'A Nation of Quitters': 45 Years Since the Summer Apollo Ended (Part 2)

Training for a mission which, for one of them, would never come to pass, Dick Gordon (left) and Jack Schmitt work with a mockup of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) during their Apollo 15 backup duties. Schmitt's importance as a professional geologist assured him a seat on Apollo 17. Gordon was not so lucky. Photo Credit: NASA

Training for a mission which, for one of them, would never come to pass, Dick Gordon (left) and Jack Schmitt work with a mockup of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) during their Apollo 15 backup duties. Schmitt’s importance as a professional geologist assured him a seat on Apollo 17. Gordon was not so lucky. Photo Credit: NASA

Hindsight is that “knew-it-all-along” mindset that we humans use on an almost daily basis and virtually all of us have seen events—from historical battles, accidents, and disasters to judicial trials and medical operations—as having been inevitable, after their occurrence. However, in the summer of 1970, one event occurred for which foresight, as well as hindsight, was deployed on several fronts, but whose outcome led to one of the greatest regrets of a generation of explorers. NASA originally envisaged a series of 10 piloted lunar landings between 1969 and 1974, with astronauts from Apollos 11 through 20 touching down on the Moon and conducting multiple excursions on foot and some benefiting from a battery-powered Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV). Had all of those missions occurred as intended, up to 24 Moonwalks lasting over 125 hours might have been accomplished by 20 human explorers, with as much as 500 cumulative hours spent on the surface of our closest celestial neighbor. Instead, with the events of 1970, three of those landing missions were canceled, and when throwing the near-disaster of Apollo 13 into the mix, humanity was left with a present total of 14 Moonwalks lasting 80.5 hours, accomplished by 12 human explorers, and about 309 cumulative hours on the lunar surface. Although enormously successful, the Apollo missions which did take place bring us inevitably to the lost landings and the lost Moonwalks and raise the spectre of the question: What might have been?

As described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, budget cuts in the spring and summer of 1970 forced then-NASA Administrator Tom Paine to cancel Apollos 15 and 19 from the manifest. These flights were, respectively, the last of the so-called “H”-series and “J”-series of lunar landing missions. The former involved a short-duration Lunar Module (LM), with a stay time on the Moon of no more than 33 hours and two EVAs of approximately four hours’ duration apiece, whilst the latter encompassed a trio of EVAs—each running for five to seven hours—and up to 78 hours on the surface, with the J-series crews assisted in their exploration by the 400-pound (180-kg) Boeing/General Motors-built LRV. Additionally, the J-series Command and Service Module (CSM) would benefit from an enhanced Scientific Instrument Module Bay (SIMBay) of equipment for enhanced geophysical and other observations from lunar orbit. Baselined for mission durations of around 12 days, the J-series missions would mark a 20 percent duration hike over their earlier, H-series counterparts. Before the cancellations, NASA envisaged four H-series missions (Apollos 12 through 15) and four J-series missions (Apollos 16 through 19), but after the tumultuous events of the summer of 1970 the manifest changed and the remaining flights were redesignated. Apollo 14 became the last H-series mission and the newly renumbered Apollos 15, 16, and 17 formed the new J-series. Thus, the two “lost” missions would be popularly (but incorrectly) remembered as Apollos 18 and 19.

As backup Commander of Apollo 13, veteran astronaut John Young must have been disappointed that by rotating into the Apollo 16 prime crew, he would no longer be leading the first of this ambitious series of missions … but the second. The “new” Apollo 15, which had now gained J-status, would carry Commander Dave Scott, Command Module Pilot (CMP) Al Worden, and Lunar Module (LMP) Jim Irwin on a mission which would rewrite the textbooks on lunar geology and, even today, continues to stand as one of the most remarkable voyages of exploration in human history. The cancellations of Apollos 18 and 19 changed the situation significantly, not least in terms of where the final few missions would land. Two touchdowns on relatively flat plains of lunar mare (“seas”) had been performed by the crews of Apollo 11 and 12, and the astronauts of Apollo 13 were directed toward a hilly region, known as Fra Mauro, where it was hoped that ejected material from the massive Imbrium impact crater could be directly sampled, thus yielding the first accurate estimate of the age of this ancient feature. The near-loss of Jim Lovell’s mission left the importance of Fra Mauro undiminished, and it eventually became the destination for Al Shepard’s Apollo 14 team … and this, in turn, meant that the original Apollo 14 destination of the Littrow crater—a yawning bowl, heavily eroded, to the north-northeast of the Taurus-Littrow region, later visited by the Apollo 17 crew—was removed from consideration. This opened up the question of considering where to send the three J-series missions … and the lunar mountains exerted an attractive pull.

The Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), pictured here with Apollo 15 Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Jim Irwin, was of fundamental importance in enabling the crews of the J-series Apollo missions to expand the scope of their scientific exploration. Photo Credit: NASA

The Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), pictured here with Apollo 15 Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Jim Irwin, was of fundamental importance in enabling the crews of the J-series Apollo missions to expand the scope of their scientific exploration. Photo Credit: NASA

In the summer and fall of 1969, efforts to determine the most scientifically valuable sites for the final lunar landing missions entered high gear. With Apollo 13 originally targeted from the Fra Mauro foothills in March 1970, the Apollo 14 crew would have headed for Littrow in July and that of Apollo 15 in October to Censorinus, a tiny impact crater, surrounded by hummocky terrain, to the southeast of the Sea of Tranquility. An alternate suggestion for Apollo 15 might have been the highland crater chain of Davy Rille, in the northeastern quadrant of Mare Nubium, whose impact basins were thought to have been formed by explosive eruptions which ejected material from over 60 miles (96 km) beneath the lunar surface. Unfortunately, limited photographic coverage from earlier missions made Davy Rille inadequate for site certification and detailed mission planning. “It does not appear likely,” concluded a NASA release of 1 October 1970, “that adequate photography of Davy will be obtained on Apollo 14 or 15.”

With regards to the original J-series missions—scheduled to begin with Apollo 16 in March 1971—far more diverse landing locations were under consideration. High on the list was Descartes, which looked to offer geologists a chance to sample “typical” terrain from the Moon’s central highlands, rather than from their periphery. Many lunar scientists believed that the many fissures, grooves, and hills of such regions had been formed through ancient volcanic activity and had thus remained virtually unchanged, geochemically, since early in the Moon’s evolutionary history. “Samples from the Descartes site,” read a NASA news release, “would be important in determining whether or not highlands were formed by a very early differentiation of the Moon or whether they represent a primitive, undifferentiated planetary surface.” In October 1969, less than three months prior to the cancellation of Apollo 20 and also ahead of the near-disaster of Apollo 13, planners anticipated the J-series to continue with a visit to the Marius Hills—an intriguing complex of domes and cones, extensively photographed by the unmanned Lunar Orbiters and situated near the center of the Ocean of Storms—on Apollo 17 in July 1971, followed by the large crater Copernicus, with its 3,000-foot (900-meter) central peak, on Apollo 18 in February 1972, then the Hadley-Apennine highland site on Apollo 19 in July 1972, and, lastly, the vast southern crater of Tycho on Apollo 20 in February 1973. Other potential destinations, including Hyginus Rille and Schroeter’s Valley, also entered the mix as possibilities.

With Apollo 20 having subsequently fallen to the budgetary ax, followed by the cancellations of Apollos 15 and 19, the remaining missions were renumbered and rescoped. Although Tycho promised to turn up primordial material from 7 miles (11 km) beneath the highlands, its drawbacks were twofold: firstly, it would be the most difficult terrain yet negotiated by an Apollo landing crew and secondly, simply reaching a destination so far south would demand a trajectory “far removed from the free-return path.” In recognition of Apollo 13’s troubles, it is unsurprising that Tycho was not selected.

With the “new” Apollo 15 now redesignated as the first J-series mission, the Site Selection Board in September 1970 proposed Marius Hills and Hadley-Apennine as possible landing locations. The debate between the two was largely deadlocked and was eventually broken by Apollo 15 Commander Dave Scott. Unlike Marius, the Hadley region, which lay on the very edge of one of the Moon’s great mountain chains—the Apennines, whose peaks rose to heights of 3,000 feet (900 meters)—offered the chance to sample both Imbrium ejecta and the primordial lunar material thrust upwards by the enormous shock of the Imbrium impact. “The chunks of basalt from Tranquility Base and the Ocean of Storms,” wrote Andrew Chaikin in his book A Man on the Moon, “had taken geologists back to the era of mare volcanism. The Apennines promised to open a window on an even earlier time, perhaps all the way back to the Moon’s birth.” The choice of Hadley was aided by the presence of lava plains as a ready-made landing strip for the LM. Moreover, the relatively gentle topography of the area would more than likely allow the astronauts to drive the LRV partway up the slopes of a mountain called Hadley Delta. Also within reach was the long, winding channel of Hadley Rille, which geologists suspected had once been a sinuous “river” of lava.

Dave Scott works with the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) on the slopes of Hadley Rille during Apollo 15. Photo Credit: NASA

Dave Scott works with the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) on the slopes of Hadley Rille during Apollo 15. Photo Credit: NASA

As a target for the first J-mission, it was enticing. Geologically, if Apollo 15 discovered a single fragment of primordial, almost unchanged lunar crust, it would make the entire Apollo effort worthwhile. Fittingly, it was Apollo 15 Commander Dave Scott who was offered the final decision. Privately, he felt that he could land at either Marius or Hadley, but he favoured the latter, not just on the basis of its scientific promise, but because of its sheer grandeur. Scott felt that it was good for the human spirit to explore beautiful places. Although he felt that he could land at either site, Scott’s decision tipped the balance and Apollo 15 was manifested for Hadley-Apennine. Descartes remained as the primary location for Apollo 16 and the final mission, Apollo 17, remained unannounced, although the Marius Hills, Copernicus, and Littrow remained leading possibilities.

As exuberant as Scott and his crew must have been, their backups—Commander Dick Gordon, CMP Vance Brand, and LMP Jack Schmitt—were dealt a hammer blow in September 1970, when their mission, Apollo 18, was scrubbed from the books. Meanwhile, John Young and his team of CMP Ken Mattingly and LMP Charlie Duke seemed firmly pointed toward Apollo 16, and the crew of the final mission were not expected to be announced for several more months, though the Apollo 14 backup team of Commander Gene Cernan, CMP Ron Evans, and LMP Joe Engle seemed to have the edge. Regardless, Gordon decided, he and his team would sweat it out, in the hope that Deke Slayton would break the rotation system and assign them instead. After all, surely the presence of Schmitt—a professional geologist—on his crew might make Slayton’s decision easier.

For his part, Cernan had the same future goal in mind. Yet there were mutterings, even in the astronaut offices, that Apollo 14 itself might be the last lunar landing; that Congress might pull the plug entirely on the project. If Apollo 17 survived the budgetary ax—and it was a big “if”—there were no guarantees that Cernan, Evans, and Engle would be aboard. Consequently, Cernan took it upon himself to ensure that his crew did the best backup job possible on Apollo 14. In his autobiography, The Last Man on the Moon, Cernan acquiesced that Engle was not as knowledgeable about the LM’s quirky systems as he would have liked. However, Engle was one of the most gifted pilots in the Astronaut Office, having flown the X-15 aircraft before he was even selected by NASA, and Cernan felt that Engle’s deficiencies did not preclude them from forming an outstanding crew. None of them could ever have guessed that by the end of 1971 Engle would have lost his chance to walk on the Moon … and not through any fault of his own. It is ironic that, in December 1970, Cernan attended a meeting with Apollo 14 Commander Al Shepard and Slayton, head of the Flight Crew Operations Directorate, to discuss a concern about Apollo 14 LMP Ed Mitchell.

“He was fed up with Mitchell’s penchant for playing around with experiments in extrasensory perception,” Cernan wrote of Slayton’s worries, “even wanting to take some ESP tests along to the Moon. Ed just wouldn’t let it go and Deke said he was uncomfortable with the possibility that Mitchell’s full attention might not be on the mission.” Moreover, Mitchell had refused to take on “dead-end” backup duties for Apollo 16 and an annoyed Slayton had given him a choice: he would either fulfill these important duties or he would lose his place on Apollo 14. Mitchell complied, but the doubts remained. In an exchange of opinions he would later regret, Cernan was asked for his input over whether to drop Mitchell from Shepard’s crew and replace him with Joe Engle. Both Shepard and Cernan felt that Mitchell was more than qualified, in terms of his knowledge about the lander’s systems. However, the very fact that Engle was not quite at the same level of proficiency led both Shepard and Cernan to stand by Mitchell. When Engle lost his chance to fly Apollo 17 later in 1971, Cernan lamented not fighting a little harder to get his former crewmate a seat on a landing mission.

Pictured in January 1970, astronauts Jim Lovell (left) and Fred Haise perform a geological training exercise in the Quitman Mountains of far-western Texas. Had Apollo 19 not been canceled, it is likely that Haise would have commanded the final mission to the Moon. Photo Credit: NASA

Pictured in January 1970, astronauts Jim Lovell (left) and Fred Haise perform a geological training exercise in the Quitman Mountains of far-western Texas. Had Apollo 19 not been canceled, it is likely that Haise would have commanded the final mission to the Moon. Photo Credit: NASA

Today, one of the main questions asked of those final, would-be lunar missions is who would have flown them. To an extent, this is an easy question to answer: for Deke Slayton’s three-flight crew rotation process offers us an easy roadmap. Commander Dick Gordon, CMP Vance Brand, and LMP Jack Schmitt would have been aboard Apollo 18 and Commander Fred Haise, CMP Bill Pogue, and LMP Gerry Carr may have cycled from an initial backup assignment on Apollo 16 to fly Apollo 19. However, as noted in yesterday’s AmericaSpace article—and mentioned by Pogue in his NASA oral history—their assignment was to a “phantom” backup crew, unofficial in the summer of 1970. In fact, not until 3 March 1971 were the formal Apollo 16 prime and backup crew announcements made. By that time, Apollos 18 and 19 had long since been canceled, with Pogue and Carr having moved over to the Skylab program and Haise electing to remain as Apollo 16 backup Commander. Yet as late as August 1971, even after the triumph of Apollo 15, President Richard M. Nixon proposed the cancelation of Apollos 16 and 17, a move only reversed by the intervention of Caspar Weinberger, deputy head of his Office of Management and Budget, who recommended their retention.

Aside from Hollywood’s glamorization of a hypothetical Apollo 18, had the real mission flown (and Apollo 19, too) we can expect them to have been no less spectacular than the final few missions which actually took place. They would have seen Gordon and Schmitt and Haise and Carr bouncing across the lunar terrain in their own LRVs, performing three EVAs and potentially making astounding discoveries which might have unlocked more of the Moon’s mysteries. In orbit, aboard their SIMBay-laden CSMs, Brand and Pogue would have operated complex arrays of scientific instrumentation to study our closest celestial neighbor in unprecedented detail. The discoveries of the Apollo landing missions which did fly—from Dave Scott’s identification of the “Genesis Rock” on Apollo 15 to Jack Schmitt spotting orange soil on Apollo 17—serve only to whet our appetites for what might have been.

It is one of the most damning indictments of numerous short-sighted administrations, whether Democrat or Republican and whether influenced by external influences or not, to have effectively cut us off from deep-space exploration for half a century and eliminated dreams of the Moon for generations of children and would-be astronauts. Former Johnson Space Center (JSC) Director Chris Kraft, in his autobiography Flight, could never have foreseen that a nation which had so boldly committed itself to American boots on the Moon would transform into “a nation of quitters.” Nor could veteran flight director Gene Kranz imagine or understand the rationale for having the hearts of himself and his team torn out by Congressional demand.

Foresight may have been in action in the spring and summer of 1970, but it was ultimately to no avail, leaving us with the mindset of hindsight, which now speaks louder than ever that the premature end of Apollo was woefully premature. “History will not be kind to us,” said Apollo 14 CMP Stu Roosa, quoted by Chaikin in A Man on the Moon, “because we were stupid!” The bootprints of 12 intrepid explorers lie untouched for decades on the lunar surface. The U.S. flags, undoubtedly long-since whitened by the harsh and unrelenting lunar sunlight, may still stand, or may have toppled. Perhaps the photograph of his family, left on the soil of Descartes by Apollo 16 LMP Charlie Duke, or the initials of his daughter, Tracy, etched by Apollo 17 Commander Gene Cernan, are still there. Returning to the Moon carries profound importance, and is a critical first step as we seek to once more achieve exploration Beyond Low-Earth Orbit (BLEO). Our generation holds both the keys and the responsibility to do so and our future requires nothing less.

 

 

This is part of a series of history articles, which will appear each weekend, barring any major news stories. Next week’s article will focus on the 50th anniversary of Gemini V, the longest U.S. manned space mission of its time, a mission which eliminated the Soviet lead in space exploration and formed a cornerstone in our journey to reach the Moon.

 

 

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29 comments to ‘A Nation of Quitters’: 45 Years Since the Summer Apollo Ended (Part 2)

  • An outstanding set of articles on Apollo and should be required reading for all space enthusiasts. We can thank our “leaders” for narrow-minded thinking and lack of foresight while continuing to spend, spend, spend on social “programs” of dubious value. The American taxpayer got short-changed in the scientific arena. A shame.

  • Phil Stooke

    Great article! One minor point, though – Gene Cernan did not write his daughter’s initials on the dusty rock. He said he regretted not doing it, so astronaut-artist Alan Bean painted a picture of the initials as they might have looked.

  • Richard M

    I will second Phil by saying “Great article” – I really enjoyed this series – and to add one small point: Apollo 20 was not axed for budgetary reasons, save in an indirect sense: It was axed by Paine in January 1970 to free up its Saturn V, SA-513, to launch the Skylab station. It was, perhaps, indirectly due to budgetary reasons in that the Saturn V production had been shut down in 1968 and limited to the original buy of 15 rockets, and the Saturn V was the only lifter capable of putting Skylab in orbit. So something had to give, given that the decision had been made not to seek funds to start up the production lines again.

    Of course, as it turned out, we ended up with two more unused Saturn V’s anyway.

  • James

    It is true that “Returning to the Moon carries profound importance, and is a critical first step as we seek to once more achieve exploration Beyond Low-Earth Orbit (BLEO). Our generation holds both the keys and the responsibility to do so and our future requires nothing less.”

    This is a useful series of history articles. However, America isn’t ‘A Nation of Quitters’.

    America is nation of coalition builders. Various types of American led coalitions have enabled us to do extremely difficult tasks, even those types of activities that produce large numbers of deaths.

    Would it be reasonable to most folks that if going across the English Channel to do the D-Day Normandy landings and invasion across Europe required immense amounts of multi-national preparation and planning to minimize fatalities and ensure success, then most likely a broad and capable coalition would be useful for the risky and costly invasion, mining, and sustained development of a 240,000 mile distant vacuum land with 37.9 million square kilometers of area that is even larger than the 30.2 million square kilometers in area of Africa?

    Did the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, international crew members flying on the Space Shuttles and Soyuz, 9 Space Shuttle Mir docking missions from STS-71 to STS-91, building, maintaining, and using the International Space Station, developing the International Orion, and doing many multi-national robotic space missions give us much of the experience and some of the trust that is needed to build the coalition and international political momentum that will be required to overcome the many issues and deaths that will occur in learning how to efficiently and permanently continue to expand on the knowledge gained from Apollo Lunar Missions and develop the resources of the Moon to drive down the high risks and costs of cislunar development and beyond cislunar human missions?

    The Apollo 11 plaque left on the Moon boldly declared with capital letters, “HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON, JULY 1969 AD. WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND.”

    The next big Lunar task was to get American “MEN” working with American women and the rest of humankind to greatly expand the prospecting for resources on the Moon. We are not ‘A Nation of Quitters’, because a broad human coalition built by America will continue that difficult prospecting task and do much more than that.

  • Arth

    Apollo seems like World War II. A rapid build up, then, a rapid demobilization after victory.

  • James

    Yep, Apollo was a part of the Cold War.

    Now we are building an inclusive rainbow coalition of nations, businesses, and individuals to tap Lunar resources to enable humans to spread out across our solar system.

    • Tim Andrews

      We are? I know the US launched missions like LADEE and LRO. What multi-national missions are you referring to to either tap lunar resources or make a manned mission to anywhere but LEO? Only thing I can think of that comes close to that is NASA contracting ESA to build the Orion service module for the manned portion of the Asteroid Redirect mission, but that won’t use any of the moon’s resources.

  • James

    The Orion spacecraft is designed for Lunar and cislunar missions. Using the Orion to visit a distant asteroid would entail an additional costly space habitat that Congress, the ESA, or some other agency would need to fund. And yet, most international science and political folks seem to view Lunar exploration and resources as much more doable and useful than a risky and very costly human mission to a distant asteroid.

    Obviously, if asteroids are truly important scientifically, the Earth has lots of museums with many small, large, and big asteroids. Another useful scientific option is the Moon which has millions of buried asteroids.

    The European Space Agency,or ESA, builds the Orion’s service module. The ESA has 22 member nations. Johann-Dietrich Warner, the new director-general of the ESA wants to develop a “village on the Moon” that is an international research station.

    And “It is in the interest of U.S. national security to engage China in space,” said Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College.

    Russia is our most important partner at the International Space Station.

    Both China and Russia are interested in going to the Moon. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has noted, “The question is being discussed with Roscosmos on bringing China in as the main partner in creating a lunar scientific station.”

    The SLS will be a very capable international Moon mission launcher.

    Every human LEO space mission we currently do, and the proposed beyond LEO Orion mission, have a large international component.

    To believe that the international aspect of NASA human and robotic space missions will mysteriously change places the heavy burden of that peculiar argument on any person who wishes to advocate for a purely national human space program that zigs and zags whenever we get a President, like our current one, that isn’t interested in the Moon.

    And such an isolationist space exploration argument that ignores the goals of our space exploration partners would probably would be a hard sell in Congress. In this context it is worth studying the “National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010”, PUBLIC LAW 111-267 OCT. 11, 2010.

    Also, “Our recommended solution based on the analysis of alternatives is the creation of an International Lunar Authority”. and “The robotic segment would focus on characterizing the amount and nature of the water in the lunar poles, to enable later prospecting, and to identify the optimal site for a lunar base.” From the July 13, 2015 report “Economic Assessment and Systems Analysis of an Evolvable Lunar Architecture that Leverages Commercial Space Capabilities and Public-Private-Partnerships”.

    Note: “To me there is no better way for our astronauts to learn how to live and work on another planet than to use the moon as a training ground,” Texas Congressional Representative Lamar Smith who currently serves as chairman of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

    And it has been noted by Dr Paul Spudis in recent Congressional testimony, if we compare our Moon with an asteroid, the Moon is easier to access, offers more science objectives, and is a better testing ground for Mars exploration technology.

    We are going to tap the resources of asteroids and Mars, however, the six Apollo Lunar surface missions have left us with lots of unfinished, useful, and doable business on the Moon.

    • Tim Andrews

      I couldn’t agree more that an international effort for manned space exploration beyond low earth orbit would be great, and you lay out a good case for it.

      What I’m not seeing evidence of is that it’s actually happening, or that the foundations for it to happen are even being laid.

      • Arth

        If NASA design their programs for Mars, then, Lunar missions should be easier to accomplish using the same hardware/software. So, then, the moon becomes a test bed for getting to Mars. And that includes a Lunar base, too.

        • Tim Andrews

          A very valid thought along the lines of the cancelled Constellation program – developing landers for both Mars and the Moon.

          That still leaves us sitting as quitters right now though, because NASA isn’t working on a manned Mars mission that could spin-off moon missions. There is no Martian lander program. There is no Mars transfer vehicle program. There’s Commercial Crew and the ISS for LEO, and the SLS and Orion with a manned test flight and manned mission to study an asteroid that’s been dragged closer to the Earth by a robotic vehicle.

  • James

    The previously noted July 13, 2015 report “Economic Assessment and Systems Analysis of an Evolvable Lunar Architecture that Leverages Commercial Space Capabilities and Public-Private-Partnerships” has found some support in a Press Release from the National Space Society
    Posted: Monday, July 20, 2015.

    “The Space Frontier Foundation supports and recommends public-private partnerships in all proposed human spaceflight programs in order to reduce costs and enable these missions that were previously unaffordable,” said the Space Frontier Foundation’s Chairman of the Board, Jeff Feige.

    That press release also noted, “NSS and SFF call attention to these conclusions from the study:

    Enabled by public-private partnerships, NASA’s current human spaceflight budget is sufficient to return humans to the surface of the Moon and develop a permanent lunar base.
    Mining fuel from lunar poles and transporting it to lunar orbit for use by other spacecraft reduces the cost of sending humans to Mars and other locations beyond low Earth orbit.”

    However, the real “foundations” for NASA’s return to the surface of the Moon are to be found in our relevant space law, the “National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010″.That PUBLIC LAW 111-267 OCT. 11, 2010 was passed by a bipartisan Congress after the President had loudly declared at Cape Kennedy that NASA wasn’t going back to the Moon.

    Unfortunately, one American, who will lose his influential job in about 18 months, chooses to undermine or ignore the relevant law concerning what NASA is legally supposed to be planning and preparing for.

    However, that American space law concerning NASA’s Lunar goals exists and will eventually be properly implemented. Why? Because, we are a nation of laws, not Presidential whims and empty Mars rhetoric. We are not “A Nation of Quitters” and have lots of unfinished business on the Moon. It is that simple.

    • Tim Andrews

      Next Gen Space laid out an interesting architecture for manned flight to the moon using Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9 (and possibly Vulcan) but it is only talk about a possible mission architecture. That the proposed plan involves funding within realistic NASA budget levels by gutting the SLS program down from a potential 12 launches to 3 is pretty much a guarantee that Congress – which is already battling NASA to keep funding SLS at levels specified by the 2010 Space Act won’t be on board with it.

      Still, it’s all talk, and no action. There are people talking about building a coalition of nations for manned space exploration past LEO, but I still don’t see anyone actually doing it.

      • Joe

        The “Next Gen Space” proposal made some remarkably optimistic assumptions about SpaceX launch costs, so I would not get to excited about it in any case.

        • Tim Andrews

          Cost estimates on the mark or not, and regardless of budget issues related to SLS, I would still find it hard to be excited about it. It’s just one of a bajillion mission architecture concepts that have been produced by various groups over the years, nearly all of which never amount to anything.

          I’ll save getting excited about a manned mission when someone is actually working on it in earnest.

      • Arth

        What Joe said. It was all “Next Gen Space” speculation. Congress isn’t going to give up the ability for the government to launch payloads & personnel into lunar orbit directly. Especially, with China developing the capability to do so. It would be inherent irresponsibility for the govt not to develop it’s own independent capability, apart from commercial/private companies. So, for all you SLS/Orion naysayers, when the commercial enterprises get into trouble in lunar orbit & beyond, “who ya gonna call?” Trust me it won’t be ghostbusters.

        • James

          I love the SLS.

          “So, for all you SLS/Orion naysayers, when the commercial enterprises get into trouble in lunar orbit & beyond, ‘who ya gonna call?’ Trust me it won’t be ghostbusters.” Wow! Made me really laugh hard. I’m still laughing…

        • James

          The Russians doing a dual launch human Lunar mission could use their Angara 5.

          The larger second Russian launcher could be based on a vehicle with a Saturn I type of first stage that retains engine out capability and has a cluster of 8 first stages of the currently used Zenit launcher.

          The Zenit and its first stage kerolox RD-171 rocket engine has over 1,600,000 lbs of thrust at sea level.

          A Saturn I design and 8 clustered Zenit first stages could liftoff with over 12,800,000 lbs of thrust. And such a massive launcher might be capable of putting over 109 metric tonnes, or 240,000 lbs, in LEO.

          If it were ever built, a launcher based on 8 clustered Zenit first stages would be an amazing Lunar mission launcher and maybe not all that expensive.

          A launcher of the Angara 5 type of design that instead uses 5 Zenit first stages could liftoff with around 8,000,000 lbs of thrust.

          And while we are thinking about clustering first stages, note that Japan’s upcoming H3 Launch Vehicle in 2020 could have up to 3 of the expander bleed cycle LE-9 hydrolox rocket engines on its first stage with each engine having around 300,000 lbs of thrust at sea level.

          Imagine a first stage with a cluster of 8 of such H3s first stages with each having 3 expander bleed cycle LE-9 engines and 900,000 lbs of thrust. Liftoff thrust could be around 7,200,000 lbs of thrust.

          If you used 9 H3 first stages, the Japanese launcher could liftoff with about 8,100,000 lbs of thrust.

          And of course an expander bleed cycle engine like the LE-9 may be quite capable of burning propane or methane instead of hydrogen…

          Another fun thought exercise would be clustering the first stages of the new Antares 300 launcher that has a first stage with around 800,000 lbs of thrust at liftoff.

          Eight Antares 300 first stages in a cluster would give you around 6,400,000 lbs of thrust. Or you could cluster nine Antares 300 first stages for a total of around 7,200,000 lbs of thrust at liftoff.

          If you consider the Angara 5 cluster or the Saturn I cluster of first stages, lots of possibilities exist for private companies and nations to use clusters of various first stages and do Lunar missions.

          Note, the Saturn I launcher had a first stage with a cluster of 9 propellant tanks and 8 rocket engines and a total of about 1,500,000 lbs of thrust at liftoff.

          The Saturn V Apollo Lunar Mission Launcher had around 7,648,000 lbs of thrust at liftoff.

          Around the world rocket folks are getting the money, from their companies and/or governments, that is needed to develop the powerful rocket engines that could be used to launch human and robotic Lunar missions.

          Mining Lunar resources is both doable and needed for developing cislunar and beyond cislunar space.

          The Apollo Lunar Missions continue to inspire individuals, businesses, and governments around the world.

          And obviously we are not a ‘planet of quitters’.

          • Joe

            “The Russians doing a dual launch human Lunar mission could use their Angara 5.”

            Actually the Angara 5 has a 35 Metric Ton to LEO capability, so a lunar mission using it would probably required four launches.

            (1) Earth Departure Stage (EDS) to LEO.
            (2) Lunar Lander to LEO.
            (2a) Rendezvous/Dock in LEO.
            (2b) Perform Trans lunar Injection (TLI) burn.
            (2c) Enter LLO.
            (3) EDS to LEO.
            (4) Crew Vehicle to LEO.
            (4a) Rendezvous/Dock in LEO.
            (4b) Perform Trans lunar Injection (TLI) burn.
            (4c) Enter LLO.
            (4d) Crew Vehicle and Lunar Lander Rendezvous/Dock in LLO.

            Complicated, but perhaps doable.

            • James

              Yep, lots of ways to do it. I think the Russians are aiming for launching Lunar human missions around 2029.

              If they want to do a relatively simple dual launch human Lunar mission, perhaps the most reliable way would be to launch their upcoming PPTS human spacecraft on the Angara A5P and then send everything else uphill to LEO on a super heavy launcher.

              And because the Zenit launcher is currently in use, then maybe using it for a super heavy launcher that would be somewhat similar to the Angara 5 type of design might be a good idea.

              Instead of using the five URM-1s, as is done on the Angara 5, each with a single Energomash RD-191 engine with 432,000 lbs of thrust at sea level, the heavy launcher could be powered by 5 Zenit first stages with each having over 1,600,000 lbs of thrust at sea level.

              Such a heavy lift Zenit based launcher could have over 8,000,000 lbs of total thrust at liftoff.

              The main point is that Russia can get to the Lunar surface and most likely at a reasonable cost by making full use of the launch tools that it already has or could quickly develop.

              And since I’m having fun daydreaming, someday we’ll probably work with the Russians and everyone else to terraform the Moon and give it oceans and lakes and air.

              Yep, whenever I read of about someone’s grand plan to terraform Mars I smile and think about first adding a thick atmosphere to the Moon. That thick Lunar atmosphere would be a good shield against Galactic Cosmic Radiation and significantly increase land values on the Moon.

              You know with some wings strapped to your back, it might be possible for you to fly on the Moon once it has a proper atmosphere.

              Of course that thick Lunar atmosphere would only last for a few thousand years if it wasn’t continually being replenished.

              Obviously the atmosphere maintenance projects on both the Moon and Mars will be ongoing efforts for many millennia.

              It sure is wonderful that we are not a ‘species of quitters’.

              • Tim Andrews

                Dreamers who don’t implement their dreams sound a lot like quitters to me.

                • Joe

                  If we are talking about the Russians they are not exactly “dreaming”. They are among other things:

                  (1) Building an entirely new launch center called Vostochny within Russia’s territorial borders. Think about us building a new KSC, instead of cannibalizing the one we already have (as we are doing).

                  (2) Developing an entirely new family of launch vehicles (Angara).

                  (3) Developing a Soyuz replacement built to specifications that will allow it to be a Lunar Crew Vehicle.

                  (4) Developing a Hydrogen/Oxygen Upper Stage for the Angara 5, the engines for which can also serve for an Earth Departure Stage (EDS).

                  Due to the down turn in their economy (primarily due to reduced oil prices) they have had to delay development of an HLV.

                  If we want to speculate about international partnerships, how about between Russia and China?

                  China is developing an HLV, put that together with the new Russian Crew Vehicle/EDS and you are lacking the Lunar Lander. If one of the two picks that up they are on their way.

                  If that were to happen, as of now, we have the ability to stand by and watch.

                  • Tim Andrews

                    “as of now, we have the ability to stand by and watch.”

                    We could have someone wave from the cupola on the ISS… If Russia will give us a lift to get there.

                    • Joe

                      That’s cold man. True, but cold.

                    • Tim Andrews

                      Yep.

                      I’m excited and encouraged by the progress on Commercial Crew, as well is independent progress from down-selected CC competitors, for goings-on in LEO and keeping my fingers crossed for some serious exploration missions (our country alone or with others) for SLS and Orion beyond.

                      I’ve not lost hope in our manned spaceflight future, just frustrated with its loss of inertia in the last few decades resulting in its current limitations.

                  • James

                    “If we want to speculate about international partnerships, how about between Russia and China?”

                    Yep.
                    And according to ‘Chinese space program’ at Wikipedia
                    “Hainan Spaceport Fourth and southernmost space center, will be upgraded to suit the new CZ-5 Heavy ELV and crewed lunar missions”.

                    The Russian and Chinese space programs are building large new spaceports and launchers.

                    Our President is ‘leasing’ for twenty years America’s important massive launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center to save around $1 million annually in maintenance costs. His extremely dubious claim was that NASA wouldn’t be needing pad 39A, and yet absolutely no one can honestly tell you what NASA’s future plans are or what type of Orion and SLS missions it will be launching ten years from now.

                    America’s unique, expensive, taxpayer-funded pad 39A infrastructure that is on the National Register of Historic Places and is needed for NASA launching dual SLS Lunar missions. Pad 39A is being rented out dirt cheap for one space company’s use.

                    It would be far better to rent out a spare bedroom at the White House for the exclusive use of that one particular space company and spend the $1 million annual bedroom rental fee on the relatively cheap maintenance costs for pad 39A and thus retain the cost saving NASA option of dual SLS launch of human Lunar missions.

                    Or, maybe we should instead follow the President’s brilliant logic of ‘talking empty flowery rhetoric about extremely risky and costly human missions to Mars while saving the real money for social programs’.

                    Obviously, we could save lots of money for the President’s social programs by offshoring all our NASA space launches to India. India has a robotic spacecraft orbiting Mars right now. Whereas that unnamed company hasn’t spent one dime on a real Mars mission but is excellent in repeatedly reaching deep into the pockets of American taxpayers while proclaiming the purity of motive and all round ‘Martian civic virtues’ of ‘billionaire capitalism’.

                    Yep, I’d bet on India getting folks to Mars as being far more likely than a similar accomplishment by the unnamed company. Why? India has far more billionaires than the unnamed company does.

                    And to pay for those offshored to India NASA human Mars missions we can rent out all of the White House and everything we have on the National Register of Historic Places to billionaires who have odd fantasies. Don’t you just love it?

                    Our current President hopes to eliminate both the International Orion spacecraft and the SLS launcher or at least ‘tie the hands’ of future Presidents and Congress by greatly increasing both the costs and time needed to redevelop the pad capabilities needed for dual SLS launches of human Moon missions.

                    And ‘Americans are going to Mars’ is empty rhetoric being used to kick the can down the road and help his ‘political friend’s company’ gain dirt cheap twenty year control of a massive and valuable government launch pad.

                    Ah well, the full implications of America’s failure to participate in, despite the widespread international support for, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, or AIIB, (that has a clear focus on supporting infrastructure construction in the Asia-Pacific region) is indicative that you could be right concerning the capabilities of an international Lunar coalition with leadership shared between Russia and China.

                    If China and Russia can lead most of the world in using the AIIB to develop the Asia-Pacific region’s infrastructure, then they probably don’t need America and NASA’s help in building an international coalition to create mining infrastructure on the Moon.

                    NASA’s leadership in human space exploration is hard or even impossible to maintain when we get presidents who can easily use empty political space rhetoric to divide and conquer the folks who are space cadets while at the same time NASA rents out as cheaply as possible our national space assets to the many ‘needful’ billionaire ‘friends’ of our political leader.

                    Eventually, NASA and America’s corporate leadership in developing the Moon and Mars might be quite costly if Americans have to buy massive amounts of propellant from the Russian, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean, and European’s depot in a high Lunar orbit.

                    And Joe, about your response to the comment by Tim Andrews, I agree, “That’s cold man.”

        • Tim Andrews

          “It would be inherent irresponsibility for the govt not to develop it’s own independent capability, apart from commercial/private companies.”

          It would, but I doubt that will ever happen. That’s not the way our government rolls – commercial companies always end up inextricably involved. NASA will never design and build their vehicles independent of commercial companies, and operation will always be mixed to some degree. Even our military, where that independence should be even more critical doesn’t get it.

  • James

    Of course if the President sent a Security email to Hillary Clinton’s server or OKed her using such a server, then perhaps we’ll be getting back to the Moon a little sooner rather than later. Time will tell.

  • James

    Note the article ‘US-China Space Freeze May Thaw with Historic New Experiment’ by Leonard David, August 21, 2015 “A Chinese experiment is being readied for launch toward the International Space Station (ISS) in what could be the forerunner of a larger space-cooperation agenda between the United States and China.”

    And also, from ‘Europe proposes joint Moon trips with Russia’ by Elizabeth Gibney 12/9/14 “ESA has said that pursuing lunar missions is strategically important, not only to secure access to the Moon’s surface for European scientists, but also to ensure that European expertise and technology is involved in future lunar exploration — including, ultimately, international crewed missions and even a permanent lunar base.”

    Yep, progress in international coalition building to eventually “secure access to the Moon’s surface” moves slowly, one step at a time, but it does move forward. And to lower risk, “a permanent lunar base” will need many ways for humans and supplies to get to the Moon.

    How about initially having human Lunar missions with five launches? Use Russia’s Angara 5, China’s CZ-5, Japan’s H3, Europe’s Ariane 6, and America’s SLS/International Orion. Golden Spike or China could build the Lunar Lander.

    Every spacecraft meets up at the International Space Station on June 1, 2023 to stack the mission’s elements and then off folks go to the Moon.