command & service module

10 People You Wish You Met from 100 Years of NASA’s Langley

Something happened 100 years ago that changed forever the way we fly. And then the way we explore space. And then how we study our home planet. That something was the establishment of what is now NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Founded just three months after America’s entry into World War I, Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory was established as the nation’s first civilian facility focused on aeronautical research. The goal was, simply, to “solve the fundamental problems of flight.”

From the beginning, Langley engineers devised technologies for safer, higher, farther and faster air travel. Top-tier talent was hired. State-of-the-art wind tunnels and supporting infrastructure was built. Unique solutions were found.

Langley researchers developed the wing shapes still used today in airplane design. Better propellers, engine cowlings, all-metal airplanes, new kinds of rotorcraft and helicopters, faster-than-sound flight - these were among Langley’s many groundbreaking aeronautical advances spanning its first decades.

By 1958, Langley’s governing organization, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA, would become NASA, and Langley’s accomplishments would soar from air into space.

Here are 10 people you wish you met from the storied history of Langley:

Robert R. “Bob” Gilruth (1913–2000) 

  • Considered the father of the U.S. manned space program.
  • He helped organize the Manned Spacecraft Center – now the Johnson Space Center – in Houston, Texas. 
  • Gilruth managed 25 crewed spaceflights, including Alan Shepard’s first Mercury flight in May 1961, the first lunar landing by Apollo 11 in July 1969, the dramatic rescue of Apollo 13 in 1970, and the Apollo 15 mission in July 1971.

Christopher C. “Chris” Kraft, Jr. (1924-) 

  • Created the concept and developed the organization, operational procedures and culture of NASA’s Mission Control.
  • Played a vital role in the success of the final Apollo missions, the first manned space station (Skylab), the first international space docking (Apollo-Soyuz Test Project), and the first space shuttle flights.

Maxime “Max” A. Faget (1921–2004) 

  • Devised many of the design concepts incorporated into all U.S.  manned spacecraft.
  • The author of papers and books that laid the engineering foundations for methods, procedures and approaches to spaceflight. 
  • An expert in safe atmospheric reentry, he developed the capsule design and operational plan for Project Mercury, and made major contributions to the Apollo Program’s basic command module configuration.

Caldwell Johnson (1919–2013) 

  • Worked for decades with Max Faget helping to design the earliest experimental spacecraft, addressing issues such as bodily restraint and mobility, personal hygiene, weight limits, and food and water supply. 
  • A key member of NASA’s spacecraft design team, Johnson established the basic layout and physical contours of America’s space capsules.

William H. “Hewitt” Phillips (1918–2009) 

  • Provided solutions to critical issues and problems associated with control of aircraft and spacecraft. 
  • Under his leadership, NASA Langley developed piloted astronaut simulators, ensuring the success of the Gemini and Apollo missions. Phillips personally conceived and successfully advocated for the 240-foot-high Langley Lunar Landing Facility used for moon-landing training, and later contributed to space shuttle development, Orion spacecraft splashdown capabilities and commercial crew programs.

Katherine Johnson (1918-) 

  • Was one of NASA Langley’s most notable “human computers,” calculating the trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s May 1961 mission, Freedom 7, America’s first human spaceflight. 
  • She verified the orbital equations controlling the capsule trajectory of John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission from blastoff to splashdown, calculations that would help to sync Project Apollo’s lunar lander with the moon-orbiting command and service module. 
  • Johnson also worked on the space shuttle and the Earth Resources Satellite, and authored or coauthored 26 research reports.

Dorothy Vaughan (1910–2008) 

  • Was both a respected mathematician and NASA’s first African-American manager, head of NASA Langley’s segregated West Area Computing Unit from 1949 until 1958. 
  • Once segregated facilities were abolished, she joined a racially and gender-integrated group on the frontier of electronic computing. 
  • Vaughan became an expert FORTRAN programmer, and contributed to the Scout Launch Vehicle Program.

William E. Stoney Jr. (1925-) 

  • Oversaw the development of early rockets, and was manager of a NASA Langley-based project that created the Scout solid-propellant rocket. 
  • One of the most successful boosters in NASA history, Scout and its payloads led to critical advancements in atmospheric and space science. 
  • Stoney became chief of advanced space vehicle concepts at NASA headquarters in Washington, headed the advanced spacecraft technology division at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, and was engineering director of the Apollo Program Office.

Israel Taback (1920–2008) 

  • Was chief engineer for NASA’s Lunar Orbiter program. Five Lunar Orbiters circled the moon, three taking photographs of potential Apollo landing sites and two mapping 99 percent of the lunar surface. 
  • Taback later became deputy project manager for the Mars Viking project. Seven years to the day of the first moon landing, on July 20, 1976, Viking 1 became NASA’s first Martian lander, touching down without incident in western Chryse Planitia in the planet’s northern equatorial region.

John C Houbolt (1919–2014) 

  • Forcefully advocated for the lunar-orbit-rendezvous concept that proved the vital link in the nation’s successful Apollo moon landing. 
  • In 1963, after the lunar-orbit-rendezvous technique was adopted, Houbolt left NASA for the private sector as an aeronautics, astronautics and advanced-technology consultant. 
  • He returned to Langley in 1976 to become its chief aeronautical scientist. During a decades-long career, Houbolt was the author of more than 120 technical publications.

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October 11th, 1968 - Apollo 7 launches Astronauts Walter Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham into orbit aboard a Saturn IB, with the task of testing the Command Service Module, functions, rendezvous and communications procedures. The mission would last 11 days.

Unfortunately, the crew of Apollo 7 suffered motion sickness, and Schirra from a head cold. This, along with a distaste for the sweet, high-energy foods they were given, plus the duration of the flight, caused discomfort of the crew to the point of committing a ‘mutiny in space’ against Mission Control, talking back and purposefully disregarding Control when asked to turn on the cabin TV camera, or to put on their helmets during re-entry.


Esiele and Cunningham would not return to space, whereas Schirra had already planned on retiring from NASA. Despite the mutiny, Apollo 7 completed its mission of testing the CSM to ensure it’s flight on Apollo 8 two months later, and again to the moon the following year.

Saturn V

The Saturn rocket series’ biggest brother, the culmination of America’s efforts during the Cold War Space Race against the Russians, and the paragon of human spaceflight achievement, The Apollo program’s primary tool was the mighty Saturn V, the pride of American space exploration, and NASA’s poster child. Designed by Wehrner von Braun, the massive rocket took 24 astronauts beyond Earth’s orbit, 12 of which walked on the Moon.

The Saturn V dwarfed every previous rocket fielded by America in the Space Race, remaining to this day the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status and still holds records for the heaviest payload launched and largest payload capacity. On the pad, she stood 363 feet (111m) tall, taller than the Statue of Liberty by 58 feet, with a diameter of 33 feet (10m), and weighed 6.5 million pounds fully fueled. Her designed payload capacity was rated at 261,000 pounds (118,000 kg) to Low Earth Orbit and 90,000 pounds (41,000 kg) to the Moon, but in later missions was able to carry about 310,000 pounds (140,000 kg) to LEO and sent up to 107,100 lb (48,600 kg) worth of spacecraft to the Moon.

The total launch vehicle was a 3 stage vehicle: the S-IC first stage, S-II second stage and the S-IVB third stage. The first stage used RP-1 for fuel, while the second and third stages used liquid hydrogen (LH2), with all three using liquid oxygen (LOX) for oxidizer.

Originally posted by spaceplasma

First Stage

The first stage of the Saturn V is the lower section of the rocket, producing the most thrust in order to get the vehicle off the pad and up to altitude for the second stage.

The Rocketdyne F-1 engine used to propel the rocket was designed for the U.S. Air Force by Rocketdyne for use on ICBM’s, but was dropped and picked up by NASA for use on their rockets. This engine still is the most powerful single combustion chamber engine ever produced, producing 1,522,000 lbf (6,770 kN) at sea level and 1,746,000 lbf (7,770 kN) in a vacuum. The S-IC has five F-1 engines. Total thrust on the pad, once fully throttled, was well over 7,600,000 lbf, consuming the RP-1 fuel and LOX oxidizer at a jaw-dropping 13 metric tonnes per second.

The launch sequence for the first stage begins at approx. T-minus 8.9 seconds, when the five F-1 engines are ignited to achieve full throttle on t-minus 0.  The center engine ignited first, followed by opposing outboard pairs at 300-millisecond intervals to reduce the structural loads on the rocket. When thrust had been confirmed by the onboard computers, the rocket was “soft-released” in two stages: first, the hold-down arms released the rocket, and second, as the rocket began to accelerate upwards, it was slowed by tapered metal pins pulled through dies for half a second.

It took about 12 seconds for the rocket to clear the tower. During this time, it yawed 1.25 degrees away from the tower to ensure adequate clearance despite adverse winds. (This yaw, although small, can be seen in launch photos taken from the east or west.) At an altitude of 430 feet (130 m) the rocket rolled to the correct flight azimuth and then gradually pitched down until 38 seconds after second stage ignition. This pitch program was set according to the prevailing winds during the launch month. The four outboard engines also tilted toward the outside so that in the event of a premature outboard engine shutdown the remaining engines would thrust through the rocket’s center of gravity. At this point in the launch, forces exerted on the astronauts is about 1.25 g.

At about T+ 1 minute, the rocket has gone supersonic, at which point, shock collars form around the rocket’s second stage separator. At this point, the vehicle is between 3 and 4 nautical miles in altitude.

Originally posted by sagansense

As the rocket ascends into thinner atmosphere and continues to burn fuel, the rocket becomes lighter, and the engine efficiency increases, accelerating the rocket at a tremendous rate.  At about 80 seconds, the rocket experienced maximum dynamic pressure. Once maximum efficiency of the F-1 engines is achieved, the total thrust peaks at around 9,000,000 lbf. At T+ 135 seconds, astronaut strain has increased to a constant 4 g’s.

At around T+ 168 seconds, the engines cut off as all fuel in the first stage is expended. At this point in flight, the rocket is  at an altitude of about 36 nautical miles (67 km), was downrange about 50 nautical miles (93 km), and was moving about 6,164 miles per hour (2,756 m/s). The first stage separates at a little less than 1 second following engine cutoff to allow for engine trail-off.  Eight small solid fuel separation motors backs the S-IC from the rest of the vehicle, and the first stage continues ballistically to an altitude of about 59 nautical miles (109 km) and then falls in the Atlantic Ocean about 300 nautical miles (560 km) downrange. Contrary to the common misconception, the S-IC stage never leaves Earth’s atmosphere, making it, technically, an aircraft.

Second Stage

The second stage is responsible with propelling the vehicle to orbital altitude and velocity. Already up to speed and altitude, the second stage doesn’t require as much Delta-V to achieve it’s operation.

For the first two unmanned launches, eight solid-fuel ullage motors ignited for four seconds to give positive acceleration to the S-II stage, followed by start of the five Rocketdyne J-2 engines. For the first seven manned Apollo missions only four ullage motors were used on the S-II, and they were eliminated completely for the final four launches. 

About 30 seconds after first stage separation, the interstage ring dropped from the second stage. This was done with an inertially fixed attitude so that the interstage, only 1 meter from the outboard J-2 engines, would fall cleanly without contacting them. Shortly after interstage separation the Launch Escape System was also jettisoned.

About 38 seconds after the second stage ignition the Saturn V switched from a preprogrammed trajectory to a “closed loop” or Iterative Guidance Mode. The Instrument Unit now computed in real time the most fuel-efficient trajectory toward its target orbit. If the Instrument Unit failed, the crew could switch control of the Saturn to the Command Module’s computer, take manual control, or abort the flight.

About 90 seconds before the second stage cutoff, the center engine shut down to reduce longitudinal pogo oscillations (a forward/backward oscillation caused by the unstable combustion of propellant). At around this time, the LOX flow rate decreases, changing the mix ratio of the two propellants, ensuring that there would be as little propellant as possible left in the tanks at the end of second stage flight. This was done at a predetermined Delta-V.

 Five level sensors in the bottom of each S-II propellant tank are armed during S-II flight, allowing any two to trigger S-II cutoff and staging when they were uncovered. One second after the second stage cut off it separates and several seconds later the third stage ignited. Solid fuel retro-rockets mounted on the interstage at the top of the S-II fires to back it away from the S-IVB. The S-II impacts about 2,300 nautical miles (4,200 km) from the launch site.

The S-II would burn for 6 minutes to propel the vehicle to 109 miles (175km) and 15,647 mph, close to orbital velocity.

Third Stage

Now in space, the third stage, the S-IVB’s sole purpose is to prepare and push the Command, Service, and Lunar Modules to the Moon via TLI. 

Unlike the two-plane separation of the S-IC and S-II, the S-II and S-IVB stages separated with a single step. Although it was constructed as part of the third stage, the interstage remained attached to the second stage.

During Apollo 11, a typical lunar mission, the third stage burned for about 2.5 minutes until first cutoff at 11 minutes 40 seconds. At this point it was 1,430 nautical miles (2,650 km)  downrange and in a parking orbit at an altitude of 103.2 nautical miles (191.1 km)  and velocity of 17,432 mph (7,793 m/s). The third stage remained attached to the spacecraft while it orbited the Earth one and a half times while astronauts and mission controllers prepared for translunar injection.

This parking orbit is quite low, and would eventually succumb to aerodynamic drag if maintained, but on lunar missions, this can be gotten away with because the vehicle is not intended to stay in said orbit for long. The S-IVB also continued to thrust at a low level by venting gaseous hydrogen, to keep propellants settled in their tanks and prevent gaseous cavities from forming in propellant feed lines. This venting also maintained safe pressures as liquid hydrogen boiled off in the fuel tank. This venting thrust easily exceeded aerodynamic drag.

On Apollo 11, TLI came at 2 hours and 44 minutes after launch. The S-IVB burned for almost six minutes giving the spacecraft a velocity close to the Earth’s escape velocity of 25,053 mph (11,200 m/s). This gave an energy-efficient transfer to lunar orbit, with the Moon helping to capture the spacecraft with a minimum of CSM fuel consumption.

After the TLI, the Saturn V has fullfilled its purpose of getting the Apollo crew and modules on their way to the Moon. At around 40 minutes after TLI, the Command Service module (the conjoined Command module and Service Module) separate from the LM adapter, turns 180 degrees, and docks with the exposed Lunar Module. After 50 minutes, the 3 modules separate from the spent S-IVC, in a process known as Transposition, docking and extraction

Of course, if the S-IVC were to remain on the same course (in other words, if they leave it right there unattended), due to the physics of zero gravity environments, the third stage would present a collision hazard for the Apollo modules. To prevent this, its remaining propellants were vented and the auxiliary propulsion system fired to move it away. Before Apollo 13, the S-IVB was directed to slingshot around the Moon into a solar orbit, but from 13 onward, the S-IVB was directed to actually impact the Moon. The reason for this was for existing probes to register the impacts on their seismic sensors, giving valuable data on the internals and structure of the Moon.

Launch Escape System

The Saturn V carries a frightening amount of potential energy (the Saturn V on the pad, if launch failed and the rocket ruptured and exploded, would have released an energy equivalent to 2 kilotons of TNT, a force shy of the smallest atomic weapons), which luckily was unleashed as planned without incident. However, this being NASA, precautions were made to save the crew in event of a catastrophic failure. 

The LES (Launch Escape System) has been around since the Mercury Program as a way to get the crew capsule away from a potential explosion on the pad or in early launch. The idea is that a small rocket would take the capsule far enough away from the rocket that parachutes could be deployed.

The LES included three wires that ran down the exterior of the launch vehicle. If the signals from any two of the wires were lost, the LES would activate automatically. Alternatively, the Commander could activate the system manually using one of two translation controller handles, which were switched to a special abort mode for launch. When activated, the LES would fire a solid fuel escape rocket, and open a canard system to direct the Command Module away from, and off the path of, a launch vehicle in trouble. The LES would then jettison and the Command Module would land with its parachute recovery system.

If the emergency happened on the launch pad, the LES would lift the Command Module to a sufficient height to allow the recovery parachutes to deploy safely before coming in contact with the ground.

An interesting factoid is how much power the LES possesses; in fact, the LES rocket produces more thrust (147,000 pounds-force (650 kN) sea level thrust) than the Mercury-Redstone rocket (78,000 pounds-force (350 kN)) used to launch Freedom-7 during the Mercury program. 

Skylab 

Originally posted by pappubahry

After budget cuts necessitated mission cancellations and the end of the Apollo program, NASA still had at least one Saturn V rocket intended for Apollo 18/19. Luckily, in 1965, the Apollo Applications Program was established to find a use for the Saturn V rocket following the Apollo program. Much of the research conducted in this program revolved around sending up a space station. This station (now known as Skylab) would be built on the ground from a surplus Saturn IB second stage and launched on the first two live stages of a Saturn V. 

The only significant changes to the Saturn V from the Apollo configurations involved some modification to the S-II to act as the terminal stage for inserting the Skylab payload into Earth orbit, and to vent excess propellant after engine cutoff so the spent stage would not rupture in orbit. The S-II remained in orbit for almost two years, and made an uncontrolled re-entry on January 11, 1975. 

This would be NASA’s only Saturn V launch not associated with the Apollo program, and unfortunately, would prove to be the Saturn V’s last one. There were other concepts for Saturn V’s as launch vehicles, including a space shuttle design, but none of these ever came to fruition. 

Cost

From 1964 until 1973, a total of $6.417 billion ($41.4 billion in 2016) was appropriated for the Saturn V, with the maximum being in 1966 with $1.2 billion ($8.75 billion in 2016). 

Displays and Survivors

There are several displays of Saturn V rockets around the United States, including a few test rockets and unused ones intended for flight. The list below details what and where they are.

  • Two at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville:

SA-500D is on horizontal display made up of S-IC-D, S-II-F/D and S-IVB-D. These were all test stages not meant for flight. This vehicle was displayed outdoors from 1969 to 2007, was restored, and is now displayed in the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. The second display here is a vertical display (replica) built in 1999 located in an adjacent area.

  • One at the Johnson Space Center made up of first stage from SA-514, the second stage from SA-515 and the third stage from SA-513 (replaced for flight by the Skylab workshop). With stages arriving between 1977 and 1979, this was displayed in the open until its 2005 restoration when a structure was built around it for protection. This is the only display Saturn consisting entirely of stages intended to be launched.
  • One at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, made up of S-IC-T (test stage) and the second and third stages from SA-514. It was displayed outdoors for decades, then in 1996 was enclosed for protection from the elements in the Apollo/Saturn V Center.
  • The S-IC stage from SA-515 is on display at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.
  • The S-IVB stage from SA-515 was converted for use as a backup for Skylab, and is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Source: Wikipedia

Apollo 17 Enters Lunar Orbit (10 Dec. 1972) — The crescent Earth rises above the lunar horizon in this photograph taken from the Apollo 17 spacecraft in lunar orbit during National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) final lunar landing mission in the Apollo program. While astronauts Eugene A. Cernan, commander, and Harrison H. Schmitt, lunar module pilot, descended in the Lunar Module (LM) “Challenger” to explore the Taurus-Littrow region of the moon, astronaut Ronald E. Evans, command module pilot, remained with the Command and Service Modules (CSM) “America” in lunar orbit.

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June 1966, The Apollo 1 astronauts during water egress training.

Apollo 1, initially designated AS-204, was the first manned mission of the United States Apollo program, which had as its ultimate goal a manned lunar landing. The low Earth orbital test of the Apollo Command/Service Module never made its target launch date of February 21, 1967. 

A cabin fire during a launch rehearsal test on January 27 at Cape Kennedy Air Force Station Launch Complex 34 killed all three crew members—Command Pilot Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward H. White II, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee—and destroyed the Command Module (CM). 

The name Apollo 1, chosen by the crew, was officially retired by NASA in commemoration of them on April 24, 1967.

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     Here, we have the Saturn V rocket, housed inside the Apollo/Saturn V Center at Kennedy Space Center near Titusville, Florida, just a few miles from Launch complex 39, where these beasts once roared into the sky.

     When we look at the enormous first stage of the Saturn V rocket, called an S-IC, we think “spaceship”. Truthfully, the Saturn V first stage never actually made it into space. The stage only burned for the first 150 seconds of flight, then dropped away from the rest of the rocket, all while remaining totally inside Earth’s atmosphere. The S-IC stage is merely an aircraft.

     Even more truthfully, the S-IC stage displayed here at the Apollo/Saturn V Center at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, never flew at all. It is a static test article, fired while firmly attached to the ground, to make sure the rocket would actually hold together in flight. Obviously, these tests were successful, (e.g. she didn’t blow up), and she sits on our Apollo museum today. I wrote more about this particular stage in a previous post, (click here to view.)

     The rest of the rocket, the second and third stages, called the S-II and S-IVB stages, did fly into space. The S-II put the manned payload into orbit, and the S-IVB was responsible for initially propelling that payload from earth orbit to the moon, an act called “trans-lunar injection” (TLI).

     The particular rocket in this display, except for the first stage, is called SA-514. 514 was going to launch the cancelled Apollo 18 and 19 moon missions.

     The command/service module (CSM) in the photos is called CSM-119. This particular capsule is unique to the Apollo program, because it has five seats. All the others had three. 119 could launch with a crew of three, and land with five, because it was designed it for a possible Skylab rescue mission. It was later used it as a backup capsule for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.

NASA has marked the anniversary of the Apollo 12 lunar landing by releasing this image of the Lunar Module (LM) Intrepid taken from the Command and Service Module on 19 November 1969.

Aboard the LM were astronauts Charles Conrad Jr., commander; and Alan L. Bean, lunar module pilot. Astronaut Richard R. Gordon Jr., command module pilot, remained with the CSM in lunar orbit while Conrad and Bean descended in the LM to explore the surface of the moon.

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Nineteen years ago - almost to the day - we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But we’ve never lost an astronaut in flight; we’ve never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we’ve forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle; but they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, overcame them, and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together. 
For the families of the seven, we cannot bear as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we’re thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that spirit that says, "Give me a challenge and I’ll meet it with joy.” They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve; and they did. They served all of us. 
We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us. But for twenty-five years the United States space program has been doing just that. We’ve grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we’ve only just begun. We’re still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers. And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. it’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we;ll continue to follow them…
There’s a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and a historian later said, ‘He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it.’ Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake’s complete.
The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to 'touch the face of God.’“
– United States President Ronald Reagan’s Speech on The Challenger Disaster; January 28, 1986 (photos by Paul Hildebrandt, director/filmmaker, 'Fight for Space’)

This week, and forever, the crew of Apollo1 AS-204 and Space Shuttle Challenger STS-51-L are remembered and heralded for their achievements in the human spaceflight program. During this time, it’s become routine for many around the space community and amongst our human family on Earth to reflect upon and mourn those relatives of ours who put their lives at risk for the study, protection, and preservation of life on this biologically diverse biosphere we call home. 

However, I can’t help but reflect on the above speech following Challenger’s demise feeling the same sentiments the world did then, while knowing what we know now, and what few were aware of at the time this speech was given. We certainly are explorers, pioneers, as asserted by President Reagan in 1986. But we were involved with an endeavor deserving the best of our energies and skills, as suggested by John F. Kennedy, who initiated this effort.

Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia were not accidents, they were (are) examples of human negligence. We 'should’ have taken proper precautions. We 'should’ have and 'could’ have done a lot of things. The United States government was in a competition of superiority - who was going to gain the "high ground” in space - with the Soviet Union. The astronauts involved were not astronauts by definition, they were active/former military pilots – they were soldiers. Their mission, as they chose to accept it, was not to advance a frontier of discovery and human advancement into space with the goal of settlement among new worlds; their mission was to carry out their positions on the front lines of a battle between [U.S.] and them.

Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chaffee of Apollo 1 burned alive inside a crammed Command/Service Module – a mock space capsule riddled with mechanical failures, faulty equipment, and ultimately, an extremely dangerous environment overall to even be considered the testing platform for any human to operate with confidence. Seconds before the fire, “Gus” Grissom, exhausted and frustrated, is recorded saying: 

“How are we going to get to the moon if we can’t talk between three buildings?

Watch: 'From The Earth To The Moon’ film about the developing Apollo program of the 60’s and 70’s (view Apollo fire scene)

The 'Challenger Seven’ crew perished 73 seconds into its flight not due to an “accident”, but mismanagement and leadership. The Space Shuttle itself was an extremely sensitive and dangerous vehicle to haul into space. Built for access into Low Earth Orbit only, it was critical that all precautions were taken, as meticulous subsystems on board were necessary for full reliability and service from launch to landing. However, instead of equipment or infrastructure at fault, it was that of the directors responsible for moving forward with the mission itself. 

The day NASA was pressed to launch, temperatures that morning were well below what were suggested by the manufacturer/contractor of the rubber O rings responsible as a seal between the joints of the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) that contained the external fuel source, thus the breach and explosion.

A critical figure in the investigation leading up to and beyond the disaster was science communicator and notable physicist Richard P. Feynman, who submitted the most sober assessment of all those involved (and responsible) in one sentence:

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.

NASA was being pressed and pushed by non-scientists to not delay another launch date, which would draw critique and cost-assessment from Congress and negative press from the media, who grew consistently tired and irritated of assembling their crews to attend launches only to be let down due to some technical information pertinent to a higher percentage of mission success, resulting in grumpy communication to the press, who continually lacked true insight into how this inspirational and massive space program was being coordinated behind closed doors. 

Watch: 'The Challenger Disaster’ television film about Richard Feynman’s role in the investigation process, bringing the administration’s inner workings into public and political discussion

Space Shuttle Columbia’s fateful reentry was no accident, either, paralleling the prior fates of cargo and crew. The vehicle was vulnerable to exterior damage, as demonstrated by a piece of foam insulation (applied to the external fuel tanks to prevent ice from forming due to the liquid hydrogen/oxygen contained inside) shedding upon launch and puncturing the shuttle’s left wing, which inevitably led to disintegration upon reentry. 

Configuration of the Space Shuttle: strapping precious cargo alongside a very costly and flammable structure, where the slightest malfunction or puncture would amount to a very explosive situation. Prior to this assembly however, the steadily evolving human spaceflight program graduated from the rockets of Redstone (Mercury) to Titan (Gemini), then the true giant leap of our technological capability and prowess – the Saturn V rocket at the height of the Apollo program. 

Watch: 'The Saturn V’ film clip from 'Fight for Space’

It worked. It could’ve taken us beyond the moon, and kept astronauts at a much safer distance from the fuel tanks, equipped with a more efficient mechanism to propel a human crew to safety when an abort maneuver was needed than the Space Shuttle ever could. While equipped with this knowledge, the human spaceflight program was downgraded into a joint crew and cargo effort to do what smaller rocket configurations eventually ended up doing, taking over the bulk of NASA’s directive, sending up astronauts to Low Earth Orbit “when necessary." 

It’s essential and necessary to criticize our efforts. We all realize that the mission to the moon moved so quickly due to the threat of being outperformed by the Soviet Union. But the citizens of Earth didn’t see it this way. Surely patriotism influenced support for these programs, but we saw much more of ourselves when viewing the Earth from space. We envisioned a society with space hotels, spinoffs and everyday marketplace catalysts making their way into our daily lives at an accelerating rate, dreams of venturing off to other worlds, seeing our home planet from afar, being granted a wonderful new perspective on our existence together, and doing bold and risky things for the benefit of an entire planet. 

We associated the term "hero” with those who dove to extraneous depths beneath the sea, rushed headstrong into fires to save lives, and sometimes, rode a behemoth of a launch vehicle into the sky amidst the quiet cold of space to extend our human presence beyond our terrestrial home.

Indeed, we will speak to our children about these incidents, but we will not be coy with them. We will explain the risks involved, the arduous task it is from conception to construction and launch to landing. We’ll illustrate the importance of space exploration alongside the tremendous impact it’s had on shaping our culture, our present understanding of the universe, ourselves, and our future as a species. We will not, however, lie to them about the cause and effect relationship in regards to the decisions that were made, and continue to be made. We’ll explain why space exploration companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace, Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industries, Astrobotic, and countless emerging others are poised to disrupt the political oligarchy whose kept the space program essentially “grounded” from doing what it is capable of.

Indeed, as President Reagan asserted, “the future does not belong to the fainthearted, it belongs to the brave.

And we intend to equip our children with the knowledge necessary to recognize when there’s a problem, meet that problem with the same open mind that propelled us to discover it, and after meticulous scrutiny, extract everything we can from it to gain further perspective. We will tell our children that yes, these new endeavors being explored and performed by multiple space companies are the things we’ve been capable of since the American space program started; but those who direct the funding decided to pull back, even while it was bringing the world together toward a common evolving vision of the humankind’s future amongst the stars.

Today’s 'space entrepreneurs’ haven’t all had the same coincidental epiphanies. They witnessed the developing space program during their childhood, watched it whither and drift from mainstream news, pop culture, and most notably – Congressional priority. Having learned from a model of what not to do, they’re taking advantage of the plethora of modern scientific advancements along an accelerating exponential growth curve, and applying them toward the development of ambitions worthy of our attention, support, and above all – hope for the spacefaring future of humankind we anticipated not so long ago. The lives lost, accomplishments achieved, technologies developed, knowledge gained…the benefits accumulated throughout our efforts in space should have amounted to more than memories of a brief era of time where we once celebrated human beings worthy of recognition as heroes and explorers. 

The human mistakes we’ve made have since passed, but what have we learned? Instead of steadily investing our funds and potential into a spacefaring future reflective of those who died for it – we’ve retracted, demonstrated by the budget we’ve misappropriated to developing technologies in preparation for warfare:

As we progress forward in an age where we are more digitally connected than ever before, maybe we’ve become victims of our own success. We’ve taken advantage of technologies the space program is directly responsible for, whereby we’re permitted quicker access to witness history unfolding in front of us. The difference however, between the space age of the 60’s/70’s is that the connectivity we’ve gained from those space assets bridged from exploration beyond Earth now allows us to take part in a means of activism and change like never before. 

No longer should we wait for other space entrepreneurs to arise. We have it in our own individual power to #FightforSpace. Our Kickstarter campaign is less than $8,000 away from its funding goal. We can do this. If we change the minds of Congress and/or educate the global citizenry of Earth on the necessity of space advocacy and scientific literacy, the course for our human future can be steered. 

58 hours left and counting. Join in the #FightforSpace and support our Kickstareter for SPACE.

Apollo 9 Performs First Rendezvous & Re-Docking with LM Ascent Stage (7 March 1969) — The Lunar Module (LM) “Spider” ascent stage is photographed from the Command and Service Modules (CSM) on the fifth day of the Apollo 9 Earth-orbital mission. While astronaut David R. Scott, command module pilot, remained at the controls in the CSM “Gumdrop,” astronauts James A. McDivitt, Apollo 9 commander; and Russell L. Schweickart, lunar module pilot, checked out the “Spider.” The LM’s descent stage had already been jettisoned.

View of the Apollo 9 Lunar Module “Spider” in a lunar landing configuration photographed by Command Module pilot David Scott inside the Command/Service Module “Gumdrop” on the fifth day of the Apollo 9 earth-orbital mission. The landing gear on “Spider” has been deployed. lunar surface probes (sensors) extend out from the landing gear foot pads. Inside the “Spider” were astronauts James A. McDivitt, Apollo 9 Commander; and Russell L. Schweickart, Lunar Module pilot.

9

     Every rocket has a payload; even the small, solid fuel rocket that I built and fired while attending Space Camp as a child. My rocket launched an earthworm as its payload, carrying it about 1,000 feet above the ground. A parachute opened and brought my payload it back to the ground, alive and unscathed. Obviously, larger rockets tend to carry larger payloads. The Saturn V Moon rocket was the largest launch vehicle ever successfully flown. The whole point of the Saturn V was to lift this, the Lunar Stack, off of Earth, insert it into a brief period of Earth orbit, then push it toward the Moon.

     The Lunar Stack consisted of several systems. The very tip of the rocket is a component called the Launch Escape System. This was a tower fixed to the nose of the manned capsule during launch, which contained a solid rocket motor that would be fired if the rocket started to break up, pulling the crew to safety. Luckily, this never had to happen in the Apollo program. If everything was performing nominally, the Launch Escape System would be jettisoned away from the capsule after ignition of the S-II second stage.

     The next major system down the line is the Command-Service Module (CSM). This two-part component consists of the Command Module (CM) and the Service Module (SM). The CM carried all three astronauts during the whole flight, from launch, all the way to splash-down, excluding the time when two of the three astronauts would transfer to the Lunar Module (LM) for their excursion to the moon. The particular Command-Service Module pictured here is called CSM-115, which was manufactured for the cancelled Apollo 19 mission. It is only partially completed. Normally, the unflown Command Modules are a shiny silver color, but this module sat outside for decades, and has taken the appearance of one that has suffered an entry into the atmosphere. 

     The conical structure aft of the CSM is the Spacecraft-Lunar Adapter, which housed and protected the Lunar Module (LM), and the CSM engine during launch. Once the Lunar Stack was on a path to the moon, the CSM would detach from the SLA cone, which would open up like flower petals, exposing the LM. The CSM would turn 180°, dock with the LM, and pull it away from the S-IVB third stage. Then, the CSM and LM would continue their path to the Moon, separate from the S-IVB third stage.

     Each small component of the Apollo System, from the launch, to the Escape Tower, and everything in between, is incredible to me. I could go into endless detail about each small component within these systems, but that will have to wait for future articles.

Astronaut Russell Schweickart, lunar module pilot, stands on the module’s deck during his spacewalk on the fourth day of the Apollo 9 mission. This photograph was taken from inside the lunar module “Spider” by mission commander James McDivitt.

Apollo 9 was the first manned flight of the command/service module along with the lunar module. The mission’s three-person crew, which also included command module pilot Dave Scott, tested several aspects critical to landing on the moon including the lunar module’s engines, backpack life support systems, navigation systems and docking maneuvers. The mission was the second manned launch of a Saturn V rocket and was the third manned mission of the Apollo Program.

After launching on March 3, 1969, the crew spent 10 days in low Earth orbit.

Eugene A. Cernan, Commander, Apollo 17 salutes the flag on the lunar surface during extravehicular activity (EVA) on NASA’s final lunar landing mission. The Lunar Module “Challenger” is in the left background behind the flag and the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) also in background behind him. While astronauts Cernan and Schmitt descended in the Challenger to explore the Taurus-Littrow region of the Moon, astronaut Ronald E. Evans, Command Module pilot, remained with the Command/Service Module (CSM) “America” in lunar-orbit.