I'm watching the British movie The First Men in the Moon and it got me wondering if it was scientifically possible to have sent humans to land and explore the moon (or even just orbit) before the NASA Apollo missions of the late 1960s. Was it?
The science behind getting to the Moon is a rather complex question. Most of the challenges were in the engineering. Some of the key science points include:
All of those have been around since the 1800's or longer. There is also a number of science topics related directly to space (Albeit ones that could have been worked around given enough resources) that include the following:
- Surface of the Moon- Could it support weight of a lander? Was it too rocky?
- What was the radiation environment like between the Earth and the Moon.
- Could humans survive in zero gravity?
There are a number of engineering challenges that were required, including:
- Optimal propellant- (RP-1 first stage, LH2/LO2 for others) (1950's)
- Liquid rocket engine- 1926.
- Re-entry design- 1920 for concept, 1950's for practice.
- Computers, while strictly not required, make many of the things much easier. For the size they were required, 1950's to 1960's.
- Light materials, including ceramics, composites.
- Thermal control, including mylar.
There were a number of operational items as well that were required. These were developed at the beginning of the space program by both the USSR and USA, which include:
- Orbital Rendezvous
Bottom line is, the basic science has been around for hundreds of years. The specific science to aid in engineering, along with the engineering to do so was developed largely as a result of the space program, and the cold war ICBM development. A few years earlier might have been possible if the effort was expended, but not many.