Category Archives: Space History

Sixteen Years Ago

Columbia was lost on this date in 2003, putting a final stake through the heart of the Space Shuttle program. We were staying at a Residence Inn in San Bruno (Patricia was working in Millbrae), when I was awoken by someone on the east coast with the news. Here were my immediate thoughts, which held up pretty well, I think. And if you go to this page, you’ll find that post at the bottom, but can scroll up to see my further reflections over the next few days (or click on “Next post” from the first blog link). I had only been blogging for a year and a half or so at the time.

Today, Ian Kluft had a thread on Twitter on his recollection of seeing the disaster live, though at the time he didn’t know exactly what was happening:

[Early-afternoon update]

Here is the archived version with comments. In that post, and this one, you can see the beginning of formulating my thoughts for the book, though it wouldn’t happen for another eight years or so.

Space Policy

This anti-business piece is sort of a mess:

Indeed, legislation has been proposed in Congress since the UAG was formed that promotes the Council’s professed goals of expedition, streamlining, and commercial dominance, and it enjoys bipartisan support from lawmakers representing “states and districts where aerospace technology plays a significant role in the local economy,” according to an analysis from Daily Kos. This shared financial interest has brought together far-right, anti-science legislators like Ted Cruz and Lamar Smith in co-sponsorship with Democrats from states with aerospace-heavy economies. [Emphasis mine]

The premise is that space is supposed to be about science, but that has never been true. And as Mark Whittington pointed out on Twitter, it wasn’t Ted Cruz or Lamar Smith who were running ads blasting their opponents for supporting a mission to Europa.

Missile Defense And Launch Costs

I did a thread on Twitter this morning.

[Update a couple minutes later]

Trump’s missile-defense strategy.

As I noted above, if the space segment is now feasible, it’s despite, not because of government launch policy for the past three decades (except possibly for COTS).

Apollo 8

Half a century ago today, a spaceship left earth to take astronauts not just beyond LEO, but all the way to and around the moon. That was when we won the race.

Bob Zimmerman reflects.

[Update Sunday morning]

More thoughts from John Wenz. This statement isn’t inaccurate, but it is a little misleading:

It was the first time humanity had orbited another body that wasn’t our home planet.

Yes, it was, but some have concluded from that fact that they weren’t orbiting earth. None of the Apollo missions left earth orbit, because they never reached escape velocity, and when you orbit a moon that is in orbit around a planet, you remain in orbit around that planet along with it. No human has ever left earth orbit, but Elon seems to have the most serious plans to do so.

One other point, unrelated to Wentz’s piece. I was looking at the Wikipedia page for the mission, and found this bit of (misleading, at best) history:

On August 9, 1968, Low discussed the idea with Gilruth, Flight Director Chris Kraft, and the Director of Flight Crew Operations, Donald Slayton. They then flew to the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama, where they met with KSC Director Kurt Debus, Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips, Rocco Petrone, and Wernher von Braun. Kraft considered the proposal feasible from a flight control standpoint; Debus and Petrone agreed that the next Saturn V, AS-503, could be made ready by December 1; and von Braun was confident that the pogo oscillation problems that had afflicted Apollo 6 had been fixed. Almost every senior manager at NASA agreed with this new mission, citing confidence in both the hardware and the personnel, along with the potential for a circumlunar flight providing a significant morale boost. The only person who needed some convincing was James E. Webb, the NASA administrator. Backed by the full support of his agency, Webb authorized the mission. Apollo 8 was officially changed from a “D” mission to a “C-Prime” lunar-orbit mission.

Webb may have authorized it in August, in the sense of changing the mission category, but this was probably to keep the option open, not because he supported doing it. I’m pretty sure he continued to oppose it, and it may be that one of the reasons for his retirement in October was to not have it happen on his watch (though he probably would have left anyway in the New Year, with the incoming administration of Nixon). Tom Paine (who did favor it), as Acting Administrator, actually made final approval in November, a few weeks before the flight.