Posts Tagged ‘Moon’

Tranquility Base

December 6, 2009

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has now reached its mapping orbit 50 km above the surface of the Moon.  I previously reported the exciting images it made of several of the landing sites.  It has now captured the best image yet of the landing site of Apollo 11.  It must be amazing for Armstrong and Aldrin to see their tracks here 40 years after leaving them there on their short moonwalk.  I’d love to know what they make of this.

Tranquility Base

The image has north at the top, and you can see West Crater, the one Armstrong had to fly over before landing on the right side. The bright spots around are, I think, boulders which famously meant Armstrong had to take manual control early.  The pitted nature of the Moon is clear, as is the fact that many of the craters are easily as big as the LM.

LRO Tranquility Base detail, Nov 2009

Very clear is the descent stage and the footpads, and tracks left by Armstrong & Aldrin as they collected samples, erected the flag, took photos and set up the EASEP experiements.  It is tempting to think that you can make out the ladder on the left,  and fun to work out what is where.  Armstrong’s track to the E to look into the crater he landed just beyond, is visible too.  Compare this image with this map.  I think the really bright spot to the S of the LM is the LRRR, one of the sets of prisms that is still used to determine the distance of the Moon from Earth.


October 28, 2009

The Crawler-Transporter that brought Ares 1X and its Mobile Launcher (MLP) to the pad last week is one of two that were originally built in the mid-60s for the Saturn series of flights, and have been in use since, for Saturn, Shuttle and now Ares.

Crawler-Transporter near the VAB

There are really two alternatives to transporting rockets vertically to their launch position. The first is to build the rocket horizontally, move it horizontally and hoist it erect at the pad. The massive scale of the Saturn boosters really rules this out. The second option is to build the rocket at the pad. Several factors are against this: weather at the Cape is pretty volatile – hurricane winds, rain, lightning – holding up work; the rate of launches required to meet the end of ’69 deadline meant that having a rocket under construction at the pad would lead to unacceptable congestion.

So the solution was to build a massive Vehicle (initially Vertical) Assembly Building (VAB), construct each rocket inside, out of the weather and transport the rocket to the pad from there. But, again, the massive scale of the Saturn boosters meant this was no trivial problem.

Barges on canals (problems with stability and wind)  and railways (difficulties with rail stability and cornering) were both considered as options, but the solution settled on was to transport the rocket, MLP and Launch Umbilical Tower (LUT) by crawlers.

The coal miners of Ohio had been using massive tracked excavators to strip mine coal.

Bucyrus-Erie steam shovel crawler, Kentucky. Note man on top for scale.

These remain some of the biggest vehicles in the world. In February 1962 NASA engineers from the Launch Facilities and Support Equipment Office (LFSEO) were contacted by the Bucyrus-Erie Company who realised the potential of their massive machines to move launch vehicles.  The Marion Power Shovel Company won the tender, bidding 8 million dollars (competing with Bucyrus-Erie Company, its Ohio competitor, which has since bought Marion, who bid 11 million dollars) and built two wonders. Philip Koehring worked on the Bucyrus bid, and was immediately recruited by Marion to project-manage the massive engineering work.

The first test of the C-T took place in (July?) 1964, attended by several dignitaries and managers from NASA.

First test of the Crawler-Transporter

The image shows, from L:  Richard L. Drollinger, Director of Engineering, Marion Power Shovel Co.;  Theodor A. Poppel and Donald D. Buchanan, both of Kennedy Space Center;  S. J. Fruin, Executive Vice President and Philip Koehring, Project Engineer, both of Marion; and Kurt H. Debus, Center Director at Kennedy Space Center

Each of the two crawlers weighs in at 2700 tonnes, and is supported by four pairs of enormous caterpilar tracks, one at each corner. Each of these tracks has 57 shoes, 0.3 x 2.3m, each weighing nearly a tonne in themselves. The tracks are driven by 16 electric motors. Steering seems to be via three hydraulic rams which push the truck around on its guide tube.  The turning radius is 152 metres, only four times the vehicle’s length.

Crawler truck assembly

The platform which supports the MLP and vehicle has an area of 726 square metres or so, and can rise from 6m above the ground to 8m above ground level. This platform can be kept horizontal, even during the ride up the 5% slope to each pad.

The massive power needed to move such loads is supplied by a diesel-electric system. Generators with a combined power of 5500 kW supply motors, steering and hydraulic pumps. Despite this massive output, the speed of the C-T is limited to about 2mph (0.9m/s) when unloaded, and 1mph when loaded. Bearing in mind the cumbersome nature of its loads, that seems fast enough.

Bob Myers, Crawler Systems Engineer, in one of the cabs

The monster is driven from one of two cabs.  Controls seem very simple, belying the precision achievable:  the C-T must deliver the vehicle and MLP to the pad and lay it down gently within very tight limits.  It is said that the C-T can be moved forward and back in increments as small as 1/8 of an inch (about 3mm)!

So large is the crawler it has a control room inside, under the main deck.  Here engineers monitor and control the motors and generators that supply the electrical power for C-T and MLP systems.  The whole thing is surrounded by catwalks allowing engineers to access any part of the C-T and gain access to the MLP.

Schematic drawing of the Crawler Transporter

Control room windows

The first Crawler transporter ready for service, Jan 1966

A while ago I enjoyed building a Saturn V scale model (and here).  While researching this I’ve found there is a model of the C-T you can build as well.  It looks fantastic, although it is 1:144, so not compatible with my original Saturn V.  However, if this modeller ever finishes this and gets the plans out there I’ll be occupied for ever, but happily!

1:96 Crawler model detail

Sources:  All the sources are referenced in text links or image links.  Most useful, and recommended reading for an understanding of the development of Cape Kennedy Space Center and its hardware is ‘Gateway to the Moon’ by Benson and Faherty.  This book is the first 14 chapters of Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations, 1978, part of the NASA History Series.

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?

Apollo Bookshelf

April 14, 2008

I thought it would be interesting to publish a list of some of the Apollo books and stuff I’ve collected over the years. I can recommend just about anything on this list, but top 5? Here’s a first stab, but I might change my mind:

  1. Apollo: the race to the Moon [the story of the engineers and managers of the Apollo program]
  2. Carrying the Fire [Mike Collins’ experiences of the Gemini/Apollo programs]
  3. A Man on the Moon [Andrew Chaikin’s famed history of Apollo. HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon was based on this]
  4. Full Moon [one of the most beautiful books: a collection of Apollo photographs]
  5. First Man [the only official biography of Neil Armstrong]

I’ll have a look at DVDs in the same way sometime perhaps, but what’s missing from my collection that is a must read?



A Man on the Moon Andrew Chaikin
Apollo Al Bean
Apollo: the Race to the Moon
Charles Murray & Catherine Bly Cox
Apollo 11:1 Ed. Robert Godwin
Apollo 11:2 Ed. Robert Godwin
Apollo 12 Ed. Robert Godwin
Apollo 13 Ed. Robert Godwin
Apollo 15:1 Ed. Robert Godwin
Apollo 16:1 Ed. Robert Godwin
Apollo 17:1 Ed. Robert Godwin
Apollo Orbiting Moon, Heads Back Today (newspaper original edition)
Astronomy Now: Man on the Moon 30th Anniversary (magazine)
Carrying the Fire Michael Collins
Facsimile: Guardian 21/07/69 Front Page
First Man James R Hansen
Friendship 7 Ed. Robert Godwin
Full Moon Michael Light
History of the 20th Century: Man in Space: A New age of discovery (magazine)
Life: To the Moon and back (magazine)
Lost Moon: the perilous voyage of Apollo 13 Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger
Moon Map Philip’s
Moondust Andrew Smith
NASA LM Chart Series: 1: 1 000 000 NASA
On Mars Patrick Moore
On the Moon Patrick Moore
Project Apollo Charles Coombs
Project Constellation Tim McElyea
Rocketman Nancy Conrad & Howard A Klausner
Saturn V News Reference NASA (printed from website)
Spaceflight Jan 1968
British Interplanetary Society magazine
The Last Man on the Moon Eugene Cernan & Don Davis
The Man Who Ran the Moon Piers Bizony
Virtual Apollo Scott P Sullivan
Virtual LM Scott P Sullivan

Orion solar panels

April 12, 2008

It seems to me that the Altair and Orion spacecraft, in their journey from Earth to Moon will need the same thermal control as the Apollo spacecraft did. This was achieved by a ‘barbeque roll’ of the spacecraft, perpendicular to the direction of the Sun meaning that no part of the structure got too hot or too cold.

Altair/Orion spacecraft

Now, Altair/Orion (let’s just call it Orion shall we?) will have the same problem, and I presume a similar solution. However, with the winglike solar panels on Orion will it be simple? I suppose it might be possible to drive the panels so that they were always facing the Sun, but with current design concepts it looks awkward, with some kind of universal joint being necessary.

Perhaps the heat management of Orion will be different so that the passive thermal roll is unnecessary, or the solar panel orientation is easier to control than I suppose (and I’m no engineer). I do know that a single axis rotation such as that achieved by the Apollo crews was very difficult to manage, but guess it would be simpler with modern avionics.

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.


February 2, 2008

Constellation logo

I’ve been reading a bit about the Constellation Program, the suite of boosters and spacecraft NASA are currently developing to replace the shuttle, return to the Moon and go on to Mars. I’ve been keeping an eye on developments, but haven’t even trawled through all Wikipedia has to offer. It’s nice to see books appear, just like they did for Apollo, which summarise the craft being developed. I shall be interested to see how quaint they, like the Apollo material, look when we see the real thing.

I wonder if Constellation/Orion will capture the imagination like Saturn/Apollo? Is it just that Apollo is no more that it seems more romantic? Is it a love of something lost, a kind of nostalgia? Or is it that we know, in our world of mp3 players, mobile phones, pocket calculators forgoodnesssake that it all seems so amazingly primitive.

Remember the first ‘mobile’ phones? The ones you kept in the car. The ones that, if you wanted to walk with it you had to unplug from the car and carry a briefcase with the battery? Sophisticated weren’t they? That was what, 15 years or so after Gene Cernan stepped off the Moon! But the laws of physics, as NASA engineers are fond of saying (or was it Scotty?) haven’t changed. Electronics can help streamline and automate systems, but massive boosters are still needed (the Ares V, for example, is likely to be nearly as tall and more powerful than Saturn V).

I think the main challenges of any travel outside low Earth orbit are likely to be physiological and psychological. We’re planning to go back to the Moon to spend weeks and months at a time there. A Mars mission is going to take years. Crew will be isolated (in communication time as well as in space) from all but a very few others. The toll of weightlessness or 1/6 gravity is known to be significant, and medical emergencies are inevitable but unthinkable. Space will be limited (ironically, I suppose).

So, will crew members on a 6 month cruise to Mars, and during their 2 year stay there be given holiday? How would that work? Or will they be kept busy every day for 3 years? How will they get away from it all?

The astronauts of the future really will have to have the Right Stuff.

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.

My Dad, an Astronaut

January 18, 2007

I was ill all weekend and watched all of From the Earth to the Moon again. This ‘miniseries’ is a superb record of the Apollo program. Produced by Tom Hanks, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, the same team who produced Apollo 13, it has a very high standard of production and accuracy. They even went so far as to use the real ‘White Room’, and a real LM (left over from Apollo 18). Attention to detail is meticulous. It is hard to spot errors.

Anyway, perhaps I can review the series in another post. It made me realise that all the astronauts of the Apollo era were born at around the same time as my parents, in the 1930s. My Dad was the same age as the moonwalkers! What an interesting fantasy!

I think I can trace my fascination with Apollo to Dad. He was a superb teacher. For example, I feel like I’ve known all my life about the Apollo 13 story, how they had to fix up a way of scrubbing CO2 from the spacecraft. I know that I learnt that from Dad, although I don’t remember how, or when. I was only 1 year and 4 months old at the time of Apollo 13, so I obviously don’t remember it for myself. When the Apollo 13 film came out I remember watching the scenes showing how they solved the CO2 problem and thinking that it was exactly as I ‘remembered’ it.

Which leaves me wondering if my girls will relish what they’re learning about Apollo now in later years, or will they see the light and recognise the depth of my geekiness?

Still, only geeks get to the Moon.