Tom Dolan (engineer)

Last updated

Thomas Dolan was an American engineer who proposed the first fully developed concept of Lunar orbit rendezvous for the Apollo program while working at Vought Astronautics. [1]


Dolan referred to his LOR study concept as Manned Lunar Landing and Return (MALLAR), and it was largely ignored by NASA administrators until Langley engineer John Houbolt began championing the concept in 1961. [1] The proposed idea outlined a smaller spacecraft dedicated only to operate in the vacuum of space. This spacecraft could act as sort of a shuttle between an orbiting "command module" in Lunar orbit and the surface of the Moon. Following this mission profile required the Command/Service Module and Lunar Module to fly all the way to the moon together and undock while in orbit around the moon, at which point the Lunar Module would land on the moon. In order to return, it would lift off again into lunar orbit and perform an orbital rendezvous with the Command/Service Module. The lander's ascent stage would be left behind in orbit, and the crew would return home using the Command/Service Module. This method saved a lot of weight in propellant and spacecraft mass, but did not gain widespread acceptance early on. The risks associated with Lunar orbit rendezvous were initially considered unacceptable by NASA officials. The Gemini missions would later prove that rendezvous and docking was indeed possible in space, paving the way for Dolan's idea to be put into practice.

In the fifth episode of the 1998 HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon entitled "Spider", Tom Dolan is portrayed by Alan Ruck.

See also

Related Research Articles

Apollo program 1961–1972 program which landed the first humans on the Moon

The Apollo program, also known as Project Apollo, was the third United States human spaceflight program carried out by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which succeeded in landing the first humans on the Moon from 1969 to 1972. It was first conceived during Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration as a three-person spacecraft to follow the one-person Project Mercury, which put the first Americans in space. Apollo was later dedicated to President John F. Kennedy's national goal for the 1960s of "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth" in an address to Congress on May 25, 1961. It was the third US human spaceflight program to fly, preceded by the two-person Project Gemini conceived in 1961 to extend spaceflight capability in support of Apollo.

Apollo 9 3rd crewed mission of the Apollo space program

Apollo 9 was a March 1969 human spaceflight, the third in NASA's Apollo program. Flown in low Earth orbit, it was the second crewed Apollo mission that the United States launched via a Saturn V rocket, and was the first flight of the full Apollo spacecraft: the command and service module (CSM) with the Lunar Module (LM). The mission was flown to qualify the LM for lunar orbit operations in preparation for the first Moon landing by demonstrating its descent and ascent propulsion systems, showing that its crew could fly it independently, then rendezvous and dock with the CSM again, as would be required for the first crewed lunar landing. Other objectives of the flight included firing the LM descent engine to propel the spacecraft stack as a backup mode, and use of the portable life support system backpack outside the LM cabin.

Apollo 10 4th crewed mission of the Apollo space program

Apollo 10 was a May 1969 human spaceflight, the fourth crewed mission in the United States Apollo program, and the second to orbit the Moon. It was the F mission: a "dress rehearsal" for the first Moon landing, testing all the components and procedures just short of actually landing. While astronaut John Young remained in the Command Module orbiting the Moon, astronauts Thomas Stafford and Gene Cernan flew the Apollo Lunar Module (LM) to a descent orbit within 8.4 nautical miles (15.6 km) of the lunar surface, the point where powered descent for landing would begin. After orbiting the Moon 31 times Apollo 10 returned safely to Earth, and its success enabled the first actual landing two months later.

Apollo Lunar Module Lander used in the Apollo program

The Apollo Lunar Module, or simply Lunar Module, originally designated the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), was the lander spacecraft that was flown from lunar orbit to the Moon's surface during the U.S. Apollo program. It was the first crewed spacecraft to operate exclusively in the airless vacuum of space, and remains the only crewed vehicle to land anywhere beyond Earth.

Constellation program Cancelled 2005–2010 United States human spaceflight program, aimed at crewed exploration of the Moon, Mars, and minor planets

The Constellation Program is a cancelled crewed spaceflight program developed by NASA, the space agency of the United States, from 2005 to 2009. The major goals of the program were "completion of the International Space Station" and a "return to the Moon no later than 2020" with a crewed flight to the planet Mars as the ultimate goal. The program's logo reflected the three stages of the program: the Earth (ISS), the Moon, and finally Mars—while the Mars goal also found expression in the name given to the program's booster rockets: Ares. The technological aims of the program included the regaining of significant astronaut experience beyond low Earth orbit and the development of technologies necessary to enable sustained human presence on other planetary bodies.

Apollo (spacecraft)

The Apollo spacecraft was composed of three parts designed to accomplish the American Apollo program's goal of landing astronauts on the Moon by the end of the 1960s and returning them safely to Earth. The expendable (single-use) spacecraft consisted of a combined command and service module (CSM) and an Apollo Lunar Module (LM). Two additional components complemented the spacecraft stack for space vehicle assembly: a spacecraft–LM adapter (SLA) designed to shield the LM from the aerodynamic stress of launch and to connect the CSM to the Saturn launch vehicle and a launch escape system (LES) to carry the crew in the command module safely away from the launch vehicle in the event of a launch emergency.

Project Gemini 1961–1966 United States human spaceflight program, aimed at development of advanced spaceflight techniques

Project Gemini was NASA's second human spaceflight program. Conducted between projects Mercury and Apollo, Gemini started in 1961 and concluded in 1966. The Gemini spacecraft carried a two-astronaut crew. Ten Gemini crews and sixteen individual astronauts flew low Earth orbit (LEO) missions during 1965 and 1966.

The Apollo Applications Program (AAP) was created as early as 1966 by NASA headquarters to develop science-based human spaceflight missions using hardware developed for the Apollo program. AAP was the ultimate development of a number of official and unofficial Apollo follow-on projects studied at various NASA labs. However, the AAP's ambitious initial plans became an early casualty when the Johnson Administration declined to support it adequately, partly in order to implement its Great Society set of domestic programs while remaining within a $100 billion budget. Thus, Fiscal Year 1967 ultimately allocated $80 million to the AAP, compared to NASA's preliminary estimates of $450 million necessary to fund a full-scale AAP program for that year, with over $1 billion being required for FY 1968. The AAP eventually led to Skylab, which absorbed much of what had been developed under Apollo Applications.

Earth orbit rendezvous

Earth orbit rendezvous (EOR) is a potential methodology for conducting round trip human flights to the Moon, involving the use of space rendezvous to assemble, and possibly fuel, components of a translunar vehicle in low Earth orbit. It was considered and ultimately rejected in favor of lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) for NASA's Apollo program of the 1960s and 1970s, mainly because LOR does not require a spacecraft big enough to both make the return trip from Earth orbit to splashdown in the ocean, and a soft landing on the lunar surface. Three decades later, it was planned to be used for Project Constellation, until that program's cancellation in October 2010.

Lunar orbit rendezvous Spaceflight maneuver

Lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) is a key concept for efficiently landing humans on the Moon and returning them to Earth. It was utilized for the Apollo program missions in the 1960s and 1970s. In a LOR mission, a main spacecraft and a smaller lunar lander travel to lunar orbit. The lunar lander then independently descends to the surface of the Moon, while the main spacecraft remains in lunar orbit. After completion of the mission there, the lander returns to lunar orbit to rendezvous and re-dock with the main spacecraft, then is discarded after transfer of crew and payload. Only the main spacecraft returns to Earth.

Jim Chamberlin

James Arthur Chamberlin was a Canadian engineer who contributed to the design of the Canadian Avro Arrow, NASA's Gemini spacecraft and the Apollo program. In addition to his pioneering air and space efforts, he is often cited as an example of Canadian brain drain to the U.S. In the early 1960s, he was one of the key people that proposed and moved that Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR) was the best option for landing a crew on the Moon, the method eventually used on Apollo lunar landing missions. He left NASA in 1970 and worked for McDonnell Douglas, in their Houston offices, until his death in 1981.

John Houbolt

John Cornelius Houbolt was an aerospace engineer credited with leading the team behind the lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) mission mode, a concept that was used to successfully land humans on the Moon and return them to Earth. This flight path was first endorsed by Wernher von Braun in June 1961 and was chosen for Apollo program in early 1962. The critical decision to use LOR was viewed as vital to ensuring that Man reached the Moon by the end of the decade as proposed by President John F. Kennedy. In the process, LOR saved time and billions of dollars by efficiently using existing rocket technology.

Joseph Francis Shea Aerospace engineer

Joseph Francis Shea was an American aerospace engineer and NASA manager. Born in the New York City borough of the Bronx, he was educated at the University of Michigan, receiving a Ph.D. in Engineering Mechanics in 1955. After working for Bell Labs on the radio inertial guidance system of the Titan I intercontinental ballistic missile, he was hired by NASA in 1961. As Deputy Director of NASA's Office of Manned Space Flight, and later as head of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office, Shea played a key role in shaping the course of the Apollo program, helping to lead NASA to the decision in favor of lunar orbit rendezvous and supporting "all up" testing of the Saturn V rocket. While sometimes causing controversy within the agency, Shea was remembered by his former colleague George Mueller as "one of the greatest systems engineers of our time".

The Manned Space Flight Network was a set of tracking stations built to support the American Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab space programs.

Advanced Gemini is a number of proposals that would have extended the Gemini program by the addition of various missions, including manned low Earth orbit, circumlunar and lunar landing missions. Gemini was the second manned spaceflight program operated by NASA, and consisted of a two-seat spacecraft capable of maneuvering in orbit, docking with unmanned spacecraft such as Agena Target Vehicles, and allowing the crew to perform tethered extra-vehicular activities.

Mars orbit rendezvous Spaceflight maneuver concept

Mars orbit rendezvous (MOR) is a space travel concept where two spacecraft meet up and/or dock in Mars orbit. For example, one vehicle takes off from Mars, such as a Martian ascent stage, and does a rendezvous in Mars orbit with another spacecraft. Applied to a Mars sample return or human mission to Mars, it allows much less weight to be sent to the surface and back into orbit, because the fuel needed to travel back to Earth is not landed on the planet. It has also been proposed for uncrewed Mars sample return plans.

Apollo spacecraft feasibility study

The Apollo spacecraft feasibility study was conducted by NASA from July 1960 through May 1961 to investigate preliminary designs for a post-Project Mercury multi-crewed spacecraft to be used for possible space station, circum-lunar, lunar orbital, or crewed lunar landing missions. Six-month, $250,000 study contracts were awarded to General Dynamics/Convair, General Electric, and the Glenn L. Martin Company. Meanwhile, NASA conducted its own inhouse design study led by Maxime Faget, intended as a gauge of the competitors' entries. The three companies spent varying amounts of their own money in excess of the $250,000 to produce designs which included a re-entry module separate from the mission module cabin, and a propulsion and equipment module.

Mars Excursion Module

The Mars Excursion Module (MEM) was a spacecraft proposed by NASA in the 1960s for use in a human mission to Mars, and this can refer to any number of studies by corporations and spaceflight centers for Mars landers. However, primarily a MEM referred to a combination a Manned Mars lander, short-stay surface habitat, and Mars ascent stage. Variations on a MEM included spacecraft designs like an unmanned Mars surface cargo delivery, and there was a MEM lander that combined a communications center, living habitat, and laboratory.

Conrad Lau (engineer)

Conrad Albert 'Connie' Lau was an American aeronautical engineer, inventor, and executive. Lau led or contributed to the development of a number of important aircraft and spacecraft projects.


  1. 1 2 Brooks, Courtney G.; Grimwood, James M. & Swenson, Loyd S. (1979). Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft. NASA. ISBN   0-486-46756-2 . Retrieved 2007-04-27.