* Planetary Landers

*Space Stations

* Spacecraft Relics

*Space Shuttle Type Craft

Planetary Landing Concepts in Science Fiction

Early Lunar Landing Concepts in Sci-Fi

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, a controversy arose in NASA and other scientific communities about the best approach to landing on the Moon. Two concepts flourished: the direct ascent mode (DA) and the lunar orbit rendezvous mode (LOR). Additional debate dealt with the type of spacecraft needed to support the alternate methods of going to the Moon. Science fiction artists portrayed each type as seen in the following artwork.

The direct ascent mode, championed by Werner von Braun, employed an enormous Nova class Earth launch rocket of 12-14 million pounds of liftoff thrust. (The Apollo Saturn V had seven and one half millions pounds of thrust at liftoff.)The concept launched a single vehicle from Earth to the Moon's surface. After a retro type landing on the Moon's surface, the vehicle would take off intact for the return trip to Earth. The lunar liftoff would approximate an Earth launch, a single rocket launching its crew for a voyage to Earth.

The lunar orbit rendezvous approach employed two vehicles, a command or mother ship for travel to lunar orbit and a lander or lunar module for descent to and ascent from the Moon's surface while the command ship orbited the Moon awaiting for the return of the lander. Still a third approach ( also favored by von Braun) proposed an Earth orbit rendezvous before leaving Earth's orbit for the Moon's surface. The third approach was much like the direct ascent as far as the vehicle which would land on the Moon. It would be a single stage rocket with powerful engines for the retro landing and later lunar ascent.

The lunar orbit rendezvous approach proved most efficient, requiring a much less powerful Earth launch booster. It is thought that the Russians attempted the direct ascent approach by building a Nova class booster which exploded on the launch pad sometime in 1967. Fortunately, the LOR approach experienced no such catastrophe.

Lunar Craft Based on von Braun Design

Click here to see a large picture of von Braun's single staged lander."(Bonestell graphic is used by permission of Space Art International.)

The artist, Bonestell, consulted with von Braun and Ley, former WW II German rocket experts. The use of multiple engines is similar to the configuration of the Saturn 5. Though there are other similarities to Apollo's Lunar Module (LM), differences include: (1) the scale - It is much too grandiose. Too large. Too many engines; (2) engines too large - Compared to men in the sketches, the size approximates the huge F-1 engines used for Apollo's Saturn 5 first stage; and (3) too many engines - The blast at liftoff in 1/6 gravity would accelerate the crew at a scale similar to Jules Verne's shotgun launch system. Despite the oversized propulsion system, the lunar spacecraft does appear authentic, unlike later drawings of Starwars' fighters. Also, the craft includes communication capability, an oft left out feature of sci-fi space art.

Direct Ascent

Click here to see a large picture of a direct ascent moon rocket." (Bonestell graphic is used by permission of Space Art International.)

The vehicle shown above is representative of the direct ascent lunar rocket mode. The pictured single stage rocket would launch from the Moon in a fashion similar to Earth launch, returning directly to Earth. Most artists made the mistake of showing a cloudless Earth and much too jagged lunar topography (landscape).

Scene from the 1948 Movie "Destination Moon"

The moon rocket shown above is poised for a return launch to Earth. Its design is similar to the V-2 rocket used by the Germans in World War II. How such a rocket could ever land on Earth after traveling to the Moon is a mystery. A single stage rocket does it all in this concept. Yet, a similar V-2 design could only lift hundreds of pounds from Germany to England during World War II.

Closer examination reveals insight of technical merit by the artist. The V-2 clone has added two wing-like fins where a jet's wings might be positioned. A thin stabilizing rib along the body of the rocket suggests a return flight through Earth's atmosphere though no deployable landing gear for an Earth runway appears in the picture. A ladder extends from the hatch to the lunar surface, sixty feet below. This might have been a very "giant step for man" and also a fatal one without the ladder, even in 1/6th gravity.

Two Stage Lunar Lander Painted in October of 1960 by Bonestell

Click here to see a large picture of a two stage lunar lander." (Bonestell graphic is used by permission of Space Art International.)

This was an insightful concept at the time it was authored. The lander has a descent stage, but the ascent stage is a space plane. A space plane similar to a Space Shuttle does allow for Earth reentry, and its size is fairly realistic compared to the landing stage. Such an approach might have worked if the thermal technology of materials would have been more advanced in the era of the sketch.

The lander size (five times the LM) is realistic judging from a comparison of astronauts to engine thrust nozzles. These appear as J-2 size engines (200,000 pound of thrust) rather than those derived from von Braun's early concepts which were F-1 sized developing 1,500,000 pounds of thrust. Also, the Bonestell drawing shows only two of the J-2's. The fuel tanks appear of reasonable size. The actual Lunar Module descent stage used a single 10,000 pound thrust engine.

Planetary Landers: Jack Coggins (1954)

Click here to see large photo of the Planetary Landers by Jack Coggins.

The picture above shows three types of planetary landers. The Jack Coggins' "Thrilling Wonder Stories" Winter 1954 cover portrayed the categories of spacecraft which would ultimately serve to land on the Moon. The largest of the vehicles is much like the Grumman designed Apollo Lunar Module, as is the lower center lander. However, the lander drawn to the far lower left features an Apollo-like Command Module capsule design with the addition of landing struts. Such vehicles could also land on other planets or their satellites. Each vehicle utilizes multiple (clustered) rocket engines. Such configurations provide a safety margin should a single rocket fail. Additionally, Coggins shows multiple propellant tankage for both fuel and oxidizer. Again, redundancy offers reliability and safety, factors considered in the design of the Apollo lunar lander.

Coggins correctly depicts crew modules as somewhat streamlined structures for entry into planetary atmospheres. No such requirement existed for the Apollo lander's touchdown on the airless vacuum of the Moon. Happily, Coggins provides a communication antenna and adequate viewing ports for the crew. The planet in the background is apparently Mars (depicted in hues of red).

Study of the above cover painting reveals two interface seams across the large vehicle. This indicates three stages of approximately the same size. Such a design would provide for: an Apollo lunar module-like descent stage which would remain on the planet after ascent stage lift off, a support module for consumables (supplies) similar to the Apollo Service Module (SM), and finally, a capsule-like crew station module for Earth atmospheric reentry.

Such a configuration, drawn seven years before the American single astronaut Mercury spacecraft, exhibits a keen knowledge of spacecraft design. Examination of the rocket plume in the painting brings forth questions about the craft's design. Note that the outboard cluster of engines are dormant while a core engine provides thrust. The extended landing gear indicate all three vehicles are, most likely, descending for a planetary touchdown. In such a case, the outboard engines would probably be for ascent. Using the outboard engines for ascent leads to the conclusion that the descent stage is not left on the planet but is reused. On the other hand, the outboard engines may have served as "OTV" (orbital transfer vehicle) propulsion between planets. If this is the case, they will remain on the planet after touchdown with the descent stage.

Reversing the scenario shown in the cover art scene leads to the conclusion that the artwork portrays ascent rather than descent and the outboard engines might have served as descent propulsion as well as OTV rocketry. In either case, the artist may not have considered the utility of leaving the landing gear, etc. on the planet surface as did the Apollo Lunar Module (LM). Finally, note the mechanical design of the landing gear. Foot shocks appear automotive. Perhaps, strut shock absorbers in the lower stage help cushion planetary landings.

1965 Callisto Landing Craft

Click here to see a large picture of a two planetary direct landing craft."

The landing craft pictured above on a planet's satellite other than the Earth's moon is typical of a direct ascent configuration. The distant planet appears to be Jupiter. The crew must have landed on Callisto (4870 kilometers in diameter and 1,883,000 kilometers from the planet Jupiter). Though the gravity of Callisto is somewhat more than lunar gravity, the artist (1965) chose not to draw a LM-like landing craft instead of a direct ascent type vehicle. Several years earlier NASA made the decision to use a lunar orbital rendezvous vehicle for landing on a planet's satellite.

Lunar Robotic Vehicle (1939)

Click here to see a large picture of a lunar robot."

The magnificent painting above appears to be a likeness of the four-legged Apollo lunar lander sketched two score of years prior to the first manned lunar landing. Careful examination of the vehicle reveals great emphasis on mechanical design: a massive bulkhead with through-bolts on the upper structure, ball and socket landing gear joints, and support struts throughout. Though the machine looks like the Apollo lunar lander, it is actually a walking moon robot.

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