Skip to comments.Top Apollo Manager Opposes NASA's Moon Goal
Posted on 08/03/2007 6:54:15 AM PDT by Fitzcarraldo
One of the most respected top managers of the Apollo program, Joseph P. Gavin, who led development of the NASA/Grumman Apollo lunar module, is airing sharp opposition to the Bush Administration/NASA goal of returning humans to the Moon as a stepping stone to Mars.
In a letter to Aviation Week & Space Technology, Gavin, former director of the lunar module development at Grumman, says he believes the near term Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle lunar plan and Moon base goal should be scrapped in favor of even more emphasis on Marsespecially robotic Mars exploration.
I have been somewhat surprised to see the lack of active criticism of the administrations vision for space exploration, says Gavin in his letter to Aviation Week. It seems to me to be more concerned with the 'how' as opposed to the 'why' he says.
The letter is carried in Aviation Weeks July 30 edition. The Apollo Grumman lunar module design is being used by NASA as an engineering starting point for the initial assessments of a the manned Lunar Surface Access Module (LSAM) that would return astronauts to the Moon in about 13 years under NASAs new exploration vision.
The argument that the Moon is a necessary training base for eventual manned expeditions to Mars is flatly unpersuasive, says Gavin, who directed development of the first manned spacecraft ever to land on another body in space.
After manned test flights in Earth orbit by Apollo 9 and lunar orbit by Apollo 10, six more Grumman lunar modules landed 12 astronauts on the Moon between 1969-1972 ( see Apollo 15 photo below ). Another acted as a lifeboat to save the Apollo 13 crew.
After leading lunar module development and other programs at Grumman, Gavin became president and CEO of the company. Now retired and in his late 80s, Gavin remains active in aerospace forums and also with his alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Gavin says the new NASA lunar vision should be shifted to Mars immediately. He will turn 100 yrs. old in 2020, about when the first lunar landing since Apollo is envisioned.
Inasmuch as we have been to the Moon-yes I remember the Apollo days vividly-it is unclear to me that there is any particular urgency to return, he says. Past studies have indicated the complexity and the implied great expense of a lunar base operation.
The application of Apollo style technology to replace the shuttle appears to be a desperate effort to save development costs. It also seems to be an invitation to the Europeans and others to jump ahead of us in pushing the frontiers of technology.
Gavin says our first priority should be to fully exploit the International Space Station. But the second major U. S. space program priority should be to undertake further robotic exploration of Mars to see if human exploration [there] is really warranted, he says.
Mars is becoming more interesting as we receive more data from the unmanned devices now in place and reporting back. The intriguing question of current or prior life on Mars needs to be answered, he says.
While Gavins comments came in a letter to this Aviation Week editor, several other key Grumman lunar module engineers, who were led by Gavin, told a recent NASA return-to-the-Moon symposium that they have doubts about whether the national political leadership and public have continued will to undertake a major new manned lunar effort, as in Apollo. The symposium was not a forum about whether the U. S. should return to the Moon, but rather for a discussion between Grumman and NASA managers about how lessons from the Apollo lunar module program (begun 40 years ago) could aid development of the LSAM for the new NASA plan.
Because in the 1960s everyone was conscious of Apollo, we were able to attract the best and brightest people to work on the program, says Gerry Sandler who helped lead the Grumman lunar module Reliability and Maintainability Team. If it is not recognized that [the NASA/Bush lunar plan] is a major national priority people are not going to be as anxious to work on these kind of things as they were in the 1960s, he told the NASA symposium in Washington on the new lunar effort.
We talked about that being one of the major differences on the upcoming program as opposed to the past, says Bob Schwartz, also a retired Grumman lunar module engineer. We were being watched by the entire world and we were not permitted to fail. I am not so sure there is that drive now, he said.
Lunar module engineer Joe Mule said he believed it would take 15 years to reconstitute an engineering team like developed the Apollo spacecraft.
The Lunar Module veterans expressed concern about the current poor performance of U. S. students in math and science. But none of them openly expressed a preference for Mars over the Moon like their former boss Gavin, who did not attend the symposium because of a previously planned trip to Hawaii that conflicted with the timing of the Washington session.
Send a robot. Plant the flag. Scoop some dirt. Get some air samples. Bring it home. Simple...........
I think it’s depressing that the pioneer spirit of this country is so degraded that we have people who believe sending a man to Mars is a waste of time and money.
If robotic exploration of the Moon had been done “to investigate whether manned exploration there is warranted,” we never would have landed on the Moon. The fact is, there’s little or nothing there to justify it. But GETTING THERE was the whole purpose; it truly was all about the journey, not the destination. I think that holds true today.
“Get your ass to Mars” - Douglas Quaid
Put a base on the moon. It could have many uses, i.e., scientific, communications, security, military, and economic.
Disputing the value of the mission is one thing. However, it seems that so much is just too hard for us these days...especially if it takes too long.
Uh, isn’t the whole point of the moon program to give us a platform where we can then go to Mars? I mean, in the good old days, didn’t Dubya kinda lay out that program?
And to keep an eye on that Chinese base which WILL be there?
The Moon is a detour on the way to Mars, not a stepping-stone.
Going to the Moon to get to Mars is like going to Madagascar to get to the Americas from Europe, IMO.
If we cannot support humans on the moon,
it seems less likely to support humans on Mars.
Maybe not. There is water ice on the moon to support a base. And the lunar regolith is stiff with He3. If we can discover how to get He3 fusion working then possession of the Moon isn't just the key to Mars, its the key to the Solar system.
If we never get He3 fusion working ... yeah, the Moon is just a big dumb rock. Unless the Chinese build a base there and get all "the moon is a harsh mistress" on us!
(though in that case the very easiest way for them to achieve space superiority would be to launch an Orion into earth orbit)
The moon can provide a more secure base to conduct intelligence monitoring and act as a backup to our satellite communications and GPS systems. I recognize that the moon cannot, obviously, equal our current geosynchronous satellite system that covers the globe. The Chinese are already engaged in developing anti-satellite technology, which could have a serious impact on our ability to employ our weapons systems.
Proposals to use the surface of the Moon for a set of observatories that will both look outwards towards the rest of the solar system and inwards towards the Earth have a definite paramilitary aspect. The size of the apertures that can be created on the Moon are huge and they could produce sets of detailed environmental data that would be extremely valuable for military purposes. Such observatories would be under civilian control, but the products of their observations would be controlled by the nation or nations that built them and thus available for military purposes, just like data from environmental satellites in LEO.
The nature of the new generation of US and foreign non-kinetic space weapons is already changing the nature of space warfare. There are basically three types of these weapons: jammers, such at the counter-communications device that the US currently has; disablers, such as medium- or high-powered lasers or high-powered microwaves (HPM) that can disable a target spacecraft; and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons. These last types of weapons are not strictly space weapons since they could also disable electronic systems over large swaths of the Earth as well as knocking out any satellites within range. Since EMP weapons are powered by nuclear explosions they can be classified as weapons of last resort. Any state that used them would have to expect a nuclear response.
In space warfare, it must be assumed that some satellites and spacecraft are going to be destroyed by the enemy. Therefore, it is simply prudent to have reserves in place. So far the GPS system is the only military asset with any significant on-orbit reserves. In the near future the US is going to have to start planning to hide some reserve satellites in cislunar space or even in the outer envelope of the Earth-Moon system. Reconstituting a satellite network after an attack will be a lot faster if there are spares already in orbit that can be moved into an operationally suitable position when needed. This may be one answer, among others, to the question of what are Operationally Responsive space activities.
We are currently signatories to a 1967 treaty prohibiting the use of the moon for a military base, weapons, etc., i.e.,
First, it contains an undertaking not to place in orbit around the Earth, install on the moon or any other celestial body, or otherwise station in outer space, nuclear or any other weapons of mass destruction.
Second, it limits the use of the moon and other celestial bodies exclusively to peaceful purposes and expressly prohibits their use for establishing military bases, installation, or fortifications; testing weapons of any kind; or conducting military maneuvers.
However, there are plenty of gray areas. I might add that China is talking about establishing a base on the moom.
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