Monday, October 12, 2009

Countdown test demonstration

I obtained a DirectLogic 205 PLC this past weekend. The trainer module only has 4 outputs, but that was enough for me to practice programming a launch timer connected to my S-IB Operations panel. It's shown here as a proof of concept:


I only threw one switch, which started the countdown clock at T-10 seconds. The rest of the lights went on via program control: ignition at T-3 seconds, all engines running at T-1.75 seconds, and liftoff at T-0. This was the sequence for the Skylab 2 launch.

I ran wires directly from the D2-08CDR relay interface on my DL205 to the terminals at the back of the Roto-Tellite enclosures.

This will be a fabulous way to drive the display!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Can I light up these panels?

Cleaning off the indicators was a relatively straightforward task. If I did nothing else to the panels, they look much better now, and they'd be suitable for building into some sort of display. But I don't want to stop here. There is so much potential to make these beauties really "pop" back to life. Going to the next level means getting the indicators to light up.

I must state at this point that I am most decidedly not an electrical engineer, nor have I had any formal training in electronics. I do have some experience in building simple circuits to light LEDs in model airplane and rockets. I have a healthy respect for electricity, but I'm not afraid to experiment. Some of what I will describe here will be grossly oversimplified and the result of trial-and-error compared to what might happen if I actually knew what I was doing. I'm just documenting my learning process.

On the other hand, there isn't a lot of documentation for these panels. No instruction manuals or wiring diagrams have survived the past 35 years.

I knew from my experience with a segment from another control panel (see the thread here from that these panels use 28V GE 327 aircraft lamps. In my previous project, I substituted 12V equivalents of the lamps. I decided to stick with 28V lamps for this project.

The other decision point here is: do I use the existing wiring, or do I use alligator clips to attach to the Roto-Tellite power posts like I did in my other project? In my other project, the wires had been clipped off when the display segment was removed from the larger panel. The panels I have now are complete and (apparently) undamaged - no wires have been cut, and they are attached to the original connectors.

Here you can see a portion of the back of the S-IB Operations panel. It appears relatively straightforward, since it is only comprised of indicator lamps in Roto-Tellite enclosures. The primary concerns here are:
  1. Do the lamps work? Which ones are burned out?
  2. Are there any short circuits in the wiring?
  3. How does the connector map to the lamps? (i.e., which holes in the connector are attached to which lamps?)
The mapping task with the S-IB Networks panel is going to be a lot more complicated. In addition to the 49 lamps in Roto-Tellite enclosures, there are 8 analog meters, 9 individual lamps, a mechanical counter, 1 rotary switch, 18 three-position switches, and 3 push button (momentary) switches. There are 9 resistors on the backplane, and wires go to both posts on the frame as well as to 3 circular connectors.

So, let's start simple, with the S-IB Operations panel. To assist in documenting the functions of the panel, I created an Excel spreadsheet that lists each indicator and its position on the panel. There are location designations stenciled onto the back of the faceplate. For example, the "LOX LOADING REVERT" indicator is in the upper left corner of the panel, and it is labeled "DS1" on the back of the faceplate. The numbers run consecutively along the rows (DS1 through DS8 on the top row, DS9 through DS16 on the second row, etc.). I transferred these designations to the spreadsheet.

Now, it was time to see what worked and what didn't. For my first simple test, I wired two 9V batteries in series, figuring that 18V would be enough to produce at least a little light from the 28V bulbs. My past project taught me that the center post of each Roto-Tellite enclosure was the ground and the two outside posts were +. I connected the battery negative terminal to a center post, and then clipped the power alligator clip to the power post on the "ALL ENGINES RUNNING" indicator (DS23). Success! The lamp lit, probably for the first time in 34 years!

Two more alligator clips were attached, to the IGNITION and the LIFT-OFF indicators, just for fun at this point. Fortunately, the lamps in these indicators were still good, so they glowed as well. I dutifully photographed the indicators as my inspiration for lighting up the panels.

At this point, the simplest thing to do would have been to touch the positive alligator clip to a post on each indicator to see which bulbs were still working and which were burned out. I opted to combine two steps here, by also seeing which pin on the connector corresponded with which indicator.

The connectors on these panels are "24-61" connectors, which are standard military hardware. Each hole has a corresponding letter. Unfortunately, the placement of the labels on the connector for the S-IB Operations panel was pretty inconsistent. The letters were often not immediately adjacent to a hole. This quickly became a problem as I worked my way around the connector, sticking a probe into a hole and seeing which lamp lit, then making notes on my spreadsheet. By the time I had worked about 1/3 of the way around the outside of the connector, I was losing track of which hole corresponded to which letter.

To aid in my documentation, I needed to make a diagram of the connector, invert the colors on my PC (to make a better printout), and then draw lines connecting each letter to its corresponding hole. That way, I could ensure that I was being consistent.

I found that as I worked around the connector from A-Z, the lamps lit in order, running horizontally. "A" corresponded to DS1, "B" to DS2, etc. A little lesson I learned, so that I wouldn't have to keep craning my neck from the back to the front of the panel, was to put a mirror in front of the panel so that I could see the bulbs light up while I stayed at the back of the panel.

I found that the bulbs in nine of the indicators were burned out and would need to be replaced. I may be able to move some bulbs from unused indicators to the ones that need new bulbs. A little spark told me that pins aa and bb were ground, which I should have determined first, before checking the bulbs!

So now I have the connector mapped to the indicators in the S-IB Operations panel. This was also documented in my spreadsheet.

As I mentioned, I would like to explore powering this panel through the 24-61 connector rather than with alligator clips. I will need to find out what kind of plug corresponds to this receptacle. They are labeled "Burndy MS3124E 2461S."

Next time: What does it mean?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Taking a new direction: A restoration project

I've decided to take my blog in a different direction. It's still going to be dedicated to my space collection, but I'm going to concentrate most of the posts on a few items of particular interest to me at the moment: my control panels from the Apollo-era firing rooms at Kennedy Space Center.

I highlighted these panels in a previous post early this summer. I have started working to restore two of the panels, with the goal of "lighting them up" again and having operate similarly to how they might have looked during the launch of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975.

I'm going to use this blog to document the process that I'm going through to bring these relics back online.

Let's start with general clean-up.

I purchased these panels from Steve Hankow at Farthest Reaches in June. Steve's consignor acquired them from the estate of Charles Bell. Bell was a NASA inventor and engineer who was involved in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. He amassed a huge junkyard full of rockets, spare parts, control panels, test equipment, and just about anything that could be salvaged when NASA junked the items. Bell's materials were not catalogued or kept in environmentally-controlled conditions, so they were not in pristine condition (to say the least) when his estate was auctioned off.

The S-IB Operations Panel displayed the critical events in the countdown and flight of the Saturn IB, the first stage of the Saturn rockets that flew Apollo 7, as well as the crews of the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz Test Project missions, into Earth orbit. Although I don't know for sure, I assume that this was used by a person in a supervisory function, who was monitoring the overall progress of the countdown.

The panel is a 19" x 5-1/2" bank of 40 indicator lamps in "Roto-Tellite" enclosures. Each enclosure has one or two 28V indicator lamps, a colored gel (usually green, blue, or red), a translucent white plastic piece, and a clear plastic insert with lettering stenciled on. In many cases, a lot of dust had accumulated in these enclosures when I opened up the panel. Also, the ink from the stenciled lettering had bled, and some of the gels may have melted slightly in the Florida heat of Bell's junkyard, causing the gel to wick between the indicator's plastic inserts. You can see that some of these labels were almost illegible from the accumulated grime.

My first task, after photographing the panel to document its original condition, was to clean up these plastic inserts. To do this, one first has to remove the inserts from the Roto-Tellite enclosures. You have to push on one side of the enclosure to rotate the cell. In some cases it was easier than others. These cells hadn't been moved in 35 years, so they were very reluctant to turn. Once the cell is rotated 45 degrees, you then have to pop open the clip on the end of the enclosure. This was particularly hard on my fingernails and fingers, and I was lucky not to get a lot of blood on the panel!! After opening the clip, the plastic insert can be slid out. In some cases, it was stuck to the enclosure and had to be gently loosened with an X-acto knife.

The plastic inserts were generally stuck together. I was able to separate most of them into their component pieces using my thumbnail at the corner of the insert, gently pulling the stuck pieces apart. I tried a variety of methods, starting with mildly soapy water, to clean up the plastic inserts. Soaking in water didn't get rid of the gunk. I found that the colored gels and the translucent white pieces could be rubbed clean with a paper towel with a little rubbing alcohol on it.

With the lettered inserts, I wasn't sure if rubbing alcohol was a good idea. Gentle rubbing with a paper towel accidentally rubbed off the ink on one letter, much to my horror. I switched to rubbing alcohol, applied gently with a Q-tip. That worked much better and didn't seem to damage the lettering. In 90% of the cases, the Q-tip removed the dirt and left the letters intact. In a few cases, though, the ink seemed to start to dissolve in the alcohol, so I quickly dipped the label into water and blotted it dry.

After drying each piece of the insert, I reassembled them and put them back into their original cell. You can see here the side-by-side comparison of this one bank of indicator lights, before and after cleaning off the "LOX TANK PRESSURIZED" indicator.

Repeat forty times, for this panel...and forty-nine times for the S-IB Networks panel. But the end result was well worth it. All of the indicators survived the cleaning process, with the loss of only one letter on one label. Below are comparisons of the two control panels, before and after cleaning up the inserts.

Next time: Testing the lights and connectors!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The future of manned spaceflight?

A year ago this week, the Peoples Republic of China flew three taikonauts aboard Shenzhou 7. The mission was the third of the Chinese manned spaceflight program, their first flight with three passengers, and the first EVA conducted from a Chinese spacecraft.

The anniversary of this flight comes on the heels of some very sobering news for the US manned spaceflight program. The Augustine Commission reported that the US program is significantly underfunded and will be unable to achieve the goal of a manned lunar landing. The Space Shuttle will be retired in late 2010 or early 2011, and there is still debate as to whether the US should continue to develop the Orion launch vehicle or adapt the existing Delta IV booster to get crews into low Earth orbit. In my opinion, each month of debate further reduces the US's likelihood of getting anyone to the Moon in the next 15 years.

In fact, it has been noted that other than astronauts hitching rides aboard the Soyuz, the only near-term option available to the US for supporting the Space Station after retiring the Shuttle will be commercial vehicles like SpaceX's Falcon 9.

I am frustrated at the lack of direction, commitment, and willpower shown at present. A recent survey asked a random sample of Americans what percentage of the Federal budget went to the space program. The average guess was 24% - when it fact it's closer to 0.5%, and never exceeded 5% even during the Apollo program. As someone pointed out during Apollo, not one dollar of the NASA budget was spent on the Moon - it was all spent here on Earth, in employing over 400,000 engineers, scientists, plumbers, electricians, seamstresses, and other trades who were all vital to the success of the program. We have an opportunity to put a lot of people to work on something positive and inspiring, but we appear to lack the vision and leadership to make it happen.

I hope that the Shenzhou rocket (depicted in the souvenir pen shown in the illustration) won't be the first picture that comes to mind for our kids when they think about manned spaceflight.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ride 'em, Cowboy!

This week marks the anniversary of the flight of Gemini XI, which flew from September 12-15, 1966.

Commander Pete Conrad and Pilot Dick Gordon made space history by docking with their Agena target vehicle on the very first orbit after liftoff. This "M=1" rendezvous plan required extremely precise timing. The launch window was only 2 seconds, which would have been an unthinkably thin margin only a few years before. The Titan II lifted off less than 1/2 second into its launch window, and Conrad and Gordon were on their way to a rendezvous only 85 minutes later, over California.

Once docked, they set an altitude record, by using the Agena's rocket engine to propel themselves into an orbit with an 860-mile apogee. Other than the Apollo flights to the Moon, no other manned vehicle has flown that far from Earth to this day.

While the Gemini and Agena were docked, Dick Gordon undertook the first of two space walks. One of his tasks was to attach a 100-foot tether to connect the two vehicles for subsequent experiments. Sitting astride the nose of the Gemini while he worked at the Agena's docking collar, Gordon reminded Conrad of a bronco buster, and he called out, "Ride 'em, cowboy!" That image, captured on film and shown to American audiences after the mission ended, became the memorable image of the mission. It's certainly the one I most remember from that mission.

As with the spacewalks on Gemini IX and X, the EVA proved much more strenuous than anticipated. Gordon became so over-exerted that it was necessary to end the spacewalk early. A second EVA, in which Gordon stood up in his seat for two hours and leaned outside the hatch was as relaxing as the first EVA had been strenuous. Gordon fell asleep while he was standing in the hatch!

Conrad and Gordon were a fun-loving crew. They flew together again three years later, on Apollo 12. Conrad was smitten with the idea of flying a modified Gemini mission around the Moon - something he had been pushing for as a mission objective for Gemini XI. He didn't make it to the Moon on that flight, but he realized his dream on Apollo 12.

Friday, September 4, 2009

's SMEAT time!

The Beta cloth patch at left ranks as one of my all-time favorite Apollo-era mission emblems.

SMEAT, short for the Skylab Medical Experiments Altitude Test, was a full-up dress rehearsal for missions aboard Skylab, the US's first space station. SMEAT duplicated all of the medical experiments, food, and equipment that were planned for Skylab. It even duplicated Skylab's reduced-pressure atmosphere. Since it was conducted on Earth, though, the crew obviously could not experience weightlessness.

SMEAT ran from July 26 through September 20, 1972, simulating a full 56-day duration Skylab mission. The crew consisted of Commander Robert Crippen, Karol "Bo" Bobko, and Dr. William Thornton, M.D. None of the crew actually flew during Apollo or Skylab, but all three subsequently flew on the Space Shuttle. Crippen was the Pilot for the maiden flight of the Space Shuttle.

SMEAT was invaluable in testing medical equipment and systems before they were installed aboard Skylab. Once Skylab was launched, there would have been no way to replace equipment that didn't work properly or subsequently broke. Thornton, a large and powerful man, was particularly noted for his ability to destroy test equipment during his "normal" exercise routines. Several pieces of exercise equipment were beefed up after Thornton defeated them, and none of those uprated items subsequently broke down during the Skylab missions.

Peanuts creator Charles M. Schultz designed the SMEAT patch, continuing his long association with the American space program. Symbolizing the "grounded" nature of the mission, a distressed-looking Snoopy is being held back to Earth instead of flying among the stars!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Discovery!

At about midnight last night/this morning, the shuttle Discovery blasted off on a mission to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). This is Discovery's 37th mission, and her 10th to the ISS.

This week marks the 25th anniversary of Discovery's maiden flight, STS-41D, which flew from August 30 to September 5, 1984.

Given her role in constructing the ISS, it's perhaps fitting that one of the primary experiments on Discovery's first flight was a test of the OAST-1 solar array. This was a prototype of the solar panels that now supply power to the ISS. Folded into a package that was 13 feet wide but only 7 inches deep, the OAST-1 was extended to a full length of 102 feet. Discovery also deployed three communications satellites during the mission.

Discovery's launch had been delayed since the originally-scheduled date in June 1984. A launch attempt on June 26, 1984 resulted in the shutdown of the Space Shuttle Main Engines after a few seconds. (Astronaut Steve Hawley quipped, "Gee, I thought we'd be a lot higher at MECO [Main Engine Cut-Off]!") About 10 minutes later, while the crew were still strapped in their seats, there was a hydrogen fire at the base of the launch pad. It was a very tense and dangerous situation, and NASA revised its safety procedures using the lessons learned from this pad abort.

It's sad to note that this was Judith Resnick's first flight, and that her first launch attempt was such a scary one. She perished a year and a half later aboard Challenger.

When Discovery flew, she was the third and newest Space Shuttle. With the loss of Challenger and Columbia, Discovery is now the oldest orbiter in the fleet.

There is speculation that Discovery will replace the Shuttle Enterprise at the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center once the Space Shuttle program ends in late 2010.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Apollo-Saturn 202 and the USS Hornet

I've been leading workshops in Santa Cruz, California for four weeks this summer. My last one concluded this past Friday, August 21, at 10:30 a.m. I had a 10:30 p.m. red-eye back to Washington DC from San Francisco, and I wondered what I could do to fill in my time before my flight. Several people at collectSPACE recommended that I tour the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, docked at Alameda Point on San Francisco Bay. I'm very pleased that I took their advice!

The Hornet was commissioned in 1943 and saw action in the western Pacific during some of the major campaigns at the end of World War II. Perhaps its most famous role was as the recovery ship for Apollos 11 and 12 when they returned from the Moon in 1969.

The Hornet hosts what is billed as the largest collection of Apollo-related material on display on the West Coast. Among the exhibits one can see:
  • A Sea King helicopter which was last used in the movie Apollo 13, and which is painted identically to the helicopter that brought the Apollo 11 crew on board the Hornet following splashdown.
  • Painted footprints on the deck, tracing the Apollo 11 crew's walk from the Sea King to a Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) van.
  • The MQF, which is the one used by the Apollo 14 crew, the last crew which was quarantined following a Moon landing. The tabletop in the MQF is autographed by Ed Mitchell of the Apollo 14 crew!
  • A 1/48 scale model of the Saturn V launch vehicle, nearly 9 feet tall.
  • A 1/12 or 1/10 scale contractor's model of an early version of the Lunar Excursion Module.
  • A Moon rock from Apollo 15 (not present during my visit).
  • Numerous Lucite displays with pieces of Kapton insulation from Apollos 11 and 12.
Most noticeable on the hangar deck is an Apollo capsule. This is CM-011, which was flown on the Apollo-Saturn 202 mission (informally also called Apollo 3).

My visit to the Hornet was, coincidentally, just four days shy of the anniversary of the AS-202 flight on August 25, 1966.

AS-202 was an unmanned test of the Command and Service Modules in Earth orbit, primarily to test the Service Propulsion System and the ability of the CM's heat shield to withstand a high-velocity reentry. The tests were successful, although the capsule splashed down nearly 200 miles off target. The capsule was recovered by the Hornet about 8-1/2 hours after landing.

I wish I'd had the foresight to bring a camera with me to California this trip. However, I doubt that I could have captured the scale of the Hornet or the sense of history that I felt getting to tour her. The ship's website provides information for potential visitors, including several Quicktime-VR panoramas of various locations on the ship. If you scroll this panorama about 180 degrees around and zoom in, you'll see the capsule as well as the MQF and Sea King helicopter.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Addendum - One More Capsule Mystery

While on the tour of MSC and JSC, my dad snapped this photo of a flown Apollo Command Module on a platform. There's no explanatory information in this photo. I'm relatively certain it's at MSC in Houston, since none of the VIP party are wearing hard hats. (They were all wearing hard hats in the photos within the VAB at Kennedy Space Center.)

I believe that this might be Columbia, the Apollo 11 Command Module.

After the crew splashed down in the Pacific on July 24, 1969, Columbia was brought aboard the USS Hornet and secured to the quarantine facility. All of the rock boxes, film, space suits, and other materials were removed from the spacecraft. The spacecraft was decontaminated and the hatch sealed again on July 26.

The Command Module arrived at the Lunar Receiving Laboratory at the MSC on July 30. It was transferred to North American Aviation's Downey, California facility on August 14, where it was prepped for turnover to the Smithsonian.

So, given that my dad's tour fell within the first two weeks of August 1969, it is quite conceivable that this CM is indeed Columbia, two weeks after its historic return from the Moon.

The Apollo 10 Command Module was sent to Downey in June, so this is not Charlie Brown.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A VIP tour of MSC and KSC, August 1969

My dad was a career civil servant, who worked in the CIA from the days of the Korean War past Vietnam. He started off pretty low on the totem pole and was promoted one grade at a time until he achieved the "exalted" status of GS-14 Branch Chief in 1969.

In recognition for his accomplishments, and with a light on his future development, he was selected in June 1969 to participate in a special management program. From his memoirs,

In June 1969 I was selected to attend the Mid-Career Executive Development Course, an honor which meant that Management had identified me as a “comer.” The course provided not only a broad overview of the U.S. Government, but considerable in-depth coverage on Congressional dynamics, the election process, new Department of Defense development programs, interrelationships of components of the Intelligence Community, NASA, NATO, and other public affairs. First-rate and high-level officials gave us candid briefings, private "think-tank" analysts gave us an outside look at how our government was working, and we were privileged to meet the Director of Central Intelligence and learn about White House views of the Agency's role in the national security establishment.

In addition, we were put aboard chartered aircraft and flown to Norfolk for NATO briefings and a luncheon aboard a new nuclear aircraft carrier, then to Houston for a full day NASA briefing and tour and a sneak preview look at the moon rocks bought back only two weeks before by the crew of the first lunar landing. This was followed by a full day at Cape Kennedy and a VIP tour of the facilities. We received the whole treatment and I don't remember any of my classmates who did not grow a little vain as a result of the experience. Pretty heady stuff for an old paramilitary type, used to stumping along the corridors on his knuckles or brachiating along on the overhead pipes in the bowels of the old tempo buildings on the Mall.

Forty years after my dad's tour of MSC [now the Johnson Space Center] and KSC, I'm honored to present here some of the photos he took in the second week of August 1969. Unfortunately, he did not label where the pictures were taken, so if there are cases where there were duplicate facilities at MSC and KSC, I'm not entirely sure which is which. I'm very open to and appreciative of comments from folks who can help me identify places and objects that I may have missed.

First, the sneak peak of a Moon rock. As my dad mentioned, this sample was brought back by the Apollo 11 crew only two weeks previously! Forty years hence, it's hard to conceive that this sample had been on the Moon only two weeks prior to this photograph. This represented one of the first public views of the material brought back by mankind's first exploration of our Moon.

While at the MSC, my dad snapped this photo of the ascent stage of Lunar Module 2 (LM-2). LM-2 was at the MSC for "drop tests," where it was dropped from various heights and at different angles to see how well the Lunar Module would hold up in various Moon landing scenarios. The last drop test was in May 1969. No longer needed for testing, the ascent stage is packaged here prior to its shipment back to Grumman, where it was reunited with the descent stage and prepared for its eventual display at the National Air and Space Museum.

Edit: I just noticed for the first time, in looking at the picture today, that you can see the descent stage of LM-2 in the background of this picture, too! Some of the supports for one of the landing legs, wrapped in silver foil, can be seen sticking out from a black panel, just to the upper left of the plastic sheeting around the ascent stage. Perhaps one of the reasons I didn't notice the descent stage before is that the color scheme is "wrong" compared to what I am used to seeing, which would be the gold Kapton foil.

Also at MSC, Dad was given a briefing on various aspects of the Apollo hardware. Here, he is attending a lecture on the PLSS, the Portable Life Support System backpack that the astronauts wore on the Moon. The table holds a demo until as well as a peek of the "guts" of the hardware.

Here's the centrifuge, where the crews practiced for the G-loads they would experience during ascent to orbit and during re-entry. The centrifuges evolved significantly since the early days of Mercury. The Apollo-era centrifuges contained simulated crew compartments for the entire three-man Apollo crew.

Also at MSC was this Apollo Command Module on display. Unfortunately, the number on the side of the vehicle is turned away from us, so I am not sure which one it is. Since there is so much of the Kapton foil still attached to the CM (i.e., not burned away from the heat of re-entry from return from a Moon trip), I assume that it was from an Earth-orbital mission, either one of the unmanned flights or Apollo 7.

The vacuum chamber shown here was used for full-scale tests of Apollo hardware. It could simulate not only the vacuum of space to test for leaks, but also the differential between solar heating (via heat lamps) and the unlit portion of a spacecraft in vacuum. This chamber was the home for the 2TV-1 "mission" (in which the crew spent more than a week sealed inside a Command Module) as well as LTA-8, vacuum tests for the Lunar Module.

The MSC also housed simulators for the Apollo missions. Here's a view of the Translation and Docking Simulator (TDS). In this simulator, crews could practice the maneuvers associated with lining the Command Module up with a Lunar Module, and then moving in to dock. The spacecraft moved on all axes, enabling the crew to experience how their command inputs would translate into actual spacecraft movements.

Other simulators at the MSC were the Command Module Simulator and the Lunar Module Simulator. The first photo in this series is an overhead view of the simulator controls for the CM simulator. Inside the jumble of boxes at the top is a complete CM interior, with every switch and circuit breaker duplicated for the mission being flown. The boxy structures are the hardware for simulating the view out the windows.

Since computer graphics were non-existant in 1969, TV camera shot scenes of a simulated environment, and images were shown on TV displays outside the windows on the CM. It was very crude, but it gave the crew a good impression of what they would see in the mission. You can also get a look at the computers that were required to drive the simulation...quite an array of hardware! I imagine a modern-day laptop could easily surpass all of the computing power in this room.

The Lunar Module Simulator was slightly less boxy than the CM simulator, primarily because there weren't as many windows for which to generate displays. Not shown in this photo is a key element of the LM simulator, which was a large plaster 1:2,000 scale model of the landing site, over which a TV camera "flew" in response to the crew's guidance. The model/map for a given landing site was 32 feet by 14 feet and weighed over 600 pounds, with over 500,000 craters.

At KSC, Apollo 12 and 13 were both being stacked in August 1969. I'm not sure of the exact date of my dad's visit. Two weeks after the Apollo 11 return to Earth would have placed his trip at about August 6 or 7. The Apollo 13 stack was moved from High Bay 2 to High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on August 8, so he was just a few days away from having witnessed that activity. This shot appears to be the Apollo 13 vehicle "stack," with a boilerplate Command and Service Module on top, as was the case at the time of the roll-around. Unfortunately, I can't tell if they're putting the CM boilerplate on top of the stack or removing it from the stack.

Dad got some pretty spectacular views of the base of the first stage of Apollo 12's Satuvn V rocket, which is clearly labelled S-IC-7 (the 7th S-IC stage produced). It's hard to get a feel for the immense scale of this vehicle.

It's interesting to note that the fairings are removed from the forward (upper) ends of the engine cowlings. Just follow the parabolic outlines above the engine cowlings. In flight, after the first stage burns out, the fairings are jettisoned and retro rockets fire through these openings to help separate the first and second stages. You will also note the hold-down arm that kept the monster from lifting off the pad until all engines were running at constant thrust.

Here's a shot from the base of the Saturn V, looking up into the High Bay. You can't see the upper stages of the rocket, more than 300 feet above the floor level. I have a hard time what it must have been like to work on something so immense. I also have a hard time imagining what was going through my dad's head, as he stood here next to the rocket that would carry the second group of humans to land on the Moon, only two weeks after the first crew had come back!

Here's a view of another of the High Bays in the VAB. In here, you can get a sense of scale from the Econoline van in the background. The CM/SM/adapter section on the floor here appears to be a boilerplate and may be a Block I. The skeletal hemisphere above the van attaches to the top of the first stage of the Saturn V when it is being hoisted into position. I look at this photo and think that none of this existed - even in anyone's mind - only 8 years prior to this photo being taken. Not only did we build the vehicles to put men on the Moon within 8 years of Kennedy's challenge, but we also had to design and construct the infrastructure to build the rockets themselves! Nothing on this scale existed prior to Apollo.

Here's a view inside one of the VAB's Low Bays. Here, the various stages of the Saturn V were brought in through the doors at the end of the bay. From here, they were lifted to a verticle position and moved into the High Bays to stack the vehicle. Even the Low Bay is pretty darned tall!

Leaving the VAB, we move to a view of one of the Firing Rooms in the adjacent Launch Control Center. Here, all aspects of the countdown and launch were controlled, until the point where the vehicle rose above the launch tower. At that time, mission control was transferred to Houston. It's humbling for me to think that some of the scrapped launch control panels that I have now may have been in this very Firing Room. I can't tell for certain, since there were three Firing Rooms in use during the Apollo program.

This is one of the "crawlers" which transported the stacked Saturn V rocket from the VAB to the launch pad. Once the vehicle was in place on the launch pad, the crawler would then move over to pick up the Mobile Service Structure (MSS) and move it into place alongside the Saturn V. These same crawlers have been refurbished and are still in use 40 years later with the Space Shuttle program. This has to be some sort of longevity record for a Government-owned land vehicle!

Here's a view (from a bus) from the roadway adjacent to the crawlerway, approaching the launch pad. It's a very gentle slope, but you would obviously not want to tilt a 360 foot tall launch vehicle at this angle on the ground. The crawler deck is maintained in a level position with hydraulic pistons as the crawler ascends the ramp to the launch pad.

The final stop on our tour is the launch pad itself. Here, we have an excellent view of the flame trench. The flame diverter, the triangular metal structure at center left, was place directly beneath the engines. As they ignited, the flame diverter directed the flames and hot gasses out either side of the launch pad, thus protecting the engines from overpressure and excessive heat.

So, that's the tour. I have some other photos that my dad took in the Rocket Garden at the Canaveral Air Force Station later that day, and I'll share those in another post.

I was incredibly fortunate to grow up during the Apollo era. I was even more fortunate that my dad inspired me to learn and explore. Although I didn't get to go with him on this trip, he made me feel like I had been there. I'm happy that he was able to go and get this sneak peak behind the scenes of mankind's greatest adventure. It's been my pleasure to share these photos with you, 40 years after my dad's tour. Here's to you, Dad! --Jonathan

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Remembering Apollo 15

Apollo 15 was without a doubt my favorite of the Apollo Moon landing missions when I was growing up. The mission launched on July 26, 1971, when I was on summer vacation between my freshman and sophomore years of high school. That was the first summer that I worked as a volunteer tour guide at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, when Mike Collins was the Director. It was the perfect summer for a space geek!

The mission had it all. The Lunar Module Falcon was the new J-type, which would enable the astronauts to stay on the Moon for 3 days. This was the first mission for the Lunar Roving Vehicle (a.k.a. the Lunar Rover, or Moon Buggy), which could take the astronauts miles away from their base on the Moon. The mission also landed in one of the most spectacular locales of any of the missions, with miles-high mountains on either side of the landing site and a mini Grand Canyon (Hadley Rille) in front of the landing site. Finally, there was a spacewalk outside the Command Module as it returned home from the Moon.

The TV coverage did not disappoint us. The TV networks actually covered most of the moonwalks, the last time this would happen during the Apollo program. On Apollo 11 and 14, the camera was mounted on a fixed tripod and could not follow the astronauts if they walked out of the field of view. On Apollo 15, the color TV camera was mounted on the Rover and showed all of the work the astronauts did as they ventured far afield from the Falcon. We got to visit all of the exotic places with them. It was a great front-row seat for the mission!

The last treat for this mission from the Moon's surface was watching the crew blasting off and returning to orbit, thanks to the TV camera mounted on the Rover and parked several hundred feet behind the Lunar Module.

I have many, many badges, patches, and the like for Apollo 15, but I wanted to show something a little different. At the top of this post is a ceramic "launch team" commemorative plaque, issued to Hal and Mary Shelton. Hal was a cartographer and employee of the US Geological Survey. Hal Shelton (1916-2004) is best remembered as a pioneer in producing natural-color relief maps, which were very similar to what a pilot or astronaut would see from on high.

At left is a commemorative display from Dow-Corning, celebrating the use of Fiberglas in the Apollo 15 mission. The acrylic item encapsulates a Beta-cloth Apollo 15 patch, as well as a miniature representation of the Lunar Rover.