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Manufacturing the LM

"The whole Apollo program was really a tribute to American craftsmanship. The LM part of it was a tribute to Grumman craftsmanship"

The total story of how the LM was manufactured was a complex process involving too many steps to fully document on this web site.

Suffice to say, that from the time manufacturing the initial ascent stage midsection started in plant 2, to when a LM was packed in its pressurized containers and shipped to NASA KSC via the Super Guppy - two and one half years would have transpired.

More manufacturing pictures...

Some of this effort can be illustrated by this transcript between Tom Kelly (K) and R. Thruelsen (T) author of  "The Grumman Story"

Well, essentially, you were building a machine to do something that had never been done before, so many times you must have looked down the road and said, 'What in God's name can we build which would do that?' That presents you with a completely original challenge, doesn't it?
K: The challenge was in the application of known principles and techniques. The other challenge was in the quality control. Even with all the money we were paying for this stuff, it was still very difficult to get 100 percent quality control. There was a real premium on hand-craftsmanship on the LM-as there was, indeed, on the entire Apollo spacecraft.
Craftsmanship-that's always been one of Grumman's strong points, of course.
Yes, and we proved to be strong here. But it didn't come easy. It took a lot of pride and conscientious workmanship on the part of the people involved.
T: In what way?
K: Well, some people seem to have the idea that space vehicles are made by pushing buttons and using automated manufacturing techniques and all that. Actually, it is quite different-quite the opposite, in fact. There is no real production involved in spacecraft. They are handmade. It's almost like the old cottage industry where an individual craftsman painstakingly molds or files or does something with great skill. It is much more like that.
T: An analogy: It is closer to the old XFF-l, the first Grumman plane, for instance. Where, at Baldwin and Valley Stream, they had an order for, originally, I think, two of the planes and they built them by hand.
K: That's right. Much more like that, except that this involved very high technology. Very sophisticated, very demanding equipment. Everything's got to be spotlessly clean, for example. If you contaminate it you mess it up in various ways. Then there are processes they now use that they didn't use back in those days. Like various kinds of welding and brazing which can only be inspected by X ray or ultrasonic techniques. And many of the materials that we used in the LM are much harder to work with and so forth.
T: You didn't use the electron beam welder on the LM, did you?
K: No, it was very new then and we didn't have it. We could have used that to good advantage, but we didn't have it. We did our tanks with titanium, but they were heli-arc welded-that's a very pretty process, and it has to be extremely clean, and the welding has to be very carefully controlled. The whole Apollo program was really a tribute to American craftsmanship. The LM part of it was a tribute to Grumman craftsmanship.

The following provides just some of the high lights of this large time critical effort.

Ascent Stage (Plant 2)

The ascent stage of the Apollo Lunar Module (LM) is the control center and manned portion of the space vehicle. Its three main sections are the crew compartment, midsection, and aft equipment bay and tank section. The crew compartment and midsection make up the cabin. The ascent stage structure consists of the following subassemblies: front face, cabin skin, midsection, and aft equipment bay.

The cabin skin subassembly is fabricated from formed chem-milled skin panels that are welded and mechanically fastened. The front face of the ascent stage is fabricated from chem-milled skin panels that are welded and mechanically fastened. Sealing the mechanical joints, trimming the forward face contour, and adding formed longerons and stringers complete the operations for this assembly.

The midsection consists of two machined bulkheads, an upper deck tunnel weldment, a lower engine deck weldment, and chem-milled skins. The front face assembly and cabin skin subassembly are mechanically joined with the midsection and are sealed to form the cabin pressure shell of the ascent stage.

Cold rails, chem-milled beams, struts, and machined fittings comprise the major structural components in the aft equipment bay.

Ascent Stage ready for Clean Room

Descent Stage (Plant 2)

The descent stage is the unmanned portion of the LM. It consists primarily of machined parts and chem-milled panel/stiffener assemblies that are mechanically fastened. Compartments formed by the structural arrangement house the descent engine, and propellant, helium, oxygen, and water tanks.

Descent stage

Fabrication of the descent stage begins with the joining of the machined "picture frames" and the chem-milled panel/stiffener assemblies to form the engine compartment. After the outrigger bulkhead assemblies are attached to the engine compartment with machined cap strips, the eight remaining panel/stiffener assemblies are added.

Descent stage legs

The cantilever-type landing gear is attached externally to the descent stage and folds inward to fit within the shroud of the Saturn V aerodynamic shell. The landing gear consists of four sets of legs connected to outriggers that extend from the ends of the descent stage structural beams. Each landing gear consists of a primary strut and foot pad, two secondary struts, an uplock assembly, two deployment and downlock mechanisms, a truss assembly, and a lunar-surface sensing probe. A ladder is affixed to the forward leg assembly. The struts are machined aluminum with machined fittings mechanically attached at the ends. With the addition of the upper and lower machined decks and the machined interstage fittings, the completed descent stage structure is moved to the clean room facility.

Clean Room (Plant 5)

The descent Propulsion section consists of two fuel and two oxidizer tanks centered about a deep throtting ablative rocket engine which has restart capabilities. After the descent stage has been moved to the clean room facility, interconnecting gas and liquid balance lines for like tanks are assembled.

Gas & liquid plumbing assembly

The Ascent Propulsion Section uses a fixed, constant-thrust rocket engine. The section includes the associated ambient helium pressurization and propellant supply components.

Technicians ready the Apollo Spacecraft’s Lunar Module Descent Engine, which landed the first astronauts on the moon in 1969.
Technicians ready the Apollo Spacecraft’s Lunar Module Descent Engine,
which landed the first astronauts on the moon in 1969. -- Northrop
Grumman History: Northrop Grumman Shares in Historic Anniversary

The ascent and descent stages are then mated and further checks are made on the entire spacecraft. With the installation of the various electrical and electronics components and associated wiring, the two stages of the LM are tested and checked out separately.

Mating the LM

Two main propellant tanks are used; one for fuel, the other for oxidizer. The tanks are installed on either side of the ascent stage structure. Although strict cleanliness procedures are followed while the LM is under construction and test, several clean and rotate checks are made. Loose material overlooked by the quality control teams will be dislodged and removed during this process.

Rotate & clean

The LM is again now put into its testing work stand. When all components of the LM subsystems have been verified (this is a long process performed while much of the LM is still being electrically manufactured), the installation of thermal blankets and micrometeoroid shielding begins. The spacecraft is now ready for Final Engineering and Acceptance Testing.

Prior to shipment, the stages of the Lunar Module are separated and a landing gear deployment check is made. The landing gear is then removed prior to the LM being put into a protective container.

The Lunar Module ascent stage is then prepared for shipment. Technicians verify that all components are properly secured.

Final inspection

The stages are put into protective containers. When the entire stage has been encased, dry nitrogen is pumped into the container and maintained at positive pressure during the flight to KSC. Lastly, the separately Packaged Lunar Module stages are placed aboard the Super Guppy aircraft for the flight to NASA Kennedy Space Center.

Super Guppy



Lunar Module SpaceCraft Assembly & Test - original photos and text by Frank A Pullo © 1997 FAP Systems Group All rights reserved.
Reposted with new material by Eric Hartwell licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License
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