Friday, April 17, 2009

Kranz & Haise - Pics

As continued from yesterday's post, here are the photos from Gene Kranz and Fred Haise's lecture... and of course this is my favorite photo:

Gene Kranz

Gene Kranz & Me, April 2009

There are a few others over in my Picasa Web Albums, of the flight director and the astronaut onstage, sharing their stories and memories. Just before this was taken... he very kindly obliged my request to sign a copy of his book "Failure Is Not An Option." (A fantastic book I, of course, highly recommend).

Here's one other photo I dug up from the archives... elsewhere in the museum (per my last trip to the NASA missions exhibits during Space Week), one of Gene's famed vests is encased in glass for all to enjoy. Tailored by his wife Marta.

Gene Kranz
The plaque reads:
"This elaborate vest of silver and gold brocade on white satin was the first celebratory vest worn by Gene Kranz, NASA Flight Control Director. Initially worn for the Gemini IX mission, Kranz then wore it again for Apollo IX, Apollo XII and Apollo XIII. The vest was doned only for the final shifts of the mission. On Loan From Eugene Kranz."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Kranz & Haise - Video

I had the extraordinary pleasure of hearing legendary NASA flight director Gene Kranz speak at the Bush Museum this week. He discussed his many years at NASA during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, and told stories about some of the colorful personalities at Mission Control.

Astronaut Fred Haise was introduced, then they took turns describing memories of the Apollo 13 mission. If you saw the 1995 movie... Kranz was played by Ed Harris, and Haise was played by Bill Paxton. They spoke for about two hours, and I picked four clips to share -- intro, the explosion, moon photography and splashdown. Fred's entrance is below, and you can see others on Pillownaut YouTube...

The videos make it look like they are just chatting in someone's living room! I didn't even need to use the zoom on my camera, because I was quietly recording snippets from the front row -- but there were hundreds of folks behind me, so my one regret here (well, aside from crappy editing) is not getting a shot of the actual auditorium and audience... because it was very well-attended and well-received by people of all ages.

They also mention astronaut Joe Kerwin, who was about two millimeters away from me, LOL… but I didn't want to just stick my camera in his face, so I stayed focused on the stage. Kerwin was a Capsule Communicator (i.e. "CapCom") for Apollo 13, perhaps best known for asking the astronauts about their tax returns... and saying in hour 46: "The spacecraft is in real good shape as far as we are concerned. We're bored to tears down here."

Of course, a few hours later the explosion occurred, and that would be the last mention of boredom! Kerwin also flew on Skylab in 1973… he was both a scientist and pilot, as well as the first physician ever selected to be an astronaut.

When Kranz & Haise finished telling the story of Apollo 13, they invited the audience to ask questions. Unsurprisingly, most people wanted to know what was true in the feature film, and what was phony. Snubbing the flight surgeon and navigating the craft by watching Earth in the window? Yeah, not so much. But most of the script, they insist, was true and very well-portrayed by the actors -- down to their triumphs, squabbles, and innovative solutions -- such as the square carbon dioxide filter being modified to fit a round receptor.

Apollo 13 CrewFred Haise, Jim Lovell & Jack Swigert in 1970

Haise really set the audience cracking up when he recalled how Ron Howard asked him, "Why was it so problematic during the end? Was there really a danger of the parachutes not deploying? What were the technical reasons you almost skipped out of the atmosphere?"

Haise responded dryly, "Oh, we did that so you could make a more dramatic movie."

And I could seriously go on and on about their quips and stories! They were very funny and entertaining, but also very serious at times, when recalling their emotions during life-threatening situations. Listening to them, you'd think it happened just last week!

Formatting photos now, come back tomorrow to see part II...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Why Space Hates Bones

While exploring other blogs, I found science writer Anne Minard, who wrote about the 84-day flight simulation run by the University of Washington (also added this one to my ARTICLES page, see the 2009 link to Physorg), where researchers worked with 22 volunteers on bed rest to address bone loss.

At Universe Today, she provided a look at "Why Space Hates Bones" -- pointing out that controlled bed rest episodes can help scientists understand how exercise programs affect age- and gender-related osteoporosis.

On her own blog, she featured study participant Tabitha Garcia, who “went to bed for science” at Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic. The complementary pieces are very well-written, and include interesting photos. If you’re interested in applying for studies that involve the "walk up the wall" treadmill, there are details about what the projects entail… from both researcher and subject points of view(s).

Anne Minard's Blog
Tabitha, along with Dr. Peter Cavanagh (lead researcher and UW professor), were also interviewed by Seattle radio station KUOW 94.9 FM at the end of March.

The recording is 54 minutes long... and the first portion is devoted to "frugal travel" Q&A, so if you just want to hear the NASA part, allow the sound file to load and skip ahead to the 43-minute-mark. Not sure why they set the interview to eerie music, but Tabitha’s bubbly responses are easily audible and enjoyable, and I like the part where she says she would do it again!

Of course, when I listen to this sort of thing, I can’t help but make comparisons... all the studies have similar protocols, but there are differences from facility to facility. For instance, we showered on tilted gurneys, where as the UW folks rolled into a pool to bathe. They also had regular visits from massage therapists and psychologists, but of course the menus were slightly different.

Her advice to incoming participants? Do your stretches! So I gather she had the same daily stretching routines that I had. Always looked forward to those as a rare opportunity to move. Also, bring lots of paperback books and mechanical pencils.

Seems they didn’t give her a space pen either ;)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Space Gap

Brian Shiro over at Astronaut For Hire has great stories about his first astronaut candidacy, and ongoing goals to meet NASA’s qualifications. My favorite part is the original job posting on the government recruiting site (click to enlarge):

Astronauts Wanted"A daring mind," good one... and of course "Drug-testing designated" – well I should hope so. Here’s the one that cracks me up: "Frequent Travel May Be Required." LOL, you don't say! ;)

However, his recent thought-provoking post about the selection process gave me pause. In the last half-century, only 314 people joined this elite class of flyers. NASA is screening the 20th astronaut group as we speak – the first in 3 decades who will enter training without any prospect of flying on an American space craft.

Constellation hardware (Ares, Orion & Altair) may not be flight-worthy until 2015, so when Space Shuttles become museum pieces in the next few years, the only way to reach the International Space Station will be on Russian Soyuz crafts. Certainly no one distrusts Soyuz – indeed, this program has launched more human space-flight missions than any other platform (and the ISS maintains a docked Soyuz to be used as an escape craft in the event of any emergency.)

However, it’s a mental adjustment for many Americans, who like to think of ourselves as “forefront” kinda people. This "space gap" presents political and psychological shifts. For example, Brian mentions "Two-years of astronaut training will include 54 weeks on Russian Soyuz systems and the Russian language. Usually that time is spent learning Shuttle systems."

If you wanted to be an astronaut 50 years ago, your best bet was being an educated test pilot with a strong heart. The physical and academic qualifications still stand, but nowadays, you're better off with a healthy interest in rocks and a good grasp of русский язык.

You still need "the right stuff" – but it’s definitely "different stuff."

In the article Astronaut Class of 2009 Has No Spaceship on, they quoted Johnson Space Center Director Michael Coats as saying, "…[it] bothers me because I think it won't intrigue the young people as much. It will essentially be the same as other countries that pay the Russians to take folks into space."

He’s worried young people will lose interest in space flight? I so disagree. Wherever you come from, an astronaut is still just about the awesomest thing to be. For kids, certain things are always cool in every generation: space, dinosaurs and pirates. Who knows why?

I think he is under-estimating people of all ages with 'pioneer' minds who appreciate that it’s a chance to continue forward with a more cooperative nature. Russian or American, Chinese or European, the idea is that we celebrate that HUMANITY embarks upon and reaches these amazing achievements together.

Coats had also predicted a downturn in applications once it became known the shuttles would soon be retired – but thousands poured in! No European country has yet built a launch vehicle capable of manned space flight, but their astronaut applications from 22 different countries are forever increasing.

I fully expect the first Mars-walkers to be an international team. Intelligent and courageous individuals of every nationality will always be interested in exploration of every kind.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Photo Worth 178 Days

Astronaut Edward Michael Fincke has been popular recently for his televised ISS tour, the first public conversation with a president & accompanying school children from the space station, and... well, for us geeks, he was in the last episode of "Star Trek: Enterprise" -- so he'll never hear the end of that.

With his most recent long-duration stint on the space station, he has also now achieved 365 days in space, or a year of his life in micro-gravity. Expedition 18 alone was 178 days, just shy of six months. And here is what half-a-year in space looks like:

NASA Astronaut

That's good ol' Mike being carried to a medical tent upon landing in Kazakhstan yesterday. All three crew members of the Soyuz TMA-13 were reportedly in good condition... "good" here meaning alive, but unable to walk ;) I know I and everyone else I've come into contact with at the NASA medical projects wants to see this become a thing of the past!

Colonel Fincke narrated a wonderful portion of NASA's ISS flash pages, and it's one of the best resources I've ever found for understanding the International Space Station in brief, clear bytes, covering:

How The Crew Lives:
How the Crew Eats
How the Crew Sleeps
How the Crew Exercises

How The ISS Works:
How It's Operated
How It's Built
How It's Supported

There's also a nifty "360-degree" tour with great views of the amazing station, which has completed over 60,000 orbits! If you're one of those folks who likes to read instead of having someone talk at you, along the left is a button where surfers can download PDF files of NASA brochures... I got lost in there for about an hour...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Yuri's Night(s)

On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to enter space. Secured in a small capsule named Vostok 1, he launched from Leninsk, Kazakhstan (now renamed "Baikonur"), the first and still-largest space launch facility in the world. The 27-year-old cosmonaut made a historic 106-minute (not 108!) orbital flight around planet Earth.

Юрий Гагарин
In 1962, the Soviet Union established День Космонавтики, or "Cosmonautics Day,” to commemorate this amazing achievement.

In 2001, Loretta Hidalgo, George T. Whitesides and Trish Garner founded "Yuri’s Night," with the support of the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) — and each year since, the parties celebrating the first human in space have only grown larger! This year, festivities all around the world are being held between April 4th – April 12th. The current count for parties, according to the official Yuri’s Night Net, is 171 parties in 41 countries!

So say the founders: The goal of Yuri's Night is to increase public interest in space exploration and to inspire a new generation of explorers. Driven by a worldwide network of celebrations and educational events, Yuri's Night creates a global community of people committed to shaping the future of exploration while developing responsible leaders and innovators.

Юрий Гагарин
Юрий Гагарин 1934 - 1968

Thursday, April 2, 2009

This Day In History: Mercury Seven

America's first Astronauts, the "Mercury Seven" were chosen 50 years ago today, on April 2, 1959.
Mercury Seven
Left to right: Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Alan Shepard, Scott Carpenter, Walter Schirra, Donald "Deke" Slayton, John Glenn & Gordon Cooper inspecting a Mercury model on at NASA Langley Research Center in April 1959.

On October 7, 1958, the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced Project Mercury, its first major enterprise. At the time, it was unknown if manned crafts could orbit Earth – or what the effects would be on any human who attempted such a thing.

At a press conference in Washington DC on April 9, NASA introduced the Mercury Seven to the public. These were the best of the best, the educated test pilots who had passed all the physical and mental screenings estimated to gauge possible space travelers. The men were dubbed "astronauts," a term deriving from the Greek words ástron (meaning star) and nautes (sailor).

NASA Project Mercury
Each man successfully flew in Project Mercury except Slayton, who was found to have a heart condition – though he later flew on the Apollo Soyuz Project. The goals for Mercury were as follows:
  • Orbit a manned spacecraft around Earth
  • Investigate man's ability to function in space
  • Recover both man and spacecraft safely
Over a 5-year period, NASA achieved all these with 8 automated and 6 manned flights before Mercury wrapped in May of 1963. The missions paved the way for Gemini and Apollo, as well as all further human spaceflight. Parts of their story were immortalized in a 1979 book and 1983 film, both entitled "The Right Stuff."

NASA budget 1960s NASA’s budget during the Mercury years
(click to enlarge)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Aprilis was sacred to Venus, the Roman goddess of love and fertility (in turn derived from the Greek Aphrodite). April may also derive in part from the Latin verb aperire, “to open,” indicating the flower-blooming season.

Venus is the only planet in our solar system where a day is longer than a year. A day on Venus is 243 Earth days, while a year is 224.7 Earth days.

Planet Venus has no moons – but over 1600 volcanoes.

The astronomical symbol for Venus is also used in biology for the female gender: a cross topped by a circle. Every culture that has spotted, charted and named Venus has described it in "feminine" terms.

Venus rotates clockwise – opposite to all the other planets; and with no tilt toward the sun, there are no “seasons.”

An average surface temperature of 465 degrees Celsius makes Venus the hottest of all the planets. Many assume Mercury must be warmer, since it is closer to the sun, but Mercury’s core cannot retain heat.

The first successful interplanetary mission was the U.S. Mariner 2, which passed the cloud tops of Venus in 1962.

Soviet spacecraft Venera 7 landed hard on the surface of Venus in 1970. While it’s parachute failed on approach, instruments survived for 23 minutes, and it became the first man-made probe to transmit data from the surface of another planet.

“I can tell from here what the inhabitants of Venus are like. They resemble the Moors of Granada; a small people burned by the sun, full of wit and fire, always in love, writing verse, fond of music, arranging festivals, dances, and tournaments every day.”
Bernard de Fontenelle, French Academy of Sciences, 1686