23 September 2016

The Eighth Continent

The northern hemisphere of the moon as viewed from the Jupiter-bound Galileo spacecraft during an Earth gravity-assist flyby. Parts of the spectrum invisible to the human eye are rendered as green and bluish tints; these provide hints to the complex, barely understood mineralogy of lunar features. Image credit: NASA
Earth's moon is for most people just a light in the sky. Many of us who have followed the course of spaceflight know that it is in fact a place we have barely explored.

I like to think of our planet's moon as its eighth continent. In terms of extent, Asia is, at 44.6 million square kilometers, the largest continent. The moon is next in order, with 37.9 million square kilometers. Africa comes in third with 30.4 million square kilometers.

Another way to look at this is, the moon has more area than North America (24.7 million square kilometers) and Europe (10.2 million square kilometers) combined. Or one could say that the moon has about the same surface area as five Australias (7.7 million square kilometers each) or three Antarcticas (14 million square kilometers each).

South America, at 17.8 million square kilometers fifth in area after Asia, the moon, Africa, and North America, has a little less area than one lunar hemisphere. When we look up at the hemisphere the moon holds forever turned toward Earth, the Nearside, we view a surface area that could comfortably encompass Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay, Suriname, French Guiana, Guyana, and Paraguay, plus the nations of Central America and the Caribbean. Half a billion people call those countries home.

If there's one hemisphere we can see from Earth, it follows that there's a hemisphere we cannot see. Called the Farside, we have observed it only from lunar-orbiting spacecraft or more distantly, from interplanetary spacecraft flying through the Earth-moon system (see image at top of post). No lander, rover, or astronaut has explored there. The Farside is home to the South Pole-Aitken Basin, the largest impact basin on the moon and one of the top five largest impact basins in the entire Solar System. Its full extent and depth were not confirmed until the last years of the 20th century.

Many people - including space enthusiasts, who really should know better - look at the moon and say, "been there, done that." The fact is, we have examined up close far less than 1% of the moon's surface. All the territory that the Surveyor and Luna robot landers, Apollo astronauts, and Lunokhod robot rovers of the 1960s and 1970s explored could fit within a smallish city.

All of this unexplored territory is close at hand - on average just 385,000 kilometers away, a distance approximately equal to 10 times Earth's circumference. There exist automobiles and many ships and aircraft that have racked up more kilometers than that. If we still possessed Saturn rockets and Apollo spacecraft, in three days you could climb a ladder down to the surface of the moon. That compares favorably with the travel time to remote places on Earth, such as Antarctica or the ocean abyss.

The eighth continent. The phrase makes the moon seem more real, more like a place, more like a part of Earth. That's how it should be. Earth and moon form a unique system. When we see the Earth as everything and its moon as separate, remote, and insignificant, we are only a step removed from ancient peoples who thought the Earth was flat. It's time we stopped that nonsense and gave our eighth continent its due consideration.

15 September 2016

Naming the Space Station (1988)

The 1982 "Space Platform" was the Station design President Ronald Reagan displayed to leaders of prospective Space Station International Partner nations in 1984. Image credit: NASA
On 12 April 1988, James Odom, NASA's Associate Administrator for Space Station, sent out a memorandum with two attachments to a long distribution list. Recipients included NASA Administrator James Fletcher, Deputy, Associate, and Assistant Administrators at NASA Headquarters, the NASA Inspector General, the NASA Chief Scientist, the nine NASA field center Directors, Public Affairs Officers across the agency, the six field center Space Station Project Offices, and representatives of the Space Station International Partners (Canada, the European Space Agency, and Japan). The memo's subject line summed up its purpose succinctly: it was called "Naming the Space Station."

Odom explained that the Space Station President Ronald Reagan had called upon NASA to build in his State of the Union Address of 25 January 1984 was about to enter its "development phase," so the time was ripe to decide on a name for it. He attached a NASA Management Instruction laying out guidelines for naming NASA projects and, more interestingly, a list of 16 names suggested by a Space Station Name Committee he had appointed. Each name included a brief rationale.

The naming rules were straightforward. Candidate names were to be simple and easily pronounced, not refer to living persons, neither duplicate nor closely resemble other NASA or non-NASA space program names, be translatable into the languages of the International Partners, and have neither ambiguous nor offensive meanings in the International Partner languages. In addition, acronyms were to be avoided. The naming process was not to be revealed to the public; if, however, members of the public happened to submit names that followed the rules, the Name Committee would consider them.

NASA's 1985 "Power Tower" Space Station configuration included hangars for space tugs and satellite servicing, a laboratory, a free-flyer providing an enhanced microgravity environment, and zenith- and nadir-pointing truss-type platforms for instruments. Image credit: NASA
Several of the Name Committee's 16 names sought a return to the Greco-Roman mythology naming tradition of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Hercules was, its rationale explained, an appropriate name for the Space Station because the mythical hero was "a symbol of extraordinary strength. . . who won immortality by performing 12 labors." Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom and learning; Aurora, the Roman goddess of the dawn. Jupiter, the greatest Roman god, was a candidate name; the Name Committee explained, however, that it was meant to refer to the Solar System's largest planet, and that it was "symbolic of mankind's greatest adventure, the exploration of space."

Pegasus was suggested because the Space Station would "dwell among the stars" like "the winged horse who ascended into Heaven." Olympia referred to the sacred grove where ancient Greece held its Olympic Games; the name was meant to invoke the spirit of international cooperation.

Another proposed 1985 NASA Space Station design provided ample room for hangars and attached payloads, as well as a simplified track arrangement for the Station's mobile platform-mounted robot arm. The Station's electricity-generating solar arrays, steerable only by moving the entire Station, cover its zenith-facing side. Image credit: NASA
Two names, Earth-Star and Starlight, referred to the Station's likely bright star-like appearance in the skies of Earth, while another, Skybase, was said to build on "the tradition of Skylab," the first U.S. space station, which had reached orbit in May 1973. Landmark was suggested because the Space Station Program would constitute a "landmark" in the history of the NASA spaceflight. Pilgrim referred to outer space settlement, and the rationale for Prospector declared that the Space Station would "serve as a base for exploration of space for natural deposits."

This last Station function must have come as a surprise to many on Odom's distribution list, for the Space Station was meant to serve as a laboratory; before 1988 it had lost essentially all of its transportation node capabilities, so had little hope of ever playing a significant role in the development of space resources. NASA planners, meanwhile, had moved toward the concept of a separate transportation node space station. They believed (with good reason) that separating transportation and laboratory functions would result in two stations with optimized designs.

Other names – Freedom, Independence, Liberty, and Unity – advertised U.S. political values, and thus followed Soviet convention. ("Soyuz," for example, means "Union," which refers to the multi-modular nature of the Soyuz spacecraft, but also to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.) Liberty also referred to breaking "the bond of Earth's gravitational pull," Unity to international cooperation, and Independence to “man’s first permanent step to be 'independent' of Earth."

Freedom, the Name Committee explained, was appropriate because the Space Station would "provide scientific and technological 'freedom' to explore avenues of research," as well as freedom "from the confines of gravity." In addition, freedom was "a political value central to all of the Space Station's international partners."

In his memorandum, Odom explained that names submitted to the Space Station Name Committee would be given to the NASA Administrator, who would make the final selection. In the end, though, the list of candidate names landed on President Reagan's desk. On 18 July 1988, NASA announced that he had selected the name Space Station Freedom.

Space Station Freedom - sometimes referred to as Space Station "Fred" due to its much-reduced size and capabilities - in 1991. Image credit: NASA
Despite Odom's assertion that it would soon enter development, Space Station Freedom underwent repeated redesigns to reduce cost and complexity and narrowly dodged cancellation. In mid-1993, new President William Clinton ordered a comprehensive review of the U.S. space station program, a management overhaul, and a redesign based on one of three options, designated A, B, and C. In November 1993, Clinton selected Option A, a pruned-back version of Freedom that became known as Alpha. (One might speculate, none too seriously, that had Option B been selected, the station would have been called Beta.)

During his single term in office, President George H. W. Bush, Clinton's predecessor, had concluded agreements first with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and then with Russian President Boris Yeltsin that called for, among other things, use of the Soyuz spacecraft as a Space Station Freedom lifeboat. Bush had stopped short of giving the Russians a central role in the NASA station; nevertheless, he laid groundwork for things to come.

President Clinton's decision to accept the Russian invitation to combine Alpha and Mir-2 had its critics. Nevertheless, the move created a geopolitical rationale that ensured broad Congressional support for the station for the first time. The combined space station would keep Russian rocketeers occupied so that they would not peddle their missile-manufacturing services internationally. In terms of space operations, the merger amounted to what was probably the first instance of Earth-orbital barter: the Russian segment would provide orbit-maintenance propulsion and early staffing in exchange for abundant electricity from the U.S. segment's enormous truss-mounted steerable solar arrays.

The International Space Station in August 2005. Image credit: NASA
For a time, the combined U.S.-Russian station was jokingly referred to as "Ralpha," for "Russian Alpha," which at least had the advantage of being distinctive. Ultimately, however, NASA and its partners settled on the prosaic name International Space Station (ISS).

Following (mainly) Russian tradition, individual ISS modules have received names. The Mir-2 core module, a small independent space station NASA referred to as the "Service Module," was named Zvezda ("Star"), while the first U.S. component, Node 1 – a module designed as an attachment point for other modules – was dubbed Unity for reasons similar to those given by the 1988 Name Committee. Other names include Zarya ("Dawn") for the FGB propulsion and storage module, the first ISS component launched; Destiny for the U.S. Lab Module; Kibo ("Hope") for the Japanese lab; and Columbus for the European lab.

The International Space Station in 2011. Image credit: NASA

Memorandum with attachments, S/Associate Administrator for Space Station to Distribution, Naming the Space Station, 12 April 1988

More Information

NASA's 1992 Plan to Land Soyuz Space Station Lifeboats in Australia

Skylab-Salyut Space Laboratory (1972)

He Who Controls the Moon Controls the Earth (1958)

10 September 2016

Dreaming A Different Apollo, Part Four: Naming Names

A lunar outpost near an abandoned Apollo Lunar Module descent stage (left). Image credit: European Space Agency
The names we give to places on and off Earth and to vessels of sea and space have long fascinated me. The moon is one of my favorite places because it is covered with names of scientists and engineers, each of whom has an intriguing biography. At the insistence of Carl Sagan, Mercury bears the names of artists, musicians, poets, and the like, so is also interesting.

Other worlds have other themes assigned to them. The Uranian moon Miranda, for example, draws names from Shakespeare's The Tempest and locations in Shakespeare's plays.

The Royal Navy in the Age of Fighting Sail is a great source for picturesque ship names, and science fiction seldom disappoints. The late, great Iain M. Banks had a particular talent for irreverent names, which he applied to the intelligent starships of his The Culture setting: I Blame the Parents is one of my favorites.

In Part One of this series (see link below), I described a world in which Apollo did not die; one in which U.S. taxpayers opted to squeeze our $24-billion Apollo investment for all it was worth instead of (as President Lyndon Baines Johnson put it) pissing it all away. I did not give the Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM) and Lunar Module (LM) spacecraft in that post names for fear of making more confusing an already complicated series of missions. In this post, I mean to rectify that omission.

In Apollo as flown, we saw the following spacecraft names (or, perhaps more properly, call-signs): Apollo 7, none; Apollo 8, none; Apollo 9, CSM Gumdrop and LM Spider; Apollo 10, CSM Charlie Brown and LM Snoopy; Apollo 11, CSM Columbia and LM Eagle; Apollo 12, CSM Yankee Clipper and LM Intrepid; Apollo 13, CSM Odyssey and LM Aquarius; Apollo 14, CSM Kitty Hawk and LM Antares; Apollo 15, CSM Endeavour and LM Falcon; Apollo 16, CSM Casper and LM Orion; and Apollo 17, CSM America and LM Challenger. Apollo 7 and Apollo 8 were CSM-only missions, so their spacecraft did not need names to distinguish them from their LMs in radio communications. Their CSMs were thus known by their mission designations alone.

Part One of this post series continued the Apollo series with the Saturn V launch of the Olympus 1 space station in late 1971. My alternate-history NASA designated the uncrewed station launch Apollo 18. Olympus is, of course, the name of the lofty home of the Greek Gods. It was a favorite name among 1960s space station planners - for example, Edward Olling - at NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center (since 1973, Johnson Space Center) in Houston.

The first Apollo CSM to reach Olympus 1 was Apollo 19. It was another CSM-only mission, so bore no spacecraft name - much as the Skylab CSMs in our timeline had only numbers (Skylab 2, Skylab 3, and Skylab 4 - Skylab 1 was the launch of the Skylab station). Apollo 20, nearly identical to Apollo 19 apart from its duration (its crew lived on board Olympus 1 for 56 days in early 1972, twice as long as the Apollo 19 crew) also bore no name.
After that, though, NASA had a change of heart. It developed and retroactively applied an alphanumeric designation system for flights and encouraged crews to name their spacecraft, much as it had during Project Mercury (but not Project Gemini). The alphanumeric system pleased NASA bureaucrats; naming piloted spacecraft in single-spacecraft missions was a public-relations ploy meant to point up the distinctive qualities of the individual CSM-only missions to the Olympus stations.

NASA called it Skylab; I call it Olympus. Image credit: NASA
The Apollo 19 mission, which flew the first K-class CSM with modifications for long-duration space station missions, became O-1/K-1/R1 (Olympus 1/K-class CSM 1/Olympus 1 Resident Crew 1). Apollo 20 became O-1/K-2/R2.

Apollo 21 (I-1), the one and only I-class piloted CSM-only lunar polar orbiter mission, was dubbed Endurance by its two-man crew, who orbited the moon for 28 days to image potential landing sites for advanced L-class Apollo lunar landing missions planned to begin in late 1974. An automated imaging orbiter was considered for the mission, but was rejected because it would have required costly new development (for example, a complicated Earth-return capsule system for exposed film) as well as a unique Saturn IB upper stage configuration.
The crew of Apollo 22 (O-1/K-3/R3) named their CSM Discovery. They docked with Olympus 1 in June 1972 for a 112-day stay. Ninety days into their flight, the two-person crew of Apollo 23 (O-1/K-4/V1), the first space station short-stay visitor crew, docked at Olympus 1's radial port to check on the health of the Apollo 22 crew and certify continuation of their mission. In a poetic reference to their short stay of only 10 days, they named their CSM Hummingbird.

Apollo 24 (J-3), launched in October 1972, was a J-class mission resembling our Apollo 15, Apollo 16, and Apollo 17 missions. In fact, it carried the original Apollo 17 crew of Eugene Cernan, Joseph Engle, and Ronald Evans. In our timeline, Apollo 17 was the last crewed mission to the moon of the 20th century and geologist Harrison Schmitt, the only professional scientist to reach the moon, replaced Engle as LM Pilot. Cernan, Engle, and Evans named their CSM America and their LM Challenger, just as Cernan, Schmitt, and Evans did in our timeline.

Schmitt was one of six scientist-astronauts selected as part of Group 4 in June 1965. He would fly Apollo 17, and three others - Joseph Kerwin, Owen Garriott, and Edward Gibson - would fly as Science Pilots on the three Skylab missions. Garriott also flew a Space Shuttle mission. In our timeline, Schmitt was originally assigned to fly Apollo 18; after it was cut, he was moved to Apollo 17.

It would be different in the alternate timeline. Schmitt would not be the first Group 4 scientist-astronaut to fly; several would reach Olympus stations before he set out for the moon. He would become the first Group 4 astronaut to reach the moon, but not (as was the case in our timeline) the only one. He would also fly to the moon a second time and never run for U.S. Senator from New Mexico.

NASA selected the 11 scientist-astronauts of Group 6 in August 1967, just as Congress slashed President Johnson's request for funds to begin major work on the Apollo Applications Program (AAP). AAP shrank rapidly and morphed into Skylab. Of the eleven Group 6 scientists, seven eventually flew Space Shuttle missions. In the alternate timeline, most would fly Apollo missions before 1976.

This is a good place to consider how astronaut selection would unfold in the alternate timeline. Seven refugees from the cancelled U.S. Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory would join NASA in August 1969 as Group 7, just as they did in our timeline. In our timeline, they were the last astronauts selected until January 1978, when Group 8 - which included among its 35 members the first minority and women astronauts - was selected to crew Space Shuttles.

In the alternate timeline, NASA would select new astronaut groups of about 10 members every three or four years to bring in new skills and make up for attrition. Group 8 would, as in our timeline, include the first U.S. women and minority spacefarers, but they would join NASA in January 1971, not January 1978.

Older astronauts of our timeline's Group 8 might join Group 9 (1974) and younger ones might join Group 10 (1977) or Group 11 (1981). In general, though, NASA would need fewer astronauts. Because of this, many individuals who flew in space in our timeline would never join the space agency.

Given the "morality" and prejudices of the 1970s, it seems likely that NASA would find excuses not to fly women as members of Resident or lunar crews, though several would reach Olympus 3 as members of Visitor crews. One would serve as Visitor crew Commander. In an era when the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution was struck down, however, mixed crews on long-duration and minimal-privacy lunar missions would make many American taxpayers uncomfortable.

In the early 1980s, however, this would change. Once the spaceflight "glass ceiling" was shattered, many women would fly in space in many roles, just as in our timeline.

Apollo 25 (J-4) was an engineering/technology-development mission to the Apollo 24 site meant to prepare NASA for L-class missions and eventual lunar outposts. In addition to accomplishing a precision landing almost exactly one kilometer from the Apollo 24 LM descent stage, which they inspected in considerable detail, the Apollo 25 crew collected materials-exposure cassettes and meteoroid, dust, and solar-particle capture cells the Apollo 24 crew had left behind. They also collected geologic samples scientists studying Apollo 24 photos had determined to be of special interest. They named their CSM Franklin and their LM Edison for the famed American inventors.

Journey to a lava tube cave. Image credit: NASA
Apollo 26 (O-2) was the uncrewed launch of the Olympus 2 station. Apollo 27 (O-2/K-5/R1) saw three astronauts live in orbit for 224 days. They named their CSM Freedom, which led one stand-up comedian to quip that it should have been named "Incarceration."

The crew received the Apollo 28 (0-2/K-6/V1) CSM Athena, Apollo 29 (O-2/K-7/V2) CSM Amity, and the Apollo 30 CSM (O-2/K-8/V3) Liberty. Apollo 28 included the first American woman in space, Apollo 29 the first non-U.S./non-Soviet astronaut in space, and Apollo 30's Visitor crew returned to Earth in the Apollo 27 CSM, leaving their CSM for the Apollo 27 Resident crew.

The uncrewed Apollo 31 Saturn V launched a pair of Radio/TV Relay Satellites to Earth-moon L2 and the uncrewed Apollo 32 (O-3) Saturn V launched Olympus 3, first of the "long-life" stations. The Apollo 33 (O-3/K-9/R1) crew, the first to stay on board a space station for what became the "routine" interval of 180 days, arrived in the CSM Eos, which was named for the Greek goddess of the dawn.
Apollo 34 (J-5) in February 1974, the last of the J-class missions, landed in dark-floored Tsiolkovskii in the moon's Farside hemisphere. Harrison Schmitt was the mission's LM Pilot and the first geologist on the moon. They named their CSM Infinity and their LM for the red-golden star Arcturus, long seen as a harbinger of springtime.

The Apollo 35 (O-3/K-10/V1) CSM Hermes delivered the first drum-shaped Cargo Carrier (CC-1) to Olympus 3 and the Apollo 36 (O-3/K-11/V2) CSM Independence caused it to reenter after the Apollo 33 crew unloaded it. Hermes was, among other things, the Greek God of Commerce, The Messenger of the Gods, and the half-brother of Apollo. The Apollo 37 (O-3/K-12/R2) CSM Celeste (a feminine name meaning "heavenly") delivered the large Argus telescope module to Olympus 3.
The uncrewed Apollo 38 (L-1A) mission saw the LM-derived Lunar Cargo Carrier-1 (LCC-1) launched on a Saturn V on a direct path to the planned landing site of the Apollo 40 (L-1B) mission. Apollo 38 included no CSM. The Apollo 39 (O-3/K-13/V3) CSM Shenandoah was the first of more than a dozen Earth-orbital CSM spacecraft named for U.S. national parks and monuments.

The Apollo 40 CSM was the first L-class Advanced CSM (ACSM) and its LM was the first L-class Advanced LM (ALM). The Apollo 40 crew named their ACSM Aquila, for the constellation The Eagle, and their ALM Altair, for its brightest star. The lunar surface crew used Altair as their base camp to explore a complex landing site for one week. This more than doubled the three-day J-class lunar stay-time.
The Apollo 41 (O-3/K-14/R3) CSM Constitution delivered the Olympus 3 station's third Resident crew while its second Resident crew was still on board, marking the beginning of continuous station occupation. The Apollo 42 (O-3/K-15/V4) CSM was named Adventure.

The Apollo 43 (O-3/K-16/V5) crew named its CSM Yosemite, and the Apollo 44 (O-3/K-17/R4) crew named its CSM Acadia. Yosemite is, of course, a famous national park in California; Acadia, the first eastern national park, is on the other side of the country, in the Mission Commander's home state of Maine.
My first Dreaming a Different Apollo post ended with the launch of Apollo 44 in December 1975. The timeline could, of course, continue (and, I suspect, probably will). One can imagine an ACSM called Draco paired with an ALM named Thuban, Draco's rather faint brightest star. I am sure that we will see an Enterprise at some point. 

Direct Ascent moon lander with Apollo-style Earth-reentry module (top) from NASA's 1991-1994 First Lunar Outpost (FLO) study. Image credit: NASA
I expect that the Apollo series would continue into the late 1980s or early 1990s. By the beginning of the 1990s decade, the Lunar-Orbit Rendezvous Apollo mission scheme would give way to Direct-Ascent missions, in which a single spacecraft would launch from Earth and travel directly to a lunar base. Opportunities for naming spacecraft would become fewer, but almost certainly would continue.

More Information

Dreaming a Different Apollo, Part One

Space Station Resupply: The 1963 Plan to Turn the Apollo Spacecraft Into a Space Freighter

Apollo's End: NASA Cancels Apollo 15 & Apollo 19 to Save Station/Shuttle (1970)