Project Apollo, and especially Apollo 11, gave the United States an opportunity to shine like it has rarely been able to do. Not that great things haven’t been accomplished in America over the years, but this was above the mark. It gave the U.S. a chance to show our technological supremacy over the rest of the world and especially rival nations. That was the primary goal of the program when first envisioned by the Kennedy administration in 1961 – it wasn’t so much about conquering space travel, it was about proving our superiority – especially to the “Red Menace.” To accomplish that, we willingly spent $25.4 billion, and no other goal came close to that cost except the Manhattan Project.
There are several important legacies (or conclusions) gained from the Project Apollo to remember. First, the Apollo program accomplished the political goals fueling its speed for success. John F. Kennedy fearlessly used it to combat the nation’s spirits during the Cold War, the Soviet orbiting of Yuri Gagarin, and the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion. At the time of the Apollo 11, landing Mission Control in Houston flashed the words of President Kennedy announcing the Apollo commitment on its big screen. Those phrases were followed with these: “TASK ACCOMPLISHED, July 1969.”
Second, 600 million people gathered in front of their television screens to witness the auspicious occasion of Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Bringing the nation together and boosting everyone’s spirits despite both the Cold War and the Viet Nam conflict. Looking at the pictures from space of our big blue planet filled the nation – and the world with a sense of hope for the possibility of peace among the nations. And let’s face it, it was a story worth telling for anyone, especially PR specialists – it’s still worth headlines – it was that big.
Third, Project Apollo triumphed as it overcame difficult and, at the time, unknown systems engineering, technological, and organizational integration requirements. James E. Webb, the NASA Administrator at the height of the program (1961-1968), contended that Apollo was much more a management exercise than anything else. The technological challenge, while sophisticated and impressive, was largely within grasp at the time of the 1961 decision to send man to the moon.
Webb’s contention was confirmed in spades by the success of Apollo. NASA leaders had to acquire and organize unprecedented resources to accomplish the task at hand. From both a political and technological perspective, management was critical. For seven years after Kennedy’s Apollo decision, through October 1968, Webb frequently maneuvered through the halls of government for sufficient resources needed by NASA to meet Apollo requirements.
More to the point, NASA personnel employed the “Program Management” concept that centralized authority and emphasized systems engineering. The systems management of the program was critical to Apollo’s success. Understanding the management of complex structures for the successful completion of a multi-pronged task was critical to the Apollo effort.
Finally, the Apollo program, while an enormous achievement, left a divided legacy for NASA and the aerospace community.
The perceived “golden age” of Apollo created for the agency an expectation that the direction of any major space goal from the president would always bring NASA a broad consensus of support and provide it with the resources and license to dispense them as it saw fit. Something most NASA officials did not understand at the time of the Moon landing in 1969, was that Apollo had not been conducted under normal political circumstances, and the exceptional events surrounding Apollo would not be repeated.
The Apollo decision was an anomaly in the national decision-making process. A lot of advances came out of their work – things that might not be thought of in space travel ideas such as dehydrated foods and drinks. At every turn, the program changed the world around us, including the world of PR. The PR lessons learned from NASA are many, not the least of which was how creating a national dream could unite a planet – at least for those few moments when “One Small Step” was taken and watched by over 600 million people.
About Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations. He is an experienced leader in the public relations industry with over 20 years of experience. Ronn Torossian has been named as Public Relations executive of the year by the American Business Awards, and has run countless award-winning Public Relations programs.