Wednesday, August 09 2006 @ 06:30 AM CDT
Contributed by: bobmoody
|Apollo 17, last manned mission to the moon, sits in early morning bathed in floodlight and the gathering sunlight. When will we return to the moon?|
Which young man or woman in today's high schools, or which college freshmen will be members of the first crew of astronauts to return to the Moon? It could just as easily be an Arkansas-led crew as to have a crew leader from any other state. I'm just biased towards the youth of our area. Who knows, but how wonderful that day will be when we finally return with the first lunar landings of the new millenium no matter where they may call home.
The knowledge that what we do this time around will be in preparation for an eventual permanent moon base, one designed for long-term lunar stays will make it all the more special. Much of what we leave behind on the surface with these next missions will in some way be utilized as permanent structures or storage facilities from where many truly far-ranging lunar exploratory excursions will depart.
NASA's Constellation Program will become the new "Apollo Program" of today, with the eventual long-term goal being nothing less than a manned mission to our sister planet, MARS!
The APOLLO Program - 1963-1972
|An early NASA illustration of the Saturn I, the "mid-sized" Saturn V launch vehicles alongside the gigantic (proposed but not built) Nova rocket design which would have used 5 stages instead of the four used in the Saturn V.|
President John F. Kennedy rallied the entire country to [achieve] the goal of landing a man on the moon, and [return] him safely to the Earth" in a speech to the joint house in 1963. And though Dubya is no "Jack" Kennedy by a long, LONG shot, he did lay out the goal for America to return to the Moon and establish a permanent moon base as a precursor to an eventual manned trip to Mars sometime in the future. So far, engineers are only working on the new designs for both a new heavy-lift rocket and a new crew rocket. I can liken it to how the Apollo program grew and evolved from what was first envisioned to what we finally had later when we actually began our first exploration of the moon between 1969 and 1972.
Early in the "Race to the Moon" when America and Russia were competing to see who could put a man on the moon ahead of the other, there was no definitive design for what our first moon rocket would look like. About the only thing most engineers could say for sure was that it would take an enormous vehicle to achieve the launch to orbit of whatever we'd be sending on out beyond Earth to the moon. Whatever it was to be would have to achieve a speed of at least 25,000 mph while pushing dozens of tons in the right direction. Not even the design of the flight plan was in place when we saw one of our first concept pictures such as the image above.
Some engineers wanted to build a gigantic single-stage behemoth that would go directly from Earth to the moon as a single unit. The laws of physics demanded that that idea be scraped in favor of smaller multi-stage vehicles. Weight was going to be the deciding factor in how we got to the moon, if indeed, we could even get there at all.
|The evolution of designs for the Lunar Module for the Apollo program. What was first designed was not especially similar to what the final version looked like. Weight decided nearly all of the design changes seen in this image.|
The crew module, called the Command Module, would sustain a single astronaut in orbit around the moon while the other two of a three-man-crew would enter the Lunar Module for the trip down to the surface of the moon. All the consumables for the trip would be contained in what was called the Service Module which would remain mated to the Command Module until just before re-entry into the atmosphere by the Command Module and the crew.
This flight plan was referred to as Lunar Orbit Rendezvous due to the Command and Lunar Modules being required to dock, undock and descend, and later return to orbit to once again dock, and allow for the three man crew to return safely to the Earth in the Command/Service Module leaving the now useless Lunar Module behind. In the HBO series "From the Earth to the Moon", the fifth episode called "Spider" deals specifically with all that went into the Luner Orbit Rendezvous mission and the extremely difficult problems involved with the creation of the Lunar Modules by the Grumman Corporation. Enormous difficulties were encountered, and overcome, and this is my personal favorite episode of this outstanding and important series.
Click read more for the rest of Part One including images of our new rocket designs.