Poised for the Leap

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U.S. Gemini astronauts broke orbital endurance records and completed the first rendezvous and docking in space. Unmanned Rangers, Lunar Orbiters and Surveyors returned tens of thousands of lunar photographs, and Surveyors made the first soft landings on the moon. They sent back closeup pictures of the moon's surface, and they clawed up and analyzed actual moon soil.

Manned Landing

In 1967, by successfully flying the mammoth Saturn 5 rocket, about 21 times as powerful as the Proton, Russia's largest booster, the U.S. may well have ensured that it would be first to place men on the lunar surface. Next February, Saturn is scheduled to launch Apollo 9, a mission that will include the first manned test of the module designed to land on the moon. Two months later, the giant rocket is scheduled to boost Apollo 10 into a lunar orbit from which a manned module will descend to within 50,000 ft. of the moon's surface —and may even try for a landing. If the attempt is not made, the manned landing might well occur on the Apollo 11 mission, scheduled for June.

With only Proton to fly its cosmonauts to the moon, the Soviets will find it difficult to beat the U.S. schedule. U.S. officials estimate that it would take as many as eight Proton launches to orbit parts and assemble a spacecraft powerful enough to fly directly to the lunar surface and take off again. The Russians have yet to dock a manned craft in earth orbit, and they will need considerably more practice before they can assemble a number of craft in space. Past performance suggests that they will conduct a number of these operations with unmanned automatic craft to make certain that cosmonauts can fly them safely. And although Russian scientists are rumored to be building a rocket with between 10 million and 14 million Ibs. of thrust—enough to launch a spacecraft that can fly directly to the moon, land, and then blast off for earth—they have yet to test it, let alone use it for manned flights.

Despite the obvious commitment to manned moon programs by both Russia and the U.S. some scientists have continued to argue against sending men to do what they say machines can accomplish as well or better. A month before the Apollo 8 blastoff, British Astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell lashed out against the mission. "On a scientific basis," he complained, "this project is wasteful and silly. We've reached the stage with automatic landings when it's not necessary to risk human life to get information about the moon."

Speaking for NASA at a press conference at Cape Kennedy, Astronaut Anders talked back to the famed astronomer. Although Apollo 8 is not primarily a scientific flight, he said, it would give science its first chance to have in the vicinity of the moon "an eyeball connected to a brain connected to an arm that can write or a tongue that can speak. We think that by having a man in space, you can do a job that you can't do with unmanned vehicles."

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