I remembered it something like this (but see soarfourmore's reply for a correction): what if the command module pilot became incapacitated but was still alive?
The lunar module could still dock with the command module, but the astronauts would not be able to get into the command module because the the CM pilot could not open the hatch on that side.
So their only option would be to do a spacewalk over to the command module and open an external hatch to get in.
The would not know at that point whether the CM pilot had his spacesuit helmet on or not, so they wouldn't know until they opened the hatch whether they had just killed him.
There were windows on the command module to look in, and if they weren't sure if he was responsive/unresponsive, they could tap iron onto the command module to let Collins know they were there and spacewalking.
It's an interesting thought process though, and I would appreciate the source if you can find it
From the article, I was wrong about not knowing whether the CMP was alive:
"Unless there was a very serious issue with the CM’s communications systems, NASA would know of the CMP’s fate immediately. Every astronaut wears biomedical sensors at all times, as part of their constant-wear garment. This telemetry is sent to the flight surgeon."
More discussion here:
A comment from that page:
"Probably the worst scenario would be for the CMP to be alive, but disabled and not in his spacesuit. There would be no way for the other astronauts to get to the CMP without depressurizing the CM, thus killing the CMP. It's an obvious choice between three astronauts stranded in lunar orbit, versus two getting home alive. Nonetheless, I can only imagine the regret that the astronaut who would have to depressurize the CM would have."
So it is even worse than the way I remembered it: the LM pilots would likely know that the CMP pilot was alive but incapacitated and they were about to kill him.
Edit: This says it can actually be done in five minutes in an emergency if one's willing to skip every safety check, but getting an unresponsive person into one seems like surely it would be more of a challenge -- particularly if the "helper" was wearing a spacesuit himself. Those things are awfully restrictive! And I would wager it's not a scenario they practiced.
- Enter the command module, in spacesuit
- Quickly re-pressurize
- Help incapacitated astronaut into suit (temporarily removing own suit if necessary)
- Once both suited up, open airlock again to admit remaining astronaut
But I’m not sure if that would have been possible. Was there really a way to re-pressurize in a few seconds, 2001 style?
These steps don't seem to be necessary. Since the CM can be opened from the inside towards the LM, the third astronaut could just wait in the LM and be let in that way.
I think the only question is really how quickly can you repressurize the CM.
It was basically a cone-shaped pressure vessel 3.23m tall and 3.91m wide, that's 51.71m^3 of volume. I'd estimate about 50% is taken up by machinery, so how fast can you repressurize 25m^3 to 1/3 sea level (which was apparently standard for the spacecraft)?
My guess would be it could be done pretty quickly, maybe 2 minutes?
I mean we're just guessing and spitballing here, and all of this assumes that whatever incapacitated the CMP is fixable by the other astronaut. But it does look like there may be a decent chance the CMP could survive this. Of course, he might have internal injuries or they might not be able to restart his heart. But seems like this procedure would be worth a try.
I've been in a number of situations myself where swift incapacitation would have killed me. This is common.
That's why one of the mission planning decisions was that the astronaut tasked with operating the orbiter must have previous time in space.
This was used by Naoki Urasawa in his "20th Century Boys" manga series. The main villain, who has effectively isolated himself from his humanity, keeps repeating "I am Michael Collins", to describe his delusion of being at once the loneliest being ever and the one from which everyone else will eventually depend.
If something had gone wrong on the dark side of the moon, we might never have known what happened. We'd have had a perfectly cheerful conversation with the command module pilot, then a comms blackout, then nothing... With a lot of coordination, the lander crew could possibly have returned to the command module without Collins's support to find out what happened to him (and hopefully found a CM still in a condition to go home).
And for all that, he reported in his autobiography that it didn't bother him.
The "loneliest" anecdote is based on how far away Michael Collins was from the next closest people. Since the LEM was on the other side of the moon once per orbit, Collins was much further away from other people than John Young got.
The lunar orbit of the LM (Lunar Module) and CSM (Command-Service Module) had a period of 2.15 hours. The interval during which the LM orbited separately from the CSM was 8 hours 10 minutes, or about 3.8 orbits. Thus, at times both craft would have been on the far side of the moon. While the LM was in its lower orbit I don't know how much shorter its orbital period would have been, or whether it "lapped" the CSM during the time between closest approach and redocking.
Xkcd has a good fact check on this: it's just about plausible that some Polynesian or Antarctic explorer, the last survivor of a doomed expedition, was the furthest from any other human. But more likely it is the CSM commanders.
I note you say "other life" rather than "other humans", which would make it more clear cut in favour of Collins if we don't count whatever microorganisms travelled in Collins' gut and on every surface of Apollo.
See Point Nemo:
> The oceanic pole of inaccessibility (48°52.5′S 123°23.6′W) is the place in the ocean that is farthest from land. It lies in the South Pacific Ocean, 2,688 km (1,670 mi) from the nearest lands: Ducie Island (part of the Pitcairn Islands) to the north, Motu Nui (part of the Easter Islands) to the northeast, and Maher Island (near the larger Siple Island, off the coast of Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica) to the south. The area is so remote that—as with any location more than 400 kilometres (about 250 miles) from an inhabited area—sometimes the closest human beings are astronauts aboard the International Space Station when it passes overhead.
There are sailing races (group and solo (and non-stop)) that venture into those waters:
That was possibly an autocorrecto for "public consciousness", but I like how well it still applies.
The "had" there was meant to imply it was true up until that point in history. Other people have either nearly matched or slightly exceeded him depending on the specific details of the later Apollo mission lunar orbits. However it is mentally easier to be the second person to do something dangerous once you see the first person succeed safely. There is a reason everyone knows Armstrong and Aldrin, but Conrad and Bean don't have much notoriety today in the general population.
At least according to usage that I'm familiar with, if the phrase were, "no other person has ever been", that would be talking about before or since. But "no other person had ever been" is only talking about history up until that point. "Has been" is the present perfect tense, and "had been" is the past perfect tense.
Well, in terms of distance maybe, but I would argue, a lone surviver on a shipwrack no one knows about, or in some dessert - would be more alone, than an astronaut, being watched and thought about by millions and in direct communication with peopke.
(was communication with earth possible, when the moon was in between?)
He would have died in orbit then, just a little bit closer to the rest of mankind. There was no was way for him to return to solid Earth unless the lunar module came back. He was dependent on the outcome of the Lunar mission and he was not even allwed to set his foot onto Moon. One of my heros since childhood...
I think you're thinking of the other way around - the LEM would have been unable to return to earth with the command and service modules. It lacked a heatshield.
I'm not sure what you're basing that on. The Apollo 11 flight plan, available on the NASA website , shows LM jettison before TEI burn. That indicates that the LM was not needed for TEI. If for some reason the LM did not come back from the surface of the Moon, the CSM could still execute the TEI burn.
The flight plan makes clear that this is not the case.
> Perhaps a fuel transfer or some guidance calculations or some other maneuvers.
Even without reading the details of the flight plan, the LM was designed to carry just enough fuel to get down to the Moon's surface and back up again, with no extra fuel for other maneuvers; there wasn't any margin for any extra if the mission was to be doable at all. So it doesn't seem plausible that the CSM would have had to depend on getting some fuel transferred back from the LM in order to execute TEI.
As far as guidance calculations, that doesn't seem plausible either. The CSM, having been in a single stable orbit the whole time, would be expected to have much better guidance information than the LM, which had just executed a series of maneuvers, some of which were under manual control.
My point was just that if our only information is that the LM returned to the CSM and was jettisoned before TEI we can’t deduce that the LM was not needed for TEI.
But there is other information available:
Command module pilot Mike Collins, who could only keep orbiting in the mothership while his comrades waited out the countdown to lunar liftoff, worried enough for all three of them. “I have been flying for 17 years, by myself and with others,” he would write in his post-mission memoir. “But I have never sweated out a flight like I am sweating out the LEM [liftoff] now. My secret terror for the last six months has been leaving them on the moon and returning to Earth alone; now I am within minutes of finding out the truth of the matter. If they fail to rise from the surface, or if they crash back into it, I am not going to commit suicide; I am coming home, forthwith, but I will be a marked man for life, and I know it. Almost better not to have the option I enjoy.”
Two key sentence fragements: "leaving them on the moon and returning to Earth alone" and "If they fail to rise from the surface, or if they crash back into it, I am not going to commit suicide; I am coming home, forthwith". Both indicate that Collins fully believed he could execute TEI should the LM fail to return. The only way he could possibly "return[ing] to earth alone" should the LM "fail to rise from the surface" would be if the CSM could execute TEI without the LM ever returning from the lunar surface.
Which would indicate that the LM was not required in any way for TEI.
Where did you get that idea from? This is the first time I see someone claiming something like that.
The descent stage was left on the moon so that would have been the LM ascent stage. They had 2 separate motors for descent and ascent.
But indeed Apollo 13 was very different. I think on normal missions they only brought the LM back along for TEI so as not to litter the surface with crashed LMs.
“The six landed descent stages remain at their landing sites; their corresponding ascent stages crashed into the Moon following use. One ascent stage (Apollo 10's Snoopy) was discarded in a heliocentric orbit after its descent stage was discarded in lunar orbit.“
Elsewhere, I read that the ascent stages were crashed into the moon to provide impulses for the seismometers left on the moon. Snoopy is still in orbit around the sun. And the one from Apollo 13 is in the Tonga Trench. Two fascinating lists:
As for littering the surface of the moon, I was surprised to see in videos that in addition to the scientific equipment ( and golf balls) they left on the moon, there was a lot of other little pieces. In one of the videos on the rover, they literally remove the cover off something and just throw it aside on the ground.
But I mentioned it was an assumption... The parent poster mentioned that the ascent stage was carried into TEI so I assumed that was true.
For upwards of three days.
From the NYT obit:
“I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life,” [Collins] wrote in recreating his thoughts for his 1974 memoir, “Carrying the Fire.”
“If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God only knows what on this side,” he added. “I like the feeling. Outside my window I can see stars — and that is all. Where I know the moon to be, there is simply a black void.”
Charles Lindbergh's forward in Carrying the Fire.
I'm with you L.E.M
Though it's a shame that it had to be you
The mother ship
Is just a blip from your trip made for two
I'm with you boys
So please employ just a little extra care
It's on my mind
I'm left behind when I should have been there
Walking with you
It's a wonderful blending of life in the world at that time, the story of our collective quest to reach the moon, and the individual stories of humans who actually went there.
His description (ignore mine above) made me realize just how remarkable that must have been to see. The Earth diminishing to a ball is one thing, but this atmosphere-less, white desert, Little-Prince-like, moon bearing down on you sounds like something else entirely.
Here's the list. In this context, I use "leave the Earth" mean to mean having left the planet's gravity well, not the atmosphere only. And asterisk implies walked on the moon. The number in brackets is the Apollo Mission no.
Frank Borman 
Jim Lovell [8,13]
Bill Anders 
Tom Stafford 
Fred Haise 
Buzz Aldrin* 
David Scott* 
Charlie Duke* 
Ken Mattingly 
Harrison Schmitt* 
In a way it was a bit disappointing. But it was also a big, huge responsibility. Remember, if something went wrong with the Eagle, he was going to return alone to Earth.
He actually didn't mind being on the dark side of the moon.
"'I was not lonely,' Collins said at an Explorer's Club event in New York City earlier this year, 'I had a happy little home in the command module. Behind the moon it was very peaceful — no one in Mission Control is yakkin' at me and wanting me to do this, that, and the other. So I was very happy, it was a happy home.'" 
I feel worse for the astronauts that were supposed to go on the cancelled apollo missions that must have been such a big disappointment.
Edit: Both are still extremely cool though
Now, the Apollo program also cost much more than the robotic missions. If you are willing to invest enough (e.g. Apollo was >1% of US GDP/year for most of the 60's) you can get an enormous amount of scientific return from a manned mission, but robots are useful for budgets that can't cover a manned mission.
If your goal is to plant a flag and ship back ~400 Kg of moon rocks, you could do it today, using robots, for a tiny fraction of a manned mission's budget. The thing is, bringing back 400 Kg of moon rocks is not 400 times more valuable than bringing back 1 Kg of moon rocks.
As for "done with 1960's technology" so was Apollo: the ability to discover hydrogen (used to find the ice in the lunar crater shadows) wasn't possible with 1960's sensors that were light enough even for the much larger mass and power budgets of an Apollo spacecraft (vis a vis Lunar Orbiter or similar probe).
In fact, the latter hasn't really advanced at all in those 60 years.
In a similar manner, I would expect any manned mission to Mars to employ a lot of robots: control is much easier when the human making the decisions is a few light seconds away versus 8 light minutes. And if you have the mass (and money) for a manned mission, you can tuck in a bunch of robots for very little extra. So a human mission will always be strictly greater than (in scientific return and cash budget) robot mission.
By the nature of the beast, for the cost of a single manned mission, you can launch dozens of expendable, unmanned missions, that can go on for more than a few days. Robots don't need to eat, or breathe, and they don't grouse when you abandon them on an alien surface.
Meanwhile, people and groups with non-vanity goals are making extensive use of space in 2021, compared to 1969... But that's not very sexy, because things like weather satellites and imaging satellites, and communications satellites and the occasional telescope actually accomplish concrete, useful things, at a fraction of the Apollo budget.
Don't tell that to the Radio Astronomers. Something, something, dark side.
Make no mistake, if a company or institution isn't trying a lot and failing a lot to achieve a new type of goal, it's also not making much progress toward any new type of goal.
Regarding technical innovation, NASA did a lot of that in the 1960s. There were a lot of failures then (Mercury and Gemini programs), followed by incredible success (Apollo program). NASA's work with SpaceX is another great form of innovation -- pick the most innovative commercial partners and move forward.
"This is but one of many genuinely shocking aspects of NASA's decision a week ago to award SpaceX—and only SpaceX—a contract to develop, test, and fly two missions to the lunar surface. The second flight, which will carry astronauts to the Moon, could launch as early as 2024."
I do wonder, however, where NASA would be if they would have continued with the DC-X prototype instead of abandoning it when it had a landing leg failure causing it to topple over in an early test.
> people continue to believe him for some reason.
I believe in him, and the reason is obvious. He gets things done nobody else seems able to.
Failure during research & development isn't necessarily a bad thing.
I'd recommend people to look up into those previous failures (and SpaceX is finding "new ways" to fail)
I never had the good fortune of crossing paths with him except for the one time he liked one of my tweets (I joked that I'd been touched by celebrity - he intensely disliked celebrities). But I want to take a moment to describe how much Michael Collins meant to me.
His book, Carrying The Fire, https://www.amazon.com/Carrying-Fire-Astronauts-Michael-Coll... is one of the reasons why I've decided to go into aerospace and take my shot at becoming an astronaut as an adult. He wrote parts of this book in orbit around the moon, and the rest when he came back to Earth. It is hard to describe the degree of tender self awareness that he possessed and the insight with which he wrote.
His book is one of the few books where the forwards are just as important as the book itself. Here's one he recently wrote,
> Could I be one of twelve of eighteen thousand? No way in hell.
It is rare for someone to acknowledge the locus at which the sum of their perspiration and preparation collided with the vagaries of fate. It is rarer still for them to say that had they been born later, or had the circumstances been any different, they might not have been the same. And it is far rarer for someone to talk about the mistakes of youth with this level of humor and care,
> Never mind the excuses, I was a mediocre student, more interested in athletics than academics. I was captain of the wrestling team, but even that was a bit tainted, as I was also a secret smoker. Stupid.
He had, as he admits in the forward, ADHD that went undiagnosed at the time. His teachers thought he was lazy, and he struggled in school. His grades were subpar, and at some point he woke up and he was thirty, writing,
> How had I managed to take so long to get so little done — no advanced degree, a piddling two thousand hours’ flying time, thirty years old, and nothing special in my record to offset these deficiencies?
A lot of books by people who have experienced what it is like to have history's eye upon them don't go into such details. And if they do, they tend to be written by others or they suffer from terminal self-aggrandizement. Collins' account doesn't suffer from this. It feels so raw and real, an inner exploration just as much an outer one.
It's as if we sent on Apollo 11 not just a preternaturally calm man with oodles of the Right Stuff (Neil Armstrong) and an orbital mechanics expert (Buzz Aldrin), but also a self-aware artist who recorded some of the most beautiful images of the trip and tried to capture the beauty of what he saw in front of him in verse. A man who can recite passages from Paradise Lost from heart and talks about the importance of bringing art and joy into the sciences. https://twitter.com/AstroMCollins/status/1313882376225734656
NASA chose well.
Here's one final quote from Carrying The Fire,
> Of course, Apollo was the god who carried the fiery sun across the sky in a chariot. But beyond that, how would you carry fire? Carefully, that's how, with lots of planning and at considerable risk. It is a delicate cargo, as valuable as moon rocks, and the carrier must always be on his toes lest it spill.
> I carried the fire for six years, and now I would like to tell you about it, simply and directly as a test pilot must, for the trip deserves the telling.
I lied. Here's another Michael Collins-ism,
> Farmers speak to farmers, students to students, business leaders to other business leaders, but this intramural talk serves mainly to mirror one's beliefs, to reinforce existing prejudices, to lock out opposing views
I'm holding a quasi-vigil for him on the aerospace club Small Steps & Giant Leaps in ClubHouse by reading Carrying the Fire personally or via the audiobook. You are welcome to join us and read a passage, a chapter, or whatever suits your fancy.
Here's the link, just come in the room and raise your hand, we'll pull you up :)
Here's an excellent interview of him from 2019 talking about SpaceX, Blue Origin, NASA, and Mars https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUtIO06N3sw
> The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there's no good reason to go into space--each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision.