Category Archives: History

Blue Origin’s In-flight Escape Test


No, it’s not the New Shepard, but a Little Joe. Picture courtesy of NASA.

It’s not every day that you see a rocket come apart in mid-air, fire coming from each part, and then have both parts come back to Earth, safely. But that’s just what Blue Origin did today during their in-flight escape test of the New Shepard rocket and capsule. When the smoke and dust cleared, the New Shepard booster was standing on the pad again, just as it had done four times before.

And of course the capsule parachuted safely nearby. While Blue Origin hasn’t really released any new information, the video narrator might have mentioned the booster had gone past 248,000 feet (75.5 km or nearly 47 miles) to apogee, before coming back. Honestly, that may be all you wish to know, and you can go see this morning’s test right here:

Don’t let the 1 hour and 1 minute video deter you. There was a combined hold/count reset of about 30 minutes. But if you want to go straight to the action go to the 50 minute mark and enjoy the show.

However, for you space-history buffs, Blue Origin mentions the Little Joe II rocket test NASA conducted in January 1966. You can see a short bit of the test’s footage at the 3:18 mark in the video. It’s relevant to Blue Origin in that the test was also an in-flight rocket test crucial for making sure the Apollo escape system worked. I actually wrote about the Little Joe II test back in January this year for the Space Foundation’s “Space Watch,” linking the test to other rocket escape systems, including Russian ones. You can read about the history here: Testing the Lifeboat.

One other bit of trivia about Little Joe. Unless you’re a craps fan, you may not know the name is related to a specific thrown dice configuration in the game of craps. Specifically, each dice must show a two. If you put both of those two dice together, then that’s what the bottom of the Little Joe rocket looked like with nozzles in place in the original drawings for it. You can read a bit about it at the Boeing history site (it was originally build by North American Aviation): Another story about why it was called Little Joe is on a NASA site, here: Something to do with the success of rolling a “Little Joe” being related the way the rocket was built.


Another “Space Watch” article…


“Ride ’em cowboy”–a bit of encouragement Pete Conrad gives to Richard Gordon while straddling the spacecraft. Image from NASA.

While I’ve been lying low content-wise on the site here, I’ve been staying pretty busy at work. One of the many fun things I get to do is to look up historic events leading up to the Apollo moon missions, and then write a little bit about the event for the Space Foundation’s “Space Watch” monthly newsletter.

In this particular “Space Watch” article, titled Gordon’s Orbital Garbage Disposal and Rocket Herding Service,” I try to describe the activities of two brave astronauts during a Gemini mission fifty years ago. What they did gives the category of “space operations” an entirely different meaning, and shows just what kind of interesting and courageous explorers they were.

While many NASA fans seem to attribute the administration’s achievements to the idea of NASA itself, I’ve always felt it was the people within, such as Gordon and Conrad in this story, who really moved the agency forward toward the lunar missions and subsequent successes. This is not to downplay the mission controllers, engineers, and others who all played their part. Indeed, it’s the team, the people, who figure out how to overcome challenges, and then move ahead. But the astronauts in particular put their lives on the line during space missions. Whether it’s NASA, or in the future, one particular company or other that starts regular manned flights to space, the professionals called astronauts will still be the ones trading the ability to “fly” in space with the possibility of real, deathly, consequences.

With these thoughts in mind, I hope you enjoy Gordon’s Orbital Garbage Disposal and Rocket Herding Service.”

Your Comrade Through Space History


Take a walk through history. Image from Roscosmos.

A friend of mine passed along this link today: Before you click on it, you should have some time on your hands. This is an animated walk through history, thanks to Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency. It’s a very dynamic and cool way to present some of the more important historic bits in space history.

Initially, there’s a Russian space history focus. But as the little space traveller goes along, more international missions get discovered. Really, that site is all this short blurb of a post is about, but maybe it will help make the mid-week bearable for some of you.

If you are Russian, learning Russian, or have Russian friends, you can go directly to: Either site is pretty nifty, maybe proving that it doesn’t matter the language–space is just fun.

P.S.: Don’t forget to move the mouse around on the initial load screen. The spacewalking cosmonaut is more than a pretty picture.

Spinning Right Round


The Agena Target Vehicle, viewed from Gemini VIII. Image from JSC Digital Image Collection.

This is my latest article for the Space Foundation’s monthly “Space Watch.” If you didn’t know, I’ve been writing a series of articles, once a month, since I started working for the Space Foundation in 2014. The series highlights all the activities leading up to the first Apollo lunar mission, including some Gemini missions and tests.

In this particular article, NASA’s astronauts not only attempt the second ever rendezvous of spacecraft in Earth’s orbit, they also give a shot at docking (actually physically connecting) two spacecraft in orbit. It was a very ambitious mission, and as is the way of the world, not everything went as planned. Here it is: Rendezvous Re-do Revolution. And don’t forget to read some of the other Foundation articles in “Space Watch.”

“Space War” History


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Scientific American put out an article a few weeks ago about the first advertised use of Global Positioning satellites during the Persian Gulf War. At least it’s the first time a type of space infrastructure was used aside from satellite communications and satellite imagery. We were pretty used to the idea of satellite communications by 1991, but GPS is a bit different, then and now.

What I didn’t realize, since I was going through college at the time, is there wasn’t even the minimum number of satellites the DoD says is required today, which is 24, back then while the U.S. was conducting the campaign. The number of GPS satellites then was only 2/3’s of today’s baseline, with specific time limits in which to conduct combat effectively. Even with that, the U.S. military men and women still managed to do what needed to be done to win the campaign. The story, “GPS and the World’s First ‘Space War’,” is a good story, and worth reading, if you’re into that sort of history.

The U.S. Air Force likes saying Desert Storm was the first “Space War.” But it was more about a different way to use space infrastructure–a very new kind of space infrastructure, to be sure, but infrastructure nonetheless. Otherwise we’d be calling other campaigns the first kind of “Submarine War” because we’d laid cable underwater and used mines. Or the first kind of “Air War” because we used pigeons for communications and observation balloons for reconnaissance. Maybe saying it’s the first “Space War” is just a convenient way to continue funding for the USAF…and it sounds very impressive, right?

It ties in nicely with my previous blog post, “When China Attacks?”  It shows that even if someone somehow took the GPS constellation below the baseline of 24, things would still not be simple for those attacking, and the U.S. military would still be resourceful in using the remaining satellites (or maybe not even having to–there are alternatives, such as pseudolites).