PRIMARY MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: 1969

The End of the Beginning

While editorial writers and columnists pondered the significance of Apollo 11 and where the space program should go, NASA managers and engineers were preparing for the next lunar flight. In the same manned space flight weekly report that documented the lunar landing, George Mueller noted that Apollo 12 was scheduled for launch on November 14 and Apollo 13 would follow on March 9, 1970. For Administrator Thomas O. Paine's information, Mueller listed the landing sites tentatively assigned to the nine remaining missions. They included one western mare, several sites in the lunar highlands, and two large craters, Tycho and Copernicus - all selected for their scientific interest, some presenting real operational challenges. Missions were scheduled at four- to five-month intervals through December 1972.91

After Apollo 11 such a schedule seemed reasonable. The necessary launch vehicles and spacecraft were either completed or on order. Having finally worked through all phases of a lunar landing mission, operations officers were satisfied that it could be done safely. Mission planners could see many ways to improve operations. Both lunar scientists and NASA engineers would have been happier with longer intervals between launches, but Mueller felt that a tight schedule would keep the skills of the launch teams well honed - and that it would keep costs down.

Cost was important, for NASA's appropriations had been steadily declining since fiscal 1965, when they peaked at just over $5 billion. For fiscal 1969, Congress had given the space agency just less than $4 billion. To some degree the reductions resulted from declining expenditures in Apollo; but they also reflected a change in the nation's attitudes during the decade. Heightened public sensitivity to the condition of the cities, the plight of the poor, and the deterioration of the environment put the space program in a different light. When Apollo was proposed, it seemed a way to get the country moving again; in the summer of its achievement, the space program seemed to many an unwelcome drain on resources needed for other purposes.

But it was post-Apollo programs that were most affected by the changing climate of public opinion. The lunar landing project, although it had accomplished its major objective, still offered enough promise for adding to the store of knowledge to retain a constituency and preserve its momentum. After Apollo 11, engineers and scientists alike looked ahead to improving their ability to uncover more of the secrets that lay under the barely scratched surface.


91. Mueller, "Manned Space Flight Weekly Report - July 28, 1969."


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