Returning to moon is waste of money, says BBC’s Apollo 11 presenter


Going back to the moon is a waste of money, according to the presenter behind the BBC’s coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing 50 years ago.

Science historian James Burke said he does not believe there is much political desire to put humans on the lunar surface once again due to the high costs but indicated that the Chinese are the ones to watch for further space exploration.

“(Donald) Trump wants to go back to the moon, NASA talks about going to Mars, I frankly think that there is no political appetite for doing either of them in America, either the effort or the money and the expenditure,” Mr Burke told PA.

“Where there is, or rather where public opinion doesn’t matter, and where there’s loads of money, is China.

“My bet will be we’ll see a Chinese landing on Mars within the next 10 years.”

Sir Patrick Moore and James
James Burke (right) pictured with Sir Patrick Moore during coverage of Apollo 15 (PA)

The 82-year-old co-presented the BBC’s Apollo programmes with astronomer Sir Patrick Moore and Cliff Michelmore in 1969, with special broadcasts from launch day on July 16, running through to the moment Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20, the first all-night broadcast on British television, and its return to Earth on July 24.

As well as being massively expensive, Mr Burke said that the Apollo missions did not contribute anything technologically or scientifically, as much of the material used already existed.

“The rocket was made of stuff that already existed, the computer already existed,” he explained.

Timeline of Apollo 11
Timeline of Apollo 11 (PA Graphics)

“A lot of people talk about Teflon frying pans and all stuff like that, but that already existed.

“What Apollo did was put it all together and point it at the moon.

“I don’t have any feelings about going back to the moon or not, I think, probably, given the fact of nanotechnology and what that’s going to do for us, lots of good things, I think going back to the moon is a waste of money.”

However, Mr Burke argued that the scale of the missions set a new bar for process management by bringing together thousands of experts from across the globe.

“400,000 people in 2,500 companies made five and a half million bits that went together to make the rocket, each one of which had to be absolutely flawless and perfect and wouldn’t break down, and that kind of management is something that NASA invented and I think has changed the world more than anything else,” he said.

Chris Price
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