Tom Dolan (engineer)

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Thomas Dolan was an American engineer who proposed the first fully developed concept of Lunar orbit rendezvous for the Apollo program while working at Vought Astronautics. [1]

Dolan referred to his LOR study concept as Manned Lunar Landing and Return (MALLAR), and it was largely ignored by NASA administrators until Langley engineer John Houbolt began championing the concept in 1961.[1] The proposed idea outlined a smaller spacecraft dedicated only to operation in the vacuum of space which acted as sort of a shuttle between an orbiting mothership in Lunar Orbit and the surface of the moon. Following this mission profile required the Command/Service Modules and Lunar Modules to fly all the way to the moon together, undock while in orbit around the moon, at which point the Lunar Module would land on the moon. In order to return, it would lift off again into Lunar Orbit and perform an orbital rendezvous with the Command/Service Module. The lander's ascent stage would be ditched in orbit and the crew would return home using the Command/Service Module. The method itself saved a lot of weight in propellant and spacecraft mass but was not widely considered early on because the dangerous unknowns of Orbital Rendezvous even in Earth Orbit posed many problems to NASA officials, who didn't want the Apollo Program to rely on a concept which hadn't actually been proven in space yet. The Gemini missions would later prove that rendezvous and docking was possible in space, paving the way for Dolan's idea to actually be put into practice.

In the fifth episode of the 1998 HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon, entitled "Spider," Tom Dolan is portrayed by Alan Ruck.


  1. ^ a b Brooks, Courtney G.; Grimwood, James M. & Swenson, Loyd S. (1979). Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft. NASA. ISBN 0-486-46756-2. Retrieved 2007-04-27. 

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