In a 1952 study, Wernher von Braun devised a "manned lunar lander" as illustrated below.

enter image description here

The study looked at three lunar landers taking a crew of 50 to Sinus Roris (Bay of Dew) in 1977. Sinus Roris "is a dark, basaltic plain on the near side of the Moon that forms an extension of the northern edge of Oceanus Procellarum".

Details concerning the Study state,

Each shuttle was assumed to have a turn-around time of ten days: three days to recover the lower stages and tow them by boat back to the Christmas Island launch center, and seven days for refurbishment, restacking, and fuelling with storable propellants for the next launch

My question is, which Christmas Island was being considered as a potential launch site?

Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, just south of Indonesia is an Australian territory. It has co-ordinates 10°29′24″S 105°37′39″E.

The other Christmas Island, spelt Kiritimati in Gilbertese, is part of Republic of Kiribati in the Western Pacific Ocean. Note, in Gilbertese, ti is pronounced as s, so Kiritimati is pronounced as Kirismas. It has co-ordinates 01°51′00″N 157°24′00″W. It used to be a British territory. The United Kingdom conducted nuclear tests there in the late 1950s and the USA in 1962.

Both are very close the equator, with the Pacific Ocean island being closer.

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    $\begingroup$ Only commenting since I don't know the answer, but regarding the launch itself Kiritimati would be a perfect candidate. Closer to the equator and a loooot of nothing towards the east, in case your rocket goes boom. $\endgroup$
    – Infrisios
    Apr 21, 2022 at 9:24
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    $\begingroup$ The western Pacific is also much closer and more accessible than the Indian Ocean. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Apr 21, 2022 at 13:00

2 Answers 2


Looks like Kiritimati, though I'm finding it tricky to locate a good reference confirming it.

From the Astronautix article on Kiritimati, no citation given:

Kiritimati (Christmas Island) in the Pacific Ocean was originally selected by Von Braun in his Collier magazine series of the early 1950's as an ideal equatorial launch site.

From wikipedia's article on Kiritimati, no citation given:

In the early 1950s, Wernher von Braun proposed using this island as a launch site for manned spacecraft, based on its proximity to the equator, and the generally empty ocean down-range (east).

I've had a look through the Collier's articles written by von Braun... there are PDFs available from here: https://www.rmastri.it/spacestuff/wernher-von-braun/colliers-articles-on-the-conquest-of-space-1952-1954/

These have some glorious high-resolution full color old-school artist's impressions, but are notably lacking any references to Kiritimati. A brief mention is made of Johnston Island, but that's all. I'll update the answer if anything else pops up.

Couple of other things referencing Kiritimati:

Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations has a brief mention under A Saturn Launch Site

The short-lived plan to transport the Saturn by air was prompted by ABMA's interest in launching a rocket into equatorial orbit from a site near the Equator; Christmas Island in the Central Pacific was a likely choice

NASA also has a collection of oral history interview transcripts, and one with Robert C. Seamans also briefly mentions "We looked at operating from Christmas Island in the Pacific."

No luck finding any further details, so maybe Kiritimati was never considered very seriously, or maybe any relevant papers are simply not available online (or were scanned but never OCR'd and so searches for anything but the title turn up a blank). In any case, I didn't turn up any references to the other Christmas Island, which rather suggests that it wasn't ever considered by anyone.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for finding a link to the Colliers articles! $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Apr 21, 2022 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ The prologue of the Arthur C. Clarke novel Childhoods End contains a reference to this plan with the serial numbers filed off. The launch site there is in the Pacific as well. $\endgroup$ Apr 21, 2022 at 19:38

This is an annex to Starfish Prime's carefully researched answer on why the Pacific Ocean Christmas island would have been the the one referenced. The Indian Ocean version would not have survived more than a passing glance as a moon launch site in the sixties.

The island is a volcanic core rising very steeply from deep ocean, the 'port' is:

enter image description here Crop of original from wikipedia

Where cargo ships moor to the buoys to avoid hitting the cliff edge while a crane reaches over the edge to unload them.

This process is obviously very weather dependent since unlike coral atolls there is no reef providing protection, the buoy on the left of this photo is in around 100 meters of water and everything beyond that is deep ocean with next shelter being Indonesia 400km away.

So not a place to be regularly delivering large and delicate rocket assemblies, especially if the plan involves splashdown and a 3 day tow to be recovered.

After Apollo there does seem to have been discussion about various space(ish) uses of the island but mostly focused on the 747 sized runway on the island servicing it's Casino. A proposed spaceport hypothetically operating Soyuz has not eventuated and despite local political noise on upgrading facilities, in a comment Organic Marble notes the runway was not a Space Shuttle Emergency Landing Site.

  • $\begingroup$ I find Hao Island in the shuttle ELS table, but not Christmas (as of 1991). $\endgroup$ Apr 22, 2022 at 23:50
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble yeah, I think it was more political maneuvering within Australia rather than anything NASA driven so does not surprise me that it was as vaporous as the Soyuz launch proposals - there are political drivers to keep the island inhabited so odd things get proposed all the time. Thanks for checking, will update the answer. $\endgroup$ Apr 23, 2022 at 0:08
  • $\begingroup$ Darwin, Australia was an ELS site. $\endgroup$ Apr 23, 2022 at 0:11
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble, yeah if the choice was Christmas Island or Darwin I'd pick Darwin, though suspect most of the orbits that would make CI a consideration Perth or Diego Garcia would also be potentials. Now off to find if we have a question for maximum wait before to an ESL would have become available. $\endgroup$ Apr 23, 2022 at 0:52

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