Apollo Missions: The Conclusion Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Apollo Missions: The Conclusion

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Project Apollo: The Beginnings | Mission Planning | Landing Site Selection | Earthbound Support Systems
Astronaut Selection and Training | The Saturn V | The Saturn 1B | The Apollo Spacecraft
Guidance and Navigation | Command and Service Modules | The Lunar Module
Assembling and Launching | Pathfinders | The Early Missions | Apollo 11, The First Landing
The Intermediate Missions | Apollo 15 Exploration | Apollo 16 Exploration | Apollo 17 Exploration
Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz | Conclusion

Project Apollo was born out of the cold war that existed between the two 'superpowers' the USA and the USSR, after the conclusion of the Second World War. Apollo resulted from the perceived opinion within the United States that it was falling behind in the technological supremacy of the arms race with the USSR. It feared that the boosters used to launch the artificial satellites, that could be plainly seen by the American populous crossing their skies, could equally well be used to launch nuclear warheads at American cities. Supremacy was to be found 'in space'.

When United States President John F Kennedy issued his challenge to American industry that they '...should send a man to the moon and return him safely to earth, before this decade is out', he effectively created a finish line to the 'space race' that would establish the winner at the pinnacle of world technological achievement in the eyes of the world. It was a race that the US believed they could win, even though it was starting from behind after a number of pre-emptive firsts by the USSR and embarrassing failures on their own part.

Apollo was a specific answer to that specific goal and eventually established the US as the world leader in space exploration and scientific endeavour. In doing so it sent 24 men to the moon of whom twelve walked upon its surface. Apollo effectively won the race when Borman Lovell and Anders flew Apollo 8 into orbit around the moon and broadcast its Christmas message to the world on Christmas Eve 1968. It achieved its political goal in July 1969 when the crew of Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific ocean after their successful lunar landing and return to earth, beating the presidential deadline by five months.

Without Kennedy's challenge the USA would probably not have gone to the moon until the latter years of the 20th Century, if at all. It took a particular set of circumstances and the prevailing moods and fears of the times to create the will to fund and attempt a manned lunar program. Protagonists of space exploration would have been unlikely to have been given the free hand and almost unlimited funding to achieve that goal without the pervading fear that Soviet technology was advanced enough to threaten United States soil with a nuclear attack from space to which they had no response.

Wernher von Braun's dreams of space exploration by a long term commitment envisaged multiple rockets setting up earth orbiting space laboratories and colonies on the moon to be used as launchpads for exploration beyond Selene, were by-passed by Apollo. By choosing the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR) mode to achieve the presidential deadline, US space exploration was channelled down a dead end alley for a short term goal. LOR was chosen because it gave the best chance of achieving the deadline, but it was not the technology with the greatest potential for future development as its capacity for further expansion was limited. By the end of the Apollo project the Saturn boosters were carrying their maximum payload into space and had little further capability.

Very few foresaw that once the political goal had been achieved, the general public's interest in space exploration would wane dramatically and lunar landings would become regarded almost as routine. 'After all', it was said, '...how many times do you want to see men picking up rocks'. With the interest went the funding, and cuts were made to the final three projected landings by successive governments. Indeed, in some quarters the cancellations were received with relief and a 'quit while ahead' attitude. NASA's Apollo Applications Program (AAP) was all but cancelled due to the funding cuts which took place before the final Apollo landings, leaving NASA to concentrated on the Orbiter shuttle and unmanned probes.

Kennedy's challenge made no mention of collecting rock samples, taking photographs or carrying out experiments on the moon's surface. In fact a quick 'touch and go' would have been sufficient to satisfy the presidential challenge. Of necessity the means to achieve a landing received the prime attention of NASA which created differences between the engineering and scientific communities. The engineers saw Apollo as a technical challenge while the scientists saw it as a means to an end. Geologist Eugene Shoemaker, one of the chief scientific investigators, came to see Apollo as a lost opportunity and publicly criticised NASA for not using it to its full potential.

Initially, many of the Astronauts considered spaceflight to be an extension of high altitude flight and brought a test pilot's view to the missions, to achieve a 'full up' mission with all its objectives met and scientific endeavour coming a poor second. Once the technical ability had been established to achieve a landing, later missions were given a greater scientific role and astronauts readily accepted the challenges to accentuate the scientific role and bring about the greatest yield from their limited stay on the lunar surface. The. aborted Apollo 13 was to have been the first of the exploration flights where science had the major emphasis and was reflected in its mission motto: 'From the moon, knowledge'. With the advent of the Lunar Rover, which provided the ability for the astronaut to roam several miles from the LM base, the final three missions achieved major scientific successes.

Apollo did not discover any major secrets of the universe, but it did provide an insight into the origins of the moon and discounted previously held theories. It showed that the moon is probably the result of a collision between a proto-earth and another planetary body, the size of Mars, which occurred during the early formation of the solar system. It showed that the moon is not a primordial body, but an evolved planet in its own right and that it bears a unique record of the conditions of the early solar system that must be common with that of the earth's. There is no record in any of the physical samples returned by Apollo of life ever having existed there.

If the Apollo project was anything, it was certainly a triumph of engineering management. NASA brought together many major American companies and scientific establishments, all expert in their own fields and at the cutting edge of technological achievement, pushed them to greater heights and integrated the whole in a program to achieve a single goal within a limited timespan. At its height over 400,000 people were directly or indirectly involved in the Apollo project.

Was it worth it? The cost was enormous. Estimated at 25.4 billion dollars but taken in the context of a foreign war being waged at the same time which cost seven times more than Apollo, and in its latter years, more per year than the whole of the Apollo program, it was a relatively small part of US Gross National Budget. The scientific return alone would not have justified the cost, although it was in itself, priceless. It brought about new techniques, sciences, miniaturisation of components and computer technology that influence today's world in science and communication which has returned the cost many times over.

It was a tremendous technological achievement that could not immediately be repeated again. The only comparable civilian program being the construction of the Panama Canal or the Manhattan Project conduced during wartime. It has been estimated that to it will take approximately ten years, a decade, to incorporate the latest technology to regain the capability and the position occupied in 1973. The five ALSEP sites continued to function until they were switched off on 30 September, 1977, to save a parsimonious 200,000 dollars per year. Undoubtedly, the seismic experiments would have picked up meteorite impacts that have now gone undetected and would have added to the store of knowledge.

Apollo had another effect, one that was unforeseen. It helped to change earthly attitudes to our own environment. Astronaut Alan Sheperd, the first American in space and the fifth man to set foot on the moon said:

Some philosophical thoughts occur when a person stands on the surface of the moon and looks back at the earth a quarter of a million miles away, what a beautiful planet it is, what a fragile planet it is... limited resources, all these things automatically flash through your mind...

When the Apollo crews aimed a television camera back at the crescent earth to show a small blue-green planet adrift in the vastness of space, it brought home to many just how vulnerable and insignificant the planet really is in the cosmos. It reinforced a new environmentalist viewpoint, that of 'spaceship earth', adrift in the void in which mankind can exist unaided in only a small part of that sphere. Jim Lovell, one of the first to look back at the earth from lunar orbit and witness 'earthrise', commented that : The earth from here is a grand oasis in the big vastness of space.'

Among the last words spoken by a human on the face of the moon were by Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17:

'..and as I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come, but we believe not too long into the future, I'd like to just say what I believe history will record, That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. And as we leave the moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came, and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind...'

One thing is certain, if the challenge is to be taken up, it will be costly. But can mankind afford not to meet that challenge? If the remains of the six Apollo landers and the footprints that surround them are left undisturbed, they will be eventually become the only human artefacts to bear silent witness to man's greatest adventure, long after all trace of his passing has been lost on the small blue-green planet that hangs in a lunar sky.

God speed the Apollo crews

Where Are They Now

Saturn Launch Vehicles

  • Kennedy Space Centre Florida Saturn/Apollo Exhibition
    S1c First Stage, SII Second Stage, S-IVB Third Stage
    Apollo Command Module and Service Module

  • Johnson Space Centre (MSC) Houston, Texas.
    S1c First Stage, SII Second Stage, S-IVB Third Stage

  • US Space and Rocket Centre, Huntsville, Alabama.
    S1c First Stage, SII Second Stage, S-IVB Third Stage.

Command Modules

  • Apollo 1: Command Module. Stored at Langley Research Centre. Not on public view.

  • AS-201: Command Module. Strategic Air Command Museum, Ashland NE

  • AS-202: Command Module. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC. On display at Dulles International Airport, Washington DC

  • Apollo 4: Command Module. Stennis Space Centre, Port St Louis, Mississippi.

  • Apollo 6: Command Module. Fernbank Science Centre, Atlanta, Georgia.

  • Apollo 7: Command Module National Museum of Science and Technology, Ottawa Canada.

  • Apollo 8: Command Module Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois.

  • Apollo 9: Command Module 'Gumdrop'. Michigan Space and Science Centre, Jackson Community College, Jackson, Minnesota

  • Apollo 10: Command Module 'Charley Brown' National Science Museum, London, England.

  • Apollo 11: Command Module 'Columbia' Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC.

  • Apollo 12: Command Module. 'Yankee Clipper' Virginia Air and Space Centre, Hampton, Virginia.

  • Apollo 13: Command Module. 'Odyssey' Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Centre, Hutchinson, Kansas.

  • Apollo 14: Command Module 'Kitty Hawk' US Astronaut Hall of Fame, Titusville, Florida.

  • Apollo 15: Command Module 'Endeavour' US Air Force Museum, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio

  • Apollo 16: Command Module 'Casper' US Space and Rocket Centre, Huntsville, Alabama.

  • Apollo 17: Command Module 'America' Johnson Space Centre, Houston, Texas.

  • Skylab II: Command Module National Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola, Florida.

  • Skylab III: Command Module Glenn Research Centre, NASA, Cleveland, Ohio.

  • Skylab IV: Command Module National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC.

  • Apollo-Soyuz: Command Module Kennedy Space Centre, Visitors Complex, Florida.

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