According to Wikipedia's Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

During JPL's Army years, the laboratory developed two deployed weapon systems, the MGM-5 Corporal and MGM-29 Sergeant intermediate range ballistic missiles. These missiles were the first US ballistic missiles developed at JPL.7 It also developed a number of other weapons system prototypes, such as the Loki anti-aircraft missile system, and the forerunner of the Aerobee sounding rocket. At various times, it carried out rocket testing at the White Sands Proving Ground, Edwards Air Force Base, and Goldstone, California. A lunar lander was also developed in 1938-39 which influenced design of the Apollo Lunar Module in the 1960s.6

6Launius, Roger (2002). To Reach High Frontier, A History of U.S. Launch Vehicles. University of Kentucky. pp. 39–42.

7Keymeulen, Didier; Myers, John; Newton, Jason; Csaszar, Ambrus; et al. (2006). Humanoids for Lunar and Planetary Surface Operations. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Pasadena, CA: JPL TRS 1992+ Humanoids for lunar and planetary surface operations

Question: What did JPL's 1939 lunar lander look like and what practical aspects of landing on the Moon did this engineering design address?

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    $\begingroup$ NASA did not exist 1939, so what about the tag? $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 8:01
  • $\begingroup$ That was just reflex, good catch! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 8:02

1 Answer 1


The Jet Propulsion Laboratory didn't exist under the JPL name until 1943-1944. What existed in 1938-1939 was its predecessor, rocketry experiments at the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology (GALCIT.)

Looking at the source that Wikipedia provides (To Reach the High Frontier: A History of U.S. Launch Vehicles, pp. 39-42), there's no evidence that GALCIT designed a lunar lander in 1938-1939. What the source does say is that the British Interplanetary Society (BIS) designed a lunar landing vehicle in 1938-1939 which later influenced the Apollo Lunar Module. So, I think the statement in Wikipedia which you have boldfaced in your question is a misreading of the source by the Wikipedia editors.

The BIS lunar spaceship design in 1938-1939 used mostly solid fuel rockets, meaning a large number (5) of Earth-to-Moon propulsion stages, together with a sixth stage for landing on the Moon and returning to Earth. See 1, 2, 3.

Crew capsule from the BIS lunar spaceship. Crew capsule from the BIS lunar spaceship.

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    $\begingroup$ This was extensively reworked late 40s incorporating liquid rocket technology @uhoh becoming the BIS moonship. It's this that is beleived to have influenced the Apollo LM $\endgroup$
    – user20636
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 11:08

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