Friday, October 9, 2009


AKA, don't bomb my moon, dude. As I was preparing to watch the LCROSS impactor hit the moon, I thought to myself, "Is anyone crazy enough to protest this wonderful scientific event?"

Of course. How could I doubt it?

From the same folks who brought you pyramids on Mars and moon landing conspiracies, comes the fear that LCROSS will cause an interplanetary (ok, inter-body) war.

Wow. It makes my brain hurt. But at least I have one.

Check it out here.

And don't forget... WATCH THE SKIES!

Monday, September 21, 2009


OK, I won't remind you of the funky 1969 movie of the same name... but NASA was always aware of the possibility that a crew could be stranded in space. With the increased duration flights of Skylab, they commissioned Rockwell (builder of the Command Module) to do something about it.

The hypothetical Skylab Rescue Mission would utilize a CM with the storage lockers behind the seats removed, and two extra couches installed. Two astronauts would launch on a Saturn 1B, dock with Skylab (or the ailing CM), transfer the crew of three, and bring all 5 men home.

During the Skylab 3 mission, they almost had a chance to test the craft. The Skylab 3 service module began leaking maneuvering fuel, reducing the working ACS thrusters to just two sets, the minimum allowable. NASA actually assembled a Saturn 1B with the modified CSM atop it in the VAB, prepped to move to the pad whenever needed. As it turned out, the Command Module attached to Skylab was able to bring home its crew after the 59-day mission, but it was a close call.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Remember the Soviet space shuttle? Way back in the early 1980's, the Soviet Union apparently got a case of "shuttle envy," and though they had experimented with a few unique designs (smaller scaled test vehicles), decided ultimately to build a darned-near drop-dead copy of the US shuttle. The most pronounced and obvious difference was the planned addition of two air-breathing jet engines to allow the Soviet item, named Buran ("Snowstorm") a come-about/landing abort capability.

Oddly, the craft was flown only once, and an unmanned flight at that. In 1988, after a launch through moderate storms, the craft performed two orbits of Earth and returned to land, under computer control, just a few feet from its projected touchdown point. For reasons not fully clear, the next flight was not planned until 1993, 5 years later. But the program was cancelled before that could occur. Buran was then quietly mothballed and left to sit under a large shed in Kazakhstan. There is sat, quietly moldering, until 2002, when record snowfall built up on the (apparently little-maintained) shed roof, and it collapsed, crushing Buran, which sat below. An ignominious end for an apparently capable, if unoriginal, spacecraft.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


On July 24, 1969, just a few days after the first maned lunar landing, Dr. Gilruth, NASA Director, sent this memo of thanks to the various-and-sundry folks who had worked so hard on Apollo. While it didn't repair the broken marriages, ruined health, sleep deprived psychoses, and other maladies resultant from 10 years or tireless work, it sure didn't hurt either. I hope we can see one of these soon, following another high-profile NASA program (are you listening, congress?)...

Sorry for the lapse in posting... my fair city (Pasadena, CA) has been trying to burn itself to the ground, and we've been a bit distracted!

Friday, August 14, 2009


Today's post is a pull from Wikipedia- I couldn't resist because it's just so cool. As NASA was staring down the end of the Apollo missions, the Apollo Applications Office was considering a plan that had been under study for years- Apollo Venus. The idea was to send a "wet workshop"- an SIVB stage which could be used as a space station once empty- out to loop around Venus with a crew in a Command Module. The science intended in this mission would soon be carried out by robotic probes, but how cool would a manned flight past Venus be?

From Wikipedia: The proposed mission would use a Saturn V to send three men to fly past Venus in a flight which would last approximately one year. The S-IVB stage would be a 'wet workshop' similar to Skylab, first using the S-IVB engine to launch the mission on course to Venus, and then vented of any remaining fuel to serve as home for the crew for the duration of the mission. The Apollo SM engine would be used for course corrections on the way to Venus and back to Earth, and for a braking burn before the Command Module re-entered Earth's atmosphere. In order to free up more space in the Spacecraft Lunar Module Adapter for the docking tunnel connecting the CSM to the S-IVB, the SPS engine on the Service Module would be replaced by two LM engines. These would provide similar thrust with shorter nozzles, and would also give the mission the added safety of redundant engines.
Precursors to the Venus flyby would include an initial orbital test flight with an S-IVB 'wet workshop' and basic docking adapter, and a year-long test flight taking the S-IVB to a near-geostationary orbit around the Earth.
One oddity of the Venus flyby mission is that, unlike trips to the Moon, the CSM would separate and dock with the S-IVB stage before the S-IVB burn, so the astronauts would fly 'eyeballs-out', the thrust of the engine pushing them out of their seats rather than into them. This was required because there was only a short window for an abort burn by the CSM to return to Earth after a failure in the S-IVB, so all spacecraft systems needed to be operational and checked out before leaving the parking orbit around Earth to fly to Venus.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


OK, this post is a bit of a departure. But I REMEMBER this as from the comic books of the day. The model was probably worth about $1, but could be yours for only $.10 IF you joined the science club, which would send you a "richly illustrated" 8000-word guide each month with stickers (the kind you had to lick) that you would transfer from the sticker sheet to the booklet. I still remember the taste of the glue, and the coating it left on my tongue after transferring 10 or 15 of those darned things. Even then I really didn't see the point- why couldn't THEY simply put the things in the booklet? I guess the idea was that if we had to peel the skin off our tongues after wetting the things, we'd remember the pictures....

Monday, August 10, 2009


OK, sorry for the awful pun. But for years I had never seen the docking mechanism between the Apollo Command Module and Lunar Module. Now, thanks to my friends at the Kansas Cosmosphere, I know what it looks like! To the left is the CM, to the right, the LM. As with most things Apollo it's not simple, but it got the job done, and with only the rare hitch. One exception was during the flight of Apollo 14, when it took six tries to dock with the LM still nestled in the SIVB stage. Stu Roosa, CM pilot, made increasingly aggressive docking attempts, but the latches would not lock. He also had to be cognizant of how delicate the LM was- the machine was lightly constructed, and too much thrust during docking could crush the ascent stage like a discarded Coke can. Fortunately for all. on the sixth try the latches fired, and the two spacecraft were off to the moon.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


I've drawn, at random of course, a winner for my first book giveaway. Chris Smith, steadfast follower of this blog, will receive her book in the mail in a couple of weeks. with a personalized author-graph.

If you're looking at this, and aren't a blog follower, you're missing an opportunity to win a free book! Don't be silly! Click to follow now, there to the right----->

Monday, August 3, 2009


"Oops. You gotta uninvite the president... he might give the boys germs!" How's that for a PR nightmare? At the last moment, President Nixon had his Apollo 11 astronaut dinner canned because of concerns about germs. There was a bit of pressure- ok, outright condemnation- on NASA for the decision, especially at Dr. Chuck Berry, MD, who had made the call. Here, for the record, is the American Medical Association's response. They backed their man!

Currently writing sample chapters for a new Mars book. It will be exciting if it's commissioned. More as it occurs!

Friday, July 31, 2009


Ever wonder what those little rockets that move spacecraft around look like? Here's a pic of the RCS, or Reaction Control System, from Apollo (this one on the Apollo Service Module). The RCS system can propel the craft in a fore-and-aft direction, side-to-side, spin, or turn. In a pinch, it can also be used to deorbit with sufficient fuel. Each thruster had about 100 pounds of thrust, and was fueled by a mixture of nitrogen tetroxide and hydrazine. These two chemicals mixed in a hypergolic reaction, that is, they combusted without an ignition source. In fact, great care had to be taken when dealing with the hydrazine, as workers in the Grumman plant in New York discovered one winter. They were working with the volatile chemical, spilled some onto an early show, and watched it burst into massive, incendiary flame.

The RCS quad seen here is located in the Service Module exhibit at the Kansas Cosmosphere.

Monday, July 27, 2009


It's name was DSKY (Display/Keyboard). It was the interface for the Apollo Guidance Computer, the little wizard that guided the Apollo spacecraft from the Earth to the moon, down to its surface, back to the CM and home. Developed by Raytheon and MIT in the 1960's, it was the digital marvel of its time. It was the first use of integrated circuits, and blazed along at 2 MHz. This Block I model had between 12 and 24k, with later models running 32k.

If your toaster has a digital timer, it probably has more memory... but not a fraction of the genius!

Display courtesy of the Kansas Cosmosphere.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Well, not quite. For years science authors (including myself) have searched for a way to express the fragility of the Lunar Module. And make no mistake, it IS fragile. But some of the characterizations may be a bit over the top... it is not as thin as a soda can (somewhere between that and a Toyota fender, though). It is not quite an "aluminum balloon" (though it did flex when "inflated"). And, although it may have been possible, there is no obvious record of a dropped screwdriver puncturing the hull.

As can be seen in this image, Grumman's LM was a compound hull, with an inner layer, perpendicular strengthening ribs, and (not seen here) an outer layer. If one presses against it, it is quite strong. In fact, perhaps more than a worry of puncture was the concern with docking. In Apollo 14, it took almost two hours of repeated, and increasingly aggressive, docking attempts to mate the Command Module with the LM., and there was great concern that if the CM came in too fast it would crush the eggshell delicate (there's another one of those metaphors again!) hull of the LM.

A lazy Sunday here today, prepping samples for a new book. Fun work, but the 95 degree heat is making me wish I was UP there instead or writing about it...

Saturday, July 25, 2009


At first blush they might look like camping implements... but you'd be off by a few tens of thousands of dollars. This is the tool suite for rock and soil collection on the moon. Developed to be lightweight, efficient and strong, these geology instruments were critical to the success of the Apollo landings, more so as each mission plan developed. By Apollo 17, the rock hammer in particular had gotten a workout as never before, as Harrison Schmitt, assisted by a percussive Gene Cernan, gathered more samples with better documentation than any prior mission.

From top: soil digging and trenching shovel, alloy rock hammer, and short-handle scoop. All tools courtesy of the Kansas Cosmosphere.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


No, ZOI is not a new alternative healthy grain or a Soviet-era secret program. It's an acronym for the Apollo-era Zone Of Interest chart. From the Ranger, an oft-overlooked but essential part of Apollo, to the final landing decisions, the Zone Of Interest was a living document, updated as new science/data came in. Essentially a roadmap to the future, this version highlights the Ranger, Lunar Orbiter and Surveyor flights. These were the spacecraft that provided the data, and in many cases the images, which led to the first Apollo landings. Crude as they were, these missions paved the way.

It's a day off (mostly) in blustery Ventura, CA. A good 25 degrees (F) cooler than LA, I'll sacrifice the comfort of the office to the cool breezes off the ocean any day. It's also the end of the Apollo anniversary news cycle, at least in the US. One more radio spot and it's over. I just hope that a few folks (um, voters!) got out to Apollo events and got the message: this is not just history, it must also be the future.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


From Wikipedia:

"HOTOL, for Horizontal Take-Off and Landing, was an unrealised British space shuttle proposal.
Designed as a single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) reusable winged launch vehicle, it was to be fitted with a unique air-breathing engine, the RB545, to be developed by Rolls Royce. The engine was technically a liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen design, but by air-breathing as the spacecraft climbed through the lower atmosphere, the amount of propellant needed to be carried onboard, for use in the upper atmosphere and space, was dramatically reduced. Since propellant typically represents the majority of the takeoff weight of a rocket, HOTOL was to be considerably smaller than normal pure-rocket designs, roughly the size of a medium-haul airliner such as the McDonnell Douglas DC-9/MD-80."

This British project was a heart-breaker. Destined never to leave the drawing board, what once looked promising turned out to have almost no cargo capacity and an engine that could probably not be built (the arguments rage on).

Whilst looking for a decent image of HOTOL for my book, and leaving fistfuls of torn-out hair on the ground, I came across uber-talented space artist Emil Petrinic, who created a number of original illustrations for me. This one shows the unrealized HOTOL, all 206 by 90 feet of her. Hey, the shuttle is definitely better looking, but kudos to the artist!

Monday, July 20, 2009


I know, it's the Apollo 11 anniversary (I've been doing radio interviews all day so I oughta remember!), but I thought this was a fun bit of memorabilia to post: the first page of the Apollo 13 Flight Director's Log. Glynn Lunney, the FD on duty for the launch, opens with a *Yawn*, which would hardly be the sentiment in a couple of days...

More of these to come, and of course the *best* of them are in my book (end sales pitch here).

Sunday, July 19, 2009


I am incapable of thinking of the Apollo program without thinking of Walter Cronkite. If ratings mean anything at all, it's clear that some people must have watched a network other than CBS during the Space Race, but not me. Apollo without Uncle Walter was like Oreos without milk. Just not right.

He was there when we lost JFK... MLK... RFK. He was there when we lost Grissom, White and Chaffee. When we circled the moon, and ended the Soviet hope of lunar glory. And he was there when Armstrong stepped off the LM footpad and into history.

A side note, but still a testament to CBS News and Cronkite's professionalism: when the camera died on Apollo 12, CBS was the only network (of the whopping 3 at the time) properly prepared to take up the slack with a responsible simulation. So the mission continued, albeit at Grumman's very convincing simulator. And Uncle Walter was at the helm.

But I digress. Walter Cronkite is gone, having lived a long and full life. I will miss him, his wit, intelligence, insights, grace, and moral guidance through our turbulent times. And even if he had been quiet for a few years, just knowing that he was there made it all a bit more bearable.

Godspeed, Walter Cronkite.


OK, all you conspiracy lovers and hoax theorists listen up: the fun is over. Because unless you're going to get desperate and cry "Photoshop!!" on me, new evidence is at hand that blows all your tired old theories out of the water. America really went to the moon.

Today, NASA released new images from the LRO lunar probe which clearly show some of the Apollo landing sites... and the descent stage, which remained on the moon, can clearly be seen. So unless you think it was flown there unmanned, and that somehow the space agency managed to fake footprints across the moon's surface (clearly visible as a white trail heading left from the lander stage), the game is up.

More incredible pictures at

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Susanna Speier, writer and performance artist extraordinaire, contacted me about writing some Politiku for a Huffington post piece. It's like Haiku, but, um, political in nature (clever, eh?). This week's theme is Apollo 11. I found the idea charming, challenging and weird, so of course I tried it. Results follow, for your amusement or disdain.

Apollo 11

Selene lights the night
Aiming left, mid-course boost
Soon we’ll be embraced

Eagle descending
1202 alarm- trouble
But we continue

Long night in the LM
Sleeping in my pressure suit
I can smell the moon

Reentry over
Bobbing in the warm ocean
The air smells so sweet

Fifty pounds of rocks
Proof we went, proof we conquered
A bit of the moon

Release your inner critic and praise or savage me below.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Wish I'd seen you go. But I understand that your are a complicated beast and had to launch on your own schedule. I just wish I'd been able to share the moment. Please write often from your voyage into LEO, and let me know when you're on your way back. And hey, if you happen to be in the 'hood (aka Edwards), let me know and I'll drop by to day "hi."

After all, we only have seven more chances to tango. And that's sad.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


It seemed that when Apollo 11 headed off to the distant moon, a little bit of every American went with them. Some took it more literally than others. One fellow sent a letter to NASA, dated July 9, 1969, with a poem for Armstrong to read when stepping onto the lunar surface. Setting aside its tardiness (if NASA had been in the business of deciding those first words, rather than Armstrong, committees would have been meeting over the issue since 1961!), it was a bit on the long side. And given that he may have flubbed his first line (the debate rages on about "A man" vs. "man"), four paragraphs might have been a bit much.

On the other hand, the good Citizen in question might have had a future at Hallmark...

It's Apollo anniversary frenzy week! Time to get those plans solidified! Mine include two speaking engagements at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles on July 18th. I was lucky to get them; slots are few at this late date. For anyone interested, the talks are at 2PM and 5PM, and are free.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


The question that has burned on the tongues of the layman since Yuri Gagarin flew into immortality is, of course, "How do you poop in space?" It's been the subject of books, TV interviews and poetry alike, so I'll skip the prose and go for the images. Don't worry, it's an unused bag, but you'll get the idea. This bag is from the Apollo era. I'll be a bit oblique here, but just open the flap, attach to your, um, self, "fill", then knead some chemicals to make inert.

No wonder most astronauts subsisted on low-residual diets before and during flight...

Preparing for the 40th anniversary of the moonwalk all week. This should be fun for all!

Friday, July 10, 2009


A major developmental problem of the Saturn V's first stage was the so-called "pogo effect." This resulted from inconsistent ignition of the fuels when mixing in the F1 engine combustion chambers. On Apollo 10, the vibration became so pronounced that the astronauts could not focus on their instruments, and considered aborting the flight!

Here we see a memo regarding the pogo effect and the potential damage to the descent stage of the Lunar Module. Penned by Sam Phillips, the Apollo Program Director, it came just eight days before the launch of Apollo 11, the first critical use of the LM.

The last few days have found me increasingly busy doing publicity for "Missions to the Moon" and Apollo 11. Saturday, July 18, I'll be doing two talks at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 6, 2009


Here it is... from the original Flight Director's Log for Apollo 13. In Gene Kranz's own hand, the cryo stir that started it all is referenced. There's more of this log coming in later posts, but this is the incident where the action was traced back to. Throughout the log of Apollo 13, one can see that the flight directors had been thumbing through, making sure that they didn't miss anything important in their own notes. This particular log sits in the JSC archives, and is a true treasure.

Back from the Pacific Northwest on Weds, then time to plan for some Apollo 11 anniversary activities!

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Prior to the Apollo 11 landing there were concerns about the potentially catastrophic buildup of static electricity in the Lunar Module during lunar surface operations. One of the more interesting causes was the "clothesline," a pulley-mounted conveyor which was to be used to pass items from the ascent stage to the ground. NASA's elegant solution? Attach a bunch of little metallic leads to the conveyor cord to discharge any errant electrons. It was simple and effective. The attached memo refers to the ongoing efforts to eliminate risk, in this "highly specialized technical area..." He can say that again!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


OK, we all remember the line from the movie Apollo 13, about fitting a square peg into a round hole, right? We saw the square peg, but what about the ROUND peg? Here is a photo I took of the Apollo Lunar Module filter that was replaced by the Command Module (square) one during the Apollo 13 mission. And, as you might expect, they could not have been much more different if the designers tried. Maybe they were concerned that the wrong filter might get jammed in the wrong hole?

Enjoying a 3-hour layover in Phoenix en route to Seattle area for book activities. It's hot here, though without the humidity of Florida. But the presence of a Jody Maroni's Sausage Kingdom takes the edge off...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Today's tidbit is an Apollo rock hammer. This reproduction, seen on display at the Kansas Cosmosphere, is a perfect facsimile of the aluminum hammer used on the Apollo flights. It's about a foot in length. There were two primary uses for the hammer: to break rocks into smaller samples, or to gain access to interior samples of rocks; and to drive the core sample tubes into the soil. The latter task is the only time the hammers were used on Apollo 11, but progressive landings saw much more utility out of the humble beater. On Apollo 12, for instance, it was used as a "universal tool" (per Pete Conrad) to beat on the nuclear fuel cask on the side of the Lunar Module to free-up the overheated fuel rod. By Apollo 14 and 15, core samples were all the rage. It took about 1.3 hammer blows per centimeter to drive the tubes into the lunar soil (on average).

After extensive use breaking rocks on Apollo 15, Dave Scott famously dropped a feather and his hammer from shoulder height to prove that they would hit the ground at the same time (they did, as there was no atmosphere to slow the feather). And on Apollo 17, Jack Schmitt, who used his rock hammer more than any other moonwalker, flung it into the wastes of Taurus-Littrow just prior to returning to the Lunar Module for the last time.

Today has been a reconnaissance day- swinging through various area bookstores to see if my latest book is on display yet. Yes for Barnes and Noble, no for Borders. Vromans (a local indie store) will have them in stock by July 7th. Can't wait!

Sunday, June 28, 2009


This is an interesting artifact. On July 21, 1969, Robert "Getruth" (Gilruth) received a telegram from the International Conference of Police Associations, commissioning "Spacemen Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins" the first Peace Officers in space. While it was an honorary title, it was certainly expressed with a noble enthusiasm. Despite the obvious tongue-in-cheek nature of the memo, NASA filed everything... so here it is, 40 years later, for our amazed eyes. This one didn't make my book, but I wish it had! [Pardon the watermarks!]

Taking a slow Sunday to organize some new book proposals and think a bit about Apollo 11 40th anniversary activities.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Today features the flight gloves belonging to Thomas "Ken" Mattingly of Apollo 13 (removed prior to flight due to measles exposure) and Apollo 16 (Command Module Pilot). Now, we all know there are other pictures of Apollo pressure suit gloves on the 'net. But I took this one myself, whilst perusing the incredible collection of aerospace artifacts at the Kansas Cosmosphere. It's fascinating to see the details of the pressure glove, and the attempts made post-Gemini to make them more easily manipulated.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Today's downloadable is a telegram sent to Chris Kraft during the ill-starred mission of Apollo 13. I was form Caleb B. "K" Hurtt, then president of Martin. One of many such telegrams received by NASA during the mission, the senders of these telegrams meant what they said- and many proved it by manning their posts around-the-clock, at company cost, until the astronauts were home safe.

Having returned from a launch-less trip to Florida (well, for the shuttle anyway), it's time to get busy with the never-ending job of book promotion. I'll be speaking at a number of local venues around the time of the Apollo 11 40th anniversary, and hope to meet some folks who love space exploration as much as I do!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


After the drama of the Apollo 11 landing, there was a drive to improve the accuracy of the touchdown of Apollo 12. None was more motivated than Pete Conrad. This memo details thoughts about allowing the commander more hover time to find his mark... but Conrad really wouldn't have needed it. As it turned out, he performed one of the most textbook landings of Apollo.


Yay! The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter entered lunar orbit today! From NASA:

LRO Enters Orbit Around the Moon

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has successfully entered orbit around the moon following a nearly five-day journey. Engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., confirmed the spacecraft's lunar orbit insertion at 6:27 a.m. EDT on June 23.

A series of four engine burns through June 27 will finalize LRO's initial orbit. During this phase, each of its seven instruments is checked out and brought online. LRO Project Manager Craig Tooley reports that LEND and CRaTER are already online and working well.

The LRO satellite will explore the moon's deepest craters, examining permanently sunlit and shadowed regions, and provide understanding of the effects of lunar radiation on humans. LRO will return more data about the moon than any previous mission. The spacecraft's instruments will help scientists compile high resolution, three-dimensional maps of the lunar surface and also survey it at many spectral wavelengths.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


This is not my normal post, but as it is central to our recent discussion, I thought it would be worth re-posting this from NASA:

Engineers Narrow In on Cause of Endeavour Hydrogen Leak
Sun, 21 Jun 2009 10:40:29 AM EDT

Space Shuttle Program Manager John Shannon says engineers believe they now understand why a hydrogen gas vent line has been leaking, causing shuttle Endeavour's STS-127 mission to be postponed twice. He says a plate that attaches the vent line to Endeavour's external fuel tank is slightly misaligned and that's allowing a small leak to happen during the fueling process.

Teams at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A are taking precise measurements of the attaching plate during the weekend before crews disassemble it, realign the plate and install a new set of seals to fix the leak. Shannon also says technicians are preparing to test the repair plan by filling Endeavour's external tank with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen in the next week and a half, just as they would for a launch. This "tanking test" will confirm whether the repairs will work before another launch attempt is made. Hydrogen leaks in the vent line postponed Endeavour's launch attempts June 13 and 17, delaying its 16-day flight to the International Space Station. If the repairs are successful, Endeavour's next launch attempt is targeted for July 11 at 7:39 p.m. EDT.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


After a short hold for weather, LRO is on its way. The view from Buenalinda was slightly hazy, and the Atlas disappeared into the low cloud cover shortly after launch. But it was a beauty, and NASA is returning to the moon at last. And that's good news.


PARTIAL POST: Hoping to fare better today as we head off to the Canaveral National Seashore to see the Atlas V/LRO launch. It's an unmanned lunar probe, so chances are good (less stringent launch criteria). We'll see...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Another scrub! Shuttle began fueling at the last possible moment, then another hydrogen leak appeared. I'm sure you've seen the reports- no new attempts until July. So back to T-Ville and some rest. LRO/Lcross/Atlas will attempt launch Thurs or Fri PM- keeping fingers crossed anew.

Also had the good fortune to see Andy Chaikin, an old friend, at KSC yesterday. Got a chance to see his fine new book, "Voices From the Moon." Really nice work and some great original material from the Apollo astronauts, as only Andy can tell it.

I will get back to posting downloadables in a couple of days-for now, avoiding the 95 degree heat and 95% humidity! Yuck!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


This is a short post. Currently cooling my jets in Titusville, about 10 miles from the pad where Endeavour waits for a 5 AM launch window. Latest news from NASA: Fueling still not begun (was scheduled to start at 8:15, but as of 9:30 had not begun due to electrical storms nearby. Rain and lightning visible from here. Not looking good for tomorrow at this point; keeping fingers crossed!

Monday, June 15, 2009


More launch madness! Sticking in Florida until SOMETHING launches... the new info, as of Monday afternoon, is that NASA has decided to delay the LRO/Atlas launch to allow the shuttle Endeavour to make a lunch attempt on Wednesday AM. Now, according to standard range turnaround rules, regardless of the pad used (Shuttle is on 39, LRO is on 41), the Cape is supposed to have two days between launch attempts. But in this case, probably because the shuttle is scheduled for an early AM window, the LRO can be rescheduled for a Thursday, June 18 try at about 5PM. So to get back to the original (selfish) point of this post, waiting till Saturday should result in witnessing the launch of something...

It's time for another downloadable. Today's bit of memorabilia is an interesting piece of artwork from the early 60's. It's an uncredited bit of art from the Johnson archives, showing an early LOR flight profile for Apollo. Has a very "Disney" feel to it. It's straight from the interior of my book, and that version will spare you the watermarks (apologies!).

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Shuttle update: Normally I don't follow shuttle updates hour-by-hour, but as I'm waiting in sunny Florida for launch news, it's appropriate. Just in from the Sunday PM NASA briefing, here's the skinny: preparations for both the STS-127 AND LRO (Atlas) launches, both currently aiming for the 17th of June, continue in parallel. Sometime tomorrow the shuttle team hopes to make a determination . The priority will likely go to the shuttle, as with a shuttle-first launch order it gives the agency an additional opportunity to get LRO off the ground (due to range turnaround constraints). This would give the shuttle a try on Weds AM (17th), and LRO opportunities on the 20th and 21st (and possibly the 19th). If the order is reversed, LRO would lose one chance. We'll see tomorrow- stay tuned!

Saturday, June 13, 2009


It was a long evening at the Kennedy Space Center, and the result was a scrubbed launch for STS-127. The culprit? A leaky umbilical. While similar to the cause of another recent launch delay, it is not clear as of Sunday whether or not there will be a short (3-4 day) turnaround or a longer delay. Complicating things is the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter scheduled for midweek on an Atlas launch vehicle. While departing from another pad, this launch would shut down the range for about two days as KSC re-sets for the following operation. Only time will tell. The real question: what does a middle-aged author do for an additional 4-6 days in sweltering Orlando? Suggestions welcome...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Today's download is the updated (post-flight) Apollo 17 traverse map. The Lunar Module is at the center right of the image, and the EVA's radiate from there. The longest ride was out past Nansen crater toward the South Massif. What an experience it must have been!

Tomorrow I leave Oakland, where I have been meeting with folks for a few days, to fly to Orlando. From there, a midnight ride on Friday PM to KSC for the Saturday 7AM-ish launch of STS-127, Endeavour. Let's hope for good weather!

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Today's post comes from blustery Northern California, where I am hooking up with some old Stanford friends (and a Berkeley one...). Then in mid-week it's off to Florida for the June 13 shuttle launch. A few days at the Cape, and back to LA. Then to work on some Apollo 11 video. Whoopie!

This download is from a 1948 FBI memo asserting the likelihood that Wernher von Braun was, in fact, a member of the Nazi party. Citing conversations with (BLACKED OUT), the Bureau concludes that he was a member of the SS as well- surely the worst of associations available to a post-WWII German living in the United States. Further investigation is invited, and more was forthcoming... but amounted to little. Von Braun's value to the US overrode such considerations, and he and his team form Peenemunde went on to design and build the most powerful and complex flying machine in the US inventory- the mighty Saturn V.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


When Al Shepard and Ed Mitchell set off for Cone Crater on an epic EVA during Apollo 14, nobody could have known what an arduous trek lay ahead. This was the last pre-lunar rover flight, and the two were pulling their tools along behind them in a rickshaw-like device called the MET, which tended to be unstable and exhausting to drag along. Using orbitally-imaged maps (remember the landing of Apollo 11?), they set out to find Cone crater, the hoped-for high point of this traverse. After many false stops and starts, Shepard finally called it quits, to which Mitchell declared, "[I] think you're finks!" By the time it was all over, geologists on the ground estimated that the duo had come within about 75 feet of the crater's South rim. It was another hard-won lesson regarding the unanticipated difficulties of lunar surface exploration during the Golden Age of space travel. If you zoom in on this traverse map, you can see how excruciatingly close they came to the view of a lifetime.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Today's download is a real treat. This is the Apollo 11 descent map, prepared shortly before the historic mission embarked. Note the converging lines towards the optimal landing zone. While Armstrong and Aldrin encountered numerous difficulties during descent- a balky computer among them- this map was the best aid available to predict what lay ahead as they flew towards the surface. Unfortunately, orbital photography was not always the best predictor of actual surface conditions, and interpretation of these images was not an exact science. What greeted the astronauts as they descended was more frightening than what was foreseen, and Armstrong had to hover until he was almost out of fuel to find what he considered a safe anding area. This image is featured as an enclosure in "Missions to the Moon."

Sunday, May 31, 2009


One of the less glamorous parts of the Apollo lunar missions was orbital photography. While the moonwalkers were down on the moon, captivating millions with their exploits, the lone orbiting astronaut would continue his ongoing task of mapping the lunar surface. Here we see a reference chart from Apollo 17, carefully mapping out each photo returned from space. The level of detail is exquisite, and the artwork meticulous.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Today's post is a sketch by Wernher von Braun depicting an orbital workshop to be built inside a Saturn SII stage. It was a so-called "wet" design because the internals would have to be optimized after the stage had been used as a tank for propellants. Dated November of 1964, it was an early study that ultimately resulted in the design for Skylab (which was launched "dry" and fully outfitted). At the time of this proposal, working in space was still an unknown, and a post-orbital outfitting of the workshop may have been a bit optimistic. But the idea was sound overall, with interior modules passed down from the stage above through a tunnel into the SII stage. It's ideas like this that earned von Braun the moniker of "Father of the Apollo Program." For more information, see the Wikipedia entry here. See you tomorrow!

Friday, May 29, 2009


In 1958, Robert Gilruth, head of the Space Task Group at the dawn of NASA, was struggling with a problem. It probably devoured more of his time than it deserved, as seen in the memo here. Forwarded to relevant parties by George Low, Chief of Manned Space Flight. this memo, created just a few months after the founding of NASA, details Gilruth's apparent displeasure with the name then under consideration for America's first manned space project- Project Mercury. If he wanted a new name for Mercury (see memo), would Gemini have become "Project Two Astronauts"? And Apollo perhaps "Project Tres Amigos"? You decide.


Welcome to the Missions to the Moon book blog. This is a place to re-live the heady days of the Apollo and Soyuz lunar programs- perhaps the crowning achievements of the 20th Century. Many blog entries will include a new downloadable image or artifact from the space age- items rarely seen and not available in print. It's all in the spirit of my newest book, Missions to the Moon- to remember the great adventure of the Golden Age of space exploration, and ponder what wonders await us in space.

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