The year was 1958 and while Apollo had not yet made its historic journey to the moon, in fact the program had not seen the light of day as yet, one year from now the Mercury program would step into the limelight.
But in back in 1958, a US Air Force project plan was born; a plan that called for landing on the moon and building a 21 airman base. A plan that had it gone forward would have negated Apollo and all that occurred. Lunex had its beginnings when the US Air Force decided that beating the Soviets to the moon was necessary in order prove that internationally speaking America was dominant in technology.
A structured plan was made and part of it was the setting of three milestones: the 1965-recovery of a manned reentry, a 1966-manned circumlunar flight, and by 1967 a manned lunar landing & return. By 1968 a permanent manned lunar expedition was planned. The plan would cost a total of 7.5 billion-back when a billion could buy something.
So what went wrong? Why is there no Lunex base on the Moon while there was an Apollo mission? Many reasons…
The main problems centered on the rocket. First there was accomplishing the re-entry while traveling about 37,000 feet per second. Two degrees was the difference between a homecoming parade and skipping out of the Earth’s orbit. Another major concern was the lunar landing phase. The Air Force believed that a Direct Ascent was the only hope of landing on the moon and that a lunar orbit rendezvous such as Apollo used, wasimpossible. This required that a spacecraft was designed and developed that could land tail first and when it was time to return, take off again.
In May 1961 as Kennedy called on NASA and the American People for an American to step foot on the moon, the US Air Force released a previously secret report that summarized years of research. Interesting to note is that the detailed plans actually utilized solid rocket boosters – a spacecraft very similar to what we would one day have in the Shuttles.
So the Mercury program continued and then in 1963 to 1966 the Gemini Program took over bringing us space rendezvous & EVAs and then Apollo which began in 1961 took us the rest of the way.
Apollo landed on the moon on July 20, 1969 using what the Lunex Project had said was impossible, the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous method and not the direct ascent.
Note: There are four basic landing plans for the Moon that were considered. They are:
Lunar Surface Rendezvous – this method is that which Apollo used. One rocket launches the vehicle that is comprised of several modules. The command module would remain in the lunar orbit while a lunar excursion module would descend to the Moon. Later it would return and dock with the command module and then be discarded and the command module would return to Earth. Previously an astronaut had to remain in the command vehicle while one went to the surface. NOT TRUE with the Orion. 4 astronauts, not 2 go to the moon, and all 4 can go down to the surface. The command module in lunar orbit can be handled remotely.
Lunar Surface Rendezvous – Two spacecraft leave Earth. The first is an automated spacecraft that carries propellant for the return trip to the Moon. Launched second and after it had safely arrived, the manned vehicle lands on the moon. Obviously the transfer of fuel is necessary in this method and additional problems could arise as a result.
Earth Orbit Rendezvous – Multiple rockets are necessary in this plan – as many as 15. Each is launched and assembled into one spacecraft in Earth’s orbit.
Direct Ascent – This is simply a rocket taking off from Earth and landing on the Moon – tail first. It calls for a more powerful vehicle – the planned Nova Rocket. When it was time to return to Earth, the landing stage would remain and the rocket would then take off.