Ed Driscoll has what looks like an interesting post on the space colonization movement, but unfortunately, I don’t seem to be able to link to it. The URL looks fine, but it redirects back to http://pjmedia.com/eddriscoll/. Is it just me? Can anyone else see it?
[Update a while later]
OK, just got a new URL from Ed, that works. I haven’t actually read the whole thing yet, because I couldn’t see the second page, but I may have more commentary after I do.
Amy Shira Teitel writes that Apollo 8 was not done for the purpose of inspiration, though that was a huge side effect.
Here’s what I wrote in the book:
…despite all of the precautions, NASA did demonstrate its willingness to risk the lives of its astronauts, when in a daring mission, it won the space race in December of 1968 with the Apollo 8 mission around the moon. What was daring about it?
The previous April, there had been a partial disaster during an early test of the new Saturn V rocket, whose express purpose was to send astronauts to the moon. It suffered from the same “pogo” problems that had earlier afflicted the Titan, almost shaking the vehicle apart during ascent, with some structural failure in the first stage. Two of the second-stage’s five engines failed, and the single third-stage engine failed to reignite in orbit. Von Braun’s team went to work to sort out the problems, and a few months later, after some ground tests, declared it ready to fly again. NASA was under some pressure because there were rumors that the Soviets were going to send some cosmonauts to circumnavigate the moon with the Zond spacecraft by the end of the year (they had already sent some animals on such a trip).
While it wouldn’t have been a loss of the space race, the goal of which was to land on the moon, and not just fly around it, being beaten to that next first would have been another blow to the national psyche after Sputnik and Gagarin, and the first space walk. The lunar module wasn’t ready yet, and not expected to be until the spring of 1969, so NASA decided to scrap their plan of doing an earth-orbit rehearsal, and instead decided to go for the moon on the very next flight of the Saturn V, and without another unmanned test flight despite the problems on the previous flight. They were willing to throw the dice, and the astronauts (Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders) were willing to risk their lives, because it was important. The whole purpose of the program was to demonstrate that our system was superior to the Soviets, and to be afraid to fly would have rendered it pointless. It is hard to imagine today’s NASA taking such a risk with its astronauts’ lives, because nothing NASA is doing today is perceived as being sufficiently important.
[Cross posted at Safe Is Not An Option]
Paul Damphousse is out at NSS. As Michael Mealling notes, it really is a profoundly dysfunctional organization, not just because of its structure, but because of the tension between the constituencies within that has existed ever since the L-5/NSI merger in the eighties.
That’s how long ago was the beginning of the end for the Shuttle, not even five years after it first flew. Eleven years ago, I recalled the event:
I was sitting in a meeting at the Rockwell Space Transportation Systems Division in Downey, California. It was a status review meeting for a contract on which I was working, called the Space Transportation Architecture Study. It was a joint NASA/USAF contract, and its ostensible purpose was to determine what kind of new launch systems should replace or complement the Space Shuttle. Its real purpose was to try to get the Air Force and NASA Marshall to learn how to play together nicely and stop squabbling over turf and vehicle designs (it failed).
It was a large meeting, with many people in attendance from El Segundo and Colorado Springs (Air Force) and Houston, Huntsville and the Cape (NASA) as well as many Rockwell attendees.
As I sat there, waiting for the meeting to begin, one of my colleagues came running into the room, his face white as a freshly-bleached bedsheet. He leaned over and told me and others, in an insistent sotto voce, “I just saw the Challenger blow up.”
We stared at him in momentary disbelief.
“I’m serious. I just came from the mission control center. It just exploded about a minute after launch.”
One could actually see the news travel across the large meeting room as expressions of early-morning torpor transformed into incredulity and shock. More than most people, even with no more information than the above, we understood the implications. While there was speculation in the media all morning that the crew might be saved, we knew instantly that they were lost. We knew also that we had lost a quarter of the Shuttle fleet, with a replacement cost of a couple billion dollars and several years, and that there would be no flights for a long time, until we understood what had happened.
The ironic purpose of our meeting became at once more significant and utterly meaningless. Most of the NASA people immediately made arrangements to fly back to Houston, Huntsville and the Cape, and we held the session without them, in a perfunctory manner.
This was one of those events, like the more recent one in September, that is indelibly etched into memory–where you were, what you were doing, what you were feeling. I’m curious about any inputs from others, either in comments here or email.
Oh, and I should note that it’s an easy date to remember for me–it was (and remains still) the anniversary of my date of birth…
So today, I start another trip around the sun, and space policy remains a mess.
And it’s not just today. The Apollo 1 fire happened the day before my twelfth birthday. And Columbia was lost four days after my forty eighth. I have no trouble remembering any of these anniversaries.
Ed White, Roger Chafee and Gus Grissom died on the launch pad, an event that resulted in the formation of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, and a complete overhaul of the design and management of Apollo. It was the first of the late-January tragedies that make this time of year a sad one for NASA. Tomorrow will be the twenty-s
ixeventh anniversary of the loss of Challenger, and Friday will be the tenth anniversary of the loss of Columbia.
The moment of truth for Wayne Hale:
Much later, while the debris recovery effort was going on in East Texas, the trajectory analysts put together an estimated plot of where the Columbia pieces would have come down for a 1 rev late deorbit. The toe of the ellipse – where the heaviest pieces would come down – cut across the southwestern suburbs of Houston. My home – my wife – would have been in the target zone where the 2 ton steel main engine combustion chambers would have hit the ground at supersonic speeds. JSC would have been at ground zero for the debris; the MCC would likely have been struck. That is a scenario that is just too implausible for words.
Knowing what we now know, it might have seemed, in some sense, ironic, poetic justice.
Paul Spudis explains why it should keep its name. “Armstrong” should be reserved for a lunar base, if the government ever builds one (I suspect that there will be a private one first).
Former flight controller (and Shuttle program manager) Wayne Hale has been writing a series of blog posts about his recollections of the events leading up to the disaster. This week, he recalls the harbinger of the previous flight, that should have warned NASA about the problem, but didn’t.
Sorry, but I think that this would be disrespectful to both Hugh Dryden and Neil Armstrong. Leave the name as it is, and come up with something else to name after Neil, that would be worthy of him. Like the first lunar base. Assuming NASA ever builds one. Which seems doubtful.
I’d almost forgotten that today is the anniversary of Sputnik.
Note that today is also the eighth anniversary of the winning of the X-Prize. If Virgin Galactic hadn’t made so many bad decisions in the aftermath of that event, they’d probably be flying passengers by now.
From Mike Griffin.
I wonder what color the sky is on that planet? I’d fisk it, but I’m trying to finish up my space safety paper, and I’m getting ready to go to the AIAA conference in Pasadena tomorrow (and possibly Wednesday and Thursday, depending on how useful it seems).
That’s the rumor about the disposition of Lt. JG Armstrong’s earthly remains.
I think it would be more appropriate to inter him on the moon, but that’s still a little pricey right now.
Here’s what I have for my space safety paper:
ICBMs were never designed to be highly reliable, because to do so would have dramatically increased their costs (many hundreds of them were built), and it wasn’t necessary for their mission. They were designed to be launched in massive numbers, and if a few out of a hundred didn’t make it through, that was all right, because they were often redundant in their targeting (that is, more than one missile would be aimed at a key target). Some estimates at the time of the reliability of the Titan II was only 80% or so (that is, one in five would not deliver its payload to the designated target), based on the fact that eight of its initial thirty-three test launches were failures. The early manned spaceflights were performed on modified versions of them (specifically, the Redstone and Atlas for Mercury and Titan II for Gemini). But what was good enough for a weapon as part of a fusillade of dozens or hundreds wasn’t perceived to be for a single flight carrying a human, particularly with recent memories of nationally televised ignominious failures of rockets on the launch pad. Thus was born the pernicious (and now obsolete) concept of “man rating,” which confuses the space industry and obfuscates policy down to this very day.
Is there anything inaccurate in that?
That’s a shame — he was only 82, which isn’t that old these days. No word of the cause of death. I’d heard that he’d been doing well since his recent heart surgery, so either there were later complications, or he just happened to succumb to something else.
The irony, of course, as it notes in the bio, is that he never wanted to be an icon, and generally shunned the publicity. In any event, ad astra, and resquiescat in pace.
[Update a few minutes later]
Well, my Facebook wall is all Neil, all the time.
…who saved Apollow 13?
Geoff Landis is skeptical. So am I. It’s hard to believe that this wouldn’t have been the first thought to almost everyone in Mission Control.
[Via Geek Press]
One of the saddest things about the atrocity (not “tragedy” — does no one know the meaning of that word any more?) in Colorado (for me personally, of course, obviously not for the friends and families of those involved) is that it completely derailed any commemoration of what we accomplished forty-three years ago today. But while we have done a segment on The Space Show on the subject this time of year every year for the past half dozen, today was the first time that we did one a) with Margaret Jordan, one of the other authors and b) actually performed the ceremony live on air (or rather, on line). It got a good response, with several callers calling in to say that they were moved in listening to it, and were going to perform it themselves. If so, that’s great, because that’s why we wrote it. Perhaps we should have done it years ago. Anyway, here is the link, and the podcast is available now. You might also want to check out The Space Show blog.
Happy fiftieth anniversary to the very first communications satellite. Sadly, I’m old enough to remember the day it happened. That was an exciting year, between Glenn’s flight and it. The space age seemed so young and full of promise to a kid.
[Update a few minutes later]
Here’s the newsreel. That brings back memories.
[Update late morning]
Speaking of Glenn, Amy Shira Teitel has a story on the Atlas reliability prior to his flight. It was about fifty percent.
Brian Binnie (who flew the first X-Prize flight) emails:
The Right Stuff: Interviews with Icons of the 1960s, is available just in time for Father’s day. It’s the first in a series dealing with “adventurers” over the decades, many of whom are leaders in the space arena. I wrote the forward to it and the SpaceShipOne story will appear when the chronology finally gets to the 2000′s.
I met Jim via the eclectic Explorers Club and he is regular contributor to Forbes Magazine.
You might want to check it out.
Historically, the decision was a disaster, from the standpoint of making the effort sustainable, though it’s what won the race. Unfortunately, it was inevitable once it became a race to the moon and back. There was simply no time to develop the LEO infrastructure that von Braun and others wanted to put into place that would have obviated the need for the Saturn V. And it created a myth — that we can’t explore without such a vehicle — that haunts us to this day.
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