Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of Apollo Lunar Exploration Missions

Bibliographic Essay

The primary source material for the present history was the large collection of documents from the Apollo project maintained, at this writing (1987), in the History Office at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. More than 31,000 documents collected by the JSC historian over a 20-year period occupy nearly 150 linear meters of shelf space in more than 775 document boxes.

Most of these documents came from the "reading files" of JSC engineers and managers. For the most part they are copies of the letters, memoranda, and telexes generated in the management of the Apollo spacecraft project at JSC. Original documents will not be found in this collection; they constitute "record copies," which by law must be retired to Federal Archives and Records Centers - in the case of JSC, that in Ft. Worth, Texas - whence they may be recalled through the records management office at JSC. Thus the History Office collection is an unofficial "historian's source file" rather than an archive. Besides correspondence, these files contain NASA and contractor reports, working papers, minutes of meetings, and other types of documentation. They have been supplemented over the last 20 years with copies of documents obtained from NASA Headquarters and other NASA centers by the compilers of the Apollo chronology and the authors of Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft. Storage space was always at a premium, and earlier researchers culled the documentation and discarded a considerable amount of material. The basic arrangement of all the Apollo files is chronological, mainly because the documents were in chronological order when they reached the History Office.

By far the largest part of this collection was obtained from the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office at JSC, which directed the design, construction, and testing of the two Apollo spacecraft (command/service module and lunar module). These documents deal largely with the development of the spacecraft themselves, but they contain at least some papers from every organizational element of the project: mission planning and analysis, lunar landing site selection, flight planning, astronaut training, testing programs, etc.

Smaller collections in the historian's source file, separate from the main Apollo chronological file, include:

  • 130 boxes of documents pertaining to individual Apollo missions, from the first unmanned test flight of the spacecraft to the last manned lunar mission, Apollo 17. The collection includes premission planning documents, press kits, flight plans, transcripts of onboard and air-to-ground communications, crew debriefings, mission reports, mission science reports, and flight controller logs. The comprehensiveness of these documents varies from mission to mission.
  • 30 boxes of documents related to the planning and execution of the scientific experiments conducted during the Apollo missions, in earth and lunar orbit and on the lunar surface.
  • 18 boxes of documents on the construction and operation of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory at JSC, from 1964 to 1978, and 1 box relating to the establishment of the Lunar Science Institute.
  • 22 boxes of miscellaneous documentation on the command/service module and the lunar module, including systems handbooks, operating manuals, and photographic documentation of individual spacecraft.
  • 7 boxes of documents on the lunar landing research vehicle and the lunar landing training vehicle, covering development and operations.
  • A small collection of documents on astronaut training, mostly training schedules for specific missions but including outlines of early training programs.
  • JSC Apollo Spacecraft Project Office weekly reports, 1962-1966.
  • Apollo program quarterly status reports, 1962-1968.
  • Apollo working papers and Apollo experience reports. Working papers document the data and assumptions on which mission plans were constructed; experience reports, written after the program was completed, document problems and solutions and lessons learned from the Apollo program.
  • Apollo feasibility study proposals (1960) and contractor reports on the feasibility studies, 1960-1961.
  • Audio tapes of oral history interviews with more than 300 participants in the Apollo program - NASA and contractor personnel - taken in 1969-1970, plus transcripts of about two-thirds of the tapes.
  • A complete collection of Apollo mission reports, plus an Apollo program summary report, containing most of the technical data on each mission.
The most important part of the program not represented in the History Office files is the biomedical. JSC's Life Sciences Directorate has compiled its own historical files, which are presently housed in the Historical Research Center of the Houston Academy of Medicine-Texas Medical Center library, 1133 M. D. Anderson Blvd., Houston, Texas 77030, where they may be consulted by qualified researchers.

The chronological arrangement of the Apollo files makes an index almost indispensable, and part of the historian's task under the contract which supported the writing of this volume was the preparation of an index. Each document in the Apollo files is individually entered in a computer-stored index, except for occasional folders or boxes that were indexed as a unit (e.g., a series of periodic reports). The index entry contains the date of the document, its originator, its title or subject, the name of the person who signed it, and its location (box number) in the file. Using remote terminals in the History Office, the user can rapidly search the entire file in a variety of ways (e.g., by date, originator, subject, or combinations of these categories) and obtain printouts of the retrieved entries. A printout of the complete index, available in the History Office, include tabulations of the number of documents by originator and by subject. This can be useful for quick surveys of the files or for manual searches.

A guide to the Apollo files, available for use in the JSC History Office, includes a more detailed description of the indexing system and an inventory of the Apollo collection. The JSC History Office does not have adequate full-time staff to provide extensive assistance or to conduct document searches, but those who wish to use the files on site can be given some guidance. Arrangements to use the JSC History Office files can be made through the History Office Coordinator, Management Analysis Office, mail code BY, NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas 77058.

The value of this documentation is highly variable, as might be expected from the manner in which it was collected. On the whole it represents topics that were important to the Apollo spacecraft program manager at JSC, which encompassed much but by no means all of the Apollo program. More than three-fourths of this material in the Apollo chronological collection originated at JSC or at NASA Headquarters; more than one-third of it is related to four parts of the Apollo project that were the principal concern of JSC: the command and service modules, the lunar module, mission planning and analysis, and test facilities, procedures, and results. In other areas it is sketchy, as in the workings of the Astronaut Office and details of astronaut training.

The chronological arrangement of the files is the major impediment to their use. Correspondence on any given topic is not correlated, except in cases where a secretary collected and copied important background correspondence in a particular case. The index is extremely useful, but it is only a "first cut," limited by the time and funds available for its preparation; cross-referencing, for example, was not attempted. Prior letters, memos, etc., cited in documents can be checked against the index but often are not in the files. Where earlier correspondence is attached, the index entry includes a notation to that effect, but the attached documents are not indexed at the primary entry.

The other major collections (Missions, Lunar Science, and Lunar Receiving Laboratory) were more useful in preparing this history. Documentation of the individual missions is extensive, though variable from mission to mission. It usually includes pre- and postmission documentation, such as flight plans and mission reports; transcripts of inflight communications; press briefings conducted before, during, and after the flights; crew debriefings; and flight directors' logs. Mission files also contain a great deal of material provided to the press by contractors as well as official documentation. The science-related documents seem to have come from the reading files of JSC's director of science and applications, and the science side of the lunar program is well documented, as is the evolution and operation of the lunar receiving laboratory.

Other resources available to researchers at JSC include similar but less voluminous collections for other manned space flight projects (Mercury, Gemini, Skylab, and Apollo-Soyuz). These are housed in the Woodson Research Center (WRC) of the Fondren Library at Rice University in Houston. Under a custodial agreement between Rice and JSC, JSC retains title to the documents while WRC is responsible for their care and preservation and makes them available to qualified researchers. WRC has prepared guides to these collections and is in the process of indexing them in a system compatible with the Apollo index. Arrangements to use these collections can be made through the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University, P.0. Box 1892, Houston, Texas 77001.

The Lunar and Planetary Institute, located adjacent to JSC, has a large technical library devoted to lunar and planetary science. Most of the LPI's holdings are technical in nature, e.g., lunar sample information catalogs, excerpts from transcripts of air-to-ground communications relating to lunar sample collection and documentation. It has a few useful Apollo documents, including collections of minutes of meetings of the Apollo Site Selection Board, 1966-1972, and the Science Working Panel, 1970-72.

Besides these primary documents, the JSC History Office holds a large collection of important secondary sources. This includes a near-complete series of congressional authorization hearings, plus other congressional documents, such as staff reports and a few appropriations hearings, for the period 1958-1972. Another useful source is the weekly publication called Current News, a daily compilation of clippings from the national press related to space programs put out by the Office of Public Affairs at NASA Headquarters. For the space flight historian Current News serves as a kind of reader's guide to press coverage of major events and an indicator of the state of public opinion concerning the space program. Most of the references to newspaper articles in the notes in this volume were taken from Current News, supplemented where possible by consultation of the files of important newspapers available in local libraries.

Oral history interviews with key participants in the Apollo program provided details and insights not often available in the formal documentation. Many of the 300-odd interviews in the JSC History Office files were taken while Apollo was still in progress, many of them before the first lunar landing, and are almost "real-time" discussions of the problems encountered during the program. These interviews were taken by earlier historians with different questions in mind, and consequently they were not as useful for the present work as they might have been. The present author, working more than 10 years after Apollo ended, found fewer of those participants easily accessible within the constraints of his contract but was able to record interviews with a few of them. Their recollections frequently lacked detail because of the passage of time but sometimes yielded information on attitudes and relationships that were useful in reconstructing how and why things happened as they did.

The History Office at Headquarters has a large collection of material on all aspects of the space program. Its holdings are described in History at NASA, NASA HHR-50 (Washington, June 1986), available from the History Office, mail code XH, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. 20546. The official files of Headquarters program and project offices have been retired to the Federal Archives and Records Center at Suitland, Maryland. They can be recalled through the History Office in Headquarters, which has an inventory of these holdings. For the scientific aspects of Apollo the papers of Homer E. Newell, associate administrator for space science and applications from 1961 to 1967, were most useful. Newell's own inventory of these documents is more informative than most. Copies of pertinent documents from the Newell files were added to the JSC collection by the present author.

Most of the secondary literature on Project Apollo deals with the accomplishment of the primary objective, the first lunar landing. Considerably less has been published on the second phase of the project, lunar exploration.

The classic study of the origin of Project Apollo is John M. Logsdon's The Decision to Go to the' Moon: Project Apollo and the National Interest (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1970), which deals in detail with the domestic and international political climate in which President John F. Kennedy formulated his challenge to the nation to send people to the moon and back "before this decade is out." An important recent effort to set the' entire manned space flight program in a global (and internal American) political context is Walter A. McDougall's . . . The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1985).

The role of Congress, particularly the House of Representatives space committee, is well covered in Toward the Endless Frontier: History of the Committee on Science Technology, 1959-79, (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office,-1980), written by Ken Hechler, a Ph.D. historian and member of the committee for 18 years. Other accounts of the manned space flight program include John Noble Wilford, We Reach the Moon (New York: Bantam Books, 1969); Hugo Young, Bryan Silcock, and Peter Dunn, Journey to Tranquility (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., 1970); and Richard S. Lewis, Appointment on the Moon: The Inside Story of America's Space Venture (New York: Viking Press, 1968). Lewis's The Voyages of Apollo: The Exploration of the Moon (New York: Quadrangle Press, 1974) covers some of the same ground as the present volume, discussing each of the Apollo lunar landing missions and its scientific results. Henry S. F. Cooper, space correspondent for The New Yorker magazine, has written some good journalistic accounts of the Apollo project in Apollo on the Moon (New York: Dial Press, 1969) and Moon Rocks (New York: Dial Press, 1970).

Apollo's two accidents, the fatal AS-204 spacecraft fire and the aborted mission of Apollo 13, were the subjects of popular books. The tragedy of Apollo 204 is covered in Murder on Pad 34, by Eric Bergaust (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1968), a sensationalized book that is far from objective. Henry Cooper's 13: The Flight That Failed (New York: Dial Press, 1973) is an hour-by-hour account of the near-disastrous flight of Apollo 13. Detailed accounts of these grim milestones, including the reports of NASA's investigating boards, are found in published hearings of House committees: U.S. Congress, House Subcommittee on NASA Oversight, Investigation into Apollo 204 Accident, 90th Cong., 1st sess. (hereafter 90/1) (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1967) (3 vols.) , and House Committee on Science and Astronautics, The Apollo 13 Accident, 91/2 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1970).

NASA's own publications comprise the most complete historical treatments of manned space flight projects now available. A basic chronological reference, based largely on journalistic sources, is the annual series starting with Astronautics and Aeronautics, 1963: Chronology on Science, Technology, and Policy, which now covers the years 1963-1977. Chronologies of individual projects include James M. Grimwood, Project Mercury: A Chronology, NASA SP-4001 (Washington, 1963); James M. Grimwood and Barton C. Hacker, with Peter Vorzimmer, Project Gemini Technology and Operations: A Chronology, NASA SP-4203 (Washington, 1969); and The Apollo Spacecraft: A Chronology, NASA SP-4009 (vol. I, by Ivan D. Ertel and Mary Louise Morse, 1969; vol. II, by Mary Louise Morse and Jean Karnahan Bays, 1973; vol. III, by Courtney G. Brooks and Ivan D. Ertel, 1976; vol. IV, by Courtney G. Brooks, Roland W. Newkirk, and Ivan D. Ertel, 1978). These chronologies, based largely on NASA documentation, were compiled during research on project histories.

NASA has published histories of all the projects that contributed to the accomplishment of the lunar landing. Loyd S. Swenson, Jr., James M. Grimwood, and Charles C. Alexander, This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, NASA SP-4201 (Washington, 1966), gives a full account of the early years of the space age and of NASA along with the development of Project Mercury itself. The second manned space flight project, Gemini, is treated in Barton C. Hacker and James

M. Grimwood, On the Shoulders of Titans: A History of Project Gemini, NASA SP-4203 (Washington, 1977), which focuses much more narrowly on the project itself. The Saturn launch vehicles and the launch facilities built at Kennedy Space Center are treated in Roger E. Bilstein, Stages to Saturn: A Technological History of Apollo/Saturn Launch Vehicles, NASA SP-4206 (Washington, 1980), and Charles D. Benson and William Barnaby Faherty, Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations, NASA SP- 4204 (Washington, 1978).

Development of the spacecraft for lunar missions is covered in Courtney G. Brooks, James M. Grimwood, and Loyd S. Swenson, Jr., Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft, NASA SP-4205 (Washington, 1979), which takes the Apollo story through the first lunar landing and foreshadows the subject matter of the present volume in an epilogue. Chariots concentrates on spacecraft and mission planning and deals only sketchily with the scientific side of the project.

Besides the official histories, NASA has published Apollo Expeditions to the Moon, Edgar M. Cortright, ed., NASA SP-350 (Washington, 1975), a collection of essays written by many of the prominent participants in Apollo. This profusely illustrated volume is a good overview of the program, from conception to completion, for a nontechnical audience.

NASA's space science program is well covered in Homer E. Newell, Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science, NASA SP-4211 (Washington, 1980). Several of Newell's chapters are required reading for anyone interested in the complexities of cooperation between government agencies and outside researchers. Newell speaks with authority, having been NASA's director of space science and applications from 1962 to 1967. Although he does not discuss manned space projects in detail, Newell deals with the problems of coordinating Gemini and Apollo with the scientific community outside the space agency and with the highly independent Office of Manned Space Flight and its Manned Spacecraft Center. Some of the same questions are covered in the context of a specific project by R. Cargill Hall in Lunar Impact: A History of Project Ranger, NASA SP-4210 (Washington, 1977). Much of the unmanned scientific exploration of the moon was done at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Clayton R. Koppes's JPL and the American Space Program: A History of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1982) is an excellent source on these projects as well as on the management of space science programs. The unmanned Lunar Orbiter project, specifically designed to support Apollo, is the subject of Bruce K. Byers's Destination Moon: A History of the Lunar Orbiter Program, NASA TM X-3487 (Washington, 1977).

The Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences was the official source of advice and recommendations to NASA from the outside scientific community. Four publications contain the major recommendations concerning the Apollo science program: A Review of Space Research, report of the summer study conducted at the State University of Iowa, National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council Publication 1079 (Washington, 1962); Space Research: Directions for the Future, report of the summer study at Woods Hole, Mass., NAS-NRC Publication 1403 (Washington, 1966); NASA 1965 Summer Conference on Lunar Exploration and Science (Falmouth study), NASA SP-88 (Washington, 1965); and 1967 Summer Study of Lunar Science and Exploration (Santa Cruz study), NASA SP-157 (Washington, 1967). The general question of NASA's relations with its outside scientific advisory groups has been examined in two monographs: Charles M. Atkins, "NASA and the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences," NASA Historical Note HHN-62, 1966, and Pamela Mack, "NASA and the Scientific Community: NASA-PSAC Interactions in the Early 1960s," (unpublished), 1978. An interesting examination of the relationships between government and the scientific community generally is Daniel S. Greenberg's The Politics of Pure Science (New York: New American Library, 1967).

To date, the only NASA insiders to have published accounts of their experiences are several astronauts. Their stories are anecdotal but nonetheless worth reading for insights into the astronauts' side of the manned projects. The best and the most serious of these memoirs is Michael Collins's Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974). Others include R. Walter Cunningham's The All-American Boys (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1977), and Brian T. O'Leary's The Making of an Ex-Astronaut (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1971). O'Leary, an astronomer picked in the second group of scientist-astronauts in 1966, discovered that he had no taste for flying airplanes and resigned from the program a few months after entering it, which somewhat vitiates his claim to be an "ex-astronaut." His book is highly critical of NASA's treatment of scientists in the astronaut program.

Notably lacking in the literature of lunar exploration is any summary of the scientific results of Apollo. This is hardly surprising, for the data from the lunar samples and the emplaced instruments were voluminous and complex, and since only six sites were sampled, extrapolations to the moon as a whole are not likely to be conclusive. The technical literature is staggering in volume. Papers presented at the first eight annual Lunar Science Conferences fill three large volumes each, and more has been published in the scientific journals. The Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston maintains a computerized bibliography of lunar and planetary science containing some 23,000 entries, of which it is estimated that half deal with lunar science.

It is likely to be years before any consensus emerges among scientists as to the details of the formation and evolution of the moon. Even so, two scientists have undertaken to summarize the gross features of the moon's geological history on the basis of the Apollo data: S. Ross Taylor, who participated in the analysis of the lunar samples, has published Lunar Science: A Post-Apollo View (New York: Pergamon Press, Inc., 1975), and Harrison H. Schmitt, the only scientist to get to the moon in Apollo, who presented a summary to an international symposium in 1974, published in The Soviet-American Conference on Cosmochemistry of the Moon and Planets, edited by John H. Pomeroy and Norman J. Hubbard, NASA SP-370 (Washington, 1977). Scientific conclusions recorded in the present volume were taken largely from these two sources.

Congressional documents are useful sources for historians of the space program. The Space Act of 1958 required NASA to obtain authorizing legislation for its appropriations, and in annual hearings before House and Senate subcommittees NASA officials summarized the agency's progress during the past year and its plans for the coming year, usually in great detail. Besides these published hearings, reports on specific aspects of the programs were frequently prepared by committee staffs. Especially useful for the lunar science program are the annual authorization hearings before the House subcommittees on manned space flight and space science and applications for fiscal years 1965 through 1969.

From 1958 to 1969 NASA submitted a Semiannual Report to Congress summarizing accomplishments of the past six months. A broader view of the nation's space program, encompassing the activities of all government agencies conducting programs in space, is found in the annual Aeronautics and Space Report of the President, compiled until 1972 by the National Aeronautics and Space Council and thereafter by NASA.

The author conducted interviews with several participants in the Apollo program and made use of interviews taken by researchers for earlier history projects and filed in the JSC History Office. The major utility of these interviews was to provide details that were sometimes not recorded in documents and to provide explanation of technical points that were not clear. Occasionally they supplied insights from an individual's peculiar point of view.

Persons interviewed by the author:

Alan L. Bean, April 10, 1984, Houston;

Eugene A. Cernan, April 6, 1984, Houston;

Noel W. Hinners, March 16, 1984, Washington;

Joseph P. Kerwin, March 29, 1985, Houston;

Robert O. Piland, October 9, 1984, Houston;

Paul E. Purser, March 10, 1983, Houston;

Harrison H. Schmitt, May 30, 1984, Houston;

John R. Sevier, April 24, 1986, Houston;

Eugene M. Shoemaker, March 17, 1984, Houston;

Donald K. Slayton, October 15, 1984, Houston.

Interviews taken by researchers on earlier projects:

William O. Armstrong, interviewed by Ivan D. Ertel and James M. Grimwood, January 24, 1967;

Alex J. Dessler, interviewed by Loyd S. Swenson, Jr., May 26, 1971 (not transcribed);

John H. Glenn, Jr., interviewed by Robert B. Merrifield, March 15, 1958;

Wilmot N. Hess, interviewed by Robert B. Merrifield, November 7, 1968;

Elbert A. King, Jr., interviewed by Loyd S. Swenson, Jr., May 29, 1971 (not transcribed);

Wendell W. Mendell, interviewed by Loyd S. Swenson, Jr., February 11, 1971;

Russell L. Schweickart, interviewed by Peter Vorzimmer, May 1, 1967;

Donald K. Slayton, interviewed by Robert B. Merrifield, October 17, 1967;

Paul J. Weitz, interviewed by Charles D. Benson, August 19, 1975.