NASA’s Manned Grand Tour of the Inner Planets

The inner planets – Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Credit: NASA

In the 1960s, planetary flybys were all the rage at NASA. In 1966, graduate student Gary Flandro discovered that the planets were about to align for a planetary grand tour, a discovery that became the Voyager missions. The same year, NASA contractor Bellcomm started researching possible missions that, using flybys and Apollo hardware, could send a crew to Venus and Mars in one shot.   [Read more…]

Lesser Known Facets of Apollo 11

Flight controllers applaud the splashdown of Apollo 11, the formal end of the first lunar landing mission. July 24, 1969. Credit: NASA

July 24 stands out to some, mainly space enthusiasts, as the anniversary of Apollo 11’s splashdown – the formal end of the first lunar landing mission. Pictures of celebrations in mission control capture the elation that went through NASA at accomplishing the monumental task. But it wasn’t just getting to the Moon that was worth celebrating, it was overcoming the technological challenges that popped up in designing the lunar mission. A little over a year before taking his small step, Neil Armstrong was nearly killed training in the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle.

It was also a celebration of getting the crew home safely. There was also the possibility of Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin being stranded on the Moon if their LM ascent engine failed. NASA had a plan in place in the event of such a disaster, but happily didn’t have to put it into action. The post splashdown jubilation was incredibly well deserved.

Revisiting Apollo 18

My article about Apollo 18, the movie released last fall that presents “found footage” of a lost Apollo mission, remains one of the most read articles on my blog. It seems people are still very curious about the story of Apollo 18, specifically whether or not it was a real mission. So, I turned the key pieces of my article into a Vintage Space Video.

Are China and the USSR Equivalent Opponents to the US in Space?

The Shenzhou-9 crew in a simulator during training. Credit: Xinhua news agency / Qin Xian’an

Last week, China’s Shenzhou 9 landed after a successful mission that included the nation’s first docking with its Tiangong 1 prototype space station. The rapid development of its space program suggests that China is poised to become a powerful new player in space, and this is giving rise to speculation that the nation could turn out to be enough of a threat to the United States to spark a new space race. Perhaps some of these reactions are rooted in the similarities between China’s space program and the Soviet space program of the 1960s. Both are built on a similar model that’s very different from NASA. [Read more…]

Mercury’s Staggering Recovery Crews

Splashdown landings, those iconic ends to Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions, weren’t as simple as they seemed. While dropping a capsule into the ocean was a simple way to land, pulling the capsule and its crew out of the water was a multistage operation requiring a staggering number of men. Just how many men were involved in splashdown recoveries? Check out the latest Vintage Space Video for an answer.