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.


53 years ago today (April 12), Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut, became the first human to travel into space and change history, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth.

So on April 12, Gagarin, who turned into an international celebrity and hero, is being commemorated for paving the way for future space exploration by the International Day of Human Space Flight (Cosmonautics Day).

I really recommend looking him up. There’s so much to know about him and the history-making flight.

My favourite thing is probably the landing to an unplanned site: A farmer and her daughter observed the strange scene of a figure in a bright orange suit with a large white helmet landing near them by parachute. Gagarin later recalled, “When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet citizen like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!”

Happy International Day of Human Space Flight!

An illustrated timeline of spacesuit design.

Some incredible Redditors have compiled a visual timeline of spacesuits designed for use in the space program. The chart includes both Soviet, Russian and American space suits as well as technology demonstrators, prototype, and  other suits that didn’t actually make it into space.

Check out the full-sized image here.

Interestingly enough, the G5C suit used on Gemini 8 isn’t included on here, although its immediate two predecessors are. Those were modified G3C suits and only used on that mission. Additionally, the Apollo A1C suit, a modified Gemini G3C, is not included either. That was to be used for the ill-fated Apollo 1 and cancelled Apollo 5 crewed missions.


     After 306 days, 14 hours, 12 minutes and 43 seconds of flight, over the span of 33 missions, Space Shuttle Orbiter Atlantis, OV-104, on display at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Titusville, Florida, is now the centerpiece of the most breathtaking aerospace museum presentation I’ve ever visited.

     This orbiter flew many relatively important missions, including the final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission in 2009. STS-125 performed five EVAs during the mission, and restored the important telescope, extending its life well beyond original design spec.

     It’s truly surreal to walk up right beside this enormous rocket plane. I found it difficult to take the whole thing in at once. It’s overwhelming in a really good way. I wrote more about the experience, and shared several more photos in a previous post (click here to view).


     On May 22, 2014, I met a legend - Atlantis Space Shuttle Orbiter. Atlantis, or OV-104, was the fourth shuttle orbiter produced by Rockwell. She started her operational flight career on October 3, 1985, launching the STS-51-J mission, carrying a U.S. Department of Defense satellite into orbit. Her final flight, STS-135, concluded the American Space Shuttle Transport System Program. On July 21, 2011, I watched her land after that final, conclusive mission. I felt a lump in my throat as the program ended once our bird’s landing gear grazed the tarmac of the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

     After Atlantis’s final flight, I was filled with mixed emotions, saddened that this program that I’d grown up with was actually over. But these feelings were purely fueled by nostalgia. We mustn’t dwell on frustration with regards to the passing of the Shuttle Program, like so many of us do. Instead, it may be a better use of energy to talk about the amazing things are on the horizon of space travel, like NASA’s SLS and the work of SpaceX.

     Our space shuttle orbiters cease to fly, but they continue to fill what I believe to be an equally important role, inspiring millions of museum visitors all over the country. And inspire, they do. Frankly, I may be biased, but when I first walked into the room that houses Atlantis, and finally laid eyes upon this giant spacecraft that I’d been seeing on TV my whole life, I cried. The sheer size and enormity of it all is overwhelming. Not just presence of the structure of the spacecraft, but knowing the distance that she traveled, 126,000,000 miles, always safely returning her crew back home to our fragile Planet Earth. If causing visitors to feel these emotions doesn’t help the field of space exploration, nothing will.

     This exhibit causes individuals to take ownership of Atlantis, and rightfully so. When you visit a shuttle orbiter, know that as an American taxpayer, she truly belongs to you. No, scratch that. As a member of the human race, she was created for you, to explore the edge between what is known and unknown, which is a practice we call “science”, all to benefit you. Yes, you. We may learn the most about ourselves once we breach the bonds of gravity, but we must remember that we’re all truly in this journey together here on Planet Earth, and this is our bird, and our continued space exploration.

Rocket Science - NASA is going open source, releasing a treasure trough of software for the aspiring rocket scientist. Everything from the Apollo lunar lander guidance system software to star tracker algorithms is up for grabs, license/royalty free. The release is part of a Presidential directive for all agencies to release their work and encourage others to build on it.

This NASA software catalog will list more than 1,000 projects, and it will show you how to actually obtain the code you want. The idea to help hackers and entrepreneurs push these ideas in new directions — and help them dream up new ideas. Some code is only available to certain people — the rocket guidance system, for instance — but if you can get it, you can use it without paying royalties or copyright fees.

Within a few weeks of publishing the list, NASA says, it will also offer a searchable database of projects, and then, by next year, it will host the actual software code in its own online repository, a kind of GitHub for astronauts.

It’s all part of a White House-directed push to open up the federal government, which is the country’s largest creator of public domain code, but also a complete laggard when it comes to sharing software. Three years ago, President Obama ordered federal agencies to speed up tech transfer programs like this. 

It was a busy week in spaceflight and many amazing things happened:

  • December 1st, Russia launched new-generation navigation satellite GLONASS-K (Global Navigation Satellite System) into orbit (x)
  • December 2nd, a Japanese (JAXA) launcher blasted off, dispatching Hayabusa 2 probe, a daring six-year expedition to bring a piece of an asteroid back to Earth (x)
  • December 5th, NASA launched Orion’s spaceship designed to carry astronauts far beyond Earth, setting up the possibility of human exploration of Mars (x)
  • December 6th, European Space Agency’s Ariane-5 carrier rocket launched with two telecommunications satellites, one to beam down ultra-sharp television programming into millions of American homes and another craft to give Indian citizens expanded access to information technology (x)

The Apollo 13 Service Module photographed by the crew following CSM separation, April 17, 1971. Three days prior, on April 13, an oxygen tank in the Service Module ruptured due to a short circuit, causing significant damage to the spacecraft and an aborted Lunar Landing mission.

Up until recently, only one photograph of the damaged service module was in widespread publication:

With NASA’s publication of over 8,400 Apollo program images, the other photographs in the sequence are now available. New Horizons team member Alex Parker processed the set and combined them into the above gif.


     This Command Module was flown into space by Walter Schirra, Don Eisele and Walter Cunningham on Apollo 7, the first manned flight of the Apollo Program. On October 11, 1968, they became the only crew to fly from Launch complex 34 at Cape Canaveral, Florida, a launch complex which I have covered in a previous post (click here to view). The crew orbited the earth for 11 days, the length of a future Apollo Moon mission, testing the various Command Module systems.

     On this blog, one of the things I typically try to cover is test flight aircraft. This capsule qualifies, sort of. Apollo 7 was the first test flight of the command module system. Also, this spacecraft maneuvered through the air during re-entry, so we could, without too much of a stretch, call it an aircraft. There you have it. Test flight aircraft. Sounds good, right?

     This capsule is on display at the incredible Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas. I was very impressed with this museum. They have a pristine, non typical collection, beautiful facility, and very friendly, knowledgeable staff.