09 July 2017

SEI Swan Song: International Lunar Resources Exploration Concept (1993)

In the top image, the Soviet Union's two-stage Energia heavy-lift rocket and Buran reusable shuttle orbiter ride a transporter to a launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. A sturdy armature designed to hoist the combination upright on the pad obscures Energia's lower half. In the bottom image, 59-meter-tall Energia stands on a launch pad bearing Polyus, an experimental military payload developed in response to the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative. After the Soviet Union crumbled and Russia became a potential international supplier of rockets and spacecraft, hopeful NASA advance planners tentatively tapped Energia to launch hardware for piloted moon and Mars missions. Image credit: NPO Energia
By the close of 1992, the handwriting had been on the wall for the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) for more than two years. President George H. W. Bush had launched his moon and Mars exploration initiative on the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing (20 July 1989), but it had almost immediately run headlong into a minefield of fiscal and political difficulties. The change of Presidential Administration in January 1993 was the final nail in SEI's coffin. Nevertheless, exploration planners across NASA continued to work toward SEI goals into early 1994.

In the same period, the Soviet Union was falling apart. Even as Bush called on NASA to return astronauts to the moon and launch them onward to Mars, Soviet domination in eastern Europe collapsed, then the Soviet Union itself began to disintegrate. A bungled coup d'etat in August 1991 undercut the authority of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and led to the official demise of the Soviet Union on 26 December 1991. The largest state on Earth divided into more than a dozen countries, with the Russian Federation under President Boris Yeltsin emerging as the most significant.

The end of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War created dangers and opportunities. Some feared that, impelled by economic chaos in the former Soviet Union, scientists and engineers would sell their skills and knowledge abroad, leading to unprecedented global nuclear proliferation.

Others noted that high-level Soviet space officials had begun to peddle their space hardware at important aerospace meetings in the late 1980s. They saw an opportunity to, among other things, save the U.S./European/Japanese/Canadian Freedom Space Station from cancellation. Yeltsin and Bush agreed to wide-ranging space cooperation in June 1992, partly in the hope that NASA money might help to forestall an exodus of Russian aerospace talent.

In February 1993, Kent Joosten, an engineer in the Exploration Program Office (ExPO) at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, proposed a plan for lunar exploration which, he hoped, would take into account the emerging realities of post-Cold War space exploration. His International Lunar Resources Exploration Concept (ILREC) would, he wrote, reduce "development and recurring costs of human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit" and "enable lunar surface exploration capabilities significantly exceeding those of Apollo." It would do these things by exploiting the abundant oxygen in the lunar regolith (that is, surface material) as oxidizer for burning liquid hydrogen fuel brought from Earth, shipping most cargo to the moon separate from crews, employing Earth-based and moon-based teleoperations, and cooperating with the Russian Federation.

Joosten's concept was a variant of the Lunar Surface Rendezvous (LSR) mission mode. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, put forward LSR in 1961 as a candidate mode for achieving President John F. Kennedy's goal of a man on the moon by the end of the 1970s. In 1962, after NASA selected Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR) as its Apollo lunar mission mode, the LSR scheme faded into obscurity. Joosten's concept was not inspired by the early 1960s scenario; instead, his work drew upon contemporary In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) and Mars surface rendezvous techniques proposed for use in NASA's Mars Design Reference Mission 1.0 and Martin Marietta's Mars Direct scenario.

The Apollo LOR mode was designed to permit the U.S. to reach the moon quickly and relatively cheaply, not to support a sustained lunar presence. It split lunar mission functions between two piloted spacecraft, each of which comprised two modules. Modules were discarded after they fulfilled their functions.

Joosten's ILREC piloted moonship would be roughly intermediate in size between the Apollo Lunar Module (LM) (left) and the Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM) (right). This NASA artwork from 1966 is a partial cutaway showing two blue-clad astronauts moving from the CSM to the LM in preparation for undocking and landing on the moon. A third astronaut, who will remain in lunar orbit, awaits LM undocking strapped into his CSM couch.
At the start of an Apollo lunar mission, a Saturn V rocket launched a Command and Service Module (CSM) mothership and a Lunar Module (LM) moon lander. The mighty rocket's S-IVB third stage boosted the CSM and LM into a parking orbit about the Earth; then, about 90 minutes later, reignited to push itself, the CSM, and the LM out of Earth orbit toward the moon. This maneuver, called Trans-Lunar Injection (TLI), marked the real start of the lunar voyage.

After TLI, the CSM separated from the spent S-IVB, turned end-for-end, docked with the LM, and extracted it from the S-IVB. The S-IVB then vented propellants to change its course so that it would not interfere with CSM/LM navigation. Beginning with Apollo 13, the S-IVB was intentionally crashed on the moon to trigger seismometers left behind by previous Apollo expeditions.

As they neared the moon, the Apollo crew fired the CSM engine to slow down so that the moon's gravity could capture the joined Apollo spacecraft into lunar orbit. The LM then separated from the CSM bearing two of the astronauts and descended to the lunar surface using the engine in its Descent Stage.

After a maximum of three days on the moon, the Apollo lunar crew lifted off in the LM Ascent Stage using the Descent Stage as a launch pad. The astronaut in the CSM performed a rendezvous and docking with the Ascent Stage in lunar orbit to recover the moonwalkers - hence the name Lunar Orbit Rendezvous - then the crew discarded the LM Ascent Stage and fired the CSM engine to depart lunar orbit for Earth. Nearing Earth, they cast off the CSM's drum-shaped Service Module and reentered Earth's atmosphere in its conical Command Module (CM).

According to Joosten, a spacecraft that flew from Earth to the lunar surface, arrived on the moon with empty oxidizer tanks, and reloaded them for the trip home with liquid oxygen mined and refined from lunar regolith, could have about half the TLI mass of an equivalent LOR spacecraft. The Apollo 11 CSM, LM, and spent S-IVB stage had a combined mass at TLI of about 63 metric tons; the ILREC spacecraft and its spent TLI stage would have a mass of about 34 metric tons. This substantial mass reduction would permit use of a launch vehicle smaller than the Apollo Saturn V, potentially slashing lunar mission cost.

Lunar regolith is on average about 45% oxygen by weight. According to Joosten, literally dozens of lunar oxygen (LUNOX) extraction methods are known. He listed 14 as examples, including one, Hydrogen Ilmenite Reduction, for which the U.S. Patent Office had issued a patent to the U.S.-Japanese Carbotek/Shimizu consortium.

Joosten assumed that an automated LUNOX extraction process involving "solid-state high-temperature electrolysis" could produce 24 metric tons of LUNOX in cryogenic liquid form per year. He estimated that the process would need between 40 and 80 kilowatts of continuous electricity, and suggested that a nuclear reactor would be the best power-supply option. Such a reactor would have ample reserve power for charging electrically powered teleoperated mining vehicles and could supply crew electricity needs when astronauts were present.

Joosten acknowledged that ILREC emphasized technologies "in somewhat different areas than most exploration scenarios." Among these were teleoperated surface vehicles and surface mining and processing. On the other hand, the technological areas it emphasized had a "high degree of terrestrial relevance," a fact which, he argued, might prove to be a selling point for the new piloted lunar program.

Automated exploration missions would precede the new piloted lunar program. These might take the form of Lunar Scout orbiters and Artemis Common Lunar Landers, both JSC-proposed projects. The automated missions would have some "science linkages," Joosten explained, but would serve mainly to locate landing sites with abundant oxygen-rich regolith, perform ISRU experiments under real lunar conditions using real lunar materials, and map candidate landing sites to enable mission planners to certify them as safe for landings and rover traverses.

The NASA JSC engineer envisioned a three-phase piloted lunar program, though he provided details only for Phases 1 and 2. In Phase 1, three cargo landers would deliver equipment to the target landing site ahead of the first piloted mission. Flight 1 of Phase 1 would deliver the nuclear reactor on a teleoperated cart and the automated liquid oxygen production facility (the latter would remain attached to its lander); flight 2 would deliver teleoperated diggers, regolith haulers, oxygen tankers, and carts for auxiliary fuel-cell power and consumables resupply; and flight 3 would deliver a pressurized moon bus exploration rover and science equipment for the astronauts who would reach the moon on flight 4.

Following launch on an Energia rocket, translunar injection, and an Earth-moon voyage lasting up to about a week, a U.S.-built cargo lander bearing a self-deploying LUNOX regolith processing payload descends toward the lunar surface on a direct-descent trajectory. The lander is arranged horizontally, not vertically, to reduce the risk of tipping and, as important, to provide the astronauts who will follow it to the moon with easy access to its cargo. Image credit: NASA
After touchdown, the LUNOX regolith processing payload pivots into vertical operational position and deploys ramps so that teleoperated regolith hauler rovers (two are shown on the left side of the image) can reach its screen-covered input hopper. Meanwhile, a teleoperated tanker rover (right) collects and stores LUNOX in preparation for the arrival of a piloted ILREC spacecraft. Image credit: NASA
An Energia-launched cargo lander slowly lowers a U.S.-built pressurized moon bus lunar rover to the surface ahead of the arrival of the first two-person ILREC crew. Image credit: NASA
The one-way automated cargo landers, each rectangular in shape and capable of delivering 11 metric tons of payload to the moon's surface, would be assembled and packed in the U.S. and shipped to Russia in C-5 Galaxy or Antonov-124/225 transport planes, then launched on Energia rockets from Baikonur Cosmodrome, a Russian enclave in independent Kazakhstan. The Soviet Union's Energia heavy-lift rocket and Buran reusable shuttle were developed beginning in 1976 in response to the planned U.S. Space Shuttle. Energia replaced the Soviet answer to the U.S. Saturn V rocket, the N-1, which was cancelled in 1974 after four failed test flights. 

In contrast to the N-1, Energia flew successfully both times it was launched. Energia payloads were required to perform a short burn after they separated from the rocket so that they could achieve a stable orbit about the Earth. Polyus, launched 15 May 1987, did not orient itself properly ahead of the burn and did not reach orbit, while the unpiloted Buran completed a single orbit as planned and landed on a Baikonur runway on 15 November 1988. 

Based on data Russia provided to NASA, launch teams at Baikonur could prepare two Energia rockets for launch simultaneously. Three Energia launch pads were available - two originally built for the Soviet N-1 moon rocket and an all-new pad. Energia could launch a 5.5-meter-diameter canister containing a U.S.-built cargo lander attached to a Russian "Block 14C40" upper stage. Following an Earth-orbit insertion burn, the upper stage would perform a TLI burn, boosting the cargo lander toward the moon.

Shuttle-derived heavy-lift boosters would launch Joosten's piloted landers from the twin Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Complex 39 pads. The pads, monolithic Vehicle Assembly Building, and other KSC facilities, most of which were originally constructed in the 1960s for the Apollo moon program, were modified in the 1970s to serve the Space Shuttle. They would require new modifications to support the ILREC program; Joosten assured his readers, however, that no wholly new facilities would need to be constructed at the Florida spaceport.

Joosten considered both Shuttle-C and in-line Shuttle-derived launchers. The Shuttle-C design had a cargo module with attached Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) mounted on the side of a Shuttle External Tank (ET) in place of the delta-winged Shuttle Orbiter. The in-line design, a conceptual ancestor of the Space Launch System presently (2017) under development, would place the cargo module on top of a modified ET and three SSMEs underneath. The tank would have attached to its sides twin Advanced Solid Rocket Motors more powerful than their Space Shuttle counterparts. Joosten appears to have favored the Shuttle-C design.

The image above is slightly confusing: it displays a piloted ILREC lander and, below that, a conical TLI stage with three engines, but does not make clear that, except for the white, black, and gray conical crew capsule at the top, both lander and stage would be hidden from view under a streamlined white launch shroud. Missing from this illustration is the solid-propellant launch-escape system tower mounted on the crew capsule's nose. Image credit: NASA
A piloted ILREC lander descends toward a landing near the regolith processing lander and the teleoperated tanker rover. The aft compartment, located between the two rear landing gear, holds up to two tons of cargo. Image credit: NASA
Shortly after touchdown, the teleoperated tanker rover moves into position beside the ILREC crew lander and extends an umbilical so that it can refill the lander's empty liquid oxygen tanks with LUNOX for the trip home to Earth. Note the position of the crew hatch and two of the lander's four engines. Image credit: NASA
The Shuttle-derived heavy-lift rocket would launch the piloted lander, bearing an international crew and about two tons of cargo, into Earth orbit. About 4.5 hours after liftoff, following a systems checkout period, the TLI stage would place the piloted lander on a direct trajectory to the moon. The stage would then be cast off.

Joosten's crew lander design outwardly resembled the fictional "Eagle" transport spacecraft from the 1970s Gerry Anderson TV series Space: 1999. The crew compartment, a conical capsule modeled on the Apollo Command Module (but lacking a nose-mounted docking unit), would be mounted on the front of a horizontally oriented three-legged lander. The three landing legs would fold against the lander's belly beneath a streamlined shroud during ascent through Earth's lower atmosphere.

On the moon, the crew hatch would face downward, providing ready access to the surface via a ladder on the lander's single forward leg; on the launch pad, the hatch would permit horizontal access to the capsule interior much as did the Apollo CM hatch. The crew compartment windows would be inset into the hull and oriented to enable the pilot to view the landing site during descent. The crew spacecraft would land on and launch from the moon using the same set of four belly-mounted throttleable rocket engines.

During descent to the lunar surface, the engines would burn Earth oxygen and hydrogen. Soon after lunar touchdown, the lander would be reloaded with liquid oxygen from the automated lunar oxygen plant.

During return to Earth, Joosten's spacecraft would burn Earth hydrogen and lunar oxygen. The entire crew lander would lift off from the moon; only descent stages that delivered automated payloads would remain on the moon to clutter up the site. After a brief period in lunar parking orbit, the ILREC lander would ignite its four engines again to place itself on course for Earth.

Nearing Earth, the crew capsule would separate from the lander section and orient itself for reentry by turning its Apollo-style bowl-shaped heat shield toward the atmosphere. The lander section, meanwhile, would steer toward a reentry point well away from populated areas. The crew capsule would deploy a steerable parasail-type parachute. Joosten recommended that NASA recover the capsule on land - perhaps at Kennedy Space Center - to avoid the greater cost of an Apollo-style CM splashdown and water recovery. Most of the lander section would burn up during reentry.

The first piloted ILREC lander, with a U.S.-Russian crew of two on board, would spend two weeks on the moon. The crew would inspect the automated mining and oxygen production systems and explore using the moon bus rover. In Phase 1, the moon bus would be capable of traveling away from the crew lander landing site for two or three days at a time.

Several Phase 1 piloted missions to the site would be possible; alternately, NASA and Russia could skip immediately to Phase 2 - establishment of a temporary lunar outpost - after only a single Phase 1 piloted flight. In ILREC Phase 2, three more cargo flights would deliver to the same site a second moon bus rover, a rover support module with an attached airlock derived from Space Station hardware designs, consumables in a cart-mounted pressurizable Space Station-derived module, and science equipment.

An Energia-launched cargo lander would deliver the U.S.-built airlock/rover support node to the outpost site and lower it to the lunar surface. Astronauts in the pressurized moon bus rovers would drive it to a flat area using teleoperations techniques, then would use robot arms on their rovers to lower stilt-like supports. These would level and raise the airlock/node. After the airlock/node's wheels became raised off the ground, they would be removed, clearing the way for the twin rovers to "dock" with the node's two round side ports (one port is visible below the observation cupola just right of center). Image credit: NASA
Phase 2 ILREC temporary lunar outpost. Two pressurized rovers are docked tail-first to the support node, as is a pressurized consumables cart (at the end of the node opposite the airlock). Hanging regolith-filled bags on the node provide added protection from ionizing radiation. Wheels removed from the airlock/node are stacked to the left of the surface access gangway; they serve as spares for the pressurized moon bus rovers. A buried electrical cable (visible as a curved line in the lunar dirt running from center to lower right) leads toward a nuclear reactor (out of view). Image credit: NASA
Phase 2 outpost with components identified. The lower image is turned 90 degrees relative to the top image. Image credit: NASA
A piloted flight would then deliver a four-person crew for a six-week lunar surface stay. The crew would divide up into pairs, with each pair living in and operating a moon bus rover. The support module/airlock would include docking ports so that the two moon buses and the consumables module cart could link to it, forming a small outpost.

The moon buses would tow auxiliary power carts in Phase 2 to enable longer traverses across the lunar surface. The moon bus/cart combinations might travel in pairs along parallel routes or one moon bus might remain at the outpost while the other moon bus and its power cart ventured far afield. In the event that a moon bus rover failed beyond walking distance from the outpost and could not be repaired, the other moon bus could rescue its crew.

ILREC Phase 3 was poorly defined: it might see larger lunar crews venturing further afield, or NASA might change direction and use technology developed for the lunar program to put humans on Mars (perhaps still in partnership with Russia). Joosten identified the piloted moon lander crew capsule, Shuttle-derived heavy-lift rocket, pressurized moon bus rovers, and Energia as candidate Mars mission hardware. Both Energia and the Shuttle-derived rocket might be upgraded for piloted Mars missions; they might even be merged to create a single international heavy-lift rocket more powerful than either Energia or the Shuttle derivative.

Joosten envisioned that in Phases 1 and 2 Russia would pay for Energia and the Block 14C40 TLI stage, while NASA would pay for the Shuttle-derived rocket and its TLI stage, the crew and cargo landers, moon bus rovers and teleoperated carts, and lunar oxygen production systems. In exchange for Russia's participation, its cosmonauts would walk on the moon in the early years of the 21st century. If U.S.-Russia space cooperation were for any reason curtailed, NASA could continue the moon program by using Shuttle-derived launchers to launch moon-bound cargo - provided, of course, that U.S. policy makers determined that an all-U.S. moon program was worth the added cost.


Mir Hardware Heritage, NASA Reference Publication 1357, NASA Johnson Space Center Reference Series No. 3, David S. F. Portree, March 1995, pp. 168-170

"International Lunar Resources Exploration Concept," Kent Joosten, Low Cost Lunar Access Conference Proceedings, 1993, pp. 25-61; paper presented at the AIAA Low Cost Lunar Access conference, Arlington, Virginia, 7 May 1993

International Lunar Resources Exploration Concept, Presentation Materials, Kent Joosten, Exploration Programs Office, NASA Johnson Space Center, February 1993

Press Kit: Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Mission, NASA, 6 July 1969

More Information

NASA's 1992 Plan to Land Soyuz Space Station Lifeboats in Australia

"A Vision of the Future": Military Uses of the Moon and Asteroids (1983)

Skylab-Salyut Space Laboratory (1972)

The Spacewalks That Never Were: Gemini Extravehicular Activity Planning Group (1965)

Space Race: The Notorious 1962 Proposal to Launch an Astronaut on a One-Way Trip to the Moon

"He Who Controls the Moon Controls the Earth" (1958)

24 June 2017

Dreaming a Different Apollo, Part Six: Star Trek as an Exemplar of Space-Age Popular Culture

U.S.S. Enterprise filming model hanging in the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC, March 1986. Image credit: David S. F. Portree
(Excerpt from a graduate thesis by David S. F. Portree; submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for a Master's degree in History, August 1987)


No element of popular culture better exemplifies the enthusiasm Americans felt for their space program in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s than the Star Trek phenomenon. The television program, the brainchild of Gene Roddenberry, aired on the NBC network in its original form from September 1966, as the last Gemini flights blasted off, to June 1971, on the eve of the launch of Olympus 1, the first U.S. space station.

The program, set on board a 23rd-century faster-than-light starship called Enterprise, might have continued for many years but for the ambitions of members of its cast. By early 1971 it was clear that both William Shatner, who played Captain James T. Kirk, and Leonard Nimoy, who played First Officer Spock, wished to build on their fame by tackling new acting challenges. Both would become A-list motion picture stars in the 1970s and 1980s.

For a time, Roddenberry considered continuing Star Trek with a new Captain and First Officer. Many popular actors petitioned him to take over the Captain's chair or the Science Officer's scanner. He noted, however, that the Enterprise would complete the "five-year mission" of Star Trek's opening monologue by the time Shatner and Nimoy moved on. More significant was his concern that fans would not accept the sudden arrival of a new Captain and First Officer in the familiar setting of the Enterprise.

Over the objections of Paramount Studios and NBC, Roddenberry determined to tie off the original Star Trek series. The studio and the network, for their part, threatened to continue the program with a new creative team.

Roddenberry ended the impasse in April 1971 by floating a new Star Trek series. Set "on the other side of the Federation" on board a new starship, it would star Martin Landau, one of the many supplicants who had approached Roddenberry to step into Shatner's shoes. Paramount agreed with some reservations; NBC, for its part, played coy.

The original Star Trek series, meanwhile, went into syndication, earning big profits for Paramount. Roddenberry, who treated the new Star Trek series as a given, demanded that a share of those profits should be invested in the new series so that it could "go where no television series - including the original Star Trek - has gone before."

In August 1971, the CBS network showed interest in the new Star Trek, leaving NBC with little choice but to sign on and accept most of Roddenberry's terms. Development of the new series began in October 1971 and continued through 1972 and the first half of 1973.

Star Trek's popularity and its hopeful vision of a human future in space attracted NASA's notice by the beginning of 1971. Soon the fictional space program of Star Trek began to insinuate itself into the real-life space program.

A small model of the starship Enterprise reached Olympus 1 with the Apollo 19 crew, the first to live on board the station (November-December 1971), and returned to Earth with the Apollo 22 crew, the last to live on board (July-November 1972). The model now resides in the Smithsonian.

During the Apollo 25 lunar landing mission (December 1972), which was given over to lunar surface technology testing and development, Commander Dick Gordon produced a Star Trek communicator from a space suit pocket and asked to be beamed up to the lunar-orbiting Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM) spacecraft Enterprise. The communicator, an actual series prop Roddenberry loaned to Gordon, was, unfortunately, accidently left behind on the moon.

The Apollo 29 crew, the second short-duration visiting crew to pay call on the long-duration Apollo 27 crew on board the Olympus 2 station, released a small herd of fuzzy stuffed "tribbles," alien animals made famous in the second-season Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" and the fourth-season episode "More Tribbles, More Troubles." They reached the station in the seventh K-class CSM; thus, going by NASA's alphanumeric mission designation system, it was CSM K-7. Space Station K-7 was the setting for "The Trouble with Tribbles."

Roddenberry's new Star Trek, called Star Trek: Farthest Star, launched in September 1973, at a time when NASA had no astronauts in space. After hosting the record-setting 224-day orbital stay of the Apollo 27 crew, Olympus 2 was boosted to a high-altitude storage orbit in July 1973. Olympus 3, the first "permanent" station, was not due to launch until December. The night before the new series premiere, Tonight Show host Johnny Carson joked in his monologue that NASA's astronauts were all staying home on Earth so as not to miss the new Star Trek premiere. His headline guest that night was Martin Landau, who revealed that his character was named Thelar.

The next night, the premiere of Star Trek: Farthest Star drew a record audience, with more than a third of American households tuning in. Viewers found themselves in a familiar place, but with intriguing changes.

Thelar, it turned out, was an Andorian. According to the Star Trek: Farthest Star series bible, he was the first non-Human formally promoted to captain a starship with a crew made up mostly of Humans. His starship, the Endeavour, patrolled a pie-slice region of Federation space between the Federation Central Beacon and the Galactic Core. The series partially overlapped the original series in time. Endeavour was of the same class as Kirk's Enterprise, differing from it only in detail.

Blue-skinned, white-haired Captain Thelar had a complex back-story. It grew from the original Star Trek season four episode "A Knife in the Heart," which in turn grew from the original Star Trek season one episode "Balance of Terror." Much like "Balance of Terror," "A Knife in the Heart" portrayed a Romulan incursion into Federation space.

The Romulans, it was established, were descended from the crew of a Vulcan cargo ship that had crashed on the bleak planet Zeta Reticuli B V more than 2000 years earlier, in the era before the Vulcans nearly destroyed themselves and embraced logic. Even as they increased their numbers, the proto-Romulans lost their technology. Two hundred years after the crash, Earth and Romulus had roughly equivalent technology. On Earth, the first-century Roman Empire expanded its borders; on Romulus, Sarpa the Great built the first world empire.

Romulus and Earth continued to advance, with the former outpacing the latter. In about the Earth year 1700, the Romulans fought their first nuclear war, retarding their development. Nevertheless, in about the Earth year 1900, they managed to launch settlers to Romii, a planet orbiting Zeta Reticuli A. By the Earth year 2100, Romulus and Romii were at war.

Humans, meanwhile, split the atom, established a base on Earth's moon, fought the Eugenics Wars, settled Mars, developed warp drive, and contacted the Vulcans, Tellarites, and Andorians. The Vulcans were technologically more advanced than Humans, the Tellarites roughly equivalent, and the Andorians more primitive (they were experimenting with steam and electricity when Earth came to call).

In 2163, the United Earth starship Pax entered the Zeta Reticuli system. A "wolf-pack" of Romulan vessels immediately attacked her and crippled her warp drive with a lucky shot. Because their sensor technology was primitive, they may have mistaken Pax for an enemy Romii vessel. When the Romulans refused communication and attempted to board, Pax's captain transmitted the ship's datalogs to Starfleet Command and overloaded the twin fusion reactors that powered her warp drive, destroying Pax and most of the Romulan vessels.

The Earth-Romulus War was fought almost entirely within the Zeta Reticuli system. Earth's objective was to learn whether the Romulans constituted a threat to Earth and other inhabited worlds outside their system and to attempt dialog. After the Romulans realized that they were fighting a technologically advanced alien species, their objective became to capture technology. In 2169, for example, they reverse-engineered subspace radio.

Nearby Iota Horologii, the Andorian home system, became Earth's forward base in the war. Andorian technology leapt ahead as Humans offered Andorians work in their fleet yards.

The Earth-Romulus War ended in 2174. Earth destroyed Romulan space defense facilities, leaving them vulnerable to the Romii and forcing them to conclude a humiliating treaty via subspace radio. Earth withdrew and surrounded the Zeta Reticuli system with heavily shielded asteroid bases. The Romii and Romulans continued their war. In 2254, a decade before the events portrayed in "Balance of Terror," the Romulans at last crushed the Romii. They then began to look outward.

In "Balance of Terror," Enterprise destroyed a Romulan vessel sent out by the impulsive Romulan Praetor to test Earth's resolve. The Romulans had in the century since the Earth-Romulus War developed an invisibility cloak and a powerful plasma weapon, but apparently had yet to develop warp drive. Earth, meanwhile, had replaced fusion reactors with matter/anti-matter ones, developed photon torpedoes, and become a founding member of the United Federation of Planets. Zeta Reticuli, once on the frontier, now lay deep within Federation space.

Three years after the events of "Balance of Terror," civil war broke out on Andor as its ruling clans split over continued Federation membership. Some sought to withdraw from the Federation and build an Andorian star empire at the expense of other Federation species.

On the face of it, the anti-Federation clans were archaic in outlook and hopelessly out-matched. They had, however, allied in secret with the Romulans, who had at last built a warp-capable battle fleet.

Thelar was a junior officer on board the Federation starship Lexington, which the Federation Council had dispatched to Andor in an effort to defuse the civil war. Her captain offered to mediate a ceasefire. The Romulan fleet suddenly arrived, however, and Lexington's bridge was destroyed.

Thelar became the most senior officer left alive aboard the starship. Standing before the view screen in Lexington's Auxiliary Control Room, he found himself in confrontation with the patriarch of his own anti-Federation, Romulan-allied clan, who was, it turned out, also one of his fathers.

When his patriarch and part-father ordered him to turn Lexington's weapons on the pro-Federation Andorian forces in space and on Andor itself, Thelar declared on an open channel that his allegiance was to something greater than one man, greater than one clan, and, indeed, greater than Andor - his allegiance was to the United Federation of Planets. He then destroyed the patriarch's vessel with a volley of photon torpedoes.

Thelar's decisive act changed the course of the battle. It emboldened the pro-Federation Andorian clans and frightened the Romulan Praetor. In a fit of panic, the latter ordered his flagship to go to warp without notifying his fleet.

A week later, the Federation starships EnterpriseKongo, and Potemkin drove the Romulans back into the Zeta Reticuli system as they sought to rendezvous and regroup. Following his fleet's defeat, the Praetor was overthrown, creating an opportunity for Federation-Romulan diplomacy. Romulus would eventually join the Federation, though not during the run of Star Trek: Farthest Star.

"A Knife in the Heart" had referred only briefly to Lexington's battle at Andor. Spock remarked during a briefing that the starship had been "badly damaged while scattering the Romulan fleet at Iota Horologii," so could not join the fight at Zeta Reticuli. Thelar was not mentioned in the original series episode.

Star Trek: Farthest Star was not in general about space battles. The series delved instead into relations between humanoids and truly alien species. Most intelligent species in Endeavour's patrol zone, on the Coreward side of the Federation, were non-humanoids. Portraying these species convincingly became possible through improved special-effects technology and a much more generous budget for special effects than had been available to the original Star Trek production team.

Roddenberry sought to use non-humanoid species in part to point up both Thelar's humanity and his occasionally shocking "otherness." As portrayed by Landau, the Andorian captain became a sympathetic character, but also one who sometimes created difficult social and moral conundrums for his human crew and Roddenberry's audience.

On two occasions, Endeavour encountered Kirk's Enterprise. In the third-season episode "Green Torchlight," the two vessels called simultaneously at Starfleet Headquarters, a giant space station in deep space near the Federation Central Beacon. In the fourth-season episode "Aliens," Leonard Nimoy guest-starred as Spock. Nimoy's return to the world of Star Trek made "Aliens" the most popular TV episode in the U.S. in 1978.

Star Trek: Farthest Star featured scripts by many science fiction authors. C. J. Cherryh penned "Destroyer," a second-season show, while Isaac Asimov wrote "Empire and Robots," a fan favorite of the third season. Theodore Sturgeon returned with a sequel to his original Star Trek episode "Shore Leave." Poul Anderson won a Hugo Award in 1979 for his season six episode "Conquest of Five Worlds." Frederick Pohl contributed the controversial season eight episodes "Doorway" and "Gem."

NASA maintained its link to Star Trek. Recordings of episodes - often with added special greetings from stars of both series - made their way to Olympus 3 as crew recreational cargo throughout the station's "five-year mission" (it actually lasted closer to six years, but few argued the point).

A large collection of Star Trek toys and posters accumulated on board Olympus 3. Not everyone found this pleasing. During a spacewalk, astronaut Stu Collins released eight starship models in succession and filmed them as they drifted away. Star Trek fans at first believed he did this because it "looked cool," but then Collins quipped during an orbital press conference that he had released the models "to cut down on the damned Star Trek clutter" inside the station. He then revealed that he had also released a trash bag full of toy tribbles before closing out the spacewalk.

When Collins returned to Earth, he found his office door at NASA Johnson Space Center covered with newspaper clippings reporting angry fan reactions to his "attack" on Star Trek. When he opened the door, he found letters from outraged fans piled almost to the ceiling. The letters on top of the pile, from his astronaut colleagues, contained (mostly) tongue-in-check admonishments.

Star Trek: Farthest Star ran for nine seasons. Its last season overlapped the launch of NASA's first piloted Mars orbiter mission. The crew on board the Mars orbiter Endeavour named the robots they teleoperated on the martian surface for the program's main  characters. Of the six, Thelar, painted a distinctive blue, operated the longest. In fact, it remained functional in October 1984, at the end of Endeavour's 500-day stay at Mars, when the crew fired their spacecraft's main engine to begin the six-month flight home to Earth.

More Information

Dreaming a Different Apollo, Part One

Dreaming a Different Apollo, Part Four: Naming Names

21 June 2017

Thirty Years of Spaceflight Outreach

Staffing the tables at Flagstaff's annual Science in the Park event, September 2012. Image credit: Lisa Gaddis
The first satellite, Sputnik 1, reached Earth orbit in 1957, and in 1987 NASA was recovering from the January 1986 Challenger accident while the Soviet Union added to the newly launched Mir space station Kvant, its first add-on module. Three decades separate those events.

I think about that eventful 30-year span when I want to feel ancient. In 1987, I began my first paid space outreach project. Now it's 2017, 30 years on, the same period of time that separated Sputnik from Mir's early days. Throughout that 30-year period, I've always had some paid space outreach activity under way, be it a freelance job writing Astronaut Hall of Fame museum text, a Fellowship at NASA Goddard producing Earth & Sky radio programs, an article assignment for Air & Space Smithsonian covering NASA space suit tests, star parties at Navajo Reservation schools as part of Lowell Observatory's outreach programs, or teaching kids to launch rockets as part of a university summer enrichment program (to name just a few of my gigs). Typically, I've had several projects aimed at "selling" spaceflight going on at any one time.

My first paid spaceflight outreach work was an Astronomy magazine article. In it, I called on people interested in space to organize and interact with people with no interest in space. Break out of the space "fandom" and share the thrill of space exploration, in other words. The article grew out of my experiences as I struggled to deal with the Challenger accident, which I felt as a harsh blow and a strong motivator to do what I could. I think I received $50 as payment. At the time I wrote the article, I was finishing my graduate degree in History in the aptly named town of Normal, Illinois.

Thirty years on, I work at the U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona. I am a U.S. Federal government employee working alongside and providing operational support to planetary scientists and cartographers. I'm mainly an archivist and map librarian, but I also maintain our exhibits and give tours. Yesterday I received a 10-year service pin; tomorrow I'll show 42 teachers from 19 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and Canada around our facility. I can hardly wait.

The first big turning point in my peripatetic career was a telephone call I received from NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) in May 1992. At the time, I was freelance writing - the Star Date radio show was a regular client - and presenting planetarium shows to school groups. The call came as a shock since I had not answered any sort of job solicitation.

It turned out that the deputy director of a part of JSC responsible for their History Office had asked her husband's best friend's brother, who was one of my editors, to recommend someone for a job that was part technical writing, part history. JSC management in its wisdom had decided to close the History Office, but there were dissenters. I was flown down to Houston for an interview in July, and on 10 August 1992, I became part of their devious plot to keep the invaluable JSC History collections intact and available.

Eventually, the pendulum swung back; a new JSC Director wanted to do a big oral history project. When those employed to carry it out went looking for documents so that they could research the careers of the people they meant to interview, the folks who had hired me magically produced the JSC History collection out of thin air.

By then, I'd moved on, launching a freelance writing career that was to last a dozen years. I'd be at it yet today, had it not been for another big turning point in my career (and, indeed, in my life). On 7 July 2007, a sleeping driver rammed my wife's car head-on on the highway a mile or so from our rural Flagstaff home, killing himself, his passengers, and my wife, and gravely injuring our daughter, who was four years old at the time.

Despite massive brain damage and seven fractures scattered across her body, she's now a normal teenager, if such a thing exists. If you're going to be nearly killed in a car crash, do it at age four, when your brain can rewire itself and your bones can knit quickly. Though she needs special education help to overcome perceptual barriers, through hard work she routinely earns a place on the Honor Roll. She likes science and writing; next year, in fact, she's taking Honors Science and Honors English.

I sense a pattern emerging. Can a desire to write about science-y stuff be inherited?

I've described the kinds of paid spaceflight outreach I did in the past and what I do today. What of the future?

Raising the Kiddo, contending with the sudden loss of my dear wife, and working a steady job so our child could have health insurance despite her obvious preexisting conditions killed off the three book projects I had under way 10 years ago. I want to get back to those. As she grows older, the Kiddo becomes increasingly self-sufficient, potentially freeing up some of my time for new freelance projects. I have no desire to neglect her even as she becomes more self-sufficient, however.

There's also my status as a Federal government employee to consider. I am bound by ethics rules designed to prevent corruption. These require that any "moonlighting" I do be vetted first by ethics officials to avoid a conflict of interest. I have already had a project vetted and approved, so I am hopeful that I will in the next few years be able to publish a new book. It would be my first since my 2001 NASA-published opus Humans to Mars: Fifty Years of Mission Planning, 1950-2000.

To end this self-serving little anniversary essay, I want to acknowledge the many, many people who have made my adventures in the past 30 years possible. Some of you read this blog; your encouragement and stimulating comments keep it alive. I'll not name names in order to protect the innocent and to avoid forgetting anyone. You know who you are. Thank you, every one of you.

20 June 2017

Safeguarding the Earth from Martians: The Antaeus Report (1978-1981)

The Viking 2 landing site in Utopia Planitia, a northern plain where water frost is seen on winter mornings. The lander touched down on 3 September 1976. A three-meter arm with a scoop on the end dug into the martian surface near the lander, collecting dirt to feed into its three biology experiments. The arm was also used to push rocks and dig trenches that enabled scientists on Earth to study the top 20 centimeters or so of the martian surface. Had the arm been able to dig down deeper - perhaps as little as 30 centimeters deeper - it would have encountered water ice and the history of Mars exploration could have been very different. Image credit: NASA
In the summer of 1978, 16 university professors from around the United States gathered at NASA's Ames Research Center near San Francisco to spend 10 weeks designing an Earth-orbiting Mars sample quarantine facility. It was one of a series of similar Ames-hosted Summer Faculty Design Studies conducted since the 1960s.

At the time, NASA actively considered Mars Sample Return (MSR) as a post-Viking mission. Agency interest flagged as it became clear that no such mission would receive funding, so publication of the 1978 design study, titled Orbiting Quarantine Facility: The Antaeus Report, was delayed until 1981.

The Summer Fellows noted that the three biology experiments on the Viking landers had found neither organic carbon nor clear evidence of ongoing metabolic processes in the soil they tested on Mars. Furthermore, the Viking cameras had observed no obvious signs of life at the two rather dull Viking landing sites.

Nevertheless, the Summer Fellows argued, "the limitations of automated analysis" and the fact that "the landers sampled visually only a small fraction of one percent of the planet's surface" meant that there could be "no real certainty" about whether Mars was lifeless. This, they argued, meant that, "in the event that samples of Martian soil are returned to Earth for study, special precautions ought to be taken. . .the samples should be considered to be potentially hazardous to terrestrial organisms until it has been conclusively shown that they are not."

Their report listed three options for attempting to ensure that samples would not accidentally release martian organisms on Earth. The MSR spacecraft might sterilize the sample en route from Mars to Earth, perhaps by heating it. Alternately, the unsterilized sample might be quarantined in a "maximum containment" facility on Earth or in Earth orbit, outside our planet's biosphere.

The Summer Fellows noted that each of these three options would have advantages and disadvantages; sterilizing the sample, for example, might ensure that no martian organisms could reach Earth, but would likely also damage the sample, diminishing its scientific utility. The scientists explained that the Antaeus study emphasized the third option because it had not been studied in detail previously.

The Summer Fellows explained the significance of the name they had selected for their Orbiting Quarantine Facility (OQF) project. Antaeus was a giant in Greek mythology who forced passing travelers to wrestle with him and killed them when he won. The Earth was the source of Antaeus' power, so the hero Hercules was able to defeat the murderous giant by holding him above the ground. "Like Antaeus," they explained, a martian organism "might thrive on contact with the terrestrial biosphere. By keeping the pathogen contained and distant, the proposed [OQF] would safeguard the Earth from possible contamination."

Five 4.1-meter-diameter cylindrical modules based on European Space Agency Spacelab module hardware would form the Antaeus OQF. The Summer Fellows assumed that the modules and many of the other components needed to assemble and operate the OQF would become available during the 1980s as the Space Shuttle Program evolved into a Space Station Program.

OQF assembly in 296-kilometer-high circular Earth orbit would need two years. It would begin with the launch of drum-shaped Docking and Logistics Modules together in a Space Shuttle Orbiter's payload bay.

The 2.3-ton Docking Module, the OQF's core, would measure 4.3 meters long. It would include six 1.3-meter-diameter ports with docking units derived from the U.S. version of the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz "neuter" design. Outward-splayed guide "petals" and a system of shock absorbers and latches would enable identical docking units to link together.

The Antaeus Orbital Quarantine Facility. Image credit: NASA
In addition to the Logistics Module, Power, Habitation, and Laboratory Modules would link up with Docking Module ports. When completed, they would form what the Fellows called a "pinwheel" design. The remaining two Docking Module ports would enable Shuttle dockings, spacewalks outside the OQF with the Docking Module serving as an airlock, and attachment of additional modules if necessary.

The 4.3-meter-long Logistics Module would weigh 4.5 tons loaded with a one-month supply of air, water, food, and other supplies. After a crew took up residence on board the OQF, a Shuttle Orbiter would arrive each month with a fresh Logistics Module. Using twin robot arms mounted in the Orbiter payload bay, the Shuttle crew would remove the spent Logistics Module for return to Earth and berth the fresh one in its place.

The second OQF assembly flight would see the Shuttle crew link the 13.6-ton Power Module to the Docking Module's aft port. The Power Module would then deploy two steerable solar arrays capable of generating between 25 and 35 kilowatts of electricity. Spinning momentum wheels would provide OQF attitude control and small thrusters would fire periodically to counter atmospheric drag, which would otherwise over time cause the quarantine station to reenter. The Power Module would also provide OQF thermal control and communications.

The OQF's five-person crew would live in the 12.4-meter-long, 13.6-ton Habitation Module, which would arrive on the third assembly flight. The OQF's "command console," five crew sleep compartments, and workshop, sickbay, galley, exercise, and waste management/hygiene compartments would be arranged on either side of a central aisle. The Hab Module would provide life support for all the OQF's modules except the Laboratory Module.

The Lab Module, delivered during the fourth and final OQF assembly flight, would measure 6.9 meters long and, like the Hab and Power Modules, would weigh 13.6 tons. Not surprisingly, the Ames Faculty Fellows devoted an entire chapter of the Antaeus report to the Lab.

Spacelab pressurized modules included a central corridor running their entire length. Experiment equipment lined their walls. The Spacelab-based OQF Lab Module, on the other hand, would have a central experiment area running most of its length with corridors along its walls. Most of the experiment area would be located within glass-walled "high-hazard" "Class III" biological containment cabinets similar to those at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Antaeus OQF Lab Module included an independent life support system to help prevent contamination of adjoining modules. Grills in the floor and ceiling lead to air filters. The Mars Sample Return sample canister would enter the central experiment area from above. Visible are at least three microscopes. Image credit: NASA
Analysis equipment within the cabinets would include a refrigerator, a freezer, a centrifuge, an autoclave, a gas chromatograph, a mass spectrometer, incubation and metabolic chambers, scanning electron and compound light microscopes, and challenge culture plates. The crew would operate the equipment from outside the cabinets using sleeve-like arms with mechanical grippers.

The Summer Fellows provided no obvious aids for crew positioning. In the illustration of the Lab module above, scientists are shown floating without handgrips or feet or body restraints. Given the delicate and sensitive nature of the work they were meant to perform, this would probably turn out to be a significant omission.

The Lab Module would include an independent life support system with "high efficiency particle accumulator" (HEPA) filters. Experimenters would enter and exit the Lab Module through a decontamination area, where they would don and doff respirator masks and protective clothing. If a mishap contaminated the Lab Module, the module could be detached from the OQF and boosted to a long-lived 8000-kilometer circular orbit using a Laboratory Abort Propulsion Kit delivered by a Shuttle Orbiter.

Following the two-year assembly period, a rehearsal crew would board the OQF to test its systems and try out the Mars sample analysis protocol using biological samples from Earth. The Summer Fellows set aside up to two years for these practice activities. At about the time the rehearsal crew boarded the OQF, a robotic MSR spacecraft would depart Earth on a one-year journey to Mars.

Two years later and four years after the start of OQF assembly, a small Mars Sample Return Vehicle (MSRV) containing one kilogram of martian surface material and atmosphere samples would fire rocket motors to enable Earth's gravity to capture it into a high orbit. The sample would ride within a sample canister, the exterior of which would have been sterilized during Mars-Earth transfer. Meanwhile, a Shuttle Orbiter would deliver to the OQF the first five-person sample-analysis crew. It would comprise a commander (a career astronaut with engineering training) and four scientists with clinical research experience (a medical doctor, a geobiologist, a biochemist, and a biologist).

A Shuttle-launched remote-controlled Space Tug would collect the sample canister from high-Earth orbit and deliver it to a special "docking cone" on top of the Lab Module. This is not shown in the illustration of the completed OQF; in its place, one finds a cylindrical "Sample Acquisition Port." The canister would then enter the experiment area through a small airlock.

The first sample analysis crew would cut open the canister using "a mechanism similar to a can opener." They would immediately place 900 grams of the sample into "pristine storage." Over the next 60 days, they would execute an analysis protocol that would expend 100 grams of the sample. Twelve grams each would be devoted to microbiological culturing and challenge cultures containing living cells from more than 100 Earth species; six grams each to metabolic tests and microscopic inspection for living cells and fossils; 10 grams to chemical analysis; and 54 grams to "second-order" follow-up tests.

If the 60-day analysis protocol yielded no signs of life in the test sample, a Shuttle Orbiter would carry the 900-gram pristine sample from the OQF to Earth's surface for distribution to laboratories around the world. Based on highly optimistic 1970s NASA estimates of Shuttle, Spacelab, and Station costs, the Summer Fellows placed the total cost of OQF assembly and operations for this "minimum scenario" at only $1.66 billion.

If, on the other hand, OQF scientists detected life in the Mars sample, then analysis on board the OQF could be extended for up to six and a half years. Throughout that period, Shuttle Orbiters would continue to deliver a steady stream of monthly Logistics Modules; they would also change out OQF crews at unspecified intervals. In all, about 80 Logistics Modules would reach the OQF by the time its mission ended. The cost of this "maximum scenario" might total $2.2 billion, the Ames Summer Faculty Fellows optimistically estimated.


Orbiting Quarantine Facility: The Antaeus Report, D. DeVincenzi and J. Bagby, editors, NASA, 1981

More Information

Clyde Tombaugh's Vision of Mars (1959)

Peeling Away the Layers of Mars (1966)

What Shuttle Should Have Been: NASA's October 1977 Space Shuttle Flight Manifest

Making Rocket Propellants from Martian Air (1978)

Astronaut Sally Ride's Mission to Mars (1987)

31 May 2017

Apollo Ends at Venus: A 1967 Proposal for Single-Launch Piloted Venus Flybys in 1972, 1973, and 1975

Probe release: the astronauts on board the Apollo Applications Program Venus flyby spacecraft release the last of their atmosphere-entry probes a few hours before closest approach to the cloudy planet. Meanwhile, their optical telescope, scanning radar, and other instruments switch to high-rate data-collection mode. Image credit: William Black.
For many space planners in the early 1960s, piloted Solar System exploration using large "post-Saturn" rockets and nuclear-powered spaceships seemed a natural follow-on to the Apollo lunar program. In November 1964, however, NASA Headquarters announced that its post-Apollo space program would emphasize Earth-orbital space stations based on Saturn/Apollo hardware. Their chief aim: to find space benefits for people on Earth. Agency officials explained that this was in keeping with the wishes of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. NASA critics, meanwhile, derided what they saw as its lack of an overarching goal beyond finding new uses for Apollo hardware.

The Headquarters announcement, the first high-level step on the road to the Apollo Applications Program (AAP), undermined planetary exploration planning. Even before the announcement, however, die-hard Mars planners had begun to study how Saturn/Apollo hardware could be applied to planetary voyages. In February 1965, just three months after the Headquarters announcement, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center's Future Projects Office completed the first study of Apollo-based piloted Mars and Venus flyby missions.

In February 1967, Jack Funk and James Taylor, engineers in the Advanced Mission Design Branch at NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston, Texas, proposed as AAP's "final goal" a series of three Apollo-based piloted Venus flybys. The missions would depart Earth during 30-day launch periods beginning on 4 April 1972, 14 November 1973, and 7 June 1975. Each would require a single unmodified three-stage Saturn V rocket of the type used to launch Apollo missions to the moon, a lightly modified Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM), and a Mission Module (MM) based, perhaps, on the Apollo Orbital Research Laboratory (AORL) under study at the time.

MSC's piloted Venus flyby missions were intended to replace the piloted Mars and Mars/Venus flybys under study by the intercenter NASA Planetary Joint Action Group (JAG). MSC favored a piloted Venus flyby mission followed by a Venus orbiter because they would be of shorter duration and would need less propulsive energy than the Planetary JAG's missions. In MSC's plan, piloted Mars orbiter and piloted Mars landing missions in the late 1970s would follow successful piloted Venus flyby and Venus orbiter missions.

Funk and Taylor's 1972 AAP Venus flyby mission would begin with launch from Cape Kennedy on 2 April 1972. The Saturn V's S-IVB third stage would inject a 66,308-pound CSM with three astronauts on board and a 27,783-pound MM into a 100-nautical-mile circular parking orbit.

The stage would be restarted a few hours later to place itself and its payload into an elliptical orbit with a 70,000-mile apogee (high point above the Earth) and a 48-hour period. Payload injected into the elliptical orbit would total 107,578 pounds, or about 263 pounds beyond expected Apollo Saturn V capacity; Funk and Taylor shrugged off the shortfall, however, saying that it was so small as to be "in the noise level" of their calculations.

Venus or bust. A = J-2 rocket motor; B = Saturn V S-IVB third stage; C = Spacecraft Launch Adapter (contains Mission Module); D = Apollo Command and Service Module spacecraft. Image credit: NASA
After S-IVB shutdown, the astronauts would detach their CSM from the Spacecraft Launch Adapter (SLA) shroud, turn it end for end, and dock with the MM, which would occupy the volume within the SLA that would contain the Lunar Module during Apollo moon missions. They would use the CSM to pull the MM free of the spent S-IVB stage, then would transfer to the MM to deploy its twin solar arrays, check out its systems, and perform navigational checks during the 24-hour climb to apogee.

The next day, the astronauts would return to their couches in the CSM as the flyby spacecraft neared apogee. They would then fire the Service Propulsion System (SPS) main engine in the CSM's Service Module (SM) to raise the perigee (low point above Earth) of their spacecraft's orbit and tilt its orbital plane relative to Earth's equator. The drum-shaped SM would contain 40,000 pounds of propellants, enabling a total velocity change of 4800 feet per second.

In addition to refining the flyby spacecraft's trajectory for the Venus injection burn, which would occur at perigee, the apogee maneuver would test the SPS. If the engine failed, the astronauts would abort the mission by discarding the MM and lowering the CSM's perigee into Earth's atmosphere by firing special aft-mounted auxiliary attitude control thrusters near apogee. When the CSM approached perigee 24 hours later, they would cast off the SM and reenter in the conical Command Module (CM).

Trans-Venus Injection scenario. See text for explanation. Image credit: NASA
If, on the other hand, the SPS performed the apogee maneuver successfully, the flyby spacecraft would reach perigee outside Earth's atmosphere traveling at 9710 feet per second. The astronauts would then ignite the SPS a second time to add a little more than 3000 feet per second to the flyby spacecraft's velocity and depart Earth orbit for Venus on 5 April 1972. Abort using the SPS would remain possible for six minutes after the completion of the Trans-Venus Injection burn; return to Earth following a post-injection abort could last up to two days.

Immediately after the Trans-Venus Injection burn, the astronauts would shut down the CSM to extend its lifetime and move back to the MM. They would reactivate the CSM three times during the 109-day flight to Venus so that they could perform small course correction burns using the SPS. Course correction navigation would be by Earth-based radar backed up by a hand-held sextant and a navigational computer in the MM.

Funk and Taylor calculated that the CSM would need 2000 pounds of extra meteoroid shielding for a Venus mission. Shielding - probably in the form of a Whipple Bumper (a thin layer of metal or plastic sheeting suspended a few inches from the hull that would break up meteoroids, reducing the damage they could inflict on the spacecraft) - would cover the entire CM and the SM tanks and SPS.

Artist William Black's interpretation of the AAP Venus flyby Mission Module (left) is a clever synthesis and expansion of two candidate designs portrayed in only modest detail in Funk and Taylor's report. The first was a drum-shaped module wasteful of the limited volume within the Spacecraft Launch Adapter (SLA); the second was bell-shaped and thus structurally complex.  
Emphasis on the Mission Module: following detachment from the Saturn V S-IVB stage, the AAP Venus flyby Mission Module would deploy its appendages. These would include four dish antennas for receiving data from atmosphere-entry probes (the probes are shown here arrayed around a circular airlock hatch); a mapping radar antenna (see previous image); twin rectangular solar arrays on booms for making electricity; a tracking optical telescope; and a high-gain radio antenna for communication with Earth. Image credit: William Black
Funk and Taylor based their mission's 3400-pound science experiment package on the Mars flyby science package proposed in the October 1966 Planetary JAG report. It would include impactor probes for obtaining atmosphere measurements during descent, soft landers, cameras, and, if weight growth during its development could be strictly controlled, a 40-inch telescope, but would lack the Mars flyby mission's sample-returner lander. The MIT-built CSM guidance computer would be upgraded and equipped with a tape recorder to allow it to collect and store data from the science instruments for return to Earth.

The astronauts would perform solar, space environmental, and astronomical observations during the Earth-Venus transfer and would begin deploying automated probes a few days before the 23 August 1972 Venus flyby. Closest approach to the planet would occur over the day side.

Using the SPS, the astronauts would perform three small course corrections during the 250-day voyage to Earth. As the homeworld grew in their viewports, the astronauts would transfer to the CSM and undock from the MM. On 30 March 1973, just 359 days after Earth launch, they would carry out a final course correction, then would detach the CM from the SM and re-enter Earth's atmosphere. A beefed-up heat shield would permit the CM to withstand atmosphere reentry at up to 45,000 feet per second (that is, about 9000 feet per second faster than Apollo lunar return speed).

Trajectory and key dates for the Venus flyby mission departing Earth on 5 April 1972. Venus flyby occurs on 23 August 1972; Earth return on 30 March 1973. Image credit: NASA
The second mission in the series would depart Earth on 14 November 1973 and fly past Venus 104 days later. It would reach Earth 252 days after that, for a total mission duration of 356 days. The third mission would leave Earth on 7 June 1975. Passage to Venus would need 115 days and return to Earth 252 days, for a total duration of 367 days.

The 1973 mission Venus flyby spacecraft would need the most propulsive energy to depart Earth orbit for Venus - a total of 12,150 feet per second, or about 70 feet per second more than the 1972 spacecraft and 300 feet per second more than the 1975 spacecraft. The 1972 CM would have the fastest Earth-atmosphere reentry speed (45,000 feet per second), while the 1973 CM would reenter moving at 44,500 feet per second and the 1975 CM at 44,000 feet per second.

Funk and Taylor's AAP Venus flyby plan stands out from the many 1960s plans for piloted flybys because it has been brought to life as fiction. In his 2017 alternate history Island of Clouds: The Great 1972 Venus Flyby, author Gerald Brennan puts narrative meat on the technical skeleton Funk and Taylor presented in their MSC Internal Note.

Told in the first person by a believable fictional Buzz Aldrin, Brennan's tale owes much to the Apollo 11 moon-walker's autobiography Return to Earth (1973). Its focus on exploration far from rescue puts Island of Clouds in a class with Hank Searls' classic 1964 adventure The Pilgrim Project (described elsewhere in this blog - click on the last link under "More Information" below).

Six months after Funk and Taylor completed their study, AAP bore the brunt of more than $500 million in Congressional cuts to NASA's Fiscal Year 1968 budget. The program, which for a time in 1966 had been planned to include some 40 Earth-orbital and lunar missions, shrank rapidly during 1968-1969. It was officially renamed the Skylab Program in February 1970. Between May 1973 and February 1974, three three-man crews occupied the Skylab Orbital Workshop in Earth orbit for a total of 173 days.

Robot probes, not astronauts, explored Venus in the 1970s. The Soviet Union's Venera 8 took advantage of the 1972 launch opportunity, leaving Baikonur Cosmodrome in Central Asia on 27 March 1972. The armored probe landed on Venus and transmitted data on its brutal surface conditions for 50 minutes. The U.S. Mariner 10 probe (launched 3 November 1973) flew past Venus en route to Mercury on 5 February 1974.

After skipping the 1973 Venus opportunity to launch Mars probes, the Soviets launched Venera 9 and Venera 10 on 8 and 14 June 1975, respectively. Each consisted of an orbiter and a lander. The Venera 9 lander transmitted the first picture of the Venusian surface on 22 October. Venera 10's lander set a new endurance record on 23 October, returning data from the surface for 65 minutes before its orbiter passed out of radio range.

The first, fourth, and fifth images in this post are Copyright 2017 by William Black (http://william-black.deviantart.com/) and are used by special arrangement with the artist.


Preliminary Mission Study of a Single-Launch Manned Venus Flyby with Extended Apollo Hardware, MSC Internal Note No. 67-FM-25, J. Funk & J. Taylor, Advanced Mission Design Branch, Mission Planning and Analysis Division, NASA Manned Spacecraft Center, Houston, Texas, 13 February 1967

More Information

EMPIRE Building: Ford Aeronutronic's 1962 Plan for Piloted Mars-Venus Flybys

After EMPIRE: Using Apollo Technology to Explore Mars and Venus (1965)

Triple Flyby: Venus-Mars-Venus Piloted Missions in the Late 1970s/Early 1980s (1967)

"Assuming That Everything Goes Perfectly Well in the Apollo Program. . ." (1967)

Space Race: The Notorious 1962 Proposal to Launch an Astronaut on a One-Way Trip to the Moon

16 May 2017

Venus As Proving Ground: A 1967 Proposal for a Piloted Venus Orbiter

Mariner II during its final days on Earth, July-August 1962. Image credit: NASA
NASA won a significant prestige victory over the Soviet Union on 14 December 1962, when Mariner II flew past Venus at a distance of 22,000 miles. The 203.6-kilogram spacecraft, the first successful interplanetary probe in history, left Cape Canaveral, Florida, on 27 August 1962. Controllers and scientists breathed a sigh of relief as it separated from its Atlas-Agena B launch vehicle; failure of an identical rocket had doomed its predecessor, Mariner I, on 22 July 1962.

Astronomers knew that Venus was nearly as large as Earth, but little else was known of it, for its surface is cloaked in dense white clouds. Many supposed that, because it is a near neighbor and similar in size to our planet, Venus would be Earth's twin. As late as 1962, some still hoped that astronauts might one day walk on Venus under overcast skies and perhaps find water and life.

Data from Mariner II effectively crossed Venus off the list of worlds where astronauts might one day land. As had been suspected since 1956, when radio astronomers first detected a surprising abundance of three-centimeter microwave radiation coming from the planet, Venus's surface temperature was well above the boiling point of water. Mariner II data indicated a temperature of at least 800° Fahrenheit over the entire planet. Cornell University astronomer Carl Sagan explained the intense heat: Venus has a dense carbon dioxide atmosphere that behaves like glass in a greenhouse.

Venus's role in piloted spaceflight thus shifted from a destination in its own right to a kind of "coaling station" for spacecraft traveling to and from Mars. Mission planners proposed ways that a piloted Mars spacecraft might use Venus's gravity to alter its course, slow down, or speed up without expending rocket propellants.

Some also began to view Venus as a proving ground for incremental space technology development. In 1967, NASA Lewis Research Center (LeRC) engineer Edward Willis proposed a manned Venus orbiter based on an "Apollo level of propulsion technology" for the period immediately after the Apollo moon missions.

Willis rejected piloted Mars and Venus flyby missions, which were under consideration as a post-Apollo NASA goal at the time he wrote his paper, in large part because he believed that they would not provide enough exploration time near the target planet. Though he sought a piloted Venus orbiter, Willis questioned the wisdom of launching an equivalent mission to Mars. "It is generally felt," he explained, "that the. . .objective of a manned Mars flight should be a manned landing and surface exploration," not merely a stint in Mars orbit.

The NASA LeRC engineer calculated that the mass of propellants needed for a piloted Venus orbiter would be considerably less than for a piloted Mars orbiter even in the most energetically demanding Earth-Venus minimum-energy transfer opportunity. This meant that a piloted Mars orbiter would always need more costly heavy-lift rocket launches to boost its propellants and components into low-Earth orbit than would a piloted Venus orbiter.

A piloted Mars landing mission, for its part, would be "still heavier than the [Mars] orbiting mission," so probably would "best be done using nuclear propulsion." Whereas chemical rockets generally need two propellants - fuel plus oxidizer to "burn" the fuel - nuclear-thermal rockets need only one working fluid. Liquid hydrogen is most often cited, though liquid methane is also mentioned.

Because they need to lug around the Solar System only one propellant, nuclear-thermal rockets are inherently more efficient than chemical rockets. Nuclear-thermal propulsion would, however, need more development and testing before it could propel humans to Mars. Nuclear-thermal propulsion was unlikely to be ready by the time Apollo ended; therefore, Willis wrote, "in terms of [technological] difficulty and timing, the Venus orbiting mission has a place ahead of the Mars orbiting and landing missions."

The key to a Venus orbiter with the lowest possible propellant mass, Willis explained, was selection of an appropriate Venus orbit. Entering and departing a highly elliptical orbit about Venus would need considerably less energy (hence, propellants) than would entering and departing a close circular Venus orbit. He thus proposed a Venus orbit with a periapsis (low point) of 13,310 kilometers (1.1 Venus radii) and a apoapsis (high point) of 252,890 kilometers (20.9 Venus radii).

The 129,250-pound (dry weight) Earth-departure stage (A in the cutaway drawing above) and the Venus orbiter spacecraft would be launched into Earth orbit separately. After the stage was loaded with 942,500 pounds of propellants in orbit, it would link up with the spacecraft. The stage would expend 930,000 pounds of propellants to increase the spacecraft's speed by 2.8 miles per second, launching it out of Earth orbit toward Venus. It would stay attached to the spacecraft until after a course-correction burn halfway to Venus that would expend an additional 12,500 pounds of propellants. The 332,000-pound Venus orbiter spacecraft, which could reach Earth orbit atop a single uprated Saturn V rocket, would comprise 10,000 pounds of Venus atmosphere probes (B), the 103,000-pound Venus arrival rocket stage (C), a 30,000-pound Venus scientific remote sensor payload (D), the 95,120-pound Venus departure rocket stage (E), the 4,000-pound Venus-Earth course-correction stage (F denotes tanks; engines are too small to be seen at this scale), the Command Module (G) for housing the crew, and the Earth atmosphere entry system (H), a 15,250-pound lifting-body with twin winglets for returning the crew to Earth's surface at the end of the mission. Of the Command Module's 66,000-pound mass, food, water, and other expendable supplies would account for 27,000 pounds. Image credit: NASA
Willis calculated that a Venus orbiter based on Apollo-level technology, departing from a 400-mile-high circular Earth orbit, staying for 40 days in his proposed Venus orbit, and with a total mission duration of 565 days, would have a mass of 1.412 million pounds just prior to Earth-orbit departure in the energetically demanding 1980 Earth-Venus transfer opportunity. An equivalent Mars orbiter launched in 1986, the least demanding Earth-Mars transfer opportunity of any Willis considered, would have a mass in Earth orbit about 70% greater - about 2.4 million pounds.

As the spacecraft approached Venus, its crew would turn it so that the Venus arrival stage faced forward, then would ignite the stage as it passed closest to Venus to slow the spacecraft by 0.64 miles per second. This would enable Venus's gravity to capture the spacecraft into its elliptical operational orbit. The maneuver would expend 91,950 pounds of propellants. The spent arrival stage would remain attached to the spacecraft at least until the Venus atmosphere entry probes were released.

The spacecraft would complete two orbits of Venus during its 40-day stay. Time within 26,300 kilometers (three Venus radii) of the planet would total two days; that is, several times longer than a piloted Venus flyby could spend near the planet (Willis's Venus orbiter would, however, not pass as close to Venus as would a Venus flyby spacecraft). Throughout their stay in orbit, the crew would turn remote sensors toward Venus. During the two periapsis passes, the astronauts would use radar to explore the mysterious terrain hidden beneath the Venusian clouds.

Farther out from the planet, near apoapsis, they would deploy the Venus atmosphere entry probes. Their spacecraft's distant apoapsis, combined with Venus's slow rotation rate (once per 243 Earth days), would enable them to remain in direct radio contact with their probes for days - unlike a piloted Venus flyby spacecraft, which could at best remain in contact with its probes for a few hours.

At the end of their stay in Venus orbit, the crew would cast off the Venus scientific payload and ignite the Venus departure stage at periapsis, expending 86,970 pounds of propellants and adding 1.14 miles per second to their speed. During the trip home, which would take them beyond Earth's orbit, they would discard the Venus departure stage and perform a course correction, if one were needed, using the small course correction stage attached to the Command Module.

Near Earth, the crew would separate from the Command Module in the Earth atmosphere entry lifting-body and enter the atmosphere at a speed of 48,000 feet per second. After banking and turning to shed speed, they would glide to a land landing, bringing to a triumphant conclusion humankind's historic first piloted voyage beyond the moon.


Manned Venus Orbiting Mission, NASA TM X-52311, E. Willis, 1967

More Information

Centaurs, Soviets, and Seltzer Seas: Mariner II's Venusian Adventure (1962)

After EMPIRE: Using Apollo Technology to Explore Mars and Venus (1965)

Triple-Flyby: Venus-Mars-Venus Piloted Missions in the Late 1970s/Early 1980s (1967)

Floaters, Armored Landers, Radar Orbiters, and Drop Sondes: Automated Probes for Piloted Venus Flybys (1967) 

Things to Do During a Venus-Mars-Venus Piloted Flyby Mission (1968)

Two for the Price of One: 1980s Piloted Mars-Venus Missions With Stopovers at Mars and Venus (1969)