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PSAC Examines Post-Apollo Science Plans

During 1966, while the lunar landing program still seemed on track for successful completion within the decade, the question of a manned program to follow Apollo* took on considerable importance. Administrator James Webb was not inclined to propose another ambitious project, apparently preferring to build a strong, versatile organization and wait for the country to tell NASA what to do with it. George Mueller, Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight, could not wait. Whatever his office was going to do after the first few lunar missions had to be started very soon or the expensive infrastructure built for Apollo would begin to deteriorate. But Lyndon Johnson's administration had begun to feel the fiscal pinch of an expanding war in Southeast Asia, the president's Great Society programs, and congressional concern for the foreseeable budget deficits. As a result, Mueller's post-Apollo plans were not approved by the White House in fiscal 1967. Though nothing better seemed in prospect and the president was reluctant to let manned space flight wither away, a decision on AAP was postponed.26

As part of the efforts to define suitable goals for the nation's space program after Apollo was accomplished, the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) undertook to evaluate NASA's post-Apollo plans. Its report, completed in 1966, concentrated on agency-wide plans and the decades following 1970; but it had some advice concerning later Apollo missions as well. About lunar exploration, PSAC warned that

the repetition of Apollo flights for more than two or three missions will be unjustifiable in terms of anticipated scientific return without the modification of the system to provide for additional mobility on the Moon's surface and the capacity to remain on the surface for a longer period of time.

After a few initial flights, NASA should adapt the remaining spacecraft and launch vehicles to those ends - for example, by converting the lunar module to an unmanned supply vehicle that could be stocked with expendables, scientific equipment, and mobility aids to support explorations of 7 to 14 days. Manned lunar missions following the first few should be conducted at the rate of not more than one or two per year, carefully coordinated with an expanded program of unmanned exploration to reduce the overall cost of lunar scientific exploration and to investigate areas that Apollo could not safely reach.27

PSAC's report, published in February 1967, attracted little public notice in the aftermath of the fire. Its recommendations on Apollo exploration, though brief, were not overlooked by officials at the Manned Spacecraft Center, however. In spite of its preoccupation with the first lunar landing, MSC turned attention to the later lunar missions as soon as it could.28 Shortly after taking over his duties as Director of Science and Applications at MSC, Wilmot Hess sought the help of lunar scientists in planning scientific exploration of the moon.

* At the time no milestone clearly marking the end of Apollo had been defined. It could be argued that the first lunar landing would represent completion of Apollo and that subsequent missions would be part of Apollo Applications. Most officials seemed to think of Apollo as comprising the first two or three lunar landings and AAP as including all lunar exploration more extensive than those landings could accomplish.

26. Arnold S. Levine, Managing NASA in the Apollo Era, NASA SP-4102 (Washington, 1982), pp. 239-53; Compton and Benson, Living and Working in Space, pp. 40-44, 46-48, 79-82.

27. President's Science Advisory Committee, The Space Program in the Post-Apollo Period (The White House, February 1967), pp. 13-16.

28. Brooks, Grimwood, and Swenson, Chariots, pp. 362-63.

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