Wednesday, July 16, 2008


"I'm going to be like the man who flew the Atlantic after Lindberg - old what's-his-name."

-Michael Collins, on being the only member of Apollo 11 to not walk on the Moon.

More Collins

"Apollo 11, Apollo 11, good morning from the Black Team."
Could they be talking to me? It takes me twenty seconds to fumble for the microphone button and answer groggily, I guess I have only been asleep five hours or so; I had a tough time getting to sleep, and now I'm having trouble waking up. Neil, Buzz, and I all putter about fixing breakfast and getting various items ready for transfer into the LM. [Later] I stuff Neil and Buzz into the LM along with an armload of equipment. Now I have to do the tunnel bit again, closing hatches, installing drogue and probe, and disconnecting the electrical umbilical. I am on the radio constantly now, running through an elaborate series of joint checks with Eagle.
I check progress with Buzz: "I have five minutes and fifteen seconds since we started. Attitude is holding very well."
"Roger, Mike, just hold it a little bit longer."
"No sweat, I can hold it all day. Take your sweet time. How's the czar over there? He's so quiet."
Neil chimes in, "Just hanging on- and punching."
Punching those computer buttons, I guess he means.
"All I can say is, beware the revolution," and then, getting no answer, I formally bid them goodbye. "You cats take it easy on the lunar surface...."
"O.K., Mike," Buzz answers cheerily, and I throw the switch which releases them. With my nose against the window and the movie camera churning away, I watch them go. When they are safely clear of me, I inform Neil, and he begins a slow pirouette in place, allowing me a look at his outlandish machine and its four extended legs.
"The Eagle has wings'" Neil exults. It doesn't look like any eagle I have ever seen. It is the weirdest-looking contraption ever to invade the sky, floating there with its legs awkwardly jutting out above a body which has neither symmetry nor grace. I make sure all four landing gears are down and locked, report that fact, and then lie a little.
"I think you've got a fine-looking flying machine there, Eagle, despite the fact you're upside down."
"Somebody's upside down," Neil retorts.
"O.K., Eagle. One minute . . . you guys take care."
Neil answers, "See you later." I hope so.
When the one minute is up, I fire my thrusters precisely as planned and we begin to separate, checking distances and velocities as we go. This burn is a very small one, just to give Eagle some breathing room. From now on it's up to them, and they will make two separate burns in reaching the lunar surface. The first one will serve to drop Eagle's perilune to fifty thousand feet. Then, when they reach this spot over the eastern edge of the Sea of Tranquility, Eagle's descent engine will be fired up for the second and last time, and Eagle will lazily arc over into a 12-minute computer- controlled descent to some point at which Neil will take over for a manual landing.
-Michael Collins


In between switch throws I have plenty of time to think, if not daydream. Here I am, a white male, age thirty-eight, height 5 feet 11 inches, weight 165 pounds, salary $17,000 per annum, resident of a Texas suburb, with black spot on my roses, state of mind unsettled, about to be shot off to the Moon. Yes, to the Moon.
At the moment, the most important control is over on Neil's side, just outboard of his left knee. It is the abort handle, and now it has power to it, so if Neil rotates it 30 counterclockwise, three solid rockets above us will fire and yank the CM free of the service module and everything below it. It is only to be used in extremes. A large bulky pocket has been added to Neil's left suit leg, and it looks as though if he moves his leg slightly, it's going to snag on the abort handle. I quickly point this out to Neil, and he grabs the pocket and pulls it as far over to the inside of his thigh as he can, but it still doesn't look secure to either one of us. Jesus, I can see the headlines now: MOONSHOT FALLS INTO OCEAN: Mistake by crew, program officials intimate. Last transmission from Armstrong prior to leaving the pad reportedly was "Oops."

-Michael Collins, remembering his daydreams while on the launchpad of Apollo 11

We had a saying in the Coast Guard...

When speaking of way back when, the old timers would say, "Back when ships were wood and men were steel."

That's what I think of when I think of the early astronauts: men of steel.
And if you have brass ones when you're 25, you have brass ones when you're 70.
It's a natural fact.
I figure that a clip of Armstrong reacting to a conspiracy nut isn't on YouTube because in fact he murdered the guy and it would be bad form to post the video.
Too bad.
Anyhow, here's a delightful clip which never gets old in which Buzz handles an idiot half his age:

Sweet Michael Collins takes a gentler approach: (P.S. Don't ask me what they're trying to imply in this video. I don't have a clue. I just know Collins is hilarious.)
If you ask me, both men showed remarkable restraint.


I wasn't aware we were racing anymore.
Hey, China, if you get there, can you grab all the jackets and flags and LM descent stages we left and bring them back to us?
Seriously, someone should alert Armstrong and Aldrin.
I hear they've just been kicking back for the last 39 years.

A classic.

The classic 1902 film "Voyage Dans La Lune."

Apollo 11 Launch

Happy anniversary, Moonmen!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I was talking with one of my sisters the other day...

...and we were discussing how no matter how old you get, some things will always elicit giggles.
Things like Uranus. Things like "penal colony." Things like blue-footed boobies. Things like the grand champion of things that will always be funny, Lake Titicaca.

And then I happened to be reading about what the ISS got photos of today.
And then I died.
Seriously, the placenames are silly enough. But...
(Or maybe we're just 12.)

Lake Poopo, Bolivia (Lake Poopo is a small lake near the southern end of a long, elevated basin in the Bolivian Andes known as the Altiplano. The Altiplano extends from the relatively moist region of Lake Titicaca south-southeastward to the large, bright playa of Salar de Uyuni. Poopo is subject to significant changes in size and color related to the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle. The ISS pass was in mid-morning and expected to be clear.


Oh, I almost forgot!
My favorite quote from today's EVA:

"Please let me go home. I guess we've done it all for today."

Way to go, fellas.

Some fun facts.

  • If you took all the molecules in one cubic centimeter of the Moon's atmosphere, they would all fit inside the period at the end of this sentence. If you did the same with Earth's atmosphere, they would stretch to the Moon and back, two and a half times.
  • The Russian newspaper Pravda referred to Neil Armstrong as the "Czar" of Apollo 11. Michael Collins thought this was funny and for the rest of the mission, he called Armstrong by this moniker.
  • What's rarer than a blue moon? A month with no moon at all! The last time this happened was February of 1999. It only happened four times in the 20th Century, and it will only happen four times in the 21st Century: in 2018, 2037, 2067, and 2094. It can, of course, only happen in February.

Fun Facts:

In Jules Verne's "From the Earth to the Moon", he predicted the following:

  • The United States would launch the first vehicle to circumnavigate the Moon.
  • The cost of the program would be $5,446,675 US dollars in 1865. This was equivalent to $12 billion US dollars in 1969. Apollo cost $14 billion dollars up to the Apollo 8 circumnavigation mission.
  • When Verne's character writes to the astronomers to ask what velocity is needed to launch a rocketship to the moon, they reply, "12,000 yards per second." In fact, escape velocity (the speed needed to travel beyond Earth orbit) is 12,320 yards per second.
  • Verne's circumlunar spacecraft would have a crew of three. The names of the crew were Ardan, Barbicane, and Nicholl. Anders, Borman and Lovell were the actual Apollo 8 crewmen.
  • Verne's circumlunar spacecraft was built of aluminum and weighed 20,000 pounds. Apollo 8 was primary fabricated from aluminum and weighed 26,000 pounds.
  • In "From the Earth to the Moon", 12 launch sites are considered for the mission before Florida is chosen due to its equatorial proximity. NASA considered 7 launch sites before settling on Florida, due to its equatorial proximity.
  • Verne's spacecraft launched in December from 27° 7´North, 082° 9´West and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, where it was recovered by the United States Navy vessel "Susquehanna."
  • Apollo 8 launched in December from 28° 27´North, 080° 36´West and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, where it was recovered by the United States Navy vessel "Hornet."

And finally, for the love of all that is holy, the Great Wall of China IS NOT "the only manmade object visible from space." In fact, the Great Wall is so narrow it is extremely difficult to view from space. However, as any fan of astronaut photography (none of which, incidentally, is copyrighted. Print and frame away! Your tax dollars paid for it, after all.) knows, many objects like streets, sports stadiums, the Pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, and even homes and sometimes cars are visible from low-Earth orbit such as that of the ISS and Space Shuttle.

If I lived somewhere dark...

I'd sign up for this service in a heartbeat. has a service where for just a few bucks a month, they will call your home phone and let you know about impending astronomical events. They will give you a 30-minute warning about an upcoming ISS sighting opportunity in your area, meteor showers, etc.
For an extra few bucks, you can get aurora notifications, too, which would be useful if you ever move to Canada.

ASTP Anniversary

On this date in 1975, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project* began.
During this unprecedented mission, U.S. astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts would dock their respective spaceships together and work in peace and harmony.
This mission marks the beginning of when both countries began to pretend we weren't hiding anything from each other. It also marks the last manned US spaceflight until the 1981 maiden voyage of the Space Shuttle.

I suppose my favorite factoid of this mission is the fact that when the Americans would speak to the Russians, they did so in Russian, and each time the Russians spoke to the Americans, it was in English. Tom Stafford welcomed the Soyuz crew after docking with "привет! soyuz, аполлон." ("Hello! Soyuz, Apollo.") Cosmonaut Leonov replied in English "Well done, Tom, it was a good show! We are looking forward now to meeting you in [sic] board Soyuz!"
(Stafford's Okie accent was so pronounced, even when speaking Russian, that Leonov would later joke that three languages were spoken during the ASTP: English, Russian, and Oklahomaski.)
You can hear Leonov's greeting at the end of this video.

*Known as the Soyuz-Apollo Test Project in Russia. Seriously.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The NY Times debacle.

In 1920, the New York Times so ridiculed Goddard in a vicious attack that he (to the detriment of American rocketry) became secretive and shied away from publicity for the rest of his life. The Times not only mocked the idea of a rocket functioning in a vacuum, it questioned Goddard's professionalism, education, and integrity.
The subsequent half-assed correction which ran the day after Apollo 11 launched gives the impression that rocket function in a vacuum had been "definitely established" long after the editorial ran. It also failed to address 90% of the attack (particularly the personal attacks), instead concentrating on one paragraph of what was an extremely long editorial. (I have only posted a bit of the original verbose, wandering piece.)
As someone else remarked, "It is not known if the Times regretted the pain its actions inflicted on the American rocket pioneer."


January 13, 1920

That Professor Goddard, with his "chair" in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react--to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.

But there are such things as intentional mistakes or oversights, and, as it happens, Jules Verne, who also knew a thing or two in assorted sciences--and had, besides, a surprising amount of prophetic power--deliberately seems to make the same mistake that Professor Goddard seems to make. For the Frenchman, having got his travelers to or toward the moon into the desperate fix riding a tiny satellite of the satellite, saved them from circling it forever by means of an explosion, rocket fashion, where an explosion would not have had in the slightest degree the effect of releasing them from their dreadful slavery. That was one of Verne's few scientific slips, or else it was a deliberate step aside from scientific accuracy, pardonable enough of him in a romancer, but its like is not so easily explained when made by a savant who isn't writing a novel of adventure.

All the same, if Professor Goddard's rocket attains a sufficient speed before it passes out of our atmosphere--which is a thinkable possibility--and if its aiming takes into account all of the many deflective forces that will affect its flight, it may reach the moon. That the rocket could carry enough explosive to make on impact a flash large and bright enough to be seen from earth by the biggest of our telescope--that will be believed when it is done.


July 17, 1969

A Correction. On Jan. 13, 1920, "Topics of the Times," and editorial-page feature of the The New York Times, dismissed the notion that a rocket could function in vacuum and commented on the ideas of Robert H. Goddard, the rocket pioneer, as follows:

"That Professor Goddard, with his 'chair' in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react - to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools."

Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed the findings of Isaac Newton in the 17th Century and it is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. The Times regrets the error.

Happy birthday to the rocket!

No, not that Rocket.
Or that Rocket.
Or that Rocket.
THE rocket.

Today is the 94th anniversary of United States Patent #1,103,503, the one in which Robert Goddard described a rocket casing filled with liquid fuel which, when ignited, would provide constant combustion.
With Goddard's vision of liquid propellant, mankind finally had a decent shot at leaving Earth's atmosphere.

A little background on Goddard:

On October 19, 1899, Robert Goddard, 17, experienced a mystical vision of spaceflight.
He saw a rocketship blasting away from Earth toward the Moon.
It had a pointed nose, three stabilizing fins, and two liquid fuel pods strapped to its sides. As it blasted away, a trail of thick black smoke was left in the sky.
For years, the vision fascinated Goddard. He would forever refer to October 19th as "Anniversary Day."
When Goddard was a child, he had pulmonary tuberculosis. He missed so much school that he did not graduate high school until age 21. But he read all the time, especially H.G. Wells, and The War of the Worlds sparked a lifelong interest in rocketry.
Goddard eventually got a Master's Degree in Physics.
On July 7th, 1914, he received his first patent, #1,102,653, which identified the concept of the multistaging of rockets, without which it is impossible to reach anything but low-Earth orbit.
One week later, he received 1,103,503, and the foundation of modern rocket design was established.

ISS gets mooned.

From the ever-awesome website comes this beaut:
(Click photo to enlarge.)

OVER THE MOON: No, it's not a cow. The solar arrays rule that out: (HA! - Cathy)

"It's the International Space Station (ISS)," says Leonardo Julio of Buenos Aires, Argentina. "We photographed it last night, July 13th, gliding past lunar crater Tycho. Julio's team, which included friends Enzo De Bernardini and Adriana Fernández, used an 8-inch Meade LX90 equipped with a Canon 20D digital camera to capture the flyby.

The ISS has grown so large in recent years that a backyard telescope is all you need to see its details. The solar arrays span 80 meters, about the same as 30 cows lined up single file. The station's habitable volume, 425 m3, equals the combined volume of about 100 dairy cows, while the mass of the station, 280,000 kg, equals 400 cows.

So, no it's not a cow. It's more like a whole herd.

STAMPEDE! This week the space station begins a series of bright evening flybys over North America. If you live in that part of the world, check the Simple Satellite Tracker to find out when to look.