The 1979 Moon Mission

erhaps the most curious and inspiring event of the 1970's was the Salvage 1 moon operation. In 1979, a private group set out to salvage the equipment left behind by the Apollo moon missions. Unfortunately, history seems to have forgotten the venture, perhaps because its motivation seemed to be financial gain. However, junkman Harry Broderick also had other more adventuresome desires driving him. Broderick hired ex-NASA engineers to work in his junkyard with the idea of eventually putting such a spaceflight together.

Vulture and the Moon
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These engineers decided simplicity was the only way they would be successful. Whereas NASA space vehicles had redundancy upon redundancy, the Salvage crew settled for an 85% to 90% safety factor. They were wanting something that was quick and cheap since they didn't have the luxury of tapping the resources of an entire country. The Salvage 1 mission to the moon was successful because of two main things: the flight plan and the fuel.

Trans-Linear Vector Principle
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The flight plan was based on an idea called the Trans-Linear Vector Principle, as put forth by ex-astronaut Addison Carmichael. Under this principle, the Vulture rocket lifted off for the moon under slow but constant acceleration. Although the initial velocity seemed much too slow to ever reach the moon, the steady acceleration soon brought the Vulture to great speeds once in space. Acceleration continued until they reached the halfway point between the Earth and Moon, at which time the ship began to decelerate ending in a smooth touchdown on the lunar surface. Total time to reach the moon was a mere 24 hours compared to three days for the Apollo missions. The trip back home followed the same procedure. The advantages of the Trans-Linear Vector Principle were many-fold:
  • Two days round trip to the moon and back.
  • A single stage rocket was all that was needed for the flight, reducing complexity.
  • No mid-flight orbiting of either the Earth or the moon. It was a direct ascent and descent flight.
  • No re-entry heating since the trip through the atmosphere was a slow, gentle descent.
  • No weightlessness since the ship was always in a state of acceleration or deceleration.

Vulture on the Moon
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The disadvantage was that the fuel had to be more powerful and therefore more dangerous than conventional rocket fuels. This fuel was the highly unstable mono-hydrazine. Mono-hydrazine combusted explosively when its temperature rose too high. Melanie Slozar worked on this problem and was able to raise the critical temperature point up to 150 degrees F. The ship's tank was surrounded by coolant loops to keep the temperatures within constraints. The Vulture had the capacity to carry 1000 gallons of Mono-Hydrazine, but only 800 gallons were needed for the round trip to the moon. Guidance was provided by hacking into an aerospace company's super-computer. On the return home, due to some unforseen problems, NASA allowed the use of their tracking system. Had they tried this flight today, no doubt a laptop computer would have been sufficient!

Skip Carmichael and Melanie Slozar piloted the Vulture on its mission, landing at Serenity Base on January 20, 1979. After the ship was loaded up with old Apollo equipment (lunar rover, etc.), they began the trip home. There were problems encountered during the return flight, namely the loss of their guidance link and a coolant leak, but the mission was carried out successfully much to the delight and admiration of the world. Leaders including President Jimmy Carter sent their congratulations to the Salvage 1 team.
In these days when the governments of the world rarely look beyond low Earth orbit, perhaps someday soon another bold team of individuals will take on the adventure of flying to the moon.

The Salvage Team
The Salvage team after the mission


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