Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

Apollo 11 lunar ascent stage might still be in orbit around the Moon

New data about the Moon’s interior and gravitational field suggest that the Apollo 11 lunar ascent stage, the part of the LM that carried the astronauts back from the Moon, might still be in orbit around the Moon, rather than have crashed into its surface as long assumed.

Using the GRAIL gravity model and the General Mission Analysis Tool (GMAT) simulator, Meador expected to find the LM’s orbit destabilizing very quickly. What he found – and was verified by a third party using different methods – was that the Ascent Stage had a feedback mechanism that caused the orbit to stabilize itself over a period of every 24 days. When he ran the simulation forward, the orbit remained stable until the present day.

The upshot of this is that the Ascent Stage may still be in orbit now and could be observed when it is in the right position in relation to the Earth and the Sun. However, Meador emphasizes that the LM was never intended to be very robust. Designed to operate for only about 10 days, it was also filled with batteries and fuel tanks, which could have exploded years ago, either destroying the craft or sending it off on a new trajectory.

If the stage is in lunar orbit, than it probably is one the most valuable and quickly reachable artifacts from one of space’s most historic missions. While the Apollo artifacts left on the Moon should be left where they are, this piece could be recaptured and returned to Earth for both study and exhibition.

In fact, if it is still in orbit it should be recovered, to preserve it.

This data also suggests that other Apollo ascent stages as well as other past lunar orbiters might also still be in lunar orbit, and should be located.


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  • Gary in Transit

    We obviously have tracked various craft orbiting the moon and have not detected any ascent stages.

    How could these craft be detected and orbits plotted?

  • Chris Whiting

    While the LEM upper stages would be major artifacts for the Smithsonian and other museums, and they absolutely should be preserved if possible, there is one issue that appears insurmountable regarding their recovery. The issue is not getting them out of lunar orbit, but getting them back to Earth through reentry.

    The LEM’s were built as light as possible, and they likely could not survive even a parachute recovery in the atmosphere, much less the forces and heat of reentry. Without the Space Shuttle, it does not appear that there is any available vehicle that could stow them during reentry.

    A new vehicle would need to be designed and built for that specific purpose. Hello Elon or Jeff?

  • Due to “masscons” (mass concentrations) on the Moon, lunar orbits are not stable — unless one happens to be orbiting in one of the 4 “frozen orbit” inclinations (27°, 50°, 76°, and 86°). Since it seems unlikely that Apollo ascent stages utilized such orbital inclinations, how can one still be in lunar orbit?

  • Andi

    Chris – will it fit in the hold of a Starship?

  • Michael McNeil: I suggest you read the paper, provided at a link at the bottom of the article I link to. The mathis beyond me, but maybe it will help answer your questions.

  • Jeff Wright

    Chomper filled with foam to surround the ascent stage. Cut away at the foam block as you would a mammoth encased in ice….or any other fossil.

  • Jay

    I need to read this paper. I thought the orbit was too low to be stable as well. If Columbia is there, Andi is right, if Starship could bring it back, that would be a huge publicity boost to SpaceX and to the NASM.

  • concerned

    Scott Manley did a video on this topic about a week ago (sorry to link to the dark side):

    Chris Whiting: Elon is already on this– cargo Starship (“Chomper”) will be more than capable of gobbling up the LM and bringing softly back to Earth (in a few years of course, but if Eagle has lasted this long, it will last a few more years)

  • Chris Whiting noted: “The LEM’s were built as light as possible, . . ”

    That is very nearly an understatement. I read “Chariots For Apollo” (Pellegrino/Stoff, Scribner, 1985): check out Thriftbooks; the URL is way too long.

    You could easily put a hole in the LEM with an inadvertent kick. As I’ve noted, the more I learn about the space programs of the 60’s/70’s, the more I am amazed at something I grew up watching. ‘Star Trek’ was cool, and all, but NASA was real.

  • Col Beausabre

    If you want thin and flimsy, consider the SM-65 Atlas Missile

    “Atlas was unusual in its use of balloon tanks for fuel, made of very thin stainless steel with minimal or no rigid support structures. Pressure in the tanks provides the structural rigidity required for flight. An Atlas rocket would collapse under its own weight if not kept pressurized, and had to have 5 psi (34 kPa) nitrogen in the tank even when not fueled.. The only other known use of balloon tanks at the time of writing is the Centaur high-energy upper stage, although some rockets (such as the Falcon series) use partially pressure-supported tanks.”

    They wanted to wring every last bit of range and warhead throw-weight as possible (nuclear weapons, although having come down in size, were still large and heavy by later standards) from the missile

  • Col Beausabre related: “Pressure in the tanks provides the structural rigidity required for flight. An Atlas rocket would collapse under its own weight if not kept pressurized, and had to have 5 psi (34 kPa) nitrogen in the tank even when not fueled.. ”

    Thank you! I did not know that; and a Cool Fact. It sounds like a rocket-powered Zeppelin.

  • I was wondering why Scott Manley was the dark side. It took me a moment to realize you meant YouTube.

    Is there an alternative? I know some of my favorites, particularly Isaac Arthur, also post to Nebula. My computer can do that; my TV cannot.

    Which reminds me, my next computer must be able to “cast” – both sending and receiving.

  • Pete Arons

    Markedup2, look at ‘Rumble’ as a substitute for ‘YouTube’.

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