16 May 2015

Dreaming a Different Apollo, Part One

Skylab 1 Orbital Workshop atop a Saturn V rocket (foreground) and Skylab 2 Saturn IB rocket (background). Image credit: NASA
Apollo didn't die; it was killed. The Apollo Program might have continued for many years, evolving constantly to achieve new goals at relatively low cost. Instead, programs designed to give Apollo a future beyond the first lunar landing began to feel the brunt of cuts even before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. By the time Apollo drew to its premature conclusion - the last mission to use Apollo hardware was the joint U.S.-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) of July 1975 - NASA was busy building a wholly new space program based on the Space Shuttle. Throwing out the Apollo investment and starting over with Shuttle was incredibly wasteful both in terms of learned capabilities and money.

Apollo as we knew it included over its seven-year series of flights a total of seven major hardware elements. They were: the Saturn V rocket, available in three-stage and two-stage varieties; the two-stage Saturn IB rocket; the Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM) spacecraft; the Apollo Lunar Module (LM) moon lander; the jeep-like Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV); the Skylab Orbital Workshop, a temporary space station; and the ASTP Docking Module (DM).

Apollo missions 1, 2, and 3 either did not fly (in the case of Apollo 1, which killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee on 27 January 1967) or were cancelled (in the case of Apollo 2 and Apollo 3). Flown missions began with Apollo 4, the first unmanned test of the Saturn V rocket (9 November 1967). Apollo 5 was a Saturn IB-launched unmanned LM test. Apollo 6 was a second unmanned Saturn V rocket test.

All subsequent Apollo and Apollo follow-on missions save one (Skylab 1) were launched bearing three-man crews. Apollo 7 (11-22 October 1968), the first piloted Apollo, was a Saturn IB-launched CSM-only mission in low-Earth orbit. It accomplished the mission originally planned for Apollo 1. Apollo 8 (21-27 December 1968) was a Saturn V-launched lunar-orbital CSM-only mission motivated by rumors of a Soviet piloted circumlunar flight, Apollo 9 was a Saturn V-launched, Earth-orbital CSM/LM test, and Apollo 10 was a lunar-orbital dress rehearsal for Apollo 11 (16-24 July 1969), which carried out the first piloted lunar landing.

NASA gave alphanumeric designations to the Apollo missions; Apollo 8 was, for example, designated C-prime. Apollo 11 was the first and only G-class mission. The Apollo 11 moonwalk lasted a little over two hours and the crew remained on the moon for only 22 hours. Though momentous (and the signal to most people that Apollo could end), Apollo 11 was really a full-up engineering test of the Apollo lunar mission system from Earth launch to Earth splashdown and post-mission quarantine. It paved the way for the H-class missions: Apollo 12 (H-1) which, after a pinpoint landing near the unmanned Surveyor III lander, included a 32-hour surface stay and two moonwalks; Apollo 13 (H-2), the "successful failure" (as NASA called it) which through adversity hinted at Apollo's untapped potential; and Apollo 14 (H-3), which included the longest lunar surface traverse on foot of the Apollo Program.

NASA originally planned for Apollo 15 to be H-4, but upgraded it to J-1 after NASA Administrator Thomas Paine, in an ill-advised attempt at horse-trading with the Nixon White House, cancelled one H mission and one J mission. J missions included LMs with longer landing hover times, lunar surface stays of about three days, improved space suits supporting up to four moonwalks, and an electric-powered LRV. Individual moonwalk duration was stretched to almost eight hours, in part because of suit improvements, but also because riding the LRV reduced astronaut metabolic rates; seated, they used less oxygen and cooling water than when on foot.

Apollo 17 Lunar Module Challenger at Taurus-Littrow, December 1972. Image credit: NASA
Apollo 16 was called J-2 and Apollo 17 in December 1972 was J-3. The last piloted moon mission of the 20th century, Apollo 17 was the final flight of the LM, the LRV, and the three-stage Saturn V.

Six months after it abandoned the moon, NASA launched Skylab 1, the first and only Skylab Orbital Workshop, unmanned atop the first and only two-stage Saturn V to fly. Three Saturn IB rockets each launched a CSM bearing three men to Skylab 1 for stays of up to 84 days. They lifted off from a makeshift raised platform ("the milkstool") on Saturn V Pad 39B. The last mission, Skylab 4, returned to Earth in February 1974.

Eighteen months after Skylab, the last Saturn IB to fly launched the last CSM to fly into low-Earth orbit for a meet-up with a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft. The last CSM was named only "Apollo." The first and only DM, an airlock that enabled crews to move safely between the incompatible atmospheres of the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft, rode inside the tapered shroud that linked the bottom of the CSM to the top of the Saturn IB's S-IVB second stage.

Upon reaching Earth orbit, the ASTP Apollo spacecraft turned end for end, docked with the DM, detached it from the S-IVB, and began maneuvers that led to the first international docking in space. On 24 July 1975, six years to the day after Apollo 11 returned from the moon, the ASTP Apollo CSM parachuted to a splashdown in the Pacific.

Though Apollo hardware remained, none of it reached space. A second Skylab workshop was placed on display in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Two Saturn Vs, one of which might have launched the second Skylab, and an assortment of Saturn IB rockets, CSMs, and LMs in various states of completion were parceled out to NASA centers and museums for display or were scrapped.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a NASA supporter (in 1958, as Senate Majority Leader, he had been instrumental in its creation), predicted Apollo's premature end. In 1967, Congress slashed to just $122 million the $450 million he requested to start the Apollo Applications Program (AAP). AAP - which would rapidly shrink to become the Skylab Program - had been intended to exploit Apollo hardware and operational experience to accomplish new lunar and Earth-orbital missions. As news of the deep cuts in his AAP request reached the White House, Johnson mused that, "the way the American people are, now that they have all this capability, instead of taking advantage of it, they'll probably just piss it all away."

What if Johnson had got it wrong? What if, somehow, Americans cared more about space exploration and so sought to wring from their $24-billion Apollo investment everything they could?

The Soviet Union for many years numbered its Soyuz missions consecutively regardless of changes in spacecraft purpose and design. If Apollo had been allowed to survive and thrive, perhaps the United States would have adopted a similar numbering policy, ultimately yielding impressively high alphanumeric mission designation numbers. What follows is an unabashed exercise in alternate history speculation (and, above all, shameless wishful thinking). It is based on actual NASA and contractor plans and is written as though the events it recounts actually occurred.

A word of caution: in order to simplify an already complex timeline, I have ignored the possibility of accidents. Spaceflight is risky, yet in this alternate history all missions occur exactly as planned. The likelihood that every mission described below would come off as planned, with no mishaps or outright disasters, would in fact be very small.


Because no one sought to kill Apollo, NASA boss Paine felt no urge to trade away two Apollo missions in the vain hope that Nixon would support his plans for a large Earth-orbital space station. This meant that Apollo 15 remained H-4. The first J mission (J-1) was Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 was J-2.

Apollo Earth-orbital space station flights began in late 1971. Apollo 18 was the unmanned launch of the first two-stage Saturn V bearing a temporary Earth-orbiting space station. In keeping with NASA’s old penchant for program names from Greek and Roman mythology, the station was dubbed Olympus 1. The Olympus name had a heritage in the world of space station planning going back to the early 1960s.

The Apollo-derived Olympus station resembled the Skylab Orbital Workshop of our timeline, but lacked its side-mounted Apollo Telescope Mount and "windmill" solar arrays. It also included more internal decks.

Within days, Apollo 19, the first K-class Earth-orbital CSM, lifted off on a Saturn IB from Launch Complex 34 bound for Olympus 1 with three astronauts on board. K-class CSMs included batteries in place of fuel cells, an electricity umbilical for linking to the Olympus station power system, a retractable main engine bell to make more room in the S-IVB shroud, extra storage compartments in the Command Module (CM) capsule, an option to install up to two extra crew couches, a pair of small steerable dish antennas in place of lunar Apollo's large four-dish system, and smaller main-engine propellant tanks. It also included modifications that enabled it to remain semi-dormant attached to an Olympus station for up to six months (for example, heaters to prevent fluids from freezing in its tanks and propellant lines).

Apollo 19 remained docked to Olympus 1's axial ("front") docking port while its crew worked on board the station for 28 days – twice as long as any U.S. space mission before it. They returned to Earth on Christmas Eve 1971. The Apollo 20 (K-2) crew, launched on 23 January 1972, subsequently demolished Apollo 19's new record by living on board Olympus 1 for 56 days.

Apollo 21 (I-1), a Saturn V-launched mission to lunar polar orbit, marked the start of a new phase of Apollo lunar exploration. Two astronauts orbited the moon for 28 days in a CSM with an attached Lunar Observation Module (LOM) in place of an LM. From mid-March to mid-April 1972, the astronauts charted the moon's surface in great detail to enable scientists and engineers to select future Apollo landing sites and traverse routes.

Apollo 22 (K-3), launched in June 1972, delivered a three-man crew to Olympus 1 for a 112-day stay, doubling Apollo 20's stay-time. Ninety days into their mission, the two-man Apollo 23 (K-4) CSM docked at Olympus 1's single radial ("side") docking port for 10 days. One of the Apollo 23 astronauts was a medical doctor; he conducted health evaluations of the Apollo 22 astronauts. If any member of the Apollo 22 crew had been found to be unhealthy, then all would have returned to Earth in either their own CSM or with the Apollo 23 crew in its CSM, which included three spare couches (the empty Science Pilot couch and two couches located against the Apollo 23 CM’s aft bulkhead).

As it turned out, the Apollo 22 astronauts were in good shape and high spirits, so NASA authorized continuation of their mission to its full planned duration. Before returning to Earth, the Apollo 22 crew used their CSM's main engine to boost Olympus 1 to a higher orbit, postponing its reentry by up to 10 years.

NASA referred to the Apollo 22 astronauts as the third Olympus 1 resident crew and the Apollo 23 astronauts as the first Olympus 1 visitor crew. The full alphanumeric designations for Apollos 22 and 23 were O-1/K-3/R-3 and O-1/K-4/V-1, respectively. Most people did not pay attention to those designations, however, being satisfied to call the missions by their Apollo numbers.

NASA ordered 15 Saturn V rockets for the Apollo Program. In 1968, NASA Deputy Administrator for Manned Space Flight George Mueller asked NASA Administrator James Webb for permission to order more Saturn V rockets for AAP. With budgets for post-Apollo space programs already under fierce attack, Webb rejected Mueller’s request.

In our alternate timeline, Webb's answer was different. Apollo 24 (J-3) (October 1972) used the last Saturn V of the original Apollo buy. This fact aroused only passing interest, however, since in our alternate timeline no one ever seriously considered halting the Saturn V assembly lines. Apollo 25 (J-4) launched atop the first new-buy Saturn V, the 16th Saturn V to be built.

Two months after the Apollo 24 LM ascent stage lifted off from the lunar surface, the Apollo 25 LM landed about a kilometer away from the derelict Apollo 24 LM descent stage. The Apollo LM descent engine kicked up potentially damaging dust during landing, so the Apollo 25 astronauts inspected Apollo 24's descent stage, LRV, and ALSEP experiments to determine whether a one-kilometer landing separation distance was adequate.

The Apollo 25 crew carried out other technology experiments. They deployed an experimental solar array designed to withstand the cold of the two-week lunar night and a small battery-driven remote-controlled rover. Controllers on Earth drove the small rover several hundred meters in preparation for longer remote-controlled traverses to come.


Apollo 26 (O-2) (January 1973) was the Saturn V launch of the Olympus 2 space station. It lifted off from Pad 39C, a new Complex 39 launch pad north of the existing 39A and 39B pads at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida. 39C was designed for both Saturn V and Saturn IB launches, putting NASA on track to retiring the Complex 34 Saturn IB pad located south of Kennedy Space Center, within the boundaries of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Soon after Olympus 2 reached orbit, the last Saturn IB to use Complex 34 launched Apollo 27 (O-2/K-5/R-1). Its epic mission: to stretch the world spaceflight endurance record to 224 days. Over the course of the Apollo 27 mission, NASA launched four unmanned Saturn IB rockets with Centaur upper stages. Though not given Apollo numbers, the flights are often referred to unofficially as Apollo GEO A, Apollo GEO B, Apollo GEO C, and Apollo GEO D. Two lifted off from Pad 39C and two from newly upgraded Pad 39A.

Each boosted into geostationary orbit one Radio/TV Relay Satellite (RTRS); three operational satellites and a spare. Olympus 2 thus became the first space station capable of uninterrupted voice, data, and TV contact with Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and Payload Control at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

The Saturn IB-launched Apollo 28 CSM lifted off from Pad 39C 45 days into the Apollo 27 crew's stint on board Olympus 2. The six-day, three-person mission, designated O-2/K-6/V-1, included the first female U.S. astronaut. Apollo 29 (O-2/K-7/V-2), another six-day, three-person mission, reached Olympus 2 110 days into the Apollo 27 mission. It included the first non-American to fly on a U.S. spacecraft.

Apollo 30 (O-2/K-8/V-3), a 10-day, two-person mission nearly identical to Apollo 23, reached Olympus 2 190 days into the Apollo 27 mission. The Apollo 27 astronauts proved to be in good health, so NASA authorized them to continue their mission to its full planned duration. The Apollo 30 crew returned to Earth in Apollo 27's CSM, leaving behind their fresh CSM for the long-duration astronauts. The Apollo 27 crew used the Apollo 30 CSM's main engine to boost Olympus 2 to a higher orbit with an estimated lifetime of more than a decade.

Just before the Apollo 27 crew ended their record-setting stay in space in July 1973 - a record that would hold for more than a decade - the unmanned Apollo 31 Saturn V launched a pair of modified RTRS satellites (one operational and one spare) into a loose orbit around the quasi-stable Earth-moon L2 point, 33,000 miles beyond the moon. When NASA launched Apollo 34 (J-5) to the moon’s Farside hemisphere, out of sight of Earth, the satellites provided continuous radio, data, and TV communication with both the CSM while it orbited over the Farside hemisphere and the LM parked on the Farside surface.

The Apollo 32 (O-3) Saturn V launched Olympus 3 - intended to be the first "long-life" space station - from Pad 39A (December 1973). Olympus 3 included three equally spaced radial docking ports, expanded solar arrays, an uprated life support system, a "greenhouse" plant growth chamber, improved internal lighting, an observation cupola, and guest living quarters.


The next month, the three-man Apollo 33 (O-3/K-9/R-1) crew lifted off from Pad 39C to begin a 180-stay on board. Starting with Apollo 33, 180 days became the standard duration for Olympus station missions. The Apollo 27 crew had remained on board Olympus 2 for 224 days so that NASA could have in place a "cushion" of biomedical knowledge in the event that a 180-day mission had to be extended; for example, if a resident crew's CSM proved faulty when time came to return to Earth and a rescue mission had to be mounted.

Apollo 34 (J-5) (February 1974) was, as indicated above, the first piloted mission to the moon's hidden Farside. The last of the J-class lunar landing missions, its crew included the first woman on the moon.

Olympus 3 could support visiting crews for longer periods, permitting Apollo 35 (O-3/K-10/V-1) to be the first three-person, 10-day visitor mission. It delivered the first Cargo Carrier (CC-1) to Olympus 3 60 days into the Apollo 33 mission. Drum-shaped CC-1 rode to orbit inside the segmented shroud between the top of the Saturn IB's S-IVB second stage and the bottom of the Apollo 35 CSM's engine bell.

After S-IVB shutdown, the Apollo 35 crew separated their CSM from the shroud, which peeled back in four parts and separated from the stage. They then turned their CSM end-for-end to dock with CC-1's "outboard" docking port and detached the carrier from the S-IVB.

Image credit: NASA/David S. F. Portree
The Apollo 35 CSM docked with one of Olympus 3's three radial ports using CC-1’s "inboard" docking port. Its crew then entered the station through CC-1's meter-wide central tunnel. When their visit with the Apollo 33 crew drew to an end, they undocked their CSM from CC-1, leaving the carrier attached to Olympus 3 so that it could serve as a "pantry" or "walk-in closet."

Apollo 36 (O-3/K-11/V-2) was another 10-day, three-person visitor mission to Olympus 3. Its crew included an African-American mission Commander who had flown first as Command Module Pilot on Apollo 24. The Apollo 36 CSM docked with CC-1's outboard port 120 days into Apollo 33. When time came to return to Earth, they undocked CC-1's inboard port from Olympus 3. Following their deorbit burn, they undocked their CSM from CC-1's outboard port and performed a small separation maneuver. CC-1, packed with trash, burned up in Earth’s atmosphere, and the Apollo 36 CM capsule splashed down in the Pacific.

The Apollo 33 resident crew undocked from Olympus 3 and returned to Earth, and two weeks later the Apollo 37 (O-3/K-12/R-2) CSM arrived with Olympus 3's second resident crew and, on its nose, a hefty telescope module. The crew gingerly docked the telescope module to the radial port on the side of Olympus 3 opposite the radial port used for Cargo Carriers, then undocked their CSM from the telescope module's outboard port and redocked with Olympus 3's axial port. Olympus 3 thus became the world's first multi-modular space station.

Attention then shifted back to the lunar track of the on-going Apollo Program. Apollo 38 (L-1A) (August 1974) saw an unmanned uprated Saturn V-B rocket launch directly to the lunar surface an LM-derived Lunar Cargo Carrier (LCC-1) bearing a nuclear-powered Dual-Mode Lunar Rover (DMLR). The piloted Apollo 40 (L-1B) mission saw the first Augmented CSM (ACSM) and the first Augmented Lunar Module (ALM) launched to lunar orbit on a Saturn V-B. The Apollo 40 ACSM remained in continuous contact with Earth over the moon's Farside hemisphere through the RTRS satellites at Earth-moon L2.

The ALM descended to a landing within about a kilometer of LCC-1. The astronauts deployed the DMLR and drove it on five traverses during their one-week stay on the moon. They then reconfigured it for Earth-guided operation. After the DMLR retreated to a safe distance under Earth control, the Apollo 40 ALM ascent stage ignited to return the crew to the orbiting ACSM and, subsequently, to Earth.

In October 1974, a month after the Apollo 40 astronauts left the moon, DMLR began a 500-kilometer overland trek to the next planned Apollo landing site. As it moved slowly over the rugged surface, it imaged its surroundings, took magnetometer readings, and occasionally stopped to collect an intriguing rock or scoop of dirt. A pair of spotlights permitted limited lunar night-time driving. Assuming that the DMLR reaches its goal, the next ALM crew, set to land next to a pre-landed LCC in July 1976, will retrieve its samples for return to Earth, reconfigure it for astronaut driving, use it to explore their landing site, and then reconfigure it again for Earth-guided operation.

Image credit: NASA
Sandwiched between Apollo 38 and Apollo 40 was Saturn IB-launched Apollo 39 (O-3/K-13/V3), a routine 10-day visitor mission to Olympus 3 bearing Cargo Carrier-2. Apollo 39 docked CC-2's inboard port with one of Olympus 3's two unoccupied radial docking ports.


The Apollo 41 (O-3/K-14/R-3) CSM docked with the third Olympus 3 radial port bearing the station's third resident crew in early January 1975. The start of their mission overlapped the end of the Apollo 37 resident crew's 180-day stay in space. The handover in marked the start of Olympus 3's continuous occupation, which lasted until the station was safely deorbited in July 1979.

Apollo 42 (O-3/K-15/V-4), another 10-day visitor mission to Olympus 3, docked at the CC-2 outboard port in March 1975 and, when they returned to Earth, deorbited CC-2 over the Pacific Ocean. Apollo 43 (O-3/K-16/V-5) in May 1975, was the second 10-day mission to visit the Apollo 41 resident crew. They delivered CC-3.

Apollo 44 (0-3/K-17/R-4) docked with Olympus 3 on 19 December 1975. On their way to Olympus 3, they performed a rendezvous with Olympus 1 to assess its condition. Apollo 41's return to Earth on 31 December 1975 rounded out NASA's 1975 piloted spaceflight schedule.

On our alternate timeline, NASA's Apollo-based piloted space program is hitting its stride. Earth-orbital operations are becoming routine; lunar-surface operations are continuing to evolve and advance.

On our own timeline, Apollo has drawn to its ill-considered close. Apollo would attract general public notice twice before the first Space Shuttle flight in April 1981: in September 1977, when funding cuts compelled NASA to shut off the science instruments the six Apollo lunar landing crews left behind on the moon; and in July 1979, when Skylab reentered Earth's atmosphere less than a week ahead of Apollo 11's 10th anniversary, pelting Australia with debris.


  1. Hello ! I know you are a fan of alternate space history. I suggest you look at the Alternate History Board - the post 1900 section. http://www.alternatehistory.com/discussion/forumdisplay.php?f=16
    There some amazing space timelines there.
    I'm quite sure you'll enjoy them.

    1. I will. Thanks for all the links.


    2. I think I like the "Korolyov dies" and "Skylab B" scenarios best.


    3. Glad you enjoyed them. Incidentally the Skylab B scenario is mine (shameless self-promotion !!) I really, really would like to discuss that Skylab B scenario with you - by mail, if you ahve a little time. Cheers !

  2. Hello, David!
    A simple question I have.
    In The Right Stuff it is mentioned several times that Shepard saw everything in black and white due to his gray filter in the periscope. How is it even possible? I can't imagine an optical filter actually desaturating images.

    1. Go to a camera store, pull out various yellow filters. There's a few that de-color the real world.

  3. I imagine that in this timeline Jim Lovell and Fred Haise have a second chance to walk on the moon.

  4. I do not buy this version of these events. By 1967 LBJ could have cared less about space. Here is some of my research on the subject.


    1. All I can say is that historical research does not consist of cherry-picking the record to prove a point you want to try to make. Your "Apollo quagmire" stuff, while appealing to a certain crowd, is a good example of how not to do historical research.


  5. Hi David,

    Reading your articles continue to frustrate me as I see what NASA could have accomplished, but didn't due to short-sighted political and budgetary objectives. Thanks for the exasperation.

    Anyway, my questions, as always...

    1. How many shuttle mission budgets would have covered Apollos 19-44 as you've described here?

    2. We really did lose to the Soviets as they generated a program around the venerable Soyuz. Similarly, we could have paralleled this with the Apollo system as a platform in lieu of the Shuttle STS. Not that I don't like the Shuttle, just guessing that cost of Apollo per mission or per astronaut may have been less than STS?

    3. The Shuttle is awesome technology not properly refined - that is, we needed a people shuttle and a cargo shuttle, but I digress.

    4. It seems like using the Apollo platform would have facilitated lunar orbit and lunar surface bases. How far-developed were these proposals?

    5. Pardon my obsession again with artificial-G, but was an artificial-G habitat ever a concept offered? I recently watched astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti's YouTube of hygiene in space. A bit worse than I though due to the need to contain the water floating around. Seems like artificial-G should be a priority for its health benefits, but clearly, it's not been one due to cost/logistics/fuel, etc. Just wondering if you could add some clarity why NASA, ESA, and others have been less than aggressive historically about that.

    That's my list for now.

    1. Ben:

      I'll take a stab at some of your questions.

      1) Can you clarify this? Are you asking me to compare a Shuttle mission cost with an advanced Apollo cost?

      2) The Apollo-derived program would have been very different from Shuttle. The Shuttle Program was an odd beast - Station logistics vehicle turned into something to please every constituency and woefully underfunded for the technological leap it was meant to be. The Apollo-derived program I envision would indeed have resembled the Soviet Soyuz-Salyut-Progress program in some ways, but would have been far more capable. So, in theory, all cislunar space would have been in reach of meaningful missions, not only LEO.

      With the basic systems already developed, I expect that the program I describe would have been quite a bit less costly than Shuttle. But that's hard to estimate.

      5) NASA planned an artificial-G experiment on Skylab II. Through most of the 1960s it was assumed to be either necessary or desirable or both. But cost and complexity were always issues. For example, if you needed to stop the spin for some reason, your toilets and stoves would still have to operate. Interestingly, a 1960s document I read last week cited hygiene as a major justification for artificial-G.

      I left it out for Olympus 1-3, but who know what Olympus 4 will be like? :-)


    2. Ben M:

      You might find this site to be of interest re: artificial-G: http://www.artificial-gravity.com/sw/SpinCalc/SpinCalc.htm


    3. David, Thank you, I am looking forward to reading the papers listed as references. Fun calculator. Interesting that there are varying scales of what is considered "comfortable". These kinds of studies would have been nice to have experimental proving in the late 70s, early 80s.


  6. Hi David,

    1) I am thinking here something like I can launch 10 Shuttles in 1981-1985, but at the same spend, I might be able to launch 24 Apollo style projects. So for every 10 shuttles, would I get 12 Apollo missions, 20, or 8? That's my intent. Curiosity for what "could" we have gotten.

    3) Your second sentence - yes, yes, and yes. But the Shuttle did have the virtue of looking cool. Cis-lunar space would have generated quite a but more research papers because of its challenge and distance as well as a different dimension to NASA's experience logbook. So far, we are neck and neck with the Soviets/Russians experience-wise because we've not ventured beyond LEO for 40 years. Not racing the Russians, but racing our own complacency.

    5) I suspect in engineering design, one would design for zero-G and have zero-G/artificial-G auto switches built in. Again, here is a whole branch of engineering and science we've yet to explore. THAT intellectual capital was "squandered" making Shuttle design upgrades like escape hatches and modified SRBs. (Sorry, not meaning to be sour, but see one of the weaknesses of the Shuttle as being an engineering time and knowledge resource hog. - Not that it wasn't a cool system, just hungry for time.)


  7. Ben:

    I spotted an error - I had Apollo 34 launching twice!

    As I concocted this schedule, I had in mind a NASA budget of about $4.5-billion/yr starting in 1971. That's about $1.5 billion per year more than it actually received. I made some very fuzzy cost assumptions - here they are by mission letter designation.

    H - $500 million
    I - $400 million
    J - $600 million
    K - $150 million for Apollo 19; $120 million for Apollo 44; add $30 million for a CC delivery mission
    L - $1.2 billion (for two missions - L1A & L1B, for example)
    O - $1.2 billion (all station costs except ferries, CCs, and RTRSs)
    Apollo GEO - $200 million each
    Apollo 31 L point relay mission - $400 million
    Apollo 37 telescope module - $500 million

    Cost of various facility upgrades I put at $2 billion total.

    I assumed that by 1973 a launch per month would be theoretically possible, but that NASA would never launch 12 Saturn rockets in a year before the end of the 1970s decade.

    So, here are costs for the 1971-1975 period (facilities not included): 1971 = $3.050 billion for 5 launches; 1972 = $2.050 billion for six launches; 1973 = $4.160 billion for 11 launches (must have been some carry over from 1971 and 1972); 1974 = $3.010 billion for 8 launches; 1975 = $510 million (I added a CC to Apollo 43).

    The dramatic fall in Apollo funding in 1975 seems significant. :-)

    It's hard to judge Shuttle mission cost. Early on it was confidently stated as $10 million; later it was $140 million; the reality, all costs considered, was probably more like $1 billion. I've seen program cost estimates as high as $150 billion for the whole 30-year series plus development.


  8. Ben:

    One or two things to add - 4 missions in 1975. Total cost for 1971-1975 = $12,8 billion. Round up to $13 billion, assume it applies to any 5-yr period - you'd need 10 5-yr periods (50 years) to approach the 40-yr Shuttle Program cost (10 years development + 30 yrs operations).

    All of this is very fuzzy and back-of-the-envelope.


    1. From Wiki -
      Per-launch costs can be measured by dividing the total cost over the life of the program (including buildings, facilities, training, salaries, etc.) by the number of launches. With 134 missions, and the total cost of US$192 billion (in 2010 dollars), this gives approximately $1.5 billion per launch over the life of the program.

      Reference source:
      Pielke Jr., Roger; Radford Byerly (7 April 2011). "Shuttle programme lifetime cost". Nature 472 (7341). Bibcode:2011Natur.472...38P. doi:10.1038/472038d. Retrieved July 14, 2011.

    2. So in terms of new science per dollar, I think Apollo extended may beat space truck in retrospect.

  9. David,

    Just found this fantastic site through the link at Atomic Rockets. I too remember Apollo. They launched 11 on my fifth birthday and I got to stay up late and watch the one small step on the 20th. You have a HUGE amount of forgotten history here. Have you ever thought of publishing in pdf or Kindle/Nook or book format?


  10. David – a wonderful piece of writing, as always. Thanks so much for undertaking this (though I suspect you enjoyed it as much as we did!). As have many others, I've often mused about the efficiencies – both in engineering as well as raw costs – of continuing the Apollo/Saturn V assembly lines into the 1970s. It's had to imagine that we would not have gotten more bang-for-our-spacebucks in such a scenario, but I'm taking it on faith that this would have been the case. In any event, a this article was thoroughly enjoyable read for me – who, like you, can remember a time when these wonderful missions of exploration were departing our planet as often as every 10-12 weeks. Hard to imagine now. Thanks again.

    1. A really belated "you're welcome" - I've enjoyed your work, so your positive comments are gratifying.



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