Category Archives: Uncategorized

Vintage Space Has Moved to Popular Science

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Apollo 7's launch on October 11, 1968.

Apollo 7’s launch on October 11, 1968.

After nearly three years, more than 190 posts, and more than 930,000 pageviews, Vintage Space is moving! Popular Science has just launched a new blog network, and I’m very excited that Vintage Space is a part of itMy inaugural post, in which I try to put into words what my blog is about and why I started it, is live on the new site.

Which means I won’t be posting to this Vintage Space anymore. To keep getting updates you’ll have to subscribe to the RSS feed at PopSci. As for all the blog content already on this site, it will stay here as an archive since I don’t want to delete any content from where it was originally published, though eventually it will be duplicated and moved to PopSci so my whole blog is in one place. As for this site generally, it will still be my online home, and I will still update all the pages with relevant news.

I’m very excited about this next step. And I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how much my readers have pushed me to keep researching, thinking about, and writing solid content about all kinds of obscure aspects of spaceflight’s history. Without an audience, Vintage Space wouldn’t have become the blog it is.

Alan Bean and the Sun-Fried Camera

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Al Bean on the Moon. Credit: NASA

Al Bean on the Moon. Credit: NASA

Among its notable accomplishments, Apollo 12 is famous for having returned no video of Pete Conrad and Al Bean exploring the lunar surface. Though the lunar landing crew carried a colour TV camera to bring their mission to the world live, transmissions failed after the lens was exposed to an excess of sunlight. The camera mishap came up when I met Bean in November, and he offered by far the best retelling of the story I’ve every heard. Read More

The Future Place of Men in Space

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On 19 Nov. 1969, Apollo astronaut Alan Bean carried two sub packages of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) during the first Apollo 12 extravehicular activity (EVA). Human activities, like Bean's, will be preserved as areas of historical interest. Photo credit: NASA

Alan Bean carries two sub packages of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) during Apollo 12’s first lunar EVA on November 19, 1969. Future exploration might look less human. Photo credit: NASA

Spaceflight, broadly speaking, is divided into two camps: manned and unmanned or robotic flight. And people tend to fall into one camp or the other. Either you think manned flight is the only way forward or you see robotic missions as the best way to learn about the Universe around us. But what if the divide is less stark? It’s possible that our future expansion through the Solar System will involve some cooperation between man and machine wherein the man stays firmly on the Earth.

I explored this idea a little in my first post for the London Institute of Physics’ blog Physics Focus, where I am excited to say I will be a regular contributor!

How the Aurora Borealis Nearly Started World War III

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Charles Maultsby. Credit: National Security Archive

The year was 1962. The Cuban Missile Crisis was at its peak, and it had been only days since President Kennedy learned that the Soviet Union was establishing missile sites in Cuba. The U.S. Air Force was on DEFCON-2. American and Soviet military forces were an order away from launching a nuclear attack.

But on Saturday, October 27, it wasn’t a military general or political leader who nearly upended that delicate world balance and set off World War III. It was the aurora borealis.

I first came across this story as a passing mention in Skunk Works by Ben Rich and Leo Janos, and Michael Dobbs goes into a great deal of detail in One Minute to Midnight. The full story is fascinating, and my retelling is over on Discover’s blog The Crux.

Vintage Space Videos

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Vintage Space now has videos! These short clips are not only a way to bring Vintage Space content to the visually oriented, they’re also a way for me to answer your questions. Check out the Vintage Space Videos page for more, but for now watch the first installment of what will become a regular series right here.

First Woman

By | History of Space Science, Manned Spaceflight, Soviet, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Valentina Tereshkova. Credit: RIA Novosti

China’s Shenzhou 9 spacecraft successfully reached orbit yesterday, and tomorrow it will dock with the Tiangong 1 prototype space station the nation launched last September. But it’s the crew that’s commanding the most attention on this mission, namely pilot Liu Yang who became the first female taikonaut (Chinese astronaut) yesterday.

There’s another woman to celebrate for her role in space today: on June 16, 1963, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became history’s first woman in space. Her flight has been called little more than a propaganda stunt; launching a woman outwardly showed that the Soviet Union placed equal value on its women as it did its men. This isn’t to say she wasn’t highly intelligent and a skilled parachutist (her standout qualification for the spaceflight) when she was selected for the job, but, like Gagarin before her, it was Tereshkova’s pedigree that made her the ideal candidate for the historic flight. For more about the first woman in space, read my full article on Motherboard.

Vintage Space’s New Home

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Vintage Space has moved! I’ve finally built my own website at and my blog is now hosted there at – 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 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

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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

Carnival of Space #239

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Another week, another Carnival of Space! Some neat things happening in the universe with some gorgeous pictures, so let’s get started. (This week’s fun and unrelated space image is Homer Jay Simpson, chasing down a rogue potato chip while an incensed Buzz Aldrin looks on. Homer was one of NASA’s heaviest astronauts weighing in at 239 pounds. Source.) Read More

Vintage Space Fun Fact: the 900-pound Cake

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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