Me, smiling like a goon, with Jim McDivitt.
Orbital mechanics and the challenges of orbital rendezvous isn’t a simple thing to explain, particularly as a non-scientist breaking it down for other non-scientists. But it’s a central part of the Apollo mission profile, so it comes up a lot in my line of work. To illustrate the problem, I typically tell the story of Jim McDivitt trying to rendezvous with the Titan II’s upper stage during the first orbit of Gemini 4 – the story goes that when McDivitt’s pilot instincts kicked in the whole exercise went to hell. I asked McDivitt about that first failed rendezvous when I met him in Florida in November. He promptly and candidly told me that this story, which he’s heard many times, is bull hockey. I learned from the man himself what really happened on Gemini 4. I also learned that Jim McDivitt is, and I say this with the utmost respect, a total firecracker. Continue reading
Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, after waterskiing in Dolgoprundy. Credit: Public doman via Wikipedia
Today marks the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic Vostok 1 flight. On April 12, 1961, the unknown Soviet Air Force pilot became the first man to orbit the Earth. But there’s a controversy surrounding the flight that’s been lost in moden retellings: to ensure Gagarin’s flight would go down as history’s first manned spaceflight, Soviet space officials issued a false statement about his landing. It’s a bizarre twist, but there was a very brief moment when Gagarin was nearly stripped of the honour of being the first man in space. Continue reading
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!
The Earth as seen by the unmanned Apollo 4 mission in 1967. Credit: NASA
Apollo 4 is one of the unsung heros of the Apollo program. Launched on November 9, 1967, it was the first flight of a Saturn V rocket, the first orbital test of a Command and Service Module, and an overall vital step on the way to the Moon. What we don’t often mention when we talk about Apollo 4 is that the Command Module had a camera on board that was programmed to take a series of picture beginning one hour before and ending one hour after the spacecraft reached it’s apogee, it’s furthest point from the Earth. Continue reading
Wernher von Braun walking along the lunar surface. It’s not an April Fool’s joke. Credit: United Press International
I often post strange or fun space history pictures from NASA’s amazing archives on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. The other days I posted this one showing Wernher von Braun strolling casually across the Lunar surface. I didn’t realize until after it was up that the date was April 1st. Many who saw it assumed it was some clever April Fools photoshoppery. It isn’t; it’s a real picture. Continue reading
President Obama presents Yvonne Brill with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation during a White House ceremony in 2011. Photo: Ryan K Morris/National Science & Technology Medals Foundation.
Since 88-year-old rocket scientist Yvonne Brill died on Wednesday, the Internet has been in a rage over the obituary the New York Times published. The online version has since been changed, but the print version still has the original lede, which puts Brill’s beef stroganoff before her contributions to rocketry. Her work was varied – a consequence of her changing jobs as her husband moved through his own professional career – and fascinating, far more so than the post-New York Times kerfluffle. So, rather than adding more noise to the fray, how about we talk about the rocket work Brill actually did?
I looked into Brill’s most famous patent and synthesized it over at Motherboard.
A Redstone Rocket stands on display in Grand Central Station in 1957. Public Domaine.
This year marks the centennial of Grand Central Station’s completion. In 1913, it stood as an awe-inspiring, Beaux-Arts landmark anchoring New York City’s commuter and long distance traffic in midtown Manhattan. It quickly became one of the most visited spots in the city, giving it a secondary role as one of the city’s best exhibition sites. In 1957, the Army exploited that capability by erecting a Redstone rocket in the main concourse. Continue reading