This celebration of Earth’s Cosmic Heroes was initially prompted by the screening of British director David Sington’s 100 minute 2007 film “In the Shadow of the Moon” (U) at Gloucester Guildhall on Friday 11 and Saturday 12 January 2008. However, this was not the first time that model spacecraft and real astronauts had been associated with Gloucester Guildhall. The “2001: A Transport Odyssey” event brought Don Lind ( who had flown aboard the Space Shuttle “Challenger” on STS-51-B ) in the wake of Ron Brook’s 1/72 scale lunar module the year before. In fact as part of the Tourist Information Centre window display for “2001: A Transport Odyssey” I built my own Moonscape diorama ( above ), again featuring the Airfix Lunar Module kit. This comes supplied with its own small circular base, but I took the opportunity to portray it – like the film and photographs of the real Apollo missions – in the context of the vast, grey, rolling hills and valleys of the Moon, themselves set in the everlasting darkness of space. This took several cans of black aerosol paint, and the triangular diorama – also designed to keep other more valuable exhibits secure – was eventually loaned to a model shop in Lydney which subsequently closed, taking my Polyfilla moondust with it.
Similarly, Gloucestershire can claim such stargazing sons as John Fletcher ( now with asteroid 6137johnfletcher named in his honour ), Joe Meek and Sir Bernard Lovell. But merely to relate to the exploration of the cosmos in a parochial way is to miss the point. As the plaques on the Apollo Lunar Modules proclaimed, the astronauts “Came in peace for all mankind.” Theirs was – and is – an adventure in which everyone can share, not least because the day will come when life on Planet Earth will become untenable and we will all have to follow our cosmic pioneers to new celestial abodes.
On a personal level too, I realised that I could no longer reel off the cosmonauts, astronauts and their respective missions as I could during the Moon landing era. So, to remind those who were made more alive by the courage and daring of our cosmic heroes and for the benefit of generations who sadly missed those heady days, here is my concise history of manned space exploration in the 1960s and 70s.
THE RUSSIANS ARE GOING
Following the launch of the World’s first artificial satellite – Sputnik – on 4 October 1957 – the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics surprised the World again on 12 April 1961 by sending the first man into space. Yuri Gagarin’s single orbit mission was to lead to five further Vostock flights, culminating in Valentina Tereshkova becoming the first woman in space, a feat that would not be matched by the United States until the Space Shuttle era of the 1980s.
However, America’s Mercury programme was not far behind and for the first three years of the manned space age the single-seat spaceship launches of both USSR and USA interspersed each other:
MISSILES AND SATELLITES
Among the reasons for the early success of the Sputnik and Vostock ( “Traveller” and “East” in Russian ) programmes was, ironically, the Soviet lack of progress in miniaturising nuclear weapons and building effective bomber aircraft to deliver them.
Although the USSR had entered the 1950s with back engineered copies of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and the “Fat Man” plutonium bomb – dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945 – its subsequent long range turbojet and turboprop designs lagged behind those of the United States, which was also able to deploy larger numbers of strategic bombers from bases all around the edge of the Communist bloc.
Similarly, American industry was able to miniaturise the electronic and other components needed to make viable nuclear warheads during the 1950s – and also produce efficient solid rocket fuel. For this reason, the first Soviet ballistic missiles sent to sea in nuclear submarines were still using unstable liquid fuel when the US Navy introduced its solid fuel Polaris system.
Confident in the retaliatory powers of both the Strategic Air Command of its Air Force and of its emergent ballistic submarine fleet, the United States initially invested far less time and money in developing liquid fuelled military rockets than the more encircled Soviet Union. This was not least because liquid fuelled rockets are vulnerable to attack while still on their launch pads during the long and potentially dangerous fuelling process. Even the American Atlas missile – powering the orbital flights of the Mercury programme rather than the earlier, less powerful Redstone used to lob Freedom and Liberty Bell 7s across the Atlantic – took 15 minutes to rise from its “coffin” silo and take on fuel and was thus considered liable to destruction in a surprise Communist attack.
From the Soviet perspective, the R7 rocket ( above ) with its strap on boosters – used to launch both Sputnik, Vostock and many later spacecraft – took 24 hours to fuel and so only a handful were ever deployed as strategic weapons despite its impressive lifting capacity. In fact some American rocket scientists could not believe that Sputnik 1 weighed as much as 184 lbs – six times the mass of America’s first successful satellite – Explorer 1.
LAUNCH AND RECOVERY
The two superpowers also developed different approaches to launching and recovering their manned spacecraft. The Vostock and its two-stage launch vehicle were assembled horizontally and taken by rail to the large firing pit, over which was built an array of four steadying arms which hinged back during launch. Mercury spacecraft meanwhile were assembled vertically atop their Redstone or Atlas rockets and taken from the assembly building at Cape Canaveral – closer to the Equator than the Soviet site at Baikonour in Kazakhstan – on tracked crawler vehicles to their launch pads. These pads were equipped with the familiar girder-built launch towers with access platforms and gantries that hinged sideways.
On returning to Earth, the ball shaped Vostock re-entry vehicle would separate from its cylindrical service module – fitted with oxygen supply, retro rockets and gas stabilisation – and parachute to a landing on Soviet territory. In each case, the cosmonaut would leave the capsule during the descent – by means of a sled like ejector seat through a circular hatch fitted with explosive bolts – and parachute separately to the ground.
The roughly conical Mercury craft however would turn in space so that its blunt heat shield would go first through the atmosphere on its return to Earth. Parachutes would also be used to slow its descent, but the astronaut would stay inside the capsule as it splashed down in the sea and await rescue by helicopter-borne frogmen. Although water offered a softer landing than the soil of central Asia, Gus Grissom nearly drowned when the explosive bolted hatch on his Liberty Bell 7 craft blew as it splashed down on 21 July 1961.
A GO FOR THE MOON
Just twenty days after the successful sub-orbital flight of Alan Shepherd in Freedom 7, US President John F. Kennedy made the following Special Address to Congress On The Importance of Space on 25 May 1961.
At this time many Americans feared that the Soviet successes with manned and unmanned spacecraft not only undermined the standing of the United States in the eyes of allied and non aligned nations but also presaged the use of an orbital spacecraft as the ultimate nuclear bomber, despite a United Nations treaty specifically forbidding this.
Kennedy’s Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson – who succeeded him after his assassination in Dallas on 22 November 1963 – was both a keen advocate of space exploration and eager to honour his predecessor’s memory by making his vision a reality. Indeed, American research on building a practical nuclear rocket engine proceeded during the 1960s and was even suggested as an extra stage for the Saturn V moon rocket as part of a mission to Mars in the early 1980s. However, in the face of the growing costs of both the war in Vietnam and Lyndon Johnson’s own visionary social reforms this project – like the American supersonic airliner and so many others – was cancelled in the early 1970s.
Back in 1961 though, the military and diplomatic disaster of the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba had prompted President Kennedy to ask his advisers to think of any area in which America could demonstrably beat the USSR. At a time when the science fiction of rocketry, space travel, UFOs and aliens abounded, an expedition to the Moon ( if not one day Mars ) was a natural choice – even if the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had no desire to go there and the head of its Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston – Robert Gilruth – claims to have woken up screaming the night after JFK laid out his plans before Congress. Rather than trying to talk the President out of such an ambitious plan however, only five Congressmen spoke in the mere hour long debate that followed John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s Special Address:
“If we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take.
Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not. Now it is time to take longer strides – time for a great new American enterprise – time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on Earth.
I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshalled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfilment.
Recognizing the head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines, which gives them many months of lead-time, and recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes, we nevertheless are required to make new efforts on our own.
For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will be our last. We take an additional risk by making it in full view of the world, but as shown by the feat of astronaut Shepherd, this very risk enhances our stature when we are successful. But this is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.
I therefore ask the Congress, above and beyond the increases I have earlier requested for space activities, to provide the funds which are needed to meet the following national goals:
First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.
We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior.
We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations – explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the Moon – if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.
Secondly, an additional 23 million dollars, together with 7 million dollars already available, will accelerate development of the Rover nuclear rocket. This gives promise of some day providing a means for even more exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the Moon, perhaps to the very end of the solar system itself.
Third, an additional 50 million dollars will make the most of our present leadership, by accelerating the use of space satellites for world-wide communications.
Fourth, an additional 75 million dollars–of which 53 million dollars is for the Weather Bureau–will help give us at the earliest possible time a satellite system for world-wide weather observation.
Let it be clear – and this is a judgment which the Members of the Congress must finally make – let it be clear that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action – a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs: 531 million dollars in fiscal ’62 – an estimated seven to nine billion dollars additional over the next five years. If we are to go only half way, of reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.
Now this is a choice which this country must make, and I am confident that under the leadership of the Space Committees of the Congress, and the Appropriating Committees, that you will consider the matter carefully.
It is a most important decision that we must make as a nation. But all of you have lived through the last four years and have seen the significance of space and the adventures in space, and no one can predict with certainty what the ultimate meaning will be of mastery of space.
I believe we should go to the Moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of the Congress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks and months, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring that the United States take an affirmative position in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it successful. If we are not, we should decide today and this year.
This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, material and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.
New objectives and new money cannot solve these problems. The could in fact, aggravate them further – unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant gives his personal pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.”
Two years later in September 1963 however, President Kennedy was recorded at the White House talking to NASA administrator James Webb and voicing his fear that America was about to spend ” a hell of a lot of dough to go to the Moon.” JFK further remarked ” If I get re-elected, I’m not – we’re not – going to the Moon in my, our period, are we?” James Webb confirmed that this was correct to which the President replied “It’s become a political struggle now, We’ve got to hold this thing, damn it…If the Russians do some tremendous feat, it would stimulate interest again, but right now space has lost a lot of its glamour.”
Two months later however, the assassination of President Kennedy and his replacement by the very pro-space exploration Lyndon Johnson would ensure that America would continue its journey to the Moon.
THREE MEN IN A SPACECRAFT, AND ONE MAN OUT
Impressive though both Vostok and Mercury programmes had been, it was apparent to both Superpowers that a realistic mission to the Moon would require more than one man in one spaceship. Vehicles would have to “dock” with one another and crew would have to venture outside their spacecraft.
Once again, the USSR was first with the next phase of development with its two-mission Voskhod ( “Sunrise” ) programme. Voskhod 1 was launched on 12 October 1964 and carried three cosmonauts in a re-entry vehicle that was too small for them to wear spacesuits. Wearing tracksuits instead for the 24 hour 17 minute 3 second flight were pilot Vladimir Komarov, doctor Boris Yegorov and scientist Konstantin Feokistov. The flight was also notable for the use of retro rockets as well as parachutes to cushion the landing back on Soviet territory.
During the flight of Voskhod 1, Nikita Khrushchev was replaced as Soviet leader by Lenoid Brezhnev whilst in Britain a General Election resulted in Conservative Sir Alec Douglas Home being replaced Labour’s Harold Wilson. Shortly afterwards, too, communist China detonated its first atomic weapon.
Voskhod 2 – launched on 18 March 1965 – marked a return to spacesuit wearing by its crew of Pavel Belyaev and Alexei Leonov, not least because Alexei Leonov made the World’s first spacewalk. His extra vehicular activity (EVA) took 23 minutes and 41 seconds within the 25 hour 2 minute 17 second flight and more than half of this time was spent getting in and out of the inflatable air lock which extended from the Voskhod re-entry vehicle. During his EVA, Leonov breathed oxygen from cylinders strapped to his back and was connected to Voskhod 2 by a lifeline carrying cables for both voice communication and medical sensors attached to his body.
The main objectives of the ten American Gemini missions spanning 20 months between 23 March 1965 and 15 November 1966 were to allow the astronauts involved to learn how to pilot their craft by means of control rockets and rendezvous with other space vehicles.
Although a number of Vostock spacecraft had been launched in such a way that they came close to one another, Geminis VI and VII were able to fly in a controlled formation. Gemini IV also marked the first American space walk – by Edward H. White II – while other Gemini missions docked with unmanned target vehicles launched beforehand.
Gemini spacecraft were boosted into orbit by Titan 2 rockets, originally designed as intercontinental ballistic missiles and still used to launch unmanned spacecraft today.
THE EARTH AND THE MOON
The Apollo missions to the Moon would involve a giant Saturn V three stage rocket delivering to Earth orbit a three man Command Module attached to a Service Module carrying oxygen supplies and electricity generating fuel cells for the journey and also fuel and oxidant for the single rocket engine at the rear of the Service Module. Underneath the combined Command and Service Module (CSM) in the third stage of the Saturn V would be the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM).
At the designated point of Trans Lunar Insertion (TLI) the rocket motor of the third stage of the Saturn V would fire again to take itself and the still-attached CSM away from Earth orbit toward the Moon.
Using skills learned during the Gemini programme, the CSM would then be separated from the third stage of the Saturn V, turn and dock with the LEM before pulling it clear and turning again so that the CSM rocket motor could fire to accelerate the combined CSM and LEM Moonward, leaving the third stage of the Saturn V behind.
Once in Lunar orbit, two astronauts would enter the LEM, separate from the CSM, land on and take off vertically from the Lunar surface before docking with the CSM. Once both the astronauts and any lunar samples had been transferred to the CSM, the LEM would be discarded and the CSM rocket motor would fire once again to take the astronauts back to Earth. Just before arrival, the Service Module would also be jettisoned, leaving just the Command Module to re-enter the atmosphere, deploy parachutes and splash down.
At the time, the USA believed that the USSR was close to beating them to the Moon with a very similar project, a belief strengthened by the Soviet Zond 5 mission of 15-21 September 1968. This saw a small cargo of live turtles, wine flies, mealworms and other animals and plants launched on a near free-return trajectory around the Moon before – unusually – splashing down in the Indian Ocean.
However, following the death of Soviet Chief Rocket Designer Segei Korolyev in 1966, the N -1 Moon rocket – of a more complicated design than the American Saturn V – never reached operational status and attempts to make it work were finally abandoned in 1975. For this reason, the USSR progressed with its Soyuz ( meaning “Union” ) three man spacecraft which was subsequently used for Earth orbit research – particularly in conjunction with a series of semi-permanent space stations. Despite plans by the US Air Force for a Manned Orbiting Laboratory in the 1960s, Skylab – the first American space station – would not be launched until 1973.
Despite the successes of manned spaceflight up to 1966 though, the fear of both sides of the other stealing a march on them led to initial design and construction shortcomings in both Apollo and Soyuz vehicles.
1967: A YEAR OF TRAGEDY
Although there were no in-flight fatalities in the Apollo moon landing programme, three astronauts died in a training accident in the Apollo 1 spacecraft, which had been scheduled for launch on 21 February 1967.
On 27 January 1967 Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom – veteran of both Mercury and Gemini programmes, Edward H. White II – America’s first spacewalker, and rookie astronaut Roger B. Chaffee were trapped in the 100% oxygen atmosphere of their Command Module when a fire caused by an electrical short circuit broke out. All three men died and numerous modifications had to be made to the Apollo Command Module as a result.
On 6 June 1967 Edward Givens – one of the support crew for Apollo 7 – was killed in a car accident near Houston, Texas, while on 5 October 1967 Clifton Williams -one of the back up crew for Apollo 9 was killed in a plane crash near Tallahassee, Florida.
Meanwhile, April 1967 witnessed the death of Voskhod 1 pilot Vladimir Komarov when, after 17 orbits, the single main parachute of his Soyuz 1 craft failed to deploy properly. A simple memorial on the steppes of Orenburg now marks the spot where he fell to Earth.
BACK IN ORBIT
It was America that was first back into space after these setbacks to its manned exploration programme with Apollo 7 on 11-22 October 1968, while the USSR sent Georgi Beregovoi aloft in Soyuz 3 on 26 October 1968.
During his 64 orbit 94 hour 51 minute mission, the cosmonaut manoeuvred his craft near to the unmanned Soyuz 2 craft which had been launched the day before.
Following earlier Soviet successes with automatic docking between unmanned Cosmos satellites, Soyuz craft 4 and 5 docked in orbit and swapped one member of each crew before a successful return to Earth. Although more limited in performance than the Apollo spacecraft, the cylindrical service module of the Soyuz featured solar panel “wings” rather than relying on internal fuel cells. Between this and the thimble shaped crew return module was a spherical experiment compartment that also doubled as an airlock. In contrast, any EVA from the Apollo CSM involved the whole craft being depressurised.
THE APOLLO MISSIONS
The Saturn 1B rocket was smaller than the more famous Saturn V and was used for Apollo 7 and preceding unmanned Apollo test flights as well as missions to Skylab and to rendezvous with a Soyuz craft in 1975.
Had the money been available, it is highly likely that Apollo 18 would have taken Apollo 12 CSM pilot Richard Francis Gordon to the lunar surface with Fred Haise following later in 1973 aboard Apollo 19 accompanied by Gerald Paul Carr. Jack Robert Lousma would have similarly helmed Apollo 20 and Stuart Roosa Apollo 21, along with Don Lind. However, solar flares observed from Skylab during 1973 might have generated enough cosmic radiation to kill any lunar astronauts at this time.
Eugene Cernan also recovered from a softball related injury just in time to become the last man on the Moon. Had his leg not healed, John Young would have become the first man to walk on the Moon twice – and on consecutive missions!
The cancellation of Apollo 18 did however mean that Geologist Astronaut Jack Schmitt trod Taurus-Littrow with Gene Cernan rather than Joe Engle who was then destined never to reach the Moon.
POST MOON APOLLO MISSIONS
With prospective Apollo lunar landing missions 18 to 21 being cancelled, the final flight of a Saturn V rocket from Cape Canaveral was to launch its third stage as Skylab in 1973.
This followed the launch of Soviet space station Salyut 1 the previous year and the tragic loss of the only three cosmonauts to have visited it. After 24 days aboard and becoming well known for their NASA style television broadcasts, the crew of Soyuz 11 were found dead on arrival back on Earth due to an environmental malfunction in their re-entry capsule. However, by 1980 a sixth version of Salyut was in orbit and would yield valuable lessons for the construction of both Mir ( “Peace”) and the current International Space Station.
Skylab itself suffered from a solar panel array breaking off during launch and the first of three crews sent aloft by Saturn 1B rocket were forced to spend some time correcting other faults.
Among those Skylab astronauts who had previously flown on lunar missions were Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr ( Skylab 2, along with Joseph Peter Kerwin and Paul Joseph Weitz ) and Alan Bean ( Skylab 3, along with Owen Kay Garriott and Jack Robert Lousma ). Skylab 4 was crewed by Edward George Gibson, Gerald Paul Carr and William Reid Pogue. Backup pilot for both Skylabs 3 and 4 was Don Lind.
DETENTE IN SPACE
The last flight of an Apollo Command and Service Module – together with an adapter module – was the 15-24 July 1975 Apollo / Soyuz rendezvous in 1975 with Mercury 7 veteran Donald K “Deke” Slayton, Apollo 10 Commander Tom Stafford and Vance Brand meeting cosmonauts Valery N. Kubasov and original spacewalker Alexei Leonov. After CSM-111 splashed down, there would not be another American in space until the first flight of the winged Space Shuttle in 1981.
THE LEGACY OF APOLLO
Twenty four Apollo astronauts ventured into deep space around the Moon, further away from Earth than anyone else and gaining a unique direct view of the dark side of the its natural satellite. Two astronauts flew to the Moon twice but none landed on its surface more than once. Only twelve men have stood on the surface of another celestial body and only six have travelled across it in a powered wheeled vehicle. But what are they – and we who did not go – to make of the whole enterprise four decades later? I will end with just two examples.
“One of the things that I found with the Apollo astronauts is that they’re slightly impatient with the rest of us. I think they feel we haven’t really hoisted on board the lessons we discovered from the Apollo missions about the Earth – a sense of our place in the Universe, that Earth is relatively small and limited and lost in the vast emptiness. It’s not until we get used to seeing ourselves in our true context that we’ll start to behave more rationally.” David Sington
“It was a life changing experience. Seeing Earth, this little ball in space, makes you aware of a bigger picture…You see the beauty, harmony and fragility of our planetary environment and you start to realise what we’re doing to it, out of pure stupidity and ignorance. I’m certainly a die hard environmentalist. And, even though I spent 20 years in the Navy, I was always staunchly against war and violence as a means of settling anything. By greed and over-consumption and war, we’re destroying our environment and our planet… Sooner or later we’ll reach Mars. There’s no question about it, provided we don’t blow ourselves up in the meantime. When we do get there and look back at this tinly little speck called Earth from the distance of Mars, it would sound rather foolish to say “I came from the US or Britain or China or Germany or France.” We should say “I came from Earth”. We really haven’t got our acts together on that yet.” Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14