Destination Moon: A History of the Lunar Orbiter Program

Bruce K. Byers, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. 1977, NASA TM X-3487 PDF HTML
“In June 1967, as a member of the NASA History Office Summer Seminar, I began work on a history of the Lunar Orbiter Program, then in its operational phase. My objective was to document the origins of the program and to record the activity of the missions in progress. I also wanted to study the technical and management aspects of the lunar orbital reconnaissance that would provide the Apollo Program with photographic and selenodetic data for evaluating the proposed astronaut landing sites.”

“Lunar Orbiter brought several new departures in U.S. efforts to explore the Moon before landing men there. It was the first big deep space project for Langley Research Center. It came into being in 1963 after the Ranger and Surveyor Programs were well along in their development and at a time when the data it could acquire would be timely to Apollo only for mission design, not for equipment design, since the decisions on the basic Apollo equipment had already been made. Although Lunar Orbiter was not a “crash” effort, it did require that Langley Research Center set up a development and testing schedule in which various phases of the project would run nearly concurrently. This approach had not been tried before on a major lunar program.
Research led me first to the Office of Space Science and Applications at NASA Headquarters in Washington. I discussed the project with Lunar Orbiter Program officials and received help and encouragement from Oran W. Nicks, the Director of Lunar and Planetary Programs (later Deputy Director of Langley Research Center); Lee R. Scherer, then Lunar Orbiter Program Director (later Director of Kennedy Space Center); and Leon J. Kosofsky, Lunar Orbiter program engineer. Complete chronological files of the Lunar Orbiter Program Office enabled me to outline the basic developments since the inception of Lunar Orbiter.
After studying files in Washington and at Langley Research Center and interviewing project officials, I went to Kennedy Space Center to witness the launch of Lunar Orbiter 5, the last mission of the program. There I interviewed program officials and Boeing and Eastman Kodak contractor representatives. Back in Washington, I wrote a preliminary manuscript about the program, for limited circulation among NASA offices as a Historical Note.
I returned to NASA Headquarters in the summers of 1968, 1969 and 1970 to expand my study of the program-one of NASA’s major successes before the Apollo landings. In early June 1969, I was assigned to the Apollo Lunar Planning Office, whose director, Scherer, had encouraged me throughout the first two summers of research. In his office, I could see how Lunar Orbiter photographic data were being used in planning the Apollo 11 landing and subsequent missions. I conducted additional interviews and discussed results of Orbiter missions with Dr. Farouk El-Baz and Dennis James of Bellcomm, a consulting firm supporting NASA on Apollo. Through these talks I learned the technical and scientific significance of much of the Orbiter photography and how it was being applied. I went again to Langley, with new questions. Many of the former Lunar Orbiter project officials were occupied with a new planetary program: the Viking Program to explore Mars. Lunar Orbiter was history for them, but the experience from that program was already helping them in their newest endeavor. As this manuscript goes to press the two dual-role Viking spacecraft have successfully orbited Mars and sent two landers to the Martian surface. These craft have conducted numerous experiments to search for signs of life and to give us our first detailed views of the Martian landscape.
During the remainder of 1969 and in the summer of 1970 I worked to complete the draft of the history contained in the following pages. I submitted the manuscript in June 1971, shortly before beginning my present career as a Foreign Service officer.
The decade of the sixties was filled with turbulence, discontent, and upheaval. It also was a time of outstanding achievements in advancing our knowledge of the world in which we live. We accelerated the exploration of our planet from space. We landed men on the Moon, brought them safely home again, and learned how they could survive in space. And we began sending unmanned planetary explorers to chart the solar system and to search for signs of life on Mars. It is the purpose of this history to recount one chapter in this exploration, as a small contribution to the store of knowledge about America’s first voyages on the new ocean of space.
I am grateful to the NASA History Office, whose staff have enabled me to write this history. I dedicate it to all the people who worked to make Lunar Orbiter the success it wasthat they might have a record of their accomplishments to share with future generations.”