by Phil Kouts PhD
OverviewThe Orion program’s standing review board raised concerns that
the program’s schedule is missing activities which could affect
the program’s ability to accurately identify what is driving the schedule.
Government Accountability Office, Assessments of Major
NASA Projects, Report GAO-16-309SP, March 2016
NASA has quietly signed a contract with Boeing for up to five
additional Soyuz seats ...on flights in the fall of 2017 and spring of 2018,
with the option for three seats on Soyuz flights in 2019.
Jeff Foust, Spacenews.com, February 27, 2017
The author has completed a series of articles1 based on official NASA-published data and reached conclusions from NASA’s technical statements. Virtually all technical aspects of the Apollo record do not withstand the scrutiny of pragmatic reviews.
‘Any such mission is a complex chain of essential operations, all of which must be accomplished safely. It is sufficient for one or two links in the chain to be unreliable to make a Moon return deadly dangerous, and the mission becomes absolutely impossible when just one link is incomplete. Such links were actually acknowledged by NASA.’ (MB1)1
The fact is that NASA is still totally incapable of safely returning crews from deep space, and consequently the record of Apollo falls apart.
The Apollo myth has been revealed through NASA sources as follows:
- An attempt to develop a heavy-lift lunar rocket within five years ended in recognition of serious vibrational problems in the first stage of a rocket similar to the Saturn V. Subsequently, the Ares series of rockets has been abandoned;
- It is no surprise that the F-1 engine of the Saturn V's first stage is not even discussed in NASA's current research documents;
- An upgraded version of the J-2 engine from the Saturn V's second stage was proposed ten years ago for the new heavy-lift rocket, but NASA now recognises that it has to be a new development and so was put on hold. It's not clear when an 'upgraded' engine will be ready for the Space Launch System configuration;
- NASA is still incapable of developing a heavy-lift
rocket for payloads of 70 tons – let alone repeating the acclaimed
capability of the Saturn V;
- NASA now classifies an ascent from the lunar surface as an escape from ‘a deep gravity well’ and its plans to land on the Moon have been deferred to the point of being virtually abandoned. This is not surprising since the Apollo lunar ascent module was demonstrably incapable of safely firing from the descent platform due to the absence of routes for gases to escape;
- The Apollo CM was bi-stable i.e. there was a
danger of its turning upside down and burning up on re-entry into the
- NASA still doesn’t have a reliable thermal shield for command modules (CM) to safely return crews from deep space;
- The ‘direct’ profile of re-entry, as claimed in
the Apollo record, was beyond any practicality and, if implemented, most
likely would have been disastrous for the module during re-entry;
- If a CM had survived due to sheer good luck
during re-entry, any surviving astronauts would be in a critical
condition due to the real risk of severe gravity overloads following an
extended period of microgravity, and most likely after splashdown would
not be in a happy state;
- The lack of critical knowledge regarding solar and cosmic radiation effects on humans beyond LEO makes a viable method of radiation protection highly problematic.
The Apollo myth is now in its final stages of existence and should be dismissed as a serious hindrance to the progress of HSE. However, ‘NASA operates within a catch-22 paradigm: the agency cannot move forward without recognition of its true experiences accumulated in the area of human space exploration, primarily the Apollo legacy, whatever that may be, while on the other hand it cannot reveal the truth about Apollo for various political reasons.’ (MB3)
Although the roots of Apollo were political, this article will examine the technical aspects and demonstrate how any continued adherence to this myth is plaguing current development of HSE. A lunar base is as much an aspirational idea today as a Moon landing was some 50 years ago. Yet NASA, unable to develop a viable lunar landing and return program, decided to divert the idea of a Moon base away from public attention and instead promote Mars as a viable goal.
Further Apollo Shortcomings are in Appendix 1.
The crucial missing element is a technique for safe return of crews from deep space. It is evident to a qualified observer that there is no sense in planning prolonged trips into deep space until a reliable safe return technique is fully established and, along with the issues related to radiation protection, it is most likely that multiple experimental trials of the real re-entry conditions are required.
Apollo had fundamental omissions concerning effective thermal shielding, aerodynamics of re-entry as well as biomedical aspects of the crews’ wellbeing and safety. The latter sets uncompromising conditions upon the first two. Years of complacency behind the firewall of systematic lies about the capabilities of Apollo have stifled the work of managers, scientists and engineers who could have achieved significant progress in these critical areas years ago.
The Apollo success story was 20 years old to the day when George H.W. Bush picked up on Reagan’s 1984 State of the Union speech. (R. Reagan, 1984) Echoing J.F. Kennedy, Reagan had said ‘Tonight, I am directing NASA to develop a permanently manned space station and to do it within a decade’. Bush Sr. stood on the steps of the National Air and Space Museum and announced the 1989 Space Exploration Initiative. This would establish not only a space station, but also a Moon base and ultimately send human beings to Mars. It was humanity’s destiny to explore and America’s destiny to lead. A report published after the President's July 20 speech stated that:
Concept for a proposed NASA lunar base
A part of this compelling vision would later materialise as the International Space Station (ISS) based on key Russian elements in 1998, with its US component ‘Destiny’ added in 2001.
An eager proponent of ideas to travel to Mars, Robert Zubrin, a NASA insider for many years, gave a first-hand account of how this 1989 initiative was voted down – just as soon as NASA had secured financial support for the Space Shuttle and a Space Station. Zubrin explains how 'the NASA leadership refused to advocate the program that President Bush has called a national priority'. (Zubrin, 2011, p.294) He refers to 'plenty of people' who thought about the approach from the NASA Administrator of the day as 'verifiable sabotage' which was possible 'due to presidential apathy'.
This chain of events is a good example of an announcement of a grand vision later ditched by both NASA and the US government. As a result, in order to sustain the Apollo myth, virtually no work has been completed on HSE beyond LEO for over thirty years. A similar research and development (R&D) roller-coaster ride was repeated with CxP, again leaving the idea of a Moon base nowhere. Although at least an initial spark of enthusiasm from 2005 through to 2009 produced a range of good theoretical work, recognising the problems with the declared Apollo direct re-entry, the CxP crucially emphasised the importance of a skip re-entry.
Further, during the development of the Ares rocket the problems of a powerful rocket analogous to Saturn V were again confirmed. However, no further progress has been made since CxP was disrupted and then simplified in 2010 to a half-goal: to develop a powerful rocket and a return capsule but without building a lunar lander and without any plans for an actual landing.
It now seems obvious that the unspoken consensus between NASA’s administration and government agencies – who know full well that there were no human Moon landings – may continue on and on for years. As GAO admits, ‘the agency’s attempts over the past two decades at developing a human transportation capability beyond low-Earth orbit have ultimately been unsuccessful.' (GAO on Orion, 2016, p.1)
It appears that NASA's insiders don't believe they can even raise this serious issue in a manner that would require addressing the matter with a practical solution. Their inactions continue to demonstrate that the political establishment would prohibit any action that would undermine preserving Apollo as the US trophy from the space race.
Yet the US government has declared that NASA 'is in the midst of developing the first crew capsule planned to be capable of transporting humans to multiple destinations beyond the moon’… and admits that attempts so far 'have ultimately been unsuccessful'. (GAO on Orion, 2016, p.1)
It is incredible that GAO draws a line under NASA's efforts of two decades – counting from the late 1990s – by summarising these efforts as 'unsuccessful' while admitting that the development is still in its middle phase. How long was this development expected to last?
What conclusions can be made from this admission? Firstly, some further slippage of the development schedules is guaranteed since it is now recognised that ‘NASA has not established specific launch dates for either EM-1 or EM-2. The agency plans to establish a launch date for EM-2 after the EM-1 mission is complete.’ (GAO on Orion, 2016, p.5)
This last statement about EM-2 launch dates is a disgrace compared to what was promised in 2013, when the EM-2 launch was scheduled for 2021 (see MB1); and then by 2015 it was re-pencilled to 2023 (see MB2); by 2016 it is admitted that this significant time slippage will have a ‘cascading effect of cross-program problems’. (GAO on HSE, 2016, p.19)
Secondly, most likely there will be another redrafting of strategic goals with references to shortage of funding and technical problems with acquisition. Conveniently, this would lead to scrambling of the on-going plans and the drawing up another grand vision for the next 10 to 20 years.
'The Orion program is currently redesigning its heatshield based on the results of the December 2014 exploration flight test. NASA determined that not all aspects of the monolithic design used in this flight test will meet the more stringent requirements for EM-1 and EM-2, when the capsule will be exposed to greater temperature variance and longer durations. The program has decided to change from a monolithic design to a block heatshield design for EM-1.' (GAO on Orion, 2016 p.15)
Basically a financial publication, this GAO document nevertheless goes deeply into specific technical details revealing the embarrassing picture. On possible solutions with the new heatshield, GAO contemplates: 'This design will adhere approximately 300 blocks to the support structure and apply filler material to the gaps between blocks, similar to the design used on the Space Shuttle.' (GAO on Orion, 2016 p.15) One can see that NASA is experimenting with the critical hardware, referring to ideas which were implemented in less severe conditions on the Space Shuttle while not making any reference to the previous Apollo heatshield. GAO continues: ‘However, this block design also carries some risk because of uncertainty about the blocks’ ability to adhere to the support structure, as well as performance of the gap filler material.' And: 'The program continued testing of the monolithic design as another form of risk mitigation.'
It is obvious that NASA, having no actual previous experience with a heatshield required for deep space voyages, is unsure about the outcomes of these experiments with the shield and is making ad-hoc decisions. The 2014 test was not even undertaken at the same speeds as would be experienced on a re-entry from either the Moon or elsewhere further out. NASA's difficulties beyond LEO may perhaps be partially due to the fact that for a decade three, if not four, R&D groups (including those from Boeing, SpaceX, and Lockheed Martin with their Orion) were involved in work on a capsule for transporting crews to the ISS, and despite all this even their developments in LEO remain outperformed by the well-proven Soyuz technology:
‘[T]he United States has lacked the domestic capability to transport crew to and from the International Space Station (ISS or Station), and instead has relied on the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). Between 2006 and 2018, NASA will pay Roscosmos approximately $3.4 billion to ferry 64 NASA and partner astronauts to and from the ISS in its Soyuz spacecraft’. (Inspector General, 2016, p.1) At prices ranging now up to $80 million for each round trip, it is not implausible to conclude that the Russians are satisfied to be quietly supportive of the Apollo myth.
The most recent initiatives from NASA, especially from SpaceX, to fly crews sooner to the Moon (EM-1 Crewed, 2017; SpaceX, 2017) and to take tourists straight to the Moon is an irresponsible game, designed perhaps to keep the HSE dream alive, made up of totally unrealistic promises.
A sample capsule returned at the 34g deceleration in a ballistic re-entry which lasted just over 2 minutes (Stardust, 2007, p.280), is not exactly proof that a larger heatshield would work under human-rated conditions. (Stardust, 2013). As for NASA, any plans to fly crews sooner to the Moon or elsewhere, have already been either postponed as was expected (Phil Kouts, 2017) or remain in limbo – to be quietly suspended once the media promotion has achieved its effect. Indeed the agency is already postponing the unmanned flight to 2019. (NASA HQ, 2017)
‘NASA is continuing to find new critical aspects for further R&D around Orion, predominantly not because of tighter requirements, e.g. safety, but simply because the agency has at last started to receive genuine information on the real requirements for flights beyond LEO.’ (emphasis added and see MB3)
Considering the (assumed) success of Apollo, at first glance the EM-1 plan to send an unmanned craft to make a lunar fly-by (in 2018 now 2019) is a modest task. In reality, EM-1 is the unmanned flight that was missing from the Apollo preparation program. NASA's trials in LEO were unexpectedly followed by the crewed Apollo 8 mission which allegedly went straight to the Moon, and after orbiting the Moon managed to safely return to Earth. (MB2) When tested in December 2014 the thermal shield – claimed to be an improved version of the Apollo shield – was admitted to be insufficient for deep space journeys and re-entry.
So what then can be done to achieve success?
Even before attempts to go as far as the Moon, interim test flights to ascertain re-entry from deep space at the escape velocity (with certification of the capsule for human rating) need to be undertaken. It could be a series of flights similar to those of December 2014 but with a higher elliptical orbit at the re-entry speed equal to 11.2 km per second with regard to the Earth's gravitational body. For a proposed re-entry profile, the parameters could be equivalent to those of planned returns from the Moon with the actual re-entry speed against the atmospheric Entry Interface (EI) area of down to 10.8 km per second taking into account the rotation of the planet.
During the direct entry method supposedly used in the Apollo missions, the craft didn't leave the atmosphere, so dynamic pressure and related heat load would have been sustained, and as a result this would have significantly augmented demands on the thermal shield. Looking at the never-ending attempts to embellish the Apollo legend, it is worth noting that Apollo advocates have recently started interpreting Apollo re-entry to have been a true skip re-entry (see also comments from Chris Kraft in MB3), and discuss the criticality of the entry angle:
‘They had to skip the craft in and out of the atmosphere to slow it down… Too shallow an angle and the craft would bounce off the atmosphere into space, beyond all hope of rescue.’ (Earthrise, 2008, p.29)
The above statement is a major mistake by the Apollo designers who took the decision not to adopt the skip re-entry option. The reality is that after losing some energy during the initial breaking phase through the atmosphere a returning capsule wouldn't escape Earth’s gravity, so it wouldn’t fly far off into space; instead, it would continue travelling along the Earth surface. But the Russians didn't make this mistake, and perfected their skip re-entry capabilities with their successful unmanned craft in 1968. (See MB2)
Now NASA has to adopt the skip re-entry concept, e.g. to realise the one proposed in the Architecture Study of 2005 (Fig.1). In Fig.1b below, the proposed theoretical skip re-entry profile is compared to direct re-entry profiles stated in the Apollo mission reports – from the moment of passing the Entry Interface (EI) to the point of parachute deployment at altitudes of 6 to 7 km. Then, in the Architecture Study the target range for the direct-entry mission is proposed as approx. 2600 km (shown in Fig.1d) and, further 'the 1969 version of Apollo guidance is used for modeling the direct-entry flight' (Arch. Study, 2005, p.330), instead of using the entry profiles as stated in the mission reports.
It is likely that at some stage NASA will admit that even in this theoretical skip re-entry scenario (Arch. Study, 2005), the initial entry phase is not optimal, due to the entry flight-path angle (-6.0 deg) being too close to that typically claimed for Apollo (-6.65 deg). More feasible entry profiles were later considered in technical papers from the academic and military research institutions quoted in MB2.
In summary, a space agency doesn’t need to wait for a heavy rocket in order to develop a suitable re-entry technique, but it should continue unmanned trials similar to those of December 2014 using medium capacity launchers. Nothing of this kind is in the current NASA plans.
Fig. 1a. The skip re-entry option proposed in 2005 with the downrange of 13,590 km and the total time of 37 minutes from entering the EI at an altitude of 122 km to landing near Cape Canaveral. (Arch. Study, Fig. 5-65, p.324) The entry speed would be 11.07 km/sec at EI.
Fig.1b. The geodetic altitude vs time: a comparison of the skip re-entry profile shown in Fig.1a (equivalent to Fig. 5-74 in Arch. Study p.329) to the profiles of direct entry stated in mission reports for Apollo 8 (Fig. 5-6(b)) and Apollo 10 (Fig. 6-7(b)); the Apollo 10 path is slightly shifted to show all data available from the report (reconstructed by the author).
Fig.1c. Skip re-entry vs direct entry: a comparison of the profiles from Fig.1b in the initial entry phase. The descent of Apollo 10 was declared as complete in less than 8 minutes. Note the shallower flightpath angle for the skip re-entry and a smooth departure back towards EI.
Fig.1d. The geodetic altitude vs the target range: a modelling of the skip re-entry profile for Fig.1a, equivalent to Fig. 5-67 in Arch. Study, 2005, p.325 (reconstructed by the author). The Apollo claimed range is shown for comparison.
Fig. 2. This 1989 illustration conveys deep thinking and shows better visionary judgment than NASA's current plans
for returning from deep space. (90-Day Report, 1989)
The meeting spacecraft would go into a HEO of say 60 to 80 thousand kilometres altitude and await a module (such as Orion) to rendezvous well beyond the outer Van Allen belt. Then they would align their routes, approach and perform docking.
The crew with its valuable cargo (lunar rock samples and sensor system elements, such as a solar wind panel, etc.) would be transferred into the meeting craft. Orion would then be undocked and left for a free fall to Earth (or a controlled return without problems related to avoiding gravity overloads when it is crewed, etc.).
Fig. 3. A scheme (First Crewed, 2016) Orion is on the way back from deep space (red trajectory)
to approach and dock with a transfer spacecraft on HEO (green trajectory). click to enlarge
The advantages would be twofold: 1) no need for any sophisticated thermal shielding (which is not available yet), and 2) even more importantly, for returning crews the conditions on board such a transfer vehicle would be far more favourable without the danger of abrupt gravity loads of 6-8g, or well above if the landing goes awry. The latter is critically important for a crew having spent eight or more days in a low gravity environment. It is also possible to consider an artificial gravity ‘room’ on the meeting spacecraft for preparing the crew for re-entry overloads – although that is probably much further down the line.
With regard to radiation effects on health and the wellbeing of astronauts who are to travel beyond LEO, NASA says the agency is concerned with the lack of any reliable data which is still needed before sending astronauts into deep space. NASA doesn't claim that traversing the Van Allen belts isn’t a problem. On the contrary, key radiation specialists within NASA are concerned that travelling beyond LEO would require passing through the radiation belts and therefore they need to learn more about the actual effects of belt's radiation. (See MB3)
Fig. 4. Buzz Aldrin travelling to Antarctica Photo: NZ Herald, 2 December 2016
(note the Russian-built aircraft used to fly to Antarctica from Christchurch, New Zealand)
Today it is hard to believe that the medical aspects of exposure to the severe radiation hazards of deep space have not been researched sufficiently to draw any viable recommendations. In fact no meaningful radiation protection knowledge was developed to protect Apollo astronauts. As a consequence, current attempts to commence real research are facing highly challenging conditions.
There is no evidence whatsoever that the health of those who allegedly flew to the Moon has even been researched. Notably, in the authoritative report on the health risks (Human Health, 2009) no such research is mentioned. There are just a few articles about issues like light flashes in the eyes of some Apollo astronauts or their nutritional preferences.
The radiation data information derived from Apollo cannot be relied upon for present day plans and as long as it does not reflect the real environment of space – it is not only inadequate – it is fake.
In the real world, and still assuming for a moment that the Apollo flights occurred as billed, the focus of a major study should be multifaceted with rigorous analysis covering all aspects of Apollo. A comparison of astronauts’ health with that of a control group on the ground is certainly warranted. In addition, along with this highly necessary work, a comparison of the physical condition of astronauts of Apollo flights 15 to 17, who were orbiting the Moon in the CSM (A. Worden, T. Mattingly, and R. Evans) and those who spent more than 20 hours each on the lunar surface (D. Scott, J. Irvin, W. Young, C. Duke, A. Cernan, and H. Schmitt) would be of immense value. But nothing of this kind has ever been undertaken and even the astronauts still living do not attract any specialist’s attention.
One of the most recent reports from the authoritative Institute of Medicine on the health of Apollo astronauts discusses their seemingly ‘high mortality’ (Health Risks, 2016).
Fig. 5. Reference to the article about 'high mortality' from a review of NASA's Evidence Reports on Human Health Risks, 2016
Most likely, the effect was caused by rapidly emptying the large fuel tanks of the first stage. After computer modelling of these acoustic-vibrational effects, work on Ares 5 – the rocket analogous to the Saturn V – was discontinued, and soon after a limited flight trial of Ares 1, totally abandoned. Even the strongest political pressure from Congress in 2011 couldn’t persuade NASA specialists to accept a plan to deliver a powerful rocket by 2016. (MB2) Now, in 2017, it is still uncertain how and when a reliable rocket will actually be delivered.
The recent NASA Authorisation Act 2017 (Act, 2017) has largely reiterated the tasks of the 2010 Act pointing again to the two key elements, Orion and SLS, and setting a long-term objective of developing a ‘Mars lander and ascent vehicle, entry, descent, landing, ascent, Mars surface systems … and testing 1 or more habitat modules in cislunar space to prepare for Mars missions’. (Act 2017, Section 432(3)) while saying nothing about a lunar lander and/or a Moon landing.
An idea of ‘cislunar outpost designs,’ which would suggest ‘potential use supporting lunar landing missions, originally by international partners and not NASA’ – is in the air. (Cislunar Outpost, 2017) Remarkably, the Act 2017 admits that the ‘need exists to advance’ HSE in collaboration with international partners.
When it was shown in 2005-09 that this essential preliminary R&D work must be accomplished, particularly on radiation protection and developing a safe re-entry technique, it became evident that the record of the acclaimed Apollo achievements was faked and cannot be relied upon in any way.
‘What should have been done for a successful mission some 45 years ago as a concurrent development ...is happening now at an extremely slow pace, on a sequential basis, within an entirely uncertain if not an indefinite time frame. Indeed, what was initially planned for the CxP to be completed within 15 years is now set out entirely as an open-ended scheme without any deadline for a human Moon landing.’ (MB2)Against this background, the two most recent claims by NASA and SpaceX to fly to the Moon soon as well as NASA’s interpretation of the development of Orion as a vehicle for journeys to Mars are altogether misleading and not viable, while the same set of technical problems remain outstanding. This mess is purely a result of the desperate need to maintain the Apollo myth by any means.
NASA has usurped the position of a world leader in HSE and for decades has deprived humankind of its dream to fly to deep space. The agency has no moral right to continue pretending that it has ever accomplished a lunar landing. Vast financial resources will be wasted further until the agency stops covering for political decisions taken during the cold war and fully acknowledges its current technical inadequacies.
Fresh, new plans for a human Moon mission have to be instigated from scratch and must be adhered to by adopting a strategy of uncompromising incremental steps with all the space agencies working together in a consolidated international effort to achieve the human potential for the exploration of space.
Henceforward, NASA can only be one of the partners in this venture.
Aulis Online, July 2017