Woods Hole and Falmouth Conferences, Summer 1965

In the summer of 1965 the Space Science Board again convened a conference to consider NASA's plans for space research. The Iowa summer study three years before had reviewed current programs and recommended changes of emphasis; the 1965 study at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, was charged with recommending directions and priorities for the next 10 to 20 years. The major topics considered were lunar and planetary exploration, astronomy, and the role of humans in space exploration.42 The Woods Hole conference report made many detailed recommendations in individual areas of research. Space research, the study found, required the use of ground-based observations as well as satellites, sounding rockets, and balloons. Throughout, the report stressed balance: between manned and unmanned programs, between lunar and planetary exploration, and between ground-based studies and research in space. The salient conclusions of the study were easily summarized. Planetary exploration was judged to be the most rewarding scientific objective for the post-Apollo period, with Mars being the most interesting target. Concerning humans in space, the participants agreed that "The distinction between manned and unmanned programs is an artificial one; scientific objectives should be the determining factors." But before people could be dispatched on missions to the planets, "an orbiting research facility for the study of long-term effects of space flight is essential."43

The 1965 conference was somewhat more sanguine than the 1962 study concerning the role of humans in space science and somewhat more tolerant of the Apollo program. The working group on the role of man noted that

Few ... scientists would attempt to justify the entire cost of developing manned space flight solely on the basis of its "scientific value;" however, most scientists would agree that this capability, when developed, should be utilized for scientific purposes whenever it seems possible to do so.
The group did not concede that people could be replaced by instruments in every imaginable case:
Manned intervention [in an unmanned system] increases reliability through the possibility of extending the lifetime of spaceborne equipment almost indefinitely by means of repair and replacement. . . . Man greatly increases the flexibility of the system, for he can decide [how best] to use an instrument [and] can make alterations or improvements in the instrument itself. Data transmission can . . . be virtually eliminated for manned experiments, and the design of an instrument can be simplified. . . .
Not only that, but
if the presence of man in the system were already considered essential, the scientist would assign many scientific tasks to man because of the greater reliability and flexibility he would bring to the system.44
On the question of selection and training of scientists for space missions, the scientists were of much the same mind as those in 1962:
For some tasks - those requiring scientific insight - it would seem better to have a scientist possessing judgment, experience, and imagination and to train him as an astronaut to the extent required.
Again conceding that test pilots had the edge in some areas, the working group nonetheless concluded that
the astronaut selection and training program [should] take into account progress in manned space flight. Successes so far* may be viewed as evidence that it may be possible to relax the present high physical standards at a pace faster than has yet been contemplated.45
Concerning the lunar exploration program, the Woods Hole study report confined itself to defining the major scientific questions in lunar exploration. Three basic problems should be explored: structure and processes of the lunar interior, the composition and structure of the moon's surface and the processes that have modified it, and the sequence of events by which the moon has arrived at its present configuration. As guidelines for exploring these problems, the report listed 15 specific scientific questions that should direct lunar exploration, both manned and unmanned [see Appendix 3].46

One question that assumed increasing importance as planetary exploration became more realistic was the existence of life forms or their precursors on the moon or the planets. The working group on biology concluded that the evolution of organisms or prebiotic materials was most likely to have occurred on Mars. However, the group affirmed the necessity to avoid contaminating any celestial body, including the moon, with terrestrial organisms or organic materials that might invalidate later experiments attempting to detect life. As to the need for protecting earth from biological contamination by material from the moon, the group believed the hazards were small but that NASA should be safe rather than sorry: "the consequences of misjudgment are potentially catastrophic."47 Opinion on this point was not unanimous throughout the conference, however, for the working group on lunar exploration noted only a "minor possibility of finding prebiotic material, either buried or in sheltered locations."48

The Woods Hole conference was, as far as Apollo was concerned, a policy-setting meeting. When it adjourned, many of the participants stayed on at nearby Falmouth for a two-week conference dealing with details of lunar exploration and science on Apollo. The Falmouth conference elaborated on the previous year's work of the Apollo lunar science planning teams in light of plans for manned space flight for the 10 years following the first Apollo landing. As plans then stood, the first few landings - the exact number was not certain - comprised the Apollo program; it was assumed that these landings would be minimal missions to establish confidence in the Apollo systems. They were to be followed by flights using improved spacecraft that could carry larger payloads and stay longer on the lunar surface.** Ultimately, perhaps in the last few years of the post-Apollo period, a lunar base might be available for scientific studies. Falmouth planners structured their discussions around this idealized schedule.49

At Falmouth, members of the lunar science planning teams collaborated with NASA and academic scientists to take the first steps in detailed scientific operations planning. As specifically as they could, disciplinary working groups laid out their requirements for procedures and equipment. For the first time, an astronaut in training described the mission's essential constraints from the astronaut's point of view, stressing the limitations of space suits, life-support equipment, and operational contingencies (such as an aborted landing).50 For some scientists this was the first time they had had to consider their own experiments in the context of other scientific work and operational restrictions, and one participant reported a noticeable change in attitudes as the discussions progressed.51

In its final report the Falmouth conference summarized its recommendations for the early landings, the "post-Apollo" (advanced) missions, and the more distant future when a lunar base could be contemplated [see Appendix 3]. Highest priority on the early landings was assigned to returning the greatest number and variety of samples as feasible; emplacement of long-lived surface instruments was next, followed by geologic exploration of the landing area by the astronauts. The early missions could only sample isolated areas of the lunar surface. A survey of the entire moon, plus detailed studies of the equatorial belt, should be the objective of later missions. These advanced missions, five or six landings flown at the rate of one or two per year, should be supported by an unmanned logistics system that would land additional consumable supplies and scientific equipment. Crews might stay as long as 14 days and explore as far as 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the landing site. The additional equipment should include some analytical instruments for on-the-spot discriminatory tests on lunar material, so that astronauts could select a wider variety of samples. Surface transportation should be provided - a wheeled vehicle with a range of 8 to 15 kilometers (5 to 9 miles) and a flying vehicle that could carry 135 kilograms (300 pounds) of instruments from point to point over a 15-kilometer range. With the flying unit, astronauts could secure samples from otherwise inaccessible locations, such as a crater wall.52

Falmouth provided the best scientific advice NASA could get at the time, and its recommendations formed the basis for the earliest mission planning. It was the first of several iterations of scientific planning that would take place during the rest of the Apollo program. NASA would make every effort to carry out as much of the program as could be done within a changing context of available resources. Progress often seemed intolerably slow to some scientists,53 but in the end a gratifying proportion of the Falmouth recommendations would appear in mission plans.

* Four successful manned flights had been made in the past three years, including two of the two-man Gemini spacecraft.

** In 1965 plans for manned space flight after Apollo were still in the formative stage. OMSF had conducted several studies on "Apollo Extension Systems" to determine how far the propulsion, life-support, and electrical power systems on the Apollo spacecraft could be upgraded without major redesign. These "extended Apollo" components would be used in missions - earth- and lunar-orbital flights as well as lunar surface missions, lasting from 10 to 45 days - that would sustain the manned program until the next major program could be defined. See W. David Compton and Charles D. Benson, Living and Working in Space: A History of Skylab, NASA SP-4208 (Washington, 1983), Chaps. 1, 3, and 5; also George Mueller's presentations to the House and Senate space committees in the NASA authorization hearings for fiscal 1966 and 1967.

42. National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, Space Research: Directions for the Future, report of a study by the Space Science Board, Woods Hole, Mass., 1965, NAS-NRC Publication 1402 (Washington, 1966), p. iii.

43. Ibid.

44. Ibid., pp. 623-26.

45. Ibid., pp. 628-29.

46. Ibid., pp. 5-34.

47. Ibid., pp. 486-93.

48. Ibid., p. 21.

49. NASA 1965 Summer Conference on Lunar Exploration and Science, Falmouth, Massachusetts, July 19- 31, 1965, NASA SP-88 (Washington, 1965) , pp. 1, 7-19.

50. Ibid., pp. 59-393, 407-17.

51. Neal J. Smith to Allenby, 11 Aug. 1965.

52. NASA 1965 Summer Conference, pp. 7-12, 16-19.

53. Shoemaker interview.

Previous Next Index