Long-time readers of this blog will recall that occasionally I “reintroduce” it. I do this because its underlying concept is sufficiently strange to confuse some people. Beyond Apollo is a space history blog, but with a difference; it looks at space plans that did not happen.
The plans that did not make it often represent aspirations. When set in context, they help to flesh out space history as it actually happened. A 1969 plan for Apollo 16 through 20 landing sites and experiments, for example, throws new light on the winnowing process and efforts to salvage advanced exploration capabilities that occurred after Congress, the White House, and NASA itself began to cut back the Apollo Program and its planned successor, the Apollo Applications Program, a process that commenced at least two years before Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon in July 1969.
Beyond Apollo sometimes illustrates things that are not very pleasant. Concepts that might have moved us forward have often been shut out because of rivalries between NASA centers. Proposals that sought to avoid trouble before it happened (for example, Shuttle redesign or replacement plans) have often been ignored or actively torpedoed. Pioneering individuals have been deprived of the credit which is their due. Geopolitics have as often as not replaced scientific or technical merit in the selection and execution of space goals. NASA and its contractors have on occasion been wildly optimistic, or have assumed a blank check for their proposals, helping to undermine the credibility of space exploration as a whole.
On the other hand, some of the plans that did not make it (or, at least, have not made it yet) show breathtaking ingenuity and foresight. Some evoke what someone once called a “sense of wonder.”
A proposal to survey Saturn’s glorious and complex rings close-up over a period of years is one example; a study of a a prolonged Galileo spacecraft-style tour of the mysterious Uranus moon system is another. Some might disagree, but I would argue that plans to explore via telepresence and teleoperated systems throughout the Solar System should raise goosebumps, for they promise to reduce cost, pioneer important technology with valuable Earth-based applications, and, when coupled with propulsion just a little more advanced than is currently available, enable meaningful, comprehensive astronaut exploration of worlds throughout our Solar System.
Coming up soon on Beyond Apollo: a look at Mariner 2, the first successful planetary probe (it flew by Venus on this day in 1962) and the advanced Mariner missions it replaced; a survey of candidate equatorial Earth launch sites designed to maximize payload mass in Earth orbit; a description of a mission to tour the ancient, dark, and mysterious trojan asteroids of Jupiter; a Sun probe plan; several unusual Space Shuttle designs, most of which helped to shape the basic design that flew from 1981 to 2011; the vexatious history of ion drive; an in-depth multi-part look at the U.S. failure to launch a mission to Comet Halley; plans for outposts and observatories at the Earth-moon and Earth-Sun L points; and, much, more more. I hope that you’ll check back regularly for new posts.