The Lunascan Project (TLP)

Francis L. Ridge, Project Coordinator 
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  Date: Fri, 1 Jan 2010 07:55:11 -0500
  From: Francis Ridge <nicap@insightbb.com>
  Subject: Copernicus & the Canceled Apollo Mission


  Breathtaking oil painting by Chesley Bonestell


Copernicus is a spectacular ring mountain in Rukl Section 31, one of the most prominent centers of bright radiating rays on the Moon. The terraced walls are elevated 900 meters above the surrounding terrain. The depth of the crater is about 3750 m,  and its diameter about 93 km or 58 miles. On the inner side of the wall numerous landslides are found. The crater's shape is approximately hexagonal. A group of central mountains rise to 400 m above the floor. North is at the top. 

I had heard a rumor that said planners had an idea of putting two Apollo missions into Copernicus with the crews meeting up and "shaking hands". I heard this rumor years ago and brought it up in a Lunascan Project email and at least one person responded to say he had never heard of it. Later I heard of two missions again, but one was to be another Surveyor, not a second Apollo. But the painting above clearly depicts four astronauts, anticipating a larger mission sometime or two Apollo missions. This or these rumors laid around all these years and when I decided to begin updating all the Rukl Directories, Section 31 & Copernicus was on the top of my list. While updating it I did some research.  In his 1993 book,  "To A Rocky Moon", Don E. Wilhelms wrote:

The Santa Cruz Conference of August 1967 came a little to soon to examine the Lunar Orbiter 5 photographs, but the conferees knew what Orbiter 5's targets were and had studied them on the recently acquired Orbiter 4 photos. They devised one plan that called for two men to spend three days exploring the central peak and floor of Copernicus. Except for the suggested use of the LFU, this was similar to a mission considered for Copernicus until nearly the end of the Apollo program. Field studies of astroblemes on Earth were showing that peaks bring up material from strata beneath the crater floor, and Orbiter 2's Picture of the Century had show a ledge in the Copernicus peak that could be an outcrop of such a layer. Most people still thought they saw a variety of volcanic features on the crater floor. (page 175).           

But the latest update came from Frank Sietzen, Dec 12, 2009:

Twenty ago, as part of my research for what would be my very first article for Ad Astra, I researched the plans for the three canceled Apollo missions- Apollos 18, 19 and 20. Apollo 20 was planned to land at the rim of Copernicus and I talked with Chris Kraft about the mission plan. He said astronauts were pushing to repel down the crater's wall! "We were saving our courage to go and fly it!" Kraft said. Studies had been initiated to see what mods could be made to the LM and the rover to accommodate ropes and pulleys. They hadn't got too far along before the flight was canceled. Years later, when I interviewed Kraft at the time his book came out-I think it was autumn of 2000-I reminded him of that earlier interview. "Oh hell", he joked, "somebody would've got killed if we had done that. Better that we didn't!".

So, the rumors were laid to rest and what they wanted to learn from a mission to Copernicus could be learned from the study of a Copernican ray which was sampled by Surveyor 3 & Apollo 12. Because Apollo 11 landed about 4 miles beyond its planned target, it was deemed important to demonstrate a precision landing capability on Apollo 12. This capability was vital to the success of later, more complex missions. Accordingly, a landing at the Surveyor 3 landing site was planned. This provided both a clear marker for determining the accuracy of the landing as well as an opportunity to return pieces of the spacecraft to Earth to determine the effects of 2 1/2 years in the lunar environment. This landing site offered the possibility of sampling ejecta from the large crater Copernicus, thereby constraining the age of this crater.



 

Newly restored "Picture of the Century"


In 1966 the crater was photographed from an oblique angle by Lunar Orbiter 2 as one of 12 "housekeeping" pictures that were taken to advance the roll of film between possible astronaut landing sites being surveyed. At the time this detailed image of the lunar surface was termed by NASA Scientist Martin Swetnick and subsequently quoted by Time magazine as "one of the great pictures of the century."

Time magazine said:

Except for the black sky in the background, the photograph might have been mistaken for a composite of the scenic grandeur of Grand Canyon and the barren desolation of the Badlands of South Dakota. But when it was flashed unexpectedly onto a screen at a meeting of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Boston last week, sophisticated space scientists and engineers recognized the terrain immediately. It was a spectacular close up shot of lunar landscape. That photograph of the moon's Crater of Copernicus, said NASA Scientist Martin Swetnick, is "one of the great pictures of the century.




Portion of central peaks in Copernicus

This image represents a portion of the central uplift within the crater Copernicus. The image, LO5-152-H1, was taken by Lunar Orbiter V on 16 August 1967 at an altitude of 103 km. The spacecraft was looking down at the crater as it snapped this picture series. The resolution of this image is 2.2 meters/pixel.

Are there any recent and better images of Copernicus and the central peaks? Kaguya captured some great high definition "movies" in 2009:
And now, A MUST-SEE!!!!!!!

Kaguya Taking "Copernicus" by HD TV (HD)

But so far LRO hasn't provided anything better than Lunar Orbiter or Kaguya above.  We're still hoping and waiting.