RelaunchSpace reconstructs NASA flight plan for Apollo 11 moon landing

July 15, 2022

— More than half a century after its pages served as humanity’s first roadmap to the moon, NASA’s Apollo 11 flight plan has been revived.

More than just a reprint, this new edition of RelaunchSpace has been rebuilt from the ground up so that it appears exactly as it did when it was prepared in 1969 by the Flight Planning Branch of the Support Division. to flight crews at the Manned Spacecraft Center (now the Johnson Space Center) in Houston.

Used in flight by astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins while aboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft and referenced by flight controllers in mission control, the flight plan provided a second-by-second playbook for every action necessary to get to the moon and return safely, from takeoff to landing on the moon, to returning to Earth.

“To me, these period documents are not just major engineering achievements, they are works of art,” said Alan Gibson of RelaunchSpace, whose idea was to republish the flight plan and who led the small team that brought the project to fruition. “I looked for a copy of the flight plan and wasn’t happy with the options I found.”

“I just haven’t found anything on the market that does it justice,” he said.

Apollo 11 Flight Plan: Relaunchedwas released earlier this year and is available to order on the mission’s 53rd anniversary.

collectSPACE spoke with Gibson about the process of recreating the Apollo 11 flight plan and the plans it has underway to revive other vintage Apollo documents. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

collectSPACE (cS): As you mention, you first went to get a modern reprint of the Apollo 11 flight plan before you started making your own. What were your problems with the versions offered since the 50th anniversary of the moon landing mission in 2019?

Alan Gibson: Originally I just wanted to buy a copy of this 2016 reissue which was funded by Kickstarter. However, if you read the comments on Kickstarter, it turned into a real disaster. There were missing pages, obvious errors in the reproduction, many people did not receive their books, etc. There is even a glaring error in their own photos.

Considering how quickly they reached their fundraising goal, I guess they spent all their money on ads. When they realized they could never get their money back, they simply took down their website and walked away.

There is also this one. I have a lot of respect for what Constance Metzinger does with the reproductions, but for me the cleaned scans just don’t measure up.

I was also aware of the deluxe version prepared by former astronaut Terry Virts. It’s great, but the price and rarity make it totally out of reach for most people, myself included. This one is also colorized which I don’t like as it deviates from the original.

CS: So how does “Apollo 11 Flight Plan: Relaunched” differ from those previous projects?

Gibson: I would call this reprint the first successful faithful reconstruction. I base this statement on several things:

Another difference is that I am committed to releasing the print quality source files of the reproduction after funding the next project. It cost a lot of money to do this reconstruction, but the reproduced material is an important part of the story, so it should be available to everyone.

And above all, the cover is extremely cool.

CS: What work was involved in creating your version of the flight plan? How many people participated and how long did it take to prepare?

Gibson: It all started with me identifying sources to use. I settled on a Honeysuckle Creek tracking station scan in Australia as a breeding base. There are a few others you can find on the internet that were used just to cross-check in case something was unclear. I also bought all the ones available on the internet to use as a reference, even though they turned out not to be really necessary.

In batches of 50 pages, I made sure everything on the page was readable. I made sure all the fonts were identified, then sent the pages and fonts to the layout artist I hired.

By the way, the most difficult issues we had to solve were the fonts to use. Personally, I spent about two months trying to track down the exact fonts used by NASA. Luckily I found a copy of NASA’s first style guide that named a few. Others I was able to identify using the identifythisfont subreddit. Then, for every font, there are many slight variations of that font from different vendors. So we had to put them side by side and debate which one fit best.

Unfortunately for us, some of the fonts in the flight plan aren’t fonts at all. They were just metallic type from the computer printers of the time. In these cases, we either scoured through hundreds of fonts looking for a match, or in one case had someone create a font from the original images where we couldn’t find a match. .

The designer reproduced the lot and then sent it to me. I pointed out all the errors, then sent it to the proofreader. When I got them back from the corrector, I was making one more pass. Then the batch with the notes is returned to the designer for correction. In the end, it all came together in one document, and then the proofreader and I did another pass over it.

Including the cover artist, there were four of us involved. The work was completed in approximately nine months.

CS: Other than finding (or creating) the right fonts, were there any other challenges you had to face? Was there something you wanted to do but couldn’t?

Gibson: The biggest challenge was undoubtedly to find the right designer for the work. I paid probably a dozen different people to reproduce a few pages as a work sample before I found the right person for the job. It was worth it in the end as the guy I landed on was incredibly detail oriented and enthusiastic even now.

I wanted to print as faithfully as the rebuild but found that was nearly impossible at present.

The first issue is that, as far as I could tell, five ring binder mechanisms are no longer available. The second issue is that the specific type of loose-leaf paper I wanted to use is not available due to supply chain issues. A third problem was that no printer could find the specific peach-colored cardstock used by NASA. I’ll probably come back to all of this in the future and give it another try.

CS: What did you learn about the Apollo 11 mission while working on recreating its flight plan?

Gibson: The biggest lesson I learned from this reconstruction was how awesome the NASA engineering was. They managed to plan the lunar landing in incredible detail without the help of modern computing.

As a career programmer, this impresses me as much as the actual moon landing.

CS: How would you classify your relaunched flight plan? Is it a reference book? A coffee table book? A curiosity ?

Gibson: This is certainly an excellent reference work. I hope that one day it will be cited in an academic article. But in practical terms, it’s definitely a curiosity and a talking point for true space fans.

My hope here is that it becomes a staple in every space race fan’s collection.

CS: Is the Apollo 11 flight plan the only NASA document you wanted to publish? Are there any others you have in mind or are even working on?

Gibson: This reproduction is the seed of an ongoing project I call RelaunchSpace. The concept is that each reproduction pays for the next, so it only rolls on one version at a time. I’m only thinking of reproducing Space Race-era documents now, but I might also see making reproductions of hardware that have practical uses like storage bags.

The next book in the series is the Apollo 11 Mission Report from 1971 (it looks better than the 1969 version). This reproduction is already done at about 70%. Currently I’m stuck trying to locate the originals of a few moon rock photos.

Once this one is finished, I plan a third which will be all the documents on board the command module, including the very interesting Timeline Book of the LM (Lunar Module).

When this trilogy is finished, I want to launch a Kickstarter campaign to offer the three in a numbered box. Assuming all goes well, my current thought would be to do a trilogy of the three NASA style guides that were released just for a change of pace next.

Gibson will use his Twitter account @Relaunch Space share a page a day of “Apollo 11 Flight Plan: Relaunchedfrom Saturday (July 16), the anniversary date of the launch of the mission.


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