Preserving Lunar History

Alan Bean carries two sub packages of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) during the first Apollo 12 EVA. November 19, 1969. Photo credit: NASA

Last year, NASA laid the groundwork to protect the Apollo landing sites as cultural and historic artifacts, and last week the Google Lunar X Prize Foundation agreed to respect these guidelines. This means the 26 teams trying to land the first private spacecraft on the lunar surface have to steer clear of Apollo sites.

There’s much more than just spent descent stages and lunar rovers on the surface. Neil Armstrong’s boots are up there along with other equipment used and worn by moonwalking astronauts. But there are also personal items on the surface that speak volumes about the men who made the journey and the Apollo program as a whole. Those are the artifacts and stories well worth preserving. Read my article on Discovery News for a look at a few of the personal stories preserved on the lunar surface.

Carpenter versus Aurora 7

Carpenter during water egress training before his flight in 1962. Photo credit: NASA

Scott Carpenter died on October 10, 2013, and in writing an article about his legacy I thought more about the context surrounding his flight. I used the same sources I did for this article, but merged it with a further year and a half of research and thinking about NASA’s early culture. My new article is on Vintage Space at Popular Science, and while I stand by the research in this article I will say that my more recent work is the more balanced and neutral version of the story. Perhaps I ought to have title this article “Kraft vs. Carpenter and Aurora 7.” I urge you to read the article at Popular Science and consider the sources of both articles before calling my merits as an historian into question. 
 

On May 24, 1962, NASA narrowly escaped its first fatality in space. When Scott Carpenter reentered the atmosphere at the end of his Aurora 7 orbital flight, no one in mission control knew where he was going to land. They didn’t even know whether he’d be dead or alive when they found him. [Read more...]

Vintage Space’s New Home

Vintage Space has moved! I’ve finally built my own website at www.amyshirateitel.com and my blog is now hosted there at www.amyshirateitel.com/vintagespace - the labeled picture of Charlie Duke (left) is linked to Vintage Space on my new homepage. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to move email and wordpress.com subscribers over to my new site. So, to keep getting regular space history articles and tidbits from Vintage Space, follow the link to my blog’s new home and resubscribe. And while you’re there, check out my latest article about the EVA (spacewalk) that came as a surprise to the American public and most of NASA.

Carnival of Space #250

It’s time for another Carnival of Space! From scrubbed launches to skywriting with galaxies, there are some neat things happening in space now and in the future. (Today’s fun vintage space image is a great shot of the Gemini 9 launch. The Titan launched commander Tom Stafford and pilot Gene Cernan on June 3, 1966. Photo Credit: NASA) [Read more...]

Plan X; or, Planning White’s Small Step

The Gemini 4 crew in training, White on the left and McDivitt on the Right. Photo credit: NASA

In 1964, the launch schedule for the Gemini program was set and it was tight. Missions with new objectives would launch every eight to ten weeks taking NASA a step closer to the Moon each time. But hardware setbacks and some surprising feats by Soviet cosmonauts took a toll on the schedule. In the first half of 1965, NASA developed a plan that would see Gemini match and begin to overtake the Soviet Union in space. It was done largely in secret and known internally as Plan X.  [Read more...]

The Upcoming Transit of Venus

This June, Venus is going to make a rare transit across the disk of the sun as observed from Earth. Transits of Venus are rare. They come in pairs eight years apart, but each pair is separated by 105.5 years or 125.5 years. The upcoming transit is the pair to one that occurred in 2004, so if you miss this one you won’t have a chance to see another until 2117.  (Left, three views of the 2004 transit.)

Since it’s highly unadvisable to look directly at the sun, watching a transit is best done with protective eye gear or by looking at the sunlight reflected off something. That’s what the Hubble Space Telescope is going to do. Like us, Hubble can’t look directly at the sun, so its going to observe the transit of Venus by measuring the light reflected off the Moon. It’s an amazing method, and the observations Hubble makes will go towards answering questions about our planet and our place in the Universe. Read the full story about Hubble’s plans for the transit of Venus at Discovery News.

Was NASA’s First Launch Delay its Most Significant?

In January 1961, the pieces of the manned spaceflight puzzle were slowly coming together. NASA had a capsule, astronauts to ride inside it, and rockets to launch it. The capsule had even successfully launched on top of the rocket. The missing piece was the ‘go’  for a man to ride inside the capsule, but timid flight surgeons and rocket engineers were playing it safe. Had they been a little more bold, Alan Shepard could have been history’s first man in space. Instead, Wernher von Braun’s concern that his Redstone rocket might explode secured Shepard’s position as the first American in suborbital space. (Left, Alan Shepard on the morning of his May 5, 1961 suborbital flight.) [Read more...]