Meet John Houbolt: He Figured Out How To Go To The Moon, But Few Were Listening

NPR.org | 7/18/2019 | Scott Neuman
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American aerospace engineer John Houbolt as he stands at a chalkboard in July 1962 showing his lunar orbit rendezvous plan for landing astronauts on the moon.

The Apollo program conjures images of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon and the massive team effort involved in getting him there. But a fundamental decision that led to the successful lunar landings came largely as a result of one man's determination to buck the system at NASA.

Man - John - C - Houbolt

That man was John C. Houbolt.

Houbolt's vision of how to get to the moon prevailed over ideas pushed by NASA's heaviest hitters, including the German-born rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, who designed the Saturn V, and Max ****, an émigré from British Honduras who was responsible for the Mercury capsule that put the first Americans into space.

April - President - John - F - Kennedy

In April 1961, President John F. Kennedy had energized America's space program by pledging to send "a man to the moon and [return] him safely to the Earth" before the end of the 1960s. But at NASA, a fundamental question first had to be answered: What was the exact mode for getting to the moon? Without knowing that, it was impossible to even begin designing the machines to go there.

In the late 1950s, before America had even put a man into space, NASA was already thinking about what it would take to put astronauts on the moon. But there was no broad agreement. Three main camps, which quickly grew into factions, backed different solutions.

Debate - Space - Agency - Engineers - Approach

A heated behind-the-scenes debate ensued, with many of the space agency's engineers drawn to what seemed like the most obvious approach — a plan known as direct ascent.

An early NASA concept for a lunar landing using the direct ascent method.

Concepts - Space - Travel - Rocket - Earth

Think pre-Apollo concepts of space travel: a rocket launches from Earth, shoots directly to the moon and then lands,...
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