|GE Apollo over Moon - The GE Apollo as it would appear on its circumlunar mission, with its protective shroud and solar power collector deployed.|
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The General Electric design for Apollo put all systems and space not necessary for re-entry and recovery into a separate jettisonable 'mission module', joined to the re-entry vehicle by a hatch. Every gram saved in this way saved two or more grams in overall spacecraft mass. The re-entry vehicle used a shape of the highest possible volumetric efficiency. The end result was remarkable. In comparison with the NASA preferred Apollo design, the General Electric D-2 provided the crew with 50% more living space, an airlock, and a service module for the mass of the Apollo capsule alone. But in the end, NASA administrator James Webb examined the model of the D-2, thanked the contractor for its efforts, and announced that Apollo would use the NASA design without any consideration of alternatives. The Soviet Union used the General Electric design approach for their Soyuz spacecraft, still in service 40 years later. The NASA Apollo deign was retired after 8 years.
The General Electric Apollo D-2 / Soyuz Design Concept
The fundamental concept of the General Electric design can easily be summarised as obtaining minimum overall vehicle mass for the mission. This is accomplished by minimising the mass of the re-entry vehicle. There were two major design elements to achieve this:
|GE Apollo vs Soyuz - Comparison of GE Apollo and Soyuz reentry vehicles.|
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The end result of this design approach was remarkable. The Apollo capsule designed by NASA had a mass of 5,000 kg and provided the crew with six cubic meters of living space. A service module, providing propulsion, electricity, radio, and other equipment would add at least 1,800 kg to this mass for the circumlunar mission. The General Electric D-2 provided the same crew with 9 cubic meters of living space, an airlock, and the service module for the mass of the Apollo capsule alone!
The modular concept was also inherently adaptable. By changing the fuel load in the service module, and the type of equipment in the mission module, a wide variety of missions could be performed.
|GE Apollo Proposal - Soyuz GE Apollo Proposal|
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NASA was handed all manned spaceflight projects when it was formed. Initial sketches of the Mercury spacecraft followed by McDonnell proposal and had the Soyuz shape. This was later modified to the simple conical hull of the Mercury capsule. Even while designing this capsule, NASA began considering manned spacecraft to follow the initial Mercury flights. In true government fashion this was determined by a series of committees. On 9 December 1959 the Goett Committee was formed to recommend a post-Mercury space program. After four meetings, they fixed on manned circumlunar flight and landings as a logical follow-on to Mercury. By July 1960, the name 'Apollo' was selected for the program and NASA sponsored its first conference with aerospace industry to outline its plans. On September 13 NASA held the first Apollo Bidder's Conference. Bidders for the study contracts were to concentrate on the following specification: Saturn C-2 compatibility (6,800 kg mass for circumlunar mission); 14 day flight time; three-man crew in shirt-sleeve environment (the three man crew was thought necessary so that they could alternate eight hour duty shifts). A month later, from among 16 bids, Convair, General Electric, and Martin were selected to conduct $250,000, six month study contracts.
|GE Apollo Cutaway - Cutaway view of GE Apollo D-2 Proposal|
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|GE Apollo Capsule - Cutaway views of GE Apollo D-2capsule.|
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GE accordingly attacked the re-entry vehicle problem with particular insight. They studied three semi-ballistic designs, derived from their work on classified projects. They also considered the winged, lifting body, and lenticular (winged flying saucer) configurations being pursued by the other contractors. For each possibility, two variations were considered: 'integral' (the entire work area was included in the capsule), and 'modular' (use of the mission module concept to minimise re-entry vehicle mass).
|GE Apollo vs Soyuz - Comparison of GE Apollo and Soyuz LOK lunar orbiter spacecraft.|
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Originally this work was being undertaken without any commitment from the government for the massive funding that would be required for the project. President Eisenhower was hostile to NASA spending enormous sums on spaceflight. After the November 1960 elections, NASA hoped that Kennedy would be more interested in their schemes for a costly manned space program. However they found Kennedy to be just as indifferent.
On April 12, Russia orbited Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. Five days later the Kennedy administration suffered a humiliating defeat in the failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Senators demanded action and held hearings on the Apollo project. NASA seized the day. Congressmen did not seem to blanch when NASA told them it would cost $20 to $40 billion to land on the moon by 1967 - maybe.
On May 15 to 17 the contractors presented the results of their Apollo studies. Martin proposed a vehicle similar to the configuration that Faget had already selected. GE reported that their D-2 modular design provided the lowest mass and greatest flexibility. Convair proposed a lifting body concept. NASA administrator James Webb examined the model of the GE D-2, thanked the contractors for their efforts, and announced to the contractors that Apollo would use the Langley design without any consideration of their alternatives!
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As is usual, the customer spent almost as much time studying the bids as the contractors spent creating them. On 24 November, reflecting mainly the extent to which each competitor had followed Langley's design, the formal bid evaluation was completed. The 'scientific' bid ratings were: Martin 6.9; General Dynamics 6.6; North American 6.6; GE 6.4; McDonnell 6.4. Martin was unofficially passed the word and announced to its cheering workers on 27 November that they had won the contract. However a funny thing happened on the way to the White House, and when the contract award was announced on 28 November, North American was awarded the prime contract. General Electric folded up its tents and went back to building re-entry vehicles for military programs. Seeking professional recognition for their work, Arthur and Abel publicly documented their D-2 design by presenting papers the following December at a special symposium of the American Astronautical Society in Denver, Colorado.