HomeNASAThe Return of the Apollo Form

The Return of the Apollo Form

An Apollo-derived crew module lands within the desert on the finish of a 1975 piloted Mars flyby mission on this NASA idea artwork from 1967. To save lots of weight and quantity, this design would have used solid-propellant rocket motors to cushion touchdown. Picture credit score: NASA

As I kind this, we’re 10 minutes previous Starliner’s return to Earth on the finish of Orbital Flight Check-2 (OFT-2). The six-day Starliner mission to the Worldwide House Station (ISS) marks a giant step within the triumphant return of the enduring broad conical form final employed for piloted spaceflight in the US in July 1975, when the final Apollo spacecraft splashed down within the Pacific Ocean on the finish of the Apollo-Soyuz Check Venture (ASTP) mission. 

Thoughts you, the OFT-2 Starliner spacecraft just isn’t the primary Apollo-shaped capsule to fly since ASTP. I am going to describe a little-known non-U.S. instance on the finish of this put up. 

OFT-2 was, as its designation signifies, Starliner’s second flight. Its first flight, OFT-1 in December 2019, was, nevertheless, a disappointment; software program hassle meant it failed to succeed in ISS. If OFT-2 seems to have been as profitable because it seems, Starliner will grow to be the primary Apollo-shaped spacecraft since ASTP to hold a crew later this 12 months.

One other U.S. Apollo-shaped capsule flew briefly almost eight years in the past. Orion orbited Earth twice with out a crew for about 4 and a half hours and splashed down within the Pacific in December 2014. An Orion spacecraft is anticipated to swing across the Moon throughout an automatic check flight as early as this 12 months. Orion might carry a crew across the Moon by 2025. 

We’ve got plenty of knowledge on the habits of the Apollo form, so it is a pure selection for a sophisticated piloted capsule. The truth is, if NASA had been given the chance, it nearly definitely wouldn’t have deserted the Apollo form. Within the type of Apollo-derived spacecraft, it may need been used to return crews from a second Skylab mission, further lunar missions, or from planetary missions. It would even have been scaled as much as make a piloted Mars lander if NASA’s Sixties piloted Mars mission plans had gone forward. For a time within the Eighties, it was the popular form for a U.S.-built House Station lifeboat.

I wrote a put up about utilizing the Apollo form as the premise for a household of piloted crew and automatic cargo Mars landers:

If NASA had been given the chance, modified Apollo capsules would have set down on land within the Apollo Purposes Program (AAP) within the late Sixties and Nineteen Seventies. The truth is, most superior missions NASA studied that used the Apollo form assumed a swap from splashdowns to land landings. 

Value performed a serious half in that selection. A land touchdown wouldn’t want a big restoration fleet, so could be cheaper. Not dunking the capsule in salt water would scale back corrosion, making money-saving reusability simpler. NASA Affiliate Administrator for Manned House Flight George Mueller mentioned land touchdown and salt corrosion on this put up I wrote in regards to the state of AAP in January 1967:

It is price noting that the Apollo-Soyuz Check Venture mission was not the final time earlier than the December 2014 Orion check {that a} conical capsule with Apollo proportions flew in area. The Soviet Union started improvement of the TKS spacecraft in 1964 as a part of its Almaz area station program. The TKS included an Apollo-shaped crew capsule hooked up to an area station module.

TKS capsules flew in pairs with out crews in December 1976, March 1978, and Could 1979. A TKS capsule hooked up to an area station module first reached orbit through the Cosmos 929 mission in July 1977; the capsule, with out a crew, carried out a land touchdown in central Asia the next month. 

The TKS capsule by no means turned an operational a part of the Soviet area program. The area station module part, against this, turned the premise for area station modules that docked with Salyut 6, Salyut 7, Mir, and the Worldwide House Station.

The Apollo-shaped Boeing Starliner capsule approaches the Worldwide House Station for the primary time throughout Orbital Flight Check-2 on 20 Could 2022. Picture credit score: NASA


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