In case the Apollo Lunar module had approached the landing site at way too high velocity, could the ascent stage have separated and returned to the command module before a crash? Thus performing a task similar to a launch abort tower. One challenge would be to synch with the orbit of the command module.

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    $\begingroup$ Did you consider googling "apollo lm abort" before asking this question? $\endgroup$ Feb 22, 2016 at 0:34
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    $\begingroup$ I believe that Apollo 10 did just this: used the descent stage to approach close to the surface, then jettisoned it and used the ascent stage to return to orbit. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Feb 22, 2016 at 4:13
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, I believe if the descent stage had expended its fuel, he could have aborted. as long as he was to the left of the ascent engine curve in the figure. It does get questionable near zero altitude.... $\endgroup$ Feb 22, 2016 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ In fact, Apollo 11 wasn't "running on fumes". The time being counted down during the final approach (something less than 30 seconds left when Eagle touched down) was the time until the mission rules called for a mandatory abort using the ascent stage, not time until the lander fell out of the sky. $\endgroup$ Feb 22, 2016 at 21:07
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    $\begingroup$ Correction: the time countdown was to the "bingo" call, at which point the rules were "land in the next 20 seconds or abort". If they were only 50 feet up at bingo they'd press on. They were about 15 seconds from bingo at touchdown, with over 700 pounds of fuel remaining in the descent tanks. See the annotation at 102:44:45 here: hq.nasa.gov/alsj/a11/a11.landing.html $\endgroup$ Feb 22, 2016 at 21:25

2 Answers 2


Yes. There is a lot of good information in this presentation from the June 1966 Apollo Lunar Landing Mission Symposium relative to landing flight design including abort planning. The crucial figure is this one:

enter image description here

which shows the capability of the ascent engine to abort all the way down to landing. It assumes a 4 second delay to separate the landing stage.

As far as returning to the orbit of the command module, the Apollo Experience Report - Abort Planning document explains on page 24 (33 of the pdf) that the Lunar Module would attempt to attain a safe orbit and the Command Module would rendezvous with it.

  • $\begingroup$ In an emergency, could the 4-second delay have been foregone and the ascent engine fired immediately upon staging? $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Nov 22, 2018 at 5:02

That maneuver was called "fire in the hole". See the wikipedia article. According to this NASA paper there was an extra "fire-in-the-hole shield". During Apollo 5, 9 and 10 there was a test of "fire-in-the-hole", see 1 , 2 and 3. The LM test of Apollo 5 was done unmanned.

The insignia of the mission Apollo 5 was designed by Grumman engineers to show the fire in the hole test. enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks a lot for adding the picture of the mission patch. My answer looks so much better now. The patch insistently shows the simultaneous firing of the decent and the ascent stage. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Mar 20, 2017 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ Apollo 6 didn't have a real LM, 7 & 8 had no LM, 10 staged the LM in low lunar orbit. So 10 maybe. $\endgroup$ Mar 20, 2017 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ I found it in the german wikipedia, there was a in flight separation of the ascent stage of the LM during the Apollo 10 mission. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Mar 20, 2017 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ Mission patches get handed out to a lot of people. Some collect them, some sew them on a jacket. $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2017 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ Note also that the patch shows (correctly) that the descent stage had no landing gear. $\endgroup$
    – GordonD
    Sep 25, 2021 at 9:41

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