The World Today

The World Today
Earth in 2013

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Moonlab, Chapter 3

Eventhough I've hit 13 dances in the past 12 days, I still found time to write a chapter... ok, it's short, but I have a good excuse.
III) The Oldest Rookie
Moonlab IV sat on the launch pad in Florida longer than originally planned. The second supply mission was slated for a late May launch in 1975, but technical delays and a serious threat of a leak in the Saturn Vb booster delayed the launch until June 20, 1975. None of the Saturn V family of rockets had ever exploded, and NASA intended to keep that perfect record. If one were to explode after launch, Moonlab might see a premature ending, and if even one were to explode on the ground, it would bring the American manned space program to a halt.No leaks were found and it was later decided that a faulty sensor was to blame after all the other Saturn Vb boosters underwent inspection. Further tests on sensors bumped the entire project schedule back a month, forcing Moonlab V to wait until August.

The Moonlab IV supply LM made a perfect landing, almost exactly 1.6 kilometers (one mile) north of the HM. On board were enough supplies to last nine months. With the success of Moonlab III, mission planners debated expanding the original mission length of six months. Moonlab V’s mission was stretched to eight months, and after the delay of Moonlab IV would run from August 1975 to March 1976. There was some concern over the extended length voiced by NASA doctors. It was not a matter of if the crew could handle eight months on the moon but rather the running health of one crewman in particular.

Before his scheduled flight in the Mercury Program, Donald “Deke” Slayton was struck from active duty due to an irregular heartbeat. It was a condition he lived with his whole life and one that never affected his performance during WWII or as a test pilot. It also would have played no role in his scheduled mission, but NASA doctors worried over every irregularity and the NASA’s management feared a public relations disaster if they lost an astronaut in orbit. At the time, no doctor could say for absolute certain that weightlessness would not aggravate his condition, and that non-zero probability grounded Slayton.

In 1972, after years of lobbying NASA physicians and long periods between fibulations, Slayton was finally cleared for flight. The only flights planned for the remained of the decade were the Moonlab missions, and the doctors soon tried to backslide one their assessment when it became clear that Slayton would be going to the moon. They worried enough about astronaut health when they were in Houston. The issue was finally settled by management, when Krantz, Christopher Craft and NASA administrator James Fletcher stood by the original assessment; Slayton was go for Moonlab. However, they were forced to grant the doctors an emergence veto. In the event they came to a consensus that Slayton’s health was in ‘serious jeopardy’, then the mission would abort and the crew would return to Earth. At age 51, Deke Slayton earned the distinction of being the oldest rookie astronaut.

Moonlab V’s mission commander was another veteran of Apollo, though he never actually touched the surface. Thomas Stafford flew on Gemini III and XI, as well as commanded Apollo X, the mission that tested the LM in lunar orbit. He and Gene Cernan flew within 47,000 feet of the lunar surface. The ascent module of the LM lacked sufficient fuel to return from the surface. Officially it was to reduce weight for the launch, though it has been suggested it was insurance to prevent Stafford and Cernan from leaping ahead of Apollo XI. One can only imagine the frustration caused by being so close, yet never able to reach the goal line. On Moonlab V, Stafford would finally reach that line.

Mission Specialists for Moonlab V would be astrophysicist Edward Gibson, and his mission would be astronomical observations from the surface of the moon, as well as physics experiments conducted in the lunar environment. Unfortunately for Gibson, mission planners failed to take into account that a full Earth was far brighter than a full moon, rendering a good portion of the lunar night useless for observation. Instead, he turned his instruments on Earth during that period, studying the homeworld from afar. One photograph taken during the mission was almost as famous as Earthrise. The picture was of a half-Earth; one side blue and white, the other black except for a scattering of lights. The picture showed a detailed layout of cities in the western United States and Canada during the Terran night.

Moonlab V launched on August 12, 1975, after a brief delay caused by a faulty sensor in mission control. Slayton later voiced his annoyance on how a faulty indicator a thousand miles away nearly scrubbed his mission. If not for the quick work of technicians in discovering the fault was in the sensors and not the Saturn Vb, the mission might have faced a severe setback. A few hours later than originally planned, Moonlab V was off the ground and headed towards the moon. The crew touched down less than a kilometer from the Habitat Module on August 15. It was closer to the HM than mission planners liked, but not close enough that debris kicked up by the descent engine, or the engine itself, would cause damage to their living quarters.

The new crew began their stay by inspecting experiments left running by Moonlab III. The small garden within the HM, which consisted a grand total of four pots, gave promising results for a future of growing plants in a lunar base with local resources. A small tomato plant left behind survived the long day-night cycle and bloomed with several flowers. One problem the astronauts would be unable to solve was how exactly they were supposed to pollinate what was grown on the moon. There was no way NASA would allow honeybees to be kept in Moonlab. Biologists were not even certain bees could function properly on a world with no magnetic field.

NASA did permit the transportation of several mice to the moon during Moonlab V. The purpose was not to have rodents take a toehold on another world, but rather a long-term study on how life could adapt to low gravity. The mice born on Earth were of the least amount of interest; it was how their offspring would develop in lunar gravity that could give clues on how humans could develop and grow from conception to death off Earth. Sooner or later, humanity would leave Earth and it was not feasible for every woman to return to Earth gravity for the duration of pregnancy.

Would the mice grow to giant size in the low gravity? It was a common belief at the time, but as it turned out the mice born in Moonlab were not much bigger than those immigrants from Earth. Diet played a bigger role in determining size. Autopsies on the lunar-born mice showed that bone development would be a great concern to colonists in the far future. Each lunar mouse’s skeleton grew slighter and more brittle than their robust Earth cousins. Attempts to return live mice born on the moon failed when these lunar mice were killed by the force of re-entry. Structural tests on the bones indicated mammals born on the moon could function in Earth’s gravity, though a gentler means of transitioning from a trans-Earth injection to splashdown would be required to prove the hypothesis for certain.

Protests over Moonlab picked up again just after New Years’ 1976. Moonlab VI, the third supply run, sat poised to launch from the Cape. Ordinarily, a supply mission would not garner such recognition by anybody outside of NASA. The public was hardly excited about the flight of water, oxygen and free-dried food. However, Moonlab VI was to be different. In addition to nine months’ worth of supplies, it carried the moon dozer. The moon dozer would be the heaviest off-world vehicle launched during the 20th Century. Though it was smaller in volume than the buggy, and lacked a pressurized compartment, it made up for all this with its reinforced construction.

The moon dozer was developed as a construction vehicle in the early days of Moonlab. The HM would not last forever, and just one solid strike from an eraser-sized meteor could puncture its hull. The odds of being struck on any one mission were slim, less so than being struck by lightning on Earth, but over the years the risk would add up. What NASA wanted was a secure habitat, something built into the moon. That was where moon dozer came in. It would not bury the HM, but it would dig out and prepare a trench for the arrival of the Inflatable Habitat Module. The IHM would expand to greater volume than the HM and would be completely buried save for the airlock.

Construction on the moon did not drive the protestors either. The moon dozer was designed to operate during both day and night, and thus required something stronger than solar power to operate. Like the HM, a RTG powered the ‘dozer, and the protestors hated anything nuclear. When the protests on the nightly news were viewed from Moonlab, Stafford commented that the environmentalists would probably protest the ignition of the first, clean fusion reactor just because it was nuclear fusion. Experiments in extracting Helium-3 from the lunar regolith did not attract the attention of anyone save some scientists and engineers back on Earth, even though it would be the fusion fuel of choice. Continued lack of scientific knowledge back home led the majority of Americans to see helium as nothing more than something one puts in a balloon.

Despite the protests, Moonlab VI arrived on the revised schedule. Unloading and assembling the moon dozer required a great effort, even in reduced gravity. Like the moon buggy, it sat on top of the supply module and road down to the surface on a ramp. Unlike the ‘buggy, the ‘dozer was labeled ‘some assembly required’. Three days passed before the moon dozer was declared operational, and Stafford wasted no time in driving it to the HM. Fifty meters away from the HM, he dug the first scoop of regolith out of a hole that would measure 25 x 25 x 10 meters, wide, long and deep. The IHM would take up most of that space, giving the astronauts greater room to maneuver than the HM. The first IHM would be small compared to future designs.

Since the moon dozer was designed to operate in light and dark, when the lunar night passed overhead, the machine’s operation went indoors. A remote control unit came with the ‘dozer and was installed in the already cramp HM. Remote operations were far slower than manual as the astronauts had only a pair of cameras on the moon dozer from which to see their progress. Lighting was also a problem, but only for part of the lunar night. When the moon’s orbit took it into the gibbous and full stages of Earth, sunlight reflected from Earth sufficiently illuminated the landscape. Three weeks were required to excavate a pit that a trained construction crew could have managed in less than a day. With the pit complete, the moon dozer slipped into stand-by mode.

Moonlab V left the moon on December 15, with more than enough time to arrive home by Christmas. The mission returned to Earth with 120 kilograms of moon rocks as well as samples from experiments ran on the moon, including all of the mice. A second batch of rodents would return to the moon with the third manned Moonlab mission in the following year. The Moonlab CM splashed down in the Pacific new Kiribati on December 18. As with the previous return, the crewmen were subjected to rigorous medical tests upon returning to Houston. Slayton underwent the most thorough inspection. Aside from suffering the same rate of bone loss as the other two astronauts, the lengthy stay on the moon had no ill effect on his health.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Moonlab, Chapter 2

II) Procellarum BaseMoonlab I launched in the wake of the first Soviet moon landing. On April 12, 1974, Alexi Leonov touched down at Mare Nubium. Leonov spent barely six hours on the surface before returning to Soyuz 14. Unlike Apollo, the Soviets used own two cosmonauts per mission; one venturing down to the surface in the smaller Soviet LM, while the other remained in orbit. Leonov returned to the Soviet Union with twenty-two kilograms of regolith and rocks, far more than all the sample return probes combined.

Unlike Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldwin, Leonov did not have the world’s spot light cast upon him. He received the expected hero’s parade in Moscow, and was praised by the Soviet press as well as the presses of her vassals, but the only mention in American media was a brief mention of his landing on CBS Nightly News as well as various newspapers. There was a little concern voiced about what would happen if astronauts and cosmonauts were on the moon at the same time, but this was quickly silenced upon it was explained that the moon was a rather large place.

Preparations for Moonlab I continued through the spring of 1974, and the countdown to the first Moonlab launch proceeded much swifter than the countdown leading to Apollo VIII. The Saturn V flew with a near perfect record with the only malfunction being an engine in the first stage of Apollo XIII. NASA’s engineering team was confident that the Saturn Vb would prove just as reliable. This did not stop flight director Gene Krantz, or any other watchmen at mission control in Houston from sweeting. The Saturn V never failed, but with the amount of fuel it carried, it would take only one failure to obliterate a good portion of Cape Canaveral. A similar incident nearly happened with the Soviet’s N-1 rocket, and only a last-minute automated abort prevented it from wiping out their lunar ambitions.

Launch was scheduled for July 4, 1974, which brought mixed feelings from Mission Control. While the Fourth of July was all about launching rockets into the air, those rockets always exploded in dazzling displays. The NASA family was a rather superstitious lot, and worried such analogies would jinx Moonlab I. Their fears were unfounded, for in the morning of July 4, Moonlab I left Florida without a hitch. Real trouble did not occur until July 9, when Moonlab I prepared for its automated landing.

Glitches in the lab’s computer did not occur until after the landing sequence was initiated, thus well past the cancellation report. Engineers rushed frantically to solve the problem, uncertain if the problem were real or if one of Moonlab’s thousands of sensors was faulty. It would not be the first time a mission was placed in jeopardy because of a faulty indicator. Such incidents dated back to John Glenn’s flight, when a faulty sensor told Mission Control that his capsule’s heat shield may be loose. In the case of Moonlab, the sensor in question relayed data back to Houston indicating a dangerous list in the descending HM.

A second sensor gave a more positive report. It reported the HM descending normally and all systems green. Mission Control had to choose which sensor to believe. Redundancies in the HM’s landing program should automatically correct any list. Since no change was detected in the landing, either there was no list, or the software was also malfunctioning. The Moonlab engineering team insisted it was far more likely that the first sensor was malfunctioning than the second one as well as the landing program. Had they decided otherwise, Mission Control could have sent orders to Moonlab to change its trajectory, but remotely operating a landing vehicle with a 2.6 second lag was challenging at best.

Krantz gave the OK for the HM to continue its flight plan, allowing Moonlab I to touch down in the middle of the Ocean of Storms at 1404 on July 9, 1974. The experience was nowhere near as hair-raising as the Apollo XI landing, but it was enough to give the flight controllers a few more gray hairs. Moonlab II, the first of several supply missions, launched on September 12, landing less than a kilometer from the HM five days later. Along with a year’s supply of food, water and oxygen, Moonlab II also included the moon buggy. The mission ended without as much as a glitch in the system. It was almost too perfect for NASA, leaving high level players in Project Moonlab apprehensive about the third mission.

Unlike the two previous missions, Moonlab III would be manned. The mission would take three astronauts to the moon for a six month visit. It would be the first mission to leave a C/SM in orbit around the moon unmanned, virtually stranding the crew on another world. Earlier unmanned Earth orbital tests of the Block III Apollo proved it could remain dormant for up to a year, and be brought back to life without a major problem. All the hardware was proven and designs sound. Whether the capsule would actually awaken after its hibernation, the crew would not know for six months after reaching the surface. If not— contingency plans for a rescue mission were proposed, but by the time the spacecraft could be readied, launched and at the moon, supplies in the LM would have been exhausted.

A misfired Apollo was not the only emergency concern of the mission, though it ranked high. Six months on the moon was enough time for the health of any astronaut to decline. One concern was a sudden onset of appenticidits. With astronauts, being a tough a macho lot, NASA doctors feared that by the time they complained about abdominal pain, the three day return trip might be too long to save the crewman. There was some discussion about preventative surgery, removing the appendix before the astronauts left Earth. For something as long as a Mars mission, it would be a must, but the moon was close enough for alternatives. Moonlab was stocked with emergency antibiotics and other drugs. At the first sign of serious complications, these medicines could be administered before an immediate abort of the mission.

Each of the astronauts for Project Moonlab underwent basic field medicine. The vacuum of the lunar surface was a deadly environment even under the best of conditions. Odds were, that sometime during one of the six month plus missions, one of the astronauts would suffer injury. Astronauts underwent similar training regiments as Army corpsmen, including setting bones and patching wounds. Some of the training was more for a psychological benefit, for if an astronaut’s body received injury great enough to cause bleeding out on the surface then their suit was probably already punctured. Any injury serious enough to require doctors on Earth to talk the astronauts through would result in an immediate mission abort.

To command Moonlab III, NASA turned to one its more experienced moon hands, James Lovell. Lovell visited the moon twice during Apollo; first with the first trip to the moon on Apollo VIII and later for a landing on the Frau Mauru Highlands on Apollo XIII. Lovell intended to retire from NASA following Apollo XIII, but many in management and mission planning, including long time boss Donald Slayton, convinced Lovell to stay on for one more mission. He agreed, “as long as I don’t have to go with Frank again.” The Frank he referred to was Frank Borman, fellow astronaut, partner on Gemini VII and Apollo VIII, and good friend. Bormann retired from the program not long after Apollo VIII.

NASA would draw upon its experienced Apollo crewmen to command all of the Moonlab missions, with all commanders having already once walked on the moon. For pilot, NASA tapped Apollo XVI LM pilot Charles Duke, who has even more time on the surface than Lovell. The role of C/SM pilot would be a short one for all Moonlab missions, and all pilots would find their mission parameters to be broad and vague. Most of his time on the surface would be spent operating the moon buggy, attending experiments and assisting the mission specialists.

The first mission specialist of Moonlab was geologist Harrison Schmidt. The Science Corps astronauts were the envy of their fields. Unlike so many other geologists around the world, who would study lunar samples in ultra-clean laboratories, Moonlab scientists would get the chance to study the samples in their natural environment. Initial studies showed high amounts of light elements in the regolith and a low heavy metal content, disproving the co-accretion hypothesis. The moon also lacked volatiles, gases like nitrogen, carbon dioxide, etc. though its rock contained a great many of oxides. If a source of hydrogen could be found, then water could be produced on the moon, cutting back on the cost of supply missions.

Moonlab III sat on the launch pad in the early morning light of December 6, 1974. It was a chilly day at the Cape, though not so cold as to threaten any of the thousands of parts of the Saturn Vb. The only company the three astronauts had as they climbed the tower and entered the capsule were a few technicians who were eager to get as far away from the two thousand tonnes worth of high explosives that was the Saturn Vb as possible. Each Saturn launch cost far greater than any other booster, for unlike the Titans and Atlases that carried nuclear warheads, if one of the Saturn V family were to explode, it would have the yield of a small atom bomb. NASA could not afford to have a single Saturn explode on the ground. Should that happen, the manned space program would be shut down for an undetermined length of time.

At 1005, Moonlab III cleared the launch tower and began its three day voyage to the moon. Unlike other missions, the weightless period of Moonlab III did not give any of the astronauts space sickness. The lack of gravity has an adverse effect on the stomach, and half of the people to ever travel in space suffered from it while acclimatizing. After the third stage cleared Earth orbit and slid into a trans-lunar injection, the C/SM separated and deployed its solar panels before turning around and docking with the LM. Even after factoring in a third man for the landing, the Moonlab LM proved far more spacious than its ancestor.

Moonlab III entered lunar orbit on December 9, only slightly of course. A minor correction in orbit brought the spacecraft over the Moonlab HM by the sixth orbit. By the eighth orbit, it was time to land. Moonlab III’s crew had a long hike across the barren lunar wilderness to reach the HM. To avoid any possibly collision, Moonlab standard operating procedures called for LMs to touch down at least one-point-six kilometers (one mile) from the Habitat Module. The SOP applies to both manned and unmanned landings. After reaching the surface and hiking to the first supply lander, the crew unpacked the moon buggy and loaded it with as many supplies from the cargo module. Weekly schedules called for one run on the supply lander.

After spending their careers in Gemini and Apollo Command/Service Modules, as well as Lunar Excursion Modules, the HM was almost luxurious. In camping terms, the previous craft were tents while the HM was an RV by comparison. Comparisons aside, living in Moonlab would be no mere camping trip. Much of the time spent awake would either be spent outside or on experiments indoors. The latter was saved for the lunar night, when temperatures dropped well below -200 degrees. Environmental suits were designed for daytime operations and to radiate excess heat and keep the astronaut cool. While they could function briefly in the lunar night, long-term exposure would result in hypothermia.

Many of the Moonlab experiments would see whether or not man could survive on the moon for extended periods of time. It was hoped at the time that Moonlab would pave the way for a permanent American presence on the moon, similar to research stations in Antarctica. One of the biggest experiments for Project Moonlab involved living off the land. High-powered ovens were used to bake out elements from regolith, most notably oxygen. The ovens produced a small quantity of oxygen. Not enough to keep the astronauts alive on its own, but more than enough to prove the process worked.

Regolith would also be used in more conventional and familiar means. Along with a small hydroponics garden, the astronauts experimented with growing various crops directly in the regolith. Early experiments on Moonlab produced simple cement when water was added to the regolith. The lunar dirt lacked many nutrients plants required to live, forcing the addition of fertilizer to the mix. The only available manure on the moon came from the astronauts themselves, creating a long list of jokes among the Moonlab crews about “night soil”.

Water used for these small gardens, really little more than a few potted plants, came from another Moonlab experiment. Waste water produced by the astronauts went through an intense filtration and purification regiment, coming out of the machines as clean as it went into the astronauts. The crews were rather reluctant to drink water reclaimed from their own urine, and instead used this recycled water in the garden. The Moonlab water reclamation system was never 100%, and no matter how often water was recycled, there was always a loss and a need for more water to be introduced to the life-support systems.

Producing water from lunar oxygen and hydrogen was one possible solution, but the relative lack of hydrogen near Procellarum Base made it an expensive proposal in terms of energy. Schmidt, as well as other Moonlab mission specialists, proposed sending a probe into polar orbit of the moon to investigate the craters at the poles. Some craters at the North and South Poles were deep enough that their floors never saw the light of day. Billions of years of bombardment by comets and other icy debris may have left residue in these places “were the sun don’t shine”. Any raw ice that may exist in these locations would not only provide drinking water, but oxygen to breath and oxygen-hydrogen for fuel.

One of the many goals of Moonlab was to determine whether or not a permanent base could be established using local resources. If NASA, or any earthbound organization attempted to establish such a base without using materials from Earth would require a budget that runs in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Aside from concrete, the moon has an abundance of elements that could be used to produce solar cells as well as enough batteries to hold the charge for the lunar night. The batteries were largely a political decision. A fission reactor could provide ample power for the nights, but environmentalist concerns of launching that much fission fuel into space would spark protests far greater than Moonlab’s RTG, which was designed to last the seven year mission. A nuclear reactor for a full research base would likely run on the same fuel for more than twenty years, before requiring refueling.

With all the thought and effort that went into the experiments, one major detail of life on the moon was overlooked; the dust. With even a slight static charge, lunar dust would stick to any surface. Vacuum hoses in Moonlab’s airlock were thought to be enough to remove the fine powder that claim to everything. The dust would form concrete when coming into contact with moisture, proving a very serious health problem for anybody who inhaled a small amount. NASA doctors decorated each of the crewmen with a number of medical sensors, but had no way to examine the lungs directly. Each Moonlab astronaut had some exposure to the dust but none at a level high enough to cause permanent damage.

One incident early in the mission, happening on January 2, 1975, involved an involuntary reaction to sweat on the brow. Charles Duke’s dust covered hand smeared moon dust across his visor, seriously compromising visibility. Fortunately for Duke, it occurred during a routine outing to inspect the surface experiments littering the surface around Moonlab. As per Moonlab SOP, Duke was not alone on the surface, and Schmidt guided him back to the airlock where his helmet underwent a thorough cleaning and he retrieved his sweatband from inside. After that, he never forgot to wear the band around his forehead. NASA doctors would continue to badger all Moonlab astronauts for the remainder of the program, reminding them that sweat operated the same on the moon as it does on Earth, and thus nothing like in a microgravity setting.

The lunar nights proved to be long and trying. It was not that the astronauts had nothing to do, far from it. Many experiments were ran inside Moonlab. The real challenge came from having three egos locked in a volume the same as a small apartment some four hundred thousand kilometers from home. For the most part, the military discipline of most astronauts’ pre-NASA days held strong. Moonlab even had some advantages over capsules in that it was large enough that crewmen could grab small doses of privacy during the fourteen day confinements. EVAs occurred only when absolutely necessary as the suits were designed for the Apollo landings, which all happened in broad daylight. Lessons learned from Moonlab III were implemented in later missions in the form of redesigned environmental suits.

The term space suit was thrown out during the Moonlab Program since, as many individuals in NASA, the Press and so on pointed out that they are not in space, but on the moon. The new “E-suit” as it was dubbed was not that different from the other soft-bodied suits. The largest difference was in life-support; the new suits heated as well as cooled. Hard-shell suit development began even before Moonlab III touched down. The hard-shells would not require extended periods of prebreathing low pressure air mixes before EVA. Even with the lower pressure interior of spacecraft (running with less overall pressure but a higher O2 content), some adjustment was required. The hard-shells would allow occupants of a future outpost to live in a standard pressure interior and go EVA without the need of pre-breathing, since the hard-shell suits would hold the same pressure as the habitat.

On their down time, crews were able to call home. Calls were limited and scheduled at certain times as not to interfere with transmission of data or other communication needs vital to the mission. One of the more frustrating aspects of working on the moon was the time lag in communication. At one-point-three light-seconds distance, the round trip of a message ran at two-point-six seconds. It was small, but the hesitation was very noticeable. Crews of any potential future Mars mission might look back on the inconvenience and scoff at anyone complaining about a lag of less than three seconds. Two-way communication from any object beyond the moon would be all but impractical. Lovell commented on “having a conversation with a two-and-a-half second delay” when he was interviewed on CBS News from the moon.

Three decks of playing cards were smuggled on to the Moonlab HM before its launch. One engineer suggested smuggling a copy of Monopoly instead, but the idea was vetoed over concerns of how a heated match might affect the crew. Anything that could possibly cause a rise in tension was discouraged. Books were an addition to the crew quarter section of the HM, including a complete copy of Edward Gibson’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Somebody at Mission Control remarked that by the time anybody was finished reading the collection, it would be time to return home. In January, the Super Bowl was transmitted to Moonlab, where the crew took the day off to watch. Media outlets across the country were interested to know the crew’s favorites.

Moonlab went on alert on March 2, 1975, when a second Soviet moon mission entered lunar orbit. Moscow gave all notice to Washington on where it planned to land, as to not cause any interplanetary incident with the United States. Soyuz 15’s target was the Copernicus Crater, well away from Moonlab. The Soviets would make their closest landing to Moonlab in 1976, with an estimated distance between one hundred and one hundred fifty kilometers away, somewhere on the Ocean of Storms. While they had no contact with the cosmonaut on the moon, the Soyuz pilot entered into good natured banter with the crew when his capsule flew overhead. The Soviets would not bomb them, and if they did, the cosmonaut assured them that Moscow would let them know in advance.

A real bombardment occurred on April 9, though fortunately for Earth it was a natural assault upon the moon. A small meteor slammed into the ground fifteen kilometers away from Moonlab, excavating a seven meter wide crater. One of the many experiments ran during the Program was a moon-based radar designed to track threats such as this. What exactly the astronauts were to do if a meteor was on a collision course with them was not clear. Hours after the impact, Schmidt and Lovell were on site, collecting samples and taking pictures of the moon’s newest crater.

The moon buggy took the astronauts further away than the Apollo rovers. The furthest excursion of Moonlab II was to one of the Apollo landing sites. Apollo XII landed close to Surveyor 3, and Lovell and Duke inspected both objects during the February 21-22 drive. Pieces of XII’s LM were removed and sealed in sample cases for study on Earth, but unlike pieces of Surveyor 3 there were no bacteria discovered hiding in the shadows. The origin of the bacteria brought back by Apollo XII is still debated, with a growing number of scientists believing the samples were contaminated after Apollo XII left the moon, and not proof of life surviving in vacuum for years on end. Experiments delivered to the moon on supply missions attempted to duplicate conditions on Surveyor 3’s camera. None of the bacteria samples in the experiment survived exposure to the lunar environment for a three month period.

Moonlab III ended on May 10, 1975, without as much as an injury to any of the crewmen. After spending approximately six months on the moon, the crew was eager to return home. Even after returning to Earth, their mission would not be totally complete. One of the long-term experiments of the Moonlab Program was conducted on the crewmen themselves. Doctors would give all three astronauts a thorough check-up once they return to Houston, as well as extensive examination to see how well and how fast their bodies re-adapt to life on Earth. Any astronaut spending time on the moon is required to exercise on a daily basis. Often this involves simple EVAs in a suit with a heavy life-support package. Carrying it on Earth took a great deal of effort, but in the moon’s lower gravity is almost brought their absolute weight back to where it was on Earth.

Each astronaut suffered a degree of bone loss in the lower gravity, but nothing life-threating. Spending six months weightless was a far greater health hazard than simply weighing less. Six months also happened to be the estimated transit time for a Mars mission. Thoughts on and designs for “artificial gravity” argued over whether a Mars mission should have Earth gravity, Mars gravity or lunar gravity. Rotating living quarters at a lower rate would reduce to stress on the spacecraft, and Moonlab III proved that six months at one-sixth Earth’s gravity would still allow the astronauts to function upon reaching Mars. It was useful data, even if a Mars mission would eventually lay decades in the futures.

Upon return, Lovell retired from NASA and the Navy, returning to civilian life. Mission specialists Schmidt continued studying lunar samples for years after Moonlab III, though he too retired from NASA and returned to the lab. Charles Duke continued to serve with NASA for two more years, though he would never return to space. For almost all of the astronauts, their Moonlab mission would be their final mission. The test pilot spirit of the astronaut corps always pushed them for higher, faster and farther, and how could one top a mission to the moon? The obvious question would be to land on another planet, a feat that none of the crewmen of the Moonlab Program would live to see.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The House of Oranje

I'm just dusting something off from inside my AHN folders. It's the family tree for the Kings (and Queen) of the United Provinces of the Netherlands.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Copyright Cert.

I finally got my certificate of copyright for An Alternate History of the Netherlands. This one arrived faster than the one for The End. For AHN, I framed the certificate and it's hanging next to my desk. The first of many, I hope.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Moonlab, chapter 1, outline

I've started what might be my next book (well, alternate history at any rate). It's called Moonlab, and covers Project Moonlab during its run of 1974-1981. NASA goes with continuing the moon missions in the 1970s instead of the Earth orbital infrastructure path that it turned into a thirty year detour of the space program. I better not get started on the problems with the so-called "reusable" (rebuildable would be a more accurate description) space shuttle program, or I'll be ranting for a while. Anyways, here's the first chapter of the outline. The finished work will require a rewrite or three, and there is no projection on when it'll be finished.
I) Prelude to Moonlab
            The road to Moonlab leads back to 1961. Shortly after Alan Shepard’s fifteen minute flight, President John Kennedy announced that NASA would land a man on the moon and return him to Earth by the end of the decade. Whether or not Kennedy had 1969 or 1970 in mind as the end of the decade may never be known. What is known was that everyone in NASA thought the President was quite mad. America had no even reached orbit, and they were supposed to be the Soviet Union to the moon?
            The challenges faced to reach the moon ranged from laughable to serious. In the beginning, NASA doctors had serious worries about whether or not an astronaut could even survive weightlessness for the duration of the voyage. Engineers questioned whether or not rendezvous was even possible. More serious was the problem in extravehicular activity. EVAs during the Gemini missions put several astronauts at risk. It was not discovered that the real problem was in the initial training for spacewalking until Buzz Aldwin threw a space capsule into a pool and dove in after it. Though not weightless, moving with the buoyancy of a suit in water mimics moving in space. So many technical obstacles lay ahead that whole books could be written about every aspect of Projects Mercury and Gemini.
            The biggest stumbling block on the road to the moon came in the form of Apollo I. A fire in the oxygen-rich atmosphere of a low quality capsule all but gutted it, killing three astronauts in the process. The fire forced NASA and North American-Rockwell engineers to redesign Apollo from the ground up, delaying the first successful launch by more than eighteen months. During this period, initial plans for Moonlab were being drawn up, and would require a capsule that could stay in orbit in stand-by mode for months on end. Fuel cells small enough to blast into space lacked the capacity, forcing NASA to go with solar panels for Block III Apollo. When launched in October 1968, Apollo VII worked like a dream. Apollo VIII was originally poised to run the first tests of the Lunar Excursion Module in Earth orbit. It was an essential step in the process for if the LEM did not maneuver as advertised then the 1969/70 deadline would not be met.
            Months prior to the launch, the CIA discovered a massive N1 sitting on a Soviet launch pad undergoing preparation for launch. The N1 was the Soviet equivalent of the Saturn V, with the express purpose of placing a Soyuz spacecraft into lunar orbit. It was feared that the Soviets were preparing for their first moonshot. It was a founded fear, for that was precisely what the Soviets were planning. Little did the CIA or NASA know that the N1 was plagued with technical difficulties, and the first circumnavigation of the moon by Cosmonauts did not occur until June 1969, six months after Apollo VIII returned from its ten orbits of Luna, and nearly a month after Apollo X returned from testing the LEM in lunar orbit.
            When it became clear to Soviet leaders that the first man on the moon would not be a cosmonaut, plans went into effect to tromp the impending American landing. One of the Soviet back-up plans came in the form of a sample return probe. While it would only return a few grams of regolith (compared to the eventual American return of 439 kg of lunar material during the Apollo Program), Soviet leaders hoped it would also offer a propaganda coup, showing that they brought back lunar samples at a fraction of the price of the Americans. Luna 15 touched down two days before Apollo XI, and despite some technical difficulties, it successfully launched its sample return, which beat the Americans back to Earth by mere hours. Unfortunately, after re-entry, the parachute on the return capsule failed to deploy properly, causing it to land at greater speed than designed. While the sample survived the crash, it was too contaminated to be of much use. With their own effort to one-up the Americans over, Premier Brezhnev was forced to call President Nixon and congratulate the United States on its amazing achievement. It was by no means admitting defeat.
            The Soviets launched three more sample return missions, all landing successfully, but most people outside of the Soviet Bloc did not notice their achievement, or if they did, they simply did not care. Probes bringing back grams of dust did not excite the imagination the same way as seeing an astronaut walking across the lunar surface. Though they were no clearly behind the American space effort, the Soviets pushed forward with their own manned landing, first with 1971 as the target, then 1972 and finally settling for 1974. The first cosmonaut, Alexi Leonov, did not step foot upon the moon until the last of the Apollo missions departed for Earth, and only two months before the first manned Moonlab mission arrived.
            If not for the continued Soviet push for the moon, it is entirely possible that the moon program would have been canceled after the final Apollo mission. In 1970, U.S. President Richard Nixon had three options placed in front of him by NASA. 1) Development of Earth orbital infrastructure. 2) Continued exploration of the moon. 3) Mission to Mars. The third option was considered, and with elements of NASA and the aerospace industry continuing to push for the development of Nova, it might have worked. Earth orbit would have been the cheapest option; even with the projected development cost of a “reusable” space shuttle, it would still be 20% less than Moonlab. Nixon chose the second option as the image of the Soviet Union getting a toehold on the moon while NASA was puttering around in Earth orbit worried him. It would have been a public-relations disaster.
            One of the first orders of business with Project Moonlab was the development of a new booster, which began years before the first Moonlab budget was approved by Congress. The original LEM proved to be one of the most reliable vehicles in NASA’s garage, but Moonlab required for at least three astronauts to be on the moon, as well as an ability to lift at least a hundred kilograms of lunar rocks and dust back into orbit. The Nova clique pressed hard in 1968 for their monster rocket to be reconsidered. It was originally designed as part of the Direct Ascent approach to landing on the moon.
            The Saturn V was still a new booster, and before its unshakable launch record was established, engineers were looking for ways to improve its lift capacity. For a second generation LEM, they expanded the third stage of the Saturn V for 50% greater volume. This required modification of the first and second stages, mostly in the form of fuel capacity. The Saturn Vb stood ten meters taller than its original counterpart, and would carry the newer, twenty tonne Lunar Excursion Module. Without the Apollo Command/Service Module, the capacity extended to fifty tonnes. The theoretical lifting capacity of the Saturn Vb was much greater than fifty tonnes, but NASA engineers decided to mark that as the limit of the Moonlab Habitat Module and the Supply Modules.
            The ultimate decision lay in the funding. With the initial designs for Project Moonlab happened before Congress approved the funding in 1971. The Saturn Vb would cost far less to develop than Nova, which was looking more and more like a bottomless pit. The Nova booster would not be scrapped for its capacity would be ideal for a Mars mission. Engineers working on the Saturn family of boosters often joked about the delays and cost overruns of Nova; saying that man would already be on Mars by the time that monster was ready for its first flight.
            One of the easiest engineering aspects of Moonlab was the Moonlab Habitat Module. Unlike the Lunar Excursion Modules, Moonlab would never have need to lift-off from the surface of the moon. It would be making a one-way voyage. The absence of an ascent stage opened up more room in the module for supplies and living space. The HM was divided into four sections. The bottom most section contained the descent engine and other equipment used only for landing. After a decade of unmanned probes and the failures that followed them, engineers knew exactly what not to do when they designed the HM’s automated landing system. Initially only one HM was planned, but being the conservative society it is, NASA ordered two more as back up should the first crash.
            The second level contained the habitat’s life support equipment. Mass restrictions prohibited six months’ worth of water and oxygen from arriving with the HM. Instead, half of the Moonlab missions would be unmanned supply ships, similar in design to Moonlab itself, albeit scaled down to 70% the size of the HM. The Supply Modules only needed to carry the goods and not support the lives of three astronauts for extended periods of time, although they could serve as emergency shelters. In fact the first SM was equipped with a lead-lined compartment in the event of solar flares or other radiation events. Moonlab II would continue serving this function until the arrival of the inflatable habitat.
            The third level of Moonlab housed experiments and other scientific equipment. It was in effect the lab within Moonlab. Workspace was limited to a four meter radius. The workspace proved to be so limited, that addition laboratories, each the size of a small walk-in closet, were included in future supply missions. Unlike those micro-labs, Moonlab itself came with an independent airlock, allowing access to the surface without having to depressurize the whole HM for each EVA. The SM does not have this luxury. Once the inflatable shelter was constructed on the moon, astronauts would begin transferring the experiments to a much larger venue.
            The upper most section of Moonlab would be the astronauts’ home away from home for at least six months. Its volume was only half that of the lab, and astronauts would be allocated a small locker for personal affects, as well as what was little more than a hammock. Bathroom facilities would be minimal as a need to conserve water eliminated any possibility of long showers. The astronauts would be the new frontiersmen, roughing it in the lunar wilderness. The biggest challenge to the psychology of the three man crew would come during the fourteen day long lunar nights, when astronauts would be confined to its warmth. Moonlab also featured an early attempt at a partially closed loop in its water supply. Water from cleaning would be ran through filters and purified. The process of converting urine into water was a little more complicated, and despite its effectiveness, the astronauts were reluctant to consume the recycled water. Much of it went to watering the plants in the laboratory.
            The inflatable habitat was first envisioned as an emergency shelter. Before its arrival, a large, industrial rover named the Moondozer would arrive on a supply run. It could either be tele-operated or an astronaut could take over manually on the surface. Its function was solely to excavate a trench long enough and wide enough for the “balloon” to lie down in, and then to bury it beneath a layer of regolith, affording it greater protection against radiation. Afterwards, it would remain on the surface until further need of its services arose. Seeing as the Moondozer could not even reach 1 KPH, it was all but useless in exploring the moon.
            Much of the hardware for Moonlab would be new by 1974, though the means of arrival was well proven by then. Instead of developing a new spacecraft, Apollo would be used to ferry the astronauts and samples between Earth and Luna. The Apollo/Moonlab CM was of the Block III design, equipped with solar panels and batteries. With missions of at least six months, conventional fuel cells would be too heavy to last the duration. For the Apollo missions, the Block II CM, with its forty day capacity, was more than enough for a two-week mission. Even on stand-by mode, the Block II would run out of power before the astronauts returned to the surface.
            Engineers argued over whether or not such a CM would last six months in lunar orbit unoccupied. The Soviets proved the use of solar power with their Soyuz missions, but even those lasted less than a month, and always with a crew. Before solar powered Apollo was allowed to fly to the moon, NASA planners set up two unmanned missions. Apollo XVIII began its six month, unmanned mission on January 3, 1973. Once placed in orbit, operators on the ground powered down the capsule to stand-by mode and waited. On June 17, Apollo XIX docked with the unmanned craft and powered it back up. Aside from the higher-than-planned temperature (Block III was designed to maintain a twenty degree C climate with periodic heating and radiating) of thirty-three degrees, all systems we go. The Apollo XIX crew returned to Earth in Apollo XVIII, leaving their own spacecraft in orbit for a year-long unmanned mission. It would return to Earth by remote control four months before the first manned Moonlab mission flew.
            The Moonlab HM was designed for a minimum of five years’ worth of service. As with the long duration Apollo, standard fuel cells would be insufficient to power Moonlab. The best available option in 1968 was known as the radioisotope thermal generator. The RTG worked by converting heat given off by radioactive decay into electrical power. Equipment left behind on the moon by Apollo, as well as deep space probes, were all powered by these small nuclear sources. When it was leaked to the press that Moonlab would run on a scaled-up version of the same generators, NASA was struck by an anti-nuclear backlash from the public.
            A vocal minority expressed some outrage in NASA dumping radioactive material on another world. Never mind the fact that natural occurring radiation in space far outstripped anything humanity could ever produce, the word nuclear brought out the small, but ever growing environmentalist movement. A Congressional investigation into the Moonlab design brought up the question why the HM did not use solar power. After all, it would work find for the orbiting CM. One key point that was lost on the investigators is that anything in orbit of the moon would not be trapped in a fourteen-day long night cycle. Apollo could run its batteries in the shade, and recharge once back in the sun.
            Moonlab did not have that option, unless it was to land at the North or South Pole. Even then, solar arrays would need to be constructed on the peaks of eternal sunlight. A fine idea for a city, but useless for something as small as Moonlab. Attempts to install solar panels on Moonlab itself would delay the project by months perhaps even by more than a year should the redesign prove significant. Had the environmentalist the size and political clout they held in the 21st Century back in 1971, then it is entirely possible the Moonlab budget would have failed to pass. With the Red Menace still in the air, Congress approved the budget that opened the way for the first Moonlab missions. NASA Public Relations assured the public that research into solar power and even higher capacity batteries would progress, and future Habitat Modules would incorporate any such development. The failed to sail whether any breakthroughs would occur before then.
            Unlike Apollo, Moonlab would call for all three astronauts to venture to the surface. To beat the Soviets to the moon, NASA settled for a smaller, two-man Lunar Excursion Module. A second generation LEM underwent testing between 1972 and 1974. Two of the orbital tests were unmanned, testing not only the maneuvering of the new LEM, but also many systems on the Block III Apollo already in orbit. A third, manned test occurred on December 17, 1973, using the Saturn Vb as well as an older model Apollo. With identical docking mechanisms, the new LEM could be used with either Block II or III. Fewer tests were ran on the Moonlab LEM, since they used much of the same hardware as the Apollo LEMs, with the major difference being a more voluminous interior as well as more powerful descent and ascent engines.
            Project Moonlab called for the LEM to carry three astronauts, as well as at least 200 kg of sample returns. Grumman’s design team rated the LEM for 250 kg, but NASA planners decided to not allow the samples to exceed 200 kg, giving the lander a wide safety of margin when it returned to orbit. Development costs of the LEM and C/SM for Moonlab proved to be one of the few good deals of the project. With most of the transportation hardware R&D covered by past projects, Project Moonlab focused its resources on the new instead of wasting money on the tried and true. The Chinese space program of the 21st Century followed a similar pattern. Thanks to what was learned in the 1960s at American and Soviet cost, China could leap forward to its Shenzhou spacecraft (itself a copy of the venerable workhorse known as Soyuz) without having to pour billions of Yuan into learning if its Taikonauts could even survive periods of weightlessness.
            One of the tried and true tools of Apollo was abandoned in favor of a newer model. The original lunar rover fulfilled its role as a short-range transport very well, but Moonlab mission durations spanned at least fifty times the length of stay of the Apollo landings. Everything within walking distance of the landing site would be explored long before the clock ticked down to zero. A new lunar exploration vehicle, named the moon buggy by the astronauts that operated it, could operate across great distances of the lunar surface, with individual drives of over two hundred kilometers. With solar power driving it, what really limited the moon buggy’s range was the length of the lunar day.
            Travelling at ten kilometers an hour, such long drives would literally last for days. Instead of requiring the astronauts to remain exposed on the surface, the moon buggy would have a large pressurized cabin that the crew could call home. If Moonlab were a camper, then the moon buggy would be a tent. Facilities were primitive. Only one bunk was placed in the vehicle, forcing the astronauts to rotate their rest periods. One would drive while the other slept. The interior volume of seven cubic meters, while greater than the Apollo CM only gave the astronauts just enough room to get out of the driver’s seat and go to bed. While the moon buggy was designed for ‘shirt sleeve operations’, its cramped interior made it impractical to strip completely out of the suit.
            Behind the pressurized cabin, a second, open compartment for equipment, experiments and sample collection. Looking upon the moon buggy in profile, one is reminded of a full-sized van pulling a small trailer. The similarities are only superficial, as the moon buggy could barely operate in Earth’s gravity. Technicians preparing the Moonlab II flight faced a stiff challenge just getting the buggy up the ramp and secured into the first of several automated supply missions.
            Moonlab’s greatest difference compared to previous projects is the inclusion of non-pilots into the crews. The astronaut corps came from a pool of test pilots, and all had military backgrounds. There was only so much a military man could do on the moon. Criticism towards the initial selection of Moonlab crews included the lack of scientists on what was supposed to be a scientific mission. True, the astronauts could be directed by Earth-based laboratories, but if NASA planned to just have remote-controlled astronauts in Moonlab, then they might as well do away with the human aspect and convert the project to full automation. Robotic probes were far cheaper and easier to support in the hostile lunar environment.
            Instead of sending the crews through the years it would require to gain a basic degree in geology, in 1966, NASA decided to turn scientists into astronauts. The Science Corps, as the program was unofficially named, selected nine geologists and three astronomers for Project Moonlab. The inclusion of astronomers was questioned by Congressional oversight in that why should a project dedicated to the moon need scientists who look up for a living? It took some explaining to convey the idea that the airless moon made an ideal location for telescopes and other astronomical equipment.
            Much of the Science Corps training involved learning how to operate the LEM and moon buggy. For Project Apollo, the scientists were trained as LEM pilots, causing them to fill two mission roles. No scientists flew on the Apollo missions, though a number were on standby in the event of Moonlab’s potential cancellation. The first of the Moonlab geologists, Harrison Schmidt, served as Apollo XVII’s backup LEM pilot. His inclusion in the roster continued even after Moonlab’s budget was approved in 1970, though the rest of the Science Corps were permanently transferred.
             After years of training before the first Moonlab mission, the concept underwent reevaluation by auditors. The cost of turning a scientist into astronauts, both in money and time, turned out to be greater than sending an individual astronaut by to college to earn a degree in Earth Science. It was not the first cost overrun of the program, nor would it be the last. Even before Moonlab itself was launched, the project spent over three billion dollars. For the duration of Project Moonlab, the public would continue to wonder if knowledge was gained at too high of a price.