Vintage Space Fun Fact: Unnoticed Lunar Wordplay

Bean steps off Intrepid's ladder onto the surface of the Moon. November 19, 1969. Credit: NASA

Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad and lunar module pilot Alan Bean had perhaps the most colourful wrist checklists of any crew. The checklists served as cheat sheets; astronauts referred to these small booklets attached to their lunar EVA suits to make sure they didn’t miss anything during their sojourns on the surface. In Bean’s case, he only missed one item: a prank so subtle that he didn’t see it for 30 years.  [Read more...]

Vintage Space Fun Fact: High Flying Gemini

With the exception of Apollo flights, manned spaceflight has operated exclusively in low Earth orbit, the area in space that extends up to about 1,300 vertical miles. In 1966, the Gemini XI crew set an as-of-yet unbroken altitude record within low Earth orbital flights. Using the Agena’s engine, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon reached an apogee (peak distance from the Earth) of 850 miles; most Gemini missions, and missions since, have operated under the 200 mile altitude. (Left, Dick Gordon during an EVA. 1966.)

So why did Gemini XI get to fly higher than any other mission? In short, because Conrad wanted to.  [Read more...]

Vintage Space Fun Fact: First Words of the Second Landing

There must have been immense pressure on Neil Armstrong when he landed on the moon. Not just about setting the Lunar Module (LM) down safely or walking on the moon’s surface. The whole world was listening. If he tripped over his first words on the lunar surface, it could be a public relations mess. He didn’t. “One small step for man, one giant leap for man kind” has become one of the most recognized and appropriated phrases. For the second mission to land on the moon, Apollo 12, the pressure was less. But the world was still watching. To mark the occasion, Commander Pete Conrad gave the world somewhat less awe-inspired first words. (Left, Conrad on the Moon. November 19, 1969.) [Read more...]

Vintage Space Fun Fact: Rorschach Tests

When faced with a Rorschach test – the famous inkblots cards that are supposed to give a psychologist deep insight into your psyche – how are you supposed to answer? For the Mercury astronaut candidates, they knew their answers could make or break their careers. Most read the cards as truthfully as possible while others gave answers they assumed the doctors wanted. Pete Conrad took a different approach. (Left, Conrad enjoys down time during water egress training in the Gulf of Mexico. September 1969.) ‘Vintage Space Fun Facts’ are a new feature. These occasional shorter articles will be a great way to share the anecdotes and human stories I come across in my research.  [Read more...]

What to Do After the Moon?

In previous posts I’ve mentioned, albeit in passing, the Apollo Applications Program (AAP) – it was one of the possible applications of the Rogallo paraglider wing after the system was cancelled from the Gemini program in 1964. AAP was the follow-up program to Apollo, the program that would reemphasize science over technology in spaceflight. The program intended to solidify man’s presence in space, expand his understanding of the solar system and the cosmos, and exploit space to satisfy our needs on Earth. This post gives only a cursory overview of the short-lived Apollo Applications Program, but it promises to be the first of many. Over time, I hope to put together a comprehensive picture of the program. (Pictured: Skylab. 1974.) [Read more...]

Designing a Bridge to the Moon

The Gemini program is often passed over in popular accounts of NASA’s race to the Moon. Perhaps understandably so. Gemini doesn’t carry the excitement of the Mercury Program with America’s first steps into space and it lacks the climactic excitement of the Apollo program with a lunar landing. The major accomplishments of the Gemini Program are usually highlighted in the greater scheme of the space race, such as America’s first extravehicular activity (EVA) or the first docking of two spacecraft. (Pictured is Gemini 7 in orbit as seen from Gemini 6. 1965.)

On the whole, however, Gemini is often treated like NASA’s overlooked middle child of the space race, a sad fate for the program I would argue is actually the most interesting of the era. As such, this promises be the first of several posts focussing on various aspects of the Gemini program. What fascinates me the most is that Gemini exemplifies the pioneering spirit and technological “go for broke” attitude NASA embodied in the 1960s. Even the genesis of Gemini is an interesting as it forced NASA to design a program in support of an as-of-yet- undesigned lunar program. The fundamental design choices of Apollo shaped Gemini. [Read more...]

Designing the Perfect Astronaut

The experimental, creative, and at times imaginative nature of the Mercury program has always fascinated me. The program and the decision that preceded it answer a totally unique question: what do you do when you suddenly need to put a man in space and you have no previous experience to build off of? [Read more...]