Book Review: Virtual LM

The book starts with a very brief summary of the lunar module, its conception by John Houbolt, the design and production trials of Grumman and then the astronauts’ concerns. Brief, yet complete, this introduction flows directly into the main feature of the book, the images of the lunar module. These images do a fantastic job of depicting the complete lunar module and then allowing the focus to narrow to examine many of the individual components.

The lunar module came in two versions, first the H series, and a later version, the J series. Though similar, the later J series had a greater capability evidenced mostly by the addition of the lunar rover. First the H and then J type lunar modules have plates showing their totality from a top, bottom and each of the four distinct side perspectives. These provide a ready comprehension of the surface planes, shapes and material. Purposefully simplified for comprehension (e.g. no grommets or weld lines), adjacent archival photographs easily bring reality alongside to compare to the view.

With this overview complete, the book drops into detail mode as the focus shifts to the two stages; the descent stage and the ascent stage. The descent stage first gets the same treatment as the overall module, then it gets ‘blown apart’ so that its internal constituents appear, something like a virtual biology dissection of a frog. The descent module’s shape is cruciform; each of the four quadrants clearly highlight the framework for internal and external supports, fuel tanks and electrical lines. Vivid colours differentiate the control lines and the ‘plumbing’ lines. Often a brief in-line paragraph describes the operational procedures or the design elements.

The ascent stage comes next and it is certainly more fun to go through. This stage housed the two astronauts and allowed them to control the craft, gave them access to the moon’s surface and got them returned to the command module. The windows, keypad computer, many control panels and helmet storage all have detailed closeups. Some of these have their own blow-apart diagrams to show construction. Should the readers get perplexed on the purpose of all these switches, levers and wires, then they can easily resolve this by perusing the attached CD-ROM which has over 2000 pages of operation manuals, checklists and cue cards.

When growing up, I was overly fond of building plastic models. I was amazed at the accuracy and detail of these small plastic miniatures and in my mind they all grew to real size and were valid working copies of the actual subject. This book gives me the exact same feeling. Without ever having seen a lunar module, I have become very acquainted with this craft. I understand its major parts, their placement and, with the documents on the CD ROM, their usage. Careful with this CD ROM though as the book is soft cover. Do not bend.

The missing element for this book would be the operation procedures. Sure they are in the CD ROM, but more could have been in the text. For example, why did the book include detailed views of the circuit interrupt connectors and one of the four hardpoint connections? Are they critical for some procedure? Why is there a close up of the docking light and flood light? Also, having the author’s name on every second page gets distracting. A preferable replacement would have been a length scale to facilitate gauging the size of the subject of the view. Yet, these changes would only have made an already good book that much better.

Today’s ready access to computer aided design (CAD) stations makes the design and development of complex machinery relatively simple. The lunar module came long before these tools, even well before the personal computer. Scott Sullivan in “Virtual LM” uses these amazing present day tools to dissect the lunar module, re-build it and display it for everyone to readily see and understand. This book, together with the enclosed CD-ROM, will bring this amazing spacecraft right up close in front of you, even if it is only virtual.

To get your own copy, visit Countdown Creations.

Review by Mark Mortimer