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Distant Suns Astronomy App http://distantsuns.com A New Way To Look At The Sky Tue, 14 Nov 2017 06:20:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.9 38800455 50 years ago… http://distantsuns.com/50-years-ago/ Mon, 13 Nov 2017 22:24:11 +0000 http://distantsuns.com/?p=3140 Fifty years ago this month of November, the Saturn V moon rocket, took to its wings for the very first time. T-minus-Zero of this unmanned flight came at precisely 7 AM Florida time. Walter Cronkite would yell “Our building’s shaking here. Our building’s shaking!” as pieces of his set started to fall apart. But who can […]

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Fifty years ago this month of November, the Saturn V moon rocket, took to its wings for the very first time. T-minus-Zero of this unmanned flight came at precisely 7 AM Florida time. Walter Cronkite would yell “Our building’s shaking here. Our building’s shaking!” as pieces of his set started to fall apart. But who can blame him, as the most powerful rocket that has ever flown took off a scant 3 1/2 miles away. The USSR’s N-1 moon rocket had about a third more thrust, but out of four launch attempts, the N-1 would fail each time, the first taking out the launch pad. And it is still a year or more before the new SLS launcher heads for the sky with a little more with over 9 million pounds of thrust for its proposed 2018 mission.

The “cornerstone” of the Saturn V, it’s third stage, started its life in April of 1960. With a mere 7 1/2 years later, the Saturn would be poised on launch complex 39A, with its 7.6 million pounds of first stage thrust challenging the early morning sunrise. One wonders how long it would take now, with all of the red tape, environmental impact reports and other nonsense that can stifle projects of this nature. The launch itself was only 6 1/2 years after Alan Shepard became the first American in space.

Note that 50 years before Apollo 4, The Great War was still burning through Europe, we were 12 years away from the stock market crash and talkies, 10 years away from the first demonstration of all-electronic TV, and a scant 14 years after the Write Bros. first flight, and the chance to talk to a Civil War veteran was still pretty easy.

The rocket was outfitted with two movie cameras observing staging of the first stage and the “interstage” falling away. The film was recovered later from packages jettisoned shortly thereafter. This footage would be used thousands of times and can be seen on nearly every any Apollo documentary.

My cat with a Block I panel #18.

Apollo 4 would also carry a “Block I” Apollo spacecraft. The Block I was designed mainly as an earth orbiting three mainly as follow-on to the two-man Gemini and had no real lunar capabilities. It was also the design that was deadly to the Apollo 1 crew, as they were killed 6 months earlier in “S/C-012” (Spacecraft-012) due to a fire caused by sloppy workmanship and even sloppier quality control. No Block I would ever fly a manned mission as a result. However, this mission the spacecraft (S/C-017) would be outfitted with a Block II heat-shield and slammed into the atmosphere at lunar re-entry speeds. Due to the unmanned nature of the flight, there is very little cultural-memory for Apollo 4, and as such, there have been no flown souvenirs I’ve seen except the item in one of my display shelves.

This little gem is a landing-sequencer from ol’017. Now, what’s a landing sequencer? It is what triggers all of the major landing events, like for example, firing out the parachutes. Needed. This is fairly small, only about 8 inches long, but weighs about 10 lbs. I can’t get into it to figure out what the weight really is from, but still really cool to have in my collection. I hope to eventually land something from Apollo 6 as well. Apollo 5 never returned anything but a film canister and smoldering debris.

And if you want to rock some real-Apollo 4 action, S/C 017 is just waiting for you at the INFINITY Science Center, in Mississippi.


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Distant Suns and iOS 11 http://distantsuns.com/distant-suns-ios-11/ http://distantsuns.com/distant-suns-ios-11/#comments Thu, 28 Sep 2017 20:11:53 +0000 http://distantsuns.com/?p=3132 I’ve received a couple of reports that Distant Suns-Max and iOS 11 don’t play well together, and while I can use the excuse “IWoMM” (It Works on My Machine), I’ve touched up a couple of things that may have caused the issues. I’ve been working on a new version for nearly 3 years now, and […]

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I’ve received a couple of reports that Distant Suns-Max and iOS 11 don’t play well together, and while I can use the excuse “IWoMM” (It Works on My Machine), I’ve touched up a couple of things that may have caused the issues. I’ve been working on a new version for nearly 3 years now, and just haven’t paid much attention to the existing versions. Fear not! I haven’t abandoned it!

The DSM fix will also include a new texture map for Pluto from the New Horizon’s spacecraft as well.


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The “Great American Eclipse” lived up to it’s name http://distantsuns.com/great-american-eclipse-lived-name/ http://distantsuns.com/great-american-eclipse-lived-name/#comments Mon, 28 Aug 2017 20:49:51 +0000 http://distantsuns.com/?p=3110 When I was asked last week about how many eclipses I’ve seen, I must respond define ‘seen’. Ultimately, I’ll answer with “1.5.” My very first total eclipse adventure in 2010, had our group missing the eclipse by 500 feet. Huh? The drivers hired to take us to the viewing site in Patagonia planned four years […]

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Patagonia, 2010

When I was asked last week about how many eclipses I’ve seen, I must respond define ‘seen’. Ultimately, I’ll answer with “1.5.” My very first total eclipse adventure in 2010, had our group missing the eclipse by 500 feet. Huh? The drivers hired to take us to the viewing site in Patagonia planned four years earlier, decided at the last minute that they had a better place for us. With totality being a scant 1 degree above the horizon, there was no room for vertical error so being placed 500 feet below the original site put the sun right behind the Andes across the valley just as it was completely covered by the moon.

Count 0 out of 1.

Eclipse number 2 was in Australia in 2012. As with the previous, it was planned years in advanced, but considering our viewing site was on a small island off the coast Australia we had a remarkable view (while those on land had to contend with clouds. Haw-haw!).

Count 1 out of 2.

Green Island, Australia, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faroe Islands, 2015

Number 3 was in the Faroe Islands in 2015. Virtually all Northern Europe was clouded over, it rained out our site. Sniff.

A fabulous trip, except for the beet juice for breakfast masquerading as cranberry juice, not to mention celery flavored ice-cream.

Count 1 out of 3.

 

Eclipse number 4 was last year in 2016 in Indonesia. The eclipse was viewed from Belitung Island in-between Sumatra and Borneo. Surrounded by a thousand Indonesians including a delightful number of school girls (and new Facebook friends). It was scattered clouds, which blocked the second half of totality.

Count 1.5 out of 4.

Belitung Island, Indonesia

Now I can move that total up to 2.5 with the “Great American Eclipse” of Aug. 21. The tour group I was with was that of MWT Associates, www.melitatrips.com. This was my ninth astronomy tour with them since 2009. Melita Thorpe, the force of nature and tour organizing ninja, always puts together the best tours, and really outdid herself this time around. The viewing site was kept secret to us until the day of the eclipse, and had been a secret to our respective tour directors until two days prior. It was that good. Held on a small ranch/B&B of a few dozen acres, Melita had booked the entire site, so it averaged about 1 acre per person. Melita herself was directing the alternate trip which was a cruise on the SS Legacy steamer down the Columbia river.

Two years ago, for the Faroe Islands, we were rained out, but I kept my Faroe eclipse glasses to finally put them to use. Last year in Borneo, I bought a Theta Sigma 360 camera for the sole purpose of being the first to shoot a 360 video of such an event. On the bus to the site I tested the camera, made sure there was enough power for 15 minutes of shooting and so on, then put it away for “safe keeping.” Too safe as it would because I couldn’t find the damned thing when we arrived. Spent about 45 minutes looking for it on the bus, on the ground where I may have dropped it. No luck, so there went $400. Finally, after the eclipse as we boarded the buses, and I felt something hitting my chest, and discovered that for “safe keeping” I tucked the Theta into my passport pouch around my neck. It was so light I just never felt it until it was too late.

But this time I was ready, finding a small wagon full of flowers near our bus that served perfectly as a base, with one lens facing directly towards the sun and the other directly away. During the totality, I wanted to search for Sirius, Orion, and the elusive “shadow bands,” a very faint phenomenon that occurs just prior to and immediately after totality. I had a solar filter for cameras taped over my small binoculars so had no problem watching the sun directly. At the moment of totality, I ripped off the filter and spent about 20 seconds observing for solar-flares and the delicate corona.

Nearby was also a corral of several allowing us to observe some of them nestling down to go to sleep. One couple brought a thermometer to track the temperature drop. Within a few minutes of totality, the temperature was near 70F, it plummeted down to 48F during blackout. Venus popped out immediately and can be seen on the video, whereas Regulus, only a degree away from the sun could be easily seen through my binoculars. After third contact, as the moon started to move on to its next stop, we sat down for a lovely catered lunch in which the phrase “OMG that was Beautiful” or similar ones to it would be heard over and over.

There was one older Japanese man and his wife on the bus with me on the way home. This was his first eclipse and was so very excited as he proudly showed me his photos.

My 360 video came out good, but looks like &((@* in the two screen VR mode, one of the weak spots of using the cheaper consumer cameras like the Theta over the multi-thousands pro-grade 4 and 8K models.

Dennis Mammama, top flight sky photographer and author who was in our group, had been to 17 eclipses and rated this one in his top 3. He also forgot to take the sun filter off one of his cameras during totality, ruining his possible best shots. Amateur!

Now, onward to Chile, 2019!

 


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Distant Suns T+30 years and counting http://distantsuns.com/distant-suns-t30-years-counting/ http://distantsuns.com/distant-suns-t30-years-counting/#respond Sat, 20 May 2017 01:51:44 +0000 http://distantsuns.com/?p=3070 Thirty years ago, last April, a new software application for the Commodore Amiga went on sale. Named Galileo, it eventually would be renamed Distant Suns and go on to be one of the longest lived consumer software titles in history. When growing up I loved planetariums. So much so, that I actually wrote and produced […]

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Thirty years ago, last April, a new software application for the Commodore Amiga went on sale. Named Galileo, it eventually would be renamed Distant Suns and go on to be one of the longest lived consumer software titles in history.

When growing up I loved planetariums. So much so, that I actually wrote and produced my own show for my 7th grade class, giving it at a local community college’s planetarium. Whenever I went to a show, I would always sit in the back row hoping to “catch a star” right before misbehaving horizon shutter would close on one of the lenses of the planetarium’s “star ball.”

In 1985, Commodore introduced their Amiga 1000. The most powerful graphics computer less than $10K the Amiga was close to being a limitless machine, with its dynamic color maps, true multitasking OS, ability to change screen resolutions on the fly and many other awesomely cool capabilities.

The night I got mine, I thought that its flexible colormap graphics would make for a great “desktop” planetarium. Considering that there was NO software available on release day, I played with ABasic, the basic interpreter that came with the machine, and created a 17-line file that would draw 600 random stars on the screen.

I’ve been refining it ever since.

The very first routine I wrote was to calculate the position of the moon. I did all of my compelling using two floppy drives which would take about 5 minutes each time. Talk about a buzz-kill!

Galileo, later renamed Distant Suns (my original publisher never filed for a trademark on the name) would survive two bankruptcies, be rewritten four times, (and I am currently on the fifth), span ports from Amiga to Mac to Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 to iPhone, iPad and finally to Android, and is STILL really fun to work on.

It started out at almost $90 (think about $200 for an app these days), but earn me less per unit than when it first launched in the Appstore.

When the store first opened in 2008, I told myself if it sold just $20/day, I’d be happy. It peaked out at $3800/day, was one of the two apps featured by Apple in the special iPad store on iPad 1 launch day, and was in New and Noteworthy at least 3 times that I remember.

The first few years of the iOS store felt a lot like the early Amiga days. Lots of single programmer apps, fairly easy money if you had a nice product, a lot of buzz in the air. I think that those days are now permanently behind us. As expectations for software is so much higher these days, so many more capabilities added to iOS each year, it’s nigh impossible for one person to turn out a successful app. But it was really fun while it lasted. I hope I can get at least one more good run at it before its time to hang up the pocket protector.

I almost go blind looking at the crude graphics from 1987. But one of my first beta testers said they were so beautiful that after a tough day at work he’d pour a glass of wine, turn out the lights and just stare at the screen for a few minutes.

Distant Suns then and now

Distant Suns, like a cathedral, is never really finished. As long as it remains fun to work on and as long as I get the occasional fan letter I’ll be working on it until my dying day. *

(* I can see myself on my deathbed “no! It’s not my time yet! I need to tweak that one last Autolayout constraint!)

 


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God Speed Gene Cernan http://distantsuns.com/god-speed-gene-cernan/ http://distantsuns.com/god-speed-gene-cernan/#respond Sat, 21 Jan 2017 00:32:38 +0000 http://distantsuns.com/?p=3061 The past year has seen the passings of three of my childhood “heros,” two of which were moonwalkers and the third the country’s first man to orbit the earth. The deaths of the original astronauts from the 60s will obviously grow in the coming years. With the passing of Gene Cernan, cuts the number of […]

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The past year has seen the passings of three of my childhood “heros,” two of which were moonwalkers and the third the country’s first man to orbit the earth. The deaths of the original astronauts from the 60s will obviously grow in the coming years. With the passing of Gene Cernan, cuts the number of men who did leave footprints on another celestial body down to six out of the original 12. From Apollo 11, Buzz Aldrin and from Apollo 12, Alan Bean. Flight 15 is Dave Scott, the commander, his co-pilot, Jim Irwin was the first of the club to die, when in 1991 he succumbed to a heart attack. Both moonwalkers from Apollo 16, John Young and Charlie Duke are still with us, and for 17, Jack Schmitt. Apollo 16 is the only mission with the lunar crew intact. And only four missions with the entire crew intact out of 11

Cernan was very good for the cause of space exploration, keeping the memory of Apollo alive, never seeming to tire when retelling the same stories of his three days on the moon at the Taurus-Littrow landing site, no doubt for thousands of times. He’d talk of fixing the fender on the lunar rover with a moon-chart and some duct-tape and his desire to hand his title “Last Man on the Moon” to someone else. I was hoping that he would live enough to pass the mantle. He will be missed.

I encourage anyone with young children to try and take them to some event where one of the Apollo astronauts are, and hopefully meet one of the moonwalkers (nothing against the “third guy” who didn’t make it to the surface, though. I mean you Al Worden!). Imagine them telling their grandchildren the time they actually met “a moonwalker.”


Apollo 17 gave us some of my favorite lunar imagery.

This is one of the most beautifully composed of the lunar images. A dramatic angle that really tells the story in a single square photo. In this case, it was Cernan who  handled the camera with Jack Schmitt posing. Since the landing site was the most northern one, the Earth was relatively low on the horizon so made this kind of shot possible without Cernan having to get down on his back.

None of the early space flights carried flashes for the cameras, and as photography was generally meant only to document the stuff outside the spacecraft, and not inside, very few in cabin shots were ever taken. But, since there was no strobe, the images are illuminated with natural light, frequently making both beautiful and sublime memories of the mission. Here is Cernan after one of the moonwalks, caked with moon dust, likely exhausted and elated at the same time and probably wishing for a beer and shower right about then.Image result for gene cernan

And another existing light shot back in the command module.

Farewell Gene.

 

 


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Godspeed John Glenn http://distantsuns.com/godspeed-john-glenn/ http://distantsuns.com/godspeed-john-glenn/#comments Tue, 13 Dec 2016 02:59:53 +0000 http://distantsuns.com/?p=3047 The term “hero” has been one of the most overused and misused words of the past couple of decades. (“diversity” being at the top of the list and the phrase “celebrate diversity” deserves to be put out of its misery with a litter of rabid dachshund puppies). Baseball players who get a walk-off grand slam […]

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The term “hero” has been one of the most overused and misused words of the past couple of decades. (“diversity” being at the top of the list and the phrase “celebrate diversity” deserves to be put out of its misery with a litter of rabid dachshund puppies). Baseball players who get a walk-off grand slam at the bottom of the 10th, a movie celebrity who takes on a controversial role, a singer to performs even though they a hangnail, are today’s “heroes.”

Or are they? Usain Bolt is a terrific athlete. But he’s no “hero.” American Van Cliburn, who won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition at age 23 was a gifted pianist. Even though he beat the Soviets at the event that was designed specifically to showcase Russian superiority, he wasn’t heroic by any means.

Real Heroes Quest Not For Stardom

Real heroes, many who are seldom recognized, quest not for stardom, yet risk life, reputation, and personal gain to push beyond the normal limits. Desmond Doss of “Hacksaw Ridge” was one such individual. While all others were retreating Doss stayed behind surrounded by the carnage of a devastating  Japanese force so as to single handedly help over 75 wounded to safety. That’s a hero. The firefighters who ran into the devastated Twin Towers while all others were running out, are heros.

Sadly, we lost another hero just a few days, ago. Mercury Astronaut, John Glenn passed away at age 95. Glenn was a warrior, who risked his life on a “battlefield” during the middle of the Cold War. When the original Mercury 7 astronauts were announced in 1959, the public saw a new kind of “warrior.” Survival in this battlefield was in no way assured. The astronauts would be facing a great unknown, one that would take its first life in 1967 (Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov), and would take many more down the road.
Glenn had a whopping 9000 hours of flight time, from both World War II and Korean war, as flight instructor and eventually test pilot. Nine thousand hours is over a full year in the cockpit and more than any other of the “Original Seven” (Al Shepard “only” had 3600 hours, still over twice was NASA was requiring). Photogenic, at ease friendhip7speaking in front of people, devoutly religious, protective of his wife Annie who had a stuttering problem when the press stuck microphones into her face, senator from Ohio and eventually senior statesman of our earliest days in space.
So it was sad to hear of Sen. Glenn’s passing on Dec. 8. However, he got the last laugh. At 40 years old when he flew, Glenn was the old man of the Mercury astronauts. While some of his colleagues were promoted to the two-man Gemini program, and some put off of flight status for either medical reasons (Slayton, Shepard) or job performance (Carpenter), Glenn would be sidelined for more prosaic reasons. The “overt” reason was that he would be too old to fly to the moon on Apollo, and as the Gemini flights were to train Apollo pilots those prized seats would be reserved for the younger men. The more likely reason was simply Washington didn’t want to risk the possibility an important symbol like Glenn being killed in a future mission.

In 1964 he resigned from NASA and applied to run for the US Senate from Ohio the next day, eventually winning a Senate seat in 1974. Briefly a presidential candidate one comedian suggested that his slogan would be “The Right Stuff, the Wrong Stiff.”

While many of the astronauts grew overly weary of being hounded for autographs, Glenn made it a habit to sign most any requests and even when in the Senate chamber, he could apparently be seen signing photos for requests that came in through the mail.
220px-johnglenn-1He would finally get a chance to fly a second mission, this time as a mission specialist onboard the Space Shuttle Discovery on flight STS-95, in 1998, to serve as a guinea pig for some geriatric studies and be the mission photographer. Many said this was a political favor, but whatever the reason, he should have been given a flight for no other reason than as a colossal thank-you.

In 2003, Sen. Glenn came out to the San Francisco Bay Area for a charity event run by his son who lived locally. As I am in San Jose it was a no-brainer to go on up and attend. Glenn spoke for about 30 minutes, fittingly in the planetarium of the Chabot Science Center that is perched high above Oakland. After his speech he departed to go attended a special VIP dinner up on the second floor. Myself and about eight others had brought ample goodies for him to sign and were assured that at some point he would likely come down to greet us. After all, he was a man-of-the-people, and we were the people, weren’t we? After about an hour, one young gentleman came down, handed a book to someone there, saying “here you go!”, the owner gleefully opened it up and showed us Glenn’s fresh signature. Our visitor was Glenn’s grandson, home briefly from school and seemed as humble and generous as his more well know sts-95grandfather. The poor laddie dashed upstairs with an armload of books and magazines (one was a Life magazine telling pilot John Glenn’s story becoming the first to fly supersonic from New York to California. The owner had serviced Glenn’s plane with his legs visible in one of the photos). My contribution was flight-plans for both of Glenn’s missions. My Friendship 7 flight plan is the only copy I have ever seen. And since it was a single pilot means that Glenn’s signature made it “crew complete.” So, even though we couldn’t get photos with greatness, we got photos with the Grandson of Greatness.

Godspeed John Glenn. And I am sure wherever you are “the view is tremendous.”

 


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Yet more weird crap in Mike’s place http://distantsuns.com/yet-weird-crap-mikes-place/ http://distantsuns.com/yet-weird-crap-mikes-place/#comments Mon, 05 Sep 2016 01:18:16 +0000 http://distantsuns.com/?p=2992 Back before Apollo 15 I met someone who had a friend at the space center in Houston. I wrote him, Ron was his name, and asked for various odds and ends regarding Apollo. What I would get in the mail would lead to a lifetime of collecting, and sacrifice of anything that appeared to be […]

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Back before Apollo 15 I met someone who had a friend at the space center in Houston. I wrote him, Ron was his name, and asked for various odds and ends regarding Apollo. What I would get in the mail would lead to a lifetime of collecting, and sacrifice of anything that appeared to be the quaint notion of “savings.”

Apollo 15’s “flight plan”

Ron had sent me a copy of Apollo 15’s “flight plan” and a copy of the Apollo Operations Handbook. I had seen an Apollo flight plan before, and that was in a touring exhibition of the Apollo 11 command module that went to the capitals of all 50 states. We had waited for over four hours in the line in Sacramento, California and were rewarded by seeing the very first moon rocks on public display, miscellaneous artifacts and the Columbia spacecraft that took the crew of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon and back. It was the miscellaneous artifacts that contained the Apollo 11 flight-plan (owned by Buzz Aldrin and sold one page at a time, typically for $30k per page. Yup. $30,000 smackeroos from a manual over 100 pages in length).

When Ron sent me the Apollo 15 document I was nearly in an orbit of my own, having received it ahead of the mission. I would continue getting such documents up through the last mission before the shuttle. The flight plan would accompany me wherever I went in school and elsewhere, and would lead to a lifelong collecting habit, particularly mission documentation. Why documentation? Because it was printed material, and as such hundreds or thousands of copies of a particular title would be printed, making it relatively easy to acquire a specific “tool” used on a manned mission. And a tool that the crew would have with them, not to mention ground controllers, training personal, reporters and one school kid.

When the space auctions started a lot of the astronauts and NASA employees during the Apollo-era saw an outlet for the souvenirs they kept in boxes in their collective garages for years. So here is a sampling of my collection starting with Mercury materials, followed by Gemini, Apollo and beyond.

I love the nitty-gritty items like the operations manuals for the various spacecraft. Below is the Flight Operations Manual for John Glenn’s spacecraft, Friendship 7. That’s it. On the right are two of the four main volumes of the “Apollo Operations Handbook.” These contain the Command Module and Lunar Module systems handbooks. Volumes II of each is procedures, such as taking star sightings, or handling various emergency situations. (By contrast, the Shuttle Flight Operations Manual fills up two of the standard “Banker’s” boxes).

The relatively simple Mercury spacecraft needed one tiny manual, whereas the Apollo manuals total over 1500 pages.

9F3F237D-AD64-450D-AEE5-F73C385CFA8D

“Capsule 13” identifies this as FOM for John Glenn’s spacecraft.

MA-6 Console

The main console diagram of Friendship 7.

The MR-1 mission was an unmanned precursor to Al Shepard’s mission, “MR-3,” Mercury-Redstone 3, otherwise known as Freedom 7. It was one of MR-1 Master Operations Schedulethe more embarrassing missions at the time. It was to be the first test of a Mercury spacecraft in space, which would follow a 15 minute long sub-orbital flight similar to what Shepard would fly months later. However its altitude was a little on the short side, peaking at just about 4 inches. The engine shutdown, the rocket settled back on the launch pad, and thinking the rocket’s job was done the red launch escape system on top of the capsule ignited and flew away leaving the Mercury behind. This was followed by parachutes popping out, causing concern that a strong wind might tug the fully fueled rocket over. Called the “popped cork” episode, the launch vehicle would not be used again, but the Mercury would fly on the MR-1A flight, eventually ending up at NASA’s Ames Research Center’s visitor’s center.

MR-1 Master Operations Schedule

The MR-1 launch page. Notice it even has a script for various announcements that needed to be made.

The variance in print quality can be seen in the launch day countdown manual for Glenn’s flight, Friendship 7, looking not unlike the cheaply mimeographed copies of tests or papers from grade schools in the 50s and 60s.  Note the signature at the bottom is that of Eugene Kranz, the “failure is not an option!” guy from Apollo 13 (words he never said, but wished he had).

4310D488-A5A9-4601-B9BE-7AAEFFA8CB40

520B4763-3B13-4F72-920D-B19260259C52

Liftoff page from the Friendship 7 launch day manual. CapCom means “capsule communicator.”

I have managed to collect a couple of the Mercury Flight plan for Friendship 7.flight plans. The flight-ready form of the manuals was considerably different, resembling a scroll, which the astronaut would have attached to a special reader. Glenn’s flown flight plan was recently sold for about $80k including commission (a pretty good deal), and the one for the final Mercury mission flown by Gordon Cooper went for about the same last year. The Friendship 7 copy I have was the only one I’ve ever seen. I managed to get Sen. Glenn’s signature at a fund raising event for one of this son’s charities, held locally. While I couldn’t get it in person as Glenn went to a private reception after his talk, Glenn’s grandson was able to get it for me. One of the nice thing about the Mercury documents is that it only takes a single signature will make it “crew complete.” Something a lot more difficult in the Shuttle era when the crews numbered up to 7.

One of Glenn’s many tests of his attitude control systems.

The owner of the flight plan and the MR-1 manual was HH “Luge” Luetjen, test conductor of the Mercury missions, Chief Engineer for the Gemini program and Launch Director for Apollo.

By the time of Cooper’s flight in 1963, things were dressed up just a little in the mission documentation. The original owner of the manual was Guenter Wendt, former flight engineer for the Luftwaffe. Despite his German background he was not one of the original V2 team that came with Von Braun. Wendt was called “Furher” of the launch pad as he was the pad chief and head of the “close-out crew.” An running gag between him and the astronauts was the line quoted in a bad German accent “I vunder vhere Guenter vent?” In fact, you can see Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell, shaking hands with Wendt and using that line right before the hatch is sealed in the movie Apollo 13. I have several of his manuals.

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Notice the references to the TV camera? Few knew that the first use of a TV camera in a US spacecraft was in Mercury. It never apparently worked that well and would never be used again until the first manned Apollo mission in 1968. Unfortunately any recordings of that signal have been lost save for a few seconds in NASA’s mission documentary and maybe in archived network news footage of the day.

 

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The liftoff portion of Cooper’s flight, showing a TV pass starting a mere 15 minutes after launch.

A lot of documentation I would love to have from Mercury include training and simulation manuals, more spacecraft construction and test material and of course, a flown flight plan. Chances are the latter is out. But I do have one from Gemini.

 


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If you want an Apollo Command Module, just build one… http://distantsuns.com/want-apollo-command-module-just-build-one/ http://distantsuns.com/want-apollo-command-module-just-build-one/#comments Sat, 07 May 2016 22:08:44 +0000 http://distantsuns.com/?p=2953 Like many of space-nerds in training who grew up in the 60’s, we longed to have our own Apollo spacecraft or Apollo Command Module. Few get a chance to actually realize that. I started working on my own, around 1969, starting on the panels. Made out of cardboard with red felt-tip lettering for the controls, […]

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Like many of space-nerds in training who grew up in the 60’s, we longed to have our own Apollo spacecraft or Apollo Command Module. Few get a chance to actually realize that. I started working on my own, around 1969, starting on the panels. Made out of cardboard with red felt-tip lettering for the controls, surplus toggle-switches (5/$1) and “real” buttons that I could press, I stopped after a single panel when I couldn’t figure out how to do a “real” FDAI (the artificial horizon globe) or computer displays. However, Luigi Pizzimenti went ahead and did just that for an aviation museum just out of Milan, Italy.

My cardboard panel, circa-1969, next to a real one.

My cardboard panel, circa-1969, next to a real one.

Luigi is the curator of the lovely Volandia aviation museum, and for the 40th anniversary of Apollo 16 in 2012, he and twenty other volunteers (he worked for free himself) spent a year building a replica of the Apollo 16 command module, Casper.

My panel is on the left. Notice the high-quality red-felt pen lettering.

The project was sponsored in part by The Astronomical Observatory Foundation of Tradate, which operates a publicly accessible observatory in Tradate, part of the Lombardi region in Northern Italy. The main instrument is a 25” fork mounted Newtonian, but they have numerous others for various scientific projects.

Made out of wood, metal, plastic and glass and even the model was unveiled in at a ceremony attended by Apollo 16 lunar module pilot, Charlie Duke.

Like the real spacecraft, the computer really works running an emulator of the Apollo Guidance Computer running on a custom system.  The caution and warning panels function, many of the switches work and it was built plenty sturdy so people can sit in it (but only for special occasions.) However, may of the internal displays are static due to the difficulty of fabricating them.

The heat-shield proved to be the most challenging part of the project.

 

The main structure is primarily made out of fir, while many of the smaller details are metal or Plexiglas. Unlike the real CM, the control panel is not backlit, with the actual decals printed overlays. Luigi’s volunteers came with expertise in metal and woodworking, computers and plastic fabrication. It was nice to see that not only did they get the inner details right, but detailed the outer hull as well.

Custom computer running real Apollo software.

The biggest challenge was getting the conical shape with the curved heat shield just right.

The FDAI, or “8-ball” is not functional, but the ball itself was made out of a plasitic globe with careful hand applied decals.

The final control panel.

The final main control panel.

No 3D printing technology was used, as it was still a little too premature when this project was started.

When one sees an Apollo spacecraft in person the usual thought was “3 guys spent HOW LONG? In that little thing?”

Thanks to Luigi and his volunteers, that line will be made in Italian, no doubt for many times.

Luigi with finished project.

Luigi with finished project.


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Freedom 7 + 55 years http://distantsuns.com/freedom-7/ http://distantsuns.com/freedom-7/#respond Fri, 06 May 2016 04:17:26 +0000 http://distantsuns.com/?p=2941 As I am writing this, it is the 55th anniversary of the launch of the Mercury Spacecraft, Freedom 7, our first manned spaceflight. It’s hard to underestimate how important it was to the national psyche after being upstaged by the Russians (RUSSIANS!) several times from first satellite, first spacecraft to the moon, first spacecraft to […]

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As I am writing this, it is the 55th anniversary of the launch of the Mercury Spacecraft, Freedom 7, our first manned spaceflight. It’s hard to underestimate how important it was to the national psyche after being upstaged by the Russians (RUSSIANS!) several times from first satellite, first spacecraft to the moon, first spacecraft to use solar-cells, first to photograph another body up close, and so on and so on. It was especially difficult, when the weight of their spacecraft was so much more than ours, it really spoke to the advanced state of their missile program. However, we soon learned that they needed the larger missiles however, as their electronics and metallurgy technologies along with many others, were so far behind us. (For example, the N1 moon rocket had 30% more thrust than our Saturn V, but it only could manage sending a two man crew to the moon, with a very crude open cockpit one-man lunar-lander).

Alan Shepard's First Grade Scrapbook

Alan Shepard’s First Grade Scrapbook

Astronaut Alan Shepard flew just a scant 3 weeks after the Soviet’s Yuri Gagarin in his one-orbit mission. Shepard complained that we (that is, “he”) could have beaten Gagarin if NASA hadn’t opted for a second unmanned Mercury test, after a somewhat shaky but otherwise successful, first test which flew Ham, the chimpanzee into space for a mere 16 minutes.

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The future first-American-in-Space learns to write his name.

After his mission, Shepard would have to be grounded due to vertigo caused by an inner-ear problem. He wasn’t quiet though, being the second in command of the astronaut office, second only to Deke Slayton, who was likewise grounded.

A couple of years ago I was at a banquet for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. I filled up about 3 tables worth of some of my collection, flown flight plans, hardware and so on, but the one item everyone wanted to photograph was Alan Shepard’s 1st grade scrapbook. One of my great prizes it is a collection of his drawings and assignments following his progress though the year. It even has EB1321B3-EB4E-4993-9354-7F627A6208E3what is likely one of his very first autographs, of the tens-of-thousands he no doubt would sign later on. Last year I met one of his daughters, Laura Churchly, and told her all about it. She hadn’t known it even existed, so was excited when I sent her scans of every page.

Interestingly enough, items such as this are overlooked at the various auction, in lieu of the “glamour” items such as flown lunar mission patches or hardware. But I find these little pieces of ephemera just as appealing. And incredibly charming.

Remember, even the greatest among us were still little kids at one time, making drawings that no doubt decorated many refrigerators.


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Ed Mitchell and Apollo 14 http://distantsuns.com/ed-mitchell-and-apollo-14/ http://distantsuns.com/ed-mitchell-and-apollo-14/#comments Mon, 14 Mar 2016 18:35:47 +0000 http://distantsuns.com/?p=2906 The passing of Apollo 14 astronaut, Ed Mitchell, recently marks in a way, “the beginning of the end” of the Apollo era. As I write the I am listening to the air-to-ground audio of their mission, that occurred 45 years ago in February, 1971. Mitchell’s colleagues, commander and first American in space, Alan B. Shepard, […]

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The passing of Apollo 14 astronaut, Ed Mitchell, recently marks in a way, “the beginning of the end” of the Apollo era. As I write the I am listening to the air-to-ground audio of their mission, that occurred 45 years ago in February, 1971. Mitchell’s colleagues, commander and first American in space, Alan B. Shepard, and command-module pilot, Stu Roosa both passed away some time ago, leaving Ed as the sole representative of the third landing on the moon. But now the Apollo 14 crew are the first to have completely die off. As the youngest moonwalker is currently 80, Charlie Duke, we’ll see many such passings over the next few years, and the “era of the great voyages of discovery” (starting with Columbus) will truly be behind us.

The Apollo 14 mission flew Apollo 13’s intended flight profile. Scientists felt so strongly about the Fra Mauro landing site chosen for 13, it deserved a second billion dollar landing attempt. However Apollo 14 was a very slightly odd mission from beginning to the end. First off, the crew was virtually all rookie crew. The total cumulative flight time among them was bound up in Shepard’s 15 minute long ride in Freedom 7. Due to an inner-ear problem giving him vertigo, Shepard was taken off of active flight status until someone invented a cure. He migrated over to become second in command of the astronaut office, under another grounded astronaut, Deke Slayton.

After Mercury, the two-man Gemini program came into being to pioneer various techniques that would be needed for Apollo. Furthermore, it served as a training platform for future commanders of the Apollo missions. Out of the 11 flights, 10 were commanded by Gemini veterans. One was not. Apollo 14.

AntaresEach prime crew had a “backup” crew, which would train for the same mission step up to the plate if the prime crew could not go. Up until Apollo 13, only a single backup crew was needed, that of Gemini 9, when the prime crew of Elliot See and Charlie Bassett where killed in a plane crash. In fact, every Gemini astronaut ended up on a prime Apollo crew, except Gordon Cooper.

The backup crews of each mission would rotate into prime crew three flights away. Apollo 10’s backup was comprised of Gordon Cooper, who flew the last Mercury flight and was the first person to go into orbit twice, Donn Eisele, from Apollo 7, and Stuart Roosa, with Roosa the only rookie. This means the Cooper crew would have been the prime for Apollo 13. There is a lot of speculation as to why Cooper never flew, but it comes down to two main lines of thought: There was no plan to have Cooper&Co. actually move to a prime spot, as all of the other experienced astronauts were already assigned to prime or backup crews, a couple of “bench warmers” were tossed in for Apollo 10, with no actual intent of the entire crew to continue post-mission. The reason being that apparently both Cooper and Eisele didn’t impress anyone with their work ethic or decision making ability, befitting an Apollo commander. As a result, Al Shepard took Cooper’s slot, and Ed Mitchell, Donn Eisele’s. Roosa remained on the crew.

In my collection, I have Cooper’s training Apollo jacket from Apollo 10, and recently acquired a two page hand-written note explaining why he would have been a far better choice than Shepard.

MitchellSideViewSo up to now I’ve been talking about this being the Apollo 13 crew. If you’ve paid attention to the movie Apollo 13, when Hank Lovell tells his wife he’s heading to the moon, he states that he’s traded flights with Shepard, as Al needed the extra time for additional training.

With that behind them, the Apollo 14 flight was perhaps the most troublesome mission to actually make a landing. As NASA wasn’t willing to have another failed flight in a row, there was a lot of extra back-room hand wringing throughout most of the mission and a lot of issues that might have been mission ending before ’13, were worked through or just accepted as the high-cost of doing business. Ultimately all worked out in the end with a lot of clever engineering hacks or just plain-ol-luck. And while none of the issues were life-threatening, NASA’s traditional caution had to be relaxed for this one.

After a successful launch on Jan. 31, 1971, 8 ½ months after ’13, the first and most major issue cropped up: The crew could not dock with the lunar module Antares. Shortly after heading to the moon, the Command and Service Module (CSM) moves away from the Saturn V’s 3rd stage, the S-IVB, turns around and docks with the LM. But with ’14 the little capture-latches failed to close and the CSM started to drift back from Antares. If no docking can take place, there is no way for the crew to move into the LM, short of a possible space-walk. For nearly 2 hours, Stu Roosa attempted and reattempted the docking, finally getting a latch when ramming the CM into the LM and holding the thrusters on for a full 14 seconds after contact. Finally the latches fired and a hard-dock as achieved. While all this was fine and good, mission planners were concerned that the LM might not be able to dock after return from the lunar surface. There were emergency transfer procedures already on the books if this was not possible, but as inspection of the latches didn’t reveal the cause, Apollo 14 was cleared to continue on a landing mission. In the end, it was thought that some debris may have interfered with the latch system and it was finally dislodged on the final attempt.

ShepardAndMETThe next issue was floating debris in the LM cabin. Both the LM and CM are tumbled after construction(must have been an interesting sight) to loosen any small bits of junk that shouldn’t be there, such as wires, solder blobs, washers and so on. A floating washer in Antares showed that the tumbling didn’t really work as well as it should have, possibly the cause of the docking issue as well. Extraneous debris like this when in the electronics can cause all sorts of havoc and so it is taken very seriously.

Perhaps the most serious problem after docking was also likewise due to debris trapped inside a switch. This caused a short letting the main guidance computer think that the abort switch had been thrown, when it had not. Had this happened during descent, the landing would have automatically aborted, sending a very surprised crew back up to lunar orbit. Not good. The fix had the crew actually reprogram a jump around the abort code, to ignore that switch. Ingenious.

During landing, the crucial landing radar took far longer to lock on then it should have. Mitchell could be heard saying “Com’on radar. Com’on”. Without a good radar, both the altitude and velocity would be unknown. It finally popped on just in time, and lead to a successful landing at the same spot Aquarius should have landed with Jim Lovell and Fred Haise the previous year.

Lesser problems included a crack in the glass on one of their displays (broken glass could be very serious in zero-G if any shards floated away, Apollo 15 had a similar problem), poor communications with Shepard when preparing for the first EVA, failure of a very large and special mapping camera onboard the CM, and tracking problems with the high-gain antenna.

Perhaps the most interesting “failure” was the fact that the moon-walkers had a hard time judging exactly where they during their second spacewalk. The main target was a 1000 foot in diameter “Cone Crater.” The crew was to pick up samples along the rim and roll various rocks down into the crater itself (a great gig for any guy, rolling boulders into a big hole). Shepard’s Recoverydream was to reach the crater and see what mysteries lay inside. Unfortunately the maps they were using didn’t show the hilly nature of the landing site, which made finding various landmarks nearly impossible. Even with an extension of the moon walk by a few minutes, the two men just couldn’t find Cone. How does one miss a 1000 foot hole? Actually , they did not. At their turn-around point, when Houston told them to abandon the hunt for Cone and come on back, the crater was just about 50 feet to the north. What may have looked like another of the many confusing small ridges in the region was actually Cone’s rim. They reached it but didn’t know it. Fortunately the rocks they collected around there did satisfy the objective so all was not lost.

The return flight was thankfully uneventful. Unfortunately the kinds of rocks that geologists had hope to find, did not show up in the sample containers, suggesting that Frau Mauro was not the best choice of a landing site. Also, a cassette of exposed film was inadvertently left behind.

Oh well.

Mitchell would become a fairly controversial character in his post-NASA days as a firm believer and promoter of metaphysics and UFOs, having actually conducted his own ESP experiments during the mission.

Kept next to my computer is a backpack strap worn by Ed Mitchell on both of his EVAs. While Apollo 14 was not my favorite of the flights (Apollos 8 and 15 were), it’s the one I have the most connection to, and so was heartbroken to hear of Ed’s passing.

StrapWithEM

 

 

 

 

 


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