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This question already has an answer here:

The answer to Do we still have all the equipment to go back to the moon? is an unambiguous "no". Most of the equipment went to museums or got scrapped. But do we still have all the know-how?

Say, a political miracle happens, and the Congress decides "Apollo 18 should happen ASAP" and it should be an exact duplicate of Apollo 17. No R&D work is expected, just rebuilding the Apollo 17 from scratch. Rebuild/restart all the manufacturing, reopen all the closed facilities, all the engineering work to get it all up and running basing on existing documentation, training based on old procedures, astronauts training on equipment rebuilt from old blueprints, zero new research. If contractors / 3rd party manufacturers no longer produce something, they'll be paid to reopen the production, rebuilding production facilities and retraining the crew if needed, but not "reinvent" the technology if it was lost.

Do we have all the data to do this, or was some of it lost, say, passed as word-of-mouth and forgotten, or destroyed along with closure of some facilities?

As for the duplicate suggestion, the gist of difference between the questions is: the Saturn one asks "Why don't we", with answer "We don't want to - It's not practical." Mine asks "But can we, assuming we'd (somehow) want to and had the budget?"

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marked as duplicate by Russell Borogove, Nathan Tuggy, Fred, Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩, Hohmannfan May 27 '17 at 15:08

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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    $\begingroup$ Building the flight computers for CM and LM just the same way is not reasonable. The days of core rope memories and low scale integration chips are long ago. The necessary high reliability of the electronic parts is not achievable by producing only the parts necessary for one mission. There are better methods now to build the combustion chambers and nozzles of the rocket engines by welding a lot of tubes. $\endgroup$ – Uwe May 26 '17 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ I like the question, but I'm having trouble envisioning a good answer. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage May 26 '17 at 12:59
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    $\begingroup$ @called2voyage: Hobbes' answer is already pretty good. If some essential procedures were undocumented and are forgotten, that would be it. Some specific examples would be great but if none appear, I'll approve his answer. $\endgroup$ – SF. May 26 '17 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ Even if you had every blueprint and spec, many of the parts would not be available. Look at the travails that the people trying to restore the Lunar Orbiter tapes went through. "The only working version of the Ampex tape player ($300K when new) was discovered in a chicken coop and restored with the help of the original designer. There is only one person on Earth who still refurbishes these tape heads, and he is retiring this year. The skills to read this data archive are on the cusp of disappearing forever." thelivingmoon.com/47john_lear/02files/… $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble May 26 '17 at 20:56
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    $\begingroup$ @TheGreatDuck -- Re "that's just called transferring everything" -- You used "just" there, which is possibly the most dangerous word in engineering. How do you transfer over data that is unreadable? $\endgroup$ – David Hammen May 27 '17 at 16:19
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There's a related question on the Saturn V which addresses some of your question.
In general, it's difficult to document a complicated system so thoroughly that there will be no surprises at all when you rebuild from the documentation. Blueprints are one thing, but most of the parts of a Saturn V were handbuilt and needed minor adjustments during assembly. I doubt all of those were documented rigorously.

This was standard procedure back then. A recent example of how this can resurface and bite you in the ass is the BAE Nimrod MRA.4 saga: the plan was to fit 1960-vintage aircraft with a new wing (in order to accommodate new engines). The new wing was designed in CAD based on measurements from one airframe. When they built the second new wing and tried to mate it to the second airframe, they found it didn't fit. The airframes were different.

The Apollo program had tens of thousands of subcontractors (from huge aerospace firms down to tiny mom-and-pop shops), many of which are long gone.

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    $\begingroup$ I suspect that almost all non-trivial changes were documented, but documentation has been lost. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove May 26 '17 at 15:20
  • $\begingroup$ Am I right in thinking that fiasco with the wings is part of why the program was cancelled and the UK ultimately decided to buy P8 Poseidon's instead? $\endgroup$ – Dan Neely May 26 '17 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ The wing problems were solved, but the program was plagued by cost overruns. The cancellation was a political decision and came at a time when the aircraft were nearly finished. $\endgroup$ – Hobbes May 27 '17 at 8:40
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This question is possibly too broad because there are many forms of "know-how". Also, how much of the past do you want to recreate?

One of the key skills that would have been lost are the manufacturing skills - on the shop floor and management of the manufacturing processes. If need be, that could be redeveloped. But would you want to recreate the factories and equipment of the 1950s and 1960s or use modern equipment in existing factories?

The other thing is, if you wanted to make a Saturn V rocket and the lunar module and the lunar rover would you want to use the same electrical and electronic systems. Do the transistors and computer chips of that era still exist. Would you want to recreate them from scratch or would you want to modernize the electronic systems with components currently available?

While on the subject of computers, what about computer software? Do you want to use the software of the late 1960s and early 1970s or would you prefer it to be re-written using computer languages that are currently being used? Would you prefer the software to do just want it did during the Apollo era or would you like it to be able to do a more than was possible back then? Do you want to be able to recreate the computer overflow error that occurred during the landing of Apollo 11 because too many devices were left switched on?

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  • $\begingroup$ let's say if a drop-in modern replacement (as big and complex as you desire, e.g. a whole rocket engine, or as small, like a single transistor) is available, sure, go with it. But if integration were to involve developing more than a simple adapter to match the pins, or bolt locations, that would be a "no" and definitely not designing a new one. This is a rather abstract question - don't treat the example literally, but consider it as "how much of past knowledge is was lost?" $\endgroup$ – SF. May 26 '17 at 12:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Ajasja: It's a matter of difference: Obsoleted by newer, better, or lost to the past leaving only void behind? $\endgroup$ – SF. May 26 '17 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ I think it's worth noting that nearly every project NASA works on uses computer technology that's already 5 to 10 years old. AFAIK, Hubble, for example, was built using 286 computer systems and CPU's as they had already been tried and tested on earth, so they knew it would work. Same went for the Shuttle, which obviously increases maintenance work the older a ship gets, as those components get harder and harder to find. $\endgroup$ – mickburkejnr May 26 '17 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ @TheGreatDuck en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel_80286 $\endgroup$ – Felix Dombek May 27 '17 at 1:37
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    $\begingroup$ @TheGreatDuck Nope, that's not usually the case. You don't omit “bit“. If there's no “bit“ then sth else is meant. I might have a x86 system for example. $\endgroup$ – Felix Dombek May 27 '17 at 1:55
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This is, of course, possible. For a very special meaning of the word "possible": extremely expensive, dangerous (to the astronauts), and pointless.

This question reminded me of the Tu-4 - the Soviet reverse-engineered copy of the American-made Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Stalin had 3 B-29 which emergency-landed in the USSR during WW2, and he ordered Tupolev to copy them. This turned out to be a brilliant step: copying the plane (as opposed to creating a "better version suitable to the existing Soviet realities") required creating whole new industries and gave a huge boost the the Soviet aircraft technology.

Copying Apollo would have the opposite effect: resurrecting obsolete technology instead of creating the new ones.

Suppose we want to repeat Magellan's circumnavigation (yes, I know he died on the way). Would we build a modern ship to do that or re-create his caravels?

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    $\begingroup$ "Suppose we want to repeat Magellan's circumnavigation (yes, I know he died on the way). Would we build a modern ship to do that or re-create his caravels?" - Possibly a bad example, as there have been people who have recreated historical journeys, trying to recreate the original equipment as closely as possible. Maybe someday Apollo will be recreated in this manner as well. Probably not anytime soon, but you never know. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage May 26 '17 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage I bet those people still had modern boats or aircraft following behind for safety. +1 $\endgroup$ – jpmc26 May 26 '17 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ @SF.: actually, we don't have non-nuclear craft capable of circumnavigation without refueling. $\endgroup$ – sds May 28 '17 at 3:04
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    $\begingroup$ @SF. this is far beyond the topic at hand, but tankers usually don't "eat" their cargo (not that they cannot). $\endgroup$ – sds May 28 '17 at 4:15
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    $\begingroup$ @sds Magellan's ships did not sail non-stop. Food and water got picked up at regular intervals. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jul 31 '18 at 1:17
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No

The Apollo missions were huge, custom built machines made in very small quantity built on the cutting edge of what was possible. Presumably much of the required infrastructure was shut down and or made obsolete.

Even if we had the exact specs for every part, and the specs on how to make the machines that make that part (so on and so forth), we no longer have the people that made it possible. If a single engineer, welder, QA tester, supplier (or so on) has even one slightly different interpretation of a task than anticipated it could end in failure.

SpaceX's recent failure due to a strut comes to mind... and that was the same company, building the same rocket with the same team using the same supplier.

Think of it as making a cake... involving tens of thousands of people... decades later... with different training and tools... where any single minor change could end up as RUD. I don't care how could good recipe is... I'm not baking that.

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  • $\begingroup$ Define RUD please ? $\endgroup$ – Criggie May 27 '17 at 7:44
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    $\begingroup$ Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly, i.e. an explosion. $\endgroup$ – Hobbes May 27 '17 at 9:00
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    $\begingroup$ Forget about the act of baking the cake... would you eat it? (Something like: get into the cockpit and trust your life to that the thing doesn't blow up the first chance it gets.) $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 28 '17 at 14:13
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Every single aspect involved new engineering. I worked on the ablative heat shield, doing just one small corner of the testing. We were constantly trying new combinations of materials. All that work would need to be re-created with newer methods.

It IS rocket science. Study the history of rocketry, where the difficulty is to get predictable behavior out of hypergolic chemistry. Look up the term hypergolic chemistry. There are some neat videos, including the film of the lunar lander taking off from the moon.

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    $\begingroup$ Oh, I know of the trials and tribulations of getting there. But for hypergolic chemistry, there is no longer any need to test a thousand substances; you know you need RFNA at 98.5% sharp, add HF to make up 5%, mix hydrazine with UDMH in 20-55% proportions - this all is documented. Years of work and billions of dollars resulted in some concise documents that mean every smallest lab, as long as it has the right security clearances, can make the hypergolic fuels needing just a couple calls to chemical suppliers, and at cost not exceeding the cost of substrates by much. $\endgroup$ – SF. May 27 '17 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ "We were constantly trying new combinations of materials. All that work would need to be re-created with newer methods." Isn't the outcome of all that work exactly the kind of information that would be in the final blueprints and other relevant engineering documentation? $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 28 '17 at 14:20

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