The Apollo Decade Draws to a Close

The Apollo 8 crew was still debriefing when 1969 came around, the last year of the decade set by John Kennedy for accomplishing the manned lunar landing and return. Early projections of the 1969 launch schedule called for five missions, spaced just over two months apart.88 The progress made in 1968 suggested that most preparations for the first landing could be made sometime during the year. Of the major components of the Apollo system, only the lunar module remained to be checked out.

For the most part, science had yielded to operations during the year. To provide some leeway for increases in the weight of the lunar module, and to avoid overtaxing the astronauts on a mission that still contained many unknowns, the lunar surface experiments had been simplified. The original "ALSEP" (Apollo lunar surface experiments package) had been reduced to an "EASEP" (early Apollo scientific experiments package). Enough suitable landing sites had been picked to provide alternatives in case of launch delays, increasing the chances of launching a mission during a given month's opportunity in spite of any technical problems that might halt the countdown before liftoff. But the sites were chosen for maximum probability of successful landing, not for their immediate scientific interest. Even so, no one would argue that whatever samples of lunar material the first astronauts were able to return would not be of extraordinary interest to scientists.

But if science yielded to operational considerations, it received in return the assurance that missions after the second - perhaps after the first - would include as much science as the system could accommodate. The organizational mechanism was in place and functioning to assure that mission plans encompassed scientific objectives as far as possible. If the first landing attempt should be successful, enough launch vehicles and spacecraft were in the pipeline to conduct nine more landings. Project officials at the Manned Spacecraft Center were ready to extend the duration of missions as much as the hardware would allow without major redesign and were urging Headquarters to start work on mobility aids, to extend the range an astronaut could cover on the moon. As soon as they had the operational experience to justify it, MSC managers were willing to do more than merely land a human on the moon and return him safely to earth.

88. John D. Stevenson, TWX, "MSF Mission Operations Forecast for January 1969," Jan. 3, 1969.

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