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.