Vintage Space Fun Fact: the 900-pound Cake

Everybody wanted to be a part of the celebration of John Glenn’s return, including Henri Landwirth. Polish born Landwirth, a holocaust survivor, arrived in Miami Beach in 1954. He began managing the Starlight Motel that was quickly a hit with NASA personnel who worked hard and played harder in Florida. It was through his motel that Landwirth met and struck up a friendship with the Mercury astronauts. When it came time for NASA to launch John Glenn into orbit, Landwirth marked the occasion with a custom made cake the size and shape of a Mercury capsule. (Left, Landwirth with the Friendship 7 cake in January, 1962.) [Read more…]

On Space

I’m very pleased to be a new contributing writer on Aviation Week and Space Technology’s blog On Space. My first article, which went live this morning, covers a story about the DynaSoar program that didn’t make it into my previous article here on Vintage Space. In 1961, Neil Armstrong was an engineering consultant on loan from NASA to the USAF to work on the program. He was tasked with, and succeeded in, developing the developing the launch abort manoeuvre for DynaSoar. (Left, a full scale mockup of DynaSoar in 1962. Image credit: Boeing.)

John Glenn: the Man Behind the Hero

In the early days of the Mercury program, John Glenn looked like the perfect astronaut. Tall with boyish good looks, he was always smiling and happy to share his love of family, country, and God with the media. (Left, the Mercury astronauts.)

America loved him, but he wasn’t the favourite among his fellow astronauts. He set himself apart as the one among them who wasn’t cool and laid back like a test pilot ought to be. He didn’t hide his eagerness to fly in space, and when he was passed over for the first launch, he fought to have the flight assignment changed. In the end, he was at the right place in the flight lineup at the right time to make the first orbital flight and secure his place in history. But it was never certain to be his flight, and it’s a very interesting story. Read the full article on Scientific American’s Guest Blog[Read more…]

Fun Facts and Finds About John Glenn

Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s Friendship 7 flight. The first orbital mission of the Mercury program, which launched on February 20, 1962, was a major achievement for NASA and a significant milestone to the American people. The flight marked the US finally matching the Soviet Union in space and was a major step towards the lunar landing goal Kennedy had set the year before.

My article commemorating the mission will appear tomorrow on Scientific American’s Guest Blog, but I thought it might be fun to share some of the interesting facts and bizarre finds I came across during my research. (Left, Glenn trains in a simulator. 1959.) [Read more…]

More Mystery Surrounding Venus

I’ve always been fascinated with Venus, the planet closest to Earth in size that is different in every other respect. It rotates in the opposite direction, not just from Earth but from every planet in the Solar System. A day on Venus is longer than a year – its day is 243 Earth days while its year is only 225. It’s also hot with an average surface temperature of 460 degrees Celsius. (Left, Venus.)

Now, a new piece of Venus’ mysterious puzzle has come to light. The planet’s rotation is slowing down. Its day has gotten 6.5 minutes longer in the last 16 years. The rate of a planet’s rotation varies, but this is a significant change for so short a time. So what exactly is going on with Venus? Check out my full article on Motherboard.

Vintage Space Fun Fact: Tang in Space

When people think about what NASA has done for the Earth-bound among us, most cite the invention of space foam and Tang among its greatest accomplishments. That’s not entirely true. Offshoots of technologies NASA has developed have given us things like LASIK eye surgery and the ability to turn on appliances remotely from our smartphones. Also, NASA didn’t invent Tang. But Tang’s story does run parallel to NASA’s. (Left, a 1960s advertisement for Tang with an image of a Gemini spacecraft in orbit that draws a comparison between the astronauts and the average consumer. Clever marketing.) [Read more…]

Vintage Space Fun Fact: Cape Canaveral Monsters

Last weekend, I saw Cape Canaveral Monsters. The 1960 sci-fi release epitomizes B movie with awful effects, emotionless acting, and a paper-thin plot that attempts to explain the high fail rate of America’s launch vehicle by the presence of aliens (and, oddly, not monsters). So this post isn’t really a “fun fact.” It’s more just fun, with a little bit of fact to back it up. (Left, the movie poster for Cape Canaveral Monsters. The tagline reads “You humans with your puny minds! You must not learn the secrets of space!”) [Read more…]

Painting Rockets

I recently built my first model — a 1:144 scale Saturn V. I posted this picture of the painted but unassembled rocket online, and it wasn’t long before I got an email from a fellow space-enthusiast. He asked about the paint scheme I used. He used the same design on a model years ago, and neither of us followed the paint scheme of any Saturn V that actually flew. I’d been so distracted following the directions and getting the lines straight that I didn’t stop to look at where the lines were going. It got me thinking about the Saturn V’s design scheme, which might be one of the more interesting histories of paint. Turns out, most of the readily accessible information is geared towards model builders. That’s all well and good, but it didn’t tell me why German-built launch vehicles have always varied their paint scheme.  [Read more…]