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.


Jim Gerard said...

Hope to get out there myself someday! Glad you had a great time.

jack juka said...


How hard are the Apollo 11 Houston Mission Control badges to find? How many people were actually in the room?

Jonathan said...

Hi Jack, I haven't seen too many of the Apollo 11 MCC badges around. There were badges issued in three levels of access, indicated by A, B, or C. "A" badges got you into the Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR) with the flight controllers. The other badges had more restricted access.

At any given time, there were usually about 15-25 people inside the MOCR. There were three shifts of flight controllers on each mission, so perhaps there were at most 100 "A" level badges issued for a mission. I don't know how many B or C badges were issued.

juka said...

Mine is actually a C access. Anyone who knows anything about C access or has any extra patches they want to sell can email me at . Thanks again.
Jack Juka

Jonathan said...

Thanks, Jack - I suggest you check out for patches!

I was just reading about one fellow who had a "C" badge for Mission Control. He was a Navy Lieutenant on liaison to NASA to help coordinate the Navy's spacecraft recovery efforts. That obviously would not get him a seat at one of the Flight Controllers' consoles, but he would have talked frequently with folks in the room regarding spacecraft trajectory and timeline.

juka said...

I'll check out Collect Space. My wife is hoping I MAKE space. LOL.
Thanks again.

Jonathan said...

Jim, a friend just forwarded me a floor layout of the Mission Control Center during the Apollo days. There were Staff Support Rooms (SSRs) adjacent to the Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR), and I believe the "C" badge would get you access into one of those support rooms but not into the MOCR itself. You needed a green badge with an "A" on it to get into the MOCR.

Jonathan said...

You can see a layout of the MOCR and Support Rooms here.