On This Date: 5 Anniversaries for April 20 April 20, 2016Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Science, Space Exploration, Video Interviews.
Tags: Apollo, Cancer, Chemistry, Discovery Departure, Museums & Archives, Physics, Radioactivity, Space Shuttle
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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.
1902: 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.
1916: 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.
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, 2016Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Armstrong/Dryden Flight Research Center, computers
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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
When 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.
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.
#3. Rope Core Memory
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.
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.
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.
One Big Thing: Generation Space! March 28, 2016Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Information, Space Exploration, Writing.
Tags: Apollo, Books, Science Writing, Space Shuttle
We’re thrilled to announce that Stillhouse Press will publish Generation Space: A Love Story in February 2017.
We’ll have postcards and bookmarks available at the AWP Bookfair this week, both at the Stillhouse Press booth (#708) and the Chapman University & Tabula Poetica booth (#701).
Though we didn’t realize it at the time, this book began in the fall of 2010, when we started actively following the end of the space shuttle program and writing Lofty Ambitions blog. Really, though, Generation Space began when we were toddlers in Illinois watching the Apollo 11 Moon landing on television. In 1986, we were each in college when Challenger broke apart, a definitive moment for young adults and children across the nation. In 2008, we moved to Southern California to reorient their lives together and, as a serendipitous result, set out on the adventure that Lofty Ambitions blog has chronicled.
Generation Space is our love story, in part, and also a love story about the Space Age and the long generation that grew up in the shadow of Shuttle. Our book grapples with and celebrates who we are, how far we’ve gone, and what the future might hold.
For a short essay about Anna’s love story with Shuttle, check out “The Composed Soul” in Barrelhouse’s Weird Love feature.
Note: The mosaic’d image of us was made with Loft Ambitions and NASA photos run through AndreaMosaic software; in this way, we are composed of the Space Age we represent. The background photo of the STS-135 launch is from NASA, furthering the intersection. The postcard design was completed by the Ideation Lab at Chapman University.
5 Views of Skylab B at NASM March 9, 2016Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Museums & Archives
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Two Skylab modules were built. The first launched in 1973, was occupied as a science laboratory for 171 of its 2,249 days in orbit, and re-entered Earth’s atmosphere in 1979. Read more about Skylab HERE and HERE.
The second, Skylab B, is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, where visitors can walk through its living and working quarters. Here’s the view (times 5):
5 Artifacts of Apollo at NASM March 2, 2016Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Museums & Archives
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Anna was recently in Washington, DC, for a conference related to her role as the Director of the Office Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity at Chapman University. Once that work was finished, she headed directly to the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) on the National Mall. We can’t go there too many times!
5 Artifacts of Apollo at NASM:
Five Aviation and Space Anniversaries February 17, 2016Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Aviation, Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Armstrong/Dryden Flight Research Center, Mars, Space Shuttle, Wright Brothers
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Last week, Doug spent a day at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) attending a #NASASocial event dubbed #StateOfNASA. Read last week’s post HERE.
#1. NACA’s 100th (last year)
NASA’s predecessor organization was the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). NACA was founded on March 3rd, 1915, a little more than eleven years after the Wright brothers first took to the skies.
#2. NASA Langley’s 100th (next year)
Langley Research Center (LaRC) was established in 1917 by NACA. The facility is named for the Wright brothers’ competitor, aviation pioneer Samuel Pierpont Langley. LaRC is famous for the contributions to aerospace engineering made by its more than forty wind tunnels.
#3. NASA Glenn’s 75th (this year)
Founded as the Aircraft Engine Research Center in Cleveland in 1941, NASA’s Glenn Research Center will celebrate its Diamond Anniversary in 2016. Until 1999, the facility was known as Lewis Research Center when it was renamed for NASA astronaut and US senator John Glenn. Its full name is NASA John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field, which simply flows off the lips.
#4. 5th Anniversary of President Obama’s National Space Plan (this year)
It’s been a little more than five years since America shifted its next destination in space from a plan for returning to the Moon to a Mars voyage. In a speech at Kennedy Space Center delivered on April 15, 2010, President Obama articulated a program that would have NASA astronauts visit an asteroid in 2025 and see humans venture to Mars in the mid-2030s.
#5. 35th Anniversary of STS-1 (this year)
Unfortunately, Administrator Bolden only mentioned four specific anniversaries in his presentation. Recently, our own campus celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Challenger accident by adding the papers of Morton-Thiokol engineer Allan McDonald to the collections of the Leatherby Libraries where Doug works.
Just a few weeks from now is the 35th anniversary of the first space shuttle flight, STS-1. On April 12, 1981, astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen were onboard as the first Shuttle mission headed into low-Earth orbit. This date also coincides, of course, with anniversary of the first human mission into space. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s Vostok-1 roared into space 55 years ago in 1961.
5 Photos of Apollo 8 December 23, 2015Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Art & Science
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Apollo 8 launched on December 21, 1968. By Christmas Eve, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders were circling the Moon. Having been the first humans to leave Earth’s orbit, they returned to Earth on December 27. We’ve written about Apollo 8 HERE and HERE. This week, we celebrate the anniversary of Apollo 8 with 5 images provided to the world by NASA.
Gemini XII: On the 49th Anniversary November 11, 2015Posted by Lofty Ambitions in 5 Things, Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Serendipity
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Today marks the 49th anniversary of the launch of Gemini XII, the last Gemini space mission. Here are five fun facts to ponder as you celebrate.
The crew was Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin. Lovell would go on to fly Apollo 8 and Apollo 13, and Aldrin was the second man to set foot on the Moon during Apollo 11. We’ve seen both astronauts in person.
The backup crew was Gordon Cooper and Gene Cernan. Cooper would not go to space again, but Cernan became the last man to have his boots on the Moon’s surface. In a bit of serendipity, we met Cernan at BWI airport.
The Gemini capsule docked with the Agena target vehicle, which had launched before Gemini XII. The rendezvous radar was working properly, so the astronauts had to do some extra work to dock. Then, the Agena had a problem with its booster so climbing to a higher orbit was canceled. Still, the rendezvous was considered a success, and the prior Gemini mission had docked with an Agena as well.
During the course of the mission, Aldrin made three EVAs—spacewalks—totaling more than three hours. He trained for this work under water.
The three CapComs—capsule communicators—were Stuart Roosa, Pete Conrad, and Bill Anders. Roosa flew on Apollo 14, Conrad flew on Apollo 12, and Anders flew on Apollo 8 and is credited with the famous Moon Rise photograph.
Apollo & Dorland July 22, 2015Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration, Writing.
Tags: Apollo, Writing Retreats
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[The second part of our post on Trinity will run next week. It’s already queued up. The Nuclear Age began 70 years ago this summer, so we definitely have more to say.]
On this date in 1969, Apollo 11 was heading back to Earth. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had walked on the Moon on July 20. They, along with Michael Collins, were hurtling through space on the three-day return trip and would splash down into the ocean on July 24.
Watching Armstrong clamber off that ladder is Doug’s first conscious memory. HERE is one of our Apollo 11 posts (that’s also about Trinity), and you can click “Apollo” in the sidebar topics for more. A lot has been written about that day.
One of the most interesting new pieces we read this year about Apollo 11 is Time magazine’s article about Margaret Hamilton, a young MIT engineer who led the team that built the on-board software system for Apollo 11. She explains that, at the time, she was more relieved that the software worked than she was excited that men had landed on the Moon. It was especially important that the software could prioritize. Thank goodness it dropped unimportant information and tasks when it became overloaded and alarms went off just before landing. Charlie Duke recounts that folks on the ground were turning blue. The relief must have been palpable. We’re always interested in the language of space exploration and history, so it’s also interesting that Hamilton is credited with coining the term software engineer. Read more HERE.
We’d be thinking about these events no matter where we were right now. This year, we’re at Dorland Mountain Arts Colony for a few weeks focused on writing. Last summer (earlier in the summer), we made our own retreat in Santa Fe, and we’d like to do that again sometime. You can read about that one HERE and HERE. Still, there’s nothing quite like Dorland, and we’re glad we’re back.
In some ways, we’ve returned to the routine we established before here at Dorland: no alarm clock, sitting on the porch after breakfast, walking the steep hill in the afternoon, writing most of the day with classical music in the background. We’re in the Horton cabin, as we were last fall (during Doug’s full-time residency when Anna resided for weekends of writing). We’ve each returned to the desk we used last time. We’ve seen a lizard on the porch and a humming bird zipping by. As before, we’ve planned trips to town for wifi and for a meal out once a week. You can read more about our earlier Dorland experiences HERE and HERE.
Each visit to a writing retreat is different, of course, for any writer. Maybe it’s a different retreat—we’ve done Ragdale, Anna stayed at Vermont Studio Center, and Doug was at the Mailer Writer’s Colony. Maybe we have different projects or are at different stages on big projects. Perhaps, the job situation out of which we’re temporarily stepping has been differently demanding. The weather changes—it rained in Southern California like it’s never rained before in the history of weather records.
Sometimes, we actively create a different experience. Last time we were at the California Science Center, we bought a puzzle that depicts the space shuttle cockpit. The pieces are spread out on the cabin’s piano, and we’ve separated out the edge pieces. The process of piecing together a physical puzzle will be good for our brains and our eyes, in between hours at our laptops. We’d like some of the many things we’ve set into motion as writers to fit together, so this puzzle carries some symbolic weight too.
This time, our residency is shorter than we’d hoped, as much because Dorland is drawing writers, visual artists, and composers as because of our job constraints. In fact, we know the writer who arrived shortly after we did to take up residency in the other cabin. We’d encouraged her to apply, and now we wonder how she’s settling in. But Dorland is a place where we leave each other alone, so we’ll undoubtedly meet up on one porch or another, but we’re in no rush to interrupt ourselves or someone else.
To extend our getaway, we’re bookending our residency at Dorland with brief stays at Ponte Vineyard Inn. Ponte is one of two vineyard hotels nestled in the cluster of wineries here in Temecula. Admittedly, it’s a splurge, but it was just the sort of debriefing we needed. Doug got to writing right away there, and Anna took the weekend off to read and rest. Our room had a balcony, though, between the heat and the downpour, we didn’t use it much. We did see, early one morning when we had both awakened unexpectedly, several hot air balloons drifting above our heads.
We also had amazing meals: a late-night snack in The Cellar the night we arrived, a breakfast of salmon and eggs on cheddar biscuits the next morning, and an outdoor dinner of large salads, calamari, and buttery mashed potatoes. Of course, we sipped some delicious wine. Temecula is a place to taste varieties we’d never tried before, to determine how dry a wine can still be drinkable, to figure out whether we like fruit forward or oaky—or both.
Ponte was the distraction from our regular routines we wanted as transition into the writing residency routine. So we’ve booked a couple of nights after our residency ends. While it might be a welcome breather from the intensity of our writing days at that point, we’re likely to use it to eke out two more days with fingers to keyboard because a couple of weeks of steady writing shows us that there’s always one more scene to write or chapter to edit or poem to re-envision. Either way, we could do worse than a vineyard inn.
Anniversary of First American Spacewalk and more June 3, 2015Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Space Shuttle
Fifty years ago on this date, two astronauts crawled into a Gemini spacecraft atop a Titan rocket and were shot into space. Over four days, Jim McDivitt and Ed White circled Earth 66 times. That first day, White opened the hatch and left the spacecraft.
This first spacewalk lasted about 20 minutes. White, connected to the capsule by a tether, wanted to stay out in that great expanse a lot longer. He exclaimed, “This is fun!” He didn’t seem to care that communications with the ground might be compromised as they switched tracking stations, nor that they were heading into darkness of night on the other side of the solar terminator. Ed White called his return to Gemini IV “the saddest moment of my life.”
One year later, on June 3, 1966, two different astronauts crawled into a Gemini spacecraft atop a Titan rocket and were shot into space. Over three days, Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan circled Earth 47 times. On June 5, Cernan left the spacecraft for two hours.
All in all, Gemini IX was a meager success. The planned rendezvous with the Agena, an unmanned target practice spacecraft, didn’t happen because of a problem with the Agena that left its nose cone pieces hanging open, still attached. Then, Cernan struggled through his spacewalk, with no hand or foot folds to help him make his way to the maneuvering system he had to put on. All his movements were exhausting, his heart rate soared to 180 beats per minute, and he started sweating profusely, which fogged his visor, which he couldn’t wipe off to see. Stafford called a halt to the spacewalk, and NASA started rethinking the spacesuit for the Apollo program.
The original crew for Gemini IX had been Elliot See and Charles Bassett, but they had died that February when their T-38 crashed on approach to St. Louis to take a look at their spacecraft in person. McDivitt and Cernan moved from backup to prime crew.
Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin became the new backup crew for Gemini IX, which also moved them to the prime crew position on Gemini XII. This switch likely changed Aldrin’s life. While Cernan had struggled physically as a spacewalker on Gemini IX, Aldrin used underwater training to prepare for his spacewalks. Aldrin completed three spacewalks on Gemini XII in November 1966, two of which lasted more than two hours. Only then was NASA convinced that extravehicular activity was safe and doable. The crew rotation and this EVA success set Aldrin up to be on Apollo 11 and to walk on the Moon.
This rotation also put Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan on the Apollo 10 crew, along with John Young. All three had flown before, and all three would fly to space again after Apollo 10.
Roughly 46 years ago, at the end of May 1969, three men crawled into an Apollo spacecraft atop at Saturn V rocket and were shot into space. Apollo 10 went all the way to the Moon without actually landing on its surface. The Lunar Module came within 16 kilometers of the surface but wasn’t given enough fuel to land and ascend back to the Command Module, probably because NASA feared Stafford and Cernan would try such a move. The success of Apollo 10 set up the Apollo 11 mission to land on the Moon in July 1969.
History is made in the moment. As we’ve written before (Mark & Scott Kelly HERE, Shuttle Firsts HERE), timing and sequence matter in space exploration history. Sequences of small decisions accumulate to give us the whole. Certainly, the deaths of Bassett and See altered the trajectory of both the Gemini and Apollo programs in small ways. But it isn’t always tragic events that have effects. Mike Collins’s back problems likely put him in the Command Module pilot’s seat as opposed to another astronaut. In the larger scheme of things, we’ve also written about how all the Apollo astronauts, our Moon men, were born into a thin slice of history. Collins, Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong were all born in the same year, 1930.
The Gemini IV spacecraft is on display at the National Air and Space Museum. The Gemini IX spacecraft is on display at Kennedy Space Center. The Apollo 10 Command Module is at the Science Museum in London.