Son of Apollo
The next lunar lander will be a giant leap ahead of the first.
- By Tony Reichhardt
- Air & Space magazine, May 2006
Illustrations by Paul DiMare
Dave Scott, who visited the moon in 1971, thinks the next generation of lunar pilots will have it much easier than he did. He likens his Apollo 15 landing to "the old barnstorming days, when guys used to take these old World War I airplanes and land in a farm field, in the grass, with no lights, and trees all around."
The next lunar landing, he expects, won't be nearly as seat-of-the-pants. "Everything will be wired. When they come down the line the guidance is going to be better, the knowledge of the surface will be better." And, it goes without saying, the new vehicle is expected to be a great improvement over its predecessors.
There are great reservoirs of wisdom among the veterans of the Apollo program. At 73, Scott still keeps his hand in the game as an aerospace consultant. So do some of the engineers who built his lunar lander at Grumman Aerospace back in the 1960s.
John Connolly made pilgrimages to Bethpage, New York, where Grumman is based, to seek the counsel of these veteran engineers before he moved from NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. There he will coordinate the team creating conceptual studies of the new Lunar Surface Access Module.
"Some people, their heroes are astronauts," says Connolly, as we're standing in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, next to a squat, four-legged contraption that ranks among the great engineering triumphs of the 20th century: The Apollo Lunar Module, or LM. "The guys who dreamed up this ugly flying vehicle are my heroes."
Six Apollo landers, including Dave Scott's Falcon, are now on the moon, having transported astronauts there between July 1969 and December 1972. A handful of others are in museums around the United States. This particular vehicle, LM-2, never traveled in space. It didn't need to, because the first LM checked out so perfectly during an orbital test in January 1968 that a second test was deemed unnecessary.
"These guys [the Grumman engineers] in many ways pulled off the impossible," Connolly says. "They built a machine that had never been imagined before. Not only did they build it, but it worked perfectly every time."
That's a big achievement to follow. The new LSAM, if the schedule holds, will carry astronauts back to the moon in 2018, half a century after the first lunar voyages.