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