16
$\begingroup$

Apollo 11 used the Saturn V rocket, which is no longer produced. As far as I can tell, Atlas V rockets are not as powerful and would not be able to deliver the lunar lander to the surface of the Moon.

If we were to launch another Apollo mission to land on the Moon today, do we have a rocket powerful enough to do it?

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I wonder, with the advances of technology, how much weight could be shed from the lander as well. $\endgroup$ – SF. Feb 24 '16 at 0:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @SF. That's a good question in itself. I doubt there's much more to do in that direction. While robots can be miniaturized, humans have a fixed size and mass and need equipment at similar scale. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Feb 24 '16 at 1:32
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ If he doesn't need to come back, then sure. $\endgroup$ – Mark Adler Feb 24 '16 at 3:11
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @SF: You'd be mistaken about the structural parts. Modern composite materials are significantly lighter. $\endgroup$ – MSalters Feb 24 '16 at 11:48
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You'd spend much more in consumables and radiation shielding than you'd save in fuel if you went to ion engines; SMART-1 took fourteen months to get to lunar sphere of influence. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMART-1 $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Feb 24 '16 at 21:26
17
$\begingroup$

From the questions wording you mean, could we lift the Apollo CM/LM stack on any existing boosters? In that case no. Largest heavy lift vehicle is probably Delta-4-Heavy. Falcon Heavy is not yet operational and will exceed it, but has a low Isp upper stage so is not optimal for such missions.

Could a different moon mission be launched? Almost certainly, just a matter of launching in smaller pieces and likely refueling in orbit. Would it be worth it? Well clearly no one has thought it worthwhile to date.

You would launch something like the Command Module and Service module (In one or two modules), where the Service module would act as an upper stage, and then refuel it in orbit from following launches. Then another launch for a Lunar Module, assemble in orbit and onwards.

There is a lot of speculation that the Falcon Heavy demo payload might be an Apollo 8 style mission, where a capsule is sent to go around the moon and come back.

If there was a true desire to do so, it is likely possible, but no one has decided it is necessary.

Additionally, consider costs. A Saturn V in modern dollars has been estimated in \$2 billion dollar range a launch. A Delta 4 Heavy is around \$400 million a launch. A Falcon Heavy launch is advertised at \$125 million. (Assuming they ever develop cross feed). Thus even 5 Delta 4 Heavy launches is competitive with a Saturn V, and as many as 16 Falcon Heavy launches.

With the experience of building the ISS a lot of technology and tools for in space assembly has become much more feasible than in the 1960s on a tight deadline.

We probably no longer need a giant super booster just for the moon, even though SpaceX plans to build one as the BFR/MCT combo for Mars missions.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Correct me if I'm wrong, but prior to the development of the Saturn V rocket, wasn't Werner von Braun's initial idea to sent components for the Moon missions into Earth orbit, have them assembled there before sending the combined package to the Moon? The plan was changed once someone from one NASA contractors revealed the expense of such a system compared to launching a complete package using just one rocket. $\endgroup$ – Fred Feb 24 '16 at 0:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Fred : universetoday.com/63758/… $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Feb 24 '16 at 1:06
  • $\begingroup$ That's exactly what I'm asking. All the talk about returning to the Moon, building Moon village, etc, got me thinking if we even have the ability to put a man on the Moon, something we did 50 years ago. It seemed to me that the easiest way to answer that is to see if we can redo the Apollo missions. $\endgroup$ – ventsyv Feb 24 '16 at 3:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Fred: You're correct, von Braun did have some really cool ideas regarding space exploration. Be sure to watch the super-excellent Disney educational film dealing with this subject: youtube.com/watch?v=1ZImSTxbglI $\endgroup$ – Wabbitseason Feb 24 '16 at 15:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @vsz Same way the Apollo stack was sent from a very low LEO staging orbit to the moon. Part of the stack (Saturn IVB third stage in that case) does the burn to provide the energy to get there. $\endgroup$ – geoffc Feb 25 '16 at 12:25
6
$\begingroup$

No. But two ideas about how to do it aren't far off, although I doubt it will be done that way.

  • Falcon Heavy, which would be three Falcon 9 first stages put together and which will test fly in September 2016 (if not postponed again and again). It would require two launches. One that lands an empty ascent and return vehicle on the Moon, and a second which lands an astronaut or two next to it.

  • Russian Angara 5, which would be the heaviest launcher in the world today and has been successfully test launched in 2014, but in a yet uncomplete configuration, has officially been proposed to send kosmonauts to the Moon with four launches that assemble the lunar mission in low Earth orbit.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ you'd best hit bull's eye on that second launch! $\endgroup$ – njzk2 Feb 24 '16 at 2:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @njzk2: "Houston to moon mission: you've got legs haven't you? Well then less talking more walking." $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Feb 24 '16 at 13:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @SteveJessop Talking consumes precious oxygen. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 24 '16 at 14:36
-3
$\begingroup$

I remember reading in Bill Bryson's - a short history of nearly everything that we no longer possess a rocket powerful enough to send a man to the moon! Apparently the historic Apollo 11 plans were destroyed sometime in 90's by NASA during a spring clean.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ That is incorrect. NASA retains piles and piles of documentation on the Saturn V and other Apollo hardware. $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Feb 24 '16 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ Even if true, NASA destroying the plans is not that big of a deal. There are most likely largely obsolete, after all it's been 50 years. $\endgroup$ – ventsyv Feb 24 '16 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ See this Q&A for why the existence of the Saturn/Apollo plans is irrelevant: space.stackexchange.com/questions/6281/… $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Feb 24 '16 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Hobbes: Besides, we've still got at least one complete Saturn V on display somewhere that could be reverse-engineered if necessary. $\endgroup$ – Sean Jun 26 at 3:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.