X-38 ‘Crew Return Vehicle’ Test Flight

Fifteen years ago yesterday — March 12, 1998 — NASA conducted the first “drop test” of the X-38 at the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB.

(The X-38 drops away from NASA’s B-52. NASA image from Wikimedia Commons.)

The X-38 program developed a series of prototype “lifeboats” for the International Space Station. The Crew Return Vehicle (CRV) would have been

an emergency vehicle to return up to seven International Space Station (ISS) crewmembers to Earth. It [would] be carried to the space station in the cargo bay of a space shuttle and attached to a docking port. If an emergency arose that forced the ISS crew to leave the space station, the CRV would be undocked and – after a deorbit engine burn – the vehicle would return to Earth much like a space shuttle.

The X-38 program was cancelled in 2002.

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Final Classified DoD Shuttle Mission

Twenty years ago today — December 2, 1992 — the Space Shuttle Discovery launched from the Kennedy Space Center carrying … something.

(STS-53 crew. NASA image.)

STS-53 was the last classified Department of Defense mission for the shuttle fleet. Astronauts David M. Walker, Robert D. Cabana, Guion Bluford, Jr., James S. Voss, and Michael R. Clifford deployed the payload and conducted a series of experiments.

The names of the secondary payloads and the experiments on this mission are interesting — particularly the last three:

  • Orbital Debris Radar Calibration Spheres (ODERACS)
  • Shuttle Glow Experiment/Cryogenic Heat Pipe Experiment (GCP)
  • Microcapsules in Space (MIS-l)
  • Space Tissue Loss (STL)
  • Visual Function Tester (VFT-2)
  • Cosmic Radiation Effects and Activation Monitor (CREAM)
  • Radiation Monitoring Equipment (RME-III)
  • Fluid Acquisition and Resupply Experiment (FARE)
  • Hand-held, Earth-oriented, Real-time, Cooperative, User-friendly, Location-targeting and Environmental System (HERCULES)
  • Battlefield Laser Acquisition Sensor Test (BLAST)
  • Cloud Logic to Optimize Use of Defense Systems (CLOUDS)

After a week in space, the shuttle landed at Edwards AFB because of cloud cover at Kennedy.

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First Operational Shuttle Mission, 1982

A fine Veteran’s Day to you all …

Thirty years ago today — November 11, 1982 — the Space Shuttle Columbia launched from Kennedy Space Center on the first truly operational mission of the shuttle program.

(Satellite release from STS-5. NASA image.)

Mission STS-5 astronauts Vance D. Brand, Robert F. Overmyer, Joseph P. Allen, and William B. Lenoir carried two commercial communications satellites to orbit and released them from the shuttle’s payload bay. Both SBS 3, belonging to Satellite Business Systems, and Telesat Canada’s Anik C3 were successfully launched during the mission. The shuttle landed at Edwards Air Force Base five days after its launch.

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Two DoD Comsats in One Launch

Thirty years ago today — October 30, 1982 — two Defense Satellite Communication System spacecraft were launched from Cape Canaveral on a single Titan 34D vehicle.

(DSCS III. USAF image.)

The launch of DSCS II (pronounced “discus two”), flight 15, and DSCS III, flight 1, marked the first use of the Titan 34D with the Inertial Upper Stage.

Several years later, after two failed Titan 34D launches, I would become involved in the Titan 34D Recovery Program; specifically, setting up the facilities for, and monitoring the environmental effects of, the first-ever full-scale nozzle-down test of one of the solid rocket motors, at the AF Rocket Propulsion Laboratory at Edwards AFB.


And 10 years ago today, in 2002, Soyuz TMA-1 launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, carrying cosmonauts Sergei V. Zalyotin and Yuri V. Lonchakov, along with Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne, to the International Space Station (ISS). Later in 2002, I ended up at Baikonur for the launch preparations of the Nimiq-2 satellite.

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Cassini Heads to Saturn

Fifteen years ago today — October 15, 1997 — the Cassini/Huygens mission launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a Titan IVB/Centaur rocket.

(Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, in front of the ringed planet. NASA image from the Cassini spacecraft.)

The Cassini orbiter and the Huygens lander were launched together, and since Huygens was destined to land on Titan it was appropriate that they launched on a Titan vehicle. Huygens, built by the European Space Agency, landed on Titan in January 2005.

The Cassini launch was somewhat controversial: the orbiter is powered by three radioisotope thermal generators, and the mission faced protestors who were afraid the launch vehicle would fail and the RTGs’ plutonium dioxide fuel would end up in the ocean. Having spent a good portion of my assignment at Edwards AFB working on the Titan 34D Recovery Program, and then serving from 1993-95 in the Titan System Program Office at Vandenberg AFB, I was very pleased when this launch succeeded flawlessly.

For current mission status, and access to dozens of spectacular images like the one above, visit this Jet Propulsion Laboratory page or the main Cassini mission page.

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Sound Was No Longer a Barrier, 65 Years Ago Today

Not strictly “space history,” but a fun item nonetheless: 65 years ago today — October 14, 1947 — then-Captain Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1.

(X-1 in flight. NASA image.)

As noted in this NASA biography, Yeager’s performance in the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB led to his selection as the X-1 pilot.

I saw General Yeager in the Officer’s Club when I was stationed at Edwards. It was one of those unexpected celebrity sightings — standing at the salad bar and suddenly realizing the guy next to you is this famous person you’ve heard of all your life. And just like that, the moment was over and we both took our salads back to our tables.

Finally, here’s the link to http://www.chuckyeager.com/, the official Chuck Yeager web site.

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Farewell, Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong, first human to walk on the moon, has taken his final small step, his final giant leap into the great unknown.

Other people with deeper insight will pen better tributes than I. All I can contribute is a measure of how much of an inspiration Armstrong and his astronaut colleagues have been to me: in my decision to join the Air Force and to work specifically in space and missiles, and in my desire to explore space in my imagination and my stories.

Thank you, Neil Armstrong, and Godspeed.


Previous Armstrong-related space history posts:
Apollo 11’s 40th Anniversary
Happy Birthday, Neil Armstrong

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Last Shuttle Shakedown Flight

Thirty years ago today — June 27, 1982 — the Space Shuttle Columbia launched from the Kennedy Space Center on the final R&D flight for the shuttle fleet.

(President Reagan welcomed the STS-4 crew back from space. NASA image from Wikimedia Commons.)

On mission STS-4, astronauts Thomas K. “Ken” Mattingly and Henry W. “Hank” Hartsfield conducted a number of experiments in addition to refining shuttle operating procedures. The mission also carried a classified payload for the Department of Defense.

Mattingly and Hartsfield landed the shuttle on July 4th at Edwards AFB, where they were greeted by President and Mrs. Reagan.

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Space History: Third Space Shuttle Qualification Flight

Thirty years ago today — March 22, 1982 — the Space Shuttle Columbia launched from Kennedy Space Center on the third “shakedown” flight of the shuttle program.

(STS-3 landing at White Sands, New Mexico. NASA image from Wikimedia Commons.)

Astronauts Jack R. Lousma and C. Gordon Fullerton crewed Columbia during the STS-3 mission. They checked out the shuttle’s systems and documented problems ranging from lost communication links to toilet malfunctions, from space sickness to sleep cycles interrupted by unexplained static.

The shuttle was scheduled to land at Edwards AFB, but the dry lake bed was actually too wet to accomodate a landing. High winds at the back-up landing site at White Sands, New Mexico, forced a one-day mission extension. Columbia landed there on March 30th — the only time a shuttle ever landed at White Sands.

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Is Your Business Prepared for a Disaster?

(Cross-posted with light editing from the Industrial Extension Service blog.)

If a natural disaster or major accident impacted your company, how quickly would you be able to recover? Do you have backups of important files stored off-site? Do you have ready and portable access to contact information for your employees, customers, and suppliers? Do you have an emergency plan, and have you tested it?

(FEMA / Patsy Lynch)

Many years ago I was the Chief of the Disaster Response Force at the Air Force Astronautics Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base, during which time I led the responses to two rocket propellant fires, so I’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to handle emergencies. But last Tuesday I learned a few new things about disaster preparedness from a business perspective, and soon I’ll be able to apply my prior experience and what I just learned to teach the “Ready Business” course.

Ready Business is a half-day course designed to give businesses some practical tools to get prepared and stay prepared. The program operates under the guidance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and is being brought to North Carolina in a team effort by the Cooperative Extension Service, the Industrial Extension Service, and the Small Business Technology Development Center.

Several of us will be available to teach the Ready Business course, and we hope to offer it many times throughout the state. If you’re interested, let us know!

Finally, while we’re on the subject of disasters, I love this bit from Karl Smith and the “Modeled Behavior” economics blog:

If we actually want to help the world, we focus on details and that usually means the short term. Things we can see closely and understand the nuances of. In short, we Stop Disaster.

One day we will lose and the world will come to an end. The apocalypse only has to win once. Our job is to make sure that that day, isn’t today.

Maybe we can’t truly stop disaster, but we can be ready for it — and that’s what disaster preparedness is all about.

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