One Giant Leap For Mankind

November 1st, 2018

Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong working at an equipment storage area on the lunar module.

Official crew photo of the Apollo 11 Prime Crew

July, 1969.

It’s a little over eight years since the flights of Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard, followed quickly by President Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon before the decade is out.

It is only seven months since NASA’s made a bold decision to send Apollo 8 all the way to the moon on the first manned flight of the massive Saturn V rocket.

Now, on the morning of July 16, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins sit atop another Saturn V at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The three-stage 363-foot rocket will use its 7.5 million pounds of thrust to propel them into space and into history.

OFF TO THE MOON
At 9:32 a.m. EDT, the engines fire and Apollo 11 clears the tower. About 12 minutes later, the crew is in Earth orbit. After one and a half orbits, Apollo 11 gets a “go” for what mission controllers call “Translunar Injection” — in other words, it’s time to head for the moon. Three days later the crew is in lunar orbit. A day after that, Armstrong and Aldrin climb into the lunar module Eagle and begin the descent, while Collins orbits in the command module Columbia. Collins later writes that Eagle is “the weirdest looking contraption I have ever seen in the sky,” but it will prove its worth.

ALARMS SOUND
When it comes time to set Eagle down in the Sea of Tranquility, Armstrong improvises, manually piloting the ship past an area littered with boulders. During the final seconds of descent, Eagle’s computer is sounding alarms.

It turns out to be a simple case of the computer trying to do too many things at once, but as Aldrin will later point out, “unfortunately it came up when we did not want to be trying to solve these particular problems.”

When the lunar module lands at 4:18 p.m EDT, only 30 seconds of fuel remain. Armstrong radios “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Mission control erupts in celebration as the tension breaks, and a controller tells the crew “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue, we’re breathing again.” Armstrong will later confirm that landing was his biggest concern, saying “the unknowns were rampant,” and “there were just a thousand things to worry about.”

FIRST STEP
At 10:56 p.m. EDT Armstrong is ready to plant the first human foot on another world. With more than half a billion people watching on television, he climbs down the ladder and proclaims: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin joins him shortly, and offers a simple but powerful description of the lunar surface: “magnificent desolation.” They explore the surface for two and a half hours, collecting samples and taking photographs.

They leave behind an American flag, a patch honoring the fallen Apollo 1 crew, and a plaque on one of Eagle’s legs. It reads, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

HEADING HOME
Armstrong and Aldrin blast off and dock with Collins in Columbia. Collins later says that “for the first time,” he “really felt that we were going to carry this thing off.”

The crew splashes down off Hawaii on July 24. Kennedy’s challenge has been met. Men from Earth have walked on the moon and returned safely home.

In an interview years later, Armstrong praises the “hundreds of thousands” of people behind the project. “Every guy that’s setting up the tests, cranking the torque wrench, and so on, is saying, man or woman, ‘If anything goes wrong here, it’s not going to be my fault.’”

In a post-flight press conference, Armstrong calls the flight “a beginning of a new age,” while Collins talks about future journeys to Mars.

Over the next three and a half years, 10 astronauts will follow in their footsteps. Gene Cernan, commander of the last Apollo mission leaves the lunar surface with these words: “We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace, and hope for all mankind.”

Congressman Culberson ready for NASA to go to the moon, Mars

July 1st, 2018

Congressman John Culberson, second from left, stops for a photo with, from left, Jacobs Vice President Lon Miller, Oceaneering Vice President Mike Bloomfield and Orbital ATK Vice President Brian Duffy, as he prepares to return to Washington.

Story and Photos by Mary Alys Cherry

In case you have been wondering when we will ever get to Mars, and even back to the moon again, you are not alone. Congressman John Culberson has been, too.

He came down to Clear Lake for a visit with a group of aerospace executives over at Oceaneering’s headquarters on Space Center Boulevard and was quick to let everyone know that all of Washington had their backs.

Early arrivals for the meeting at Oceaneering Space Systems included, from left, UTC Aerospace Systems Business Development Director William Bastedo, Orbital ATK Vice President Brian Duffy, Oceaneering Business Development Director Dr. Carl Walz and Bastion Technologies Chief Operating Officer Dr. Jayant Ramakrishnan.

“Don’t worry about funding,” Culberson said. “The president, vice president and Congress are all behind you. Forget what you see on TV. We all love the space program,” he told the roomful of representatives from various aerospace firms.

Then he looked around the table at Boeing ISS Program Manager Mark Mulqueen, Lockheed Martin Orion Deputy Program Manager Larry Price, Orbital Vice President Brian Duffy and Oceaneering Space Systems Vice President and General Manager Mike Bloomfield, and after expressing his love for the space program, wanted to know what was the holdup. When are we going to go to the moon and on the Mars?

To which the aerospace executives explained the many problems involved in going into deep space, keeping the astronauts safe, the holdups they had faced and how they have been working things out while both NASA headquarters and the Johnson Space Center were going through a change in management

Afterwards, the popular congressman spoke to the aerospace executives, who were joined by all the Oceaneering employees, giving them an update on the NASA budget.

Boeing’s Above and Beyond exhibit here ‘breath taking’
Boeing also was in the spotlight in recent days, inviting aerospace friends to its new groundbreaking Above and Beyond exhibit at Space Center Houston that explores the wonder of flight and the marvels of aerospace innovation, design and technology.

There is only one word to describe it: breath taking.

Boeing said “Above and Beyond is designed to be the most interactive exhibition on aerospace ever to tour, with approximately 5,000 square feet of exhibition space and offering five themed galleries featuring dozens of interactive experiences.”

One eye catching feature was the Space Elevator simulation, which takes one to the edge of the universe.

One person attending said he had been going to Space Center Houston regularly for almost 15 years. By far, this was the most interesting, best “hands on” interactive experience ever hosted at Space Center Houston!

NASA Associate Administrator Jaiwon Shin said, “The tenacity of the human spirit couldn’t be more evident than in its never-ending quest to understand and explore the world around it. This exhibit is a celebration of the innovation that made flight possible during the last century, and serves as an inspiration for the next generation of aviation and space visionaries.”

Above and Beyond opens as Boeing enters its second century of aerospace achievement and will make its worldwide debut at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum Aug. 1. Afterwards, there are stops in Dubai, St. Louis, Charleston, S.C., Riyadh, Seattle, London, Tokyo and Chicago.

Meanwhile, Boeing was preparing for the first flight later this year of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, which it is building to fly astronauts to the International Space Station

JSC, Lockheed test Orion escape feature
As the Space Center Houston exhibit was opening, Lockheed Martin was busy over at the Johnson Space Center planning to test a special model of the Orion that it expects to carry astronauts to Mars.

If all goes as planned during the test at Kennedy Space Center in April 2019, the Orion will separate from a booster rocket at 31,000 feet in half a second. If it’s a success, it will mean the eventual crew of astronauts can escape if the rocket should explode. It also will mean a trip to the moon in 2023 and a journey to Mars in 2030 is likely. An uncrewed flight of the Orion is planned for December 2019.
However, because of construction delays with the Space Launch System rocket, that could change.

NASA mourns the passing of astronaut John Young

January 9th, 2018

Legendary astronaut John Young, who walked on the lunar surface during one of two trips to the Moon and commanded the first space shuttle mission, died Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, at the age of 87 from complications of pneumonia. Young began his impressive career at NASA in 1962, when he was selected from among hundreds of young pilots to join NASA’s second astronaut class, known as the “New Nine.”

“Today, NASA and the world have lost a pioneer,” acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement. “Astronaut John Young’s storied career spanned three generations of spaceflight; we will stand on his shoulders as we look toward the next human frontier.

“John was one of that group of early space pioneers whose bravery and commitment sparked our nation’s first great achievements in space. But, not content with that, his hands-on contributions continued long after the last of his six spaceflights — a world record at the time of his retirement from the cockpit.”

“It would be hard to overstate the impact that John Young had on human space flight,” said Johnson Space Center Director Ellen Ochoa, a former astronaut herself. “Beyond his well-known and groundbreaking six missions through three programs, he worked tirelessly for decades to understand and mitigate the risks that NASA astronauts face. He had our backs.”

After hearing President Kennedy’s bold proposal in 1961 to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth, Young said he knew what he had to do.

“I thought returning safely to Earth sounded like a good idea,” said Young, who stood on the Moon, drove 16 miles in a lunar rover and spent three nights on the lunar surface. He is the only person to go into space as part of the Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs and was the first to fly into space six times — or seven times, when counting his liftoff from the Moon during Apollo 16.

Young was born in San Francisco. His family moved to Georgia and then Florida, where he lived for most of his childhood, along with his younger brother.

As a boy, Young’s favorite pastimes were building model airplanes — the first hint of his passion for aeronautics — and reading.

“My grandpa taught me how to read,” said Young. “I read the encyclopedia when I was five.”

His father, a civil engineer, was Young’s role model. Young graduated from Orlando High School and then earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from Georgia Tech, where he graduated with highest honors in 1952.

Following graduation, he joined the Navy and, after a year’s service aboard a destroyer, was sent to flight training.

He flew fighter planes for four years, then completed test pilot training and served three years at the Navy’s Air Test Center, where he heeded the president’s call to go to the Moon.

In March 1965, Young made his first flight as an astronaut, joining Gus Grissom on Gemini 3, the first manned flight of that program. As Young prepared, a sense of obligation overruled excitement or any other emotion.

“We were just thinking about doing the job right,” Young said.

Young commanded the Gemini 10 mission in July 1966. He and pilot Mike Collins rendezvoused with two Agena target vehicles, and Collins did a spacewalk to retrieve a micrometeorite detector from one of them.

 

In May 1969, he served as command module pilot on Apollo 10 and flew all the way to the Moon with crewmates Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan. The crew scouted landing sites from lunar orbit and rendezvoused the lunar module and command module in a full dress rehearsal for the Apollo 11 landing two months later.

Young made a return trip to the Moon as commander of Apollo 16 in April 1972. With Ken Mattingly orbiting above in the command module, Young and lunar module pilot Charlie Duke landed in the Descartes highlands. “The moon is a very nice place,” Young said. “When we landed, we were 20 minutes behind. Because time on the Moon was so precious, what I remember most is trying to catch up.”

Young and Duke set up scientific equipment and explored lunar highlands in the rover. The mission returned more than 200 pounds of Moon rocks gathered from three geological outings.

Young’s career was full of firsts, none more notable than in April 1981, when he commanded Space Shuttle Columbia on its — and the Shuttle program’s — maiden flight, STS-1. It was the first time a piloted spacecraft was tested in space without previous unpiloted orbital flights. Young and pilot Robert Crippen accomplished more than 130 flight test objectives during their almost 55-hour mission.

In late 1983 Young commanded STS-9, the first Spacelab mission. During the 10-day flight, the six crewmembers worked around the clock in 12-hour shifts, involved in more than 70 experiments in a range of scientific disciplines. The mission returned more scientific and technical data than all the Apollo and Skylab missions combined.

In addition to his six spaceflights, Young was a member of five backup crews. He’s logged thousands of hours of training and flight time, including a total of 835 hours in space.

In early 1973, he became chief of the Space Shuttle Branch of the Astronaut Office at Johnson Space Center. The following year, Young, who retired from the Navy as a captain in 1976 after 25 years of military service, was named chief of the Astronaut Office, a post he held until May 1987.

Throughout this time, Young remained an active astronaut, eligible to command space shuttle missions.

Young’s numerous awards and special honors included the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, three NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, two Navy Distinguished Service Medals, three Navy Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Georgia Tech Distinguished Young Alumni Award, the Exceptional Engineering Achievement Award and the American Astronautical Society Space Flight Award.

Those are among more than 80 major honors and awards, including four honorary doctorate degrees, Young has received. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1988.

“I’ve been very lucky, I think,” Young said at his retirement from NASA in 2004. As to which moment was most memorable, he says simply, “I liked them all.”