Category Archives: NASA

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.”

Stage Two Engine Test

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Right stage, wrong year. That is a Saturn V second stage in the hoist, but the picture was taken in 1967. Image is from NASA.

I wrote this “Apollo 50th Anniversary Moment” prior to the Space Foundation’s Space Symposium this year. While a lot of important things happened in April 1966 for the Apollo program, I thought the Saturn V second stage engine test was worth focusing on–especially since it helped with some wordplay. I think. And it’s kind of fun to link what was going on then through history to what’s been going on now.

Here’s the article: Stagecraft Through the Years.

By the way, NASA doesn’t call it the Mississippi Test Facility anymore. It’s now the John C. Stennis Space Center–a bit more unwieldy to pronounce, but right in line with NASA’s penchant for pulling complexity out of the simplest things. You can read about the center by clicking on this link.

Landing the Business of Launch

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The history-making Falcon 9 Upgrade ready to launch at Space Launch Complex 40. Image from SpaceX.

SpaceX was very confident that today’s successful landing would happen. Instead of hedging the outcome as they had in previous launches, statements from people within the company before the launch today indicated that today was the day. And today was their day.

I’m assuming you’ve seen the footage of the Falcon 9’s first stage landing on a barge, and–and this is the most important part–staying upright and intact. If not, you should really watch the video, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEr9cPpuAx8. To see the rocket land, on a barge, is pretty nifty.

But after today, what will happen? Does the launch industry change? Does it get cheaper? Well, not right away. Some of it depends on whether SpaceX can just get down to the business of launching. According to SpaceFlightNow.com’s launch manifest, SpaceX has at least 11 other launches to clear this year. That’s quite a few, but perhaps not impossible to accomplish. But the company has barely launched slightly over half that number so far in the past few years. There’s also the possible launch of their Falcon Heavy, promised for many years but yet to make it past artist conceptions into reality.

SpaceX also must prove the Falcon 9’s first stage is reusable. Landing it on a barge is awesome, but how quickly can they turn it around and use it again? Blue Origin, another rocket manufacturer and potential launch provider, is kind of setting the standard with their New Shepard suborbital rocket. The company launched the same rocket and engine three times, supposedly with minimal inspections of the whole thing in-between. The average turn-around for their rocket seems to be about a month and a half. In fact, Blue Origin’s third launch of New Shepard occurred just last weekend, on April 2. Of course, they have a pretty cool video to watch as well: https://www.blueorigin.com/news/news/pushing-the-envelope.

Can SpaceX match or exceed Blue Origin’s turnaround time? How often will a reusable stage be reusable? Whatever the answer, there are quite a few companies ready to buy a berth on a reusable rocket. There’re a lot of plans and pressure for launch services. More importantly, there are markets hungry for the services and products coming from space. The price of a space launch needs to come down. SpaceX is one of the cheaper launch providers, and if it, or Blue Origin, or someone else, succeeds in incorporating a reusable space launch vehicle in their business, prices will, after a while, start falling.

But, while SpaceX deservedly got their time in the limelight today, tomorrow they need to do one thing: launch!

And then launch some more…

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.”

Gemini V

Gemini V astronauts Conrad and Cooper, practicing for yet another thing that could go wrong in a mission (but didn’t). Image from NASA JSC archive.

Last August was the 50th anniversary of the Gemini V mission. For this blog, the Gemini V mission begins a theme for a small series of stories about astronauts and their character. As my Apollo 50th Anniversary Moment article from August describes, astronauts are tough. They’re also smart and resourceful, traits Charles Conrad and Gordon Cooper displayed generally day-to-day, but especially useful for them throughout the Gemini V mission.

Why Gemini V for an Apollo 50th Anniversary series? It was NASA’s program to learn as much as they could about piloting, living, and surviving in space–things that were critical to know for successfully living through Project Apollo–NASA’s program to get astronauts to the moon. Space was new to everyone–Americans and Russians–and there was a lot to learn.

Gemini V was interesting for many reasons, including the few setbacks the astronauts faced. One particular setback would have radically cut the mission duration, but the astronauts faced the challenge very well. I described that one particular challenge, and how the astronauts handled it, in my article for the Space Foundation’s “Space Watch”: Eight Days or Bust–Gemini V.

There is no Clapper light switch in space…remember, it was over 50 years ago.