24 July 2015

Space Race: The Notorious 1962 Proposal to Launch an Astronaut on a One-Way Trip to the Moon

Mercury suborbital flights were considered a prudent first step in U.S. piloted spaceflight. The Soviet Vostok missions upstaged suborbital Mercury, leading NASA to accept more risk by moving on to Mercury orbital missions. Image credit: NASA
When the seven Mercury astronauts were presented to the world on 9 April 1959, it was expected that, before any reached for Earth orbit, each would fly a suborbital "training" flight. These short flights, launched on modified Redstone missiles, would subject the astronauts to preflight preparations, liftoff and acceleration, a brief period of weightlessness, fiery reentry and rapid deceleration, and splashdown and recovery - in short, all of the stresses of an orbital mission. This was judged to be a prudent approach to preparing America’s astronauts for the rigors of orbital spaceflight.

Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's launch into Earth orbit in the 10,420-pound Vostok 1 capsule three years later (12 April 1961) consigned this plan to the dustbin. On 5 May 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard flew a 303-mile-long, 116-mile-high suborbital hop lasting 15 minutes, 22 seconds in the 4,040-pound Mercury-Redstone 3/Freedom 7 spacecraft. The flight was widely compared with Gagarin's 108-minute single orbit and derided as proof that the Soviet Union remained far ahead of the United States in space - and that it was, perhaps, superior in other ways.

Before a joint session of Congress on 25 May 1961, President John F. Kennedy called on NASA to land an American on the moon and return him safely to Earth before 1970. NASA tapped Apollo, previously planned as an Earth-orbital program with circumlunar potential, as its new lunar landing program. As for suborbital Mercury training flights, prudence went out the window. NASA flew only one more suborbital mission - Gus Grissom's Mercury-Redstone 4 flight (21 July 1961), which ended with the loss of the Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft during recovery - before terminating Mercury-Redstone to concentrate on Mercury-Atlas orbital flights. Two weeks after Grissom's 15-minute, 37-second flight, Gherman Titov orbited the Earth 17.5 times in 25 hours on board Vostok 2 (6-7 August 1961), adding to feelings of humiliation and desperation in the United States.

By the time John Glenn became the first American in orbit (20 February 1962), NASA and several advisory committees were debating how the U.S. should reach for the moon. At the same time, the U.S. civilian space agency began planning a program to bridge the gap between Mercury and Apollo. On 7 December 1961, NASA announced plans for a two-man "Mercury Mark II" spacecraft that would surpass Vostok's achievements beginning in 1963 and 1964. In January 1962, Mercury Mark II was renamed Gemini. The Gemini missions would expose astronauts to space conditions for up to two weeks (roughly the duration of a lunar mission) and give them spacewalk and orbital maneuvering practice.

Many feared, however, that Gemini, like Mercury, would be upstaged. Though the Soviets remained cagey about their space plans, it was widely assumed that their apparent lead in powerful booster rockets would permit them to launch a man to the moon and return him to Earth in about 1965.

Against this backdrop, John M. Cord, a Project Engineer in the Advanced Design Division at Bell Aerosystems Company, and Leonard M. Seale, a psychologist in charge of Bell's Human Factors Division, developed a plan for a desperate mission to put a man on the moon ahead of the Soviets. They unveiled their "One-Way Manned Space Mission" proposal in Los Angeles at the Institute of Aerospace Sciences (IAS) meeting in July 1962.

Cord and Seale explained that, since neither propellants for departing the moon nor parachutes and an Earth-atmosphere-reentry heat shield would be required, their new approach would slash lunar spacecraft mass. This would enable a rocket with between 450,000 and 1.1 million pounds of thrust - perhaps a near-relative of the Saturn I rocket, a Saturn I with an advanced upper stage, or a Titan missile derivative - to launch a one-man moon lander on a Direct-Ascent path to the moon. Such a rocket would, they estimated, be ready in the United States in 1964 or early 1965.

The Saturn I rocket was mainly a test vehicle for Saturn IB and Saturn V systems. Rockets only a little more powerful might have launched the One-Way Space Man cargo capsules and crew capsule during 1964. Image credit: NASA
Though they termed it "one-way," Cord and Seale did not propose a suicide mission. They estimated that a rocket capable of launching a three-man Direct-Ascent Apollo mission to retrieve the One-Way Space Man - that is, a rocket with between 1.1 million and 3.5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff - would become available in the U.S. in the 1965-to-1967 period, between 18 and 24 months after his arrival on the moon. Nevertheless, the mission would be "extremely hazardous." This was due to the fact that, after its boost phase - the period between Earth liftoff and injection onto an Earth-moon path - the astronaut would be unable to abort if some technical malfunction or unknown environmental danger threatened his life. If, on the other hand, the mission were a success, it would be "significant both scientifically and politically."

Cord and Seale viewed their mission as part of a series of increasingly capable lunar missions. First would come automated lunar flyby and orbiter missions to assess radiation hazards and photograph the moon for terrain assessment. Automated Ranger spacecraft would then photograph selected small areas up close as they plummeted toward destructive impact. A slightly different Ranger design would hard-land sturdy instruments, such as seismometers, on the moon.

Next, automated Surveyor soft landers would visit potential One-Way Space Man landing sites to return images and perform soil experiments so scientists could determine whether the One-Way Space Man would be able to land safely. Automated rovers would follow to gather detailed data on the One-Way Space Man landing site. A rover would also place a radio homing beacon at the site to guide the One-Way Space Man's crew lander and cargo landers to safe landings.

The One-Way Space Man mission would come next, then round-trip Apollo missions would begin. The first Apollo would, of course, set down near the One-Way Space Man's lunar base; one of the One-Way Space Man's tasks would be to select a safe site for the three-man Direct-Ascent Apollo lander that would take him home. The Apollo Program might then lead to a permanent lunar base – a goal made more attainable, Cord and Seale argued, by the One-Way Space Man's experiences on the moon.

While the flybys, orbiters, hard and soft landers, and rovers explored the moon, engineers would develop One-Way Space Man hardware. In addition to a suitable man-rated booster rocket, they would develop a "minimum" crew capsule, a cargo capsule, a retro stage with extendible "alighting gear" for soft-landing both capsule types, and a layout for the One-Way Space Man's lunar base.

Testing would then begin. This would include Earth-orbital crew capsule tests bearing primates, much like those conducted ahead of the Mercury-Redstone and Mercury-Atlas manned flights. A boilerplate cargo lander fitted out with engineering sensors and telemetry transmitters would land on the moon, then four cargo landers would home in on the rover-emplaced homing beacon at the One-Way Space Man landing site. The four cargo flights would test systems common to the crew lander and would pre-land supplies and equipment the One-Way Space Man would use to build his base. Finally, the One-Way Space Man would depart Earth for the moon.

The One-Way Space Man crew capsule. Image credit: Bell Aerosystems
Cord and Seale’s crew capsule would measure 10 feet across its base and about seven feet tall. It would provide 345 cubic feet of living volume for the One-Way Space Man. The capsule would have an empty mass of just 1735 pounds – less than half that of Mercury - and a fully loaded mass of only 2190 pounds. Its low mass was in large part attributable to its lack of an integral Earth-reentry heatshield - the heatshield would be discarded at the end of the boost phase along with other launch-abort systems. In addition to the 180-pound astronaut, the capsule would carry food and water for 12 days (90 pounds), breathing oxygen for 12 days plus an 18-day emergency supply (60 pounds), a space suit with rechargeable life-support backpack (90 pounds), tools and supplies (25 pounds), and health, first-aid, and safety gear (10 pounds).

The thin-skinned crew capsule would not provide adequate radiation protection during the One-Way Space Man's 2.5-day Earth-moon journey nor while he lived in it while setting up his lunar base. This was because providing adequate shielding would add so much mass to the capsule that it would scuttle the entire One-Way Space Man plan. Cord and Seale noted that the next period of high solar flare activity would not begin until 1967, by which time, if all went well, the One-Way Space Man would have returned to Earth; they admitted, however, that more than 25 flares had occurred during the three years prior to their Los Angeles talk.

One-Way Space Man lunar base. The nuclear reactor providing electricity to the base is located at the far left edge of the image; overhead cables link it to One-Way Space Man's shelter. A large dish antenna on the shelter links the One-Way Space Man to Earth. Image credit: Bell Aerosystems
Immediately upon landing, the One-Way Space Man would set to work establishing his base. His would be a race against time; in addition to the constant threat of a solar flare, his crew capsule's fuel cells could provide electricity for no more than 9.5 days by the time he landed.

The One-Way Space Man would exit his crew capsule through one of two hatches. The capsule would include no airlock; to exit or enter, the astronaut would depressurize or re-pressurize the entire capsule. The capsule atmosphere would consist of pure oxygen at a pressure of seven pounds per square inch.

The environment into which the One-Way Space Man would step would be extremely hazardous, Cord and Seale warned. In fact, they forecast lunar surface conditions far more harsh than actually exist. They expected that the One-Way Space Man would find few level places and many sharp rocks. The irregular surface and knife-like rock shards would be especially hazardous during the One-Way Space Man's clumsy first days on the moon, when he would be unaccustomed to the low gravity (17% of Earth’s), harsh sunlight (almost twice as bright as on Earth), and deep shadows of the lunar surface.

Micrometeorite dust would cover portions of the surface to a depth of about a yard, Cord and Seale reported. The One-Way Space Man would stir up the dust with his feet as he moved. They told their audience that each disturbed dust grain would ricochet off the surface and stir up additional grains. Combined with dust kicked up by micrometeorite impacts, the astronaut would walk in a veritable dust storm that would at times obscure vision. Inevitably he would carry dust into his shelter; Cord and Seale anticipated that this would place strain on the air filtering system and might damage other systems.

One-Way Space Man space suit. Cord and Seale envisioned a harsh, dusty lunar surface covered with sharp rocks, but this image displays a benign surface. Image credit: Bell Aerosystems
Cord and Seale attempted to estimate how often the One-Way Space Man's space suit would be penetrated by micrometeorites. These would, they reported, travel at an average velocity of 40 kilometers per second. They found that a pressure suit made of sewn three-ply nylon would experience on average 1.3 punctures every four hours. Adding a suit-sealant layer would reduce the decompression danger, but would do nothing to protect the One-Way Space Man's body from the bullet-like impacts of the micrometeorites.

Adding a one-tenth-centimeter-thick woven aluminum layer would slash the average number of punctures to 0.007 per four-hour moonwalk and would attenuate impacts. It would, however, hamper movement. Cord and Seale recommended that the One-Way Space Man be fitted instead with a rigid aluminum suit with the joint flexibility of a nylon soft suit that would permit only 0.002 penetrations per four-hour moonwalk.

During his first 9.5 days on the moon, the One-Way Space Man would unload the four cargo capsules, each of which would measure 10 feet wide and about 13 feet long. Each 2,190-pound cargo capsule would carry 910 pounds of supplies and equipment. Two capsules, equipped with a floor, pre-installed life support systems, and start-up supplies, would become his shelter. He would tip each onto its side, placing its floor parallel with the lunar surface, and remove its conical nosecone. He would then winch the two capsules together, forming a living space about 25 feet long.

One-Way Space Man cargo capsule.
Image credit: Bell Aerosystems
If left unprotected, the One-Way Space Man's shelter would suffer on average 1.4 micrometeorite punctures per year. Cord and Seale noted that burying the shelter under "lunar rubble" would provide protection from micrometeorites and reduce its interior radiation level. Moving enough surface material to adequately bury the 25-foot-long, 10-foot-tall shelter would, however, be beyond the capabilities of a lone astronaut, so they suggested instead that the One-Way Space Man ward off meteorites by installing on his shelter's hull thin metal micrometeorite shields carried inside one of the cargo capsules. The shields, which would stand several inches off the hull, would break up and vaporize micrometeorites that struck them, blunting their impact on the shelter's hull.

For radiation protection, Cord and Seale proposed a separate small radiation shelter that could be easily buried or moved to a "void" in a crater wall. They assumed that six feet of lunar rubble would be sufficient to protect the One-Way Space Man from solar flares. When detectors registered a sharp increase in radiation at the base site, the One-Way Space Man would hurry to the radiation shelter to wait out the flare. As his range of operations increased, he would establish other small shelters at strategic locations around his base site.

The One-Way Space Man would bring along his own potentially hazardous radiation source: a nuclear reactor for generating electrical power. Unlike solar cells, the reactor could make electricity during the frigid two-week lunar night and, unlike fuel cells, it would not require expendables. The astronaut would move the reactor from one of the cargo landers to a small crater and, after running overhead cables back to the shelter and activating it, bury it to protect himself from its ionizing radiation.

One-Way Space Man shelter (foreground); in the background, the buried radiation shelter (left) and an abandoned cargo capsule descent stage and nosecone are visible. Image credit: Bell Aerosystems
Cord and Seale estimated that 13 cargo landers per year would be required to deliver life support supplies. Three more cargo landers would deliver parts for a multi-purpose rover and construction equipment, and one would deliver the nuclear reactor and radio equipment, including a large dish-shaped high-gain antenna. Three more would deliver "utility" payloads; these would include scientific gear. Establishing the shelter would need two cargo landers. In all, the One-Way Space Man would need 22 cargo landers during his first year on the moon.

In addition, he might occasionally need emergency supplies, such as medicines, at short notice. Cord and Seale suggested that a small booster with a special rough-landing cargo lander - perhaps derived from Ranger - be kept on standby.

On 11 July 1962, a few weeks after Cord and Seale presented their paper, NASA announced that it had selected the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR) mode for Apollo lunar missions, not Direct-Ascent. LOR would see an Apollo mothership with a lone astronaut on board remain in lunar orbit while two astronauts descended to the surface in a minimal "bug" lander. The bug became known first as the Lunar Excursion Module and later as the Lunar Module (LM). As already noted, Cord and Seale based the One-Way Space Man plan on the Direct-Ascent mode. They conceded that it could also include Earth-Orbit Rendezvous, another Apollo mode contender. They argued, however, that any form of rendezvous would complicate their mission plan unnecessarily.

Although never seriously considered, Cord and Seale's proposal excited considerable interest. For example, it led off a 25 June 1962 news story on the Los Angeles IAS meeting in the pages of Missiles and Rockets magazine. Its headline read, "One-Man, One-Way Moon Trip Urged." Cord and Seale, perhaps feeling the heat for proposing such a risky mission, took exception to the word "urged" - in a letter printed in the 30 July 1962 issue of the magazine under the title "Morality and the Moon," they called their proposal "inconsistent with our moral values" as a nation. That did not stop them, however, from publishing a summary of their proposal in the publication Aerospace Engineering in December 1962. After that, technical discussion of the One-Way Space Man concept ended.

The concept remained intriguing to many, however. In 1964, novelist Hank Searls published a thriller called The Pilgrim Project based on Cord and Seale's plan. The novel had the flavor of alternate history even as it saw print.

In Searls' novel, the U.S. has fallen far behind the Soviet Union in the race to the moon. The Soviets have built an Earth-orbiting shipyard and have begun manned circumlunar flights while the U.S. struggles in Earth orbit to perfect rendezvous and docking using Apollo spacecraft. Searls implies that more Mercury orbital flights took place than in our timeline, but his book makes scant mention of Gemini, the program NASA used to develop rendezvous techniques.

The lone Project Pilgrim astronaut leaves for the moon in a modified Mercury capsule soon after the Soviets have launched a three-man one-way mission. His target is a pre-landed shelter called Chuckwagon. The radio homing beacon on the shelter fails, forcing the Pilgrim astronaut to rely on visual sighting to find it on the lunar surface. Unlike Cord and Seale's One-Way Space Man, Searl's Pilgrim astronaut could swing around the moon and return to Earth if Chuckwagon or his capsule suffered a malfunction.

The cover art for this edition of The Pilgrim Project is mostly stylized, but the Mercury-derived piloted lunar spacecraft is discernible (lower right). Image credit: McGraw Hill Book Company
The Pilgrim astronaut spots an object on the lunar surface near Chuckwagon's expected position, so he ejects his heat shield and Earth-landing systems to reduce his spacecraft's mass for the retro maneuver. He lands successfully, exits the Mercury capsule, and moves cautiously over the stark alien surface toward the object he spotted from space. It turns out to be the Soviet lander, which has crashed in a crevasse, killing its occupants. One cosmonaut hangs out of the spacecraft hatch gripping a Soviet hammer-and-sickle flag; the Pilgrim astronaut places it with the Stars-and-Stripes in one of his suit pockets.

The modified Mercury is not designed to serve as a temporary shelter and the Pilgrim astronaut has only a limited supply of oxygen in his suit backpack. Having no idea where Chuckwagon is, he sets out at random after laying out the Soviet and American flags side by side. His unexpected exertions as he moves over the rugged surface soon cause him to overheat. Then, just as he is about to accept his fate, he notices a slowly blinking star on the horizon; it is the flashing locator beacon on top of Chuckwagon. The novel ends as the Pilgrim astronaut sets out toward his refuge.

Searls' novel became the basis for the 1968 Robert Altman film Countdown. In the film, a Gemini capsule on an Apollo LM descent stage replaces the modified Mercury. The story is simplified, but closely follows the novel. According to space historian and NASA biomedical researcher John B. Charles, Altman filmed the launch of Gemini 11 (12-15 September 1966), the penultimate Gemini mission, so that it could represent the launch of the Pilgrim astronaut. A Gemini-Titan rocket was, of course, not powerful enough to put a Gemini and LM descent stage on a Direct-Ascent path to the moon. The Gemini 11 scenes do, however, constitute rare cinema-quality footage of a Gemini launch.

By the end of the Gemini program in November 1966, the U.S. was well ahead of the Soviet Union in the race to the moon. For a time it appeared that the Apollo 1 fire (27 January 1967) might set back the U.S. space program and reignite the moon race; however, the Soviet space program suffered the Soyuz 1 disaster three months later (23-24 April 1967). The closest NASA came to a desperation mission in the moon race was Apollo 8, which orbited the moon 10 times on Christmas Eve 1968. The mission, intended originally to test the LM in high Earth orbit, was dispatched to the moon without an LM to head off the threat to hard-won U.S. prestige of a possible Soviet manned circumlunar flight.

At the end of their IAS paper and their Aerospace Engineering article, Cord and Seale explained that the One-Way Space Man concept could be applied throughout the Solar System. When next the concept of a one-way manned space mission was proposed, it was aimed at Mars, and it was envisioned as a truly one-way mission.

At the Case for Mars VI conference in July 1996, George William Herbert of Retro Aerospace proposed that middle-aged scientists be dispatched on a one-way journey to the Red Planet to cut costs and increase scientific payback. His scenario had the scientists living out their natural lives while exploring the planet to which they had dedicated their careers. Herbert's was a new kind of desperation mission. He and his fellow Mars enthusiasts were not desperate to beat another country to Mars; rather, they were impatient to see humans on Mars.

The one-way Mars concept remains of interest to some, though it has not earned widespread acceptance. In 2009, Lawrence Krauss, Director of the Origins Initiative at Arizona State University, told The New York Times that "To boldly go where no one has gone before does not require coming home again." He explained that a one-way approach would reduce the cost of piloted Mars exploration and compared the journey to that of the Pilgrims. Science News picked up Krauss's statement, and the magazine's readers quickly reacted. One noted that the Pilgrims traveled to a place where they knew that they could survive. One-way Mars explorers would have no such assurance. Another complained that Krauss's proposal illustrated "the decline of moral reasoning."

Sources

"The One-Way Manned Space Mission," IAS Paper No. 62-131, John M. Cord and Leonard M. Seale; paper presented at the Institute of Aerospace Sciences National Summer Meeting held in Los Angeles, California, 19-22 June 1962

"At IAS meeting. . . One-Man, One-Way Moon Trip Urged," W. Wilks, Missiles and Rockets, 25 June 1962, pp. 16-17

"Morality and the Moon," John M. Cord and Leonard M. Seale, Letters, Missiles and Rockets, 30 July 1962, p. 8

"The One-Way Manned Space Mission," John M. Cord and Leonard M. Seale, Aerospace Engineering, December 1962, pp. 60-61, 94-102

The Pilgrim Project, Hank Searles, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1964

Countdown, directed by Robert Altman, screenplay by Loring Mandel, Warner Bros. Pictures, 1968

"One-Way to Mars," George William Herbert, AAS-96-322, The Case for Mars VI: Making Mars an Affordable Destination, Kelly R. McMillen, editor; proceedings of the sixth Case for Mars Conference held at the University of Colorado at Boulder, 17-20 July 1996

"Science Observation," Lawrence M. Krauss, Science News, 20 October 2009, p. 4

"Feedback – One-way ticket to Mars," Science News, 21 November 2009, p. 29

13 comments:

  1. If you're going to say no to something, it pays to know what you're saying no to. Besides, one day we'll do precisely this - launch a man to the moon without a definitive plan for getting him back.

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  2. Kennedy's goal was: "...put a man on the moon and bring him safely back to Earth...". The people had to come back to accomplish a successful mission.

    The idea is interesting, but the costs would be the same as on a return mission. Too many supplies have to be delivered over years - and if a failure does happen there is no time to investigate, the next mission has to be launched immediately.

    And now I'm a little bit Off Topic to this post but not to this Blog:
    *What would have happened to the US Space Program if Sputnik had failed?
    *If Wernher von Braun was granted to launch a satellite he would have been the first by mid. 1957.
    *And if Yuri Gagarin was killed on his mission - his mission was announced worldwide before he landed.
    *If Alexey Leonov could not renter his spacecraft?

    So, what would have happened if the US had been always the first on this? The USA was always close behind the USSR, behind, because there was more security considered.

    JFK: "This is a great nation. We are the leader in space. Let's see what we can do next..."
    And LBJ: "We need this results to develop our next nuclear weapon missiles..."

    I believe that Apollo was only possible because the Russians did success. They were lucky in the beginning. But than the race in space was a race against ghosts.

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  3. At my last paragraph:
    "because the Russians did success"
    I can not edit but it should mean: "because the Russians did have had a success" or "because the Russians did succeed".
    Maybe this can be merged into my former post.

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    1. I think if the US had always been in the lead, the pressure to carry out prestige-generating missions would have been far less. Eisenhower wasn't interested in space stunts and JFK wouldn't have been all that interested either without pressure from Lyndon Johnson. JFK was not a space fan - if anyone was, it was LBJ, and his interest was part space and part rewarding his political supporters with space centers and contracts.

      Interestingly, by about 1966 the CIA was telling people that the Russians were not racing us to the moon. By then, though, we were heavily invested in the goal - LBJ's cronies in particular would have been unhappy to see NASA money stop flowing into their districts. Plus, the idea that we could really clobber the Russians on the prestige front of the Cold War had taken hold. Whether they were racing or not, we meant to show them up. Plus, the CIA wasn't perfect, and in 1967, after the fire shook our confidence, it looked as though the Russians were getting ready to do *something.* The Proton started flying, for one thing.

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  4. Very good point about the cost of keeping the One-Way Space Man supplied. That certainly would have added a lot to Apollo cost overall.

    Let me think a bit about the rest of your comment. I occurs to me that it might make a good post. I would, of course, credit you with the idea - I don't steal peoples' ideas or work.

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  5. Steal my ideas, I don't mind. More serious: This came into my mind when I realized that every early steps were done at the same time. The soviets have been some more bold than NASA.

    If Sputnik had failed we would not know about this until Gorbachev. And a failure was an "option" on the 4th October 1957. Even Laika was a convicted dog to death. But to be honest: Some of the US Apes did also not survive their trips into space.

    And just an other thought: If Kennedy had survived Dallas - this could have been a big deal toward Mars.

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  6. Wow. Excellent post!
    It shows that the US considered (and rejected) similar human risk that the Soviets seemed to feel more comfortable with. Are there not "well-documented" (versus rumored) accounts of hidden Soviet human failures?

    The lunar profile described above really smacks of Mars-One logic. Send up people, keep them supplied, hope for the best. From a patriotic point of view, I am happy that the US did not take "the desperation approach" as described in your post. It's different in the "middle-aged scientist" scenario. At least you have people fully dedicating their lives in a literal sense to the advancement of their science.

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    1. We had rumors of Soviet piloted failures in the 1960s, but none has turned out to be true. That said, there were other kinds of space accidents that claimed lives. And Korolev should never have flown in Soyuz 1. It wasn't ready for humans.

      I feel a little uncomfortable when folks point to Soviet willingness to take risks. After all, during flights we have killed more than three times as many astronauts as they have killed cosmonauts. Shuttle was all about accepting risks.

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    2. Soyuz 1 - You mean Komarov?

      Good point on Shuttle. I didn't think of it that way, except for the Shuttle was the most complex vehicle ever flown and the engineers' warnings were not heeded at critical moments or even in design/safety upgrades. So, despite the impressive technology, poor human judgment - politics - had much to do with the downfall of the Shuttle.

      That would be a good paper - compare/contrast Soviet space politics and "first in space" propaganda of the 1960s to American technological hubris and grandeur of the 1980s. Both had their roots in political pride. Both were intertwined with military objectives. Khrushchev vs. Reagan, it's too delicious. Someone must have written their thesis on that one by now. It's too rich with irony.

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    3. Yes, that's right - Komarov. Sorry for the error!

      The debate on Shuttle has been ongoing for decades. I think it is entering a new phase. In any case, Shuttle was not something you could do on the cheap, yet that's what we did. We made unconscionable decisions WRT to crew safety - most fundamental being lack of credible crew escape and abort modes, but including also the decision to use SRBs and the generally fragile structure of the stack. The phrase "on a wing and a prayer" comes to mind.

      Coincidentally, I am at work on a "Dreaming a Different Apollo" installment that assumes a different Apollo-to-Shuttle transition and a different Shuttle. Not sure when I will have it done. I am trying to dramatize a part of it, complete with dialogue, and I'm not very experienced with that kind of writing. But I hope to finish it this week.

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  7. In your research, was there ever a Dyna-Soar scenario or infrastructure that was (seriously) considered alongside of Apollo? Seems like the space plane technology kind of followed X-15, Dyna-Soar, Space Shuttle, but somehow missed a middle (size/capability) stage between Dyna-Soar and Shuttle.

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    1. I think Dyna-Soar was seriously considered alongside Apollo, but gave way to MOL, which then gave way to spysats. I think you make a good point about the big jump to Shuttle, though I'd argue it was a jump from X-15 to Shuttle, since Dyna-Soar didn't fly. Shuttle was way too big for a first reusable vehicle. We should have tested reusability using Apollo CMs and automated Shuttles, and kept heavy lift around for launching stations.

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    2. I believe Gemini was a serious contender for reusability development as part of the Blue Gemini "program". Not so much the Titan II or the heatshield, but a lot of the internal equipment (the computer and INS were more sophisticated/valuable than even Apollo) could have ended up flying several MOL crews if things had gone differently.

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