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Apollo Lunar Landing

Apollo Evolution

Apollo Evolution
Evolution of the Apollo Design, from the Contractor Studies through the Direct Landing, and finally Lunar Orbit Rendezous Versions
Credit: © Mark Wade

American manned lunar expedition. Begun in 1962; first landing on the moon 1969; sixth and final lunar landing 1972. The project that succeeded in putting a man on the moon.

Status: Completed 1972.

Apollo probably could have achieved its goal a little quicker by using a 2-man capsule for a direct flight. But all of the decisions made in the seven months after go-ahead proved basically correct. The Apollo program was not a hoax, but the real thing.

The Apollo re-entry vehicle itself was originally initiated by NASA in 1960 as the next step beyond the primitive Mercury capsule. It was to be an all-purpose spacecraft for missions to earth orbit and the moon. At the time the design was defined, any moon landing was seen as a far-off unfounded objective - sometime in the 1970's. The capsule was to have a crew of three, because it was thought the crew would have to monitor the spacecraft's systems at all times - therefore, three 8-hour duty shifts. It had to be big enough inside to allow the 3-man crew to function for 14-day missions - the approximate length of the maximum envisioned autonomous earth orbit or lunar mission. These considerations set the size of the capsule, which NASA estimated would be under 4 metric tons.

Max Faget, NASA Langley's "Chief Designer", had already settled on a preferred ballistic capsule configuration, essentially that used on Mercury, but with the slope of the sides increased to allow the capsule to achieve a lift to drag coefficient of 0.5 - necessary to limit G-forces to below 8 when re-entering from lunar distances. Other NASA centers and study contractors favored other shapes - lifting bodies, lenticular flying saucers, conical shapes based on the substantial experience in missile re-entry vehicles, General Electric's D-2 'headlight'. NASA funded extensive studies on all of these, but in the end it seemed that all of this work was undertaken just to prove that there was no alternative with significantly less weight than Faget's preferred design.

After Yuri Gagarin's flight in April 1961, President Kennedy asked NASA to come up with a space first that could be achieved in a reasonable period of time - by the end of the decade - and definitively beat the Russians in the space race. A space station in earth orbit was rejected as being something that the Russians could too easily match. The same went for a manned circumlunar flight. The only mission that would require both sides to develop completely new launch vehicles and spacecraft was a manned lunar landing. Despite the tremendous cost - NASA management tripled the initial $8 billion estimate to be on the safe side - Kennedy announced this as a national goal in May 1961.

The existing Apollo spacecraft concept could return a crew from the moon. But to get it there and back would require an immense booster. The traditional lunar profile was to launch a spacecraft toward the moon, have its landing stage brake it to a lunar landing, then have the ascent stage launch the re-entry capsule from the lunar surface back toward the earth. A spacecraft that could take an Apollo spacecraft on this profile, even using the high-energy but unflown propellant combination of liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen, would have a total mass of 35 metric tons on trans-lunar injection. This would require a mass in low earth orbit of 90 metric tons. That in turn would require either two to three launches of a Saturn C-2 class booster, or a single launch of a Nova-class booster. Both would require new production and launch facilities, but only the Saturn C-3 could have the prototype 10-m-diameter first stages built under the personal supervision of von Braun's NASA Huntsville rocket team at the existing facility at Michoud. This had been the Peenemuende's rocket team method of working since V-2 days, and they were not going to allow the first stage to be built in any other way.

But the payload requirements for direct-landing an Apollo on the moon were increasing rapidly during the course of 1961. The Apollo capsule began its inevitable weight growth. Its mass went to 4500 kg, then 5000 kg (and would reach 6000 kg by the time of the actual landings). NASA Langley also decided that only proven storable propellants could be used on the lunar landing and ascent stages. The payload requirement finally nearly doubled - 68 metric tons on trans-lunar injection and 181 metric tons in low earth orbit. The booster concept was increased in size by adding F-1 engines to the first stage and stretching the 10-m diameter stages. In the final concept two Saturn C-5 launches would be needed, and the spacecraft and trans-lunar injections stage would have to assembled or refueled in low earth orbit before proceeding toward the moon. This was known as the earth orbit rendezvous approach (EOR) and involved perfecting maneuvering, docking, and fuel transfer techniques that did not even exist yet.

Back at NASA Langley, the idea arose that the mission could be achieved by using a method known as lunar orbit rendezvous. This had been suggested by the Chance Vought company in 1960. Langley's James Chamberlin proposed in July 1961 a moon-landing mission that would involve a single launch of a Saturn C-3, which would send a crew in a Gemini spacecraft to lunar orbit. Also aboard would be one or two lunar 'bugs' - little open-cockpit lunar landers. One crew member would spacewalk to the bug, strap himself into the seat, and then take it down to the lunar surface. After a brief surface mission, he would fly it back to lunar orbit. The Gemini pilot would rendezvous with the bug, the crewman would spacewalk back to the Gemini, and they would return to earth. This scenario was rejected by NASA Langley as too dangerous, too limited, and a threat to Faget's Apollo capsule project.

But Langley did continue with the lunar orbit rendezvous scenario, but this time using the Apollo capsule together with a closed-cabin lunar excursion module (LM) lander that would take two crew to the surface. It was felt that this would allow two men to land on the moon in a single Saturn C-5 launch. The drawback was that all of the untried techniques of the earth orbit rendezvous method would have to be accomplished in lunar orbit, which seemed even less likely to succeed. NASA fostered a myth later of a lone crusading engineer, John Houboult, coming up with the "miracle concept" idea of LOR and fighting his way to the highest levels of NASA management to get it accepted. In fact it had been around for a long time, and made no sense at all.

If the objective was to land two men on the moon, the same thing could be accomplished in a single Saturn C-5 launch on a direct flight using either a Gemini capsule or two-man Apollo-shaped capsule. LOR introduced development of an entirely new LM spacecraft, and the complexities of lunar orbit rendezvous and docking - all for the sake of retaining the Apollo capsule design. Use of either Gemini or a 2-man Apollo shape would allow the same mission to be accomplished with the same booster, and a lot more simply and probably earlier.

By the end of 1961, all the major Apollo contracts had been issued, but the final configuration of the Saturn rocket and the method of achieving the lunar landing had still not been decided. Going to a new contractor for the Apollo capsule was not acceptable to NASA Administrator Webb or his sponsor, Vice President Johnson. North American had been selected at the presidential level in November 1961, overruling the selection of NASA's evaluation committee of Martin. The political and possibly corrupt factors that resulted in North American's selection were exposed after the Apollo 204 fire killed three astronauts six years later. But for whatever reasons, Webb and NASA Langley refused to abandon the 3-man North American Apollo design. Von Braun's team finally gave in to the inevitable, agreeing to LOR but with the proviso that a second Saturn C-5 send a direct lander 'logistics vehicle' to accompany the LM to the surface. This proviso was quickly forgotten. Jerome Wiesner, Kennedy's science adviser, fought to the bitter end for a 2-man capsule, single-launch, direct flight approach. But finally Webb got Kennedy to tell Wiesner to shut up, and despite detailed preliminary designs by McDonnell that proved that the 2-man direct approach was perfectly feasible, using many Gemini systems and components, the idea was shelved and Apollo went on its course.

Grumman was selected to build the Lunar Module for the LOR approach in November 1962. The LM itself suffered horrendous weight growth as well, the initial 10 metric ton weight budget being exceeded by 50%. Luckily for NASA, von Braun's conservative Saturn design ended up delivering nearly 20% more payload than originally planned, and the growth in the Apollo capsule and LM could be accommodated.

The assassination of Kennedy somehow made the commitment to the moon-landing goal inviolable, and two subsequent presidents saw it through to completion. But the project began receiving cutbacks as early as 1965. The costs of the Vietnam War and the missile race with the Soviet Union were contributing factors. But the major reason was a loss of public interest in manned spaceflight after the Russians fell behind in the space race.

The Soviet Union had not taken the Apollo program seriously, believing it to be rhetoric. It took them three years to react, and they did not start their counterpart N1-L3 manned moon-landing program until the end of 1964. They attempted to beat Apollo with start three years late, with one tenth the budget, without a central management structure, and relying on a Soviet military for crucial support that was hostile to the program. Inevitably they did not succeed. Like Apollo, their L3 spacecraft grew in mass. Unlike Apollo, their N1 booster could not deliver the needed payload, and in any case never flew successfully. The N1-L3 program was cancelled in 1974, and the Soviet Union began a 15-year project to assimilate the management, reliability engineering, and quality assurance techniques that had made Apollo successful.

Apollo was one of the great technical endeavors of the 20th Century. In the United States, it left remarkably little legacy. The spacecraft and launch vehicles developed at such enormous expense were abandoned and replaced by pursuit of a chimera - a fully reusable space shuttle. For the hundreds of thousands of industry and government workers that contributed to the project, it was one of the greatest periods of their lives. The generation that had learned how to get things done quickly in World War II were again called to action in the prime of their lives. Compare the schedule of Apollo - seven months from the decision to go ahead to issuance of all major contracts for the spacecraft, rocket stages, and launch site - to NASA's current performance. There were giants in those days - we shall not see their like again.


Apollo SA-11 From September 1962 NASA planned to fly four early manned Apollo spacecraft on Saturn I boosters. Cancelled in October 1963 in order to fly all-up manned Apollo CSM on more powerful Saturn IB.

Apollo SA-12 From September 1962 NASA planned to fly four early manned Apollo spacecraft on Saturn I boosters. Cancelled in October 1963 in order to fly all-up manned Apollo CSM on more powerful Saturn IB.

Apollo SA-13 From September 1962 NASA planned to fly four early manned Apollo spacecraft on Saturn I boosters. Cancelled in October 1963 in order to fly all-up manned Apollo CSM on more powerful Saturn IB.

Apollo SA-14 From September 1962 NASA planned to fly four early manned Apollo spacecraft on Saturn I boosters. Cancelled in October 1963 in order to fly all-up manned Apollo CSM on more powerful Saturn IB.

Apollo 204 The planned first manned flight of the Apollo CSM, the Apollo C category mission. The crew was killed in a fire while testing their capsule on the pad on 27 January 1967, still weeks away from launch. Set back Apollo program by 18 months.

Apollo 205 Planned second solo flight test of the Block I Apollo CSM on a Saturn IB. Cancelled after the Apollo 204 fire.

Apollo 207 Planned Apollo D mission. Two Saturn IB launches would put Apollo CSM and LM into orbit. CSM crew would dock with LM, test it in earth orbit. Cancelled after Apollo 204 fire.

Apollo 503 Cancelled Apollo E mission - test of the Apollo lunar module in high earth orbit. Lunar module was not ready. Instead mission flown only with CSM into lunar orbit as Apollo 8.

Apollo 7 First manned test of the Apollo spacecraft. Although the systems worked well, the crew became grumpy with head colds and talked back to the ground. As a result, NASA management determined that none of them would fly again.

Apollo 8 First manned flight to lunar orbit. Speed (10,807 m/s) and altitude (378,504 km) records. Mission resulted from audacious decision to send crew around moon to beat Soviets on only second manned Apollo CSM mission and third Saturn V launch.

Apollo 9 First manned test of the Lunar Module. First test of the Apollo space suits. First manned flight of a spacecraft incapable of returning to earth. If rendezvous of the Lunar Module with the Apollo CSM had failed, crew would have been stranded in orbit.

Apollo 10 Final dress rehearsal in lunar orbit for landing on moon. LM separated and descended to 10 km from surface of moon but did not land. Speed record (11,107 m/s).

Apollo 11 First manned lunar landing. The end of the moon race and public support for large space programs. The many changes made after the Apollo 204 fire paid off; all went according to plan, virtually no problems.

Apollo 12 Second manned lunar landing. Precision landing near Surveyor 3 that landed in 1967. Lightning struck the booster twice during ascent. Decision was made to press on to moon, despite possibility landing pyrotechnics damaged.

NASA's Lost Boilerplate - The Story of BP-1227 In 2002 the Encyclopedia Astronautica uncovered the forgotten story of the recovery of an Apollo capsule by the Soviet Union and it's return to the United States. The original March 2002 article provoked an early example of international group-research on the Internet, with a June 2002 update and with new information from the crewmembers of the USS Southwind in 2008. Now, 13 years later, Eddie Pugh's exhaustive research provides the definitive account of the event.

Apollo 13 Fuel cell tank exploded en route to the moon, resulting in loss of all power and oxygen. Only through use of the still-attached LM as a lifeboat could the crew survive to return to earth. Altitude (401,056 km) record.

Apollo: Soviets Recovered an Apollo Capsule! The truth only emerged 32 years later - the Soviets recovered an Apollo space capsule in 1970 the original article.

Apollo 14 Third manned lunar landing. Only Mercury astronaut to reach moon. Five attempts to dock the command module with the lunar module failed for no apparent reason - mission saved when sixth was successful. Hike to Cone Crater frustrating; rim not reached.

Apollo 15 First use of lunar rover on moon. Beautiful images of crew prospecting at edge of Hadley Rill. One of the three main parachutes failed, causing a hard but survivable splashdown.

Apollo 16 Second Apollo mission with lunar rover. CSM main engine failure detected in lunar orbit. Landing almost aborted.

Apollo 17 Final Apollo lunar landing mission. First geologist to walk on the moon.

Apollo 18 Apollo 18 was originally planned in July 1969 to land in the moon's Schroter's Valley, a river-like channel-way. The original February 1972 landing date was extended when NASA cancelled the Apollo 20 mission in January 1970. Apollo 18 in turn cancelled on 2 September 1970 because of congressional cuts in FY 1971 NASA appropriations.

Apollo 19 Apollo 19 was originally planned to land in the Hyginus Rille region, which would allow study of lunar linear rilles and craters. Apollo 19 in turn cancelled on 2 September 1970 because of congressional cuts in FY 1971 NASA appropriations.

Apollo 20 Apollo 20 was originally planned in July 1969 to land in Crater Copernicus, a spectacular large crater impact area. Later Copernicus was assigned to Apollo 19, and the preferred landing site for Apollo 20 was the Marius Hills, or, if the operational constraints were relaxed, the bright crater Tycho. The planned December 1972 flight was cancelled on January 4, 1970, before any crew assignments were made.

Apollo The successful US project to land a man on the moon.

Soviets Recovered an Apollo Capsule! - 2008 version In 2002 this web site broke the story that the Soviet Union had recovered an Apollo capsule in 1969 and returned it to the Americans a year later in the extraordinary Cold War visit to Murmansk by the American Coast Guard icebreaker Southwind. Recently Michael Stronski, a Southwind crew member, has provided additional extraordinary photographs of the event.

Family: Lunar Bases. Country: USA. Spacecraft: Apollo LM, Apollo CSM. Launch Vehicles: Saturn C-2, Saturn C-8, Saturn I, Saturn IB, Saturn V. Launch Sites: Cape Canaveral. Bibliography: 16, 18, 2292, 2293, 2294, 2298, 2311, 2314, 2315, 2316, 2317, 2318, 2319, 2320, 2321, 2322, 2324, 2325, 2328, 2329, 2332, 2335, 2340, 2345, 2348, 2352, 2356, 2358, 2363, 2365, 26, 27, 33, 4401, 4408, 4409, 4410, 60.
Photo Gallery

Apollo vs N1-L3Apollo vs N1-L3
Apollo CSM / LM vs L3 Lunar Complex
Credit: © Mark Wade

1960 February 15 - . Launch Vehicle: Saturn V.
1960 Spring - .
1960 September 13 - . LV Family: Saturn I. Launch Vehicle: Saturn C-2.
1961 January 6 - .
1961 January 9 - . LV Family: Nova. Launch Vehicle: Nova 4L.
1961 February 7 - . LV Family: Saturn I. Launch Vehicle: Saturn C-2.
1961 April 14 - .
1961 May 25 - .
1961 June 10 - . LV Family: Saturn I. Launch Vehicle: Saturn C-2.
1961 June 22 - . LV Family: Saturn I. Launch Vehicle: Saturn C-2.
1961 June 23 - . LV Family: Saturn I. Launch Vehicle: Saturn C-2.
1961 July - .
1961 August 14-15 - .
1961 August 24 - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral.
1961 August - .
1961 September 11 - . Launch Vehicle: Saturn V.
1961 September 26 - . Launch Vehicle: Saturn V.
1961 November 28 - .
1961 December 15 - . Launch Vehicle: Saturn V.
1961 December 20 - . Launch Vehicle: Saturn V.
1961 December 21 - .
1962 January 5 - . Launch Vehicle: Saturn V.
1962 April 1-7 - .
1962 April 2-3 - . Launch Vehicle: Saturn V.
1962 April 24 - . Launch Vehicle: Saturn V.
1962 April 24 - .
1962 May 25 - . LV Family: Nova. Launch Vehicle: Saturn C-8.
1962 June 7 - .
1962 July 11 - .
1962 July 25 - .
1962 November 7 - .
1962 December 10 - .
1963 October 30 - . LV Family: Saturn I. Launch Vehicle: Saturn IB.
1963 December 31 - . LV Family: Minuteman.
1965 January 21-28 - .
1966 May 11 - .
1967 January 27 - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral. LV Family: Saturn I. Launch Vehicle: Saturn IB.
1967 August 11 - . Launch Vehicle: Saturn V.
1968 February 19 - .
1968 August 19 - . Launch Vehicle: Saturn V.
1969 July 29 - .
1969 September 1 - .
1970 January 4 - . Launch Vehicle: Saturn V.
1970 September 2 - .

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