Category Archives: History

An Embarrassment of Rich Space History?

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Image from Buran.ru. Go there to see more. I’m sure they would appreciate it.

This site contains my opinions and ideas only, not the opinions or ideas of any organization I work for. It’s my idea playground, and I’m inviting you in. Welcome!

Over four years ago, I had fun writing about the Buran, the Soviet Union’s (now Russia) answer to the U.S. Space Shuttle. You can read about it here: https://wordpress.com/post/themadspaceball.com/564.

The reason why I’m bringing this up is because Vice.com posted an article (here: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/evm3dm/photographing-these-abandoned-space-shuttles-made-me-a-russian-target) about a week ago. It’s a story about a reporter who managed to sneak into places at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. These are places Westerners typically are not allowed to visit. In this instance, the reporter not only snuck in, but took quite a few photos.

The photos were of the Buran–two Burans, actually. He also captured a few photos of the Energia booster, which would have lifted one the Burans into orbit. The story focuses on the reporter’s efforts to get to these buildings, and what happened when he returned to show off the photos of what sat within. Apparently some Russians have been embarrassed by this. It’s probably almost as embarrassing as a teenager flying a Cessna 100’s of miles through very secure airspace and then landing in Red Square (true story: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/matthias-rust-lands-his-plane-in-red-square).

But it’s also sad. The Russians were very good at building awesome space technology. The launch vehicles used today in Roscosmos launches are a testament to the engineering and design prowess of the Russians (albeit flagging lately). The shape of their Soyuz launch vehicle is about as iconic as V-2 based rocket designs, and perhaps better-looking. But in those Vice.com images lay some of the Soviet space program’s more interesting projects, covered in bird droppings and hidden away from history, in buildings that sound like they are on the verge of collapse.

Whether the Soviets dropped the Burans because they realized operations would be too expensive for such as a system, money issues generally, or were concerned about possible safety issues because of the system’s complexity, I am not sure (I’ll have to find a book about it). But there they sit, a history snapshot.

I’d love to see them in person one day.

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Blue Origin’s In-flight Escape Test

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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: https://www.blueorigin.com/#youtubebqUIX3Z4r3k.

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): http://www.boeing.com/history/products/little-joe-launch-vehicle.page. Another story about why it was called Little Joe is on a NASA site, here: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/langley/news/researchernews/rn_littlejoe.html. Something to do with the success of rolling a “Little Joe” being related the way the rocket was built.

 

Another “Space Watch” article…

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“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

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Take a walk through history. Image from Roscosmos.

A friend of mine passed along this link today: http://inspacewetrust.org/en/. 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: http://inspacewetrust.org/. 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

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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.”