Major Lessons from Apollo
The following is a preliminary list - in no particular order -
lessons regarding lunar surface operations. It was
the request of Apollo 15 Commander David Scott in April 2009 for
he was preparing to give at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology. Input from ALSJ Contributors Karl Dodenhoff,
Hengeveld, Phil Karn, Jr., Harald Kucharek, Colin Mackellar,
Parker, and Ron Wells is gratefully acknowledged.
(1) Adaptation to lunar gravity
quick and easy; working in it is FUN!
(2) The radiation environment is going to be a major restraint
long-duration operations on the lunar surface. Shielded
will be essential if crews are to spread permitted exposure to
cosmic ray background over stays of significant lengths.
Provision of emergency sheltering against infrequent but
solar particle events will be essential for forays away from
(3) Dust is a major operational hazard. Provision must
for doing more thorough cleaning of gear before it is brought
than was possible during Apollo. Jack Schmitt (Apollo
been talking about the need for "dust locks" for a long time
something along those lines may be essential.
(4) Limited manual dexterity, forearm fatigue, and damage to
and fingernails were all issues arising from the Apollo
(5) There was little opportunity - or need - to do
maintenance or repair during Apollo. Trade-offs between
'cost' of replacement of limited life-time gear - such as
components - and the 'cost' of a maintenance/repair capability
(6) Despite 1/6th gravity, carrying the ALSEP packages was
work. A transporter of some sort for bulky and/or heavy
will be essential.
(7) Judging size and distance on the airless moon can be
challenging but probably can be overcome through experience,
aided by simple laser-ranging devices.
(8) Navigation is not difficult, given knowledge
solar elevation and azimuth, simple devices like a sun
maps, and horizon features. With a bit better
Apollo 14 crew probably would have found the rim of Cone
Crater. Photogrammetric analysis of the Apollo 11 site
suggest that, for long-range traverses away from a base, crews
could located themselves accurately using a small navigation
device combining digital imagery from on-board cameras with a
data base of boulder locations derived from orbital imagery,
eliminating the need for - and cost of - GPS-type systems.
(9) The main product of any mission of discovery is a shared
awe and pride. Thinking back over our first fifty years
the vehicle of that shared experience is imagery. It
took a while
for NASA to learn that lesson. The Hasselblad images are
priceless and there should be more. The television from
embarrassing, especially given that better color cameras were
available. A12 and A14 weren't much better and even A15
because Houston didn't request that the crew dust the lens
enough. We've learned a lot since then. Apollo 16 and 17
TV imagery was by far the
best from Apollo, largely due to real-time processing of the
signals by John Lowy, founder of Lowrey Digital. Imagery
missions, from ISS, and from the Mars Rovers are the products
advances in camera technology since Apollo. Future
should have imagery at the very top
of the priority list. From Phil Karn (US):
what pay NASA's bills ... High resolution digital
become small, light, and excellent. Orion and Altair
bristle with them." Where data bandwidth is an issue,
management of framing rate, resolution, and duty cycles will
great value. For example, software could be used to transmit
only from cameras seeing non-static scenes.
(10) Ron Wells (US) wrote, "Train, train, train. Train
most real conditions capable of being simulated, not
only for the
flight crews but also the flight director teams, separately
together." As Dave Scott has repeatedly emphasized, make
that management gets a good understanding of the work that
will be done
by having them observe training.
(11) From Harald Kucharek (Germany): "Always have a
duct tape close at hand"; they are great problem solvers.
(a) A12 RTG fuel element extraction; (b) adapting A13 CM LiOH
for use with the LM ECS; (c) securing cables on the A15 Rover;
making the A17 replacement fender; (e) and almost certainly
(12) From Phill Parker (UK): "Think big and be positive."
(13) From Phil Karn (US): "Cutting corners doesn't pay in the
Not just the obvious stuff like the rush that led to the
disaster, but also the many design compromises that
endurance in order to get us to the moon more quickly
cheaply ... Getting humans and hardware to the lunar surface
is a very
expensive and dangerous undertaking, and it was a shame
to turn around and come back almost as soon as they
(14) Lunar surface activities conducted during Apollo
two broad categories:
(1) exploration and (2) the operational/procedural context
exploration possible. Exploration is overwhelmingly
and requires that crew members acquire, through training, the
recognize and evaluate key features of landforms and samples
those in deciding how to best use time available.
training requires a familiarity with procedures and equipment
extent that the work can be done efficiently, and that
problems can be
handled on site or discussed knowledgably with support
of the moonwalkers were well-prepared for both. Among
crews, Armstrong was a standout. All six of the J
were, too. Professional geologist Jack Schmitt became a
credible LMP; and, in the same vein, professional pilots
Young, Duke, and Cernan became credible field geologists with
understanding of the questions and of the methodology for
appropriate observations and collecting relevant samples.
(15) In exploration phases of the mission, more than in
phases, management/flight directors should expect and
real-time crew decisions. STS and ISS are more
focused than were Apollo lunar surface activities.
WOTM owes its existence to astronaut Ron Garan and to planetary
scientist Paul Spudis who, in 2007, independently called
attention to the need for a systematic treatment of Lessons from
Apollo. Thank you, gentlemen.