Rush Limbaugh today relegated the government's role in the project that sent Americans to the moon to organizing projects, while asserting that the private sector "built everything." But he ignored the fact that it was government investment that allowed the private sector to create the components of the Apollo 11 spacecraft, and that the contracts were led and managed by NASA engineers.
Responding to NBC's Tom Brokaw noting that "there have been fewer, larger government projects" than putting a man on the moon, which represented "an enormous public government investment," Limbaugh said:
LIMBAUGH: I hate to break it to Brokaw, but the private sector did everything for the moon project, built everything. The government took the bids, awarded the winners with projects, but if you remember, Lockheed was all over everything. McDonnell Douglas made the Mercury capsule, I think the Redstone rocket.
In suggesting that the federal government's only role in the Apollo project was to take and award contracts to the private sector, Limbaugh ignores the fact that these contracts were possible thanks to public investment and were guided by NASA engineers. A 2009 Congressional Research Service document points out that "According to NASA, the total cost of the Apollo program for FY1960-FY1973 was $19.4 billion ($97.9 billion in 2008 dollars)."
The government also performed an important role in coordinating the work of private contractors for the program. A 2004 NASA history of the Apollo program stated: "Because of the magnitude of Project Apollo, and its time schedule, most of the nitty-gritty work had to be done outside NASA by means of contracts. As a result, with a few important exceptions, NASA scientists and engineers did not build flight hardware, or even operate missions. Rather, they planned the program, prepared guidelines for execution, competed contracts, and oversaw work accomplished elsewhere."
A history of the Johnson Space Center published in 1993 noted that, far from playing no role in the research and development of the program, NASA "maintained an in-house capability" in order to "effectively direct, lead, and manage the NASA contractors," making the relationship "a partnership rather than a customer-client relationship."
Limbaugh went on to criticize Brokaw's statement that the space program "did spin off a lot of private enterprise," insisting that it's "the other way around." In fact, NASA has an entire website, and a yearly publication, dedicated to detailing the various technologies originally developed for NASA that have been made available for public use. From the NASA Spinoff website:
A NASA spinoff is a technology, originally developed to meet NASA mission needs, that has been transferred to the public and now provides benefits for the Nation and world as a commercial product or service. NASA spinoffs enhance many aspects of daily life, including health and medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, energy and environment, information technology, and industrial productivity. These spinoffs are transferred to the public through various NASA partnerships including licensing, funding agreements, assistance from NASA experts, the use of NASA facilities, and other collaborations between the Agency, private industry, other government agencies, and academia. As of 2012, NASA has documented nearly 1,800 spinoff technologies in the annual NASA Spinoff publication.
Limbaugh claimed that Brokaw's accurate interpretation of space program history was "you didn't build that" - the distorted editing of President Obama's words that was so ingrained through repetition on Fox News and the right-wing media that it became a theme of the Republican National Convention. In reality, the Apollo program was in the spirit of the full context of Obama's comment: a combination of individual initiative and government infrastructure and support.