most of our technology been domesticated which initially had other means of use. Most of which comes from research and development put towards the army and other armed forces. Hence I believe it is important to continue finding NASA with these exploration projects as it could answer a few problems in the near future.

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