Anchored to its launch pad on the morning of July 16, 1969, and scheduled to launch Apollo 11 on our first attempt to land men on the Moon, the fully fueled Saturn V launch vehicle weighed over six million pounds. From the nozzles at the base of the giant S-1C first stage to the top of the solid rocket-propelled escape tower, it measured 363 feet. In 1962, one year after President Kennedy had given the go-ahead for Project Apollo, the critical decisions had been made on how to execute his difficult challenge. Saturn V, with its multiple stages, was the key to reaching the goal, the product of seven years of effort by hundreds of thousands of government and contract workers.
The original planning in 1960 and 1961 centered on building a huge rocket to launch a spacecraft directly from Earth to the lunar surface, followed by a direct return home. The mission design finally selected was very different. It required a smaller, but still very large, multistage rocket to launch three astronauts into a low Earth orbit and then send them on to the Moon in a spacecraft that combined command and logistics modules with a lunar lander. On arriving at the Moon, these combined spacecraft would be parked in a low lunar orbit. The lunar lander, a two-stage (descent and ascent stages) two-man spacecraft, would then separate and go to the lunar surface. The command and service module, with the third astronaut on board, would remain in lunar orbit to rendezvous and link up with the astronauts when they returned from the Moon’s surface. After the astronauts who had landed on the Moon transferred back to the command module, they would jettison the lunar lander ascent stage, and all three would leave lunar orbit and return to Earth in the command module for an ocean recovery.
Lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) was the unique feature of the mission design
that allowed NASA to reduce the size of the initial launch vehicle. An LOR flight profile required the development of a new, powerful rocket (Saturn У) and the design and fabrication of two complex spacecraft that would perform a series of difficult and potentially dangerous space maneuvers never before attempted. But a manned lunar landing designed around LOR was sold to NASA management as the quickest, least risky, and lowest-cost way to carry out the president’s mandate. The LOR decision fixed the broad architecture of the mission and defined the parameters within which the scientific community would have to work when NASA finally determined what scientific activities were appropriate for future Apollo astronauts to carry out. (How NASA decided to adopt LOR, in a behind-the-scenes debate, has been covered in some detail in several of the references cited.)
Because the president’s mandate did not require that any specific tasks be accomplished once the astronauts arrived on the Moon, the initial spacecraft design did not include weight or storage allowances for scientific payloads. Somewhere, somehow, amid the six million pounds and 363 feet, we would have to squeeze in a science payload. The earliest thinking was, ‘‘We’ll land, take a few photographs, pick up a few rocks, and take off as soon as possible.’’ The need to do much more was not considered in the planning. For many NASA engineers and managers the lunar landing was a one-shot affair. After the first successful landing, NASA would pack up its rockets and do something else. Why take any more chances with the astronauts’ lives on this risky adventure? This thinking was soon to change, at least in some circles.
The first officially sanctioned attempt to change this thinking took place in March 1962 when Charles P. Sonett, of the NASA Ames Research Center in California, was asked to convene a small group of scientists to recommend a list of experiments to be undertaken once the astronauts landed on the Moon. This meeting, requested by NASA’s Office of Manned Space Flight, was held in conjunction with a National Academy of Sciences Space Science Board Summer Study taking place at Iowa State University in Ames so that the Academy’s participants could review and comment on the recommendations Sonett’s team would make. The Sonett Report, submitted to NASA management in July 1962, became the foundation for all subsequent lunar science studies and recommendations. Circulated in draft form at NASA and other organizations throughout the rest of 1962 and most of 1963, the report elicited both support and criticism. It is at this point in the evolution of Apollo science, with a short digression to set the stage, that I became involved, and here I take up the story.
Each chapter is written as a somewhat complete account of its subject. The chronology for a given chapter is correct as events unfolded, but there is some overlap in time as we move from one chapter to the next. I hope this will not be confusing but will provide a better perspective on how the individual pieces of the lunar science puzzle came together. I have also attempted to explain the roles of the key contractors and give credit to some who worked with us from the very beginning as we struggled to define and build the many experiments and supporting equipment that eventually made up the Apollo science payloads. I believe that most accounts of the Apollo program fail to give enough recognition to the many contractors who were essential contributors to the project’s success.
One of the major players in this story was the late Eugene M. Shoemaker. Gene was involved in almost every aspect of Apollo science and had graciously agreed to review this manuscript when it was ready. I was greatly anticipating the comments and critique of this friend and colleague, hoping he could refresh my memory and suggest additions or changes for accuracy. But before I could send him an early manuscript, Gene died tragically in an auto accident on July 18, 1997, while studying impact craters in Australia. He will be fondly remembered and greatly missed. Not only was he an outstanding scientist who shaped our thinking on many subjects, including how we should explore the Moon, he was also a brilliant teacher whose greatest legacy, perhaps, will be the many young (and old) scientists and engineers who will follow in his footsteps and lead us back to the Moon and beyond—to Mars and the far reaches of our solar system.
Taking Science to the Moon