Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saturn V poster from MSFC

As I woke up this morning, the sad news of Neil Armstrong’s passing was making its way across the Internet.

It seemed fitting to dedicate this week’s post to the memory of a pioneering hero. However, my collection focuses mostly on the Space Shuttle, and I don’t have a single item specific to either of Armstrong’s flights, Gemini 8 or Apollo 11. Therefore, I present the most relevant piece I have—an educational poster produced by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville Alabama that describes the mighty Saturn V rocket that would take the Apollo missions to the moon.

Published in 1967, the first launch of the Saturn V was still in the future, to occur in November that year. In a painting by Huntsville artist Albert Lane, the poster depicts the launch vehicle design in something very close to its final configuration, and illustrates the major phases of the flight of the Saturn V:

First stage ignition and launch. At this point, the launch vehicle stood 110 m (363 ft) tall and weighed 2,800 tonnes (6.2 million pounds). Each of its five F-1 engines produced 6.8 MN (1.5 million lb) of thrust.

Built by Boeing, the first stage burned 770,000 litres (200,000 US gal) of RP-1 (kerosene) for 2 minutes 40 seconds, boosting the rocket to 70 km (40 miles) altitude and a speed of 10,000 km/h (6,200 mph).

First stage separation, second stage ignition. The second stage, built by North American Aviation (later, part of Rockwell International, today part of Boeing), burned 980,000 litres (260,000 US gal) of liquid hydrogen in 6 minutes, boosting the rocket the rest of the way into space, to 175 km (110 miles) altitude and a speed of 25,200 km/h (15,600 mph)

Second stage separation, third stage ignition. The third stage, built by Douglas Aircraft Corporation (later, part of McDonnell Douglas, today part of Boeing), burned liquid hydrogen for around 2 minutes 30 seconds to place the spacecraft into Earth orbit at an altitude of 190 km (120 miles).

Third stage restart. The third stage stayed attached to the Apollo spacecraft in orbit for nearly three hours, orbiting the Earth two-and-a-half times before it fired again to boost the spacecraft towards the moon (translunar injection, TLI). The boost lasted 6 minutes and accelerated Apollo to escape velocity of 40,000 km/h (25,000 mph).

Apollo spacecraft separation. Ninety minutes later, the Apollo spacecraft separated from the third stage and continued onwards to the moon.

Here’s the poster’s depiction of the full Saturn V stack, and of the separate stages:

I believe the Apollo program to be the most magnificent achievement of our species to date, and the world has never again seen a rocket the likes of the Saturn V. Its nearest competitor, the N1 built by the Soviet Union for its lunar program, was an abject failure and was mercifully abandoned before a crew was ever placed atop it.

Yet there is hope. NASA is presently at work on a new breed of heavyweight launcher for human exploration beyond low-earth orbit: the SLS (Space Launch System). All going well, this system, together with the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle, might see human beings on the moon again in the 2020s: over fifty years after Armstrong’s “one small step.”

Copyright notice: the poster is a work of NASA. As a work of the US federal government, it is in the public domain.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

STS-1 causeway pass and brochure

This week, some mementos of the first space shuttle launch.

On 12 April 1981—the twentieth anniversary of the first human spaceflight—space shuttle Columbia launched on STS-1, the first orbital test flight of the Space Transportation System. The flight was originally intended to have taken place in June 1979.

Thirty years later, it’s perhaps easy to forget just how revolutionary the space shuttle was, how utterly unlike any previous spacecraft. The delays in the program were due to the need to develop completely new technologies that a re-usable spacecraft demanded. Two key technologies that accounted for a large proportion of the delays were a heat shield that would not be sacrificed during re-entry, and engines that could be fired around fifty times when all previous similar engines were designed to be fired just once.

This brochure, issued by the Kennedy Space Center, describes the space shuttle, outlines the mission profile for STS-1, and introduces the crew:

This pass allowed a spectator’s vehicle onto the NASA Causeway to watch the launch. Ten kilometres (six miles) from the launch pad, this was the closest that the public could get to the pad.

Today, in 2012, there’s a certain amount of hand-wringing that NASA does not presently have human spaceflight capability, despite the work currently proceeding on various designs for the Commercial Crew Program and on the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle. It’s worth remembering that by the time STS-1 launched, America had been without human spaceflight capability for nearly six years—the last flight had been the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project of July 1975.

Copyright information: the brochure and pass are works of NASA. As works of the United States federal government, they are in the public domain.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Space Shuttle Columbia strap and construction photos

This week, photos of space shuttle Columbia as she neared completion, and a relic—a strap that flew on the shuttle.

Columbia, OV-102, was the second space shuttle built, and the first to fly in space. She was named after the sloop on which Robert Gray undertook the first American circumnavigation of the world in 1790 and explored the Columbia River in 1792. Construction began on 27 March 1975 at the Rockwell International plant in Palmdale, California (today, part of Boeing) and almost four years later, on 24 March 1979, Columbia arrived at the Kennedy Space Center for final integration and testing prior to launch.

This series of photos shows workers at Kennedy in 1979 attaching some of the 34,000 tiles that formed Columbia’s thermal protection system (TPS)—or heatshield:


Note the numbers printed on the tiles, which indicated their placement on the spacecraft.

On 16 July that year, the first of Columbia’s three engines (engine number 2006) was fitted to the orbiter:


The third and final engine (engine number 2007) was fitted on 4 August:


Even as NASA was issuing these photos to the press, the agency remained optimistic that the shuttle would fly soon. The back of one of these prints states:

“Columbia, the first in a new breed of manned, reusable spacecraft, is being readied for the first launch of the Space Shuttle later this year.”
In fact, Columbia would not fly till April 1981.

Columbia is represented in my collection by a strap from the orbiter. Note that this strap was removed during routine servicing and is not debris from the destruction of the spacecraft in the accident of 2 February 2003 that claimed her and her crew.

The strap is made of fabric (beta cloth, I presume) with press studs fitted to either end. It is 168 mm long and 22 mm wide (6⅔″ × ⅞″). It’s stamped with the word “SCRAP” in red ink, although this is barely visible in this photo. The strap and its NASA scrap tag were supplied to me by David Bryant of The Space Station in the UK. Note Columbia’s number—OV-102—written on the tag.

While all the other relics in my collection are samples of various materials, this is a complete unit, and is therefore one of my very favourite pieces.

Copyright information: all five photos are works of NASA. As works of the US federal government, all are in the public domain. I’ve noted their NASA serial numbers under each photo. I do not believe that the scrap tag contains enough expressive content to be eligible for copyright protection, but if it did, it is also a work of the US federal government and would be in the public domain anyway.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Approach and Landing Test project medallion from NASA MFA Office

This week’s artifact is a medallion and certificate that NASA’s Manned Flight Awareness Office issued to employees and contractors upon the successful conclusion of the space shuttle Approach and Landing Test (ALT) program in 1977.

These tests validated the aerodynamic characteristics of the space shuttle orbiter in a series of flights in conjunction with NASA’s Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA). The initial flights saw the prototype shuttle Enterprise carried on the SCA from takeoff to landing, but in the final five flights, Enterprise was released in mid-air to glide back to the runway at Edwards Air Force Base by herself.

The medallion itself is 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 taken from Enterpriseone source on the Internet states that the material was taken from the left wing.
The obverse bears a relief depiction of the ALT patch design. The reverse carries the message:
“Thank you for your contribution toward making the Approach and Landing Tests of the Space Shuttle Orbiter successful. We would like you to have this memento made, in part, of metal taken from the Enterprise.”

It also features facsimiles of the signatures of the four test pilots who flew Enterprise during the tests.

I obtained this medallion in its original plastic packaging and have removed it only to photograph. The relatively rough manufacture of the item is evident here.

The accompanying certificate measures 305 mm × 240 mm (12″ × 9½″) and is printed on card. It’s larger and printed on heavier stock than the Skylab and Apollo–Soyuz certificates in my collection.

It too carries a depiction of the program patch, along with a silhouette of the Enterprise separating from the SCA. As depicted, Enterprise is flying without her tailcone, the configuration used in the final two flights of the program. There’s space for the name of the recipient (which I've blurred out here for their privacy), a message of thanks, and facsimiles of the crew signatures.

The message reads:

“The crews of the Approach and Landing Test Program are pleased to present you with this medallion in appreciation of your contribution to the successful ALT flights of the space shuttle orbiter Enterprise”

At the bottom is a circle the size of the medallion, together with a printed version of the reverse of the medallion, in case the recipient wanted to affix theirs to the certificate itself.

The ALT program was important in ensuring that the space shuttle flew as well in practice as it did on paper, and turned theory into practice. With the program a resounding success, Enterprise moved to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsvile for vibration tests as work continued on preparing the space shuttle for service.

Copyright information: the medallion and certificate are works of NASA. As works of the United States federal government, they are in the public domain.