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...


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