#88 September 1995
Section 126.96.36.199.088.of the Artemis Data Book
by Peter Kokh
Those of you who have not yet seen the new Ron Howard movie, Apollo 13, with Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris, go see it. It is great! The movie faithfully follows Jim Lovell's book Lost Moon and is thoroughly factual. Even though you know the outcome, it keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. We detected only one mistake, an editing error, when the movie astronauts spotted Fra Mauro, their once intended central nearside landing site, while still skimming over the far side of the moon.
The National Space Society is to be congratulated for the excellent eye-catching all-color "Apollo 13" Collectors' Edition news sheet it produced to be handed out to moviegoers. The paper gives movie background and brought readers up to speed on the Space Station, Lunar Prospector, Delta Clipper, Cheap Access, and on the space activist movement. Kudos!
Apollo 13 was the first feature film (i.e. excepting IMAX documentaries) shot in real zero-G with all onboard shots being tediously pieced together from what must have seemed an endless series of multisecond Vomit Comet KC-135 flights. Can't do that in computer simulation!
Three lessons from the tale jumped out at us.
(I) It wasn't planned backup and standby hardware equipment or extra margin capacities that saved the day, it was NASA's greatest assets, brains and determination of people determined to beat clearly overwhelming negative odds. In the process, parts of hardware and system sequences got put together in new combinations never intended nor forseen in a daring make-do creativity born of sheer do-or-die necessity.
(II) One of the major hurdles was the inadequacy of the Lunar Excursion Module [LEM or LM] "Aquarius'" CO2 scrubbers to handle three crewman instead of just two. They had to find a way to patch in a scrubber from the "Odyssey" Command Module - the hitch being that one was square, the other round. The lesson is clear.
All critical parts and their components of all ships, modules, nodes, etc., should be standardized and interchangeable. That does not mean that progress must be frozen. Improved versions can and should be built whenever and wherever possible, but they should fit the existing interfaces. Without knowing what in fact the situation is, we'd be willing to bet a life income that this is not the case with the various components of the International Space Station being built by the U.S., Europe, Japan, Canada, and Russia. Possibly not even between components built by the several U.S. contractors: Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Rockwell International, Lockheed Martin, and others.
Interchangeability of all critical systems components and commonality of spare parts stationwide would go a long way toward preventing future crises in orbit from being worse than they have to be. Right now we've only taken the first step because we had no choice--devising compatible docking systems.
Some hardware development is undoubtedly already too advanced to meet this proposed new design constraint. But many systems and parts still exist principally on paper, and it is not too late to bring all the international partner teams together to ensure commonality and interchangeability. It is very cheap insurance.
(III) Having a duplicate facility on the ground in which problems in flying hardware can be trouble-shot live in simulation, is clearly important. If Ken Mattingly had not had access to a Command Module Simulator, the returning Apollo 13 crewmen would clearly have died trying to reenter Earth's atmosphere. The lesson is clear.
We ought to have a duplicate space station on the ground, module for module, system for system. During any emergencies in orbit, backup crews on Earth could help find work-around solutions by simulations with verisimilitude.
Expensive? 1st, the cost to build duplicates would only be marginal. 2nd, such a facility would be ideal for training crew and payload specialists, even for pre-orienting media and VIP visitors. 3rd, during non emergency situations, such a facility would be an unbeatable public education tool. 4th, some of the brighter, more creative, and enterprising people touring the facility might be challenged to build new and better commercial stations in orbit. 5th, if need be, parts of the duplicate hardware on the ground could be flown in space. 6th, something that could eventually be taken apart, shipped, and put back together to be displayed in the Smithsonian, would be assured.
Now probably each parts/module manufacturer will have a duplicate for just such simulation purposes. But what is the point of having such simulators scattered all over the globe? They should be gathered all in one place, with standby teams on hand or able to be flown in at a moment's notice.
The problem with such an idea is, of course, that it will cost extra money up front, i.e., it is a cutable budget item. In this era where the "right stuff" is quickly becoming but a dim racial memory, we are not optimistic.
By the way, watching the film, it occurred to us that the Command Module-LEM complex which was first flown and docked in the Apollo 9 Earth orbital mission ["Gumdrop" & "Spider" - McDivitt, Schweickart, Scott], March 3-13, 1969, constituted, for ten brief days, the first multi-module docked Earth-orbital Space Station! After the flight of its Apollo 17 sibling, it is taking us twenty-five years to repeat the trick, again with help from the Russians (as in Apollo-Soyuz, '75).
The above lessons need to be applied to future moon and Mars bases as well, and to the spacecraft that will carry crews and pioneers - wherever.
(I) A pool of talented, trained personnel needs to be be maintained, not only to serve as background crew for each pioneering mission, but also to handle live simulations for real-time crisis problem solving in the same item for item faithful simulation facilities on the ground that serve for training flight crews.
(II) The outcome of many an unplanned emergency and/or rescue, in orbit, in deep space, or on some planetary surface, may hinge on the availability of interchangeable common parts for critical systems and their interfaces. There ought to be some interagency working group set up to ensure such a development. A stitch in time saves nine. Yet, strange as it may seem, planning ahead, really ahead, has never been a strong suit of any of the world's space agencies. Had it been otherwise, we would not, for example, have a space debris problem of anywhere near the magnitude now before us.
(III) Simulation facilities will remain vital for outposts on planetary surfaces as well. And the fringe benefits in each case, helping justify the cost, will be the same as those outlined for the "shadow" station proposed above.
Apollo 13 is a welcome publicity boost at a time when the space program seems to be winding down. On second look, there is much ground for renewed meliorism, if not (useless) optimism. The SSTO/DC-X/X-33 R&D effort is showing signs of producing results, and of convincing long-time skeptics. The International Space Station, for all its faults, is becoming real, with metal being bent, and that promises at least to keep alive the era of manned spaceflight. Commercial legislation keeps building a new launchpad for future endeavors proof from drops in media, politician, and public enthusiasm levels.
Contents of this issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto