Space Station Node Honors Lunar Landing

NASA accepted a write-in suggestion for the name of the new Space Station node, but not the one that earned the most votes. Instead of being named “Colbert” after comedian Stephen Colbert, the node will be named “Tranquility” after the Apollo-11 landing site. And a creative NASA acronym-meister figured out a way to name the station’s new treadmill the COLBERT. (Here’s the Spaceflight Now story.)

I think it’s fitting, even though I voted for “Serenity.”

And it’s appropriate to honor Apollo-11 this year, since this summer will be the 40th anniversary of that landing.

Of course, this would also be the perfect year to publish my novel of lunar survival, tentatively titled WALKING ON THE SEA OF CLOUDS, except for one small detail: I didn’t get it written in time. And the revision I was supposed to have done today? Ha! Maybe by the end of the month, though I’m going to try to finish it sooner.

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Apollo Prep Mission, 40 Years Ago Today

On March 3, 1969, a Saturn-V rocket lofted the Apollo-9 mission into earth orbit from the Kennedy Space Center, carrying astronauts James A. McDivitt, David R. Scott, and Russell L. Schweickart. This mission accomplished a number of objectives in advance of the first manned mission to the moon:

  • It was the first launch of the complete Apollo configuration, including the Command Service Module and the Lunar Module, aboard a Saturn V.
  • It was the first time a human crew tested the lunar module in space, with the first docking between the CSM and LM and the first time astronauts fired the LM ascent and descent engines in space.
  • On this mission, LM pilot Rusty Schweickart made the first EVA by an astronaut without being attached to spaceship life support equipment.
  • The mission tested the Portable Life Support System in space for the first time.

Apollo-9 was a great success, and paved the way for all the moon missions to come.

And in more space history with a lunar component: Ten years before Apollo-9, on March 3, 1959, the U.S. launched Pioneer-4 from Cape Canaveral in an International Geophysical Year launch. Pioneer-4 was the country’s first sun-orbiting space probe, and marked the first successful flyby of the Moon en route to another destination.

Now, if we could only get back there ….

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Space History, Novel Update

Forty-five years ago today, on January 29, 1964, unmanned Apollo test mission SA-5 launched from the Eastern Space & Missile Center. The mission was the first test flight of the new Block II vehicles, with the S-IV second stage. As noted on this page, the mission was postponed from a January 27th launch attempt, but was otherwise successful.

[Break, Break]

In only tangentially-related news, today I sent my manuscript to be reproduced so I can send copies to a few folks who have volunteered to read it and give me feedback. How much they find that needs fixing will determine how long it’ll be before I can start pitching it to publishers.

We shall see.

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Forty Years After: The Flight of Apollo-8

In our continuing but intermittent series of space anniversaries,* today — 21 December — is the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo-8.

On this date in 1968, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on the first-ever circumlunar flight. They were the first human beings to leave the Earth’s “sphere of influence” (i.e., its gravity), and the first people to see the far side of the Moon with their own eyes.

Not only were they the first people to take pictures of the Earth from the vicinity of the Moon, but they were also the first crew to spend Christmas in space. In their Christmas Eve television broadcast, they took turns reading from Genesis:

William Anders:

“For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
“And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
“And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”

Jim Lovell:

“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
“And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
“And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
“And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”

Frank Borman:

“And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
“And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.”

Borman then added, “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”

They returned to earth on 27 December. You can learn more about their mission here.

I consider it a shame that today, 40 years after their pathfinding mission, we don’t have people living on the moon and have only a tiny contingent living in space. I think it’s a shame because I want to be one of them; but since I can’t, I content myself with writing about people colonizing that frontier.

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*If you’re new to the series, we primarily only do big anniversaries, i.e., those in multiples of 5.

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Lunar Programs: Then and Now, Ours and Theirs

Forty years ago today, Apollo-7 splashed down in the Pacific after the first manned flight of the Apollo program. (See this blog post for more on the mission.)

That was then, and our mission. As for now, and their mission:

India made the next giant leap in its space program early Wednesday with the launch of the country’s first deep space mission, a probe to circle the moon with science gear from India, Europe and the United States.

(From Spaceflight Now)

The spacecraft, Chandrayaan-1, launched last night (in Zulu [Greenwich Mean] time, at 0052 Wednesday).

The probe flew into space aboard a beefed-up Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, a 146-foot-tall rocket originally built to haul Earth observation satellites into orbit.

And now it’s on its way. Congratulations and good luck!

If I ever — no, that’s too negative; make it “when I” — get back to work on my novel of lunar survival, which has been on hold for the past three weeks, I wonder if I can work any of this into it. Probably not, but at least it gets me thinking about it again.

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Noting Two Key Space History Anniversaries

Today is a red-letter day in space history, with a failed flight that still featured some success, and a big success that followed on the heels of a tragic failure.

Fifty years ago, October 11, 1958, NASA launched Pioneer-1 — the first launch by NASA, which was less than two weeks old. Its target was the moon, but a launch vehicle malfunction sent the spacecraft into a ballistic trajectory instead. It reached an apogee of 70,700 miles altitude and returned some scientific observations of our planet’s magnetic field before it burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere on the 13th.

Ten years later, on October 11, 1968, NASA launched Apollo-7. Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele, and Walt Cunningham checked out the newly redesigned Command Module — redesigned, that is, after the fatal fire that destroyed Apollo-1 — in the first manned flight of the Apollo program. This mission achieved a string of spaceflight firsts:

  • First flight test of the Apollo Command/Service Module, with the first rendezvous & station-keeping maneuvers
  • First launch of a three member crew
  • First launch from Launch Complex 34
  • First crew-assisted flight of the Saturn-IB rocket
  • First live network TV broadcast from space during a crewed space flight
  • First time astronauts experienced head colds during a mission
  • First flight of the Apollo space suits
  • First crew to drink coffee in space

Wally Schirra was one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts, and Apollo-7 was his third and final space flight. Here’s a brief and amusing tribute to Schirra and particularly to the flight of Apollo-7 and Schirra’s key role in redesigning the Command Module.

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