Apollo Lunar Module
The Apollo Lunar Module, known by it’s NASA acronym ‘LM’, is singular in the history of vehicles. It is the only crewed vehicle to land and take off from another world. Manufactured by Gruman Aircraft, standing just over seven meters tall and weighing as much as sixteen and three quarter tons when fully fueled, the LM is a marvel of engineering.
Fifteen LMs were constructed, nine were flown in space. Six landed and returned their crews from the surface of the Moon. One, Aquarius, famously acted as an impromptu lifeboat for the crew of Apollo 13.
It is my favorite spacecraft of all time despite having last flown more than forty years ago.
Above: Lunar Module cutaway illustration (1969) NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
As depicted in the illustration, the LM is a self-contained two-stage rocket. The first stage decelerates the LM from lunar orbit to rest on the surface of the Moon, while the second returns the crew to orbit where they rendezvous with the Command Service Module (CSM). Once the LM crew transferred to the CSM, the ascent stage of the LM was jettisoned and typically crashed into the lunar surface to avoid cluttering cis-lunar space with discarded hardware.
Above: LM-3, ‘Spider’ (1969)
Prior to Apollo 11, there were two crewed Apollo flights where the LM was flown but did not land on the Moon. The first of which was LM-3, callsign ‘Spider’, flown during the Apollo 9 mission. For ten days the crew of Apollo 9 tested the capabilities of the CSM and LM in the relative safety of low Earth orbit.
Above: LM-4, ‘Snoopy’ (1969)
LM-4, callsign ‘Snoopy’, arrived at the Moon during the Apollo 10 mission. Snoopy and her crew descended to less than 16 kilometers from the surface of the Moon before returning to the CSM, callsign ‘Charlie Brown’. Two months later, the crew of Apollo 11 would famously return to the Moon and complete the journey.
Above: LM-5, ‘Eagle’ (1969)
I’ve read a great deal about the first Moon landing but the most visceral recreation of the event can be found at ‘The First Men on the Moon’. There you will find synchronized audio of radio transmissions between Eagle and Mission control, Mission Control internal communications and the film camera recording the view out of the starboard LM window. It’s a stunning historical document.
Above: Surveyor 3, LM-6, ‘Intrepid’, and Pete Conrad (1969)
The second crew to visit the Moon, Charles ‘Pete’ Conrad and Alan Bean, achieved a precision lunar landing. They landed their LM, ‘Intrepid’, roughly 600 feet from US lunar probe Surveyor 3. This is the first, and so far only, time a manned mission has visited the off-world landing site of a robotic probe. Surveyor 3 was covered in a light tan dusting of lunar soil on all surfaces except those facing the LM landing site. The LM’s descent engine displaced the lunar regolith with enough force to scour the facing sides of the probe nearly clean.
Conrad and Bean spent a total of thirty-one and a half hours on the Moon, staying an additional ten hours longer than Apollo 11.
Above: LM-7, ‘Aquarius’ (1970)
The Apollo 13 mission by-passed the Moon and returned home after a disastrous explosion occurred within the Apollo Service Module. In the aftermath of the explosion, the crew retreated from the Command Module to Aquarius. From there, and with the help of NASA engineers on the ground, the crew was able to jury-rig repairs to their broken spacecraft and limp back home. The photo above of Aquarius was taken in Earth orbit just after it was jettisoned prior to atmospheric re-entry. A gallant and faithful spacecraft for a crew in peril.
Above: LM-10 ‘Falcon’ and David Scott (1972)
The final three Apollo lunar missions were equipped with Extended Lunar Modules, so designated due to their extended fuel capacity, improved life support capability and the inclusion of the Lunar Roving Vehicle. Apollo crews could now spend as much as 72 hours on the lunar surface conducting science experiments, collecting rock specimens and exploring much further afield in the electrically powered LRV.
Above: LM-12 ‘Challenger’ and the Earth.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the photos of these amazing spacecraft as much as I enjoyed picking them out. More photos that span the entire Apollo era can be found at ‘The Project Apollo Archive’.
Top photo: LM-11 ‘Orion’ (1972)