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Moon: Landing July 22, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Moon, Science, Science Fiction.


Swiftly moving beyond Garibaldy’s poor cultural experience with Moon…

It’s odd looking at the images of the proposed Orion and Altair vehicles that are intended to return the US to the Moon sometime in the next decade as part of the Constellation programme. They’re obviously very similar to the Apollo era modules, a result of a decision to take tried and tested technologies rather than attempt to push the envelope as was seen with the Space Shuttle. These are space going vehicles, rather than Low Earth Orbit vehicles. They can eschew the rudimentary wings, fin and control surfaces of the Shuttle.

And yet, for all the sleek computer animated simulations of the return – and as an aside can one think of any better way to leech the meaning from this than essentially staging it ahead of time in virtual form – they seem strangely lacking.

Okay, I have to admit, Orion isn’t bad. As Apollo writ large it has a clunky retro charm. The interior arrangement, now set up to carry… gasp… four to six astronauts… is more of the same. That flattened cone like shape has the necessary echoes of the past. No complaints there.

Reading the specs on wiki I had to smile…

* “Glass cockpit” digital control systems derived from that of the Boeing 787.[8]

* An “autodock” feature, like those of Russian Progress spacecraft and the European Automated Transfer Vehicle, with provision for the flight crew to take over in an emergency. Previous American spacecraft (Gemini, Apollo, and shuttle) have all required manual piloting for docking.

* Improved waste-management facilities, with a miniature camping-style toilet and the unisex “relief tube” used on the space shuttle (whose system was based on that used on Skylab) and the International Space Station (based on the Soyuz, Salyut, and Mir systems). This eliminates the use of the much-hated plastic “Apollo bags” used by the Apollo crews.

* A nitrogen/oxygen (N2/O2) mixed atmosphere at either sea level (101.3 kPa/14.69 psi) or slightly reduced (55.2 to 70.3 kPa/8.01 to 10.20 psi) pressure.

* Much more advanced computers than on previous manned spacecraft.

It’s like a car brochure… right down to the ‘combination of parachutes and airbags for capsule recovery’… well, okay. Not quite like a car brochure. I’ve yet to see a car with airbags on the exterior.


No, for me the disappointment is the Altair vehicle. Where is the spidery wonder of the Lunar Module? This looks like an articulated lorry in comparision, or no – a container on an lorry. It’s all propellent and payload, a squat utilitarian beast oddly truncated.


I want that spidery wonder back. And I want it now.

And that reminds me of, perhaps, one of the worst Science Fiction movies ever made, the peerless Moon Zero Two, straight from Hammer Films. It appeared a little after the first moon landing and it had a plot that could charitably be called not great. Yet, there was one feature in it that I really really like when I saw it first. And no, it wasn’t the kitsch near genius of its title music but instead a sort of souped up LM that was used to ferry people around the Moon. And this… this was logical. Take the existing LM and add on a new intermediate section.

mz 25

Of course in reality the legs would have had to be strengthened, the body broadened, and really, was that the best way of doing it? Yet it made sense. Again a tried and tested technology that could be refashioned for years later. Funny thing is that even at the time I wondered whether such technology, or rather its lineal descendent would still be working so many decades later. Surely the design might have changed a tad.

But, when one looks at the specs for Orion and their similarity to the first effort to reach the Moon perhaps I was unduly pessmistic, although note that MZ2 was set in 2021. Now, if only they’d implement a Moon Zero Two LM… then we could truly say we’d gone full circle.

Here, meanwhile, is a clip from Moon Zero Two showing what we didn’t achieve.

And here is the theme music…

A classic of its kind, I’m sure you’ll agree.

By the way, a fantastic interview on National Public Radio’s To The Point this week with Buzz Aldrin about the first moon landing and why humans should go to Mars (he dismisses the Moon as a cul-de-sac). His main reason? If the US doesn’t the Russians and the Chinese will. It was funny to hear such unvarnished Cold War US Nationalist rhetoric, and yet, and yet. There was part of me suspecting that this was only the public reason he gave in an effort to pressurise the US administration. I say that because the sheer sense of wonder at what he had done and where he had gone was still remarkably strong in his recollections. Yeah, I think he got the space bug.

Equally good was a discussion with astronomer Jonathan McDowell and Steven Weinberg physicist about the merits or otherwise of human spaceflight. McDowell and Weinberg differed on that issue to some extent with Weinberg taking the view that unmanned probes can do all that humans can and more, whereas McDowell believes a human presence in some form is essential. Well worth a listen.

It’s available as a free podcast here and on the iTunes Store.


1. alastair - July 22, 2009

I’m assuming the bird is an optional accessory for the Orion capsule? Seems cruel otherwise.


2. Richard - July 22, 2009

I absolutely loved Moon Zero Two when i was about 10. I watched it again recently and enjoyed it far more than I thought. Plot is ridiculous of course, but the film looks great in a very groovy way (a bit like “The Final Programme” in that respect. Smashing spaceships and moon buggies, and the far-side mining village is great.

I’m using it as a starting point about unlikely figures in spacesuits- Moon Zero Two features Bernard Breslaw in a spacesuit, there’s also a great episode of UFO with George Cole in a spacesuit..there must be more.

I’m loving all this moon coverage chaps.


3. WorldbyStorm - July 22, 2009

Thanks a mill, doing our best, well except for Garibaldy dissing Moon the movie 😉 I’ll try to check the movie out…

It might be alastair, canary in the capsule?


4. ec - July 22, 2009

anyone mention this yet?


Hugh Green - July 22, 2009

This kinda ruined the way I hear Whitey On The Moon. http://www.theonion.com/content/node/34100


WorldbyStorm - July 22, 2009

Ouch… Hawkwind had a song, I think it was on PXR-5 from the mid to late 70s not dissimilar to Whitey’s on the Moon, entitled Uncle Sams on Mars… sort of good, sort of bad. Typical Hawkwind. I, needless to say, love it to bits.


5. EWI - July 23, 2009

I take great umbrage (as a patriotic Irishman) with the claiming of the title “worst SF ever” by a furrin’ film. We Irish are second to none in bad Sci-Fi (just rent out Space Truckers, shot in Bray).


6. WorldbyStorm - July 23, 2009

Ah Space Truckers, which used the facade of Dublin City Council (was Corporation) offices on the Quays as the headquarters of some sort of planetary alliance!


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