Monday, November 10, 2008

Intrepid? or Aquarius? or Antares?

In August 1969, my dad went on a VIP tour of Kennedy Space Center. His office had been responsible for developing - and letting NASA borrow - the TV camera which Apollo 11 used on the lunar surface. I believe that as an informal 'thank you,' he and some of his coworkers got to take the KSC tour. You can't believe how jealous I was that he got to go and I didn't, but at least he brought back some great souvenirs and photos. I'll post more pictures of the tour later on.

One of the things he saw on his visit to the Cape was this Lunar Module ascent stage. The Apollo 12 launch vehicle was being stacked in the Vehicle Assembly Building that month, so this ascent stage could possibly have been that of Intrepid. However, as you'll see in the other attached photo, the CSM was already atop the vehicle stack, which may have meant that the LM was also in place inside the S-IVB adapter. If that was the case, then this LM might have been Aquarius (Apollo 13), or even Antares (Apollo 14).

The original flight schedule for 1969 was that Apollo 11 would fly in July, followed by Apollo 12 in September (in case Apollo 11 was unsuccessful) and Apollo 13 in November. Once Apollo 11's mission ended in July 1969, and NASA met President Kennedy's challenge to land men on the Moon and return them before the end of the decade, the pressure was off, and Apollo 12 was slipped to November 1969 to allow more time for preparation. In any case, the delivery schedule was tight, and there were usually several vehicles in various stages of assembly at the Cape during the heyday of the Apollo landings.


Jonathan said...

It turns out the answer to the question may be, "None of the above"! Ken Havekotte on suggests that this is the ascent stage for LM-9, which was originally designated for Apollo 15 but which never flew (Apollo 15's mission was changed and it flew the first of the J-series LMs, carrying the Lunar Rover). LM-9 may have been at the Cape at this time and may have been the source of some flight spares.

Jonathan said...

The correct answer is "none of the above" - and none of the ones I had suspected!

In reviewing the LM delivery schedules for the Apollo missions, LM-6 was already mated to the SLA at the beginning of August, so this wasn't the Apollo 12 LM. Apollo 13's ascent and descent stage were delivered in June and had already been mated. So, this wasn't Aquarius. The LM for Apollo 14 wasn't delivered until November, so this couldn't have been it either, and LM-9 had not been completed.

So, what was this LM?

I went back and re-read my dad's very brief description of his trip in his memoirs: "We were put aboard chartered aircraft and flown to Houston for a full day NASA briefing and tour and a sneak preview look at the moon rocks bought back only two weeks before by the crew of the first lunar landing. This was followed by a full day at Cape Kennedy and a VIP tour of the facilities. We received the whole treatment and I don't remember any of my classmates who did not grow a little vain as a result of the experience." This would put his visit within the first or second week of August 1969.

Hmmm. I had forgotten that he had been at Houston.

One of the members of collectSpace suggested that this might be LM-2, the LM that is in the Smithsonian. I had always thought that LM had been tested at Grumman's facilities and then delivered to the Smithsonian when it was no longer needed. However, doing some digging into NASA's online archives, I put together this scenario:

First, we know that LM-2 was used for drop tests in 1969: "The fifth and final drop test of LM-2 was made on May 7. The first four drop tests had been made to establish the proper functioning of all LM systems after a lunar landing. The fifth test was made to qualify the functioning of the pyrotechnics after landing. On May 8, the final test, physically separating the ascent stage, was conducted."

From Chariots for Apollo: "The lunar module probably had to undergo the toughest tests and the sharpest scrutiny of all the hardware, procedures, and facilities. LM-2, veteran of the Saturn launch vehicle pogo testing program, was called upon to simulate landing stresses. Robert J. Wren, from Faget's directorate, and a team from Houston and Grumman rigged the vehicle in Houston's vibration and acoustic testing facility. Dropping LM-2 at slightly different angles to see how it would stand the shock of landing was a simple test. But the ascent stage carried a full propellant load and the descent tanks a small quantity of fluid; when the tanks were pressurized, this could be dangerous. Maximum safety precautions were taken, however, and the tests were completed successfully"

Since my dad's tour took him to the MSC in Houston the same week he went to KSC, I suddenly realized that this photo was taken at MSC, not at the Cape. I did not realize that a LM had ever been delivered to MSC - so this would seem to solve the mystery. There are no "remove before flight" tags on the vehicle because it was never intended to fly.

So, this is the ascent stage of LM-2, which is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. The one LM my dad got closest to on his tour was the same one that I was next two every day for two summers, starting 2 years after he first saw it.