Tag Archives: NASA

A Pale Blue Dot

Happy Earth Day:

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Earth, caught in a ray of light; Image credit: Voyager 1/NASA

The image was taken by Voyager 1 at the suggestion of Carl Sagan on 14 February 1990.  At the time, Voyager 1 was 4 billion miles away from its home planet.  As the spacecraft was approaching the fringe of our solar system, engineers turned it around for one final glimpse at Earth.

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Artist rendering of Voyager 1; Credit: NASA

‘Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.’

— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994 

 


Apollo 13: April 17, 1970

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The recovery of the Apollo 13 crew, near Samoa in the Pacific Ocean; Photo credit: US Navy

The command module, Odyssey, was the only module capable of reentering the earth’s atmosphere.  Apollo 13’s crew moved back into Odyssey, then jettisoned Aquarius.  They splashed down in the Pacific Ocean 142 hours, 54 minutes, 41 seconds from the time of liftoff.

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Fred Haise, Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell aboard the recovery ship USS Iwo Jima

Fred Haise remained in the astronaut rotation after Apollo 13, and was the backup mission commander for Apollo 16.  Following Apollo 16, Haise transferred over to the Space Shuttle program.  He retired from NASA in 1979.

Jack Swigert was selected as the command module pilot for the Apollo-Soyuz test project, the first joint U.S. – Soviet mission.  Swigert left NASA in 1977, and was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in 1982.  Swigert died in December of that same year.

Jim Lovell is one of three men to have flown to the moon twice, but he never walked on its surface.  Lovell accumulated 715 hours in space, and watched 269 sunrises from space.  Lovell, along with Haise and Swigert hold the record for the farthest distance humans have traveled from earth.  He retired from the U.S. Navy and Space Program in 1973.

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Apollo 13 Command Module; Photo credit: National Air & Space Museum

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Apollo 13: April 14, 1970

In the early morning hours of April 14, the Apollo 13 crew maneuvered their crippled craft into a free-return trajectory around the moon and back towards earth.  Radio contact was lost with Apollo 13 that evening, as the spacecraft passed behind the moon.

Apollo 13, the mission that was supposed to be the third lunar landing, came within 164 miles of the moon’s surface at its closest.  The mission set a then record distance from earth at 249,205 miles.

The above video was put together by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.  It uses data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to recreate the view that Apollo 13 had as it passed over the far side of the moon.

As Apollo 13 headed for home, oxygen supplies and cooling water remain in good shape. The astronauts had reduced their water intake to 6 ounces per day.  Electricity demand had been reduced by 80%.

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Apollo13’s “mailbox”

Aquarius was not designed to carry three astronauts, and its carbon dioxide filters could not keep up with what the crew was putting into the LM.  The filters from the command module did not fit Aquarius, so NASA engineers on the ground were forced to quickly design a makeshift adapter.  The setup was dubbed “the mailbox”.  All that mattered, was that it worked.


Apollo 13: April 13, 1970

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The damaged service module; Photo credit: NASA

The launch and following day, April 12 went perfectly for the Apollo 13 crew. On the evening of the 13th, the astronauts did a routine pressurization of the lunar module Aquarius.   Suddenly, a loud explosion was heard, and all three crew members scrambled into the command module Odyssey to examine the instrument panels.

Haise then contacted Houston:

Haise: Okay Houston-

Lovell: I believe we’ve had a problem here.

Mission control: This is Houston. Say again please.

Lovell: Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a main B bus undervolt.

The service module had two cryogenic oxygen tanks, and one of them had dropped to zero pressure.  These two tanks, along with the cryogenic hydrogen tanks fed the spacecraft’s fuel cells, which in turn, powered the generation of electrical power, the oxygen for breathing and drinking water.

Aquarius became the crew’s lifeboat.  The LM was designed for only two men, so it was a cramped living situation, and now all thoughts of a third moon landing were scrapped.  As the Apollo 13 crew moved into Aquarius, they were 20 hours from the moon.

 


Apollo 13

11 April 1970:

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The launch of Apollo 13 from Cape Kennedy, Florida

Fifty years ago today, the crew of Apollo 13 was launched from Cape Kennedy, pushed along by the massive Saturn V.  Just 2-1/2 hours from launch, the S IVB third stage reignited, providing the final push towards the moon.

Apollo 13’s trajectory was so accurate, the first planned course correction was cancelled.  A return to the moon’s surface was looking good.

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The crew of Apollo 13: James Lovell, commander; Jack Swigert, command module pilot; Fred Haise, lunar module pilot. Photo credit: NASA

 


PolarNOx at Poker Flat

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Rocket Launch at Poker Flat; Photo credit: NASA/Chris Perry

NASA and the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute teamed up with some scientists from Virginia Tech University to launch a sounding rocket over the weekend at the Poker Flat Research Range.

The Polar Night Nitric Oxide (PolarNOx) experiment saw a hang fire on the first night of their launch window, but the rocket was launched successfully on the second night.

The aurora borealis adds nitric oxide to the polar atmosphere, and levels increase in the winter months, but then dissipate in the summer months, with the increase of sunlight.  Nitric oxide will destroy ozone under certain conditions.  The sounding rocket was launched to collect data to better understand the build up of nitric oxide.

Nitric oxide exists between 53 – 93 miles altitude, with its peak concentration between 62 – 68 miles altitude.  The sounding rocket rose to an apex of 161 miles above the earth’s surface, before coming back down to our very frozen Interior.

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The landing pad; Photo credit: Poker Flat Research Range

For those who were up in the early morning hours to witness the launch, the rocket was seen from all over the area.  I had planned on being out there, but I was forced to make a quick run to the border instead.  At least I saw a lot of caribou.


Almost Rocket Season

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The fine folks out at Poker Flat Research Range have announced future launch windows. The first one opens on 26 January.  Poker Flat does stream the launches of their sounding rockets online.  One can receive launch updates by following the instructions above.

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The aurora in Venetie, Alaska; Photo credit: PFRR

PFRR also has their nightly All-Sky Camera, which is very sensitive to the aurora.  You can find their camera here:

https://allsky.gi.alaska.edu

The Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska – Fairbanks has an aurora forecast, which is regularly updated. The link to that is here:

https://www.gi.alaska.edu/monitors/aurora-forecast

 

 


Apollo 12: SCE to AUX

Apollo 12 launches into a storm

Astronauts Pete Conrad, Alan Bean and Dick Gordon launched from Kennedy Space Center on this date in 1969 aboard Apollo 12.

The launch occurred as rainy weather enveloped the Cape. 37 seconds after launch, lightning struck the rocket, causing all sorts of haywire across the control panel. At the 52 second mark, a second lightning strike took out the “8-Ball” attitude indicator. Just about every warning light on the control panel was now lit, and the resulting power supply problems caused much of the instrumentation to malfunction.

John Aaron

Back at Mission Control, EECOM flight controller John Aaron, had seen this before in simulations. He calmly suggested a solution to the Flight Director, “Flight, try SCE to Aux”. Even though few knew what Aaron was talking about, the order was sent to Apollo 12, and Bean flipped the SCE switch to Auxiliary setting. Telemetry was immediately restored, and Apollo 12 continued on with its mission.

John Aaron was forever known as that “Steely-eyed missile man” from then on.

Astronaut Alan Bean on the surface of the moon. Photo by Charles “Pete” Conrad

The lunar module, with Conrad and Bean, landed in the area known as the Ocean of Storms on November 19. The landing site was within walking distance of the Surveyor 3 probe, which had landed on the moon in April of 1967. To date, it is the only time mankind has “retrieved” a probe sent to another world.

Solar eclipse from Apollo 12, on its return home to Earth. Photo credit: NASA

The crew of Apollo 12 returned to Earth on 24 November 1969. Landing east of American Samoa, they were recovered by the USS Hornet.

The Apollo 12 mission lasted just over 10 days, 4-1/2 hours.


Walking Poker Flat

Entrance to Poker Flat Research Range

It’s early August and people were starting to think “white stuff”. I had three jobs lined up, everyone desperate for me to start, yet not one of them was ready for me. What to do with the day off?

As luck would have it, Poker Flat Research Range had one of their summer walking tours that day, so I drove the 25 miles out to Chatanika.

“The Blockhouse” or bunker

PFRR is the world’s largest land-based rocket range. The facility is owned by the University of Alaska – Fairbanks. They launch sounding rockets from the range, in order to study the Earth’s atmosphere and the interaction between the atmosphere and the space environment.

Space junk returned to Earth

Study ranges from the Earth’s magnetic field to the aurora. NASA is prominent at the range, but researchers come from all over the world. All of the rockets launched from PFRR return to the Earth’s surface, and the range collects the spent payloads every summer. There is a reward paid out to anyone finding material from Poker Flat.

Poker Flat Launch Pad

The building above is open on the far end. The interior of the building, and the actual launch pad, was off limits to photography. It’s a NASA rule that doesn’t thrill UAF apparently, but we all honored the rule. The sounding rocket is brought in on what is basically an open trailer. The rocket is loaded onto the launcher, which looks like a giant erector set with a large pivot. The building itself is sitting on a pair of tracks. When ready to begin countdown, the building is pulled back away from the pad, and the rocket is spun vertical with the large erector set pivot.

Mission Control

The control center was surprisingly manual in operation. Scientists are extremely fussy about launch conditions, and they often pull the plug with one second to go. An automatic system does not give the flexibility that is needed, so there is still a “launch button”.

Power central

That doesn’t mean there is a shortage of cable, wires, or connectors.

The touring rocket

PFRR does a good job with the tour. It’s pretty relaxed, and a nice way to spend some time outdoors, for the most part, in an Interior Alaska summer. After the tour, don’t forget to stop by the Chatanika Lodge, which is just down the highway.


Apollo 11: Splashdown


Navy Seals from the USS Hornet (in background) approach the Apollo 11 capsule after splashdown; Photo credit: NASA

After a successful moonwalk EVA, the crew of Apollo 11 returned to Earth on 24 July 1969, eight days after launching from Cape Kennedy.

Splashdown occurred 812 miles from Hawaii, and only 12 miles from where the USS Hornet was stationed, waiting to recover the crew.

The mission duration was officially 8 days, 3 hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds from launch.

The three man Apollo 11 crew was scrubbed, disinfected and remained in quarantine for 21 days after their return.

Commander Neil Armstrong passed away on 25 August 2012. Fellow Apollo 11 astronauts, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin were front & center for many of the 50th Anniversary celebrations.

Michael Collins’ book: Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys, is one of the very best written by an astronaut.