SMDC History: Project Horizon: ABMA explores a lunar outpost

By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ASTRAT Command HistorianJune 8, 2017

SMDC History: Project Horizon: ABMA explores a lunar outpost
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

The possibilities of space have long captured the imagination. In today's Army, space is the purview of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command. In the early years of space exploration, as the race for space began, various Army units explored rocketry, satellite capabilities and more.

And even before President John F. Kennedy encouraged the nation to "[land] a man on the moon and [return] him safely to the earth", the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, or ABMA, had studied the possibilities of life on the moon.

In March 1959, Lt. Gen. Arthur G. Trudeau, chief of research and development, directed the chief of Army Ordnance to determine the requirements for creating a manned station on the moon by 1966.

While the 90-day study was conducted by the ABMA, Dr. Wernher von Braun appointed Heinz-Hermann Koelle to head the project, "all Technical Services of the Army participated in the investigation." The chief of engineers was responsible for the design, construction and maintenance of the base and the chief signal officer was "responsible for communications and other support for which he is peculiarly qualified."

As Maj. Gen. John B. Medaris, commander of the Army Ordnance Missile Command later recalled: "It was a team project. We grabbed every specialist we could get our hands on in the Army."

The rationale is soon evident as the mission for this scientific/military outpost was multifaceted. On one level, as the race for space progressed, the lunar base was to protect American interests on the moon.

At the same time, a moon base would serve as a station for improved space reconnaissance. The lunar station would also provide opportunities to better study the earth with the development of a space-mapping and survey system. It could also improve and extend communications systems acting as a moon-based relay station.

As a scientific laboratory, the 10-20 person lunar station would be the basis for research on the moon itself and a low-gravity launch station to facilitate deep space exploration. And, as the space programs developed it was envisioned that the lunar outpost could serve as an emergency staging area for rescue activities.

On June 8, 1959, the ABMA study team published the multi volume Project Horizon: A U.S. Army Study for the Establishment of a Lunar Military Outpost. Although no specific site was selected for the outpost, the design concepts, environmental considerations, life sustainment features, manning rotations, transport vehicles and logistical support, were quite detailed.

The authors, for example, determined that 75 Saturn II rockets would be needed to transport the 245 tons of construction materials and equipment necessary to support the lunar outpost. Once established an additional 64 Saturn rockets would be needed annually to provide logistical support (food, water, etc.) to the lunar station.

Powered by four nuclear reactors, the outpost would encompass living quarters, dining and recreation space, a hospital area, signals and communications sections, several storage facilities and two science labs.

The outpost itself incorporated a modular design concept which would the use of the natural contours of the moon's surface. Each of these modules, for example, would be buried using the lunar landscape to maximize the benefits of insulation and protection from solar radiation. And once established, food, water and other supplies would be delivered periodically in cargo landing vehicles.

Ultimately, however, Project Horizon did not proceed beyond the feasibility study. After the initial presentations, officials directed that the report be revised to address a strictly civilian mission as the space mission transitioned from the Army to the recently created National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

On March 25, 1960, General John B. Medaris, commander of the Army Ordnance Missile Command was advised that "Project HORIZON has been forwarded by the secretary of the army to the secretary of defense, who has further transmitted it to NASA for such use as may be desired."