Home Table of Contents What's New Image Index Copyright ScienceViews Search


Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments

[CSM in space simulator chamber, MSC]

Technicians prepare a test version of the Apollo command and service module in the space environment simulation chamber at MSC. The lights, mounted at left, simulate solar irradiation. The chamber walls can be cooled by liquid nitrogen to -193 degrees C, simulating the radiation-absorbing void of space. After the huge door is closed, the entire chamber, 55 feet in diameter and 90 feet high, can be pumped down to less than one ten-millionth of atmospheric pressure.

MSC's original specifications for the lunar landing module included a generalized "scientific instrumentation system" to provide for selenological research. Specific experiments could not be listed in 1962, but investigations of the lunar atmosphere, surface, and interior were contemplated. The contractor would include weight, volume, and power allowances for the instruments in the module design; specific instruments would be defined later.32

After the lunar module contractor, Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, was selected in later 1962, MSC forged ahead with spacecraft design. Definition of the lunar surface experiments, which was the responsibility of the Office of Space Sciences and Applications, proceeded at a much more deliberate pace, however. [see Chapter 3] In early 1963 Houston expected that the first experiments would be selected by the end of the year;33 but months went by with little progress. By September, spacecraft engineers urgently needed data on the experiments - weight, volume, and power requirements - to feed into lunar module design, but since nothing was available, MSC awarded a 10-month study contract to Texas Instruments to investigate instrumentation requirements for manned lunar exploration.34 Headquarters was somewhat unhappy with this unilateral action, but lunar module designers had to have the information and the scientific community seemed to be in no hurry to supply it.35 The study provided an indication of the type of instrumentation likely to be useful, and in the next few months the spacecraft office worked out preliminary weight and volume allotments for the experiments: 250 pounds (113 kilograms) and 15 cubic feet (0.42 cubic meters) in the descent stage, which would be left on the moon; 80 pounds (36 kilograms) and 3 cubic feet (0.085 cubic meters) in the ascent stage and in the command module for a sample-return container and film. Requirements for electrical power and a source to supply it were yet to be determined.36

Throughout 1964 and the early part of 1965, Headquarters was busy studying the requirements for lunar surface instruments and experiments, working with outside scientific planning groups and with MSC. [see Chapter 3] By May 1965 a tentative list of experiments had been devised and MSC had prepared a procurement plan for a "Lunar Surface Experiments Package" (LSEP). On George Mueller's instructions MSC divided the procurement into two phases, a program definition phase to be conducted by several contractors and an implementation phase in which one of the contractors would build the experiments.37 The request for proposals was sent out in June and three contractors for Phase I were picked in August.38

As defined in Houston's request for proposals, the LSEP would be a self-powered scientific station capable of collecting data for a year, returning information to earth by telemetry. It comprised a passive seismometer to record natural seismic events ("moonquakes"); an active seismic experiment, which would record the effects of small explosive charges detonated on the lunar surface; a lunar gravimeter, which was expected to show tidal effects useful in deducing the internal structure of the moon; an instrument to measure heat flow from the moon's interior; radiation and meteoroid detectors; and a lunar atmospheric analyzer. A 70-watt power module converted heat from a radioisotope fuel capsule into electricity by means of thermocouples. The instruments, their power supply, and their data-transmitting equipment were limited to 150 pounds (68 kilograms) and 12 cubic feet (0.34 cubic meters) and were to be housed in the lunar module's descent stage. The specifications called for three units which could function on the moon at the same time without interfering with each other.39 The program directive assigning management responsibility to MSC specified three packages, one to be flown on each of the first three lunar landing missions, plus a flight-qualified spare. The first was to be delivered by July 1, 1967.40

Newell's office, meanwhile, had been evaluating proposals for the lunar surface experiments, and on October 1 transmitted authority to Houston to begin negotiations with principal investigators for the lunar gravimeter and the active seismic experiment.41 A third experiment, investigation of the lunar magnetic field, was tentatively approved on December 15.42 The science complement for the first few missions was completed early in 1966 with the public announcement of seven instruments and investigator teams.* Newell noted that the experiments fulfilled the basic recommendations made the previous summer by the science teams at the Falmouth conference and had been approved for flight by the Space Sciences Steering Committee. Since the design of the instruments was not yet fixed it was not certain what combination would be flown on each mission, but modular design would allow each package to carry a group of instruments tailored to the constraints of its mission. The instrument collection was christened "Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package," or "ALSEP."43

In authorizing MSC to develop the lunar surface science package, Newell assigned specific experiment combinations to each of the first four lunar landing missions and classified each as primary or backup. The first two lunar landers would carry the magnetometer, the passive seismic experiment, the suprathermal ion detector, the medium-energy solar wind experiment, and the heat flow instrument. Subsequent missions might carry different combinations, subject to Newell's approval of any changes. MSC was authorized to spend $5.1 million to develop flight-qualified prototype instruments and provide for operational and support software and data analysis.44

All that remained to get instrument development under way was to select a contractor. This was accomplished a month later when Headquarters picked the Bendix Systems Division of Bendix Corporation, Ann Arbor, Michigan, for negotiation of a contract to build four ALSEP packages. Under a cost-plus- incentive-fee contract NASA anticipated a total cost of about $17 million.45 Bendix was not inexperienced in lunar surface exploration, having worked with JPL from 1963 to 1965, and had made a major corporate commitment to that phase of the space program.46 Bendix's activity was actually twofold: it would build the "central station" that transmitted data to earth, and integrate the entire experiment package. Some of the instruments were to be built by Bendix's subcontractors to principal investigators' specifications; other principal investigators chose to build their own.

* Passive lunar seismic experiment, Dr. Frank Press (MIT) and Dr. George Sutton (Lamont Geological Observatory); lunar triaxis magnetometer, Dr. C. P. Sonett (NASA Ames Research Center) and Jerry Modisette (MSC); medium energy solar wind experiment, Dr. C. W. Snyder and Dr. M. N. Neugebauer (JPL); suprathermal ion detector, Dr. J. W. Freeman, Jr, (Rice Univ.) and Dr. F. Curtis Michel (MSC scientist-astronaut); lunar heat flow measurements, Dr. Marcus G. Langseth (Lamont Observatory) and Dr. Sydney Clark (Yale); low-energy solar wind, Dr. Brian J. O'Brien (Rice); and active lunar seismic experiment, Dr. Robert L. Kovach (Stanford Univ.) and Dr. Joel S. Watkins (USGS).

32. MSC, "Project Apollo Lunar Excursion Module Development Statement of Work," July 24, 1962, pp. 2, A-107-109.

33. MSC, "Project Apollo Quarterly Status Report No. 3 for Period Ending March 31, 1963," p. 30.

34. MSC, "Project Apollo Quarterly Status Report No. 6 for Period Ending December 31, 1963," p. 34; contract NAS9-2115, "Survey of Lunar Surface Measurements, Experiments, and Geologic Studies," Sept. 30, 1963.

35. John M. Eggleston to Wayne Young (JSC), letter with comments on draft of Apollo explorations history, Sept. 12, 1984.

36. MSC, "Project Apollo Quarterly Status Report No. 8 for Period Ending June 30, 1964," p. 47.

37 . Mueller to MSC, "Request for Approval of Procurement Plan for Lunar Surface Experiments Package," June 7, 1965.

38. "Three Firms Selected to Design Apollo Lunar Surface Package," Hqs. Release 65-260, Aug. 4, 1965.

39. MSC, "Lunar Surface Experiments Package Request for Proposal," May 27, 1965, pp. b-1 to b-29.

40. S. C. Phillips to multiple addressees, Apollo Program Directive No. 3, subj.: Management Assignment for the Lunar Surface Experiments Package (LSEP) Project, M-D 8030.003, June 15, 1965.

41. Newell to Dir., MSC, "Selection of Scientific Investigations for Early Apollo Lunar Landing Missions," Oct. 1, 1965.

42. Newell to Dir., MSC, "Selection of Apollo Lunar Science Magnetic Field Investigations," Dec. 15, 1965.

43. William J. O'Donnell to Ames Res. Ctr.; MSC, and JPL, TWX, "Moon Surface Experiments Chosen for Apollo," (NASA Hqs. Release 66-17), Jan. 27, 1966.

44. Newell to Dir., MSC, "Authorization to Procure Space Science and Applications Investigations for Apollo Lunar Missions," Feb. 14, 1966.

45. "Bendix Named to Manufacture Lunar Package," NASA Hqs. release 66-63, Mar. 17, 1966.

46. A. P. Fontaine (Bendix Corp.) to Gilruth, Feb. 18, 1966.

[Previous Page] [Next Page] [Table