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Belitopia - Lee Atchison EPISODE 10, 3rd March 2020
S1E10 - After Apollo

S1E10 - After Apollo

Project Apollo started as a program simply to land a man on the moon before the Russians. But, as time went on, the Apollo technology found more and more uses as we learned how to live and work in space. Apollo technology gave us earth orbiting space stations, two bases on the` lunar surface, a lunar orbiting space station, communications satellites a quarter of a million miles from either the earth or the moon, and a crewed mission to flyby the planet Venus.

What a legacy.

But what’s next? Now that we’ve proven we can live and work in space, what is our next challenge in space?

The next challenge is learning how to live in persistently and sustainably in space. How can we have a permanent presence in space?

That is the subject of season 2 of Belitopia, and this final episode of season 1 gives you a glimpse into the missions and technology that are next inline after Project Apollo, and the Apollo Applications Program is complete.



This season of Belitopia has been all about project Apollo, and extensions and enhancements to the use of project Apollo technology in order to further human presence in space.

Using Apollo technology in Belitopia: We landed on the moon. We lived and worked in earth orbit. We lived and worked in lunar orbit. We lived and worked on the lunar surface. And we visited our nearest neighbor, the planet Venus.

All of these missions were possible extensions to the real world Apollo program, if we would have just committed the financial resources to make it happen. And in the world of Belitopia, we did commit those resources and these missions occurred.

So, this begs the question. Why didn’t we do these missions in real life? Well, you have to remember what was the primary driver for the Apollo moon mission in the first place. It was politics. We were afraid of the Soviet Union and what they could accomplish in space. Sputnik scared America, and our response was to build a space program to prove we were better at space exploration than the Soviet Union. It took many years...decades...before we caught up with the Soviet Union. They kept beating us to space firsts...

...first man in space

...first man in orbit

...first unmanned ship to the moon

...and many others.

We needed a victory.

We eventually found that victory in July of 1969 with the landing of the first man on the moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin won the space race for us. It wasn’t because we, the United States, were better at space than the Soviet Union...we weren’t. Rather, it was because we finally were able to beat them at something. Beat them at one thing...landing a man on the moon.

But once we did that, for all practical purposes, the race was over. The political drive that motivated the need for the space program was gone. We gave up, and we moved on to other more pressing national priorities, such as the war in Vietnam.

The only reason there were Apollo missions beyond the Apollo 11 moon landing was because of the momentum involved in stopping it. The political pressure to stop investing came almost immediately, and eventually the program was swallowed up by the pressure and we stopped after Apollo 17. We had plans for more Apollo missions, and started building the space craft necessary for Apollo 18-20, but by the time Apollo 17 happened, there was no stopping the pressure to stop the investment, and the program was scrapped.

The Russians had beat us on many accomplishments in space, but we had beat them on one accomplishment, and that was enough for us. And it was all the American public...and the political powers to be in the United States...could stomach. There was no longer enough motivation to continue the space race.

But there are other reasons why we ***should*** explore outer space. Natural curiosity was a big driver for the program, and the space program created a host of auxiliary technology that improved our every day lives. These were reasons enough to continue the space program. But we also are just beginning to realize there might be valuable resources in space, resources valuable enough to worth exploring.

But in the real world, none of these reasons were enough to justify continuing the space program. In the world of Belitopia, though, these reasons were enough, and the Belitopian world is a better place because of it.

There is a great quote that describes for me why space exploration is so important in the world of Belitopia — and why it should be in our “real” world. The quote is by the famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on his show StarTalk in late 2016. The quote is:

“There is an outer space treaty for the peaceful use of outer space. So the goal is when we all go into space, we will treat each other kindly. I don’t have the confidence that others have in that. I want to believe it. But, I say to myself, if you can treat each other kindly in space, then why not do that here on earth? Why do you have to be in space to not kill one another? However, my one glimmer of hope, is that so much of human conflict in the history of civilization has been derived from scarcity of resource and access to those resources. And I look at space. Astroids, comets...stars with limitless energy...and I realize…we should all realize…that space is a limit***less*** supply of natural resources. Space may be the only place where peace is guaranteed, because in fact, we would have run out of all reasons for why to kill one another.”

If there has ever been a better reason for space exploration than this, I don’t know what it would be. This quote says that space exploration is important because it gives us access to uncountable amounts of natural resources, and that in turn reduces or eliminates our needs to kill our fellow human beings here on earth

This is why, in my mind, the world of Belitopia is so important.

The Apollo Applications Program

And the greatly expanded Apollo program was the first step in this. The expanded world of Belitopia began, if you recall back in episode #2, with the formation of the Apollo Applications Program, AAP, as a formalized program with a real budget and real objectives. In the real world, the AAP was a program that never really materialized. But in the world of Belitopia, it was fully realized and it turned into a separate agency, distinct and separate from NASA, that allowed us to create and expand the reach of the Apollo program in Belitopia. It was because of this expanded AAP program...

...That the Skylab space station became a fully funded, multi-space-station program.

...That the Lunar Skylab space station existed at all.

...That we were able to create two long duration lunar bases on the lunar surface.

...That a sophisticated human transportation network was created between the earth and the moon, as was the case with the LT missions used to send crews to the lunar bases and stations.

...That a powerful communications network was created covering the entire earth-moon system, allowing us full communications without blackout areas anywhere in the earth-moon system.

...And that, finally, humans left our earth-moon system on a flyby voyage around the planet Venus.

All of this was possible because of the power of Apollo, and the vision of the Apollo Applications Program.

Earth Based Infrastructure

One thing we did not talk about much this season, is the impact this expanded Apollo program had on the infrastructure needed on earth to launch all of these missions. In Belitopia, the space infrastructure needs on earth were substantially greater than they were in real life. We went from launching a dozen Apollo spacecraft into space over a 5-6 year period, as what happened in real life, to suddenly in the world of Belitopia, we needed to launch over 90 Apollo spacecraft. At any given point in time, there could be up to a half dozen distinct missions going on simultaneously...each needing a mission control center on earth to operate it. We needed the ability to build, assemble, launch, operate, and land a significant number of Apollo-based, crewed missions.

For that, we needed expanded earth-based infrastructure.

Let’s focus just on the NASA and AAP infrastructure pieces required. Obviously, the large contractors that provided equipment to NASA, such as Grumman, Boeing, North American, and Douglas needed to have expanded manufacturing infrastructures. But let’s focus just on the visible pieces of infrastructure needed within the NASA and AAP government program spaces themselves.

Let’s start with the cape, where the missions all started. It’s where the rockets were assembled, and where they were launched.

The various components that made up an Saturn Apollo launch vehicle were assembled in Florida in the Vehicle Assembly Building. At the time, the Vehicle Assembly Building was the largest building ever built. But with the expanded role of Apollo, the single Vehicle Assembly Building would not be sufficient. The existing Vehicle Assembly Buildings could simultaneously assemble three Apollo vehicle stacks. In Belitopia, at the peak of operations, there could be up to 9 vehicles being assembled at once. This required the construction of two additional Vehicle Assembly Buildings, each as massive as the first.

Then there are launch pads. There were several launch pads at the cape in Florida that were used for launching Apollo spacecraft. But with the accelerated launch schedule, there would need to be four fully operational launch pads available, each one capable of launching at Saturn V or Saturn IB rocket into space. There were four launch pads in the real world at various stages of construction, but only two were really used. In Belitopia, all four would be required to be fully operational.

This also meant that the conveyance network between the vehicle assembly building and the launch pad needed to be expanded. The conveyance network was the massive tank-like machine that was used to transport a fully assembled spacecraft stack from the vehicle assembly building, to the launch pad. The short trip, a mile or two at most depending on the launch pad used, took many days for a space craft to be transported. With three fully active vehicle assembly buildings and four fully active launch pads, this conveyance network also needed to be expanded.

With the four launch pads, multiple launch control centers were needed as well, along with expanded training facilities for the additional launch control operations members that were needed.

In Houston, mission control needed to be expanded. During the real Apollo days, there was never more than one mission operating at a time, so a single mission control center was all that was needed. At the peak of Belitopia, there could be up to three full Apollo missions operating at the same time. Additionally, at peak, there were also a Skylab space station in earth orbit, the lunar Skylab space station, and two distinct crewed bases on the lunar surface. That meant at peak, there was a need to manage seven fully staffed mission control centers to manage the seven in-operation missions. This also meant a huge increase in the staff to manage those seven mission control centers. And while the multiple missions could share back room staffs to some degree, a significant increase in back room supporting staff for the mission controllers would also be needed. Then there was the training facilities for all of these additional controllers...

To say nothing about the large increase in the number of astronauts needed to handle these 90 missions and the training needs for these astronauts.

Even at splashdown, more than one recovery zone and recovery ship was needed to support the ability to recover more than one mission returning close enough to the same time that a single recovery ship could not handle the multiple landings.

And those recovery ships had staff, that needed to be trained.

The needs were great. Not necessarily significantly greater than what was spent in real life at the peak of the Apollo program, but the spending at the peak of Apollo was needed not for a couple years, but more like a dozen or two years.

This investment created jobs and spurred economic growth within the United States. So while a significant amount of money was being spent, the long term positive impact was significant.

Apollo, a fully utilized program in the world of Belitopia, was a boom for our economy, for the space program, for technological advancement, for our position as a super power in the new world order, and for an expanded American dominance in the world stage in the latter half of the twentieth century.

The Aging Apollo Technology

But, by the early 1980s, the Apollo technology was getting old and its limitations and warts were showing through. The earliest warts appeared during the Christmas Miracle of The Venus Flyby mission. But other warts started to show as well. The program had accomplished a huge number of goals, but the life of Apollo was nearly over.

A bigger...better...larger space exploration program was needed if we wanted to expand our footprint even further and more deeply than we had up until now. Something better than Apollo was needed.

So, on June 14, 1982, the Apollo Applications Program was dismantled, and the teams and structures of that program were merged back into NASA. NASA was already starting to explore other technologies, such as a Space Transportation Network — the Space Shuttle — and other technologies. The resources invested in AAP were now going to be put towards these other programs...and an enhanced and expanded NASA was the result.

What were some of the programs that were needed beyond Apollo? There were many.

First and foremost: there was a desire to replace the temporary Skylab space station program with a permanent manned space station in earth orbit. We needed this not only as a research station, but as a transportation hub for an improved earth-moon transportation system and as a launching point for deeper space missions.

We needed a heavy lift rocket program that could bring large quantities of equipment and resources from the earth surface into low earth orbit. This was needed to assemble the space station, but also provide resources for other missions.

We needed an easy and convenient method of bringing astronauts back and forth from the earth surface to the low earth orbit space station. This had to allow practical transportation of reasonably large quantities of people back and forth to the permanent space station.

We needed an improved earth-orbit to lunar-orbit transportation program. Something that could replace the Apollo spacecraft and allow a regular shuttle program for people and supplies to and from lunar orbit.

We were already working on a better lunar lander, as we discussed earlier in this season, and with that lander, we could build larger and more permanent bases on the lunar surface. These permanent bases would allow us to perform lunar geological research and locate valuable resources on and under the lunar surface.

And we still wanted to go to Mars...

All of these were missions that were coming, were needed, and were going to happen in the world of Belitopia, but we needed improved space technology in order to make all of this happen. Technology beyond Apollo.

This is where season 2 will come from. While season 1 of Belitopia was based on the enhanced Apollo program, season 2 will be based on the next generation of space technology beyond Apollo that was to be built. The Apollo technology in season 1 gave us the ability to visit — temporarily but sometimes relatively long term — many different places in our earth-moon system as well as beyond to Venus. The new technology that we will describe in season 2 will focus on building permanent establishments in space.

So, while season 1 built the temporary Skylab space station, season 2 will build the permanent Space Station Freedom. In season 1 we built the temporary lunar bases, Tycho Base and BLA Base, in season 2 we will build permanently crewed bases including a permanent Tycho Base...a permanent BLA base...and a brand new permanent Armstrong Base, named after the first man on the moon. We will begin the era of a permanent presence of humans on the lunar surface.

We will also begin longer duration crewed deep space missions, including a return to Venus, a flyby mission to Mars, and a landing on the Martian surface.

All of this because of the improved space technology we will be constructing in the world of Belitopia in Season 2.

I do hope you have enjoyed Season 1. If you enjoyed it, please leave me a rating and review in Apple Podcasts, in Podchaser, or in the Podcasting application of your choice.

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Thank you for your support and I hope to see you next season, in the world of Belitopia.