Posts Tagged ‘space’

Skylab N2 Bottle Question

August 13, 2009

I’ve recently been to visit both the Smithsonian museums in Washington DC and KSC in Florida, no doubt giving grist for this mill for months.  Here’s the first, although it’s only a little one.

Throughout Apollo research was done to make use of what was learned in the program and put some of the hardware to use afterward.  Initially, no doubt, this started with dreams of going beyond landing on the Moon, but eventually, as budgets got smaller the Apollo Applications Program was left with Skylab and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.

Skylab was beautiful.  It was a kitted out SIVB stage of a Saturn V which was converted to lab and living space, and was huge.  Launched in May 1973 it was crewed three times, the last of which left in February 1974.  The plan was to use the upcoming Space Shuttle to boost it’s orbit, but a combination of denser than usual outer atmosphere (due to solar activity) and delays to the Shuttle meant that Skylab reentered the atmosphere and largely burnt up in July 1979.

A second Skylab was built, ready to fly, but was never sent into orbit.  It now suffers the indignity of having large holes cut in the sides so that tourists like me can wander through and stands in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on the Mall in Washington DC.

09 07 27 Smithsonian Skylab II N2 bottle detail

So here’s the question.  A number of bottles of nitrogen were attached to the base of the SIVB for use in Skylab.  The N2 is fed to systems in the piping shown.  But why is the piping this elaborate spiral?  It is certainly elegant, but in the mass-conscious business of rocketry surely a shorter, lighter pipe would have been desirable.  Perhaps the spiral coped better with vibration at launch?  Possibly the internal diameter of the pipe changes at a particular rate?  Maybe there are thermal advantages?  I don’t know.  But I’m geeky enough to want to know.  Anyone?

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.

Comet Holmes

November 1, 2007

I went and had a look at Holmes on Tuesday night, the only clear night this week it would seem. I trained both binos and telescope on this recently brightened comet. It wasn’t really worth the hassle of getting the scope out, as the view wasn’t much better. It is visible to the naked eye, but not, where I am (in a small city) as a comet. I don’t think it is as bright as Hyakutake (in 1999?), but I haven’t bothered looking that up. I saw an image similar to those on the Wikipedia page. It was, however, worth turning the scope to the ever-beautiful Moon.Comet Holmes

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.