Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Closing out a fun year of collecting

It has been a good year. It started with the birth of my first grandchild, Molly, on January 3. My son returned safely from Afghanistan in February. My friends and family have had more than their share of trials and tribulations, but everyone's spirits remain high. We won't talk about the economy!! I can't do anything about it, so there's no use worrying about it. I closed out the year being cited in the Planetary Society's blog!

I have enjoyed a fun year of treasure hunting. The occasional trinket reconnects me with my past, and I hope will help build a bridge from my past to the future of my kids and their children. I have met some new friends, online and in person, who share my dedication to preserving the memory of the Golden Years of space exploration.

For 2009, I'm looking forward first and foremost to Spacefest in February, and to any Astronaut Scholarship Foundation events I can attend later in the year. There should be some fun celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the "Year of Apollo," and I hope to take part in them, too.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Senator with an Action Pack

How many US Senators have their own Hot Wheels Action Pack? I'm guessing there aren't that many.

I'm only aware of four Senators who have been into space - John Glenn, Harrison Schmitt, Jake Garn, and Bill Nelson (who flew on Shuttle Columbia when he was a US Congressman). Jack Swigert ran for Senate but was defeated in the primaries; he later became a US Congressman.

I liked this Hot Wheels Action Pack because it tells John Glenn's story in such a cute way - with a Mercury capsule and Glenn in his Mercury space suite, with the Space Shuttle and Glenn in his Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES), and then Glenn in his Senator suit!

I suppose that if a NASCAR champion ever becomes a US Senator, he will certainly get his own Hot Wheels Action Pack.

Friday, December 26, 2008

An unexpected Christmas present

I received a wonderful surprise in the mail today - an autographed and personalized photo of John Glenn! I shouldn't say it was a total surprise, but the timing made for a perfect Christmas present.

After seeing John Glenn at the National Air and Space Museum in November at the lecture for the Apollo 8 crew, and realizing that he was now 87 years old, I thought I had better hurry if I was ever going to get a personalized photo from him. He looked in relatively good health, but at 87, every day is a gift.

Senator Glenn (or "Payload Specialist II Glenn," as they jokingly referred to him at the NASM lecture), is renowned for his generosity in filling every autograph request he gets through the mail. I ordered on eBay a great photo of him being loaded into Friendship 7 on the day of his historic flight. After that photo arrived, I sent the photo, a letter, and a prepaid return envelope to Glenn's suburban Washington DC address. That was the week of Thanksgiving, and I frankly didn't expect a reply for several months.

Today's mail delivery brought my return envelope and the picture, beautifully signed in silver pen and personalized to me with the date of December 22, 2008. It's so incredible that this man still signs autographs - and does it for free. I heard somewhere that even if he wasn't necessary thrilled about signing, he felt it was the least he could do as a representative of the country that he loves and who sent him into space. He is a class act in every respect and a true gentleman.

God bless you, John Glenn, and thanks for a wonderful Christmas present!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas to "all of you on the good Earth"

On what was the most memorable Christmas Eve of my lifetime, the crew of Apollo 8 orbited the Moon and sent us back live TV from another world.

All of the horrible events of the year were forgotten for that one moment. If your skies were clear that night, you went outside, looked up at the Moon, and marveled that there were actually people up there, so very far away.

The footage from their TV broadcast looks washed out and blurry to modern eyes, accustomed to the clarity of high-def TV. But in 1968, it was amazing to see the Moon from 60 miles up in the comfort of our living room.

The best Christmas gift of all was hearing that Apollo 8's engine firing had been successful, sending them back home again.

It was an audacious mission, one calculated to give America an insurmountable lead in the propaganda of the Cold Ward. However, the success completely transcended nationalism and politics, actually bringing humanity closer together rather than widening the distance between us.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Apollo 8 to the Moon!!

Forty years ago today, the first men to leave the Earth's vicinity were launched aboard a Saturn V rocket.

Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders began this historic journey when we needed it most. Were it not for Apollo 8, I have no doubt that 1968 would have gone down in history as one of the worst years for Americans in modern times. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy tore the country apart. There were riots in the streets, and I remember seeing the pillars of smoke rising above Washington DC as many neighborhoods burned. Protests about the Vietnam War and at the Democratic National Convention highlighted how angry Americans were.

Apollo 8 focused our attention on the best that Americans - and mankind - could do. The world took a 6-day time-out and watched three brave men journey a quarter-million miles away from their planet. They saw, as no one had ever seen, how small and fragile our Earth is. And they shared that image with us through their onboard TV camera.

The Christmas season of 1968 will never be forgotten by those who were alive then.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Today's word is ... "frangible"

Frangible items are designed to break into fragments, rather than deforming and remaining a single piece.

The space program makes wide use of frangible nuts and bolts as connectors that hold items together until an exact moment when they have to be separated quickly. This quick separation is accomplished with an explosive charge, referred to as a "pyro" (for pyrotechnic device) or an NSD ("NASA Standard Detonator"). The astronaut (or the computer system) throws a switch to activate a certain sequence; the pyro blows and the frangible nuts and bolts that held the item together shatter, allowing the items to separate.

Examples of this in action would be separating the spent solid rocket boosters from the Space Shuttle, releasing a satellite from the Shuttle's payload bay, or even deploying the spring-loaded solar panels on the MER Mars rovers. The frangible nuts and bolts in the picture above are from the Space Shuttle program.

In my mind, the most famous film depiction of pyros was in 2001: A Space Odyssey, when the explosive bolts were used to blow off the EVA pod's door so that Dave Bowman could quickly enter the emergency airlock.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gemini VI and VII rendezvous

Gemini VI, commanded by Wally Schirra with Tom Stafford flying as Pilot, was launched on December 15, 1966. In what was perhaps the most significant "space first" of the US to that date, it was the first time two piloted vehicles had successfully rendezvoused in orbit.

The mission of Gemini VI changed substantially from its initial concept. Originally, Gemini VI was to have docked with an Agena target vehicle in October 1966. However, the Agena failed during launch and never reached orbit. The Gemini VI vehicle lacked the fuel cells needed for a long-duration space flight like Gemini VII, but NASA worked out a quick mission that would demonstrate rendezvous capability.

I remember the excitement of seeing the photos from the mission, which quickly became available just after Gemini VI landed the next day. There was no TV from spacecraft at that point, so we couldn't see the event as it happened, and we had to settle for still photos in the newspapers and magazines. It was so cool to see a photo of an actual capsule in orbit. It was the first time the general public had ever seen something like that...our views of spaceflight up to that point had only been launch, recovery, and pictures taken out the window. Now, we got to see the full Gemini spacecraft, with its contrasting black capsule and white adapter sections, and the surprise of the gold foil tendrils snaking out the back of the ship.

These two items from my collection are an access badge to the Gemini VI spacecraft, from the collection of a former ground crew worker at KSC, and a small fragment of the heat shield from Gemini VI.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Challenger on the Moon

Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt landed "Challenger" in the Moon's Taurus-Littrow valley on December 11, 1972. They spent three days exploring the hills and valley, sending back the clearest TV pictures yet from the surface of the Moon.

On board the LM, like every spacecraft, was the equivalent of a car's "owner's manual," describing all the systems in case something needed troubleshooting when 240,000 miles away from home. This diagram is a page taken from Gene Cernan's actual Flight Data File for the Apollo 17 mission. It went with him to the surface of the Moon, and it is perhaps the prize of my collection. Cernan signed it for me when I met him at the National Air and Space Museum on November 3, 2006. This particular page of the Flight Data File deals with overcoming trouble with the Abort Guidance System (AGS), one of the two navigation systems on the LM.

The Flight Data Files were kept in pouches behind the Commander's station. This photo, taken in the LM after the conclusion of the third and final moonwalk of the mission, shows the astronauts' helmets and space suits piled on the cover of the ascent engine. The pouches on the wall on the right side of the photo contain the Flight Data Files. I get chills every time that I think that I have a page of one of the notebooks inside those pouches, something that went to the Moon and back!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Skylab Rescue Mission (SL-R)

Skylab is considered the least-remembered part of the Apollo program. If people do recall Skylab, it is likely because of the "sky is falling" fears it evoked in 1979 when it was about to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. Because it was an uncontrolled re-entry, no one knew how much of it would survive re-entry, or even where or when it would come down. I remember "Skylab pools" with people betting on the date it would come back to Earth.

Those who were really paying attention may remember that the entire Skylab project was in serious jeopardy starting 63 seconds after the station's launch, when the meteoroid shield ripped off of the space station and tore off one of the station's two key solar panel wings. The heroic efforts of the first crew to man the station, led by Pete Conrad, led to Skylab becoming habitable and useful for its three long-duration crew stays.

The second crew to visit Skylab, commanded by Al Bean, encountered difficulties with their Apollo spacecraft prior to docking, when one of the four quads of reaction control system (RCS) thrusters on the Service Module developed a leak and had to be shut down. A second RCS quad also developed a leak and also had to be disabled. There was deep concern that the Apollo spacecraft, which the crew would need for return to Earth, could not be controlled adequately with half of the RCS thrusters out of action.

The 1969 movie "Marooned", followed by the 1970 Apollo 13 near-disaster, were still fresh in people's minds. We didn't want to contemplate a crew of astronauts stranded in orbit.

NASA decided to prepare a spacecraft for a potential rescue mission, should it become necessary. A Command Module was adapted to hold five crewmen instead of three. Astronauts Vance Brand and Don Lind were selected as the crew for SL-R, the Skylab Rescue mission. NASA ultimately determined that the Skylab crew would be able to get home safely. Nonetheless, they retained the idea of using a modified ship as a contingency rescue vehicle for the last Skylab crew.

The vehicle was rolled out to the launch pad on December 3, 1973. It was ultimately not needed, so it was rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building after the conclusion of the last Skylab mission. This CM became the backup CM for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP). It is on display in the visitors center at the Kennedy Space Center.

Vance Brand got to fly on the ASTP mission in July 1975. Don Lind wouldn't get his first flight for 11 years, on Space Shuttle mission STS-51-B in 1985.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Apollo 17 special crew commemorative patches

The Apollo 17 crew commissioned a special set of patches from AB Emblem. These were larger than the 'standard' crew patches, and they were marked with initials of each crew member sewn into the background between Apollo's shoulder and the galaxy. There were reportedly about 150 of these patches made for each crewman's initials. The star above Apollo's shoulder also distinguishes these from other embroidered patches. It's there on the Beta cloth patch and the original artwork, but on neither AB's standard patch nor the Lion Brothers version.

Two of the patches in my collection are still in their original plastic wrappers, making it somewhat hard to see the initials in this scan. Ron Evan's patch is at the upper left, Gene Cernan's in the middle, and Harrison Schmitt's is at the lower left.

These patches were not available to collectors at the time of the flights. They only started coming onto the market in the 1990s

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Launch of the last Moon mission

December 7, 1972 opened with a spectacular nighttime launch of Apollo 17. It was the first launch of an American manned mission at night, and the only night launch of the Apollo program. The next night launch of an American manned mission would not be until 1983.

This was the first Apollo launch that I wasn't able to hear on the radio or watch on TV, as I was in the hospital. I was back home in time to catch some of the lunar EVAs, but the networks were no longer covering them in toto.

This cover is from Apollo 17 Commander Gene Cernan's collection. He had it autographed by his crewmates, and it was postmarked on the 25th and 30th anniversary of the launch. I find it somewhat unusual in that Harrison Schmitt signed this as "Jack" Schmitt. I have not seen any other signed items where he used his nickname. Perhaps it was because he was signing for his crewmate rather than for the general public. This is also the only item I have that is signed by Ron Evans, who died in 1990.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Race for the Moon

Forty years ago today, Time magazine's cover story was about the final sprint to the Moon, as the US and USSR raced to be the first country to send people there. The cover art accurately portrayed the feeling of the time, that this was indeed a high-stakes race. We had been beaten by the Russians in so many 'firsts' that we were constantly wondering what they would and could do to trump us, always unexpectedly.

The US had publicly announced plans to send Apollo 8 to orbit the Moon in December. The earliest we could send a mission was to launch on December 21, 1968. The launch window was dictated by the need to get to the Moon when it was at the same phase for the planned landing attempts in 1969, and also to time the mission so that splashdown back on Earth would be in 'friendly' waters.

We did not know what the Russian plans were, but we could guess. The Soviet launch window was earlier in the month, and there was a real fear that the Russians would send men to the Moon before us. Indeed, the Russians had sent up circumlunar spacecraft in September and November that year. It wasn't publicly known in the US at the time, but these two spacecraft were not just Moon probes - they could have carried a manned crew. Had the USSR been willing to take the risk, they could have beaten us to the Moon by at least a month. They could not have made a landing in 1969, but their having sent men to the Moon before the US would certainly have lessened our feeling of accomplishment.

As it turned out, the decision not to send men on the November flight was the correct one. The 'crew' of biological specimens perished when a faulty O-ring gasket caused the cabin to depressurize before reentry, and a parachute deployed early, causing the capsule to crash. Either failure would have killed a human crew. The Soviets were not able to fix the design faults in time to make an early December launch, which enabled the US to be the first to send men around the Moon.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Gemini VII in orbit

The Gemini program concentrated on answering some basic questions that needed to be resolved before the moon landing missions could be attempted. One of these was, can people live in space for 14 days, the maximum length for a moon mission? To find out, Gemini VII was launched on December 4, 1965 for a 14-day mission.

Command Pilot Frank Borman and Pilot Jim Lovell lived for two weeks in an enclosure the size of the front seat of a Volkswagen Beetle - most of the time wearing pressure suits! This is another one of those scenarios that's difficult for me to imagine. Lovell said that he could either stretch his legs or straighten his back, but not at the same time. I just can't picture how they could remove their suits, and where they could put them once they had come off. To top off the ordeal, a urine sample bag ruptured the first day of the mission, which made the capsule smell like a public restroom for the remainder of the two weeks.

When the crew emerged on December 18, the crew jokingly remarked that they were now engaged to be married.

I recently took this photo of the Gemini VII capsule at the NASM Udvar-Hazy Center. You can see the headrest and part of Borman's seat in the foreground, and the bottom of Lovell's seat on the other side of the flight control grip.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Mars Pathfinder begins its journey

On December 4, 1996, Mars Pathfinder was launched toward the Red Planet. This mission included the first roving vehicle to be sent to another world since Lunokhod 2 in 1973. It was also the first probe to use airbag technology for landing on another world. It was also the first landing on Mars since the Vikings in 1976.

Pathfinder made a brilliant, prime-time landing on July 4, 1977. Our imaginations were captured by the rover "Sojourner" when she rolled off of the lander and began exploring the immediate vicinity. Even the most die-hard engineers found themselves anthropomorphizing this plucky little adventurer as she bumped into rocks and drove around. We all died a little inside when Pathfinder stopped calling home in September, after its batteries died. Many people imagined poor little Sojourner circling around her "mother," waiting for her to wake up and talk to her again.

This Hot Wheels Action Pack featured the Pathfinder lander, the Sojourner rover, and the package inside its aeroshell, all in vastly different scales!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Apollo 17 rollout

This is not the anniversary of the Apollo 17 rollout from the VAB to the launch pad - that was on August 28. However, we're approaching the anniversary of the Apollo 17 mission, so that's why I pulled out this badge. Save for the Skylab Orbital Workshop, this was the last rollout of a Saturn V, and it was the beginning of the end of the lunar exploration program in the 20th century.

Since so much of my life and dreams revolved around the space program, I was deeply depressed (and I don't use the term lightly) to think that the Government could just let it end. What seems an incredible waste now is that we actually had built all the hardware we needed for more lunar exploration missions...the Government was just unwilling to commit the funds for the support costs for Apollos 18 and 19. The incremental cost of flying those missions would have been much less than what we spend on a Space Shuttle launch, in 'real dollar' terms.

It wasn't just the money. NASA was becoming gun-shy after the near miss of Apollo 13. Many in NASA were happy just to have the program end without loss of life.

But this one last time, we were rolling out a manned moon rocket to the launch pad. It would have been glorious to be there!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Apollo mission challenge coins

The challenge coin tradition goes back at least as far as the forerunners of the Air Force, depending on whose legend you listen to. The basic idea is that everyone in a military unit carries the unit's challenge coin as a way of demonstrating membership in the unit.

Challenge coins have also been minted as souvenirs for servicemen participating in major events (task forces, special operations, etc.). One such series of special events was the US Navy's support of the rescue and recovery operations for the Apollo missions. This set of commemorative coins was made available to crewmen of the USS Ticonderoga, the last carrier to recover a Command Module from a Moon landing mission.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Appreciating the Space Junkie community

I'm visiting my son, Kenny, in Fayetteville, NC over the Thanksgiving holiday. In the week prior to leaving home, I purchased a Gene Cernan-autographed Apollo 17 Beta cloth patch from an online auction site. As luck would have it, the seller lives and works within 20 minutes of Kenny's home. I was able to meet him in town today and pick up the patch, saving him the hassle and me the expense of his mailing it. It was also a great opportunity to meet yet another member of the space collecting community and hear, even in just a few minutes, some stories about the treasures he has found over the years.

Yesterday, I received a "happy Thanksgiving" email from another collector in England. This is someone I have never met, but who has corresponded with me regarding the Apollo 8 lecture I saw earlier this month. What a nice gesture, especially from someone for whom this is not even a holiday!

I'm never sure quite what the collectors' attitudes are going to be toward each other, especially since we may end up competing for the same items. However, the "thrill of the hunt" and the shared love for the space program and our heroes bind us tighter together than competition can push us apart.

And I got a big item OUT of my collection this holiday. I finally was able to deliver to Kenny the model of the UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter that I started building for him 1-1/2 years ago!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Okay, this isn't exactly a lunar module or a space collectible, but it's where I was living during the Apollo program - 8803 Badger Drive, Alexandria, Virginia.

Like many kids my age...let me rephrase that - like many of the nerds my age at the time of the moon landings, I did my share of pretending to be an astronaut. In addition to my models of the Saturn V and the LM, I made good use of walkie-talkies and cardboard boxes. The porch and stairs down from the back of the house were just as good as a LM, except that I got an occasional splinter from the wooden stairs. I'm sure that splinters were never a problem for Neil and Buzz.

Once on the "surface," I used a flexible grabber (used for clearing drain clogs) as my lunar sampler. I also went through many boxes of Baggies to store the rock samples I collected in the yard.

In the summer, when we deployed our above-ground pool, I would occasionally tether myself to the pool ladder as I did underwater spacewalks to clean the inner wall of the pool.

Perhaps it was a good thing that I did this in the back yard, out of view of the rest of the neighborhood!

Monday, November 24, 2008

It's ... Different!

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I was unusually fortunate (for the space collecting community) that my very first autograph was of the famous Apollo 8 Earth rise photo, signed in person for me in February 1969 by Bill Anders. I have had this picture in my possession for nearly 40 years, and I know it like the back of my hand.

Realizing that the crews are getting old - Frank Borman and Jim Lovell are both 80 now - I thought that I might be approaching the last opportunities to get the whole crew's signature on this photo. I got in touch with local DC-area collector Steve Smith, who was going to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation show at Kennedy Space Center this month, and he agreed to take the photo to get it signed by Lovell. Steve snapped this photo of Lovell with the picture as documentation of it being personally signed.

So now I have this picture with Lovell's signature added, and I am surprised that I feel conflicted on seeing it!! The feeling is very much like a friend who I have known for 40 years suddenly getting a tattoo on their face...a very nice tattoo, but their face is forever changed from the way I have always known it. Am I getting that old and resistant to change? Or am I that attached to a "thing" that I have trouble letting go of the way it was? Or am I just whining? I'm sure there are plenty of people who would gladly take this item off my hands to put me out of my misery!!

Anyway, I do hope to add Frank Borman's signature the next time he does a signing. And I promise not to whine about it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Apollo 12 mission analyzer

Something you'd probably never see for a space mission in the age of ubiquitous computers is this "Guidance and Navigation Mission Analyzer" from Raytheon. It consists of three concentric circular scales on the front and two on the back. It's basically a portable flight plan for the key events of the mission. These were used by engineers and support team members. Since each mission was different, there were separate analyzers provided for each Apollo mission.

To use it, you align the arrow on the blue ring for the first key event, Translunar Insertion, with the actual day and time that it occurred, as shown on the outer ring. Then, by rotating the inner ring so that its arrow points to a day and time of interest, you can read in the cutout window the events scheduled to transpire at that time.

The back of the analyzer deals with launch, lunar module activities, and Earth reentry activities. When I scanned in the image above, I set the window to show the activities during EVA 2 at the Surveyor 3 site.

I would have killed to have something like this back during the missions! Circular slide rules still have their uses today, primarily by pilots.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lunokhod 1 ends its first lunar day

When Apollo 12 left the Moon, we didn't know that the next moonwalker would not be a human. The Soviets launched Luna 17 to the Moon on November 10, 1970. After achieving a parking orbit, the probe descended to the surface on November 17 and deployed the first roving vehicle on another planet, Lunokhod 1 (literally "moon walker"). The solar-powered Lunokhod 1 drove about 650 feet in its first lunar day, until local sunset on November 22. Over the next 10 months, the rover drove nearly 7 miles.

It's hard for people nowadays to understand the shock that the Soviet space program inflicted on the American psyche. The closest analogy I can make is that it was like a terrorist attack on our sensibilities. Everything the Soviets did was completely cloaked in secrecy until the event happened, and it was always timed to take the wind out of the US's sails. For instance, the West would not find out until after the fall of the Soviet Union that the USSR had been working on this program since 1966, and had attempted to launch a Lunokhod to the moon in February 1969. Had the launch vehicle not exploded shortly after liftoff, the USSR would have been "walking" on the Moon 5 months before Apollo 11 got there.

This Lunokhod 1 commemorative watch is obviously a modern creation, but I thought it was interesting. One doesn't often find watches with 24-hour dials, for example. These watches were apparently made by Raketa in St. Petersburg in the 1990s. The Cyrillic writing on the dial includes the vehicles Luna-17, Lunokhod 1, and the Russian name of Mare Ibrium, the Sea of Rains, where the vehicle landed.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Apollo 12 footprints on the Moon

After 31-1/2 hours on the Moon, Intrepid left the Ocean of Storms on November 20, 1969. Intrepid rendezvoused with the Yankee Clipper, and the crew of Apollo 12 headed for home. We now had four men's footprints in the dust of the Moon. The next landing was scheduled for April the following year. I had gotten used to the fast pace of launches between Apollo 7 and Apollo 12, and the idea of waiting 5 months for the next mission was almost too much to take. Little did I (or anyone) know that Apollo 13's close call would mean that we would not land on the Moon again until February 1971.

This Apollo 12 commemorative plaque was designed by artist John Sims of Jacksonville, Florida. John, who goes by the handle "moonwalkerjohn" on collectSpace, has a replica of the Apollo moon boots, which he presses into Sculpy as the basis for his plaques. He has also added a replica of the aluminum plaque from Intrepid's landing gear, which simply says, "Apollo 12/November 1969." This simple wording was used on the plaques for Apollos 12-16.

I obtained this presentation directly from John in September 2008.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Alan Bean at Surveyor 3

On the second of their two Apollo 12 moon walks, Pete Conrad and Al Bean visited the Surveyor 3 spacecraft, which landed 3 years beforehand. Pete and Al's planned prank, of using a shutter timer on their camera to photograph both of them at the Surveyor, fell through when they couldn't find the timer in the rock box. So, they had to settle for "super tourist photos" of them individually at the Surveyor.

Back home, the TV networks scrambled to salvage what they could from what was supposed to be a prime time, full-color TV broadcast from the moon. NBC used marionettes to try to illustrate what was going on during the moonwalk. I took this picture of the TV - as you will see from the caption, we were hearing "astronaut voices live from the moon" but only watching a puppet show. It was decidedly low tech, but at least the moonwalk was covered. In subsequent missions, it became increasingly more difficult to find a network that would cover the moonwalks live. This was due both to waning public interest as well as much longer excursions. The Apollo 11 EVA was just over 2 hours, while Apollo 17 astronauts spent 22 hours walking on the moon over three days.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Apollo 12 on the Moon

Apollo 12 landed on the Moon 39 years ago today. Unlike the Apollo 11 landing, which we watched on a Sunday afternoon, this landing was late at night for us on the US East Cost, after midnight on Tuesday.

Perhaps the biggest contrast was the completely different feeling we got about the landing as we listened to the ground to air conversation. Apollo 11 had been all tension, from the moment the LM rounded the Moon's limb, with communications dropouts, computer alarms, and then the low fuel warnings. On Apollo 12, we were treated to Pete and Al's ecstatic and jubilant exclamations all the way down. "There it is! There it is! Son of a gun - right down the middle of the road!!" And just after landing, there was Al's, "Good landing, Pete! Outstanding, man!" You never would have heard that from Neil and Buzz. It was so much fun to listen to.

The first moonwalk of the mission started later that morning. My parents let me stay home from school to watch it on our brand new color TV. Unfortunately, Al Bean accidentally pointed the camera at the sun when he was setting it on a tripod, and it burned out the camera's vidicon tube, completely ruining the picture. The networks still carried the audio of the moon walks.

This litho is one of my favorites of Al Bean's work, "Heavenly Reflections." I think Al's description of the work is almost as beautiful as his painting.

I have painted Pete Conrad and myself 239,000 miles from Earth, standing on the Ocean of Storms, looking homeward. Pete and I had come a long way together. We had met some ten years before. I was a student in Navy test pilot school and Pete was one of my instructors. I admired him for his professional skills and for his relaxed, colorful attitude. He is the best astronaut I have ever known. It was incredible to be standing on the Moon with him. It was good to take a moment to reflect on all the dedicated people it took to get us here for America. We were the lucky ones.

The stars were not visible because the sunlight reflecting from the bright lunar surface caused the irises of our eyes to contract, just as they do on Earth at night when standing on a brightly lit patio. As we looked up, the sky was a deep, shiny black. I guessed that deep, shiny black was the color one sees looking into infinity.

As I touched Pete's shoulder I thought, can all the people we know, all the people we love, who we've seen on TV, or read about in the newspapers, all be up there on that tiny blue and white marble? Earth is small but so lovely. It is easily the most beautiful object we could see from the Moon. It was a wondrous moment. If there is a God in heaven, this must be what he sees as he looks toward his children on the good Earth.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Happy 85th birthday, Alan Shepard

Today would have been Alan Shepard's 85th birthday. I never got to meet the man, but I certainly remember watching his launch aboard Freedom 7 in May 1961. It's among my earliest memories. We were living on "The Farm" near Williamsburg, Virginia. I recall being called in to the TV room just before he blasted off. Watching that pencil-thin Redstone rocket lift off made quite an impression on me. Looking back now at films of the launch, it certainly paled in comparison to the smoke and fury of Apollo and Shuttle launches. But at the time, it was amazing to think that there was really a man on that rocket.

Shepard didn't fly again until he commanded Apollo 14 in 1971, as the oldest astronaut in the US program. He died of leukemia in July 1998.

Happy birthday, Old Man!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pieces of Kapton foil from LM-6, "Intrepid" and LM-2

This Lucite display purports to contain a piece of foil trimmed from LM-6, which was the Apollo 12 lunar module "Intrepid." It was not uncommon for workers in the space program to save bits and pieces of foil and other unusable leftover fragments from the vehicles they were assembling or working with, as mementos of their connection to the great events of the time. We, the average collectors of space memorabilia, are happy that they did! Of course, it is pretty much impossible to prove that any given piece of Kapton foil, which must have been used by the square mile during the Apollo program, is really from one vehicle or another. We must rely on the word of the worker who originally saved the piece, and whoever they then gave it to.

I have a similar piece of foil which came from LM-2, the lunar module at the National Air and Space Museum. I was personally given this 1" square piece of Kapton in the summer of 1971 by a museum curator who was making some adjustments to the LM as displayed. trimming off some bits of the foil. He gave several pieces of the foil to the tour guides (including me) on duty that day. I have no pictures to prove that the item came from there, other than photos I had taken of this item as far back as 1972. So I have to say: trust me, I know this one is real - even if I can't directly prove it 37 years later.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Apollo tin toy

Apollo 11 was a worldwide sensation. It seemed like the whole world had Apollo 11 fever in 1969. There was a collectible or memento of just about any kind you could imagine with the Apollo 11 label on it, whether or not the item actually had anything to do with the moon landings. Surely wanting to do Apollo 11 one better, this Japanese tin toy from the time bears the designation Apollo 12.

I suppose we'll see a mild echo of Moon Fever in 2009, for the 40th anniversary of the landing. I'm sure it will be a bigger deal in 2019, for the 50th anniversary of the landing...but at that time, the people who were alive in 1969 will be a relatively small portion of the population. Today, fewer than half of America's people were alive in 1969!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Apollo 12...39 years and counting

Apollo 12 launched 39 years ago today, on November 14, 1969. I was in 8th grade shop class at the time of the launch. I couldn't persuade the teacher to order a TV set from the library, but he did let us listen to it on the radio. We knew that something was going on (the lightning strike) from a little of the crew-to-ground radio, but it was hard to figure out. I was really upset that I had to miss seeing the launch on TV. The mission was taking a color TV camera to the moon's surface, and my dad had finally broken down and bought us our first color TV for the occasion. Here was my first chance to see a launch in color, and I had to miss it! I probably didn't miss too much, since the Saturn V disappeared into clouds only seconds after clearing the tower.

This is a VIP launch badge for the mission.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Apollo 12 prime crew

Apollo 12 launched on November 14, 1969. Its prime crew was: Charles "Pete" Conrad, Commander; Dick Gordon, Command Module Pilot; and Al Bean, Lunar Module Pilot. Conrad was making his third trip into space and Gordon his second. Conrad flew on Gemini V with Gordon Cooper (another Gordon!); Conrad and [Dick] Gordon flew together in 1966 on Gemini XI. This was Bean's first spaceflight. He was was head astronaut for the Apollo Applications Project (later Skylab). He was moved into the Apollo 9 backup role (putting him in line for Apollo 12 prime crew) after astronaut Clifton "C.C." Williams was killed in a plane crash. Conrad, who had been Bean's flight instructor, personally requested Bean on the crew. So, this was a tight, friendly, and fun-loving crew of Navy pilots. If I could have tagged along on any mission, this crew would easily have been the most fun to be with.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gemini XII anniversary

Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the launch of Gemini XII, the last mission of the Gemini program, carrying Command Pilot Jim Lovell and Pilot Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin. By now, we had repeatedly demonstrated the rendezvous and docking techniques that would be critical to the lunar missions of Apollo, but EVA was still proving much more difficult than anticipated.

Gene Cernan, Mike Collins, and Dick Gordon had substantial problems in their spacewalks on Geminis IX, X, and XI. Having rehearsed in a neutral buoyancy tank, and with the addition of handholds and foot restraints on the vehicle, Aldrin almost made spacewalking look easy. This mission paved the way for the EVAs on Apollos 15-17, in which the CMP retrieved film from the SIM bays on the side of the Service Module. It also pioneered the techniques that would be necessary for the EVAs from the Space Shuttle and the assembly of the International Space Station.

The Martin Co. badge in this photo gave its wearer access to a test of the Gemini XII launch vehicle. It also grants the wearer the permission to keep the badge as a souvenir afterward!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Intrepid? or Aquarius? or Antares?

In August 1969, my dad went on a VIP tour of Kennedy Space Center. His office had been responsible for developing - and letting NASA borrow - the TV camera which Apollo 11 used on the lunar surface. I believe that as an informal 'thank you,' he and some of his coworkers got to take the KSC tour. You can't believe how jealous I was that he got to go and I didn't, but at least he brought back some great souvenirs and photos. I'll post more pictures of the tour later on.

One of the things he saw on his visit to the Cape was this Lunar Module ascent stage. The Apollo 12 launch vehicle was being stacked in the Vehicle Assembly Building that month, so this ascent stage could possibly have been that of Intrepid. However, as you'll see in the other attached photo, the CSM was already atop the vehicle stack, which may have meant that the LM was also in place inside the S-IVB adapter. If that was the case, then this LM might have been Aquarius (Apollo 13), or even Antares (Apollo 14).

The original flight schedule for 1969 was that Apollo 11 would fly in July, followed by Apollo 12 in September (in case Apollo 11 was unsuccessful) and Apollo 13 in November. Once Apollo 11's mission ended in July 1969, and NASA met President Kennedy's challenge to land men on the Moon and return them before the end of the decade, the pressure was off, and Apollo 12 was slipped to November 1969 to allow more time for preparation. In any case, the delivery schedule was tight, and there were usually several vehicles in various stages of assembly at the Cape during the heyday of the Apollo landings.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

41 years since Apollo 4

Today marks 41 years since the first launch of a Saturn V...then and still the world's biggest rocket. I have read accounts of the people who witnessed that first launch. They knew it was going to be loud, but none of them appreciated how truly overwhelming it would be. Walter Cronkite stood and laughed with joy as pieces of his broadcast booth came down around him!

This booklet from my collection was published as a public service (i.e., bragging rights) by the prime contractor, North American Aviation. "This is the first of the big shots - NASA's Apollo 4. 8 hours, 43 minutes, and 30 seconds when America will hold its breath."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Space Junkie's Space Junk

I have been an avid space fanatic as long as I can remember. Among my first memories was a hot night in August 1960, a month shy of my fourth birthday. My Dad took us outside that evening to watch the recently-launched satellite Echo 1 pass overhead. I had seen pictures of the mammoth balloon before its launch, and now, it was incredible to see it as a dot moving silently across the sky. Perhaps what made the memory of that night indelible was that it had been so hot that day that the freshly laid asphalt on our street was till gooey; it stuck to our bare feet when we were outside, and our Mom had quite a hard time scrubbing the tar off of our feet once we went back inside.

I clearly remember watching the launch of Alan Shepard aboard Freedom 7 on TV a year later, and John Glenn’s flight the following year. I was probably as enamored with science fiction at this point as I was with science fact. My TV regimen in the early 1960's included "Scott McCloud: Space Angel" and "Fireball XL-5."

As Project Gemini began in 1965, I was finally old enough to truly appreciate the US manned spaceflight program, and I followed it avidly. Our family was stationed on Okinawa when Gemini XIII was forced to make its emergency landing nearby. The local Japanese TV channel carried Lost in Space, with a Japanese soundtrack. AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio and Television Service) simulcast the English soundtrack on the radio. We were also on Okinawa when we heard about the Apollo 1 fire.

I remember the first episode of Star Trek I ever saw (“I, Mudd,” on November 3, 1967). I instantly became a Trekker. I was spellbound by the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey," when it came out in April 1968. I saw it in Cinerama more than a dozen times that summer at the Uptown Theatre in Washington, DC. It was truly a golden age of space, as we were just on the verge of Apollo.

Like most Americans of our time, we watched the “Genesis” broadcast from Apollo 8, as it orbited the Earth on Christmas Eve 1968. Astronaut Bill Anders was a friend of one of my friend’s father, and it was in February 1969 that he gave me my first astronaut autograph, of his famous "Earthrise" photo from Apollo 8.

Of course, we were glued to the TV on July 20, 1969 as Apollo 11 landed and men first walked on the Moon. My Dad’s office designed the camera that was used to broadcast the moon walk, and he was given a VIP tour of Kennedy Space Center in August, less than a month after Apollo 11’s return. The souvenirs he collected on that trip, plus others I had been accumulating with my allowance, became the start of my collection.

In 1970, my 8th grade shop teacher took us on a tour of the Smithsonian's Silver Hill facility (now the Paul E. Garber Restoration Facility). He introduced me to one of the curators and told him that I knew more about space than any other student he had met. The curator asked if I could help him identify five framed Lunar Orbiter photographs that he had recieved from someone. I volunteered to find out for him. I learned of a book, "The Moon as Viewed by Lunar Orbiter," which at $10 was more than I had in my possession. I convinced my dad to pay me for sawing up a felled tree in our back yard. Tree sawn and book purchased, I made some educated guesses at the photos the gentleman had. When I gave him my findings, I brazenly asked him for a job. He looked surprised, until I clarified that I wanted to be a tour guide at the National Air and Space Museum. He agreed to put in a word for me, even though I was younger than the usual requirement that the docents be high school juniors or seniors. It was a volunteer job, which threw me a bit, but I really didn't mind.

I started at the NASM in June 1971 and it was a fabulous summer. The highlights included going to Neil Armstrong's office and getting his autograph, driving a lunar rover mockup around the Mall (I wasn't even old enough to drive a car yet). Perhpas the biggest thrill was cutting out of leading tours to go up to the NASM library to watch the TV broadcast of Al Worden's Apollo 15 spacewalk on a black and white TV, to be joined unexpectedly by Mike Collins, then the NASM Director. I worked at the NASM again the next summer.

I didn't become a professional astronomer, as I once had planned. I watched with horror as Challenger exploded in January 1986. Several months later, I tracked Halley's Comet as it made its swing through the inner Solar System. I did have a brief professional encounter with the space program, as a Contract Manager for Boeing on the Space Station Freedom program from 1987-1989. As a management consultant, I designed a mentoring program at NASA Headquarters in 2004.

All of these stories will be told in more depth, and illustrated with pictures of objects in my collection. For now, this is my introductory entry.