Tags: Dryden Flight Research Center, Museums & Archives, Space Shuttle
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Each of the past three Wednesdays, we’ve focused on writing about Doug’s experience at the NASA Social event held at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) on May 4th. Here are the links to those previous posts:
May 16: A is for Aeronautics
Never one to waste an aviation-related opportunity, Doug wrapped up the #DrydenSocial event by spending the next day visiting some of the other aviation attractions in the area. Palmdale, about thirty miles southwest of the Dryden/Edwards Air Force Base complex, has a rich aviation history of its own.
In the early 1950s, just as the Cold War was heating up, the U.S. Air Force decided that it needed a facility to develop, build, and test new jet aircraft. But that the facility had to meet several criteria: remote enough that prying eyes wouldn’t be a security problem, but simultaneously located near a sizable aviation manufacturing base. Palmdale, situated between Edwards AFB’s growing flight test center and Los Angeles’s aircraft manufacturing base fit the bill. Over the years, the combination of government and public companies that exists at Palmdale’s Plant 42 has given rise to a number of aircraft designs, including the B-2 stealth bomber. From our Lofty Ambitions point of view, the most important and historic vehicle to come out of Plant 42 was the space shuttle.
With that much aviation and aerospace history to go around, it’s no surprise that Palmdale offers two separate airparks in which to see and learn about aviation history. What is a bit of a surprise is that the two facilities, Joe Davies Heritage Airpark and Blackbird Airpark, are adjacent to each other, separated by only a small patch of open ground and a chain-link fence, with an obvious path and opening in the fence. In fact, you can walk from one right into to the other.
Joe Davies Heritage Airpark is eclectic mixture of aircraft, all on static display, some of which have a connection to Plant 42 (a 1/8th-scale B-2 on a pole greets visitors), but most of which don’t. From our perspective, the pick of the litter is a very clean C-46 Commando sitting in one corner. Oddly, many folks define the “air” part of “airpark” differently than Lofty Ambitions and put the emphasis on “park.” Joe Davies Heritage Airpark has numerous picnic tables, many of them brimming with families having lunch in the California sun.
Blackbird Airpark is affiliated with the Air Force Flight Test Museum. Doug didn’t have a chance to visit the Flight Test Museum while he was at DFRC. Unfortunately, since the Flight Test Museum is on the grounds of Edwards AFB, you have to have a pass and a reason to visit it. Hopefully, we’ll get back there at some future date, but it’s not something you can just happen upon.
Blackbird Airpark, which is more easily accessible to the public, is eponymously named for the Cold-War-era, Mach-3-capable, Lockheed SR-71 spy plane. An example of this breed—a two-seat trainer—is located front and center on the airpark’s grounds. Three other aircraft are also permanently displayed: a U-2 spy plane, a Lockheed A-12 (the SR-71’s very closely related predecessor), and a F-117 Nighthawk (almost always referred to as Stealth Fighters). The display area also includes an example of an SR-71 engine, the Pratt & Whitney J-58; a D-21 reconnaissance drone, an early unmanned aerial vehicle meant to be launched from the back of an SR-7; and a wind-tunnel model of a Blackbird.
As might be expected in a gathering of aviation nerds like those assembled for #DrydenSocial, Doug wasn’t the only NASA Social attendee who had the idea of spending Saturday at Blackbird Park. While at Blackbird Airpark, Doug ran into James Gomez (a fellow resident of Orange), Arun Ponnusamy, and Denny Atkin.
The final stop for the day was at Dryden’s nearby Aircraft Operations Facility. Arun pointed out that one of the two Shuttle Carrier Aircraft was parked on the grounds of the Aircraft Operation Facilty and that it could be seen from the grounds of the airpark. (In fact, he also came back to the airpark after driving to Aircraft Operation Facility to let Doug know how to get there. Thanks, Arun!). Having just seen the other, still-active Shuttle Aircraft Carrier at the Space Coast and in Washington, D.C., a few weeks earlier, it was great to have the opportunity to peruse the retired SCA before it’s cannibalized to support the other 747s in NASA’s fleet.
During the #DrydenSocial, one of the DFRC handlers mentioned the potential of visiting the Aircraft Operation Facilty for a future NASA Social. If that turns out to be the case, we certainly hope we get selected for that event so we can get the inside view.
Busy Week in Space! May 25, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Movies & TV, Space Shuttle, SpaceX
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This week marked a milestone in space exploration: the successful launch of a space capsule by a private company and its berth with the International Space Station this morning. We wrote about SpaceX’s Dragon mission at The Huffington Post; click HERE to read our piece and a pretty interesting conversation in the comment thread. We’re set to do a follow-up there tomorrow, after we see how the opening of the hatch goes.
Yesterday, too, marked an important anniversary: the second time an American orbited the Earth. As part of the first U.S. manned space program, Project Mercury, astronaut Scott Carpenter climbed into Aurora 7 atop an Atlas rocket and launched into outer space. Her spent almost five hours there. Carpenter flew this mission only after Deke Slayton was grounded with a heart problem. Carpenter was the back-up pilot for the mission John Glenn flew to become the first American to orbit the Earth, and Glenn and Carpenter remain the only living Mercury astronauts. Our personal connection to this event is that, for four years, Doug worked for a high-tech company based in Carpenter’s hometown, Boulder, Colorado. And of course, we recently chatted with Glenn during “Discovery Departure.”
Today, the day of Dragon’s first berth, is the anniversary of President Kennedy’s speech before Congress in 1961 that announced his goal for the United States to put a man on the Moon by the end of that decade. (View an excerpt HERE and the complete transcript HERE.) April had been a bad month for the Kennedy administration, with Yuri Gagarin orbiting the Earth (view the launch footage HERE) and, thereby, giving the Soviets the lead in the Space Race, not to mention the Bay of Pigs. Among the “numerous and varied” proposals designed to combat “the adversaries of freedom” was that “that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” Just one day shy of a year later, Scott Carpenter was orbiting the Earth, taking the early steps in the process of reaching the Moon.
Today is also the birthday of two cosmonauts, Georgy Grechko, born in 1931 before jet aircraft existed, let alone anyone was serious about going to space, and Ivan Bella, born three years after Kennedy’s speech. Between 1975 and 1985, Grechko flew several missions, including a repair mission that brought the freezing, inoperable Salyut 7 space station back to life. In 1999, Bella spent almost eight days aboard Mir, the Russian space station.
And of course, just a year ago, space shuttle Endeavour was in the midst of its last mission, the crew giving a variety of press interviews before some serious spacewalking the next day.
Perhaps, though, today’s most meaningful anniversary for us is the release of Star Wars in 1977. Thirty-five years ago this summer, we each saw Star Wars for the first of what would ultimately be dozens of times. Although Star Wars and Star Trek have been compared in innumerable ways, for this Lofty Duo, both franchises have been much in our minds and in the news lately. Star Trek has been a regular presence in our lives lately because of its association with the Space Shuttle Enterprise, so named because of a write-in campaign by fans of the original series bombarded NASA with cards and letters, and because the ashes of James Doohan, who played Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, were carried to and dispersed in low-Earth orbit this week. Serendipitously, Doohan’s ashes were lofted into orbit by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which is of course named after Star Wars’ Millennium Falcon.
Tomorrow will mark other anniversaries. Apollo 10, the last mission before someone set foot on the Moon, safely returned Tom Stafford, John Young, and Gene Cernan to Earth on May 26, 1969. This mission offered television viewers back on the ground the first color broadcast from space. And they tested the lunar module, though NASA did not give them enough fuel to land on the Moon and return to the capsule, probably because they knew a person that close to the Moon’s surface would be tempted to just go ahead and do it.
And Saturday is also Sally Ride’s 61st birthday. Ride joined NASA in 1978 and became the first American woman in space in 1983, on STS-7. She flew again on STS-41G in 1984. She served on the Challenger Accident Investigation Board, after which Roger Boisjoly, a whistleblower in that investigation and a Lofty Ambitions guest blogger, credited Ride as one of the few people who publicly supported his efforts. In 2003, years after she retired from NASA, she served on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, the only person to serve on both accident investigation boards.
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
A Day at NASA’s Dryden Research Center (#NASASocial), Part 3: Of U-2’s, Xombies, X-48’s, and YO-3’s—Or why there’s so much fun at the other end of the alphabet May 23, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Dryden Flight Research Center, Space Shuttle
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In last week’s post, we covered a good deal of the How’s and Why’s of the aeronautics research program at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC). This week, we’ll take a look at the Who’s and What’s. Questions like, Who is it that actually makes and flies these contraptions? And, What needs to happen to carry out the DFRC research mission?
The last session before the lunch break of the NASASocial a few weeks ago was an opportunity to meet some of the Dryden test pilots and flight test engineers. DFRC’s chief test pilot Nils Larson presented an overview of life as a Dryden test pilot. During his presentation and the ensuing Q&A, Larson discussed flying the U-2—the NASA version is known as the ER-2. Larson is an extremely experienced U-2 pilot, having spent part of his Air Force career, first flying and then later as an operations commander for a detachment of U-2s at Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in nearby Palmdale. The U-2/ER-2 has a reputation as a twitchy, demanding aircraft to fly. Larson hinted as the type’s quirks when he said, “If you’re having a bad day and the U-2’s having a bad day, it can be a BAD DAY.” Larson also related that all but one of the Dryden ER-2s was specifically purchased for NASA. An autograph session featuring eight DFRC test pilots and engineers wrapped up the #DrydenSocial morning session.
The program after lunch was every bit as exciting and engaging as the morning’s program. John Kelly, a NASA program manager discussed the Flight Opportunities Program, which is designed to make getting payloads into space more flexible and to foster a wider range of commercial interest in space technologies. One project that Kelly mentioned as a particular success was a recent test of the Xombie suborbital spacecraft produced by Masten Space Systems. In this test flight, the Xombie demonstrated vertical takeoff from a launch pad, lateral navigation to a second pad, and vertical landing on the second pad. The Xombie spacecraft was controlled by the GENIE (Guidance Embedded Navigator Integration Environment) navigational computer during the test. GENIE was produced by Draper Laboratory, a non-profit research institute spun off from MIT in 1973. Draper is not new to space exploration, having developed the guidance computers for the Apollo missions.
It’s arguable that the title of “Best Job in the World” belongs either to Jim Ross, Dryden’s Multimedia Supervisor, or to Lori Losey, Dryden’s Senior Video Producer/Director. Their jobs titles differ, but they both get to ride in the back seat of a chase aircraft, often one of NASA’s F-18s, to capture images of test flights. Ross related that this was an unexpected career choice because, as a child, he got carsick backing out of the driveway. Even after riding in high performance jets for years, Ross and Losey admit that they still get motion sickness on occasion. They’ve both learned a variety of coping mechanisms, and Losey indicated that, on flying days, her breakfast choices are limited to oatmeal or Cream of Wheat. But, if diet and preparation fail, and she finds herself ill during a flight, Losey assured us that it’s possible to “puke into an airsick bag in a 3-G turn” while still getting the shot. Doug still can’t figure out the mechanics of that maneuver. You can watch a video of Losey describing her job.
A tour of Hangar 4802 was next up on the agenda. During the tour, the Dryden handlers arranged for each of the NASA Social attendees to have their photo taken while sitting in the cockpit of a NASA F-18. The hangar also included several fascinating test aircraft, such as the X-48 and the YO-3. The X-48 is a blended wing-body aircraft that looks to have more in common with flying wings like the B-2 stealth bomber than traditional civilian aircraft. With a wingspan of just over twenty feet and weight of five hundred pounds, the X-48 reminds one of a remote-control aircraft. It is in fact, a very serious test aircraft that flew a comprehensive series of flights in 2006-2008. At that time, the aircraft was known as the X-48B and had three engines. After recently being modified with only two engines, the aircraft has been re-designated the X-48C.
Near the hangar door sat the YO-3A, an aircraft that DFRC uses for acoustic research. The YO-3A is perfectly suited to this kind of work, as it started life as an unpowered sailplane. The aircraft is now powered by a standard Continental aircraft engine as a result of a program to produce “ultra-quiet” observation aircraft for the Vietnam War.
The final stop on the Hangar 4802 tour was a visit to the CTV, or the Crew Transport Vehicle. At Dryden, the CTV was used to transport and checkout shuttle astronauts on those occasions when the shuttle landed in California. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of flying through Dulles International Airport, the CTV will be instantly recognizable to you as a “people mover” between points such as the terminal and concourse. In fact, this particular people mover was originally used at Baltimore-Washington International Airport(BWI) and was acquired By Dryden in 1991.
After returning from Hangar 4802, the #DrydenSocial handlers started to wrap up the day. A couple of fantastic moments still remained: a book give-away and dinner at Domingo’s Mexican Restaurant, where space shuttle astronauts were said to congregate when the mission ended in California instead of back at Kennedy Space Center.
The NASA Social events have become a fantastic vehicle for NASA to promote its accomplishments through social media. The #DrydenSocial event was exceptional in this regard. The access and information that NASA provided resulted in a day full of happy tweets, enthusiastic Facebook updates, and whatever it is that you do in Google+. NASA Social events are announced HERE. Lofty Ambitions highly recommends that you check one out.
Tags: Apollo, Concorde, Dryden Flight Research Center, GRAILTweetup, Movies & TV, Museums & Archives, Space Shuttle
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A clear and consistent message was delivered at both the #DrydenSocial and last fall’s GRAIL Tweetup: NASA wants to use social media to help spread the word of its achievements. To that end, NASA trots out its best and brightest to address event attendees and then mixes in the kind of moments that only NASA can deliver.
To that end, the morning session of the May 4th NASA Social event at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) offered a broad overview of Dryden’s historical and continuing role in aeronautics research. David McBride, Center Director for DFRC and Christian Gelzer, Chief Historian, provided a wealth of contextual information in the day’s first two talks.
The wonderful Neil deGrasse Tyson, Director of the Hayden Planetarium and whose book, Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, Anna has just finished reading, has been making some interesting comparisons regarding NASA’s budget of late. According to Tyson (watch the video HERE), the $850 billion spent on TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, is greater than NASA’s budget for the fifty-plus years that NASA has been in existence.
In no particular order, here are some the achievements that NASA’s budget has funded in that five-decade span:
• the Hubble Space Telescope and its associated increase in our understanding of the universe;
• a significant portion of the International Space Station (ISS);
• the Space Transportation System (the shuttle) that carried Hubble and the ISS’s pieces into orbit;
• deep space probes such as the Voyagers, planetary landers and rovers such as Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity;
• myriad Earth-orbiting satellites that have taught us much about our planet’s weather, composition, and history;
• and of course, the Apollo program and the astronauts who landed on the moon.
Note that all of these scientific and engineering achievements have something to do with space. Space is sexy, space gets people’s attention.
That said, the first A in NASA is for Aeronautics. In recent years, aeronautics has been a remarkably small piece of NASA’s little pie. In his introduction to the NASA Social #DrydenSocial attendees, David McBride, Dryden’s Director, pointed out that aeronautics research receives about 2.5% of NASA’s roughly $18 billion dollar budget in any given year. Those monies go towards funding the four dedicated NASA Aeronautics Research Centers: Langley, Glenn, Ames, and Dryden. At the end of that quickly narrowing financial funnel, Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) receives less than 1% of NASA’s budget.
It turns out, however, that the first A in NASA is a really important part of the United States’ overall economic picture. McBride indicated that the manufacture of aircraft and its associated industries were the single greatest positive contributor to the U.S. balance of trade. NASA’s own web pages put the scope of aviation’s influence in the U.S. economy as follows:
“Aviation generates more than $400 billion in direct economic activity, supports more than 650,000 jobs and accommodates more than 600 million passengers every year in the United States.”
At last fall’s GRAIL Tweetup, Charlie Bolden also addressed the importance of aeronautics, when he said that he would like a part of his legacy as NASA Administrator to include leaving funding for aeronautics research on a “upward trend” in order to return NASA to its traditional status as the “premier aeronautics research organization in the world.”
The technical talks at #DrydenSocial started with engineer Ed Haering, who is a superstar in the world of supersonic booms. Haering’s presentation covered work that has been done at DFRC to mitigate—sshhh!—supersonic booms. Because commercial aircraft are prohibited from flying over land at supersonic speeds (this was a huge problem for Concorde), this research is imperative if we’re ever to see another supersonic transport aircraft. The Lofty duo actually had the opportunity to see some of Ed’s work up close and personal when we visited Valiant Air Command in Titusville, Florida. Valiant is the home of the Shaped Sonic Boom Demonstration (SSBD) aircraft, a test aircraft on which Haering worked at Dryden. As its name suggest, the SSBD successfully demonstrated that a sonic boom could be shaped to reduce its impact, and by impact, we mean noise.
On the heels of Haering’s talk was an opportunity head outside and experience a sonic boom firsthand. Shortly after the #DrydenSocial attendees were led outside for a photograph beneath the wings of the X-1E, an F-18 flew overhead accompanied by the telltale crack of a sonic boom. Moments after that, the same F-18 treated us to a loud-and-low flyby.
In a day of artifacts and factoids, one that would have made a great impression on Anna, had she been there too, concerned the front of Dryden’s administration building. As we gathered around the X-1E, one of the handlers assigned to our group related that the front of the administration building had stood in for the NASA’s offices in I Dream of Jeannie. (If you want to read more about I Dream of Jeannie, click HERE.)
For Doug, though, the artifact that made the greatest impression was the insect-like Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV, in the photo above) which was located in a nearby hangar. The M2-F2 lifting body, used to validate the design of the space shuttles and located in the same storage space as the LLRV was a close second.
Happy Birthday, Skylab May 14, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Biology, Chemistry, Physics
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On this date in 1973, when we were in elementary school, NASA launched Skylab from Kennedy Space Center. As with other projects, like the Hubble Telescope, not everything was right with the first American space station at the beginning. But in-space repairs made real science in space—and living there—a reality for our generation.
Apollo astronauts like Pete Conrad and Alan Bean spent time on Skylab, as did space shuttle astronaut Jack Lousma. Fellow Illinoisan Joseph Kerwin became the first physician to be invited to train to go to space and spent 28 days in space. The 84 days of Skylab’s last mission now pales in comparison with stints on the International Space Station, and the percentage of days that Skylab was inhabited makes it looked little used. But at the time, this space station was pretty amazing and certainly paved the way for future low-Earth orbit projects.
What we remember most about Skylab is the anticipation of reentry in the summer of 1979. The space shuttle hadn’t been completed in time to save Skylab, to push it higher in orbit and extend its life for a few more years. Bets on the date of its demise were wagered, t-shirts were printed up, and rewards for pieces of the space station were offered by news organizations. We hoped its demise would come on the weekend and on our side of the globe, though all along NASA was shooting for the pieces to fall in the largest body of water, the Pacific Ocean, far from land and people who could be hit by burning bits of debris. On July 11, a Wednesday, Skylab fell to Earth, and we didn’t see it. NASA miscalculated the process and angles slightly, the spacecraft didn’t burn up fast enough, and some debris landed in Australia.
In many ways, as we look back on Skylab, it seems as if it, like Star Trek and The Six Million Dollar Man, had been a television show we watched as kids, a bit of popular culture. The real science of it hadn’t made its way into our textbooks then. But it was real, and there’s proof at the National Air and Space Museum, where the second orbital workshop is on display. NASA had planned to send a second Skylab to space, so two complete space stations were manufactured. NASA doesn’t build spare spacecraft so that museum visitors can walk through them, imagining what it would be like to look down on the earth from 250 miles up. But that’s exactly what happened with Skylab, and it gave regular folks the rare opportunity to inhabit—to physically invest themselves in—the idea of living on a space station.
Tags: Dryden Flight Research Center, Museums & Archives, Space Shuttle, WWII
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For more than seventy years, a dry lakebed in Southern California’s interior has been a hotbed of aviation research, development, and testing. During that time, the nearly five hundred square miles of flattened high desert, situated in the Antelope Valley and bordered by the Tehachapi and San Gabriel mountain ranges, has been home to a series of military bases and government research centers. Presently, Edwards Air Force Base, home to the Air Force Flight Test Center, and NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) inhabit the lakebed, each having their own buildings and hangars, but sharing the runways.
Doug visited the Dryden/Edwards complex this past Friday. Doug and Anna had previously visited the area in November 2008, in order to watch the completion of STS-126, when space shuttle Endeavour landed in California. The occasion of Doug’s most recent visit to DFRC was a NASA Social event. A NASA Social—previously known as a NASA Tweetup but now extended to include other social media platforms—is by invitation only, and Doug was selected in a lottery.
NASA has made a big commitment to social media in an effort to tell its story, and #DrydenSocial was the thirty-seventh event that they have held since their first, a Tweetup at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in January 2009. This is the second such NASA event that Doug has attended; he was at Tweetup for the GRAIL launch in September.
The Dryden/Edwards area first became a home to military aircraft in the 1930s as a bombing range for pilots flying out of March Field in nearby Riverside. During World War II, the bombing range became Muroc Army Air Base. The facility added test flight and engineering to its repertoire during the war; it was the place where America’s first jet fighter, the Bell XP-59A was tested. Those aeronautical engineering and development activities became a focus for the facility in the post-war years. This change in emphasis reached its logical conclusion when the Bell X-1, piloted by Chuck Yeager, ushered in the era of supersonic flight by breaking the sound barrier there on October 14, 1947. Muroc was renamed Edwards Air Force Base—honoring test pilot Glenn Edwards—in 1949.
NASA’s predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, first began flying from the lakebed just after the war’s end in 1946. Over time, DRFC has been known by a dizzying array of names. For a catalog of its previous names, consult the Introduction in Images of Aviation: Edwards Air Force Base by Ted Huetter and Christian Gelzer.
If you’ve read Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff or seen the movie, as soon as you arrive at Edwards you expect to hear the air-shattering cracks associated with sonic booms or to catch a glimpse of a fast-moving, yet improbably shaped, aircraft. Instead, what you notice is the scale of the place, the distances involved. In order to reach DRFC’s front door, you have to drive nearly ten miles after you leave the Air Force guards and gates in your review mirror. The entire drive, save the last hundred yards, is spent on a single road, Rosamond Boulevard. On a map or from the air, Rosamond Boulevard arcs through the landscape, a bite mark carving out a quarter of the facility.
The road that leads from Rosamond to the DFRC parking lot is named for another test pilot, Howard Lilly. Lilly was NACA’s first test pilot assigned to Muroc, third to break the speed of sound, and first to be killed on the job. After a while, it becomes clear that having something bear your name at this site is a mixed-bag. Unless you’re lucky enough to see an aircraft in flight while driving in, the next thing you notice after parking your car is the wind. It comes at you from every direction, all the time.
Near Dryden’s parking lot is a display area of former NASA test aircraft. Prior to beginning the day’s event, DFRC Chief Historian Dr. Christian Gelzer (co-author of the book mentioned above) was in the display area describing the assemblage of test vehicles: the HL-10 lifting body, used to validate ideas that would later be used in the shuttle; an SR-71 Blackbird; the F-8 Crusader used to develop fly-by-wire, a technology that eliminated the mechanical connection between the pilot and an aircraft’s control surfaces; another F-8 Crusader, this one used for Super Critical Wing studies; the X-29, whose flight on forward-swept wings was made possible only by computer control; and one of the eleven F-104s that served as a chase planes at DFRC for almost forty years (1956-1994).
Among the topics that Gelzer discussed in his pre-event tour through static display aircraft was the concept of Armstrong’s Line, or sometimes called Armstrong’s Limit. As Gelzer described it, Armstrong’s Line, named for physician Harry Armstrong (not to be confused with Neil’s famous spoken line), is that height above the earth’s surface beyond which the air pressure is not sufficient to maintain your corporeal liquids. In other words, above approximately 62,000 feet, the air pressure is so low that your body’s own natural temperature is enough to boil the water in your blood, your tissues, and even your bones. Given the impulse of Dryden’s test pilots to fly ever higher over the years, it isn’t much of a surprise that Armstrong’s Line is common banter around and above the dry lakebed.
We’ll have more about DFRC and Doug’s Dryden Social-izing soon.
Discovery Departure (Part 9: Video Interview) May 7, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration, Video Interviews.
Tags: Discovery Departure, Museums & Archives, Space Shuttle
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Last Monday, we posted the first part of our video interview with Charlie Bolden, the current head of NASA and a former shuttle astronaut. You can see that video by clicking HERE and the write-up of interviews with John Glenn, Bolden, and Eileen Collins by clicking HERE.
We couldn’t resist asking our favorite question of Bolden: Discovery, great shuttle or the greatest shuttle? And Margaret Lazarus Dean, Lofty Ambitions guest blogger and author of the novel The Time It Takes to Fall, captured Bolden’s answer on video. Note the expression of the security detail over Bolden’s shoulder, indicating that this was his favorite question that day.
Space Toys May 2, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration, Writing.
Tags: Art & Science, Space Shuttle
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This year’s Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference took place at the beginning of March in Chicago, and we posted about that (click HERE). Whenever our travels take us to Chicago, we try to smash as many activities as we possibly can into the few days in the city that we’ve considered our second home for the better part of two decades. In addition to our conference obligations, this year’s mad dash included a party for our usual assemblage of lifelong friends, meeting with our writing group, bumping into new and old colleagues, and seeing whatever family we can corral into trekking up to Chicago.
In a roundabout way, the Saturday that time spent with his parents got us to thinking a bit about how the blog has become a community effort, a family effort. After our return to California, our inklings about this communal effort were confirmed.
A few weeks after AWP, an unexpected package for Anna arrived at our door. Anna will declaim loudly that she hates surprises, unless that surprise is a gift. After a decisive unwrapping, the gift that emerged was a recast vintage Barbie doll, clad in a spacesuit with a helmet. We named her Astro-Barbie.
The Barbie doll is a complex cultural object, but as we’ve mentioned recently (see our Marlin Perkins post HERE), we’ve been thinking about our childhoods, and there’s no denying that Barbie and Ken were a part of growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. This particular Barbie doll is a reproduction of the 1965 vintage Barbie decked out as Gemini astronaut. As if to somehow atone for her maker’s 1992 anti-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) statement that “Math is tough,” a floating thought bubble is positioned next to our Barbie’s coiffure. The text reads, “Yes, I am a rocket scientist!” And, in all honesty, we think it rocks.
The plot thickened a few days later when Doug’s mother called to ask if we’d received any packages lately. She, and her favorite minion—Doug’s sister Suellen—were co-conspirators orchestrating the arrival of Astronaut Barbie. On the phone, Doug’s mom’s tone also made it clear that Doug should be expecting a gift in the mail any day. At first, Doug guessed that perhaps a similarly space-suited and booted Ken doll might be headed his way. Doug’s mom’s reaction, a hearty laugh laden with a “not even close” tone, convinced Doug to think a bit more. The day spent shopping in Chicago came to mind, and in particular, a stop at the Lego store in Water Tower Place. While there, Doug’s eye was drawn to the Shuttle Expedition Lego.
The Shuttle Expedition Lego kit has it all: astronauts and pad workers, orbiter (named Expedition, but around our house to be known as OV106), SRBs, fuel tank, even a few Lego lights for simulating that bathed-in-white-light look depicted in so many nighttime photos of the shuttle stack on the pad. The kit is reminiscent of many models that Doug built in his childhood, plastic vessels into which he poured time and effort, imagination and play, and time and money.
Time came up twice in that last sentence, and it was also one of the first things that Doug’s mom mentioned when he guessed that that was what she had put in the mail. She wondered openly when he would find the time to assemble OV106, and Doug did too. Then, just this week, while staring dreamily at the shuttle kit’s box, a habit Doug developed on childhood model building projects and a singularly important part of the process, he noticed that the part count was labeled prominently on the box: 1230 pieces. In one of those flashes of inspiration that hits us all from time to time, Doug realized that he could use building the model as a reward system for progress on writing projects.
Dividing the total number of pieces by four gives 307.5, which is a good page count goal for a novel manuscript. So, for every page that gets written, Doug can assemble together four pieces of OV106. We’ll keep you all informed as to how this space-shuttle as reward system works.
And if Anna finds some human-sized space boots that Astro-Barbie is sporting, she’ll set some serious goals for that reward.
For another Lofty Ambitions post about childhood toys, click HERE.