Vintage Space Fun Fact: Crossfield’s Worst Landing

I stumbled across this picture the other day and was reminded of the story. I thought it was worth retelling. This is the result of Crossfield’s first landing in an F-100 – I’d recommend clicking for the full resolution version. Credit: NASA

Scott Crossfield held that every pilot had a specialty. In his case it was landings, specifically landings without power often called dead stick landing. So how did Crossfield, a former flight instructor and by all accounts an ace pilot, manage to land a plane then drive it through a hangar wall? It was only partly the fault of the plane; it was mostly the fault of the pilot.

[Read more...]

The Cost of Curiosity

Taken on Sol 32, this is the frist time Curiosity used its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on its arm to take this portrait of the top of its Remote Sensing Mast showing the Mastcam and Chemcam cameras. It’s as close to a headshot as Curiosity can take. Credit: NASA/JPL

The other day I was in a coffee shop, quietly writing and sharing a table with a woman also on a laptop. She caught me staring blankly out the window and asked what I was working on; apparently I looked troubled. I told her I was working on a new angle for my sixth or so Mars article that week. She seemed interested so I told her about Curiosity, the heritage technology that’s helped NASA make multiple successful Mars landings, and how the Sky Crane will open up a new future of exploration.

The idea that reusing technology saves money in spaceflight and that developing new technology now may cut costs on future missions caught her attention. She urged me to play up that angle because the amount of money NASA spends on these missions is stupid.  “Curiosity,” she said, “cost half the nation’s defense budget.” That’s when I noticed her cross necklace and asked what kind of writer she is; turns out she’s a Christian motivational writer. That’s when I wished I had the figures on hand to illustrate just how little we spend on space exploration. But I didn’t so I quietly got back to work. But I did decided that I ought to write a blog post putting Curiosity into perspective so that the next time someone tells me NASA wastes money I can tell them how wrong they are.  [Read more...]

Vintage Space Fun Fact: Gemini’s Poetry

The Mercury capsule on the left clearly influenced the design of the Gemini spacecraft on the right (as did a number of technical and managerial factors). Credit: McDonnell

In 1960, a year before Al Shepard made his ballistic flight on Freedom 7 and two years before John Glenn went into orbit on Friendship 7, NASA was already planning what to do after the Mercury program wrapped up. Mercury was limited by the capsule’s on board power source and fuel store to short orbital flights, so for its next program NASA was looking to lay a foundation in space exploration.

By 1962, a program with focused goals had emerged: NASA’s main goal would be to prove that astronauts could manoeuver their spacecraft in orbit to rendezvous and dock with another vehicle. On January 3 the new program was publicly christened Gemini, an interestingly fitting moniker. [Read more...]

Wernher Von Braun’s Smoke and Mirrors Escape from Germany

On their journey out of Germany, von Braun’s driver fell asleep at the wheel but he escaped with just a broken arm. Centre, with other high ranking rocket engineers right after they surrendered to American soldiers in 1945. Credit: NASA

That the rockets that launched America’s space program had Nazi roots was never a secret. They came to America under Operation Overcast and Project Paperclip before building rockets for the US military but didn’t become citizens until the 1950s. The US Army had them travel to Mexico then walk back onto US soil so they’d have immigration dates that weren’t confidential. But the really interesting part of the story, and the question a lot of people have when they hear about Wernher von Braun and his immigration to the US, is how a group of engineers and technicians managed to move through Germany to find American soldiers to negotiate their transfer to the states with more than a decade of research in tow. It’s a pretty phenomenal story involving quick thinking, clever deceptions, and a fair amount of luck. Read the whole story on Motherboard.

When Soviets Roved the Moon

The Lunokhod Rover, 7.5 feet long and just under 5 feet tall. Credit via NASA

Between Curiosity stretching its wheels and heads for its first big target site, Glenelg, and Opportunity finding new “blueberries,” concretions left by ancient mineral-laden water flowing through rocks, rovers are pretty hot right now. But Mars isn’t the first body to be explored remotely by a rover. In the early 1970s, the Soviet Union sent two rovers, Lunokhod 1 and 2, to the Moon as part of the Luna program. The team remote controlling the rovers from Earth gained confidence quickly, and covered an impressive amount of the lunar surface in a short time. Though rudimentary compared to our modern Mars rovers, the Lunokhod’s are the pair that started it all. Read their full story at DVICE.

Kennedy’s Public and Private Thoughts on Apollo

Kennedy during the famous speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962. The full video of the speech is at the end of this article. Image via John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum Online

On September 12, 1962, President Kennedy gave his famous speech at Rice University in Texas proclaiming that Americans take on lofty goals like landing a man on the Moon not because it is easy but because it is hard. It’s a speech that still resonates with spaceflight enthusiasts half a century later, often considered indicative of a time when NASA had clear goals and the necessary support to achieve them. But Kennedy’s own feelings about going to the Moon might have been different than the stirring words he said at Rice. In private conversations in the months and years that followed, he expressed worries over the cost of Apollo, raised questions regarding NASA’s commitment to a lunar program, and disappointment that the lunar landing wouldn’t happen within his presidential tenure.  [Read more...]

Reducing, Recycling, and Reusing on Mars

An artist’s concept of the Phoenix lander landing. Landers with retrorockets, a tried and true technology for landing on Mars. Credit: NASA

Two weeks ago, NASA announced it’s next Discovery class mission, those low cost missions that focus on answering one question. The agency chose the InSight mission to Mars. In the press conference, the agency cited the mission’s low cost and relatively low risk as the rationale behind its selection. But this sparked a weird backlash. NASA didn’t exactly say why the mission was more likely to fly under its $425 million cost cap, and some news outlets in the days following the announcement suggested that there were hidden costs in a mission. Specifically that the technology reused from previous missions was a hidden cost. The fact is NASA has been reusing technology and old test data on Mars since the 1960s, and not starting from scratch each time keeps overall mission costs down. Here’s my full article on Discover’s The Crux blog.

Voyagers Turn 35

Voyager 1 launched on a Titan III-E Centaur on September 5, 1977. Credit: NASA

Voyager 1 launched from Cape Canaveral on a multiplanet flyby mission on September 5, 1977. Like its twin spacecraft Voyager 2 that actually launched two weeks before on August 20, it was designed to investigate the atmospheres, magnetospheres, satellites, and ring systems of the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn. Though the original plan wasn’t to keep in touch with the spacecraft after they left Saturn, both have continued to work, sending back valuable data, and in Voyager 2′s case visiting Uranus and Neptune. Now, still working, Voyager 1 is 11 billion miles away and about to cross through the plasma bubble created by charged particles coming from the sun and into unchartered interstellar space. And the 35 year mission shows no sign of slowing down. Read the whole story on Motherboard.

Carnival of Space #265

The “New Nine.” From upper right, in clockwise order: Frank Borman, John Young, Tom Stafford, Pete Conrad, Jim McDivitt, Jim Lovell, Elliot See, Ed White, Neil Armstrong. Credit: NASA via Retro Space Images

It’s time for another Carnival of Space! The biggest news this past week is of course Neil Armstrong’s death. It’s a loss for the world and the space community in particular. In this week’s carnival we have a number of articles paying tribute to the man synonymous with Apollo, news from the planets, and a reminder about neat technologies on the horizon. For this week’s fun vintage image, it’s one of my new favourites of the “New Nine” surrounding a Gemini capsule, the program they were recruited to fly. Top left is Armstrong, already looking skyward.

[Read more...]