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  1. #1
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    Default Jason's Space Anniversaries Thread

    Following the positive reactions to my earlier threads, I'm making a new thread for space-related anniversaries, which I will update with what I think are interesting events in space. If I did every launch and milestone there'll be a post every day, and you'll all get bored, so I'll restrict myself to significant events. Which brings me to....

    On May 14th 1973 the Skylab space station was launched from Cape Canaveral. This was NASA's first orbital workshop, and would go on to provide some very useful data on the Earth and the Sun before a combination of delays in the shuttle program and unusually high solar activity resulted in a premature re-entry in July 1979 which saw parts of Australia showered with debris.

    Skylab itself was a modified S-IVB rocket stage. The S-IVB had been used as the second stage on Saturn IB launch vehicles and the third stage of the Saturn V. It was the S-IVB, burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, that had provided the thrust needed to get the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon. For some years, the idea of draining a rocket stage and making use of the space inside had been kicking around in NASA, and for Skylab they did just that. The S-IVB is nearly seven metres in diameter and about eighteen metres long, offering quite a substantial volume for equipment and crew as a space station. Initial plans had been for the S-IVB to be used as a rocket stage, then purged of remaining fuel while in orbit, prior to later missions arriving to kit it out with equipment and crew facilities. The cancellation of Apollo missions 18-20, however, freed up a Saturn V launch vehicle, and the first two stages of that would be able to put the entire equipped station into orbit directly.

    The launch took place on May 14th 1973, and trouble started almost immediately. During launch a solar panel and micrometeoroid shield section tore away, and once in orbit debris from these parts snagged the remaining main solar array and prevented it from deploying. Skylab was in orbit, but had only a fraction of its power available. Mission controllers were able to perform a delaicate balancing act to keep the equipment operating at minimal power, but they had another problem. The micrometeoroid shield layer was also a thermal shield, and without it the temperatures in the station began to soar. Mission controllers had to use the manoeuvring system to keep Skylab at attitudes that would allow the solar panels that had deployed to receive sunlight, but keep the station from overheating. Meanwhile, the first crew for Skylab had ten days before their scheduled launch to develop ways to rescue the station and make it habitable....

    Skyklab was the final launch of a Saturn V, the remaining few vehicles becoming very expensive lawn ornaments that are still on display today. With the planned space shuttle in the making, NASA was forced to cancel production of the Saturn V in order to prevent it being competition for the shuttle. No contractor would want to take on a project like the shuttle knowing that there was another highly reliable vehicle available for heavy payload launches. The Saturn V was the most powerful launch vehicle ever made operational (the Russian N-1 booster was significantly more powerful, generating 10 million lb thrust compared to the Saturn V's 7.5 million lb at takeoff, but it never managed to launch successfully), as well as one of the most successul. It made 13 launches, and all 13 were complete successes. Its loss as an operational vehicle remains a technologically sad thing.
    Last edited by Jason Thompson; 14th May 2007 at 1:56 PM.

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    That's a very interesting read. I'm too young to remember Skylab being launched, but I do remember Blue Peter recording an item onboard (I think it was Simon Groom, but I may be wrong) which at the time seemed like a really exciting glimpse of the future. I also, less cheerfully, remember hearing on the news that it was going to break up, and being worried that a bit might come down on my head!

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    Yup, just done a quick check and there was indeed a Blue Peter episode that had Simon Groom shown around a mockup of Skylab. There were a couple built for training purposes. There was also a second, fully kitted-out Skylab, but this was never launched and is now a visitor attraction in a museum.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Thompson View Post
    Yup, just done a quick check and there was indeed a Blue Peter episode that had Simon Groom shown around a mockup of Skylab. There were a couple built for training purposes. There was also a second, fully kitted-out Skylab, but this was never launched and is now a visitor attraction in a museum.
    I remember as a kid thinking Skylab was the bees knees, and thinking it was an absolute waste how they never used it for one more mission.

    I also failed to realise that the Russians were well ahead on the Americans in terms of space stations.

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    May 15th 1958: Russia launches Sputnik 3, a comparatively huge and sophisticated satellite that was far heavier than anything the Americans could launch. Specualtion is rife that Sputnik 1 was to have been this kind of satellite, but problems and an urge to beat the US into space led to the choice of a smaller and simpler satellite to be first.

    May 15th 1962: NASA launches Mercury-Atlas 9, with astronaut L- Gordon Cooper aboard. He became the first American to spend more than a day in space, making 22 orbits of the Earth over 33 hours. During his flight he performed numerous experiments, took some of the best photographs of the Mercury missions, and was the first American astronaut to send back television pictures from space, though these were not for live broadcast and were 'slow scan' images only.

    During his final orbit, Cooper informed the ground that 'things are beginning to stack up a little,' then proceeded to reel off a list of problems that essentially meant every automatic system needed for the coming re-entry had failed, before signing off with 'other than that, everything's fine'. Cooper had to perform a completely manual re-entry, and he did it with his characteristic calm. He was so laid back during launch prep that he actually dozed off in his capsule and the mission controllers had to wake him up. When Cooper splashed down in the ocean, Project Mercury had met all its goals, and NASA moved to focus on Gemini.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Thompson View Post
    During his final orbit, Cooper informed the ground that 'things are beginning to stack up a little,' then proceeded to reel off a list of problems that essentially meant every automatic system needed for the coming re-entry had failed, before signing off with 'other than that, everything's fine'.
    The right stuff indeed!

    You'd never get that now. I can only assume he had some dominant English genes

    Make way for a naval officer!

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    May's a good month for anniverasries. May 18th 1969 saw the launch of Apollo 10, the lunar landing ' dress rehearsal'.

    Tom Stafford, John Young and Gene Cernan flew the command module Charlie Brown and the lunar module Snoopy into lunar orbit. They used the LM descent engine to initiate powered descent, and would go as low as 50,000 feet over the lunar surface. As tempted as they might have been to go the final distance and land, they could not. Firstly, this was a test flight, paving the way for the next mission so that the landing itself was the only new part of the mission. Secondly, their LM was an early model that had not been fully subjected to the weight saving measures. It was simply too heavy to take off again had it landed.

    A highly successful mission, Apollo 10's only major point of concern was when the LM ascent stage was separated from the descent stage for the return to rendezvous with the command module. Due to an inadvertent flick of a switch, the guidance system was set incorrectly, and swung the LM around wildly because it thought it was pointed the wrong way. Cernan's understandable exclamation of 'son of a bitch!' was broadcast live to millions, and ludicrously drew complaints from viewers upset that such profanity had issued from the mouth of an American hero!

    They returned home successfully, on the way gaining the record for the fastest manned vehicle ever, at almost 25,000mph, just prior to re-entry. They also broadcast the first live colour TV from space. But most importantly, Apollo 10 was the final test before the landing itself. Two months later, history would be made by the next Apollo mission.

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    All I recall of Skylab was it's re-entry in '79. At the time I was on holiday in Cornwall and that was the only part of the UK where a bit of Skylab could fall. I remember there was a lot of media attention on it's re-entry and I couldn't believe this pile of junk was simply left to fall into our atmosphere rather than have a self destruct.

    Still it added a bit of excitement at the time!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ralph View Post
    I couldn't believe this pile of junk was simply left to fall into our atmosphere rather than have a self destruct.
    How would you propose self-destructing the Skylab station in a more effective way than letting it plunge through the atmosphere and burn up?

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Thompson View Post
    How would you propose self-destructing the Skylab station in a more effective way than letting it plunge through the atmosphere and burn up?
    Well I don't think having chunks of metal falling through our atmosphere as it did causing potential risk to life and limb was a good idea

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ralph View Post
    Well I don't think having chunks of metal falling through our atmosphere as it did causing potential risk to life and limb was a good idea
    But even if you blew it up you'd still have chunks raining down on Earth. It's all coming back one way or another. At least if it starts in one big piece all going one way they can predict where it might come down. They probably weren't expecting much to survive. What might have been a good idea would be sending some remote docking vehicle to at least push it into a more controlled re-entry. Don't forget that the plans were to have the shuttle up to Skylab by 1979, and to use the shuttle to push it up a bit and keep it up there longer. The delays to the shuttle program scuppered that plan, and the unexpected solar activity, which caused an expansion of Earth's atmosphere and increased drag on Skylab, brought it back earlier than planned.

    Contrary to popular media imagery, a self-destruct is not the best solution to any problem as it simply turns one large object into several smaller ones. To have had the beneficial effect you imply it would have had to practically vapourise the entire structure, which would have required so great a weight of explosive as to prevent the thing getting off the ground in the first place.

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    I remember they were selling Skylab helmets in case a chunk fell on your head.

    Didn't it eventually come down on a frozen lake in Canada?

    Make way for a naval officer!

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Thompson View Post
    Contrary to popular media imagery, a self-destruct is not the best solution to any problem as it simply turns one large object into several smaller ones. To have had the beneficial effect you imply it would have had to practically vapourise the entire structure, which would have required so great a weight of explosive as to prevent the thing getting off the ground in the first place.
    It certainly didn't happen that way in "Mars Attacks!" . In fact I think the Martians smoked the explosion if I recall correctly....

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    Seems I've been a bit lax. There are quite a few anniversaries worth mentioning in June.

    June 2 1966: NASA's Surveyor 1 becomes the first NASA probe to land softly on any other celestial body (the first ever being Russia's Luna 9 in February of that year), touching down in the Ocean of Storms on the Moon. Launched on May 30th of that year on an Atlas Centaur launch vehicle, it touched down as planned and over the next several days transmitted over 11,000 images from the lunar surface. The Surveyor program was designed to test the feasibility of controlled landings on the lunar surface and to assess possible landing sites for the Apollo program.

    June 3 1966: Ed White becomes the first American (and only the second human) to make a spacewalk on the Gemini 4 mission. Gemini 4 was the first multi-day spaceflight for NASA, and on the first day White opened the hatch and spent 20 minutes outside the spacecraft. In contrast to Alexei Leonov's EVA earlier in the year, White had a manoeuvring unit, consisting of a hand held gun that squirted jets of oxygen, effectively acting as his own set of thrusters.

    June 6 1971: Soyuz 11 launches, sending the first crew to inhabit the world's first space station Salyut 1. After a highly successful mission the flight ended in tragedy when a valve designed to open after re-entry to equalise cabin and atmospheric pressure opened too early. The capsule was still in space, and the atmosphere vented. The capsule made a safe landing, but recovery forces found all three cosmonauts asphyxiated inside. The design of the capsule was so cramped that the crew could not wear spacesuits, and the valve itself was located in an inaccessible place. The crew never had a chance, although it seems one of them did try to block the valve to prevent the air escaping.

    June 12 1967: The Russian probe Venera 4 becomes the first probe ever to enter the atmosphere of another world, plunging into the atmosphere of Venus and returning information to Earth. The probe was supposed to be a lander, but the engineers had underestimated the temperature and pressure of the Venusian atmosphere. The probe was destroyed miles above the surface.

    June 16 1963: Russia's Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman in space, flying aboard Vostok 6. Vostok 6 was launched the day after Vostok 5 into an orbit that intersected that of 5. Speculation in the West was that it had been intended to rendezvous, and the Russians did nothing to dispel that. However, an inspection of Vostok revealed that it had no capability to alter its orbit to perform rendezvous, and the two capsules never came closer to each other than three miles. Tereshkova's flight was little more than a political stunt. No other woman flew in space at all until....

    June 18 1983: Sally Ride becomes America's first woman in space, aboard shuttle flight STS-7.

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    The crew never had a chance, although it seems one of them did try to block the valve to prevent the air escaping.
    Ouch! That sounds a pretty nasty way to go.

    Seems I've been a bit lax.
    Not as lax as NASA - the last of those anniversaries is over 24 years ago
    Pity. I have no understanding of the word. It is not registered in my vocabulary bank. EXTERMINATE!

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    Well, all the firsts tend to happen early on....

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    Off on my hols tomorrow, so....

    July 3rd 1969 marked the end of the Russian lunar program with the most spectacular failure of a rocket launch ever.

    The Russian lunar program was the reason for the design and production of the Soyuz spacecraft. This would be launched with a two-man crew, along with a one-man lunar landing vehicle, and the mission profile would closely resemble the NASA Apollo missions, with one man descending to the lunar surface, maing an EVA, then returning to lunar orbit to rendezvous with the Soyuz, transfer back to it and return to Earth.

    To launch the Apollo spacecraft, NASA had the mighty Saturn V rocket. The five F-1 engines in its first stage generated 7.5 million pounds of thrust to lift the colossal machine into the air. The first stage burned RP-1 kerosene with liquid oxygen, but the second and third stages burned liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, a much more potent mix that allowed for smaller and lighter upper stages. The Russians had their own version. It was called the N-1. It was almost as tall as the Saturn V, wider at the base, and consisted of no fewer than five stages. Its first stage was more powerful than the Saturn V, generating 10 million pounds of thrust. Despite this, it had a lower payload capacity, for two main reasons. Firstly, Russian rocket scientists had not really developed the use of liquid hydrogen as fuel, and all stages of the N-1 burned kerosene, making them heavier. Secondly, Russian metallurgical techniques had not developed to the degree of NASA's, and the N-1 was a much heftier vehicle, making a greater proportion of the thrust go towards lifting the rocket itself rather than the payload.

    But the biggest problem was their inability to produce massive engines such as the American F-1 engine. To generate the 10 million pounds of thrust in the first stage they used thirty smaller rocket engines. The space agency in Russia was not given the funding to produce a static test stand large enough to test this behemoth of a rocket. In the US, every stage of the Saturn V was test-fired while held in a static test stand. While the Russians could test the individual engines they could not test the whole first stage until they flew it. The first test flight failed in flight, and the vehicle was destroyed by range safety. Now, although they had no chance of beating the Americans to the manned lunar landing (Apollo 11 was already on the pad at Cape Canaveral by this time), they still had a chance to upstage them a little.

    On 3rd July 1969 N1-5L stood on the launch pad. It carried an unmanned Soyuz lunar vehicle and an LOK lander. It fired its engines and began to lift off the pad. Before it had even left the ground one engine spluttered, failed and exploded. This shouldn't have been a problem. The clustered engine concept includes the ability to shut down engines and burn others for longer to obtain the required altitude. However, the complexities of controlling 30 engines together caused more trouble. In order to avoid producing asymmetrical thrust, the system should have shut down the engine immediately opposite the failed one, but it didn't. The system did, however, correctly respond to the asymmetry now produced and shut down the engine opposite the one it had shut down erroneously. But this was still not right, so it kept on shutting down engines to try to balance the thrust. 18 seconds after liftoff, when the rocket had only just cleared the service tower, the control system shut off too many engines and the rocket was no longer generating enough thrust to lift itself against gravity. It tilted over and began to fall back. When it hit the pad, millions of pounds of unspent fuel and liquid oxygen were released and the rocket disappeared in a massive ball of flame. The explosion destroyed the launchpad utterly, and even damaged the next N1 rocket to be launched, which was on the next pad 500m away.

    It was a disaster. No-one was hurt, but the Russian hopes of a manned lunar landing were dashed. A few years later a couple more attempts at launching N1 rockets were made, this time with a view to using them for launching space stations, but both failed. Four test launches had left the Russian space agency with three large craters and a destroyed launchpad. The remaining N1 rockets were broken up or left unassembled. Although no official press releases were made, it's hard to hide something the size of an N1 exploding, and many in the west knew about it. Not until the fall of the Soviet Union did any real information come out about the N1. A brave attempt, but flawed, and further ruined by a lack of appropriate funding.



    Here is a video showing the rocket being rolled out, erected and launched... and then falling back again. You can see the huge number of engines on the bottom of the first stage.

    http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?...62662721404313

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    OK, a few more anniversaries:

    On July 10th 1962 Telstar was launched, the world's first communication satellite, and a day later the first live transatlantic TV transmission was made using it. Seventeen years later NASA's first space station, Skylab, came back to Earth, scattering bits of itself into the Pacific and across Australia.

    On July 14th 1965 Mariner 4 became the first probe to take closeup pictures of a planetary surface other than our own, returning a series of pictures of a strip of land across the width of Mars as it made its flyby. People who had been hoping for some lush vegetation and signs of life or oceans were disappointed to see some rather barren and cratered land looking similar to the Moon.

    Ten years and a day later, Tom Stafford, Vance Brand and Deke Slayton launched into space on the final Apollo spacecraft to rendezvous with a Soyuz spacecraft in orbit, marking the first international co-operative space mission. Deke Slayton was one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, but had been grounded before he ever flew because of a minor heart condition and some overcautious flight surgeons (the same heart condition had not stopped him being a test pilot for high performance jets before he became an astronaut!). The two spacecraft rendezvoused in orbit, then the hatches were opened and the two crews shook hands in orbit.

    Today, July 16th, marked the 38th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, which carried Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins to the Moon. Collins remained in orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon. They spent several hours down there, just under three of them outside the lander. They deployed the American flag, set up some experiments and collected rock and soil samples before returning to Earth.

    On the 25th anniversary of that launch, nature scheduled its own celebratory spectacular. Comet Shoemaker Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter on July 16th 1994, the first time an impact on another celestial body had been observed as it happened. The string of comet fragments left a belt of scars on Jupiter that soon merged into one black belt across the southern hemisphere before fading altogether. Today there is no evidence of the impact at all.

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    On July 10th 1962 Telstar was launched, the world's first communication satellite, and a day later the first live transatlantic TV transmission was made using it.
    Paved the way for 400 episodes of The Simpsons, Rupert Murdoch's Media empire and pay-per-view TV!

    Comet Shoemaker Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter
    Cool.
    Pity. I have no understanding of the word. It is not registered in my vocabulary bank. EXTERMINATE!

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    Isn't today the anniversary of the first moon landing?

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    Quite right, Dave. Although technically the landing itself happened on the 20th at 20:18. The EVA started at 02:40 on the 21st. Of course in the US this was late evening on the 20th, so for them the landing and EVA took place on the same day at sensible hours....

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    Just before this disappears off the bottom of the page, a few more anniversaries.

    August 12th 1960 saw the deployment of the world's first communications satellite. It was not what you'd call a sophisticated device. It was a large inflatable sphere with a metallised coating, used simply to bounce microwave signals from one place to another. It worked though.

    On July 31st 1964 the first closeup pictures of the lunar surface were taken as Ranger 7 completed its kamikaze dive to the Moon. The Ranger series was designed simply to crash, returning pictures right up to the moment of impact.

    On July 26th 1971 Dave Scott, Al Worden and Jim Irwin lifted off on Apollo 15. A few days later, Scott and Irwin touched down near Hadley Rille, and became the first people to drive a car on the Moon. The lunar roving vehicle was an electronic car, cleverly designed to fold up to be stowed in a bay on the descent stage of the lunar module. Capable of speeds up to 10mph, it allowed the astronauts to cover a wider range than they could on foot aone, though they never drove further from the LM than their oxygen supply would allow them to walk back if the rover failed. It also, of course, allowed them to carry much more rock and soil than if they'd been on foot. Apollo 15 was a highly successful flight, and at the end Scott demonstrated Galileo's principle by dropping a hammer and a feather together and observing that they both hit the ground at the same time.

    August 12th 1977 saw the first free flight of the space shuttle Enterprise. Enterprise was a test vehicle, never meant to go into space. Originally to be named Constitution, a writing campaign by fans of some TV show led to it being renamed Enterprise. It was used primarily for testing the aerodynamics and handleability of the vehicle once it was back in the atmosphere. It was carried aloft on the back of a modified 747, then released to glide back to Earth as the shuttle would do returning from space. Fred Haise, who had previously flown on Apollo 13, was the first real Captain Of The Enterprise! Enterprise was originally to have been refitted for space flight, but design changes had taken place between its construction and the construction of the other shuttles, which would have necessitated dismantling and reworking much of the frame of the vehicle. Considering it too expensive, they simply left it as it was and made do with one less in the fleet. There were also plans to modify it to replace Challenger after the 1986 explsoion, but again it was found cheaper to construct Endeavour out of flight hardware spares.

    Finally, July 26th 2005 saw the launch of STS-114, the return to flight of the shuttle following the Columbia tragedy of February 2003.

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