Plans and Progress in Space Flight

In mid-1966, Phillips asked Shea to set up a three-day symposium to review the status of Apollo. At this 25-27 June conference, Phillips requested that the 75 NASA and contractor experts consider carefully such subjects as command and service module maneuvers, lunar module descent and ascent, lunar landing sites, and the length of the visit to the lunar surface.

Shea opened the discussions by listing 23 steps, or rules, in design and operational philosophy (see accompanying list) that had evolved since the lunar-orbit rendezvous decision in 1962. Owen Maynard, deliberately simplifying the many complexities of a lunar mission, described nine plateaus, of which he said:

It is useful to think of the lunar landing mission as being planned in a series of steps (or decision points) separated by mission "plateaus." . . . The decision to continue to the next plateau is made only after an assessment of the spacecraft's present status and its ability to function properly on the next plateau. If, after such assessment, it is determined that the space craft will not be able to function properly, then the decision may be made to proceed with an alternative mission. Alternate missions, therefore, will be planned essentially for each plateau. Similarly, on certain of the plateaus, including lunar stay, the decision may be made to delay proceeding in the mission for a period of time. In this respect, the mission is open-ended and considerable flexibility exists.36

These plateaus, representing the amount of energy expended in going from one step to the next, were widely used by the Apollo engineering team to map the pathway to the moon's surface and back again. The plateaus were, logically, (1) prelaunch, (2) earth parking orbit, (3) translunar coast, (4) lunar orbit before lunar module descent, (5) lunar module descent, (6) lunar surface stay, (7) lunar module ascent, (8) lunar orbit after rendezvous, and (9) trans-earth coast. Breaking the journey into these segments, with identified stopping places, made the Apollo mission seem less complex and fearsome to the planners.

Near the close of the session, Shea commented that all stages of the Saturn V were at Kennedy, preparing for a flight test during 1967; that both the first Block II command and service modules and the lunar module should fly that same year; and that the time for the first lunar mission was rapidly closing in. Shea urged everyone at the meeting to review and comment on current plans and progress.37

It was also time to get an active experiments program under way. Mueller reminded Gilruth that, because of the limitations of 1966-1967 funding, NASA should generate as many of the experiments as possible, instead of relying on contractors. On 14 February 1966, however, Robert O. Piland's Experiments Program Office (established at MSC in the summer of 1965) was asked by Homer Newell, NASA's Associate Administrator for Space Science and Applications, to contract for the development of an Apollo lunar surface experiments package (ALSEP). The following month, the Bendix Systems Division of Ann Arbor, Michigan, received a $17-million contract to produce four ALSEP units. Bendix was a good choice, having worked with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on experiments for the unmanned lunar exploration program.38

Getting started on what to take to the moon was fine; getting the facility ready to handle what was brought back from the moon was also important. Houston had to develop a new kind of facility, the Lunar Receiving Laboratory. Its two major jobs would be to protect against back contamination from the moon and to keep the lunar samples as isolated from earthly pollution as possible. Meeting these quarantine and control requirements resulted in greater construction costs than initially estimated, but the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences had been adamant in its demands that no expense should be spared:

The introduction into Earth's biosphere of destructive alien organisms could be a disaster of enormous significance to mankind. We can conceive of no more tragically ironic consequence of our search for extraterrestrial life.39

A conference of experts, sponsored by the board in July 1964, had reaffirmed the potential hazards of back contamination and recommended preventive measures. The following year, planning sessions among NASA, the Public Health Service, the Department of Agriculture, and the Army Biological Laboratories mapped out a construction plan and set up precautionary procedures.

Thus, by February 1966, George Low of NASA and James L. Goddard of the Public Health Service had presented Congress with a case for the construction of a lunar sample and quarantine facility with six functions:

  1. Microbiology tests of lunar samples to demonstrate to a reasonable degree of certainty the absence of harmful living organisms returned from the lunar surface;
  2. Biologically isolated transport of the astronauts and persons required to have immediate contact with them between the recovery area and the quarantine facility;
  3. Biological isolation of the astronauts, spacecraft, and other apparatus having a biologic contamination potential, as well as personnel required by mission operations to have immediate contact with these people and this equipment during the quarantine period;
  4. Biological isolation during all operations on the samples that must be carried out during the quarantine period;
  5. Biologically isolated processing of onboard camera film and data tape that had been exposed to a potentially contaminating environment;
  6. Performance of time dependent scientific tests where valuable scientific data would be lost if the tests were delayed for the duration of the quarantine period.40
Shortly after congressional approval of the laboratory, Headquarters reluctantly agreed that Houston should manage the design and development of the laboratory without the aid of the Corps of Engineers. Mueller wrote Gilruth on 13 May 1966 that the facility must be ready by November 1967 at a cost not to exceed $9.1 million. Gilruth and Low established a policy board, headed by Faget, and placed Joseph V. Piland in charge of construction. A contract was awarded, ground was broken, and building began in August.41

During 1966, planners of Apollo's upcoming operational phase studied the results of other programs for information that might be useful. Perhaps the two they scrutinized most carefully were Gemini VIII, which proved that one vehicle could find another in space and safely dock with it, and Surveyor I, which showed that a craft could land softly on the moon without sinking into the soil - at least in the area of Oceanus Procellarum.

Neil Armstrong and David Scott rode Gemini VIII into orbit on 16 March to chase an Agena target vehicle already in flight. An onboard radar acquired the target when the two vehicles were 332 kilometers apart, and the crew members saw the Agena when they were 140 kilometers away. Six hours into the flight, Armstrong and Scott, after inspecting the Agena closely, nudged the nose of their spacecraft into the docking cone, recording the first docking of two vehicles in orbit. Twenty-seven minutes later, Scott's instruments told him that the spacecraft was not in the planned attitude. The docked vehicles then began to gyrate. Armstrong steadied the two craft with the thrusters, and Scott hit the undocking button. Almost immediately, the spacecraft started spinning at the rate of one revolution per second. Armstrong had to use the reentry control system* to straighten out his vehicle. With the help of the flight controllers in Houston and along the Manned Space Flight Network, the crew made a safe emergency landing in the Pacific Ocean - rather than in the Atlantic, as planned.42

Even before Gemini had chalked up the world's first docking, the successful rendezvous of Gemini VI-A with VII the previous December had affected the thinking of Apollo mission designers. The inability of the Saturn IB to toss the command and service modules and the lunar module into orbit together had forced planners to consider "LM-alone" flights. Gemini's successful dual missions suggested that it might be possible to launch a crew aboard a command module to hunt down a lunar module launched by a different Saturn IB. Two of the crewmen would then transfer to the lander and carry out an earth-orbital operation previously planned for a Saturn V flight.

Although the dual flight for Gemini had been greeted with enthusiasm, the proposal for an Apollo tête-à-tête met with resistance. John D. Hodge, Kraft's chief lieutenant in the mission control trenches, said there would be problems in simultaneously tracking four booster stages and in operating two mission control rooms. Planning continued, anyway, and Howard Tindall started working up flight rules - such as which launch vehicle would go first, the one with the command and service modules (AS-207) or the one with the lunar module (AS-208). A spate of "Tindallgrams" ensued. By May, Tindall agreed with Hodge about the complexity of the proposed mission.43

While planning proceeded on mission AS-207/208, which seemed to be gaining favor in Washington, the Soviet Union announced on 4 April that Luna 10 was in lunar orbit - a space first. As the Russian spacecraft sent back information on its voyage around the moon, the United States made its own unmanned lunar exploration spacecraft ready for flight. Surveyor I, launched by an Atlas-Centaur from Cape Kennedy on 30 May for a 63-hour trip, was programmed to land softly on the moon to test bearing strength, temperatures, and radar reflectivity and to send television pictures back to the earth. With only slight midcourse corrections, Surveyor I flew straight to its target. On 2 June, the vehicle fired its braking rockets, slowing its speed from 9,650 kilometers per hour to 640. Four meters above the surface of the crater Flamstead, it was moving at a mere 5.6 kilometers per hour. The three footpads touched safely down within 19 milliseconds of each other.

During the next two weeks, more than 10,000 detailed pictures were transmitted to the Goldstone antenna and processed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They showed rubble scattered over the surface in the Ocean of Storms region. The Surveyor craft scanned the horizon and sky better than had been anticipated; its pictures of the stars Sirius and Canopus gave triangulations for its exact location; and its solar cells, radars, computers, and test gear all worked well. The craft did not encounter either hard or porous rock; nor did it find a moon covered by a thick layer of dust. It landed, instead, on a surface composed of finely granulated material with particles that adhered to each other and not to the spacecraft. After all the doubts and waiting, Surveyor I demonstrated that a lunar module could land safely on the moon and that its pilots could get out and walk on the surface.44

Major Considerations in the Design of the First Lunar Landing Mission

  1. The first Apollo lunar mission will be "open ended," to capitalize on success and keep going as long as possible.
  2. Launch will take place on [one of] only three days of any given month.
  3. Lighting conditions on the moon at the time of arrival will be a major launch day constraint.
  4. The mission will be flexible enough to land at any one of three selected landing sites.
  5. Forthcoming information from the first two Orbiters and Surveyor landers will govern site selection.
  6. The spacecraft will carry the maximum propellants and consumables that the Saturn V can handle.
  7. A slow roll rate will avoid thermal extremes on the spacecraft.
  8. The Manned Space Flight Network (MSFN) will be the primary source of navigation data, with onboard navigation as a backup.
  9. The service propulsion system will use the lunar module descent engine as a backup.
  10. The spacecraft will travel on a free-return trajectory.
  11. Landmark sightings by the onboard systems will reduce uncertainties about altitude and tie the MSFN to the moon.
  12. Landings will be made in three types of areas - one general and two specific.
  13. The crew will be integral to the whole mission, particularly in site selection and landing maneuvers.
  14. The first mission will have an 18-hour staytime and two joint excursions by the crew.
  15. The LM will use a concentric flight plan for rendezvous with the CSM after liftoff from the moon.
  16. If necessary, the CSM will be capable of rescuing the LM by descending to a lower orbit for rendezvous and docking.
  17. The prime recovery zone will be in the Pacific Ocean.
  18. There will be a continuous abort capability throughout the mission.
  19. There will be at least five places during the mission where the spacecraft can "mark time" to change mission planning in case of trouble.
  20. Redundant and backup systems will be available for most major systems; significant exceptions are environmental control, electrical power, and service propulsion systems.
  21. Continuous communications between spacecraft and ground will be possible, except when the craft is behind the moon or in a thermal roll condition.
  22. Design will incorporate reasonable precautions against contamination of either the earth or the moon
  23. Major concerns still remaining are unforeseen environmental effects, calibration of guidance and navigation system, means of realistic simulation of lunar landing under the earth's gravity, and possibility of overloading crew workload.
From Manned Spacecraft Center, "Apollo Lunar Landing Mission Symposium: Proceedings and Compilation of Papers," 25-27 June 1966

* A separate set of thrusters, used to orient the spacecraft for and to control it during reentry. Mission rules required the landing of the craft as soon as possible after they were fired.

36. Phillips to MSC, Attn.: Shea, 6 April 1966; MSC, "Apollo Lunar Landing Mission Symposium: Proceedings and Compilation of Papers," 3 vols., 1, 25-27 June 1966, unpaged.

37. MSC, "Apollo Lunar Landing Symposium."

38. Mueller to Gilruth, "MSF Experiments," 20 Jan. 1966; Homer E. Newell, NASA Hq., to Dir., MSC, Attn.: Mgr., Experiments Prog. Off. (EXPO), "Authorization to Procure Space Science and Applications Investigations for Apollo Lunar Missions," 14 Feb. 1966; John T. Holloway to Dir., MSC, "Development of Experiments for the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP)," 14 April 1966; NASA, "Bendix Named to Manufacture Lunar Package," news release 66-63, 17 March 1966; A. P. Fontaine to Gilruth, 18 Feb. 1966.

39. Willis B. Foster, NASA Hq., to MSC, Attn.: John M. Eggleston, "Lunar Sample Receiving Laboratory," 23 Oct. 1964; Col. Jack Bollerud, NASA OMSF, to Dir., MSF Field Ctr. Dev., "Public Health Service Proposed Congressional Statement in Support of the NASA Lunar Sample Receiving Laboratory," 14 Feb. 1966, with enc., "Statement by John R. Bagby, Assistant Chief, Communicable Diseases Center, Public Health Service, on the containment of lunar samples, astronauts, and support personnel."

40. Gen. Frank A. Bogart, NASA OMSF, to Dep. Dir., Space Medicine, OMSF, "Formulation of PHS-NASA working relationships re lunar sample receiving," 11 Jan. 1966; J. Gordon Griffith datafax to NASA Hq., Attn.: Angelo P. Picillo, "Project No. 7235, Lunar Sample Receiving Laboratory," 4 March 1966, with enc.; Bagby statement.

41. Bogart to Low, 25 March 1966; Mueller to Gilruth, 13 May 1966; MSC, "Establishment of a Lunar Receiving Laboratory Policy Board and . . . Program Office," Announcement 66-57, 9 May 1966; MSC, "Lunar Receiving Laboratory, Building 37: Apollo Mission Operations," preliminary, 9 Dec. 1966; MSC, "Lunar Receiving Laboratory, Building 37: Facility Description," preliminary, 9 Dec. 1966; MSC, "Lunar Receiving Laboratory Briefing," 29 June 1967; J. C. McClane, Jr., et al., "The Lunar Receiving Laboratory," MSC brochure, 25 Oct. 1966.

42. MSC, "Gemini Mission Report, Gemini VIII," MSC-G-R-66-4, 29 April 1966, pp. 1-1 through 1-4; [Ivan D. Ertel], Gemini VIII: Rendezvous and Docking Mission, MSC Fact Sheet 291-E (Houston, April 1966), p. 4; Barton C. Hacker and James M. Grimwood, On the Shoulders of Titans: A History of Project Gemini, NASA SP-4203 (Washington, 1977), chap. XIII.

43. John D. Hodge, MSC, to Tech. Asst., Apollo, "Simultaneous launch for AS-207 and AS-208," 4 Feb. 1966; Howard W. Tindall, Jr., MSC, memo, "Apollo AS-207/208 rendezvous mission planning," 24 Feb. 1966, with enc.; J. Thomas Markley, MSC, memo, "Program changes and revision to GSE requirements at KSC," 11 March 1966, with enc.; Tindall memos, "Comments on the AS-207 208 Preliminary Spacecraft Reference Trajectory," 16 May 1966, "AS-207/208 operational rendezvous," 18 May 1966, "Apollo spacecraft computer program development newsletter," 31 May 1966, "Apollo spacecraft computer program - or a bucket of worms," 13 June 1966, and "Somebody up there likes us!" 5 July 1966; James D. Alexander, MSC, memo, "Description of the AS-207/208A mission," 19 July 1966, with encs.

44. Phillips TWX to MSFC, MSC, and KSC, "Saturn IB Dual Launch," 8 March 1966; Markley memo, "Work to Be Done," 7 March 1966; R. L. Wagner note to Phillips, "[Bellcomm] Working Note - Use of Gemini Software for Apollo," 25 April 1966; NASA, "Mission Operations Plan, Apollo-Saturn 207/208," OMSF mission operations directive 11, M-D MO 2200.041, 16 June 1966; NASA, Astronautics and Aeronautics, 1966, pp. 122, 126-27, 129, 203-04; JPL, "Surveyor A Press Conference," 2 June 1966; NASA Hq., "News Conference: Scientific Results of the Preliminary Findings of Surveyor I," 16 June 1966; Homer E. Newell, "Surveyor: Candid Camera on the Moon," National Geographic 130, no. 4 (October 1966): 578-92; NASA, Surveyor: Program Results, SP-184 (Washington, 1969).

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