Past Speakers of the: LANDON LECTURES

Landon Lecture by Rear Adm. Alan Shepard,

U.S Astronaut
April 3, 1973

by Rear Adm. Alan Shepard

It is a pleasure for me to be here and an honor for me to join such a distinguished line of speakers. I congratulate Governor Landon on his ability to get so many fine people here. I notice in reviewing his background that, while governor of Kansas, he was instrumental in coming up for that time with something very unusual a balanced budget. I hope you recognize interwoven through the speech that I make today some remarks along these lines, also.

Today I want to speak to you about where we currently stand in space, what we have done, what we intend to do and then discuss a few things which I think are really the important facets of our space program.

The Beginning

Space started back in 1957. As a matter of fact, I suppose there are a lot of you here that really don't remember anything before Sputnik, which was launched in those days. So it really has been going on quite a long time and we have made quite a bit of progress during this period. Sputnik went up in '57 and the first manned flight was made in 1961. And of course the Soviets and the United States have been the only two nations up until just recently that have had any kind of a space capability at all.

I intend to talk today primarily about our exploits in space, what we've done over the years. And just reviewing quickly-for those of you who are perhaps not old enough to remember-back in 1961 we had the first manned flight. As a matter of fact, we had two flights in that particular year which were just very short ballistic mission profiles.

In other words, the spacecraft was launched up above the atmosphere into a weightless condition for a very short period of time. The purpose of this flight was to convince a lot of people that somebody could be weightless for about five and half minutes and come back and still not be irrational. As a matter of fact, some of my colleagues still think I didn't make it. But we did in fact have two good short missions on the ballistic flights, and in the following year we had an orbital mission. As a matter of fact, we had six flights altogether in the Mercury program.

It seemed like a pretty big thing at the time, but in retrospect about all we proved in our little niche of time at that particular point was the fact that man could in fact go up in space in this strange and unusual environment and operate with some degree of success, control his vehicle, and communicate intelligently.

Gemini Adds Maneuverability

From the Mercury program we went into the Gemini program which was a two-man spacecraft, as you may recall. We continued our investigation of how man reacts under a weightlessness environment—the physiology aspects of it. But in addition to that we provided him with a spacecraft that has some maneuverability. In the early days, as you recognize from orbital mechanics, once you put an object into orbit above the atmosphere it will tend to stay there because there are no forces acting on it to slow it down. Generally that is what happened on the first flights; they went up there and just stayed with virtually no ability to change course.

In the Gemini missions we provided the capability to turn the engines on and off, to fire the jets, to control the altitude of the spacecraft, move in translation-which means that he was able to change the plane and altitude of his orbit-for example, to make a rendezvous. We did in fact rendezvous with the upper stages of another rocket which was launched. We proved in addition to that that man could go outside the spacecraft in his suit, take his little environment with him and perform several useful functions outside of the spacecraft.

The Lunar Phase Begins

And then came the Apollo program, which was the moon landing program. It's really interesting in retrospect to think about how it all came about. I was directly involved at the time in the way the decisions were being made. My flight was made in 1961, and we went to Washington for a big celebration after the mission. At that time NASA had been considering some plans for a lunar expedition, but there really hadn't been too much interest in the plans then. When I went back in May of 1961 for a visit to Washington, Kennedy was President and Johnson was Vice President. Johnson had been involved with the space committee previously and of course as Vice President was then the head of the National Space Council.

I remember very distinctly the reactions of these two gentlemen primarily as a result of the response of the American public to the mission. President Kennedy was so thrilled with the flight, but also with the prospect of what space could mean to the country, that he interrupted the schedule, delaying the whole parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to take me over to introduce me to a group of National Association of Broadcasters which he was scheduled to address. Later I remember riding down Pennsylvania Avenue with Vice President Johnson and his noting the reaction of the crowds. He was almost as surprised as all of us at the response of the public to this particular mission. It was shortly after that the decision was made to go ahead with the lunar landing program - quite a commitment for the administration to make at that particular time in terms of dollars and in terms of effort.

I think that the people who follow me in this series of lectures ten years from now who have been involved in the program will say the decision which President Nixon made in his administration for the execution of the shuttle program is probably a comparable decision as far as a major step in the advancement of space technology. But nonetheless a decision was made in 1961, and the Apollo program was in fact consummated this year with the sixth of a series of landings at widely separated locations on the lunar surface. This really is a tremendous program and it very definitely was a needed step in the progress of space today. So that's where we are.

Skylab Next Big Step

Where are we going in the next few years? We have within six weeks another manned launch scheduled. The manned program provides for three manned missions this year. Hopefully on the 14th of May we will launch a laboratory, an unmanned laboratory which will really be the third stage of the Saturn 5 rocket. And the Saturn 5 is the one that we use to go to the moon.

The third stage will only go into earth orbit, so the engines and the fuel that we originally use in the third stage to get to the moon will no longer be required. The entire third stage has been made into a laboratory, a habitat for the astronauts that will visit there for the remainder of the calendar year.

It will be launched on May 14. And on the 15th a three-man crew will be launched to rendezvous with it. They will live in this environment for 28 days. They'll come back and about a month later a second crew will launch and rendezvous and stay in the laboratory for 56 days. Then perhaps in November a third crew will launch and stay for an additional 56 days. So we have coming up a total of about five months of weightless flying lined up in the Sky lab program.

Physiological Aspects Important

It's important to analyze what happens to man during this length of time; the physiological aspects of it are important. But perhaps more important are the experiments which are designed to provide a look back at the earth as well as a look into outer space. There are about a hundred experiments involved during the period of these Skylab missions. About 20 percent of these experiments are associated with what happens to the human body, and the remaining 80 percent are associated with looking toward the sun and stars or back toward the earth with telescopes or sensing devices.

In 1975 there will be a single joint rendezvous and docking mission with the Soviet Union. It will investigate the possibility of a rescue mission in future years between the two countries, should it be required.

Beyond that, the shuttle is envisioned for the early flight tests in the atmosphere in 1978, and perhaps orbital space flight tests starting in 1979. Shuttle, as the name implies, is a vehicle that shuttles back and forth between the earth and space. It looks like an airplane. It is launched like a spacecraft, but once it comes back into the atmosphere after reentry it will land on a regular runway just like normal airplanes do.

For those of you in the audience who remember the old DC-3, C-47, or R4D, whatever you call it depending on your association with it, I think that this shuttle is going to turn out to be the DC-3 of the space age. I think that by the time we get the thing working in the late '70s and early '80s we're going to have so many people that are interested in experiments, manufacturing processes and all kinds of things, that it is really going to be a workhorse for us in the years ahead. And I think we are going to have more things to do with it than we can possibly handle when the time comes to get to it.

What Does It Mean?

That very briefly is where we stand and where we are going in the next few years in the manned space program. Basically, what does it all mean? What is the one thing that has permeated the entire program that seems to be the overriding factor of it all? And it's my impression that we're dealing not in terms ot exciting trips around the earth, of junkets to the moon or long terms in laboratories in space per se. We're talking really about science and technology. This seems to have been the overriding influence in the decisions that have been made, and as I look ahead this interest in science, this interest in research is what has to be the overriding function of the future space flights.

It is very difficult to explain technology, particularly for someone who is antagonistic, particularly for someone whose interests are elsewhere-who has other problems. Certainly one of the toughest things that we have to do, and will have to continue to do, is explaining the reasons for research-for looking ahead.

And the space program is not by itself in this arena. I think any of you who are now or will be involved in any kind of basic research is going to run into the same kind of problem. Whether it's research trying to solve a medical problem, whether it is research trying to solve some construction problem for housing-whatever it has to do with-if you're asking to get monies for basic research it is going to be tough.

Some Side Benefits

I'm not suggesting that you give up and I'm not suggesting that I know the answer as to how to get these funds. I am just saying that it is in fact a difficult problem. For example, I can ask what the space program has done; let's take a look at the materials we have used. Let's take a look at some of the fiberglass molding processes that have been invented as a result of using fiberglass on heat shields. Let's take a look at some of the high-temperature materials that we use on spacecraft during reentry that are now used in high-speed airplanes today and supersonic airplanes. Let's take a look at the Teflon and the fireproofing materials that were built into the spacecraft to provide protection for the astronauts that are now being used by firemen in major cities today, helping them get closer to the fires and helping them do their job. It is awfully hard to trace down the line, but nonetheless the technology is there.

We could talk in terms of all the medical investigations that the astronauts have gone through, and since they are rather painful I won't go into them in too much detail. For years things have been poked into us at every conceivable opening not only when we are on the ground but also when we are in space. But you can imagine how thrilled I was when I went back to my native small farming town in New Hampshire about a year ago after my father had a stroke, and found that, by coincidence, he was the first patient to use their remote cardiac monitoring system. My flight had helped develop these sensing devices.

These are the kinds of things you can't talk about in a single sentence but they are still there. There are quadriplegics that, just by moving their eyes, now can turn on lights, turn the pages of books, drive their wheelchairs around because the devices that we used to measure our sensitive eye movements in space have been applied to an earthbound use with very direct benefit.

I referred to unmanned flights a little while ago; I think certainly in the areas of communications and measurements of weather we find that the unmanned satellite has been instrumental in describing and improving this kind of technology for us.

Ironically, one of the things that we always run into is the fellow who comes up and complains about the billions of dollars being spent in the space program and how it should be put somewhere else. After having said his piece he turns around, flips on the television and gets via satellite a picture of the Olympics in Mexico or a golf match in Japan and he never connects the two. And that probably is about as typical a problem that we have and you will have if you try to talk about why it is necessary to continue things in basic research.

Computer Industry Advanced

We have, in fact, forced the computer industry to develop to a point which they would not have reached in the same time frame, in miniaturization and improvements of techniques and programming purely from the requirements of monitoring an Apollo spacecraft and the thousands of functions which are sent back to the earth about what's going on in the spacecraft, the thousands of tracking functions which are required to get the lunar lander to a pinpoint accuracy landing on the moon and back safely. We forced the computer industry to do this and we are already reaping benefits of it, not only domestically but also in terms of foreign trends. The computers and the computer techniques and processing certainly has to be one of the finest products which this country has to sell abroad today.

The thing which is also dear to my heart is the fine internal navigation systems which were developed to guide the spacecraft back and forth. Nowadays I'm invited up to the cockpit once in a while on the airliners when I am flying commercially. They say don't touch anything, but you can come up and take a look. And I see evidences of navigation systems that we developed in the space program.

I think a lot of you certainly are aware of the advantages of this kind of continuing technology-which has to overflow and has to improve our lives as we go along in the years ahead.

The Spinoff from Apollo

I'd like to talk just a few minutes about some of the things in a little more detail that are not in your hands today, but things that you'll see about or read about as the years go ahead. One has to do with the fallout, the spinoff if you will, from the Apollo program. The obvious things that came back from the manned missions to the moon were a lot of rocks-a lot of rocks from several different places and from several different sampling techniques.

The thing that was not so obvious and perhaps in the long run is even more important, is the fact that there were a number of experiment stations left on the lunar surface. As a matter of fact, the very first thing we did during each of the first excursions on the surface was to set up this experiment package. It is powered by a nuclear power supply and hopefully will continue to run for two to four years sending back all kinds of data.

What is this data going to mean? First of all, as you might expect some of the data is almost exclusively with respect to the lunar surface. These of course are seismographs recording tremors that happen in the lunar crust. But nonetheless they do tie in to help determine what the thickness of the lunar crust is, what in fact is the diameter of the magma of the hot core of the moon, how these moonquakes are related to tidal functions and if we can predict, through similar techniques, earthquakes which can happen here within our own crust which is much more tender than that of the moon.

Other moon stations which are sniffing gaseous particles do not seem to be too busy these days; we just don't seem to find too much evidence of any kind of volcanic activity on the moon. We don't seem to find, at least in the areas in which we have landed, any evidence of recent-by recent I mean anything within the last eight or ten million years because that's recent as far as the moon is concerned-earthquakes or any out-gassing, but nonetheless the instruments are there and are doing their job. There are other instruments that are designed to measure and count flows of various weights and various velocity particles. I am not talking about the meteorites, per se, but about charged particles which are primarily a function of solar flux.

Van Allen Belt No Longer an Obstacle

Now as you know, we live on the earth under the protection of the Van Allen Belt or magnetosphere. We are finding out more about this magnetosphere all the time. But it turns out that if you look at a plan form of it as the earth goes around the sun, it is in fact shaped like the wave of a boat, as you might expect from supersonic flow theory which you all know very well. But nonetheless, it does have a bow wave effect. It does have a turbulence effect in the wake of the earth. We are unable to measure these things with any kind of definition from below the Van Allen Belt, but nonetheless we have these stations on the moon which after all goes around the earth once every 28 days and it samples it out in front of the earth, it samples the bow wave, it samples the side, it samples the shock waves in the back and continues to give us, as well as measuring the flux, the basic environment outside of the Van Allen Belts. It continues to give us an idea of what is happening as these fluxes interact with the magnetic sheath. We don't have to worry too much now-the only thing we have to worry about is a little too much sunburn-but we do have to look ahead and find out in fact if the Van Allen Belt is going to be enough as we go down the years of our future to protect us from solar flares.

You see, the moon really is telling us and will continue to tell us a lot more than just the rocks that we bring back. But here again, it is not something I can show you in my hand today. I can't show you a rock because NASA won't give me one, but I also can't show you what the effect of the Van Allen Belt is because we are still assessing the data. Nonetheless, this is the kind of research I am talking about that has been and will be important as far as the moon is concerned.

Future Trips to the Moon

Do we go back to the moon? Oh, I think so. I think we want to catch our breath a little bit and find out what all this data really means to us-to assess what the penalty is, what it is going to cost for us to mount some kind of expedition back to the moon-but sooner or later I think we will go back there because we want to find more data. We want to know more about what goes on, not only about the moon but the interaction the moon has with the earth. Because, after all, we have only 20 million years left in this sun and although we don't have to worry about getting the thing solved tomorrow, somebody has to figure out what to do with this planet when the sun loses its energy. I think it has been an important program and I think we will find ourselves going back to the moon again sometime, either for political purposes, or social purposes or scientific purposes-whatever it happens to be.

Just a little bit about the Skylab program before I wrap up my comments. I alluded to some of these experiments earlier that we are talking about and let's just quickly brush aside the life science experiments by saying that we think we have got the answer on how man can live in outer space for 28 and 56 days at a time. 11 We're going to go at it gradually. We know what his performance is as far as his cardiovascular system, his bone structure and everything else is concerned before he takes off. We'll look at them very carefully during the mission, be sending signals back, various tests and so on and we think on a carefully regulated basis, with the proper amount of exercise, that we are not going to have any problem at all as far as getting man through these long missions of weightlessness.

But more importantly I think, we are going to be looking at the sun with a telescope assessing primarily what happens during the period of flare activity and non-flare periods. Obviously, the reason the telescope is important is because we are well above the atmosphere. We'll be operating at a height of almost 300 miles in circular orbit. And there will be telescopes to look at the stars not only looking at the white light but also in the ultraviolet spectrum, and looking for evidences of hydrogen in the h Alpha band.

Earth Experiments Important

Here again I think the most important functions that we are going to see coming out of Skylab are going to be from those experiments which are directed back toward the earth. I briefly brushed over the weather satellites that we've got flying now. We intend to use a lot of photographic techniques, stereoscopic photographic techniques, a lot of description techniques using the naked eyeballs of the crewmen to see if there is some way that we can enhance our satellite coverage of the weather in the future. We think it has been very good, but we still want to make it better, in particular, to look at the inability of the satellite to describe local weather functions. Local weather functions are little miniature things, and I'm not talking about tornadoes because those tornadoes are all a result of a much larger weather system. I'm talking about fairly discrete gradients in the atmosphere, fairly discrete changes in cloud formations which we can't see nowadays in the large overall scheme of things.

I think it is important because part of what we're doing in Skylab also is to look at the environment; we're looking at water pollution photographically with infrared photography; we're looking at air pollution, and not that we're going to do anything about it directly from the spaceship, but the fact has to be that if a person is going to control the environment then he has to know whether what he is doing on the ground is the right thing. And do these little miniature weather cells, that we know about but not too much about-how do they affect the smog coverage for example? Is there a way to control these kinds of things using other techniques that haven't been thought of yet?

Those of you that come from the farm belt will be interested to know that one of the experiments that we have has to do with assessing the condition of vegetation on the earth, looking at forests, looking at crops, doing it, for the moment at least, with infrared photographic techniques. With the Department of Agriculture last year we used an airplane on a limited basis to experiment with some infrared photographic techniques that we've developed in the Gemini program for measuring temperatures over large areas. And it turned out that a healthy stalk of corn, for example, is a hotter thing than an unhealthy stalk of corn, a healthy tree is a hotter thing than an unhealthy tree. So simply by temperature sensing with infrared film over certain areas and some magnification techniques you can assess what the state of health of a particular body of vegetation is particular field, crop, forest, what have you.

Ecological Controls Possible

And there are still a lot of things we do not know about these techniques, but we see evidences of our being able to help on large scale areas to control the ecology of the environment because of our ability to understand more about why trees die, why crops die and to help control them.

There will be some other experiments run in the sky lab that have to do with techniques inside manufacturing techniques. Can one make a composite specimen, something homogeneous, out of several different weights and materials? We did this on Apollo 14 by recasting materials in a weightless condition. Because of the lack of the gravity factor they'll come out to be totally homogeneous.

It seems there are some liquid separation processes in the serum manufacturing world these days that appear to be applicable to use in weightlessness. People that make crystals for electronic devices feel that we will be able to make better crystals under weightless conditions. So all kinds of things are being investigated on a simple basis in the orbiting Skylab. Can we in fact help much more directly than we have in the past?

Now just one brief message about the cost of the space 13 program. We have been spending a lot of money. In 1969 when we were geared up for a landing every two months on the lunar surface, NASA was operating with a budget of about $5 billion annually, a little over $5 billion. The current budget is around $3 billion. The unmanned satellites including the Jupiter probes, as well as all the manned programs I'm talking about, hopefully can be done with $3 billion.

Now this is a lot of money, no question about it, but I'd like to ask you to look at it in terms of the overall national budget. The national budget in 1973 is over $200 billion. And it turns out that the amount of money totally being spent on space the un-manned weather satellites, communications satellites as well as the manned programs, is a little less than one and a half cents out of every tax dollar. If one takes a look at the same budget and adds up all the expenses of health, education, and welfare, hospitalization benefits, VA benefits and social security, the total spending on these social items is about 48 cents on the dollar.

A Matter of Priorities

I don't intend to stand here and say that I'm against helping people. The message that I want to leave with you pertains to priorities. My message is that we can and should keep a certain percentage of our budget for research items. I think that if you look at government programs and hear about the waste in this and the inefficiency in that, to me that's kind of like a way of life. It is like when you are in the Army and you get the barracks as clean as you possibly can the sergeant comes along and he still finds some dust somewhere; or you think you run a good home, you keep it-clean, scrupulously clean, and somebody looking for dust can find it. So I think if we start out with the assumption that we have inefficiency to some degree then we should throw out that argument. It comes right back to assessing the priorities and whether we want to spend more on items which have to do with the humanities, with helping solve problems here on the earth or do we want to spend more on other items. I am not in a position to be that clairvoyant; I don't think really anybody in this country is today. It is a tough problem, it's a tough question, as to how to assign these priorities.

I would like to make a personal observation, however. I think that we are seeing a fairly insidious trend with the increase in spending on social items. I think that the inputs of research and technology along with the military posture has to be part of the country that is going to continue to be a world leader.

We can read historically when countries have lost interest in progress, have lost interest in being strong, and consequently have fallen from their positions as world leaders as a result of this lack of interest.

So I can't answer the question of priorities for you today except to say that I think the current trend is disconcerting. I think it is important for us all to try to realize the true values of technology, the true contributions to progress which have been made not only in space but in other areas, and to continue to demand these kinds of things for our country in the future.

Thank you very much.

The transcription of this Landon Lecture was accomplished through the cooperation of the Kansas State University Libraries and the Office of Mediated Education.

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