The Flight of Apollo 15 MIRACLE MISSION INTO SPACE
George L Johnson
The Flight of Apollo 15 MIRACLE MISSION INTO SPACE Apollo 15 involved the most complex moon exploration yet undertaken by the United States. It came approximately ten years after the first manned space flight.
IN THE WAKE of the recent Russian space tragedy, American astronauts have completed what President Nixon described as the most ambitious exploration yet undertaken in space. The Apollo 15 mission which began on July 26 was plagued with irritating minor problems which almost caused the $445 million project to be scrubbed. However, after a brief test firing of the main rocket engine, the green light was given for Endeavour and Falcon to head for the moon. On Friday, July 30, after another minor incident with the Falcon moon taxi, astronauts David Scott and James Irwin landed on target in the Hadley-Apennines region of the moon. During their record 67-hour stay on the surface of the moon, Scott and Irwin conducted a total of 16 scientific experiments — one less than the other three Apollo landings combined. And with the help of their ingenious moon buggy they were able to explore much more area than the previous astronauts.
Scientific Aspects of the Mission
While on the moon David Scott drilled into the moon's surface and implanted heat flow tubes. These gave scientists back on earth the first temperature readings ever taken beneath the lunar surface. During their first motorized ride on the surface of the moon the astronauts discovered a fist-sized rock which they hope will prove to be a chunk of the original moon. Scientists believe that the value of this find alone was worth the millions spent on the mission. Other experiments gave scientists indications that the lighter areas of the moon are rich in aluminum, and the darker parts in iron. Apollo 15 findings have also confirmed several other theories:
- the moon evidently developed rapidly and grew very rapidly. - the inside of the moon is cold and the outside hot, in reverse of the case of most planets. - the moon has a different chemical nature than the earth and probably did not break away from the earth, as some have postulated.
According to one scientist: "Apollo 15 represents a giant step in our understanding of the solar system. Pieces of the puzzle are now falling into place." While his companions were busily making newspaper headlines on the moon's surface, Command Module pilot Al Worden was quietly orbiting the moon snapping some of the best resolution photographs of the moon to date — nearly two miles of film — and conducting experiments that may prove to be of more value than those conducted on the lunar surface. According to Dr. James Arnold, a principal investigator on one of the orbital experiments, "The surface geology is more spectacular, and I don't want to take anything away from it, but the orbital sciences can certainly compare and may in the long run be more significant."
The Long Trip Home
After their record stay on the moon's surface, and a record breaking time spent outside the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module), the world watched in awe as the astronauts launched their Lunar Module back into moon orbit. The color television coverage of the event came via the camera mounted on the Lunar Rover, which was left behind on the moon's surface. The rover was only one of the many items discarded by the astronauts. Actually, an incredible $80 million worth of equipment was abandoned on the moon. Al Worden, the forgotten man of the mission, took a twenty minute walk in deep space on the way home. The walk — the first conducted out of earth orbit — was not conducted as a space stunt. It was vitally necessary for the success of the mission. Worden had to retrieve two film canisters from the service module, since the module would be jettisoned and destroyed while entering the earth's atmosphere.
WHY the Space Effort?
As they neared the earth, the astronauts conducted an in-flight news conference. During the conference Commander Scott justified the expense of the mission by saying: "I think man must extend himself, the new frontiers must be opened in order for us to propagate mankind, and I think this is one way to do it. "I feel that the taxpayers got probably — in fact I hope they got more than their money's worth out of the flight. And if you see the size of the film magazines that Al brought in yesterday from those cameras, then you will see that we have, indeed, a great deal of data." This data, he continued, would not "only enhance the progress of science but it will reach the common man on the street directly by the by-products of what we learned." President Nixon, in a statement released after Apollo 15 began its mission, was somewhat more philosophical in his reasons for the manned moon mission. "Even as it reflects man's restless quest for his own future, it also reenacts another of the deeper rituals of his bones — not only the compulsion of the human spirit to know where we are going, but the primal need in man's blood to know from what we have come." He then added: "We hope, by this journey, to know better the origin of earth, the moon and the other planets. We hope to understand more of the mysteries of God's great work. And in this seeking, we hope to understand more of man himself." The desire for a better understanding of man and his purpose for being is a good thing; however one can't help wondering if we are looking in the right place. Surely there are some who would argue the point. And the quest for scientific data and knowledge of space has certainly been a boost to man's meagre store of information about our solar system and the universe. Knowledge of itself is a good thing — and the right use of knowledge a virtue. But MISUSE of knowledge is dangerous! And it is this prospect of MISUSING scientific knowledge that raises questions about the U. S. / Soviet space race. Let's not forget the real underlying reasons that precipitated the space contest, so aptly described by Dr. Wernher Von Braun: "Whether we like it or not, we are engaged in a worldwide popularity contest with the Soviets … I do not think we can dismiss this grim competition as a weight-lifting contest between rival rocket teams. When the whole world sits in the audience and the heavens are a stage, pride and prestige are real issues. … "And, he added, "I am convinced that he who controls the open space around us is in a position to control the earth." Those were the real issues at the onset of the space race. Have we now entered a new era where the spectre of militarism in space is no longer a threat — an era where the United States and her allies no longer see Communism and Soviet military might as a threat to democratic process? Is the world at peace? Is the cold war over? Obviously not. America's costly ten-year goal to put a man on the moon, and Russia's massive space program, are both a direct result of the absence of world peace. Russia would like to control earth through superiority in space. The U. S. intends to prevent such a thing from ever happening. The record is obvious.
U.S. Thrust Into Space Race
On October 4, 1957, America was thrust into the space race by the faint "beep-beep" of the earth's first artificial satellite. The feat would have been received with great praise and celebration, except for one very disturbing fact: The satellite had a "made in Russia" label. The panic-stricken American government immediately began to turn its attention to its own fledgling civilian space effort. After several failures the U. S. space project was turned over to the Army, a move that former President Eisenhower had been reluctant to make earlier, for fear that it would escalate the arms race. Now, however, there was no choice; it was either dive into the space race with both feet, or allow the Soviet Union to become the undisputed masters of space — and as masters of space, the possible conquerors of the earth. The space program now became vital to our national security, and the cold war was carried into outer space. The era of "astropolitics" became a reality. Now, after 14 years, the "lead" in the race has changed hands several times and there seems to be no end in sight. Even though America has surged ahead in the exploration of the moon's surface, experts feel that the nation cannot rest on its laurels. One stupendous space feat by Russia could alter that position. While the two super powers struggle to gain psychological and military advantage over each other, the future of all mankind hangs in the balance. As long as the cold war exists, man will continue to spend the earth's precious resources in a dizzying arms race, in hope of avoiding the ultimate catastrophe — all-out nuclear war. A World War III could literally be the "war to end all war" — a war that neither side would win, and all humanity would lose.