Posts Tagged ‘astronaut’

Hammer & Feather II

April 18, 2008

Time I posted some video of my favourite astronaut experiment. This is such a simple demonstration, and Dave Scott carries it off well. He actually carried two feathers with him as he wasn’t sure how the static building up as he moved around would allow him to drop the first one. He didn’t need it, of course, but no-one knows what happened to the second feather. Do they?

Moonwalk I

March 28, 2008

Armstrong and Aldrin spent about 2 and a half hours walking on the lunar surface. This map, showcased on favourite blog Strange Maps, demonstrates the limited ambition of the first moonwalk. Kennedy’s imperative was the priority. Anything else was a bonus, and Armstrong’s furthest distance from the LM was barely half a football pitch.

In the Shadow of the Moon, #2

December 1, 2007

We went to see this tonight, at last, and it was as good as expected. It is a rare thing to hear the words, and see the faces of the men who journeyed out of the gravity well of the Earth. Much of the footage is rare and the interviews speak for themselves. There is a little text to help fill in the story. We are taken from Kennedy’s challenge, through Apollo 1, Apollo 8 and 11 to the experiences of the men who flew.

I most enjoyed seeing the aged, rheumy eyes of the astronauts as they relived and analysed their feelings. They showed wonder, excitement, humour, and constant amazement that they should be so privileged to have been in the right place, at the right time, with the right stuff. Alan Bean thought he had the right stuff, whatever that is, only because he was selected!

I always love to hear what Michael Collins has to say. His autobiography, Carrying the Fire is widely regarded as the best Apollo biography, and I agree. He has an intelligent but slightly removed view from within the Apollo 11 crew.

I like to hear Buzz Aldrin. He is so earnest, as Dr Rendezvous or as an advocate of continuing human spaceflight. Although I heard little new from him it was right to hear him in the context of the others. His humility is improving with age.

John Young is the only astronaut to fly in 3 programmes – Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle. Vastly experienced, I think he was the last Apollo veteran to retire from NASA. Laid back and laconic. Always a pleasure.

Dave Scott had too small a role in my view. His mission, Apollo 15, was the first to really get to grips with science.

I don’t recall anything specific that Ed Mitchell said, which is a shame, as Apollo 14 is perhaps the most overlooked mission.

Charlie Duke was fun to hear, especially as he was the Apollo 11 CapCom. I was disappointed film wasn’t included of him saying “…you’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue…” He’s an engaging man.

Harrison Schmitt said a few things, but was greatly overshadowed by his crewmate Gene Cernan…

…who, in my mind held, with Collins, the core of the film. I sense a deep regret in him that he was the last to leave, and no-one has followed. As he says, no-one can take away the footprints he left on the Moon. He is captivated by the beauty of the Earth and is rightly proud of the Apollo program’s role in kick-starting global environmental awareness. What would we do without the Apollo photos of the Earth? The title of the film comes from something Gene Cernan says, in wonder, about passing into darkness from days of constant sunlight on the journey to the Moon.

Alan Bean clearly enjoyed his ride. I have such a strong impression of him through the Apollo 12 episode of ‘From the Earth to the Moon‘, which is seen through his eyes. Nothing he says on the film really changes what I learned from that.

Finally, Jim Lovell, who has such a gentle way, was again lovely to hear from. Apollo 13 has certainly defined his fame, and he deals with it very well, but his journey on Apollo 8 with Borman and Anders deserves equal memory. It was every bit as brave (the first manned flight of Saturn V, and they went right out of Earth orbit!) and made it clear that Apollo was back on track after Apollo 1 two years earlier.

We all missed hearing from Armstrong, of course. I’m sorry that he chose not to take part, but he probably feels he’s said all he wants to. I have no problem with that. What a burden to carry, as Aldrin explained in the film. I also missed hearing from Pete Conrad. He’s an astronaut famed for his humour and the Apollo 12 mission, with Bean and Dick Gordon, made a huge contrast with the quiet 11 crew. Jim Irwin and Al Shepard also were missing. You’d have to have made this film in 1990 to have had all 12 moonwalkers. Would it have been possible then?

I’ll be buying the DVD. Especially as the cinema forgot to play the sound for the first minute or so and then let the sound and picture get out of synch. Grrr.

In the Shadow of the Moon

October 17, 2007

Check this out! I heard about this film a little while ago, and, if the trailer is anything to go by, it will be unmissable. Interviews with most of the nine surviving moonwalkers (although only archive footage of Armstrong) as well as Jim Lovell, who visited the Moon twice on Apollo 8 and 13, intercut with enhanced contemporaneous footage to tell the story of the Apollo race for the Moon. It is on general release in the UK from 02 November.

This is a Ron Howard production. Ron directed Apollo 13, one of my favourite films, largely because of its technical accuracy, but also because the story told is more real than life, if you see what I mean.

The whole Apollo program embodies the best of human endeavour. Only 32 astronauts crewed Apollo spacecraft, but around 400000 engineers and their managers drove the whole show. This team effort is something Apollo 13 shows pretty well, but wasn’t unique to this mission. None of the journeys to the Moon could have happened without the contribution of the whole, massive, team.

The best book I know which deals with the backstage work for Apollo is Apollo, by Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox. The stories of the flight controllers, spacecraft engineers, managers, range safety, launch technicians, communications experts, suit makers – you name it – are compelling. How did these (generally) young men do that? You have to buy the book from the authors, but it is worth it. I think I’ve read it 3 times now.

Can America (with Europe/Russia?) repeat the achievement of the 60’s in the twenty-teens? I hope so. Robot missions are great, but robots don’t dream of anything but electric sheep.

Just two left

May 6, 2007

Wally Schirra has died, on May 3rd, aged 84. The fifth American in space, he flew Mercury 8 (Sigma 7), Gemini 6A and Apollo 7, commanding both Gemini and Apollo missions. He was the only one of the Mercury Seven to fly all three pre-shuttle spacecraft. All the missions were successful, firsts in their way. Mercury 8 is described as the first flawless mission, Gemini 6 performed the first rendezvousStafford and Schirra get suited up for Gemini 6 (no docking) with Gemini 7, and Apollo 7 was the first manned flight of the Apollo CSM.

Schirra was well known for his keen sense of humour and clear view of the task of flying safely, eschewing the glamour associated with other Mercury Seven astronauts. He was a superb pilot: once, as a test pilot he out witted a Sidewinder missile he was testing, and which had turned on him, by turning inside the missile’s own path. He flew 90 combat missions in Korea in F84 jets. His cool demeanour was displayed when the rocket engine on his Titan booster for Gemini 6 shut down after lift-off. He, as commander, should have pulled the ejection lever, taking he and Pilot Tom Stafford ‘safely’ away from the exploding rocket. However, as he hadn’t detected any upward motion he stayed put, avoiding the significant risks of ejection. The rocket didn’t explode. The main problem was found to be a plug pulling out too soon and the mission was launched 72 hours later as Gemini 6A.

The Apollo 7 mission in October 1968, the first manned mission after the Apollo 1 fire, was hugely important. Schirra and his crew, Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham, were to test the completely redesigned Command Module (and its Service Module, together known as the CSM). Unfortunately the crew all suffered from colds, exacerbated enormously by weightless conditions, and spent much of the mission arguing with Mission Control about workload. None were selected for further missions.

I’m sorry to see another Mercury-Gemini-Apollo astronaut die. The Space Shuttle doesn’t have the romance, the drama, of those missions, perhaps because, for 25 years, it hasn’t really gone anywhere and has been a dead end. I don’t doubt the skill and bravery of the current crop of astronauts though.

Schirra leaves behind only two of the Mercury Seven, America’s first astronauts: John Glenn, America’s third man in space, and Scott Carpenter, fourth.

Of the moonwalkers, only 9 survive.