A US space agency has undertaken a major manned Moon programme, a new administration is not prepared to fund it any further, vehicles are being cancelled and a report provides options for what happens next, sound familiar? It should it is what NASA has gone through over the last year and it is what happened, more or less, in 1970
Or it is if this history blog is correct in its re-telling – discovered by this blogger via English language Indian tweeter Pradx - of that key moment in US space policy when the Richard Nixon administration ended Apollo
According to the Beyond Apollo blog site Nixon’s NASA was presented with five options for what the agency could do next as the Moon programme was wound down
The fourth and fifth of the five options saw the Saturn V production line continued and rather like the Review of US human spaceflight plans’ report an unconstrained budget provides the heavy lift vehicle for human exploration. The third option was a robotics programme with landings on the Moon and eventually Mars
Options one and two were essentially the same using space “tugs” that are in-space vehicles that cycle back and forth through cislunar space but only one of these options had space stations. The Beyond Apollo website summarises the first option thus:
The [Integrated Program Plan] had NASA bringing online its Earth Orbit Space Station (EOSS) and winged reusable Earth-to-Orbit Shuttle (EOS) by 1977. The EOSS would serve as base for reusable piloted Tugs and reusable Nuclear Shuttles. When mated to a Nuclear Shuttle, a Tug would be capable of reaching the moon. NASA planned to use this infrastructure in 1981 to establish a Lunar Orbit Space Station (LOSS) with a propellant depot. A Lunar Surface Base (LSB) would follow no earlier than 1985 (see images at the top of this post).
Clearly there is no Shuttle with the Obama plan but the EOSS, or as we call it the International Space Station, is there and a nuclear shuttle could always be the VASIMR. Note the use of propellant depots. The blog goes on to say that:
Scherer’s Option 2 was a “Shuttle/Tug lunar program.” The EOS and a reusable piloted Tug without EOSS, LOSS, and Nuclear Shuttle would enable piloted lunar orbit and landing missions by 1979, he told Culbertson. He stressed that, to enable this option, lunar mission requirements would need to play a role in the drafting of Shuttle and Tug sizing and performance requirements. As envisioned by Scherer, two Tugs would suffice to place astronauts in lunar orbit, while four Tugs would allow astronauts to land on the moon. A pair of landings at a single site would be sufficient to establish a temporary “minibase” by 1982.
To have a mini-base by 1982 when in 1970 there was no Shuttle or tug(s) of any description is quite an ambitious target. This second option does require a Shuttle, which NASA won’t have come 2011, but it shows that the tugs were seen as modular vehicles that together enabled different capabilities
The reality for an Obama spaceflight vision, if it survives Congress and if it had a similar architecture to option one, would probably be a 2032 manned lunar landing. The idea of ISS becoming a low Earth orbit shipyard and sending in-space vehicles out to the Moon not only matches the proposed flexible path but it also matches European Space Agency and Russian Federal Space Agency thinking on how an international exploration strategy could work – even with an orbiting lunar space station