On July 16, 1969, along with a multitude of other sightseers (local Civil Defense officials would later estimate one million), my family and I were on hand to watch the launch of Apollo 11. Our Winnebago camper was parked on the shoulder of U. S. Route 1 about five miles north of Kennedy Space Center and the launch site. We had picked our viewing point the night before, feeling lucky to find a spot so close. It had been a madhouse trying to drive near the Cape; no one seemed to care about following normal rules of the road as cars and campers vied for spots and parked wherever they pleased. Local and state police tried to maintain some order, but it was a hopeless job. In the early morning, as launch time approached, we climbed on the roof of our camper to get an unobstructed view, meanwhile listening on the radio to John ‘‘Jack’’ King, ‘‘the voice of Apollo,’’ count down the final seconds.
Old Glory was flying everywhere, and the crowd was in a party mood. The countdown proceeded smoothly, and at 8:32 a. m. the Saturn rocket lifted off accompanied by loud cheers and many teary eyes, mine included. Beyond a doubt our hearts went with the crew of Apollo 11. This was the second Saturn У launch I had witnessed, but I still wasn’t prepared for the enormous noise and low – frequency reverberations that reached us, even at this distance, in the minute after the Saturn cleared the launch tower. We watched for several minutes as it disappeared to the east, leaving behind a huge plume of white smoke, then we went inside, finished breakfast, and talked about what we had just seen. My sons, only eight and eleven at the time, still vividly recall the excitement of that morning. I was in a hurry to leave because I was due back in Washington in a few days, but we were forced to wait almost an hour before the traffic jam began to move and we were back on the road. Apollo 11 was on its way to the Moon with the first science payloads that men would place on another body in our solar system. If all went as scheduled, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would have the honor of making the first direct, close-up studies of how the Moon’s surface looked and how it felt to walk on the Moon in one-sixth gravity. After the landing and takeoff from the Moon, Mike Collins, the command module pilot, would be waiting in lunar orbit to rendezvous with the lunar module, ready to lower his orbit if the ascent stage did not perform as well as planned.
Four nights after the launch, in anticipation of the landing, the Voice of America (VOA) had assembled a team to report on this once in a lifetime adventure for its worldwide audience. Several NASA colleagues, Merle Waugh, John Hammersmith, William Land, and I, were in the Washington studios as ‘‘color commentators” to back up the VOA reporters led by Rhett Turner, who would be reporting from the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. We listened anxiously, just like millions of others around the globe, to the exchange between the capsule communicator (CapCom) Charlie Duke and Armstrong and Aldrin in the Eagle as they went through the final maneuvers to land the LM. The excitement of those last few minutes, heightened by the crew’s difficulties in selecting their landing site with alarms ringing in their ears and their fuel supply nearing exhaustion, made Armstrong’s announcement ‘‘Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed,’’ almost anticlimactic. We could hear the cheering in the Mission Control Room through Rhett’s microphone, and we in VOA’s Washington studio were yelling and pounding each other on the back too. Although we had worked for years to help achieve this moment, it seemed incredible that we were successful on the first try.
We were primed to discuss the mission in great detail, but as the night unfolded only a few questions were directed our way, and I was never called on to demonstrate my vast insight into things lunar. VOA wasn’t about to share the limelight on this historic occasion. I did, however, receive a card from some friends in Colombia who said they had heard me on VOA. They told me how proud they were of Apollo 11 ’s success and congratulated me on being part of the program. I wondered if some of my former colleagues remembered their skepticism six years earlier when I decided to leave Mobil and join NASA. I certainly did not regret the decision. Our great hopes to follow Apollo with extensive exploration and lunar bases now seemed remote, but important work still lay ahead to make each succeeding mission more scientifically productive.
As the scheduled launch date for Apollo 11 drew closer, NASA management became more and more cautious and conservative. This was especially evident at MSC, where caution was the trademark, but even at NASA headquarters one could sense growing concern about the many uncertainties and dangers that simulations and planning could not make go away. Mueller’s decision to go to ‘‘all up testing’’ had eliminated several test flights that would have provided additional experience, but it was too late to go back and build confidence any further than where we were in July 1969. The only alternative was to schedule a conservative mission profile leaving as much margin for error as possible.
The Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package (EASEP) that Armstrong and Aldrin would carry on their flight, described in chapter 7, did not represent a complete Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP), since both headquarters and MSC feared that the tasks originally planned would be too demanding. EASEP included a solar-powered seismometer and an additional experiment, the Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector (LRRR). The Swiss-sponsored Solar Wind Composition collector would also be deployed, but its scientific value would be degraded because of the short time it would be exposed to the solar wind. Sample collection and photography were scheduled in connection with the crew’s geological study, but they were also reduced in scope from the original plans.
Before the launch, word of changes had reached Congress, some of whose members were already chafing at the expense of the program. These changes had raised questions about the cost of removing the planned equipment from the Apollo 11 mission. On March 13, 1969, just four months before Apollo 11 ’s scheduled launch, the House Subcommittee on Space Science and Applications held a hearing at which a number of questions were asked about the last-minute science payload changes. Chairman Joseph E. Karth (D-Minn.) asked, ‘‘Can we put in the record why the ALSEP is not flying on the Apollo trip as originally planned?’’1
Our office responded four days later with the following explanation:
The goal of the first Apollo mission to the lunar surface is the successful landing and safe return to Earth of the astronauts. The primary objective of the mission is to prove the Apollo system-launch vehicle, spacecraft, space – suits, men, the tracking network, the operational techniques.
The first landing mission represents a large step from orbital operations.
The descent, landing, extravehicular activity (EVA) and ascent from the lunar surface are new operations in a new environment. Our Gemini EVA experience showed that a methodical increase in task complexity was necessary in order to understand and operate in the zero g space environment. The 1/6 g lunar surface environment will be a new experience. We cannot simulate it completely on Earth. We find, for example, that we simply do not have as much metabolic data as we would like in order to predict with high confidence, rates in a 1/6 g environment. Only educated guesses are possible on the difficulties the astronaut will have in maneuvering on the surface or the time it will take him to accomplish assigned tasks.
Until recently, the first mission plan called for two periods on the lunar surface (EVAs). During the second period, the crewmen would deploy the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP). This would take place immediately prior to lunar ascent and rendezvous. Because of biomedical unknowns, we are concerned with the degree to which the second EVA would fatigue the crew and adversely affect their performance during the critical ascent and rendezvous phases of the mission.
After extensive review and evaluation, we reached the decision not to have a second EVA on the first landing mission. The ALSEP will be deferred to the second mission. We will make every effort on the first landing to obtain data leading to a firm assessment of the astronaut’s capabilities and limitations on the lunar surface with a view toward increasing, on subsequent landings, the percentage of EVA time available for scientific investigations. Deployment of the ALSEP on the second mission is planned as a primary objective.
Our answers to other questions raised by the subcommittee included an estimate of $5 million to modify the ALSEP seismometer to the EASEP configuration. (This number differs from the contract cost of $3.7 million discussed in chapter 7 because it includes other costs associated with the EASEP, such as integration and training, that were not part of the Bendix contract.)
Left out of the response was another concern, the performance of the LM during the first landing and takeoff on the Moon. Although the LM had performed well on Apollo 9’s Earth orbital flight and Apollo 10’s close approach to the Moon’s surface, leaks in its propellant tank had only recently been fixed. With only two LM test flights under our belts, NASA management was still concerned about this problem. Our office was understandably chagrined at the
changes in the timeline and the science payload, but this turn of events lent even greater importance to ensuring that the science planned for the next landings was not compromised.
Another interesting exchange before a Senate committee took place shortly after the House subcommittee hearings. Homer Newell and John Naugle appeared before the Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences on May 1. During the questioning, Senator Carl T. Curtis (R-Neb.) asked Newell and Naugle if knowledge gained from our completed space missions had changed previous beliefs. Both Newell and Naugle said yes, and Newell went on to provide a surprising example. He said that the “mascons” discovered by tracking the Lunar Orbiter flight paths (concentrations of high density material below the surface of the lunar seas that might indicate large meteor impacts) ‘‘give rise to some of the speculation that maybe at one time these areas were actually oceans or seas and [that] sediments from these oceans or seas is what filled those holes.’’ You won’t find these speculations in chapter 2, although many thought there was a chance that some water had been present on the Moon at one time. The theory that the Moon once had oceans was not supported by any prominent theorists of the day, and if the large impact craters had been filled with sediment of some kind they would have been deficiencies of mass, not mass concentrations. For a crater to be a ‘‘mascon,’’ the fill had to be some unusually dense material. Even senior NASA managers had a hard time keeping up with changing theories as new information was gathered and analyzed by more and more students of the Moon.
One week before Apollo 11 lifted off, Sam Phillips issued a new Apollo program directive (APD) detailing a total of ten lunar landing missions.2 The first landing was designated a G mission with the characteristics noted above, and the next four were called H missions. The H missions were designed around two EVAs, surface staytimes of up to thirty-two hours, and our old reliable payload of some 250 pounds. The final five missions, Apollo 16 through Apollo 20, were called J missions. Although the APD did not specify any science payload numbers, it stated that both the lunar module and the command and service module would be improved to permit longer staytimes. We anticipated that the LM would be able to carry additional descent propellant, which would translate in part to an ability to carry larger science payloads. We still held out hope in 1969 for flights beyond Apollo 20, but realistically we would have to extract as much science as possible from these ten missions. It was not exactly what we had planned for in 1964 and 1965, but we expected the J missions to be far better than the original Apollo plans. An interesting statement in the APD was that the constant-volume space suit would be available for the J missions. This never came to pass, and if such suits had been used they probably would have had little effect on the productivity of the J mission EVAs. LM and CSM consumables became the limiting factors, not the astronauts’ metabolic rates.
As we had simulated at Martin Marietta in 1964 and 1965 in case of an abort after touchdown, the crew of Apollo 11 first used their eyes to describe the lunar scene and took a few photographs before leaving the LM. One other piece of data collected was a movie of the landing site filmed from Aldrin’s window as Armstrong maneuvered for the landing. Not much scientific use was made of this movie because of its limited view of the surface, but you could see how the Moon’s surface layer was disturbed by the exhaust of the LM descent engine, with the fine-grained particles shooting rapidly away from below the LM in a fuzzy blur. These pictures confirmed that the lunar surface reacted as predicted to the LM exhaust and helped ease concerns about future LM landings. Peering out his small window, Armstrong provided the first descriptions of the surface, and Armstrong and Aldrin took pictures with the Hasselblad camera and described what they could see from their windows. Their observations added to the overall understanding of the landing site but did not reveal precisely where they had landed.
Whether Armstrong or Aldrin would have the honor of being the first human to stand on another celestial body had been decided long before Apollo 11 was launched. The initial timelines, circulated almost a year earlier, had indicated that Aldrin would be the first out. As planning for the mission matured, however, it became evident that the LM commander, Armstrong, would be in the best position inside the LM to perform this historic first, seniority notwithstanding. From a science standpoint it really didn’t make any difference who would be first on the surface, but for Aldrin the decision was obviously a disappointment, and it continued to trouble him years later. Usually few people remember who was the second to do something; however, both Armstrong’s and Aldrin’s names are synonymous with the first Moon landing. Through the years Aldrin has received his deserved recognition, but he is not quite as famous as if he had been the first to touch the Moon.
It took some time for Armstrong and Aldrin to secure the LM and get it ready for a quick takeoff, if necessary. After landing and preparing for an emergency takeoff, the timeline scheduled a meal followed by a sleep period. The astronauts, understandably excited and not sure how long they would be permitted to stay on the Moon, asked Mission Control to skip the sleep period and immediately begin preparing for their EVA. Receiving approval, they donned their space suits, and a little under seven hours after they landed Aldrin opened the hatch. Armstrong squeezed through and bounced down the ladder (without seeing any exploding ‘‘Gold dust’’).
His descent and first steps on the Moon were recorded for all the world by a television camera attached to the landing stage, which he activated from the top of the ladder. This camera, built by the Westinghouse Aerospace Division, had been the subject of much debate. Could we afford the weight (about ten pounds) and the complications of deployment, since we knew the quality of the pictures would be poor? I was for not carrying it, especially when we were discussing whether to include the ALSEP because of weight and EVA time concerns. But once it was decided to eliminate the ALSEP, the question became moot from a science perspective. The ‘‘let’s carry it’’ side won the day, and it turned out to be a valuable tool both for public relations and for science. We used the TV pictures, in spite of their poor resolution, to help reconstruct the astronauts’ movements and plot the geology. Some senior NASA managers complained during the mission about the poor quality of the pictures, but by then it was too late. (The poor picture quality was caused not by any Westing- house design deficiencies but by the NASA specifications, dictated by weight and power constraints and antenna performance.)
After examining the LM and reporting its status, Armstrong began describing the scene around him and his impressions of the lunar surface. Then he took a few photographs. He collected the contingency sample and put it in a pocket of his space suit, and he was soon joined by Aldrin to complete their carefully choreographed EVA timeline. At this point Armstrong removed the TV camera from the LM and set it up some sixty feet to the northwest, providing a limited view of the landing site and of the astronauts’ movements as they went about their EVA. From this time until Armstrong and Aldrin reentered the LM, they performed all their tasks as planned. I won’t go into detail on what they accomplished; references listed in the bibliography describe these activities in great detail. Both astronauts performed all their scientific assignments better than expected under extraordinary conditions. One might think that the first
men to land on the Moon might not have their minds completely on the scientific tasks before them. One might expect them to be thinking about the upcoming liftoff, a maneuver never before attempted, which their survival depended on. Armstrong and Aldrin seemed to put such concerns out of their minds. They appeared to be completely absorbed in deploying the experiments, sampling, and describing what they were seeing and doing.
Aldrin placed the EASEP, the last-minute replacement for the ALSEP, on the surface about sixty-five feet south of the LM and in the same general area as the Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector. He had no trouble unfolding the solar panels and erecting the radio antenna, and once set up the experiment turned on automatically. Back on Earth, signals were received almost immediately, relayed to Houston from the NASA Manned Space Flight Network. We knew it was working because the seismometer recorded Aldrin’s footsteps as he walked nearby, but we hadn’t expected to receive so many signals.
The MSC and Bendix engineers manning the EASEP console in the Science Support Room (SSR) soon began to see a problem. The temperature of the seismometer package was rising faster than expected. It took some time to arrive at a probable cause, but they finally decided that dirt and dust were covering some of the surface, reducing its ability to reflect heat. Both Armstrong and Aldrin had commented on how far the soil would fly when they walked, as well as on how dirty their suits got during the EVA. While deploying the EASEP they had completely circled the experiments, so it was logical that some soil had coated the surfaces. Also, based on Aldrin’s comments, as we continued to track the rising temperature after their takeoff, it appeared he had placed the EASEP experiments closer to the LM than requested. We assumed that dust thrown up during the takeoff had also been deposited on the experiment surfaces. We kept our fingers crossed that the soil would not overheat the seismometer and had not obscured the small corner reflectors of the LRRR, making it difficult to bounce laser beams back to Earth.
These eventualities didn’t come to pass; the seismometer survived the rest of that lunar day (fourteen Earth days) and the following lunar night and came back on line for seven more days when the solar panels saw the sun again. The seismometer recorded several interesting events during its short lifetime, including the shocks of the astronauts’ backpacks hitting the lunar surface when they were thrown from the LM and the small ‘‘moonquake’’ when the ascent stage lifted off. Based on this performance, we could anticipate that the seismometers of the same design scheduled for the full ALSEP deployments would provide even more information during their much longer lifetimes.
In addition to still photographs, movies, and the Solar Wind Composition collector foil, a total of some forty-seven pounds of individual rocks, soil, drive – tube cores, and the contingency sample, all neatly packaged, finally found their way to MSC, where the staff at the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, and eventually the sample analysis principal investigators, eagerly awaited them. On the recovery aircraft carrier, the USS Hornet, the samples were divided into two batches and flown to Ellington Air Force Base in separate aircraft to ensure that some samples would survive in case one plane was lost at sea. There was always the chance we might not get back again to collect more samples. From Ellington, they were carried to the LRL.
The astronauts, wearing isolation garments that they donned in the CSM while awaiting recovery and transport to the Hornet’s deck, were immediately sequestered in a specially designed trailer lest they contaminate those around them with some deadly unknown virus. After the Hornet arrived at Hawaii, they too were flown back to MSC in their trailer along with two volunteer MSC doctors, to begin their one-month quarantine.
The samples, which had arrived before the astronauts, were carefully opened in the LRL, inventoried, and briefly described. In the meantime we were monitoring the signals sent back by the passive seismic experiment and attempting to find the LRRR that the astronauts had left behind. This latter operation was not as easy as we expected, since the exact location of the landing site was not immediately known. Mike Collins had attempted unsuccessfully to locate the LM from orbit using the command module sextant. After analyzing the flight data and the returned photographs, we passed our best estimate to the LRRR PIs, and the LRRR was found on August 1, 1969, by the Lick Observatory in California.
On August 23, 1969, one month after Apollo 11 splashed down and the date when the astronauts were released from quarantine, George Mueller forwarded a memo to Clare Farley, James Webb’s executive officer, to be included in the report being sent to the president summarizing the results of man’s first foray to the Moon.3 In his memo, drafted in part by our office, he described the initial scientific results of Apollo 11 and summarized the program adjustments that would be made as a result of the mission. Included with the memo was a preliminary traverse map compiled by Gerry Schaber and Ray Batson of the United States Geological Survey using tapes from the lunar module’s television camera, photographs taken by the astronauts, and educated guesses based on what the astronauts reported from the Moon. The map sent to the White House had been further updated during the astronauts’ debriefings while they were still in quarantine. By this time photographs of the astronauts on the Moon and a few photographs of ‘‘Moon rocks’’ had circulated in all the newspapers and some magazines, so Mueller didn’t include any photographs of the astronauts with his memo, but he did include a photo of one of the returned samples. The Schaber-Batson map had just been completed and represented new information not yet made public, tying together everything the astronauts had done during their brief stay.
Short and to the point (five pages plus attachments), Mueller’s memo provided an initial age dating of one sample (3.1 billion years), compared the chemical and mineralogical content of a few samples with that of the Earth, and offered the conclusion that the Earth and the Moon probably were formed ‘‘from the same whirling cloud’’ some 4.5 billion years ago. (It wasn’t clear where that comparison came from, but it wasn’t too bad a description if you agreed with the conclusion.) He also briefly discussed some results from the passive seismometer and LRRR; the latter experiment permitted the measurement of the Earth-Moon distance to within twelve feet as opposed to the best previous accuracy of about two thousand feet. (The accuracy of a few inches predicted in chapter 7 would come only after several years of ranging from three or more stations.) The last sentence we added to the memo was, we hoped, a thinly veiled plea to the White House to the keep missions going: ‘‘The indications thus far are that the Moon is a celestial body with complex structure, geology, and chemical history that may take considerable effort to unravel.’’
Mueller’s attachment summarizing planned program adjustments had an important effect on the subsequent missions. With the lunar landing mandate successfully completed, Mueller now proposed to slow the pace of the missions from one launch every two and a half months to one every four months. He stated that this not only would save money but would allow us to ‘‘increase mission flexibility and scientific return in later missions.’’ This was a welcome change to those of us planning the science and to the staffs at MSC and KSC, who had been working around the clock to support the shorter schedule. This would, we hoped, allow us to factor in some of the results of the previous missions while developing the objectives for each succeeding one and to alter the science payload and astronaut training accordingly. To a large degree we were able to do this on the last three J missions.
With the flight of Apollo 11 successfully concluded, General Phillips relinquished his position as Apollo program director and returned to the Air Force. He was replaced by Rocco Petrone, who until this new assignment had been director of launch operations at KSC. Rocco, a West Point graduate, was a large man. He had been a backup tackle on two of Coach Red Blaik’s most famous Army football teams of the 1940s, which won thirty straight games before being defeated by Columbia in 1947, my freshman year. The teams featured ‘‘Doc’’ Blanchard charging up the middle or Glen Davis scampering around the end, at times behind the broad back of Rocco Petrone. He was listed in the game programs of the time as six feet one and 202 pounds; in the 1940s these were not intimidating numbers for a tackle, but he wasn’t exactly small. In 1969 he was a little more imposing, perhaps with a few more pounds than he carried in his playing days.
I don’t have many recollections of specific meetings with Sam Phillips, but I do remember calm, quiet, efficient status reviews that moved along quickly, with Phillips clearly in command—a management style much like George Mueller’s. Meetings with Rocco were different. He came to Washington with a reputation as a hard-nosed, hard-driving manager with his record at KSC—all Saturns launched successfully—a testimony to his management skills and his team’s ability. He had succeeded in what must have been a difficult environment under the early tutelage of the German-trained rocket scientists assembled by Wernher von Braun and KSC director Kurt Debus, both known to be sticklers for detail and perfect performance.
Rocco was the only senior manager I worked with who truly had a photographic memory. If you gave him a ‘‘fact’’ related to your program during a briefing, woe unto you if you changed anything a week, month, or year later. Rocco would catch or challenge you, and he was almost always right. Rocco’s meetings were a little more lively than Phillips’s, especially if there were discussions of delays or unexpected changes. He was never shy about showing his displeasure, and it was reinforced by his imposing frame. Conference calls between Rocco and the NASA centers were always interesting. Usually they were arranged to discuss some critical problem, so by their very nature they were bound to be contentious. As we listened to Rocco asking questions in his distinctive high-pitched, singsong voice, we could visualize the speakers at the other end of the line squirming as they tried to justify some earlier position that he didn’t agree with. Rocco soon became our strong right arm and a defender of lunar science. Once he was convinced of the correctness of a scientific position, we seldom lost any ensuing argument with MSC. After Rocco’s arrival we really buckled down to expand and improve the science on the last three missions.
Flight readiness reviews (FRRs) were another area where Rocco ran a taut ship. Hosted by KSC, they were the final review, held about one week before a scheduled launch. Chaired by Chester ‘‘Chet’’ Lee, Rocco’s Apollo mission director, they usually lasted one full day. There were representatives from all the NASA centers involved in the launch as well as the contractors and the required Department of Defense participants—a cast of hundreds. Every aspect of the mission from prelaunch preparation to splashdown and recovery was discussed in detail and checked off as being ready if it passed the rigorous review. Action items or deficiencies recorded during earlier mission reviews were carefully analyzed to be sure they had been properly attended to. This process might result in long debates, followed by documentation to prove problems had been resolved. Any items still open after the FRR were subject to a final review and structured sign-off before launch. Here is where Rocco’s photographic memory was put to the test. He would recall the smallest detail and ask penetrating questions. If the presenter could not answer to his satisfaction, someone had to leave the room and gather the missing information.
FRR attendance was carefully controlled. NASA senior management was seated at the front of the room, along with at least one of the astronauts who would be on the crew or serve as backup crew for the launch under review. Briefers with their supporters scurried in and out as called for by the agenda. For the J missions, I was entitled to a seat at the back of the room to take notes and perhaps pass on a discreet question for Chet Lee or Lee Scherer to ask. But the FRRs tended to be a one-man show, with Rocco calling the shots and the other senior managers like James McDivitt, Deke Slayton, and Al Shepard recognizing his mastery of the occasion. Everyone knew Rocco’s reputation for detail, and no facts or concerns were held back. We all understood that the lives of the astronauts seated in the room with us could be in jeopardy if the smallest problem went undetected or unsolved.
Hangar S became a kind of science headquarters at KSC as we approached the Apollo lunar missions. It was a little seedy looking on the outside—the paint was peeling and the large S was barely readable—but the inside was a high-tech workshop. As the name indicated, it was formerly a hangar at Cape Canaveral Air Station, but it now functioned as an important facility at KSC where final preparations and checks were carried out for all the experiments. Mock-ups of the LM and CSM were maintained in the hangar and used for stowage checks and simulations, which became increasingly complex for the missions following Apollo 11. The crews would spend more and more time at KSC as they neared the launch date, so it was important to have a place where they could stay up to date on any changes that might involve the experiments.
Flight experiments were sent to KSC from contractors around the country. KSC engineers would receive the flight hardware and store it in a clean room in another building near hangar S where final checks would be made to ensure that nothing had been damaged during shipping. Contractors building the experiments and equipment did their own inspections before the items left their plants, but the final checks were done at KSC. Nothing was loaded on the LM or CSM if it had not undergone a rigorous preflight inspection. Once it passed this inspection, it would be taken to the Vertical Assembly Building to be stowed.
Since ALSEP was the major science payload after the flight of Apollo 11, it received the most attention. It was carefully unpacked in the clean room, and each experiment was set up to check cable connections and any unique fasteners, thermal blankets, or other apparatus that might give the astronauts trouble during lunar deployment. Chuck Weatherred, the Bendix ALSEP manager, recalled an important exchange as he helped the KSC team prepare for the launch of a ‘‘dummy’’ ALSEP on Apollo 10, scheduled to fly to the Moon but not land. Peter Conrad and Richard Gordon, the Apollo 12 crew, came into the clean room to watch the processing of the package that would simulate the weight and center of gravity of the ALSEP so that the MSC flight dynamacists could calculate how the spacecraft would react to various maneuvers during the mission. Although they had visited Bendix and seen their ALSEP in the final stages of manufacture, they knew their training schedules did not call for them to have any direct interaction with it until they were on the lunar surface. Conrad asked Chuck if they could participate in the final checkout before their ALSEP was stowed for the journey to the Moon. Chuck thought that was a great idea and said he would get approval from MSC, but Don Wiseman, his MSC contract manager, turned the request down. MSC didn’t want the astronauts fooling with the flight hardware before they deployed it on the Moon.
After several appeals and backing by the astronauts, that decision was reversed, and all crews starting with Apollo 11 were permitted to work with the flight hardware at KSC before it was finally stowed for the trip to the Moon. It was perhaps a small victory, but I feel sure it made the crews more confident that they would not confront any surprises. ‘‘Murphy’s Law’’ says anything that can go wrong will go wrong. No matter how closely you monitor the manufacture of such a complex set of equipment as ALSEP, minor changes not reflected in the simulation hardware or documentation (someone’s last-minute bright idea) can creep into the design and could cause complications 238,000 miles away. We had few such problems with the science payloads, in part because we worked hard to be sure the astronauts were always in the loop.
At the same time that we were savoring the success of Apollo 11, the National Academy of Sciences’ Space Science Board was conducting another summer study, once again at Woods Hole. The study was chaired by Harry Hess of Princeton University, who had also led the 1965 summer study held in conjunction with the Falmouth conference. Harry was a strong advocate of manned and unmanned lunar exploration, and his position at the Academy as well as his overall reputation in the scientific community lent great weight to our Apollo science planning. Harry’s objective for the study was to capitalize on Apollo 11 ’s success and lend support to those of us arguing with the administration and Congress to use the remaining Apollo hardware to carry out more missions and missions with ever increasing exploration potential.
Immediately after Apollo 11 ’s return, some leading decision makers in and out of Congress, who will remain unnamed, had been quick to propose ending lunar exploration and spending the money saved on various social programs back on Earth. These discordant voices motivated Hess to quickly call for the study. I attended the meeting with Don Wise, who had joined our office from Franklin and Marshall University to be Lee Scherer’s deputy. We made several presentations based on our ongoing efforts for the J missions, pointing out the potential for enhancing the science return. We also reviewed the recommendations of the Santa Cruz conference and the ‘‘Lunar Exploration Plan’’ we had disseminated at the end of 1968. This summer study provided a new opportunity to resurrect some of our old plans for long-duration missions that we were forced to abandon in 1968 for lack of interest by Congress and the administration. Along with many other participants in the Apollo program, I strongly supported Harry’s views that we must make the case to take advantage of this opportunity—to squeeze as much science as possible from the Apollo program. After all, the major expenditures had already been made; using all the hardware, and doing it more efficiently, would entail adding only a small fraction to the total spent to date for the new science payloads and mission operations.
Tragedy struck the study on the first day, August 25, 1969. During the morning coffee break Harry complained of chest pains and left to see a doctor. He never returned. We were told he died peacefully at the doctor’s office. This, of course, spread a pall over our meeting. We had lost an irreplaceable leader whose vision had been, since the earliest days, a major force in our efforts to bring good science to the Apollo program. Only a few special people, including Ralph Baldwin, Harold Urey, and Gene Shoemaker, can lay claim to being fathers of lunar exploration, and Harry Hess belongs in that company. We continued our deliberations under a new chairman, Bill Rubey, the newly appointed director of the Lunar Science Institute, and then issued our report.4 A case was made to support the launch of the nine missions still being planned at the time and to continue additional missions through 1975. The study concluded: ‘‘The decision concerning the nature of the lunar exploration program after the mid-1970s will hinge on the national commitment to manned space flight and on the significance of the scientific discoveries that emerge in the next few years.’’
While this report was in press, those of us advocating more Apollo science received another blow. Bill Hess resigned from his position as director of science and applications at MSC; he finally got tired of bucking the entrenched antiscience interests there. Tony Calio, who had earlier worked with us on Foster’s staff, took Hess’s place. When Tony left our office to go to MSC, we gave him a going-away party in Washington, wished him success in taking on such a difficult position, and looked forward to having someone at MSC who would be receptive to our interests. At the time, we didn’t know his appointment would adversely affect our relationship with MSC, but within weeks it became apparent. Tony quickly adopted the MSC line, and our relationship with MSC regressed to where it had been two years earlier. He became hard to reach by phone, and when we did get through he ignored most of our suggestions. He also developed an intense dislike for the staff at USGS. I never fully understood the reason for this antagonism—perhaps it was a holdover of earlier disputes between USGS and some of the staff he inherited. But this undermined USGS’s ability to support the upcoming missions for which members of the Field Geology Team had an ever increasing responsibility. It was only through their close relationship with the astronauts and others in the astronaut office that they were able to influence the geology content of the missions.
Returning to the remaining missions, Apollo 11’s success and a ringing endorsement from the National Academy of Sciences energized many in the science community to propose exciting new experiments for the remaining missions as we geared up to take advantage of a relaxation in some of the mission constraints. Until Apollo 11 returned safely, every Apollo engineer and system and subsystem manager was holding a little in reserve just in case it was needed. A little extra weight, a little extra available propulsion, a little extra performance margin. Slowly, with the help of the Bellcommers, these margins were identified and translated into increased science payload and more operating flexibility.
The Schaber-Batson map was the first attempt, other than during simulations, to reconstruct in near real time what was happening on the Moon. Although during the Apollo 11 mission there was no direct exchange between scientists on Earth and the astronauts, based on our Flagstaff simulations we could see how this could be done effectively for the later missions. For Apollo 12 and the remaining four missions we tracked the astronauts in real time and had an up-to-the-minute map of their progress in the SSR. We coordinated our tracking with the flight controllers and medical staff monitoring the astronauts’ performance to ensure that their traverses would not overextend their life – support expendables. This monitoring was especially valuable during the last three missions, when the astronauts were often far from the LM and we had to be sure they had enough life support reserve to walk back if the lunar roving vehicle failed. For the science team it had another important aspect: it allowed us to relay suggestions for modifying the astronauts’ activities through the CapCom as they reported their findings and, at times, changed the timelines on their own initiative.
In September 1969 we advertised the opportunity to propose new experiments for the J missions that would utilize the LRV and the longer staytimes. This announcement, while directed primarily to missions 16 through 20, indicated that proposals to perform simple experiments on flights earlier than Apollo 16 would also be accepted.5 Perhaps the most ambitious aspect of this announcement was our optimism about where we would be permitted to target landing sites for the flights that would follow the initial landings. Scientifically exciting sites recommended by the Group for Lunar Exploration Planning (GLEP), such as the central peaks of Copernicus and the rim of Tycho, were included as candidates in the announcement so that proposers could consider their unique characteristics for their experiments.
With the arrival of Tony Calio and the immediate change (for the worse) in climate at MSC in regard to science, we began to lobby Rocco Petrone to push MSC to modify management’s responsibilities for science in the hopes that this would improve our working relationship. He talked to Jim McDivitt about making some changes. At the end of October 1969 our office originated a memo for Petrone’s signature formalizing these suggestions. The opening sentence, underlined, stated, ‘‘I think we have a problem in the management of the science program which warrants immediate action.”6
McDivitt responded two weeks later and gave us half a loaf.7 He moved the design, development, testing, and delivery of approved Apollo experiments from Calio’s office, the Science and Applications Directorate, to the Engineering and Development Directorate, managed by Max Faget. (We weren’t sure if this was a victory.) S&AD would still be in charge of the scientific requirements, science mission operations, postflight data analysis, and interactions with the PIs, but McDivitt promised that his office would strengthen its science oversight. This was encouraging, since Petrone and McDivitt usually agreed on the important aspects of the missions, and science would take center stage for the remaining flights. In spite of these changes, our concerns would soon be echoed by the scientific community.
Through 1970, we were still hoping dual-launch missions might be reinstated, enabling fourteen-day stays on the Moon, and the trade journals of the day continued to write about these plans as if they were approved.8 In Lee Scherer’s office we continued to study an LM shelter and a dual-mode (manned and automated) roving vehicle. Scherer urged Marshall Space Flight Center to complete the preliminary design and promised funding for this work.9 Meanwhile, preparations continued for the next landing. Apollo 12, we hoped, would allow us to accomplish some of the science originally scheduled for Apollo 11 but at a different mare site, many miles to the west.
Apollo 12 was successfully launched in November 1969 and landed about eight hundred miles west of Tranquility Base at the lunar feature called the
Ocean of Storms, another mare site. If our photo interpretations were correct and the landing site was on an ejecta ray from the crater Copernicus, a few hundred miles to the north, we hoped to return samples of material from deep within the Moon, excavated by the impact that formed this huge crater, some forty miles in diameter. Copernicus is one of the craters you could identify under proper lighting conditions with your ten-power binoculars, just a little west-northwest of the center of the Moon.
Two EVAs were scheduled and carried out, and a full ALSEP was deployed. Peter Conrad and Alan Bean proved to be enthusiastic lunar explorers. Much was made in the press of Pete’s laughing, giggling, ‘‘cackling,’’ and joking as he went about his tasks, but he and Al performed flawlessly, bringing back some stunning pictures and a wide assortment of lunar rocks. The TV camera, similar to the one carried on Apollo 11, was damaged soon after they climbed down from the LM, so we were completely dependent on their oral descriptions to reconstruct where they were and what they were doing. Our simulations at Flagstaff and at other locations once again paid off, and we produced a map of the landing site in the SSR based on their descriptions and dead reckoning of how far they traveled between sampling stations.
In addition to the sample collecting, a major objective of Apollo 12 was to land near enough to Surveyor 3 to allow the crew to walk to it and take pictures of the landing site for comparison with the Surveyor TV camera pictures sent back to Earth two and a half years earlier. They would try to bring back pieces of the spacecraft, including the TV camera mirror and scoop, so we could study the effects of thirty months of exposure to the lunar environment. The trajectory engineers in mission control and Pete’s piloting skills put the LM right on target, within a few hundred feet of Surveyor 3. This demonstration of the ability to land at a precise point on the Moon, as opposed to Apollo 11’s overshooting the landing point, eased some of management’s concerns as we advocated more difficult future sites. All objectives of the mission were met, and the ALSEP became the first link in the network that the geophysicists had dreamed of for over five years. By the end of their two EVAs, Conrad and Bean had successfully deployed the ALSEP (they encountered a minor difficulty while removing the fuel cask of the radioisotope thermoelectric generator from its stowage on the LM, but deployment proceeded as planned), retrieved pieces from Surveyor 3, and collected a wide variety of samples totaling some seventy – five pounds.
While Conrad and Bean were on the lunar surface, Dick Gordon, the CM pilot, was carrying out his tasks. Soon after the others landed he used his sextant to search for the LM on the surface and was successful, even observing the much smaller Surveyor 3 a short distance away. His primary job was to photograph the Moon from orbit using a Hasselblad and a new camera array called the Multispectral Photography Experiment. The array consisted of four 70 mm Hasselblad cameras with fixed focus, each equipped with a different filter to return photographs in the blue, red, green, and infrared portions of the optical spectrum. This camera array was flown originally on Apollo 9 with Paul Lowman as PI. (For Apollo 12, Alex Goetz of Bellcomm was PI.) Gordon would point the array through one of the CM windows and trigger all four cameras simultaneously every twenty seconds. The major objective was to photograph potential landing sites and, we hoped, use the pictures to extrapolate the returned samples to wide areas of the Moon based on spectral differences caused by compositional variation in the lunar soil and rocks. A good concept, but the Moon was not cooperative. When the photographs were developed subtle differences between the crater Lalande and Mare Nubium were found at only two points. We would have to wait until the J missions, with their more sophisticated sensors, to have this exploration technique pay off.
During debriefings of the Apollo 12 crew we asked why they had moved some of the rocks they sampled before documenting their location with photographs, the preferred technique. Their answer was simple and logical. During their early sampling, they had found that many of the rocks they picked up and had documented were too large to fit into the sample bags. Because they were half buried their full size could not be estimated—they were like ‘‘the tip of an iceberg.’’ Rather than waste time photographing samples they could not save, they elected to lift some of the rocks before taking the requested six photographs. As a result of this crew observation, the photo documentation requirement for the next mission, Apollo 13, was reduced to five per documented sample (although that crew never had the opportunity to use the new standard) and continued to be revised, downward for subsequent missions as we better understood the documentation needs for mapping and cataloging the samples in the LRL.10
Although Gene Shoemaker was still officially the PI for field geology on this mission, Gordon Swann took over crew training and led the interaction of the Field Geology Team with the crew. (Swann would later be named PI for Apollo 14 and Apollo 15.) We exercised the crew at the Cinder Lake Crater Field simulation site outside Flagstaff, described in chapter 9, and other sites, and by mission time Swann and his team had established a good relationship with Pete and Al. They had both been good students, and their training carried over to the lunar surface. In addition to Pete’s enthusiastic, nontechnical descriptions of what he saw, he and Al also provided a good specific commentary that we easily followed, and the Field Geology Team was able to construct a real-time geologic map of the landing site.
After the mission returned we received a letter from a research physicist at the Atomic Energy Commission’s Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in California highly critical of the astronauts’ oral descriptions and their apparently poor training. We always responded to letters from the public on any subject. I was assigned to write a letter back for Rocco’s signature, and it seemed clear to me that the criticism was based on the press reports of Conrad’s voice transmissions, not on the whole transcript.11 In the response I included some of the astronauts’ descriptions not carried by the press, such as the characterization as “granitelike” the various colors they reported, and many other precise descriptions of rock shapes and soil conditions on the lunar surface. I hoped our response was reassuring to this concerned taxpayer. It was meant not to belittle his concerns but to show that this aspect of the missions—the astronauts’ geological training—was being seriously pursued so that based on their observations we could extract a vast amount of information from each mission.
Apollo 12 had already gone to the Moon and returned before we were presented with the detailed analyses of the Apollo 11 lunar samples. This delay was dictated by the quarantine requirements and by an agreement with the sample PIs not to release their findings until a formal conference could be held in January 1970, when all the results would be available.
Two months later, in March 1970, a new solicitation was issued that required scientists wishing to analyze lunar samples to submit, or resubmit, proposals to receive samples returned by Apollo 14 and subsequent missions. John Pomeroy joined our office at this time to manage the expanded sample analysis program and oversee the operation of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory. By July we had received 383 proposals, including proposals from 175 of the 193 teams (the number had grown from 142) that had analyzed samples from Apollo 11 and Apollo 12. Foreign interest in doing analyses was also growing, and of the 208 new proposals, 95 were from foreign investigators. Gerald ‘‘Jerry’’ Wasserburg, a sample PI from Caltech, writing to administrator Tom Paine in June about his recent trip to Europe, reported that ‘‘there is a fantastic amount of enthusiasm by all the scientists who are involved in these different countries, and. . . the foreign press has given them a tremendous amount of coverage. Some individuals, in fact, have become sort of national heroes.’’12 As before, almost all the proposals received were accepted, and many of these investigators and their successors still attend the annual conferences at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.
Before any of the missions, toward the end of 1964 I proposed to NASA management that we study the possibility of commanding the discarded LEM ascent stage to strike the Moon near seismometers that would be placed on the lunar surface by future astronauts.13 At the time, there was no plan to control the impact point of the ascent stage; if not controlled, it would gradually lose altitude and hit the Moon at some unknown time and place. If we could control the impacts of the LEMs, we would have the equivalent of large explosions that would be recorded by the network of seismometers we hoped would soon be in place. We could not be sure when a moonquake or a meteor might provide an energy source large enough to let us study the Moon’s interior. The seismometer packages would have finite lifetimes to record some large natural event; if such events were rare, and if the seismometers malfunctioned, they might not be operating when one occurred. Also, the ascent stage was a rather flimsy, lightweight structure, and I feared its impact might not be recorded if its natural decay from lunar orbit occurred some distance away or perhaps even on the Moon’s farside.
We began to explore this idea with MSC and enlisted the support of Frank Press, Bob Kovach, and Maurice Ewing, all members of the seismic teams. It took several years to obtain approval for this maneuver, but by the time Apollo 12 flew we had an agreement to control the impact point of the ascent stage by using the fuel remaining after rendezvous to make it leave orbit at a planned point. For Apollo 12 we recorded the astronauts’ movements and LM takeoff on the ALSEP seismometer as we had for Apollo 11, after which the Moon settled down again and was quiet until the ascent stage hit five hours later, about forty miles away.
We calculated that the impact was equal to setting off an explosive charge with an energy equivalent of about one ton of TNT. The first seismic wave arrived at the Apollo 12 ALSEP 23.5 seconds after impact, building to a maximum amplitude about seven minutes later, with the total recorded event lasting some fifty minutes. The signal recorded was unlike any seismometer recording observed on Earth after either a manmade or a natural event, especially if one considered the relatively small amount of energy involved. This led to a number of theories about the unusual composition of the Moon’s outer layers that might cause such a response. We would have to wait for more information, gathered by the next ALSEPs, before a model of the Moon’s interior finally emerged that most geophysicists would agree with. When we described to George Mueller the effect of the LM impact and the unusual response, he said, tongue in cheek, that the large amount of titanium found in the lunar samples suggested the Moon must be a hollow titanium shell—a spacecraft from another galaxy covered with cosmic flotsam and jetsam.
At the end of 1969 Mueller resigned. He had steered the Office of Manned Space Flight, and NASA, to its improbable goal of landing men on the Moon and bringing them safely back to Earth. His management skills have been described by many, and I hope I have given a few insights that will add to an appreciation of those skills. Like Rocco Petrone, he embraced the importance of ensuring that good science be accomplished on the missions. Although I have never been able to ask him why he left NASA, I would not be surprised if a major reason was his frustration at failing to persuade the political powers to approve a long-range plan for continuing manned exploration to the Moon and Mars using the capabilities he and many others had worked so hard to build.
He was replaced by Dale Myers, who had been North American Rockwell’s manager for its Apollo spacecraft contract. Dale had survived both the bad times at Rockwell, when the contract was in trouble for many reasons, and the good times starting with the success of Apollo 8. It must have been a major culture shock to move from being a contractor who had to bow to his NASA ‘‘bosses’’ to being in charge. But he handled it well, and he had a seasoned team to lean on in his first days. I participated in a number of briefings for him early on, and we hardly skipped a beat as we brought him up to speed on all aspects of the program. He selected Charles Mathews as his principal deputy and Charles Donlan as his technical deputy; both were old NASA hands who could help him understand some of the pitfalls he faced. Eight years later, after we had both left NASA, our professional paths would cross again when Dale was appointed undersecretary of the newly created Department of Energy and I was his acting assistant secretary for conservation and solar energy.
Myers’s appointment was only one of several major senior management changes made at this time. Other new blood included George Low, whom Tom Paine, Webb’s successor, brought to Washington from MSC to be deputy administrator. All these changes had little effect on the upcoming flights. It did seem, however, that once in Washington Low became more sympathetic to the needs of the scientific community, and he strongly supported the efforts to place a high priority on the scientific returns from the final missions.
Once we had an agreement to control the impact of the LM ascent stage, after Apollo 11’s successful mission I proposed deliberately targeting the upper stage (the SIVB) for a lunar impact. This was a lot harder sell than controlling the impact of the LM ascent stage. The SIVB stage, as described in chapter 5, was programmed to deliberately miss the Moon. If it was maneuvered for an impact after placing the CSM and LM on a translunar coasting trajectory, it would arrive at the Moon about the same time the astronauts would be braking into lunar orbit. This was why the original mission rules called for the SIVB to be steered away from the Moon after translunar injection, to avoid any chance that it might interfere with the CSM and LM.
Asking that these rules be changed raised several safety concerns. Not only would the CSM with attached LM and the SIVB be traveling near each other toward the Moon, but it was feared that the powerful impact of the SIVB might hurl debris high above the Moon into the path of the CSM and LM. We asked MSFC to determine if sufficient propulsion would remain after translunar injection so that we could steer the stage and if there would be any problems sending commands to control its trajectory. Douglas Aircraft Company, the SIVB manufacturer, had studied such an application of the Surveyor translunar insertion stage when it was thought that the Surveyor spacecraft would carry seismometers to the Moon, so some of the homework had already been done.
MSFC came back quickly with an analysis that it could be accomplished; it was only too glad to have this opportunity to demonstrate its engineering prowess and the versatility of one of its babies. At the end of May 1969 MSFC made a presentation to me and Michael Yates, and at the end of June we presented our case to the Change Control Board, providing the analyses showing that the SIVB could easily be commanded to hit at a preselected point and that debris from the impact would not threaten the LM and CSM.14 Approval was given to proceed with the SIVB modifications, to the delight of the passive seismometer team. We would have to wait until Apollo 13, scheduled for an
April 1970 launch, before all the changes could be made to the SIVB and its command software to achieve the controlled impact.
After Apollo 12, the ‘‘rump GLEP’’ and GLEP came into conflict with the conservative MSC engineers. Some of the sites on our list for the remaining eight missions would require maximum performance from all the Apollo components. I can recall a contentious meeting at MSC, shortly after Apollo 12’s return, when the subject of future landing sites was on the agenda. This was a meeting of MSC managers and engineers to which a few of us from headquarters and Bellcomm were invited. Bob Gilruth, MSC center director, was the senior manager present, but the meeting was run, as usual, by Chris Kraft, Gilruth’s newly appointed deputy, and by Jim McDivitt, manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office. Jim, a recently retired astronaut, was an excellent manager and ran a tight ship. Among other qualities, he was noted for his famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) daily status reviews, held in a conference room lined with displays and charts and devoid of chairs: no nonsense, get the information out, assign actions, and get back to work! The only bow to comfort was a long table down the middle of the room where you could set your coffee cup while you took notes. Based on his positive response to Petrone’s earlier letter, we considered Jim relatively neutral in our debates on how to accomplish the best science. His major concern was always crew safety; if safety was not compromised, he would usually support our requests.
After the near pinpoint landing of Apollo 12, some of the constraints on site selection described in chapter 5 were relaxed, in particular the requirement for multiple sites to accommodate possible launch aborts. Only one backup site had been designated for Apollo 12, about thirteen degrees farther west, which would have allowed for a one-day recycle if a problem had occurred before launch. The rump GLEP and GLEP went through a process similar to our earlier deliberations to select high priority sites for landings after a successful Apollo 12. This time we came up with a new set A including seventy-two sites. We then narrowed the list to a set B of twenty-one sites and finally recommended twelve that included Fra Mauro for Apollo 13 and even more challenging sites for missions 14 through 19. (By now the number of landing missions had been reduced by one, but we were still planning on a total of nine landings.)
But back to the meeting. Equatorial sites had been agreed on for the first three landings as the safest and most easily accessible, although the Apollo 13 site, Fra Mauro, would be a little more challenging since it was surrounded by
rougher terrain. These initial sites were within the “Apollo zone of interest.’’ All were close to the equator and were covered by the greatest number of high resolution Lunar Orbiter photographs. Many uncertainties still existed in predicting the performance of the total Apollo system, but Bellcomm had already completed an analysis of SIVB, LM, and CSM performance showing that a high percentage of the Moon’s nearside could be reached while maintaining the required safety margins.
As the meeting droned on and such things as communication restrictions and propulsion budgets and margins were discussed, it became apparent that MSC management was going to take a conservative stand. Those of us who had been working on future landing sites were being asked (not quite directed) to rein in our expectations and continue to look for science sites near the Moon’s equator. The nearer to the equator you landed, the more options were available to get you out of trouble. There was reluctance to go outside the ‘‘Apollo zone’’ despite the Bellcomm study. Besides, it was a Bellcomm analysis, not one done by MSC engineers.
MSC’s position was certainly understandable. Every mission was risky, from liftoff to splashdown, and a difficult lunar landing site only added to the risk. No one wanted to be responsible for the decision to land at a site where a crew would be lost, for whatever reason. An accident, such as befell the crew of Apollo 1, could result in the cancellation of the remaining missions, an outcome that few in NASA would have cheered. For the staff at MSC each flight involved more personal worries than, perhaps, for someone in Washington or elsewhere in the scientific community; crew members were their neighbors and coworkers. If a crew didn’t return they would be living with the grieving families.
By this time I had many close friends in the astronaut corps and fully appreciated the danger inherent in each mission. However, Noel Hinners and I felt obliged to speak up. The only rationale for continuing the missions was to carry out good science, and this could be done only if we were allowed to explore sites far from the equator, sites already identified as having the potential to resolve important questions. We went so far as to predict that, based on Lunar Orbiter photographs, safe LM landing sites could be found almost anywhere on the Moon. If any other proof was needed, look at Surveyor 7, which, with minimum ability to target the landing site, had managed to land in rough terrain on Tycho’s rim without an astronaut making last-minute adjustments. How much easier it should be with a man at the controls. These remarks were met with skepticism and grumbling from around the table, but this position was gaining support from many others, including some of the astronauts.
Eventually, as others with more clout weighed in, MSC management reluctantly agreed to process sites away from the equator. Undoubtedly each mission that lifted off after Apollo 13’s near disaster increased their anxiety; the chances of a major problem were rising with each flight. No matter how carefully we prepared, one or more of the five million parts included in every launch vehicle and spacecraft could fail or malfunction at any point in a mission.
On March 6, 1970, the Apollo Site Selection Board met at KSC to select the landing site for Apollo 14. With Apollo 13 scheduled to land in the western part of the ‘‘Apollo zone,’’ this was the first meeting of the board since the meeting described above. We looked on it as a test to see if MSC management would be swayed by our arguments and allow Apollo 14 to land outside the ‘‘zone.’’ Tony Calio, who had replaced Bill Hess as chairman of GLEP, presented the results of the GLEP meeting of February 6 and 7. GLEP recommended a site called Littrow, at the southeastern edge of Mare Serenitatis, well north of the ‘‘Apollo zone,’’ and the MSC in-house site evaluation team recommended the same site. After several presentations, including two by Lee Scherer and Noel Hinners, the board approved the Littrow landing site, and Jim McDivitt signed off in agreement.15 We had overcome the last hurdle toward planning the scientific exploration of the Moon during Apollo.
A key science ally at MSC was Jack Sevier. Jack’s personality was perfect for the difficult job he was assigned, acting as a mediator between the scientists and MSC’s engineers. Easygoing, with a ready smile and quiet sense of humor, Jack had been an important contributor to the rump GLEP meetings starting in 1967, providing MSC’s views on the constraints that could affect site selection. He was the branch chief of the Operations Analysis Branch and as such was the focal point for all the competing factors that could influence the outcome of our scientific activities. He would later lead the Lunar Surface Planning Team for the J missions, which developed the astronauts’ lunar surface timelines and ultimately shaped the successful outcome of each EVA.
With the missions still being scheduled rather rapidly and changes in their scientific content occurring with each mission, some members of the scientific community continued to publicly criticize how Apollo science was progressing. Soon after the return of Apollo 11, Gene Shoemaker was quoted as being highly critical of the way NASA management treated science on the Apollo missions.
This view troubled me deeply at the time: we had been working hard to expand the science, and I knew he was aware of how much more productive the next missions would be. There is no question they could have been better, but we had made great progress since he had first become involved. His statement drew the ire of Homer Newell and Rocco Petrone. Harold Urey, perhaps egged on by Tommy Gold, who always seemed to delight in knocking NASA, also criticized the lack of scientific input into NASA decision making.
In a letter to Newell in March 1970, Urey said he agreed with Gold ‘‘that well known people who have been concerned about the moon for years are so systematically neglected by the management of NASA.’’16 He was particularly irate at their exclusion from the selection of Apollo landing sites. In regard to site selection he wrote that ‘‘the people who vote are loaded with geologists of a very limited view of lunar science,’’ and he made a few other scathing comments. By this time, after just two missions, Urey was seeing the writing on the wall. His well-publicized theories on the Moon’s origin were being proved wrong, and I suppose Nobel laureates don’t like to be proved wrong. At a later date he would acknowledge his errors and even make jokes about them.
Newell’s staff was asked to respond to Urey’s letter, but they sent an information copy to our office. Rocco Petrone, not taking kindly to this criticism, asked that we address one of Urey’s comments dealing with site selection. In my memo for Petrone’s signature, which we hoped would be included in Newell’s formal response, I named the scientists and engineers present and voting at the last Site Selection Subcommittee meeting at MSC.17 I listed twenty-one names: three geologists, two astronomers, four geophysicists, three NASA engineers, two geochemists, one nuclear chemist, three physicists, one geodesist, one atmospheric physicist, and one cosmologist-chemist, Harold Urey. Of the twenty-one, nine were government employees or contractors and the other twelve came from universities or private research laboratories. All had been involved in lunar research for at least the past five to ten years, which pretty well covered the period when interest in the Moon became widespread. Urey had picked the wrong topic—site selection—to complain about, but his overall concern had some merit. His complaints and those of others were primarily a criticism of how MSC was interacting with the scientific community, which once again was becoming contentious after Tony Calio replaced Bill Hess.
Urey’s letter came just one month after a meeting at MSC when a group of
scientists, all closely involved in Apollo investigations, met with MSC management to discuss the problems they were having working with MSC staff. Urey had not been invited to this meeting, nor had Tommy Gold, which may have added to their pique; Newell attended as an observer. After the meeting Newell apparently thought the situation was resolved and wrote Gilruth a complimentary letter; but he didn’t really understand the depth of distrust that was building between Calio’s organization and the scientists who were devoting more and more of their time to making each mission as successful as possible. Yet the meeting was useful in making McDivitt and Chris Kraft more aware of the needs of the scientists, and relationships with their offices improved. MSC agreed to arrange for more time in the astronauts’ schedules so the PIs could explain their experiments and their requirements during deployment or operation. The PIs also asked for a better system of communication between the scientists in the SSR and the crews. They cited difficulties that arose during Apollo 12, when it took ten to fifteen minutes for questions raised in the SSR to be relayed to the astronauts by the CapCom, if they went out at all—and often they didn’t.18 There was some improvement on succeeding missions, but in general MSC and the Flight Operations Directorate (FOD) tended to ignore this latter request. Flight directors and CapComs felt, with some justification, that they shouldn’t interrupt the crews on the surface with a lot of questions and directions; they had enough to think about.
Apollo 13 was a scientific disappointment but an engineering triumph. We lost a precious ALSEP (one of only six purchased), but the opportunity to study this site and collect valuable samples was realized when Apollo 14 went back to the Apollo 13 landing site. In spite of this disappointment, I never heard any complaints from the PIs, many of whom had worked with Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and John ‘‘Jack’’ Swigert to prepare them for their flight. Like everyone else, we could only cheer the skill of all the NASA engineers and support contractors who brought the crew home safely. The Apollo 13 crew members who performed so well under the threat of being the first astronauts to die somewhere in space, and the many heroes in the FOD led by Eugene Kranz, have had their roles well documented, so I will not try to add to that story. Science probably gained from the failed landing. It helped us refocus on how important each mission was. There were no givens; we had to make sure the remaining missions would be fruitful. And it seemed to make management more receptive to our requests to improve the science content of the last missions. The drama of Apollo 13’s rescue also ensured a more attentive public for the next missions and a wider audience interested in what we were discovering.
One experiment, the passive seismometer left behind at the Apollo 12 landing site, did achieve important results from Apollo 13. Despite the problems the crew encountered during the rest of the mission, the Apollo 13 SIVB stage, the first programmed to strike the Moon, accomplished its job by landing some eighty-five miles from the Apollo 12 ALSEP. The seismometer received strong signals, and the impact had so much energy-estimated to be the equivalent of twelve tons of TNT (larger than the LM ascent stage impact because of its greater mass and higher velocity at impact)-that it sent seismic waves deep into the lunar crust. This elated Gary Latham, the passive seismometer PI, because he and his coinvestigators could now make some preliminary estimates about the Moon’s deep structure.
When Lee Scherer’s office was formed at the end of 1967, several of us involved in lunar science planning left Advanced Manned Missions, but Phil Culbertson stayed, eventually becoming director. In March 1970 he negotiated a memorandum of understanding with the Apollo Program Office to work cooperatively on lunar planning in case funding became available to continue missions beyond the scheduled Apollo flights.19 Our two offices continued working jointly on post-Apollo planning for several more years, despite the lack of official sanctions to build the hardware needed for extended missions.
After Apollo 13 failed to land, and reacting to the increasing clamor in some circles to halt the missions, in July 1970 our office issued a summary report of what we had learned to date from all our missions, manned and unmanned, and where we thought lunar exploration should be going.20 The objective of the report was to support Culbertson’s planning efforts in Advanced Manned Missions and to present an “Integrated Space Program Plan’’ that would provide mission schedules extending to 1990. It represented our last effort to justify a continuing program of manned and unmanned exploration by building on Apollo and other programs, including Mariner and Viking, and factoring in programs on the drawing boards such as Skylab and space stations. We presented an integrated program that included lunar bases and manned interplanetary launches.
Recently a quotation from Charles Lindbergh came to my attention. Asked about the $25,000 Orteig Prize offered for the first nonstop flight between New
York and Paris, which he won with his daring flight in 1927, he responded, ‘‘The important thing is to start: to lay a plan, and then follow it step by step, no matter how small or large each one by itself may seem.’’ One could make a reasonable argument that Lindbergh’s successful flight was the first step toward today’s commonplace travel across the Atlantic and to almost every point on the globe. With Project Apollo we had taken the first step in mankind’s leaving Earth and exploring our solar system. We believed we had put forth a step-bystep program to build on Apollo and move logically to the next objectives: space stations, lunar bases, and manned flights to Mars as early as 1989.
No such logical plan was ever agreed to. Some administrations have ignored space exploration, and some have paid it lip service. In the end, a program that would take advantage of the expertise and capabilities developed for Apollo was never endorsed. The report is now resting in one of my dilapidated packing boxes, perhaps the only surviving copy of our vision of a long-range plan for exploring the solar system. It was grandiose—undoubtedly too grandiose for the times—but in 1970 everything we proposed was achievable based on the technology in hand. All that was needed was the leadership to commit the nation to the next step.
In January 1971, just two weeks before the scheduled liftoff of Apollo 14, the second lunar science conference was held at the Lunar Science Institute. Although many of the same people attended this conference as were at the one held after the study of the Apollo 11 samples, the sense of excitement was missing. The only new samples that had been studied, aside from a few grams of material brought back by the Soviets’ Luna 16, were those returned by Apollo 12 a year earlier. Whereas restrictions had been placed on the release of information about the Apollo 11 samples, the Apollo 12 sample PIs were not prevented from publishing the results of their studies of material returned by the mission. Most of the new information was already public and well known by the attendees.
The big debate at the conference dealt with the significance of the high content of radioactive elements (uranium, thorium, and potassium 40) found in some of the Apollo 12 samples, which would imply an early, very ‘‘volcanic’’ Moon. There were other differences from the Apollo 11 samples, suggesting that the Moon may have had an unusual differentiation history. It also appeared after initial study that the mare material sampled at the Apollo 12 site was about a billion years younger than that collected at the Apollo 11 landing site, suggesting that the Moon had gone through several major periods of mare formation. These findings would continue to be debated as each mission brought back new information.
Apollo 14 was sent to the site chosen for Apollo 13, Fra Mauro, in a hilly, upland area just a short distance east (112 miles) of the Apollo 12 site. From the perspective of our plans to deploy the ALSEPs in a broad network so we could triangulate on phenomena at the Moon’s surface or occurring at depth, being so near the Apollo 12 ALSEP was not ideal. But from a geological point of view it was considered an important site, since we believed that the samples returned would include debris ejected from the huge Imbrium basin to the north. Again, as for Apollo 12, we hoped to collect samples from deep within the Moon that would help resolve some of the questions raised at the second lunar science conference. They would also be useful to Gary Latham and his coinvestigators in interpreting the Moon’s deep structure, since these rocks would tell them how fast the seismic waves created by the SIVB impacts should travel compared with what they were observing in the records received back on Earth.
Had Apollo 13 been successful, we were willing to accept the deployment of the ALSEP so close to Apollo 12. It was to be the last of the landings near the Moon’s equator, reflecting MSC’s cautious approach. We had expected that after Apollo 13, Apollo 14 would land at Littrow, the first site selected solely for its scientific value and, because it was far off the lunar equator, ideal for our ALSEP network. The geological rationale for landing at Fra Mauro still held, but the decision to retarget Apollo 14 there was doubly painful from a scientific perspective. With the loss of Apollo 13, there were only six more projected landings (ultimately reduced to three) to uncover the Moon’s secrets hidden on or below a surface area roughly equivalent to all of North and South America combined. And well over half of that area was inaccessible because it was outside our landing capabilities or on the Moon’s farside. Imagine trying to understand those two continents with only six widely scattered small points of knowledge!
The landing site was to be within walking distance of what appeared to be a crater of recent vintage, named Cone by the Field Geology Team because of its steep, funnel-like inner slopes. From the Lunar Orbiter photos we could see large blocks on the rim of Cone Crater, reinforcing the belief that if the astronauts could get to the rim they would be able to sample Imbrium ejecta in the rocks ‘‘mined’’ by the Cone Crater impact. Alan Shepard guided the LM to a perfect landing within two hundred feet of the target point and less than a mile from Cone Crater, whose rim could be seen in the distance when he and Edgar Mitchell descended the LM’s ladder. This time there was a color television camera, with better resolution than the Apollo 11 camera, and it functioned well, providing views of the astronauts as they climbed down to the surface and panoramas of the landing site as they worked near the LM.
Between the Apollo 13 and Apollo 14 launches we had built a small twowheeled cart, the modularized equipment transporter (MET) discussed in chapter 8, to help the astronauts carry all the gear that was now part of the field geology experiment. It was unloaded from the LM descent stage near the beginning of the first EVA, and the crew stowed the tools and equipment they would need for the sampling scheduled on the first EVA and the traverse to the rim of Cone Crater, the major objective of the second EVA.
The first EVA went off with no big hitches, and the major tasks—the ALSEP deployment and sample collection near the landing site—were successfully completed. A new experiment, the active seismic experiment, was conducted in conjunction with the ALSEP deployment. Three geophones were strung out on cables to the south of the ALSEP, with the last one approximately three hundred feet from the ALSEP central station. The first part of the experiment consisted of setting off small charges, about the size of a shotgun shell, housed in a handheld ‘‘thumper’’ hardwired to the ALSEP central station electronics, which provided timing data and transmitted the signals received by the geophones back to Earth. Mitchell carried the thumper out to the last geophone and set off a charge, then retraced his steps back to the geophone closest to the central station, setting off charges along the way. Twenty-one charges were scheduled, but a few misfired and only thirteen were recorded. A second part of the experiment consisted of a mortar designed to fire four small explosive charges various distances away from the geophones, the farthest to land five thousand feet from the mortar. This second part of the experiment was not conducted until many months later, to avoid any possibility that the mortar fire might damage the nearby ALSEP central station.
Although Shepard and Mitchell could see the ridge formed by Cone Crater in the distance when they started out on the second EVA, once they began walking and pulling the MET they soon lost sight of the ridge behind the intervening low hills and hummocks. Others have described in some detail their difficulties in reaching the rim of Cone Crater. They didn’t quite make it, but they came close, and they sampled ejecta thrown out by the impact that formed the crater, the main geological objective of the mission. After the difficulties they encountered attempting to reach Cone Crater’s rim, they probably both wished they had the LRV that would be carried on the next mission. Another new experiment on this mission, the Lunar Portable Magnetometer, was operated twice during this EVA, and the readings were relayed back to Houston by voice. The samples collected during both EVAs weighed almost ninety-five pounds.
Like the CM pilots before him, Stuart Roosa carried out several experiments on the way to the Moon and while the other astronauts were on the lunar surface. The number of experiments assigned to the CM pilot was increasing with each mission as we attempted to take full advantage of his time and the added payload weight that was becoming available. Roosa completed several new photographic tasks and other types of experiments. Bellcommers Farouk El Baz and Jim Head took on growing roles instructing Roosa, as well as the CM pilots on the final three flights, in the objectives of the photographic experiments and the cameras’ operation. After the film was returned, they also helped interpret the data obtained. Apollo 14 marked the end of the H missions, one short of the four originally planned.