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Looking Beyond the First Landings

As 1967 ended, the short list of sites for the first manned lunar landing had been approved and a longer list for the second mission had been tentatively selected. The site selection board would continue to work with flight planners and scientists to narrow down the choices. Meanwhile, as evidenced by the comments of Eggleston and Hess at the December meeting of the site selection board, attention was shifting to planning for the later missions.

As early as April 1967, the Manned Spacecraft Center's Science and Applications Directorate had put together a plan for lunar scientific exploration, to identify the scientific observations essential to basic understanding of the moon. As guidelines, the review used the fifteen scientific questions about the moon formulated by the Woods Hole summer study of 1965. [see Appendix 3] The plan envisioned eight manned lunar missions, including one orbital mission which would take photographs and gather data with remote sensors, arranged in a logical geological sequence and spaced to allow scientists to digest the results of each mission before executing the next. No more than three landings in the "Apollo zone" were contemplated, and a highland area rather than a mare might be considered as early as the third landing. Both geological exploration by the astronauts and emplacement of instruments for long-term data collection were contemplated. The plan concluded that each mission should stay long enough to accomplish the scientific tasks planned for it; there was no point in staying 14 days unless the extra time could be put to good use. Short-range mobility aids for the astronauts, such as a one-man flying vehicle, would be necessary for later missions, but there was no real need for a vehicle that could cover hundreds of kilometers.69

The MSC plan was partly an effort to focus local attention on hardware and mission planning requirements for the later scientific flights, partly a contribution to higher-level agency planning. Throughout 1967 a joint study team from the Offices of Manned Space Flight and Space Science and Applications in Headquarters had been working on the same question, in collaboration with Wilmot Hess and the Group for Lunar Exploration Planning (formed after the 1967 Santa Cruz conference; [see Chapter 7]). 70 In February 1968 Headquarters issued its own lunar exploration plan through the new Apollo Lunar Exploration Office. This plan, more comprehensive than MSC's, outlined a strategy for lunar exploration including and extending beyond currently planned Apollo missions.

Headquarters' strategy called for a combination of orbital and surface missions to photograph and map structural features of interest and collect representative samples, emplace a network of geophysical instruments for long-term monitoring of the moon, and carry out long-range traverses to link local and regional studies together. The lunar exploration program would be evolutionary, stressing initial use of existing equipment, extending its useful life, and introducing new developments as required. Desirable modifications included upgrading the Saturn V to increase its lunar payload by 12 to 15 percent; extending power and life-support systems on the lunar module to support astronauts for three days on the moon; and reducing the lander's conservative propulsion allocations, as experience warranted, to increase scientific payload.71

The plan projected several new developments to extend the range of exploration and increase the amount of useful work the astronauts could perform: one-man flying units, a small roving vehicle, a local scientific survey module with longer range that could be operated remotely, and a dual-launch system using two Saturn Vs. The second (unmanned) booster of a dual-launch mission could carry either a lunar payload module providing extra scientific equipment or an extended lunar module with additional expendables for life support, to be landed at the selected exploration site. The proposed schedule called for introducing the extended lunar module, which could support three-day stays on the moon and would carry short-range mobility aids, by mid-1971. Thereafter no more than two missions per year should be flown, new capabilities being added as early as possible within budgetary limitations. Sites for nine missions of special scientific interest requiring systematic increases in mission capability were described in an appendix.* 72

Estimates of what such a program would cost were necessarily tentative, but the report calculated upper and lower limits based on current assumptions about production of Saturn Vs and spacecraft. Over the next eight fiscal years, new payloads and additional spacecraft and launch vehicles would cost from $4.20 billion to $5.54 billion, depending on which Apollo mission made the first landing. Funding was expected to peak in fiscal 1972 at $1 billion to $1.3 billion.73

Lee Scherer, head of the Lunar Exploration Program Office, toured NASA installations in March to brief center officials of the plan. His first stop was in Houston, and afterwards MSC Director Robert Gilruth offered his center's comments to George Mueller, calling the plan "thoughtfully developed, well integrated, [and] unified." His sole reservation was that the funds provided for the next year seemed inadequate to make a real start immediately:

I believe the FY 1969 budget requested should be increased to the amount that can be spent wisely to initiate procurement activities to support the program. Without additional monies early, the proposed flight dates will be very difficult to achieve. More serious, however, the impression may be created that the program can wait another year to really get started.74

A month later Gilruth again urged that Mueller start development for the advanced Apollo missions. Reminding Mueller of the President's Science Advisory Committee's public statement** that only two or three lunar landing missions with the basic Apollo systems could be justified, Gilruth emphasized that

additional stay time, mobility, and scientific payload are considered essential for later missions to produce adequate scientific payload to justify the mission. . . . In order to obtain the increased capabilities. . . a small but significant amount of funds must be committed in FY 1969.
Both the lunar flying unit and the extended lunar module could benefit from additional funds in the current fiscal year. Acknowledging a general reluctance in Headquarters to propose "new starts" (projects not already approved by Congress for Apollo), Gilruth nonetheless urged Mueller to start on an unmanned logistic support system.*** Should development be postponed, he said,
it appears to us that the alternatives to significantly more money for lunar exploration. . . in FY 1969 will all be very embarrassing to NASA in 1971.
If the longer, more productive missions could not be conducted because the systems had not yet been developed, the choices might all be unattractive: dual missions of standard Apollo equipment at excessive expense, single Apollo missions of limited productivity - certain to draw criticism from the scientists-or intervals of a year or more between launches, which would make it difficult to maintain launch capability at the Cape.75

Mueller had presented the basic lunar exploration plan to the House Manned Space Flight subcommittee earlier in February, but with no details of schedule or budget. It had provoked little discussion. About a logistic support system, he said only that it continued to be an objective and that studies would continue to determine the best way to carry larger scientific payloads and support longer stays On the lunar surface.76

If anyone had reason to be pleased with the lunar exploration plan, the lunar scientists did. To provide scientific advice to Scherer's planners, the Group for Lunar Exploration Planning had met for two days in January 1968 to create a list of recommendations based on the conclusions of the Santa Cruz conference the previous summer. The plan issued in February incorporated every every major recommendation they made - the extended lunar module, the lunar flying unit, and the logistic support system - and included the most favored science sites.77

Extended lunar exploration would not be delayed by lack of cooperation at the Manned Spacecraft Center. Gilruth's recorded reaction to the plan seems to show that Houston was ready to participate fully in conducting it. But at Headquarters George Mueller seemed less eager to move rapidly. Mueller had many other problems in 1968; the Saturn V had not yet been fully qualified, and both the command module and lunar module had problems yet to be solved.78 Against that background, Mueller was not in a hurry to seek approval of plans to modify the lunar spacecraft before the principal objective had been achieved. At the same time he was working hard to establish a post-Apollo program that Congress would support.79

* The sites, identified by the names of nearby craters or other physical features, were: Censorinus, Littrow, Abulfeda, Hyginus, Appenine front-Hadley Rille, Tycho, Schroeter's Valley, Marius Hills, and Copernicus. Hadley Rille and a site near Littrow were visited by 3-day Apollo missions.

** In its report, The Space Program in the Post-Apollo Period, published in February 1967; [see Chapter 7]

*** In 1962 Joseph Shea, Deputy Director for Systems in the Office of Manned Space Flight, had helped to secure Wernher von Braun's support for lunar orbit rendezvous by suggesting that Marshall Space Flight Center develop a logistic support system and a lunar roving vehicle; see Courtney G. Brooks, James M. Grimwood, and Loyd S. Swenson, Jr., Chariots for Apollo, NASA SP-4205 (Washington, 1979), pp. 80-81.

69. MSC, "MSC Lunar Scientific Exploration Plan," Apr. 14, 1967.

70. Hess to multiple addressees, "Pre-GLEP meeting January 10 in Washington, D.C.," Jan. 3, 1968.

71. NASA Hqs., "The Plan or Lunar Exploration," Feb. 1968.

72. Ibid.

73. Ibid.

74. Gilruth to Mueller, Mar. 4, 1968.

75. Gilruth to Mueller, Apr. 1, 1968.

76. House, Subcommittee on Manned Space Flight of the Committee on Science and Astronautics, 1969 NASA, Authorization, Hearings on H.R. 15086, 90/2, pt. 2, pp. 26-35. The same plan was presented by John E. Naugle to the subcommittee on science and applications, also without stimulating discussion; see idem, Subcommittee on Space Science and Applications of the Committee on Science and Astronautics, 1969 NASA Authorization, Hearings on H.R. 15086, 90/2, pt. 3, pp. 146-58.

77. Andre J. Meyer, Jr., "Minutes of the Lunar Mission Planning Board," Feb. 13, 1968.

78. Brooks, Grimwood, and Swenson, Chariots, pp. 237-53.

79. Compton and Benson, Living and Working in Space, pp. 99-104.

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