Space Tech Expo: Technology Transfer (1) May 23, 2013Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Cliff Jolly, President of the Alternative Asset Development Group, called technology transfer—the sharing by NASA of technology that can be used by private companies to develop useful products—“the bread and butter of NASA’s contribution to society. He’s worried that the United States is not in an economic cycle but, rather, what he calls “a secular economic trend” in which job losses aren’t being recovered at the rate one would expect in a regular cycle. He argues that “the velocity of money”—how many times a unit of money changes hands over a given period of time, which indicates how often it can be taxed—is at a fifty-year low.
He’s especially concerned because the economic crisis is global, and our nation’s economy is intertwined with the global economy more than ever before. “We’re in uncharted waters,” Jolly said. “I am very concerned that we have papered over these problems.” And by papered over, he means printed lots of money to get out of this economic crisis.
He’s a businessman through and through, and Space Tech Expo is very much about the business of space travel. Jolly sees a way out of the economic crisis: small- and medium-business development and more intelligent cities. And NASA can help accomplish both.
David Leetsma spoke for NASA. He’s a three-time shuttle astronaut and works at Johnson Space Center to foster technology transfer from NASA to private industry. NASA has developed a lot of great stuff in the process of going to the Moon and spending the last three decades doing orbital spaceflight, and it’s Leetsma’s job to figure out how to get some of that good stuff into development by private companies so that products find their ways to regular people in the United States and beyond.
Sometimes, NASA studies the existing market and publicizes a technology that seems as if it might be useful and valuable. For instance, NASA, with the help of GM, developed Robonaut for the International Space Station and, in the process, made a terrific robotic glove. Now, the Veterans Administration sees that a robotic limb could be of great benefit to soldiers returning from battle without all their limbs. Ta-dah, technology transfer.
Other times, a person with an interesting problem seeks out NASA. A deer hunter knew that deer urine attracted deer, but deer urine lost its attractive qualities quickly. NASA had developed a urine preservative for the human biological testing done in spaceflight so that bodily fluids could be preserved for analysis back on Earth after a mission. The deer hunter contacted NASA and adapted the urine preservative to improve hunting odds.
Leetsma welcomes “non-traditional partnerships.” NASCAR drivers now wear the type of underwear that NASA developed for astronauts on spacewalks. The underwear’s tubes circulate cool water to keep racecar driver or extravehicular astronaut comfortable.
In 2005, the United States portion of the International Space Station (ISS) was designated a national laboratory, just like Fermilab or Los Alamos. NASA will continue to maintain and operate ISS at least through 2020, a decision that cheered the space business community. Only with that commitment from NASA can businesses make plans to use the space station. The ISS National Laboratory—through an NGO called CASIS—is working with other government agencies, universities, and private industry to encourage low-Earth orbit research and application of that research on Earth.
So who’s really in charge of the ISS National Lab in this new relationship? And what’s going on up there these days? We learned some new and surprising things, and the folks at the private companies involved are incredibly jazzed about zero-gravity capitalism.
Check back at Lofty Ambitions for more on technology transfer. In the meantime, ponder this chart of what’s costed what in our federal spending in response to economic crises over the years (and note the relatively small amount of total NASA spending).
Space Tech Expo: Commercial Crew May 22, 2013Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: Dryden Flight Research Center, Space Shuttle, SpaceX
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The Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) Program is a federally funded, NASA-generated process to foster the efforts of private industry to develop low-Earth orbit. In other words, NASA stopped flying the space shuttle and wants to help private companies take over some of the work that the shuttle did, namely transporting cargo and crew to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA and private industry also want to work together to develop other projects in low-Earth orbit.
The big talking point about this investment of our tax dollars in getting companies like SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, and Boeing off the ground and beyond the atmosphere is that NASA will be able to focus on space exploration beyond our planet’s orbit. The focus at Space Tech Expo, though, is on private industry and the business of space travel.
In 2010, NASA invested $50M in five private companies. In 2011, NASA invested $315M in four companies and also supported unfunded contracts to three additional companies. Last August, NASA made awards under the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative to three companies: SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, and Boeing. Those three 2012 awards totaled $1,112,500,000—that’s 1.1 billion dollars. If you add all that up, NASA could have paid for three shuttle launches over the last three years. So the rise of Commercial Crew doesn’t mean that NASA has handed over orbital space travel to private industry but, rather, that NASA helps boost private companies up to orbit.
NASA has set up a new kind of relationship with the aerospace industry. Each company is responsible for day-to-day design decisions. Without the need to continually negotiate with NASA about small design changes in the space vehicle, the design process is streamlined and becomes more efficient, or at least design and development of a vehicle and system take less time. NASA retains oversight, of course, and maps out the path to certification. In addition, each company has hired a former shuttle astronaut to be an integral part of spacecraft development. The relationship between the aerospace industry and NASA seems to be exceptionally good right now.
Numerous private industry players showed up at the Space Tech Conference in Long Beach, California, to tout their accomplishments. The three companies awarded the CCiCap money for development presented their stories and plans on Tuesday.
SpaceX was represented by Garrett Reisman, an astronaut we’ve met before. He’s excited about his new role and about what he considers a Golden Age of Spaceflight occurring right now. SpaceX is moving at a good clip and has already begun to resupply ISS with the Dragon spacecraft, a capsule reminiscent of Apollo days. The company is actively working to adapt the capsule for crew transportation, which involves adding a launch abort system. SpaceX Founder, CEO, and Chief Designer Elon Musk wants to go to Mars, too, and Reisman thinks that’s a great idea. While biological challenges remain, Reisman is convinced that the engineering problems for a Mars trip have already been solved. He said, “We’re trying a little bit of everything.”
CEO Mark Sirangelo spoke for Sierra Nevada. He calls the Dream Chaser vehicle “what the shuttle might have been if the shuttle had been redesigned for the future.” That company’s vehicle is now at Dryden Flight Research Center for a series of flight tests that follows the test-flight plan used for space shuttle Enterprise. Dream Chaser is a lifting body like the space shuttle, and, like that first shuttle, the first Dream Chaser is not intended for space travel. Former astronaut Steve Lindsey is at Sierrra Nevada and is working with NASA Langley on developing a flight simulator for the vehicle. The company has begun construction of the first orbital Dream Chaser.
Boeing’s John Mulholland represented the old-timer of the aerospace industry. Boeing is working on the CST-100 capsule and has met 8 of 19 development milestones on schedule. Safety is something NASA will be looking for in the certification process for all these orbital spacecraft, so Mulholland emphasized, “It was really important to ensure we’re driving safety early in the design.”
Mulholland pointed out that Boeing can “shamelessly steal from other Boeing projects” and that all the companies can steal ideas and designs from Shuttle and Apollo. He called his fellow panelists and the companies they represent “the teammates.” The others chimed in that that’s the way it’s working. They are competitors, but these companies can build on each other’s success and can work with NASA as a team to help refine the certification process. The aerospace industry has never put on a more cheerful face than it has these days.
We’ll have more about commercial crew and about the Space Tech Expo. And be sure to check out our ongoing series “Writing in General, and Science Writing in Particular.”
Discovery: On the Anniversary of Retirement April 17, 2013Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Countdown to the Cape, Museums & Archives, Space Shuttle
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One year ago, on April 17, 2012, the space shuttle Discovery left Kennedy Space Center for the last time. The orbiter was mated to the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and installed at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Ait and Space Museum.
Our series following Discovery on its last mission is “Countdown to the Cape.”
At Udvar-Hazy on installation day, we spoke with Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, about the new acquisition:
Lofty Ambitions maintains a Flickr photostream, so we share here some photos of Discovery‘s retirement, which are among our most popular photos there.
Yuri & Young April 10, 2013Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration, Writing.
Tags: Movies & TV, Space Shuttle
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On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin, at the age of 27, became the first person to travel to space. His single orbit, from launch to landing, took roughly 108 minutes. Gagarin had been told that he was the choice only three days before the Vostok 1 mission. He returned a Soviet hero and worldwide celebrity. He died in the crash of a training flight on March 27, 1968, at the age of 34 and before the world saw human beings reach the Moon.
On April 12, 1981, only and exactly twenty years after Gagarin’s flight, the first space shuttle mission launched. That the United States had developed a reusable space plane within two decades of the first human spaceflight is a testament to our ingenuity and commitment to space exploration. That NASA chose the same date for the first shuttle launch as the Soviets had chosen for Gagarin’s first-ever spaceflight reminds us that the Cold War lingered and still fueled one-upsmanship.
Though networks covered the STS-1 launch live and gave it the same sort of Cold War fanfare that Apollo had received, we didn’t see the first shuttle launch in real time. The bigger news story that spring, the one for which teachers at Anna’s high school had stopped class to pray, had been the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan less than two weeks earlier. Reagan watched the launch on television as he recuperated at the White House. Vice President George H.W. Bush was the one to call the crew during their mission.
We caught replays of the launch, complete with the word videotape at the top of the screen. Doug remembers himself in front of a television that Sunday afternoon in the most American of venues, the shopping mall after church. Wide-eyed, mouth agape, he watched the liftoff over and over in the J.C. Penney electronics area as if it were that J.C. Penney parking lot across the water from Kennedy Space Center.
Just after launch, CBS newscaster Dan Rather explained the accomplishment in halting syntax: “We’ve been saying all week long and as the time for the launch built Friday morning and again this morning built, everybody a little bit nervous, the tension a little heavier than even usual […] because this spacecraft had not been tested at a launch in unmanned fashion as all others had, spacecraft designed to carry men. […] It’s done now, done successfully.” Leo Krupp, a Rockwell test pilot in the booth with Rather for the “Wings in Space” special report that day, gushed, “That launch was the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen.” Rather composed himself and went on to describe what had just happened: “The ground literally shook, as the spacecraft Columbia started its own sun below itself, caused that great thunder, and lifted off the pad, headed toward that orbit.” After the commercial break, Rather read a more detailed and technical description, noting that the shuttle had cleared the launch tower within five seconds and exceeded the speed of sound within thirty. (See that broadcast HERE.)
Astronauts John Young, a veteran of the Gemini and Apollo programs, and Bob Crippen, a veteran test pilot but a rookie astronaut, circled the Earth 37 times at an altitude of 191 miles, making a complete circuit roughly every ninety minutes and inaugurating the first of the shuttle program’s eventual 135 missions.
Space shuttle Columbia (OV-102), the heaviest orbiter built, landed at Edwards Air Force Base on April 14, 1981. The STS-1 CAPCOM, the person, usually an astronaut, who communicates from the ground directly to the shuttle, announced the orbiter’s safe return, saying, “Welcome home, Columbia. Beautiful, beautiful.” The reusable space plane had succeeded.
Commander Young quipped, “Do I have to take it up to the hangar, Joe?” The CAPCOM replied, “We’re going to dust it off first.” Young added, “This is the world’s greatest flying machine, I’ll tell you that.” The space shuttle era had begun.
Now, of course, the space shuttle era is over. Last week, film critic Roger Ebert died at the age of 70. At the conclusion of his review of Apollo 13, he wrote, “This is a powerful story, one of the year’s best films, told with great clarity and remarkable technical detail, and acted without pumped-up histrionics. It’s about men trained to do a job, and doing a better one than anyone could have imagined. The buried message is: When we dialed down the space program, we lost something crucial to our vision.”
Gus Grissom April 3, 2013Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Books
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Today marks the anniversary of Gus Grissom’s birth. Grissom, born Virgil but known as Gus, was a veteran of three spaceflight missions across three space programs. The shortest of the original seven astronauts would have been 87 years old today.
He flew the Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft on the Mercury-Redstone 4 mission on July 21, 1961. Grissom was aloft for less than sixteen minutes and never reached orbit. He was the second American in space, Alan Shepard having been the first a couple of months earlier. Upon his return, as Liberty Bell 7 sloshed in the waves and Grissom finished some flip-switching while the recovery helicopter made its final moves, emergency explosives blew the hatch. Grissom scrambled out and nearly drowned, tangled in external lines and waving to helicopters to drop him a lifeline. Filling with water and the resulting weight, Liberty Bell 7 sank, unable to be lifted by the recovery helicopter and recovered decades later in 1999.
Grissom’s next big foray to space was on Gemini 3, the first manned flight of that space program. He had been Shepard’s backup, and Shepard was grounded with an inner ear disorder, so Grissom became the first person to fly to space twice.
In a nod to Grissom’s previous mission, he and fellow Gemini 3 astronaut John Young named their spacecraft Molly Brown, as in the unsinkable. When NASA disapproved of the name, the crew is said to have suggested Titanic as an alternative. While this story emanates a whiff of apocrypha, we have come to think of astronauts as a somewhat cheeky bunch and are willing to believe that Young and Grissom were of that ilk at the time. After that, NASA took a break from naming the capsules, until Apollo 9.
For its time, Gemini 3 was a lengthy mission, at more than four hours and three complete orbits. This flight also involved Young sneaking a corned beef sandwich on board and presenting it to a surprised and hungry Grissom. Fellow Gemini and Apollo astronaut Michael Collins, in his book Carrying the Fire, notes that, during the parachute deployment, which can wrench the spacecraft violently at the mission’s conclusion, Grissom “whack[ed] his head into the instrument panel, cracking his helmet visor.”
Grissom, seemingly beset by odd mishaps, was assigned to the first planned Apollo mission, designated AS-204 based on a complicated naming system. Sadly, he and his crewmates, Roger Chaffee and Ed White died in that spacecraft during a ground test on January 27, 1967. A fire had started near Grissom’s seat and had flourished in the 100% oxygen at the ground pressure of 16 psi.
Of that fateful day, Collins writes of getting the initial news in Houston:
After what seemed like a long time, Don [Gregory] finally hung up and said very quietly, ‘Fire in the spacecraft.’ That’s all he had to say. There was no doubt about which spacecraft (102) or who was in it (Grissom-White-Chaffee) or where (Pad 34, Cape Kennedy) or why (a final systems test) or what (death, the quicker the better). All I could think of was, My God, such an obvious thing and yet we hadn’t considered it. We worried about engines that wouldn’t start or wouldn’t stop; we worried about leaks; we even worried about how a flame front might propagate in weightlessness and how cabin pressure might be reduced to stop a fire in space. But right here on the ground, when we should have been most alert, we put three guys inside an untried spacecraft, strapped them into couches, locked two cumbersome hatches behind them, and left them no way of escaping a fire.
One of the Apollo 1 crew reported the fire, then White said clearly, “Fire in the cockpit.” Communication continued for seventeen seconds. The crew struggled to escape. In ideal circumstances, escape took 90 seconds, but even in practice, the crew had never been able to egress that quickly. Someone uttered, “Get us out.” The fire burned so hot and the hatches were so complicated that it took the rescuers five minutes to reach the bodies of Grissom, Chaffee, and White. Though they suffered serious burns, which may have contributed to their deaths, their suits had been surprisingly effective protection against the flames. The three astronauts had died of asphyxiation.
Grissom and Chaffee are buried at Arlington Cemetery, while White rests at West Point. Gus Grissom finished drafting his book Gemini: A Personal Account of Man’s Venture into Space only days before his death. There, he had written. “The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.”
A Lucky Disaster, or Canada’s Loss, NASA’s Gain (Part 2) March 13, 2013Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, WWII
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Also see PART 1 of “A Lucky Disaster, or Canada’s Loss, NASA’s Gain.”
For the last 40 years, at least in the public’s eyes, Florida’s Space Coast and Houston have been the homes of American manned space flight. But in the earliest days of America’s space program, a select group of engineers calling themselves the Space Task Group (STG) made their home in rural Virginia at the Langley Research Center. Langley is NASA’s oldest research home, founded in 1917 by NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (just as you would think, NACA). The STG at Langley, inaugurated on November 5, 1958, came into existence little more than a month after NACA became NASA. These name changes and group birthings were all of a piece. Forty-five years ago, the nation was obsessed with space—and the nation remains intrigued.
In our February 20th post, we hinted that the February 20th, 1959, cancellation of AVRO’s CF-105 Arrow aircraft—less than six months after NASA was itself born—wound up being a boon for America’s fledgling space program. America’s first human spaceflight program, Project Mercury, was announced to the world six days after NASA was born, but that ambitious program was struggling to get its legs under it. The STG, with its single-minded view of putting an American in space, also had trouble finding its footing and was viewed with skepticism by the airplanes-only culture of Langley’s old guard.
Aeronautics was becoming Aerospace, but not everyone was excited by the changes that this shift implied. In part, resistance was only logical. The American aviation industry had achieved remarkable successes since the end of World War II. The nascent American efforts in space didn’t have a record of success. Not only had the Russians beaten the Americans into space with Sputnik, but they had done it spectacularly. Sputnik had been followed less than a month later by Sputnik-2, and that second Sputnik had carried a living creature, a dog named Laika. America’s side of the space-race equation was also spectacular, but mostly spectacular failures. The nationally televised explosion of America’s first attempted satellite launch—the Vanguard mission on December 6, 1957—earned it the derisive nickname Kaputnik.
Into this environment came the opportunity for NASA’s STG to add significant engineering talent. Arguably, AVRO’s Arrow was the most advanced aircraft in active engineering and development at that time, and it was cancelled. The United States’ most advanced interceptor aircraft of that moment, the North American Aviation XF-108 Rapier—with delta wings and predicted Mach 3 performance, it was quite similar to the Arrow—was also cancelled in 1959. Both were victims of the coming age of ballistic missiles and pushbutton warfare. But whereas the American XF-108 project was limited to engineering drawings and a single wooden mock-up, the CF-105 Arrow knew the feel of air beneath its wings.
In all, AVRO designed, manufactured, and flight-tested six Arrow aircraft. This effort had given a talented young cadre of AVRO engineers experience at the leading edge of aeronautical engineering. The Arrow was the first aircraft designed to use a fly-by-wire system, a means of controlling the aircraft’s flight surfaces with electronic systems. The Arrow was designed in great part on computers. An IBM 704 mainframe computer at AVRO Canada’s headquarters in Malton, Ontario (near Toronto), was used not only for design purposes, but also for simulation and modeling. In fact, data collected during the Arrow flight test program was analyzed on the 704 and then fed back into the simulator. In sum, the young AVRO engineers had just the sort of experience that NASA’s STG needed for Project Mercury.
Ultimately, the AVRO engineers wound up in the STG because of the Arrow’s chief designer, Jim Chamberlin. Chamberlin was a known quantity to engineers at Langley from the collaborative work between AVRO and NACA on wind-tunnel testing for the Arrow and because of an earlier project, the AVRO VZ-9 Car (a saucer shaped jet).
As the layoffs took hold, Chamberlin and others jumped into action. Arrows to the Moon, a comprehensive look by author Chris Gainor of the contributions that AVRO engineers made to the American space program, indicates that the original idea was for a two-year exchange that would bring engineers from the cancelled Arrow project to the STG at Langley. NASA benefited by getting an immediate injection of talent for Project Mercury. AVRO hoped to get returns from sending its best-and-brightest off for two years for the equivalent of a graduate degree, a U.S.-funded, on-the-job school that was essentially the only program in space systems design and engineering in the free world.
When all was said and done, 32 AVRO engineers joined the STG. Another fantastic book that touches on this subject, Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox’s Apollo: The Race to the Moon, recounts a story in which Robert Gilruth, first head of the STG, told one of the AVRO engineers, Tec Roberts, “We thought about taking more of your crowd from AVRO…but we figured twenty-five percent aliens in the American space program was sufficient.”
Those aliens would make contributions to the American space program that are still being felt to this this day.
Lofty Ambitions at YouTube March 4, 2013Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, Science, Space Exploration, Video Interviews.
Tags: A Launch to Remember, Apollo, Last Chance to See, Museums & Archives, Radioactivity, Space Shuttle
We have a Lofty Ambitions YouTube channel where you can find an an array of videos we’ve posted over more than two years. Those videos include space shuttle launches and chats with astronauts. Here are five among our favorites:
The Last Launch of a Space Shuttle (July 2011)
Dee O’Hara: First Nurse to the Astronauts
Michael Barratt: STS-133 Astronaut & Physician Studying Radiation
Space Shuttle Endeavour’s Last Takeoff from Kennedy Space Center
Fireworks Over Space Shuttle Atlantis: The End of the Shuttle Program
Lofty Ambitions at The Huffington Post February 25, 2013Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: Art & Science, Music, Physics
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Roughly ten days ago, The Huffington Post asked us to write an article for their next TED Weekends feature. They chose a popular Ted Talk–Honor Harger’s “A History of the Universe in Sound”–and asked some of their bloggers to write responses and riffs that would be posted over several days. We are pleased that HuffPost noticed our work and happy to contribute to a section that gets front-page coverage.
Our post is called “Voices Carry,” after the ‘Til Tuesday song (see video below). Among the voices to which that title refers is the Golden Record, now carried toward the edge of our universe by two Voyager spacecraft. We also discuss poet Robert Frost, President John F. Kennedy, and sferics. Read (and then “like” or maybe share) the whole post by clicking HERE.
This year’s TED Conference begins on Tuesday–’til Tuesday, then. It runs through Friday in Long Beach, California, but the $7500 tickets are sold out. The conference moves to Vancouver next year.
“Voices Carry” is not our first article at The Huffington Post. Anna’s recently published post there is “5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Chemo.” We’ve also published the following articles together there:
A Lucky Disaster, or Canada’s Loss, NASA’s Gain (Part 1) February 20, 2013Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, Space Exploration.
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One version of the history of manned space exploration goes something like this: in the darkest days of the Cold War, American and Russian engineers—armed with only their wits and slide rules—duked it out, mano a mano, in a contest for supremacy of the high frontier, outer space. The Russians struck first on every front: first unmanned satellite to orbit the earth—a beeping, silvery sphere called Sputnik; first mammal to orbit the earth—a dog named Laika; and most impressively, the first human being in space—Yuri Gagarin. We Americans quickly caught up with the Russians, repeated their first steps—though we favored simians in space over canines—and eventually surpassed Russian spaceborne achievements by landing human beings on the Moon.
Whether intentionally or by omission, that story fails to credit the significant contributions that other nations made to what, in a less politically contentious world, likely would have been seen as a set of achievements to be shared by all humanity. Neil Armstrong’s first words while standing on the Moon—That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind—can be seen as a attempt to share some credit with all human beings for the achievement, but many people don’t consider what other nations might have been doing while the Russians and Americans were racing to space.
German rocket scientists made significant contributions to the nascent American space program. Indeed, space nerds likely know of the contributions of Dr. Kurt Debus. His name adorns Kennedy Space Center’s conference center, a place where we have met and interviewed astronauts on a couple of occasions. Anyone who has ever watched Apollo 13 has seen Tom Hanks, in the guise of Jim Lovell, adopt a phaux-teutonic accent and ham it up by saying, “I vonder vere Günter vent?” a pun on the name of famed Launch Pad Leader Günter Wendt. In reality—a concept always a distant second to story in Hollywood—astronaut Donn Eisele had uttered those words during Apollo 7. And of course, Wernher von Braun achieved enough stature and fame from his work on the Apollo program that he—a German who became a naturalized citizen of the United States—is often referred to as the father of the American space program.
A story that isn’t often told is of the contributions that America’s neighbors to the north made to NASA and the space program.
Fifty-four years ago today, on February 20, 1959, the Canadian arm of the British aircraft company A. V. Roe—more generally known as AVRO—killed its most ambitious project to date, the CF-105 Arrow. The death of the Arrow Program resulted in the southern migration of a number of Canadian—and Britons who’d already relocated once to Canada—scientists and engineers who would contribute mightily to the American space program.
The Arrow was a product of the revolutionary changes in aircraft design and manufacturing that took place in the 1950s. In the almost exactly ten years that passed from Chuck Yeager’s October 14, 1947, flight that broke through the sound barrier to the October 4, 1957, announcement by AVRO that it was going to build the Arrow, human ingenuity produced a dizzying variety of solutions to the problems of going faster, higher, and farther. Yeager’s mount in 1947, the Bell X-1—which he named Glamorous Glennis after his wife—was shaped like a rifle bullet with wings slapped on as an afterthought because, after all, it’s an airplane, it’s gotta have wings. Six years later, in 1953, Scott Crossfield flew at twice the speed of sound in the D-558-2 Skyrocket. The bodies—the fuselage—of the two aircraft had roughly the same bullet shape, but the Skyrocket sliced through the skies above Edwards Air Force Base on wings that swept backwards at 35 degrees.
The Arrow, which had its first flight in 1958, was intended to intercept Soviet bombers carrying atomic and thermonuclear weapons over the arctic and on into North America. To meet the requirements of this mission, it was posited that the Arrow would need to be able to fly at three times the speed of sound—Mach 3—or roughly 1980 miles per hour. That this was the Arrow’s performance target, when no piloted jet-propelled aircraft—research or otherwise—had yet attained that speed speaks to the engineering audaciousness of the era.
The date of AVRO’s announcement to build the Arrow—October 4, 1957—was the same day that Sputnik first circled the earth. The management of AVRO had the decided misfortune to announce their newest and most important aircraft on the same day that the Russians launched the first-ever manmade satellite. The party for bigwigs that evening, which included American aviation executives, officials, and military personnel (both NACA–the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, NASA’s immediate predecessor–and the USAF had contributed to the Arrow’s design) ended in disbelief and with everyone talking about spacecraft instead of aircraft.
Timing, as they say, is everything, and the Arrow never could get its timing right. The new engines upon which it was depending in order to reach Mach 3 were forever behind schedule. Sputnik’s launch had refocused military conversations on the viability of manned aircraft in the coming era of ballistic missiles and push-button warfare. In the end, the Arrow became too expensive—approximately $400M a year for several years in a row, or as the adage attributed to, but not likely said by Illinois politician Everett Dirksen asserts, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money”—for the government of Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and fifty-four years ago the program was put to rest. The announcement effectively cashiered the 14,000 AVRO employees working on Arrow.
One of those employees was a young engineer named R. Bryan Erb. Erb was among the AVRO engineers who migrated to NASA, and years later he described the event as a lucky disaster for himself. Considering the amount of raw engineering talent that would ultimately decamp AVRO and head for the warmer climes that NASA called home, NASA administrators could have described the Arrow cancellation the same way.
Check back at Lofty Ambitions to read more about how some of the people who made this journey from AVRO to NASA left a lasting impression on America’s space program.
The Eurythmics, Apollo, the International Space Station, and Landsat February 13, 2013Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, ISS, Music
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Thirty years ago—on January 21, 1983—The Eurythmics released a single called “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These).” In that song’s video (see the end of this post), Annie Lennox stands at the end of a long conference table surrounded by empty chairs. On the table sits a globe. Behind her, a screen shows the Apollo 11 launch and then an image of the Earth from space. She looks directly at the camera—at us—while pointing behind her at that image, clouds swirling over land masses and ocean, and asserts, Sweet dreams are made of these. As she goes on—singing, Who am I to disagree?—we see astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in their white flight suits inside their capsule on the screen behind her.
These were the days in which MTV played a full schedule of videos and used, as their station identification image, an enhanced photograph of Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, with an MTV flag planted on the lunar surface. MTV used Aldrin as the inspiration for the statuette of their Moonman award, sometimes referred to as the Buzzy, which honors the year’s best work in music videos. The first MTV awards were held in 1984, when The Cars won best video and a year during which the space shuttle flew five missions. The Hubble Telescope hadn’t yet been launched; that occurred in 1990, with repairs and upgrades beginning in 1993. The International Space Station (ISS) was still only a dream, with the first assembly mission in 1998.
Space exploration is indeed that out of which sweet dreams are made. Going to the Moon was the result of dreaming big as a nation, and the Moon landing is now a vivid memory in our collective dreams. A space station shared by nations had long been the stuff of science fiction, but that dream became a reality that has been continuously occupied for more than a dozen years now.
This past week, we saw the ISS fly over our heads twice. Though we’ve seen it before, probably first in April 2001 with its second long-duration crew, the sight amazes us every time. This past week’s passes were especially bright, brighter than the stars in the sky. If not for its speed across the night sky’s dark expanse, the ISS might be mistaken, at first, for an aircraft. But inside what looks tiny from our vantage are astronauts living life more than two hundred miles above the Earth, circling the globe once every ninety minutes. (Click HERE to find flybys for different U.S. locations.)
How is this not a dream, in the sense of having a vision or an aspiration? The etymology of the word dream is actually under contention, with some suggestions that it stems from a word meaning joy, merriment, noise, or, yes, music. Sweet dreams really are made of these.
Dream might stem from words related to deception, which leads us to consider that the ISS offers two very different perceptions, one of us looking up at the swift, bright dot in the sky and the other of the six crew—Chris Hadfield recently chatted with William Shatner and sang with Barenaked Ladies from the ISS (see the end of this post)—looking out at the Earth’s surface, clouds swirling over the California coast. Our vantage deceives us, in that we forget or cannot fully imagine other perspectives.
That other perspective—the one from Earth’s orbit—is important. On Monday, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, or Landsat 8, launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base. NASA’s Landsat program began in 1972, with a satellite that circled the globe for almost six years. Landsat’s satellites continue to provide data about the Earth’s surface to scientists and many others. The information from Landsat helps aircraft avoid bird strikes and helps wine growers and farmers manage their crops for maximum yield and deliciousness.
The images and data from Landsat are available to anyone who wants to use it. That’s right, we fund NASA collectively through the federal budget, so the information from these satellites belongs to all of us. As the website for Education and Public Outreach puts it, “Our goal is to enable you to access and use the entire Landsat Program’s data, imagery, and associated science content for your own purposes.”
One of the most recent discoveries by Landsat 7—a satellite launched in 1999, the immediate predecessor for the new Landsat 8 launched on Monday—is of Antarctic penguins. Sure, scientists knew there were penguins in the Antarctic. And no, Landsat 7 doesn’t have resolution good enough for scientists to see and count actual penguins on the Earth’s surface. But researchers at the British Antarctic Survey used Landsat images to measure the extent of penguin poop that stained ice brown when the creatures gathered during mating season. Decades-old research was finally updated in 2009, with researchers locating ten new colonies of emperor penguins and determining that six previously existing colonies had moved.
In other words, we have penguins running around right here on Earth, but we couldn’t really see them until we looked at them from space. As the song goes, Everybody’s looking for something. British researchers are looking for penguins, European Union leaders are looking for the wine-growing potential of each member nation, and leaders here in the western United States want to see where all our water is going. To see these things, we need the perspective that we can only get from stepping away and looking down from space.
Consider the images from the Apollo 8 mission in December 1968: the first time we really saw the whole Earth, and the Earthrise photograph in which our planet peeks above the lunar surface, instead of the other way around.
Perspective comes from the Latin: to clearly perceive, to look closely. Oddly, space exploration has taught us that, sometimes, we perceive most clearly and look most closely when we gain some distance.