Category Archives: space

Outstanding Engineering in the development of the Apollo Program Lunar Lander

The Apollo program that lead to the landings on the moon was a stunning engineering and program management feat. It simply boggles the mind the complexity of the mission, and the countless details that went into the development of the hardware, the software* and techniques and procedures that lead to Neil Armstrong’s one small step for man.

In some ways, the most complicated piece of equipment on the entire Saturn V/Apollo stack was the Lunar Module, or LM. Designed and built by Grumman, it was America’s first true spacecraft, in that it would never fly through the atmosphere, instead only in space. Without the need for aerodynamics, it had a truly unusual appearance, sometimes leading it to be called “the bug” or “the spider.” It was a two stage rocket that had to be capable of autonomous navigation from lunar orbit to the surface. It also had to serve as a base camp for astronauts for up to 72 hours, and then it had to be capable of ascending from the moon’s surface to lunar orbit and again rendezvousing with the Command Service Module under its own navigation.  It had to have its own power supply, be able to operate both in a shirt sleeve environment for the crew as well as depressurized and open to the vacuum of the moon’s surface. It had not one, but two hatches, to allow both for docking with the CSM, and to allow the astronauts to explore the surface of the moon. It was also the largest manned spacecraft built at the time.

It was, incredibly, designed well before anyone knew if rendezvous in low earth orbit was technically feasible, let alone in lunar orbit.

  Grumman, in close cooperation with North American Aviation and NASA built this incredible craft. I’m sure you’ve all seen the movie Apollo 13 where the LM served as a lifeboat to return the crew safely to home, stressing the LM in ways it was never intended to be used. To say that the engineers of Grumman built an incredible ship is an understatement.  Some of the finest engineering talent in the world focused on getting the LM just right.

Incredibly, well into the development of the LM, with most of the configuration well established, and production ready to begin, no one ever gave serious consideration to how the astronauts were supposed to get down from the LM to the lunar surface, and back inside after hopping around the moon.

Lander no ladder

Yes. That’s an astronaut holding a knotted rope. No ladder. Grumman and NASA actually even looked at a complicated block and tackle system by which astronauts would hoist themselves down and up. It took a while before it occurred to anyone to simply fasten a ladder from which Neil and 11 others could make a great leap for mankind.

 

*During the development of Apollo, when the engineers spoke of software, they actually generally meant the flight rules, switchology, and cockpit procedures the astronauts would use on the hardware. Software was already coined as a term for computer code in other areas, but doesn’t appear to have been in vogue in the program office for computer programming.

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The Space Review: Big Black Bird

After five decades of secrecy, the details of the 1960s-era Manned Orbiting Laboratory MOL program are finally being revealed. MOL was started in late 1963 but did not get a formal approval from President Lyndon Johnson until 1965. Publicly, it was a two-person military space station program to conduct experiments to determine what military missions humans could accomplish in space.

via The Space Review: Big Black Bird.

Elements of the Manned Orbital Laboratory under construction in the 1960s. (credit: USAF)

My previous post about this laboratory here.

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As Patty Ann would have said…

One of my Facebook friends posted a link to this annoying Slate article (I know, redundant)
Old Boys’ Lab

It reads like it was written 30 years ago, except for the “microaggressions” crap. The big, bad men are keeping the poor, helpless girls out of the treehouse. Really? I have a hard time believing that the same economics professor who in 1986 told the class that 10% of coeds sleep with their professors and he wasn’t getting his share would get away with that on today’s overwrought, politically correct campuses.

Now, granted the author interviewed only 9 women about their experiences in the labs, and they talk about academia, not the real world. The cycle of NIH and NSF grant funding might indeed make a professor prefer hiring a man for a post-doc position because a woman in her late 20’s/early 30’s might take off during that year to have a baby. For the woman, if you have to dedicate a significant portion of your life tending to a demanding little tyrant, it might as well be your own flesh-and-blood and not some professor who sees you only as his slave labor. Personally, I think that fewer women are going for Ph.D’s and post-doc work because the jobs are out there for women in scientific fields, and not all require the extra degree.

In the government, much has changed in the last 50 years. A friend wrote a paper on the women engineers and scientists in the Saturn V days at Marshall Space Flight Center.

During the heyday of the Apollo program, there were 6,000 employees at MSFC, but only 22 were women in engineering or science, and I know at least seven of them. These were women with a great deal of persistence, who had successful careers despite roadblocks and lack of mentors. Margaret “Hap” Brennecke had to publish papers on aluminum alloys and welding using her initials, otherwise the papers were rejected. I know two of the women had to fight to keep their jobs after maternity leave. That’s a far cry from feeling oppressed because some lunkhead said your ponytail was “too flouncy for cancer research.” In 1997, a guy praised me for a project done well and added that he didn’t know a woman could do that good a job. He meant it as a compliment, and I took it as such.

We have had women astronauts, women center directors, and a woman deputy administrator. Gone are the days of being like the Brontë sisters and hiding your gender just to get published. You have the Family and Medical Leave Act to protect your job while you’re out on maternity leave. You not only have ladies’ rooms in the labs (they had to add a ladies’ room to the building I was assigned to in 1986), you have on-site daycare and lactation rooms. If someone’s trying to play slap-and-tickle, then either threaten him with a Lorena Bobbitt or report him, don’t just let it slide.

Above all, be competent. When people respect what you do, then chromosomes and plumbing don’t matter. As Patty Ann (God rest her soul) once told me, it’s time to put on your big girl panties and get the job done.

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Meeting the Challenge: The Hexagon KH-9 Reconnaissance Satellite

A component overview of the Hexagon System.

A component overview of the Hexagon System.

The CIA declassified portions of it’s KH-9 Hexagon imaging satellite in 2011. Hexagon was first deployed into space in 1971. Between 1977 and 1986 Hexagon performed 19 missions, imaging 877 million square miles of the Earth’s surface. The KH-9 was also the last and largest imaging satellite to return it’s photographic film to earth.

KH-9 being assembled by Lockheed.

KH-9 being assembled by Lockheed.

Hexagon was desgined to replace the Corona series imaging spacecraft:

The KH-9 was originally conceived in the early 1960s as a replacement for the Corona search satellites. The goal was to search large areas of the earth with a medium resolution camera. The KH-9 carried two main cameras, although a mapping camera was also carried on several missions. The photographic film from the cameras was sent to recoverable re-entry vehicles and returned to Earth, where the capsules were caught in mid-air by an aircraft. Four re-entry vehicles were carried on most missions, with a fifth added for missions that included a mapping camera.

Between September 1966 and July 1967, the contractors for the Hexagon subsystems were selected. LMSC was awarded the contract for the Satellite Basic Assembly (SBA), Perkin Elmer for the primary Sensor Subsystem (SS), McDonnell for the Reentry Vehicle (RV), RCA Astro-Electronics Division for the Film Take Up system, and Itek for the Stellar Index camera (SI). Integration and ground-testing of Satellite Vehicle 1 (SV-1) was completed in May 1971, and it was subsequently shipped to Vandenberg Air Force Base in a 70 ft container. Ultimately, four generations (“blocks”) of KH-9 Hexagon reconnaissance satellites were developed. KH9-7 (1207) was the first to fly a Block-II panoramic camera and SBA. Block-III (vehicles 13 to 18) included upgrades to electrical distribution and batteries. Two added tanks with ullage control for the Orbit Adjust System (OAS) and new thrusters for the Reaction Control System (RCS) served to increase KH-9’s operational lifetime. In addition the nitrogen supply for the film transport system and the camera vessel was increased. Block-IV was equipped with an extended command system using plated wire memory.[9] In the mid 1970s, over 1000 people in the Danbury, Connecticut area worked on the secret project.[10]

A reentry vehicle from the first Hexagon satellite sank to 16,000 feet below the Pacific Ocean after its parachute failed. The USS Trieste II (DSV-1) retrieved its payload in April 1972 after a lengthy search but the film disintegrated due to the nine months underwater, leaving no usable photographs.[11]

Over the duration of the program the lifetime of the individual satellites increased steadily. The final KH-9 operated for up to 275 days. Different versions of the satellite varied in mass; most weighed 11,400 kg or 13,300 kg.

I suggest going through the Hexagon Wikipedia page as is there are some very interesting photos of the different components of the spacecraft.

41LE8n6pclL._SY300_

In 2013, Phil Pressel wrote the definitive guide to Hexagon called: Meeting the Challenge: The Hexagon Reconnaissance Satellite. From the Amazon book description;

Meeting the Challenge: The Hexagon Reconnaissance Satellite is the recently declassified story of the design, development, production, and operation of the Hexagon KH-9 reconnaissance satellite. It provided invaluable photographic intelligence to the United States government, and it stands as one of the most complicated systems ever put into space. In 1965 CIA Director John McCone issued the call for a satellite with unparalleled technical requirements that could visually map most of the landmass of the earth, photograph selected areas of interest, and return the resulting film safely to Earth. Developed by the Perkin-Elmer Corporation and operated between 1971 and 1986 Hexagon was the last film-based orbiting photo-reconnaissance satellite. This engineering marvel features the following achievements: the world’s largest spherical thermal vacuum chamber used to test the system; the development and use of new and sophisticated electronics, such as LED’s and brushless motors; the ability to precisely control the synchronization of film traveling at up to 200 inches per second at the focal plane, on a rotating camera, mounted in a moving vehicle and focused on a moving earth; sixty miles of film used on each mission; and, stereo photography of the entire surface of the earth. When film captured by the satellite was sent back to earth it launched in a film-return capsule which was snagged by an aircraft as it parachuted downward upon reentering the earth’s atmosphere. In 1972 a film bucket containing sensitive images sank to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, resulting in a daring rescue three miles underwater by the U.S. Navy’s submergence vehicle Trieste II. Featuring both technical details and historical anecdotes, former Perkin-Elmer engineer Phil Pressel has written the definitive account of this important chapter in U.S. intelligence and aerospace history.

Seems like an interesting book and as such Mr. Pressel has done quite a few media interviews. I recently watched this one from the International Spy Museum in Washington DC:

As Mr. Pressel mentioned in the interview, you can view the KH-9 Hexagon at the National Museum of the USAF. I do recall seeing it there but being rather time limited I didn’t quite have an appreciation for exactly what I was looking at. I look at the satellite with a guide and to our amusement we noticed a piece of plywood acting as a bracing member on the airframe (granted the KH-9 there is a “mockup” used to troubleshoot problems the real satellites may be having in space).

The KH-9 Hexagon as display in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the USAF.

The KH-9 Hexagon as display in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the USAF.

 

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Decontaminating Space Station

For several years, I’ve been involving in keeping the outside of the International Space Station clean, so that the solar arrays and radiators work properly. Molecular contamination from materials that outgas can accumulate on those surfaces then darken when hit with UV radiation.

But now…

iss038e044829_crop

This new addition to the Microgravity Science Glovebox, shown here with astronaut Rick Mastracchio, required a change in thinking, because here, UV is a good thing.

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/decontamination.html

The decontamination system was designed with crew members’ safety in mind by using high-power, ultraviolet, light-emitting diodes (UV LEDs) to sanitize surfaces inside the MSG. This cleaning process takes only a matter of minutes before and after the crew conducts the experiments.

Great team of people to work with, and I’m happy to see this fly.

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NASA spinoff

About 15 years ago, NASA announced the patent of VISAR, or Video Image Stabilization and Registration, which was developed at the Marshall Space Flight Center. I know Dr. David Hathaway and Paul Meyer were working on the technology at least a couple of years before they were able to patent it. From the factsheet:

Because VISAR stabilizes horizontal and vertical camera motion, corrects for camera rotation and zoom, smoothes jagged edges of pictorials and reduces fluctuating spots, or “snow,” it produces clearer images of shaky, jittery or moving objects. Individual frames in video clips can also be added together to bring out details not otherwise visible in dark, underexposed footage…

Military users in the U.S. and its allies can use VISAR for security, to stabilize video feed from aircraft, for target identification and confirmation, weapons deployment, and in sophisticated surveillance systems in the intelligence field. With features such as enhancement, image tracking, and the ability to accept sonar data, VISAR can greatly enhance the use of satellite or aerial video, damage assessment, surveillance and reconnaissance, training, and mission debriefing.

Now that stabilization technology has been added to a smart spoon called Liftware. (Warning: the video autoplays)

spoonTechv3

I don’t know how much this costs, but for those with hand tremors, Parkinson’s, neuropathy, and undergoing some types of chemo, this might be the ticket to more independence, less self-consciousness, and just the pleasure of a normal meal. Way to go, Lift Labs, for developing this and to the Indiegogo donors that got the project off the ground.

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The Space-X Falcon 9 Revolution

So, last Friday, Space-X managed, after technical and weather delays, to send their Dragon cargo capsule up to the International Space Station. That’s great, but that’s not the story worth telling.

What is worth talking about is what happened to the first stage of the Falcon 9 booster rocket.

We’ve all seen film of the various stages of rockets separating and falling back to earth. And with Friday’s launch of Falcon 9, that’s just what happened. But for the first time, rather than just falling back to earth, the first stage booster executed a controlled descent to a controlled landing in the sea.

Spaceflight is hideously expensive, roughly $10,000 per pound to Low Earth Orbit.  And a large part of that is because the rockets that boost payloads into orbit are expended. Every rocket motor is an incredibly precise, extremely complicated engineering marvel. And yet, they’ve traditionally been used once, and thrown away.

Probably something like 90% of the fuel and thrust of a rocket sending a payload to orbit is spent sending the fuel and rocket up, not the payload itself. As any airline pilot can tell you, it takes fuel to haul fuel. That’s why most rockets are multistage. After burning the first stage, it’s just dead weight, and no sense hauling it any further. A lighter second stage with a smaller motor can take over.

But it is those very same first stage engines that are most expensive.

So Space-X looked at ways to recover those very expensive engines. And decided the best way to save them was to have the first stage make a controlled descent to the earth, eventually with the rocket landing on deployed landing legs.  If that seems pretty incredible to you, well, you’re not alone. When I first heard of the plan, I was skeptical. It’s a difficult flight to control, and the extra weight of fuel needed imposes its own penalty.

But then, unlike my co-author Roamy, I’m not a rocket scientist.

Space-X first decided to see if they could actually control a rocket in low altitude and have it successfully land on its own feet, as it were. To do so, they built a low altitude rocket resembling the Falcon 9 first stage and called it the Grasshopper.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZDkItO-0a4&feature=youtu.be

Pretty nifty.

As for controlling the first stage after an actual launch, I forgot they would be letting the atmosphere do a lot of the work.  When a rocket first takes off, it’s at its greatest weight, and in the thickest air, and so has the least acceleration. As the weight of fuel burns off, and the air resistance diminishes at altitude, and yet the thrust generated remains the same, the acceleration increases, reaching its maximum at burnout, or “staging” if you will.

So now our first stage, at something like 50 miles altitude, effectively the edge of space, is flying separate from the second stage and the payload. Rather than just tumbling down, it can use only one of its 9 motors to begin a controlled deceleration. And as it encounters ever thickening atmosphere, its speed will decrease at an ever increasing rate. The rocket itself is pretty light. A vast percentage of its takeoff weight is its fuel (and oxidizer, of course). With most of it gone, it takes less thrust (and consequently, even less fuel) to decelerate.

Friday’s launch was a test primarily of the ability of Falcon 9 to handle the high altitude part of a reusable booster, that is, the part from Mach 10 down to low airspeeds. And it was intended to drop the booster in the ocean. If things had gone wrong, slamming a rocket into the roof of granny’s house would be bad. Because it landed in a salt water environment, rebuilding the liquid fuel motors would be quite difficult. In the future Space-X hopes to land first stages on dry land. If they can successfully do so (and it is really starting to look like they can) and they can quickly refurbish the booster for a second flight, they may cut costs of launch, in terms of pounds to LEO in half. That would the most significant decrease in launch costs in the history of spaceflight.

And that’s why I call this the Falcon revolution.

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Rover Challenge (You can still call it Moonbuggy Race if you want)

What used to be the Great Moonbuggy Race is now the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge. It’s still two days of high school and college teams racing across an obstacle course, and more than 80 teams of students from around the world are here to take part. Watch the action on UStream or NASA TV. Coverage begins at 8:15AM Eastern time/7:15AM Central time.
moonbuggy
Is it still “catching air” if you’re supposed to be on the Moon?

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Book review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

hadfield book
This is one of those books that ordinarily I would ask Mr. RFH for and wait patiently until my birthday or Christmas rolled around. However, two things happened – first, the NASA shop advertised that they were ordering autographed copies, and second, I kept seeing mentions of this book on Facebook and Twitter until I didn’t feel like being patient any more. Besides, I apparently like writing about Chris Hadfield.

“An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything” is well-worth the read. There’s a lot of inside-NASA bits that even I didn’t know, mainly because I deal with the outer shell of the spacecraft, not the humans living inside. Hadfield writes very well about the wonder of space, everything between the seriousness of something always trying to kill you and the humor in being able to pee upside down. You have to be impressed with a 9-year-old kid who decides he wants to be an astronaut 15 years before there were *any* Canadian astronauts and not only maps out how to get there but enjoys the journey along the way. I think that’s the part that impressed me the most, that Hadfield has accomplished so much, yet he isn’t sitting on his duff, saying “Now what?” There’s always something over the horizon to go see.

I knew the difference between Shuttle flights and ISS expeditions, in that the Shuttle flight is only two weeks, so it’s full-force, all-out effort sprinting, while a six-month expedition is a marathon, and you have to pace yourself or you’ll never make it. What I didn’t think about was how you can get past a personality difference if you only have to live with that person for a short time versus really needing a laidback, easygoing personality for a long time in space. I’m still trying to figure out who was the astronaut with the extremely abrasive personality, who felt in order to promote himself, he had to put down everyone around him. Hadfield ponders about what kind of impression he’s left behind. He also wrote about specialists on the Shuttle versus the breadth of knowledge and experience needed for ISS, everything from piloting the Soyuz to spacewalking to tending numerous experiments to repairing the toilet. I like the part about the satisfaction of a job well-done, even if you are the only one who knows. Also, “be a zero” (you’ll have to read the book to understand.)

If you do decide to get this book, please do XBrad a favor and use his Amazon link up there for buying it. Thank you.

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Roamy’s rant

Somewhere there was a pot of money set aside to promote “Collaborative Earth System Science Research” between NASA/Goddard and University of Maryland – College Park. Okay, no big deal, you could argue it’s in NASA’s charter to promote science education, and funding various studies at nearby universities is not uncommon. I’ve collaborated with at least eight universities and helped with at least one Ph.D. and two master’s degrees. (Which is pretty funny considering I just have a lowly bachelor’s.) This one was a little incestuous in that the professor they were steering money to was a former Goddard employee.

The fecal matter hitting the fan happened when a doomsayer who blogs at The Guardian picked up a paper that used the Human And Nature DYnamical (HANDY) climate model to predict the end of civilization. Yay.

Keith Kloor at Discover has a magnificent two-part takedown of both the blog entry and the paper. He talked to Joseph Tainter, a professor of anthropology at Utah State University, who seems annoyed that they repeatedly cite his work without understanding it. Best quote:

The paper has many flaws. The first is that “collapse” is not defined, and the examples given conflate different processes and outcomes. Thus the authors are not even clear what topic they are addressing.

Collapses have occurred among both hierarchical and non-hierarchical societies, and the authors even discuss the latter (although without understanding the implications for their thesis). Thus, although the authors purport to offer a universal model of collapse (involving elite consumption), their own discussion undercuts that argument.

Contrary to the authors’ unsubstantiated assertion, there is no evidence that elite consumption caused ancient societies to collapse. The authors simply have no empirical basis for this assumption, and that point alone undercuts most of the paper. (emphasis by Kloor)

In my view, this is right up there with all the global warming b.s. that Goddard folks are peddling in order to make $$$ on the speakers’ circuit. However, the fallout from this was a little different. Working for NASA, I should be used to the black eyes. From the engineering failures of Challenger and Columbia to the fiascos of Muslim outreach and “we’re not going lead a human lunar mission”, I really should be able to roll with the punches. This is GSA, not NASA.
gsa hot tub
But because I am a public servant, I get lumped in with them anyway.
I get up in the morning and go to work. I’m not this guy.

But I’m still seen as the same level of moocher, another pig sucking on the government teat. That really pisses me off, mainly because there *are* people I know that are taking up space and oxygen that are just about as useful as Surfer Dude, and I can’t do anything about that. All I can do is do my job well and help research like this (one example of many) happen:

We are flying 100 proteins to the space station on SpaceX-3, currently scheduled for March (ed note: April) 2014. Twenty-two of these are membrane proteins, 12 are protein complexes, and the rest are aqueous proteins important for the biology we will learn from their structures. The associated disease was the last thing we considered, as we were looking at the bigger picture of the biology. That being said, for the upcoming proteins flying you can almost name a disease: cystic fibrosis, diabetes; several types of cancer, including colon and prostate; many antibacterial proteins; antifungals; etc.

NASA needs to stick with aeronautics and space, just like it says in their name, and leave the doomsaying to those who don’t look up.

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IPCC Warns on Global Warming, after the Coldest Winter in US in a Century

Burlington-81-20-07694-453x300

Well, we have reached the last day of March in 2014.  Just in time for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to send out another alarmist shill about Global Warming/Climate Change.   Anthropogenic Climate Change, to be exact.  Requiring “action”.   Which is a code-word for “money”.    Otherwise, disaster, death, murder, rape, starvation is sure to ensue.  You get the idea.  Seems like we have heard it all before, dunnit?

Of course, Socialist-Communist American President Barack Obama is solidly behind such “action”.  Especially since that action has the desirable side-effect of destroying our capitalist economy and providing further excuse for even more crushing environmental regulation, exponentially expanding the statist command economy he desires so much.   Vice President Biden, he of the “perfect skin”, is in full agreement.  Which means, it seems, that the inside of his head is not quite as well-kept as the outside.

1990_ipcc_graph

We are to believe, of course, that the natural cycle of changes in the Earth’s climate which we have proof occurred hundreds of millions of years before man came to be, is now entirely our fault.  And that the massive and growing number of skeptics in the scientific community remain “just a few deniers”.

Let’s give some local flavor to the debate.   Where I live, March 2014 has had a mean temperature nearly NINE DEGREES below normal.  That is an astounding figure.  In March of 2012, when we had temperatures in the 70s for several days and the global warming alarmists were in full frenzy, the mean temperature was just 7.2 degrees ABOVE normal.   Despite their prognostications of certain doom, March of 2014 is actually significantly colder than March of 2012 was warm.   Such is also not in isolation.  The previous 12 months have been a full 2.0 degrees below their average since 2006.   Talk about “hockey stick” graphs.

Nationally, the US just experienced the coldest six months in more than 100 years.  Since the winter of 1911-12.  If that is true in the US, it is very likely true in Canada and Mexico.  For the last six months, at least one quarter of the globe has been significantly colder than the norm.   Climate scientists have already been caught red-handed manipulating data sets to produce “global warming” outcomes.  As have US agencies.   These aren’t mistakes.  Not errors in calculation.  They are LIES.

Our President, not surprisingly, is using those lies to perpetuate HIS agenda, and the agendas of his political and financial supporters.   For people like Barack Obama, the truth is something to be avoided at all costs.   That should surprise nobody.  After Benghazi, Obamacare, the IRS scandal, Fast and Furious, “red lines”, etc., he can be called an inveterate liar.

And it shouldn’t surprise us that Obama embraces the Global Warming anti-capitalists.  It isn’t like he doesn’t have a history of hanging out with Weathermen.

*******************************

It would seem that the “just a few deniers” have a few things to say.    It makes a good read.

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“Just a flesh wound” – Miles O’Brien | Journalist

I wish I had a better story to tell you about why I am typing this with one hand (and some help from Dragon Dictate).

A shark attack would be interesting. An assassination attempt would be intriguing. Skydiving mishaps always make for good copy. An out-of-control quad copter that turns on its master would be entertaining (and would come complete with a grim, potentially viral, video).

No, the reason I am now one-handed is a little more prosaic than those scenarios.

via Miles O'Brien | Journalist.

You remember Miles O’Brien from the days when CNN was a respected news source. He still covers the space beat through PBS, Spaceflightnow, Discovery Science, and other outlets.

I know we’re praying and sending good thoughts for XBrad’s family, but if you could spare one for Miles, I know he’d appreciate it during this challenging time.

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Where are they now?

Nice wrapup of where some of our spacecraft are, along with Chinese and European Space Agency missions.

WhereAreTheyNow_1200pixels

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Snow in Alabama

Y’all can laugh at us, but we’re just not prepared for snow and ice. When it snows in the South, you might as well hunker down, watch an old movie, and make some soup while you’re waiting for it to melt. Still, it’s pretty. This was Tuesday.
IMG 004 crop
It melted, then we got a fresh coat last night.
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Saw this one on Twitter.
snow rocket
And if my friend Bill is reading this, you and your lovely wife are very thoughtful and had excellent timing in giving us the balaclavas! Thanks!

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Harden my heart?

There was the Space Shuttle, and it flew, and it was beautiful. But on a cold January day in 1986, it fell from the sky and killed seven astronauts. We got it flying again, but then we started looking at heavy-lift unmanned launch vehicles.

First there was Shuttle-C, C for cargo. Same boosters and engines as the Shuttle, but with an expendable module. There was even talk of recycling the External Tanks into Space Station parts. It seemed doable, and we wanted to make it work. But we saved weight with the aluminum-lithium External Tank to launch more cargo on the regular Shuttle, and Shuttle-C was cancelled.

nw.shuttle.c

Then there was Advanced Launch System, or ALS. We heard a lot about it, but it never seemed to get far off the drawing board. It was cancelled. We sighed and moved on to the National Launch System. This was going to have a simpler version of the Space Shuttle Main Engine, which actually did lead to the Rocketdyne RS-68 engine. We struggled and argued with one particular manager who was perfectly fine with the status quo despite a glaring problem with weight and balance – we’d just solve that “later”. Later never came. We changed Presidents and then administrators, and NLS soon followed ALS into File #13.

Then there was the Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle. Over budget and nowhere near off the drawing board, cancelled. The Magnum Launch System. I don’t think it got out of the Advanced Concepts office before it, too, was canned.

Then there was Single Stage to Orbit, or X-33. The neat-o keen composite tank blew up during testing, and that was that.

Ares. I never had a warm fuzzy feeling about Ares. Why would I? Look at the wreckage of blown budgets, drawings that never made it to the machine shop, study after bleepin’ study through the years. But we put our heads down and tried to color inside the lines and do our parts, and we hoped that it would all work out. I think that was what concerned me the most – the managers had many a glib speech (loved the one by the manager who then retired two weeks later), but we never really saw it coming together.

And now SLS. Derided as the Senator Launch System for the politicians who keep it funded.

But then I see this.

01092014-150_1

That’s the adapter that will go between the Orion capsule and a Delta IV rocket, having just finished structural load testing.

I want to believe it will fly, and there will be more to follow. On the negative side, I see budget battles and n00b engineers and moving launch dates. On the positive side, I touched flight hardware. I did a science on this. We need a replacement for the Shuttle so we can have heavy lift capability and stop hitching rides with the Russians. (Oh, and didn’t all those stories about the Sochi Olympics make you feel good about sending our astronauts over there.)

I want to believe. I really do.

Dammit, don’t break my heart again.

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NASA argues with itself

Press release today from Goddard Institute for Space Studies says:

The temperature analysis produced at GISS is compiled from weather data from more than 1,000 meteorological stations around the world, satellite observations of sea-surface temperature, and Antarctic research station measurements, taking into account station history and urban heat island effects. Software is used to calculate the difference between surface temperature in a given month and the average temperature for the same place from 1951 to 1980. This three-decade period functions as a baseline for the analysis. It has been 38 years since the recording of a year of cooler than average temperatures.

(emphasis mine)

He’s not mentioned in the press release, but GISS is the home of Dr. James Hansen, the guy who earned a quarter of a million bucks or more in just one year for speaking about “climate change”.

Here’s the GISS temperature anomaly chart for 2013.
2013 anomaly

Wow, lots of red, very little blue. Hmmm. My opinion is that GISS distorts and uses fudge factors to keep the alarm going, even as everything in DC gets shut down for snow. Now here is some data I can believe in:
2013_LT_map

Well, that looks a little different, doesn’t it? If you go to Dr. Spencer’s website, he has actual numbers. I bet you could file FOIA requests on GISS for a year and never get the raw data, much less what their “software” is doing to it. Dr. Spencer also says things like:

What is astounding from a science perspective is that [Science Czar John] Holdren blamed warming on waste heat, the result of humans and their energy use, rather than a slowly increasing greenhouse effect… Assuming today’s global energy use is about 150 petawatthours per year, and dividing that by the number of hours in a year and the surface area of the Earth, this yields an average energy flux of 0.03 Watt per sq. meter. This is about 100 times smaller than the estimated heating from increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It is almost 10,000 times smaller than the rate of solar energy input into the Earth.

(Spencer also says things like, “You have to laugh at least once a day. Because a day without sunshine is like…night.” Gotta love a scientist with a sense of humor.)

Going back to the first article, GISS says that 2013 was the hottest year on record for Australia. Joanne Nova looks at the discreptancy between what the ground stations and the satellites say. That group of researchers looked at the weather station data and tried to come up with the same answer as the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM). The only way they could do it was to use the hottest 339 weather stations in Australia and ignore the other 382.

For most Australians on Jan 7th the heatwave averaged somewhere around 35C, not 40.3C.
To have any legitimacy with a new record, the BOM needs to publish its methods that explain how temperatures can be calculated every day over a hundred years from weather stations that in many cases didn’t exist. How else would we know it was a reasonable effort? We all know that tweaked black-box statistics could be used to achieve meaningless records that drive news headlines. Of course, the BOM wouldn’t stoop that low, would they?

(emphasis in original)

I wouldn’t hold my breath for that.

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Starting Fire With Water – NASA Science

When firefighters want to extinguish a blaze, they often douse it with water. Astronauts on board the ISS, however, are experimenting with a form of water that does the opposite. Instead of stopping fire, this water helps start it.

“We call it ‘supercritical water,” says Mike Hicks of the Glenn Research Center in Ohio. “And it has some interesting properties.”

Water becomes supercritical when it compressed to a pressure of 217 atmospheres and heated above 373 degrees C. Above that so-called critical point, ordinary H2O transforms into something that is neither solid, liquid, nor gas. It’s more of a “liquid-like gas.”

“When supercritical water is mixed with organic material, a chemical reaction takes place—oxidation.” Says Hicks. “It’s a form of burning without flames.”

via Starting Fire With Water – NASA Science.

Mind. Blown.

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ISS mission extended

I tend to ignore emails from way-upper management. Most deal with personnel changes that don’t affect me or are some meaningless policy statement. This one from late yesterday, however, from Charlie Bolden made my day.

Today, Dr. John P. Holdren and I are announcing that the Obama Administration has approved an extension of the International Space Station until at least 2024. The Station has been a vital part of our mission during its 15 years in orbit, helping us learn to live and work in space and make science, medical and technology breakthroughs to improve life on Earth. It is essential to achieving the goals of sending humans to deep space destinations such as an asteroid and Mars, developing and establishing a robust U.S. cargo and crew transportation capability to low Earth orbit, and returning benefits to humanity through research and technology development.

When the Clinton administration saved Space Station Freedom by turning it into an international space station, I feared that one day we would turn over the keys to the Russians and abandon it. That hopefully has been put off by another ten years. This also means a good bit of job security for me as one of my major tasks is supporting ISS life extension.

This was then followed by the great news of a successful Antares launch this morning, carrying a Cygnus resupply ship with 2,780 lbs. of cargo to the ISS. You might recall Antares had its first launch in April of last year, with a demonstration mission to ISS in September that carried only 1,500 lbs of cargo. Cygnus Orb-1 should dock with ISS on Sunday.

Pic and launch video for your enjoyment.
antares_cygnus_orb-1_launch

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A bit more on Swamp Heathen 1

If you don’t mind indulging me.  His daughters had printed out my post and displayed it at the funeral service.  Also on display was this shadowbox Don had put together years ago (as well as one with his NASA pins for various missions).

1227131808a

I had not recognized the award between Don’s Silver Star and Bronze Star. When I told XBrad it looked like a Legion of Merit, he said that was usually for generals and colonels as a farewell gesture, that it was unusual for an enlisted man to get one. See for yourself, and believe me, no Stolen Valor here. The part I messed up was thinking he was E-8 and not E-7, and that was entirely my presumption that anyone who made sergeant at 19 would have been promoted more than twice in 18 years.

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RIP, Swamp Heathen 1

There are so many stories from the last 23 years that I hardly know where to begin. Don joined the Army when he was 17. He lost a brother in Vietnam and ended up serving two tours there himself. He was in Signal Corps, Airborne, Special Forces, recruiting, and Hawk missile maintenance. He earned two Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, and turned down a third Purple Heart because that would have sent him home. (Yes, he despised John Kerry.) He was a Master Parachute Rigger, was part of a jump demo team that went all over Europe (not the Golden Knights), and made a special parachute system for a Kermit the Frog doll. After he retired from the Army, he worked for a couple of contractors before being hired by NASA. A co-worker didn’t think he should be drawing Army retirement while working for NASA, and Don let him know right quick that he could go down to the recruiting office and get in on the action, with the comment that even as an E-7, his family qualified for food stamps and reduced price school lunches.
Continue reading

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Also on sick call

XBradTC reader and my good friend Swamp Heathen #1 landed in the intensive care unit today with pneumonia and low blood pressure. Definitely not faking it to get out of PT. Your good thoughts and prayers would be much appreciated.

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Crushing cans

The Shell Buckling Knockdown Factor tests have been used to update the models and equations for designing structures and tanks, most of which had not been changed since the 1960’s. This is mainly being done for the Space Launch System, but it’s applicable to any new rocket. I wrote about the first test in 2011 here and here. Yesterday’s test article had a different pattern of stiffeners.

Video from last time. The sound of failing welds is pretty cool.

Yesterday, according to the test director on Facebook, “The test article made it to 127% of maximum load, we had predicted 115%. The buckling behavior was very similar to what was predicted and included progressive buckling of 4 of the eight weld lands.”

sbkf1

Pocket buckling

The crushing required force in excess of 800,000 lbs. :)

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Photographer Captures Meteor Streaking Through the Aurora Borealis

Photographer Shannon Bileski of Signature Exposures captured this beautiful photograph last Friday at Patricia Beach in Canada. It shows a bright meteor streaking through a sky filled with the green glow of the aurora borealis.

via Photographer Captures Meteor Streaking Through the Aurora Borealis.

I think if I were in her shoes, I would go buy a lottery ticket. Wow, what timing!

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See how NASA proved its Webb telescope parts space-worthy in an Alabama deep freezer (video) | AL.com

See how NASA proved its Webb telescope parts space-worthy in an Alabama deep freezer (video) | AL.com.

Time flies when you’re having fun. I knew I had written about this facility before but didn’t remember it being three years ago. Mirror assemblies, backplane, sunshield – the James Webb Space Telescope is coming together.

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Cool Interactive Thingy: X-Planes at Dryden.

Trust me on this, you all need LOTS of alone time.

Why are you still here?

 

You go now.

A pic you say? Well, if you insist:

EC94-42478-15

 

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Filed under history, planes, space