Earl Swift, Nasa, Ferraris discussed on History Unplugged Podcast


Cars look the same. All of those Jags and Ferraris and Seattle and Asuka's, they kind of all look the same. They kind of have that double bow side profile with a kind of vestigial fender over the front or kind of an integrated with a kind of echo of the cycle fender in front and then another fender and the rear. And they also sort of look the same. The one that didn't look the same was the Mercedes going, but that was like for the time reverse engineered from alien craft. So I sort of reject the idea that everything was more distinctive than it is now. There's a lot of commonality and a lot of style and a lot of conformism for kind of the same reasons we talked about before, which were everybody is trying to one up everybody else and people are stealing designs from other people. And there's just a lot of crossover and commonality. But it is true now that designers have far more restriction in terms of what they can do. And ironically, it leads to more creativity, not less. So I might be, that might be contrarian take and different point of view. But I think there are people doing great work now within even more rigid confines than existed in the immediate pre with pro swore era. One vehicle that you focus in episode on that is unquestionably unique is the lunar rover. And I love the symbolism of it because during the hottest points of the space race, when 4% of the U.S. GDP is spent on NASA, the cost to get something to orbit is something like 20 to $50,000 per pound. So anything that we send to the moon that is not absolutely mission critical on life support is so important and so symbolic and laden with me like the American flag that is as important as what you find in a burial tomb for an Egyptian pharaoh. What do we send to the moon? We sent a big car. It's one of the most incredible development stories for anybody who's interesting in cars or the space program or just human achievement in general. Yeah, we got to get a car to the wound. How do we do it? It's such an American idea. And what's so funny about it is the idea wasn't, you know, it's such an American sort of manifest destiny idea, but it was dreamed up by Wernher von Braun, who was sort of spirited out of the guy wrote a great book about it called across the airless wilds. A guy named Earl swift wrote a great book about the development of the lunar rovers that went up on Apollo 1516 and 17. A chronicles everything, and he talks to some of the people at Huntsville who were pivotal in its development. And at first, the plan was to send two lunar modules up there. One for the astronauts and one for the vehicle. The vehicle being so important to extend the range of exploration. Because astronauts could only get so far on foot. So to put them in a car would allow them to really interrogate the service of the moon, bring back samples from a wide range of areas and climb over stuff. And it was more important. I mean, Jerry Seinfeld has that great joke about isn't enough to go to the moon. We have to drive around there. We kind of did have to drive around there in order to find out what the moon was made of, find out to bring samples back and to see what we were dealing with. But the design evolution was incredible. It started as a 6 wheel concept, and then with that budget cut that went from two learner modules to one lunar module meant that the thing would have to fit inside the thing that carry the astronauts to the surface itself. So they had to find space in the belly. And they went down to four wheels. And I think part of what and swift makes this point. I think part of what led to GM getting that contract is that vehicle looked most like the car. Most reassuringly like a car of any of the other designs. You know, when you're dealing with those distances and all that untested technology, you want something that feels more familiar, you know? And I think that that was one of the psychological impetuses behind going with that GM design that might not look like a car to us, but the rival proposals were totally crazy. There was like one that looked like a space spider. It had these kind of floppy wheels that were like flower pots turned on their sides. But the genius of the GM design was not only that was kind of like, but also those wheels that were able to cope with that terrain. They were like piano wire piano wire mesh with chevrons, like composite chevrons, sort of sewn into them, retraction. Really, really cool design. Well, another thing that you touch on and this has been a large part of the argument of automobile design over the last century is performance versus safety and you mentioned this in episodes on the Chevy corvair and the minivan and I'm a proud maneuver on driver. Oh, excellent. It's a very functional with children. I thought, you know, I'm going to get over myself. I'm not going to pretend I'm too cool for school. A while ago I had a guest who compared the age of discovery to NASA's missions. And interestingly, he argued that NASA was too safety conscious that we're missing out on discoveries because frontier discovery is inherently dangerous. And that was understood in the age of discovery. And we sort of lost that human spirit of doing so and now that same argument doesn't apply to mass transportation because if I'm driving my kids to Chick-fil-A, I'm not really thinking about being like Vasco da Gama or Ferdinand Magellan. I just want no one to die. So the considerations are different. But if I'm a Playboy on the Italian Riviera with my ascot or scarf with my supermodel girlfriend, whatever, then the considerations are different. So how have you seen that tension played out in different vehicles? Hey everyone, Scott here. One more brief word from our sponsors. Well, I think, yeah, vehicles used to be certainly in terms of the minivan and we talk about this in the corvair episode. They used to be, you know, agents of freedom and adventure. And risk and that kind of that appetite for that really died off. And the symbolic meaning of cars changed from adventure vehicles to safety vehicles and things that protected our families, particularly in the case of the minivan. I think that point is true about NASA. But when Gus Grissom and those two other astronauts died in that test fire, I think that was a pivotal moment in NASA's sort of risk appetite. And Gus Grissom was an American hero and for him to die in a training exercise. I think was a lot for the American public to take. And I think some of that risk aversion is tied to the fact that we don't want to see our heroes die. And we don't see anybody die. We want to protect our families. And that sort of tradeoff started to really move towards safety away from risk and adventure and freedom. And I think corvair is a great exemplar of that corvair really has this reputation for kicking off a safety crisis in American automobile making. And beneath all that beneath.

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