Mapping the (Artificial) Radiation Belt

Fifty years ago today — October 27, 1962 — Explorer 15 was launched from Cape Canaveral on a Thor Delta rocket, to study a radiation belt produced three months earlier.


(The Starfish nuclear explosion, as seen from nearly 900 miles away in Honolulu, HI.
US Government image from Wikimedia Commons.)

Explorer 15 was instrumented with an array of radiation detectors, as its mission was to study the radiation belt produced by the Starfish nuclear test conducted on July 9, 1962. The Starfish test — conceived by the Atomic Energy Commission and what would become the Defense Nuclear Agency, and launched from Vandenberg AFB by the Air Force — revolutionized the understanding of electromagnetic pulse, but the energetic particles it created contributed to the failures of several low-earth-orbiting satellites.

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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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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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Six-in-One for the Space Test Program

Five years ago today — March 9, 2007 — an Atlas V rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, carrying a half-dozen small satellites for the military’s Space Test Program.


(Space Test Program Atlas V launch. United Launch Alliance image, linked from http://www.boeing.com/news/releases/2007/q1/070309a_pr.html.)

The six satellites launched were

  • FalconSat 3, a 54 kg picosatellite built by USAF Academy cadets to “monitor ambient plasma” and test a “micropropulsion attitude control system”
  • STPSat 1, a 158 kg microsatellite to “collect atmospheric data and demonstrate spacecraft technology advances”
  • OE-NEXTSAT, a 226 kg minisatellite built “to test capabilities for autonomous rendezvous, refueling and component replacement”
  • OE-ASTRO, a 952 kg satellite built, like OE-NEXTSAT, to “test capabilities for autonomous rendezvous, refueling, and component replacement”
  • MidSTAR 1, a 118 kg microsatellite to test electrochemical membranes for NASA and a microdosimeter for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute
  • CFESat, a 156 kg microsatellite built by Los Alamos National Laboratory to test advanced technology including an on-board supercomputer

The Space Test Program is part of the Air Force’s Space Development and Test Directorate.

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Last Titan-IIIB Launch … and the Latest Asimov's

Twenty-five years ago today — February 12, 1987 — a Titan-IIIB launched from Vandenberg AFB carrying a Satellite Data System (SDS) spacecraft.


(Undated Titan-IIIB [34B] launch. Image from Lee Brandon-Cremer via Wikimedia Commons. Almost certainly this was originally a USAF photograph.)

According to the National Space Science Data Cnter, SDS satellites operated in highly elliptical orbits and

served as a communications link between the Air Force Satellite Control Facility at Sunnyvale, CA, and 7 remote tracking stations located at Vandenberg AFB, Hawaii, Guam, Nahe Island, Greenland, the UK, and Boston.

This is significant to me because I know the tracking station in Greenland well. Many years later I commanded it: callsign POGO, the Thule Tracking Station.

According to this Wikipedia page, this was the last launch of the Titan-IIIB series. This particular vehicle was one of the -34B variants.

At the time of that launch, I was stationed at the AF Rocket Propulsion Laboratory at Edwards AFB, helping prepare for a static test of a full-scale solid rocket motor in support of the Titan-34D “recovery” program. But that’s another story.

And speaking of stories: yesterday my contributor’s copies of the April/May issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction arrived, and there on page 72 is my story, “Sensitive, Compartmented.”

So … space history that relates in part to my own USAF experience, and a new short story. That makes for a pretty good weekend.

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Flying Atlantis to Orbiting Peace

Fifteen years ago today — January 12, 1997 — the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center to dock with the Mir (“peace”) space station.


(Shuttle Atlantis rolling out to the pad from the VAB [December 1996]. NASA image.)

Mission STS-81 astronauts Michael A. Baker, Brent W. Jett, Jr., John M. Grunsfeld, Marsha S. Ivins, Peter J. K. Wisoff, and Jerry M. Linenger docked with the Russian station; Linenger stayed behind, while Atlantis brought home astronaut John Blaha after his 4-month stay.

On a belated space history note, 45 years ago yesterday — January 11, 1967 — the Intelsat II F-2 communications satellite launched from Cape Canaveral on a Delta rocket. It was positioned over the Pacific as the first fully-operational Intelsat II platform.

F-2 was the first Intelsat II satellite over the Pacific because its predecessor, F-1, did not reach its intended orbit. F-1’s “apogee engine thrust terminated approximately 4 seconds after ignition,” stranding the spacecraft in the wrong orbit.

Interestingly, an apogee engine malfunction nearly caused the loss of the USAF’s Advanced Extreme High Frequency (AEHF) satellite after its launch in July 2010. AEHF operators and engineers figured out an innovative orbit-raising sequence that rescued the spacecraft and put it in the proper operating position last October. Well done!

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Spotlight on Books: the 'Mother of Milstar,' Eating Clouds, and Subversion

A few new books that have come to my attention, that I’d like to bring to yours …

Over at New Scientist, there’s a review of a new book about actress Hedy Lamarr, who invented the frequency-hopping and spread-spectrum techniques that made Milstar satellite communications secure … and that make WiFi and other modern communications possible.


(Artist’s conception of Milstar satellite. USAF image.)

My commander at the 4th Space Operations Squadron, where I “flew” Milstar satellites, called Ms. Lamarr the “mother of Milstar” because of her invention. This new book sounds as if it captures not only the essence of her invention but also the trouble she ran into as a movie star who also happened to be a first-rate thinker.

Meanwhile, my writing friend Edmund Schubert has a new short story collection out entitled The Trouble with Eating Clouds.

Ed’s stories are very entertaining, often thought-provoking, and sometimes a little quirky. You might already have guessed that from the title, if not from the striking cover art, but I figure there’s no harm in stating the point.

And speaking of short stories, the folks behind Crossed Genres magazine (which published my story “The Tower” in one of their quarterlies) have brought out an anthology entitled Subversion, which they describe as “science fiction & fantasy tales of challenging the norm.”

Of course, ’tis the Season: if you know someone who might enjoy one of these books, now you can satisfy their Christmas wishes.

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Dragon*Con 2011 Pictures, Part 1: My Friends

It’s hard to believe Dragon*Con was over a week ago already. My life is very blurry these days, so it’s good that I have pictures to look at.

The best thing about conventions, even huge ones like Dragon*Con, is spending time with friends. I wasn’t able to get pictures of all my friends, but here are a few.

Here I am with “Genre Princess” Alethea Kontis and other members of her “Traveling Sideshow.”


(L-R: Danielle Friedman, Alethea Kontis, me, Leanna Renee Hieber.)

Alethea was kind enough to bring me in off the bench to pinch hit for a sideshow member who couldn’t make it. Danielle Friedman performed a lovely New Zealand “poi” dance routine, while both Alethea and Leanna Hieber read from their work.

Note that I’m sporting my Monster Hunter International hat — it seemed appropriate, since I sang “The Monster Hunter Ballad.”

I also got my picture with Mary Robinette Kowal, who this year won the Hugo Award for best short story.


(Me with awesome author Mary Robinette Kowal.)

And who do you expect to run into when you go to Dragon*Con? Why, the person who turned over command of the Thule Tracking Station to you 11 years ago, whom you haven’t seen since! Rudy Ridolfi commanded POGO (our AF Satellite Control Network callsign) from 1999-2000, and I took over from him in July 2000. We only spent a week together, and I never realized he was a Klingon-speaking geek. It was great to see him and to meet his wife, Heather, who is a big fan of Baen Books.


(Two former commanders of Detachment 3, 22nd Space Operations Squadron, Thule Air Base, Greenland: me, and Rudy Ridolfi.)

Note that all of the above happened on the FIRST DAY of the convention! Dragon*Con, of course, is a frenzied and confusing 4-day-long hive of activity. Thankfully, I was able to enjoy breakfast one morning with some of my fellow Codex Writers:


(L-R: David M. Gill, David’s son Justin, Hel Bell, Danielle Friedman.)

My pictures from the Baen lunch didn’t turn out well enough to post, but I have pictures from the filking and random costumed folks that I will post on another day.

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Ten Years Ago Today, I Was NOT in the Pentagon …

… although I was supposed to be.

I had been in the Pentagon on September 10, 2001, after all, and was scheduled to go back the next day.

I’d spent part of September 10 in the Secretary of Defense Executive Support Center, monitoring the progress of a strategic command & control exercise. My presence there was strictly ancillary: I’d recently rotated back from my assignment at Thule Air Base, Greenland, and my training at the Defense Technology Security Administration had not started, so I was tagging along with friends and checking on what my old unit at Offutt AFB was doing.

On the morning of September 11, I reported first to DTSA — in our quiet civilian office building in Alexandria — and told them I was headed back to the Pentagon to monitor the exercise for another day. No, they said, you can’t go over this morning because you have an in-processing appointment to meet the Colonel upstairs.

So I didn’t go to the Pentagon that day. Instead, I saw the events unfold on a fuzzy TV picture (one of our engineers had jury-rigged an antenna onto a TV that was usually used only for showing videos). When I went to my appointment upstairs, I stood at the window and looked at the column of smoke rising above the hill to the north of our building.

I was several miles and seemingly several worlds away from what was happening.

Trouble was, my wife knew I was supposed to be in the Pentagon … and I didn’t call home for several hours. (In some respects, I’m still apologizing for that oversight.) Not that much would’ve changed for me, had I been in the building. I would’ve evacuated with everyone else, and from my friend’s reports they weren’t even in a good position to be of much help. So, not much of a 9/11 story from me.

Almost five years later, when time came for me to retire, we held my retirement ceremony in the 9/11 Memorial Chapel.


(Stained glass and altar in the Pentagon’s 9/11 Memorial Chapel.)

Knowing what that part of the building had gone through, and what that room meant, made my retirement rather poignant.

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Blowups Happen

Having nothing to do with the short story of the same name, and with apologies therefore to Robert A. Heinlein …

Twenty-five years ago today — April 18, 1986 — Titan-34D-9 blew up during launch at Vandenberg AFB.


(Titan-34D-9 exploding. USAF image from the linked Space Review article.)

This Space Review article shows several close-up images of the explosion, including the one above, while this Photobucket page shows several photos taken from farther away.

I found it interesting to peruse the accident investigation report. I recognized several names of people on the investigation board.

This doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that should make the space history files, except for this personal connection: as a direct result of this mishap, the Air Force chose to conduct a full-scale nozzle-down test firing of a Titan-34D solid rocket motor at the AF Rocket Propulsion Laboratory at Edwards AFB. My first assignment was to the AFRPL as a bioenvironmental engineer, and that test program — the “return to flight” for the Titan-34D — was one of the biggest projects I worked on while I was there.

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