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I recently read on Wikipedia about Apollo 8's interesting schedule history. Basically, a lunar orbital mission was supposed to be an F mission for 1969, with the LEM tested in lunar orbit. But they decided to bump it up to the D mission spot (1968 Dec) without any LEM because that hardware was way behind schedule.

It also says this schedule change took place in August 1968, and the general article says this was kept secret until after Apollo 7 was finished successfully (1968 Oct).

So now I would like to know when the July 1969 target for Apollo 11 was chosen/finalized. I searched for this but could not even find when it was first announced publicly in newspapers.

I've also seen this other SX.SE question on the scientific reason for the landing date. I'm operating under the assumption that, for a given landing site, there is one launch window per month, and I'm not interested in the physical constraints of why. I'm interested in why/when July, as opposed to June, May, etc.

Of course hardware readiness plays a role but that is part of why I'm asking this. I want to know when NASA put 1969 July on the books, how far ahead of time they "knew", or were pretty sure, they would be ready by July.

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The launch schedule for 1969 was determined in the first days of the year, putting the Apollo 11 launch tentatively on July 15th, although it would depend on the success of Apollo 9 and 10 if Apollo 11 was going to be the landing (G) mission. NASA confirmed the launch date for Apollo 11 only in June 1969 and announced it publicly as the Moon landing mission on July 6th.

The Apollo 11 Press Kit announcing the launch date of July 16th was released on July 6th, 1969, only 10 days before the launch. Internally, the final decision was taken only a few weeks before that:

Armstrong and Aldrin also trained at other places, especially at Langley Research Center, where they worked on the suspended lunar landing trainer equipped with realistic surface views and lighting. On 12 June, NASA senior management agreed that the crew was ready for a 16 July [1969] launch. Less than a month later, on 7 July, Mueller told Paine that "if Apollo 11 continues to progress on plan, the first men will set foot on the moon two weeks from today.

(Chariots For Apollo, chapter 13)

Note that in February 1969 NASA was still building training equipment (the 1/6 gravity simulator).

Nonetheless, internally the earliest possible launch date for G mission was of course known. After the successful Apollo 8 mission, the following launch schedule was determined for 1969:

Frank Borman's Apollo 8 crew in its flight near the moon had met no major obstacles, but the need for trailblazing missions had not lessened. Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight George Mueller in Washington wrote Center Director Robert Gilruth in Houston after Apollo 8 to remind him, "It is essential that we not rest on our laurels, for we have yet to land on the moon." Gilruth foresaw few chances for resting. Only three days of the new year had passed when John D. Stevenson, Director of Mission Operations in Washington, projected five Apollo flights for 1969, with launches on 28 February, 17 May, 15 July, 12 September, and 10 December. This schedule was essentially the same race-with-the-decade timetable outlined a year earlier.

(Chariots For Apollo, chapter 12)

Apollo 8 launched without an LM, so the E and F missions would still need to follow before the G mission could be attempted. Hence, the first possible opportunity for the G mission was going to be the third launch in 1969, tentatively scheduled on July 15th.

They pushed hard to get Apollo 8 launched in December of 1968. If you look at the operations and launch schedule, you'll see about 2-3 months between launches*. They were working at maximum capacity around that time to push for the end-of-the-decade landing, so assuming they couldn't launch any faster, even optimistically Apollo 11 wasn't going to launch before June 1969.


*) The launch vehicle coincidentally also spends about 2 months on the launch pad before being launched, presumably NASA didn't want to risk (at that time) launching with another stack on the pad, so maybe they wanted to only roll-out the next vehicle after a launch (see also this question and answer). However, given the time pressure at that time I doubt that they could have launched faster if they wanted to take that risk.

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    $\begingroup$ Chariots for Apollo ch. 12 has an explicit planned schedule as of 3rd Jan 1969 - "with launches on 28 February, 17 May, 15 July, 12 September, and 10 December". This seems to be more or less exactly the dates achieved for A9, A10, and A11 (the last two slipped a bit) - which suggests that as of the start of the year there was no plan to try A11 any earlier than it did launch $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2022 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @Andrew for finding that; I added that into the answer. $\endgroup$
    – Ludo
    Aug 24, 2022 at 9:58
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. As expected, the real dictator of schedule is the Saturn 5 rocket, the biggest/hardest/complexiest thing to build. If that comes out once per 3 months then that's that. $\endgroup$
    – DrZ214
    Aug 24, 2022 at 10:30

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