Here’s a Deepfake of Nixon Giving a Eulogy for the Apollo 11 Astronauts if Their Mission Failed

It’s July 16th, 1969. The Apollo 11 crew have completed their training, and they’re in the Columbia Command Module atop a Saturn V rocket, to this day the most powerful rocket ever built. At 9:32 EDT the rocket lifts off, delivering the crew into Earth orbit 12 minutes after launch.

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Apollo 12 Launched 50 Years Ago Today

The 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 was a huge celebration, and Apollo 13 may be an equally big commotion. Apollo 12 is tough sell in the middle. Even the Virginia Air & Space Center, which houses the Apollo 12 capsule, uses photographs of Apollo 11 to advertise. Ouch. 

This unique mission and its important contribution to science was no less an accomplishment than its famous predecessor or tragic follower, and it pains many to see them become the “lost” journey between two better-known missions, with no movie to dramatize the details of their voyage. 

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The Story of the Apollo Guidance Computer, Part 3

During the development of the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) by the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory (see Part 1 and Part 2 for the complete backstory), an inauspicious event occurred sometime during 1965-1966, while the Gemini missions were going on.

The Gemini program helped NASA get ready for the Apollo Moon landings missions by testing out rendezvous and other critical techniques and technologies. Ten crews flew missions in Earth orbit on the two-person Gemini spacecraft.

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The Story of the Apollo Guidance Computer, Part 2

In the late 1950’s, before NASA had any intentions of going to the Moon – or needing a computer to get there — the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory had designed and built a small prototype probe they hoped would one day fly to Mars (read the background in part 1 of this story here).  This little probe used a small, rudimentary general-purpose computer for navigation, based on the inertial systems for ballistic missiles, submarines, and aircraft the Lab had designed and built for the military since World War II.

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The Story of the Apollo Guidance Computer, Part 1

Dick Battin stood on his driveway in the New England frosty pre-dawn back in October 1957, straining his eyes to see Sputnik fly overhead. It was amazing. Watching that little point of light scoot silently across the sky made Battin’s heart pound. A human-made hunk of metal was actually orbiting Earth!

Walking back to his house, Battin’s mind raced. Oh, how he wished he’d never left the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory a year and a half ago. He’d regretted it since the day he decided to move on to what he thought were greener pastures. But now, his regret became a steadfast resolve to somehow get back to the Lab again, because he knew – he was absolutely certain without a doubt – that Doc Draper would be getting his hand in this new venture of space exploration. And Battin wanted in, too.

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Dr. Avi Loeb Thinks the Government Should set its Sights on Big Ideas in Space Exploration

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon

On July 20th, 2019, exactly 50 years will have passed since human beings first set foot on the Moon. To mark this anniversary, NASA will be hosting a number of events and exhibits and people from all around the world will be united in celebration and remembrance. Given that crewed lunar missions are scheduled to take place again soon, this anniversary also serves as a time to reflect on the lessons learned from the last “Moonshot”.

For one, the Moon Landing was the result of years of government-directed research and development that led to what is arguably the greatest achievement in human history. This achievement and the lessons it taught were underscored in a recent essay by two Harvard astrophysicists. In it, they recommend that the federal government continue to provide active leadership in the field of space research and exploration.

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“Eight Years to the Moon:” Read a Book Excerpt

Editor’s note: Eight Years to the Moon: The History of the Apollo Missions” is a new book, just out today, written by Universe Today’s Nancy Atkinson, with a foreword by Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart. The book tells the unique personal stories of over 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make the Apollo program possible, and is filled with stories of the dedication and perseverance it took to overcome the challenges, hurdles and conflicts of doing things that had never been done before. The stories are fun, heart-warming and heart-breaking and they provide a glimpse into the lives of some of the hundreds of thousands of people who made it possible to land humans on the Moon. Read an excerpt of Chapter 1 here on Universe Today:

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What Neil Armstrong’s Sons Really Think About the Movie “First Man”

Like millions of other people around the world, on July 20, 1969, Rick and Mark Armstrong watched Apollo 11’s moon landing on the television set in their living room. But for those two boys – aged 12 and 6 at the time – it was their Dad who was taking humanity’s first steps on another world 49 years ago.

And now that new generations will be able to experience Neil Armstrong’s historic steps through the new movie First Man, the Armstrong boys are extremely happy and pleased that people will get to know their father as they know and remember him, instead of the way he has been characterized over the years.
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NASA Nixes Proposal Adding Crew to First SLS/Orion Deep Space Flight

Artist concept of the SLS Block 1 configuration on the Mobile Launcher at KSC. Credit: NASA/MSFC

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – After conducting a thorough review examining the feasibility of adding a two person crew to the first integrated launch of America’s new Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket and Orion capsule on a mission that would propel two astronauts to the Moon and back by late 2019, NASA nixed the proposal during a media briefing held Friday.

The announcement to forgo adding crew to the flight dubbed Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) was made by NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot during a briefing with reporters on May 13.

“We appreciate the opportunity to evaluate the possibility of this crewed flight,” said NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot during the briefing.

“The bi-partisan support of Congress and the President for our efforts to send astronauts deeper into the solar system than we have ever gone before is valued and does not go unnoticed. Presidential support for space has been strong.”

Although the outcome of the study determined that NASA could be “technically capable of launching crew on EM-1,” top agency leaders decided that there was too much additional cost and technical risk to accommodate and retire in the limited time span allowed.

Lightfoot said it would cost in the range of $600 to $900 million to add the life support systems, display panels and other gear required to Orion and SLS in order to enable adding astronauts to EM-1.

“It would be difficult to accommodate changes needed to add crew at this point in mission planning.”

Thus NASA will continue implementing the current baseline plan for EM-1 that will eventually lead to deep space human exploration missions starting with the follow on EM-2 mission which will be crewed.

At the request of the new Trump Administration in February, NASA initiated a comprehensive two month long study to determine the feasibility of converting the first integrated SLS/Orion flight from its baselined uncrewed mission to cislunar space into a crewed mission looping around the Moon.

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) blasts off from launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in this artist rendering showing a view of the liftoff of the Block 1 70-metric-ton (77-ton) crew vehicle configuration. Credit: NASA/MSFC

Had the crewed lunar SLS/Orion flight been approved it would have roughly coincided with the 50th anniversary the first human lunar landing by NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969.

Instead NASA will keep to the agencies current flight plan.

The first SLS/Orion crewed flight is slated for Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2) launching no earlier than 2021.

If crew had been added to EM-1 it would have essentially adopted the mission profile currently planned for Orion EM-2.

“If the agency decides to put crew on the first flight, the mission profile for Exploration Mission-2 would likely replace it, which is an approximately eight-day mission with a multi-translunar injection with a free return trajectory,” said NASA earlier. It would be similar to Apollo 8 and Apollo 13.

Orion is designed to send astronauts deeper into space than ever before, including missions to the Moon, asteroids and the Red Planet.

Orion crew module pressure vessel for NASA’s Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) is unveiled for the first time on Feb. 3, 2016 after arrival at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. It is secured for processing in a test stand called the birdcage in the high bay inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building at KSC. Launch to the Moon is slated in 2018 atop the SLS rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA is developing SLS and Orion for sending humans initially to cislunar space and eventually on a ‘Journey to Mars’ in the 2030s.

They are but the first hardware elements required to carry out such an ambitious initiative.

Looking up from beneath the enlarged exhaust hole of the Mobile Launcher to the 380 foot-tall tower astronauts will ascend as their gateway for missions to the Moon, Asteroids and Mars. The ML will support NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft during Exploration Mission-1 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

NASA Tribute Exhibit Honors Fallen Apollo 1 Crew 50 Years After Tragedy

The new tribute to Apollo 1 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center was opened during a dedication ceremony on Jan. 27, 2017, 50 years after the crew was lost – with a keynote speech by Kennedy Space Center Director and former astronaut Bob Cabana. The entrance to the Apollo 1 tribute shows the three astronauts who perished in a fire at the launch pad on Jan. 27, 1967 during training for the mission. The astronauts are, from left, Gus Grissom, Ed White II and Roger Chaffee. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER VISITOR COMPLEX, FL – NASA unveiled a new tribute exhibit honoring three fallen astronaut heroes 50 years to the day of the Apollo 1 tragedy on January 27, 1967 when the three man crew perished in a flash fire on the launch pad during a capsule test that was not considered to be dangerous.

The Apollo 1 prime crew comprising NASA astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White II and Roger Chaffee were killed during routine practice countdown testing when a fire suddenly erupted inside the cockpit as they were strapped to their seats in their Apollo command module capsule, on a Friday evening at 6:31 p.m. on January 27, 1967.

“It’s been 50 years since the crew of Apollo 1 perished in a fire at the launch pad, but the lives, accomplishments and heroism of the three astronauts are celebrated in a dynamic, new tribute that is part museum, part memorial and part family scrapbook,” says a NASA narrative that aptly describes the exhibit and the memorial ceremony I attended at the Apollo/Saturn V Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday, Jan. 27, 2017 on behalf of Universe Today.

It was the first disaster with a human crew and the worst day in NASA’s storied history to that point.

The tribute is named called “Ad Astra Per Aspera – A Rough Road Leads to the Stars.”

A new tribute to the crew of Apollo 1, who perished in a fire at the launch pad on Jan. 27, 1967, opened at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on the 50th anniversary of that fatal day that cost the lives of all three crewmembers. The tribute exhibit at the Apollo/Saturn Center highlights the lives and careers of NASA astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White II and Roger Chaffee with artifacts and photos. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

At the tribute dedication ceremony Kennedy Space Center Director and former astronaut Bob Cabana said the families of the fallen crew gave their approvals and blessing to the efforts that would at last tell the story of Apollo 1 to all generations – those who recall it and many more to young or not yet born to remember the tragedy of the early days of America’s space program.

“It’s long overdue,” said KSC center director and former astronaut Bob Cabana at the KSC dedication ceremony to family, friends and invited guests colleagues. “I’m proud of the team that created this exhibit.”

“Ultimately, this is a story of hope, because these astronauts were dreaming of the future that is unfolding today,” said Cabana. Generations of people around the world will learn who these brave astronauts were and how their legacies live on through the Apollo successes and beyond.”

The exhibit “showcases clothing, tools and models that define the men as their parents, wives and children saw them as much as how the nation viewed them.”

The main focus was to introduce the astronauts to generations who never met them and may not know much about them or the early space program, says NASA.

“This lets you now meet Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee as members of special families and also as members of our own family,” said NASA’s Luis Berrios, who co-led the tribute design that would eventually involve more than 100 designers, planners and builders to realize.

“You get to know some of the things that they liked to do and were inspired by. You look at the things they did and if anyone does just one of those things, it’s a lifetime accomplishment and they did all of it and more.”

Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White II and Roger Chaffee stand near Cape Kennedy’s Launch Complex 34 during mission training in January 1967. On Jan. 27, 1967, the three astronauts were preparing for what was to be the first manned Apollo flight. The astronauts were sitting atop the launch pad for a pre-launch test when a fire broke out in their Apollo capsule and they perished. Credit: NASA

The crew and the Apollo 1 command module were stacked atop the Saturn 1B rocket at Launch Complex 34 on what is now Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

During the “plugs out” test the Saturn 1B rocket was not fueled. But the fatal flaw was the atmosphere of pure oxygen for the astronauts to breath inside the sealed Apollo 1 command module which was pressurized to 16.7 psi.

The three-part hatch that was in place on the Apollo 1 spacecraft is shown in a tribute to the crew of Apollo 1 who perished in a fire at the launch pad on Jan. 27, 1967 during training for the mission. This is the first time any part of the Apollo 1 spacecraft has been displayed publicly and is part of the tribute exhibit at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida. A version of the hatch after it was redesigned is also showcased as an example of improvements NASA made throughout the agency and to the Apollo spacecraft that would later carry astronauts to the moon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Another significantly contributing fatal flaw was the inward opening three layered hatch that took some 90 seconds to open under the best of conditions.

After working all afternoon through the practice countdown and encountering numerous problems, something went terribly awry. Without warning a flash fire erupted in the cockpit filled with 100 percent oxygen and swiftly spread uncontrollably creating huge flames licking up the side of the capsule, acrid smoke and a poisonous atmosphere that asphyxiated, burned and killed the crew.

With the scorching temperatures spiking and pressures rapidly rising in a closed system, the capsule exploded some 20 seconds after the fire started. And because of the pressure buildup inside with flames licking up the sides and the toxic atmosphere generated from burning materials, the crew succumbed and could not turn the latch to pull open the hatch against the pressure.

The pad crew tried bravely in vain to save them, fighting heavy smoke and fire and fearing that the attached launch abort system on top of the capsule would ignite and kill them all too.

An investigation would determine that the fire was likely caused by a spark from frayed wiring, perhaps originating under Grissom’s seat.

“An electrical short circuit inside the Apollo Command Module ignited the pure oxygen environment and within a matter of seconds all three Apollo 1 crewmembers perished,” NASA concluded.

NASA and contractor North American Aviation completely redesigned the capsule with major engineering changes including an atmosphere of 60 percent oxygen and 40 percent nitrogen at 5 psi blower pressure, new hatch that could open outwards in 5 seconds, removing flammable materials among many others that would make the Apollo spacecraft much safer for the upcoming journeys to the moon.

The multi-layed hatch serves as the centerpiece of the tribute exhibit. No piece of Apollo 1 has ever before been put on public display. Alongside the old hatch, the new hatch is displayed that was used on all the remaining Apollo missions.

The three-part hatch that was in place on the Apollo 1 spacecraft is shown in a tribute to the crew of Apollo 1 who perished in a fire at the launch pad on Jan. 27, 1967 during training for the mission. This is the first time any part of the Apollo 1 spacecraft has been displayed publicly and is part of the tribute exhibit at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida. A version of the hatch after it was redesigned is also showcased (right) as an example of improvements NASA made throughout the agency and to the Apollo spacecraft that would later carry astronauts to the moon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Display cases highlights the lives and careers of the three astronauts in these NASA descriptions.

Gus Grissom was “one of NASA’s Original Seven astronauts who flew the second Mercury mission, a hunting jacket and a pair of ski boots are on display, along with a small model of the Mercury spacecraft and a model of an F-86 Sabre jet like the one he flew in the Korean War. A slide rule and engineering drafts typify his dedication to detail.”

“The small handheld maneuvering thruster that Ed White II used to steer himself outside his Gemini capsule during the first American spacewalk features prominently in the display case for the West Point graduate whose athletic prowess nearly equaled his flying acumen. An electric drill stands alongside the “zip gun,” as he called the thruster.”

“It was great to juxtaposition it with a drill which was also a tool that Ed loved to use,” Berrios said. “He had a tremendous passion for making things for his family.”

“Roger Chaffee, for whom Apollo 1 would have been his first mission into space, was an esteemed Naval aviator who became a test pilot in his drive to qualify as an astronaut later. Displayed are board games he played with his wife and kids on rare evenings free of training.”

Grissom, White and Chaffee composed NASA’s first three person crew following the one man Mercury program and two man Gemini program, that had just concluded in November 1966 with Gemini 12.

The trio had been scheduled to blastoff on February 21, 1967 on a 14 day long mission in Earth orbit to thoroughly check out the Apollo command and service modules.

Apollo 1 was to be the first launch in NASA’s Apollo moon landing program initiated by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

Apollo 1 was planned to pave the way to the Moon so that succeeding missions would eventually “land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth before this decade is out” as Kennedy eloquently challenged the nation to do.

Legendary Gemini and Apollo astronaut General Thomas Stafford speaks at dedication of new tribute exhibit at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center about the heroic Apollo 1 crew and their contributions to getting us to the Moon on the 50th anniversary of their deaths in the flash fire on Jan. 27, 1967. Stafford was the backup commander of Apollo 1. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

I remember seeing the first news flashes about the Apollo 1 fire on the TV as a child, as it unfolded on the then big three networks. It is indelibly marked in my mind. This new exhibit truly tells the story of these astronaut heroes vividly to those with distant memories and those with little or no knowledge of Apollo 1.

Exit walkway passing through misty projection of Apollo 1 mission patch and crossing over to mock capsule and crew of Grissom, White and Chaffee seated in Apollo 1 Command Module. Family member quotes at left. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer