What If The Apollo Program Never Happened?

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In a recent debate Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said that he would like to beat the Chinese back to the moon. He has even been so bold as to propose setting up a manned base by 2020, driven by empowering private industry to take the initiative.

It's ironic to hear moon travel still being debated 40 years after the last Apollo landing in 1972. Between then and now, NASA's small space shuttle fleet filled in for space travel, but astronauts could only venture as far a low earth orbit -- at an altitude much shorter than the distance the early pioneers covered in settling the West.

If there were no Apollo crash program to beat the Soviets to the moon, would we have planned to go to the moon eventually? But this time with a commitment of staying? Or would we never go?...

In the 1960s the X-15 experimental rocket planes were already flying to the edge of space. This would have evolved into a fleet of orbital planes and lifting bodies and the next logical step in aerospace history.

Ideally this would have lead to a single-stage-to orbit vehicle. NASA unsuccessfully tried to build one a decade ago as the X-33. Or perhaps there would have been a mothership acting as piggyback carrier for an orbital space plane, as is now being pursued by Microsoft’s Paul Allen....

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