Thursday, December 17, 2009

Want a Shuttle?

Although this has sat off Florida State Route 3 south of Kennedy Space Center since 2005, I just now got around to posting it in the Field Guide. Being on my way to the office, I could see it every day. I remember noticing the large blue tarp covered structure and thinking it was shaped like a space shuttle nose, but it wasn't until after a bad storm when wind blew down the tarp that revealed what it was. One day, not long after the storm, a car was parked nearby and the gate was open. I met Chuck ryan, who began building the mockup as an engineering project while attending the California Polytechnic State University. He brought it out to Florida at the request of NASA to be used as an emergency trainer by the KSC Fire and Rescue Department. At the time I met Chuck, the site had flooded and I could not enter. But the tarp was replaced, occasionally being disarrayed by other wind storms.

Last week, the tarp was removed, the windows covered (the red covers are similar to those that protect the orbiter's windows) and a new name painted on: Resolution! (yes, the exclamation mark is part of the name). At least it is now clearly apparent what it is.

I know Chuck would like to find a good home for his baby, preferably one that helps protect it from further destruction by the elements. It has a crew cabin including a fully equipped flight deck.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Spacecraft of the Week #14

A couple weeks ago we honored Gemini VII as the Spacecraft of the Week. This week, we do the same for its counterpart, Gemini VI. Due to the loss of its intended target vehicle, Gemini VI, crewed by Wally Schirra and Thomas Stafford, was delayed until after the long-duration mission of Gemini VII began. This was the first time Americans had two spacecraft in orbit simultaneously, and gave mission controllers crucial experience that would be needed by the Apollo missions.

Gemini VI spent many years in the city of its creation, St. Louis, Missouri, at the St. Louis Science Center. In 2003, it was moved to the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center where it underwent a cleaning and refurbishment. The pilot door was reattached and the capsule was placed in one of the Comosphere's new spacecraft display cases. It was then moved to Oklahoma City where it spent a few years at the Omniplex Science Museum. In 2007, it moved to the center of the city where it currently resides at the Oklahoma History Center in a display that honors all of Oklahoma's astronauts. It should be noted the Thomas Stafford is a native a Weatherford, Oklahoma, just 30 miles west of Oklahoma City. Occasionally, that helps if you are looking to display a flown spacecraft.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Spacecraft of the Week #13

This week we honor the final Apollo moon flight and make the Apollo 17 Command Module America the Spacecraft of the Week. Launched on Pearl Harbor day, December 7 in the year 1972, Apollo 17 was the most ambitious lunar mission to date. Carrying Gene Cernan, Ron Evans and Harrison Schmidt to the moon, America would remain in orbit with Evans while Cernan and Schmidt lived in the moon for three days. Many people call the "last" mission to the moon. I like to refer to it as the most recent. I refuse to believe that we will not again venture out into that "magnificent desolation". We can do it, if we have the will. And it will drive the economy up more than and faster than any stimulus package.

You can find America at Space Center Houston, Houston Texas. Although displayed in subdued lighting, it is uncovered (save the hatch area covered with plexiglas) so up close detailed photography is possible besides the artistic mood shots (as I try to illustrate). It is also displayed with a flown Mercury (Faith 7) and Gemini (Gemini V), one of only two places in the world where the three flown and manned spacecraft can be seen in the same room, the other being the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. So to honor all those who made the lunar missions possible, and to look forward toward more to come, we salute Apollo 17 as our Spacecraft of the Week.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Spacecraft of the Week #12

Gemini VII was launched 44 years ago on December 4, 1965. Commanding the flight was Jim Lovell, with Frank Borman as Pilot. Two things made this flight unique: at the time, it was the longest US spaceflight and remained so until the Skylab missions, and it was part of the first dual-spacecraft mission conducted by NASA. Scheduled for a 14 day stay in space, the Gemini crew members were to investigate long term spaceflight. An added bonus came when Gemini VI's Agena target vehicle crashed into the ocean shortly after liftoff. Rather than cancel the mission, VII became VI's target for rendezvous. It provided immeasurable experience to the mission control teams in handling two spacecraft simultaneously, a needed skill for the upcoming Apollo missions with its separate command and lunar modules. Photographically, it provided the first good images of a manned spacecraft in orbit. We are so used to seeing the shuttle or the space station floating in space we forget these images used to be the exception rather than the rule.

For the rendezvous Gemini VII was the passive target, but the long duration flight provided the real challenges. Imagine spending two weeks with another person in an area the size of a bathroom stall and you'll get the idea. And you would have a toilet to use! For the crew of G-VII space was a premium. Packing enough food for the mission, and then where to place the trash, was a job for puzzle solvers. The crew practiced shoving trash behind their seats. They did not have the option of depressurizing their craft and opening a door to toss the stuff outside, as they wore a new long-duration spacesuit that was not made for such an event.

These new suits could be removed, even in the cramped quarters of the capsule, though mission rules only allowed one astronaut to doff his suit at a time. After five days, NASA relented and allowed both men to remove their pressure suits. Although much more comfortable, the chore to stash the suits so as not to interfere with spacecraft operation became a new challenge.

After a week, the novelty of spaceflight wore off. The crew was allowed free time, an unthinkable thing for previous flights. They took to reading books they packed for the time: Borman reading Roughing It by Mark Twain, and Lovell reading Drums Along the Mohawk by Walter D. Edmonds.

Recovery came on the fourteenth day with a flawless use of the retro rockets, and found the spacecraft had landed in the Pacific just 11.8 kilometers from the recovery ship, the USS Wasp. The astronauts were a little week from their time in microgravity, but were able to stand and greet the naval crew that recovered them. The spacecraft spent time at Johnson Space Center under investigation for it's long term in space, and then was turned over to the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum. For several years it was suspended in the second floor hall of space exploration, but has since been moved to a new display area near the Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center. There it is displayed without doors, enclosed in a plexiglas envelope to allow a good view of the interior.

For paving the way for future flights to the moon and our first long duration mission in space, Gemini VII is this week's Spacecraft of the Week.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Smithsonian Apollo Program Online Conference

Today, the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum hosted a virtual conference about the Apollo Program. The six hour online conference covered the following topics: Session #1 – Placing Apollo in Historical Context Session; #2 – Getting to the Moon: Apollo Technology Session; #3 – Presidents, Politics, Social Climate; Session #4 – Apollo Artifacts Session; #5 – Apollo Imagery & its Place in Society Session; and #6 – Remembering Apollo. Among the presenters were friends of the Field Guide Roger Launius, Senior Curator, Michael Neufeld, Chair of Space History, and Allan Needell, Curator of Space History.

The conference seemed well attended, based on the chatter in the text box where participants were able to ask questions. Historical context of the Apollo Program was the theme, and the presentation gave great insight into the times and events. Due to a telecon conflict I was forced to miss the voice portions of sessions 4 and 5, but continued to monitor the presentation and chat.

I was already thoroughly pleased with the conference, when Allan Needell began the sixth session by showing the Field Guide home page and recommending it as a source to locate Apollo hardware. He then gave me a shout out for participating in the chat. Thanks, Allan! If any conference attendees have visited the Field Guide and found their way to this blog, welcome! Please leave a comment and let me know you are here! And thanks again to all those involved from the Air & Space Museum for a great conference!

Spacecraft of the Week #11

Gemini XII was launched with astronauts Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin on November 11 (Veterans Day) in 1966. The spacecraft in question was home to the astronauts for 4 days, during which Buzz Aldrin conducted three spacewalks. After an almost disastrous EVA on Gemini XI, Buzz helped engineer handholds and foot restraints and barely broke a sweat on his walk, indicating astronauts would be able to work outside the spacecraft landing on the moon. As the finale of the Gemini program it was a resounding success.

The spacecraft was checked out after recovery at Johnson Space Center, and transported for display at the Museum of Transport and Technology in Aukland, New Zealand. After many years it returned to the states and was then placed for display at the Goddard Space Flight Center. It was paired at the Visitor Center there nose to nose with a sit-in model. Looking out the window while sitting in the model always reminded me of the Gemini VII - Gemini VI rendezvous in space. In 2005, the Smithsonian was asked to relocate the spacecraft.

The Adler Planetarium in Chicago had undergone a major renovation and wanted a 'capstone' to highlight man's relationship with space. Chicago native Jim Lovell was instrumental in bringing his old spacecraft to his hometown. No longer enclosed in a plexiglas cocoon, the capsule was placed in climate controlled display case designed and built by the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. This new case is a prototype for future displays. Although it may somewhat restrict viewing and photography by boxing in the capsule, the importance of protecting the aging craft become paramount. Similar cases have been constructed for Gemini 3 , Gemini VI and Gemini X, Liberty Bell 7, and Apollo 13.

So to honor its history and for trailblazing a new way to preserve and display these important artificers, Gemini XII is our Spacecraft of the Week.

Friday, November 6, 2009

X-38 On the Move

The Field Guide welcomes the X-38 to its data base. The X-38 would have been the precursor for the Crew Return Vehicle, a stubby winged spacecraft that would have been parked at the International Space Station and used as an orbital lifeboat in case of an emergency. Based on the earlier X-24 lifting body created by the US Air Force (even including the bulbous cockpit canopy - it was easier to use the same wind tunnel data as the X-24), it would carry seven crew members back into the atmosphere, then deploy the largest canopy parachute ever tested to land on skids at a predetermined location.

Though cancelled in April of 2002, three test vehicles were created: two for drop tests and one for an orbital reentry test. The one pictured above, V-132, was dropped from a B-52 for several tests at Edwards Air Force Base. This past week it made its way to the Strategic Air Command Museum, Ashland, NE, for display. It is a reminder of what could have been - a safe elegant way to protect astronauts in an emergency.

Check out the the rest of the fleet on the Field Guide.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Spacecraft of the Week #10

A little over nine years ago a remarkable event took place. On a list of technological achievements it would rank among the top, perhaps superseded only by the lunar landings. On October 30, 2000, human beings went to space - and stayed there. The spacecraft that made this possible was the International Space Station, our Spacecraft of the Week.

Let me take you back to another time a little over a hundred years ago to give you perspective. Two brothers experimenting produced a series of gliders to engineer the technology to achieve flight. The would run down a sand hill and let the glider lift them up in the air, only to settle back to earth a few seconds later. Their prowess and skills led them to more advanced designs, finally incorporating an engine. Now they could launch from the level field. A first attempt was made, and an 12 second flight was the result - significant for its historicity but not much more than their unassisted glides. A second and third were made only slightly increasing duration and length of flight. But imagine how Orville felt as he watched Wilbur take of on the fourth and ultimately final flight: He's up. 12 seconds - still going. 20 seconds - he's looking smooth! 30 seconds - he's not coming down!

That just under a minute fourth flight of a controllable powered flying machine proved that we as a people could call the sky our home. Every plane eventually lands, but many individuals call the sky their place of work. Nine years ago, that mindset shifted further, beyond the atmosphere. The International Space Station allows people to go to space to work, to call home. They go up, and stay up.

Or think about his way: Second grade classrooms across the country are filled with students who have not been alive a single day that a person has not called space home. They and their younger classmates, brothers and sisters represent the true space age generation. The sky is no longer the limit. Space awaits them.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

RIP Crew Module Simulator

After a day of trials by weather and an eventual scrub, the Ares I-X booster launched Wednesday morning into a hazy Florida sky. After a 2 minute, twelve second burn of its sole solid rocket booster, the vehicle performed a planned stage separation, with the booster itself parachuting down to the recovery area in the Atlantic Ocean. The Upper Stage Simulator continued its parabolic track and crashed in to the ocean, taking with it the Orion Crew Module Simulator. Even though it was only a mockup, and not even what you could call a boilerplate, it is sad that it won't wind up on display anywhere.

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana described it as "the most beautiful thing he ever saw". I agree, but adding the thrill was less like watching humans travel to space aboard a Shuttle, and more like a large model rocket. Like a model rocket, the X-1 used a reusable booster launched with solid fuel, and deploying a recovery system. There was no recovery system for the USS and the CMS, so as planned they were expendable. So good-bye CMS! We hardly knew you! And we end with a cardinal rule of model rockets: If you don't want to lose it, don't launch it!

video
My apologies for the shaky cam!

Spacecraft of the Week #9

Another late entry, but this weeks' Spacecraft of the Week' celebrates the first flight of the Space Shuttle program. Before Columbia was first launched in 1981, NASA conducted a series of free-flights with Enterprise, OV-101. Taking flight piggy-backed on top a specially modified 747 purchased from American Airlines, Enterprise would be released to glide back to the runway, providing a valuable cache of data needed to refine landing techniques after spaceflight. Unpowered, at least for flight, it would not glide as much as proceed through a controlled fall, much like a flying squirrel drops and swoops from one tree to another or the ground. Only when it nears the ground and raises its nose is there enough lift created by its wings to truly be flying. (And Truly was flying! Dick Truly, destined to fly the orbiter to space and become NASA Administrator was one of Enterprise's pilots!) A soon as this happens, though, drag increases and airspeed rapidly drops. The goal is to have wheels on ground before airspeed reaches stall conditions, when the vehicle really would fall. Despite the complexity, astronaut pilots have had remarkable success in bringing the spacecraft to the runway - mostly due to their training on a modified Gulfstream V. And how did NASA know how to modify the Gulfstream? With the data collected by Enterprise, of course.

In the words of Buzz Lightyear, "This isn't flying. It's falling... with style!"

Monday, October 19, 2009

Spacecraft of the Week #8

Tomorrow morning, Tuesday, October 20, shortly after midnight, an event will occur that has not happened in almost 30 years. A new launch vehicle will leave the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center and make its way to Launch Complex 39B. Atop the Ares I-X booster is our Spacecraft of the Week. The 'Crew Module Simulator' is a boilerplate of an Orion Spacecraft. Mounted on a simulated service module and topped with a Launch Abort System Simulator, the CMS is heavily instrumented to provide feedback of the forces experienced in the launch.

The Ares I-X has been the center of some controversy. Built as a test for the more powerful Ares I, this uprated Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) was never intended to launch alone. Paired up along side an external fuel tank , SRBs have helped launch Space Shuttles since 1981. With modifications and an extra segment of rocket fuel, the Ares I was intended to launch astronauts to orbit and the International Space Station. Critics fear that undampened vibrations of the burning solid fuel would prove fatal for astronauts aboard. The same fears arose after the Saturn V's first flight. Engineering provided an answer and the Saturn V became one of the most successful boosters in history. The Ares I-X will provide similar data and provide engineers with a benchmark for final development of the Ares I.

But first, the CMS and the Ares I-X need to get to the pad. Tomorrow will be an exciting day for space hardware enthusiasts, and sitting atop the object of their attention will be our Spacecraft of the Week, the Crew Module Simulator.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

LCROSS – What Happened?

Last week, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, completed its 113-day mission by crashing into the surface of the moon. Preceding the satellite was the bus-sized Centaur booster stage that accompanied it most of the way. Many of you knew this was going to happen from the day it was launched piggyback with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on June 18. NASA predicted the impact would raise a could of debris 10 meters in altitude, rising over the limb of the moon, that would be visible to telescopes on earth.

I was at my telescopes eyepiece watching – a long shot to see anything as those of us on the east coast were already in daylight, but I was hoping the scientists had underestimated the effect of the impact. I remembered reading about the monks in 1178 AD who witnessed “two horns of light” while looking at the moon, which some astronomers speculate was the creation of crater Giordano Bruno. I thought if they could see that with the unaided eye, I might get to see something with my scope.

The time came, and went. Nothing to be seen. Did I miss it? Was I looking in the right place? Did I mess up the time? I went inside to check NASA TV and used the DVR to rewind back to impact time. Nothing there either. Meanwhile, I hear the scientist say that it was successful with data returned to earth. The bombing of the moon that had been trumpeted in the news was a fizzle.

This is one of the difficulties in communicating science to others. Predictions are made – most conscientious scientists will be conservative in their predictions, but often excitement tends to cause over speculation. We really did not know what would happen when the Centaur and LCROSS impacted the moon, although we did have a precedent. In1971, the Saturn V S-IVB third stage of the Apollo 14 mission slammed into the moon at 2.54 km/sec. It left a crater 35 m in diameter, ejecting debris for 1.5 km. Although smaller, the Centaur was traveling faster, and was predicted to evacuate a larger crater and produce a much larger plume. In fact, both of these events occurred, observed by LCROSS and LRO, just not from earth.

Sometimes science can produce a wonderful show that helps to motivate and interest the general public, and sometimes we get disappointed. Nature is fickle. There is a difference between what you see on a tour at Kennedy Space Center and what you see on the Jungle Cruise at the Magic Kingdom. The important thing is not the show, but the data returned. And in that respect, LCROSS was very successful.

Spacecraft of the Week #7

Forty one years ago this week, Project Apollo became operational with the launch of Apollo 7, our Spacecraft of the Week. This inaugural manned launch occurred at Launch Complex 34 at Cape Canaveral, the same place where 18 month earlier three astronauts were lost in the worst NASA accident at the time. The crew were launched on the Saturn IB booster, while the big sister Saturn V was awaiting clearance to launch her first astronauts later in the year. While Apollo 7 stayed within low-earth orbit, it never the less generated a lot of interest with the inclusion of a TV camera, enabling the first live transmissions from space. I remember watching the black and white show, annotated by hand-drawn notecards: "The Wally, Walt & Don Show".."From the Lovely Apollo Room"..."High Atop Everything!"

While otherwise non-eventful (except for a later released report of illness of the crew), the mission successfully paved the way for those who would follow. Although the spacecraft was featured in the inaugural parade of Richard Nixon, it's importance and popularity were soon eclipsed by it's siblings. For years it was displayed at the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa, Canada. Apollo 7 returned to the States in 2004 to be displayed at the Frontiers of Flight in Dallas, Texas, with a little help from crew member Walt Cunningham, who provided some images for the Field Guide.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Glenn Visitor Center Closes Saturday

This Saturday will be the last for the Visitor Center at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland Ohio. Due to budget cuts, the VC will close and move to the Great Lakes Science Museum downtown. The VC is currently home for the Skylab 2 Apollo capsule, displayed in a small rotunda on a rotating base. It is assumed the spacecraft will follow the VC to Great Lakes, but the decision is up to the Smithsonian. There are a lot of newer air and space museums that would love to display a flown manned spacecraft.

If anyone is in the Cleveland Area, drop in one more time to great this unique CM.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Spacecraft of the Week #6

Spacecraft of the Week is back after a short hiatus, and features an unflown spacecraft that would have given America's first astronaut a chance to orbit the earth. The Mercury program was to incrementally allow astronauts and NASA researchers experience into longer stays in space. After the first two suborbital flights would come a trio of three orbit flights, followed by three or four 22 orbit full day flights. This would take the program right to the start of the two seat Gemini flights. The first of these day trips was to be Mercury 10, piloted by Alan Shepard, who was launched on the first sub-orbital manned flight. Shepard's capsule would be outfitted with extra consumables for the longer mission. He christened his second Mercury Freedom 7 II, being the only spacecraft to my knowledge with a name that contains both Aramaic and Roman numbers. Due to budget constraints, the first day mission was reassigned to Gordon Cooper's Mercury 9 flight. After Cooper's successful flight, all remaining Mercury missions were canceled to free up talent for project Gemini, and Freedom 7 II was declared excess.

I originally saw Freedom 7 II at the visitor center for Ames Research Center in California. It was very accessible, displayed without a cover (only over the open hatch) and mounted on a McDonnell service rack. Previously, it was held in storage at Cape Canaveral after its mission was cancelled. For many years it wowed west coast Space Campers, but in 2003 was recalled by the Smithsonian and placed in the new Udvar-Hazy Center. There it sits under the protective wing of the orbiter Enterprise.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Buzz and Buzz

Buzz Aldrin visited Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom today to be part of a ticker tape parade for the returning Buzz Lightyear. Buzz (Lightyear, not Aldrin) spent over 400 days aboard the International Space Station before returning with Discovery's crew last month. Michael Fincke, a crew mate of Buzz (Lightyear, not Aldrin) also joined in on the celebration. Aldrin and Fincke rode in classic Camaro convertibles while Lightyear was carried by his trusty friend RC Car. The paraders were followed by the WDW Marching Band.

The procession began in Frontierland, made it's way to the Castle Hub, and then down MainStreet, USA. A stop on Main Street allowed for brief interviews, cheers by the crowds, and pictures and videos. Along the way, crowds waved, with many wearing NASA shirts and hats and many children (possibly in anticipation of the evening's Halloween party) were wearing flight suits.

After the parade, Fincke held a Q & A in the auditorium behind the Expo Center, while concurrently Aldrin had a book signing in the same building. I had time only for the book signing, so I waited in the hour long line and finally had my turn. Aldrin looked very good, though much older than when I first met him 20 years ago. I related to him a time we worked an Epcot event together, where he wore a Buzz Lightyear button in which the words 'Buzz off!' were imprinted. I asked him then what he thought of his namesake, and he told me, "I'm as proud as if he were my own son!" I've shared that story with many students and teachers, and Buzz appeared to enjoy it. A good day.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Spacecraft of the Week #5

This weeks spacecraft is actually a trainer, or rather a suite of trainers, that will soon be up for grabs to museums across the country. NASA has entered into an agreement with the General Accounting Office (GAO) to parcel out space shuttle artifacts to interested museums. A couple things to note about this, is that the agreement does not include the orbiters which is being covered under a separate solicitation (NASA has offered Discovery to the Smithsonian and will choose the location for the other two), and that the Smithsonian get first right of refusal under a longstanding agreement from the days of the Mercury program, and official NASA visitor centers get the second look before it opens to all comers on October 1.

Among the items are the shuttle trainers seen above at Building 9 of the Johnson Space Center. These trainers help accustom astronauts to the tasks that they will perform during their mission. The Full Fuselage Trainer (image left) is a complete mockup of an orbiter, minus the wings. Is is used to orient the astronauts with the locations of items and supplies they will find onboard. It is also used to train emergency egress training - if an orbiter's landing gear fails during landing, astronauts can blow a window and repel down from the cockpit. Located at top center in the image is the Crew Compartment Trainer. This is unique as it can be pitched up 90ยบ to train astros on how to board the craft at the pad. The item seen at the bottom is the Manipulator Development Facility, used to train those astronauts using the Remote Manipulator System or robot arm.

While there is a chance that some or all of these items will remain where they are and be a more integrated part of Space Center Houston's tour of JSC, or parceled out to other museums or NASA visitor centers remains to be seen. Hopefully, it means these important artifacts of our space program will be preserved and cared for for years to come.

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Look at the sky"

It was a beautiful morning in Houston, with a few days remaining of our Professional Development Conference at NASA's Johnson Space Center. We aerospace educators met annually at a NASA center to get up to date on the latest NASA education and science programs. The night before, we watched the movie Apollo 13 from the original mission control room, the film being projected on the same screen that displayed the televised images from the moon. When it was my turn to watch from the Flight Director's chair, I stood behind and paced - we never saw Gene Krantz sitting down. Earlier that day, I crossed the street to the municipal complex where a refreshed Apollo boilerplate BP-K had been placed on display. But now, a new day to hear from NASA on how to inspire today's youth.

We were meeting at the Gilruth Center, a multi-purpose facility for JSC employees. Noshing on pastries and morning caffeine, we were slowly making our way to our meeting room. Suddenly, someone came in saying, "Return to your duty stations. Return to your duty stations, now!" Someone said we were from across the country and had no duty at JSC, so we were sent to the meeting room where we were going anyway. Wondering why, we were told that something had happened in New York City, so we turned on the TV projector and saw smoke billowing from the World Trade Center. We watched a little, then tried to start our session while we monitored the video.

When the second plane hit we knew that there was something very serious in the works. The JSC guy who told us to get to our duty stations returned to say that JSC was closing down - planes were being grounded and fear that some were heading toward Washington. Or boss took the podium and offered a choice; remain in Houston until flights resumed or take our rentals and drive home. A call to the rental agency confirmed we could do this (with the appropriate rate increases), so we decided to drive home. Within an hour we were checked out of the hotel, with four of us heading east on I-10. Listening to the radio, we pieced together what had happened and discussed how the world was changed. One colleague remarked, "Look at the sky. Not a contrail in sight. We've never seen a sky without airplanes."

Stay tuned for the rest of this story.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Spacecraft of the Week #4

Sometimes you find spacecraft in the oddest of locations. Last weeks SOTW, an Apollo boilerplate used as a time capsule, was originally located on a boulevard median in a small city. This weeks' spacecraft is also found on a a city street, but what it's history is remains unclear.

On the corner of Red Bluff Road and San Augustine Avenue in Pasedena, Texas, across from J.D. Parks Elementary School, a Mercury capsule complete with escape tower is mounted on a low pedestal. I don't know whether to list it as a boilerplate or a model. This has an air of authenticity that a fabricated model lacks, unfortunately due to the amount of deterioration that has taken place - a model would have been created to handle the weather. But several other questions arise besides its heritage. Why here? Nearby Johnson Space Center did not begin operations until Gemini IV, well after the completion of the Mercury project. Why is a lamp mounted on top of the escape tower aerospike? Normally, this would be for aircraft and indicate it may have once been mounted on a tall booster.

I last visited this capsule in February of 2005. Even though it was winter, the grounds were maintained and the shrubbery surrounding it was trimmed. Google Maps show it as still in this location, and Street View gives some good views of it. But the mystery remains behind the unique placement in this Houston suburb, and that is why I chose it for the Spacecraft of the Week.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Coca-Cola MMU

The Coca-Cola Space Science Center is a gem of a space museum. Sitting on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in historic downtown Colombus, Georgia, the center houses a digital planetarium, observatory, and Challenger Center along with a small exhibit area. There you will find a full scale front section of a space shuttle orbiter, an Apollo capsule model, and this Manned Maneuvering Unit, all created by WonderWorks. Today I posted images of the MMU, displayed in a glass case by the front desk. Although reminiscent of the untethered EVA by astronaut Bruce McCandless in 1984, the MMU is labeled "#4", although only 3 were built. The exhibit area is free, and well worth a visit.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Go for Orion

The new Orion spacecraft has just completed its preliminary design review, or PDR. This follows over 300 technical reviews, 100 peer reviews and 18 subsystem design reviews. The PDR is an important step in the development of the new spacecraft, verifying engineering reliability and safety, and is needed before manufacturing begins. Though an important step, waiting on this has not stopped NASA from the testing of subsystems, including the Launch Escape System. The Pad Abort 1 test boilerplate is in New Mexico waiting for it's upcoming test at the White Sands Missile Range. It will be launched by the power of the LES rockets in the same manner as was done with Apollo capsules in the 60's. I'll be watching to see what happens to this Orion test article. It may be tough to keep track of all the test articles, boilerplates and models to come in the next few years, but that is my goal to keep the Field Guide the most complete guide to American spacecraft on the internet!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Intrepid Duo

Updated pictures of the model capsule on the Intrepid Air, Sea & Space Museum provided by my buddy Scott Norman of the Coca-Cola Space Science Center. The Intrepid was part of the recovery of Aurora 7 in 1962 and Gemini 3 in 1965. These missions are commemorated on the Intrepid by these two models. The Gemini is displayed in a flotation collar suspended from a crane as if it were being recovered. Also on board is a sit-in Gemini (to be posted later). At one time I also had listed a full size Gemini model with retro and instrument sections, and a model of the Lunar Module Intrepid. I don't know if these were there and removed, if they are still theresomewhere (in storage, maybe) or my initial source was wrong. Someday, I'll get to New York and check it for myself.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Spacecraft of the Week #3


Apollo Boilerplate #1227 was one of many built by NASA to give to Navy and allied ships to train crews in the recovery of a wayward capsule. In an emergency, the Apollo spacecraft could be brought home earlier, even on land (though very hard on the astronauts!) and NASA wanted friendly help available, wherever it may be. Crews needed to be adept at stabilizing the capsule with a floatation collar, extracting the astronauts, and hauling the capsule on board. In 1970, BP-1127 was being used for training by a UK naval vessel when it became lost at sea. The circumstances surrounding this loss are unclear: bad weather and choppy seas, or perhaps a Soviet spy ship disguised as a fishing trawler grabbed it. Whatever the case, BP-1227 wound up in Soviet hands. Spy wise it had little value as the only thing inside these boilerplates was some ballast, and the size and shape were well known and available from many sources. Perhaps that is why the Soviets were amenable to it's return to the US. On September 8, 1970, the US Coast Guard icebreaker Southwind visited Murmansk as a port of call during a six month arctic survey. They were surprised when, with a considerable amount of hoopla, they were presented with the Apollo capsule.

Space Capsule to Time Capsule

The capsule made its way back to the states. Its history at this point is unclear, but not where it wound up. It was turned over the the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum and within a few years it found a home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There (or possibly in NASM hands) it was fitted with a conical nose cone to cover the parachute compartment and give it the iconic Apollo shape. It was filled with memorabilia collected by local high schools and sealed on December 31, 1976 as a Time Capsule to be opened on our nation's Tricentennial on July 4, 2076. It originally sat in the median of a boulevard in downtown Grand Rapids, but has since moved to a logical and more accessible display area in front of the Public Museum of Grand Rapids. There, it welcomes visitors to the museum and the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium. At least for another 67 years.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Rover Swap

Allan Needel of the National Air and Space Museum helped to clarify some of the rover locations in the Field Guide. Four lunar roving vehicles were built by Boeing in 1970 - 1971, three of which made it to the moon. The remaining rover was turned over to the Smithsonian, as well as a qualification test unit. Rover #4 was displayed in several places. At the Henry Ford Museum, the rover was displayed with a Quadrocycle, Ford's first automobile. It was subsequently found in the queue area at Epcot's Mission:Space attraction. In January of 2009 it was replaced with a Guard-Lee model and returned to the NASM. A new exhibit featuring the art of Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean is currently graced by the rover.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Space Harley

A new section titled 'Other Spacecraft' has been posted to the Field Guide. This section will highlight space vehicles that do not fit into other categories. Among them is the Manned Maneuvering Unit used by space shuttle astronauts during extravehicular activity. The MMU was used on three shuttle missions in 1984 - STS-41B, STS-41C and STS-51A. On all three flights MMU #3, pictured at right hanging in the Udvar-Hazy Center, was lofted to provide astronauts an untethered access to work in space. This freedom of flight can be compared to riding a motorcycle, where the sole rider is openly exposed to the environment. While still protected by the EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit or spacesuit), the astronaut is free to travel through space under their own power. While its first two flight helped shake down the MMU, it proved its worth with the capture of two wayward satellites during STS-51A.

Only three MMUs were made by Lockheed-Martin, and only one was flown. MMU #2 is at the US Space and Rocket Center, while #1 has been reported at Johnson Space Center (if anyone has any info on this, please pass it on!). Several models are found at various museums, and it has been used as a space simulator in many interactive displays. It was also featured in a Discovery Channel commercial:

And this commercial always reminded me of a print I own from artist Kim Poor titled "Attitude Hold".

Monday, August 24, 2009

Spacecraft of the Week #2

This week's spacecraft is one of the reasons the Field Guide exists. As an education specialist at Kennedy Space Center I often conducted facility briefings (tours) of KSC and the neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Cape is home to the Air Force Space and Missile Museum on the site where Explorer 1 was launched to orbit back in 1958. In the Exhibit Building there is found this week's entry. Gemini 2 was a favorite of those I toured, often stating, "I never knew about that". It made me wonder where other spacecraft were, and I began my list. That list ultimately grew into A Field Guide to American Spacecraft.

Gemini 2 is unique for several reasons. Although it's mission was not one that launched men into space, it is truly one of a kind. Originally launched by NASA in 1965, it flew a suborbital trajectory intended to test the heat shield and the spacecrafts recoverability. After tests, it was given to the Air Force for testing for the Manned Orbital Laboratory program. It was launched a second time in 1966, making it the first spacecraft launched twice to space (while the x-15s made multiple trips, they flew their missions, but let us not split hairs!). As part of a military launch, the standard American flag and "UNITED STATES" was removed to be replaced by the words "US AIR FORCE" and the star and bars representing that service. Again, it's mission was to test the heat shield, but this time the shield had a hatch cut into it. Ultimately, this hatch would allow Air Force astronauts to traverse from the capsule to the orbital lab behind them without donning a space suit. Though the hatch worked, the MOL program was cut due to budget constraints and the increasing capabilities of unmanned spy satellites.

These three things - the first relaunched man rated spacecraft, the first (and only) spacecraft launched with military markings, and the first (and only) launched with a hatch in the heat shield - make Gemini 2 a unique artifact of space history.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Moonliner

If you look in the Miscellaneous section of the Field Guide you will see a couple of Disney items. I'll talk about Mission to Mars, I mean, Mission Space later. Today I want to express my infatuation with the Moonliner. This iconic spaceship, bridging the public meme from the V-2s of WWII to the boosters that would take us to the moon, was the centerpiece for Disneyland's original Tomorrowland, giving park visitors a glimpse of the future of 1985. Anchoring the 'Rocket to the Moon' attraction, at 79' foot tall (one foot taller would require red warning lights on the nose) it was just a wee short of the Mercury-Redstone that would 6 years later launch America's first astronauts. Sponsored by Howard Hughes' TWA, it was a staple in advertisements of the airlines modern fleet of aircraft. The attraction itself offered guests a chance to circumnavigate the moon, 'feeling' the forces of flight from increased g at liftoff to reduced gravity of orbit.

The Moonliner displayed was itself a model, as the actual vehicle was said to reach 240 feet, taller than the Saturn 1B. It was powered by an atomic engine, and provided single stage to lunar orbit capabilities. Its three massive legs, whose curves are said to be reminiscent of TWA's Constellation aircraft, would retract for flight and extend back for a pin-point landing.

The original Moonliner was removed in 1966 to make way for the 'New' Tomorrowland. IN 1998 it returned, although at 52 feet only 2/3rds the height of the original. TWA is no longer with us, so this Moonliner is sponsored by Coca-Cola, and rises above a soft drink kiosk. Although there is no longer an attraction to go with it, every visitor knows what is is. A rocket, THE rocket, that has inspired many to imagine trips beyond the atmosphere.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Delta II Launch Spectacular

This was the view of the final Air Force Delta II launch from Jetty Park in Cape Canaveral, FL. I was not there: I was watching from my front porch but did not think of taking a picture, as I had no idea just how spectacular this launch would be.

I awoke just before sunrise and opened my computer for my morning cyber-ritual, when I heard the sound and felt the rattle that means only one thing - a rocket launch. I went outside to see the contrail rising behind sparse clouds, just in time to see the color change. The rocket arced its way into orbit for a successful launch. Many friends in Orlando, however had the impression the rocket exploded. Here's why:

The Delta launched just before dawn, still in darkness. As it rose, it's contrail was illuminated only by the fire from it's engines. But as it climbed, it reached the sunlight spilling over the horizon from the rising sun, filtered into the ruddy glow we see at sunrise and sunset. At the same time, upper level winds at that altitude distorted the shape of the contrail. From the angle and distance of Orlando, this appeared at the height of the arc the rocket took as it followed the curvature of the Earth away from the Cape. The rocket was then flying in direct sunlight, brightly illuminating the contrail into a white streak. Observers who watched further would have seen the rocket reaching higher more rarified altitudes and see the contrail begin to expand in the thinning atmosphere. Here is a launch from Vandenberg on the west coast during sunset that shows the same phenomena:
(Somewhere I have picture I took like this - I'll substitute it if I can find it).

So, really just a typical Delta launch. The timing at sunset gave us a beautiful display, with the thin crescent Moon and Venus hanging in the morning sky. What a way to start a morning!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Spacecraft of the Week #1


This week's inaugural entry for Spacecraft of the Week is the Apollo 6 capsule on display at the Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta, GA. This Block 1 capsule was launched on the second Saturn V launch in April 1968. Its successful return to Earth paved the way for the men of Apollo 7 to journey to orbit in their Block 2 capsule.

But this blog is not just about spacecraft. It is also about the places that display them. And Fernbank was a very important part of my childhood. We moved to Atlanta suburb Decatur in 1967 after living a few years in the LA area. There, my dad and I had monthly dates to journey up the mountain to the Griffith Park Planetarium for their star show. I was depressed that Atlanta had no such facility where dad and I could resume our dates, me to learn more about the wonders of space, and he to nap after a hard days work (that's OK dad!).

Shortly after we moved, I discovered just 6 blocks
from home Fernbank, at the time an
excavated foundation for the coming science center. I learned it would house the largest public telescope in the southeast. And it would be home for the third largest planetarium in the country with a brand new Mark V Zeiss projector. I visited the construction site often, watching the walls and dome go up. I trespassed into the planetarium dome imagining what was to come. I wrote my name on the metal roof before the insulation was blown on. And after it opened, I no longer needed to wait for dad to come home (though we still had many visits together there), as I could go there after school. I knew the astronomers and the planetarium operators, and they knew me. It was my own little slice of heaven (figuratively and literally) for a year and a half. Then we moved to the Chicago suburbs, and the Adler became my and my dads monthly get together. I had, though, already been set on a course that would lead me back to Fernbank one day.

Years later, as a NASA education specialist, it was my joy to work in the Fernbank Science center, with its wonderful facilities and staff, teaching educators and students about the things that inspired me there long ago.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

LM Updates

Steven Brower is an artist who, in the last ten years, has constructed two full scale replicas of the Lunar Module ascent stage. The first was placed on exhibit in Italy as part of an art display on the theme "Vacuum". The second, after being displayed in some outdoor locations in New York, eventually found a home at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA. Not too many individuals have tried to build full sized spacecraft, so Brower should be commended. And, for doing a great job, he should be applauded.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Name that Apollo!

I solicited images of the spacecraft displayed at JSC before Space Center Houston opened, and received several replies. Among them was Jonathan Ward description and pictures of his father's VIP visit to both JSC and KSC in June of 1969. Among his many pictures was this one of an Apollo spacecraft on display.


Ward writes, "Unfortunately, the number on the side of the vehicle is turned away from us, so I am not sure which one it is. Since there is so much of the Kapton foil still
attached to the CM (i.e., not burned away from the heat of re-entry from return from a Moon trip), I assume that it was from an Earth-orbital mission, either one of the unmanned flights or Apollo 7." This
presented itself as a challenge to me, as I'd like to place this in the Field Guide, but as which
spacecraft?

Here are things we know:
1) It is a flown capsule (apparent)
2) It flew before June 1969 (Ward's description)
3) It is a Block 2 spacecraft (most visible, the side by side forward RCS thrusters above the hatch) and therefore a manned flight

This leads us to Apollo 7, 8, 9 or 10. Only Apollo 7 and 9 remained in Earth orbit (a good hypothesis by Ward to account for the foil thermal tape). So, let's compare these, with Apollo 8 and 10 thrown in for comparison.

OK, now this can get tough. But there is a distinct area on each spacecraft that could aid us in identification of our unknown. It is the burned area to the right of the hatch around the reaction control thrusters. Here are close-ups of each of these areas with our unknown.

Apollo 7
Apollo 8
Apollo 9
Apollo 10
Unknown

I believe the pattern in the unknown most closely resembles that of Apollo 9. There are also some correlations in the patterns of the foil tape, although there appears to have been a cleaning and possibly some tape removed before it was placed on display. Pictures of Apollo 9 at the Michigan Air & Space Center show very little difference to the display at San Diego, so any cleaning was done before hand.

You may also note that in the unknown picture the outer window frames are removed. Of the four, only Apollo 9 shows signs the attachment screws were accessed . With these clues in place, I believe we can call this unknown Apollo on display at JSC in 1969 the Apollo 9, returned to Earth earlier that year on March 13.

Why the moon?

Almost every long trip we've made in the car started by first going to the local quick stop to fuel up, clean windows, get snacks, and make sure we had everything before the long journey. The moon is Earth's quick stop. Anything we need for the moon we will need on Mars, and asteroid or or another moon. It makes sense to do the planning and testing just a couple days out than to just set off and hope for the best. I love the idea of Mars Direct but can't see a future in space without a vibrant moonbase. Rather than competing for the same dollars, we should all work to get new dollars from private industry and investors.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Time Capsules

Before Space Center Houston, a museum existed in the lobby area of JSC Building 2 and behind the auditorium. Although the space was limited the collection was noteworthy, with a flown example of each of NASA's manned programs including a Lunar Module and Rover. Visitors could just drive onto the center, park, visit the museum, and even take a walking tour of JSC. That all changed with the opening of Space Center Houston. I have updated the Gemini V and Faith 7 pages with pictures of the old display, provided by Lawrence Baldwin and David Temple. More to follow.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rover over

Had a couple questions about the rover on display at Epcot's Mission:Space attraction, so I contacted Tom Wilkes at Guard-Lee who set me right. When the attraction opened on October 9, 2003, the rover on display was an authentic artifact on loan from the Smithsonian (possibly a vibration test unit). This last January, it was swapped out for a model built by the Apopka, Florida firm Guard-Lee who has made spacecraft models/props from the full sized Explorer orbiter at KSC Visitor Complex to the capsules on HBO's 'From the Earth to the Moon' (which was filmed incidentally at the former Disney/MGM Studios). So the one at Epcot is a model owned by Disney to keep as long as they desire. Although it is a model, it is closer in appearance to the actual rovers used by Apollo astronauts on the moon.