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

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

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.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lunar Rovers on Earth

I'm finishing up a big puzzle in the Lunar Rover section. It has been a little difficult to identify some of the rovers on display. According to NASA, "four lunar rovers were built, one each for Apollos 15, 16, qnd 17, and one that was used for spare parts after the cancellation of further Apollo missions. There were other LRV models built: a static model to assist with human factors design, an engineering model to design and integrate the subsystems, two 1/6 gravity models for testing the deployment mechanism, a 1-gravity trainer to give the astronauts instruction in the operation of the rover and allow them to practice driving it, a mass model to test the effect of the rover on the LM structure, balance and handling, a vibration test unit to study the LRV's durability and handling of launch stresses, and a qualification test unit to study integration of all LRV subsystems." The Air & Space Museum lists four LRVs in it's collection. So here is what I've puzzled out:
Model: Location:
Static ?
Engineering ?
1/6 gravity 1 ?
1/6 gravity 2 ?
Mass ?
Qualification NASM, DC

A couple still to puzzle out: Epcot's Mission: Space (said to be on loan from the Smithsonian, although all four on their manifest are accounted for) and at the Museum of Flight (from Boeing). I don't believe they are 1/6 gravity models, but could be one of the static, engineering or mass models. More postings as new data is uncovered!

Orion PORT Trainer Cross Country Trek

The Post-landing Orion Recovery Test trainer is on it's way across the southern US from KSC to JSC. It stopped yesterday at the Challenger Center in Tallahassee, FL, with a planned visit today to the Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, Fla., from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CDT. The remainder of the trainer's itinerary places it at these locations:

-- StenniSphere, NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., Wed., Aug. 12, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. CDT.
-- Museum of Natural Science, Jackson, Miss., Aug. 13, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. CDT
-- NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, Aug. 14, 3 p.m. CDT through Aug. 17, approximately 9 a.m. CDT

Be sure to stop by if you are close to one of these sites. And send me a picture or two!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Grissom's Gemini

Updates were made to the Gemini 3 page. The Molly Brown, which was formerly suspended from the ceiling of the museum at Spring Mill State Park. Is now in a protective case on the main level. The case, designed and built by the good folks at the Cosmosphere, is similar to the ones built for Gemini IV and Gemini XII. These cases provide a much better environment than those encased in plastic, and are safer for the spacecraft than displaying it in the open. While it may prevent a more intimate experience it is important that these historic craft are preserved. Thanks to Fred Karst for the images of the Molly Brown.