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Space United States Science

The Return of Apollo? 653

hpulley writes "Bell bottoms are back, the Stones are still touring and Time has a piece on how NASA's _new_ space vehicle may actually be the return of a very old friend, a highly modified and modernized version of the Apollo Space Capsule. Manned spacecraft might actually leave low earth orbit again! Initially they'd fly with Delta and Atlas but more powerful boosters could be developed. We could go to the Moon again, and perhaps to Mars but I'm getting ahead of myself. Does that mean the last 30 years of space flight have been for naught? Expensive steps backward?"
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The Return of Apollo?

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  • by mrtroy ( 640746 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:46PM (#6912312)
    Basically its the TYPE of shuttle, not the level of technologoy

    " a highly modified and modernized version of the Apollo Space Capsule"

    I sure dont read that as being 50 year old technology. I see it as being a space capsule style shuttle opposed to the current shuttles.

    Which would follow along with the seperation of cargo and passengers of previous recent news releases.
  • Re:mars + Apollo? (Score:4, Informative)

    by BobRooney ( 602821 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:52PM (#6912372) Homepage
    I've posted responses to this effect before, but , yes I agree. Robert Zubrin's The Case for Mars [amazon.com] Outlines a plan for reaching the red planet using existing technology, including a modified skylab-like capsule that could be shot directly from earth and use gravity assist to fall out of earth's orbit into that of Mars. Great book, great ideas, very do-able plan for reaching Mars soon!
  • by s20451 ( 410424 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @01:57PM (#6912447) Journal
    The Russians have had to do space on the cheap for years, and their response was to stick with the Soyuz capsule, which has now been in service for nearly 40 years, and is one of the most reliable launch vehicles available, and certainly far less expensive than the shuttle.

    The last fatal Soyuz accident was in 1971. In 1983, a Soyuz rocket exploded on the pad, but the crew was whisked to safety thanks to an escape rocket, which is lacking on the shuttle. Given the choice, I would fly to space on a Soyuz any day over the shuttle.
  • by chiph ( 523845 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:00PM (#6912485)
    Found my own answer [nasa.gov] (Google is Great)
    6.6 meters in diameter. Don't know the length (still looking for it). The reason why the diameter is important is making sure the payloads for the shuttle still fit.

    Chip H.
  • Here's the abstract (Score:4, Informative)

    by freality ( 324306 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:06PM (#6912560) Homepage Journal

    "This paper investigates means for achieving human expeditions to Mars utilizing existing or near-term technology. Both mission plans described here, Mars Direct and Semi-Direct are accomplished with tandem direct launches of payloads to Mars using the upper stages of the heavy lift booster used to lift the payloads to orbit. No on-orbit assembly of large interplanetary spacecraft is required. In situ-propellant production of CH4/O2 and H2O on the Martian surface is used to reduce return propellant and surface consumable requirements, and thus total mission mass and cost. Chemical combustion powered ground vehicles are employed to afford the surface mission with the high degree of mobility required for an effective exploration program. Data is presented showing why medium-energy conjunction class trajectories are optimal for piloted missions, and mission analysis is given showing what technologies are optimal for each of the missions primary maneuvers. The optimal crew size and composition for initial piloted Mars missions is presented, along with a proposed surface systems payload manifest. The back-up plans and abort philosophy of the mission plans are described. An end to end point design for the Semi-Direct mission using either the Russian Energia B or a U.S. Saturn VII launch vehicle is presented and options for further evolution of the point design are discussed. It is concluded that both the Mars Direct and Semi-Direct plans offer viable options for robust piloted Mars missions employing near-term technology."

    Read the whole thing here [nw.net]

    This is from 1993!

    The Case for Mars is good, but perhaps even better is Zubrin's Entering Space.

  • Re:Yay! (Score:3, Informative)

    by ericesposito ( 623833 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:15PM (#6912651)
    I would prefer to land into the ocean rather than die due to exposure to superheated gasses, or from the impact of plunging into the water at 120 mph.

    Many of the people here are into choice. Why not have the choice of using an economical capsule for missions that don't require the enormous payload that the shuttle can carry?

    For a simple trip, the shuttle is overkill. The payload bay is bigger than a bus. (I've seen a full-scale mockup of the Hubble telescope at the Goddard Space Flight Center. It's about the size of a (U.S.) school bus. The shuttle launched the Hubble.)
  • Re:Well, duh (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:16PM (#6912660)
    >The Russians have focused on making spaceflight boring: so boring, in fact, that the last accident in a Soyuz capsule was in 1971.

    Read the book "Dragonfly" by Bryan Burrough to see just how "boring" life on MIR was. The Russian's idea of "safety" was for shit.
  • by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:17PM (#6912682) Homepage
    I believe they reused gemini and appollo capsules with minimal retrofitting.

    Uh, no. Each Gemini and Apollo (and Mercury) mission flew with a different spacecraft. They were somewhat customized to each mission (eg during the Apollo series, weight reductions were incorporated in successive model series to allow more payload, etc.) Various parts were only meant to be used for one flight -- and a good many such parts never returned to Earth. The modules that did are all in museums now.

    As it stands the cost to "re-use" a space shuttle is rediculous because of the area of the heat shield.

    Actually, aside from minor problems with being hit by ET foam at 500 mph, the Shuttle heat shield is one of the few parts that pretty well works as advertized. The Apollo era heat shields were an ablative material that worked by burning off (slowly!), the Shuttle "TPS" (thermal protection system) is pretty reuasable.

    It's just about everything else on the Shuttle that has to be refurbished or disassembled and inspected before the next flight. (As for the so-called reusable solid boosters, that operation has been described as "more crash-and-salvage rather than recover-and-reuse".
  • by DickBreath ( 207180 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:20PM (#6912705) Homepage
    Back in about 1987, or 1988 while the shuttle was grounded, NewsWeek had an entire issue where the front cover was a man in a space suit and the bold title was "Lost In Space". It was all about the problems with NASA.

    One classic quotable that I'll never forget.

    There was discussion about resurrecting the Saturn V program. You know, build big dumb boosters instead of the shuttle. Cheaper, etc.

    The detractors said you could never resurrect Saturn V. That would take 10 years of work. (Original Saturn V development time: 3 years)
  • by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:22PM (#6912730) Homepage
    The US never lost a space crew in a capsule.

    Not in space, no. We lost Grissom, White and Chaffee in the Apollo 1 capsule fire on the pad. 16 PSI pure O2 atmosphere (for ground test) and a hatch designed to open inward didn't help. (And yes, they changed both of those, and much else.)
  • by WolfWithoutAClause ( 162946 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:22PM (#6912731) Homepage
    Overall, the safety record of Soyuz is just fractionally better than the Shuttle, but it's not statistically significant.

    However, as noted, the Soyuz has not had a failure in over 20 years, and the current design has had no fatalities in at all.

    However, there have been some injuries during landing; sooner or later a fatality is not unreasonable.

    I don't see much to choose right now, although there are theoretical reasons for thinking that Soyuz could be somewhat safer.

  • by Lodragandraoidh ( 639696 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:26PM (#6912774) Journal
    The structure of the capsule would be modified so it could handle the 105 kilopascal (15 psi) air pressure used in the ISS today, rather than the 34 kPa (5 psi) pure oxygen environment that Apollo used. - The Space Review

    Hmmm - I thought they went to a Nitrogen/Oxygen mix after the Apollo 1 fire?
  • Infrastructure (Score:3, Informative)

    by CharlieG ( 34950 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:33PM (#6912836) Homepage
    There are some real reasons it would actually take LONGER to build a SV today than it used to...

    1)Environmental Laws - some stuff isn't allowed to be used anymore (asbestos anyone?)

    2)Infrastructure. The US has lost a LOT of it's Mfg infrastructure in the last 30 years. Just as some LOW tech examples - You could not build the Golden Gate Bridge or the old GG-1 Railroad engine anymore! The steel mills and forging mills don't exist - not only in the US, but ANYWHERE. It would take TIME to build new plants, then you could start building the special tools, then you start building the rockets

    It's the classic old problem in mfg. You have to build tools, to make tools, to make the product. Once the final Mfg tools are made - the first tools aren't needed, and they take up valuable space and maintainance money, so they are often scrapped. The problem is, if that 2nd generation of tools is also scrapped, your back to square 1
  • Here is one of my favorite web sites, which this article reminded me of, and which I thought some of you might enjoy: http://www.astronautix.com [astronautix.com].

    The place is filled with tons of mad info about programs that are, were, and never got out of blueprint stage. I am sure this will satisy those readers for whom the two paltry links in the story are far from satisfying. Lotsa cool pictures and thingies.
  • Re:It's about time (Score:2, Informative)

    by sh00z ( 206503 ) <sh00z@yaho o . c om> on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:40PM (#6912930) Journal
    I forget the name and am too lazy to look it up
    You're thinking of the Long-Duration Exposure Facility [nasa.gov] (LDEF). It stayed up for almost 6 years, well in excess of the design. There has been an amazing pile o' data compiled from this experiment.
  • by Sergeant Beavis ( 558225 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @02:59PM (#6913157) Homepage
    http://www.wilhelm-aerospace.org/Space/Gemini/Gspa cecraft.html

  • by MCZapf ( 218870 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @03:19PM (#6913373)
    I think that was just for ground testing. IIRC, the problem with the fire on the ground was that they were running with 15 psi (one atmosphere) pure oxygen. In space, the pure oxygen at the lower pressure wasn't as big a risk, I guess.
  • by ekasteng ( 683332 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @03:38PM (#6913619)
    After Apollo 1 they did use a Nitrogen/Oxygen mix on the launch pad, after they got into space it was yet again a pure oxygen environment if memory serves.
  • by PhuCknuT ( 1703 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @03:44PM (#6913678) Homepage
    That's not even remotely correct. The tether is under tension, and to lower the remote end you would need to lift a mass that is heavier than the tension of the cable, which would be hundreds of tons if I remember correctly. Angular momentum does come into effect, but for different reasons. For example, if you were to lift an entire mountain into space (a piece at a time) the rotation of earth would slow a tiny bit. Also, the tether will swing like a pendulum if the elevator launches aren't timed right (but it would be a small easily correctable effect).
  • by Cromac ( 610264 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @03:45PM (#6913688)
    The old technology was just as capable of catastrophic disasters.

    http://www.space.com/news/spacehistory/greatest_sp ace_events_1960s.html [space.com]

    On January 27, 1967 the crew of the first piloted Apollo mission -- veterans Gus Grissom and Ed White, along with rookie Roger Chaffee -- perished when a flash fire swept through the sealed cabin of their Apollo 1 command module. NASA's investigation of the tragedy revealed numerous technical flaws in the craft's design, including the need for a quick-opening hatch and fireproof materials in the cabin. The fire would ultimately delay the Apollo program for more than 20 months.
  • The Russian shuttle is on display in a park somewhere. It never flew in space, its heat tiles are untested and it's as much of a relic as the US shuttle.

    I doubt the tiles are space worthy, even when they were new.
  • Re:Yay! (Score:3, Informative)

    by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @03:54PM (#6913803) Homepage Journal
    Actually, some of the current shuttle design came out of military dictates. They wanted to be able to access high-inclination orbits normally useful for spy satellites, as well as Vandenberg launch/return. These requirements drove the delta-wing design, specifically.

    The Vandenberg requirement went away. Spy satellites go up on expendables. Most science is close enough to equatorial that a simpler shuttle design would have sufficed.

    But in making the ISS a joint US-Soviet project, we were pushed back into high-inclination orbits, in order that we could both get at it. So for the current ISS, the current shuttle isn't a bad design.
  • by drakaan ( 688386 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @03:54PM (#6913805) Homepage Journal
    In order to get to the moon, we created enough velocity to escape earth's gravity well (barring interference, we would have continued moving away from the earth, at that velocity). The moon is, indeed in the earth's gravity well, and the earth is in the moon's, for that matter.

    Note that gravity works regardless of distance, so you can never technically say you've left any other object's gravitational influence.

  • by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @04:11PM (#6914002) Homepage
    Gemini 2 was unmanned. No big deal if it didn't survive launch or reentry. Also note "Gemini 2 capsule, which was modified to become a Gemini B capsule."

    Basically the Air Force just needed something vaguely Gemini-shaped to fit atop the dummy MOL module for the Titan III launch, Gemini 2 was available, and since it was an unmanned test article it didn't have the same "museum quality" that the manned vehicles had. If the MOL program had continued, then probably yes, Gemini (B) capsules would have been reused, and probably also the parawing land recovery method would have been used.
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @04:23PM (#6914177)
    Note that this was not during a piloted mission, but rather during a ground exercise and is little more than a simple industrial accident that happens every day in workplaces around the world.

    Note further that this was not at the full development of the technology, but in it's very early experimental phases.

    The issue was solved by not feeding raw oxygen into the capsule (which was never done, nor even contemplated, during an actual mission and which many had advised against even in ground tests) and by the installation of a simple inside door handle.

    Door handles are a functional technology of thousands of years standing that have yet to be overthrown by some doofy modern technological fashion.

    They are simple, robust, inexpensive and possess an unmatched functionality.

    As does a conventional rocket ( whose technology is now more advanced even than Saturn and Apollo technology).

    The shuttle is, and always was, a barbaric kludge of various disparte technologies whose sole purpose was to follow a particular fadish notion that we should have a "space plane."

    It is not a space plane. It's a van with stub wings attached to the outside of a cob-jobbed booster system of obvious and fatal failings that "glides" back to earth rather than use a parachute just so that we can pretend it is a space plane.

    The X-15 was a space plane.

    The "Space Shuttle" is an engineering abomination and what you get when you let a governement agency subvert good engineering principles for political purposes.

    In short, it is the proverbial White Tiled Elephant that started out with the specs of a mouse.

  • by BigFootApe ( 264256 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @04:33PM (#6914278)
    Of course, the shuttle never has flown a polar orbit, and SLC-6 [ktb.net] at Vandenberg [astronautix.com] has it's own little hard-luck story (don't build your launch site on Indian burial grounds). The short of it is, the military got spooked about the reliability of the shuttle after Challenger blew up, decided it wasn't worth it to fix the problems at Slick-6, and have used Titans ever since. For the shuttle, that was a lot of very lucrative business lost.

    Were it not for Challenger, the shuttle might have operated out of Vandenberg. What would public perception of the program be like if that were the case?

    Here's [ox.ac.uk] a listing of all military launches using the shuttle.
  • Re:Yay! (Score:2, Informative)

    by crevette ( 461203 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @04:54PM (#6914478)
    I'm dropping awefully late in the conversation, but this link [washingtonmonthly.com] is more relevant than ever. It's a good article from 1980 about the why's of a shuttle over a rocket.
  • Re:Yay! (Score:5, Informative)

    by georgewilliamherbert ( 211790 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @04:57PM (#6914506)
    To land in a specific place? The Apollo capsules had a whole fleet spread across the Pacific to retrieve it and the crew.
    I have in front of me NASA SP-2000-4029, Apollo By The Numbers by Richard W Orloff.

    From pp 305, Entry, Splashdown and Recovery table

    Mission - Distance to landing target point - Distance to recovery ship
    (distances in nautical miles)
    Apollo 7 - 1.9 mi - 7.0 mi
    Apollo 8 - 1.4 mi - 2.6 mi
    Apollo 9 - 2.7 mi - 3.0 mi
    Apollo 10 - 1.3 mi - 2.9 mi
    Apollo 11 - 1.7 mi - 13 mi
    Apollo 12 - 2.0 mi - 3.9 mi
    Apollo 13 - 1.0 mi - 3.5 mi
    Apollo 14 - 0.6 mi - 3.8 mi
    Apollo 15 - 1.0 mi - 5.0 mi
    Apollo 16 - 3.0 mi - 2.7 mi
    Apollo 17 - 1.0 mi - 3.5 mi

    Not one Apollo landed more than 3 miles from its landing target point, including Apollo 13 which had such troubles even getting home safely.

    Even if you double that miss distance to 6 miles, there are plenty of bays and lakes in the US which you could safely land in (12 mile diameter or more). San Pablo Bay or San Francisco Bay, any of the Great Lakes, 6 miles offshore basically anywhere, etc.

    The precision landing question is validly "Do I land on a runway or do I need a 5-10 mile wide open space?". But that's very different than "needing an ocean full of recovery ships". If it's accurate enough that I can land it in San Francisco Bay and recover it with a coast guard boat or tug, and Apollo was, then there's no big deal at all unless there's an emergency urgent deorbit away from the usual landing zone (a problem which Shuttle shares, and if it lands mid-ocean is SOL).

  • by raygundan ( 16760 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2003 @05:55PM (#6915164) Homepage
    From the ISR space elevator FAQ [www.isr.us].

    What about conservation of angular momentum?

    When an elevator ascends the ribbon, it must be accelerated eastward because the Earth's rotation represents a larger eastward velocity the higher you go. The required eastward force on the ascending elevator would have to be provided by a corresponding westward force on the ribbon.
    If you go through the math quantitatively, the angular momentum for the climbers requires a pound or so of force over the one-week travel time, and we do that easily with our many tons of material in the anchor and the counterweight.

    The quantities really are tiny, but just to be complete, a climber going up pushes the entire elevator slightly to the east, causing it to lean. However, the ribbon recovers for the same reason that it stays up in the first place. Centripetal acceleration is acting on the upper two-thirds pulling it outward, and the lost angular momentum is replaced very quickly (essentially as fast as it is lost). The ribbon will never lose enough angular momentum to even deflect a single degree, let alone fall. The extra angular momentum is stolen from the Earth's rotation.


    I don't have time or a good recollection of my college dynamics class to verify this, but it seems they have it worked out. I'd be more concerned with the part about "dodging a satellite every 14 hours."

  • by SvnLyrBrto ( 62138 ) on Wednesday September 10, 2003 @12:38AM (#6918303)
    Simply google for "saturn v blueprints" and you'll find any number of sources debunking that "the Saturn V blueprints were destroyed" nonsence.

    The difficulty with reviving the Saturn V is not in the absence of the plans... those are safe and sound; but in the fact that the Saturn V was built with 1960's technology, most of the parts aren't made anymore, and many of the companies that made parts of the Saturn V don't even exist anymore. Furthermore, the production facilities that made said parts have long since been either shut down, or retooled. And NASA's own facilities, including the all-important Launch Complex 39, have long since been modified from Saturn V specs, for use with the shuttle.

    With all of the modifications to the design that would be necessary to start production on a new run of Saturn V's, on modern production lines, with modern manufactureing techniques, with modern components and electronics; it'd be easier just keep the basic math, but design an entirely new rocket. Certianly, it'd be a damn sight easier than finding vendors to recreate the '60's era parts to build new examples of the original design.

    But not a whit of the Saturn V design or data is "gone".


The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.