31 January 2017

As Gemini Was to an Apollo Lunar Landing by 1970, So Apollo Would Be to a Permanent Lunar Base in 1980 (1968)

Cutaway of the Apollo Lunar Module (LM) showing its ascent stage (top) and descent stage (bottom). A total of six descent stages were left on the lunar surface at six separate sites between July 1969 and December 1972. Image credit: NASA
When we look back at the Apollo Program, those of us who think of any part of it beyond Neil Armstrong's historic first footfall recall a series of increasingly ambitious missions to a variety of landing sites. Apollo 12's 19 November 1969 landing on the Ocean of Storms, close by the derelict Surveyor III lander, demonstrated the pinpoint landing capability that would enable detailed pre-mission geologic traverse planning for subsequent flights. Apollo 13 (11-17 April 1970) failed to land, but Apollo 14 (31 January-9 February 1971) safely set down at Apollo 13's intended landing site on the geologically significant Fra Mauro Formation.

NASA then ramped up Apollo exploration by stretching lunar surface stay time to three days, upgrading the Apollo lunar suits to permit moonwalks of about seven hours, and providing the astronauts with a Boeing-built lunar "jeep" - the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) - to extend their exploration range. Apollo 15 (26 July-7 August 1971) exploited these new capabilities to survey Hadley-Apennine, a complex site between mountains and a winding rille (canyon). Apollo 16 (16-27 April 1972) was the only mission to land in the heavily-cratered lunar highlands. Apollo 17 (7-19 December 1972) concluded the Apollo Program with a visit to Taurus-Littrow, where Harrison Schmitt, the only professional geologist to explore the moon, found tiny orange glass beads - remnants of ancient volcanic fire fountains - with his feet.

The Apollo 11 landing site imaged in 2011 by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft. Clearly visible are dark astronaut trackways and the light-colored area disturbed by the LM Eagle's descent and ascent engines. LRRR = Lunar Ranging Retro-Reflector; PSEP = Passive Seismic Experiment Package. Image credit: Arizona State University (ASU)/NASA
Not widely known is that in 1968, as it prepared its first piloted Apollo flight - Apollo 7, which flew in September 1968 - and its Fiscal Year (FY) 1970 submission to the Bureau of the Budget, NASA briefly considered an alternate approach to Apollo. Had it been pursued, it might have laid the technological foundation for a permanent moonbase in 1980. After perhaps three Apollo exploration missions to different landing sites, NASA would have dispatched a series of Apollo missions to a single site.

In addition to intensively exploring the selected site, the astronauts would have performed engineering and life sciences experiments, assessed the lunar environment for radio and optical astronomy, and experimented with resource exploitation. The single site revisit missions would have played the role for a permanent lunar base that Project Gemini played for Apollo; that is, it would have enabled NASA to acquire operational skills needed for its next step forward in space.

LRO image of the Apollo 12 site in Oceanus Procellarum. Astronauts Charles Conrad and Alan Bean succeeded in landing the LM Intrepid about 100 meters from the derelict Surveyor 3 robotic soft-lander, proving the pinpoint landing capability necessary for planning geologic traverses. This capability would also have been required if the Single Site missions had been carried out; as many as four LMs or LM derivatives would have needed to land within walking distance of each other. Image credit: ASU/NASA
The single site revisit concept - sometimes called the "lunar station" concept - got its start some time before 30 April 1968, when the NASA-appointed Lunar Exploration Working Group (LEWG) presented it to the Apollo Planning Steering Group. The exact date is not known. Lee Scherer, director of the Apollo Lunar Exploration Office at NASA Headquarters, asked mission planner Rodney Johnson on 7 May to chair a 10-man Single Site Working Sub-Group of the LEWG. He directed Johnson to present a progress report at the LEWG meeting scheduled for the third week of May. The Sub-Group held a two-day meeting on 12-13 May and presented results of its brief study at the 22 May LEWG meeting. It issued a revised final report on 4 June 1968.

The Sub-Group's report began by declaring that a 12-man "International Lunar Scientific Observatory" in 1980 could become a new "Major Agency Goal" for NASA following Apollo. The single site revisit missions, it continued, would pave the way to the new lunar goal by demonstrating the value of a permanent base on the moon. The Sub-Group then examined four options for carrying out its single site revisit program, which it labeled 0, A, B, and C. All would employ spacecraft and standard Saturn V launch vehicles the space agency had already ordered for Apollo.

The first of the four options, Option 0, would employ the basic Apollo Lunar Module (LM), which could support two men on the moon for 24 hours and deliver 300 pounds of cargo to the lunar surface. Three Option 0 missions would visit the single site, where their crews would perform a total of six moonwalks on foot and minimal exploration and technology experimentation. The Sub-Group rejected this option out of hand because it would provide NASA with insufficient experience ahead of the 1980 lunar base.

The Apollo 14 landing site near Cone Crater, a natural drill hole in the Fra Mauro Formation, as imaged by LRO. The small arrows point to the faintly visible trackways astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell left during their moonwalks. ALSEP = Apollo Lunar Science Experiment Package. Image credit: ASU/NASA
Option A, which the Sub-Group called the "bare minimum" single site revisit option, would use an Extended Lunar Module (ELM) with a lunar surface stay time of three days and a 450-pound cargo capacity. In their report, the Sub-Group referred to this uprated version of the Apollo LM as ELM-A. Three Option A crews would land at the single site over 18 months, amassing a total of nine days of surface stay-time and carrying out a total of up to 18 moonwalks.

The first Option A mission, scheduled for the fourth quarter of 1971, would see two astronauts conduct from four to six moonwalks and up to four traverses using a rocket-propelled Lunar Flying Unit (LFU) fueled using residual propellants in the ELM-A descent stage. In addition to exploring the single site's geology, the astronauts would set up a "technology package" to assess the moon's "optical environment" for astronomy. They would also deploy exposure samples to test the effects of the lunar environment on materials and coatings that might be used to build the 1980 moon base. When they left the single site in the ELM-A ascent stage to rejoin their lone comrade on board the orbiting Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM), they would leave behind for the next crew tools, the LFU, the exposure samples, and the optical environment package.

The second Option A mission would take place in the second quarter of 1972. The astronauts would carry out six moonwalks and, after servicing the LFU, up to four flying traverses. The LFU would amount to a exposure experiment; it would need to work reliably after being parked at the single site for six months (that is, through six lunar day-night cycles). The astronauts would also set up an "advanced" Apollo Lunar Scientific Experiment Package (ALSEP) and a technology package to assess the lunar environment's suitability for radio astronomy. Between moonwalks, they would perform unspecified biology experiments in the ELM-A cabin. Finally, they would retrieve for return to Earth some of the exposure samples left behind by the first Option A crew.

The third and final Option A mission would reach the single site in the fourth quarter of 1972, six months after the second. Its crew would perform six moonwalks, fly the LFU three or four times on geologic traverses, and observe the Sun using a small telescope they would bring with them to the site. They would also retrieve for return to Earth the remaining exposure samples left behind by the first Option A crew. If necessary, they would service the advanced ALSEP instruments deployed by the second Option A crew.

LRO image of the Apollo 15 landing site at Hadley-Apennine. Black arrows point to tracks left by the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), the "lunar jeep" David Scott and James Irwin used to explore the complex geology within a few kilometers of their base of operations, the LM Falcon. Image credit: ASU/NASA
The Single Site Working Sub-Group called its Option B "a substantial improvement" over Option A. The ELM, designated ELM-B, would be uprated to permit a lunar surface stay of up to six days with 450 pounds of cargo or three days with 750 pounds of cargo. Upgrades would include solar cells for recharging the ELM's batteries, a radiator to replace the water-evaporation system used for cooling basic LM and ELM-A avionics, and breathing oxygen stored as dense supercooled liquid instead of as gas. ELM upgrades and new scientific equipment development would require time; for this reason, the first Option B mission would not leave Earth until the second quarter of 1972.

Option B mission 1 would last six days, during which time its crew would carry out from six to 10 moonwalks and up to four LFU geologic traverses. In addition to twin LFUs, the ELM-B would deliver an advanced ALSEP, geology tools, unspecified "biological colonies," and environment and technology exposure samples. As with the Option A missions, lunar environment experiments would focus on optics and radio.

Option B mission 2 would land in the fourth quarter of 1972 for a three-day stay. Its crew would perform six moonwalks and up to four LFU traverses. The three-day stay time would mean that the ELM-B could carry 750 pounds of cargo; this would include a solar telescope, plant and animal packages, and bioscience supplies. The crew would also examine the exposure samples left by the first Option B crew and service any equipment at the site that needed it.

The third Option B mission would land in the second quarter of 1973 and last for either three or six days depending on the results obtained during missions 1 and 2. Its crew would perform from six to 10 moonwalks and three or four LFU traverses. In addition to technology and astronomy experiments, the astronauts would retrieve and prepare technology and biology packages and exposure samples for return to Earth.

The Apollo 16 landing site at Descartes imaged by LRO. Trackways left by astronauts John Young and Charles Duke stand out plainly in the light-colored area disturbed by the LM Orion's descent and ascent engines. The "geophone line" is a part of the Active Seismic Experiment; similar experiments, which recorded seismic waves generated by explosive charges, were deployed during Apollo 14 and Apollo 17. Image credit: ASU/NASA
The Single Site Working Sub-Group called Option C its "most productive option," in part because its hardware could form the "nucleus" of the proposed 1980 moon base. It would, however, require a large new funding commitment in Fiscal Year 1970. A "one-of-a-kind spacecraft," the unmanned Lunar Payload Module (LPM), would account for much of the extra cost. The Sub-Group expected that the LPM, which would land a whopping 7000 pounds of cargo on the moon, would take the form of an LM descent stage with no ascent stage. Systems needed for descent that normally would be installed in the LM ascent stage would be relocated to the descent stage.

A 2000-pound cylindrical shelter capable of supporting two men on the lunar surface for from 12 to 14 days would constitute the heaviest LPM cargo item. In addition, the LPM would carry a pair of LFUs, tanks of LFU propellants, a "dual-mode" Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) capable of being driven by either astronauts on the moon or flight controllers on Earth, a solar furnace for technology and lunar resource exploitation experiments, a 12-inch reflecting telescope, laboratory equipment, bioscience packages, lunar environment exposure sample packages, and an advanced ALSEP.

While the Single Site Working Sub-Group called their unmanned LM an LPM, in fact it more closely resembled an LM derivative Grumman, the LM prime contractor, called an LM Truck. Grumman proposed two LM Truck types - one would carry only cargo atop a descent stage, while the other would carry cargo and a cylindrical shelter. Grumman's version of the LPM would include an LM ascent stage to house the astronauts on the lunar surface, not a cylindrical shelter. Despite this, I will in this post continue to refer to the Sub-Group's unmanned LM derivative for Option C as an LPM.

The first of four Option C missions would see a piloted CSM deliver the LPM to lunar orbit at the beginning of 1973. The Single Site Working Sub-Group wrote that, in general, little CSM orbital science would occur in the single site revisit program. This was because much CSM orbital science was meant to support selection of multiple Apollo landing sites, which the single site revisit missions would make unnecessary. The LPM-delivery CSM would, however, remain in lunar orbit for some unspecified period after the LPM undocked. During that time, its crew would turn a suite of remote sensors toward the moon's surface and deploy a science subsatellite.

Option C mission 2, launched just one month after the LPM delivery mission, would employ a modified ELM designed to remain "quiescent" on the lunar surface while its crew lived in the LPM shelter. Grumman called the quiescent ELM the LM Taxi. Because most of its systems would be made dormant after landing, it would need fewer expendables than an ELM-B, permitting it to carry up to 750 pounds of cargo despite its 12-to-14-day lunar surface stay time. Cargo would include an LFU for transporting the two-man crew to and from the LPM in the event that navigational error caused them to land beyond walking distance.

The Option C mission 2 crew would perform many tests and experiments over the course of from 12 to 20 moonwalks, up to 14 LFU flights, and up to eight LRV traverses during their 12 to 14 days on the moon. Basically, they would accomplish all of the tasks planned for the three Option B missions and more; they would, for example, not only collect rock samples for return to Earth, they would also analyze them in the manner astronauts would at the 1980 moon base. Before returning to the quiescent ELM and blasting off to rejoin the CSM Pilot in lunar orbit, they would reconfigure the LRV for remote-controlled operation and turn it loose under guidance from controllers on Earth to travel tens or hundreds of miles across the lunar surface in a loop that would end back at the single site.

Option C mission 3, in the third quarter of 1973, would see an ELM-B land near the LPM with 750 pounds of cargo. The astronauts, who would live in the ELM-B would conduct from six to 10 moonwalks, four LFU flights, and up to four LRV traverses. In their most notable experiment, they would attempt to extract water from lunar dust and rocks using the solar furnace; if successful, this could lead to production of life support consumables and rocket propellants on the moon, slashing the cost of lunar base resupply. Before they left the moon, they would reconfigure the dual-mode LRV for remote-control operation.

Option C mission 4, a near-carbon copy of mission 3, would land in the first quarter of 1974. The crew would complete any on-going experiments at the LPM, observe the Sun, and retrieve biological colonies and exposure samples. They would also dispatch the dual-mode LRV on its longest remote-controlled traverse yet; because it would not again be driven by astronauts, it would not need to return to the LPM site and thus might wander for hundreds of miles across the lunar surface under the direction of controllers on Earth.

LRO image of the Apollo 17 landing site at Taurus-Littrow. Side-by-side tracks left by LRV-3 - parked at right - stand out against the light-colored area disturbed by the LM Challenger's descent and ascent engines. Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent three days at the site. Image credit: ASU/NASA
The Single Site Working Sub-Group provided "rough" estimates of Option A, B, and C costs. Option A would add $725 million to the Apollo Program’s projected cost; Option B, $745 million; and Option C, $1.090 billion.

The Sub-Group then summed up "Major Conclusions" of its brief study. Only a few are noted here. The Sub-Group confided that the single site revisit missions could be portrayed as a part of the Apollo Program, not as a costly new program, thus avoiding possible political roadblocks. It also claimed that the single site revisit program would be "strongly identifiable with the public interest," though it did not specify how. Finally, the Sub-Group explained that the program would meaningfully exploit uniquely human capabilities: these included on-the-spot judgement; skilled observation (for example, rapid recognition of significant geological relations); and complex tool-using skills.

The ascent engine on the Apollo 16 LM Orion ignites, blasting pieces of reflective insulating foil in all directions. This image is a frame from video captured by the steerable TV camera on Apollo 16's parked LRV and transmitted to Earth by the LRV's high-gain antenna. Image credit: NASA
Shortly after liftoff: the descent stage of the Apollo 17 LM Challenger abandoned in the Taurus-Littrow valley. Image credit: NASA
The 10 members of the Sub-Group ended their report by raising issues which they felt would need further examination. They explored the matter, for example, of whether astronauts should work at the single site during lunar day and night or instead continue the Apollo policy of operating on the moon only by day.

They also contemplated where NASA might establish its 1980 moon base; the only specific sites they mentioned, however, were the two lunar poles. This was in keeping with the main body of their report, which provided no candidate sites for the single site revisit program. Finally, they sought guidance as to how they should proceed if the single site revisit option received no funding in NASA's FY 1970 budget.

Some small movement toward including the single site revisit concept in the FY 1970 NASA budget took place; however, most work on the concept ended with the Sub-Group's 4 June 1968 revised report to the LEWG. In retrospect, it seems likely that the concept would have split the lunar science community between those eager for data from as many landing sites as possible as soon as possible and those prepared to wait (perhaps in vain) for enhanced exploration capabilities available after the 1980 lunar base was established. In any case, it appears unlikely that an Apollo planning option that laid the groundwork for a long-term lunar presence could have gained much traction in Washington in 1968; by the time the Single Site Working Sub-Group began its deliberations, Congress had already displayed a marked lack of enthusiasm for expansive post-Apollo space goals.


Report of the Lunar Exploration Working Group to the Planning Steering Group, revised 30 April 1968

Report of the Single Site Working Sub-Group to the Lunar Exploration Working Group, 22 May 1968 (revised 4 June 1968)

Memorandum with attachment, MTX/Chairman, Lunar Station Subgroup, to Distribution, "Meeting of the Lunar Station Subgroup," 7 May 1968

Memorandum with attachment, MAL/Director, Apollo Lunar Exploration Office to MTX/Rodney W. Johnson, "Lunar Single Site Working Subgroup," 7 May 1968

Apollo News Reference, Public Affairs Office, Grumman, 1969, pp. LMD-4, LMD-6-8

Conversations with Paul D. Lowman, NASA geophysicist and participant in the Single Site Working Sub-Group, at and around NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, Summer 2000

More Information

Early Apollo Mission to a Lunar Wrinkle Ridge (1968)

Robot Rendezvous At Hadley Rille (1968)

"A Continuing Aspect of Human Endeavor": Bellcomm's January 1968 Lunar Exploration Program

Rocket Belts and Rocket Chairs: Lunar Flying Units

An Apollo Landing Near the Great Ray Crater Tycho (1969)


  1. In regard to the Moon and lunar bases, a mistake consistently made is to think of them as a sort of stepping stone to some other destination in the solar system, Mars in particular. A lunar base would provide valuable experience in long term human operations on the surface of another world, which could be applicable to other bodies in the solar system as well, but the Moon has to be viewed as a world and a destination of its own, not as a stepping stone to some other celestial body.

    1. I agree that the moon is important all by itself. I think what you are saying here is that we shouldn't view the moon as a place to build and launch spacecraft bound for other worlds. I agree with that, too. I think people become confused about the savings in propellants and spacecraft mass one can accrue by launching from the moon. Sure, one can save propellants and mass, but one first has to build up an extensive industrial capability capable of producing spacecraft and propellants, which eats all the savings and then some.


  2. Great blog! Very enjoyable read. It would have been wonderful to have a permanent moon base. One correction though, Jim Irwin didn't fly on Apollo 12,he flew on Apollo 15. Al Bean flew to the surface with Pete Conrad. Dick Gordon was the CM pilot.

    1. Thank you for pointing out my error! I've corrected it and tweaked all the caption text a bit.


  3. Great article as always! I wonder if the working group considered potential blocking items like suit development. The AL7B probably could not have maintained integrity from the abrasion of 10 - 20 EVAs.

    1. Hi, Michael:

      Thank you kindly. I got the material this post is based on while doing a summer Fellowship at NASA Goddard. While there, I got to know Paul Lowman, the first geologist NASA hired (in 1959). He was a member of the Single Site Sub-Group. He had masses of stuff in his files and in his basement, and he got in the habit of unearthing documents on topics he thought I should know about.

      I tell you all this because it's pretty clear the folks involved couldn't consider everything during the limited period when they had the attention of management. The Single Site docs have the feel of drafts. There's no mention of space suits, though you are of course correct, the advanced Apollo suit could not have stood up to 10-20 moonwalks. Perhaps if this study effort had gone farther, they'd have proposed hard suits - those seem to have been treated as a given in many planning documents contemporary with the Single Site study.


    2. I had the good fortune to attend a talk given by John Young. I guess it was about nine years ago. In the Q&A, an audience member asked if a charge could be applied to the space suits to get the lunar dust off them. Mr. Young said he brought that up in a meeting and was kicked out. He made that joke a couple times. As I understand it, on the third day the grit that had accumulated when they were buttoning up their suits, and it would have been a significant issue on longer missions.

    3. Phillip:

      After Challenger, Young was removed as head of the Astronaut Office and made a "Special Assistant to the Director" of Johnson Space Center. He had expressed opinions regarding NASA's level of concern for astronaut safety that NASA deemed unacceptable. His demotion - intended really to show him the door - was a signal to one and all that NASA would take down even so revered a figure as Young if they didn't toe the line.

      In his new job, which grounded him, he was supposed to offer safety advice to the director, which, given the grounds for his demotion, was ironic. I spoke with Young several times when I was at JSC, and I was never able to get him to say whether he thought that was meant as an insult.

      I think he would have chosen not to see it that way in any case. Young surprised everyone by not fading away. Instead, he embraced his new job with gusto. He dug into everything, all over JSC, and dispatched hundreds - maybe thousands - of memos. I have a pair he wrote on space suit design for the Space Exploration Initiative baseline lunar mission, from 1990-1992.

      The other thing he did was talk at meetings. He had a standard spiel, but the best part was the questions, when he'd go off-script. Not so far off that he'd get in trouble, but far enough to be interesting.

      One of the Most Embarrassing Moments of my Life was when, after a mostly liquid lunch at a local eatery, I tried to ask a coherent follow-up to a student question that would cause Young to say more on a topic I knew he'd covered in his memos.

      Unfortunately, said liquid lunch rendered my question largely incoherent. Young knew me from past interviews and email questions, so he seemed surprised. He turned to one of the organizers, who also knew me, and the organizer restated the question to bail me out. I was bright red and sweating by that point. Young answered the organizer's question, which wasn't my question, then he looked at me sidelong and moved on. I was destroyed forever. Or at least for a few minutes.

      Anyway - Young was a big fan of soft suits. He loved the A7LB, the advanced Apollo suit for the J-missions (attached to one memo he included a NASA PAO pic of himself on the moon wearing one). He would admit, however, that it was not a good lunar base suit. It was good for the purpose for which it was made, and it could have been improved. I once asked Young what he'd do to create an A7LC - that turned into a discussion of moon dust.

      You might recall that Young spearheaded the fix for the damaged Apollo 17 LRV fender extension. The same extension had fallen off toward the end of Apollo 16's traverses, showering Young and Charlie Duke with dust. Which folks on the ground did not take very seriously at the time. When the extension got pulled off accidentally early in Apollo 17, Young knew it meant trouble. MCC folks thought he exaggerated, so he took a couple of engineers aside and with them designed a replacement using maps, tape, and LM movable lamp clamps. The finished article is in the Smithsonian - perhaps you've seen it.

      Moon dust is bad because it's extremely hard, fine-textured, and sharp, and because it changes the thermal characteristics of whatever it lands on. So, a white space suit stained gray by dust worked into the fine weave of its outermost layer absorbs more sunlight, gets hotter, forces the PLSS to work harder, and runs out of cooling water faster.

      Anyway, the point of all this is, for his advanced suit he wanted better ways to deal with moondust. I don't have my notes from that interview any more, so I don't precisely recall what he said. I do remember that he wanted to keep zippers, even though they gave trouble when dust got into them. And now, because of what you've written, I recall that he mentioned putting a charge on the suits. He mentioned the pre-dawn lunar dust levitation phenomenon - I remember that.

      Thanks for the opportunity to reminisce.


    4. Your lunch story reminds me of this passage from Forever Young: A Lifetime of Adventure in Air and Space, by John W Young (with James R. Hansen):

      I took a train to California and reported aboard the Laws on 13 June 1952. The ship was moored in San Diego Bay. My first assignment was to pay respects to my commanding officer, Commander Willard Young "W.Y." Howell. Born in Utah, the skipper had graduated from the Naval Academy in 1939 in the top third of his class.

      The executive officer and I took a water taxi to North Island, where Commander Howell and his wife lived. We stopped off at the docking port and walked to a quaint bar to wait for the exact time we were supposed to be at his house. The XO ordered a whiskey sour, so I had one also. Time passed, and we each had another drink. I soon discovered that the barkeeper's idea of a whiskey sour was a glass full of whiskey and with a dash of Tabasco sauce. At the skipper's we had another drink. The commander's wife was a very pretty lady. The exec later said that I made a pass at her. After the drinks, I don't remember the evening or even going back to the ship.

      Maybe not the best start for a new ensign.

    5. That is so funny. I focused on the lunar and Gemini parts of FOREVER YOUNG. Looks like I need to read the rest!

      If I'd known that story I wouldn't have been quite as embarrassed by my incoherence. But it's never to late to feel less embarrassed because of new info. Thanks!


  4. "Go Big or stay home" But we had a specific goal and a direct focus on that goal and only that goal. Unfortunately, while that worked for the Manhattan Project going to the Moon wasn't as "simple" in the follow on as developing a weapon of mass destruction and really going into space on a regular and economic basis is FAR more difficult. It requires one to lay out a proper and self-supporting foundation which we have yet to have today and so here we are. We're learning but the lessons are slow and often painful

    1. I comment on this briefly in this post -


      I'm curious - how would you define "a proper and self-supporting foundation"?


    2. Read that and generally agree unless the "POD" (as they say in alt-history :) ) is quite a bit early once you have the Apollo we got, (rather than that originally planned) you are very limited in where you go from there. And we did not choose wisely, which is a given since we didn't "choose" to go the Moon "wisely", or into orbit, or pretty much anything from the start really.

      But what I mean by "proper and self supporting foundation" is that we needed, and frankly still need, an economic and reliable way to get from the surface to orbit on a regular basis as a most straight forward basis. Instead we went with bigger and bigger rockets to get "things" done in a short time and we're still mostly going down that particular rabbit-hole every chance we get.

      The foundation is regular, economic access to LEO. Literally everything else evolves from that point. And you can't, (probably, after all I've got note on ideas for timelines for such :) ) get there from a panic and nationalistic driven government response. We've pretty much proven that point into the ground at this point.

      Now if you want to ask me what I feel would have been a historic basis for such a 'foundation'... :D


    3. Randy:

      I'm a big fan of big rockets. I still talk to people who don;t dig 'em, so worry not. :-) They can put a lot of stuff up in one go. That's an economical approach, provided you have enough big stuff you want to launch. Say, a 100-person space station. Plus they are relatively simple compared with, say, a Space Shuttle. And, they can toss small stuff a long way fast. Say we had a comet incoming with a good chance of hitting Earth - one could conceivably head if off with a big booster. A lot harder if you have to launch a lot of pieces and build something in orbit. One might have only weeks. Or, say we wanted a Pluto orbiter. Easy-peasy with heavy-lift.

      I agree that single-shot LRO Apollo had inherent limitations. On the other hand, ditching the Saturn V and avoiding heavy-lift for that reason is throwing out the baby with the bathwater, in my view. NASA sought to develop Shuttle for crew rotation and logistics resupply - but always wanted to launch the Station on Saturn V rockets.

      When one contemplates piloted missions beyond the moon, the need for heavy-lift becomes increasingly obvious. Building a Mars ship the way we built ISS, for example, would take years and cost lives, just as building ISS took years and cost lives.

      OK, I'll bite - tell me about the historical basis for that "foundation." :-)


    4. Oh don't get me wrong big boosters have their place and time but timing is everything and more often than not you actually "need" less on a regular basis so it would make sense to have something that can be used for both, (or really multiple) lift cases rather than trying to 'de-rate' an HLV on a regular basis.

      Pretty much the Saturn-V Interim Launch Vehicle studies came to that conclusion but since one of the base assumptions was keeping as much of the Saturn-V as possible.. :)

      Historic foundation? Many of my original note are from you actually :)

      It wasn't 'perfect' of course being a very basic, interim kind of vehicle itself but it got the job done and was a reliable and proven work-horse vehicle. "Conservative" but robust and even had reusability partially planned in, (tested and proven in the case of the H1 engines) but it was overtaken by events and regulated to a very 'secondary' role in the shadow of it's bigger brother. And once Saturn-V came along no one wanted to give up the capability so 'downgrading' back to the Saturn-1B wasn't really considered


    5. Glad my Saturn IB post was of interest!

      Had we a robust "Skylab"-based station program in the 1970s (and 1980s?), we'd certainly have seen lots of Saturn IB flights. Thing even had a respectable cargo volume. Might've needed upgrades if it was to deliver cargo to a high-inclination station, though.

      I'm not familiar with Saturn IB reuse schemes. Were they planning a detachable pod for the H-1s? Or use the whole first stage as a flotation device?


    6. Well they studied upgrading the Saturn-1 along with the Saturn-V and INT all along the same time period. As 'conservative' a design kludge as the tank-cluster Saturn-1 was it would have been remarkably easy to fit SRBs for improved performance. Since the Jupiter and Redstone 'tank' making lines were fully paid off and stretching was straightforward and "easy" the only real problem points were adjusting the umbilical and support systems on the pad for different models. Centaur was studied and found do-able but I suspect a new dedicated stage might have been a better option in time.

      Recovery was originally, (Super-Jupiter/Saturn-C1-ish) parachutes and retro rockets with the empty tanks acting as floatation. Early issues identified was since it still landed on the engine bells there was a significant chance of damaging them. Which was an issue as they were the most 'reusable' and expensive, (hence cost effective) part to reuse. Then they went off looking at parawing recovery which was side-tracked into flying all the way to back to land instead of landing in the ocean. (Really a waste of time/effort as they had already proven dunking, heck soaking in salt water, wasn't an issue to clean up and refurbishment) Some work was done it appears on landing the stage 'engines up' with retros in the inter-stage area but this required much larger fins and active systems, (either 'split-fins' or baloots of some sort) to achieve along with heat-protected parachute storage in the aft end. Not a whole lot of detail in any one place but the work carried on into a Von Braun proposal for recovery of the Saturn-V first stage using a similar system but using the forward LOX tank, (with the end of the tank blown off and vents blown in the lower tank itself) acting as a pneumatic ram to cushion the impact. (Couldn't do that with the spider-beam and multiple tanks on the Saturn-1 though)

      H1 refurbishment costs were estimated at worst case, (rinsed with fresh water, stored for up to two weeks and then cleaned and rebuilt and test fired) to be a bit under 5% of the cost of a new engine so calculated 'life' anywhere from 10 to 20 flights per engine.

      Biggest hurdle was how to get the stage back to shore since it was a bit big to haul around. Original idea was to use a heavily modified LST but that probably wouldn't have worked all that well. Last suggestion, (applied to the afore mentioned Saturn-V first stage recovery as well) was to simply tow the thing into shallow water, run a recovery frame under it and haul it back onto land on a ramp. Again this is where they went off on 'why-bother-with-the-ocean-at-all' thinking went back to a parawing and landing it back at the Cape in the first place.


  5. One thing I have wondered, what was the plan to deal with lunar noon and lunar night? The lunar surface gets too hot and too cold, especially for 1960's technology. How would the shelter actual work to remedy the temperature extremes?

    1. The 14-day stay would likely have begun at lunar dawn and ended by lunar dusk. There was no plan to operate the cylindrical LPM habitat after its first use, so lunar night could have its way with it. However, some of the tools, rovers, LFUs, etc., would have had to withstand one or more lunar nights. I think they might've been made resistant - I'm thinking of the ALSEPs here, which operated for years. The key was a nuclear power source, so they never had to shut down for lack of electricity.

      Plans existed to reuse habitats left overnight on the lunar surface - as you note, that might've been an iffy proposition. If they had a nuclear power system, though, it seems they'd survive. The twin Lunokhods each carried a polonium heater which kept them alive at night.

      One will never know how we ultimately would have tackled this challenge. Three days on the moon was it. Drat.

      Incidentally, I recall one of the moonwalkers talking about a noticeable drop in temperature within his helmet as he moved into shadow. I've wondered whether equipment sitting in shadow might suffer. I don't recall that ever happening during Apollo, however.


  6. What strikes me about this is that planners wanted to build a MoonBase near the equator, on the surface. Given that the residents would have almost no accessible volatiles, no solar energy for a fortnight, and continuous exposer to cosmic rays and solar flares. ¿Why did not the planners locate the Lunar Base above 85 degrees North or South, in a LavaTube, over a nautical mile underground, near a Peak of Eternal Light for Power, and near a frostlined crater for volatiles?

  7. Recall that this was 1968 - though Murray, et al, wrote about the possibility of lunar polar ice as early as 1962, we didn't know that it existed until thirty years later. Similarly, we didn't have good maps of the lunar poles until the 1990s because no spacecraft orbited over the poles during the Apollo era. We suspected the existence of lava tubes, it's true, but didn't have imagers with enough resolution to detect probable tube openings until the 2000s.



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