On 12 May 1964 the Office of Space Sciences and Applications announced how Lunar Orbiter would satisfy Apollo’s requirements for maps of the Moon, as agreed with William B. Taylor of the Advanced Manned Missions Program Directorate of the Office of Manned Space Flight. The Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston was interested primarily in the near-side within 5 degrees of latitude of the equator, and had specified stringent requirements for accuracy of selenodetic and topographic data in the vicinity of selected landmarks to assist in navigation in orbit and landing site selection. The US Geological Survey was to produce a variety of maps based on Lunar Orbiter photography.
Oran Nicks suggested to Sam Phillips on 23 September 1964 that the Office of Manned Space Flight should make a study of how Lunar Orbiter could best support Apollo. This would aid the Lunar Orbiter Project Office in developing guidelines for mission planning. Bellcomm was asked to make this study, and on 25 January 1965 Douglas D. Lloyd and Robert F. Fudali submitted the report Lunar Orbiter Mission Planning. This discussed the relative merits of clockwise and anticlockwise orbits of the Moon aligned near the lunar equator. It was confirmed that to achieve the specified 1-metre resolution in the H frames the pictures could be taken from an altitude no greater than 46 km. A strategy of obtaining contiguous high-resolution coverage of multiple targets was recommended. To avoid the possibility of orbital instability as a result of such a low perilune, it was recommended that the initial inclination of the orbit should not exceed 7 degrees to the lunar equator (because gravity perturbations would tend to increase the inclination) and that the spacecraft should have sufficient propellant to perform corrective manoeuvres. Bellcomm followed up on 30 March with Apollo Lunar Site Analysis and Selection, which recommended that the Office of Manned Space Flight and the Office of Space Sciences and Applications form a Site Survey Steering Committee with responsibility for choice of measurements and their relative priorities and instruments, target selection, launch schedules, control of data handling, and methods of data analysis for the Lunar Orbiter and Surveyor missions. On 10 May Bellcomm further recommended that the Office of Manned Space Flight and the Office of Space Sciences and Applications create a joint Lunar Surface Working Group to coordinate mutual planning activities concerning site survey requirements and the means by which these should be satisfied.
In May the Surveyor/Orbiter Utilisation Committee was formed. It was chaired by Edgar Cortright, and its membership comprised senior representatives of these two programs and their project offices: Oran Nicks of Lunar and Planetary
Programs, Urner Liddel of Lunar and Planetary Science, Lee Scherer of the Lunar Orbiter Program, and Benjamin Milwitsky of the Surveyor Program, all of whom were from the Office of Space Sciences and Applications; Israel Taback of the Lunar Orbiter Project Office at Langley; Victor Charles of the Surveyor Project Office at JPL; Sam Phillips, the Apollo Program Director and Everett E. Christensen of Manned Operations, both at the Office of Manned Space Flight; and William A. Lee of the Apollo Spacecraft Project Office and William E. Stoney of Data Analysis, both at the Manned Spacecraft Center. The Committee was to coordinate the Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter projects for their mutual benefit and in support of Apollo. In July, the Apollo Site Selection Board was established in the Office of Manned Space Flight. Although the Surveyor/Orbiter Utilisation Committee would gather engineering and science information and assess proposals for Lunar Orbiter imaging coverage and for Surveyor landing sites, and later recommend landing sites for Apollo, the Apollo Site Selection Board chaired by Sam Phillips would make the decisions.
The Surveyor/Orbiter Utilisation Committee’s first meeting on 20 August 1965 discussed four Lunar Orbiter mission options which had been developed by Langley and Boeing in response to Bellcomm’s report. In order of priority they were: type 1, to photograph ten evenly distributed target areas near the equator, each of which would be covered stereoscopically with both M and H frames; type 2, to photograph four areas in order to ‘screen’ for possible Surveyor landing sites near the equator; type 3, to photograph using H frames an area containing a landed Surveyor in order to study its context; type 4, to obtain topographic data which would not otherwise be obtained. It was decided to start with the type 1 mission, in order to provide as soon as possible the data that was required by the Apollo planners. If the Office of Space Sciences and Applications had not been obliged to support Apollo, the preferred first mission would have been to enter a high circular polar orbit for a global survey at a resolution better than that obtainable using a terrestrial telescope and, significantly, to view the limbs from a vertical perspective.5 In 1963, when the Office of Manned Space Flight began to specify its requirements for Apollo in terms of surface slopes, Gene Shoemaker had hired Jack McCauley to develop methods of photoclinometry. In June 1965 the Surveyor project asked McCauley to use this technique to suggest possible landing sites for their landers. He formed a small team and compiled a list of 74 sites. Owing to uncertainty in the accuracy of Surveyor’s approach trajectory, the sites were specified in terms of ‘target circles’ 25, 50 and 100 km in radius. After factoring in vertical descent and illumination constraints, they selected only circles of 25 and 50 km radius. McCauley presented the final list to the Surveyor/Orbiter Utilisation Committee on 20 August. There were 24 sites with 50-km-radius circles on the maria, and seven in the highlands. There were also 13 ‘scientific’ targets with 25-km-radius circles that would require greater landing accuracy.6
As yet, the only images of the far-side had been provided by Luna 3 in October 1959 and Zond 3 in July 1965.
In fact, all Surveyors except the last would be sent to sites on McCauley’s list.
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On 8-9 September 1965 Langley hosted a meeting which (in part) drew up lists of photographic targets judged compatible with Apollo, Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter constraints. James Sasser of the Apollo Spacecraft Project Office in Houston argued for distributed coverage which ‘sampled’ different types of terrain near the equator, although with the emphasis on apparently smooth areas. Lawrence Rowan of the US Geological Survey described an analysis based on a map produced by the Air Force Chart and Information Center on a scale of 1:1,000,000. This analysis identified the types of terrain available for ‘sampling’ by Lunar Orbiter: namely an ordinary mare, a dark mare, mare ridges, mare rays, crater rims, deformed crater floors, and several different types of terrain in the highlands. These discussions led to the ‘A’ mission plan which was formally presented to the Surveyor/Orbiter Utilisation Committee on 29 September. This called for a type 1 mission to inspect a number of areas in the ‘Apollo zone’ – defined as being within 5 degrees of the equator and 45 degrees of the central meridian – to assess their suitability for Apollo and Surveyor landings. It would start with test pictures taken in the high-perilune initial orbit of sites between 60°E and 110°E. Although not in the Apollo zone, these pictures would show a vertical perspective of the limb region in which landmarks would later be selected for Apollo orbital navigation. After the perilune had been lowered, ten sites, mostly in the zone, would each receive a single photographic pass timed to maintain a given angle of illumination as the terminator advanced westward. The targets would cover a variety of terrains, including the Flamsteed Ring in Oceanus Procellarum, which was the favoured site for the first Surveyor. In May, a team of photo-interpreters led by Lawrence Rowan had been created by the US Geological Survey to suggest sites for Apollo. Each site was subjected to a detailed analysis, drawing in data from all sources. This work continued through the Summer Study on Lunar Exploration and Science held 19-31 July 1965 in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Rowan presented a list of ten potential Apollo landing sites to the Surveyor/Orbiter Utilisation Committee on 29 September (just over a month after the Committee received McCauley’s list of candidate Surveyor sites – some sites were on both lists). The meeting approved the ‘A’ mission proposal with nine primary (P) sites, including several that were not on the smooth maria.
The Planetology Subcommittee of the Space Sciences Steering Committee met on 21-22 October to discuss the ‘A’ mission plan. The meeting was chaired by Urner Liddel, who was a member of the Surveyor/Orbiter Utilisation Committee. Harold Masursky of the US Geological Survey explained how the methods of structural and stratigraphic geological mapping would be applied to the pictures supplied by Lunar Orbiter. Liddel then wrote to Oran Nicks on 5 November to emphasise the merit of developing a Lunar Orbiter Block II for a multifaceted scientific study of the Moon to obtain the data which would be required to plan ‘advanced’ Apollo missions.
On 14 December 1965 Langley Director Floyd L. Thompson (farthest, front row) and George E. Mueller (to his right) from the Office of Manned Space Flight at NASA headquarters are briefed on the ‘A’ mission scheduled for the first Lunar Orbiter spacecraft.
The Apollo Site Selection Board held its inaugural meeting on 16 March 1966. Although the only materials available were telescopic studies and their interpretation on the basis of close-up views of three sites provided by the Ranger project, several potential areas were identified in the expectation that it would prove possible to land the first Apollo mission at one of them.
On 4 April Leonard Reiffel, representing Apollo, informed Oran Nicks of another Apollo requirement. The original plan had been to store all the data returned by the Lunar Orbiter missions on film, but magnetic tape had a greater dynamic range and was more readily processed by computer, and NASA wished the process of analysis to be as automated as possible – in particular the photoclinometry by which the US Geological Survey was to measure the slopes. Nicks duly ordered that state-of-the – art recorders be purchased to enable the data to be written directly onto tape.
By the time of the Apollo Site Selection Board’s second meeting on 1 June 1966, Surveyor 1 had landed on the Moon and the first Lunar Orbiter was soon to attempt to photograph it to provide a sense of context which would allow the ‘ground truth’ from the lander to be applied more generally.