The Soviets’ and Americans’ Approach to Spaceflight

Sputnik 1 expanded: the little satellite that started a big run of firsts for the Soviet Union in space. Credit: NASA

I’ve written a fair bit recently about what Obama’s second term in office might do to help the nation move forward in space. On the surface, Obama’s reelection means his space agenda will remain intact – we should theoretically see NASA return to the Moon and send crews to an asteroid and Mars with the agency’s Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket. But whether or not we’ll see this grand plan come to fruition is another matter. SLS and Orion are costly programs still far from flight ready making them targets for budget cuts. But there’s another factor at play. Obama, like presidents before him, has set audacious and long-term goals that risk losing momentum. [Read more…]

The Infamous and Unknown Rubber Room

The door leading to the blast chamber and rubber room from underneath pad A. The yellow sign warns that access is restricted, and the orange sign declares the rooms artifacts. Credit: Amy Shira Teitel

This article is the first in a series about my trip to Florida November 1-4, 2012. Be warned, there will be no small amount of space nerd geekery throughout these articles.  
 

There are no shortage of things to see at the Kennedy Spaceflight Centre, particularly for space lovers – the place really is Disney World for space nerds. One of the most interesting sites for Apollo enthusiasts is the one thing on site that no one can see: the blast chamber and infamous rubber room underneath launch pad A. Not only is it underground and out of site, but it’s protected as an historical site and off limits to the public. But if you know the right people, which I happily do, you can make your way inside this fascinating piece of history.

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Scott Crossfield’s Supersonic Bellyache

The Douglas Skyrocket mounted to its launch plane in August of 1953. Credit: NASA/Dryden Flight Research Center

Friendly interservice rivalries in the United States aren’t uncommon, and they were just as standard in the 1950s. Particularly among pilots who were always trying to one-up each other as it was. At Edwards Air Force Base, where the hottest planes were put through their paces, things got particularly competitive as men tried to score records as much for themselves as for their branch of the service. Between Air Force pilot Chuck Yeager and Navy aviator Scott Crossfield, there was a battle to be the first to Mach 2.

[Read more…]

Obama’s Second Term and the National Future in Space

President Barack Obama discusses his plans and ambitions for NASA during an address at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossman

The relationship between space exploration and politics is a complicated one. The President is the only person who can pick a major goal like going to the Moon, but proposals that big have to go through congress for funding. To make sticking to big goals more complicated, each incoming president has the power to change major decisions made by his predecessor in space. With a president having two terms in office, it’s more likely his vision for space will be realized but it’s far from a sure bet. It’s possible that Obama’s second term will get us closer to seeing NASA’s mammoth SLS rocket flying the Orion spacecraft to the Moon, but history tells us that the constant rotation in the White House has a way of stopping big ideas before they get started.

Apollo’s Rotor Reentry Revisited

The artist’s concept of a rotor reentry landing for Apollo I found in a box in NASA’s basement history office. The new version looks about the same. Credit: NASA

Regular readers of Vintage Space undoubtedly know that I love landing systems, particularly the creative ideas that were too complicated to gain traction in the 1960s. Among unrealized systems, my favourite has to be the Rogallo wing, the inflatable glider NASA tried to use as the runway landing system for Gemini. But there’s another that’s intrigued me for a while that I found while researching the Rogallo wing in NASA’s Washington archives and that’s the rotor reentry concept proposed for Apollo. It’s mysteriously absent from most program histories, but it seems to be making a comeback. NASA is once again looking at the rotor reentry as a way to land capsule-inspired spacecraft from the ISS. Read the full article over at Discovery News. 

Phantom Cosmonauts

Cosmonauts at the seaside resort at Sochi. In the photo on the right, Grigoriy Nelyubov has been airbrushed out. It’s just one of a number of doctored Soviet photographs from the early 1960s.

The Soviet Union was notoriously secretive about its space program in the early 1960s. Missions weren’t announced before they launched, and failures were covered up and  labeled as test flights or booster development flights. Adding to the mystery surrounding the Soviet space program were reports in the Western media of cosmonauts who may or may not have existed. Rehashing these Soviet-era mysteries in the present day, a Spanish artist created an exhibit in the 1990s around the idea of a cosmonaut killed in flight whose death was covered up.