Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Space Shuttle Enterprise insulation sample

This week, a photo of—and a physical relic from—the prototype Space Shuttle, Enterprise.

Construction work on NASA’s first Space Shuttle orbiter, serial OV-101, commenced on 4 June 1974 at the Rockwell International plant in Downey, California. (Rockwell International is today part of Boeing; the plant in Downey was closed in 1999.)

While development continued on the various shuttle subsystems, NASA planned to use this prototype for a variety of airframe tests before refitting her as an actual spacecraft. OV-101 was therefore constructed without engines or any of the associated plumbing for them. In place of the heat-shield tiles that form the thermal protection system (TPS) of an operational shuttle, she was fitted with blocks of polyurethane foam. On her nose, she carried a needle-like air data probe taken from a U-2 spyplane. This probe was to be used in aerodynamic tests of the orbiter in flight, both in “captive” mode mounted on a carrier aircraft, and flying free as a glider.

Although Enterprise was always destined for space, it eventually turned out to be easier and cheaper to refit NASA’s full-size engineering test airframe into a functional spacecraft than to refit Enterprise. Therefore, the shuttle program’s static test article (STA-099) became an orbiter (OV-099, Challenger) and Enterprise was destined for publicity tours and eventually to become a museum piece.

This photo shows the orbiter in 1983, being prepared for an appearance at that year’s Paris Air Show:

The following year, Enterprise appeared at the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition, and in 1985 was stripped of useful components in preparation for museum display. During this process, on 29 April 1985, insulation material was removed from Enterprise’s payload bay doors.

This is a small sample of that insulation, which I obtained from David Bryant of The Space Station in the UK, together with provenance tracing the ownership of the sample between NASA and him:

The insulation is matting made from some kind of fine synthetic fibre with some heavier strands running through it. Bright white, it has an almost silvery sheen. The box in which the sample lies is around 8 cm × 5.5 cm (3” × 2”). The accompanying scrapping paperwork from NASA identifies it as “Type III, 3 lb/ft3, 2300° F” (48 kg/m3, 1260° C).

On 18 November 1985, Enterprise arrived in Washington DC and NASA transferred ownership to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, marking the first space shuttle’s official retirement. She remained there on display until 27 April 2012, when shuttle Discovery took her place at the Smithsonian and Enterprise was transferred to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City.

When I first published this post, I misidentified the photo as Enterprise undergoing final assembly at the Rockwell International plant in Palmdale, California, sometime in 1975 or 1976. Further research identified the correct point in Enterprise’s career, and the correct copyright status of the image.

Copyright information: the photo of Enterprise is  a NASA image, part of the Dryden Flight Research Center collection, serial EC83-24309. As a work of the US federal government, it is in the public domain. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Early Space Shuttle concept art

Even before the Apollo program landed astronauts on the moon, NASA began firm plans for a re-usable spacecraft that would make regular trips into low-earth orbit. The original purpose for such a vehicle was to service a space station that would support further human spaceflight endeavours. These plans included establishing a permanent human presence on the moon, and landing a crew on Mars by the early 1980s.

On 29 January 1969, NASA awarded a first round of contracts to American aerospace manufacturers to define what form this re-usable spacecraft—initially designated the integral launch and reentry vehicle (ILRV)—might take. Over the next three years, NASA evaluated multiple designs as the agency refined the Space Shuttle concept. Some prints in my collection illustrate but a few of those proposals:

This design was one of the earliest; the work of Max Faget at NASA, who called it the DC-3 as an homage to the legendary airliner that revolutionised air travel in the 1930s. The design was similar in general layout to a conventional transport aircraft and much simpler than the exotic spaceplanes that the aerospace industry was proposing for the ILRV. The North American Rockwell Corporation (today, part of Boeing) took up Faget’s approach and earned a development contract for the design in December 1969.

The basic Space Shuttle concept is evident here: a winged spaceplane that lands on an ordinary runway instead of parachuting down like all previous spacecraft had. Note the large payload bay doors in the spine: a feature defined at the very beginning that would persist right through the design process.

The DC-3 was eventually doomed when NASA and the US Air Force were constrained to merge their disparate requirements for a re-usable spacecraft. The DC-3 (by now, redesignated the NAR A-2) could not meet Air Force requirements: specifically, the need for extended atmospheric range after re-entry from polar orbits.

The McDonnell Douglas Corporation (today, also absorbed into Boeing) attempted to reconcile competing requirements with a variable-geometry approach nicknamed the “drawbridge”. Both these slightly different 1970 designs feature a wing that could fold upwards to shorten the re-entry path of a vehicle returning from equatorial orbit or be braced downwards (as in these illustrations) for extended flight after returning from polar orbit.

Slightly pudgier in its lines, this next McDonnell Douglas design from later that year displays the fixed delta-wing and tail-less approach that would eventually prevail. Note the robot arm—another essential shuttle feature—making an early appearance.

This is one of Boeing’s early proposals, also dating from 1970. Like the DC-3, this was not a contender for the ILRV project itself, but was an alternate design strategy that the firm offered NASA instead. It illustrates the philosophy common to all these early designs: unlike conventional launch systems where the lower stages of the vehicle are simply discarded and destroyed when their fuel is exhausted, the shuttle was to use a winged lower stage that would be piloted back to Earth for re-use. In this illustration, the lower stage is launching a conventional rocket stage (Saturn S-IVB) instead of a shuttle.

This next design was a 1971 combined proposal from two firms more traditionally in competition with each other, and shows how a winged orbiter and winged lower stage would launch together.  The Boeing lower stage proposed here was a winged version of the Saturn S-IC stage (the first stage of the Saturn V moon rocket), designated the RS-IC. It was to boost the Grumman (today, Northrop Grumman) H-33 spaceplane into orbit. Note the delta wings and externally carried fuel of the orbiter.

This 1971 design was another joint submission along similar lines. In this case, the winged booster falling away in the first picture was a Convair (then part of  General Dynamics, today part of Boeing) project, designated the B8G.  The futuristic-for-its-day orbiter, the NAR-134-B, was another North American Rockwell design.

Almost there! During 1971, shrinking budgets forced NASA to abandon its insistence on a fully re-usable design and instead consider an only partially re-usable approach. This Rockwell International proposal is already recognisable as the shuttle that NASA would eventually buy. Note that the main engines are part of the booster; the orbiter only carries manœuvering engines, which are not fired during launch. This differs from the eventual direction of the NASA shuttle, but is the approach that the Soviet space program chose for its Бура́н (Buran) shuttle in the 1980s.

Finally, this is the Rockwell design at the point where NASA awarded the final contract for the system, on 26 July 1972. All the elements of the shuttle that would fly nearly a decade later are in place at last—quite a different bird from Faget’s design, but similar in general principle.

As for the space station, the Space Shuttle program continued long after budget cuts forced the cancellation of the station and the shuttle’s main mission. However, by the mid 1990s, shuttles were flying regular missions to the Russian Мир (Mir) space station and then to the International Space Station, neither of which were conceivable in the early 1970s. The program had come almost full circle.

Copyright information: All the prints in my collection are from news archives and appear to have been circulated to the media without copyright notices. As works published in the United States prior to 1978 without such notices, these images would be in the public domain. Apart from Grumman, every one of the various aerospace companies that produced these images between 1969 and 1972 have since been absorbed into Boeing, and any images not actually in the public domain would now belong to them. If copyright still exists in any of these images, use here is claimed to be fair use for the purpose of education and commentary in a non-commercial setting as permitted by 17 U.S.C. § 107.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project medallion from the Soviet Union

This week’s item, like last week’s, was issued to commemorate the collaborative Apollo–Soyuz mission flown by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1975. Last week’s was issued by NASA, this week’s by the Ленинградский монетный двор (ЛМД—Leningrad Mint, LMD; today, Санкт-Петербургский монетный двор, СПМД, St Petersburg Mint, SPMD) in the Soviet Union. Amongst other items, the Leningrad Mint produced commemorative coins for the Soviet Union and medals for the Soviet military forces. Unlike the NASA medallion from last time, this item was not produced specifically for workers in the space program, but as a commercially available souvenir.

The medallion measures 40 mm (1⅝”) in diameter and is made from some lightweight alloy—mostly aluminium I guess—with a very dull lustre. Like its American counterpart from last week, it contains metal that actually flew in space.

The obverse of the medallion features a symbolic representation of the mission: two space-suited figures shaking hands, with a depiction of the docked Soyuz and Apollo spacecraft at the top (the Russian text on the medallion simply reads “Soyuz” and “Apollo”).

The design is titled “Рукопожатие в космосе”—“Handshake in Space” and was created by cosmonaut Aleksei Arkhipovich Leonov. Leonov is a renowned space artist and also commanded the Soyuz 19 spacecraft that participated in this mission.1 The style is one that I immediately associate with eastern European poster art, but for which I do not know the correct term.2

The reverse of the medallion is blank, and clearly shows the grainy composition of the metal.

This particular medallion is part of a set of six that was issued to commemorate the mission. The obverse sides of the other five medallions feature relief portraits of the three American astronauts and two Soviet cosmonauts who participated in the flight, and the reverse sides feature their autographs.

Special thanks to Alex Panchenko for his expert advice on the history and background to this medallion. Visit his website on Soviet and Russian aerospace collectibles at www.ussr-airspace.com

1Leonov was also the first person to step outside a spacecraft and “walk” in space (on the Voskhod 2 mission in March 1965) and was selected to command the first Soviet crew to the moon (the mission was cancelled). After the Apollo–Soyuz mission, he became head of the cosmonaut corps and then deputy director of cosmonaut training. The fictional spacecraft that took the joint Soviet–American crew to Jupiter in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel 2010: Odyssey Two was named after him, as is a crater on the moon, and an asteroid.
2To my unqualified eye, I would say there are cubist and futurist elements here; but both those movements were long dead by the 1950s and 1960s and the poster art which which I’m familiar. I’d love to know if there’s a better way to describe this style; I like it very much.

Copyright information: Leonov is still alive, and copyright in this work likely belongs to him. The St Petersburg Mint might also hold rights to the exploitation of the work. The artwork is imaged here for informational and educational purposes only, per article 19.1 and 19.2 of Об авторском праве и смежных правахOn Copyright and Neighbouring Rights, law of the Russian Federation (1993, amended 1995 and 2004). 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project medallion from NASA MFA Office

The collecting of memorabilia of any kind—whether it be movie memorabilia, sporting memorabilia, or spaceflight memorabilia—is essentially an exercise in fetishism: the relics in our collections provide us with tangible links to intangible moments and events in space and time. It is therefore not surprising that in the hierarchy of desirability of space relics, items that have actually flown in space are more highly sought-after than those that have not.1 These “flown” items take us places where most of us can’t go and times when none of us can.

A few weeks ago, I blogged here about an example of a certificate that NASA’s Manned Flight Awareness Office (MFA—later renamed Spaceflight Awareness Office, SFA) awarded to employees and contractors. This week’s artifact is from the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project, a goodwill mission carried out jointly by the United States and Soviet Union in July 1975. It too is an award, but goes one better. As well as the certificate itself, the employee or contractor received a medallion made, in part, from metal that had flown on the mission:

The medallion is 38 mm (1½”) across and made of very light metal; mostly aluminium I think. According to the text on the reverse, it contains metal from both the American Apollo and the Soviet Soyuz spacecraft that participated in the mission. I find that idea quite appealing: some small part of these historic craft now forever intermingled and inseparable. In the photos, the roughness of its manufacture is obvious, and this is an example that was still in its original packaging when it came into my collection!

The practise of issuing such medallions began with Apollo 8 in 1969, to commemorate the first time human beings had flown to the moon and back. Many early examples (including this one) were manufactured for NASA by the now-defunct Barco Mint of New Orleans. Altogether, the MFA and SFA have issued 15 such medallions, the most recent being for Space Shuttle flight STS-114 in 2005, to commemorate the program’s safe return to operations after the Columbia accident.

Like many of the MFA medallions, this one was issued with a certificate that included a place where the medallion could be glued. My example was originally presented to an employee of the Rockwell International corporation (today part of Boeing)—Rockwell built the docking module that allowed the dissimilar spacecraft to link up. I’ve obscured the employee’s name here for their privacy.

The certificate includes text in both English and Russian, and bears facsimiles of the signatures of the three American astronauts and two Soviet cosmonauts who flew on the mission. It also bears the two different mission insignia developed for the mission (top and bottom right), and also an unofficial, cartoon insignia (lower left).

This emblem features caricatures of the two spacecraft docked, the Soyuz being ridden by a cartoon bear, the Apollo being ridden by Snoopy, of Peanuts fame. Snoopy says “Right on!” and the Russian bear says “Поехали!” (“Poyekhali” — “Let’s go!”)2 Snoopy became an official mascot of the US space program in 1968, specifically in connection with flight safety, and the bear has long been a symbol of Russia.

1Items that have flown to the moon are generally more highly prized than items that have only flown in Earth orbit; and items used on the surface of the moon are most highly prized of all.
 2Yuri Gagarin exclaimed “Поехали!” as he was launched on Vostok 1 on 12 April 1961 at the start of his flight to become the first person in space.

Copyright information: The medal, certificate design, and official emblems are all works by NASA, and as works of the US federal government are in the public domain. However, copyright to Snoopy’s likeness that appears on the cartoon emblem belonged originally to United Feature Syndicate and today to Peanuts Worldwide LLC. Reproduction here is for educational purposes only.