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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
Image taken on the third day of Apollo 11’s flight. Earth seen from 162,400 nautical miles away; Africa, with the Sahara Desert, is quite clear. Image credit: LPI
Aldrin: “Houston, Apollo 11. We’ve got the continent of Africa right facing toward us right now, and of course, everything’s getting smaller and smaller as time goes on. The Mediterranean is completely clear. The Sun looks like it’s about to set around Madagascar. The equatorial belt of Africa stands out quite clearly. We’re seeing a dark green or a muddy colored green, compared to the sandier colors of the southern tip of Africa and, of course, the Sahara northern coast of Africa. There’s a rather remarkable cloud that appears in the vicinity of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s just about to go into the sunset now. It is casting quite a large shadow. It’s isolated. There don’t seem to be any other clouds. The band of clouds near the tropical convergent clouds down around the equator clearly separate the clockwise and the counter-clockwise cloud formations. Over.”
This was the final day of preparations for the lunar landing scheduled for the following day. The spacecraft approached the moon, and went behind it, putting Apollo 11 in a blackout with Earth. The crew used that time to prepare for their first lunar orbit insertion maneuver: To position themselves to orbit the moon.
Earth as seen from 113,500 miles away, on Day 2 of Apollo 11’s journey. North is up, with Greenland visible, South America can also bee seen. Image credit: LPI
Collins: “Rog. I’ve got the world in my window for a change and looking at it through the monocular, it’s really something. I wish I could describe it properly, but the weather is very good. South America is coming around into view. I can see on the – what appears to me to be upper horizon, a point that must be just about Seattle, Washington, and then from there I can see all the way down to the southern tip – Tierra del Fuego and the southern tip of the continent.”
Armstrong and Aldrin, while on live TV, put on their spacesuits and went down the docking tunnel from Columbia to the Lunar Module (LM). They gave viewers on Earth a short tour of the vehicle that would take them to the lunar surface.
To break away from the Earth’s gravitational field, Apollo 11 needed a speed of 7 miles per second. By the close of the second day, Apollo 11 would leave the Earth’s gravitational field, and enter the moon’s. The Columbia and Eagle would then slow to 2400 mph at this time.
The Saturn V Rocket of the Apollo 4 mission, stands at the launch pad in November 1967; Photo credit: NASA
The Saturn V rocket was developed under the direction of Wernher von Braun, the German-born engineer, and Adolph Hitler’s star rocketeer. The Saturn V went from idea on paper to actual flight in a period of six years. The rocket’s first flight was the unmanned Apollo 4 mission in 1967. It’s first manned flight was Apollo 8 in 1968.
The Saturn V had a height of 363 feet, and a width of 33 feet. It weighed 6,540,000 lbs, with a payload of 310,000 lbs to (low earth orbit) and a payload of 90,000 lbs to the moon. The Saturn V was a three stage rocket: The first stage was powered by five F-1 engines, the second stage by five J-2 engines, and the third stage by a single J-2 engine.
The first stage of the Saturn V, saw the five F-1 engines use 20 tons of fuel a second, producing 7.5 million pounds of thrust. When Charles Lindberg crossed the Atlantic in 1927 in his Spirit of St. Louis, the small plane used 450 pounds of fuel for the entire flight. The Saturn V used 10x that amount in it’s first 1/10 of a second.
The five F-1 engines of the Saturn V; Photo credit: space.com
The Saturn V remains the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket to launch. It holds the record for heaviest payload launched. Fifteen Saturn V rockets were built, but only thirteen saw flight, with all 13 launching from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. To this date, it remains the only vehicle to transport humans beyond low earth orbit. 24 astronauts were sent to the moon on the Saturn V. Of its thirteen missions, the Saturn V saw no loss of life or loss of payload. However, the rocket was tested by Mother Nature during Apollo 12, when lightning struck the vehicle moments after launch. Other than some strange warning lights within the cockpit, there was no major damage, and they went on to land in the moon’s Ocean of Storms. Which seems more than appropriate.
The Saturn V saw it’s final flight on May 14, 1973, when it carried Skylab into orbit.
The two main Fairbanks Fires as seen from space; Photo credit: NASA
NASA released a photo from one of their satellites the other day, showing the smoke from both the Shovel Creek and Nugget Creek fires. As of Monday morning, the Nugget Creek Fire had reached 6900 acres, and the Shovel Creek Fire at 10,000 acres, with zero percent containment.
Residents of 52 homes in two subdivisions have been told to evacuate, along with residents of 93 homes being told to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Cabins and homes along the Chatanika River are also under threat. The area received .3″ of rain on Sunday evening, which isn’t much, but along with cooler temperatures, the firefighters were able to catch a small break. Hot, dry weather is back in the forecast, however.
The Niagara Aerospace Museum is located in the old terminal of the Niagara Falls International Airport. Because the Curtiss-Wright and Bell Aircraft corporations played such a huge part in the aviation history of the Buffalo/Niagara area, those two companies are well represented within the museum.
The P39: “Miss Lend-Lease”
Arguably the centerpiece to the museum is this Bell Aircraft P39Q “Airacobra”. The P39 left Niagara Falls on December 26, 1943 bound for Russia due to the Lend Lease program. Talking to the museum volunteers, the P39 went through Ladd Field in Fairbanks before crossing the Bering Sea. The P39 then went missing in action during November of 1944.
In 2004, the P39 was found in Lake Mart-Yavr in northwestern Russia. Bell Aircraft took recovery of the aircraft in 2008, the pilot’s remains were given a military funeral, and the plane’s logbook was recovered and preserved. Over 4500 Bell P39 Airacobras were sent to Russia during lend-lease, along with 2500 Curtiss-Wright P40 Warhawks and 2500 Bell P63 King Cobras. Russia’s top ten aces during WWII flew P39 aircraft.
The plane has been nicknamed “Miss Lend-Lease” by the museum. Two local Niagara women, who worked at Bell Aircraft during the war, wrote hidden messages in the P39 when they worked on its assembly over 70 years ago. They have been discovered, and are now on display next to their P39.
P40 Warhawk mural
More than 16,000 P40 Warhawks were built at the Curtiss-Wright Buffalo plants. On September 11, 1942, a P40 on a test flight, caught fire. The test pilot parachuted safely to the ground, but the P40 mysteriously turned back and traveled two miles before plummeted through the Curtiss-Wright Plant roof, killing six workers at the scene, while eight died of their injuries later. 43 others were wounded, mostly with burns.
The Curtiss plant was torn down in 1999, but a plaque honoring the victims who lost their life due to the P40 crash is still displayed at the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport. The one in the photo above is a copy of that plaque, located at the Niagara Aerospace Museum, within the Curtiss-Wright section.
A replica of a Curtiss “Jenny”
The Curtiss “Jenny” above is a replica, on display showing the wings without their canvas covering. 10,000 Curtiss “Jenny” aircraft were produced in Buffalo between 1914 – 1917.
Apollo EECOM Station
Thanks to Bell’s involvement in the space program, there is quite a display at the museum on the Apollo missions. The EECOM Station above, was used throughout the Apollo Programs, but played a particularly vital role in the Apollo 13 Mission.
The Agena 8081 Rocket Engine
The Agena rocket engine saw 360 mission flights, with a reliability record of 99.7%. It had action in the Ranger Mariner, Gemini and Nimbus Programs. It was used extensively to launch the Lunar Orbiter space probes, which preceded the successful Apollo missions.
The Cunningham-Hall Aircraft Company produced aircraft such as the GA-36 in Rochester, NY during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. This particular GA-36 was found languishing in a field at a small airport in Michigan. It was acquired and restored by volunteers at the Amherst Museum.
Admission to the museum was $8 for adults. Parking is directly in front of the old terminal, where passenger drop off and pick up used to take place. The volunteers were very knowledgeable and eager to talk about their collection.