To Slip The Surly Bonds of Earth - Alternate Apollo Program

So I break off from the narrative for a look at how I modify the ATL here:

This takes us back to Archibold's old quandary: 1) Keep exploring the moon, or 2) Retreat to LEO for a while to let technology mature? In this ATL, Low opts for reduced tempo Apollo Applications Program that, in effect keeps both options open. Only now I modify my ATL to drop the AES missions of 1975 and 1976 by moving straight to the more ambitious Lunar Exploration System for Apollo (LESA), which entailed a complete 10,500 to 12,500lb lunar base module launched directly to the Moon on a Saturn V, remotely landed with a quiescent capability, followed shortly by a manned crew landing nearby in an LM Taxi. NASA examined variants with and without a mobile MOLAB truck.

Skylab actually helps by buying an extra year or two of lag time while the Lunar Landing Vehicle (LLV) and related systems are developed and built. And both AAP follow-ons - Skylab (and Skylab B) buys NASA the knowledge to decide whether to focus on the moon or on LEO for the 1980's and possibly 90's is the way to go.


Apollo 14 H Precision landings with up to two-day stays on the Moon Jan. 1971 (Shepard, Roosa, Mitchell)
Apollo 15 J Longer three-day stays using Extended LM, rover July 1971 (Scott, Worden, Irwin)


Apollo 16 J Longer three-day stay using Extended LM, rover Apr. 1972 (Young, Swigert, Haise)
Apollo 17 J Longer three-day stay using Extended LM, rover Dec. 1972 (Cernan, Evans, Engle - Engle in this ATL stays on the Apollo 17 prime crew rather than being bumped for geologist Harrison "Jack" Schmitt)


Apollo 18 J Longer three-day stay using Extended LM, rover July 1973 (Gordon, Brand, Schmitt) Apollo 18 lands, as projected, in Schroter's Valley. Schmitt finally gets his moonshot, and NASA's scientific community is mollified

Skylab 1 - Unmanned launch of Skylab station on Saturn V - November 1973
Skylab 2 - 28 day scientific mission in Skylab station - November 1973 (Conrad, Weitz, Kerwin)
Skylab 3 - 59 day scientific mission in Skylab station - January 1974 (Bean, Lousma, Garriott)


Skylab 4 - 84 day scientific mission in Skylab station - May 1974 (Carr, Pogue, Gibson)

Apollo 19 - Lunar Orbit Survey Mission (LOSM) spending 30 days in lunar orbit using lunar orbital module, surveying "ground truth" sights for the LESA base - November 1974 (Haise, Lind, McCandless)


Apollo-Soyuz (ASTP) - Joint US-Soviet LEO scientific mission using ASTP dock - July 1975 (Stafford, Slayton, Brand)


*Apollo 20 LESA Unmanned Delivery of LEM LLV to Moon for Apollo 21 and 22 - Oct. 1976. The ultimate landing site was determined by the 1974 LOSM mission results. The choice: Copernicus Crater. The new LLV base is quickly named "Copernicus Base."
*Apollo 21 LESA 90 day stay in LLV base for 3 men - Nov. 1976 (Mitchell, Lousma, England)
*Apollo 22 LESA 90 Day stay in LLV base for 3 men - April. 1976 (Young, Schmitt, Kerwin)


*Spacelab 1 - Unmanned launch of long duration Spacelab space station (Skylab B) - Dec. 1978


Spacelab 2 100 day stay International expedition in Spacelab Jan. 1979 (Musgrave, Allen, ESA Scientist + a 22 day stay by Soviet Soyuz 27 - a seriously considered proposal in Skylab B planning in OTL)
Spacelab 3 100 day stay international expedition in Spacelab April 1979 (Garriott, Lenoir, ESA Scientist)
*Spacelab 4 100 day stay international expedition in Spacelab July 1979 (Parker, Henize, ESA Scientist)

* Requires new Saturn rocket buys, or completion of incomplete rockets

Note that the LESA approach was capable of supporting two crews in succession - so this actually eliminates one Saturn V launch. On the other hand, LESA was not cheap: $1.45 billion in development costs, not inconsiderable in view of NASA's annual manned spaceflight budget of only $1 to $2 billion in this timeframe. For this reason, as well as development time, I moved it back a full year to 1976 (technically, FY 1977) - still in time to benefit politically from bicentennial year optics.

Crew assignments after Skylab are conjecture based on available personnel and Slayton's tentative preferences. Slayton wanted to give Haise, Mitchell and Irwin shots at commanding their own moon missions; Irwin was in disgrace after the stamp incident, resulting in his being eased out of the flight rotation - easier to justify now that other astronauts were more willing to stay on board for an extended Apollo schedule. England and Schmitt being the only geologists in active rotation, they became obvious candidates for scientist slots on the 90 day LESA missions - which, after all, would be devoted to a long, grueling three month schedule of selenology.

The results of Apollo, LESA, and Skylab provided NASA by 1976 with sufficient knowledge to make the hard choice between Low Earth Orbit and further lunar exploration even before the Spacelab station was launched. An aggressive (and very astute) set of publicity events at Copernicus base, focusing on schools had created a little breathing space for NASA, even resulting in some slight real budget increases during the Carter Administration. The Moon was the bolder, more exciting choice, but it was also the riskier one. NASA had, after all, had some close calls along the way, Apollo 13's oxygen tank explosion being only the best known one, with Apollo 21's LM taxi life support failure supplying nearly as much drama...
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The question is what you'd do with three Saturn V's per year. That's a lot of lift capability and there are not many missions that would require it. Since we assume that Mars and Venus are unlikely to be approved, that really means lunar missions or LEO station construction. Hmmm...what a station you could have with 30 Saturn V's...

three was for Boeing the optimal minium, under that the production cost get very expensive
A Space Station with 30 Modules was called Space Base up to 48-50 men on board
build from big module launch with Saturn V INT-21

I tend to doubt that Nixon or Congress would have ante'd up for a 30 Saturn V buy, even stretched out over several fiscal years; if nothing else the "optics" of continuing to buy such monsters was unfavorable in that environment. But a smaller buy was certainly possible once shuttle is removed from the picture.

Boeing and others made several Proposal to keep Saturn V production alive
Saturn INT-21 (S-IC + S-II stage) 76000-116000 kg
Saturn INT-20 (S-IC + S-IVB stage ) 36000-75000 kg
Saturn V-B (S-ID a 1/2 stage who drop 4xF-1) 22600 kg
Saturn V-C (S-ID + S-IVB) 86000 kg
all Payload in 185 km Orbit

Saturn IB program was already death in 1967
as alternative for launch Apollo CSM was consider
Titan IIIM advance version of IIID for Manned flight of M.O.L cheaper as Saturn IB, but USAF hardware
but a Saturn V-B would also can bring CSM into low orbit
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Skylab 3 - 59 day scientific mission in Skylab station - January 1974 (Bean, Lousma, Garriott)


*Apollo 21 LESA 90 day stay in LLV base for 3 men - Nov. 1976 (Mitchell, Lousma, England)

I very much like the framework, but my only question is whether Lousma would get two flights so close together, considering the size of the Astronaut Corps.
Hi Michel,

The Space Base would have been fantastic - eight times the mass of the ISS, a real monster. But even with Shuttle not in the picture, I can't see the political will for something that ambitious in 1969-1975. Not without something new in the equation.

Saturn 1b's death was inevitable...and desirable. It didn't have sufficient commonality of parts with Saturn V. The variants you list would, however. Any resumed Saturn production run would almost certainly lean heavily on one or more of these new variants.

Hi Andy,

One of the problems Deke Slayton faced in mission scheduling in OTL was the lack of qualified astronauts. Even with Astronaut Groups 5 and 6 added on, too many men washed out or left, even before Apollo was obviously withering away - which only made matters worse. It was so bad that the crew of Apollo 16 - Young, Roosa, and Duke - were the backup crew for Apollo 17. If the 17 crew had had to be pulled for any reason, Young's crew would have ended doing two back to back missions. If you look at this chart (see at bottom of post), you can see how very few of Astronaut Groups 1, 2 and 3 were even still active by the end of 1969.

We presume here that astronaut attrition would not have been as severe once it was clear that Apollo Applications would be a live reality, offering more missons (especially sexy ones to the moon). But even so: the available astronauts in the pool were very limited, and there would have to be heavy reliance on the largest group remaining, Group 6.

But now that I look at it, I overlooked Schweickart, who had not flown since Apollo 9 but was backup for Skylab, still active in the pool. Joe Engle might get a look as well, assuming he did well enough on Apollo 17 - but even he would be doing a second mission within 3 years.

There is also the Apollo 15 crew - Scott, Irwin, Worden - who were in ill odor with the Astronaut office after the stamp scandal. (Jack Swigert was also implicated.) Irwin had health issues that accelerated his departure (he had a heart attack not long after), but Scott and Worden were still at NASA. Still, the drying up of missions in OTL made any resort to them largely moot. It's possible that Slayton might have reconsidered them with a resumed lunar program, given how successful Apollo 15 was otherwise.

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Hey, thank you, too, for the kind words. Quandary, that's the word.

You know, since I've wrote this TL (the LESA one) others ideas popped in. I've found lot of litterature from the 80's dealing with Lunar Oxygen (Lunox) and, of course, recently LRO confirmed there is hydrogen (water?) at the lunar poles.

Nice, so we can have LOX/LH2 from the Moon.


If LESA results into a moon base in the 80's, that base might store LOX/LH2 propellant on the lunar surface. Good. Those propellants could be used for the next step: moving beyond the Moon, to Mars or asteroids or Venus or elsewhere.
The problem is to get the propellant out of the Moon gravity well, and to find a place to store it.
LEO is too far away, energy-wise.
Low lunar orbit are closer but unstable and crap (mascons)
A nice in-between are the libration point, L1 or L2 or both.
So, store lunar LOX/LH2 at, say, Earth-Moon L1.

Next step: the S-IVBs.

Every Apollo mission expend a big S-IVB; they were usually crashed on the Moon or propelled into orbit around the sun.
Why not reuse the S-IVB ? And, of course, the S-IVB contractor thought about this. This is LASS: Lunar Application of a Spent S-IVB.

A nice thing would be to reuse the spent S-IVB as L1 propellant depots, Mars propulsive stages, lunar propellant tankers... and wet workshops (pre-Skylab).
Land the S-IVB on the Moon, fill it with lunar LOX and LH2, send it to EML-1 as a depot, or propulsive stage for a Mars mission, or unmanned logistic vehicles.
The combination of recycled S-IVBs and lunar propellant is terrific in the sense it ties Skylab, the Moon, and (eventually) Mars into a coherent architecture.
Hello Archibald,

Given how talk of depots is all the rage now - your point here on the S-IVb's is well taken.

The only question here was how efficient and effective LOX/LH2 extraction and storage methods as they existed in (say) the early 80's would have sufficed to make such an undertaking viable at that time. I do think it's fair to assume that bonafide LESA missions in the late 70's could have discovered these possibilities much sooner than we have in recent years through robotic exploration. The question then for NASA is how feasible it would be take advantage - and when.

But it would certainly have helped NASA build an argument for continuing and expanding a lunar exploration program into the 80's and 90's.


Yeah, I've red a lot of talk about lunar propellants on this forum (one of the best space forum across the internet)

Their arguments failed to convince me.

The only question here was how efficient and effective LOX/LH2 extraction and storage methods as they existed in (say) the early 80's would have sufficed to make such an undertaking viable at that time. I do think it's fair to assume that bonafide LESA missions in the late 70's could have discovered these possibilities much sooner than we have in recent years through robotic exploration. The question then for NASA is how feasible it would be take advantage - and when.
Agree on that. Even today, we don't know how to mine the damn moon for propellants. The dust is abrasive, temperatures are horrible, and on.

Still not a fan of lunar props, and so I've stuck with the "retreat to LEO" alt-history rather than the Apollo one.
As of today there's no comparison between the two - the lunar ATL is a meagre 10 pages file, while the "retreat to LEO" is 300 pages long ! :D
Hello Archibald,

I go back and forth. The Moon is "sexier." It's a whole alien world. It has some of the materials you'd need for a permanent base right there. It has a much smaller gravity well.

On the other hand, it's riskier. It costs a lot more to get a man to luna firma than it does to LEO. You get a lot more payload for your dollar in LEO. Rescue is more readily possible in LEO. And to all that must be added the primitive technology and inadequate knowledge of long term human presence in space that NASA was working with in the 70's.

So you can make a pretty good case for a "retreat to LEO" as the focus for a real Apollo Applications Program that takes the place of the Shuttle program. At least for a couple decades or so.

But even that would be preferable to what we actually have had in OTL. We would have had a permanent station, or perhaps more than one, decades before we did, and a good deal larger and more versatile. We would have had a much more flexible and cost effective (and less risky) system of ELV's (and later EELV's) capable of getting hardware and crews into space. And that system could be easily adapted to a later return to lunar operations - or other BEO missions. Something you can't say about the Shuttle.
In Thomas Frieling's Quest article, "Skylab B: Unflown Missions, Lost Opportunities."

was proposal for 1976 United States Bicentennial a international Space mission
launch of Skylab B in April 1976 (this time bug free and with additional ASTP airlock)
one day later the first Apollo CSM dock on Skylab B
four day later followed by first Soyuz
the Cosmonauts stay for 22 day on board then return to earth (ASTP 2)
on day 54 another Soyuz docks on Skylab B for 28 day mission (ASTP 3)
90 day of Mission the US crew return to Earth
later in year 1976 a second CSM dock for another 90 Mission
wat inclued a reboost of Skylab B into higher Orbit for later use...

is any chance that Mission happen in this TL ?