Author Topic: Apollo 8, a book by Jeffrey Kluger  (Read 1856 times)

Offline philw1776

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Apollo 8, a book by Jeffrey Kluger
« on: 07/12/2017 06:03 PM »
Just read "Apollo 8" by the same author who with Jim Lovell wrote "Apollo 13".  As most here know Lovell was center seat on Apollo 8's historic circumlunar mission.  Well written and well researched, the book describes the sequence of events starting with the Apollo fire that led to the sudden decision to change the lunar plan, making Apollo 8's initial LEO test flight into first a free return mission around the moon and quickly morphing into a lunar orbiter and return.  Decisions driven of course by the space race but also by the unreadiness of the LEM.

I read it because I was around to experience the mission and because of SpaceX's circumlunar mission planned for late 2018 (Musk Time). 

Two things struck me.  First the rapid way that NASA came up with out of the box ideas, evaluated them through the technical, operational and upper management orgs (couple weeks) and then executed the radical new mission approach (a few months).  Something not seen much since. OK. Huge budget helps.

Secondly, a renewed appreciation of the complexity of such a mission, something that some folks like me, even as an engineer, have glossed over and under appreciated.  50 years of computer development helps bigtime reprising a free return flyby but many other aspects of the mission remain daunting.

A recommended read for folks who want to reminisce, those not around who don't know the details, and readers reflecting on a possible return to lunar space in the next few years.
« Last Edit: 07/12/2017 06:04 PM by philw1776 »
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Offline zubenelgenubi

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Re: Apollo 8, a book by Jeffrey Kluger
« Reply #1 on: 07/12/2017 10:33 PM »
Counter-factual speculation:

If NSF L2 had existed in 1968, about how far into the Apollo 8 mission planning would the first L2-mentions or documents have appeared that this mission could be re-purposed from HEO to circumlunar or lunar orbit, without a LM?

This is assuming that Deke Slayton or George Meuller were not L2-level members, and assuming that even if they were, they would not have divulged content here first.

(Although THAT would have been a mega-coup for Chris!)

Curious...
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Offline Archibald

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Re: Apollo 8, a book by Jeffrey Kluger
« Reply #2 on: 07/13/2017 08:09 AM »
From memory the decision to go forward with Apollo 8 was announced by Paine early November 1968. The way NSF works, small leaks might have happen some days before, that is, in the last days of October.
The decision by itself was the brainchild of George M. Low and the whole thing started early August 1968.

George Low was very wary of secret, so no chance in hell he leaks anything, nor his secretaries.
« Last Edit: 07/13/2017 08:13 AM by Archibald »

Offline Proponent

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Re: Apollo 8, a book by Jeffrey Kluger
« Reply #3 on: 08/01/2017 11:45 AM »
The decision by itself was the brainchild of George M. Low and the whole thing started early August 1968.

See this interesting thread for minutes of an April 1968 meeting where manning AS-503 was discussed.  There was at that point no discussion of sending a crew to the moon, but it's notable that even just a few weeks after the difficulties encountered with AS-502, NASA was willing to put a crew on the next Saturn V.

Offline the_other_Doug

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Re: Apollo 8, a book by Jeffrey Kluger
« Reply #4 on: 09/10/2017 03:17 AM »
From memory the decision to go forward with Apollo 8 was announced by Paine early November 1968. The way NSF works, small leaks might have happen some days before, that is, in the last days of October.
The decision by itself was the brainchild of George M. Low and the whole thing started early August 1968.

George Low was very wary of secret, so no chance in hell he leaks anything, nor his secretaries.

The first mention that Borman's crew was leapfrogging McDivitt's, and that the new Apollo 8 would not include a LM, was made in early September, 1968.  It was announced that Apollo 8 would be the first manned Saturn V launch and that a "flexible mission" was being planned.  The mission was announced as likely to include a high Earth orbit, and could conceivably involve a circumlunar flight.

According to Murray and Bly-Cox's excellent book "Apollo", the press conference which announced this decision, and the change of crews, so downplayed the possible circumlunar option and highlighted the "flexible mission" so much that only one major newspaper covering the presser included the circumlunar option in their lead.  But with this, NASA had announced that Apollo 8 would not fly the D mission with the LM and McDivitt's crew, but would fly a CSM-only mission (possibly out as far as the Moon) with Borman's crew, a good six weeks before Apollo 7 flew.

By the time Apollo 7 flew, it was generally well known and being discussed in the media that, if Apollo 7 displayed no serious problems with the spacecraft, Apollo 8 would fly to the Moon.

The November announcement was simply the final announcement that the lunar orbit option was confirmed for the flight.  By that time, it was so well known that Apollo 8 was planned for a lunar orbit mission that there was no surprise whatsoever.  In fact, it would have been a huge surprise, and disappointment, had the mission been scaled back to a high Earth orbit flight at that point.
-Doug  (With my shield, not yet upon it)

Offline the_other_Doug

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Re: Apollo 8, a book by Jeffrey Kluger
« Reply #5 on: 09/20/2017 03:04 AM »
I decided to buy the Kindle version of the book, and as of now, only a short way into the book, I'm not terribly impressed by the shortcuts around facts that the author has been using.

For one example, the author states that when the New Nine came to the program, they all wanted any Gemini mission they could get -- except for Gemini 7.  Beware Gemini 7, they all said in the fall of 1962, it will be two unendurable weeks in a can in orbit.

At the timeframe mentioned, the two-week mission was planned to be Gemini 5.  Gemini 3 would be three days, Gemini 4 would be one week, Gemini 5 would be two weeks, and then they would start working on rendezvous missions.  Not until much later into 1964 did the layout of the missions begin to fall into what was actually flown.

Next, in late 1963, they say, Deke sent Frank Borman over to Gus Grissom's house to "interview" for position of Pilot on Gemini 3.  Grissom decided on John Young instead, but Deke tells Frank (according to this author), just three days after the "failed" interview, "Don't  worry, I have a better job for you, you'll be Command Pilot on Gemini 7!"

No such thing happened.  Deke told Frank that instead of being prime Pilot on Gemini 3, he was being assigned as backup Command Pilot on Gemini 4.  While everyone thought Deke would be running a skip-one or skip-two rotation to go from backup to prime, Deke's rotation system hadn't been established yet.  Wally Schirra had been unofficially told he would rotate from Gemini 3 backup to prime on the first rendezvous and docking flight, but no one was sure which actual flight that would be.

So, no -- no one was officially named to Gemini 7 until well after Gemini 4 flew in June of '65.  And while by that time Borman and Lovell had a good idea they would be flying Gemini 7, there was still no guarantee that it would be the 2-week mission.  After all, one of the earlier Gemini missions might have to be reflown.

Finally, up to the point I am at in the book right now, the author states that Gemini program officials decided to use Gemini 6's Titan II booster to launch Spacecraft 7, and then use Gemini 7's booster to launch Spacecraft 6.  Specifically, according to several other histories I have read, that option was considered and discarded because the launch vehicles varied slightly, and the booster for Gemini 6 wasn't quite capable of launching the heaviest-of-the-series Gemini 7 spacecraft.  It required (at least according to Murray and Bly-Cox in the excellent book Apollo) the specially modified GLV-7 booster, which had some weight removed from its first stage structures, to boost the heavier Spacecraft 7.  So, Gemini 6's booster GLV-6 went into storage after the loss of Gemini 6's Agena target vehicle, as did Spacecraft 6, while the GLV-7 and Spacecraft 7 were readied at Pad 19.

So, three major factual errors already, and I'm only 15% of the way through the book.

And then there is the anti-intellectualism of the early chapters.  These engineers weren't brilliant, per the author -- they were just lucky and simply made this s**t up as they went along.  Instead of seeing the backwoods Virginians' derogatory epithets about the Langley boys as representing what you always see when uneducated back-country types have to deal with highly educated people -- calling the educated people names like "Brain Busters" and making fun of them as if education was an affectation, thus pulling the fangs of their own feelings of inferiority -- the author basically takes the point of view that "them eggheads" were indeed queer ducks, making up s**t as they went along and then pretending they were being smart about it.

There is WAY too much anti-intellectual BS happening in America right now.  I am truly disappointed to see what purports to be a celebration of a great human and American achievement boiling it down to "Well, a few of those queer-duck Brain Buster folks went and made this stuff up as they went along, really didn't have an intelligent plan, but got so much money to spend on it, and got so lucky, that they managed to pull it off.  But don't nobody think they deserve any credit for being smart about it or nuthin'!"

Disappointing and somewhat disgusting, thus far.

Maybe it gets better as it goes along.
« Last Edit: 09/20/2017 03:08 AM by the_other_Doug »
-Doug  (With my shield, not yet upon it)

Online llanitedave

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Re: Apollo 8, a book by Jeffrey Kluger
« Reply #6 on: 09/20/2017 08:40 PM »
I can't speak to the book in question, but I've read a lot of Jeffery Kluger's stuff, and never have I gotten the impression that he was anti-intellectual.
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Offline Blackstar

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Re: Apollo 8, a book by Jeffrey Kluger
« Reply #7 on: 09/20/2017 09:27 PM »
The decision by itself was the brainchild of George M. Low and the whole thing started early August 1968.

See this interesting thread for minutes of an April 1968 meeting where manning AS-503 was discussed.  There was at that point no discussion of sending a crew to the moon, but it's notable that even just a few weeks after the difficulties encountered with AS-502, NASA was willing to put a crew on the next Saturn V.

I have vague recollections that a number of years ago, while going through Apollo-era documents in the UHCL collection in Houston, I came across a March 1968 document that mentioned the possibility of the highly elliptical orbit manned mission option. That would have pushed the date for when this idea was first broached back a few weeks.

Put another way: although the specific discussions of sending Apollo 8 around the Moon occurred in August 1968 (with the decision made later), the idea of such a mission can be traced to much earlier in 1968. After all, if somebody had proposed a highly elliptical flight in Apollo that went halfway to the Moon, then it was not much of a stretch for somebody to say "Why not simply extend that orbit and go all the way around the Moon?"

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Apollo 8, a book by Jeffrey Kluger
« Reply #8 on: 09/20/2017 09:31 PM »
From memory the decision to go forward with Apollo 8 was announced by Paine early November 1968. The way NSF works, small leaks might have happen some days before, that is, in the last days of October.
The decision by itself was the brainchild of George M. Low and the whole thing started early August 1968.

George Low was very wary of secret, so no chance in hell he leaks anything, nor his secretaries.

I know I'm replying to an old message and for that I apologize.

I'd caution against concluding that Apollo decisions were all made in secret. Something that shocked me a few years ago was when I was flipping through an old issue of Missiles and Rockets and stumbled upon a detailed discussion of the "all up" Saturn launch decision before it had been made. That indicated to me that even some of the really big program changes were not kept very secret.

Offline the_other_Doug

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Re: Apollo 8, a book by Jeffrey Kluger
« Reply #9 on: 09/27/2017 05:06 PM »
A few other major errors I have run across in the book as I have gone along.  The author states:

-  The Apollo on-board computer had more than 33 stars' locations all recorded on its magnetic tape.  In reality, the Apollo onboard computers had "rope" memory, magnetic cores woven into circuits which physically emplaced the binary programming information.  No tape input or output devices were used on either the CM or LM computers.  Also, his description of the DSKY is completely wrong, stating it had one long one-line 21-character display.  I dunno what he was looking at, but it wasn't a DSKY display.

-  Guenter Wendt was one of the German rocket scientists who came to the U.S. along with von Braun in Operation Paperclip.  Absolutely wrong.  Wendt was a Luftwaffe pilot, who finally, finding no work at all in post-war Germany, emigrated to the U.S. in 1949, coming to live with his divorced father, who had already come to America and was living in St. Louis, MO.  Wendt, who had an aeronautical engineering background, kept applying to McDonnell for work, and was turned away repeatedly until he had become a naturalized U.S. citizen (since McDonnell was working on government projects and would not allow non-citizens to work on them).  Wendt never ever was a part of the von Braun team that worked on the A-4 in Germany.

-  Frank Borman realized from the first moment Apollo 8 achieved Earth orbit that he was suffering from a severe case of motion sickness, and simply refused to admit it to the ground.  In truth, Borman, to this day, feels he suffered from a reaction to a Seconal sleeping pill he took to try and get to sleep after his first duty shift ended aboard the spacecraft.  Here, Kluger is changing his presentation of what the principals in his story actually were doing and thinking, because it fitted his becoming-fictional story better.

-  There were fuel lines that ran from the S-IVB to the CSM through the SLA panels, and the moment at which the CSM separated from the S-IVB, those lines began spewing fuel, making the S-IVB unstable and dangerous.  Absolute BS.  The only lines than ran from the S-IVB to the CSM were electrical/command lines.  No fluids of any kind ran up through the SLA panels, and the CSM separation event had no influence whatsoever on S-IVB venting.

Again, this sounds like a history written by memory, with absolutely no research or fact-checking having been done.  I'm even having a hard time believing Kluger actually did any in-person interviewing of the people featured in his book, since they would never, even if they had forgotten nearly all of the detail they once knew about the spacecraft and the flight,  have given such mis-information to the author.  I'm forced to assume the author himself is not only being ignorant about the technical aspects of the flight, but being intentionally ignorant, taking a stand that if something is really at all technical, well, we'll just dumb it down and make it more understandable -- even at the expense of replacing truths about the program with outright falsehoods.

Getting a F-minus from me, about 60% of the way through the book, thus far... :(  I'm getting really sorry I wasted $16 on this book.
-Doug  (With my shield, not yet upon it)

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