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."


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.

For more info on the author, go to www.rodpylebooks.com.