Sunday, January 17, 2016

Space 1959 - They Really did It!

Space 1959 - They Really Did it!
1961 was a big thing for those of us fascinated by space missions. In short order, we had shifted focus from the X-15 to the Mercury Space flights. The X-15 looked like a space ship. The Mercury capsule was bland. No fins, no spiraling antennae, no blast of rocket fire out the back.
In 1962, some of the older boys up the block had a new toy. It was an outer space base with lots of rockets, space tanks, astronauts and weird aliens. They would not let us touch it. They were stingy. We younger boys thought it was fascinating. That was my first glimpse at the Marx "Operation Moonbase" playset.
A very popular book at the time was "You Will Go To the Moon." Written in 1959, it was based on articles about space travel by Werner von Braun. There was a lot of speculative fiction about space travel, especially in those years.
I have recently done some of my own speculation on what would have happened had there been a means to go into space in 1955. I was surprised to learn that both the Army and Air Force had been planning for it in the 1950s. They were also planning to build a facility on the Moon. In 1959, the Army presented its program entitled Project Horizon.. The Air Force plan was called Lunex. Both had ambitious plans to put a man on the Moon. Further, both wanted to build a facility on the moon that could house men for at least a year. The amazing thing is that most of it could have been accomplished with the technology of the time.
The Army wanted to have its base built by 1966. The Air Force thought it would be 1967 or later.
Both reports claimed that a major obstacle was lack of knowledge of the conditions on the Moon. Both were optimistic that they could be discovered in time.
The Army plan included sending supplies in cylinders. These would be used to build an underground facility that could house up to 12 men on a regular basis, and 16 temporarily. Moonbase Alpha, indeed!
The Army had plans for a lightweight vehicle to do the digging and place the cylinders. Power was to be supplied by small nuclear plants. The space vehicles were lunar landers and a vehicle to lift off from the moon.
The concept driving the plans was to beat the Soviet Union to the Moon and to use the Moon for military as well as scientific activities.
As usual, the Army plan was more comprehensive and better thought out than the Air Force plan.
Here are links to all three:
Link to web page with Lunex file, better text and drawings
This ought to be no surprise., The military is constantly drawing up plans for almost any conceivable scenario. That they went into moon landings is understandable. Project Horizon is itself impressive because of the scope of it and its practicality. Knowing what we do now, we can see that this plan was feasible. Granted, it might not fit into the Army timetable to get it done by 1966. Nonetheless, it could be done.
Why id they not build a base on the Moon? Other technology came along to go do the surveillance and other tasks that were proposed for the Moon base. It was not cost effective. At the same time, our military’s funds were focused on the Vietnam War; the Moon became a purely civilian project. Or was it?
Conspiracy theorists might claim that a secret base was built, and that NASA’s work was just a cover for it. There are so many conspiracy theories about the Moon and space exploration. At best, they might be a good basis for a game scenario, such as the US versus USSR on the moon in....1970?
(maybe 1980...after all, it is the Russians and they are backward.)
I am impressed at the efficiency of the Army’s plans for making a Moonbase. I assume it could also be built on Mars. With the improved technology of today, a variant could be developed into a quickly-made outpost. The shape of future space bases to come? Who knows? According to NASA, plans are in the works for an above-ground habitat and facilities. These are modular in nature. The NASA plan includes a place for astronauts to live, laboratories and science buildings, plus facilities for landings and launches. Their plan looks to be heavily dependent on solar power,
Moon or Mars, we are still at a stage of technology that would require us to bring everything needed for survival. That means habitat, air, food, and water as well as the means to land and to leave. The Moon is airless and would require a supply of breathable air. The atmosphere of Mars is thin and cannot support Earthly life. While there have been improvements in systems to recycle air and water, they have their limits. Like all other closed systems, they will have a degree of entropy and need to be replenished from time to time.
There will be a time when we can make further use of resources on a faraway planet. An immediate resource is water, which is believed to be frozen under the surface of both the Moon and Mars. There ir probably very little on the Moon. Perhaps science will develop a technology which can be small enough to send in a space ship that would make use of a planet’s minerals for life support. We cannot predict what the future might bring. As things stand now, we have to bring everything for life support with us.
That is a tremendous supply mission! Difficult as it might be to the Moon, which will likely be reachable in two days, the six-month journey to Mars will require extreme logistics.
And so we conclude the Space 1955 talks for now. What with the Army and Air Force doing their own work in 1959, we have a lot of genuine material for our own scenarios, be they miniatures, dioramas or games.
Thanks to Mike Creek for informing us about Project Horizon and the files.


  1. I am so disappointed we did not build a Moon Base by 1967. It would have been so cool. Mike Bunkermeister Creek

  2. Cool stuff, thanks for sharing it. Never really considered the military space plans of the 1950s, have to dig more into it.