NASA’s Artemis Program is planning to land astronauts on the Moon’s south pole. To prepare for this, NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) is creating the Lunar South Pole Atlas (LSPA). As part of that Atlas, NASA is mapping the topography of the region, including the mountains.Continue reading “Comparing Mountains on the Moon to the Earth’s Peaks”
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.Continue reading “The Story of the Apollo Guidance Computer, Part 3”
On Christmas Day, 1968 Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders became the first human being to see the far side of the Moon. Their mission, of course, was Apollo 8, the first time human beings had ever left Earth orbit and seen the far side of the Moon. Today we talk all about Apollo 8, with special guest Paul Hildebrandt, director of a new documentary about the mission.
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Chances are that if you have lived on this planet for the past half-century, you’ve heard of NASA. As the agency that is in charge of America’s space program, they put a man on the Moon, launched the Hubble Telescope, helped establish the International Space Station, and sent dozens of probes and shuttles into space.
But do you know what the acronym NASA actually stands for? Well, NASA stands for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. As such, it oversees America’s spaceflight capabilities and conducts valuable research in space. However, NASA also has various programs on Earth dedicated to flight, hence why the term “Aeronautics” appears in the agency’s name.
The process of forming NASA began in the early 1950’s with the development of rocket planes – like the Bell X-1 – and the desire to launch physical satellites. However, it was not until the launch of Sputnik 1 – the first artificial satellite into space that was deployed by the Soviets on October 4th, 1957 – that efforts to develop an American space program truly began.
Fearing that Sputnik represented a threat to national security and America’s technological leadership, Congress urged then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower to take immediate action. This result in an agreement whereby a federal organization similar to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) – which was established in 1915 to oversee aeronautical research – would be created.
On July 29th, 1958, Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which officially established NASA. When it began operations on October 1st, 1958, NASA absorbed NACA and its 8,000 employees. It was also given an annual budget of US $100 million, three major research laboratories (Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, and Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory) and two small test facilities.
Elements of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and the United States Naval Research Laboratory were also incorporated into NASA. A significant contribution came from the work of the Army Ballistic Missie Agency (ABMA), which had been working closely with Wernher von Braun – the leader of Germany’s rocket program during WWII – at the time.
In December 1958, NASA also gained control of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a contractor facility operated by the California Institute of Technology. By 1959, President Eisenhower officially approved of A NASA seal, which is affectionately referred to as the “meatball” logo because of the orbs included in the design.
NASA has since been responsible for the majority of the manned and unmanned American missions that have been sent into space. Their efforts began with the development of the X-15, a hypersonic jet plane that NASA had taken over from the NACA. As part of the program, twelve pilots were selected to fly the X-15, and achieve new records for both speed and maximum altitude reached.
A total of 199 flights were made between 1959 and 1968, resulting in two official world records being made. The first was for the highest speed ever reached by a manned craft – Mach 6.72 or 7,273 km/h (4,519 mph) – while the second was for the highest altitude ever achieved, at 107.96 km (354,200 feet).
The X-15 program also employed mechanical techniques used in the later manned spaceflight programs, including reaction control system jets, space suits, horizon definition for navigation, and crucial reentry and landing data. However, by the early 60’s, NASA’s primary concern was winning the newly-declared “Space Race” with the Soviets by putting a man into orbit.
This began with the Project Mercury, a program that was taken over from the US Air Force and which ran from 1959 until 1963. Designed to send a man into space using existing rockets, the program quickly adopted the concept launching a ballistic capsules into orbit. The first seven astronauts, nicknamed the “Mercury Seven“, were selected from from the Navy, Air Force and Marine test pilot programs.
On May 5th, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space aboard the Freedom 7 mission. John Glenn became the first American to be launched into orbit by an Atlas launch vehicle on February 20th, 1962, as part of Friendship 7. Glenn completed three orbits, and three more orbital flights were made, culminating in L. Gordon Cooper’s 22-orbit flight aboard Faith 7, which flew on May 15th and 16th, 1963.
Project Gemini, which began in 1961 and ran until 1966, aimed at developing support for Project Apollo (which also began in 1961). This involved the development of long-duration space missions, extravehicular activity (EVA), rendezvous and docking procedures, and precision Earth landing. By 1962, the program got moving with the development of a series of two-man spacecraft.
The first flight, Gemini 3, went up on March 23rd, 1965 and was flown by Gus Grissom and John Young. Nine missions followed in 1965 and 1966, with spaceflights lasting for nearly fourteen days while crews conducting docking and rendezvous operations, EVAs, and gathered medical data on the effects of weightlessness on humans.
And then there was the Project Apollo, which began in 1961 and ran until 1972. Due to the Soviets maintaining a lead in the space race up until this point, President John F. Kennedy asked Congress on May 25th, 1961 to commit the federal government to a program to land a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. With a price tag of $20 billion (or an estimated $205 billion in present-day US dollars), it was the most expensive space program in history.
The program relied on the use of Saturn rockets as launch vehicles, and spacecraft that were larger than either the Mercury or Gemini capsules – consisting of a command and service module (CSM) and a lunar landing module (LM). The program got off to a rocky start when, on January 27th, 1967, the Apollo 1 craft experienced an electrical fire during a test run. The fire destroyed the capsule and killed the crew of three, consisting of Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II, Roger B. Chaffee.
The second manned mission, Apollo 8, brought astronauts for the first time in a flight around the Moon in December of 1968. On the next two missions, docking maneuvers that were needed for the Moon landing were practiced. And finally, the long-awaited Moon landing was made with the Apollo 11 mission on July 20th, 1969. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the Moon while pilot Michael Collins observed.
Five subsequent Apollo missions also landed astronauts on the Moon, the last in December 1972. Throughout these six Apollo spaceflights, a total of twelve men walked on the Moon. These missions also returned a wealth of scientific data, not to mention 381.7 kilograms (842 lb) of lunar samples to Earth. The Moon landing marked the end of the space race, but Armstrong declared it a victory for “mankind” rather than just the US.
Skylab and the Space Shuttle Program:
After Project Apollo, NASA’s efforts turned towards the creation of an orbiting space station and the creation of reusable spacecraft. In the case of the former, this took the form of Skylab, America’s first and only independently-built space station. Conceived of in 1965, the station was constructed on Earth and launched on May 14th, 1973 atop the first two stages of a Saturn V rocket.
Skylab was damaged during its launch, losing its thermal protection and one electricity-generating solar panels. This necessitated the first crew to rendezvous with the station to conduct repairs. Two more crews followed, and the station was occupied for a total of 171 days during its history of service. This ended in 1979 with the downing of the station over the Indian Ocean and parts of southern Australia.
By the early 70s, a changing budget environment forced NASA to begin researching reusable spacecraft, which resulted in the Space Shuttle Program. Unlike previous programs, which involved small space capsules being launched on top of multistage rockets, this program centered on the use of vehicles that were launchable and (mostly) reusable.
Its major components were a spaceplane orbiter with an external fuel tank and two solid-fuel launch rockets at its side. The external tank, which was bigger than the spacecraft itself, was the only major component that was not reused. Six orbiters were constructed in total, named Space Shuttle Atlantis, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavour and Enterprise.
Over the course of 135 missions, which ran from 1983 to 1998, the Space Shuttles performed many important tasks. These included carrying the Spacelab into orbit – a joint effort with the European Space Agency (ESA) – running supplies to Mir and the ISS (see below), and the launch and successful repair of the Hubble Space Telescope (which took place in 1990 and 1993, respectively).
Future of NASA:
A few years ago, NASA celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Originally designed to ensure American supremacy in space, it has since adapted to changing conditions and political climates. It’s accomplishments have also been extensive, ranging from launching the first American artificial satellites into space for scientific and communications purposes, to sending probes to explore the planets of the Solar System.
But above all else, NASA’s greatest accomplishments have been in sending human beings into space, and being the agency that conducted the first manned missions to the Moon. In the coming years, NASA hopes to build on that reputation, bringing an asteroid closer to Earth so we can study it more closely, and sending manned missions to Mars.
For more information, check out history of NASA and the history of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Astronomy Cast has an episode on NASA’s mission to Mars.
If you think the upside-down Christmas tree above is bizarre — that’s one of the latest activities of Expedition 42 astronauts in space right now — think back to the history of other holidays in orbit.
We’ve seen a vital telescope undergo repairs, an emergency replacement of part of a space station’s cooling system, and even a tree made of food cans. Learn more about these fun holiday times below.
Reading from above the moon (Apollo 8, 1969)
In this famous reading from the Bible, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders shared their experience looking at the Moon on Dec. 24, 1968. The Apollo 8 crew was the first to venture to lunar orbit, just seven months before the Apollo 11 crew made it all the way to the surface.
Food can “Christmas tree” (Skylab 4, 1973)
Living on the Skylab station taught astronauts the value of improvisation, such as when the first crew (under NASA’s instructions) repaired a sunshield to stop electronics and people from roasting inside. Skylab 4 took the creativity to Christmas when they created a tree out of food cans.
Hubble Space Telescope repair (STS-103, 1999)
When the Hubble Space Telescope was in hibernation due to a failed gyroscope, the STS-103 crew made repairs in December 1999 that culminated with the final spacewalk on Christmas Day. The telescope remains in great shape to this day, following another repair mission in 2009.
First Christmas on the International Space Station (Expedition 1, 2000)
The Expedition 1 crew was the first on the International Space Station to spend Christmas in orbit. “On this night, we would like to share with all-our good fortune on this space adventure; our wonder and excitement as we gaze on the Earth’s splendor; and our strong sense — that the human spirit to do, to explore, to discover — has no limit,” the crew said in a statement on Christmas Eve, in part.
Ammonia tank replacement (Expedition 38, 2013)
Just last year, an ammonia tank failure crippled a bunch of systems on the International Space Station and forced spacewalkers outside to fix the problem, in the middle of a leaky suit investigation. The astronauts made the final repairs ahead of schedule, on Christmas Eve.
Editor’s note: We posted this yesterday only to find that the original video we used had been pulled. Now, we’ve reposted the article with a new and improved version of the video, thanks to Spacecraft Films.
To the moon! The goal people most remember from the Apollo program was setting foot on the surface of our closest neighbor. To get there required a heck of a lot of firepower, bundled in the Saturn V rocket. The video above gives you the unique treat of watching each rocket launch at the same time.
Some notes on the rockets you see:
- Apollos 4 and 6 were uncrewed test flights.
- Apollo 9 was an Earth-orbit flight to (principally) test the lunar module.
- Apollo 8 and 10 were both flights around the moon (with no lunar landing).
- Apollo 13 was originally scheduled to land on the moon but famously experienced a dangerous explosion that forced the astronauts to come back to Earth early — but safely.
- Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 safely made it to the moon’s surface and back.
- Skylab’s launch was also uncrewed; the Saturn V was used in this case to send a space station into Earth’s orbit that was used by three crews in the 1970s.
- You don’t see Apollo 7 pictured here because it did not use the Saturn V rocket; it instead used the Saturn IB. It was an Earth-orbiting flight and the first successful manned one of the Apollo program. (Apollo 1 was the first scheduled crew, but the three men died in a launch pad fire.)
And if this isn’t enough firepower for you, how about all 135 space shuttle launches at the same time?
You probably know we only see one side of the Moon from the Earth. But for the majority of human history, we had no idea what the far side looked like.
Billions of years ago, our Moon was formed when a Mars-sized object smashed into the Earth, spinning out a ring of debris. This debris collected into the Moon we know today. It started out rotating from our perspective, but the Earth’s gravity slowed it down until its rotation became locked with the Earth’s, keeping one half forever hidden from our view.
It wasn’t until the space age that humans finally got a chance to see what’s on the other side. The first spacecraft to image the far side of the Moon was the Soviet Luna 3 probe in 1959, which returned 18 usable images to scientists. And then in 1965, the Soviet Zond 3 transmitted another 25 pictures of higher quality that gave much more detail of the surface. The first humans to actually see the far side with their own eyes, were the crew of Apollo 8, who did a flyover in 1968.
We now have high resolution cameras imaging every square meter, even the far side. And here’s the amazing surprise….
You would think that the far side of the Moon would look like the near side, but check out the two hemispheres…They’re totally different.
The near side of the has huge regions of ancient lava flows, called maria. While the far side is almost entirely covered in crater impacts. Planetary geologists aren’t sure, but it’s possible that the Earth used to have two Moons.
Billions of years ago, the second, smaller moon crashed into the far side of the Moon, covering up the darker maria regions.
And just to clarify things with Pink Floyd’s reference to the “Dark Side of the Moon”… Except for the occasional lunar eclipse, half of the Moon is always in darkness and half is always illuminated. But that illuminated half changes as the Moon orbits around us.
Just like half of the Earth is always in darkness, and half of every other large object in the Solar System. There’s no permanent “dark side” of the Moon. The side facing towards the Sun is lit up, and the side facing away is in shadows.
There are, however, some spots on the Moon which are in eternal darkness. There are craters at the north and south poles deep enough that the light from the Sun never illuminates their floors. In these places, It’s possible that there are reserves of ice that future space colonies could use for their supplies of water, air, and even rocket fuel.
Pink Floyd was right if you’re talking radio waves instead of visible light. The far side of the Moon is naturally shielded from the Earth’s radio transmissions, so it makes an ideal spot to locate a sensitive radio observatory.
I’ll see you in the permanently shadowed craters of the Moon.
Host: Fraser Cain
Guests: Nicole Gugliucci, Jason Major, Amy Shira Teitel, David Dickinson, Elizabeth Howell
Continue reading “Weekly Space Hangout – December 20, 2013: Gaia Launch, Apollo 8 & Emergency Spacewalks”
One of the most famous images from the history of spaceflight is the picture taken by the crew of Apollo 8 of the “Earthrise” — the first color picture of taken of Earth as it became visible as the spacecraft came from behind the farside of the Moon. The photo was taken 45 years ago on December 24, 1968. It’s been called one of the most influential environmental photographs ever taken, and is one of the most-published pictures ever. As the photographer of this photo, astronaut Bill Anders has said, “We came all this way to discover the Moon. And what we really did discover is Earth.”
The NASA Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio has now released a new video that is a re-creation of that first Earthrise. The video is based on detailed analysis of Apollo 8 photography, including vertical stereo photos that were being taken at the same time as the Earthrise photos, combined with recent topographic models from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
“In the video,” space historian Andrew Chaikin — who narrates the new video — told Universe Today, “we see the Moon’s surface, generated from LRO data, exactly as it appeared to the astronauts through the different windows of the spacecraft. We also hear the astronauts’ voices as captured by the spacecraft’s onboard voice recorder, synchronized with the visual. The video reveals new details about this historic event and the resulting color photograph, which became an icon of the 20th century.”
Enjoy this wonderful new video, which explains how this historic image was taken. The visualization shows how Apollo 8 Commander Frank Borman and crew members Anders and James Lovell worked together to photograph the stunning scene as their spacecraft orbited the Moon in 1968. The video allows anyone to virtually ride with the astronauts and experience the awe they felt at the vista in front of them.
The “Earthrise” photo is the cover photo of TIME’s Great Images of the 20th Century, and is the central photo on the cover of LIFE’s 100 Photographs That Changed the World.
“Earthrise had a profound impact on our attitudes toward our home planet, quickly becoming an icon of the environmental movement,” said Ernie Wright, who lead the video project with the SVS.
You can read more details of how the video was put together in this NASA press release.
On December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, William Anders and Jim Lovell were the first humans to witness an Earthrise as our home planet came up over the lunar horizon. The photos they captured were the first of their kind, instantly inspiring the imaginations of millions and highlighting the beauty and fragility of our world.
Now, NASA has used modern satellite data to recreate the scenes that the Apollo 8 astronauts saw 44 years ago and combined them with their historic photographs to present a new “Earthrise”… version 2.0.
Created in recognition of Earth Day 2012, the Earthrise animation was made from data acquired by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s laser altimeter, as well as the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra Earth-observing satellite.
“This visualization recreates for everyone the wondrous experience of seeing Earth from that privileged viewpoint,” says LRO Project Scientist Rich Vondrak of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Animator Ernie Wright recreated the scene using Apollo mission reports and photos taken by the crew. The audio is a recording of original communication from the astronauts.
“I think the one overwhelming emotion that we had was when we saw the earth rising in the distance over the lunar landscape… it makes us realize that we all do exist on one small globe. For from 230,000 miles away it really is a small planet.”
— Frank Borman, Apollo 8 Commander
Read the release on the NASA LRO site here.