The Apollo Myth: A Hindrance to Human Space Exploration*
by Phil Kouts PhD
*2nd edition revised and extended 1st version available here
The Orion program’s standing review board raised concerns that
the program’s schedule is missing activities which could affect
the program’s ability to accurately identify what is driving the schedule.
Government Accountability Office, Assessments of Major
NASA Projects, Report GAO-16-309SP, March 2016
NASA has quietly signed a contract with Boeing for up to five
additional Soyuz seats ...on flights in the fall of 2017 and spring of 2018,
with the option for three seats on Soyuz flights in 2019.
Jeff Foust, Spacenews.com, February 27, 2017
Unable to 'return' humans to the Moon, NASA is now promoting an even more ambitious plan for going to Mars, but only in the remote future. In the meantime, the agency still has to close the gaps in its knowledge related to human space exploration (HSE) beyond low-Earth orbit (LEO).
The author has completed a series of articles1 based on official NASA-published data and reached conclusions from NASA’s technical statements. Virtually all technical aspects of the Apollo record do not withstand the scrutiny of pragmatic reviews.
‘Any such mission is a complex chain of essential operations, all of which must be accomplished safely. It is sufficient for one or two links in the chain to be unreliable to make a Moon return deadly dangerous, and the mission becomes absolutely impossible when just one link is incomplete. Such links were actually acknowledged by NASA.’ (MB1)1
The fact is that NASA is still totally incapable of safely returning crews from deep space, and consequently the record of Apollo falls apart.
The Apollo myth has been revealed through NASA sources as follows:
- An attempt to develop a heavy-lift lunar rocket within five years ended in recognition of serious vibrational problems in the first stage of a rocket similar to the Saturn V. Subsequently, the Ares series of rockets has been abandoned;
- It is no surprise that the F-1 engine of the Saturn V's first stage is not even discussed in NASA's current research documents;
- An upgraded version of the J-2 engine from the Saturn V's second stage was proposed ten years ago for the new heavy-lift rocket, but NASA now recognises that it has to be a new development and so was put on hold. It's not clear when an 'upgraded' engine will be ready for the Space Launch System configuration;
- NASA is still incapable of developing a heavy-lift rocket for payloads of 70 tons – let alone repeating the acclaimed capability of the Saturn V;
- NASA now classifies an ascent from the lunar surface as an escape from ‘a deep gravity well’ and its plans to land on the Moon have been deferred to the point of being virtually abandoned. This is not surprising since the Apollo lunar ascent module was demonstrably incapable of safely firing from the descent platform due to the absence of routes for gases to escape;
- The Apollo CM was bi-stable i.e. there was a danger of its turning upside down and burning up on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere;
- NASA still doesn’t have a reliable thermal shield for command modules (CM) to safely return crews from deep space;
- The ‘direct’ profile of re-entry, as claimed in the Apollo record, was beyond any practicality and, if implemented, most likely would have been disastrous for the module during re-entry;
- If a CM had survived due to sheer good luck during re-entry, any surviving astronauts would be in a critical condition due to the real risk of severe gravity overloads following an extended period of microgravity, and most likely after splashdown would not be in a happy state;
- The lack of critical knowledge regarding solar and cosmic radiation effects on humans beyond LEO makes a viable method of radiation protection highly problematic.
When the Constellation Program (CxP), which included a lunar landing within 15 years, was abandoned in 2010, no plans for a landing on the Moon were made for the foreseeable future. ‘After the CxP was terminated, it became clear that there are profound gaps in the Apollo record. Now it seems that NASA must design and develop the following elements of the program from scratch: a heavy-lift rocket, a lunar lander, plus the equipment for safe re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.’ (MB2)
The Apollo myth is now in its final stages of existence and should be dismissed as a serious hindrance to the progress of HSE. However, ‘NASA operates within a catch-22 paradigm: the agency cannot move forward without recognition of its true experiences accumulated in the area of human space exploration, primarily the Apollo legacy, whatever that may be, while on the other hand it cannot reveal the truth about Apollo for various political reasons.’ (MB3)
Although the roots of Apollo were political, this article will examine the technical aspects and demonstrate how any continued adherence to this myth is plaguing current development of HSE. A lunar base is as much an aspirational idea today as a Moon landing was some 50 years ago. Yet NASA, unable to develop a viable lunar landing and return program, decided to divert the idea of a Moon base away from public attention and instead promote Mars as a viable goal.
Further Apollo Shortcomings are in Appendix 1.
It is well known that NASA currently plans two future lunar explorations with Orion: Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) and Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2) launched atop of an SLS (Space Launch System) launch vehicle. The first, the unmanned EM-1, is planned to fly beyond the Moon, test a high-speed re-entry and the performance of the thermal protection system prior to a crewed flight. The second, EM-2 with an on-board crew, will 'demonstrate the baseline Orion vehicle capability' (GAO on Orion, 2016 p.5), i.e. hopes to repeat the alleged success of Apollo 8 back in 1968. However, even this seemingly moderate set of goals has been simplified further (see ASAP criticism below).
Yet the US government has declared that NASA 'is in the midst of developing the first crew capsule planned to be capable of transporting humans to multiple destinations beyond the moon’… and admits that attempts so far 'have ultimately been unsuccessful'. (GAO on Orion, 2016, p.1)
It is incredible that GAO draws a line under NASA's efforts of two decades – counting from the late 1990s – by summarising these efforts as 'unsuccessful' while admitting that the development is still in its middle phase. How long was this development expected to last?
What conclusions can be made from this admission? Firstly, some further slippage of the development schedules is guaranteed since it is now recognised that ‘NASA has not established specific launch dates for either EM-1 or EM-2. The agency plans to establish a launch date for EM-2 after the EM-1 mission is complete.’ (GAO on Orion, 2016, p.5)
This last statement about EM-2 launch dates is a disgrace compared to what was promised in 2013, when the EM-2 launch was scheduled for 2021 (see MB1); and then by 2015 it was re-pencilled to 2023 (see MB2); by 2016 it is admitted that this significant time slippage will have a ‘cascading effect of cross-program problems’. (GAO on HSE, 2016, p.19)
Secondly, most likely there will be another redrafting of strategic goals with references to shortage of funding and technical problems with acquisition. Conveniently, this would lead to scrambling of the on-going plans and the drawing up another grand vision for the next 10 to 20 years.
'The Orion program is currently redesigning its heatshield based on the results of the December 2014 exploration flight test. NASA determined that not all aspects of the monolithic design used in this flight test will meet the more stringent requirements for EM-1 and EM-2, when the capsule will be exposed to greater temperature variance and longer durations. The program has decided to change from a monolithic design to a block heatshield design for EM-1.' (GAO on Orion, 2016 p.15)
Basically a financial publication, this GAO document nevertheless goes deeply into specific technical details revealing the embarrassing picture. On possible solutions with the new heatshield, GAO contemplates: 'This design will adhere approximately 300 blocks to the support structure and apply filler material to the gaps between blocks, similar to the design used on the Space Shuttle.' (GAO on Orion, 2016 p.15) One can see that NASA is experimenting with the critical hardware, referring to ideas which were implemented in less severe conditions on the Space Shuttle while not making any reference to the previous Apollo heatshield. GAO continues: ‘However, this block design also carries some risk because of uncertainty about the blocks’ ability to adhere to the support structure, as well as performance of the gap filler material.' And: 'The program continued testing of the monolithic design as another form of risk mitigation.'
It is obvious that NASA, having no actual previous experience with a heatshield required for deep space voyages, is unsure about the outcomes of these experiments with the shield and is making ad-hoc decisions. The 2014 test was not even undertaken at the same speeds as would be experienced on a re-entry from either the Moon or elsewhere further out.
One of the most realistic options recently proposed for the first crewed flight profile is that ‘Orion would fly on a “free return” trajectory around the moon without going into orbit and without requiring another engine burn. The mission would end with a return to Earth eight days after launch’. (First Crewed, 2016) The schedule for EM-2 is being ‘downsized' which again indicates the lack of experience of flying beyond LEO. Fortunately, this simplified plan seems to be safer and more reliable, following the strong criticism from the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel. (ASAP, 2017, p.13) This indicates that NASA's plans with EM-1 and EM-2 are being shaped into two necessary stages which were missing from the Apollo preparatory schedules before the hurried Apollo-8 crewed flight.
NASA's difficulties beyond LEO may perhaps be partially due to the fact that for a decade three, if not four, R&D groups (including those from Boeing, SpaceX, and Lockheed Martin with their Orion) were involved in work on a capsule for transporting crews to the ISS defining the scope of their work as innovation, i.e. improvement, when it should be regarded as a new development. This is one of the fundamental problems originating from the Apollo myth: an assumption of the existing experience while there is no such actual experience. Therefore, despite all current efforts – including by NASA's contractors – these developments remain outperformed by the well-proven Soyuz technology:
‘[T]he United States has lacked the domestic capability to transport crew to and from the International Space Station (ISS or Station), and instead has relied on the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). Between 2006 and 2018, NASA will pay Roscosmos approximately $3.4 billion to ferry 64 NASA and partner astronauts to and from the ISS in its Soyuz spacecraft’. (Inspector General, 2016, p.1) At prices ranging now up to $80 million for each round trip, it is not implausible to conclude that the Russians are satisfied to be quietly supportive of the Apollo myth.
The most recent initiatives from NASA, especially from SpaceX, to fly crews sooner to the Moon (EM-1 Crewed, 2017; SpaceX, 2017) and to take tourists straight to the Moon is an irresponsible game, designed perhaps to keep the HSE dream alive, made up of totally unrealistic promises.
SpaceX has contemplated deploying a heatshield based on the technology used for a successful return of unmanned craft from deep space in 2006. However, a sample capsule returned at the 34g deceleration in a ballistic re-entry which lasted just over two minutes (Stardust, 2007, p.280), is not exactly proof that a larger heatshield would work under human-rated conditions. (Stardust, 2013). As for NASA, any plans to fly crews sooner to the Moon or elsewhere have already been either postponed as was expected (Phil Kouts, 2017) or remain in limbo – to be quietly suspended once the media promotion has achieved its effect. Indeed the agency is already postponing the unmanned flight to 2019. (NASA HQ, 2017)
‘NASA is continuing to find new critical aspects for further R&D around Orion, predominantly not because of tighter requirements, e.g. safety, but simply because the agency has at last started to receive genuine information on the real requirements for flights beyond LEO.’ (emphasis added and see MB3)
Logistics and Aerodynamics of Re-Entry
Incredibly, these critical aspects that require detailed development are neither covered in NASA’s current plans nor are they mentioned in the relevant GAO reports.
Considering the (assumed) success of Apollo, at first glance the EM-1 plan to send an unmanned craft to make a lunar fly-by (in 2018 now 2019) is not a complicated task. In reality, EM-1 is the unmanned flight that was missing from the Apollo preparation program. NASA's trials in LEO were unexpectedly followed by the crewed Apollo 8 mission which allegedly went straight to the Moon, and after orbiting the Moon managed to safely return to Earth. (MB2) When tested in December 2014 the thermal shield – claimed to be an improved version of the Apollo shield – was admitted to be insufficient for deep space journeys and re-entry.
So what then can be done to achieve success?
Even before attempts to go as far as the Moon, interim test flights to ascertain re-entry from deep space at the escape velocity (with certification of the capsule for human rating) need to be undertaken. It could be a series of flights similar to those of December 2014 but with a higher elliptical orbit at the re-entry speed equal to 11.2 km per second with regard to the Earth's gravitational body. For a proposed re-entry profile, the parameters could be equivalent to those of planned returns from the Moon with the actual re-entry speed against the atmospheric Entry Interface (EI) area of down to 10.8 km per second taking into account the rotation of the planet.
It is worthwhile remembering that the Apollo re-entry technique is acknowledged by NASA specialists as direct re-entry i.e. a returning spacecraft enters the Earth's atmosphere only once and then completes all of its descending manoeuvres at typical altitudes of below 100 km. “The Apollo program used a direct entry approach for returning crew from the moon. A skip entry flight has never been flown in a manned space flight program…" (NASA Johnson, 2011, p.5 – also quoted in MB2).
During the direct entry method supposedly used in the Apollo missions, the craft didn't leave the atmosphere, so dynamic pressure and related heat load would have been sustained, and as a result this would have significantly augmented demands on the thermal shield. Looking at the never-ending attempts to embellish the Apollo legend, it is worth noting that Apollo advocates have recently started interpreting Apollo re-entry to have been a true skip re-entry (see also comments from Chris Kraft in MB3), and discuss the criticality of the entry angle:
‘They had to skip the craft in and out of the atmosphere to slow it down… Too shallow an angle and the craft would bounce off the atmosphere into space, beyond all hope of rescue.’ (Earthrise, 2008, p.27)
The above statement is a major mistake by the Apollo designers who took the decision not to adopt the skip re-entry option. The reality is that after losing some energy during the initial breaking phase through the atmosphere a returning capsule wouldn't escape Earth’s gravity, so it wouldn’t fly far off into space; instead, it would continue travelling along the Earth surface. But the Russians didn't make this mistake, and perfected their skip re-entry capabilities with their successful unmanned craft in 1968. (See MB2)
Chris Kraft, NASA Flight Director during the Apollo period, has made a number of totally fabricated claims about Apollo 'skip' re-entry since he published his book about Apollo in 2001. By 2009 Kraft’s distorted narration about Apollo re-entry evolved into this bold statement: "Because the velocity is so high, if you tried to come in directly, the heat shield requirements would be too great. So what we did was get them into the atmosphere, skip it out to kill off some of the velocity, and then bring it back in again. That made the total heat pulse on the heat shield of the spacecraft considerably lower." (Popular Mech., 2009 – see more in MB3) Obviously, over the years following Apollo he has realised the importance of skip re-entry, so he has introduced this statement into his narration, embellishing the incredible Apollo story which, at every turn, appears to be too good to be true.
Now NASA has to adopt the skip re-entry concept, e.g. to realise the one proposed in the Architecture Study of 2005 (Fig.1a). In Fig.1b below, the proposed theoretical skip re-entry profile is compared to direct re-entry profiles stated in the Apollo mission reports – from the moment of passing the Entry Interface (EI) to the point of parachute deployment at altitudes of 6 to 7 km. Then, in the Architecture Study the target range for the direct-entry mission is proposed as approx. 2600 km (shown in Fig.1d) and, further 'the 1969 version of Apollo guidance is used for modeling the direct-entry flight' (Arch. Study, 2005, p.330), instead of using the entry profiles as stated in the mission reports.
It is likely that at some stage NASA will admit that even in this theoretical skip re-entry scenario (Arch. Study, 2005), the initial entry phase is not optimal, due to the entry flight-path angle (-6.0 deg) being too close to that typically claimed for Apollo (-6.65 deg). More feasible entry profiles were later considered in technical papers from the academic and military research institutions quoted in MB2.
Fig. 1a. The skip re-entry option proposed in 2005 with the downrange of 13,590 km and the total time of 37 minutes from entering the EI at an altitude of 122 km to landing near Cape Canaveral. (Arch. Study, Fig. 5-65, p.324) The entry speed would be 11.07 km/sec at EI.
Fig.1b. The geodetic altitude vs time: a comparison of the skip re-entry profile shown in Fig.1a (equivalent to Fig. 5-74 in Arch. Study p.329) to the profiles of direct entry stated in mission reports for Apollo 8 (Fig. 5-6(b)) and Apollo 10 (Fig. 6-7(b)); the Apollo 10 path is slightly shifted to show all data available from the report (reconstructed by the author).click to enlarge
Fig.1c. Skip re-entry vs direct entry: a comparison of the profiles from Fig.1b in the initial entry phase. The descent of Apollo 10 was declared as complete in less than 8 minutes. Note the shallower flight-path angle for the skip re-entry and a smooth departure back towards EI.click to enlarge
Fig.1d. The geodetic altitude vs the target range: a modelling of the skip re-entry profile for Fig.1a, equivalent to Fig. 5-67 in Arch. Study, 2005, p.325 (reconstructed by the author). The Apollo claimed range is shown for comparison. click to enlarge
In summary, a space agency doesn’t need to wait for a heavy rocket in order to develop a suitable re-entry technique, but it should continue unmanned trials similar to those of December 2014 using medium capacity launchers. Nothing of this kind is in the current NASA plans.
Moreover, one of the latest authoritative documents from NASA proposes a set of key requirements to the Orion/SLS system including this one for re-entry: 'The Orion spacecraft shall provide a direct Earth entry capability with reentry velocities up to 11.05 kilometers per second. This requirement only allows for reentry directly from cislunar orbit.' (Inspector General, 2017, p.65) But there is no mention of skip re-entry despite the fact that it has been deemed to be mandatory since 2011 (see Ref. to Prelim. Report 2011 in MB2). What possible meaning is now implied under the term ‘direct’ when it has to be a skip re-entry? Why does NASA need to reinvent the terminology? Surely it is because the lack of progress in the agency's R&D reveals deficiencies in Apollo's technology heritage.
Fig.1e. Re-entry and splashdown for the declared Apollo CM direct re-entry (approximate pointers in yellow) compared to the recently-proposed (Fig.1a) skip re-entry. Apollo co-ordinates from the relevant mission reports.
If not Orion – How to Return?
In the case of the non-viability of a CM’s re-entry, another option has to be considered. For example, the adoption of an interim stage on the way to the Moon and back set out by Reagan and Bush Sr. over 30 years ago. (90-Day Report, 1989) In anticipation of extreme difficulties to be overcome for a successful crewed capsule re-entry, an orbital station acting as a bridging platform was proposed (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2. This 1989 illustration conveys deep thinking and shows better visionary judgment than NASA's current plans
for returning from deep space. (90-Day Report, 1989)
Indeed, bearing in mind that Orion’s capsule re-entry on a skip profile is yet to be tried, and that it is still not clear whether it will be reliable with the current heatshield, it makes sense to consider other options for a safe return to Earth. For example, a version of the deep space scheme with a meeting/transfer spacecraft instead of a space station is shown in Fig. 3. It is conceivable to arrange a rendezvous of the returning Orion capsule on a high elliptical orbit (HEO) with a spacecraft which is specifically designed to meet crews on their return from deep space. With reasonable protection of such a craft, the crews would have a chance of a staged, extended transition to a well-established re-entry routine from LEO.
The meeting spacecraft would go into a HEO of say 60 to 80 thousand kilometres altitude and await a module (such as Orion) to rendezvous well beyond the outer Van Allen belt. Then they would align their routes, approach and perform docking.
The crew with its valuable cargo (lunar rock samples and sensor system elements, such as a solar wind panel, etc.) would be transferred into the meeting craft. Orion would then be undocked and left for a free fall to Earth (or a controlled return without problems related to avoiding gravity overloads when it is crewed, etc.).
Fig. 3. A scheme (First Crewed, 2016) Orion is on the way back from deep space (red trajectory)
to approach and dock with a transfer spacecraft on HEO (green trajectory). click to enlarge
The meeting spacecraft must be specifically designed for this function with adequate enhanced radiation protection, and it should have a sufficient reserve of fuel to accomplish the safe, smooth lowering from a HEO (with multiple orbits if necessary) to a relatively low quasi-circular one, equivalent to LEO. Then the following re-entry would be a technical routine which is well established, such as that made by Soyuz capsules. The radiation environment should be fully understood beforehand – within and around the Van Allen belts – ensuring the safety of the meeting spacecraft.
The advantages would be twofold: 1) no need for any sophisticated thermal shielding (which is not available yet), and 2) even more importantly, for returning crews the conditions on board such a transfer vehicle would be far more favourable without the danger of abrupt gravity loads of 6-8g, or well above if the landing goes awry. The latter is critically important for a crew having spent eight or more days in a low gravity environment. It is also possible to consider an artificial gravity ‘room’ on the meeting spacecraft for preparing the crew for re-entry overloads – although that is probably much further down the line.
Biomedical Aspects of Missions Beyond LEO
It is evident to NASA's insiders that the acclaimed lunar trips of the late 1960s and early 70s are insufficient evidence of safe missions to deep space as they are now asking for reliable data sets in order to start analysing the dangers of such lunar missions. Neither a healthy Buzz Aldrin (who at the age of 86 is travelling to the South Pole, see Fig. 4), nor Jack Schmitt at 81, are considered to be convincing medical subjects as indicators that journeys to the Moon are harmless. Quite the contrary, NASA specialists are talking about major uncertainties and the potential dangers of deep space flights as if no experience whatsoever has been gained so far.
Fig. 4. Buzz Aldrin travelling to Antarctica Photo: NZ Herald, 2 December 2016
(note the Russian-built aircraft used to fly to Antarctica from Christchurch, New Zealand)
With regard to radiation effects on health and the wellbeing of astronauts who are to travel beyond LEO, NASA says the agency is concerned with the lack of any reliable data which is still needed before sending astronauts into deep space. (MB1)
It is worthwhile recalling that NASA's latest experimental result on radiation readings beyond LEO is that ‘the cumulative absorbed dose as measured by the ISS-TEPC during the EFT-1 mission was about three orders of magnitude, or 1000 times, less than the cumulative absorbed doses measured on the Orion MPCV.’ (Radiation Report, 2015, p.39)2,3 In other words, the absorbed radiation dose inside Orion was a thousand times greater than on board a spacecraft in LEO.
NASA doesn't claim that traversing the Van Allen belts isn’t a problem. On the contrary, key radiation specialists within NASA are concerned that travelling beyond LEO would require passing through the radiation belts and therefore they need to learn more about the actual effects of belt's radiation. (See MB3)
Today it is hard to believe that the medical aspects of exposure to the severe radiation hazards of deep space have not been researched sufficiently to draw any viable recommendations. In fact no meaningful radiation protection knowledge was developed to protect Apollo astronauts. As a consequence, current attempts to commence real research are facing highly challenging conditions.
There is no evidence whatsoever that the health of those who allegedly flew to the Moon has even been researched. Notably, in the authoritative report on the health risks (Human Health, 2009) no such research is mentioned. There are just a few articles about issues like light flashes in the eyes of some Apollo astronauts or their nutritional preferences.
The radiation data information derived from Apollo cannot be relied upon for present day plans and as long as it does not reflect the real environment of space – it is not only inadequate – it is fake.
In the real world, and still assuming for a moment that the Apollo flights occurred as billed, the focus of a major study should be multifaceted with rigorous analysis covering all aspects of Apollo. A comparison of astronauts’ health with that of a control group on the ground is certainly warranted. In addition, along with this highly necessary work, a comparison of the physical condition of astronauts of Apollo flights 15 to 17, who were orbiting the Moon in the CSM (A. Worden, T. Mattingly, and R. Evans) and those who spent more than 20 hours each on the lunar surface (D. Scott, J. Irvin, W. Young, C. Duke, A. Cernan, and H. Schmitt) would be of immense value. But nothing of this kind has ever been undertaken and even the astronauts still living do not attract any specialist’s attention.
One of the most recent reports from the authoritative Institute of Medicine on the health of Apollo astronauts discusses their seemingly ‘high mortality’ (Health Risks, 2016).
Fig. 5. Reference to the article about 'high mortality' from a review of NASA's Evidence Reports on Human Health Risks, 2016
At the time of this writing six ‘moonwalkers’ out of the 12, are still alive (of those who passed away, Pete Conrad died following a motorcycle accident, and at the time of the report, Eugene Cernan was alive). Out of the 24 proclaimed travellers to and from the Moon, 15 are in their 80s. Jack Swigert and Stewart Roosa died of causes unrelated to cardiovascular diseases. Data with respect to the latter cause can be analysed through comparison with other groups of the same age (Morbidity & Mortality, 2012). Generally speaking, the health of the lunar astronauts on the whole is remarkable and would have deserved celebration if they had truly been to the Moon.
Towards a Lunar Outpost
Another unsolved primary problem is a powerful enough launch rocket together with the hardware for delivering crews and supplies for deep space missions. In 2005-09, there were several research streams that could be described as retrospective theoretical attempts to understand the performance of the Saturn V. In particular, there were the serious acoustic-vibrational problems – the pogo effect.
Most likely, the effect was caused by rapidly emptying the large fuel tanks of the first stage. After computer modelling of these acoustic-vibrational effects, work on Ares 5 – the rocket analogous to the Saturn V – was discontinued, and soon after a limited flight trial of Ares 1, totally abandoned. Even the strongest political pressure from Congress in 2011 couldn’t persuade NASA specialists to accept a plan to deliver a powerful rocket by 2016. (see MB2) Now, in 2017, it is still uncertain how and when a reliable rocket will actually be delivered.
A private enterprise claim to 'apply state-of-the-art manufacturing and processing techniques to the heritage F-1, resulting in a low recurring cost engine while retaining the benefits of Apollo-era experience' (NASA Spaceflight, 2012) remains a simple declaration. The Saturn V F1 engine is not mentioned by NASA in any of the R&D programmes or in the HSE plans.
While talking about 'a journey to Mars', NASA is contemplating the hardware which at best suits just the modest task of 'returning to the Moon': 'The Block 2 upgrade, scheduled to be completed by 2028, will replace the solid rocket boosters with advanced boosters that provide a capability to lift 130 metric tons to low Earth orbit and 41 metric tons to Mars.' (Inspector General, 2017, p.6) Ironically, this is exactly the same as the declared Apollo mission parameters: a Saturn V launcher with its claimed payload of approx. 130 tons to LEO and the claimed ability to deliver a payload to the Moon of around 45 to 47 tons.
In summary, some 12 years of work on HSE hardware to fly beyond LEO has resulted in another target of repeating the alleged Apollo technology but now within a further 10-year term. Further, when and if this capability is ever achieved, in no way that will be sufficient for humans to travel to Mars. Specialists understand this fact very well (see MB3).
The recent NASA Authorization Act 2017 (Act, 2017) has largely reiterated the tasks of the Authorization Act 2010 pointing again to the two key elements, Orion and SLS, and setting a long-term objective of developing a ‘Mars lander and ascent vehicle, entry, descent, landing, ascent, Mars surface systems … and testing 1 or more habitat modules in cislunar space to prepare for Mars missions’. (Act 2017, Section 432(3)) while saying nothing about a lunar lander and/or a Moon landing.
An idea of ‘cislunar outpost designs,’ which would suggest ‘potential use supporting lunar landing missions, originally by international partners and not NASA’ – is in the air. (Cislunar Outpost, 2017) It is evident that NASA is now leaving the construction of a lunar outpost to others.
When talking about HSE systems for future Mars missions, ASAP admits that international partnerships could 'potentially provide opportunities for NASA to test technologies and systems on the lunar surface. Even if NASA chooses not to take a leadership role in human missions to the Moon (emphasis added) there may be other opportunities to gain valuable experience – with large landers and ascent vehicles, with the operation of systems for in-situ resource extraction, with large-scale habitation systems, and with the long-term impact of dust on space suits and other mechanical systems.'
Further, ASAP concludes that the lunar systems would be of considerable value to the overall development of HSE. 'Testing these systems first on the Moon could help to increase the robustness of the overall space infrastructure, enhance the cislunar space economy, and increase the safety of the Mars missions themselves.' (ASAP, 2017, p.10) What then stops NASA from actually doing this? The only viable explanation is that NASA will procrastinate and watch others as pioneers having problems on the Moon rather than admit that they don't have any experience in HSE beyond LEO to draw on. So once again, it comes back to the tragedy of the Apollo myth.
Recently, members of the congressional committees ‘have advocated for refocusing human exploration on lunar activities, including establishing a surface base on the Moon, rather than following the Journey to Mars plan’ (Inspector General, 2017, p.2) Unfortunately, NASA leaves this important request without comment. Instead of looking critically into the NASA's actual capabilities, this time the Inspector General's Office seems to be more comfortable to join other voices producing bright, broad, long-term projections with a scale of events measured in 'mid-2020s to early 2030s' to 'early 2030s to mid-2040s'. While on the other hand, it recognises that the timeline for these steps remains undefined: 'there is no integrated launch schedule for EM-2'. (Inspector General, 2017, p.4) From the blank cells in tables with proposed schedules one can confidently conclude that there is no intended Moon landing in the NASA’s current HSE plans within 20 years or so from now. Let alone any thought about a lunar base.
Remarkably, the Act 2017 admits that the ‘need exists to advance’ HSE in collaboration with international partners. Unfortunately, NASA has started this collaboration blaming the European Space Agency (ESA) along with other American contractors for delays: ‘Program officials stated that the delays are largely due to NASA, ESA, and the ESA contractor underestimating the time and effort necessary to address design issues for the first production…’ (GAO on Orion, 2017, p.10) It seems that instead of achieving an R&D capability to move ahead faster by working in parallel and sharing the workload, NASA has engineered another opportunity for excuses in its inability to repeat the achievements allegedly completed more than forty years ago.
The most recent NASA engagement at the 68th International Astronautical Congress where the agency signed a joint statement with Roscosmos to jointly build a cislunar space station is a glimmer of hope at the end of a long tunnel. (Cislunar Station, 2017) However, it is highly likely that while orbiting the Moon with the Russians NASA will apply all its resources to delay the inevitable disclosure of the Apollo myth.
Why a Hindrance?
To be capable of claiming victory in the space race, NASA had to claim a number of technical achievements well ahead of their time. The list includes the most powerful rocket engine the F-1 and the massive Saturn V. Then the human-rated Moon lander, and the technique and technology for re-entry into the Earth atmosphere from deep space. All these have not been fully developed to date and the development of similar technologies for the most part remain a clear objective of the international space industry.
However NASA, with the likely approval and support of the US Government, has succeeded in creating a long-lasting impression of the superior technical accomplishment without actual development of the implied Apollo technology. The established international acceptance of the false Apollo story cannot last forever and the required technology inevitably will be developed somehow by someone somewhere.
But for now, when it comes to deciding whether to commence the real work on outstanding HSE problems, NASA will have to choose between (a) admitting the falsehoods of Apollo, or (b) producing another smokescreen to preserve the Apollo myth, the choice for NASA is undoubtedly the latter. In this distorted system of values where supporting the Apollo record is of paramount importance, the progress of HSE technologies is being methodically sacrificed year after year. The key technical stages towards achieving human flights to the Moon have been established but never completed.
The crucial missing element is a technique for safe return of crews from deep space. It is evident to a qualified observer that there is no sense in planning prolonged trips into deep space until a reliable safe return technique is fully established and, along with the issues related to radiation protection, it is most likely that multiple experimental trials of the real re-entry conditions are required.
Apollo had fundamental omissions concerning effective thermal shielding, aerodynamics of re-entry as well as biomedical aspects of the crews’ wellbeing and safety. The latter sets uncompromising conditions upon the first two. Years of complacency behind the firewall of systematic lies about the capabilities of Apollo have stifled the work of managers, scientists and engineers who could have achieved significant progress in these critical areas years ago.
The Apollo success story was already 20 years old to the day when George H.W. Bush picked up on Reagan’s 1984 State of the Union speech. (R. Reagan, 1984) Echoing J.F. Kennedy, Reagan had said ‘Tonight, I am directing NASA to develop a permanently manned space station and to do it within a decade’. Bush Sr. stood on the steps of the National Air and Space Museum and announced the 1989 Space Exploration Initiative. This would establish not only a space station, but also a Moon base and ultimately send human beings to Mars. It was humanity’s destiny to explore and America’s destiny to lead. A report published after the President's July 20 speech stated that:
Concept for a proposed NASA lunar base
'The next step in the strategy is the development of a permanent lunar outpost, which begins with two to three launches of the lunar payload, crew, transportation vehicles, and propellants from Earth to Space Station Freedom. At Freedom, the crew, payloads, and propellants are loaded onto the lunar transfer vehicle that will take them to low lunar orbit.' (90-Day Report, 1989, p.3-12)
A part of this compelling vision would later materialise as the International Space Station (ISS) based on key Russian elements in 1998, with its US component ‘Destiny’ added in 2001.
An eager proponent of ideas to travel to Mars, Robert Zubrin, a NASA insider for many years, gave a first-hand account of how this 1989 initiative was voted down – just as soon as NASA had secured financial support for the Space Shuttle and a Space Station. Zubrin explains how 'the NASA leadership refused to advocate the program that President Bush has called a national priority'. (Zubrin, 2011, p.294) He refers to 'plenty of people' who thought about the approach from the NASA Administrator of the day as 'verifiable sabotage' which was possible 'due to presidential apathy'.
This chain of events is a good example of an announcement of a grand vision later ditched by both NASA and the US government. As a result, in order to sustain the Apollo myth, virtually no work has been completed on HSE beyond LEO for over thirty years. A similar research and development (R&D) roller-coaster ride was repeated with CxP, again leaving the idea of a Moon base nowhere.
Although at least an initial spark of enthusiasm from 2005 through to 2009 produced a range of good theoretical work, recognising the problems with the declared Apollo direct re-entry, the CxP crucially emphasised the importance of a skip re-entry. Further, during the development of the Ares rocket the problems of a powerful rocket analogous to Saturn V were again confirmed. However, no further progress has been made since CxP was disrupted and then simplified in 2010 to a half-goal: to develop a powerful rocket and a return capsule but without building a lunar lander and without any plans for an actual landing.
As GAO admits, ‘the agency’s attempts over the past two decades at developing a human transportation capability beyond low-Earth orbit have ultimately been unsuccessful.' (GAO on Orion, 2016, p.1) Did the agency have this capability back in the late 1960s when Apollo was declared a success?
It now seems obvious that the unspoken consensus between NASA’s administration and government agencies – who know full well that there were no human Moon landings – may continue on and on for years. It appears that NASA insiders don't believe they can even raise this serious issue in a manner that would require addressing the matter with a practical solution. Their inactions continue to demonstrate that the political establishment would prohibit any action that would undermine preserving Apollo as the United States' trophy from the space race.
The Way Forward
In recent years, the inspiration for a Moon Base has been overshadowed by another dream – going to Mars. Neither adventure can ever be realised without the necessary technical capability having been reliably established. The necessary elements still have to be developed with incremental steps which cannot be bypassed without unacceptable risks to crews. Overcoming the re-entry problem requires satisfying a complicated set of biomedical requirements which cannot be compromised for a reliable return.
When it was shown in 2005-09 that this essential preliminary R&D work must be accomplished, particularly on radiation protection and developing a safe re-entry technique, it became evident that the record of the acclaimed Apollo achievements was faked and cannot be relied upon in any way.
‘What should have been done for a successful mission some 45 years ago as a concurrent development ...is happening now at an extremely slow pace, on a sequential basis, within an entirely uncertain if not an indefinite time frame. Indeed, what was initially planned for the CxP to be completed within 15 years is now set out entirely as an open-ended scheme without any deadline for a human Moon landing.’ (MB2)
There is little doubt that NASA specialists understand all too well that they cannot perform an Apollo-style direct re-entry due to the poor quality of their thermal shield and the danger of stressful conditions for the crew. On the other hand, there is no clear intent to start working on the skip re-entry techniques. This is a stalemate largely due to the refusal of NASA's top managers to honestly review the true capabilities of Apollo.
Against this background, the two most recent claims by NASA and SpaceX to fly to the Moon soon as well as NASA’s interpretation of the development of Orion as a vehicle for journeys to Mars are altogether misleading and not viable, while the same set of technical problems remain outstanding. This mess is purely a result of the desperate need to maintain the Apollo myth by any means.
NASA has usurped the position of a world leader in HSE and for decades has deprived humankind of its dream to fly to deep space. The agency has no moral right to continue pretending that it has ever accomplished a lunar landing. Vast financial resources will be wasted further until the agency stops covering for political decisions taken during the cold war and fully acknowledges its current technical inadequacies.
Fresh, new plans for a human Moon mission have to be instigated from scratch and must be adhered to by adopting a strategy of uncompromising incremental steps with all the space agencies working together in a consolidated international effort to achieve the human potential for the exploration of space.
Henceforward, NASA can only be one of the partners in this venture.
This report is addressed to the wider community although it would be very helpful for space technology specialists to become fully conversant with the reality of the challenges ahead.
Aulis Online, July-October 2017
1. The author wrote the Moon Base series in Nexus 21/05 22/03 and 23/04 and
published online at Aulis.com/moonbase2014, 2015 and 2016 – quoted here as MB1, MB2 & MB3. See also Letter to the Editor of Nexus, Empty Claims on Moon Flights, June 2017
2. The author is grateful to Bart Sibrel, filmmaker, writer and investigative journalist, for the opportunity to quote the NASA/TP–2015–218575 Report which was obtained by B. Sibrel via a Journalist FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request.
3. In the NASA/TP–2015–218575 Report, ISS-TEPC is the ISS-Tissue Equivalent Proportional Counter on board the International Space Station, while MPCV is the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, here it is simply Orion.
The author is grateful to the editors at Aulis Publishers for helpful discussions and assistance during preparation of this article for publication.
- Arch. Study, 2005: NASA's Exploration Systems Architecture Study, Final Report, NASA-TM-214062, November 2005 (750pp)
- GAO on Orion, 2016: Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle: Action Needed to Improve Visibility into Cost, Schedule, and Capacity to Resolve Technical Challenges. Government Accountability Office, Report GAO-16-620, July 2016
- GAO on Projects, 2016: Assessments of NASA Major Projects, Government Accountability Office, Report GAO-16-309SP, March 2016, p.25
- GAO on HSE, 2016: NASA Human Space Exploration: Opportunity Nears to Reassess Launch Vehicle and Ground Systems Cost and Schedule, Government Accountability Office, Report GAO-16-612, July 2016
- Earthrise, 2008: Robert Poole, Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth, Yale University Press, 2008, 236pp
- Soyuz Seats, 2017: Jeff Foust, NASA signs agreement with Boeing for Soyuz seats, February 28, 2017
Inspector General, 2016: NASA Office of Inspector General, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program: Update on Development and Certification Efforts, Report No. IG-16-028, Sept 2016
- ASAP, 2017: NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, ASAP Annual Report 2016. January 11, 2017
- EM-1 Crewed, 2017: Brian Dunbar, NASA to Study Adding Crew to First Flight of SLS and Orion. February 16, 2017
- SpaceX, 2017: SpaceX to Send Privately Crewed Dragon Spacecraft Beyond the Moon Next Year, press release February 27, 2017
- Phil Kouts, 2017: Empty Claims on Moon Flights, Letter to the Editor, Nexus Vol. 24, No.4, p.4, June-July 2017
- NASA HQ, 2017: Robert Lightfoot, NASA Decision on Crewed EM-1 Feasibility, Status Report from NASA HQ, 12 May 2017
- Stardust, 2007: D.O. Revelle & W.N. Edwards, Stardust: An artificial, low-velocity “meteor” fall and recovery, 15 January 2006, Meteoritics & Planetary Science Vol.42, No. 3, 2007, pp.271-299
- Stardust, 2013: PICA Heat Shield. SpaceX press release, April 4, 2013
- NASA Johnson, 2011: Michael A. Tigges et al., Orion Capsule Handling Qualities for Atmospheric Entry, NASA Johnson Space Center. Houston, Texas, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 2011
- Radiation Report, 2015: Amir A. Bahadori, et.al., Battery-operated Independent Radiation Detector Data Report from Exploration Flight Test 1. NASA/TP–2015–218575, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, USA, June 2015
- NASA Spaceflight, 2012: Chris Bergin, Dynetics and PWR aiming to liquidize SLS booster competition with F-1 power. Nasaspaceflight.com, November 9, 2012
- Zubrin, 2011: Robert Zubrin with Richard Wagner, The Case for Mars: the plan to settle the red planet and why we must. Free Press, New York, 2011, 384pp
- R. Reagan, 1984: Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union, January 25, 1984
- 90-Day Report, 1989: Aaron Cohen, et al., Report of the 90-Day Study on Human Exploration of Moon and Mars, NASA-TM-102999, November 1989, 159pp
- GAO on Orion, 2017: NASA Human Space Exploration: Delay Likely for First Exploration Mission. Government Accountability Office, Report GAO-17-414, April 2017
- Human Health, 2009: Human Health and Performance Risks of Space Exploration Missions, Editors, Jancy C. Mcphee and John B. Charles, NASA SP-2009-3405, Houston, TX. 2009, 389pp
- Health Risks, 2016: Review of NASA's Evidence Reports on Human Health Risks, Institute of Health, The National Academic Press, Washington, 2016
- Morbidity & Mortality, 2012: Morbidity & Mortality, 2012 Chart Book on Cardiovascular, Lung and Blood Diseases, For Administrative Use, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institute of Health, February 2012, 107pp
- First Crewed, 2016: Jeff Foust, NASA considers shorter first crewed SLS/Orion mission, December 2, 2016
- Cislunar Outpost, 2017: Jeff Foust, NASA moving ahead with plans for cislunar human outpost. March 10, 2017
- Cislunar Station, 2017: Cheryl Warner NASA, Roscosmos Sign Joint Statement on Researching, Exploring Deep Space. Sept 27, 2017
- Act, 2017: NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, Enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the USA, January 3, 2017
- Inspector General, 2017: NASA Office of Inspector General, NASA’s Plans for Human Exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit. Report No. IG-17-017, April 2017
APPENDIX 1 Further Apollo Shortcomings
After a new, simplified program was launched instead of the CxP in 2010, NASA admitted that it cannot complete the development of a heavy launch vehicle by the end of 2016 as was requested in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (Prelim. Report, 2011). This admission has infuriated the US government not only because of its plain denial, but probably because of the fact that NASA's new lunar program could not find anything better to rely upon than the Russian-built engines. (MB2)
Further, an American analogue "Staged Combustion core stage engine" is expected to be replicated from the [Russian built] RD-180 by 2018, while an updated version of a J-2X–class engine – inherited from Apollo times – with a lower thrust level, is expected by 2025 (Prelim. Report, 2011, p. 9 – quoted in MB2).
Take-off from the Moon
The idea of designing a LM where the ascent engine's nozzle rim was in such close proximity to the flat screened top surface of the descent stage, thereby preventing the outflow of exhaust gases, should have been discarded at its very conception. (MB2)
While the design and technical specifications for a craft which could land and then take off from the lunar surface with subsequent rendezvous with the orbiting CM were considered at the outset of the CxP in great detail (Arch. Study, 2005, p. 158), any such ideas have now disappeared from NASA's plans. (MB2)
Regarding development of a lunar lander, currently the lack of initiative from within NASA is very evident. Moreover, there is no sign of any pushing from the US government, so it is obvious that somewhere, on a strategic level, it has been decided to leave a large hole in the new Moon visitation plan, providing an excuse for postponing a landing for another period of several years after 2021 when SLS and Orion are expected to be ready. (MB2)
NASA regularly reminds its audiences about Apollo 11,where astronauts were on the lunar surface for only two hours, while it ... is remarkably silent on Apollo missions 15 to 17 which would be crucial evidence in favour of harmless trips to the Moon. (MB1)
Regarding radiation effects on humans, the Augustine Committee concludes: "These radiation effects are insufficiently understood and remain a major physiological and engineering uncertainty in any human exploration program beyond low-Earth orbit." (Augustine, 2009, p. 100) The committee doesn't speak specifically about potential radiation problems on the lunar surface itself. Nor is the radiation danger during landing of crews on the Moon in the Apollo missions considered to any extent. Could it be that the decision not to mention Apollo was based on the fact that … there is no medical data on effects on human health beyond LEO? (MB1)
The [Orion, 2014] "data provided a preview of the radiation environment that the crew will encounter while transiting the trapped radiation belts on future exploration missions". (Radiation Report, 2015, p.3 quoted in MB3)
The lack of comparison and analysis in current radiation research indicates that today's NASA specialists are distancing themselves from the doubtful Apollo legacy. The Apollo [radiation doses] data … is interspersed among LEO missions (Radiation Carcinogenesis, 2009, p. 141). It is unsurprising that it is considered by specialists to be inconclusive. (MB3)
Orion / Return to Earth
[T]he CEV CM, much like the Apollo Command Module, may be bi-stable and have a secondary trim point where the vehicle apex points during entry in the direction of the velocity vector. Such an orientation is clearly undesirable, as the CEV would be unable to withstand the intense heat of atmospheric entry. (Arch. Study, 2005, p. 231 quoted in MB3)
The key point here is that the typical claimed Apollo combination of the input parameters is beyond all practicality and is not in any way considered now as a benchmark set of requirements for future space missions. (MB2)
Therefore, there is nothing really to learn from Apollo CM re-entry stories except that we shouldn't undertake missions in this way – otherwise the re-entry will, in all probability, end up as a fatal disaster. (MB2)
[T]he actual parameters required for Apollo-type lunar returns have not been tried yet. It looks as if NASA specialists are cautiously trying out techniques in conditions which are barely approaching the severity of those which were supposedly overcome by all the Apollo CMs. Skip entry is now recognised as a compulsory requirement for safe returns from lunar trajectory in the current configuration and scenario. It is crucial for saving the integrity of the CM capsule, and for health reasons, if not the very survival of the crew. (MB2)