jump to navigation

On This Date: 5 Things May 25, 2016

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Aviation, Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

May 25, 1931: Georgy Grechko was born in Leningrad. He grew up to become a cosmonaut who flew on several Soviet missions to space and spent almost a month aboard the Salyut 4 space station in 1975, almost three months aboard Salyut 6 in 1977, and eight days on Salyut 7.

May 25, 1961: President John F. Kennedy told a joint session of Congress that the United States should send human beings to the Moon by the end of the decade.

May 25, 1977: The film Star Wars: A New Hope was released. We were youngsters then who came of age knowing of a galaxy far, far away where one might use The Force for good or evil. It quickly became the highest-grossing film of all time and held that record until E.T.

May 25, 2008: The Phoenix spacecraft landed on Mars, NASA’s first successful landing on the Red Planet in a polar region. It confirmed the existence of water ice and researched the possible history of water there. Notably, the mission cost $386 million, including the launch itself; this relatively reasonable cost for a space mission (the last shuttle missions cost more each) was achieved by incorporating unused hardware from earlier programs.

May 25, 2012: SpaceX’s Dragon (supposedly named after the song from our childhood, “Puff, the Magic Dragon”) docked with the International Space Station, the first time a commercial spacecraft had done such a thing. SpaceX is developing Dragon so that it can fly crew as well as supplies to ISS.

BONUS: On May 26, 1951, astronaut and physicist Sally Ride was born. Ride became part of the first astronaut class to include women and became the first American woman to travel to space, when she flew aboard Challenger in 1983. She later served on the Rogers Commission that investigated the Challenger accident and, even later, revealed that she’d passed along the crucial information about the booster o-rings. Ride died in 2012, the too-common result of pancreatic cancer. This Thursday, celebrate the life of Sally Ride!

DOUBLE-BONUS: On May 28, 1912the first female radio astronomer was born in Australia. Ruby Payne-Smith, while working at a cancer research center, determined that the Earth’s magnetism doesn’t have much affect on bodily functioning of humans. She discovered Type I and Type II radio bursts, helped with the first radio interferometer observation to determine a solar burst in 1946, and she did top secret work on radar during World War II. She died on this date–May 25, 1981.

#ETComesHome to California May 22, 2016

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

On May 21, External Tank #94 arrived at the California Science Center, where it will eventually be stacked with the orbiter Endeavour and two test rockets and displayed upright as if ready to launch. Lofty Ambitions was there to see it arrive because we couldn’t imagine more fun for nerds on a Saturday night.


This particular external fuel tank for the space shuttle is the only functional ET in existence. It was a lightweight version built for use with Columbia, but, in 2003, Columbia broke apart on reentry before this tank was used. By the time NASA was flying shuttles again, a super-lightweight tank was in production. In fact, ET-94 was used to study whether the lightweight construction contributed to the Columbia accident, and, as you can see in our photos, pieces of foam have been removed as part of that investigation.


ET-94 arrives at the last corner of its journey.

No other external tanks survive because they were used to launch space shuttles. The ET is the large orange tube to which the orbiter and solid booster rockets were attached. It therefore provided structural stability in addition to holding the the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen that fed the Space Shuttle Main Engines for roughly the first 70 miles of its journey. With the fuel exhausted, the empty tank separated from the orbiter and plummeted back toward Earth, disintegrating on its way down.


Got it!

ET-94 left Louisiana on a barge on April 12. Later last month, it made its way through the Panama Canal and on to Los Angeles. On its way up the coast, the tugboat pulling the ET rescued four people from a life raft after their fishing boat had sunk. Finally, yesterday, aboard a deftly maneuvered transporter, ET-94 made its way through the streets of Inglewood and to the California Science Center at Exposition Park, where we met it up close.


Tight turn!

For the time being, ET-94 will be enclosed next to the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, where a window will be added so that visitors to Endeavour will be able to peek out at the fuel tank.




ET-94 Volunteers


ET-94 Nose with foam  piece removed



With Aerospace Curator Ken Phillips and ET-94

On This Date: Apollo 10 May 18, 2016

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Space Exploration.
Tags: ,


Apollo 10 launched on May 18, 1969, from Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center. That was the only Saturn V rocket to launch from LC-39B.


Anna & Gene Cernan!

The crew–Tom Stafford, John Young, and Gene Cernan–had all flown to space before and would all travel to space again in subsequent missions. Stafford flew on the Apollo-Soyuz project in 1975, Young commanded Apollo 16 and the first space shuttle mission, and Cernan goes down in history as the last person to have his boots on the Moon as part of Apollo 17.

Apollo 10 was the first spacecraft to broadcast live video in color.

The Command Module and Lunar Module were named for for Peanuts characters, Charlie Brown and Snoopy, respectively. Snoopy, with Stafford and Young aboard, tested the Lunar Module by descending to toward the Moon’s surface without getting close enough to land. Cernan himself later wrote that the lander was too heavy to land and guarantee ascent back to the Command Module, and the lore is that NASA left it short of fuel so that the astronauts wouldn’t be tempted to land. Snoopy was left adrift after Stafford and Young were back in the Command Module, and the Lunar Module eventually crashed into the Moon.

While it has never been secret, recently, Apollo 10 hit the news when a documentary supposedly revealed what the astronauts called “whistling” and “outer-space-type music.” It sounds to us like a high-pitched vacuum cleaner running in the background or the sort of radio interference one might encounter on Earth if one is listening to AM radio. Read more and watch the video at Space.com HERE. What we appreciate more about this audio and that of Apollo 16 is that John Young calls his crewmates “babe.”

On This Date: 5 Facts about Harriet Quimby May 11, 2016

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, 5 Things.
add a comment

Then I was off. The noise of the motor drowned the shouts and cheers of friends below. In a moment I was in the air, climbing steadily in a long circle. I was up fifteen hundred feet within thirty seconds. ~ “An American Girl’s Daring Exploit,” Harriet Quimby


Harriet Quimby was born on May 11, 1875, in Michigan.

In 1911, Quimby became the first woman in the United States to be granted a pilot’s license–license #37. Her good friend became the second. Quimby won an air race roughly a month after getting her pilot’s license, earning her $600.

Before devoting great time and energy to flying, she made her living as a writer, publishing pieces in the San Francisco Drama Review, Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, Good Housekeeping, and more. She seems to convinced Leslie’s to pay for her flying lessons so that she could chronicle her adventure for their readers. She also wrote seven screenplays for D.W. Griffith’s silent movies.

On April 16, 1912, Quimby was the first woman to pilot an airplane across the English Channel. She might have been and remained even more famous for this feat if the Titanic hadn’t sunk the day before.

Quimby died on July 1, 1912, at the age of 37. She and her passenger were thrown from her Blériot aircraft when it pitched forward; they both died as a result of their injuries. In 1991, she was memorialized on an airmail postage stamp.

5 Posts about Good Books to Read May 4, 2016

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Science, Writing.
Tags: ,
add a comment

We sent the manuscript of Generation Space off to the publisher, on to their copyediting. This week, we turn to books by others, sharing posts about books we think others might want to read.


5 Books on Writing & Productivity

It’s difficult to finish a book manuscript. Big projects make big demands. Here are five books that offer ideas we took to heart as we made our way through, together, the work of writing and revising a book.

5 (Best) Science Writers to Read

In this post, we look at The Best American Science and Nature Writing for authors whose books we recommend.

5 Poetry Science Books

If you’re interested in science and not reading poetry, you’re missing out. If you’re interesting in poetry and haven’t run across these books that incorporate science, you’re missing out.

5 Graphic (Nonfiction) Books

Graphic novels of sorts, steeped in real people, facts, science, and history.

So You Want to Write (Nonfiction) This Summer

We’re wrapping up our spring semester and looking ahead to summer and the writing we can do over the next few months. These four books, though, can jumpstart, reinvigorate, or make you think about any time of year. We specifically included books that go beyond craft to discuss the writing life and publishing–the forest as well as the trees.


Generation Space: 5 Thoughts on Final Revision April 27, 2016

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Space Exploration, Writing.
Tags: ,
add a comment

Generation Space: A Love Story is due on May 2 to Stillhouse Press so that the copyeditor there can have at it. So this month, we’re deep into overall and targeted editing, looking for redundancies and gaps, tinkering with voice and detail. This isn’t the first overhaul, as you can see in this photo of Anna’s previous desk, really a table–and the floor.


“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” ~ Mark Twain

Oft-quoted and still relevant. Indeed, we have reconsidered and changed words, phrases. It’s a struggle to make an approximation tangible. It’s easy to get mixed up, to forget whether we’ve written something similar elsewhere. We’re still finding places we left our or accidentally deleted an extra word–bug–in a previous revision.

“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.” ~ Annie Dillard

There are still moments, details, and thoughts we’re adding because the parts make the whole, and we can see the whole now. Having completed the manuscript, we’re able to lay our thoughts and feelings on the page in another way and to see where we held back and need to let the reader in.

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.” ~ George Orwell

Yes, this stage of work on the manuscript is physically exhausting. But it’s not horrible, as if the course of the illness is relatively well understood, we’re well through most of it, and the treatment shows great promise.

“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.” ~ Virginia Woolf

That’s part and parcel to Generation Space, which has become a personal and cultural memoir. We’ve surprised ourselves by revealing ourselves.

“When you reach a place where you feel blocked, lower your standards and keep on going. There is no possible way to do permanent damage to a piece of writing. You cannot ruin it. You can only make it a little better a little at a time.” ~ Richard Bausch

Revising and editing risk damaging the manuscript, but error is always the risk of striving to do better each time. Maybe every book represents the ruins left by the process of writing.


Chernobyl: 30 Years Later April 26, 2016

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Science.
Tags: ,
add a comment

(photo by Soviet authorities)

In 1986, we were in college. In January, Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after lift-off. On April 26, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant suffered catastrophic failures. In July, Anna’s father died of cancer, probably caused by his work cleaning nuclear weapons during two years of requisite military service in the 1950s. In December, Anna traveled to the Soviet Union on a three-week study abroad course; because of the accident at Chernobyl, the segment in Kiev was rescheduled as additional time in Moscow and Leningrad.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, we share five articles, our own and four new pieces by others.

Five years ago, Lofty Ambitions commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Read about that HERE.

The BBC has a commemorative piece up today that includes several historical videos. See that HERE.

TIME follows what happened to the livestock–the meat, the wool–in the area in the aftermath of the accident. Read this eerie piece by historian Kate Brown HERE.

NBC takes a look at the current wildlife of Chernobyl. See that, including video, HERE.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has an article about “Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Preparedness for ‘a Next One.'” Read that HERE.

On This Date: 5 Anniversaries for April 20 April 20, 2016

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Science, Space Exploration, Video Interviews.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Looking for something to ponder or celebration today, April 20? Here you go!

1862: Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard prove that spontaneous generation doesn’t happen. If you’re still hoping that something can come from nothing, you’re more than 150 years behind the times.

MarieCurieAmHist1902: Pierre and Marie Curie radium chloride, the first compound of radium to be isolated in a pure state. In 2013, the FDA approved radium chloride as a treatment for prostate cancer. We’ve written about the Curies before; check out more info about Pasteur and Curie HERE.

CubsBoard1916: One hundred years ago on this date, the Chicago Cubs played their first game in what has become Wrigley Field on this date. While this anniversary is beside the usual topics of Lofty Ambitions, we’re lifelong Cubs fans, and we like an excuse for a celebration.

1937: George Takei was born in Los Angeles. He later played Sulu in the television show Star Trek and subsequent films. If you’re on Facebook or Twitter and not following George Takei, you’re missing out.

Lofty&CharlieDuke1972: John Young and Charlie Duke land on the Moon during the Apollo 16 mission. See our interviews with the wonderful Charlie Duke HERE and HERE.

Bonus: In April 2012, we had followed the orbiter Discovery from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the National Air and Space Museum‘s Udvar-Hazy facility. April 20th was that oribter’s first full day as a museum artifact.


Apollo Guidance Computer (#StateOfNASA | #NASASocial April 13, 2016

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Space Exploration.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

In February, Doug spent a day at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) attending a #NASASocial event dubbed #StateOfNASA.

One of the day’s highlights occurred when Dr. Chrisitian Gelzer (Armstrong’s Historian) brought a tiny, shiny box with black keys on its front face into the room. Doug immediately recognized the device as an object from an earlier age: an Apollo Guidance Computer. Here’s what we learned about this computer in particular and the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) generally.

#1. Apollo 15

DOUG-DSKYWhen he first saw the computer, Doug assumed that it was a model, and then Gelzer said, “This is the Apollo 15 Command module guidance computer.” At that point, Doug said, “Can you repeat that?” And Gelzer did. Channeling his inner twelve-year-old, Doug then said, “May I touch it?” And he did. After regaining his senses, Doug realized that what Gelzer had brought out that day was actually the DSKY, the user interface that astronauts used to control the AGC. The actual AGC was a much larger object than the DSKY (roughly three times longer and two times wider and weighing seventy pounds), but it was still quite small for computers of that day-gone-by.

The story that Gelzer told of how the computer that guided astronauts Dave Scott, Al Worden, and James Irwin to the moon and back is charming and serendipitous.

Basically, an AGC was requested by a Dryden (now Armstrong) lead test engineer to use in a new flight-test program. One of the 48 back-up computers for Apollo was sent from Houston, and it was summarily destroyed (Oh, no, blue smoke…) when it was installed into the test plane (see #4 below). A second AGC was requested and received. It was only after it arrived at Armstrong (then Dryden) did anyone there realize that it was the Apollo 15 AGC—the actual, used-in-space Apollo 15 AGC. Of course, NASA HQ wanted it back. Dryden said, No take backs. NASA HQ said, Well, OK. But try not to destroy this one.

#2. Alarm!


Charlie Duke in Houston: not alarmed? (NASA)

Each Apollo mission—save Apollo 8—required two AGCs: one for the Command Module and one for the Lunar Module. One moment of highest tension during the Apollo 11 moon landing occurred when the AGC issued alarms. As the lunar module descended, the AGC issued two types of alarms (1201 and 1202) that resulted from the real-time computer system being overloaded by information it was receiving from the rendezvous radar. After quickly checking the books, Houston decided these alarms were not too alarming and gave Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin the go ahead to land on the Moon.


lunar module landing (NASA)



#3. Rope Core Memory

rope core memory (not from the AGC). (Johann H. Addicks - Eigenes Werk)

rope core memory (not from the AGC). (Johann H. Addicks – Eigenes Werk)

The AGC has several interesting design features, including the first extensive use of Integrated Circuits (ICs) in a general-purpose computer. Another feature was use of rope core technology for the AGC’s Read Only Memory (ROM). ROM is often referred to as nonvolatile memory, meaning that contents of the memory cannot be changed. In rope core memory, this means that the programs were actually woven into the memory.


#4. Fly-by-Wire

F-8 Crusader that flew the Apollo 15 AGC and DSKY (Doug)

F-8 Crusader that flew the Apollo 15 AGC and DSKY (Doug)

The AGC was brought to the California desert (see #1 above) to be a part of a flight test program for digital fly-by-wire aircraft. The program was highly successful and influence most fly-by-wire systems that came after it.



#5. Avalon

In addition, a variant of the AGC was used as the navigation computer on the Navy’s Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle. That’s a pretty cool example of reuse.


April 12th: 55th and 35th Anniversaries April 11, 2016

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration, Writing.
add a comment

The first human being to go to space and to orbit Earth was Yuri Gagarin. He did this on April 12, 1961. Here’s Gargarin’s BBC interview.

The first Shuttle launch occurred on April 12, 1981. Here’s the launch video.

BONUS: It’s author Beverly Cleary 100th birthday. Clearly was born in McMinnville, Oregon, now home of the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Cheers today to Ramona, the pest.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 229 other followers