Apollo-15: Endeavour, Falcon, Lunar Rover … and Books

Forty years ago today — July 26, 1971 — Apollo-15 lifted off from Cape Canaveral with astronauts David R. Scott, James B. Irwin, and Alfred M. Worden, to become the fourth manned mission to land on the Moon.

The Apollo-15 mission was the first of three upgraded missions designed to maximize the scientific returns from the program. Scott, the commander, and Irwin, the lunar module pilot, landed on the Moon on July 30th in the Lunar Module “Falcon”, and spent several days exploring and collecting samples. Worden, the command module pilot, remained in orbit in the Command and Service Module “Endeavour” and photographed several high-interest lunar formations.


(Lunar Roving Vehicle, first used on Apollo-15. NASA image.)

Apollo-15 was the first mission to feature the Lunar Roving Vehicle. For those interested in the technical details,

The Lunar Roving Vehicle had a mass of 210 kg and was designed to hold a payload of an additional 490 kg on the lunar surface. The frame was 3.1 meters long with a wheelbase of 2.3 meters. The maximum height was 1.14 meters. The frame was made of aluminum alloy 2219 tubing welded assemblies and consisted of a 3 part chassis which was hinged in the center so it could be folded up and hung in the Lunar Module quad 1 bay. It had two side-by-side foldable seats made of tubular aluminum with nylon webbing and aluminum floor panels. An armrest was mounted between the seats, and each seat had adjustable footrests and a velcro seatbelt. A large mesh dish antenna was mounted on a mast on the front center of the rover. The suspension consisted of a double horizontal wishbone with upper and lower torsion bars and a damper unit between the chassis and upper wishbone. Fully loaded the LRV had a ground clearance of 36 cm.

The wheels consisted of a spun aluminum hub and an 81.8 cm diameter, 23 cm wide tire made of zinc coated woven 0.083 cm diameter steel strands attached to the rim and discs of formed aluminum. Titanium chevrons covered 50% of the contact area to provide traction. Inside the tire was a 64.8 cm diameter bump stop frame to protect the hub. Dust guards were mounted above the wheels. Each wheel had its own electric drive, a DC series wound 0.25 hp motor capable of 10,000 rpm, attached to the wheel via an 80:1 harmonic drive, and a mechanical brake unit. Manuevering capability was provided through the use of front and rear steering motors. Each series wound DC steering motor was capable of 0.1 hp. Both sets of wheels would turn in opposite directions, giving a steering radius of 3.1 meters, or could be decoupled so only one set would be used for steering. Power was provided by two 36-volt silver-zinc potassium hydroxide non-rechargeable batteries with a capacity of 121 amp-hr. These were used to power the drive and steering motors and also a 36 volt utility outlet mounted on front of the LRV to power the communications relay unit or the TV camera. Passive thermal controls kept the batteries within an optimal temperature range.

The lunar rover performed well during Apollo-15 and the next two lunar missions, and enabled the astronauts to examine much more terrain than they could have otherwise.

Apollo-15 landed on the eastern edge of Mare Imbrium, at the base of the Apennine range, near the snaking channel known as Hadley Rille:


(Hadley Rille, taken from the Apollo-15 Lunar Module on the last orbit prior to landing. NASA image.)

Of interest to those of us with a literary bent, Hadley Rille was the source of the name for Hadley Rille Books, a small but well-respected publisher of science fiction and fantasy. One of their recent releases is Buffalito Contingency, by my friend Lawrence Schoen (whom I interviewed here and here). Their Footprints anthology is also very good, and proof that their lunar fascination is not just in name only.

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Another Step Toward Apollo: Gemini-9

Forty-five years ago today — June 3, 1966 — Gemini-9 launched from Cape Canaveral on a Titan-II rocket.


(Gemini-9 in orbit. NASA image.)

The crew of Gemini-9, Thomas P. Stafford and Eugene A. Cernan, carried out a series of maneuvers to simulate future Apollo rendezvous maneuvers. They were supposed to actually dock with a target vehicle, but they saw “that the launch shroud … had failed to deploy and was blocking the docking port.”

Another part of the mission profile was to test the Astronaut Maneuvering Unit, but that test also ran into difficulty:

On 5 June at 10:02 a.m. EST the Gemini capsule was depressurized and the hatch above Cernan opened. Cernan was out of the spacecraft at 10:19, attached by an 8 meter long tether which was connected to Gemini’s oxygen supply. He had no gas maneuvering unit as was used on Gemini 4. He retrieved the micrometeorite impact detector attached to the side of the capsule and then moved about the spacecraft. He had great difficulty manuevering and maintaining orientation on the long tether. He took photographs of Gemini from the full length of the tether and finally moved to the back of the capsule where the Astronaut Maneuvering Unit (AMU) was mounted. He was scheduled to don the AMU, disconnect from the Gemini oxygen supply (although he would still be attached to the spacecraft with a longer, thinner tether) and move to 45 meters from the capsule. The task of donning the AMU took “four to five times more work than anticipated”, overwhelming Cernan’s environmental control system and causing his faceplate to fog up, limiting his visibility. It was also discovered that the AMU radio transmissions were garbled. These problems caused Stafford to recall Cernan to the spacecraft. He reentered the spacecraft at 12:05 p.m. and the hatch was closed at 12:10. Cernan was the third person to walk in space and his total time of 2 hours, 8 minutes was the longest spacewalk yet.

The image above shows one of the pictures Cernan took of the Gemini spacecraft.

Stafford and Cernan de-orbited and splashed down on June 6th.

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Surveyor-1 and Mariner-9: to the Moon and Mars

Forty-five years ago today — May 30, 1966 — Surveyor-1 launched from Cape Canaveral on an Atlas-Centaur rocket.


(Surveyor-1. NASA image.)

Surveyor-1 was the first U.S. mission to make a soft landing on the Moon. The Surveyor program consisted of seven robotic lunar missions, designed to prove out capabilities and technologies for the Apollo lunar landings.

(As an aside: in my yet-unpubished novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds, a team of colonists make their way south on an “ice run” and the main character takes a moment to reflect that only a slight detour would take them by the Surveyor landing site.)

In our other space history item for the day, 5 years later — on May 30, 1971 — the Mariner-9 mission to Mars launched, also on an Atlas-Centaur rocket from Cape Canaveral.

Taking advantage of favorable timing and a “direct ascent trajectory,” Mariner-9 sped past the Soviet Union’s Mars-2 and Mars-3 missions to arrive at Mars after only 167 days. On November 14, 1971, Mariner-9 become the first spacecraft in orbit around another planet.

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The Apollo Speech: 'Now it is time to take longer strides'

Fifty years ago today — May 25, 1961 — President John F. Kennedy spoke to Congress about several national priorities, and laid out the goal of what would become the Apollo program. He said, “Now it is time to take longer strides–time for a great new American enterprise–time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.”


(President Kennedy speaking to Congress. Image from NASA’s history site.)

Speaking close on the heels of Yuri Gagarin’s orbital flight and Alan Shepard’s sub-orbital flight, Kennedy proposed an ambitious agenda in the final major section of his Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs. With emphasis added, and a little commentary interspersed, here’s the text:

… if we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take. Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, where we may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides–time for a great new American enterprise–time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.

The last sentence of that paragraph is speechwriting gold: a wonderful triplet that wraps up in the appropriately grand idea of the future of all mankind.

I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshalled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.

Recognizing the head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines, which gives them many months of leadtime, and recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes, we nevertheless are required to make new efforts on our own. For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last. We take an additional risk by making it in full view of the world, but as shown by the feat of astronaut Shepard, this very risk enhances our stature when we are successful. But this is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.

Another excellent phrase: “whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.”

I therefore ask the Congress, above and beyond the increases I have earlier requested for space activities, to provide the funds which are needed to meet the following national goals:

First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations–explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon–if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.

Kennedy masterfully pulls the entire nation together into this grand enterprise. He will repeat the idea later, in a more direct way. First, some specifics …

Secondly, an additional 23 million dollars, together with 7 million dollars already available, will accelerate development of the Rover nuclear rocket. This gives promise of some day providing a means for even more exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the moon, perhaps to the very end of the solar system itself.

Think how far out we might have space outposts if we had nuclear rockets. If you’re less optimistic, you might think about accidents with nuclear rockets; but still, nuclear propulsion would take us farther than chemical rockets ever will.

Third, an additional 50 million dollars will make the most of our present leadership, by accelerating the use of space satellites for world-wide communications.

Fourth, an additional 75 million dollars–of which 53 million dollars is for the Weather Bureau–will help give us at the earliest possible time a satellite system for world-wide weather observation.

Let it be clear–and this is a judgment which the Members of the Congress must finally make–let it be clear that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action, a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs: 531 million dollars in fiscal ’62–an estimated seven to nine billion dollars additional over the next five years. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.

No doubt, then as now, many people believed it would be better not to go at all. I, obviously, am not one of them. I like the way he lays it out as a challenge, though: in effect advising Congress to go “all in” long before poker became a popular spectator game.

Now this is a choice which this country must make, and I am confident that under the leadership of the Space Committees of the Congress, and the Appropriating Committees, that you will consider the matter carefully.

It is a most important decision that we make as a nation. But all of you have lived through the last four years and have seen the significance of space and the adventures in space, and no one can predict with certainty what the ultimate meaning will be of mastery of space.

I believe we should go to the moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of the Congress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks and months, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring that the United States take an affirmative position in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it successful. If we are not, we should decide today and this year.

This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, materiel and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.

New objectives and new money cannot solve these problems. They could in fact, aggravate them further–unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant gives his personal pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.

Once again, Kennedy issues the call not only to Congress but to everyone who is likely to be involved in the effort. “This nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.”

All in all, a brilliant speech — and the rest, as is so often said, is history.

The quest for the Moon had begun.

___
Author’s Note: This is the 2nd attempt to make this post; the first attempt this morning appeared to work but then encountered a technical error.

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The Apollo Speech: Now It Is Time to Take Longer Strides

Fifty years ago today — May 25, 1961 — President John F. Kennedy spoke to the U.S. Congress and laid out the goal of the Apollo program.


(President Kennedy delivering the May 25th speech. Image from a NASA History Office web page.)

A year and a half later, at Rice University, Kennedy would make another important speech on the subject, but the May 1961 was the first. Fresh on the heels of Yuri Gagarin’s orbital flight and Alan Shepard’s suborbital flight, Kennedy said, “Now it is time to take longer strides–time for a great new American enterprise–time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.”

Here’s the pertinent text of the Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs, with emphasis added in a few places:

Finally, if we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take. Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, where we may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides–time for a great new American enterprise–time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.

I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshalled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.

Recognizing the head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines, which gives them many months of leadtime, and recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes, we nevertheless are required to make new efforts on our own. For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last. We take an additional risk by making it in full view of the world, but as shown by the feat of astronaut Shepard, this very risk enhances our stature when we are successful. But this is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.

I therefore ask the Congress, above and beyond the increases I have earlier requested for space activities, to provide the funds which are needed to meet the following national goals:

First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations–explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon–if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.

Secondly, an additional 23 million dollars, together with 7 million dollars already available, will accelerate development of the Rover nuclear rocket. This gives promise of some day providing a means for even more exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the moon, perhaps to the very end of the solar system itself.

Third, an additional 50 million dollars will make the most of our present leadership, by accelerating the use of space satellites for world-wide communications.

Fourth, an additional 75 million dollars–of which 53 million dollars is for the Weather Bureau–will help give us at the earliest possible time a satellite system for world-wide weather observation.

Let it be clear–and this is a judgment which the Members of the Congress must finally make–let it be clear that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action, a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs: 531 million dollars in fiscal ’62–an estimated seven to nine billion dollars additional over the next five years. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.

Now this is a choice which this country must make, and I am confident that under the leadership of the Space Committees of the Congress, and the Appropriating Committees, that you will consider the matter carefully.

It is a most important decision that we make as a nation. But all of you have lived through the last four years and have seen the significance of space and the adventures in space, and no one can predict with certainty what the ultimate meaning will be of mastery of space.

I believe we should go to the moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of the Congress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks and months, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring that the United States take an affirmative position in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it successful. If we are not, we should decide today and this year.

This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, materiel and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.

New objectives and new money cannot solve these problems. They could in fact, aggravate them further–unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant gives his personal pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.

And the rest, as we have heard so often, is history: the quest for the Moon had begun.

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First Saturn-1B Test Launch

Forty-five years ago today — February 26, 1966 — AS-201 (or “Apollo-Saturn-201”) launched from Cape Canaveral.


(AS-201 launch. NASA image.)

AS-201 was a suborbital test flight, and the first flight of the Saturn-1B with the Command and Service Modules. The flight test objectives were to:

  • Verify Saturn-1B structural integrity
  • Measure Saturn-1B launch loads
  • Evaluate Saturn-1B stage separation
  • Validate Saturn-1B subsystem operations
  • Evaluate Apollo spacecraft subsystems
  • Evaluate Apollo heatshield
  • Exercise Apollo mission support facilities

All of the objectives except the heatshield evaluation were met, marking another milestone on the way to the Moon.

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Space History: Once More to the Moon!

Actually, twice more, a few years apart: once for the Soviets, once for us.

Today was quite a busy day in space history: 50 years ago — on January 31, 1961 — the reconnaissance satellite Samos-2 launched from the Navy’s Pacific Missile Range (now part of Vandenberg AFB) , while a few hours earlier Mercury Redstone-2 had launched from Cape Canaveral, carrying Ham the chimpanzee. Ham performed well despite enduring higher g-forces than planned and an accidental cabin depressurization.

But as for the lunar missions …

Five years later, on this date in 1966, the Soviet Union launched Luna-9 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Luna-9 was the first craft to successfully make a “soft landing” on the Moon, and sent back several panoramic images of the lunar surface.

But the main event on this day in space history occurred 40 years ago today — January 31, 1971 — when Apollo-14 launched from the Kennedy Space Center carrying astronauts Alan B. Shepard Jr., Stuart A. Roosa, and Edgar D. Mitchell.


(Alan Shepard, during the Apollo-14 mission to the Moon. NASA image.)

Roosa stayed aboard the Command and Service Module “Kitty Hawk” while Shepard and Mitchell descended to the surface in the Lunar Module “Antares”. They landed in the Fra Mauro highlands, where Apollo-13 was supposed to land, and spent over 30 hours there — including over 9 hours exploring the surface.

I could go into various personal science fictional tie-ins to today’s space history, but I get tired of self-promotion. So I think today it’s best to let the day’s accomplishments stand on their own.

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A Landmark Day for Space Robots

Forty years ago today — September 12, 1970 — the Soviet Union launched the first fully-robotic mission to retrieve a sample from a celestial body and return it to the Earth.


(Luna-16. NASA image.)

Luna-16 launched on a Proton-K rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. It landed on the Moon and collected its sample on the 20th of September. The next day, it launched its return package, which parachuted to a safe landing in Kazakhstan on the 24th.

The United States had already carried out two Lunar sample return missions, Apollo-11 and Apollo-12. Luna-16 marked the first time a sample return mission was accomplished remotely, by a robotic system.

For more on the Luna-16 mission, see this NASA solar system exploration page.

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Happy Birthday, Neil Armstrong

Eighty years ago today — August 5, 1930, Neil A. Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio. He grew up to be the first man to walk on the surface of the Moon.


(Neil Armstrong in the Lunar Module after walking on the Moon. NASA image.)

And 35 years ago today, in 1975, test pilot John Manke glided the X-24B to a safe landing at Edwards AFB, thereby proving the concept that would allow Space Shuttles to return from orbit and land safely.

[BREAK, BREAK]

Shameless plug: Speaking of (typing of?) walking on the Moon, my alternate history story “Memorial at Copernicus” concerns a lunar excursion in the future, made possible by an Apollo flight that never was. It’s in this month’s issue of Redstone Science Fiction.

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Space History from 1610 (and later)

Four hundred years ago this week — in 1610 — Galileo Galilei turned his telescope toward Saturn and observed the giant planet’s rings. He didn’t recognize them as rings, however.


(Hubble Space Telescope edge-on view of Saturn’s rings. NASA image.)

(N.B. I’ve found three different dates for the event: today, July 30; July 25; and July 15. July 25th shows up more often than the other dates, so I feel safe in saying “this week.”)

Galileo’s telescope was not powerful enough to resolve the rings; they appeared as separate bodies on either side of Saturn. Galileo wrote that “the star of Saturn is not a single star, but is a composite of three, which almost touch each other, never change or move relative to each other, and are arranged in a row along the zodiac, the middle one being three times larger than the two lateral ones, and they are situated in this form o O o.”

In his 1612 observation they were gone entirely, because he was viewing them edge-on as in the Hubble image above. In 1616 he observed them again and they appeared as two half-ellipses. He did not recognize them as rings even then: that explanation came from Christaan Huygens in 1655.

[BREAK, BREAK]

Moving forward to the last century, 55 years ago today (July 30, 1955) the Soviet Union announced its plan to launch a satellite — which the world came to know later as Sputnik — as part of the upcoming International Geophysical Year.

And on this date in 1965 — 45 years ago — NASA launched Saturn-10 from Cape Canaveral, carrying the third Pegasus micrometeroid detection satellite and Apollo Boiler Plate BP-9.

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