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  Mercury - Gemini - Apollo
  Apollo 8: Decision to go for lunar orbit

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Author Topic:   Apollo 8: Decision to go for lunar orbit
DChudwin
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posted 12-21-2012 07:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for DChudwin   Click Here to Email DChudwin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
One of NASA's boldest steps was to send the first manned Apollo Saturn V flight to orbit the Moon. When delays in the development of the lunar module threatened to make NASA miss President Kennedy's deadline of landing on the Moon by the end of the decade (1969), a decision was made to switch the first two manned flights of the Saturn V.

The original Apollo 8 flight was to be a test of the lunar module in low earth orbit and the next flight a test of the CSM-LM configuration in a very high earth orbit.
A decision was made to delay the lunar module flight and fly just the CSM.

Most accounts attribute the idea to fly the CSM flight to lunar orbit to George Low (1926-84), NASA's Apollo Spacecraft Program Manager. Low, born in Vienna, Austria, was a brilliant engineer and administrator.

It is known that on August 7, 1968 he met with Manned Spacecraft Center director of flight operations Chris Kraft and asked him to look into the feasibility of such a circumlunar mission. A series of somewhat frantic meetings followed, including NASA leaders such as Robert Gilruth and Wernher von Braun. Finally a pitch was made to George Mueller, NASA Associate Administrator for Manned Spaceflight and James Webb, NASA Administrator. After some hesitation, Webb finally agreed, although an announcement was delayed until after the success of Apollo 7 in October.

Does anyone know of evidence that anyone else besides George Low proposed what became Apollo 8? Does anyone know of any documentary evidence that Low suggested the revised Apollo 8 mission before August, 1968? One might argue that this decision made it possible for the U.S. to meet President Kennedy's goal and hence was one of the most important decisions made during Apollo.

PetesParkingLot
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posted 12-21-2012 10:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for PetesParkingLot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I would suggest the opposite is true. I think an argument can be made that the Apollo 8 decision was the equivalent to the decision to launch Challenger in sub zero temperatures. The only difference was Apollo management got away with a bad decision and shuttle management got "unlucky". Apollo 8 was sent to the moon without a LM and with a fatal defect in the CSM/oxygen infrastructure.

Apollo 8 was only the second flight of a manned CSM and the number of unknowns and defects was much greater than a more mature vehicle. Imagine the impact on the Apollo program had Apollo 8 CSM oxygen tank been difficult to "detank" and 65 volts had been applied to the tank. The deaths of Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders so close to the Apollo 1 mistake might very well have ended any attempt to land on the moon with Apollo. With an Apollo 13 type failure in high earth orbit it might be possible to execute a reentry on CM battery only. Such an option did not exist after TLI.

Headshot
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posted 12-22-2012 03:13 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Headshot   Click Here to Email Headshot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I disagree that Apollo managers got away with a "bad" decision on Apollo VIII. They made the right decision based on the experience they had at the time. With Apollo VIII, we had no idea that a CSM could fail so catastrophically. With Challenger, there was ample evidence of a problem with the "O-Rings," people just chose to ignore the data. Bad decisions come from not learning from one's mistakes or past history.

Apollo itself was risky and we were lucky to only loose only three astronauts. Think about some of the bullets we dodged:

Apollo VIII - No lunar module as a lifeboat and an astronaut delibilated (for a while) by space sickness.

Apollo IX - Another astronaut debilitated by space sickness, which could have had fatal consequences had it occurred during the mission's spacewalk.

Apollo X - Violent vibrations could have broken the SIVB/Apollo CM/LM apart during TLI. A switch in an incorrect position could have led the LM ascent stage, and crew, crashing into the lunar surface.

Apollo XIII - We all know about that one.

Apollo XIV - A short-circuit in a switch aboard the LM could have aborted the landing or had worse consequences.

Apollo XVI - Problems with CM's main engine could have left it stranded in lunar orbit, crashed on the moon, or sent into deep space.

In between Apollos XVI and XVII, a solar flare occurs that is so strong that it would have killed an Apollo crew had it happened during a lunar mission.

I am glad Apollo VIII and the other flights succeeded so well. Apollo was a bold program, but we were very, very lucky. Fortunately, should we ever go back to the moon, we will be much better prepared and the crew will be far safer.

PetesParkingLot
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posted 12-22-2012 06:40 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for PetesParkingLot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I would add launching Apollo 12 into a storm that resulted in a lightning strike that could have damaged the reentry pyrotechnics and resulted in a parachute failure.

More to the point, the Apollo management had no such prior performance information since this was only the second flight of the hardware. Does ignorance justify making a poor decision?? STS flew 24 times successfully before one of these many "risk" decisions caught up with STS management. Apollo management is looked upon as "brilliant" and STS management as a "broken safety culture".

One question I have pondered is what our view of Apollo management would have been if we had continued to fly Apollo 25 times or 135 times. I would suggest that the Apollo 8 decision needs to be looked at as extremely risky. Was that risk necessary? Did we need to save the 5000 lbs of weight by sending a LTA vs. a non land able LM? Was it that important to the program to beat a perceived Russian stunt? By the end of Gemini, it was clear we were well ahead in the space race and any knowledgeable NASA insider new the Russian lunar program was not going to succeed before the end of the decade.

Was Apollo management really a safety culture or did they suffer from "go fever" even more than Challenger management. Imagine the conclusions the Apollo 8 accident board when George Lows "brilliant" decision is reviewed in light of the death of the crew.

Headshot
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posted 12-22-2012 09:14 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Headshot   Click Here to Email Headshot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Good point about Apollo XII.

Apollo management did not have "go" fever as bad as those involved in the Challenger launch decision. Every decision they made was based on the data available at the time, even though some of it was incomplete. All the data predicting "O-Ring" failure for Challenger's lunch was present, but it was summarily ignored ("Take your engineering hat off and put your management hat on.").

On Apollo VIII, the one concern that everyone had(at the time) was the failure of the SPS engine to fire. Management's logic was that if it failed on the way to the moon, Apollo VIII would just loop around Luna and return to Earth. Had it partially failed for the return trip burn, the RCS engine might have been able to make up the missing delta-V. A total failure of the SPS was deemed unlikely. So the risk at the time was NOT perceived to be that great. During the entire Apollo program there was only one anomaly involving the SPS (Apollo XVI) and it still performed as required.

Another thing to remember is that George Low made the recommendation for the Apollo VIII C-Prime mission, but could not implement the mission on his own. The concept had to be approved by higher-ups like Paine and Webb, who were appropriately skeptical at first.

Grounded!
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posted 12-22-2012 09:36 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Grounded!   Click Here to Email Grounded!     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
To comment on Dr. Chudwin's original questions, I just finished reading Murray and Cox's wonderful book "Apollo, The Race To The Moon." which appears to put an earlier timeline on events leading to the decision of changing Apollo 8 to a lunar orbit mission.

According to the book, Frank Borman had a meeting with George Low in the spring of 1968 to discuss the progress made on the block II CM at Downey. Borman felt that the spacecraft was "about ready to go to the moon." A top secret "007" letter was immediately dictated and sent off to Kraft to find out, from a flight ops standpoint, the possibility of sending Apollo 8 around the moon. Kraft and Low, according to the book, had had several discussions on changing the mission even prior to the meeting with Borman.

On May 24th of that year, George Low included in his Apollo notes to Dr. Gilruth that "Chris Kraft and I agreed that we would pursue an E-Prime mission that would be a lunar orbit mission."

Things seemed to happen rather quickly after Borman's meeting with Low, which took place "on a Saturday, probably shortly after Apollo 6" according to Low's secretary. Apollo 6 flew in early April.

The book was written 23 years ago. Are there other sources out there with conflicting information?

Dr. Gilruth's papers, including Apollo notes are held in the special collections section of the library at Virginia Tech and are available for public viewing.

PetesParkingLot
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posted 12-22-2012 10:16 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for PetesParkingLot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't think the Challenger data was as clear as you make it appear. Can one excuse a management culture that fails to notice that 28 volt thermostatic switches were installed in a launch support platform that ran at 65 volts. Absent knowledge of the data does management get a pass? If I recall NASA Senior management in 1985 was not even aware of the infamous conference call. Had that conference call never occurred would NASA have gotten a pass on the Challenger.

Alternatively, had the O ring breach occurred 180 degrees opposite of where it did and Challenger made it to orbit would the decision to launch based upon the available data be called an "acceptable risk of spaceflight, lets fix it and move on".

I want to examine the quality of the decision, based not upon how lucky you were but whether management did an effective job of evaluating the known risks and then MORE IMPORTANTLY managing the large number of unquantified failure modes. Those unquantified failure modes are greater on the second flight of a vehicle. Good management really should effectively manage all the risks and only take those risks when the benefits to be gained cannot be achieved in another way.

Apollo VIII carried a huge quantity of unknown failure modes as the second flight and to stumble into one of those failure modes 200,000 miles from earth was too great of a risk. I would again assert that the risk of sending Apollo VIII to the moon and take those unknown risks in order to respond to political pressure was a poor decision. Is that not what NASA was accused of in 1985?. Did we get away with it in 1968?

DChudwin
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posted 12-22-2012 01:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for DChudwin   Click Here to Email DChudwin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Grounded!:
I just finished reading Murray and Cox's wonderful book "Apollo, The Race To The Moon." which appears to put an earlier timeline on events leading to the decision of changing Apollo 8 to a lunar orbit mission.
Thanks for the additional information about the time frame of the Apollo 8 lunar orbit decision. However, there might be some confusion about what George Low and Frank Borman were talking about in Spring, 1968. The eventual Apollo 8 flight was designated the "C Prime" mission, and not the "E Prime" mission described.

There is a detailed chronology of the decision steps taken after the August 7, 1968 meeting in the back of this chapter on Apollo 8 from Astronautix.

Delta7
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posted 12-22-2012 01:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Delta7   Click Here to Email Delta7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I wonder how much the CIA reports of the Soviets planning a manned circumlunar mission, presumably before the U.S. could fly a manned lunar mission, actually factored into this decision.

bwhite1976
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posted 12-22-2012 01:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for bwhite1976   Click Here to Email bwhite1976     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Per your reasoning, when would it have ever been acceptable to send a manned CSM to the moon? Wait until the Spring when the LM was ready? Apollo 7 was a unqualified 110% succuss and the LM was not ready. There was no reason to repeat 7 again in high earth orbit. The Saturn V was ready, the CSM was ready, their decision was logical given the hardware they had available. Did managment gamble on Apollo 8? Sure. However, it was not a reckless decision.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 12-22-2012 01:23 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Delta7:
I wonder how much the CIA reports of the Soviets planning a manned circumlunar mission, presumably before the U.S. could fly a manned lunar mission, actually factored into this decision.
Dwayne Day has written on this subject in connection with the release of intelligence reports.
The major outstanding question of the influence of intelligence collection on the Moon race is the extent that intelligence information on the Soviet Zond circumlunar missions prompted NASA officials to make the Apollo 8 decision. To date, the evidence supports the conclusion that although the Zond program was a factor in the Apollo decision, it was a supporting factor, not the decisive one. Apollo was already going flat out, balls to the wall, within the limits of safety. NASA officials were moving as fast as they could and were less concerned with looking over their shoulder than in maintaining control of a massive bureaucratic machine that they were pushing to its limits. The Apollo 8 lunar module was not ready for its test flight, and NASA officials were unwilling to delay the mission in order to wait for the lander. They decided to send the astronauts around the Moon rather than simply into Earth orbit.

ilbasso
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posted 12-22-2012 02:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ilbasso   Click Here to Email ilbasso     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Everyone knew Apollo 8 was a risky flight. Borman and Lovell have said publicly on many occasions that they felt they had a 33% chance of not making it back home. However, the pressure to beat the USSR to the Moon was the driving factor.

One could argue that the decision to do "all-up" flight tests of the Apollo-Saturn stack was risky, too, but it advanced the program. Someone also had to be the first to test out the interplanetary navigation techniques needed for a Moon mission.

Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo were perceived as potentially dangerous by those who flew them. I think every astronaut who flew in that era never considered any flight to be routine. Every one of them pushed the envelope farther than the preceding missions.

Wally Schirra said in his autobiography that as an astronaut and test pilot, he knew he was taking risks - but not unnecessary risks. He said he trusted that everything possible had been done ahead of time to identify and fix the potential failure points. He wouldn't fly in a machine in which he lacked faith. Nonetheless, he accepted that unknown failures would crop up, and he trusted that he, his crew, and the folks on the ground had the capability to troubleshoot the problems.

Shuttle was being passed off as an "operational" system, and that attitude actually added to the risk.

DChudwin
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posted 12-22-2012 02:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for DChudwin   Click Here to Email DChudwin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In his 1988 autobiography "Countdown" Frank Borman writes that he got a phone call on a Sunday in August 1968 from Deke Slayton telling him to return to Houston from California immediately.

Borman writes (p. 189):

I flew a T-38 to Houston and walked into Deke's office. I knew something was up when he asked me to close the door.

We just got word from the CIA that the Russians are planning a lunar fly-by before the end of the year," he said. "We want to change Apollo 8 from an earth orbital to a lunar orbital flight. I know that doesn't give us much time, so I have to ask you: Do you want to do it or not?

"Yes," I said promptly.

I found out later that the Soviets were a hell of a lot closer to a manned lunar mission than we would have liked.Only a month after I talked to Slayton the Russians sent an unmanned spacecraft, Zond 5, into lunar orbit and returned it safely to earth.

This excerpt suggests that Russian activities were a major motivating reason to make Apollo 8 a U.S. lunar orbit mission. Also, Borman's autobiography does not mention discussions involving a lunar orbit mission for Apollo 8 before August, 1968.

Headshot
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posted 12-22-2012 03:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Headshot   Click Here to Email Headshot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Russian activity is also cited as a concern in Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8 by Robert Zimmerman.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 12-22-2012 03:33 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Here's a better (and more recent) commentary by Dwayne Day:
Space historians and journalists have long speculated about the linkage between the Zond flights and the Apollo 8 decision, although most note that the actual decision to send Apollo 8 to the Moon occurred in August 1968, and Paine's announcement was merely the first public acknowledgement of the decision. Even today, over four decades later, that linkage between Soviet actions and the American decision is primarily circumstantial. Most of the evidence consists of either comments by the Apollo 8 astronauts, who were not actually involved in the decision itself but were told about it later, or oral histories. All of the records of the people who were directly involved in the decision point in a different direction.

...The only new piece of information that I found was a forgotten NASA scheduling document indicating that the option of sending Apollo 8 around the Moon had first been proposed in spring of 1968, several months earlier than previous historical accounts had stated, and before NASA or the CIA became concerned about the Soviet Zond flights.

To date, no smoking gun has emerged that directly connects Soviet actions to the Apollo 8 decision. That smoking gun would have to consist of a statement or document directly from someone who made the decision that indicated that the reason was Soviet actions.

...In the case of the Apollo 8 decision, the vast majority of evidence — cohesive, coherent evidence — supports the conclusion reached by Murray and Cox in 1989 that it was lunar module availability and the Apollo schedule, and not the Soviet Zond missions, that led NASA officials to send Apollo 8 to the Moon. This is not to say that the Zond missions were unimportant. They influenced the environment in which the decision was made, and probably made it harder to not fly Apollo 8 around the Moon once the agency's senior leadership started discussing it.

Ross
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posted 12-23-2012 09:26 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ross   Click Here to Email Ross     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't think there is any doubt that the Challenger decision was a very bad one. The data is clear. On a number of previous missions hot gases had eroded the inner o-ring and on one mission the outer ring had also been effected. In each case the launch occurred in cold weather. The temperature for the 51L launch was the coldest of any shuttle mission and if I remember rightly, colder than the experimental data that NASA had. The experts (the engineers) advised against a launch. That should have been it. No launch. But they were pressured to change the decision with comments like 'if we can't launch on a cold day like today we will be grounded for half the year' (something like that).

Worse than that. The problem of the o-rings was not seriously being investigated despite the evidence. The investigations were piecemeal and not urgent. Why? Cost. Replacing the o-ring joint would have been (and was) expensive in time and money. And what to do in the mean time. Should NASA launch shuttles with a known serious problem or should the program be halted until the problem was fixed. The program was already well behind predictions and the pressure to avert further delays was enormous. So safety was sacrificed and 7 Astronauts died.

With Apollo 8 there was no known critical problem that was ignored. And that's the difference.

Skylon
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posted 12-23-2012 09:45 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Skylon     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think the most powerful case you could make about not flying Apollo 8 is Apollo 6's troubles. And only to an outside observer as the fixes were determined to be easy during post-flight analysis.

Also, Apollo 8's launch decision necessitated damn near PERFECT performance of the CSM on Apollo 7. On a brand new vehicle there were plenty of ways that over 11 days problems could crop up that would require a second test-flight. There weren't. The SPS was worked out multiple times. The vehicle rendezvoused with a target, its S-IVB several times...the only problems were a mildly sick, cranky crew and some unacceptable condensation on the windows (the later which remarkably I have seen as criticism for NASA's decision to call Apollo 7 "101% percent successful")

If the SPS failed to fire once, if a couple alarms cropped up, Apollo 8 may well have had to repeat Apollo 7's performance.

moorouge
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posted 12-23-2012 04:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Mike Collins gives the logic behind sending Apollo 8 to the Moon in 'Carrying the Fire'. The only contentious decision would seem to be whether to orbit the Moon.

Duke Of URL
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posted 12-23-2012 09:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Duke Of URL   Click Here to Email Duke Of URL     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Headshot:
Think about some of the bullets we dodged
You fail to include the problem with Apollo XVI. Due to Jim Irwin's heart problems NASA put a "heart healthy" water supply on board for XVI that caused somewhat of an unwanted augmention to the cabin air supply.

Jay Chladek
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posted 12-24-2012 03:53 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Comparing Apollo 8's flight decision with Challenger's is not a good one. In the case of Apollo 8, if they were going to send missions to the moon, they had to do so eventually and I believe the prevailing thinking was if they had everything done for a lunar flight sooner rather than later, why not do it? Apollo 8 still had plenty of abort and contingency points in the mission if problems cropped up. It had the LES, it had the ability to at least limp the CSM into orbit if the Saturn failed, and if a problem developed with the SPS before entering lunar orbit, free return would bring them home. According to NASA's mission criteria culture at the time, it was risky, but within acceptable risk limits.

Now what makes Challenger VERY different is not so much a matter of O-ring erosion, evidence of it on previous flights, but rather it was a complete 180 degree flip of NASA's safety review criteria. The normal procedure for a flight readiness review is for the contractor to come to NASA and say "we think this vehicle is safe and ready for flight" and NASA's view is "we do not think this vehicle is ready for flight, prove your case". The contractor then goes through a point by point presentation about the specific hardware, preparation, performance... etc. NASA's managers listen and ask questions, trying to shoot things full of holes if there is something they do not like. Only when all the questions are satisfied to the satisfaction of the managers is the stamp of approval given for the vehicle to fly.

What happened in that conference call was a case of the contractor (Morton Thiokol) saying to NASA "we don't think this vehicle is safe for flight" and NASA saying "we think it is, prove your case". Thiokol didn't quite have the data to back themselves up and NASA wasn't convinced. It was completely contrary to how a flight readiness review should take place. The engineers for Thiokol who witnessed this 180 flip take place were completely floored by what happened as it should NOT have happened that way at all. Unfortunately, the events of the next day proved the contractors right, there WAS a problem although the best guess was that the SRB joint would fail right at ignition and the casing would blow on the pad destroying the shuttle along with the pad.

Indeed, one might argue that bold decisions can lead to reckless ones. But the circumstances of the Apollo 8 decision and the one for Challenger were quite different. While one bold decision might have lead in some superficial way to the other is possible, what ultimately doomed Challenger was NASA middle level managers ignoring their own organization's rules and the sound engineering reasons why things should be done the way they are in the rocket launch business.

garymilgrom
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posted 12-24-2012 10:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for garymilgrom   Click Here to Email garymilgrom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by DChudwin:
Does anyone know of evidence that anyone else besides George Low proposed what became Apollo 8?
Although everything I've read leads me to believe this was George Low's idea, the following is from "Around the World in 84 Days" by David Shayler. From page 77:
In August 1968, McDivitt's Apollo 8 (first LM manned test flight) and Borman's Apollo 9 (CSM deep space flight) missions were swapped, as preparations for the LM's maiden manned flight were falling behind schedule. The Saturn V for Frank Borman's crew was ready and so were the crew, so Borman actively campaigned for an ambitious flight plan — a Christmas flight to orbit the Moon. After a great deal of discussion, the mission was re-scheduled, and the launch was planned for just before Christmas.
Good luck with your research.

DChudwin
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posted 12-25-2012 05:02 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for DChudwin   Click Here to Email DChudwin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
To understand the Apollo 8 lunar orbit decision, it is helpful to review NASA's planning process for Project Apollo. NASA engineers decided on the logical steps to reach a lunar landing and gave a letter designation to each type of mission:
September 20 1967

MSC proposed to the NASA Office of Manned Space Flight a sequence of missions leading to a lunar landing mission. The sequence included the following basic missions:

  1. Saturn V/unmanned CSM development
  2. Saturn IB/unmanned LM development
  3. Saturn IB/manned CSM evaluation
  4. Saturn V/manned CSM and LM development (A dual Saturn IB mission would be an alternative to the Saturn V for mission D)
  5. CSM/LM operations in high earth orbit
  6. Lunar orbit mission
  7. Lunar landing mission (like Apollo 11)
  8. Lunar landing mission (Apollo 12, 13, and 14)
  9. Reserved for lunar survey missions (not used)
  10. Lunar landing missions, upgraded hardware (Apollo 15, 16, and 17)
Memos, George M. Low, ASPO Manager, to distr., "Mission development and planning," Sept. 25, 1967; Low to Director, MSC, "Meetings with General Phillips and Dr. Mueller," Sept. 9, 1967; ltr, Robert R. Gilruth, MSC, to George E. Mueller, NASA Hq., Sept. 19, 1967; telecon, Ivan D. Ertel to John Sevier, Feb. 26, 1975."
(From: The Apollo Spacecraft: A Chronology, NASA SP-4009)

Jay Chladek
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posted 12-25-2012 09:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Very valid points DC. If anything, a CSM only flight to the moon in some ways is potentially safer than a first flight to the moon with an LM attached. Lighter weight (although Apollo 8 had a LM mass simulator) means less fuel is needed for SPS burns, so there is more of a fuel margin there for correction burns if they are needed. There are also the center of mass and control issues (which were answered with Apollo 9s earth orbit tests). Even with an LM attached, I don't believe firing the LM's descent engine would be enough to break a CSM out of lunar orbit if the SPS failed (and if that happened after an Apollo 10 style flight, forget it as the LM would be out of fuel anyway).

The SPS design had already proven itself though with successful flight firings on SA-202 (201 had an SPS failure), Apollo 4, Apollo 6 and Apollo 7. The S-IVB's restart capability had also been tested successfully (and the SPS could abort the mission safely if the S-IVB didn't work as advertised). Apollo 7's mission had shown the navigation computer worked fine and if Apollo 8 had a failure of either the DSKY or the SPS on the way to the moon, Houston could have commanded correction burns to keep them on free return to come home using their own tracking capabilities.

A lot of the things were considered "untried" for Apollo 8's mission, but that was mainly because several things hadn't been tried together before. A lot of things were new (such as using the deep space tracking network to stay in touch with a manned vehicle), but the time to do it seemed right. So they did. Burning into a stable orbit around the moon was the big question mark. But they had to answer that question eventually. So they decided to answer it sooner than later.

DChudwin
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posted 12-25-2012 10:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for DChudwin   Click Here to Email DChudwin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Continuing from my last post, the original NASA plan for the first three manned Apollo flight was:
  1. "C Mission". Manned Saturn 1B flight with CSM but no LM in low earth orbit. Apollo 7: Schirra, Eisele, Cunningham.

  2. "D Mission". Manned Saturn V flight with CSM/LM in low earth orbit to evaluate LM.
    Apollo 8: McDivitt, Scott, Schweickart.

  3. "E Mission". Manned Saturn V flight with CSM/LM in high earth orbit (4,600 miles) to check CSM/LM operations and high speed reentry.
    Apollo 9: Borman, Lovell, Anders.
In Spring, 1968 there were discussions at the Manned Spacecraft Center about changing the "E Mission." Instead of going to a high earth 4,600 mile orbit, the CSM/LM combination would go to "the vicinity" of the Moon. It is unclear to me if this "E Prime Mission" would be a circumlunar flight in which the CSM/LM would have looped around the Moon or just a highly ellipitcal orbit with an apogee near the Moon.

One article describes the proposed scenario:

Key figures in the plan to turn the E mission into something altogether more audacious included Chris Kraft, director of Flight Operations at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston, and George Low, head of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office. In April 1968, they proposed turning E into something called ‘E-Prime’, moving the test of the command, service and lunar modules from high-apogee Earth orbit to the vicinity of the Moon.
The book "Chariots for Apollo" states:
Almost as soon as NASA adopted an alphabetical stairway for reaching the moon in progressive flights (see Chapter 9), with the seventh, or G, step representing the ultimate goal, mission planners had begun looking for ways to omit a letter. In late 1967, when the ABC-scheme evolved, Low and Flight Operations Director Christopher Kraft had pushed for a lunar-orbital mission as soon as possible to learn more about communications, navigation, and thermal control in the deep space environment.

In the spring of 1968, Apollo officials in Houston were trying to upgrade the E mission (operating the command module and the lander in high-earth orbit) into something called E-prime, which would move the mission to the vicinity of the moon.

It should be emphasized that the discussions about an "E Prime Mission" all involved the combined CSM/LM going towards the Moon, and not just the CSM alone as happened with the actual Apollo 8 mission.

It is also clear that George Low and Chris Kraft were already thinking about how to get Apollo to the Moon as soon as possible.

Tom
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posted 12-26-2012 04:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tom   Click Here to Email Tom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Wasn't Apollo 8 actually a C' mission?

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posted 12-26-2012 06:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Headshot   Click Here to Email Headshot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That's what I recall ... a C-Prime mission.

ilbasso
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posted 12-26-2012 07:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ilbasso   Click Here to Email ilbasso     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

DChudwin
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posted 12-26-2012 08:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for DChudwin   Click Here to Email DChudwin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
To skip ahead of my story a little bit, the designation of AS-503 as the "C Prime Mission" happened because NASA Administrator James Webb said he would not approve a lunar orbit mission until after a successful flight of Apollo 7.

The "C" designation was for earth orbital flights of the CSM. Since there had not been final approval of a lunar orbit plan, planning went on for both possibilities —  if all went well with Apollo 7 then go for lunar orbit with just a CSM, otherwise do another test of the CSM in Earth orbit.

See this excerpt from The Apollo Spacecraft-A Chronology:

August 19 (1968)

In a Mission Preparation Directive sent to the three manned space flight Centers, NASA Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips stated that the following changes would be effected in planning and preparation for Apollo flights:

Apollo-Saturn 503

Assignment of Saturn V 503, CSM 103, and LM-3 to Mission D was canceled.

Saturn V 503 would be prepared to carry CSM 103 and LTA (LM test article)-B on a manned CSM-only mission to be designated the C prime mission.

The objectives and profile of the C prime mission would be developed to provide maximum gain consistent with standing flight safety requirements. Studies would be carried out and plans prepared so as to provide reasonable flexibility in establishing final mission objectives.

All planning and preparations for the C prime mission would proceed toward launch readiness on December 6, 1968.

Apollo-Saturn 504

Saturn V 504, CSM 104, and LM-3 were assigned to the D mission, scheduled for launch readiness no earlier than February 20, 1969. The crew assigned to the D mission would remain assigned to that mission. The crew assigned to the E mission (Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William Anders) would be reassigned to the C prime mission. Training and equipping the C prime crews and operational preparations would proceed as required to meet mission requirements and to meet the newly established flight readiness date.

A memorandum from the ASPO Manager on September 3 summarized the basic and alternate missions for which detailed planning and preparation would be performed.

In the basic earth-orbital C prime mission the vehicle configuration would consist of the Saturn V 503 with a payload of 39,780 kilograms (CSM 103 and LTA-B with the service propulsion subsystem fully loaded). Insertion would be into low circular orbit of the earth. The earth-parking-orbit activities would include crew and ground support exercises related to spacecraft system checkout and preparation for translunar injection (TLI; i.e., transfer into a trajectory toward the moon). CSM separation maneuver would occur before TLI.

Alternate earth-orbital missions would include a manned TLI burn to a 6440-km apogee or an SPS burn to achieve a 6,440-km apogee. An alternate lunar orbit mission would include mission planning, crew training, spacecraft hardware, and software to support the mission. In providing support, top priority would be assigned to the lunar orbit mission. The memo indicated that following TLI, simulated transposition and docking maneuvers would be conducted; midcourse corrections and star horizon/ star landmark sightings would be performed during the translunar coast; lunar orbit insertion would be accomplished and a lunar parking orbit established for 20 hours.

DChudwin
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posted 12-27-2012 08:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for DChudwin   Click Here to Email DChudwin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
To continue the story, we know that in April, 1968 Low and others at MSC were proposing an "E Prime" mission in which the CSM/LM combination would go to the Moon instead of the previously planned high earth orbit.

Then two events intervened. First, there were significant delays in the development of the LM at Grumman. For example, there is this entry in the book Apollo Spacecraft-A Chronology:

July 17 [1968]

NASA Associate Administrator George E. Mueller, Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips, and other high-ranking manned space flight officials from Headquarters visited Bethpage for an overall review of the LM program. Greatest emphasis during their review was on schedules, technical problems, and qualification of the spacecraft's principal subsystems. Mueller and Phillips cited several areas that most concerned NASA:

  • Delivery schedules from subcontractors and vendors had slipped significantly during the past year, to the point where many components were only marginally supporting spacecraft deliveries.
  • The large number of hardware changes made during the past year was affecting costs and schedules.
  • Costs forecast for Fiscal Year 1969 exceeded the current LM budget.
It became clear to all the Apollo managers that the LM would not be ready for a flight in 1968.
Events and the situation during June and July had indicated to Low that the only way for the "in this decade" goal to be attained was to launch the Saturn 503/CSM 103 LM-3 mission in 1968. During June and July the projected launch slipped from November to December, with no assurance of a December launch. Later, Low recalled "the possibility of a circumlunar or lunar orbit mission during 1968, using AS-503 and CSM 103 first occurred to me as a contingency mission.

During the period of July 20-August 5, pogo problems that had arisen on Apollo 6 seemed headed toward resolution; work on the CSM slowed, but progress was satisfactory; delivery was scheduled at KSC during the second week in August and the spacecraft was exceptionally clean. The LM still required a lot of work and chances were slim for a 1968 launch.

Now at the same time the LM was slipping, there were classified reports about what the Russians were up to. According to Lovell and Kluger in "Lost Moon:"
At the same time the LEM was causing such headaches, CIA agents working overseas picked up even more disturbing news. According to the whispers coming from Baikonur Cosmodrome, the Soviet Union was making tentative plans for a flight around the moon by a Zond spacecraft sometime before the end of the year. Nobody knew if the flight would be manned, but the Zond line was certainly capable of carrying a crew, and if a decade of getting sucker-punched by Soviet space triumphs had indicated anything, it was that when Moscow had even the possibility of pulling off a space coup, they’d give it a try.
Dwayne Day and others argue that Zond had little to do with the NASA lunar orbit decision because he did not find documentary evidence. However, all of the information about Russian activities was classified at the time. So studying the public documents from that era would not give a complete picture of what was happening behind the scenes. My own opinion is that the "space race" was still very active in 1968. While we know now that the Soviets were hopelessly behind, at the time this was not known to be true. After a series of humiliating firsts by the Russians, NASA managers did want to be scooped again.

All the evidence that I have seen indicates that it was George Low, Apollo Spacecraft Program Manager in Houston, who came up with the idea of sending the CSM alone to orbit the Moon since the LM was not ready fro flight. The following indicates that he came up with the idea in July, 1968 but waited to propose it until August 7, 1968. From Chariots for Apollo:

But by August Gilruth and others had concluded that LM-3 would not be ready for flight that year. This finding left NASA with two excellent command modules, 101 and 103, but no lunar module companions. Low had already recognized this likelihood in July, after Kennedy found the many deficiencies in LM-3. If a lunar module could not be manned in 1968, he reasoned that Saturn V 503 and CSM-103 might be used for a circumlunar or lunar-orbit flight. Low kept his own counsel for a while, waiting for the Saturn V pogo problem to be resolved.

On 7 August, Low asked Kraft to work out a flight plan for such a mission during 1968.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 12-27-2012 08:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by DChudwin:
So studying the public documents from that era would not give a complete picture of what was happening behind the scenes.
Day and others are studying public documents; they are referencing CIA formerly-classified documents that were declassified in recent years.
quote:
The following indicates that he came up with the idea in July, 1968 but waited to propose it until August 7, 1968.
As noted up-thread, Day found a NASA scheduling document proposing a circumlunar flight dated for the spring of 1968, which would pre-date Low's idea and proposal by several months.

DChudwin
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posted 12-28-2012 08:02 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for DChudwin   Click Here to Email DChudwin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
As noted up-thread, Day found a NASA scheduling document proposing a circumlunar flight dated for the spring of 1968, which would pre-date Low's idea and proposal by several months.
This was the "E Prime" proposal which was for the CSM/LM to go around the Moon, and not for the CSM to go alone ("C Prime").

The planning assumptions for "E Prime" were that the LM would be on time, which did not happen, and that Apollo 7 would be successful, which did occur.

If Apollo 7 found problems in the CSM, then another flight in earth orbit would be necessary to confirm the fixes. This was the original assignment of AS-503.

All the talk in the Fall, 1967 and Spring, 1968 of an early circumlunar flight involved both the CSM and LM. It was George Low's brilliant idea to go to lunar orbit with the CSM alone, a scenario which had not previously been contemplated.

LM-12
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posted 09-03-2013 02:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for LM-12     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The crew Pilots' Report in the Apollo 8 Mission Report mentions some dates:

Prior to the proposal of a lunar mission profile for Apollo 8, the crew training was oriented to an earth orbital rendezvous mission using a command and service module and a lunar module. On August 10, 1968, the crew was first informed that a lunar orbit flight was under consideration. On August 19, 1968, the crew was notified of a change in mission assignments and was instructed to train for a new mission having circumlunar and lunar-orbit options, using a command and service module only. The results of the Apollo 7 mission would determine whether the Apollo 8 mission would be a lunar orbital, circumlunar, or earth-orbital mission. An immediate decision was made to concentrate all crew training on the lunar orbital mission, the most difficult of the three profiles and the one least covered by previous training. Most of the mission guidelines, including launch day, time in lunar orbit, and overall mission time, were determined in late August.

The Apollo 8 crew was assigned Command Module Simulator 3 at Cape Kennedy, and the first simulation exercise for the mission was conducted there on September 9, 1968. The normal training week through November consisted of 3 or 4 days at Cape Kennedy and the remainder of the 6-day work week at Houston attending meetings or using Houston-based simulators.

Jim Behling
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posted 09-03-2013 06:59 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by PetesParkingLot:
5000 lbs of weight by sending a LTA vs. a non land able LM?
Wrong take. There was not a weight trade nor a reason save weight. LTA was added to simulate LM dynamics.

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posted 09-04-2013 03:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Headshot   Click Here to Email Headshot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Apparently the decision to send Apollo 8 around the moon was not all that hasty, or "rabbit-out-of-the-hat." While a circumlunar flight (Apollo-B) was part of the original Apollo program schedule, the concept was dropped in December 1966. In the May 8, 1967 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology, however, a story ran that was entitled "Circumlunar Apollo Flight Seen Possible." The salient paragraph reads as follows:

"But von Braun, director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., hypothesized that the lunar module might not be ready for the lunar mission when all other launch vehicle and spacecraft elements of the Apollo/Saturn 5 will be. In that case, he said, NASA might elect to 'fly the lunar mission, but just not activate one phase of it,' presumably the decent to the moon."

This was a sidebox story within another article about how NASA was coping to get back onto a schedule that would let them make a landing attempt in 1969.

Paul78zephyr
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posted 09-06-2013 08:20 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul78zephyr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
EVERYTHING was driven by six words:

"...in this decade..." and beat the Soviets.

DChudwin
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posted 12-20-2013 05:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for DChudwin   Click Here to Email DChudwin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am bumping this thread on the 45th anniversary of Apollo 8 to see if anyone has any new information about the decision to send Apollo 8 to orbit the Moon.

I tried to get some more information directly from Jim Lovell and from George Mueller but did not succeed.

moorouge
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posted 12-21-2013 01:30 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Apollo 8, according to Mike Collins, was essentially an Earth orbit mission, albeit with an apogee of a quarter of a million miles. As I posted earlier, the only contensious part of the mission was whether to orbit the Moon or not.

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