Not long after the end of the Apollo lunar landings, it was time for the next step in lunar exploration. There was belief, and some evidence from the experiments that were performed on the lunar surface during the Apollo missions, that there were minerals...water...and other scientifically useful resources on the lunar surface.
There was also a concern that the Soviet Union would eventually land on the lunar surface, and attempt to claim all or part of it as their territory.
So, the space race continued. On this front, the race was to the first long duration habitation of the lunar surface, and eventual lunar colonization. The United States created a habitat, a base, designed for the long term exploration and habitation of the lunar surface. In fact, they created two such bases. This allowed the Americans to explore the scientific wealth that awaited them on the lunar surface, as well as make a long term claim of the lunar surface before the Russians. While this is not what happened in real life, it is what happened in the fictional world we have created.
This is…the Apollo Moon Bases — part 2. Welcome to Belitopia.
Not long after the end of the Apollo lunar landings, it was time for the next step in lunar exploration. There was belief, and some evidence from the experiments that were performed on the lunar surface, that there were minerals, water, and other scientifically useful resources on the lunar surface. There was also a concern that the Soviet Union would eventually land on the lunar surface. As it turns out, the Soviet Union had given up on the quest for the lunar surface, and instead had focused on exploring and conquering near earth orbit. This was something we talked about in a previous episode, episode number 5, on Skylab. However, the United States was not aware of this fact, and they continued to work under the assumption that the Soviet Union was still trying to land on the moon, so they could claim as much of the lunar surface as possible.
So, given this information, the United States turned away from spot landings of single Apollo LMs for relatively short stays on the lunar surface, towards developing and building their first long duration base on the lunar surface. The purpose of the base was to provide a long term habitation of the lunar surface by Americans. In fact, two bases were built.
This is the story of those bases. In part 1, we discussed the design and layout of the Tycho base, which was located near Tycho crater, the same location of the famous monolith found on the Lunar surface in the Stanley Kubrick movie 2001 A Space Odyssey and Arthur C Clark’s book of the same name.
We discussed how the base was delivered to the lunar surface in four separate pods, and how those pods were assembled on the lunar surface.
In Part 2 we will continue our documentary “Our World In Space”, which takes place in the world of Belitopia in the year 2040, 65 years after the bases were created.
We will continue this documentary to discuss the complex lunar transport system put in place to shuttle crews back and forth not only to the Tycho base, but the second base that was also created. We’ll discuss one of the side effects of this transportation system was the formation of an LM graveyard.
We’ll also talk about the emergency procedures in place to save the base occupants in case of a problem, and how those procedures were put to test during a real base emergency. Finally, we’ll talk about the creation of the second base, BLA Base, and it’s unique position and unique communications requirements that this base required.
This documentary is about the creation of the Tycho and BLA lunar bases, in the world of Belitopia.
Hello, and welcome to “Our World in Space — The Apollo Moon Bases”.
Once Tycho Base was properly setup by the two assembly missions, it was ready for occupancy by the research missions. The first research mission, Tycho 3, arrived on December 1st, 1975, and stayed for nearly seven weeks.
In total, nine research missions were sent to Tycho Base. These missions were named Tycho 3 through Tycho 12.
Each research mission consisted of a two person crew. The crew was delivered to lunar orbit via an Apollo-era Command and Service Module, or CSM for short. The crew then entered an attached Apollo-era Lunar Lander, or LM for short. The LM descended to the lunar surface and landed near the base. The crew then performed an EVA, or extra vehicular activity — in other words, a moon walk — to arrive at and enter the base, where they lived for the duration of their mission. When their mission was complete and they were ready to depart the lunar surface, they performed an EVA back to their waiting LM, and launched from the same LM that delivered them. They rendezvoused in lunar orbit with another waiting CSM that returned them to earth.
Each of the nine research missions stayed for longer durations and lived completely within the base. The shortest duration stay was Tycho 3, which stayed a mere 48 days. The longest duration mission was Tycho 10, which stayed on the lunar surface for 242 days, around 8 months.
The research missions occurred from December, 1975, until October of 1980. The base was occupied almost continuously by one of the research crews for that entire nearly five years period. The final mission to Tycho Base, Tycho 12, left the base for the last time on Oct 5, 1980, after spending three months on the lunar surface.
The two assembly crews were each standalone missions. Three astronauts went to the moon abort a Saturn V rocket, which delivered them to lunar orbit in their CSM — command and service module. Then, two of the three astronauts entered their Apollo-era LM lunar lander, which took them to the lunar surface. After their shift in assembling the base was complete, they launched in the LM to the waiting CSM — and their waiting partner astronaut, and the three astronauts returned to earth in the same CSM that brought them to the moon.
This model worked great for the assembly crew, but what about the long duration research crews? How were these crews delivered to the lunar base? The traditional model used to delivery crews to the lunar surface used during Apollo 11-20 wasn’t going to work. That model required an astronaut to remain in the CSM in lunar orbit for the duration of the landing crews mission on the surface. For a few days, or a couple weeks, this was acceptable. For an eight month mission? That was no longer possible.
Instead, a series of delivery missions were used. The delivery missions, named Lunar Transport missions, or LT missions for short, were used to transport crews to and from the lunar station.
Each LT mission launched with a three person crew, a CSM pilot and the two astronauts that were going to the lunar surface. The mission included a lunar lander, LM. Once the lunar transport mission arrived in lunar orbit, the two crew that were to occupy the Tycho Base went down to the lunar surface in the Apollo-era LM. The LM remained on the lunar surface until they used it to leave the lunar surface at the end of their mission.
Meanwhile the CSM pilot orbiting the moon in the lunar transport vehicle waited for the departing Tycho Base crew to go to their waiting LM, take off, and dock with the lunar transport mission command-service module. The lunar transport CSM then took that departing crew, along with the CSM pilot, home to earth. So, the lunar transport mission, with the CSM pilot, brought one crew to the base, but returned home immediately with the previous departing crew.
These lunar transport missions, named “LT” missions for short, occurred whenever there needed to be a crew rotation on the Tycho base. So, for example, LT 5, the fifth LT mission, brought the crew that would inhabit the station as the Tycho 5 crew, and it picked up the end-of-mission Tycho 4 crew and brought them home. The next LT mission, LT 6, brought the new Tycho 6 crew to the base and picked up the departing Tycho 5 crew. Each Tycho crew had their own LM on the lunar surface that was used to bring them from lunar orbit to the lunar surface, and would be used to return them from the lunar surface to lunar orbit when they departed. But each Tycho crew arrived in one CSM as part of one LT mission, and departed in a different CSM as part of a different LT mission. This ship-hopping approach continued for the entire five years of the Apollo Lunar Base program.
Standard Apollo LMs were used to bring crews to the surface and return them back to lunar orbit after their mission was complete. These are the same LM designs that were used in the Apollo 11 to Apollo 20 lunar landing missions. The LMs were designed to contain two stages, a descent stage used during landing, and an ascent stage used during takeoff. During takeoff, the descent stage remained on the lunar surface and acted as a launch pad for the ascent stage.
Given that each of the Tycho crews had a LM that was used to bring them to the surface and return them to orbit, and each LM left behind their descent stage after it left for again for lunar orbit. That meant near the Tycho Base there was a build up of abandoned descent stages. Twelve in all, for each of the twelve Tycho missions. These twelve lunar descent stages were all in a relatively small area — less than a quarter mile from each other — and all within a short lunar hike of the Tycho Base. This formed what was called the “LM Graveyard”...an unfortunate side effect of the landing approach used. This lunar graveyard become a lasting legacy for humankind’s first long duration stay on the lunar surface.
The long term solution to this problem is LMs that can be relaunched and reused, which also means they stay in one piece. But the LMs capable of this were not available during the Apollo Lunar Base missions. These would come in later years.
Given the long duration stays involved on the lunar surface, there was always an ongoing concern about what to do in case of an emergency. If part of the habitation system failed, or if there was a loss of pressure due to a micro meteor strike or other failure, there was always an ongoing concern for what to do.
The problem was compounded because, for a significant portion of the stay on the lunar surface, there was no command-service module in lunar orbit that could be used to return the crew to earth. They were, quite completely, stuck on the moon.
To that end, there were two major parts to the primary evacuation emergency procedure. The first was on earth. Due to the number of LT missions to lunar orbit, there was a continuous assembly line production of Saturn V rockets. At any given point in time, there was always at least one Saturn V rocket on one of the many launch pads at the cape. There was also a standby crew always trained and available for use in an emergency. If an evacuation was necessary, the Saturn V rocket could be launched within 48 hours, with a rescue craft and crew, destined to arrive in lunar orbit to take the Tycho crew home. Given the approximately 50-75 hour trip to the lunar surface, a rescue ship could be available in lunar orbit in approximately five days time from when the emergency first occurred.
This was the first part of the evacuation procedure. However, a five day wait for a rescue ship was not a practical solution if there was a sudden and significant emergency on the lunar surface that required the crew to abandon the base. So, if an emergency did occur that required an immediate evacuation, the procedure on the lunar surface was for the crew to don space suits, exit the habitat, and make their way to their waiting LM, which was within a short walking EVA from the base. The LM had enough consumable resources to maintain the crew for up to fifteen days. The crew would remain locked in the LM, on the lunar surface, until the rescue ship arrived in lunar orbit. Once the rescue ship was available, the LM would take off from the lunar surface, dock with the rescue CSM, and the CSM would take the crew home. The station would be abandoned, but the crew would be saved.
It was a simple and effective procedure to use in case of an emergency. But it did have the unique characteristic of making the Tycho missions the first long duration space missions that had an emergency evacuation procedure that required the launch of a rescue ship from earth, rather than having a ship available for immediate evacuation. Skylab always had a CSM docked to it when there was a crew on board, so the crew could leave and return to earth in a moment’s notice. The Venus Flyby mission always had their attached CSM available for returning home, similar to how the Apollo 11 through Apollo 20 missions worked. But the Tycho Base crews were on the lunar surface without a method to return home, unless and until a rescue mission launched from earth. They had the LM to use for an emergency if the station became compromised, but they could not actually leave the lunar surface until after the rescue ship arrived in orbit.
There was one emergency that tested at least part of these procedures. On August 14th, 1977, during the stay of the Tycho 7 crew, there was an emergency decompression of the base due to an unknown reason. The crew was in a sleep cycle, so they were in Pod #4, the living quarters. Since the crew was in a normal sleep period, the hatch connecting Pod #4 to the rest of the base was closed. The decompression occurred in Pod #2 and in a matter of a few minutes, depressurized all of Pod #1, #2, and #3. The crew was ok in Pod #4, but, following standard emergency procedures, they put on the emergency space suits stored in Pod #4, and left the station through the emergency escape hatch in that Pod. They made their way to the waiting LM for further instructions.
On earth, a rescue mission was formed and they were going through the procedures necessary to get ready for an emergency launch. While all this was going on, an evaluation of what happened to the space station was undertaken. It was determined that the loss of air pressure was due to a failure of a simple mechanical part that could be easily repaired by the Tycho 7 crew. As such, the decision was made to hold off on the rescue mission, and give the Tycho 7 crew 48 hours in order to fix the problem. If the problem could be satisfactorily fixed during those 48 hours, the rescue mission would not depart and the Tycho 7 crew could return to the base. If the crew was unsuccessful in fixing the problem after 48 hours, the rescue mission would launch and the Tycho 7 crew would remain in the LM until their rescue occurred.
The Tycho crew put their suits back on inside the LM to get ready for an EVA back to the base to fix the problem. During the EVA, they were able to identify the broken mechanical system and repair it. The problem was solved. However, they did not have sufficient time during the EVA in order to turn on the base’s environmental systems and re-pressurize the habitat. As such, the Tycho 7 crew returned to the LM for the evening. The next day, they began another EVA to the base in order to restore the environmental systems. During this eight hour EVA, they were able to start the environmental systems, re-pressurize the habitat, and run the necessary self tests to ensure all systems were operating normally. Before the 48 hour window was complete, the Tycho 7 crew was able to get the base up and operating again, and were able to move back into the habitat. The rescue mission was cancelled, and the Tycho 7 crew resumed their mission. The crisis was averted.
Other than this one emergency, the Tycho Base functioned nearly flawlessly during its five year life.
While Tycho Base was being built, a second lunar base was being planned. The purpose of this second base was to study the side of the moon never seen by man, short of those few astronauts to orbit the moon. That is, the far side of the moon.
This second base was to be built near Tsiolkovskiy Crator, on the far side of the moon. This base was not named for the crater it was near, rather it was named the Borman-Lovell-Anders Base, or BLA Base for short. Borman, Lovell, and Anders, of course, were the names of the astronauts in the crew of Apollo 8. Apollo 8 brought the first humans from earth to the vicinity of the moon. The crew of Apollo 8 orbited the moon and gave us some of our most iconic photographs of the planet earth. These three astronauts were the first humans to ever see the far side of the moon first hand. They were the first to see a part of the lunar surface that no human had ever seen before. This is why the base on the far side of the moon — the side never visible from earth — is named after these three individuals.
Given the length of that name, the name was shortened in true government fashion to the BLA Base, and that is the name that stuck in the minds of most people.
BLA base was identical to the Tycho base. It consisted of an identical four pods that were launched, landed, and assembled in the same manner as Tycho base. The four pods were sent to the lunar surface over the course of eleven months from January 1977 until November 1977. As was done for Tycho base, two assembly crews were sent to the base to perform the large scale, and final assembly of the base. These two missions were named BLA 1 and BLA 2.
Given the base was located on the far side of the moon, communications was difficult because there was no way for a radio signal to get from the base to earth without being relayed from another location. During the construction of the base, communications were relayed via the orbiting CSM and the astronaut that was waiting in this CSM. Even so, construction was slower due to the need for relays that weren’t always available given the location of the orbiting CSM.
Before the first research crew could be placed on the base, however, a way for communicating with the base that did not require an orbiting CSM was necessary.
The solution to the long term communications problem was the launch of a pair of very special communications satellites. These satellites were not destined to orbit the earth in either a low earth orbit or a high geosynchronous orbit, as all satellites up until now were located. These satellites were also not placed in lunar orbit. Instead, these two satellites were positioned at the Earth-Moon Lagrangian points L4 and L5. These two points are special points that allow the satellites to be positioned equidistant from both the earth and the moon, in a stationary position relative to the moon. These two satellites were visible to the far side of the moon and the BLA Base. Although from the BLA base, the satellites...