We take a brief look at the history of the spacesuit as NASA engineers work on the next generation of spacesuits for future Martian astronauts.
Fifty years ago next month, Ed White made America’s first space walk
Josh Gelernter writes: We’re coming up to the 50th anniversary of one of the best-known photographs in history: astronaut Ed White floating in space with a gem-like blue Earth floating beneath him. Ed White made America’s first space walk on the first day of NASA’s Gemini 4 mission, June 3, 1965. Ed White, tethered to the Gemini capsule by a gold hose, was on the cover of Life; White and his photographer, Gemini 4 commander Jim McDivitt, were on the cover of Time.
White and McDivitt were both members of NASA’s second astronaut class, the “New Nine,” who followed the original “Mercury Seven.” The New Nine are generally considered the all-time greatest group of astronauts. They included Frank Borman, who commanded the first flight to the moon, Apollo 8, and Jim Lovell, who navigated Apollo 8 and commanded Apollo 13. Lovell was the first man to fly in space four times, and the first to fly to the moon twice.
Also: Pete Conrad, who commanded the first American space station and the second moon landing, and Tom Stafford, the pilot for the first space-rendezvous mission (Gemini 6A), the commander of the “dress rehearsal” for the first moon landing (Apollo 10), and the commander of the first joint American–Soviet space mission, Apollo–Soyuz.
And John Young, who flew on the first Gemini mission, flew to the moon twice, on Apollo 10 and Apollo 16, which he commanded; commanded the first Space Shuttle flight and the first Spacelab mission, and became the first man to fly in space six times. Read the rest of this entry »
When their spaceship was severely damaged 200,000 miles from Earth – 45 years ago this week, it was like a bad dream from which the Apollo 13 crew could not wake.
Moments after they finished a TV broadcast late on April 13, 1970, a spark ignited one of the oxygen tanks on the Apollo 13 spacecraft. The resulting explosion plunged an entire nation into an anxious three-and-a-half day drama.
The blast obliterated one of three fuel cells and an oxygen tank. Oxygen jetted into space from the command module’s remaining tank.
“Houston, we’ve had a problem here,” astronaut Jack Swigert told mission control in Houston at what was then NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center (now Johnson Space Center).
“We’ve had a main B bus undervolt,” Mission Commander James Lovell said. One of the command module’s two main electrical circuits had experienced a drop in power.
The Manned Space Flight Network at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, made Swigert and Lovell’s reports possible. The network’s tracking stations linked the spacecraft to Earth, where its signals were transmitted through Goddard. Nearly three million circuit miles of communication channels in the NASA Communication Network conveyed the messages received at Goddard to the Mission Control Center in Houston.
Less than two hours after Swigert’s message was transmitted to Houston, mission control pronounced the command module mortally wounded. With only 15 minutes of power left, astronauts Swigert, Jim Lovell and Fred Haise escaped to the “life boat” of the lunar module.
President Richard Nixon learned of the crisis shortly after the explosion, and he met with Goddard Center Director John F. Clark the following day for an update. William C. Schneider, director of NASA’s Skylab program, briefed the president on the status of the rescue mission in Goddard’s Manned Space Flight Network control room, through which communications to and from Apollo 13 passed.
The nation watched for the latest updates from their television sets, transfixed, as the rescue mission unfolded.
The crew spent three-and-a-half grueling days in the lunar module. They rationed food and water, which mission designers had only intended to last two men a day and a half, not three men three days. Carbon dioxide reached dangerous levels in the lunar module before the team managed to convert square filters from the command module to fit in the round openings on the lunar module. When the crew shut the instruments off to conserve power, the inside temperature reached an icy 38 F.
But reorienting the lunar module to a return-to-Earth trajectory from a lunar landing course proved to be one of the most difficult and important obstacles to hurdle. Read the rest of this entry »
Dave Scott (left) and Neil Armstrong breathe the fresh air of Earth as the hatches of Gemini VIII are opened after splashdown. Photo Credit: NASA
Ben Evans writes: Gemini VIII astronauts Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott accomplished a key goal in America’s bid to land a man on the Moon by successfully rendezvousing and docking with an unmanned Agena target vehicle in Earth orbit. As noted in part 1 AmericaSpace article, it was the first time that a manned vehicle had achieved physical contact with another target in space. However, the situation aboard Gemini VIII was far from perfect. A distinct lack of available tracking stations across the flight path had already resulted in decidedly “spotty” communications with the Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR) in Houston, Texas.
“We have serious problems here. We’re tumbling, end over end. We’re disengaged from the Agena.”
— Dave Scott
In fact, only two ship-based stations were supporting the flight, the Rose Knot Victor and the Coastal Sentry Quebec, together with a land site in Hawaii. Shortly before one loss of contact, at around 6:35 p.m. EST on 16 March 1966, Capcom Jim Lovell radioed the Gemini VIII crew. If problems arose, he told them, they should immediately deactivate the Agena with Command 400 and assume manual control with the Gemini. It was a standard call. Lovell could hardly have imagined that a potential disaster would soon engulf the mission.
Half an hour after docking with the Agena, Dave Scott instructed the target to roll them 90 degrees, and Neil Armstrong, in the commander’s seat, told Lovell that it had “gone quite well.” The call came a few seconds before Gemini VIII passed out of radio contact with the ground. Alone, the astronauts electronically activated the Agena’s tape recorder. Shortly thereafter, their attitude indicator showed that they were in an unexpected, and almost imperceptible, roll of about 30 degrees.
“Neil,” called Scott, “we’re in a bank.” Were the Agena’s attitude controls misbehaving? Or was it a problem with the target vehicle’s software? Certainly, Gemini VIII’s own thrusters were now switched off and the assumption could safely be made that the Agena was at fault. What they did not know was that one of their thrusters—the No. 8 thruster—had short-circuited and stuck into its “on” position. Unaware, Scott cut off the Agena’s thrusters, whilst Armstrong reactivated the Gemini’s thrusters in an attempt to stop the roll and bring the combination under control.
For a few minutes, his effort succeeded.
Gradually, the craft stabilized. Then, as Armstrong started to reorient them into their correct position, the unwanted motions resumed … albeit much faster than before and along all three axes. Perplexed, the men jiggled the Agena’s control switches, then those of the Gemini, on and off, in a fruitless attempt to isolate the problem. Glancing at his instrument panel, Scott noticed that their craft’s attitude propellant had dropped to just 30 percent. At this stage, it dawned on the astronauts that the fault was with their craft. “We had to disengage from the Agena,” Scott later wrote in his memoir, Two Sides of the Moon, “and quickly.”
“Television stations began interrupting their programmes—Batman and, ironically, Lost in Space—to provide live coverage. Original plans had called for Gemini VIII to splash down in the Atlantic and be recovered by the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Boxer, but the emergency guided them instead to a point in the western Pacific, 500 miles east of Okinawa.“
This posed its own problems, since both craft were rapidly rotating and could hit each other. Quickly, Scott set the Agena’s recording devices to allow flight controllers to remotely command it; a crucial step, since, after undocking, the target would otherwise be dead. “No one would ever know what the problem had been or how to fix it,” he wrote. His prompt action saved the Agena and preserved it not only for subsequent investigations, but also for a remarkable “double rendezvous” on the Gemini X mission in July. Read the rest of this entry »