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. Welcome to Belitopia.
Project Tycho was the name of the program to create the first long term habitat on the lunar surface. The United States worked hard and fast in order to create this habitat, so that we could continue our exploration of the lunar surface after the end of Apollo 20. After all, the Russians couldn’t be far behind. For the first time since it began, the United States was finally leading in the space race against the Soviet Union. They intended to stay in the lead.
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 the past 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 the relatively short duration spot landings of single Apollo landing missions, which could only provide them with relatively short stays on the lunar surface. Instead, they turned their sight 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. The habitation would be by regular astronauts, but also by astronaut scientists that could study the lunar surface in greater detail over an extended period of time.
How long of a period of time? The goal was to enable stays on the lunar surface of upwards of eight months by any single crew, and provide a total lunar habitation of five years at a single site on the lunar surface by multiple crews. Between the two planned sites, it would create the opportunity for nearly seven years of continuous lunar habitation and exploration.
This would give astronauts and scientists plenty of time to study long term effects of living on the lunar surface, and time to study the surface of the moon in substantially greater detail. The desire was to prove feasibility for a permanent presence on the lunar surface and provide evidence that such a presence can be financially viable long term.
A side benefit — but not an insignificant additional benefit — was to establish a near permanent presence to fend off the Russians from claiming ownership of extensive parts of the lunar surface. Thus, lengthening the American’s lead in the space race.
This episode is about the creation and habitation of two long duration lunar bases, the Tycho Base and the BLA Base, on the surface of the moon. These bases are not intended to be permanent presence, but provide a long term presence in order to make a permanent presence in the future possible. In this manner, they are very similar to the role that Skylab played in earth orbit before the creation of the first permanent crewed space station was possible.
This is what happened in the world of Belitopia.
What follows is a fictional documentary about these lunar bases. The documentary takes place in the world of Belitopia in the year 2040, 65 years after these bases were first developed. This documentary, titled “Our World in Space”, describes the construction, deployment, assembly, and operation of these lunar bases in greater detail. This documentary is presented as a historical record of past events.
While fiction, it’s based on much thought and consideration on what it would take to make these bases possible. This documentary is about humankind’s first attempt to live for long durations of time, on the surface of another astronomical body. It’s about humankind’s early start at colonization of the moon. 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”.
Shortly after the end of the Apollo lunar landing missions, America was looking for the next step in lunar exploration. After all, they had beat the Soviet Union to the moon, but now they needed to keep their dominant leadership position on lunar exploration, or risk losing everything. In the early 1970’s, it was still believed that the Soviet Union was attempting to land on the moon, and the United States must continue to increase their lunar presence in order to stay ahead of the Soviet Union. Little did the Americans know, but the Soviet Union was no longer focused on the moon. But, that little fact eluded the Americans, and they trudged on anyways.
The next step on the way toward lunar dominance was to leverage the same Apollo technology that brought the first Americans to the moon, to build a larger lunar presence. To that end, the Apollo Lunar Base program was created.
Founded as part of the Apollo Applications Program, the Apollo Lunar Base program, or ALB for short, strove to create the first long term presence for humans on the lunar surface. The goal was great. Humans…namely Americans…were to spend nearly five years on the lunar surface, spread between several distinct crewed missions to the base. Given that the longest amount of time on the lunar surface up until this point was the 21 day stay of Apollo 20, extending this to a five year habitation would be quite a feat.
But that was the goal of the Apollo Lunar Base program. In all, two bases were planned. The first base. Which was also the primary one was to be Tycho base. Tycho base was to be located near Tycho crater in order to explore the geological environment of that area.
Tycho crater, as you remember, was the landing site of Apollo 20. It was also the crater made famous as the 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.
Besides being a location filled with geological wealth, it was the perfect location for the first lunar base, as it would create incredible interest and buzz on earth. 2001 A Space Odyssey, which came out in 1968, was extremely popular in the modern culture of the time. This movie is what gave hope to America for what a realistic future in space could be like, and it certainly looked like that future was starting to come true. Building a base at Tycho crater was part of that odyssey, and would bring huge PR benefit to the program.
But, in addition to the PR benefit, it was believed that Tycho crater provided the easiest access to the resources we thought were available on the lunar surface. After all, it was Apollo 20 that provided the initial research into locations for the future base, and Tycho crater was seen as providing a veritable goldmine of research opportunities.
The lunar base itself was a series of four “pods”. These four pods were connected via short tunnels between them in a straight line format with two pods acting as the end caps of the line. Each pod was approximately rectangular in surface area, and had a flat underbelly with a curved top. They looked very similar to a Hostess Ho Ho.
Each module was 45 feet long and 15 feet wide. They stood 12 feet tall. Each had a single floor where humans could walk inside in a shirt sleeve environment. The habitation area in most of the modules had an inside height of 9 feet. The extra room above the ceiling was used for storage.
The tunnels were simple connecting tubes large enough for a human to walk upright inside them, and wide enough to pass another person going the opposite direction, but they contained no room to store equipment nor material.
Each pod was loosely similar in technology to the module used in Skylab as well as the habitation module used during the Venus Flyby. However similar, the actual construction and physical structure of the module was very different from the Skylab and Venus Flyby modules.
First, the Skylab and Venus modules were designed to work in zero-G, while the lunar pods worked in the standard 1/6th G gravity environment of the lunar surface. This meant a complete redesign of the interior and a completely new and unique set of living challenges for the crew in the pod. Equipment didn’t float, it had weight and fell to the floor. But heavy equipment could still be easily moved around inside with little effort. Humans inside the pod would walk upright and normal, unlike in the space based modules where they could simply float from one location to another. Yet while they could walk upright, they had to get use to the 1/6G so that they did not put too much spring into their step, and bang into the ceiling every time they moved suddenly. Humans would live and work in a shirt sleeve environment in 1/6 G for the very first time in history. These new ways of living and dealing with the environment were part of what was going to be investigated on the lunar surface. Each of the four pods that comprised the base had a separate primary purpose.
Pod #4 also had an emergency egress airlock, along with the storage for emergency space suits. If the crew was cut off from the main egress on the southern end of the base — in the utility pod — during an emergency, they could put on the emergency space suits and exit out the emergency airlock on this northern end. Each pod could be shut off from each other by sealed doors, so that an air pressure drop in one pod would not be fatal to the crew in the rest of the base.
At night, when the crew slept, pod #4, the living and eating quarters, was sealed off from the rest of the base. That way if an emergency occurred during the night [background: emergency klaxon— “egress” alarm] and any of the three other pods lost air pressure, the sleeping crew would still be in a pressurized area that had access to emergency equipment and emergency egress capabilities.
Besides the four pods, there was equipment and experiments that were kept outside the base. If any equipment did not need to be in a pressurized environment, or if they didn’t need regular access from the crew, they were kept outside the pressurized habitat to conserve valuable pressurized space within the base. Also outside were two rovers. These were enhanced versions of the lunar rovers used during the Apollo lunar landings. They were the same standard open air design, and the astronauts had to wear their space suits while driving the vehicles. They were enhanced for longer duration use and for simple recharging at the base.
There was a desire to a have pressurized vehicle for use on the base, allowing long duration trips away from the base while the occupants were in a shirt sleeve environment. However, the vehicle was still being designed at the time the base was construct, and it was many years away from being created. As such, this vehicle was not available for use on Tycho base.
Each pod was sent to the lunar surface independently on a separate unmanned Saturn V rocket. Four Saturn V rockets were used to deliver the entire base to the lunar surface. These four unmanned missions were named Tycho A, Tycho B, Tycho C, and Tycho D. They occurred between the period of Nov 1, 1974, until July 1, 1975.
The pods were landed via remote control from Houston. They were landed as close as possible to the desired location for the base. The goal was to land within 1000 feet of the desired base location.
The pinpoint landing goal was difficult to plan for, but was considered possible and reasonable. This was due to the extra-ordinary success the later Apollo lunar landings had at making pinpoint landings. Apollo 11 landed wherever it could…but a goal of all the future Apollo landings was to improve the accuracy of the landing to a specific location, and each Apollo landing got better at making that accurate landing. This was needed for the stated goals of each of those individual missions, but it also gave NASA the confidence that landing the base station pods in such a pinpoint manner was also possible.
Once on the lunar surface, the pods were equipped with landing legs and side thrusters. An assembly crew dispatched from earth to the lunar surface could then use the thrusters to maneuver each pod into the desired final position next to the other pods on the lunar surface. The thrusters, under the control of a human astronaut on the lunar surface, could move the pod up to a quarter mile along the surface, yet position the pods within a couple feet of each other. This had to be handled via an astronaut on the lunar surface, because they could move the pod much more accurately than could be accomplished remotely from earth, given the communications lag between earth and moon.
Once the four pods were in the desired location, the crew then swept the area under the pods to remove small pebbles and other uneven material. The landing legs then folded upwards and set the pod down on the lunar surface. The pods were now permanently positioned on the surface. Tunnels were then installed connecting the pods to each other before the base was pressurized.
Two separate assembly crews were used to assemble the base. The first assembly crew, mission name Tycho 1, did the large-scale assembly of moving the pods into place. They also connected the pods, connected the generators and setup the electrical systems, and pressurized the pods. This crew was on the lunar surface for only 10 days, and lived in their LM during this time. They carried an lunar rover in the LM, and they left that behind to serve as one of the two rovers used by the base.
The second assembly crew, mission name Tycho 2, arrived later, and they were responsible for the internal setup of the base. They setup the living facilities. They setup the research facilities. They setup the control center. They spent 17 days total on the lunar surface. For the first 5 days, they lived in their LM. On day six, they moved into the activated base to live for the duration of their stay. They carried another lunar rover in their LM, and left that behind as the second of the two rovers used by the base.
The assembly of the base on the lunar surface occurred after the four pods were delivered. This took place during August and September of 1975, and the base was finally ready for long term habitation.
After that, Tycho Base was completely setup and it was ready for long term occupancy by the research missions. The first research mission, Tycho 3, arrived on December 1st, 1975, and stayed for nearly seven weeks.
This is the end of part 1 of the Apollo Moon Bases. In the next episode, we will continue the mock documentary talking about the complex lunar transport system of missions used to shuttle crews to and from the Tycho base. We will also discuss the regrettable creation of the LM Graveyard, along with the emergency procedures that were designed to rescue the base inhabitants in case of a serious base malfunction or accident, and we’ll discuss the one time those procedures were put to a test in a real emergency and the outcome of that emergency. Finally, we’ll talk about the second base, the BLA Base, that was created on the far side of the moon, along with the extraordinary set of satellites that were put in unique positions in order to allow communications with that base that was outside of the view of earth.
But while you are waiting for part 2, come take a look at our website. On the website, we have diagrams of what the Tycho base looks like, along with mission dates and summaries, along with a preview of the lunar transportation system put in place to transport crews to and from the lunar bases. If you enjoy learning about this endeavor, you’ll appreciate this information on the website. Please go to belitopia.com/lunarbase .
After the Apollo lunar landings, it was time for the next step in lunar exploration.
The space race continued, this time with long duration stays on the lunar surface in two lunar bases. In part 1, we discussed the design and layout of the Tycho base. In Part 2 we will continue with the lunar transport mechanism used to shuttle crews back and forth to the bases. We’ll discuss one of the unfortunate side effects of this transportation system, the formation of the 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 location with specialized communications requirements. We’ll discuss how extraordinary satellites were put into unique positions in order to fulfill the communications requirements.
Coming up...the Apollo Moon Bases, part 2. On the next Belitopia.