Planning for Lunar Exploration

Homer Newell set lunar exploration planning in motion in 1962 with the appointment of the Sonett committee on Apollo scientific experiments and training [see Chapter 2]. After three months of consultation with leading experts in the scientific fields related to lunar exploration, the committee outlined its conception of the scope of Apollo lunar science. The primary objectives were examination of the lunar surface in the immediate area of the landed spacecraft, geologic mapping of the landing area, investigation of the moon's interior by means of emplaced instruments, studies of the lunar atmosphere, and radio astronomy from the lunar surface.7 No specific experiments were recommended, but the criteria used in developing the objectives limited the possibilities. The experiments should be scientifically important and feasible, possible only on the lunar surface and only with a human on the mission, and likely to lead to further scientific and technological development.8

A week after the Sonett committee issued its draft report, NASA committed Apollo to lunar-orbit rendezvous. This decision, probably the most thoroughly debated of the entire program, directly affected the scope of lunar science. The mission mode determined how many men and how much equipment could be landed on the moon. Whereas the other possible modes (direct ascent and earth-orbit rendezvous) contemplated a single large spacecraft that would land with its entire three-person crew on the moon, lunar-orbit rendezvous would put down a separate specialized landing craft and a crew of two.9

With that decision made, Associate Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr., asked Newell to present several questions to NASA's outside scientific advisers for discussion. What should be the preferred scientific objectives of the earliest lunar landings? Would the acquisition of scientific data require more than two persons on the moon at the same time? Were there sufficient scientific reasons to establish a semipermanent station on the moon for extended exploration? Advice on these questions would be important in establishing policy with respect to lunar science and could have direct influence on the design of the lunar landing craft.10

An appropriate forum for such a discussion was already in session that summer - the first summer study conducted by the Space Science Board, meeting on the campus of the State University of Iowa [see Chapter 2]. Manned space science programs were not the study's primary concern, but two working groups, one on lunar and planetary exploration and one on the scientific role of humans in space, provided opportunities to examine the plans for Apollo's experiments and put some of the scientists' concerns on record.11

At the start of the summer study the chairman of the Space Science Board, Lloyd V. Berkner, instructed the participants that their advice on the existence of a national space program and the division of effort among its projects was not sought. Nonetheless, because of mounting fears for what it would do to NASA's space science budget, Apollo was never far below the surface, and objections to the manned programs were repeatedly voiced. Berkner, Newell, and others tried to steer the discussions into more productive channels, such as how the capability being developed for Apollo might be exploited for scientific purposes; but many of the participants could not be dissuaded from protesting the priority assigned to the lunar landing project.12

Seamans's questions were aired, in substance at least, and the summer study's final report contained recommendations concerning the points he had raised. The working group on the scientific role of humans in space endorsed the findings of the Sonett committee but recommended that experiments that only used the moon as a base for observation (e.g., radio astronomy) be relegated to later missions. It found that there was indeed a valid scientific requirement for a lunar surface laboratory for long-term investigations. The working group on lunar and planetary exploration reached similar conclusions and called for increased emphasis in the Ranger and Surveyor programs on providing necessary engineering information for Apollo.13

Of much more concern to the summer study participants was the scientific competence of the men who would land on the moon. Acknowledging a continuing need for astronauts whose primary skills were in spacecraft operation, the study report nonetheless urged the inclusion of a professional scientist among the crew of the first lunar landing mission. To ensure that such a person would be ready for the first landing, NASA should recruit qualified scientists at once and begin training them as astronauts. The science community insisted that these scientist-astronauts be given the means to maintain their scientific competence while acquiring piloting skills. To that end, a space institute should be established convenient to the astronaut training center, a facility "of the very highest scientific calibre [maintaining] liaison with major centers of research in the space sciences [and functioning] as a graduate school offering advanced degrees in various fields of science." It should either be operated "under contract with a major university" or administered by "that office of NASA responsible for scientific research and planning,"14 (i.e., the Office of Space Sciences). This "space university" proposal - which Newell later remarked never had the slightest chance of being accepted by NASA15 - was soon abandoned, but the demand for scientist-astronauts was reiterated by the science community right down to the end of the Apollo project.

With the modifications made by the Iowa summer study and with the imprimatur of the National Academy of Sciences, the Sonett committee's recommendations formed the framework of Apollo's initial lunar science planning. Shortly after its establishment in July 1963 the Manned Space Science Division promulgated the first scientific guidelines for Apollo, which reflected this preparatory work. The primary scientific activity was to be the study of the moon itself. First priority among the various lunar studies was given to geologic mapping, followed by collection of samples for return to earth and emplacement of instruments to return data by telemetry.16

7. "Draft report of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Apollo Experiments and Training on the Scientific Aspects of the Apollo Program," Charles P. Sonett, chmn., July 6, 1962.

8. L. D. Jaffe, "Minutes: Ad Hoc Working Group on Apollo Scientific Experiments and Training, 23 April 1962," no date.

9. Brooks, Grimwood, and Swenson,
, pp. 61-67, 83-86.

10. Robert C. Seamans, Jr., to Homer E. Newell, July 25, 1962.

11. Homer E. Newell, Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science, NASA SP-4211 (Washington, 1980), pp. 207-208.

12. Ibid.

13. National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, A Review of Space Research, report of the summer study conducted under the auspices of the Space Science Board at the State University of Iowa, June 17-Aug. 10, 1962, NAS-NRC Publication 1079 (Washington, 1962), pp. 11-4 to 11-5, 4 to 10.

14. Ibid., pp. 11-15 to 11-16.

15. Newell, Beyond the Atmosphere, p. 209.

16. Verne C. Fryklund, Jr., to Ernst Stuhlinger and Hans Hueter, MSFC, "Scientific Guidelines for LLS and LLV Studies," July 3, 1963; Fryklund to Dir., MSC, "Scientific Guidelines for the Apollo Project," Oct. 8, 1963.

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