The Coming Trip Around The Moon

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The Coming Trip Around The Moon

THE EDITORS: What's the significance of this month's trip around the moon?

MR LAPP: From a technical viewpoint, a successful shot could probably move up the date of the first lunar landing from the summer of 1969 to the spring. From a scientific angle, I don't think it will add much to what we already know about the moon. After all, we have has surveyor experiments made by instruments on the lunar surface.

Does the Apollo-8 flight have political significance?

If we beat the Soviets around the moon we are then one up in the race to the moon--and a notch higher on the lunar totem pole. Also, a successful light would encourage Mr. Nixon to support the NASA program, but thisis almost academic. The NASA budget is already in the works, and Mr. Nixon's prime decision centers on the post-Apollo program. However, another Apollo accident, especially if we strand three astronauts in a lunar orbit, will be a disaster.

What kind of accident do you have in mind?

A 1968 report to NASA by the Aerospace Corporation defined a whole spectrum of hazards--failure of the life support system, fire, smoke, rocket malfunction, loss of altitude control, spacecraft tumbling, loss of power, structural failure, imperfect guidance. The Apollo spacecraft is an exceedingly complex system. In the list of hazards we have to include injury to the astronauts or sickness. Suppose, for example, the Apollo-8 crew gets the Hong Kong flu while en route to the moon.

Hasn't the Apollo system been thoroughly checked out?

First, let me say that there's a monumental difference between near-Earth orbital flight and one that's far from our planet. In an Earth orbit you can always summon down the spacecraft rather quickly. But once the vehicle is accelerated to 24,500 mph--it's on its way and your flight plan is committed. Your trajectory then involves about siz days in space. You8 can't come home again because you are in the clutches of Newton's three laws.

But Apollo-7 gave us a full week's space flight.

Sure--and it was very successful. But it was orbital experience, and in the event of a systems failure the flight plan could have been terminated promptly. I stress that the fact that we have no manned space flight experience other than in near-Earth orbits.

I'll remind you that NASA experts discuonted any real hazard in the Apollo-204 test on January 27, 2967. The accident review board concluded: "The occurrence of anm internal spacecraft fire of the magnitude and intensity experienced in this accident was not considered to be a significant possibility under any operational circumstances." As you know three American astronauts died in the Apollo fire.

Do you think, then, that we are taking unnecessary risks in our race to the moon?

We are pushing our luck, gambling that everything will work perfectly. NASA experts will assure you that they have thought through the risks and have planned for them. Well, they didn't in Apollo-204. They maintain they have backup systems in case there are system malfunctions. They also content that risk evaluation can take place at critical points in Apollo's flight path. For example, the decision to accelerate from an Earth orbit to escape velocity can be made in orbit. Likewise the decision to descend into a lunar orbit can be made when all systems have been checked out just prior to injecting into that orbit.

Just how does Apollo-8's lunar mission go?

Apollo-8 takes up where Apollo-7 left off. When Apollo-8 is in a "parking orbit" around the Earth, say, after about two or three trips, the last stage Saturn-V booster fires the spacecraft on its way. During the 66'hour trip outward bound the course can be altered to correct for errors. If aimed accurately the Apollo-8 would loop around the moon and then begin a return path to Earth. By firing the Apollo engine and slowing down the spacecraft it could be eased into a low lunar orbit. Then the 45-ton craft is locked into a trajectory that makes it an artificial moon of our moon.

Could Apollo-8 land men on the moon?

Apollo-8 has no landing capability. Any landing would be on a crash basis. The 45-ton spacecraft has three components. There is the Command Module, which carries the astronauts and is designed for re-entry of the earth's atmosphere. Then there is the Service Module, which weighs 25 tons and contains the single engine with its 22,000 pounds of thrust. Finally there is the lunar module weighing 12 tons. On Apollo-8 this will not be operative.

If Apollo's main engine fails to fire in a lunar orbit, what happens?

Our astronauts will be stranded in orbit.

You mean they are condemned to death?

Well, they can't get out and fix the engine. They are completely dependent on that engine firing. There is no backup there.

There would be no hope of rescue?

Not by us. I don't know what the Soviet timetable is for lunar expeditions, but if they were up there, maybe they could help out. I doubt if they could accomodate 3 passengers but they might link up and transfer supplies. I would think some mutual assistance pact ought to be worked out for such emergencies. 

Has NASA studied this problem of rescue?

Yes, they did several years ago. However the study showed that it would be costly to provide for a rescue capability, and it would slow down the space program. It was abandoned. About a year ago NASA funded several paper studies of the subject--I think there is a conceptual design study with Lockheed, another with North American Rockwell and one with the Aerospace Corporation. The US Air Force has a Space Escape Technical Review Committee studying the problem; I think it projects a six-year development time for a rescue capability.

So the United States has no backup capability to rescue or relieve the Apollo crew?

No. Apollo-9 won't be ready to fly until one or two months after Apollo-8. It's not slated for a lunar goal but rather to run a 10-day earth-orbital check-out of the lunar module. 

We could delay the program so that Apollo-9, configured to have a relief-capability, would be on the pad ready for launch if Apollo-8 runs into trouble.

If we can relieve the crew, either through exchange or by provisions, I'm sure that NASA would undertake heroic measures to rescue the astronauts. It would be a fantastic rescue mission and might have more impact than the original flight. At the very least we out to be prepared to attempt a rescue.

How many Apollo spacecraft are involved in the NASA program?

A total of 15 Apollo-509 is due to fly in February. Apollo-510 is slated for a lunar flight that simulates the lunar landing. It could even make a landing. That would be around May. If not, Apollo-511 would attempt the landing during next summer.

NASA actually plans five Apollo missions in 1969. There would be a second landing. NASA hopw that success in the lunar venture will be crowned with Congressional approval for an ambitious post-Apollo program; establishment of a lunar base, for example.

How much does an Apollo cost?

The unit cost depends on how you distribute charges for research, development, production facilities and launch complexes. NASA gives out a figure of $349 million based on a production rate of two a year. But if you take total expenditures for manned space flight and distribute them over 11 Apollos the unit cost would be $2 billion. Somewhere between these two values is a reasonable estimate. 

To get back to the lunar landing, is this more hazardous than orbiting the moon?

Much more so. New and less proved-out systems are involved. Man is in the position of trusting the systems. But let me point out that a malfunction in descending to the lunar surface would leave the astronauts stranded without hope of rescue or relief.

NASA planners have provided one or even two backups in the lunar module systems. Assuming no pshysical damage to the module or its contents, the "single point feature" of most concern is the operation of the ascent engine. It has to life the two-man "bug" off the lunar surface to its orbital rendezvous with its parent Command and Service Module. 

If the astronauts were marooned on the moon couldn't we ferry supples to them?

NASA has not planned to do so. I would suffest it would be better to break the trail to the moon by landing the supplies in advance. Then have the LEM descend from orbit to this site. However it would change our lyunar timetable; we might not be first on the moon.

Is advance landing of supplies practical?

NASA has successfully landed five Surveyor devices on the lunar surface and many television pictures were sent back to earth. Landing a cargo would be a much simpler operation. This pathfinder payoad could be fitted with a tadio beacon to guide in the LEM.

How does the United States compare with the Soviet Union in the space race?

It's like an Olympic Games, with many events. The score can be reckones in numbers of space vehicles, launched, weight of payloads, glamor of mission in terms of "firsts." There's no consistent way to add u the various scores. But I guess the first nation to complete a lunar landing will score heavily.

Does the Soviet Union have a booster as big as Saturn V?

Our first Apollo booster is rated at 7,500,000 pounds of thrust. The most powerful Soviet booster puts out about 2,000,000 pounds of thrust. With out 1,000,000-pound thrust second stage on Saturn-V we can inject 139 tons into low earth orbit. The Soviet Proton is not quite 19 tons.

Our Apollo-7 shot in October did not use the lunar booster--that will be used on Apollo-8. So, Saturn-V, the booster with 7.5 million pounds of thrust in the first stage, is not yet man-rated. Our Apollo-7 shot used an S-IB stage consisting of eight clustered engines. The Apollo-8 will be boosted by five engines each putting out 1.5 million pounds of thrust. 

But there's been talk of a Soviet booster larger than Saturn V.

That's true. But the Soviets have yet to test such a booster. NASA officials have asserted that the Soviets have a rocket with over 11 million pounds of thrust. Presumably this intelligence, if correct, is gained by study of Air Force orbital reconnaissance photographs of Soviet rocket launch sites. The Soviets are fairly conservative in their rocketry and I would not think that they would send men to the moon on rockets that have not been tested.

Do the Soviets have an Apollo-type spacecraft?

The most that the Soviets have displayed is the Soyuz spacecraft. Soyuz-1 crashed on landing April 24, 1967. That slowed up the Soviet program just as the 204 accident set back the US manned space program. The last week in October, 1968, the Soviets successfuly completed a Soyuz mission, actually a double entry featuring a manned and an unmanned Soyuz.  But their man-hours in orbit are less than a fourth of the US total. So we are ahead of them in orbital experience.

Could the Soyuz spacecraft undertake a lunar mission?

Not in the configuraton that was revealed last month. A Soviet sketch of Soyuz-3 depicted a three-section craft. Superficially it may be compared to the Apollo Command and Service Module has two engines of much lower thrust than our Apollo Service Module. 

What about the instrumented spacecraft that flew around the moon recently?

That w3as Zond-6. It made a circumlunar flight and then returned to Earth. it used a double entry technique, skimming down through the Earth's upper atmosphere, then bouncing upward and then homing toward the landing site in the USSR. The technique lowers the g-force on the re-entry vehicle. The US Apollo re-entry vehicle is sturdy enough to withstand the stress of direct re-entry.

Apollo-S then has a clear shot at beating the Russians around the moon?

It looks that way. Soviet programs may have been caught in a priority squeeze. Enthusiasts wanting a manned orbital workshop may have set back those anxious to project man to the moon. They haven't tested a Saturn-V class booster, they haven't man-rated a big booster and they have far less experience in orbit. Military considerations may have caused a stretch-out of the Soviet effort to place men on the moon. While the latter is an impressive technological spectacular, establishment of an earth-orbital manned station will have psycho-military overtones.

What about the US plans for orbital stations?

NASA's plans are for post-Apollo. They call for an Apollo Applications Program in which a Saturn Workshop will be put into a low Earth orbit. A crew of four men would stay in orbit for a month to half a year. The US Air Force has a $20 billion Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) program with McDonnell Douglas. It aims at putting a two-man crew in orbit by 1971.

Do the NASA-Air Force programs overlap?

Government officials deny duplication exists. As head of NASA, James Webb said earliuer this year: "There is no meaningful comparison between a Saturn V launched workshop and a Titan III launched Manned Orbital Laboratory." Well, as long as the MOL program is classified as a military secret, Mr. Webb is right--there can be no comparison. Orbital space is a place to look down from--so I think the NASA and Air Force programs are in competition. Maybe it's the only way to keep the aerospace industry busy.

Is there a "space industrial complex?"

Definitely. The aerospace industries grab half of the prime military contract awards. There are over 1.5 million aerospace workers. And they are concentrated in sensitive areas like California and Texas. Let's not forget that the Apollo program has enriched the South, and there's a "golden arc" of federal facilities stretching from Cape Kennedy to Houston. To illustrate the space industrial complex, I cite Senator Russel Long's plea early this year to keep the Michoud Saturn Assembly plant fully employed. It had a peak force of 11,000 workers--many from New Orleans.

You think we could afford to delay Apollo-8?

The basic factor is not really technical. We are racing the Russians to the moon. A lot of people in NASA and in industry are hoping that a successful Apollo-8 orbiting of the moon--or even circumnavigation--will build up public support for an invigorated manned space program. It's just one of the weighty techno-decisions faceing Mr. Nixon. He is committed to funding out the Apollo program--but post-Apollo programs await his decision.

By The Editors

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