|President John F. Kennedy messes up NASA's carefully wrought long-range plans, 25 May 1961. Image credit: NASA|
In 1960, the three-man Apollo spacecraft was expected to be the second U.S. piloted spacecraft after the Mercury capsule. It would include a Command Module (CM), a Service Module (SM), and an Orbital Module; the last of these would augment the work and living space available to the crew, in effect making the spacecraft into a mini-space station.
NASA expected that its piloted program in the 1960s would proceed down one or both of two "logical" paths, and that Apollo would be crucial for both. The first path would have Apollo spacecraft transport crews to a temporary "orbiting laboratory." The Orbital Module would be used to transport supplies to the lab in space. The other path would see an Apollo perform a piloted flight around the moon. What might come after 1970 was anybody's guess, though NASA expected that the orbiting lab path would lead to a permanent Earth-orbiting space station and the circumlunar path would lead to a piloted moon landing, piloted Mars and Venus flybys, and a piloted Mars landing.
|Apollo as a fork in the road: NASA's plans for piloted spaceflight in 1959. Image credit: NASA|
Stinging from the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and the first piloted spaceflight by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (12 April 1961), Kennedy had asked Lyndon Baines Johnson, his Vice President and National Space Council chair, to propose a space goal that the U.S. might reach ahead of the Soviet Union. The apparent Soviet advantage in launch vehicle capability would, it was believed, give communist rocketeers a head-start if the goal was anything as modest as the establishment of an Earth-orbiting space station. Landing a man on the moon, on the other hand, was a goal audacious enough that the U.S. and Soviet Union would start out more or less evenly matched.
|Model of the Apollo Command and Service Module atop a conceptual Landing Propulsion Module. Image credit: NASA|
As it turned out, however, the Apollo CSM would never land on the moon. On 11 July 1962, as part of an ongoing debate that was not finally settled until November of that year, NASA selected the Lunar-Orbit Rendezous (LOR) mode for accomplishing the Apollo mission. A contract for a third Apollo module was indeed awarded (to Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, 7 November 1962), but it was for the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), a bug-like two-man spacecraft that would undock from the CSM in lunar orbit and lower to a landing on the moon. The Apollo CSM thus became the mother ship for delivering astronauts and LEM to lunar orbit and returning astronauts and moon rocks to Earth.
Despite President Kennedy's new high-priority moon landing goal, space station studies within NASA did not cease. In fact, some believed that NASA might launch its first station into Earth orbit before an astronaut stepped onto the moon. They reasoned that lunar landing program development costs would peak two or three years before NASA launched its first lunar landing attempt (as in fact they did). If NASA's portion of the Federal purse remained near its peak as moon program costs declined, then funds might become available for a station in Earth orbit as early as 1968.
At the newly established NASA Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston, Texas. engineer Edward Olling headed up space station planning. He informally named MSC's first proposed station program Project Olympus.
In April 1962, Olling circulated a draft planning document within MSC for comment; then, on 16 July 1962, he unveiled to top-level MSC managers his "Summary Project Development Plan" for the Project Olympus space station program. Olling envisioned a series of four 24-man stations launched and continuously staffed over a period of from five to seven years.
Olling explained that the Project Olympus space stations would provide NASA with enough astronauts, scientific equipment, pressurized volume, and electrical power to carry out wide-ranging basic and applied science research in space. Early station research would, however, seek to answer important questions about the efficacy of humans in space; for example, could astronauts work safely and effectively in orbit for long periods?
Small rocket motors at the ends of the arms would ignite to spin the station. The 150-foot-wide Project Olympus station would revolve four times per minute to create acceleration in its arms which the crew inside would feel as gravity. "Down" would be away from the hub. The crew decks farthest from the hub would experience the greatest acceleration: the equivalent of one-quarter of Earth's gravitational pull, or about midway between lunar and martian surface gravity. Decks closer to the hub would experience less acceleration, so might be used mainly for storage. Olling hinted that the different levels of acceleration experienced at varying distances from the hub might be useful for scientific research, but he provided no specifics as to how.
Olling advised MSC management that Project Olympus stations should operate in circular 300-nautical-mile-high orbits inclined 28.5° relative to Earth's equator - what he called a "Mercury orbit" because it matched the orbital inclination of the one-man Mercury capsules. Astronaut Scott Carpenter orbited Earth for nearly five hours in the Aurora 7 capsule on 24 May 1962, while Olling prepared his project plan. Olling later lowered his recommended altitude to 260 nautical miles.
The 28.5° latitude of the launch pads at Cape Canaveral, Florida, determined the orbital inclination of the Project Olympus stations. Matching launch-site latitude and station orbital inclination would maximize both station mass and the mass of the payload that could be delivered to the station. Olling also mentioned (albeit briefly) the possibility of a polar-orbiting Project Olympus station that would pass over all points on Earth.
|Apollo 15 Command and Service Module Endeavor in lunar orbit. Image credit: NASA|
The Apollo SM included seven major internal bays. A central cylindrical bay housed tanks of helium pressurant for pushing rocket propellants into the SPS main engine. Arrayed around the central compartment were six triangular bays containing tanks of fuel and oxidizer for the SPS and for four attitude-control thruster quads, electricity- and water-making fuel cells, and tanks of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen reactants for supplying the fuel cells.
The MODAP CSM would comprise a stripped-down SM and a beefed-up CM. Because it would spend a limited amount of time in free flight before it docked with an Earth-orbiting station, the MODAP SM could dispense with or minimize many Apollo lunar SM systems. Batteries would replace fuel cells, for example, and a compact LEM descent engine could replace the SPS. The LEM engine would draw its propellants from a pair of spherical tanks in the MODAP SM's central cylindrical compartment. These deletions and additions would free up four of the MODAP SM's triangular bays for cargo transport.
The MODAP CSM would remain in parking orbit for less than five hours before its crew ignited its LEM descent engine to place it into an elliptical transfer orbit with a 260-mile apogee (highest point above the Earth). Upon reaching apogee 45 minutes later, its crew would again ignite the engine to circularize its orbit. Subsequent station rendezvous and docking maneuvers might need up to 17.5 hours.
The company calculated that a 24-man station with crew stays lasting six months would need to receive a MODAP CSM bearing six astronauts and 5855 pounds of supplies eight times per year - that is, every 45 days. The typical cargo manifest would include 1620 pounds of food, 1035 pounds of oxygen, 505 pounds of nitrogen, 1450 pounds of propellants, and 1245 pounds of spare parts. The Project Olympus station would recover and reuse all water launched with it, so would have no need of water resupply.
The MODAP CSM would dock with the Project Olympus station via an axial docking unit at the bottom of the station hangar. NAA envisioned that the station would include either a tall hangar for the entire MODAP CSM or a short hangar for the MODAP CM alone (in which case the MODAP SM would protrude into space). If the former, then CAM transfer could occur entirely within the hangar. If the latter, then CAM transfer would occur external to the station. In both cases, after all cargo was transferred, the MODAP SM would be cast off and the hangar closed to protect the MODAP CM.
|These cutaway drawings of the Project Olympus station hangar show CAM internal (right) and external transfer methods. Compare with palletized transfer drawings above. Image credit: North American Aviation/NASA|
Discarding the MODAP SM with its LEM descent engine meant that the MODAP CM would need to carry a separate de-orbit propulsion module. NAA proposed a cluster of six solid-propellant retrorockets, any five of which could deorbit the MODAP CM. The retro package would include batteries for powering the MODAP CM during free-flight prior to reentry. NAA expected that, in normal circumstances, the MODAP CM would need 30 minutes for checkout and undocking. The MODAP CM's crew would ignite its retrorockets immediately after it maneuvered clear of the hangar.
|The MODAP CM with solid-propellant retropack. Image credit: North American Aviation/NASA|
Under normal circumstances, the MODAP CM would splash down in the Gulf of Mexico not far from Houston, so crew recovery would take place within a few hours. NAA acknowledged, however, that emergencies might occur. Because of this, the MODAP CM could fly free of the space station for up to 10.5 hours while its inclined orbit and Earth's rotation put it on course for reentry and splashdown at any of three sites. These were the prime site in the Gulf of Mexico, a site near Okinawa in the western Pacific Ocean, and one near Hawaii. To trim costs, fleets of recovery ships would not remain on standby at the landing sites; because of this, the astronauts might need to wait for up to 24 hours for rescue following an emergency splashdown near Okinawa or Hawaii.
An abort during ascent to Earth orbit could cause the Apollo and MODAP CMs to land in southern Africa; that is, to touch down on land. To protect its three-man crew during a land landing, the lunar CM would include shock absorbers in its supporting seat struts. These would enable the crew couches to move vertically up to five inches to dissipate the force of impact.
|A tight fit: six-man MODAP Command Module seating arrangement. Image credit: North American Aviation/NASA|
NAA proposed to solve the emergency land-landing problem by in effect moving the shock absorbers from the seat struts to the MODAP CM's heat shield and by adding four solid-propellant landing rockets. In the event of a land landing, the bowl-shaped heat shield would deploy downward on shock-absorbing struts and the landing rockets would ignite and pivot out from behind the shield.
NAA envisioned a MODAP CSM design & test program spanning from early 1964 to mid-1968. Operational MODAP CSMs would deliver crews and supplies to 24-man Project Olympus stations between mid-1968 and the end of 1973. The company anticipated that five MODAP CSMs would be used in ground tests and unmanned test flights, and that 40 MODAP CSMs would support the station program. Of these, perhaps two would fail, requiring assembly of at least two backup MODAP CSMs. NAA placed the total cost of the MODAP CSM program including $861 million for Saturn IB rockets at $1.881 billion.
A significant outcome of Olling's Project Development Plan and NAA's MODAP study was the realization that space station crew rotation and resupply would dominate total space station program cost. Summing up his findings, Olling wrote that a "reusable launch vehicle could contribute large economies" (that is, ensure large cost savings) for the station program. Even if four space stations were launched on expendable Saturn V rockets during the Project Olympus program, station cost would total only $1.273 billion; that is, about $600 million less than the MODAP CSM flights.
The Project Olympus and MODAP CSM study teams were not alone in reaching these conclusions; thus, as early as 1963, a reusable logistics spacecraft came to be seen as a desirable component of a large space station program. By 1968, this led to calls by high-level NASA management for a 1970s Space Station/Space Shuttle program.
Final Technical Presentation: Modified Apollo Logistics Spacecraft, Contract NAS 9-1506, North American Aviation, Inc., Space and Information Systems Division, November 1963
"Project Olympus: Proposed Space Station Program," Edward H. Olling, NASA Manned Spacecraft Center, 16 July 1962
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