Tags: Countdown to The Cold War, Museums & Archives, Nuclear Weapons, WWII
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On May 10, Anna flew on a B-24. Doug flew on the B-17 during its stop at the Lyon Air Museum. If you’re interested in seeing these aircraft, check the Collings Foundation SCHEDULE. If you can’t see them in person, here are videos from Doug’s B-17 ride.
Though the Collings Foundation’s B-17 was built in April 1945 and, therefore, didn’t see combat, it has been designated as Nine-O-Nine, an aircraft that flew 140 combat missions. In 1952, the aircraft that we saw at the Lyon Air Museum was part of three nuclear weapons effects tests. After it was deemed sufficiently cooled down thirteen years later, it was refurbished and was used to fight forest fires. In 1987, during an airshow, the B-17 was caught by a crosswind just after touching down and crashed, with no loss of life but significant damage to the aircraft. Once again, the plane was restored and has been touring the country.
The original Nine-O-Nine started flying missions in February 1944. The aircraft’s first bombing run was against Augsburg, Germany. In the end, it flew more than a thousand hours and dropped more than a half-million pounds of bombs. The aircraft flew back to the United States in June 1945 and was eventually scrapped with other leftover planes.
Next week, check back for some amazing photos we took of and from the B-24 and B-17!
Countdown to The Cold War: B-24 Liberator (Videos) May 13, 2015Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation.
Tags: Countdown to The Cold War, Museums & Archives, WWII
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Last week, May 8 marked the 70th anniversary of V-E Day. In 1945, the war in Europe officially ended with the signing of the act of surrender on May 7 in France and May 8 in Germany. The war in the Pacific Theater waged on.
In August 1944, a Consolidated B-24 was built. By October, it had been delivered to the U.S. Air Force, which then transferred it to the Royal Air Force. The RAF flew this B-24 in the Pacific Theater until the war there ended and it, along with a slew of other aircraft, was abandoned in India. The Indian Air Force restored it in 1948, and flew these restored aircraft for twenty years. After that, it was abandoned again, until a British aircraft collector took it apart and transported it back to England in 1981, then sold it to Dr. Robert F. Collings a few years later. After more than five years of restoration work, the B-24 flew again. In 2005, it was repainted as Witchcraft, another B-24 that had flown 130 combat missions but had long ago been scrapped.
B-24 Cockpit in Flight
On Sunday, May 10, 2015, we drove over to our local aviation museum, the Lyon Air Museum. There, Anna crawled into this B-24, strapped herself down under the waist gun, and took a half-hour ride. In this post, we share the experience through videos so you can take the ride too.
B-24 Tail Gun in Flight
The flight couldn’t go on forever, but Anna could have stayed up another half-hour at least.
B-24 Approach & Landing
Happy First Flight, Endeavour! May 6, 2015Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: I Remember CA, Museums & Archives, Space Shuttle
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We’ve come to think of Endeavour as “our” shuttle. We went to Edwards Air Force Base to see it land in 2008, we watched its last launch from Kennedy Space Center in 2011, and we saw it make its cross-country trip back home to California, where it is now displayed at the California Science Center. We spent time with Endeavour up close and personal after its last flight, when it was being decommissioned and we were at KSC to see Atlantis’s last launch. We know Endeavour best, and tomorrow is its anniversary of first flight.
On May 7, 1992, the space shuttle Endeavour launched for the first time. At the end of this post, we’ve included a video of the launch and landing from this first flight. STS-49 was commanded by Daniel C. Brandenstein and carried six other crew members on this mission to rescue Intelsat 603 and send it into its intended orbit.
We talked with one of those astronauts, Kathryn Thornton, in 2010. After earning a PhD in physics, she joined NASA when we were in college. Thornton flew on the space shuttle four times, and Endeavour’s first was her second spaceflight. During STS-49, she was one of four spacewalkers. Of course, in addition to the satellite tasks, the crew tested Endeavour out to make sure everything was in tip-top shape for the long haul of its service.
You can see our interview with Kathy Thornton HERE.
Endeavour was the space shuttle built to replace Challenger, after the demise of that orbiter during launch in 1986. This new shuttle, then, was made from leftover parts from the process of making earlier shuttles. The British spelling was in honor of the sailing ship Captain James Cook used to track the path of Venus and was also used for the Command Module on Apollo 15. The name was chosen through a K-12 essay contest in which Endeavour was a favorite and met the NASA requirement of relatively easy pronunciation.
That first Endeavour mission was also the first shuttle mission with an EVA—a spacewalk—that included three astronauts. The Intelsat rescue was more difficult than anticipated, and the mission was the first to require three rendezvous with another orbiting spacecraft. The landing was the first during which the shuttle used a drag chute.
Later that year, Endeavour carried Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space. The following year, Endeavour flew the first Hubble Space Telescope service mission; Thornton performed two EVAs as part of the Hubble repairs.
To see the series of posts that include our cool launch photos, click HERE.
To see the series of posts about Endeavour’s journey home, click HERE.
A380 March 18, 2015Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation.
Tags: I Remember CA, Museums & Archives
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We will board a plane this Friday: our first flight on an Airbus A380!
Even though we have to make our way up I-5 to LAX, we’re pretty excited about the upcoming flight. In fact, we’re very excited. Very. Very. Excited. We’re headed to Paris. It’s a return trip for Anna, but this will be Doug’s first voyage to the City of Lights. While the destination is the obvious reason for our excitement, we’re also pretty jazzed about the flight itself because it’ll be on an A380.
Doug specifically booked us on Air France so that we could fly the world’s largest passenger airliner. We saw our first airborne A380 several years ago while we were waiting for the space shuttle Endeavour to arrive at the California Science Center. We spent the afternoon in the park-like space just west of the science center and south of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The A380, which was obviously leaving LAX, appeared enormous, even at a distance.
And it is. We’ve stood beneath of wings of Howard Hughes’s Spruce Goose in the Evergreen Aviation Museum, and we’ve flown on Boeing 747s a number of times. We’ve been awed by both aircraft as symbols of what humans are capable of doing with technology. We’re anticipating a similar experience with the A380, but the big Airbus has a wingspan 50 feet wider than that of the Boeing big jet and is also a lot heavier, two facts that make sense together when you think about how lift works.
We fly a fair amount for people whose jobs don’t explicitly require travel. In fact, it’s rare for us to go more than a month or two without one of us flying to a conference, to see family, or to attend an event. Most of our flight routes are within the United States, and we seem to catch rides mostly on Boeing 737s or Airbus 319/320s. Very occasionally, we’ll set foot on a Boeing 757. We’re both aviation nerds, and though we don’t keep records of all of our flights, it’s nice to mix things up from time to time. A couple of years ago we flew a cross-country red-eye on an MD80, and we both realized that it had been several years since we’d last flown on any McDonnell-Douglas product.
Our trip on the A380 will be all the more meaningful because a good friend from Doug’s college days did significant engineering work on the thrust reverser control system. It’s always interesting to think about a friend’s hand in creating something that play a role in our lives.
We’ve caught nearly everything that flies commercially except the A380 and the B787. They are our white whales, the A380 moreso because of its resemblance. So we conclude with this line from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick:
It is not down any map; true places never are.
Lyon Air Museum (Photos!) February 11, 2015Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation.
Tags: Museums & Archives, WWI, WWII
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Lyon Air Museum, founded by Major General William Lyon and opened in 2009, is our local aviation museum. It’s located just across the runways from the terminals at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, and it’s open 10am-4pm every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. On March 9, at 10am, the museum will open the cockpit of their Douglas DC-3 flagship. On March 21, at 10:30am, Tuskegee Airmen will share their stories.
We finally made our first visit this past weekend. We’re sure to go back, and here’s why.
- 7 aircraft
- 8 automobiles (General Lyon is a long-time collector!)
- lots of motorcycles
It’s small, incredibly well kept, and filled with surprising treasures. And planes are taking off and landing just outside the windows. Here’s a sampling of what we saw.
On Traveling: NASM & Other Serendipity August 13, 2014Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Collaboration, Space Exploration.
Tags: Art & Science, ISS, Mars, Museums & Archives, Serendipity, Space Shuttle
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Last week, we were back at the University of Maryland. We lived in College Park, Maryland, in the early 1990s while Anna was earning her MFA and working at the Entomological Society of America and Doug was working for NASA at the Center for AeroSpace Information as an abstractor and indexer. The University of Maryland and the surrounding communities have changed in twenty years, with lots more housing and restaurants (we went to Ledo first).
This time around, Doug was participating in a workshop hosted by HILT, or Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching. As part of that program, we had the opportunity to choose among several Wednesday field trips. Of course, you know which one we chose: National Air and Space Museum!
The special event focused on a behind-the-scenes look at the new NASM crowdsourcing project called “My Space Shuttle Memories.” Margaret Weitekamp, the Curator of the Social and Cultural Dimensions of Spaceflight Collection at NASM, wanted something engaging for the new “Moving Beyond Earth” exhibit, and she wanted to reflect the ways in which real people interacted with and reacted to the space shuttle program. She worked with Sarah Banks, NASM’s Social Media Manager, to develop a photo crowdsourcing project that culminates in a slideshow display now in the exhibit.
We were disappointed that we hadn’t known about the initial call for photographs, but the museum plans to update the slideshow periodically. So, of course, we uploaded five of our own space shuttle photographs to the “My Space Shuttle Memories” Flickr group as soon as we returned home. We encourage others to do the same!
Based on our discussions with Weitekamp and Banks, we encourage you to follow the guidelines so that your photograph is seriously considered. Even if your photograph doesn’t become part of the slideshow in the museum, it’ll remain part of the collection of “My Shuttle Memories” at Flickr. Here are some things to consider before you upload any Shuttle photos to the Flickr page:
- The photograph MUST include people. Photographs of the space shuttle or of the plume won’t be considered for inclusion in the museum slideshow.
- The photograph must NOT anyone under the age of 18, unless you can provide permission from a parent or legal guardian for all children in the photograph.
- Photographs should focus on space shuttle launches and landings. Generally, very insider photographs won’t be seriously considered for inclusion in the slideshow.
- Photographs of space shuttle launches in the 1980s and 1990s are especially welcome. Many of us went to the last three launches with digital cameras, so those photographs dominate submissions. If you take the time to scan and submit an older photograph, you may have better odds.
- You MUST hold copyright on the photograph and be willing to give NASM permission to use the photograph. If they’re interested in including your photograph in the slideshow, they’ll contact you about that process. (In fact, after you submit photos, you should check the email account associated with your Flickr registration at least every ten days.) Copyright holders of selected photographs may also contribute those images to the NASM Archives, but that’s a different, follow-on process.
NASM is open until 7:30pm over the summer, so we also had plenty of time to traipse about one of our favorites spaces in the world. In addition to the new “Moving Beyond Earth” exhibit, we took a look at “Sprit and Opportunity: 10 Years Roving Across Mars,” which runs through September 15, and the new-to-us “Time and Navigation.” We couldn’t leave without breezing through “Apollo to the Moon.”
Sated with our visit to NASM, we headed home from our cross-country jaunt on Saturday. We returned our rental car, boarded the shuttle bus back to the airport, and heard the doors whoosh shut on our journey. But wait! As we peered out the bus’s window, we saw a spry, white-haired man exit the rental car facility and head behind to the next bus.
We had missed meeting Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon! Or did we?
We never use curbside check-in, but there was no one in line, and that vantage allowed us to watch for the next bus from the rental car facility. We didn’t see Gene Cernan get off the bus, but Doug headed one way and I headed the other to check the adjacent terminal stops.
There he was!
Apollo 17 Astronaut Gene Cernan, waiting in line to check in for his flight just like everybody else.
We approached. Doug said, “Mr. Cernan.” His daughter nudged him in our direction. “Could we take your photograph?” Doug asked. We thought he might be bothered, feel interrupted
Instead, he came right over to the rope, grabbed Anna’s hand, and said, “How about two?” Cernan and Anna chatted briefly about their flying plans that day, and Anna thanked him for going to the Moon for all of us. When he showed up in the security area, Anna wished him a good flight just before he entered the body scanner.
We’ve written about serendipity before here at Lofty Ambitions. Meeting Gene Cernan was indeed a happy accident. But it happened because we recognized someone who matters to us and were willing to take a little risk to seek out his company for a couple of minutes. As we continue to focus on The Cold War, cancer, and space exploration over this next year, we know we have to look for the unanticipated. Gene Cernan reminded us of that need both for immersion in our interests and for openness to what we can’t possibly predict will happen.
Santa Fe Retreat: Judy Chicago July 23, 2014Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science.
Tags: Apollo, Art & Science, Biology, Books, Cancer, Museums & Archives, Nuclear Weapons
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Shortly after we arrived in Santa Fe, Anna leafed through a free tabloid and discovered that the visual artist Judy Chicago was giving a gallery talk at the opening of her new show at the David Richard Gallery. Anna had first come across Chicago’s work in a women’s studies class taught by Penny Gold at Knox College.
We don’t usually write about art at Lofty Ambitions, but we do when there’s a connection to science or to aviation and space exploration. The new work at the gallery demonstrates Chicago’s recent interests in the human body and especially the surface and underlying bones and muscles of the head and face. She became interested in the tradition of anatomical drawings, like those by Leonardo DaVinci. This focus rose earlier in Chicago’s work, when she made three-dimensional cast sculptures of a woman undergoing cancer treatment—that series is casually referred to as the Toby heads. The more recent work, including paintings on glass, explores the relationship of the anatomy and physiology of the face to the expression or emotion that is presented or feigned. As she put it, “I’m interested in what’s under the skin.”
This exhibit and event are part of the year-long celebration of Judy Chicago’s 75th birthday, which also includes exhibits around the country. So a few days after seeing Judy Chicago in the flesh, Anna visited the New Mexico Museum of Art to see the exhibit there and get an overview from docent Meriom Kastner. That exhibit included Grand Toby Head with Copper Eye, 2010 and also several pieces that addressed nuclear science and industry. One of the pieces in the Holocaust Project, which was part of a series that could be viewed from different angles to different effects, offered commentary on the Apollo Moon landings (see the end of this post for photographs of that piece).
So, if all you’ve seen of Judy Chicago’s work are photographs of The Dinner Party, we suggest you look again. Her range of subject matter and artistic media is amazing. When she needed to do watercolors for a project, she learned how to do watercolors. When she became interested in glass and translucency in painting–or when the watercolor medium and techniques couldn’t support her vision for a piece–she took a workshop in glasswork. She even worked with a foundry to figure out how to cast paper as a large three-dimensional sculpture.
Her new book, Institutional Time, is now on Anna’s reading list in hopes that Chicago’s critique of visual art education in universities might shed some light on creative writing education as well. In fact, Anna published a conversation essay with graphic designer Claudine Jaenichen and visual artist Lia Halloran in New Writing and is very interested in connections across different artistic fields.
Of course, we were in Santa Fe to write. And several of our recent posts have offered ways to turn our attention toward writing. Though Judy Chicago talked about visual art and her own artistic practices, much of what she said in her gallery talk applies to writing and to collaboration. Her attitude is one of adventure, of trying new things, of pushing yourself beyond what you can already do comfortably.
We share some of her words of wisdom here:
What isn’t imaged can’t become part of the cultural discourse.
New forms allow new content.
Every failure is an important success—a step in success.
I was interested in how a gesture could mean a variety of things.
I do like to play with details.
For me, art is about discovery. It’s about discovering what different techniques allow me to express.
Judy Chicago explained that Disappointed Head was inspired by a disappointed artist she knew who, in his fifties, thought getting into a particular gallery would change his life. He went into debt, got into that gallery, and nothing changed.
Finally, Judy Chicago’s comment about tattoos (and her use of tattoo-like techniques on porcelain heads) because who doesn’t wonder: I’m not doing that on my ass, I can tell you that!
Hale, Palomar, and (the End of) the Story (Part 11) May 28, 2014Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science.
Tags: Books, Museums & Archives, Palomar Observatory, Serendipity, Wright Brothers
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We’ve spent a lot time and posts thinking about George Ellery Hale and his observatories over the last nine months or so, and it’s come time to say good-bye to this topic. We visited Hale’s crowning achievement: the 200-inch telescope at the Palomar Observatory that bears his name. That’s where we started this journey nine months ago, and that’s where we’ll end it.
As was Hale’s way, he was never content to work on just one project at a time. At the same time that Hale was finalizing the financing, design, and construction of the Mount Wilson 100-inch telescope, America was deciding what to do about the war in Europe. Like many in the United States, Hale’s opinion of the war was galvanized by the May 1915 sinking of the Lusitania. Helen Wright’s book about Hale describes one early American response to the war when she says that Secretary Josephus Daniels had selected Thomas Alva Edison to head a Naval Consulting Board to “aid in developing war devices to assist in perfecting the Navy as a fighting machine.”
When Hale saw the suggested list of board members—names such as Henry Ford, Orville Wright, Simon Lake, and Alexander Graham Bell—he is disturbed to see that the list only contains inventors, not scientists. He began a process of lobbying through his friends in Washington, D.C., that resulted in the June 1916 formation of the National Science Council. Hale became the first chairman of the committee. During the war, the National Science Council organized American scientific endeavors at the behest of policy needs in response to the demands of World War I. The National Science Council, an arm of the National Academies (National Academy of Sciences), exists to this day. In fact, this is likely the beginning of Big Science in the United States, and Helen Wright has the following to say about Hale’s time on the National Science Council:
It was an important step. Previously, organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science [ …] held meetings once or twice a year. But there had been little concerted planning for the general advancement of science and the national welfare. Now, under Hale’s leadership, American scientists would have the chance to develop cooperative research on an unparalleled scale […]. From this time science was to become an increasingly powerful force in American life.
At the conclusion of the war, Hale returned to the scientific endeavors he loved best: solar physics and building the world’s largest telescopes.
When he wrote a number of articles about astronomy for popular audiences in the mid-1920s, Hale began the process of creating of the Palomar 200-inch telescope. The most influential one, “The Possibilities of Large Telescopes,” appeared in 1926 in Harper’s Magazine. Hale arranges for an early version of the article to be sent to Wickliffe Rose of the Rockefeller Foundation, even though the telescopes of Mount Wilson had largely been funded and administered by the Carnegie Institution. Just as there had been competition between the men themselves, Rockefeller and Carnegie, the two philanthropic institutions had no established history of working together. Personalities and conflicts nearly derailed Hale’s vision for the grandest astronomical observatory in history. After much negotiation, largely undertaken by Hale, the two foundations came to an agreement: Rockefeller would provide the then unheard of sum of $6 million dollars to build the facility to be gifted to CalTech, and the Carnegie Institute would provide the scientists and administrators to run the observatory. Hale had triumphed again.
Hale’s health declined over the years. Hale didn’t live to see the eponymous telescope gather its first light in 1949. He died in 1938, shortly after construction began on Palomar Observatory.
In writing this series about George Ellery Hale, we relied heavily on Helen Wright’s biography, Explorer of the Stars, and the PBS Home Video documentary The Journey to Palomar. In some happy serendipity, this copy of the Helen Wright biography is now a part of Chapman University’s Huell Howser California’s Gold collection. This copy of Explorer of the Stars was originally in the Mount Wilson Observatory library, and it is inscribed, “For the Monastery Library.” The monastery was, of course, Hale’s affectionate nickname for Mount Wilson Observatory in the early days, and it stuck. How Huell wound up with the book is a story we don’t know, but he did host an episode of California’s Gold about Mount Wilson.
Even though this post ends our series, one of the Hale-related things that we’ve been planning to do for that same nine-months still hasn’t happened. Though it’s only about seventy miles from our home, we still haven’t been there to see Hale’s mid-career achievements in person. (We haven’t been to Yerkes Observatory yet either, but that’s a different proposition.) When Midwestern friends and family ask how far away we live from Los Angeles, we often tell them: Only thirty-five miles, but that’s probably two hours of driving—each way. We’ll make it to Mount Wilson eventually, but it will take some planning.
Palomar Observatory: Hale (Part 8) January 8, 2014Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: Museums & Archives, Nobel Prize, Palomar Observatory
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Our previous post in this series can be found HERE.
Our university’s library, where Doug is the Science Librarian, contains an excellent DVD about Hale and the Palomar Observatory: The Journey to Palomar: America’s First Journey Into Space. The italics are the filmmakers and are an emphatic reference to the ability of Hale’s telescopes to present humankind with a revelatory view into the cosmos. This film became mandatory viewing for us after our own journey to the observatory during our writing residency last summer.
We mentioned in last week’s post that George Ellery Hale was a man of many interests. He was also unusual in his ability to transform his interests into talents. In The Journey to Palomar, California historian (and former California State Librarian) Kevin Starr says of Hale, “I think that we have to consider George Ellery Hale, if not the founder of Pasadena, certainly the re-founder.” As an example of the kind of transformation that Hale sought for Pasadena, taking it from a sleepy little town to “a great center of scientific and humanistic research,” Starr goes on to talk about Hale’s role in convincing Henry Huntington to use his vast personal collection of art, books, and manuscripts as the foundation for The Huntington Library. Hale’s efforts to remake Pasadena didn’t stop there. He had a fundamental role in the creation and development of what is arguably the world’s finest university, the California Institute of Technology.
How does a man interested in building telescopes end up instigating the emergence of Cal Tech? In 1891, Amos G. Throop, yet another Chicagoan who ultimately made his way to Pasadena, founded Throop Polytechnic Institute. The school operated under a number of names, including Throop University, and it included primary and secondary schools in its educational program. In the early 1900s, Hale became close friends with a Throop trustee, Charles Frederick Holder. Hale became interested in the institution, and he advanced a plan for remaking the school via Holder.
Like all Hale plans, it was bold and expansive. Hale saw the possibility of creating a first-rate research institution for the Western United States, a place whose graduates would vie with the scientists and engineers produced by German research universities. But Hale wasn’t interested only in turning out engineering automatons. He had a deep affinity for the humanities as well. He wanted to develop creative, imaginative men. In her biography of Hale, Explorer of the Universe, author Helen Wright quotes Hale as saying:
Happy is the boy whose career is plainly foreshadowed. […] But this very interest, in direct proportion to its intensity, is almost certain to lead to a neglect of other opportunities. The absorbing beauties of machine construction and design so completely occupy the boy’s mind that they hinder a view of the greater world. […] He does not yet know that to become a great engineer, he should cultivate not merely his acquaintance with the details of construction, but in no less degree his breadth of view and the highest powers of his imagination.
Throop’s board embraced Hale’s plan and charged him with finding a president who could steer the institution towards the future and some great Nobel successes. Hale undertook the board’s charge with his typical gusto (see our earlier posts in this series for other examples of his gusto). Ironically, at the very same moment, Hale’s alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was trying to woo him into becoming their new president. Ultimately, after a chance meeting on a transatlantic voyage, Hale enticed James A. B. Scherer, a professor of literature and president of South Carolina’s Newberry College, to become Throop Institute’s president. Over the years, the capable duo of Scherer and Hale succeeded in luring notable academics such as Robert A. Millikan, Thomas Hunt Morgan and Arthur Noyes to Pasadena. In addition, the Hale and Scherer families become so close that Hale’s daughter and Scherer’s son married. Throop became the California Institute of Technology in 1921.
Hale’s life is marked by periods of boundless, almost manic, energies and accomplishments. All the while that Hale was working on a reimagined Pasadena and Throop Institutite, he was also writing popular books and carrying out his own research, primarily solar astronomy. Indeed, Hale’s solar research from this time period culminated in his 1908 discovery of the Sun’s magnetic field.
While this work was going on, Hale was also finishing Mt. Wilson’s 60-inch telescope. Hale being Hale, he also started work on an even larger telescope, the story of which will provide a culmination for this blog post series.
View the next post in this series HERE.
Apollo 8: The 45th Anniversary December 25, 2013Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Art & Science, Museums & Archives
Forty-five years ago, a spacecraft with human beings in it was circling the Moon for the first time. In December 1968, for the first time, people on Earth saw a view their own planet in its entirety from space.
Forty-five years before that, sound barrier-breaking test pilot Chuck Yeager, Mercury-Gemini-Apollo astronaut Wally Schirra, and first American in space Alan Shepard were born. Just ten years before that–one hundred years ago–the United States had finished the first transcontinental roadway for automobiles that October, and Henry Ford was pioneering assembly-line production of cars. Stainless steel had been invented only that summer by Harry Brearly. That same year, Igor Sikorsky had built the first four-engine airplane, and Aldophe Pegoud had become the first person to bail out of an airplane safely. Powered, manned flight was still new but changing rapidly.
By 1968, cross-country road trips were common, and the United States had plans to land men on the Moon before the end of the decade. 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered on April 2, and Planet of the Apes was released the next day. France hosted the Winter Olympics in February and exploded its first hydrogen bomb in August. The turbulent year was filled with news from Vietnam and protests on the homefront. In April, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, and Bobby Kennedy was shot and killed in June. Apollo 8 became a crucial step in NASA’s plans for space exploration (and Cold War superiority) and the nation’s sense of hope.
Apollo 8 launched on December 21, 1968. Its crew included Frank Borman, the only astronaut who served on the accident investigation board after the Apollo 1 fire; Jim Lovell, who would go on to fly on the near-catastrophic Apollo 13 mission; and Bill Anders on his only spaceflight. They weren’t actually supposed to fly this mission until the lunar module was ready, and the lunar module wasn’t ready. But NASA boldly decided to test the flight without the lunar module aboard so as not to delay the whole Apollo program.
At first, Lovell had trouble sighting the stars for navigation. Borman had trouble sleeping, then became quite ill. The quick-thinking crew devised a round-about way to let Mission Control know about the astronaut’s intestinal distress. They used a back-channel—through a data storage system—instead of the usual communication channel, thereby avoiding letting the entire world in on the secret. In hindsight, it’s clear that Borman was probably suffering from space sickness, though at the time, it was thought to be the 24-hour flu and cleared up.
Fifty-five hours into the mission, the crew broadcast images of Earth from space. Of those images, Anders remarked, “We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.” Shortly after their broadcast, these three men became the first people to experience the gravitational pull of another celestial body, the Moon.
Lovell described the Moon in detail, noting that its surface looked “like plaster of Paris or sort of a grayish beach sand.” Apollo 8 was the first manned mission to circle around the Moon, and the crew, therefore, were the first people to see the backside, the unlit side, of the Moon. As the spacecraft orbited, Anders shot the amazing “Earthrise” photograph.
By the ninth orbit, it was Christmas Eve on Earth. After Borman described the Moon as “a vast, lonely, forbidding expanse of nothing,” each of the three astronauts read an excerpt from Genesis in the Bible. Shortly after their moving broadcast and some unexpected manual alignment with the stars, they headed back toward their home planet.
Fellow astronaut Deke Slayton, who’d been grounded with a heart rhythm problem and who was in charge of astronaut selection, had left a solider-style turkey dinner in the food locker, which the crew ate happily. The brandy from Slayton supposedly remains unopened.
On December 27, the Apollo 8 mission ended. Re-entry and splashdown went smoothly, though Borman was again ill as the command module bobbed in the water. That module is now on display the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, where we’ve seen it up close and where Apollo 8’s Jim Lovell reenacted his Christmas Eve reading from Genesis this Monday.
After returning to Earth, the Apollo 8 crew was lauded, with a Super Bowl appearance for the Pledge of Allegiance and a postage stamp featuring the Earthrise photograph. The crew’s television broadcasts garnered an Emmy Award. Perhaps no accolade sums up the mission’s success better, however, than one particular telegram to the crew: “Congratulations to the crew of Apollo 8. You saved 1968.”