NASA Airborne Science Program: Flight Suit (Part 3 / #NASASocial) January 30, 2013Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Books, Dryden Flight Research Center, GRAILTweetup, Space Shuttle
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Today, we focus on the pilot flight suit worn by those who fly high-altitude aircraft like the venerable ER-2. The ER-2 is the civilian version of the military’s U-2 spy plane, a sixty-year-old aircraft design that has a reputation for being a handful to fly. NASA, of course, doesn’t spy. Instead, the ER-2 flies at the edge of space, roughly 70,000 feet above the Earth, to, according to NASA’s website, “scan shorelines, measure water levels, help fight forest fires, profile the atmosphere, assess flood damage, and sample the stratosphere.” But just because it’s being used for science doesn’t make the ER-2 any easier to fly. Last year while visiting Dryden, Doug heard test pilot Nils Larson say of the aircraft, “If you’re having a bad day and the U-2’s having a bad day, it can be a BAD DAY.”
At that altitude and with a partially pressurized cockpit, the pilot needs to wear a suit that is, according to NASA’s Josh Graham, 80% the same as the orange launch-and-reentry suits worn by space shuttle astronauts. The differences between these flight suits and spacesuits lie mainly in the neck area and oxygen system. If the ER-2 pilot didn’t have such a suit, the lack of pressure at 65,000 feet would cause his blood to boil. Looking at the flight suit he brought for demonstration, Graham said, “This is somebody’s father. They need to come home.”
Each pilot is issued two of these suits, at a cost of $300,000 apiece, along with one helmet, which adds another $100,000 to the price of the outfit. The suit itself weighs thirty-five pounds and comes in thirteen standard sizes, though Graham pointed to a pilot standing behind us and said that he gets a special suit because he’s especially tall.
All the current suits—NASA’s flight suits and spacesuits—are handmade by the David Clark Company in Massachusetts. Each suit takes six to eight months to complete. The suit works in layers. The layer we see is yellow, but Graham unhitched the helmet and peeled back the outer layer so that we could view the layer of mesh, hand-woven hundred-pound fishing line. These outfits are designed to hold up with a tear as long as three inches or with a quarter-sized hole.
The David Clark Company also made the Gemini spacesuits, which were used for extravehicular activity in which, according to Michael Collins in Carrying the Fire, “oxygen came from the spacecraft via an umbilical, and then went through a chest pack.” Apollo spacesuits were made by the International Latex Corporation, or ILC, and had an “oxygen supply from a back pack.” Of ILC’s work, which applies to David Clark’s work as well, the book Spacesuit says the following: “similar to sewing a bra or girdle,” “unprecedented precision,” “highly regulated,” “elaborate process,” and “the delicate art of their collective synthesis.”
Collins played a crucial role with the Apollo suits: “My job was to monitor the development of all this equipment, to make sure that it was coming along all right, that it was going to be safe and practical to use, and that it would please the other guys in the astronaut office.” Though NASA’s ER-2 flight suits are already well developed, Joshua Graham does this sort of overseeing for aircraft operations, making sure each suit is ready to go.
One of the facets of NASA’s social media program that we enjoy is the opportunity to rub shoulders with other aviation and space nerds. While visiting the Space Coast to participate in a Tweetup and watch the GRAIL twins launch in 2011, Doug met the granddaughter of a woman who had worked as part of the team that assembled the Apollo spacesuits.
As we were examining the flight suit up close last week, Graham pointed out the small whiffle ball attached to a tether on the front of the get-up. When the flight suit initially inflates, it poofs up. This raises the helmet so that the pilot can’t see. He feels around the front of his suit to find the plastic ball, which he pulls down. This simple action readjusts the neck of the suit and helmet, and he’s ready to zoom.
Some of the flights are long, and no one wants a hungry, woozy pilot. But the pilot can’t take off his helmet to grab a bite to eat. Instead, his helmet has a feeding hole, and food—the sample we saw was caffeinated chocolate pudding (which sounds very useful)—is packed in tubes with stiff straws attached. The pilot can jab the straw into the hole in his helmet and suck the snack down.
Other human needs are also likely to occur on long flights, so the suit is also designed with a device like a condom connected to a tube, which the pilot wears so that he can relieve himself at any time. Graham didn’t discuss what the women pilots do, and earlier in the day, a NASA representative indicated that NASA currently had no women test pilots. What we didn’t know was that pilots must carefully control what Graham referred to as “number two.” If a pilot feels the need to defecate during a mission, he must declare an inflight emergency and return home as fast as he safely can. NASA doesn’t want to encourage a poop that costs $300,000.
Toward the end of our time in this section of the tour of the hangar at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility (DAOF, or day off), Doug asked Graham about the clunky spurs on the back of the suit’s boots. Graham responded that this aircraft is the only one that still uses hooks and cables in its ejection seat. The spurs hook to cables to pull his feet to the seat and keep his limbs from flailing during ejection. Then, at 14,000-16,000 feet, the pilot can cut the cable and parachute down safely.
The planes are cool. The ER-2 is fascinating because it flies incredibly high. The science is important. The ER-2 and its predecessor have been collecting data since the early 1970s, sampling the stratosphere and mapping large forest fires. Last week’s flight suit demonstration reminded us that the people are crucial to NASA’s Airborne Science Program.
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.
GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest (Part 10), Next Stop: The Moon! December 31, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest, GRAILTweetup
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In September, Doug spent five days on the Space Coast participating the NASA Tweetup for GRAIL, the Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory. We covered this launch extensively (HERE is the link for all GRAIL-tagged posts, or click on the GRAIL title in the tag cloud in the sidebar).
Suffice it to say, as with attending most rocket launches, schedules don’t really mean much. Launch windows are set, but if everything doesn’t line up in those seconds, there’s usually the next day. After two delays, the Delta-II rocket launched on Saturday, September 10. Doug was there to capture some amazing images (see the launch photos HERE).
Today, that mission enters a new phase. At 1:21 PST, the first of the GRAIL twins, GRAIL-A (the mission requires two mirror-twin satellites, A and B) begins a 40-minute lunar orbit insertion burn that will leave the 440 lb satellite in an elliptical orbit over the lunar surface. Think surfboard shaped, with your back foot as the Moon and the satellite tracing the shape of the board. The back of the board, or the lowest point in the orbit is known as perigee, and the front of the board, or highest point in the orbit is known as apogee. (We really have gone all SoCal.)
GRAIL-B will start its 39-minute lunar orbit insertion burn tomorrow at 2:05 PST. Over the next several weeks, each satellite will undergo twenty separate corrections to leave them in the circular orbit (34 miles high, or roughly the distance from Naperville to Chicago) necessary for the science phase, which begins in March. At that time, the spacecraft will map the Moon’s gravitational gradient. During the science phase, the separation between the two craft will vary from 62 to 140 miles.
Considering the investment, both in the number of decades and the dollars (and rubles, euros, yen, yuan, and rupees—Russia alone has sent twenty missions to the Moon), that we have made in understanding our planet’s lone natural satellite, we still have shocking gaps in our knowledge about our nearest neighbor in the heavens. Fundamental questions such as why the light and dark sides of the moon are so completely different (the dark isn’t just dark because sunlight doesn’t reach it, but is actually made of different materials than the light side) remain only partially answered at best. If all goes well for the GRAIL twins, in the very near future we will begin to address a host of questions regarding the Moon. GRAIL principal investigator Maria Zuber estimates that the science mission of GRAIL will increase our knowledge about the Moon’s light side by a hundred times and the dark side by a thousand times. (If you read our earlier post this week HERE, you know this means we will be increasing our knowledge about the light side by two orders of magnitude and the dark by three).
Doug’s trip to the GRAIL NASATweetup was just one of our four (yes, four!) separate trips to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and the Space Coast in 2011. Reflecting on those trips reminds us what a remarkable year this was for us. It also points out the futility of attempting to predict the future. A year ago today, we certainly were kicking around the idea of heading back to the Space Coast to catch one of the final space shuttle launches, but we knew we’d miss the February launch of Discovery because of our work schedules so we weren’t sure what our opportunities might be. We knew we had to go back, and we remain grateful that Chapman University recognized what the subsequent trips might mean for us.
As we conclude 2011, we wish all our readers and followers a happy new year. Look up at the Moon tonight—you won’t be the only one peering at it—and imagine a great year opening before all of us.
Writing Apart, Writing Together October 19, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Collaboration, Space Exploration, Writing.
Tags: Computers, GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest, GRAILTweetup
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Recently, we wrote about the relationship between our collaborative writing projects (writing together) and our individual writing projects (writing apart) as well as what happens when we have written together while being physically apart. You can read “Writing Together, Writing Apart” HERE.
We’re learning some lessons as we make our way into our second year of blogging, lessons that apply to the other big projects we write together and especially separately. One thing we’ve come to recognize is the importance of daily writing, or at least putting a hand on the project every day. On the busiest days, that may mean merely sharing a link to Lofty Ambitions on Facebook, grasping for the least little connection to a daily practice.
Part of what explains why we’ve been able to write this blog is that we committed to a regular weekly schedule that established habits to support that schedule. At first, that meant a collaborative post every Wednesday. Then, we started doing occasional additional posts, usually when the news or an event anniversary triggered an idea. Later, we added guest bogs and, more recently, video interviews. The regularity and the schedule’s predictability keep our minds on the project. We discuss the blog when we take an evening walk, we pitch and outline new topics over beers at a local watering hole, and we dissect previous posts, especially our series posts, looking for something important we might have missed or something worth expanding. Our blog writing is on our minds every day, and we’re planning, drafting, or revising more days than not.
This summer posed particular problems for our regular pace and the way we like to collaborate. Anna was away at Sewanee Writers’ Conference for two weeks, then Doug traveled to the Space Coast for almost a week to see the GRAIL launch. No evening walks, no brainstorming together over beers. Particularly disconcerting was the time change, so that when we talked on the phone, we each were in a different part of the day. When Anna called home before bed from Sewanee, Doug was heading out for a run. When Doug called home from Titusville after drafting a post, Anna was eating dinner. Not only did writing apart mean we were physically separated, but also that our mindsets were not synced up in the day’s arc.
All our previous trips to the Space Coast had been together. This time, Doug had been chosen for the official GRAIL Tweetup, and Anna couldn’t miss the second week of the semester. This Florida trip was different than merely writing while apart, as we’d done when Anna was at Sewanee. At the Space Coast, we’d already established routines together. We had shared memories there. We’d used our four trips to Florida to learn how to be better collaborators, to be in sync and productive. But this time, we had to write together on a specific, unfolding topic far from each other: the GRAIL launch.
Before Doug left, we had outlined a plan for our series, “GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest,” but that outline changed daily as news developed and we thought of additional content. The outline made us feel better and served as a necessary safety net, but the end result doesn’t match the initial plan for the series.
Doug had to gather the bulk of the content by himself for several posts. Anna had to trust that a post would show up for her to revise and that she wouldn’t have questions about what something meant. Doug had to trust that whatever he sent would be revised and posted while he slept. We gritted our teeth and believed that it would all make sense in the end, and we’re pretty sure it did.
While Doug was attending the GRAIL launch by himself, it wasn’t as if he was working alone. Doug relied on range of social media tools (after all, he was attending a Tweetup) in a greater capacity than ever before, so he drew from a virtual community. For our previous trips to the Space Coast, we attended the shuttle launches as members of the media, and we relied heavily on face-to-face interactions with our colleagues in the News Center and Annex. Although many members of the press are also social media mavens, some are still catching up or even ignoring social media technologies (in one memorable exchange, Doug tutored a press corps member on the relationship between Twitter, Tweetups, and NASA’s social media strategy). Given the nature of a NASA Tweetup, with its 150 actual attendees and hundreds of other interested observers tweeting about the GRAIL launch and related activities, Doug was able to stay current with Space Coast information and events. And we were able to keep up with each other day to day, each of us leaving virtual crumbs for the other to follow.
Doug’s GRAIL work also was heavily influenced by our new iPad. Our previous divide-and-conquer methodology gave us the flexibility to send one of us out to an event or to sniff out news tidbits while the other stayed with the laptops and continued working. We finally took the plunge on iPad for this go-it-alone trip, and it worked well. Now we find ourselves using the iPad for research and writing every day. The iPad isn’t a substitute for our paper notebooks or our Mac laptops, but it makes it easier to keep our hands on our writing projects every day. A daily writing practice is difficult to maintain, so if a device makes it feel a bit easier or a bit closer to one’s fingertips, that’s good.
Mostly importantly, though, Doug’s work habits were shaped by years of being a researcher and a student: show up, pay attention, and take damned good notes. That’s really what a daily writing practice means: show up, stay focused, and get some words on the page.
Since Doug’s return from the Space Coast, we’ve returned to our more usual patterns for writing the blog. We’ve learned, though, that one of us can sometimes take the lead and run with an idea without brainstorming together first. This method offers a certain kind of collaboration and conversation, but we don’t want to take turns post by post. We don’t want to take a break or lose momentum. We don’t write any blog posts completely separately, in part because we have our own individual projects outside of the blog for writing separately (we’ll write more soon about working on our individual projects). But it’s good to know we could take turns in a pinch.
Our blogger habits—talking things through with each other, sharing outlines and drafts, writing very much together through the process—keep the blog on our minds day to day and make this large, ongoing project easier. That’s a lesson for our individual projects as well. Habits of daily attention make large projects easier.
Interview: Jeffrey Rudolph October 10, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration, Video Interviews.
Tags: GRAILTweetup, I Remember California, Museums & Archives, Serendipity, Space Shuttle
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Bright and early tomorrow morning, we’ll face L.A.-area traffic to make our way to the California Science Center, the future home of space shuttle Endeavour. At a ceremony on October 11, 2011, the title for the orbiter will be turned over to the science museum.
Only four orbiters exist, and only three of those flew actual missions in space. On April 12, 2011, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden announced that one of those workhorses would return to the place it was built, Southern California. By the time we traveled to the Space Coast to see Endeavour’s not-launch and then launch, we knew that orbiter would end up in our back yard.
Who knows when the space shuttle will actually get here? The space isn’t ready yet, and Endeavour will need to travel farther than any of the others to its museum home. But the title transfer is an important step, and we want to be there. If all goes well, we’ll share the rundown in our regular Wednesday post. You can also click HERE (launch photos) and HERE (our tour with Stephanie Stilson) for our previous up-close-and-personal looks at Endeavour.
We already know that astronaut Mark Kelly is among five STS-134 astronauts (for our STS-134 crew overview, click HERE) expected to be present at Tuesday’s title transfer. Mark Kelly, the commander of Endeavour’s last mission, retired from NASA on October 1. His retirement ceremony was held last Thursday in Washington, DC, where Representative Gabrielle Giffords (Kelly’s wife) and Vice President Joe Biden joined the celebration. We’ve written about Mark Kelly before (click HERE and HERE).
Of course, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, an official from NASA, and the head of the California Science Center will be part of the ceremony too. Oddly, STS-134 crew member Greg Chamitoff isn’t listed in the press information about the event, even though he has family in Southern California. In fact, he’s said before that some rides at Disneyland are rougher than a space shuttle launch. Maybe Chamitoff is still in Australia as a guest of the University of Sydney (click HERE to see his lecture there about STS-134).
When we were at Kennedy Space Center this past spring, we interviewed Jeffrey Rudolph, President and CEO of the California Science Center, about Endeavour’s future homecoming. In a bit of serendipity, one of the qualities of the universe that we most value, Doug had a chance to interview Kimberly Guodace during the GRAIL Tweetup. In some amiable chit-chat after that interview, Doug mentioned that we had written a series about Endeavour and STS-134 and that, as a part of that series, we had videorecorded an interview with Jeffrey Rudolph. Kim, who became a Lofty Ambitions guest blogger (click HERE for that post), chimed in that she had guided Jeffrey Rudolph through his tour of Endeavour at Kennedy Space Center. Coincidence? Absolutely, and not at all. We share that video interview of Rudolph today as part of our ongoing interview series on the second and fourth Mondays of every month.
GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest (Part 9) September 21, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest, GRAILTweetup, Museums & Archives, Nuclear Weapons
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“We organize information on maps in order to see our knowledge in a new way. As a result, maps suggest explanations; and while explanations reassure us, they also inspire us to ask more questions, consider other possibilities.” – Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer by Peter Turchi
Less than two weeks ago, NASA was launching GRAIL toward the Moon for its mapping mission. This Friday, just two days from now, a NASA weather satellite is expected to come hurling down through Earth’s atmosphere. All this has us thinking about what’s up there circling here and there without us taking much notice.
When Doug first applied to be a part of the NASA Tweetup for the GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) mission, we didn’t know all that much about the science objectives for GRAIL. We thought it would be another opportunity to hang out with like-minded space nerds on the Space Coast. We knew our experience of watching the last two shuttle launches couldn’t be repeated, but a rocket launch would continue to amaze us. Very quickly, we learned more about the GRAIL mission and were delighted to see that it aligned with some long-standing interests that had little to do with the rocket.
Much science proceeds by increments. An experiment confirms a theory, and that hard-won information spawns new questions, new ideas to investigate. The researchers carry out this work, passing down data and lore through laboratory lineages.
The Dean of Leatherby Libraries, Doug’s boss, was a Map Librarian earlier in her career. Not long ago, Doug earned a certificate in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) from CalState-Fullerton, a move the library thought might prove useful. Even earlier, during his Ph.D., Doug had worked on a GIS-like system, a software tool that converts data into a map-based, or geographical, representation. You can’t study maps, map-making, and GIS for very long before you run into concepts like coordinate systems, GPS, and geodetics (sometimes also referred to as geodesy).
As a scientific endeavor, geodetics concerns itself with measuring our Earth. The science has moved well past its historical priority of trying to determine our planet’s diameter and shape. In 2002, GRAIL’s predecessor as a scientific tool, GRACE, opened new directions in Earth Science by producing the most accurate map of the Earth’s gravitational field ever created. One direct outcome of GRACE’s gravitational map is a much better understanding of how the earth’s ice caps and oceans respond to the gravitational field. In turn, this understanding will allow other earth scientists, in particular oceanographers and environmental scientists, to develop more accurate models of the earth’s hydrological cycle. In the same fashion, the gravity map that is created based on the data to be obtained by GRAIL about the Moon will be used to determine structural information about that orbiting mass, information such as what kind of core the moon possesses, whether it is solid or molten.
In one of those lovely coincidences that turn up time and again since starting Lofty Ambitions, the first geodetic satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 17 (LC 17), the same site from which Doug saw GRAIL launch almost two weeks ago. Even better, that first geodetic satellite was named Anna.
ANNA arose as a collaboration between the nation’s military and its civilian aerospace agency. In fact, the name derives from the initials of involved groups: Army, Navy, NASA, Air Force. As you can imagine, there’s some debate about the positioning of each group’s name in the palindrome acronym, but that’s the order that the New York Times reported on November 1, 1962, the day after its launch.
Like GRAIL, ANNA was in fact two satellites, ANNA 1-A and ANNA 1-B. ANNA 1-A was launched on May 10, 1962, but failed to reach orbit after its second stage didn’t fire. ANNA 1-B was successfully launched on Halloween of 1962, after being delayed by the Cuban missile crisis because of Cape Canaveral’s proximity to Cuba. Again, like GRAIL, ANNA was launched on a member of the Delta family of rockets, Thor. In many ways, GRAIL and ANNA serve as bookends for LC 17. Although ANNA wasn’t the first Delta-powered science satellite launched from LC 17, it was one of the first. GRAIL was the last. There will be no more Delta launches from LC 17. That launch pad is being taken out of service.
ANNA’s primary science tool was a series of four enormously powerful strobe lights (8M candlepower) arrayed on its spherical body. The lights flashed in a prescribed sequence in response to radio signals broadcast from Earth-side stations. Photographs taken of the flashes from known positions on the earth against a background of known stars allowed scientists to determine the location of new positions via triangulation.
John Finney’s 1962 New York Times article indicates that the ANNA mission was the focus of a controversy over the desires of civilian scientists to make the mission data public and the military’s requirement for secrecy: “At one point, the military established secrecy for the project on the ground that the geodetic information provided by the satellite on intercontinental distances would permit more accurate aiming of Soviet ballistic missiles.” Later, it was decided that Soviet nuclear warheads of the era were already powerful enough that the improvements made in targeting via the new geodetic data probably wouldn’t make much difference.
During the Cold War, accurately measuring distances over the skin of the earth was a significant military endeavor. We first came into contact with this project last year at an exhibit called “Mapping the Earth During the Cold War” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. We were struck by the notion of scientists whose aim was to measure the Earth’s distances—its shape, it gravity, the distance relationship of places—all in an effort to make better targeting algorithms for Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. These scientists were, in effect, getting to know the Earth deeply in order that they could destroy it.
ANNA is still up there, endlessly orbiting the Earth, though she no longer flashes in acknowledgement of a received message.
To see the news story about ANNA’s launch, click HERE.
Guest Blog: Kimberly Guodace September 19, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Guest Blogs, Space Exploration.
Tags: GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest, GRAILTweetup, Space Shuttle
Doug met today’s guest blogger during his trip to the Space Coast for “GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest.” We featured her in Part 7 of our ongoing series about GRAIL (see that HERE) because we were captivated by her knowledge of the space shuttle program and her commitment, from childhood, to space exploration. But we also wanted Kim to talk about her life and career in her own words, an example of the ways we heard many space shuttle workers talk about their jobs even as they faced layoffs.
THE DREAMS THAT YOU DARE TO DREAM
Growing up as a child in Philadelphia, there was little talk of the space program. But for a young girl who saw the first launch of the Space Shuttle on the local news on April 12, 1981, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. Working on the space shuttle became my goal. Over the next fifteen years, everything I did was geared toward becoming an engineer and working at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). From the time I was eight years old, I knew that working on the shuttle would require a strong math and science background. With the encouragement of my teachers throughout grade school and high school, as well as putting my own mind to it, I obtained the confidence to know that I would one day succeed in my childhood goal of working on the space shuttle.
After graduating high school, I moved to Florida to attend Florida Institute of Technology, a school founded in 1958 for the engineers at KSC to obtain their master’s degrees. I knew this was the school for me. I received my B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1995 and began my career at KSC the following year as an Avionics/Orbiter Electrical Engineer.
During my time at KSC, I became a Fuel Cell Engineer, working on the shuttle fuel cell and potable/waste water systems. In 2004, I transitioned to Launch Site Integration Engineer for Endeavour, working as a liaison between Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers to disseminate technical issues between the Systems Specialists and NASA Management. During my fifteen-year career at KSC, I was living my dream.
Today, we live in a world full of smart phones, social media, and video games. Flying humans into space became seemingly routine to the general public. It is anything but routine, as we saw with Challenger and Columbia. The engineers, scientists, and technicians who work on the shuttles have always been dedicated to flying men and women into space safely. It takes dedication and love of the job to work on the shuttles, making the shuttle workers a community, even akin to a family.
Working on the shuttle had its ups and downs, as with anything in life. When I was thirteen and Challenger exploded, I told my mom that if it was ever up to me, that would never, ever happen again. When I was twenty-three, I started my career working on the shuttle ,and, in 2003, an accident did happen again: we lost Columbia. For three-and-a-half weeks in Corsicana, I trudged through the fields, swamps, and forests of Eastern Texas searching for pieces of my beloved Columbia. To see the thousands of people from around the country who helped us bring our family (the astronauts who perished) and our baby (Columbia) home was an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Of course, there were the triumphs too. During my career, there were 54 successful launches of the space shuttle, successes in which I had a part (no matter how small or large). I met the most wonderful people in the world, who remain my family. I was able to travel to California (to support landings) and to Texas (to support missions) and so much more. As the Orbiter Element Vehicle Engineer, I was given the honor of presenting at final Flight Readiness Review for Endeavour (an honor that was given previously only to the Vehicle Manager).
With the shuttle program complete, the United States has no way to fly human into space other than to rely on our Russian partners. That being said, commercial corporations have been tasked to create the next-generation launch system. Today’s younger generation will design, build, test, and fly these new space transportation vehicles. They are the ones who now look up to the sky and dream of working on the future of spaceflight in this country, just as I did when I was a child.
My career with the United States Space Shuttle Program has been a dream come true and even more. I am honored every day to say that I was part of the greatest program in the world and to have worked with the greatest people in the world. I look forward to working with whatever the United States has planned for us to get our men and women flying again in space.
GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest (Part 8) September 14, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest, GRAILTweetup, Museums & Archives, Nuclear Weapons, Space Shuttle
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As part of the GRAIL Tweetup activities, Doug, armed with our trusty digital camera, toured Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where United Space Alliance launches the Atlas V, the descendent of the earlier versions of Atlas rockets of the 1960s. Before the Atlas V came along, Titan rockets, with payloads like the Viking probes to Mars and the Voyager probes off to even farther away, burst into the air from this complex. Even before that, the first launch at LC-41 was in late 1965. But the complex has long since been overhauled to accommodate this century’s bigger Atlas V rocket launch needs.
In addition to the launch pad itself at LC-41, the complex includes numerous buildings. The Vertical Integration Building (VIF), which stands 292 feet tall, was completed in 2000 and serves as the site where Atlas V rockets can be stacked on the Mobile Launch Platform with a huge crane. Recent practice, as also demonstrated by Launch Complex 39 used by the space shuttle program, allows for one rocket to be on the pad ready for launch while another is in the VIF getting ready for the big dance. This process, instead of assembling the whole contraption on the pad, allows launches to occur more often.
The Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center (ASOC) brings together various operations that had previously been spread around in different facilities. Sitting just over four miles from the launch pad, the control center manages the countdown. This building can also house rocket stages for storage or testing. Multiple rockets can be processed there simultaneously, thereby allowing for efficient scheduling of launches.
Atlas rockets have a rich history. Originally designed to carry nuclear warheads, the Atlas was adapted for manned spaceflight. On November 29, 1961, Enos, a chimpanzee, rode into space on mission Mercury-Atlas 5. The first four American astronauts to orbit Earth—John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, and Gordo Cooper—lifted off atop Atlas rockets.
Something that we enjoy about being on the Space Coast is the palpable sense of history even as we feel thoroughly in the now that surrounds a launch date. It’s one thing to watch a space shuttle launch. It’s another thing to walk where the country’s first space travelers strode and flew into the sky. Each might be merely small anecdotes, but they are not snippets of history without connections to each other and to us. Instead, in part because the physical places of assembly buildings and launch pads is there to be seen and felt, these experiences are all part of the same larger story. Some artifacts on the Cape exist on display, but many of the artifacts, some of which have been transformed, remain in use. Below, we include two videos (not our own), one of Mercury-Atlas 6, launched from LC-41 on February 20, 1962, and the other of GRAIL, launched on September 10 of this year.
GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest (Part 7) September 11, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest, GRAILTweetup, Museums & Archives, Space Shuttle
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We’ve said it before (like HERE and HERE), and we’ll say it here again: Science writing isn’t only about the experiments and technology. It’s about the story and the people. The people we’ve met during our travels to the Space Coast have been amazing. Our latest geek connection is with Kimberly Guodace, a shuttle vehicle engineer until recently.
As part of the massive layoffs that mark the end of the space shuttle program, Kimberly Guodace was let go from her job at United Space Alliance just 9 weeks short of completing 15 years of work for NASA. In the current economy, nightly news reports and daily articles reveal the bitterness (with good reason) of the laid-off and the jobless. Somewhere on the Space Coast, we’re sure that there are some angry and disenchanted space workers. But after weeks of on-the-record interviews and informal chats with laid-off shuttle veterans, what we have found is optimism and pride at having worked on a program of national significance, people who fervidly believe in America’s future in space, whether it’s carried out by commercial companies like SpaceX or NASA.
Fifteen years ago, Kimberly Guodace began her career as an engineer working on the shuttle’s electrical systems and control panels. She spent half her time then near or in the orbiters. After that, she moved to fuel cells and potable water systems, including the shuttle’s potty. Her more recent responsibilities, which emerged from her years of intimate engineering knowledge of the orbiters, included serving as a go-between or translator between engineers and administrators. She beamed when telling our busload of Tweeple about helping to oversee the installation of two miles of wire in Endeavour—or 105, as the engineers refer to their orbiters by their number designation—for its wireless video system. This past year, knowing that shuttle was coming to a close, she did her best to be near or in Endeavour’s bay every single workday.
One time, NASA needed “suited subjects” for a flight safety test. Kim donned an orange Launch Entry Suit that astronauts wear. Her six-hour participation in the test ended with an emergency exit procedure during which the fire suppression system was on, dousing her with water and adding an additional twenty or thirty pounds to the suit. An exhausting experience she’d not want to trade.
Years earlier, on April 12, 1981, when she was just eight years old, Kim recalls that the first space shuttle launch, STS-1, was the third story on the local Philadelphia (her home town) news: “I said to my mom, that’s what I want to do when I grow up.” A few years later, when she watched the news about the Challenger accident, she said, “If it’s up to me, that’ll never ever happen again.”
Of course, an accident did happen again. In 2003, Columbia disintegrated as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere. By then, Kimberly Guodace was part of the space shuttle program. She did 5-½ weeks of recovery work, looking for debris of Columbia near Corsicana, Texas.
Kimberly Guodace has sat in the pilot and copilot seat on every orbiter except Challenger. We’ve heard astronauts say that the orbiters are flawless and like new, and Guodace agrees, “They are pristine.” She points out that they each have their nicks and scrapes, but she says, if she were sitting on the wing, “I would eat off of them.”
Our video interviews with shuttle astronauts also indicate that there’s disagreement as to whether all the orbiters are exactly the same or whether they are each distinct. To Kim, “Columbia was like parent. She was aged.” Discovery, she describes as an older sister and, as do many at NASA, as a workhorse. Kim says that Atlantis was the quiet child in the brood and didn’t get into much trouble.
Endeavour, Kimberly Guodace says, is “my baby.” OV-105 is the orbiter with which Kim spent the most time, in which she had fun just being in the bay. In response to a question about what mementos of the space shuttle program she and her co-workers kept, she said they took no secret keepsakes. Stealing government property like that would be a felony so she doubts any employees swiped mementos. Instead, she claims her memories. And at her NASA crewmates’ request, she shot more than 5000 photographs of Endeavour last year to document 105’s final flow.
Surely, Kim is not thrilled to have lost the job that she began preparing for at eight years of age, but since her layoff, she’s become a NASA docent. She showed up on Saturday morning (after getting up at 2:00a.m.) to serve as a guide for the NASA Tweetup participants on what was indeed launch day for GRAIL. That’s how Doug met her and heard about her lifelong dream of working on the shuttle. Evan after being let go from her job, even as the orbiters are being prepared to become museum artifacts, Kimberly Guodace is still at it.
After a decade-and-a-half career on the frontlines of space systems engineering and an education that includes a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, two M.S. degrees in areas related to space systems, and beginning a Ph.D. in Space Physics, she’s ready to shift gears. She’s making plans to transition to Public Relations, in part to engage with the public on the importance of science and engineering education.
Another tweep on the Tweetup bus asked Kim, what’s next? Kim answered that she gets this question quite a bit, and her answer is to shrug her shoulders. She doesn’t know what the future of United States human spaceflight will be. That said, she has made her own plan for the future: to visit each of the remaining orbiters in their museum homes every year. She says, “Not going to let my babies go.”
TO READ the previous segments in this series, “GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest,” click on the following links:
GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest (LAUNCH PHOTOS!) September 10, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Biology, GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest, GRAILTweetup
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This morning, GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) launched aboard a Delta II Heavy rocket at 9:08:52a.m. Doug stood across the water from Launch Pad 17B of Cape Canaveral Air Force Base. Here are our photographs to prove it!
TO READ the previous segments in this series, “GRAIL: Another Lofty Quest,” click on the following links: