Tag

Astronaut

Browsing

RIP Moonwalker Alan Bean who sadly passed away yesterday, May 26th 2018.

Alan Bean was the first astronaut I ever met. The most warm, personable and the funniest. I remember him talking about his experiences on the  wife Leslie, his two dogs ET and Moonbeam and how he wanted to play a joke on scientists by pretending to have found an arrowhead on the moon! Then played a joke on the audience when he left the room with his microphone on! Rest in peace, it was a pleasure to meet you.

The original post below is a condensed version of the meet and talk I attended.

Meeting Moonwalker Alan Bean – The 4th Man on the Moon

What do you do if you fail the eyesight test for the US Air Force, then fail the eyesight test for the US Navy? You go straight over their heads and join NASA directly. That’s what Rick Mastracchio did to get the coolest job off the planet, spending 227 days in space, flying on the Space Shuttle, Soyuz, International Space Station and complete 9 spacewalks. Today I meet astronaut Rick Mastracchio.

Organised by the superb team over at Space Lectures, former NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio and Space Lectures connected over social media and now he’s here to give a talk and a feature packed presentation which I’ve managed to capture below. Its’ a long read but worth it – Rick Mastracchio is a very friendly, likeable character and gave a very enthusiastic talk!

 

Mission Specialist Rick Mastracchio

I often get asked, how did you become an astronaut? The truth is every astronaut has a different path. A lot of people think they are all military pilots, but I wasn’t. When I got out of college I tried to become a military pilot, I took the exams and the tests but I didn’t have perfect vision so I couldn’t be a pilot. I did that with the US Air Force and then US Navy, I got turned down by all of them so went over their heads and joined NASA. Now when I see an Air Force guy I say they fly too low and too slow!

The truth is I grew up in the north-east part of the US and NASA is on the opposite side of the country. NASA was this mysterious place for me and after I graduated from college with an engineering degree, my wife and I had a house with two small children, my wife saw an advertisement in a magazine. Nowadays they do it on the internet but back in the 1980s, I had never seen an advert for NASA astronauts, I thought that was great and wanted to see what an astronaut application looked like, thought it would be really cool. It’s just some government form, I threw it in the drawer and forgot about it.

Shortly after that, the Challenger accident happened. I was an engineer up in Connecticut, the Challenger accident happened, I pulled that application out and sent it in. The reason is because I knew that NASA would come back strong and recover from that accident, they would need people and they would need help, so figured I would send my application in and see. A few months later a I got a phone call, they said they wanted me to come down and work for them as an engineer, not as an astronaut.

I moved my family down to Houston. Houston is a great place but it’s not the prettiest place. We moved down to Houston in August, the temperature is near a hundred degrees and humidity is near 100% and we’re driving down the highway near Houston and my wife looks at me and says “you owe me big time for this one.” I’m still yet to pay her back 25 years later. So I’m down in Houston working as an engineer at Johnson Space Centre, applying over 9 years of applications, got interviewed 3 times and eventually got selected. Twenty years as an astronaut, selected in the 16th class of astronauts in 1986 and spent about 21 years as an astronaut, I left NASA in June 2017 and now work for Orbital ATK where I actually build the cargo ships that go up to the ISS.

Here we are in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), there’s a lot of talk about going back to the moon, going to Mars. Right now we are in LEO, this is basically where almost every mission have gone, all the Mercury and Gemini, some of the Apollo missions, all the Space Shuttle missions are in LEO, all the Soyuz mission, all the Chinese, Russians, everybody, the ISS are LEO, over 300 crews. Only 9 crews have gone beyond LEO to the moon. LEO is 250 miles, it seems like we are very far away but only 250 miles up, circling around the Earth at about 5 miles per second. These 9 crews went 240,000 miles, that’s a thousand times further. Now we’re talking about going to Mars, the distances grow exponentially. When people talk about going to the moon or mars and how difficult it is, it s just a question of distance but also a question of other challenges like radiation, keeping human crew members healthy and alive. NASA is trying to get beyond LEO and leave that to commercialisation.

I got to launch on 3 Space Shuttle missions, my first one was Atlantis on STS-106, STS-118 and then STS-131. The Space Shuttle is an incredible vehicle, the thrust to weight ratio is incredible. When those solid rocket boosters (SRB) light, you jump off the launchpad, like a kick in the pants, an incredible ride. (Video plays of STS-118 lift off) On STS-118, you may have heard of Scott Kelly, I’m sat in the middle as the flight engineer, the Commander is in the left seat, the pilot is in the right seat and then me in the middle as the engineer, or Mission Specialist 1, that was my area of expertise since I’d worked at Mission Control on guidance and navigation. My job was to watch the whole cockpit.

The Commander watches the left side of the cockpit, the pilot the right side and the flight engineer watches both sides. You had to have two sets of eyes. Once the two SRBs fall off, you’re at second stage, it then gets very smooth. You go from pulling 3 Gs to )Gs in 0.5 seconds, its like getting thrown out of your seat. Then everything floats up in to your face. Some of the astronauts get up out of their seats to photograph and video the external tank. They do that because the damage from Columbia accident was foam falling from the external tank, so want to get good documentation and send all those photos and videos back to the ground. Ascent is a very quick 8.5 minutes into orbit.

STS-131 lift off

I was lucky enough to fly on 3 Space Shuttles, STS-106 was Atlantis, STS-118 was Endeavour and STS 131 was Discovery. The Space Shuttle is incredible, I used to get up early morning when I was young and watch the first Space Shuttle launches, it history in the making and I had to see this, little did I know that someday I would be riding on this thing. The most capable spacecraft ever built by anybody. It’ll be a century before we see another spacecraft built like this because everybody is going back to capsules because they’re a little but easier to build. The first reusable spacecraft, 135 missions, the first reusable engines, Space Shuttle engines will be used on the Space Launch System (SLS) that’s going to lift crew members back to the moon in the next few years, using used Space Shuttle main engines. Of course they’ll then splash down in the ocean and we’ll lose them for good.

When you come in on a capsule, where you want to land has to be almost directly in front of you, very little cross range capability. The Space Shuttle had almost a 1000 miles of cross range capability, when you renter the atmosphere, you could turn the vehicle and land at a runway many miles away which extends your landing capability. First vehicle to have a robotic arm, first vehicle to have an airlock and pretty sure the first vehicle to have a toilet, which as an astronaut is kind of an important thing to have.

Ever since the Columbia accident, the Space Shuttle would approach the ISS using an RPM manoeuvre where the Space Shuttle would do a 360 degree pitch in order to expose its belly so astronauts of the ISS can do a photo survey of the tiles on the Space Shuttle. Those picture again are downloaded to the ground to see of there is any damage from the foam. On my second mission, STS-118, they actually did have damage, a big hole in our Space Shuttle. Once we got up there, we would then inspect it with the robotic arm, a detailed inspection using lasers the measure the depth and size of the hole and then send that data down to the ground and they would 3D print models of the damaged foam, put it in the chamber to test it. So while we are up in orbit doing our mission, engineers down on the ground were testing this damaged tile trying to see if we needed a special spacewalk to repair it. I was the lead space walker, prepared to go out and repair so we could all get home safely but it wasn’t needed. They ran enough tests that they were comfortable we could re-enter without any damage. After the Columbia accident, Shuttle damage became a very big issue.

Rick Mastracchio bolting the ISS together

STS-135 in 2011 was the last mission. We still have the ISS, the Space Shuttle was used to build the ISS. The Space Shuttle is like a pick up truck, can take up large pieces of cargo, the crew cab is very small. We’d bring up huge pieces of truss segments, large modules, the robotic arm would grab these modules, take them out of the payload bay and then guys like me would suit up and go outside and bolt together the space station, connect electrical lines etc. I was lucky enough to do that nine times. On STS-118 I did three spacewalks to bolt together parts of the space station, on  STS-131 I did 3 others and then when I was up there for my expedition I did 4 more repairs.

The ISS is a fully operational orbiting laboratory, it circles the Earth 16 times a day travelling at 5 miles a second. Its been crewed continually since 2000. We had about 200 experiments going on and I like to categorise them in 3 different ways. The astronauts are the experiment, we’re re taking blood samples, ultrasounds of our eyeballs, trained to do all these things and do science experiments.

The second kind is where we are the operators of the experiments. There was an experiment called BASS – Burning and Suppression of Solids (in Space) where I was in a glove box lighting things on fire on board the ISS. We would change the nitrogen/Oxygen content, burn different samples, video tape it and take pictures and the principal investigator, I would have them on the comms system talking to me directly I was their operator for their experiment. The people coming up with these theories and science experiments for working on these for decades, it was great because of their enthusiasm, and also a lot of pressure because you wanted to do this experiment right and didn’t want to disappoint  them.

The third kind is where we really had nothing to do with the experiment. We are the maintenance people of the ISS, maintaining the computers, make sure everything has power etc. These experiments are allowed to run automatically, the alpha magnetic spectrometer which is outside the ISS etc, lots of different experiments going on. Not all of them involved the astronauts. There’s a lot of students running experiments too.

Rick Mastracchio during a Soyuz fit check test

We don’t have a Space Shuttle anymore, so how do we get there now? We fly to Kazakhstan and hitch a ride with the Russians on a Soyuz. The Soyuz rocket has been around since the 60s, the capsule itself was originally designed to go to the moon during the moon race. The Russians are smart folk, they take a capsule, a rocket and adapt to what they want it to do. I felt very comfortable flying on Russian hardware, very well trained. I spent 2 1/2 years training for this mission, spent 52 weeks in Russia and had to learn Russian. If you think it’s hard to do rocket science, try doing it while speaking Russian.

So what’s it like on the inside? It’s a little bit more cramped than the Space Shuttle. Here we are in the capsule, we have a highly complicated G indicator (fluffy toy on string that floats when on zero G). If it point straight down then you are under acceleration or some kind of G forces, once its floating we know we are weightless. A very sophisticated instrument.

It’s a very cramped vehicle, the good news is that we were very lucky in that we were the second or third crew where the Soyuz launches, it usually takes about 2 days because of the trajectory, but they came up with a way to get us there in 6 hours. So when you are cramped up like that, 6 hours is way better than 2 days. We got there from lift off to docking in 6 hours. When I was up there after about 4 months, we were waiting for the next crew to come up and they had planned on a 6 hour arrival time but something happened to one of the engines and had tot change it to 2 days. Psychologically that’s got to do something to you when you were planning to be there in 6 hours.

The Soyuz capsule approaches the ISS, similar to the Space Shuttle but without the RPM manoeuvre. You come in pretty hard in comparison to a Space Shuttle docking. 6 hour after launch, we are docked and attached to the ISS. It’s funny because you get there in 6 hours and then I’m going to be there 6 months. better just take 1 day at a time. Great to have the experience on both vehicles.

We’ve got this incredible ISS up there but what are we doing up there? We’re doing science. All kinds of science, 200 different experiments. Experiments with sphere satellites, programmed by folks on the ground which are controlled by little CO2 canisters, and these satellites are used in many different ways. We have PhD from MIT programming control laws for satellites, then we also use them for students.

We also look at other experiments like bacteria. For some reason, bacteria in orbit is much stronger. We’re trying to work on antibiotics for an E coli bacteria so you would have tunes with bacteria on one side and the antibiotic on the other so you would mix these up and then place in an incubator and then fixate that experiment. We would then take those samples and then send them to the ground so the scientist could then figure what was the most effective.

How do we live up there? We’re up there for 188 days and we work Monday to Friday, Saturday is always cleaning, wipe the cheese broccoli off the ceiling, clean the filters etc and Sunday was our day off. What do you do? You can’t go home so you have to find things to do. Your sleeping back attaches to the wall so you don’t float away in a little personal space about the size of a telephone booth. I had to stretch my sleep bag out at an angle so I don’t have my head up against the ceiling. You can make personal calls to the ground, you’ve got a computer up there, you can tweet! It’s quite comfortable. In Space Shuttle mission you get zero privacy, the seven crew members, you all stretch out on the mid deck.

NASA astronaut Rick-Mastracchio on the ISS exercise treadmill

Exercise is very important up there. We have to exercise about 2 hours a day. We run on a treadmill but you have to use a bungee cord to pull you down to the treadmill. You would run for about 4/5 miles a day and then do resistive exercises lifting weights for an hour a day. You get in really great shape but you are doing that just so you can walk when you get home. Imagine if you laid in bed for 6 months your muscles and bones would deteriorate to the point where you couldn’t walk so you have to exercise. This was a big problem in the early days of Space Stations. Now what we are trying to do is make that even more efficient where we don’t have to spend 2 hours, try and get it down to every other day etc.

There’s a great selection of food up there, a lot of it is MREs, Meals Ready to Eat. Packaged foods with meats and pastas, a lot of freeze-dried food. Fresh food was really hard to come by. When a cargo ship would arrive, the Russians were great about bring up crates of oranges, grapefruits and apples etc. The vehicles on the other hand from the US were not so great at bringing fresh fruit. On one mission we got three rotten oranges and an apple, but the Russians had been doing that for a long time so they knew how to prepare the food and got the timing perfect while the Americans were still trying to work things out. I think sometimes that we had higher priorities than giving our fruit etc like setting up hardware. It’s the greatest place if you want to lose weight though, I had to eat 4/5 meals a day and I was still losing weight. That’s one of the concerns when you are up there so I would supplement that with protein bars which was a really bad habit when I got home.

RickMastracchio Shuttle Spacewalk

I was very lucky in that I got to do nine spacewalks. Spacewalks are done for many reasons, most of them in the early days of the Shuttle were going out there to build, to bolt something together. Now that the ISS is fully operational, most of the spacewalks are maintenance. The ISS is huge place that requires a lot of maintenance, changing out hardware that is getting too old, lubricating something, but the most difficult part, the most challenging is preparing for it. It takes days, you have to physically build your suit, check out every tool, tons of procedures, serial numbers to check, check every piece of equipment. They would tell you to use specific wrenches that matches the correct serial number, they are tracking everything, how many time wrench serial No 1 has been used etc.

The suits are very configurable, can be sized to anybody, they have different arm and leg inserts etc. Once you get outside, that’s where the fun starts. You don’t do any walking, it’s all hand over hand, there’s handrails all along the ISS. An EVA is very physically demanding and mentally challenging because you are out there for about 6.5 hours and you can use as much energy doing a spacewalk as you can doing a marathon. Sometimes I did three of these in a week. The most important thing to do on spacewalk is to take a picture. Even more important is that your buddy takes a picture of you. How you don’t do Spacewalks is like how you see in the film ‘Gravity.’  I watched that film the night before I did a spacewalk, I watched it to learn how not to do a spacewalk.

Whats the worst part of spaceflight? Sometimes gravity is your friend, and we actually did a live show here in the UK. We deal with a lot of stress launching off the planet, doing a spacewalk but the most stressful was thing I ever did was trying to describe how to use the toilet in space to a live TV audience during Channel 4 Live from Space. I had to be really careful with my words.

One of the things we got to do up there was receive cargo ships on a regular basis. The ISS takes a lot of maintenance, you can’t go out and get groceries, so cargo ships like Space X, Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft, Progress etc come up. Sometimes it’s like a traffic jam.  A Cygnus spacecraft launches on an Antares rocket, not far from where I live now. Once it achieves orbital velocity, it pulls alongside the ISS, the Shuttle and the Soyuz dock, we capture these with the robotic arm and grab them.

Once docked, it normally takes 2 hours to open the hatch. We then pass through the hatch opening, there are always two people doing things, with one reading procedures and looking over your shoulders. You don’t want to have one person doing something critical because if you make a mistake someone could get hurt. They Cygnus spacecraft came up and delivered all kinds of supplies. The one thing it really does well is take away your trash. Think about never being able to empty your trash except once every three or four months and you have to store it in your house. Its going to smell bad and get smaller. The ISS got darker because we were starting to block the lights.

The Cygnus spacecraft is with us for about a month. We finish emptying out, take the science experiments, water, food out etc and then pack it full of trash. We take out the spacecraft with the robotic arm and basically let it go. It slowly drifts away from us, fires a small little engine and it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere and burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere along with all the trash.

We do science!

What do we do for fun? Up there for 188 days. Astronauts work their whole lives trying to get off the planet and whats the first thing you do when you get off the planet? You look back at the planet, its beautiful. I love a night pass of city lights. the aurora borealis, we get fantastic light shows up there, we would sit tin the cupola and watch these green lights in waves come up off the planet. There would be nights when we see the moon rise up through the aurora and then Venus would come shooting up behind. Everything is moving fast up there, you are moving around the Earth pretty quick. When the moon rises, it rises fast.

You see some really incredible things, like over a hurricane. On one of my shuttle mission we were doing an EVA while over the eye of a hurricane on STS-118. We had to land early because a hurricane was heading towards Houston and they were thinking of evacuating the city where Mission Control was.  The Earth is an amazing place, you can’t get bored of it. I’ve got ten thousand photographs of the Earth, I’m still amazed at them.

Rick Mastracchio at the Quest airlock

It’s time to come home. The Soyuz spacecraft is pretty simple. You get back in the same Soyuz spacecraft that you came up in, release the clamps, a little spring pushes you gently away, the Soyuz turns away , breaks into 3 pieces with the crew in 1 part and you re-enter the atmosphere in a fireball. The window is a few inches from my shoulder, you can see the ablative heat shield burning off so that you can re-enter safely.

Once in the thicker part of the atmosphere, parachutes start to open. You have one job when reentering on Soyuz, just keep tightening your straps, because when you strap in you are in zero G and its hard to pull yourself down tight. When you start pulling G’s you sink into your seat and your straps are loose. When these parachutes start to open up, you swing around like a shoe in a dryer. Right before you hit the ground, the Soyuz fores soft landing engines. That’s not really a good name for them, should be ‘not so hard landing engines.’ You hit hard but after 6 months in space and after being tossed around like a shoe in a dryer, I thought I’d feel something as I crashed into the Earth but felt perfect, no dizziness, no pain whatsoever. That was until the big Russian technician reached in and grabbed me, pulled me out and threw me down the slide, then I started to feel it.

Soyuz expedition 39 return

We did some great things with the Space Shuttle programme, one of the greatest vehicles the world has ever seen. We have the Soyuz spacecraft right now and the ISS. What’s next? NASA is doing a lot of different things, not just NASA, the ESA, but especially Europe and NASA working on the SLS to launch the Orion. The Orion spacecraft will be built o hold 4 people and basically take them to the moon. Powered by the ESA built service module, all pushed into orbit by this new vehicle, the SLS (Space Launch System).

The SLS is a new vehicle similar to the Saturn 5 suing old Space Shuttle technology. 5 segment SRB as opposed to the 4 SRB that the Space Shuttle uses. It will use 4 Space Shuttle main engines as compared to 3 that the Space Shuttle uses. These will be used engines and with big external fuel tanks with hydrogen and oxygen tanks. Supposed to launch a test flight that’s has slipped back to 2019 or later. Maybe the unmanned version will launch in the next two years. After that they launch people beyond LEO.

They’ve taken an Apollo capsule and made it 50% larger so they can fit 4 people in. The Orion capsule itself is only good for 21 days. Obviously if we are going to go beyond the Moon and on to Mars, there’s a lot of other things in support in vehicles that we are going to need to do. There is more than just Orion being built. NASA has a commercial programme going on with Boeing and Space X building new vehicles that will take crew members to the ISS and no longer just have the Soyuz spacecraft to go to the ISS. We can then put a Russian on an US spacecraft and still share the resources.

The plan changes depending on who the politicians are. Gorge W Bush said go to the Moon, he left the White House and we were not allowed to say Moon anymore. President Obama came in and said Mars. Now I think the plan is to go back to the Moon and my personal opinion is that’s the right decision. Mars is very far away and very difficult to land on Mars. We use the atmosphere to enter and slow us down, Mars has 1% of the atmosphere that the Earth has so we can’t utilise that to slow down. ESA is very excited at the thought of the Moon and I think we’ll have folks going around the  Moon within 5 years.

Astronaut Rick Mastracchio and Nicholas Cook

Questions from the audience:

Obviously you did a lot of training for the EVAs, how accurately did the training for the EVAs match your experience?

The way I think of training is that its like pieces of a puzzle. You train all these different pieces, you never put the whole mission together until you do the mission. The way we train for spacewalks is several different ways. There’s the big swimming pool, the NBL (Neutral Buoyancy Lab), they put us in the water and make us neutrally buoyant, you don’t float, you don’t sink, you just stay in the water so you now have a 3 dimensional environment. That now becomes a very accurate environment because they will now sink a model of the ISS/Shuttle in the 40 foot deep, 200 foot long and 100 foot wide pool. That’s where you practice but the difference is that you have the drag of the water, if you go nice and slow you don’t feel the drag of the water, but I’m one of those guys who like to go quick, very physically demanding. Also when you flip upside down, when you are on a spacewalk, body position is everything. If you can’t reach something, you flip around. In NBL even though you are neutrally buoyant, imagine if you were upside down, all the blood is rushing to your head, all your body weight is on your shoulders.

The other thing we do is VR which we are starting to do more of. Wear a small backpack called S.A.F.E.R. a little unit so that if you fall off of the ISS and you’re tumbling, the ISS cannot come and get you, you’d have a small hand controller so you could fly yourself back with very limited fuel. It all comes together on the day of your spacewalk. Even with all that training, the first time you get pout that door it’s quite a bit different. one of the things that’s really difficult to simulate is the vacuum of space where you could just go flying across. it takes a lot of orientation so that when somebody goes out that door for the first time, they get 15 minutes of adaptation practice, moving and twisting around so you body can get used to it.

Preparation for a spacewalk training session in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL)

You said earlier about not getting in the Air Force and the Navy because of your eyesight, does NASA not have a restriction on potential astronauts with sight?

They used to, NASA back in the day when I became an astronaut, NASA had a requirement for eyesight also. I was good enough for NASA but not enough for the Air Force or Navy. But now, young people like you can get all kinds of surgery, and NASA and the military accept that you can get your eyes fixed. The bad news is that they have a bout a thousand other tests you have to pass. I’ve seen people disqualified for colour blindness, depth perception, look at a thousand different parameters on your blood, you can be a very healthy person but if one little parameter is out of whack then you are out. Very tough to get in.

You were lucky enough to fly on Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavour, were there any subtle differences between the three and do you have a favourite?

They do have some subtle differences but to the untrained eye it’s almost imperceptible. There’s a few panels and switches that are different. Some of the Shuttles are upgraded differently, one might have GPS, the other might not. I loved them all, as I keep saying I think the Space Shuttle is an incredible vehicle but I have to have a little favouritism for Atlantis as it was my first mission. I have fond memories of first time in orbit, doing crazy astronaut tricks inside it. I’ve seen Endeavour in a museum, I’ve seen Discovery in a museum, I’m yet to see Atlantis, saving the best till last.

Leaving the crazy astronaut tricks till day 2 on Atlantis

When you are weightless, is it similar to when you are on a fairground ride? You go over a bump and feel that nauseous feeling and has anyone ever been sick and who cleans it up?

No one has ever been sick in space! You make it, you clean it! Yes it does feel like that, imagine if you will that you go over that top and that moment where your stomach goes to your mouth, that’s a quick sensation of zero G, probably  a little negative zero G, that’s the feeling you have. Imagine you’re in the Space Shuttle with 3G pushing down on you, several hundred pounds of force pushing down on you, you can’t simulate that so you’re feeling that for the first time.

My first mission on launching and all of a sudden, I’m looking real intense at all of these displays and all of a sudden all I can think about is breathing. How come? It’s because I had 3Gs pushing down on my chest and you’ve got to remember to breathe. Then instantly in 1/2 second you go from 3G to zero G and it is weird because now you feel like you are tumbling. Your neural vestibular system is telling your brain all these lies, you feel like you’re falling, a weird sensation till your brain re-calibrates. Some astronauts are very badly affected with one or two people who are really down for about 2 or 3 days with stomach awareness and other issues. I was fairly lucky, a little bit of stomach awareness but the next morning I wake up and feel perfect. I would avoid doing crazy astronaut tricks on day 1.

What was the biggest challenge when you were up there?

It depends on which mission. Every mission is different, we practice every mission in great detail. The biggest challenge on  my Shuttle missions were my spacewalks, trying to squeeze in 3 or 4 spacewalks in a period of 8 days. You’re up there moving the suits around, collecting hardware, prepping all the things for the spacewalk and then you go out and do the spacewalk. You come back in and instantly start charging batteries, getting the suits cleaned up, replenishing the consumables so the day after next you can get outside and do it again. You’re reviewing procedures, robotic arms, have to be well integrated with everybody on the ground, robotic arm operators, who is going to suit you up. Just getting all those things done without making a mistake that’s going to hurt somebody, that’s the biggest challenge.

The expedition when I went through the hatch on day 1 of 188, the biggest challenge was don’t think about day 188. Just take it 1 day at a time, it really didn’t bother me that I would be there for 188 days, it just seemed so far away. the mission was great and the challenge there was maintaining focus because you do get fatigued after a while so you have to be careful you don’t do something wrong etc.

 

Rick Mastracchio spacewalk

They keep talking about decommissioning the ISS, what will they do when that happens?

There’s a couple of things going on right now. All the international partners get together and have agreed to keep the Space Station on till 2024, and they’re going to get together again and may move that to 2026, 2028, who knows what. I heard some talk of 2028. Now you’ve got the President of the US who says shut it down in 2024. Several things can happen to it. if there is somebody out there like the Russians or other International Partners want to keep it going, they might want to come to some kind of agreement where the US gets out of it and other countries can continue, that’s possible but probably unlikely.

The most likely thing is de-orbit it, just like the Mir Space Station was de-orbited. We would send up some kind of vehicle like a Progress vehicle to de-orbit and bring it down into the Atlantic of Pacific ocean. That would be a terrible waster but everything that is built has a lifetime and the ISS probably already has had half its lifetime but the good news is that is has a lot of spare parts up there from before the Space Shuttle programme ended. We brought up stacks of spare parts so the ISS is very well stocked right now. That’s why they can still go up there right now and do maintenance. The problem is like if you are building a new house and you have an old house, it’s kind of hard to afford two houses and that’s what happens when you have NASA or an agency is trying to launch a new programme, the old programmes have to be shut down to use that money for other things.

How much was your ticket on the Soyuz?

I had a coupon for that so I got a little bit off. I don’t know the exact price but they didn’t take it out of my pay cheque thankfully. The Russians have a monopoly on the market so they were always raising the price. I think I was in a $50 million range for my seat to the ISS on board the Soyuz. That’s why the US is building capsules and anxious to get them in orbit. There’s a lot of bartering going on between the countries on the ISS.

Expedition 38 launch

How much of a problem is space garbage?

Orbital debris is a major issue. I worked the Orion programme before I left NASA for many years off and on and the number 1 risk to the loss of crew was orbital debris. When  you look at the risks, all the others are little, it’s a self-induced issue, if you will, its like a protective shield we’ve built around the planet and the ISS is a problem also. Many times I was out on spacewalks and I would see what I call bullet holes on the side of the space station. Luckily they weren’t in a pressurised module but I would see pieces of the truss where there was something like the size of the pinky of your finger where the metal was all flayed out. That’s where I cut my glove on STS-118 when out on a spacewalk. I probably slipped or grabbed a piece of material or metal that was cut open by orbital debris.

I came back on a Space Shuttle mission and we had a hole in our radiator panel. These are used to cool the Space Shuttle down and they are full of tubes but the orbital debris was right between the tubes. If it had it one of the tubes, we’d have lost a lot of our cooling system and would have had to do an emergency deorbit, so we were a fraction of an inch from having to abort the mission. It doesn’t take a big piece of orbital debris, the big pieces we know where they are, the little pieces we can protect  for but the bits between the big and the little that are big enough to hurt you are too small to follow and track. And when the Chinese blew up their satellite, that doubled the issue and made much worse.

Rick Mastracchio spacewalk during STS-118

Most of the Space Shuttle launches seem to happen on a Thursday, is there a particular reason why?

Yes, we launch on a Thursday because we don’t want to work the weekend, we’re lazy. A Space Shuttle launch countdown starts about 4 days before launch. We start the countdown on a Monday morning, shoot for launch on Thursday and go home on Friday! But how many times did that work out? Probably 50% at best!

When you landed in the Shuttle and you had the potential damage on the heat shield, did you pop outside and have a look?

Yes we all did, looked up at it, it was perfect and pristine, there wasn’t much charring around it, no burning. The folks on the ground did a fantastic job. As you can imagine, my wife, all our spouses were, we’re up in orbit doing our job, we may have a hole in our vehicle but the ground is taking care of it. We were not worried, we were just doing our job, we still had a full job to do.

Meanwhile our spouses down on the planet, on the news every night about a damaged Shuttle, we don’t see any of that, but we don’t know that our spouses down on the planet are probably sick to their stomach listening to all this stuff. John Shannon was the Space Shuttle Programme Director, he just did such a great job talking to the families. We analysed it, we tested it, we were 100% confident that is was going to be safe and take care of it and they were right. Spaceflight is a team sport, you’ve got ground controllers, your crew mates on the Shuttle, you’ve got the engineers who put the vehicle together and you have to rely on your team members to do their job and you do your job, if you try to do everybody’s job then nothing works.

Having gone through NASA as an engineer and a flight controller I trust them 100% to do the right thing. Somebody made a 3D model of it that was a little smaller than my fist. It want all the way through, it was just a big chunk of the tile ripped out. i think about ‘what if.’ I was the guy who would have to go out and fix it, I was the guy who 7 lives on the whole Space Shuttle programme, the whole Space Station was going to depend on, that would have been on my mind. I would have been less worried about me dying and more worried about letting the team down.

Ant Forage Habitat Facility which will study ant behaviour and colonisation in microgravity

What was your favourite experiment that you did in Space?

My favourite experiment. One of them was playing withe the little satellites, but the one that was fun was the same Cygnus spacecraft that came up delivered some ants. Basically a little container where you could see them and they would all path in one little area, we’d put a HD camera in front of them and open up a little container where they went to this bigger area where the ants could walk around go looking for food. It was an experiment and it was educational. All the schools were watching to see how the ants reacted in zero G. We kept opening up more and more chambers for the ants to walk around. Scientists were also viewing this trying to analyse how ants go out and forage. You know how if you drop a piece of sugar, eventually an ant find it and you think heck, how did the ant find that? The way it was explained to me was that they were coming up with a process to figure this out. Imagine if someone goes off in the wood and you programme a bunch of drones and just let these drones go, eventually they’re going to find this person lost in the woods. Educational and scientific watching ants walk around in space.

Have you had a particularly terrifying or scary experience apart from the whole of normal spaceflight?

Usually my fellow crew members would scare me a little bit. I get that question a lot and it’s a hard one to answer because I don’t really get scared, you tend to worry about things, you know, I’ve got a spacewalk tomorrow, that can be hard to sleep and you’re anxious about doing it because there’s a lot of work to do. Again it comes down to preparation and what you’re comfortable with and we prepared in training so much. In Space Shuttle mission we trained for a year and you practice in the NBL, we used to practice a 5:1 or 7:1 ratio so in other words for every spacewalk we did, we’d do it 5 times in the swimming pool. Every ascent, we would practice hundreds of ascents and they would give us 10 to 15 failures for an ascent and in a real mission you might get 1 if it was a really bad day. You are so over prepared, astronauts are the most highly trained people in the world.

When I tore my glove, they told me to hurry up and go inside the airlock, I was like “What! I’ve got work to do, I haven’t got time for this!” I wasn’t scared, I was a little embarrassed I tore my glove, I kind of blame myself. It was the third spacewalk of the mission, and I was just beating my gloves up on the first two spacewalks and on the third spacewalk I should have said that I would use my other pair of gloves but I had nice pristine gloves, I wanted to keep them pristine. They were so worn out from the other two EVAs that eventually they got ripped. I didn’t get nervous. You know you’re vehicle, you know your systems so well, you know exactly when you’re in danger and when you are not.

A huge thanks to Space Lectures for another great visit and to Proffoto for a great pic. Looking forward to the next one!

Links:

Space Lectures

Proffoto

My other astronaut visits:

Meeting Bruce McCandless from the first untethered spacewalk

Meeting the Moonwalker Charlie Duke from Apollo 16

Meeting Mike Foale from the Mir Space Station collision

Meeting Tom Cruise’s Middle Finger & Top Gun Shuttle Astronaut Scott Altman

The Twins Paradox – Meeting the twin Astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly

Gemini and Apollo 10 Astronaut Tom Stafford

Apollo 8, Apollo 13 and Gemini Astronaut Jim Lovell

Apollo 7 Astronaut Walt Cunningham

Space Shuttle Astronaut Eileen Collins

Meeting Fred Haise from Apollo 13

Meeting Astronaut Ken Mattingly of Apollo 13 and Apollo 16

Meeting the Moonwalker Alan Bean from Apollo 12

Meeting Apollo, Skylab and Shuttle astronauts at CosmicCon

I was 13 years old in 1984, the Cold War was still years away from thawing, Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative had been announced the year before, and Space Shuttle Challenger is launched on the 10th Space Shuttle mission.  During that mission, a lone astronaut drifts in the freezing cold of space 217 miles above Earth using a nitrogen propelled jet pack. That’s Bruce McCandless, floating free in the blackness of space on the first untethered spacewalk from the relatively safety of his spacecraft. Today I’m meeting astronaut Bruce McCandless who reminds us that we are all astronauts of Spaceship Earth.

Bruce McCandless joined NASA in 1966 and was CapCom on Apollo 11 during the first moonwalk. He was later assigned to Skylab and worked on developing the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), something he would later test as Mission Specialist on Space Shuttle Challenger on STS-41B leading to that famous image. His last flight was on board Space Shuttle Discovery STS-31 to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope.

Bruce McCandless

The presentation by Bruce McCandless was organised by the superb team at Space Lectures:

When I was growing up we didn’t have a space program as such in those days, we had comic strips and artistic works depicting fanciable space ports on Mars for inspiration. The family wisdom, if I ever talked about space, was that yes, man would go into space some day, but certainly not before the year 2000. With that I proceeded to college at the United States Naval Academy and was fascinated by submarines, particularly nuclear submarines and was looking at that for a career choice.

Then in 1957, my senior year, the Soviet Union unexpectedly launched a small satellite, Sputnik. The message that it carried was that the space age was upon us and that things were going to happen very rapidly. I changed my mind on my career, took the flight physical exam, got into aviation, became a navy fighter pilot flying off of aircraft carriers and was then sent by the navy to Sandford University where one afternoon, a very grand looking letter arrived saying that I met the basic requirements for the astronaut programme at NASA.

Everybody said that if I applied now I’d never be selected the first time around. So I applied and did get selected and joined the astronaut programme in June 1966. This was just a year after Ed White’s spacewalk. I would point out that Alexi Leonov of the Soviet Union was the first to do a spacewalk, lasting 12 minutes. The US of course had to do better than that, so Ed White stayed out for 23 minutes and made it look easy.

The next time the US attempted a spacewalk was with an air force built astronaut maneuvering unit that Gene Cernan attempted to fly, but the pressure suit technology over heated, the visor fogged up and we nearly lost Gene Cernan. Maneuvering Units acquired a bad name, undeservedly, so I collaborated on trying to rehabilitate the concept of flying around a spacecraft.

We did this by experiment M509, it was intended and did fly inside the Skylab workshop. the case study verse reality was somewhat different. It did fly beautifully inside the workshop. We stayed inside because that allowed us to operate without undue concerns for safety, we were contained inside the workshop. My compatriots worked satisfactory and we used their testimonies to develop a unit for flight with the space shuttle.

Alan Bean flies the M509 Astronaut Maneuvering Equipment on Skylab

In training for spaceflight, there’s no one perfect simulator. It’s a part test, pick up some information, do little more and pick up more information till you finally get into space where you integrate it all mentally. We had a simulator underwater that was a mock-up showing how you could get in and out of the docking station in a weightless environment. There was  much better simulator which was like a cherry picker that had a set of carriages and rails so you could move up and down, left and right, inside a room roughly 20 metres long and 6 metres high and wide.

This was very effective, the controls on the MMU were linked to a computer in the basement which would then make you behave as though you were flying in space. I got about 300 hours over the years flying this thing. The actual requirement for later crews was about 15 hours, I guess I was over trained.

The Untethered Spacewalk

Finally in February of 1984, a crew of 5 of us launched, we had a little trouble getting used to zero gravity. The Commander was Vance Brand, Hoot Gibson took the still photo that became famous, Ron McNair, myself and who was my partner in the spacewalk. The MMU turned out to be sufficiently difficult to get of out of the airlock hatch so we mounted it in the payload bay, got into it and flew off.

Finally the opportunity came to go flying. Looking back as I got further and further away, the Shuttle got to be tinier and tinier. I had planned on stopping at the greatest distance, I was supposed to go out 100 yards and stop. I wanted to turn around 180 degrees and contemplate the vastness of space and the Earth but somehow the conversations were just so busy, I forgot about it till I got back in.

But it is a true statement that sound does travel through a vacuum but radio waves do. I had 3 different people talking to me. Mission Control wanted to know how much oxygen I had left and how the battery was doing, what was the temperature. Commander Vance Brand wanted me to stay away from the engines and not go under the wing, stay where he could see me and Bob Stewart wanted to know when was his turn to fly.

Bruce McCandless, Astronaut, Spacewalker

It was pretty noisy out there. The system worked quite well and looking from the shuttle out, I got to be pretty small at 100 yards away, and Hoot took what has become an iconic photo, almost symbolic of the space age. you can see the nose of the shuttle in the reflection in my visor and by extension, the other 3 crew members. You have to remember that we had a very large team in NASA, around 500 people, and within he contracting facility, several thousand people working together in coordination, had other mission objectives on the flight, in addition to the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), but it was a team effort.

When I got away from the shuttle, I got very cold. My teeth were chattering, I was shivering. the problem was that the life support system, in reaction to people like Gene Cernan overheating during Gemini was engineered to keep a person who was working in a warm environment comfortable. When you get away from the shuttle, you are radiating more to space, and quite honestly, flying the MMU was an exercise in using your fingers. We had the control set up to put little pulses in, it wasn’t metabolic work so I got rather chilly. Fortunately it turned out that we could in fact shut down the entire cooling system of the life support system, warm up and then turn it back on.

One of the things that everybody who has gone into space, is the impact of looking down at the Earth. You start off trying to find your town, your launch facility and you realise that you really need to appreciate the continents, the land mass and that very few political division are visible from space, we’re all in this together, and that we have to work together.

This leads me to the concept of spaceship Earth. I have been introduced as the astronaut, but I submit that everyone in this room is an astronaut in the sense of being a crew member from spaceship Earth. Its a very big spaceship, nut its not infinite and it has systems, open and close valves to produce electricity, ocean currents, atmospheric circulation, concerns about pollution, ozone depletion, and somehow, if we are going to pass on a better spacecraft to our children of the next generation, we need to manage the systems in their best interest.

Bruce McCandless

 

Questions from the audience

  • To become an astronaut is a major achievement in itself, but could you tell us about becoming a naval aviator and in particularly how did you learn to land an aircraft on the deck of an aircraft carrier in rough seas, did you have any mishaps.

First I would like to give credit to the Royal Navy, they came up with the angled deck and for the mirror landing system. the original aircraft carrier configuration was a straight deck, the length of the ship, and when it came to land, you had to try and grab one of the spiders wires originally, if you missed, you had to park the aircraft at the front of the ship, or had a nylon web barricade that you ran into to stop you. the other feature was that we originally had Landing Signal Officer giving you advice on how to properly position yourself. That was very subjective.

The Royal navy came up with a mirror system, a light was reflected in a mirror with reference to a string of green horizontal lights that worked very effectively. With those two things I basically went though flight training and then practices with an instructor in the back seat till we made landings. I have to say in all honesty the most stressful moments in my career were making night carrier landings in bad weather with low fuel, it really gets your attention. Having said that within NASA we always had Mission Control to fall back on. Within the NASA environment, we had a much better management of the stress levels.

 

  • Could you tell us about your time as CapCom on the first moon landing, could you tell us what that was like.

First off in preparation for being CapCom, you trained with the crew ahead of time and the idea of being CapCom was the communication link to speak the same language as the crew in order to facilitate priority and understanding. In the case of the landing, Charlie Duke was CapCom for the actual landing and I standing in as a spectator behind him to make sure what the situation was and immediately after landing have a procedure for staying 5 minutes, check all your systems and safe to disarm the lunar module and stay for a while. After that I went home to get dinner because the flight planned for Armstrong and Aldrin to take a 2 hour nap to be refreshed for the spacewalk.

By the time I got home, which was a 15 minute drive, my then wife was running down the driveway, telling me to go back because they cant sleep. i turned around and drove back, the moon was about 30 degrees up in the sky, it didn’t look a bit different but I knew my friends were up there. We did go out 2 hours early, this meant the antennae at Goldstone couldn’t pick up the television signal, Honeysuckle Creek in Australia jumped into the breach and relayed the video to Houston. Everything went reasonable well for 4 or 5 minutes and then I hear this voice say “This is the Whitehouse communications room, President Nixon would like to talk to Buzz and Neil.” We never simulated that, we simulated all sort of failures and scenarios but never stiff-arming the President. It was contingency standard, get a rock, any rock and put it in your pocket, if you have to get out of there in a hurry, you’ve got at least one rock.

Apollo 11

 

  • Are you able to repeat your famous words as Neil Armstrong came down the ladder.

Let me comment that my job was not to talk much, to try and and get Neil and Buzz to talk because they were the people on the moon. My job turned out to be making sure they didn’t miss anything, make sure they stayed moire or less on the timeline and keep quiet.

 

  • There was a long gap between your selection and your first flight, how did you maintain your motivation all that time?

You don’t just sit around waiting for a flight. In the case of the Apollo mission I trained for Apollo flights, I was the youngest guy in the group, I was back up crew for one of the Skylab missions and then 2 assignments on the shuttle programme. In the mean time you are helping out with development activities at the contractors, training at research facilities.

 

  • You said night landings on the aircraft carrier caught your attention, I assume when you left the confines shuttle bay on the untethered spacewalk, that caught your attention as well. Once you left the spacecraft and got so far out, was there a rescue plan if you forgot to turn round and come back.

The Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) itself was totally redundant, it had two of everything, two sets of contacts for every switch, thrusters, batteries. Any single failure could be isolated and could keep on flying. if both systems had simultaneous failures, you could disable both and wait for the shuttle to fly in and get you. These days on the ISS you do have a miniaturised version of the MMU being used as a life jacket, a self rescue device. The ISS cannot chase you through the sky so you have to be able to tether yourself back. I felt very comfortable and we concluded that using a tether would be more hazardous.

Bruce McCandless modelling the MMU

 

  • In your opinion is to more important to focus on sending human beings back to the moon again or further development with the ISS?

I don’t think its an either or situation. We have the ISS in an operational mode, the annual expense of operating it is to get even less, we should operate it for as long as is reasonably feasible. There will come a time when systems start failing irreparably. If humans went back to the moon is something that we could do in parallel and try to do on a multi-national, cooperative collaborative basis.

Unfortunately former President Obama, with respect to the moon, said, been there, done that. A very short sighted opinion, we have not been to the back side of the moon and is very different from the front side. The back side continues to take meteor impacts and pock marked with craters. The front side is relatively smooth, we have not been to the poles where there may be water ice, we have not landed in the rough areas of the front surface, we picked out the smooth spots for safety. There is a lot we don’t understand yet.

 

  • You did so many hours of training for the MMU, how did the training compare with the reality? We know that plans are useless but planning is essential, would love to compare the training against the actuality.

I did about 300 hours on the simulator, the simulator was very good. The only discrepancy was an attitude hold feature and trying to accelerate, with a noise best described as chatter. The explanation for that was that my centre of mass was slightly displaced from the geometric centre of the thrusters. When I tried to accelerate, there was a little twitchy moment and the automatic attitude hold would marginally hold the thrusters.  The simulator had been performing properly, its just that it didn’t make any noise, we couldn’t feel it.

The more realistic question, on STS-51-A, Dale Gardner was not a pilot, had never flown an airplane, had 15 hours of training in the simulator and very successfully retrieved a satellite. We thought 15 hours was a reasonable amount, the bulk of my time was done in development testing. The simulator also allowed operators to introduce more than 100 failures to give a challenge in figuring out what a problem was, isolate the system and overcome it.

MMU development at the Martin Marietta plant in Denver, Colorado

 

  • On the second shuttle mission for the Hubble deployment, how evident was the extra altitude compared to normal shuttle missions in low Earth orbit?

As I recall we got to 336 nautical miles, we used 49% of our own propellant getting up there, we used 50% to come down for de-orbit and reentry and 1% left over. That altitude allowed the Hubble to go for a significant amount of time before a re-boost but also put us going through the Van Allen radiation belts in the South Atlantic Anomaly. When it came to going to sleep, there were little puffs of light, like cotton balls lighting u. These were charged particles stimulating or destroying cells in the retina of your eye. It was interesting from an abstract point, a bit disconcerting from the possibility of degrading your vision. We were only up on that mission for 5 days, we were unhappy about having to come back so soon.

 

  • Did you have any concerns or nerves about not having a tether?

Yes I did, NASA did spend 3 million dollars on developing what amounts to a giant fishing reel.When we stopped to consider the situation, if you have this cord totally limp, it was likely to tangle around something, a crewman’s foot, high gain antenna. if you had a small amount of tension on it, it was going to your motion and drag you back in. We felt it was more of a risk than making sure we had a reliable system. We built every conceivable test we could think of, including being in a vacuum chamber and the freezing cold.

 

Bruce McCandless and Nick Cook

Another great event from the team at Space Lectures, a great photo from Proffoto, and of course, a signed picture of one of the most iconic space images.

 

Links:

Space Lectures

Proffoto

My other astronaut visits:

Meeting the Moonwalker Charlie Duke from Apollo 16

Meeting Mike Foale from the Mir Space Station collision

Meeting Tom Cruise’s Middle Finger & Top Gun Shuttle Astronaut Scott Altman

The Twins Paradox – Meeting the twin Astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly

Gemini and Apollo 10 Astronaut Tom Stafford

Apollo 8, Apollo 13 and Gemini Astronaut Jim Lovell

Apollo 7 Astronaut Walt Cunningham

Space Shuttle Astronaut Eileen Collins

Meeting Fred Haise from Apollo 13

Meeting Astronaut Ken Mattingly of Apollo 13 and Apollo 16

Meeting the Moonwalker Alan Bean from Apollo 12

Meeting Apollo, Skylab and Shuttle astronauts at CosmicCon

In 1997 during a docking test with the use of an onboard remote control, an unmanned cargo vessel collided into the Russian Mir Space Station. The collision punctured part of the space station, leaking air and causing Mir to spin while knocking out much of its power supply. It remains the most serious collision ever involving a manned spacecraft. On board Mir at the time was Michael Foale and I’ve come to listen to his talk on the 20th anniversary of the Mir space station collision.

Mir
Mir

Michael Foale is a veteran NASA astronaut of six Space Shuttle Missions with extended stays on the Russian Mir Space Station and the International Space Station. He spent 4 months on the Russian Mir Space Station during the Mir 23 and Mir 24 missions. It was during Mir 23 that the Progress M-34 resupply vessel struck the Mir station’s Spektr module nearly losing the space station and without quick thinking from Foale, may have seen the loss of him along with his fellow cosmonauts Vasily Tsibliev and Sasha Lazutkin.

Astronaut Michael Foale – Expedition 8 Mission Commander

A British-American astronaut, Foale was born in Louth, Lincolnshire to an American Mother and his Father, an RAF pilot. he lived all over Europe and at some point became a boarding school child. It was going to America on holiday with his mum at the World State Fair in Minneapolis that he saw John Glenn’s capsule Friendship 7 and event that eventually changed everything. Friendship 7 had already been in space and completed orbits around the Earth, it wasn’t shiny and freshly painted and to this young child’s eyes looked like a charred dustbin but the young Mike Foale looked up to the ceiling and saw a precursor model of the Space Shuttle.

John Glenn and Mercury 7

At school he found science fiction as a great motivator, even if his teacher disagreed. Mike Foale was 12 years old when he saw the moon landings and allowed him to focus more on science and technology. He initially applied to the RAF, he was pretty sure the UK would have an astronaut programme by the time he finished university, before being turned down for any eye problem at the age of 16 and being told he would not be fit to fly.  With some scholarly advice from his Father, he focused and on what he liked doing and what he could do well. He studied astrophysics at Cambridge, flew gliders, went scuba diving, measured the brightness of galaxies with radio telescopes before moving to the USA to pursue a distinguished career in the US space programme.

Originally working for McDonnell Douglas, he then got a job at Johnson Space Centre in Mission Control. Dr Michael Foale applied 3 times to NASA and it was after his third attempt with his essay on teamwork and the Challenger disaster that he became an astronaut in 1987 and flew on 6 Space Shuttle missions. He has spent more than 373 days in space and completed 4 space walks totaling over 22 hours:

  • STS-45 – The first ATLAS mission to study atmosphere and solar interactions.
  • STS-56 – Carrying ATLAS-2 and SPARTAN satellites that made observations of the solar corona.
  • STS-63 – The first rendezvous with the Russian Mir space station and Foale making his first spacewalk to evaluate extremely cold spacesuit conditions.
  • STS-84 – Foale joined the Russian Mir space station with the Mir 23 crew. After the collision, Foale conducted a 6 hour EVA in a Russian Orlan spacesuit to inspect damage to the space station.
  • STS-86 – After spending 145 days in Space, Foale returned to Earth.
  • STS-103 – A repair and upgrade mission to the Hubble Space Telescope where Michael Foale replaced the main computer in an 8 hour EVA.
  • Soyuz TMA-3 – A 6 month stay on the International Space Station as Expedition 8 Commander.

Mir

The American Space Programme was about to build a non international space station, it was becoming expensive, it was the early 90’s, the Soviet Union fell apart. At the same time there was a perceived exodus by the CIA, British Intelligence that Russian scientists and engineers were not being paid because all of the military industrial complex int eh Soviet Union didn’t have a goal anymore and they might potentially be exporting nuclear and rocket technologies to North Korea and Iran.

We as NASA astronauts were told we were going top designing Space Station Freedom, President Clinton and Boris Yeltsin agreed to build the ISS so that NASA could put money into the Russian space programme so that Russian space engineers were paid so they don go to North Korea and Iran.

3/4 of the NASA astronauts are military, they were trained to kill the enemy and the enemy at that time was the Soviet Union. They didn’t think too much about this programme of working together in space. When we had Vladimir Titov on our flight, we gave him professional courtesy, but we all looked at him with suspicion. he was one of two that were sent over to fly on the Space Shuttle as an exchange to get both sides ready to work with the other. I had my 3rd flight on STS-63, I thought I was possibly going to do a joint mission where I would go up to the Mir station, do a glorious handshake and that would be it. I was on a PR to Moscow for the very first time, we were being shown around by Vladimir Titov. We go into an office where there were a couple of Americans and a Russian secretary and their job was to set up the programme where American astronauts would come to Russia to take part on the Mir space station. I’m there with my crew when the Russian secretary then tells me that I am going to be living here in 3 weeks time with my family. I had no idea.

As a small group, we were quite tight as we got ready to first speak Russian, learn enough Russian to study the Soyuz and Mir. It was cold, one of the first things we got was a sled, my wife Rhonda spent most of her time looking for food, buying eggs and bread off the back of a lorry, daughter goes to school along with Russian kids. Spent time with a gym instructor who insisted I do flips on a trampoline, even though I was already a professional astronaut because that is what Yuri Gagarin had done. I was having to deal with a change in culture and a language. I was training in a Soyuz spacecraft but had to keep my hands to myself, I wasn’t allowed to touch any buttons. I really had no role, we were not to learn any operations, they regarded me as a spy. I was either called Cambridge or Langley.

The spaceship is built differently, they have a different approach to building a rocket. If we want to navigate in space, we use a gyroscope, probably because in the west, we build gyroscopes really well but in Russia they couldn’t get a gyroscope to spin for very long so they did all of their navigation by looking at the change in attitude. We had big disconnects on language, the meaning of technical terms even though they sounded exactly the same.

Michael Foale on STS-103 in the Space Shuttle Discovery cargo bay

Went back to America to join the crew of STS-84 who had been working without me. The purpose of the mission as described to me by the Russian programme manager after he’d had a few vodkas was that I would be”the useful weight.” His wife Yelena Kondakova was a Russian cosmonaut who had been on the Mir station, Jerry Linenger was already on the Mir and had been through a fire which had almost brunt though the hull of the base block of the Mir space station. We already knew about the fire and I was being launched to the station wondering what I was going to. I really wasn’t part of the STS-84 crew because I hadn’t trained with them. It was Yelena Kondakova who had spotted that, she would chat to me in Russian and encouraged me that it would be a better experience than I was anticipating.

I was replacing Jerry Linenger, he wrote the report about the fire. When I was approaching Mir, it was with dread, I didn’t know how Vasily Tsibliev and Sasha Lazutkin would be, if my Russian was going to be good enough. Vasily spoke very quickly, very military, uses a bad word every third word. I’d brought movies with me and was showing them a movie when the TV player in the middle of a movie shorted and smoke filled up all around it. I asked them why did that happen and they said it was the first time they had used during their expedition, they had been there 2 months. It was another sign of decay.

Mike Foale and Jerry Linenger

I was speaking with Jerry when he told me that one morning he went into the base block which is where they spent most of their time as it was the control post and he saw Vasily looking really startled, using TORU, a hand controller with a TV screen, a camera on a Progress cargo ship and flying it to the station, the screen went blank, Vasily looked scared and he saw Progress go by in the bottom window about 18 feet away. NASA didn’t know anything about this.

The day before the collision, Vasily had set up the hand controller the night before and we were having dinner when I asked what they were doing. They replied that they would be doing a docking test with Progress and then I started to remember what Jerry had told me. I asked how that would go when Sasha asked why I needed to know with Vasily saying Cambridge! Langley! Sasha asked how I knew so much and I said that I listed to the lectures that you Russians gave us. He thought that was very suspicious, they really didn’t want to tell me that much about it. I’d heard a rumour that Vasily was one of the best manual docking experts already in the cosmonaut corps. They said the distance was 6km, it was normally done from 100 metres.

Vasily Tsiblieve on the TORU on-board Mir

If you are in space and in orbit around the earth, if you come from a distance greater than a few hundred metres, or if your journey time is more than 20 minutes, you will go in a curve and not in a straight line. That means its orbital mechanic and rendezvous because everything is in curves, I knew this because I had been a planning engineer on STS-63. I asked how they knew their range and distance, they turned their radar off. They had to measure the size of the Mir solar arrays in the TV screen and take the size in squares on the TV screen and look it up on a graph which would then tell how far away it is based on the size on the TV screen. They then write down the time and 10 seconds later do it all again, get another measurement to get the speed.

Americans do it slowly, because their loads are heavier, 100 tons, so there is a lot of time to do the method they had just described and Americans do use that as a back up method. But Soyuz is light and small, Progress is just like Soyuz, comes in fast and breaks quickly at the end because it uses less fuel. I asked what I could do to help to which they told me I had no role. They eventually let me use a laser range finder.

Vasily was up the next morning, he was going to do this right, had set it up the night before, he was sure the TV going off was just a glitch. Progress was coming but he was at right angles to the docking axis which meant he was coming in too fast, hasn’t braked enough and he’s got much more speed than he can extinguish using the thrusters. At this point Sasha tells me to go to the Soyuz and as I fly though the passageway to the Soyuz lifeboat, I see it shake around me and then feel my ears pop as the air leaves the space station as I hear the siren.

We disconnected all of the power from the Spektr module that went through the hatchway. The Russians had taken all the power from the solar arrays through the hatchway into the base block. It provided a 1/3rd of the electrical energy for the station. Because Progress had hit the Spektre module, there was a hole there and the air had rushed out of it. I didn’t think it was possible to remove all of those cables, but we did. They were big, big cables carrying 300 amps each, which were lives as we disconnected those. We got the cap in place, had disconnected the power, isolated the leak but the whack of the Progress hitting the Spektr module, the momentum that had been transferred had put us in a big wobble.

There are 12 big gyroscopes on the Mir station and they spin to torque the station. these had been disconnected, the batteries were all dead, we’d gone into darkness, in to night. This meant the angular momentum meant we were now tumbling in quite a chaotic way. The idea we started to have was that we could use the Soyuz which was still attached and use its little thrusters to stop the tumbling and then having stop the tumbling, spin it about the Y axis so that the solar arrays could point towards the sun.

Soyuz TMA 3 spacecraft carrying Foale to the ISS
Soyuz TMA 3 spacecraft carrying Foale to the ISS

We tried to measure our tumbling rate over about 30 hours using the stars and our thumbs. The only axis that we could twist about was the one that had the flip in it, the middle moment of inertia. It was unstable and all we could do was try and spin about that unstable axis. I was very afraid that we would end up putting the station into a permanent spin about eh X axis which we could not control which would mean we would never get power back and would have to come back to Earth.

We had two modules out of 5 completely dead. We had 7 tons of water missing because when we were in the base block it was about 40 degrees C and when we were in the dead modules it was about 3 degrees C, so the water was condensing in all of these cold traps. I spent a lot of my time. Because of that, the Russians sent up another plug with Progress cargo ship that was to be installed using an intra-vehicle activity, an internal spacewalk using Russian spacesuits to put it in place. Sasha had a bad moment when he disconnected another cable as we got ready for that EVA. The Russians said at this point that the crew was too unlucky and were going to bring them home.

I was shocked, I knew I had to stay, my ride home was on the Space Shuttle. Very sad to learn that my crew weren’t going to stay with me. I had to do a spacewalk in the Russian suits which I had not been trained for, and had to hold on Anatoli Soloviev’s legs as he dug into the side of Mir with his razor knife, not a good thing to have with rubber suits. We didn’t find the leak, we didn’t find a hole, we were unsuccessful during that spacewalk. About a month later, the Shuttle came to pick me up, or rescue me as the way I put it. Then I was in the Shuttle looking through the overhead window with my last look at Mir, I never saw it again.

 

Questions from the audience

  • Could you explain more on what you did on Mir to save Mir and whether the Russians appreciated it.

The biggest challenge I had on Mir was fitting into the crew and being included as a professional. That developed because I could that Sasha and Vasily were really busy trying to find a leak in the cooling system, they were just ripping the station apart trying to find this leak which had been going on for weeks. They were being asked to print out messages that came up on the packet radio ham. I wrote a C++ program in windows that did that for them using the original Russian fonts. I did all the DOS stuff and got it working which saved them about an hour and a half by printing out their messages quickly. It was very manual getting these messages up and down. I asked Vasily to persuade Moscow for me to run the comms and I ended up like Radar in the Mash movies. I was the one who would get all the messages from Moscow and they talked to me, not Vasily, and I would go through the messages. It was an amazing amount of trust, Russian managers were probably very uncomfortable but on-board they were happy with me doing it.

When the collision actually happened, Vasily was in a sort of state of shock that we had a dead station, it was on his shoulders that it had happened, we didn’t even know of we could get off the station to the Soyuz because it was not powered. Actually it turns out you can’t power up the Soyuz to operate without space station power. What I proposed to them was remembering that Titov had told me that you can move the Mir about using the Soyuz. What Moscow had said to us with their very last words before we lost power and lost comm, they said Vasily may have to move with Soyuz, I had picked up on that and I said that I remembered Titov saying this. Vasily and Sasha said no it couldn’t be done, Mir was much lighter then, it was 400 tons now, it was only 20 ten. We couldn’t do anything else and then I looked out the window and saw the tumbling and the spin rates building up, I started measuring them and said that we could try it at least.

I had to convince Sasha using a torch and model as Mir, spinning it to illuminate it. Because Soyuz is thin compared to the rest of the Mir, we could only spin 2 axis. That was a discussion that Vasily listened to and then said that he was going to use too much fuel trying to do that. We would need the fuel to get off and go home in case we didn’t succeed. I asked him how much would he use and he said I wasn’t trained for the Soyuz, of course, I was considered to be a spy. They were very vague about how much fuel it would use. In the end we only ended up using about 10kg of fuel, we probably had 100kg of reserve fuel. it was that persuasion, that challenge I had that was the greatest contribution.

 

  • How do you compare the Russian Orlan spacesuit with an American one?

They are different. The American suit operates at 4.2 psi, 27 atmospheres and is more flexible because its a lower pressure and is pure oxygen. The Russian suit 0.4 of an atmosphere, stiffer, difficult to work in, I would never want to do a Hubble mission in a Russian suit. But it is a higher pressure and has a rear entry, you don’t need anyone to help you put one on, the American suit you have to have someone helping you. The Russian suit is much more robust and more importantly can be maintained by just one person.

 

  •  What is the worst part about going into Space?

Physically, it’s going to the toilet. You have to deal with it every day, you have to be clean, hygienic, and without running water. Running water is a wonderful thing, water doesn’t run, it forms balls because of the surface tension, so the lack of running water is the most awkward thing about being in space. The other one is missing other people. If you have children, as a parent you are aware that you’re not there.

 

  • Were Sasha Lazutkin and Vasily Tsibliev considered an unlucky crew?

They considered themselves an unlucky crew. Based on the fire, the collision and then when Sasha pulled the cable, Vasily had his health issue. There were a lot of things that made them feel unlucky and when they left the Mir station to go back to earth and leave me behind, I felt very sad. I was asked by NASA if I wanted to go back at that point which I declined. After they landed in Kazakhstan, I didn’t hear from them for a week or so, I got a short message from Sasha saying “Mike its just as well you didn’t come home with us because your seat didn’t work.” It didn’t lift up to  cushion the impact of the landing.

 

  • When Helen Sharman visited Mir, there were times she was told to not be in particular areas while the Russians were working together, did that happen to you?

That was probably because they were men and she was a woman but there were spy activities going on Mir and that why they were so suspicious of me when I asked questions, with a whole bunch of equipment. I think I knew what they were doing with it, but they wouldn’t talk about it.

 

On route to the International Space Station
Michael Foale on route to the International Space Station
  •  What is re-entry like on a Soyuz compared to re-entry on the Space Shuttle, are they many differences?

Huge differences. On the Soyuz you are basically spinning in and you see a lot more flame very close to your face, it’s all pink and hot, you can feel the heat the heat of the window. it cracks, you can almost hear it crack, there are 3 panes, the outer one cracks, that lasts about 5 minutes at 4 Gs, its heavier through your chest. At that point you done feel too sick but then the parachute gets deployed and you’re spinning ans swinging around, you start to feel sick so you don’t move your head about. Along flight for about 15 minutes before the engines fire, this big jolt on your back and you think you’re back is broken, then realise it didn’t because you can still move your toes and can then see people running towards you across the grass in Kazakhstan.

The Space Shuttle takes much longer to come in to the Earth’s atmosphere, takes twice as long, can feel 1 and 1/2 Gs through your head, so you actually feel more light headed even though its less Gs and it lasts for longer, about 20 minutes. But it is like an airplane, doing a cool left bank maneuver, 90 degrees bank, straight down looking at Mexico whizzing along at an amazing speed, doing Mach 17 but low down zipping along. Then we get to Florida and the atmosphere is starting to get much thicker, the view is just awesome. I’d say you’d get just as nauseous because it’s doing these rolls, then it come around in an alignment circle. By the time it lands, it’s very soft so that’s the best thing.

 

  • How easy it to bring the Space Station down?

I think it’s going to be a lot harder than they think. I’ve made my opinion known they they should not de-orbit the Space Station. At least leave it unmanned for use of commercial crews or for commercial tourist destination. But there are people at NASA who just disagree and they raise all of the existing engineering concerns that I have with module survivability, and use a Russian Progress for a long time to bring it to a slow descending orbit to put it into the Pacific Ocean. I thought that was pretty touch and go when they did that with the Mir and think it will be 4 times touch and go with the ISS. Stand by Earth. They are meant to do that in 2024.

 

Astronauts Michael Foale (left) and Claude Nicollier during EVA 2 Hubble Service Mission on STS103
Astronauts Michael Foale (left) and Claude Nicollier during EVA 2 Hubble Service Mission on STS103
This event was run by the www.TheArmchairAstronaut.co.uk

 

Links:

Meeting Tom Cruise’s Middle Finger & Top Gun Shuttle Astronaut Scott Altman

The Twins Paradox – Meeting the twin Astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly

Gemini and Apollo astronaut Tom Stafford

Apollo and Gemini astronaut Jim Lovell

Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham

Space Shuttle astronaut Eileen Collins

Meeting Fred Haise from Apollo 13

Meeting Ken Mattingly

Meeting the Moonwalker Alan Bean

Meeting Apollo, Skylab and Shuttle astronauts at CosmicCon

I remember the 80s…a time for heroes, high-five flyers and top gun shuttle pilots. Just as well then that today, thanks to the team at Space Lectures, I met Scott Altman, a veteran F14 Tomcat pilot flying as Tom Cruise’s middle finger in that famous scene in Top Gun and a veteran of 4 Space Shuttle flights.

On STS-90, Scott ‘Scooter’ Altman was the pilot of Columbia and as Pilot for Atlantis on STS-106 to the International Space Station (ISS). His next mission was as Commander of Columbia on STS-109 on a mission to service the Hubble space telescope. Scott ‘Scooter’ Altman’s last space shuttle flight was as Commander on Atlantis for STS-125, the 5th and final shuttle mission to Hubble.

Meeting Scott in the flesh, I’m surprised how tall he is (6′ 4″), it’s enough to take your breath away. It’s the one thing that at 17 years old stopped him from becoming a pilot in the United States Air due to his ‘sitting height.’ Thankfully an enquiry to the United States Navy helped fulfil his ambition to become a pilot since watching “Sky King” growing up. He got to fly F14 aircraft out of Miramar and his first chance of international relations during a cruise over the sea of Japan. The Soviet Union were flying Bear Bombers and Russian Fighters would come out and have mini dog fights, not unlike in the beginning of the film Top Gun.

"Well, that's my finger"
“Well, that’s my finger”

When Scott Altman came back from the cruise, Paramount Pictures were in town, his squadron was selected to fly the F14 in the movie and he was chosen by his skipper to work with the movie people, feeling the need for speed completing the air combat manoeuvres and scaring the camera crew. This includes the memorable scene in the movie where the plane rolls over to keep up international relations “yes Goose, I know the finger”

“Well, that’s my finger”

He also got to do the tower fly by, called a low transition, lighting the afterburners and getting out of dodge, not once but actually 9 times. They filmed with people in the tower for the first 3 and then evacuated after that. Scott Atman didn’t think he was that close.

From there he went to test pilot school where he took a field trip to Houston where two things happened. He realised that astronauts were real people, something he hadn’t really believed before, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in some other category of human. He met guys who had had similar careers as his, looked around the Space Shuttle like a kid in a candy store and applied to NASA. After his week long interview, which is mainly a physical, he returned back to his base and awaited the call hopefully from Don Puddy, the rumour being that if he called you, you were in. Scott Altman did indeed speak to Don Puddy by telephone “I’m sorry to have to tell you this…”

Scott Altman, NASA Astronaut, Pilot on STS-106

When you want to do something though, you don’t give up. He went back to the fleet and got a phone call from NASA while he was on the ship in the Persian Gulf and was asked to comeback for interview with this time saying yes. AT On his first mission to space he visited the International Space Station before, the last crew to go to the ISS before people lived there full time. While there he got to run the lighting, install the treadmill and got to be a space plumber, installing the toilet, leaving a little sign on it saying ‘sanitised for your protection by the crew of STS-106.’

He flew with Yuri Malenchoko, who grew up in Ukraine, became a fighter pilot and one of the guys that Scott Altman trained so hard for in an F14 that he thought he would to go head to head against, each trying to kill each other. Because of space they got to work together on a common mission and instead of being an enemy, was a friend and crewman. As a result, he learned that they were more alike than they were different.

The destination for his final two flights was the Hubble Space Telescope. Looking back at the Earth, it took Altman several days to realise that the little blue band going around the Earth was the atmosphere, comparing the size of the planet to the size of the atmosphere. That’s where our oxygen comes from, that’s what protects us from radiation and gave him a new perspective on the planet.

“It feels fragile, this is our home we have to take care of it.”

Hubble has been in space over 25 years but is not a new telescope. On every servicing mission they put in new technology. His mission was the 5th and his office was the flight deck as the Commander in the left seat with the pilot on the right. Most people think the pilot lands but is actually a co-pilot and goes back to the Gemini days when one was a command pilot and the other was a co-pilot. These astronauts were a bunch of high-powered test pilots, they didn’t want to be called co-pilots. So they called one the Mission Commander and the other the pilot.By the time you launch, you know every one of those switches and what your responsibilities are, what happens if something fails on the right side and how it impacts the switches on the others. One of the other places he trained was the neutral buoyancy lab (NBL). A giant swimming pool 50 feet deep, where you can place the whole telescope down there and float. You can either float in the pool to simulate zero G or in a an airplane on the ‘comet vomit’ doing a parabola which only lasts about 20 seconds.

They trained in the NBL for 6 hours which matches what you would do in space. One of our tests was to repair an instrument that we couldn’t take a whole new box along, which was the classic Hubble repair, take the old box and out and put a new box in, relatively straightforward. One instrument had failed, they knew which card had failed but in order to keep all those cards stable during ascent when everything really shakes, they put 117 screws into it. Altman and his crew had to find a way in which to remove those screws without losing them or going into the worst place possible, inside the telescope and then replace the card, coming up with a fasten and capture plate to do it.

Scott 'Scooter' Altman at Space Lectures
Scott ‘Scooter’ Altman at Space Lectures

They were the first crew not to go to the ISS after the Columbia accident, so they also had to have a plan on what they would if their Shuttle was damaged on launch or while they were on board. They got two Shuttles ready to launch at almost the same time, with the rescue shuttle going up a week later. The Shuttle can only stay in orbit for around 20 days before it runs out of all power.

There is an 8 1/2 minute ride to orbit and right after the engines shut down, you are floating in space. One of the first jobs to do is get the payload doors open as they are the radiators to eject the heat that is building up in all the equipment. If you don’t do that, you don’t get a go for ‘Orbit Ops’ and then you would have to de-orbit and come home. You get a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes which is why you set the clock by mission elapsed time and not the sun, 16 orbits a day. Then you find the Hubble and rendezvous with that, hand fly the vehicle from the aft station using an overhead window and look up to find Hubble approaching until its floating right outside the window and then grab it with the arm to keep it secure.

The Hubble Space Telescope as seen by STS-109

The crew’s number one objective was Wide Field Camera 3, a lot more sensitive than the previous camera, but when it came to replacing, not everything moved as it should have done with the torque wrench on it. RSUs, a box containing gyros to help keep the telescope stable, also needed replacing. However, they didn’t fit. Without gyros, there wouldn’t be a Hubble and it meant a longer than normal spacewalk to resolve the problem with a less than high-tech repair by snapping a bar off. That’s the value of having people and robotics to come up with these contingency plans. This was also the last time that anybody visited Hubble.

All good things come to an and on return the Shuttle is a glider, there are no engines and the Mission Commander always takes over at sub-sonic speeds using guidance to land. Once you do get out, it doesn’t feel normal, like having your foot nailed to the floor and causes problems with your inner balance.When Hubble was launched, we didn’t even know some of the questions it had already answered. It clued us into Dark Energy, and along with Dark Matter, we find that 96% f the universe we don’t know anything about. Hubble allowed us to look back into the early universe with the light that it captures travelling for millions and billions of years. Hubble is still going strong, seven years after Altman’s last visit. It’s an incredible universe.

Scott Altman rode on the shoulders of giants, got to meet his own heroes, including Neil Armstrong and he is looking forward to the day that the next wave of astronauts go back to the Moon and on to Mars, flying the new spaceships and standing on a distant planet looking out and realising that we really can reach for the stars.

Nick Cook with Scott Altman at Space Lectures. Photo courtesy of ProffotoEvents
Nick Cook with Scott Altman at Space Lectures. Photo courtesy of ProffotoEvents

Links:

The Twins Paradox – Meeting the twin Astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly

Gemini and Apollo astronaut Tom Stafford

Apollo and Gemini astronaut Jim Lovell

Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham

Space Shuttle astronaut Eileen Collins

Meeting Fred Haise from Apollo 13

Meeting Ken Mattingly

Meeting the Moonwalker Alan Bean

Meeting Apollo, Skylab and Shuttle astronauts at CosmicCon

Mark and Scott Kelly are the only siblings to have travelled in space with 4 spaceflights each and NASA’s only set of identical twin astronauts . Today, thanks to the great team over at Space Lectures, I’m meeting the time travelling twin astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly. The team at Space Lectures announced the twins line up in spectacular fashion at the end of the Tom Stafford event last year with a video from Scott Kelly on board the ISS announcing their visit. I guess if you’re going to do it, do it in true astronaut style from space. The slightly younger Scott Kelly recently spending a year in space, essentially travelling in a high-speed rocket while his slightly older twin brother Mark remained on Earth as the ground control subject, and thanks to the effect of time dilation of special relativity, time travels slower the faster you go, Scott would technically find that when he returned to Earth, his brother Mark has aged more, even if only by a few milliseconds – the Twins Paradox.

Twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly
Twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly

Mark Kelly flew his first space mission in 2001 as space shuttle pilot on STS-108 delivering supplies to the ISS (International Space Station). His second mission was again as pilot on STS-121 with its mission testing new safety and repair techniques. His third mission was as commander on STS-124 delivering the Japanese Experiment Module Kibo to the ISS. Mark Kelly’s final mission was again as Commander on STS-134, the penultimate space shuttle mission and last flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Scott Kelly flew his first flight on Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-103 for a Hubble telescope servicing mission. His second flight was as commander on STS-118 to the ISS. His third flight was as commander of Expedition 26 on the ISS. Scott Kelly’s last flight was to the ISS on Expeditions 43-46, commanding Expeditions 43-45 as part of the ISS Year Long mission to study the health effects of long-term spaceflight with a comparative study of his twin brother Mark who stayed on Earth during this time.

 

Twin astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly
Twin astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly

The retired former astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly are sharing the stage for this Space Lecture, part retired astronauts, part double act, but all in good-natured twin sibling ribbing. The rest is in Mark and Scott Kelly’s own words…

MK: Thank you very much everybody, I’m Mark Kelly, the smarter, better looking astronaut.

SK: Hey Mark, I’m standing right here unlike when I was in space for a year and can actually hear what you’re saying.

MK: That was the best year of my life.

SK: Mine too. Why do you get to talk first anyway?

MK: Isn’t it obvious, I’m 6 minutes older than you so I should talk first.

SK: That’s the only 6 minutes when he really was the smarter, better looking one. I’m the more experienced astronaut, I’ve flown in space for 500 days verses your 50 days or minutes or whatsoever that was.

MK: It was 50 days. but if you want to talk experience, I was the pilot of the Space Shuttle twice and the Commander twice and you only did that once.

SK: You know the great thing about being on the ISS for a year? You can’t hear your twin brother whining. I’m Scott Kelly, its great to be here, great to be anywhere with gravity and to those of you who do not appear to be space aliens, I’d like to say good afternoon, and to the rest of you ‘we come in peace.’

MK: It was in September 1962 that our president JFK said we choose to go the Moon and do those other things, not because the are easy, but because they are hard. the greatest gift we can all give our children is to continue to do those hard things, we do those and we can accomplish anything, go to Mars and other places. But what we also need is an enthusiastic, proud people like those in the US, like those here in this room today, space enthusiasts that want to see us go to Mars.

People often ask us what is the best part about flying in space ans having the privilege of being an astronaut, is it the launch, the landing, looking out the window at our beautiful planet Earth, is it floating around in zero gravity. All those things are great, but the best part of flying in space for my brother and I is that it’s really hard and difficult thing to do and that’s what makes it so great. Space is hard, a hard place to work and that’s what we want to talk to you about today, about doing those hard things, having a goal and a plan, taking risks, be willing to making mistakes, testing the status quo and about working as a team. When you put all these things together for us as our careers in astronauts, we’ve learned that the sky is not the limit.

Scott and I grew up in New Jersey, our Dad was a stereotypical tough New Jersey Irish  Police Detective, used to come home at east once a year with a cast on his arm and tell Scott and I that he broke his hand fighting crime. Bar fighting. More bar fighting than crime fighting. Our Mother was a secretary and a waitress pretty much at the same time and this was a time in our lives that we did not do particularly well in school, we didn’t have any goals or great direction and for some reason our Mother decided she was going to become a Police Officer like our Father, this was in New Jersey in the 1970s, and for a woman to become a Police Officer, was a really difficult thing to do. Our Mom had to take a test, part of test was a physical fitness test that included climbing over this 7 foot 2 inch wall. Our Mother was about 4 feet 13 inches tall and she had to climb over this wall.

To help our Mother out, our Dad made this built a replica ion the back yard and made it an inch higher and we’d watch our Mother go out there, initially she couldn’t reach the top ans when she could she would just often fall off into the dirt. But after moths of practising, our Mother took this test and instead of getting over in the required 9 seconds, got over in 4 1/2 seconds which was almost faster than all the men and became one of the first female Police Officers in that part of New Jersey. This was the first time in our lives we saw that the power of having a goal and a plan of what it meant to work really hard.

 

Astronaut Mark Kelly STS-134 commander
“Practice, persistence and just not giving up was the only thing that ever really worked for me.” Mark Kelly

SK: So Mark and I grew up in New Jersey in the 60s and 70s, the height of the Apollo space programme and a TV show ‘I dream of Jeannie’ and I remember when Neil and Buzz took those first steps on the surface of the moon but I don’t ever remember wanting to be and astronaut and thinking that was something I was capable of, I was such a poor student growing up, I couldn’t pay attention. I spent more tie looking out the window, willing the clock to run faster, more than looking at the blackboard. I think if I was at school today I’d be diagnosed with ADD, so being an astronaut was something completely beyond the realm of possibilities. I do remember the first time I said I wanted to be an astronaut. I was in the first grade, in the boys urinal, next to a classmate, doing what first graders do in there, peeing on the floor. He turns me to and asks what do I what to do when I grow up, I said play baseball of the Mets, he turns to me and says I want to be an astronaut. I thought that sounded cool and then said I wanted to be one.

MK: I think we all have goals, one of my early goals, even before I got out of high school, I was going to become one of the first people to walk on the planet Mars. This was when I was about 17 years old, I figured out if I worked hard enough and got lucky, I’d maybe make it to Mars someday. I left NASA about 5 years ago and never did make it to Mars. But I did get kind of close, I made it into space 4 times, many of you may think that’s impressive getting into space 4 times, just think of how impressed the aliens were when I told them I had visited the planet Earth 5 times. My plan was to become a naval aviator, navy pilot, then a test pilot, then an astronaut. I graduated from university in 1986, headed off to flight school in Pensacola, Florida to start flying for the US Navy. Top Gun came out in 1986, kind of embarrassed to tell you this but I’m going to tell you anyway, literally as I drove through the gate at the naval air station, that cheesy music from the movie, playing on the tape deck, think it was the Danger Zone song. I get there, I start flying and very quickly find out I am not Maverick. I’m not a particularity good pilot, I really struggled.

You know what the Navy does to you after a year at flight school? They send you to land on a ship for the first time. I could barely land on the runway. When the Navy sends you to land on an aircraft carrier for the very first time, there isn’t anybody crazy enough to go with you. Heading off to what felt like the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, you get above the ship, initially for a touch and go landing where you touch down and take off again, do that few times and on the third time down, I put my tailhook down, this hook is supposed to catch one of the 4 wires across the back of the jet. Well, it didn’t, went up in the air again and on the fourth time I landed generally in the right place, the hook grabs one of the wires, its like getting a crash in your car, you come to an abrupt stop, raise the hook, come to the catapult and shot off the front of the ship at a 130 mph in a couple of seconds.

Did that a couple of more times, the entire experience is just a blur, I barely remember any of it with the exception of one of the deck hands giving me a single obscene gesture with one of his fingers. Later I go back to the naval air station and I’m being debriefed by the instructor pilots that was watching from the back of the ship, you know the first thing he said to me is “Are you sure this career is for you.” I’d be the first to admit how poorly I did, I think Tom Cruise would have been better, I don’t mean the character from the movie, I mean the actor. I didn’t give up, I really believe this. No matter how good you are at the beginning of anything you try, it’s not a good indicator how good you can become. I’m a prime example of someone who was able to overcome a serious lack of aptitude, but practice, persistence and just not giving up was the only thing that ever really worked for me.

 

Astronaut Scott Kelly STS-118 commander
“Small manageable steps that became that giant leap for me.” Scott Kelly

SK: Despite all my efforts in school, I managed to graduate in the bottom half of my high school class, college year. I was 18 years old and it was just expected that I would go off to university. So I did and I applied to a few and got accepted to one and when I showed up I realised I had actually applied for the wrong school, I thought I was applying for another university in Baltimore, Maryland, thinking I was going to the university of Maryland College Park. I was waiting for the football game on Saturday and we didn’t even have a football stadium. I was basically going through the same experience in high school, I couldn’t pay attention, I didn’t know how to study, waiting for the day to get over, wasn’t even going to class very much. One day I was walking across the campus and I go into the book store to buy gum or potato crisps, not a book. So I see this book on the book shelf, it was a red, white and blue cover, I was attracted t it, it really caught my interest.

Brought it back to my unmade dorm room and was captivated by the stories of the early military pilots and the test pilots that became the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts. The book was The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. I read it from cover to cover very quickly and I recognised traits in these guys, that despite being this 18 year old kid who’d never been able to do his home work, I recognised traits in them that I had in myself. I decided right then and there, that this was the spark to get me moving in a positive direction, get me doing those hard things. You might wonder how this kid at 18 years old becomes this very successful astronaut at the end of his career, that’s a giant leap. But for me it was a bunch of very small manageable steps, teaching myself how to do my homework, going to class, changing schools, getting accepted into the Navy, getting to flight school, small manageable steps that became that giant leap for me.

MK: For all of us, life is a set of challenges, whether it’s personal or professional challenges. One of the big professional challenges for me in the summer of 1990 was when a guy named Saddam Hussain invaded Kuwait. I was a pilot of an air plane A6 Intruder, a two-man, all weather ground attack plane. I was stationed over in Japan on an the aircraft carrier USS Midway and by the fall (Autumn) of that year we were going down by the South China Sea, across the Indian Ocean, up into the Persian Gulf and we got there in November.  On January 17th 1991, it was time for me to fly my first combat mission, I’d been training for this for about 5 years. I was the pilot of the A6 Intruder, the other crew member was my bombardier navigator Paul Fujimora, really good at his job. We head up to the flight deck early to fly our first combat mission. It was a dark night, no moon, they guys were loading up hundreds of bombs and missiles onto the airplane and on that night we were to drop 8000 lbs of ordnance on a hanger on an airfield near Basra in southern Iraq. We get into this air plane, we turn on the batteries, the radios, we hear that another A6 Intruder just like ours has been shot down over southern Iraq. We start our engines and take off, go to an airborne tanker and get a full load of gas and then proceed north towards the southern coast of Iraq in the northern part of the Persian Gulf. As soon as we get over land, we see AAA (anti-aircraft-artillery) coming up at our airplane as the Iraqis move then guns back and forth, like a snake coming up at the sky at you. Winston Churchill said about his experience in combat that there was nothing more exciting than being shot at and missed. Speaking from experience, this part is kind of important.

We had top go through this part of Iraq that had these SAMs (surface to air missiles), big air defence systems that they got from the Soviet Union, we made this left hand turn and found ourselves right in the middle of these missile envelopes, most of the missile batteries to my left, over my left shoulder. I’ve got to tell you that one of the worst feelings that I’ve ever had in my life is seeing a missile come up at an aeroplane, big bright dot, just getting bigger and not moving forward or aft in the canopy. If it stays in the same position and just gets bigger, you know what that means? It’s coming right at you. Immediately as soon as I see this thing, I say “Paul, I think we have a missile tracking us.” Now Paul’s job is to find this hangar on our radar and infra-red displays. His only response to me was “Roger, I’m tracking the target.” A little while later I say “Paul, this isn’t good, the missile is getting really close.” Again, the same response. He’s doing what we in the Navy or NASA call compartmentalisation. Focusing on the stuff you can control, not worrying about the stuff outside your control. No matter what industry you work in, or your job, there are often things that are outside your influence, and the things that are outside of your control, it doesn’t make any sense to pay attention or worry about them. All we can do is focus on the stuff we have some control over.

 

Space Shuttle Endeavour’s last mission on STS-134 commanded by Mark Kelly
‘The Sky is not the limit’ Mark & Scott Kelly.

The missile is getting closer, I have to do a little last-ditch manoeuvre, I add full power, roll the aeroplane upside down, put the stick in my lap, the missile goes over the top and explodes, there’s a big flash and the air-plane shakes, I turn the air-plane up right, check the instrument panel and both engines are still running, hydraulic systems still have pressure, it doesn’t seem like we have any holes in the aeroplane. As we turn back from the target, you know whats worse than seeing the first missile? It’s not going well at all. We go through this same process again with Paul incredibly focused, focused on the stuff he can control. These time, we go upside down the missile goes over the top, the missile doesn’t explode and goes off into the distance. A little while later we end up in our 30 degree dive over the airfield, bullets coming up over the clouds, we’re going down through the clouds, eventually I can see the runway and the hanger. I hit the button on the stick and the bombs go flying, the aeroplane gets a lot lighter, and you don’t hang around to see if you hit anything, it’s not like TV, just turn around and leave. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is in all of our lives to just pay attention to the things we can control and not worry about the rest of the stuff.

SK: Eventually I started doing better, did well enough at my new college, this time the one I actually applied for on purpose to go into the Navy and flight school and I did well enough to get assigned to the aeroplane that my brother wanted top fly, the F14 Tomcat.

MK: You know what they say about fighter pilots and the F14 Tomcat? That fighter pilots make movies, Attack Pilots make history.

SK: I was assigned the F14 Tomcat and I’m taking it to the ship for the very first time, we don’t have a stick in the back, there is a seat in the back and its usually an instructor, radar intercept officer like Goose in Top Gun but he can’t control the aeroplane, only give a bit of advice, and I remember the first time in this F14 and looking down on the ship and my very first landing in the F14 and I landed so short that the hook of the aircraft hit the back of the ship, the bit that goes down towards the water, not the flat area its supposed to.

MK: This is actually called crashing.

SK: It’s called almost crashing. I rolled into the wires, stopped and I raised my hook and they, chained me down and took me out of the aeroplane and they said to me “the day part of landing on the ship is the easy part, if you can’t even do this during the day, how do you expect to be able to do this at night? You’re not very god at this.” They launched me back off to Virginia beach and had to really dig deep down inside and was given the option of applying for something else, you want to not fly again, guys usually didn’t disqualify during the day like I had just done. But I was willing to take the risk of failing to see what the limit of my achievement was going to be, what u can actually achieve. I was willing to challenge myself and take risks of failing to see what I could accomplish and that’s not necessarily an easy thing to do, set yourself up for failure. But if you want to see how far you can go, it’s a pretty important trait to have – to be wiling to fail.

The Navy eventually set me up with a radar intercept officer that was good at helping guys who had problems and eventually we’re flying together and he says to me you can fly the aeroplane well enough, you can control what you need to do to land, altitude, heading, angle of attack, put the aeroplane where it needs to be but what you’re doing is getting too comfortable with everything that is just right. Too comfortable when everything is perfect, and by doing so, because you’re not making constant corrections, things will soon be off. What he taught me was to fly this aeroplane very precisely, make corrections all the time and test the status quo. If I wasn’t making constant corrections, things are never going to get better and likely going to get worse. I use this philosophy from flying the F14, flying other aeroplanes, flying in space,working in a programme, managing people, managing teams, wherever I work in the rest of my career, I’ve always tried to make constant very small corrections, testing the status quo all the time to make sure things don’t get worse.

 

Space Shuttle Endeavour docked with the ISS during STS-118
Space Shuttle Endeavour docked with the ISS during STS-118

MK: Scott and I became astronauts in 1996 and in 2001 it was time for me to fly my first space flight. When you go up the launchpad on the day you lit off into space, the launchpad is pretty much abandoned because the Space Shuttle is fully fuelled, pretty much a bomb sitting on a hill. You climb into the Space Shuttle about 3 hours before lift off, get strapped in to your seats, laying on your back and you’ve got to turn on all these systems, APUs, hydraulics systems, electrical, environmental, engines in correct configuration, computer system in different modes, 2000 switches and circuit breakers that need to be in the right place. You’re working through this checklist, countdown clock heading towards zero, that clock stops a couple of times to allow you to catch up and when its gets to 6 seconds, those three main engines start and come up to full power producing am million and half pounds of thrust and you’re still sitting on the launchpad with that Space Shuttle bolted down, When the clock hits zero, the bolts explode, the solid rocket boosters ignite and it is literally like the hand of god came down and grabbed you and ripped you off the planet. On TV it looks like you are going up really smoothly…doesn’t feel anything like that. What it does feel like, like going down a rail road tracks on a runaway train at a thousand miles an hour, an incredible amount of vibration. We accelerate from 0 to 17500 mph in just 8 1/2 minutes.

Two minutes into that flight, those solid rocket boosters, come off and parachute back down into the ocean, NASA sends a ship out there to pick them up, get them back to the factory and refurbish them and reuse them. A little while later we are going 25 times the speed of sound, 17500 miles an hour. Those main engines shut down and the external tank comes off, hits the atmosphere and explodes and now we’re in orbit around this incredible planet and its such an amazing thing to see, this round blue ball just floating there in the blackness of space. No strings attached, going around every 90 minutes and all 7 1/2 billion people are there and it is literally an island in the solar system.

SK: I’m nit sure why my brother is telling you all this because I flew in space for the first time about 3 years before he did, very much like he described and my first flight was to the Hubble Space Telescope which was having a science emergency. I remember the first 81 /2 minutes, I was so focused on just inside of the cockpit, like mark said there was 2000 switches and circuit breakers. You could push a button a the wrong time and blow the space shuttle up or throw a switch and blow up the auxiliary power unit. What I would tell myself in those kind of moments whether its being the pilot of the Commander of the Space Shuttle or flying on the Soyuz or ISS, that when I’m doing an activity that is so critical, just remind myself that there is nothing more important than what I am doing right now. So the first 8 1/2 minutes I’m looking inside and eventually the main engines cut off and we’re floating around in space. It was dark and I looked out for the first time and after a few minutes I see something on the horizon I don’t really recognise having never flown in space before.I turned to the Commander of the Space Shuttle and ask what the hell is that? That’s the sunrise. As the sun came up I saw how the brilliantly blue planet Earth was, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life, breathtaking.

 

Mark Kelly on space shuttle Endeavour
Mark Kelly on Space Shuttle Endeavour

Two days later we rendezvoused with the telescope, put it in the payload bay, did three spacewalks. fixed it perfectly and sent it out on its way. Ever since then I’ve had this kind of relationship with Hubble and an appreciation for how its shown us our place in the universe. A number of years ago they pointed the telescope at a spot in the sky that was absolutely black where they thought there was absolutely nothing and left it pointed there for two weeks. They developed the image and over 3000 galaxies, much like our Milky Way galaxy with billions of stars. A few years later they pointed the telescope in the exact opposite direction, same thing again. We know the universe is distributed evenly around us and from this data we got back from Hubble and elsewhere, astronomers have been able to determine there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sands on all the beaches and every desert on Earth. I’ve flown over a lot of sand during my 500 odd days in space and its hard to imagine more star than grains of sand on a single beach, let alone all the sand on planet Earth. People often wonder and ask about life out there, did you ever see anything funny, so what I tell them is that when I was in the Navy, I visited Area 51, there were no aliens there.

MK: Because we moved them all to Are 52. Please don’t share that with anyone. My wife Gabrielle Giffords is a member of Congress and when she entered Congress for the first time in 2007, I thought we had the risky jobs. I’d flown two flights in space, Scott had as well, but as it would turn out, my wife Gabby was the one who would nearly lose her life serving her country. On the day she was injured, nearly assassinated, there was no clock for us. What I mean by that, the big events in my life, a combat mission, a space flight, you know what decisions need to be made by what time. I was at home where I lived in Houston, she was in Tuscon meeting with her constituents, the people that elected her, met with them in a grocery store. I’d just got off the phone with my wife Gabby, I knew she was going to this event. A little while later my cell phone rings and Gabby’s chief of staff said that Gabby had been shot. Other than that call we didn’t have that much information. I started thinking to myself did that really happen. I called my wife’s chief of staff back and that’s when she gave me the really devastating news that my wife Gabby had been shot in the head from a would be assassin.

 

"I've flown over a lot of sand during my 500 odd days in space and its hard to imagine more star than grains of sand on a single beach, let alone all the sand on planet Earth" Scott Kelly.
“I’ve flown over a lot of sand during my 500 odd days in space and its hard to imagine more star than grains of sand on a single beach, let alone all the sand on planet Earth” Scott Kelly.

At that point I realised that this was going to be the biggest challenge of my life. I had to get to Tucson in Arizona in a hurry and I lived in Houston in Texas. I had a good friend with a private aeroplane, so we go to the airport and take off. One of the worst dumbest things I’ve done is to leave the TV on, on this corporate aeroplane and watch this day unfold on TV. We get about halfway with all the news channels pronouncing my wife Gabby dead. we just sat there looking at my wife’s picture for about 30 minutes with that little graphic at the bottom that says Gabrielle Giffords 1970-2011. A little while later the media comes back saying she was in surgery. The news shouldn’t be announcing people dead, that should be left up to doctors to do. My wife Gabby certainly wasn’t going to get taken out by cable news.

SK: On this day I was on the ISS, had been there for a few months already and had about 2 1/2 months to go, it was a Saturday and I was fixing the toilet, elbow deep in space toilet, sometimes astronauts do have to do those crappy jobs. I’m fixing the toilet and I get a call from Houston saying they are privatising the space to ground channel. I didn’t think a whole lot about it, they said the chief of the astronauts office was going to come on and they did they told me my sister-in-law had been shot, a bunch of others injured but didn’t have a lot of information. I immediately called my brother, he was getting ready to go to Tuscon, he tole me everything he could. Got off the phone and tried to do whatever I could to support him but being on the ISS there was no way to come home for about another 2 1/2 months. There’s nothing that can happen on the ground when you are in space that will bring you home, it has to be some kind of emergency on the spacecraft. Eventually being in such an isolated place, I realised I had a crew, a space station to take care of, I was the ISS Commander, I really need to focus the stuff I could focus on and control and not the stuff I count which was happening back on the ground.

 

Astronaut Scott Kelly on the International Space Station
Astronaut Scott Kelly on the International Space Station

MK: Around this time on 2011, NASA started considering sending an astronaut to the ISS for an entire year and eventually would turn out to be my brother Scott. Why would we sedn somebody to the ISS for a year? Up until this point we had only sent astronauts into space for as long as 6 months and this was going to be as twice as long. Its to prepare and to learn enough about human physiology and other things if we went to send astronauts to Mars some day. Mars is pretty far away , it’s going to take us 6 months to get there, 6 months to get back and if you want to stay more than a couple of weeks, you have to stay nearly a year. a really long mission if you want to send crew members to the surface of Mars. We have a good understanding of what we’re going to need to know about rocket science with propulsion systems and what the spacecraft are going to look like to do a mission like that. What we don’t understand, what we really need to improve our understanding of and our knowledge is in human physiology. So for that reason my brother Scott spent a year in space.

SK: So in March of 2015 I find myself in central Asia for the second time,getting ready to launch on the Russian Soyuz, similar to what my brother described, you’re in this van, the cosmovan going out to the launchpad. A much smaller rocket, fully fuelled, like a bomb on the top of this hill but unlike the Shuttle where the launchpad is abandoned, there’s like a hundred people up there. The Russian philosophy on this is that if you have friends and they’re going on a long trip, you’re going to be there to see them off. You’re walking past these people and some of these people are smoking cigarettes. You’re going into space, you have no choice, get in the elevator and you go up, get strapped in the Soyuz and its about as small as it can possibly be to fit three grown people inside. Its dark and its loud, you’re strapped in with knees up to your chin. But unlike the Space Shuttle there’s no countdown clock, it seems like its kind of unnecessary in the Russian system. You get to zero and start to hear things going on, somebody says ignition and pretty soon you’re off to the races.

Nine minutes later you’re in space, takes a little longer in the Soyuz, 6 hours later you’re docking with the ISS. Open the hatch and I go inside and it feels like I never left and I’m thinking man this is a dumb thing to do, I’ve got a year ahead of me. And its hard, living in space on the ISS is really hard. The ISS is really big, about the size of a football pitch, like a 5 bedroom house and a combination of a scientific laboratory and your grandmothers basement. When you’re in space you have to bring with you everything you need, food, water spare parts. We lost two rockets when we were on the ISS, the Russian Progress and the Space X Dragon blew up, so you need a lot of stuff up there. Its a really had place to live, when you go to sleep you’re at work, when you wake up you’re at work, everything floats, you have to take electricity form the sun, turn our urine into water, which we then drink, which we then turn back into urine, over and over again. Some of that we use to make oxygen.Not only is human physiology very important, we also want to know how to keep these systems working for very long periods of time so we can go to Mars some day. You’re going to Mars and your toilet breaks and your ability to turn urine into water breaks, you’re dead. Over the course of the time I was there we did 400 different scientific experiments in all different scientific disciplines, some exploration based, how to live and work in space and how to go to Mars. Others were about improving life right here on Earth with basic sciences, research in medicine, stayed pretty during the course of the year I was up there.

 

 International Space Station and the docked space shuttle Endeavour
International Space Station and the docked space shuttle Endeavour

MK: If you hadn’t noticed, Scott and I are identical twins, a lot of the experiments he focused on for the year while he was in orbit, and I also focused on while here on earth was a thing called the twin study which was a comparative scientific study between the two of us that was done by about 10 different universities, mostly in the US and also one in Europe. These are studies looking at the differences in our DNA genetic material and molecular differences that may have happened because he spent over 500 days in space compared to my 54 days in space, so it’s a significant difference. One of these studies we both find pretty interesting is the study on our telomeres, a piece of your DNA where the length of this structure on your DNA is indicative of your physical age.No the age according to the calendar but how old you really are. The theory is that because Scott spent 500 days in space his telomeres would shorten because of the radiation, zero gravity environment and the stress of being in space, so he would physically be older.

Albert Einstein, his theory of General Relativity which has been since been proven would tell you that the faster you travel, the slower time travels. So as Scott travelled at 17500 mph for 500 days, time actually slowed down for him. Remember at the beginning where I said I was 6 minutes older, somebody actually did the maths, now I am 6 minutes and 5 milliseconds older. But what is interesting is what is this radiation going to do with his telomeres. If we came back here in about 10 years and I look like I’m 60 and he looks like he’s 80, you’ll know what happened.

SK: Like I said earlier, living on that Space Station is hard and one of the hard things about it is that you always have to be ready for some type of emergency whether its a fire, ammonia leak, high concentrated ammonia that cools the outside of the ISS,if that stuff gets inside it becomes very very deadly. And also we’re at risk of depressurisation, something hitting us, all that space junk that’s out there, and if it hits us we might have to respond to an emergency depressurisation. So in summer of 2015, I’m running on the treadmill and the control centre comes up, say they’re privatising the space to ground channel, immediately thinking to about the last time and hoping that nothing on Earth to my loved ones. They said there was a satellite coming at you and its going to get within a mile, the same speed as you but in the exact opposite direction, 35000 mph closure, 20 times the speed of a bullet from a gun. We didn’t see it in time to move the ISS out of the way which is what we would normally do. The control centre says Hey Scott, I need you to close all 18 hatches on the US side, I was the only American up there, just in case this thing hits us, that way maybe only one of the modules damaged that way we can save the rest of the ISS, in theory anyway. Getting all 18 hatches closed would take me 2 hours, I go over to the Russian segment, I know what their philosophy is on this, but seeing it in real life is quite shocking. They’re not doing anything to get ready, not closing any hatches, they’re eating lunch. To the Russians, there are only two probabilities that really matter, it completely misses them or it hits them and they are going to disintegrate in an instant, the other possibilities of a glancing blow is so unlikely, they don’t even care to do anything about it. So they ask me if I want some lunch.

 

Soyuz - like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel while you're on fire.
Soyuz – like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel while you’re on fire.

With about 10 minutes to go, we go to the Soyuz, we’re going to use this as a lifeboat, knees up to our chins again and I notice Misha looking out the window and I say to him, you’re not going to see anything, its 35000 mph closure and its dark, I know this myself looking out of my window, and Mikhail says it will really suck if this hits us. It gets down to zero hour and all 3 of us are looking at our watches, getting tense. The clock gets to zero and starts counting up, at 30 seconds, the Russian Control Centre says the time has passed, you guys are safe you can go back to work now . So I go back to opening up 18 hatches and they go back to lunch. The reason I tell you this is because the way NASA approaches things is different from the Russian space agency, and other organisations for that matter, They (Russia) are very professional but NASA would look for every tiny thing that could possibly happen and try to protect for it, especially those things that have significant consequences. Even though it was very unlikely we would get hit, NASA looks to protect those type of things, every possible critical failure.

MK: Spaceflight is dangerous, sometimes I don’t think people understand the level or risk involved. A single spaceflight on the Shuttle or the Soyuz is almost as dangerous as storming the beach at Normandy on D-Day, almost that level of risk but not quite. If we wanted to demonstrate that risk in here to all of you,we could give everybody a deck of cards, you get to pick one card from that deck, but if you pick the ace of spades you lose your life, those are the odds that we deal with on each and every spaceflight. But we make a very strong attempt to drive that risk down to the lowest extent possible. We do that in hundred of different ways, focus on a lot of different things. As a Commander of a Space Shuttle flight or ISS, the one thing we always try to focus on is attention to detail, attention to those small details is so important in trying to reduce risk. If you’ve noticed in aeroplane accidents or accidents with spacecraft, it always seems like there was some minor detail that was missed and led to a chain of events and a catastrophic thing happen at the end. I can’t ever overestimate the importance of just focusing on those minor details.

SK: So eventually after nearly a year in space, it was time for me to come home, my two Russian colleagues and I would get in our Soyuz, undock and we slow down by a few hundred miles an hour to start re-entering the atmosphere. When you come back on the Space Shuttle its more like driving down Park Avenue in a Rolls Royce, the Soyuz is much different, enters much more steeply, there’s a window right here, there is fire at the side of your head, when the modules separate its done with a bunch of pyrotechnic explosions, there are things banging on the window that’s breaking off, the ablative material flying off in all different directions, like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel while you’re on fire. As soon as you realise you’re not going to die, it’ the most fun you’ve ever had. Pretty medieval but also effective.

 

Scott Kelly returns to Earth
Scott Kelly returns to Earth

Eventually we crash back in Kazakhstan, not far from where we lifted off. The Russians opened the hatch and I smell fresh air for the very first time in a year and within 24 hours I’m back in Houston in my house after a bunch of medical tests, walk in the front door, into the swimming pool, had some apple pie that was sent from the Whitehouse, took a shower for the first time in nearly a year and slept in a bed. The best part about coming home was the feeling that I had just done the hardest thing I will ever do in my entire life, pending a year in space. If you saw me coming out of the capsule, I was smiling, moving my head around, my only goal there was to look better than the guys I was with, a little bit of acting going on, I’m expecting an Academy Award this year. When I got home I was so sore for a number of days, I could barely get out of bed, anywhere where my skin touched, like sitting down, feet, I had Hives for a couple of weeks where my skin was reacting to the fact I had not touched anything for a year. When I stood up I could feel my blood rush to my legs and see my legs actually swell, that’s pretty disturbing. But after a few weeks that went away and after a few months I’d get less tired. My feet still bother me, that;s why you might see me moving around a bit more than my brother, I’m doing better everyday.

MK: Having a successful spaceflight, there are a lot of things that have to come together, leadership, teamwork, and sometimes one of the most critical aspects of making these a successful mission is putting the best team together. As a Commander of a Space Shuttle or ISS you have some say on who our crew members are going to be. There are certain things we look for in other crew members, personally I like people who lean forward and make things happen, then there are the things I don’t like, the ‘yes’ men ‘yes’ women, I am perfectly capable of agreeing with myself, we’re all pretty good at that. When we start training for a spaceflight, for the Space Shuttle, that’s bout 2 years before you lift off 3 years potentially for an ISS mission, I set my crew members down and tell them they are required to question my decisions, not optional, I also tell them don’t do it out loud where they can hear you. If you think we should be doing something differently that effects either safety or mission success, you’ve got to tell e about it, we’re going to figure this out as a team.

SK: So as I was undocking from the ISS for the last time, I was looking out my window and can see this truss of the ISS and was just contemplating the 500 days of my life that I’d spent on the ISS, how we’d built this million pound spaceship in low earth orbit, the hardest thing I believe we have ever done, an international partnership with 15 different countries, including my very good friend Tim Peake who I was on the ISS with, great guy, 15 countries, different languages, including Time Peake’s different language, different engineering standards, putting these modules together in orbit. Some of these modules had never been connected before on the ground, in a vacuum while flying around at 17500 mph in extremes of temperatures of plus and minus 270 degrees, and I just thought that this was the hardest this we have ever done, and if we can do this we can do anything. If we decide we want to go to Mars, we can go to Mars, if we decide we want to cure cancer, if we put the resources behind it, we can cure cancer, if we want to fix the problems with our environment with fiscal problems, political problems, I believe we can do it. We have challenges wherever you might work, you can fix those. We are true believers now that if you can dream it, you can do it, have a goal and a plan, take risks, be willing to make mistakes and work as a team because team work makes the dream work and you can choose to do the hard things and if we do that, then the sky is not the limit

The sky is not the limit.

Then, like an astronaut returning from space in a Soyuz capsule, its back to earth with a bump as the lecture and a polished performance is over from astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly. A few questions from the audience to round off and another great event from the team at Space Lectures with a double signed souvenir.

With Scott Kelly and Mark Kelly
With Scott Kelly on the left and the smarter, better looking and 6 minutes & 5 milliseconds older Mark Kelly on the right.

Links:

Gemini and Apollo astronaut Tom Stafford

Apollo and Gemini astronaut Jim Lovell

Space Shuttle astronaut Eileen Collins

Meeting Fred Haise from Apollo 13

Meeting Ken Mattingly

Meeting the Moonwalker Alan Bean

General Thomas P. Stafford is a veteran NASA astronaut who flew in space 4 times and in 4 different spacecraft, completing 6 rendezvous, orbited the moon and accumulated 507 hours in space. I am lucky enough to meet astronaut Tom Stafford today.

Tom Stafford
Tom Stafford

 

A brief space summary. His first flight was piloting Gemini 6 for the first rendezvous in space and less than 6 months later was Commander on Gemini 9 rendezvousing with an Agena Target Vehicle but without docking.  Tom Stafford’s next flight in space was as Commander on Apollo 10 with an all-up test of the lunar module (LM) “Snoopy” flying to within 9 miles of the lunar surface, the point where powered descent would begin for landing and considered to be the dress rehearsal for the first manned moon landing. During Apollo 10 on their back from the moon, Tom Stafford and his crew mates also achieved the highest speed ever attained by a manned vehicle.  Tom Stafford had his final flight in space as the Apollo Commander of the Apollo Soyuz Test Program (ASTP) with the historic handshake in space between Soviet cosmonauts and American astronauts.

The Apollo 10 Lunar Module “Snoopy” dropped down to 47,400 feet (9 miles) above the lunar surface.

 

It is unfortunate that Captain Eugene Cernan is unable to attend today after an unexpected illness and thanks to the fantastic www.space-lectures.com team and a phone call from Gene Cernan to his crew-mate of two missions, Tom Stafford, they have managed to persuade 85 year old General Stafford to attend at very short notice.  To steal a phrase, you could say “this was their finest hour, a successful failure.”  Tom Stafford turned out to be absolutely fantastic.

It’s not the first time they’ve managed to pull off these rare opportunities, (see my other posts).  If you have the slightest interest in attending astronaut space lectures, then this not-for-profit group will blow your mind in bringing legendary Apollo, Gemini and Space Shuttle astronauts. Tom Stafford is definitely a space legend. The simple fact is that from that golden age of space flight, all the men that have flown to the moon are now in their 80’s. These events are always sold out.  It’s time to get my space face on and meet the space ambassador Tom Stafford.

Astronaut Tom Stafford as command pilot of the Gemini 9A
Astronaut Tom Stafford as command pilot of the Gemini 9A

 

The lecture starts with a video, starting with background in Oklahoma and a summary of his long and illustrious career,  before coming out to greet the audience.  Tom Stafford may give the appearance of a frail elderly gentleman but when he speaks he won’t stop, his breath of knowledge and memory of the cold war space race and beyond is stunning.  This post will be lengthy with laughs along the way. I’ve done my best to record what I can and have separated into space eras.  This is Tom Stafford in his own words…

The Space Race

It’s a real pleasure to be here in the UK again, I’ve been here many times before, I always say its one of my favourite countries to come to, the natives speak English over here.  It’s a pleasure to be here at short notice, my dear friend Gene Cernan is under the weather, he called me on Wednesday and wanted to know if I could be here.

Tom Stafford at Space-Lectures
Tom Stafford at Space-Lectures

Humankind has always look up at the sky, and looked up particularly at the moon, the sun, the stars, where did they come from,will we ever go there?  Maybe a few people wrote about it but it was impossible.  However things have progressed over the years. To me, the defining moment was when the Soviet Union was when they put up the first satellite, Sputnik. America was this democracy, always fighting with each other among the parties, we are one of reaction, not a positive action but once we get our mind to things, the whole country gets behind it.  So as a result of Sputnik, congress pushed President Eisenhower and formed NASA.

Lyndon Johnson was not what you would call a space buff, he did start Project Mercury, the Soviet Union had already started although we didn’t know that and the defining moment came after President Kennedy, who saw the worldwide acclaim that Yuri Gagarin got on April 12 1961 when he did an orbit around the Earth and the acclaim on May 5th 1961 with Alan Shepherd went 115 miles up and 200 miles down range. So what he turned to was the National Space Council which was headed by Vice President Lyndon Johnson, he knew he had to get a winner and asked what could we do to get ahead of the Soviet Union in science, technology and also beat the Soviets.  So the Vice President gathered all the best heads at NASA, Von Braun, Gliruth, Silverstein etc and got back to Kennedy with 3 scenarios:

  • Fly a free return trajectory, fly by the moon and come back although we don’t think there is a way we can beat the Soviets doing it.  This was exactly the type of mission the Soviets had in mind.
  • There is a 50% chance we can beat them going into an orbit around the moon.
  • However we think definitely, that if we go and land a man on the moon and come back we can beat them, and this will push us ahead.

So May 25 1961, (Kennedy announced) that in this decade we will land a man on the moon and safely return.  I’m sure glad he had that second bit there.  We were going to go to the moon but how do we go to the moon?  There were several different ideas.  Dr Gilruth suggested a large booster, about 2 1/2 times bigger than a Saturn V and do a direct landing. Dr Von Braun had other ideas, he wanted 2 smaller ones, at least 50% larger than a Saturn V, put one in orbit, then the second one in orbit, rendezvous and then do direct ascent to the moon and direct ascent back.  Both ideas had very big boosters. However a team headed by Dr John Houbolt came up with an idea of a way to drastically reduce weight, less costs, faster and safer, which was to have a lunar orbit rendezvous.

In July 1962, NASA announced to the world, that we would use Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR) to carry out Kennedy’s goal of landing on the moon and returning.  On my birthday in 1962 I was very lucky to be selected in the second group of nine astronauts where our job was to fly the Gemini program and Apollo.

LOR explained by Houbolt
LOR explained by Houbolt

 

Gemini

Gemini is lost in history to a lot of people but it was so important, the first time we had a computer on-board a manned spacecraft, on-board radar, be able to do a rendezvous, demonstrate walking in space i.e. extra vehicular activities, support 2 people for 14 days and have a guided re-entry to a precise point, all of which we needed for Apollo. It would also get the crews trained for the techniques of rendezvous and docking.

Gemini was such a crucial program, without it, Apollo could have been a disaster.

All that we learned we incorporated into Apollo. I was originally chosen to be on the first Gemini crew with Al Shpeherd but he was grounded with an ear problem, so Gus Grissom chose John Young and they were chosen, Wally Schirra selected me and we were the back up crew.  We trained long and hard and about 3 days before we were interrupted with a newsflash that the Soviet Union had just had a cosmonaut walk in space, Alexi Leonov.  We saw him outside and pushing off and we thought it looked simple.

Later I got to know him real well on Apollo-Soyuz (ASTP), I could speak some Russian, him some English, we were having dinner together before the mission, we’d had a few drinks, he told me how he nearly got killed out there,how his suit had ballooned.  I said I’d sure wished we had known that.

So Gemini 3 went up, did 3 orbits, Gemini was in good shape, I was originally scheduled for the first spacewalk, it was going to be simple, just open up the hatch, stand up, turn around a little bit and get back down.  But after Leonov did that, NASA had to respond. So Ed White went out for 22 minutes and when he started to come back in, his suit ballooned.  The critical link for those of you that have seen Gemini spacecraft is your height. We had practised in the zero G air-plane, the commander would grab hold of you, called the ‘alles-oop’ manoeuvre, he’d pull down as hard as he could and with the other hand take the hatch flush and lock it down. When Ed White tried to get back in, his suit had ballooned so much, but I guess his adrenaline was really flowing that day, his heart rate went over 220 beats a minute. We nearly lost him,we could have lost McDivitt too. We still didn’t understand how to train, walk, work in space or do specific items.

Astronaut Thomas P. Stafford during Gemini 6 training
Astronaut Thomas P. Stafford during Gemini 6 training

Pete Conrad and Gordo Cooper went in Gemini 5 for a a long duration mission, 8 days, so we were getting nearer the time it would take to get to the moon and back. Then next was Gemini 6, Wally Schirra and I would do the first rendezvous with an Atlas Agena rocket.  The idea of rendezvous had been around for many years but nobody had ever done one.  What we had planned to do originally was to use the least energy, for those who study orbit mechanics, a Hohmann Transfer. When you go around the Earth, you do 25700 feet per second, if you add 1 foot per second, 180 degrees later, you’ll raise your orbit about 1/2 mile.  The lower you get the faster you go around, the higher you get the slower you go. So we thought we’d do a series of Hohmann Transfers to catch up with the target vehicle.  The problem is there are wide dispersion at the end of that 180 degree turn.

One of the members of mission planning analysis called Wally and I over, showed us Russian document called The Concentric Theory of Rendezvous of Three Bodies.  I couldn’t read a word of Russian but could see the diagrams and knew it had some merit. We got the document translated and used the Russian ideas.  All this was published in open literature.

The Atlas went up, the Agena went up but the Air Force (US) had goofed up with the sequencing but putting oxidizer first then fuel which a no-no. Should always be fuel first then come in with oxidizer and shut oxidizer off first, if you don’t you can have some bad consequences – combustion instability, explosion in the thrust chamber.  So here’s Wally and I in October 1965 with no target vehicle. We had Gemini 7 that was going to go up in a 2 week mission in December so why not put a radar transponder on Gemini 7, take Gemini 6 off the pad and as soon as Gemini 7 launches, put 6 back on the pad, launch them 12 days later and do a rendezvous.

Gemini 7 as seen by Gemini 6 during rendezvous
Gemini 7 as seen by Gemini 6 during rendezvous

Gemini 7 went up and we got ready to go 9 days after.  we were a T Minus 3 seconds when  the engines went off and started to shake, rattle and roll and the engine shut-down at exactly T Zero and we had the lift off symbol. By mission rules we were supposed to eject, we knew nothing about 100% pure oxygen. Wally and I had been soaking in pure oxygen for nearly 2 hours – you’d have probably seen 2 Roman Candles coming off the Gemini spacecraft. We knew by the seat of our pants we had not lifted off. It was his responsibility to pull the D-ring and my responsibility to back him up. We didn’t and then a fire broke out and for that we were on a hot mic, and that where I was quoted as saying “aw shucks.” That was a close miss, the closest we ever had and we had the lift off symbol. We had a dead man’s curve of about 0.75 seconds before the pyrotechnics went off and we would probably would have had a hard time making it.

On the 12th day after Gemini 7 we finally lifted off. We had a rudimentary computer, had a closed loop with the radar, computer and inertial platform but what happens if we lose the radar, the computer or the platform? So we worked out a series of nomographs, my job as the right seat pilot was to work those and figure out what would happen if it did. We worked on some slightly eccentric orbits, when we were below the target, worked out at a  given angle and feet per second to raise your orbit up. We used inertial line of sights, kind of the same way an aircraft works.

It worked like a piece of cake, we rendezvoused right on schedule. Also when the computer went I was taking data points, the radar locked on about 270 miles. By that time I had my solution about two minutes before the on-board computer had its solution. I told Wally we could use my solution right now and we could make it up on mid courses. We were coming in about 30 feet per second, brought it down to 15 and then stopped about 10 feet from Gemini 7. We flew around and started easing in, we couldn’t dock, to about 1 foot to 18 inches.  Just like flying formation acrobatics, when you are there it’s real easy to stay there.  Gemini was a great design.

The Agena target vehicle described by the Gemini 9 crew as an "angry alligator. "
The Agena target vehicle described by the Gemini 9 crew as an “angry alligator. “

On Gemini we flew 10 missions in 18 months, it was go, go, go.  I chose Gene Cernan to be my pilot, we were the back up for Gemini 9 and do the wrap up mission on Gemini 12. Elliott See and Charlie Bassett were later killed in an air crash so we had to take over the mission. We were going to have along duration spacewalk, an Air Force (US) experiment of a rocket pack. Cernan was to use the rocket pack of hot gas thrusters and so that it didn’t burn through his space suit, he had a mesh covering to protect him.

What we didn’t have was a de-fog solution on our visor. I told Cernan to concentrate on the EVA and I would concentrate on the spacecraft. The Atlas took off but the range officer had to blow it up.  We recycled a nose section from Gemini, 2 x 25 lb thrusters with a target docking adaptor called the Augmented Target Docking Adaptor.  On June 3rd 1965, Cernan and I lifted off.  With the ATDA they didn’t get a shroud deployed symbol, we didn’t know what to expect. We got up there and could see the two halves of the shroud, I was trying to describe it to the ground and said it looked like an “angry alligator.” I also called it a few other things too.

Gene Cernan and Tom Stafford discuss their Gemini 9 scrub
Gene Cernan and Tom Stafford discuss their Gemini 9 scrub

We couldn’t dock with it but we did the early phase rendezvous, first optical rendezvous and first ballistic overhead rendezvous which was to simulate a command module coming down to pick up a low level lunar module disabled in low lunar orbit. it’s one thing to do a rendezvous when you’re looking at the stars but when you are coming down over head, the more you pitch down, the faster the Earth is coming by, it doesn’t feel like 160 miles up, fells more like a couple of hundred thousand feet. You are really moving and nearly get vertigo.  Then came the spacewalk. we had a 25 foot umbilical, a bigger chest pack with batteries and water evaporator, no liquid cooled garments alike Apollo.  Gene Cernan was to do the first spacewalk for 2 hours in this rocket pack at the back of the Gemini.  This is one episode Gene Cernan and I never wanted to do again.

I had an incident occur as we were suiting up that morning, Deke Slayton, my boss walked in, he ordered the suit technician out of the room and said….

Tom, I want you to know NASA management has decided if Cernan dies out there, you’ve got to bring him back, we cannot afford to have a dead American astronaut floating around in space.

I blew my stack, 2 1/2 hours before launch and you’re pulling this on me, we’ve never talked about it, not discussed it with Cernan, never thought about the contingency plans.  Do you understand to come back, I’ve got to have the hatch open, what do you think a 400 lb rocket pack on a 150 foot tether is going to do on a 3000 lb re-entry vehicle? We’ve never practised that. How could I get through that, supposing I did, would he get caught up in the drogue chutes.  I was really pissed by then and said…

Deke, when those bolts blow and that Titan lifts off, I’m the Commander, I’ll make the decision, understand that. 

And with that, I slammed my visor down and stormed out.  Cernan was waiting for me and on the way up, he said to me “Hey Tom, what was Deke taking to you about?” I said “Geno, he hopes we have a real good ride.”  We scrubbed out that morning because of the Agena.

The Gemini 9 Spacewalk from hell

We finally get up for the EVA, Gene gets out, stands up and starts with his 25 foot umbilical cord. The Gemini spacecraft is that small I couldn’t put my feet together, it was cramped. Had more room in the front seat of a VW bug. He was going out at the end of the tether and Newton’s Law, for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. He’d come swinging back and start to twerk the spacecraft that I had to control.

He was really huffing and puffing, I was looking at a rear view mirror of him, he goes to the back of the spacecraft, the sun is going down and he says “Tom, my back is killing me.”  I asked what was wrong and he said his left side was starting to burn up.  What had happened was the 7 layers of insulation on spacesuit, a small section had separated away, so the sun was going right in and he received a second degree burn on his back.  He was trying to get into this astronaut manoeuvring unit (AMU) but as soon as the sun goes down his faceplate fogs over.  He’s blind and can’t see. Tried to use the AMU which had its own radio and we had lost one way of a two-way communication. We worked out he could hear me so I told him to get back on two-way communications.

The hatch was sticking and from Ed White’s experience, we had a simple mechanism, an aluminium T-bar to slam the hatch down. So we were coming across Australia at night-time, could see the Southern Cross coming up, here I am 130 miles up, my suit is pressurised, the hatch is sticking, my buddy is feet behind me and he can’t see. I said to Gene that when the sum comes up, within 10 minutes if you don;t get de-fogged, we’re calling it quits and you’re going to get back in the spacecraft. The sun comes up and he doesn’t de-fog, so we called it quits yet he couldn’t see. Fortunately we did have a rail on top of the Gemini adaptor section and I had to direct him to how to get hold of that bar.

He was walking hand over hand, got him to swing his body round to the left, grabbed his feet that were dangling in, put his feet in the ejection seat well and tried to get him in the general direction of the sun but that fog would not burn off. Had to try and get him to clear his faceplate with his nose by pushing as hard as could against it.  We had his umbilical cord snaking all around, not much room in Gemini, managed to get his feet below the instrument panel, but his suit had ballooned up like Ed White and Alexi Leonov had. His head was still a couple of inches out so grabbed the hatch and slammed it down and locked it home.

Gemini 9 recovery
Gemini 9 recovery

Gene told me his legs and back were killing him and he told me to get the pressure up quick. When the pressure was up, he opened his faceplate up and his face was completely pink like he’d been in a sauna. You’re not supposed to have water in the spacecraft but I just hosed him down. In that 2 hours outside, Cernan had lost 13 lbs of weight. Not a recommended way to lose weight.  We landed the next day, right off the coast of Bermuda, and they flew the suit back. That evening they poured a 1 1/2 lb of water out of his boot.

We landed, we had a way to second guess the computer, I told the Skipper of the (USS) WASP, this was way before GPS, we had a sextant for sunrise, my inertial platform is good, I think I can it right near your flight-deck. It was the first time you ever saw live TV of a Gemini coming down. We landed within 3.5 miles within the actual aim point, the closest of any Gemini or Apollo. It was quite an experience. We still didn’t know how to walk in space, from that the idea came out about training underwater.  Gemini 9 was one heck of a mission.

 

Apollo

We did Gemini so fast, only two close calls in Gemini, the first one, with Wally and I at the shut-down when the fire broke out, the second one on Gemini 8 with Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott where they did a rendezvous and docked with an Agena. After a period of time, the whole mas started to wobble back and forth, everything looked fine so they thought it had to be the Agena.  Neil un-docks with the Agena and Gemini starts to spin up, getting as high as 1 revolution per second. Neil turned on his re-entry thrusters, which was the right thing to do. Dave Scott started to kill the channels for roll, pitch and yaw and the got the bad thruster. When it came to a full stop, all Gemini 8 had was one half weight of one re-entry thruster, the other one was gone.  They were two close calls but we made it.

Lunar Orbit Flight

There were still mistakes out there, tragically we lost the Apollo 1 crew, Gus Grissom, Ed White, Roger Chaffe in January of 1967. That set us back about 18 months. In the meanwhile, the Soviet Union was still planning a free return trajectory around the moon. They were going to build a big booster like we had except they didn’t have a big thrust engine. We had 3 technologies that made it possible for Americans to go to the moon and if we didn’t, we’d have fallen flat on our back.

  1. Back in 1955 General Bernard Schriever ordered development of a single chamber, 1 1/2 million lb thrust engine using kerosene and liquid oxygen. The bigger the thrust chamber of a rocket engine, the more susceptible it is to instability and explosion. I remember still being a Captain, test pilot at Edwards (US Air Force Base) hearing roars and seeing the night light up, and some nights you’d hear a roar and a big bang. The F1 engine was still exploding while we were still flying Gemini but they got the stability worked out and we had 5 of those F1 engines on the first stage. In 1957, the Air Force stopped the F1 engine and turned it over to NASA.  When they decoded to go to the moon , NASA picked it back up again in 1961.
  2. In 1959, two years before Kennedy made the announcement, NASA had a meeting of heads with the top engineers; what is the best fuel we can use to out of low earth orbit, turns out to be liquid hydrogen. Its the lightest element and higher the exhaust velocity. We had to learn how to produce large quantities and liquefy it, transport it, store it, transport it in a booster, quite a challenge.  The Soviets had kerosene, even though they had a bigger booster, 9.9 millions lbs of thrust, we had 7500 lbs, we could put 300,000 lbs in orbit and the Soviets could only put a little less than 200,000 lbs. On their lunar lander, its only about half the size or ours.
  3. The third one was John Houbolt and the lunar orbit rendezvous (LRO).

Those three decisions made Apollo possible. We had so many things to fix after that tragic fire in 1967, we finally flew in October 1968 (Apollo 7), Wally Schirra was Commander. Before that, the Soviet Union in the spring of 1968 had their first success: a Proton could put Soyuz on a free return. They were going to have a big booster, the N1, which weighed more than the Saturn V, which would take to lunar obit with a command service module and a lunar lander.  It was a bit Mickey Mouse as they didn’t have docking tunnel, they would have to do a spacewalk to get into their lunar module.

My good friend Alexi Leonov, he had been chosen to go. The Soviets did a lot for publicity, he’s a natural born PR person, good speaker, he was there watching N1’s blow up. The first one got up about 12000 feet and blew up, the second one got up to 300-500 feet above the pad and one of the oxidizer swallowed a bolt and exploded.  It fell back and had all this kerosene and liquid oxygen and became the largest man-made non nuclear explosion in history. Between 1/6 and 1/7 the power of Hiroshima. Alexi Leonov told me about it later, he was standing about 3.5 km away and nearly got knocked down in the blast. They tried it four times and it never worked, that was the end of the program.

Apollo 7 went great, so in December of 1968 we launched Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders on Apollo 7 for 10 orbits around the moon, a real gutsy mission. We’d gone to the moon, orbited the moon but hadn’t landed yet. We had such a head of steam and team dynamics, by the time we had started to fly and by the time we had landed on the moon, there was nine months where we flew five missions, four of those on the big Saturn, three of those to the moon. It was all the experience we had on Gemini that let us do that.

 

Apollo 10

When it came to my third mission (Apollo 10), there was no person really selected to be the first one on the moon, it was all on rotations, prime, back-up, prime etc. I was back up on Gemini 7, Neil was back-up on Apollo 8, Pete Conrad back-up on Apollo 9, so I had Apollo 10, Neil had Apollo 11 and Pete Conrad at Apollo 12. I flew the first Lunar Module (LM) out, with Gene Cernan as my LM pilot and John Young as Command Module pilot.

Command Module Charlie Brown in lunar orbit as seen from the LM Snoopy
Command Module Charlie Brown in lunar orbit as seen from the LM Snoopy

I thought space was so beautiful, been there twice before, all we had was Hassleblad pictures of the Earth and some short 16mm film, I pushed for live colour television. People would often ask “were you afraid out there?” Absolutely not, it you’re afraid or scared you shouldn’t be there, you’re in the wrong profession. We were fighter pilots, test pilots, we knew what the risk was, knew how to minimise risks to the best of our abilities. We’d lost a lot of friends too. The funniest feeling I ever has was after we had left the Earth, from Earth orbit you can barely see a slight curvature. We docked with the LM and when you fly to the moon you BBQ to the moon, rotating in sunlight otherwise one side would be very hot and could explode the fuel and the other side would be very cold and could freeze the fuel.

We hadn’t seen the Earth, and during that BBQ attitude, we were 90 degree to the plain of the Earth. Gene Cernan was the first one to see it, what In saw gave me a sinking feeling. The Earth was the size of a basketball and it was just shrinking away from us. I knew I was in for a long ride that day. I wanted NASA to call England, head of the British Flat Earth society and tell him that the Earth was really round. Woke up the next morning and by then, the Earth was the size of a grapefruit, every 20 minutes the Earth would go by and then sun would go by. We didn’t see the moon, we were in eclipse and knew we wouldn’t see it till we got there.

We woke up to the news, the whole world had seen the first colour TV and also that Colonel Stafford had a message from the President of the British Flat Earth Society, “Tell Colonel Stafford, yes it is round but its a flat disc.” We had so much reflective sunlight it was hard for us to see our first big stars, Sirius, Canopus.  John Young called back and said “Hey, we’ve been out here for a day and half, we still don’t see that moon but we’ll take your for it that its out here. Finally we got about 6 hours out, John could see it through his telescope, a little slither of a moon. The sun went down, we were still in contact with the Earth and it was just a big black area, couldn’t see it. We got squared away in the right attitude, two minutes before we were supposed to turn on the engine to brake into lunar orbit, suddenly the moon appears right before us.

Transferred the colour TV back to Earth so they could see the first Earthrise. You’ll never forget your first Earthrise, it’s pretty unique. Your orbit around the moon is every two hours, the moon only has 1/6 mass, your speed is slow, only 5500 feet per second, about 3700 mph, that is slow compared top Earth orbit. In comparison I though we were going to stall out.

The ascent stage of the Apollo 10 Lunar Module "Snoopy" photographed from the Command Module "Charlie Brown" prior to docking in lunar orbit.
The ascent stage of the Apollo 10 Lunar Module “Snoopy” photographed from the Command Module “Charlie Brown” prior to docking in lunar orbit.

Unfortunately, our LM was too heavy to land, our job as to go down about 9 miles above the moon, radar map, photo map, visually look out and try to pick out potential landing sites. We did that twice, went way up above John Young, up 210 miles and down 9 miles and get further behind him to phase in for the rendezvous. On the second one, we were going upside down and backwards and we were just about to lose contact with the Earth and I noticed the thrusters start to fire, didn’t know why, wasn’t yawing, looked out the window and the moon wasn’t moving in that direction, I reached down for attitude switch but missed it so went to the abort guidance system to shoot us back up to John Young, suddenly we started spinning about 50-60 degree a second.

All the attitude controls on the ascent stage only weighed about 10,000 lbs, in total we weighed 30,000 lbs so I reached over about 45 seconds early and blew off the descent stage and went to the hand controller, only had a 3 gimble platform, there was a big red dot on both yaw angles, flew around that and that’s where I was quoted as saying “golly, gee whiiz.” Got everything back in attitude and performed the first rendezvous around the moon, stayed around for another and then came back where we set the all time world speed record. That should hold until somebody goes to Mars.

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project

When I got back I replaced Alan Shepherd and became chief of the astronauts office, kept that till Al flew his flight on Apollo 14 and then I moved up to Deputy Director of Flight Crew Ops. In the meanwhile, the Soviet Academy of Science talked to the head of NASA and suggested a joint meeting with Apollo and Soyuz. I was chosen as the Commander.

With the Soviets you would not believe the secrecy, everything was state secret; oil production, wheat production etc. I was assigned in March 1972, the Soviets said they would announce their crew 6 months before. I went into Chris Kraft and Dr Lovell and said that we would need at least two years to work with the Soviets, to understand how to work with them, understand their systems, procedures and techniques. I drew my line in the sand and here’s my crew; Vance Brand as Command Module Pilot, Deke Slayton as Docking Module pilot. The press wanted the to know who the Soviet crew was and they reluctantly announced Commander Alexi Leonov and Flight Engineer Valeri Kubasov.

We found working with the Soviets tough negotiations and they signed on the line they lived up to it. With my Oklahoma accent I had a tough time learning a foreign language and the Russians always had a hard time understanding me. Under mission rules, each crew would speak their own language, the other crew would have to understand. After six months working back and forth, cosmonauts in Houston, we were in Moscow, we weren’t getting there. At a small reception I was talking to the back up commander Anatoly Filipchenko, we were having a few drinks, maybe more and we came up with the idea of I’ll speak Russian to him and he’ll speak English to me. it worked well, as when you are not fluent in a foreign language, you’ll speak it slower and more distinctly.

Soyuz 19 as seen from Apollo during ASTP
Soyuz 19 as seen from Apollo during ASTP

Even when I  speak to my dear friend Alexi Leonov over the phone, I speak Russian to him, he speaks English to me and we became very close. We were all professional pilots, no politics, its was a really great time, living there in the Soviet Union and having them come over here. Everything was censored, Pravda was a big 6 page newspaper with no ads and we were always pulling jokes on each other. Ron Evans brought over a Playboy magazine, we were having some meeting over there, open it up to the centerfold and throws it under the table and then I say in Russian “Pardon me is that yours?” They’d look under the table and Aargh!

They built a hotel for us in Star City, we moved in there and were there during the fourth of July 1974. The relationships were getting relaxed, détente, I’ll never forget a state reception with President Nixon he seemed to be semi-high when all hell was breaking loose back US because of Watergate. I remember him telling me we’d done so many things, asking me about 12,000 nuclear weapons and how many villages din India did we want to destroy. I wasn’t about to get into that discussion. I just said I hadn’t really thought of the Mr President! 3 weeks later he resigned.

Astronaut Thomas P. Stafford and cosmonaut Aleksei A. Leonov are seen at the hatchway leading from the Apollo Docking Module (DM) to the Soyuz Orbital Module (OM) during the joint U.S.-USSR Apollo Soyuz Test Project (ASTP
Astronaut Thomas P. Stafford and cosmonaut Aleksei A. Leonov are seen at the hatchway leading from the Apollo Docking Module (DM) to the Soyuz Orbital Module (OM) during the joint U.S.-USSR Apollo Soyuz Test Project (ASTP

As I said, if was the fourth of July and Ron Evans was a real joker and had brought half a case of fireworks and firecrackers. We’d had this big reception at a Dacha owned by very wealthy Russian before the revolution, out the back it had a huge courtyard, the head of the Politburo was there, Admirals and Marshals were there, we were having a great time with the cosmonauts. We go back to our own hotel and we had a few more drinks and it was time to fire the fireworks. Everything was quiet and nice so we set off the firecrackers, sounded like a machine gun going off. Then we fired sky rockets going off and noticed lights started to come on. pretty soon we saw the flashing lights of the police so Ron fired a bottle rocket firework at it, perfect shot. The police officer walks towards us, I’d had a few drinks, and said “Comrade, come here! Today is the birthday of our revolution, do you want to have a drink with us?”

It was a fun time. The Russian always kidding me about my Oklahoma accent. One of the last press conferences we had, a correspondent asked Alexi Leonov how we would work together with him replying that on this mission we speak in English, in Russian and in Oklahoma. Apollo Soyuz was a great mission, it opened up the Iron Curtain, it was the end of Apollo and a great, great era. We showed the world we had two super powers, different languages and different political systems but if you set a common goal, you can achieve it. That was my responsibility as commander from my side of the world and Alexi’s side. Alexi is like a brother to me, his Granddaughter is named after my daughters name and my grandson is named Alexi. I talk to Gene Cernan probably more than any other astronaut and I talk to Alexi about as much as I talk to Geno. He’s a great person, I see him about twice a year because of my experience with the Russians on Apoolo-Soyuz, I still go back there. It’s a really great relationship.

We pushed the administrator for an escape vehicle on the space station, at the time, we had just a Shuttle. The Soyuz is a simple vehicle and rugged vehicle, it can land anywhere – with the Shuttle if you miss the runway you’re dead. Since 2011, crews keep flying up and down on Soyuz. I didn’t know a lot about the background of what the Russians did, the idea of what it would take to go into orbit velocity, converging and diverging nozzles, multi-stages and even walking in space were all thought by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, he was really the father of modern spaceflight.

Nick Cook and Tom Stafford at Space-Lectures
Nick Cook and Tom Stafford at Space-Lectures

Tom Stafford wraps up his talk with a summary on how the modern US Air Force Stealth stealth and strike aircraft capability has been shaped by his influence. Tom Stafford has been a stunning success, an absolute pleasure, he’s given a remarkable lecture, all from memory, spoken with passion, pride over a pioneering and distinguished career, his friendships with Russian cosmonauts, particularity Alexi Leonov and the naming of each grand children provides a wonderful and personal insight.  He could quite happily have gone on talking all night, he had to be told to stop otherwise he’d be in danger of missing his fight back home. Astronaut Tom Stafford is a Space Lectures Legend.

I walk away with a great signed Gemini 6 rendezvous print and some great memories.  Here’s to the next event!  What better way to announce the next Astronauts visit in October than by one of them themselves by video clip from the ISS! Coolest intro ever!

See you in October!

Links:

Apollo and Gemini astronaut Jim Lovell

Space Shuttle astronaut Eileen Collins

Meeting Fred Haise from Apollo 13

Meeting Ken Mattingly

Meeting the Moonwalker Alan Bean

Tuesday November the 3rd sees us limping lamely along to the London Science Museum (£ Free), currently hosting the stunning Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age exhibition, a little steep at £14 each but very interesting for a space geek like me. The disappointing thing is not being allowed to photograph anything and to be honest, I’m feeling a little grievous at having to pay and not being able to take pictures. That’s why I decided to get some sneaky camera shots when one of the 1 million Science Museum staff weren’t looking, though I suspect my pictures won’t do the Cosmonauts exhibition justice.  Well, I got 3 shots anyway.

cosmonauts-banner

The Russians, although in the end they lost the race to the Moon, were the pioneers of space travel. They launched the first satellite, the first animals, the first man in space, the first woman in space, the first spacewalk and the first space station.  The Cosmonauts exhibition, opened by the first woman in space, Valentina Terashkova, is billed as a once in a lifetime and it is truly an outstanding collection of 150 Russian spacecraft and artefacts to visit the UK.

Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, opens the Cosmonauts exhibition in London.
Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, opens the Cosmonauts exhibition in London.

Against a Cold War back drop, the Russians along with the Americans, turned the space race from science fiction to science fact. On the 4th of October 1957, Russia successfully launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, sending celebrations in Russia sky high and shocks to the Americans. The birth of space age was well and truly on.  In 1958, NASA was founded to take on soviet Russia, with John F Kennedy in his famous speech of 1961:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

 

All this at a time when America had launched only one astronaut into space.  The achievements of the American space programmes, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo are well documented but it wasn’t until 1989 that Russia acknowledged its manned lunar program.  On display at the Cosmonauts Exhibition is the 1969 Russian LK-3 Lunar Lander, the most complete lunar lander in existence.  This 5 metre tall spacecraft is somewhat smaller than American version and would only have carried 1 crew member down to the surface and back again.  They would have had to space walk to the waiting spacecraft in orbit.  It looks stunningly scary, bare bones and best described as nothing more than functional. The Soviets had lost the race to the moon, the death of their Chief Designer, Sergei Korolev, was also their driving force and instead, the Soviets focused on the Salyut space station after the American moon landings.

Russian LK-3 Lunar Lander on display at the Cosmonauts exhibition
Russian LK-3 Lunar Lander on display at the Cosmonauts exhibition

 

Behind a glass case is Vostok 6, the capsule flown by the first woman in space, Valentina Terashkova, who also opened the Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age exhibition here at the London Science Museum.  This sphere shaped capsule looks distinctly other worldly, scorched with fraying fabric type, burnt and basic.  It is stunning, you can’t stop looking at it and wonder what it must have been like to plummet through fiery atmosphere as layers of its heat shield peeled away. How terrifying it would be when she had to eject from the capsule via parachute when 7 miles up returning to Earth.

Valentina Tereshkova (back to camera) outside of her Vostok 6 spacecraft
Valentina Tereshkova (back to camera) outside of her Vostok 6 spacecraft

 

Opposite is Voskhod 1, the first capsule to carry more than 1 crew member. Carrying Vladimir Komaorov, Konstantin Feoktistov and Boris Yegorov would have been a very snug fit for all three cosmonauts. Vladimir Komaorov would later become the first human to die on a space mission during Soyuz 1.  Displayed are also engineering models of Sputnik, the Lunokhod lunar rover, a Venera 7 descent module on display was used for drop tests on Earth for a soft landing on Venus.  Also Tsiolkovsky’s original drawings, Yuri Gagarin’s military uniform, Russian space propaganda, paintings of rocket engineer Sergei Korolev, spacesuits, including the spacesuit of Helen Sharman, the first Briton in space.

Lunokhod rover (engineering model) at the Cosmonauts exhibition
Lunokhod rover (engineering model) at the Cosmonauts exhibition

 

There are also animal artefacts including a dog ejection seat,  When you consider that by the time Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space 1961, 48 dogs had gone to space, only 28 survived.  Spare a thought then for the first space dog, Laika. Laika was killed this day in 1957 by extreme stress and overheating when she was aboard the Sputnik 2 spacecraft becoming the first animal to orbit the earth.  Laika was a stray found wandering the streets of Moscow and one of three dogs to be trained eventually becoming the flight dog.  Sputnik 2 was never designed to be recoverable and that poor dog died for no justifiable reason as scientists were already convinced that people could survive in space.  She only went up because the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, wanted to deliver a “space spectacular” during the cold war and space race.  I think about that poor dog often and wonder if man is dogs best friend.

Laika
Laika

 

The Cosmonauts exhibition is fantastic, the hardware is a sharp contrast to the American Apollo 10 Command Module that you see after exiting the exhibition.  You will not be disappointed.  The book that accompanies the Cosmonauts Exhibition is well worth the £30.  The only other place in the UK to see Soviet space hardware is the National Space Centre in Leicester where they have a Soyuz spacecraft on display.

Soviet space propaganda poster of Valentina Tereshkova. The caption reads "Long live the first woman in space!"
Soviet space propaganda poster of Valentina Tereshkova. The caption reads “Long live the first woman in space!”

 

I am, by every definition, a nerd, a geek, a space nut, from astronomy and astrophotography to astronauts and Apollo from aged 4 to 44 (as I currently stand anyway).  Readers of this site (Hello?…..) and the type of posts on this site should confirm that, geek and proud.  So it should come as no surprise that today I’m meeting a veteran of four space flights, a man who flew to the moon twice, without landing, NASA astronaut James Arthur “Jim” Lovell.

NASA Astronaut Jim Lovell, Gemini 7, Gemini 12, Apollo 8 and Apollo 13.
NASA Astronaut Jim Lovell, Gemini 7, Gemini 12, Apollo 8 and Apollo 13.

Astronaut Jim Lovell was Pilot of Gemini 7 along with Frank Borman spending 14 days in space and completing the first space rendezvous with Gemini 6 coming as close as 30cm to each other. Jim Lovell then served as the Commander of the final Gemini mission on Gemini 12 along with Buzz Aldrin. In 1968, Jim Lovell’s next mission was as Command Module Pilot on Apollo 8, the first manned spacecraft using the Saturn V rocket to leave Earth orbit, the first to see the Earth as a whole planet, the first to orbit another world, the first to travel around the far side of the moon in lunar orbit and one of the first humans to witness Earthrise and becoming one of the most famous photos in history. The crew of Apollo 8 then made a Christmas Eve television broadcast reading the first 10 verses from the Book of Genesis, at the time becoming the most watched television broadcast ever.  Jim Lovell last flew in space along with Fred Haise and Jack Swigert on Apollo 13, when an oxygen tank explosion near crippled the spacecraft giving rise to his famous radio call to NASA:

“Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

 

Today’s event is organised by Ken Willoughby and the superb team of volunteers at Space Lectures, with a talk by Jim Lovell titled Apollo 13: A Successful Failure, followed by a Q and A session hosted by the floppy haired D:Ream(y) pop star of physics Professor Brian Cox.  These opportunities to listen to those who have gone around the moon, in this case twice, do not come along very often.  These events are not for profit and any coffers remaining go to supporting UNICEF.

The talk starts with a few clips from the Apollo 13 film directed by Ron Howard.

Professor Brian Cox and Jim Lovell during the www.space-lectures.com Q & A session
Professor Brian Cox and Jim Lovell during the www.space-lectures.com Q & A session

It’s a real pleasure to be here, my first time, I know you’re all space enthusiasts and I know that a lot of other astronauts have all been here so maybe there’s nothing left for me to say.  I have brought my wife (Marilyn) though who is really the stalwart of the space programme, wives are very important, they keep the guys going straight, I appreciate that Marilyn is sitting here to hear, probably for the very first time.

I was actually in the first selection for being an astronaut way back in 1958.  That’s the time when they had the selection of Al Shepard, John Glenn, Wally Schirra.  I didn’t make it that time, we were a class of 32, they picked those 7 guys, I don’t know why.  But then, a couple of years later, they wanted a second group for the Gemini programme coming up, so I applied for that and this time I was selected and we called ourselves the Gemini astronauts.

I made 4 flights into space, they were all interesting flights and this was the time I called the golden age of our space activities.  Everybody was interested in it, a large group of the population was for the programme,  My first flight was Gemini 7.  Gemini 7 was a wonderful flight, there were doctors who didn’t think we could stay or live in space and zero gravity.  When you think about it, we evolved under the influence of gravity, so to prove that we could live in zero gravity and the maximum length of time to go to the moon and back again, we were starting to work on a lunar programme.  Gemini 7 was designated as a medical flight, we had some 23 experiments…and it was really bad news. Those who have seen the Gemini spacecraft, smaller that a Volkswagen.

Astronauts James Lovell Jr. (left) and Frank Borman are pictured just before final countdown of the Gemini-7 launch. The spacecraft has been sealed and is ready for launch. Photo credit: NASA
Astronauts James Lovell Jr. (left) and Frank Borman are pictured just before final countdown of the Gemini-7 launch. The spacecraft has been sealed and is ready for launch. Photo credit: NASA

My companion on that flight was Frank Borman, we had suits that were designed that when they were worn, they were cut so that when you were in flight, you were in a sitting position, because we weren’t going to go out of the spacecraft and if there was a problem, the spacecraft atmosphere failed and went to vacuum, we’d be in this position. We had EEG’s on our heads, blood pressure and heart rate monitors, cuffs on my thighs and calf.  Those of you who have been in hospital might remember that they blew up every 2 minutes, deflated every 6 minutes and this goes on for 2 weeks.  It was a miserable situation.  We were in there for 2 weeks.

Back in 1968, doctors said that in zero gravity, you won’t need the calcium to build up your bones because you’ll be in zero gravity.  Over a period of time, you just fall off with calcium, you don’t store it and consequently we were the first guinea pigs to give that a try. So two weeks before the flight they carefully monitored all of the intake, even to the perspiration of our bodies, they were pouring distilled water as we stayed in little bathing pool to see what the calcium out go was.  Then during the flight they knew exactly what we had for fluid.  Then 10 days after the flight, they again put us in isolation to then see what fluids we needed.  This was to see if there was a change in our calcium balance.  Well ladies and gentlemen I have to tell you that a 2 week mission is not the length of time to find out whether you flew off calcium.  As a matter of fact, even up to today, Scott Kelly who is now flying on the ISS for a whole year, is still doing a calcium balance study.

What happened to the body in the two weeks, we found out several things, first of all we all know, if you can’t walk around, the first thing that goes bad is the muscles, they become weak.  We found out after the flight walking across the carrier deck, my leg muscles were weak, my wife saw that in the move later on and said it looked like I had my pants full. of course the arms weren’t that bad and as we know today in spaceflight they have exercise equipment which is very necessary because otherwise the muscles deteriorate quite fast.

Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6 - the first manned space rendezvous .
Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6 – the first manned space rendezvous .

One of the other things that we saw was that zero gravity has an effect on blood flow to the heart.  It takes about 6 hours to get fully acquainted in zero gravity and the heart is pumping against hydrostatic pressure of about 1 1/2 feet, in zero gravity it doesn’t, so maybe the brain somehow tells the heart it doesn’t need to be pumping as hard, it can slow down.  So we found out that the heart rate slowed down about 10 beats per minute slower and also we found out that the amount of blood in the body increased.  When we first got information about that, we told the astronauts to drink more water, turns out they didn’t have to because you didn’t need as much blood in the body in zero gravity.  Why, because blood tends to pool down with a gravitational pull, so we have through evolution, have enough blood to keep it up around the head.  One of the things that we continued to do throughout our space flights was medical experiments and how man evolves and whether eventually we can go as far to Mars.

My second flight was different, Gemini 12, the last of the Gemini flights. We had in our Gemini’s 9, 10, and 11 attempted to go outside the spacecraft to do work.  On Gemini 4 Ed White did go out, he was attached to his oxygen hose but he just floated, he had a good time and got himself back in. In Gemini’s 9, 10, and 11 we thought we’d get people to do work around the spacecraft and all were unsuccessful, all the astronauts got overworked, heart rates went way up, they were breathing hard and fogging up their faceplates.  It turned out that we had forgotten Newton’s 3rd law of motion: For every action, there is an equal opposite reaction.  When you take away the effects of Earth’s gravity, the spacecraft became the mass and every time they would touch the spacecraft, it would react.  So we had to figure out on Gemini 12 how could we work outside the spacecraft with this effect.

Buzz Aldrin works on a mock up of Gemini 12. Photo credit: NASA
Buzz Aldrin works on a mock up of Gemini 12. Photo credit: NASA

One brilliant engineer said why don’t we put the crew into a swimming pool, we get a mockup of the Gemini spacecraft, Buzz Aldrin was my companion on this, we put Buzz in a spacesuit, it works just as well in water as it does in space. So we rented a pool in Baltimore and bought the equipment up with the mockup spacecraft down in the water, put weights around Buzz to make him neutrally buoyant, telling Buzz not to swim, and planned certain footholds and handholds and try to see if he could do work under water.  It worked out quite well.  Today, both the United States and Russia have huge pools where they take astronauts before they do any work and practice that before they go up.

One thing about Gemini 7 which was very important, we did the world’s first rendezvous.  Gemini 6 was supposed to go up and do a rendezvous with an unmanned vehicle called Agena.  The Agena blew up on the transit up and then Gemini 6 did not have a part.  Then they realised that Gemini 7 would be up for 2 weeks, so they sent Gemini 6 up 12 days after we were up and we did the world’s first rendezvous.

Jim Lovell has a temperature check with an oral temperature probe attached to his spacesuit during a final preflight preparations for the Gemini 7. The temperature probe allows doctors to monitor astronauts' body temperature at any time during the mission. Photo credit: NASA
Jim Lovell has a temperature check with an oral temperature probe attached to his spacesuit during a final preflight preparations for the Gemini 7. The temperature probe allows doctors to monitor astronauts’ body temperature at any time during the mission. Photo credit: NASA

The 3rd flight of my experience was Apollo 8, this was in 1968.  It was an interesting flight in several respects, it was not supposed to be a flight to the mood.  Two things had happened though in the late fall (Autumn) of 1968 that changed things completely.  We had information that the Russians were going to put a man on the moon in the late fall of 1968. As a matter of fact now that the cold war is over, they were very serious about this, they had put a Zond 5 and a Proton booster, in the Zond spacecraft were animals and they fired it to the moon, it went around the moon, came back and landed in the pacific.  But it was not successful, they had not got their reentry and progress orders good and they suspect the animals overheated and died.  They were very concerned about safety and so they brought another Proton on the launchpad, put Zond 6 onto the vehicle, which also went around the moon.  But there was something wrong, they wanted to be sure.

In the United States, two things also happened, one was the fact that Grumman Aircraft building the Lunar Module, said they could not build the Lunar Module and deliver it by the end of 1968.  Apollo 8 was going to be an Earth orbital flight with the Command Module, Lunar Module, going around the Earth and test the Lunar Module, detach it, make sure it was working while we were in Earth orbit, jettison it and have it land in the ocean, then take the Command Module high, 4000 miles, turn it around, fire the engines down to a Lunar orbit returns, a speed of around 23-24,000 mph to fully test out the heat shield.  When we didn’t have the Lunar Module, what should we do?  It was decided at that point, a really bold decision on part of NASA management, that Apollo 7 was supposed to go up in 11 day Earth orbit, test the Command Module, and that came out successfully, we would change the mission on Apollo 8 and go all the way to the moon. Not only circumnavigate but also go all the way, orbit it and come back.  That was the decision and it was taken in the summer of 1968, we were planning the Earth orbital but we got the word the mission had changed.

I was a navigator on Apollo 8, I spent many a day at freeman Labs at MIT in Boston learning the new guidance system, how we could navigate and adjust our gyros so that we would be able to navigate to the moon.  We did it with gyros in our guidance systems and would always tell us our attitude with respect to the celestial sphere.  The flight on December 21st 1968, those of you who are old enough to remember the year 1968, kind of a bad year, especially in the US, we had Vietnam going on, we had riots, assassinations.  The navigation was successful, we got to the moon, fired ourselves to slow down and got around the moon and saw the ancient old craters on the far side of the moon.  We were like 3 school kids looking into a candy store window, we kind of forgot the flight plan for a second.

Earthrise as seen by the crew of Apollo 8. 24 December 1968.
Earthrise as seen by the crew of Apollo 8. 24 December 1968.

Finally on the 3rd orbit, what we were looking for were landing sites. We were looking for flat areas, the mares, to give the people who were doing the actual landing the greatest chance of survival.  As we came around the near side on the 3rd orbit, suddenly we saw this Earth come up out on the lunar horizon.  Really a fantastic site to see the Earth as it was, all you can see is the whites and the blues of the Earth, the tans of the desert areas.  As you look at the earth, just 240,000 miles away, it looks completely uninhabited, just a small body tucked away going around our rather normal star and that star is just ticked away on the outer edge of the Milky Way and you think to yourself how insignificant we all are.  There’s 6 billion astronauts all trying to do the same thing.

How fortunate we are that we have this place to live.  People often say that I hope to got heaven when I die, ladies and gentlemen, you go to heaven when you were born, because this is what it all is, the sky, the water, the interaction among people, this is really the place that is a heaven. This was the most significant flight of my career, the first to navigate that whole area, to see the Earth as it really is, look for suitable landing spots for the later landing flights.

Jim Lovell at Space Lectures, 31st October 2015.
Jim Lovell at Space Lectures, 31st October 2015.

My last flight was Apollo 13, it was to be the 3rd lunar landing mission.  We had landed Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 on flat areas, they wanted us to go into the hills of the lunar highlands so we selected a place called Fra Mauro.  But this flight was plagued by bad omens from the very beginning.  Years before the flight was about to take out, the factory making the oxygen tanks dropped one of them on the factory floor. They picked it up, refurbished it and made sure it was ready for anything it could do in flight.  the tank was originally scheduled to go on Apollo 10 but since it was delayed in transfer they redesignated it to go on Apollo 13.

I was scheduled for Apollo 14 but months before my take off time, NASA said that Al Shepard who had 13, he was grounded for several years, they didn’t think he’d had enough training and would you mind taking Apollo 13 and giving Al Shepard 14.  I said no, I’ll take off 6 months earlier.  i came home and told my wife that I just got Apollo 13, she said “you did what!”  She said “don’t you know about Apollo 13?”  Two weeks before the flight though they did a test on the spacecraft, called a countdown demonstration test. The spacecraft sat on the big booster, no fuel on it this time, to make sure everything worked fine, launch crew was in place, the flight crew went into the space craft and counted this down all the way to zero to find out if everything had worked, all the systems had turned on at the right time ready for our flight.

Apollo 13 crew before launch. Jack Swigert, Jim Lovell and Fred Haise.
Apollo 13 crew before launch. Jack Swigert, Jim Lovell and Fred Haise.

The test was perfect, no problem.  After the test was completed, the ground crew came over and started to secure the spacecraft.  When they started to remove the liquid oxygen from the tanks, with one of the tanks they couldn’t remove it in the normal manner.  This was the tank that was dropped at the factory.  So when you think about it, everything works fine in flight, the only thing we can’t do is remove the oxygen in one of our tests,  In that tank was a little heater and the heaters purpose was to blow of a little bit of the liquid to pressurise the spacecraft, provide oxygen for breathing and also to the fuels cells to provide electricity.

After a while they said while don’t we just boil the oxygen, that way we don’t have to wait another month to put another tank in there, take at least a month do all the tests, this way we can cut a little time and see if it works.  The spacecraft flew on 28 volts of DC power, everything was built around that system.  But what the crew did was put ground power to the spacecraft to turn on the heater.  Ground power was 55 volts DC power, and as they expected the heater came on, they started to boil off all the liquid oxygen but there was a little thermostat above the heater that when the temperature got up to around 80 degrees, remember that liquid oxygen is around -250 degrees, the little thermostat started to open up to kill off the power and prevent it from doing any harm.  The high voltage welded the contacts shut and from then on we had no protection.  We know now from tests after the flight that inside that liquid oxygen tank, when all of the liquid oxygen was almost depleted that the temperature got up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit. Damage to the heater system with the wires exposed and teflon had melted, but from the outside it appeared that nothing had happened and everyone was happy. On launch day when they filled up the tank with liquid oxygen, it was a bomb waiting to go off.

Apollo 13 explosion
Apollo 13 explosion

4 days before the flight, we discovered the entire crew had been exposed to the measles, talk about bad omens.  the doctors found out that were were married, our kids had measles too, that we were immune to the disease.  But Ken Mattingly was a bachelor, never had the measles and the doctors were sure that when he was by himself orbiting the moon waiting for fred Haise and I to come up and rendezvous, that he would get the measles. Suddenly Ken was dropped and Jack Swigert was put aboard.  On launch day we took off on April 11, 1970 at 13:13 central standard time.

The Saturn V took off, the first stage worked perfectly and jettisoned that, lit the engines on the second stage and about 2 minutes before it should have, the centre engine (there were 5) shut down.  We know now that it was going divergent on its structure and had it not shut down, it would have disintegrated, caught the other 4 engines and made for a very short flight.  we went around the Earth to check out our spacecraft and then fired our rocket to go all the way to the moon, that was the 2nd time on the third stage.  What we had was what was called a free return course at 24000 miles per hour and put it on a course that could cruise all the way to the moon, the course was such that if we had lost our main maneuvering engine on our spacecraft, it would still take us to the moon and just with the attitude rockets, with the help of the moon’s gravity as it passes, we would turn around and come back to the earth with the proper course to make it through the atmosphere and land back on earth.  That’s why it’s called free return, every flight from Apollo 8 to Apollo 17 started out on this extra safety factor.

About 13 hours out though, i got a call from mission control and they said that if you want to land at Fra Mauro, you want the sun in the proper position so you can see the shadows of the rocks on the surface, we’d have to get off that free return course.  We said fine, flipped over the spacecraft, they were married together now, the lunar module called Aquarius, Odyssey was our main spacecraft, so I got the instruction on how to make the attitude change, lit the lunar engine, it worked perfectly happy and we got a new course to to the moon called a hybrid.  This course will also take us directly to the moon, but now if something should happen to the engine, we were on a course that would take us to the moon and with our our attitude rockets and the moon’s gravity, could turn around, come back down to the Earth to the closest point of approach, about 40, 000 miles out.  That’s too far out to be captured by the Earth’s atmosphere for any kind of plan.

Apollo 13 Command/Service Module damage
Apollo 13 Command/Service Module damage

I didn’t worry about it, this was my 4th flight at this stage, second time to the moon, the stars, the sights, the sounds, even the smells were familiar, everything was fine.  Two days out, we were just finishing up a TV programme, so on April 13, the explosion occurred and the whole project changed from lunar landing on the moon to one of survival.  At first we didn’t know what went wrong, we thought maybe a meteor had hit the lunar module and we knew that we would be losing atmosphere so we quickly tried to put the hatch in to separate the Command Service Module, which we were in, with the lunar module – much like what a submarine crew would do if they had the same type of a problem.  Believe it or not Fred Haise and Jack Swigert tried it several times, couldn’t do it, I pushed them aside and let me try it, I couldn’t put the hatch back in and that hatch had to be back in to make a safe landing back on Earth.  We tied the hatch up and then realised we weren’t dead yet, so obviously a meteor hadn’t hit and what was the situation.

I then for some reason looked out the side window and saw escaping at a high rate of speed a gaseous substance, then it dawned on me what the situation was. It had happened somewhere back in the service module and we were losing oxygen.  At that time I went back to look at the instrument panel and sure enough, the gauge on one tank was zero and the gauge on the other tank was starting to come down.  We knew at that time that the only way we were going to get home was to use the lunar module as a lifeboat to get home.  Mission Control couldn’t believe what was happening, when they say that we had lost 3 fuel cells, computer telemetry and radio for a while, they thought it was a communication problem.  They thought the communications that come from the spacecraft and give us the same reading on our consoles probably got interrupted by a solar flare.

Jim Lovell during Apollo 13 training.
Jim Lovell during Apollo 13 training.

We knew what was happening and we got into that lunar module.  They’re a very fragile device, the skin of the vehicle is so thin that if you really wanted to you could punch a hole right through it. It was only designed to last 45 hours.  once you were in lunar orbit, you power up, 2 people would get in, land explore, come back up, dock again and then of course flew the vehicle away.  Of course it only supported 2 people for 45 hours, after the explosion, i counted the crew..1..2..3… We turned on all the systems anyway, the guidance system, the computer, now what do we do to have to get home.

The first thing after the ground realised we were in serious trouble was perhaps that he had better get you back on the free return course.  I thought that was a good idea, I thought I would rather come round and come back to the Earth and would somehow intercept the Earth, not so much that it’s survivable, rather than be a monument to our space programme that went out 240,000 miles in along elliptical orbit, around the Earth at perigee at 40,000 miles and keep doing that for years and years and years…

They asked if the Command Module was dead, I said there was no power, no oxygen, we can’t use the propulsion system because we’ve lost electricity.  They said to use the lunar module landing engine to make the transition, so they work out the attitude to move these two vehicles so that you can get back on the free return course.  When I got the attitude and started the maneuver, I learned something that I took with me for a lifetime – always expect the unexpected.  I used the attitude systems on the lunar module to make the maneuver. It turns out the lunar had never been designed to be maneuvered with the Command Service Module attached, that’s a 16,000 lbs dead mass.  The centre of gravity was way out in the field some place, not in the centre of the lunar module where the attitude rockets were good.  I had to learn in a short period of time how to maneuver in that situation, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you learn if in a deep problem.  I thought I had the proper attitude I needed, we lit the lunar landing engine and maneuvered onto the proper course.

Jim Lovell. Apollo 13 Hasselblad image from film magazine 59/R - Transfer from LM to CM; LM undocking prior to reentry
Jim Lovell. Apollo 13 Hasselblad image from film magazine 59/R – Transfer from LM to CM; LM undocking prior to reentry

We still didn’t have enough electrical power to get home, it was only designed for 45 hours, we were 90 hours from home, so I knew we were in deep trouble. The ground called us up and told us they were working on a plan that would get us around the moon, speed us up to get us home before the batteries died out which is the most important thing. They they told us to remember that when we go behind the moon that we will lose communication so be ready to copy these instructions, we’re sending a crew down to the simulator, have them work through these procedures.  I had my two companions sitting right here with me so I miss something, they’ll pick up, all 3 will be listening.

In a little while the moon kept getting bigger and bigger, we’d passed the sphere of influence now.  On the way to the moon you slow down to about 2000mph because the Earth is pulling you back all the time, the moon’s gravity is now in control.  They then said they’d got the procedures, “are you ready to copy?”  I said yes and looked at my companions thinking they were interested – they weren’t even listening, they were looking at the moon, they had cameras in their hands!  I said gentlemen, what is your project here, what are you doing.  They said “Jim, we’re on the far side of the moon, we’re going to take some pictures, we don’t see the far side from the Earth.”  I said if we don’t get home, you won’t get them developed!

Jim, we're on the far side of the moon, we're going to take some pictures, we don't see the far side from the Earth." I said if we don't get home, you won't get them developed!
The far sideof the moon as photographed by Apollo 13.
“Jim, we’re on the far side of the moon, we’re going to take some pictures, we don’t see the far side from the Earth.”
“I said if we don’t get home, you won’t get them developed!”

They took their pictures, I got the instructions and after about 2 1/2 hours after we’d got around the moon, we luit the engine for a second time for over 4 minutes, pushed us faster and faster.  Then we shut off all those other devices you would not be caught up there without, guidance system used up too much power, the computer, auto pilot.  The only thing we had going was the radio to talk to the Earth and a little fan to circulate the atmosphere.  Things were kind of quiet and when things are quiet and you’re in a tough spot with nothing to do, you start to think.  i think it was Jack Swigert that came up and said “Jim, I’ve been thinking, we might be exceeding escape velocity,”  I said that free return course should guarantee us a passage through the atmosphere and safe landing.  Let me explain that you have to enter the atmosphere in a 2 degree pie shaped wedge,with respect to the atmosphere.  If you come in too shallow, you’ll skip out like skimming stones across a pond, if too steep, the sudden deceleration will make you fiery for a few milliseconds and that would be it.

I said to Jack, don’t worry, we have it made.  I was wrong.   The ground was tracking us now and told us we were no longer on the free return, course we’d probably miss the atmosphere by at least 60 nautical miles.  I said thanks a lot, we’d turned off everything, we were flying by the seat of our pants.  they asked me to remember my flight on Apollo 8, we looked at emergency procedures and especially the last one if everything else failed, I’d helped to developed it.  They said we were going to have to use it now.  What that consisted of was for to somehow manually maneuver the spacecraft around without the help of an autopilot, get the Earth in the window of the lunar module, you’ve all seen the Earth from space, daylight, darkness, that line between the two we call the terminator.  In the module of the lunar module I had a gun sight, a cross-hair, if I could somehow maneuver the spacecraft around to superimpose the horizontal line of sight on the gun-sight on the Earth’s terminator, that would then place the engine in a position to steepen of shallow that angle.

Jack Swigert's Omega Speedmaster. 14 seconds later Jack said "stop"
Jack Swigert’s Omega Speedmaster.
14 seconds later Jack said “stop”

I said to Jack that even the clock is not running you have a wristwatch, you tell me when to light the engine, you tell me when to turn them off.  Fred Haise was sick now, but I said to him when that engine comes on, to help stabilize the vehicle, to stop the Earth from going up and down to much with my primary manoeuvre handle, the back up you take and stop sideways too much.  I had on my console 2 buttons, one said start and the other one said stop.  Probably the only time they were ever used, it was a direct electrical link between the battery and the engine.  When he said start, I hit the start button, the engine came on, I jockeyed vertically, Fred jockeyed horizontally and then 14 seconds later Jack said stop, we stopped the engine and waited for the ground to track us to see if we came in for a safe landing.

I have with me now some highlights of that flight (video plays), we made it for congress in 1970:

  • That’s our Saturn V, one of the tragedies of our spacecraft is not to keep doing these vehicles after Apollo, perfect for putting more mass to the ISS.
  • That’s Fred Haise as you probably saw previously, getting suited up…
  • That’s Jack Swigert, probably still figuring out how he got on that flight
  • Werner Von Braun was instrumental in designing this vehicle, those fins are his kind of signature, we can control, the vehicle by gimbaling those 4 engines, much like the V2 which needed fins.
  • Burning fuel now at about 15 tonnes per second 0- about as much as my ’73 Chevrolet did…
  • Jack Swigert is guiding the probe to dock the vehicles, he was a very confident pilot although the movie made him look like he had to earn his wings every day.
  • The interior of the lunar module looks bigger than it really is, that’s because of the wide angle lens
  • Back in the control centre, things are different now, all kinds of contractors now
  • That’s Ken Mattingly, he never got the measles…
  • We were being poisoned by our own exhalation , Carbon Dioxide was building up, we had canisters to remove but in the lunar module we had round ones and in the command module we had square ones, we sued duct tape, an old sock, a piece of plastic to jury rig a square lithium hydroxide canister to a round one.  Ingenuity and initiative came through.
  • Fred’s looking out the window, you can put your thumb up there and you can hide the Earth completely and realise what we really have here.
  • That’s Fred Haise trying to sleep, he has one hand in his blouse. The reason he does that is because on an earlier flight, Pete Conrad was flying in a completely darkened spacecraft, he looked and saw this strange eye staring at him, he thought maybe there is something to these ET’s and UFO’s, turns out his arm had drifted up and it was the luminous  dial on his wristwatch.  That’s how these stories get started…
  • The last crisis of this flight was those 3 parachutes, the pyrotechnics had been so cold for 4 days, if they didn’t fire the chutes would not have come out and we;d have hit the water as such a speed it wouldn’t be survivable.
  • Some 55 countries offered us water recovery assistance, even countries like Paraguay, Czechoslovakia – they don’t even have coastlines!
  • There we are talking to the President, then I’m talking to my wife, Fred is talking to his wife Mary, Jack Swigert was also a bachelor, probably talking to every single steward on Eastern Airlines…
Apollo 13 splashdown
Apollo 13 splashdown

I often wondered what would have happened if Apollo 13 was successful, if there was no explosion, we landed on the moon, picked up some rocks, said some forgettable words and got back safely with 7 successful lunar landings.  The history of Apollo 13 would have been swept into the dustbin of space history and I wouldn’t be here probably.  But for years I was very much disappointed, frustrated that I could not land on the moon, this was the end of my active space career.  But after the years came by, we wrote a book, Lost Moon, then Apollo 13, I thought to myself, if we had landed on the moon, there would be no “Houston, we’ve had a problem” or “Failure is not an option.”  It brings out what people can do when there is a crisis, it finally dawned on me that the best thing could have had happened in our space program at that particular time was to have an explosion like this, that brought up various things, how talented people are, an almost certain catastrophe back to a safe landing. Let me leave you with an old saying I’ve heard “there are 3 types of people in this world, there are people that make things happen, there are people that watch things happen and there are people who wonder what just happened.” Back in April 1970, those people in Mission Control were the group that made things happen.  Thank you.”

Commander Jim Lovell reads a newspaper account of the safe recovery of Apollo 13
Commander Jim Lovell reads a newspaper account of the safe recovery of Apollo 13

Jim Lovell has given a great presentation followed by a Q & A session by Professor Brian Cox. Followed up with a signature of “Earthrise.”  Another great event from www.space-lectures.com, keep up the great work. Next up in April is Apollo 17 Commander, Captain Eugene Cernan: The Last Man on the Moon.

 

You may also like some of their other events I’ve attended:

Space Shuttle astronaut Eileen Collins

Meeting Fred Haise from Apollo 13

Meeting Ken Mattingly

Meeting the Moonwalker Alan Bean

 

Apollo 7 Astronaut Walt Cunningham was the lunar module pilot on Apollo 7, the first manned mission in the Apollo program after the fatal cabin fire of Apollo 1.  Today I’m meeting him in Walsall and listening to his talk “Apollo – The Golden Age of Spaceflight.”

Walt Cunningham, Apollo 7 astronaut.
Walt Cunningham, Apollo 7 astronaut.

Walking in to have my photo taken with him, he spies my photo I’ll be having signed later, grabs my hand and says…

“That photo you have over there, that’s one of my favourites – I took it.”

To which we then both laugh and explains my goofy look when the photographer takes the picture.  His lecture today is not specifically about his spaceflight, but on what he considers to be the golden age of Apollo. During his talk, Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham references Apollo against the stark contrast to today’s risk averse society against the Delage Definition of Adventure:

  • Must advance human knowledge
  • Must have a real risk of dying
  • Must have an uncertain outcome

That was the Apollo programme; to land a man on the moon.  Walt Cunningham’s talk today is more of a personal reflection of Apollo, his memories of being selected for astronaut group three and undergoing tests, his room mate Robert Shumaker later being captured by Vietcong, having the Right Stuff and large egos, losing friends in the Apollo 1.  How 6 landings and 12 men walked on the moon and advanced man’s knowledge, each of these missions being uncertain until splashdown.

Saturn IVB (S4B) stage from Apollo 7. Cropped image of still number AS07-3-1551 from the Project Apollo Archive.
Saturn IVB (S4B) stage from Apollo 7. Cropped image of still number AS07-3-1551 from the Project Apollo Archive.

 

We were warm, feeling, emotional and committed individuals.  Five hundred years from now there will only be one event in the 20th century that will stand the test of time and that is landing on the moon. The most spiritually elevating event in our lifetime. For a brief time, our society felt good about itself. We felt together.

Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham
Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham

The Apollo 1 launchpad fire, January 27th 1967, 3 good men paid the price of progress, and I lost 3 good friends, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.

Group 3 astronauts. Back row, L-R: Collins, Cunningham, Eisele, Freeman, Gordon, Schweickart, Scott, Williams. Front row, L-R: Aldrin, Anders, Bassett, Bean, Cernan, Chaffee.
Group 3 astronauts. Back row, L-R: Collins, Cunningham, Eisele, Freeman, Gordon, Schweickart, Scott, Williams. Front row, L-R: Aldrin, Anders, Bassett, Bean, Cernan, Chaffee.

After more than a 1000 changes, Apollo 7 rose from the ashes of the Apollo 1 flight, very much like the phoenix, Apollo 7 was an ambitious effort to make up for the lost time; we were racing the Russians to the moon.

Apollo 7 crew Command Module pilot, Don F. Eisele, Commander, Walter M. Schirra Jr. and Lunar Module pilot, Walter Cunningham.
Apollo 7 crew Command Module pilot, Don F. Eisele, Commander, Walter M. Schirra Jr. and Lunar Module pilot, Walter Cunningham.

Apollo 7 was launched on October 11 1968, an 11 day Earth orbit test flight, the first launch of the Saturn rocket (the slightly smaller Saturn IB booster compared to the Saturn V), first manned test of the redesigned Command Service Module and first live TV broadcast from an American spacecraft.  Although the flight did not carry a Lunar Module, Walt Cunningham was kept busy completing system tests with Commander Walter Schirra and Command Module Pilot Donn Eisele on essentially a practice flight testing guidance and control systems, simulated rendezvous and docking operations between the CSM (Command Service Module) and the S-IVB stage.

Walt Cunningham inside the Command Module during Apollo 7
Walt Cunningham inside the Command Module during Apollo 7

Apollo 7 was considered a success and gave NASA confidence to launch Apollo 8 around the moon only two months later. The flight was not without controversy though, with the so-called “mutiny in space” after the crew’s development of severe head colds and motion sickness which caused tensions with Mission Control and some of the task they were required to do.  As a result of these tensions, Walt Cunningham and the rest of the crew were rejected for future missions and never flew in space again. Walt Cunningham later became management in the Skylab program and during his talk today stated that he thought this was a greater contribution to NASA than his Apollo 7 flight.

You might also like the other astronaut events I’ve attended:

Meeting the Moonwalker Alan Bean

Ken Mattingly – The Spirit and Triumph of Apollo 13

CosmicCon – Apollo, Skylab and Shuttle Astronauts

Shuttle Commander Eileen Collins

Fred Haise Apollo 13 – Failure Is Not An Option

Moving around the galactic circles that I do (even though I’m not  a heavenly body or will ever be accused of having a heavenly body), I’m up in Manchester meeting meeting Apollo, Skylab and Shuttle astronauts at CosmicCon.  My chance to attend a series of talks and mingle among the stars who have been in space, repair in space and collect space.  I’ve even managed to get a few extracts from some of the talks I attended on the quieter of the two days.

 

Al Worden Command Module Pilot, Apollo 15.
Al Worden Command Module Pilot, Apollo 15.

Al Worden was the Command Module Pilot for Apollo 15, the fourth lunar landing, where he orbited the moon in the Command Module Endeavour and became “the most isolated human being” while his fellow astronauts explored Hadley Rille, 2235 miles away on the lunar surface. He also performed the first deep space spacewalk to recover exposed film from the Service Module’s scientific instrument bay.  Al Worden is 83 years old, he’s chipper, bright and loud, the audience love him and he loves talking, retirement is state of mind for the chap, he’s full of life.  This guy is a great character and full of humour.

Al likes being retired, writing books and giving talks when he can. “You poor saps, I feel sorry for you.”  “Apollo 15 was very different, we carried a lot of extra equipment, the lunar rover and a scientific instrument module.  I flew with Dave Scott who flew with Neil Armstrong on Gemini 8, the one that lost control and the thruster continued to fire, started spinning and had to take over manual control.  He also flew on Apollo 9 which was the first check out of the lunar module. Jim Irwin was a lunar module pilot.  The commander in flight like Dave Scott was, his responsibility was to fly the lunar module to the surface,  my job was to fly everybody out to the moon, stay in lunar orbit while they were down on the surface and then bring everybody back home.  Jim Irwin’s job as lunar module pilot was to watch all the instruments.”

Al Worden talking about the design of the Apollo 15 crew patch at CosmicCon 2015 at Manchester, UK.
Al Worden talking about the design of the Apollo 15 crew patch at CosmicCon 2015 at Manchester, UK.

“The space suits we wore were made by the International Latex Corporation in Delawarwe, their primary product is women’s girdles.  How in the world they got a job to make spacesuits, I’ll never know.  The lunar module we named The Falcon, we were all military Air Force academy graduates and selected their mascot as the name.  The guy who helped us design the crew patch was Emilio Pucci, he was a fighter pilot and after World War 2, he did what all fighter pilots do, got into ladies clothes, quite successfully I might add.”

I spent 3 wonderful days in orbit by myself, after 4 days with those guys (Scott & Irwin), I was so damn glad to get rid of them. While I was there I operated the SIM bay, Scientific Instrument Module, couple of big cameras in it, remote sensors, a little subsatellite we left in lunar orbit before we came back.  I had to recover the film canisters and bring them back inside the Command Module.  On launch day, you get up to the 35th level and get inside the spacecraft, the left side is all for flying and the right side for systems, in the middle is the sextant you use to navigate while in flight.  You have 733 switches and circuit breakers, people wonder why it takes so long to train for a flight, it’s because of all those switches and circuit breakers.  I used to start memorising form the left and by the time I had got to the right, I’d forgotten everything on the left hand side.  In the 3 years of getting ready for my flight, I got 1500 hours of simulator time.  When an Apollo launches, it lifts off very slowly, we didn’t even know, launch control centre had to tell us, took us 12 seconds to get past the launch umbilical tower.  We burned up 5 million lbs of fuel in the first 2 1/2 minutes but you don’t get any perspective on fast you are going.

Soon as we got going, we undocked, I backed of about 50 feet, turned around and grabbed the lunar module and head to the moon.  We’re reliant on gravity to do several things for us. To go to the moon, you have to increase your speed and somewhere along that line, the moon’s gravity becomes greater than the earth’s gravity, grabs the spacecraft and pulls it around the back side of the moon.  You have to leave the moon by 3 days, when you launch, you don’t shoot straight at it, you have to shoot ahead of it and during the 3 days we’re on our way up there, the moon travels far enough to meet us up there.

Endeavour in lunar orbit.
Endeavour in lunar orbit.

There was a wedge-shaped piece on my trajectory round the moon when I was in the shadow of the earth and the sun at the same time and was the most unbelievable thing on my flight, this gave me a really good look at the universe.  I had the 37 brightest stars, navigation stars, when I got to this wedge-shaped area, I couldn’t find them, all I could see was light, I could see the horizon of the moon but the light that got cut off from the stars. Think there’s an end to the universe? I don’t. Think there’s a beginning to the universe? I don’t know, couldn’t be, I think time is endless, we’ll never know what infinity means.”

 

Dr Kathy Thornton was a Space Shuttle astronaut of 4 missions. The first a Department of Defense mission that’s classified, the second was to capture and repair an Intelsat that was stranded in low earth orbit and also where Kathy took part in the fourth EVA for space station assembly demonstrations, or lessons on how not to build the space station.

Kahy Thornton at CosmicCon 2015, Manchester, UK.
Kahy Thornton at CosmicCon 2015, Manchester, UK.

In her third mission, the famous STS-61 mission, she completed spacewalks to repair the Hubble Space Telescope replacing the solar arrays and the COSTAR corrective optics so the Hubble Telescope could focus properly.  This is one of the most complex missions in Space Shuttle history, personally, I can’t think of a cooler job. Remember when the Hubble was launched and it couldn’t see any better than ground based telescopes because of a primary mirror problem? This mission corrected that to give us stunning views of the universe.

Dr Kathryn Thornton repairing the Hubble Space Telescope
Dr Kathryn Thornton repairing the Hubble Space Telescope

Her final mission was a spacelab mission where they have laboratory io the cargo hold, no windows, which was kept on operations continuously for two weeks, again in preparation for the space stations.  “The shuttle was a short-term space station for a lot of us.” During this talk Kathy gave a us a slide reminding us about her Uncle Charlie who remembered as a child travelling in a covered wagon, then watching Kathy launch twice on the Space Shuttle.  A reminder of how much technology changes in a single lifetime.  “We are in the infancy of the space age, 50 years ago seems like a long time but in the bigger picture it’s not long at all.  In less than a decade we went from creeping around the edge of the planet to walking on the moon.”

Dr Kathryn C Thornton, STS-33, STS-49, STS-61, STS-73.
Dr Kathryn C Thornton, STS-33, STS-49, STS-61, STS-73.

 

Jack Lousma was part of the Skylab 3 space station crew in 1973, along with Alan Bean, completing spacewalks to construct a second solar shade over the Skylab space station and completed other experiments to understand living and working in space.  Later, he was the commander of the Space Shuttle Columbia on STS-3 during the third test flight where he and astronaut Gordon Fullerton spent 8 days in space testing the shuttle arm (Canadaarm – Remote Manipulator System) and completed thermal stress tests by pointing parts of the Space Shuttle Columbia at the sun.

Jack Lousma aboard Skylab 3
Jack Lousma aboard Skylab 3

 

Donald A Thomas was a mission specialist and veteran of four space shuttle flights and has logged over 100 hours in space.  Don later became Director of Operations for NASA at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre at Star City in Moscow.  What a lovely guy Don was and a great speaker.  Don’s talk focused on Space Shuttle mission STS-70 which was to deploy a tracking and data relay satellite using a “very complicated button” and how a woodpecker tapped 205 holes in the external tank delaying the mission.

Don Thomas, one woodpecker and 205 holes.
Don Thomas, one woodpecker and 205 holes.

 

Astronauts are not the only ones attending CosmicCon, it’s also got the Meteorite Men who like….err meteorites and the Asteroid Defence Project Team who err….don’t like those bigger types of meteorites. Even if Cristina Stanilescu and the rest of her team in the Earth Asteroid Defense Project prevent another disastrous Armageddon movie, I’d say that was enough, otherwise “I’m a gettin’ outta” here (say it quickly….see what I did there?).  Besides all of that, there is the reminder that you are 14 times more likely to die by an asteroid than a terrorist and that NASA know just over 12,000 Near Earth Objects but there are likely to be many more.  Seriously though, the Meteorite Men, Geoff Notkin and Steve Arnold, were a great double act, real personalities on stage and great stories and insights to their TV series, getting a world première preview of their new show, Meteorite Men Unlimited.

Geoff Notkin and Steve Arnold are The Meteorite Men.
Geoff Notkin and Steve Arnold are The Meteorite Men.

The European Space Agency (ESA) have also turned up, the team responsible for sending Rosetta to orbit around comet 67p/Churyumove-Gerasimenko and the Philae Lander on the surface which must surely be the coolest thing off the planet to happen in science.  I’ve got enough posters off them to redecorate my shed/observatory/mancave.

Early attempts at asteroid defence did not go well.
Early attempts at asteroid defence did not go well.

 

We’ve had some interesting talks, wrapped up with a great Astronaut Q & A panel and I now know more about pooping in space than ever before.  Whether its lining yourself up with a tube, being caught on toilet cam, using the “rear view mirror” Jack Lousma talked about, or simply placing a sticky bag to your bum, we all know that everybody poops.  It was quite a discussion.  I was lucky enough to ask a question about how the experience of Spacewalking compares to the training and simulations. Three of the four astronauts here have completed a spacewalk, which Kathy Thornton and Jack Lousma gave detailed answers for and I swear Al Worden looked straight into my soul when answering me.

Thanks to these guys on the CosmicCon astronaut Q and A panel, I now know more about pooping in space than ever before.
Thanks to these guys on the CosmicCon astronaut Q and A panel, I now know more about pooping in space than ever before.

 

I’ve had a great day and the events have been solidly organised by the fantastic team at CosmicCon. This post can not do the event justice, but you can by attending next year.

Today I met Eileen Collins, a former United States Air force Colonel, test pilot, instructor and NASA astronaut becoming the first female pilot and first female commander of the Space Shuttle logging over 38 days in space.

Space Shuttle Pilot and Commander Eileen Collins. STS-63, STS-84, STS-93, STS-114.
Space Shuttle Pilot and Commander Eileen Collins. STS-63, STS-84, STS-93, STS-114.

Eileen Marie Collins flew Space Shuttle Discovery as pilot on STS-63 rendezvousing with the Russian space station Mir and pilot of Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-84 again docking with Mir. Astronaut Eileen Collins became the first female commander of a US spacecraft on Space Shuttle Columbia on STS-93 deploying the Chandra X-ray observatory.  Her fourth and final mission was to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) as commander of Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-114 which heralded the “return to flight” of the Space Shuttle after the Columbia disaster. During this mission, Astronaut Eileen Collins became the first person to fly the Space Shuttle through a 360 degree pitch manoeuver so astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) could check the belly of the Shuttle and make sure there was no threat from debris related damage on reentry.

Astronaut Eileen Collins
Astronaut Eileen Collins

Starting with a traditional photo shoot, I’m greeted by the softly spoken, incredibly polite and smartly dressed former NASA Astronaut.  Remembering this time to try to engage my brain before my mouth, I come out with “Good afternoon ma’am, I’m Nick, how are you? (She was a Colonel after all.)  “Very well thank you, I’m Eileen and you?”  “Well, I haven’t been this nervous around a woman for a photo since my wedding day” (that was only last year).  She chortles and tells me to enjoy myself.  Her demeanour puts me straight at ease.  Then my brain finally kicks in and I decide to make a swift abort scrub and gear up for the main mission, the lecture.

To be honest, I’m a little unsure what to expect, like many people, I’d thought the Space Shuttle program as routine, even though the Space Shuttle is the most complex machine ever built with over 2.5 million moving parts, becoming complacent thinking low earth orbit as rather mundane and really not sure what to expect from Eileen Collins.  This is my 4th astronaut visit, the heady days of Apollo, men walking upon the moon and Skylab space stations all graced upon on previous visits. For anyone who had second thoughts about attending such an event, and there have been some great speakers in the past, I’m not a man to be easily impressed, then prepare to be blown away, Eileen Collins is absolutely fantastic speaker, the best yet.

Eileen Collins www.space-lectures.com
Eileen Collins www.space-lectures.com

Hello, can everyone hear me at the back?  No!  I feel like I’m in a Space Shuttle launch scrub. My goal and what I’d like to share with you today is the exciting adventure of human spaceflight, human space exploration. Just like our ancestors before us took to the seas because they wanted to explore the planet, discover new places, trade and extend their knowledge. We’re doing the same thing today, just taking baby steps in exploring outer space, leaving the surface, looking back at the earth and out into our solar system.

Initially I’d like to talk about my last Space Shuttle flight which was STS-114, about the mission itself, looking back at the earth from space and what we can learn about our planet from a distant vantage point and then talk about what’s next. We’re not flying the Space Shuttle anymore, we flew it for 30 years from 1981 till 2011 and at that point we had to stop flying, we don’t really have enough money to operate the Space Shuttle and build its replacement at the same time.  Now that the Shuttle isn’t flying, a lot of people think we have given up on spaceflight – we haven’t, we’re putting those funds into what’s next.

The launch of STS-114, flown by the Space Shuttle Discovery.
The launch of STS-114, flown by the Space Shuttle Discovery.

We flew the Space Shuttle mission right after the Columbia accident, but it was actually 2 1/2 years after the accident.  We became a test flight for looking at ways to repair a Space Shuttle in orbit if there was damage to the heat shield.  It was something they were doing in the initial part of the Shuttle program but it was too hard so they gave up on it.  We looked at it at the end of the Columbia accident in 2003, because as the crew came home, there was a hole in the wing, the hole got bigger because a piece of foam fell of the external tank during launch and it hit the Shuttle at high-speed.  This could happen again in the future even though we’d worked hard keep the foam from falling off.  Just in case it did happen again, we wanted a way to repair the Shuttle in orbit.  The first spacewalk we did was in the payload bay where we put a couple of broken tiles and my crew tried to repair those, with the pieces brought back at the end of the flight to put in the heat chamber and test it to see if that repair worked and could be used on future space missions and repair the heat shield in space.

The first female pilot of the Space Shuttle, Eileen Collins, lands Discovery on STS-63.
The first female pilot of the Space Shuttle, Eileen Collins, lands Discovery on STS-63.

Our number one priority was to take logistics to the International Space Station (ISS).  The ISS has been in orbit, permanently manned since 2000.  By the time we had flown our flight, only the Soyuz was supplying the ISS because the shuttle had been shut down due to the accident. We took up about 15000 lbs of logistics, science experiments, water and other supplies top help the crew on the ISS operate.  There were only two crew members on the space station.  The commander at the time was Sergei Krikalev, a Russian. The command of the space station alternates between the nations that are the international partners.  Sergei Krikalev had flown on the Shuttle previously and he has the most missions in space of any person.  The science office was John Phillips, a geologist.

The thermal protection system on Space Shuttle Discovery
The thermal protection system on Space Shuttle Discovery

My crew, there were 7 of us, myself and my pilot Jim Kelly, we were both test pilots, the two of us shared the flying duties and he was also the arm operator.  Soichi Noguchi is a Japanese citizen and his first flight with us.  He practiced his space walk in our 25 feet deep pool.  Steve Robinson is an aerospace engineer and he was doing some repair techniques. Andy Thomas is from Australia, also an aerospace engineer, he operated our shuttle robot arm and in charge of the inspection duties.  Wendy Lawrence was a Navy Captain, oceanography is her background and in charge of the transfer of all the goods to and from the ISS.  Charlie Camarda is a structures engineer.

We had been in medical quarantine for 3 weeks, studying and preparing for the flight.  On flight day we walk out to the astrovan to ride out to the pad.  We strap in about 3 hours to launch, you lay on your back, it’s very uncomfortable but we have techniques to handle that but you’re also very busy throwing switches, talking to the launch control centre, checking your checklist, suit and equipment.  At main engine start, the engines start 6 seconds before lift off, it gives them time to fully come up to speed and a t-minus zero the booster light, you know you’re moving, there’s a lot of shaking going on, a lot  of acceleration, accelerating at almost 3 G’s.

Discovery as imaged by the ISS crew during rendezvous and docking operations.
Discovery as imaged by the ISS crew during rendezvous and docking operations.

We had over a hundred cameras on our launch, including the solid rocket boosters that fall back into the ocean and reused.  We rolled to heads up at about 5 minutes into launch, at 4-8 minutes the main engines burn out, we separate from the fuel tank, which is the external tank, that crashes into the Pacific Ocean and is not reused.  Basically at this point, we start our rendezvous, firing jets, targeting the ISS to rendezvous with them on flight day 3.  Meanwhile we opened the payload bay doors, got the robot arm with the extension on it and we used this to do a survey on the outside of the shuttle.  We looked at all the tiles, especially the orbiter’s nose which is where most of the heat is on reentry.

Taken by astronauts aboard the ISS showing Space Shuttle Discovery STS-114 to check the condition of the tiles that act as the heat shield on reentry.
Taken by astronauts aboard the ISS showing Space Shuttle Discovery STS-114 to check the condition of the tiles that act as the heat shield on reentry.

The rendezvous is all hand flown by the shuttle commander, you could automate it but we hand fly it because we have more control, its little more soft and the docking little more accurate.  We were the first crew to do the (RPM) rendezvous pitch maneuver, which is very slow, the only part of the rendezvous we flew on autopilot.  The crew on the ISS then photograph the entire underside of the shuttle.  When we’re docking with the space station, I’m not looking out the window, I’m looking at the laptop where there is an image from the camera in the docking ring, closing at .1 feet per second and when we get just two inches away, I fire jets to get a firm docking, then we equalize the pressure and open the hatch.

The ISS crew were very happy to see us, we were bringing them all sorts of supplies.  Sergei Krikalev gave us some brown bread which is a tradition in Russia.  Soichi Noguchi picked up the camera and did a survey from one end of the space station to the other into the different nodes from the American side to the Russian side.  its one space station but its controlled by the two separate ground controls, Houston and Moscow.  The service module is the command and control for the entire Russian side of the space station.

STS-114 Mission Specialists working on Discovery's cargo bay on the first EVA.
STS-114 Mission Specialists working on Discovery’s cargo bay on the first EVA.

On flight day 5 we started flying the robot arm, which is actually flown off laptop computers, you can’t actually see the robot arm, you have cameras outside and images inside and be able to translate the arm in which way to go.  Steve and Soichi get ready for their spacewalk, spending hours getting their suits ready, I got to go in the airlock and put their helmets on at which time I said “Now boys, you need to be home for dinner, 6 hours, no more play.”  They were both excited because it was the first spacewalk for both of them.  They went out the shuttle airlock and into the shuttle payload bay where they tried to repair broken tiles, thermal material using a dispenser with goo and letting it cure in space where it was then brought back home where it was shown to be successful.

On our second spacewalk we changed a gyroscope on the space station.  The ISS has 4 enormous gyroscopes about as big as your arm length which weigh 600lbs on Earth but in spaces is weightless so very easy to carry.  The way we did this change out, Soichi got on the robot arm and he held the gyroscope for 45 minutes while Wendy flew him from the shuttle up to the station. Using the powered screwdriver and the bolts and changed it out, brought the old one back and stored it in the back of the shuttle.

Astronaut Stephen Robinson removing gap fillers between the orbiter's heat shield tiles.
Astronaut Stephen Robinson removing gap fillers between the orbiter’s heat shield tiles.

On the third spacewalk on flight day nine, Steve was on the robot arm underneath the nose of the shuttle.  We’d took pictures of the shuttle during the RPM maneuver, 2 gap fillers had popped out between the tiles and Steve was removing those.  It looks like a piece of cardboard but the glue had failed, we brought those back and the engineers at Kennedy Space Centre had to change the process to make sure they don’t pop out. If they had popped out they could hit the back of the shuttle and damage the tiles.

On flight days ten and eleven we tested some tools and installed the Human Research Facility which was installed by John Phillips on the space station.  This is really the main part of the experiments we do on the space station to study the human body where astronauts use themselves as guinea pigs in those studies.  During the time we were up there, we were constantly moving stuff, we also took up 17 bags of water which is a by-product of the chemical reactions in the fuel cell.  The space station doesn’t make water so they need it for drinking and cooling.  when it was time to go home, we packed up all the junk, had a goodby ceremony, signed the logbook, placed our sticker on the wall, hugging and kissing.  Quite frankly, they wanted to get rid of us, we’d turned their house upside down.

The International Space Station (ISS) as seen by Space Shuttle Discovery STS-114 .
The International Space Station (ISS) as seen by Space Shuttle Discovery STS-114 .

Jim Kelly flew the undocking and fly around which is actually very tricky, you have to separate at a certain speed and at 440 feet you start circular fly around of the space station for a photo survey.  We had a few days off before we came home, you kind of have fun before the end of the mission.  we wrapped up all the garbage, made it small with tape and then you play football with it.  We close the payload doors and its time to come home, takes a long time to get all the equipment put away, get suited up.  The orange suits are used only for launch ascent and reentry. We did the de-orbit burn that starts us coming home and as we come home we are going 25 times the speed of sound, mach 25.  We gradually slow down, you can see out the windows, it turns pink, yellow and green and its the hot plasma that develops outside the shuttle as we heat up to almost 3000 degrees on the nose and wings which is why we have the heat shield and the tiles to keep us from burning up as we come home.

We gradually slow down and cool off. We come down at a steep angle, about 7 times steeper than what you would fly in a commercial airliner.  We land at various speeds depending on our weight, touch down at about 250 mph on a 3 mile long runway but have to put on our drag parachute.  We run checklists and it takes about an hour to get out of the shuttle, have a walk around, look at the tiles, the shuttle was in good shape as we come home.  The astronauts on the other hand are not in great shape when we come home, always in great shape when we go up.

Space Shuttle Discovery after safe landing at Edwards Air Force Base
Space Shuttle Discovery after safe landing at Edwards Air Force Base

In space you get a fluid shift, your face gets very fat, legs get very skinny and your brain thinks its over hydrated and because of that you lose your appetite.  Its a lazy fun environment, you don’t use your legs and when you get back on earth, all those fluids that were up in your head are now being pulled back down by gravity and it becomes very easy to faint when you come back.  I had to drink 24 ounces of salt water to keep you from fainting and that works but you still need the doctors to help you out the shuttle.  The other thing that’s going on, other than  gravity, is your inner ear is confused so it’s very easy to fall over.  For a shuttle flight it takes about two weeks to get fully back in shape and do the things you normally do.  The space station astronauts are up there for 6 months or a year.

The other fun side of going into space is looking back at the earth.  People ask me what the stars look like, we don’t normally do that because it looks a lot like it does on Earth except stars don’t twinkle because there’s no atmosphere.  So we look at the Earth, you’ll never see that view again unless you go into space again. At this point, Eileen shows various images of the Earth. There is a website, Astronaut Photography of Earth.

STS-114 Commander astronaut Eileen M. Collins goes over a check list dealing with rendezvous and docking operations.
STS-114 Commander astronaut Eileen M. Collins goes over a check list dealing with rendezvous and docking operations.

Soichi Noguchi took a picture of the southern lights, it goes way above the shuttles altitude, we were flying through these beautiful lights, caused by solar particles interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field.  It’s very pretty but I was concerned about radiation we were getting.  it was OK but the crew didn’t have to take cover.  When we start flying deep space flight, we go beyond the Van Allen belts, astronauts are going to get more radiation so one of the challenges for future space flights how to protect not only against solar radiation but also cosmic background radiation.

The shuttle does not go that far from Earth, about 200-300 miles above the planet, we’re in a low earth orbit. The atmosphere of the Earth is very thin, breathable atmosphere is only about 10000-12000 feet.  the atmosphere is like the apple skin on an apple.  Airplanes fly up at about 6-7 miles and you become an astronaut if you go over 50 miles.  Those that flew the X-15 program got their astronaut wings through their military services.  We fly around the planet every 90 minutes, in and out the shadow, so every 45 minutes you get a sunset and 45 minutes later a sunrise.  So you have to put up the curtains when you want to sleep and when you’re awake, keep the lights on so you don’t get your circadian rhythm confused.  That’s something else we’re learning about sleep cycles.

Eileen Marie Collins 25 April 2015
Eileen Marie Collins 25 April 2015

I’d like to talk about how astronauts keep in touch with their families on earth especially in a time of crisis.  Astronauts don’t have phones but they have laptops where they can call anybody on Earth if they had your number, you can’t call them because everything has to go through Mission Control so they need to know the number ahead of time, though they try to keep that to a minimum.  They have internet access, email, movies, twitter, a lot of contact with the ground. It’s good for the psychology part of flying in space.

The Space Shuttle has flown its last mission and we’re building new rockets to take humans into space, we haven’t shut down the space program.  Unfortunately since we’re not launching out of the United States, we send our astronauts to Russia, they have to be fluent in Russian and train in Russia and launch on the Soyuz.   We still have the Space Station with many science experiments taking place but we’re hoping that in 3 years we’ll be launching that out of this country.

Space Shuttle Discovery docked to the Destiny laboratory of the ISS.
Space Shuttle Discovery docked to the Destiny laboratory of the ISS.

There’s two tracks of human spaceflight, one of those tracks is low earth orbit, the Space Station, 200-300 miles.  there are two companies in a contract with NASA, Space X and Boeing, building capsules that sit on top of a small rocket and think they may be ready in 2018. So hopefully in about three years from now we’ll be able to launch our astronauts to the ISS and back, international astronauts and Russians because it should alternate between our rocket and the Soyuz.

The other part of space flight is deep space, so NASA is building a traditional rocket that is like Saturn V like the Apollo program, a very large rocket, up to 130 tonnes eventually to go to deep space.  The moon is 240,000 miles away, takes 3 days to get to the moon, so NASA is planning on going to the asteroids, back to the moon and eventually going on to Mars.  That’s the future, it will happen, its very frustrating for us because its taking a long time, because it’s expensive and space flight has to compete with all the other things government is committed to which is why we like to see private companies go into space.  If they see there is a return on their investment, which they will some day, they will mine the asteroids, mine the moon, something worth going for other than human exploration.


Eileen now takes questions from the audience.


  • If the shuttle was in orbit and there was an emergency return to Earth, was it true a shuttle could land at Elvington Airfield near York?

I can’t say yes or no for sure.  We normally need 3 miles of runway, 15,000 feet, can go as short as 8000 feet if we’re lightweight, if you’re heavy you don’t want to burn off the end of the runway and as narrow as 150 feet, so if the runway has those then we can land there in an emergency.  But the shuttle really needs landing aids, we have precision approach lights, we have MLS which is like ILS (Instrument Landing System), we could have landed with very accurate approach guidance.  We knew that we could land the shuttle in Europe because we had more southerly landing sites, the manages hated the thought of getting it back to the US.  We’d have to put on a 747, and fly the whole crane over and build it to put the shuttle on top of the 747.

Soyuz on route to the ISS
Soyuz on route to the ISS
  • How proud are you that helped foster East-West relations with Mir and ISS?

Our relationship with Russia in the Mir and currently the ISS program is very, very good.  you hear about what’s going on in the world, tensions between Russia and other countries, I want to say we’re above that.   The space program, the people, not just the astronauts and cosmonauts, the managers and the engineers, the people that work and support the space program, love what they’re doing, we have a kindred spirit with the Russians.  I have seen some of the engineers with tears in their eyes loving their space program.   I think that one of the things that keeps us together is the space program.  There are non-proliferation pacts saying that the US will not trade with Russia until they stop supporting rogue regimes, we have a waiver to that in the space program. We pay the Russians up to 70 million dollars for one American astronaut to be launched on the Soyuz.  To pay the Russians, NASA has a waiver to this law and have to renew that every 3-4 years. if we did not have the Russians, we could not get to our Space Station.

Mir space station
Mir space station
  • You mentioned about high solar activity and you have a shelter, could you tell us more about that, the materials its made from.

On the shuttle we didn’t have a shelter, the space station has ways to shelter.  When you knew a solar storm was coming you’d take shelter, the best shelter from radiation is water, even a very thin layer of water will bounce the radiation out but what the astronauts do now is go to the space station inside a little compartment where you have more layers of protection.  The outer shell of the space station is extremely thin aluminum, when I first saw it I was like “Thats the only wall between us and the vacuum of space,” which had me worried about getting hit by orbital debris, if we had a hole, we’d get a leak, which hasn’t happened yet.  We have put extra layers of protection outside to protect against orbital debris, it doesn’t protect us very much from radiation.  What I told my crew to do, was to put water bags out there and we’d just go inside of those.  Very crude, we don’t have a certified engineering way to protect against radiation but we’re in low earth orbit and got the Van Allen belts but once you go outside the Van Allen belts you’re more at risk solar cosmic background radiation.

Going to Mars we’re concerned about radiation which is probably the number one risk.  In long duration space flight, some astronauts are getting problems with their vision, the retina is getting intracranial pressure. distorting vision.  We’re worried about bones, lose calcium if you don’t get weight on them all the time and worried by orbital debris, getting hit  by stuff out there.  They are the hazards to overcome, its expensive to figure out how to develop countermeasures, that’s what we’re doing before we go to Mars, that’s one of the reasons its taking so long.

NASA's space shuttle Discovery at Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Centre
NASA’s space shuttle Discovery at Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Centre
  • In case of emergency, if people were stuck on the space station, was it possible to robotically send the space shuttle on autopilot, like the Soviet space shuttle, computer controlled?

You could design the space shuttle to fly like that.  The way we flew it, you could automatically fly the ascent, on orbit and automatically fly it from the de-orbit burn all the way to landing. But what you couldn’t automatically do, you need the astronauts to set the switches and valves and turn them back for the on orbit burns and we never did have a way to uplink to moving those valves.  After the Columbia accident, we were wondering could we have gotten the astronauts and brought them home on another shuttle, could we have gotten Columbia home.  We could have but they would have had to flip all the switches in certain positions so that ground could uplink the command to do the de-orbit burn to get the home.  It can be flown auto but there’s a few places where you still need a human, you could design it go fully auto.

  • During the STS-93 ascent, how aware were you and your crew of the issues that were going on at the time and how soon after you were in orbit, made aware of what had happened?

During STS-93 which was my third mission flown in 1999, we had two major problems on launch.  One of them was an electrical short, AC1 phase A bus shorted out, we found out after the fact that the insulation on a wire had rubbed off and because of that there was intermittent loss of electricity which caused some of our pumps to slow down causing too many issue controllers to completely fail, and some other components.  We knew about that immediately because 5 seconds after launch we had several lights in the cockpit, a fuel cell message, a light go off on the water pump, we had a beep and the ground callers call and say “AC sensors off” which is a protective measure.

Chandra X-ray observatory , the world's most powerful x-ray telescope, in the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle Columbia on STS-93.
Chandra X-ray observatory , the world’s most powerful x-ray telescope, in the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle Columbia on STS-93.

The second problem was a leaking engine, you could see it on the lift off if you were watching the shuttle lift off.  With a close up camera you could see a streak coming out of the engine. These old phase 2 engines had a pins within the injector and one of the pins came out while we were shaking on the launch, came out and hit 3 of the cooling tube, which are cooled with hydrogen, opened them up and hydrogen was leaking out. We couldn’t see them onboard because it was a very small leak and didn’t have sensors onboard so we didn’t know we were leaking at all during the entire ascent until main engine cut off.  There is an indicator that comes across my computer display that had shut down early, that wasn’t right, and we had a 15 foot per second speed which is small but significant enough you have to change your next burn.  So we knew something was wrong but didn’t know what had happened.  We had to deploy the Chandra X-ray Observatory, so my positions was “well, we’re in space, everything’s fine, let’s get to work”.  That night before we went to bed, the flight director sent us a picture of the leak, we knew we were safe and nothing to worry about but they never flew the phase 2 engines again, never flew the injector pins again and the shuttle was grounded for several months. they inspected it on landing and they found out that on the electrical problem the reason the wiring was bad was because the maintenance people had been stepping on the wire and had rubbed the insulation away.

  • Just looking at all the objects flying around in the space station, although they are weightless, they still have mass.  How easy was it to get injured?

I have been injured, it’s usually that the mass is yourself going too fast.  I was injured on the Mir space station, cut my leg when getting ready to close the hatch as it was the end of the mission.  i didnt have my checklist in  my kneeboard, I can’t fly the rest of the mission without this kneeboard.  So I went flying into the Mir, at that point I was pretty well adapted to space, twirling around and flipping.  The US has something called a sharp edge inspection, anything sharp get filed down or covered, I don’t think the Russians do that, cut  a gash down my leg.  you can hurt yourself, it’s very rare, the bigger items need a lot of force to get them started and then their inertia takes over.  When I was the safety office, I got a phone call from someone at Mission Control who said that the astronauts on the space station are spinning themselves and we’re worried they are going to hurt themselves, could I call them and tell them to stop.  I said Ok and hung up, said to myself I am not calling them.  You’ve got to have fun.

  • The last NASA selection was 50/50 men and women, how long do you think there’ll be an all women crew and is it actually a good idea?

Oh what a question, I could tell you stories….we had a lot of jokes about it, within the women ourselves.  I don’t think NASA would ever had flown an all women crew in the shuttle era and I didn’t want to fly an all women crew.  When I was a Commander, Pam Melrose was a pilot, along with plenty of other mission specialists, we could have flown all women crews, but the problem is everytime that every little thing that broke would be blamed on the women.  The fuel cell failed, well its not the crews fault, you put all those women together.  On my first mission, there were high seas, a stormy February night, we launched, the boosters came down and hit the water, the crew has nothing to do with the boosters once they separate, they towed them back in, there was dent in the booster, it was the way they hit the wave.  I heard after the fact that that they were all joking “look what happens when you get a woman driver.”

The crew of STS-114
The crew of STS-114
  • How different did you find the transition from being Pilot on the second mission to being Commander on your third knowing you have someone else as your pilot?

I felt very prepared to move into the Commanders side, mostly because when I was in the Air Force I was the aircraft commander and had moved into that, previously being an instructor pilot, you are the aircraft commander as the instructor pilot as there’s only two of you.  Then I flew cargo on the C141 (Starlifter), had flew quite a while as co-pilot, had seen a lot, had seen enough experience as commander and we would take a crew of 7 around the world in the C141.  For the most part you were the decision maker on the flight, you let the crew do their job, come to me if you have a problem.  So when I went to the shuttle program, I felt philosophically and mentally I was ready for the commander position, I just needed to learn the technical side because the commander also operate the computer and life support system, the pilot does everything else.

The new challenge on being a commander was working with the Russians, thus shuttle became more and more international so we had to learn a little bit of russian.  The commander had to be a diplomat, diplomacy is really a big thing, you wanted to earn the trust of your counterparts in Russia and there are ways to do that.  The Russians are very social people, so we had to socialise with them and really get to know them and the bosses.  Its really changed as the years went by, its a long process, could a person move straight into the left seat as Commander?  Yes, they did in the early days, the commander of the space station doesn’t have to be pilot, they are selected on their leadership abilities, good listener, humble person.  Everyone is treated as fairly as possible, I always told my crew I can’t be 1000% fair, its not possible, two of you are going to do the spacewalk and the rest of you aren’t, everybody wants to do the spacewalk, there are times when you have to say no and still keep your crew motivated.  They are the challenging parts about being commander.

  • A surprising number of astronauts have suffered from nausea and space sickness, is that still the case or are we developing ways of handling that?

It is still the case but not as much as it used to be.  We know that a percentage of astronauts are going to get nauseous, the crew members I’ve flown with, the first time flyers, I’m amazed at who gets sick.  You imagine a pilot that they’re not going to get sick but then they get stomach awareness.  Some people have back pain because your back stretches but the biggest problem is the stomach awareness.  What we do nowadays is to take medicine, doctors let mission specialists take them before flight, anti-nausea phenergan or dexedrine which would keep you from getting sleepy; it works.  Doctors wouldn’t allow pilots and commanders to take it because they thought it might makes sleepy of affect the way we think.  As soon as I got to orbit, I’d take a pill, you don’t want to wait.  If you’ve flown before, you’d probably not going to have it again, your body learns.

Space Shuttle Discovery STS-114 Return to flight.
Space Shuttle Discovery STS-114 Return to flight.
  • You mentioned the work that had gone into gap repair in the tiles, was there any engineering solution for fixing RCC (reinforced carbon carbon) on the leading edge?

We had to accept some risk.  The shuttle pretty much as tiles all over the bottom, the leading edge of the wing and the tip of the nose have this RCC material which can take the highest temperatures. We know that the Columbia crew that had a hole in the wing, we never had a technique to fix a hole that big, we had to accept that risk.  The way we did that was by minimising the amount of foam that was going to fall off the fuel tank.  Small cracks, we had a way how to fix those but we couldn’t fix anything large.  We had a way to inspect so we knew if that there was a big hole, a decision would be made early in the flight, based on all the testing we had done, the crew would come home on the Soyuz or another space shuttle.  For my crew we had another shuttle on the launch pad that was fully processed and ready to go, if we had hole in the wing, launch another shuttle, do a  rendezvous in space and then bring us home.  We had to accept that risk for the rest of the shuttle program.  For the last shuttle flight we had to have another shuttle ready to fly, to bring them home and then we decommissioned the last shuttle.  We developed a risk management process by running flight rules ahead of time so if something bad happens, we don’t have to figure it out, its right there in paper.

Before we close, I want to say a word about the space station in orbit.  The purpose of it is to study the human body in space, that is its number one purpose.  The astronauts volunteer their body, have to do all kinds of tests.  But there are also some interesting things going on up there, all kind of technology development, 3D printing,studying bone loss, research into protein crystal growth to help us develop better medicines, plant and animal growth. Its a laboratory in space, its expensive to get your experiment up there, hoping to develop rockets and make it cheaper and fully utilise the space station.  The ISS has been extended to 2024 and trying to extend it to 2028 and get the international partners to join in.  I hope we turn the ISS over to tourists and let somebody else run it so tourists can go up there and have fun and enjoy being up in space.  That is the human spaceflight program.

It’s been a good day, a very polished presentation from Eileen who has been on stage for nearly 1 and 1/2 hours.  She’s been gracious, attentive and friendly, (playing with the kid who was after my photo swinging him around), what a fantastic ambassador for the space program.  The team at www.space-lectures.com have pulled an absolute blinder.

You may also like:

NASA EECOM controller Sy Liebergot: Apollo 13 The Longest Hour

Apollo 13 Astronaut Fred Haise – Failure is not an option

Astronaut Ken Mattingly – The Spirit and Triumph of Apollo 13

Meeting the Moonwalker Alan Bean

Moving in the kind of galactic circles that I do, I’m off to meet another Apollo astronaut, Fred Haise.  The fantastic team at www.space-lectures.com have managed to persuade “Freddo” over to the UK and give his talk – Failure Is Not An Option.

Fred Haise served as backup Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 8 and Apollo 11 and was the Lunar Module Pilot on board Apollo 13 with its mission to land on the moon in a region called Fra Mauro highlands.  He later served as backup commander for Apollo 16 and then moved over to the Space Shuttle Approach and Landing Test (ALT) piloting Enterprise in critical orbiter flight tests.

Astronaut Fred W. Haise
Astronaut Fred W. Haise

Fred Haise is most famous for Apollo 13 when on the 13th April 1970 while on route to the moon, the crew had just finished a live colour TV broadcast and were completing housekeeping activities, with Fred Haise and Jim Lovell doing a checkout of their Lunar Module Aquarius, and Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert was asked to flip the switch to stir the O2 cryo tanks. Approximately 90 seconds later, the crew felt and heard “a pretty large bang.”  That pretty large bang was the number 2 oxygen tank exploding, giving rise to the famous radio call to NASA, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

 

Seeing as Freddo, along with his other two Apollo 13 crewmates, hold the absolute altitude record at 248,655 miles from Earth,  it’s only fair that I place a fresh battery in my hearing aid for his talk and photo opportunity.  The place is packed and Freddo walks into thunderous applause.  I’m on the second row and he’s standing less than 6 foot away from me and at eye level.  I’ve done my best to put most of the transcript below.

Good afternoon!  How many people here have seen the film Apollo 13?  The movie, I could make some comments on but I won’t.  For Hollywood I thought it was a pretty good movie in the sense that one thing I think it carried very well was basically the story of Apollo 13, which is people in trouble, and we were certainly in trouble and the team that came together actually had a much larger team than they could cast characters.  There were a lot of people involved and more people involved working as a team at Mission Control, in some cases, throughout the country, involved in getting us back and we had a good Hollywood ending, we did get back.

The damaged Apollo 13 Command Module.
The damaged Apollo 13 Command Module.

One of the things I was really impressed with and it was actually probably two or three years ago, over 40 years after the flight, I finally got around to listening to some of the inter-room loops, all the public heard was the CapCom talking to the capsule, talking to us back and forth and there were a number of loops that with very specialties in the room, linked to another room out of Mission Control along the hallway that were some of their backs ups and knowledgeable about the system.  The unusual thing about our situation was that normally we would say we could handle anything and certainly when somebody like Gene Kranz, any Flight Director that we were go for launch, they had this team behind them that were trained through a lot of simulation to face what they had to do during the mission. So the phrase that was made by the Hollywood scriptwriter for Apollo 13, Failure is not an Option, is kind of the way we really felt.

For most things we had trained, possible failures, credible failures and we had one that was credible but the results and from the complexity and design said that if we ever had an explosion, you were going to lose the vehicle and lose the crew.  So we kind of gave them a problem, we were sat there still breathing.  Its a long way from set procedures. I know a lot of British air pilots are here today and they operate with a checklist, special steps even though you might feel very confident and knowledgeable about the airplane and even Mission Control did for most of the contingencies that applied to their systems, they could reach behind them and grab a book that would help them walk through to mitigate that problem.

Fred Haise (left), Jack Swigert, and Jim Lovell pose on the day before launch. Photo dated 10 April 1970.
Fred Haise (left), Jack Swigert, and Jim Lovell pose on the day before launch. Photo dated 10 April 1970.

Well there was no book for this set of problems that we had, so they were really having to do it on the fly.  As I listened to those voices and try to work through, in real time conversations, the knowledge they had in their heads about the systems and they were desperately trying to isolate the leak in the second oxygen tank.  If we had not had that leak in the second oxygen tank, we still would have not landed but we would have aborted still, we’d have come home fully powered up and been a fairly normal mission except the fact we didn’t land.  So they were working through things, pretty desperate in shutting off reactor valves, which is the flow to some of the fuel cells, they thought the leak might be backwards through one of the fuel cells that wasn’t producing electricity at the time and they finally had to give up the ghost.  I knew the people and I could tell the inflection on their voices that they had lost the battle and run out of ideas.

Glynn Lunney the Flight Director at that point, they shifted right in the middle of all this, Gene Kranz went off with his white team and Glynn Lunney had come on with his maroon team, he called them back to attention and said, hey, we’ve got to get this thing shut down fast, because at this point only one fuel cell was functioning and we were partially eating into the small re-entry batteries.  So anyway, that quickly, the voice changed and now they had another problem.  The Command Module, the mothership we called it, was never supposed to be shut down in flight, so there was no procedure.  They couldn’t reach behind and get the book on how to shut this thing down, they had to do it in a graceful way that wasnt going to damage something in that process.  that same thing went on, ad-libbing with their backroom experts, they worked through a sequence that they knew would allow shut off safely.

Fred Haise Apollo 13
Fred Haise Apollo 13

There was a story I had not heard about, they took a lot of heat, at least Sy Liebergot did, for at least 18 minutes, he kept telling Flight it was an instrumentation problem and there was obviously a real problem and we did not accurately report things we saw out the window, we thought we saw debris outside and it wasn’t until Jim Lovell happened to see…..

At this point in the talk, it becomes apparent that Fred’s microphone headset is not working properly, some people cannot hear and he is having to remove his jacket with some assistance to remove the cable so he can use the hand held mic instead, and in his own words…..We’ve had a problem.”

Anyway as I said, this was a story I had not known about until i listened to those inner room voice tapes, after 40 years, about two or three years ago.  But at any rate we did get back, I’d like to start a video now and I’ll do some narration of that story along with a couple of other stories.  This first portion is 13 minutes and its known as the Apollo 13 quick look.  Saturn 5 is the rocket that took us to the moon, there’s still 3 left and on display at Kennedy, Marshall and Johnson Space Centre.  This thing if you lay it on its side where they are on display, that’s virtually the length of a football field, that’s 365 feet plus 3 feet I think.  We suited up in a building at Kennedy called the operations and checkout building, we’re breathing oxygen out of those canisters, preparing ourselves, getting rid of the nitrogen in our bloodstreal because the capsules of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo were all operated at 5 psi and 100% oxygen, to save weight on structure, to operate at that low pressure.

Jim Lovell leads Fred Haise and Jack Swigert to the transfer van.
Jim Lovell leads Fred Haise and Jack Swigert to the transfer van.

We climbed aboard this converted milk wagon that NASA had painted up fancy, we had benches we sat on, we could talk on the intercom through the suits as we went out to the launchpad.  Its kind of eerie the day you go out for ream, its normally a lot of workers up and down that stack, and the day you go, you’ve got the two suit techs and its 4 people waiting at the top to get you strapped in, get the hatched closed and the pressure checked and ready to go.  I was one of those 4 people on both Apollo 8 and Apollo 11 readying the capsule for the crew.

This is one of the firing rooms at Kennedy Space Centre that serviced Apollo launches.  Same room incidentally, newer equipment, newer people, that were used to launch the Space Shuttle. The Saturn 5 got cranked up, 5 engines producing 7.5 million lbs of thrust and were held down for a little bit to ensure you had stable chamber pressure in the engines.  You see it moves pretty slowly, if you were in a  fighter plane and kicked in the afterburner on the runway, that would be a bigger kick in the pants than our launches. Very slow accelerating mainly ‘cos the vehicle with 7.5 million lbs push, the vehicle weighed over 6 million lbs.  It slowly goes up but its burning tonnes of oxidiser and propellant every second and got appreciatively lighter as it went up so the acceleration and G’s you felt increased to about 4.5 G’s.

The third stage adapter is lowered into place over the Lunar Module during stacking in the Vehicle Assembly Building
The third stage adapter is lowered into place over the Lunar Module during stacking in the Vehicle Assembly Building

The fighters, in the vintage I flew, we pulled 7 G’s in combat maneuvering, today i think its 8 or 9 for most fighters, we only got to 4.5 G’s on the first stage, that was the max G level.  So it wasn’t a big deal when comparing to airplanes.  it did jerk you around quite a bit, we were still not quite in the digital age, so the smoothness of the gimbals, the gimbaling of the engines for steerage weren’t that smooth as it would be if you did it today so it jerked us around and the cockpit, remember we were way up on top of that stack, and the gimbal was magnified when the gimbal was way at the bottom of that thing.

We went around Earth orbit a couple of times, mainly to check out systems and the mothership to make sure nothing had broken during the launch and then the ground started the third stage engine to accelerate us to escape velocity about 25,000 mph which headed us outbound.  Jack Swigert is taking over the controls and he’s going back to dock into the probe that connects to the upper hatch of the landing craft.  There’s latches that can be fired when you dock that pull it tightly together and give an airtight seal.  You can open up hatches then on either side and have a tunnel to go between the two spacecraft.  On this flight for the first time, they vented the third stage and orientated it the right way to give it a propulsive kick so it would impact the moon and thereafter, did that on every flight using the big third stage to act like a meteorite hitting the moon to get data, on every flight we landed, we put seismometers on so you could collect substrata data on the moon.

Astronaut Fred Haise in the Command Module.
Astronaut Fred Haise in the Command Module.

We had a TV show that was done about two days out and it was really at the end of that TV show, the end of that work day, the cryos’ were stirred and we had the explosion.  So that ended up being a real long day.  I think Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell were off over 20 hours, I’d already gone up to try and get a cat nap in the command module, which was turned completely off, and after about 4 hours I’d come back and relieve them.  i was in the mothership which was shut down and I’d come floating down the tunnel.  One of the two most unusual things for me flying in space for the first time was being able to enjoy this zero g, its kind of euphoric and you play around.

You see Mission Control, real people under a lot of pressure, some of these people didn’t go home, they just lay on the floor outside of mission control and would be working though something and when they got so fuzzy in their heads, they knew they weren’t being effective, so they’d lay down and try and get a sleep period and go back to work.  Jim Lovell is rubbing his hands because by this time, it had been almost a day, had slowly cooled down because we were going down to a very low power level, 12 amps on a 30 volt system, that’s like having a 150 watt light bulb and having two of them on.  So we were not consuming much power, much below the design of the vehicle, it froze the water tanks of the mothership.  In fact they were still frozen after re-entry and recovered aboard the carrier. I expect we were probably;y in the mid  30’s, we had no temperature gauge in the LM.  We put on three sets of underwear, Jim Lovell and I had on our lunar boots, the boots we were going to wear had we gone out on the moon.

Deke Slayton (check jacket) shows the adapter devised to make use of square Command Module lithium hydroxide canisters to remove excess carbon dioxide from the Apollo 13 LM cabin
Deke Slayton (check jacket) shows the adapter devised to make use of square Command Module lithium hydroxide canisters to remove excess carbon dioxide from the Apollo 13 LM cabin

Deke Slayton, one of the original seven holding the canister they fabricated on the ground. They ran that with a human subject in the chamber at Houston to verify what they had put together worked before they gave us the procedure to do that.  We went around the moon and after about two hours past the low point on the dark side, we did a manoeuvre, the largest burn we did using the descent engine on the LM and that bought 10 hours off our return.  When I calculated the consumables, when Jim Lovell had asked me to, I had us running out of water, I had us in the box on electrical power, we had lots of oxygen, we had our two packs that we were going to use on the moon plus the emergency bottles on top of that.  After it got real cold, we, all three just stayed in the LM, we didn’t go up to what we called the ice box upstairs (Command Module).

Technology in that day, our big computer on board both spacecraft was about 1/10th of a Megabyte, so a lot of things were done manual.  (Video being played) That’s Jim there holding up a packet of Frankfurters, Jack spooning out wet packs, probably a thick beef stew.  we couldn’t heat the stuff so we really gave up on the powdered food entirely, you needed hot water.  So we ate a lot of cookie cubes, bread cubes and peanuts.

Emergency Rig Lithium Hydroxide Unit in the LM to remove carbon dioxide
Emergency Rig Lithium Hydroxide Unit in the LM to remove carbon dioxide

That’s the California Baja as we came in on re-entry.  Very unusual that re-entry, we got rained on.  A little light rain as we hit because of the water separating in the LM, that was the only vehicle operating, it wasn’t designed to operate at the temperature we were in the LM, much less this other ship.  Water had built up in the Command Module, Jack Swigert and I had to wipe off the instrument panel when we went to power it up to see the instruments, water was covering everything, it was behind the panel and when we hit G’s coming in, that water cascaded down on us.

But we made it back, almost want to call it a second miracle, if you look at the Apollo mission report covering re-entry and landings, we had the second most accurate splashdown of the program, only Apollo 10 did better.  We were retrieved by the Iwo Jima (aircraft carrier), it had came off a combat mission in Vietnam.  They had trained Navy SEAL’s that handled the pick up and save the capsule.  They actually open the hatch, they knock on the window and have a tool to let you out.  People at Mission Control celebrating, theres Tom Stafford, Kranz, Charlie Duke, Ken Mattingly shaking hands.  Unusually they had no splashdown party because everybody was so tired they went home.  So we uniquely got to go to our own splashdown party two weeks later.  Later we talked to President Nixon who flew Air Force 1 out with our wives to meet us at Hawaii.  Later on I backed up John Young as Commander on Apollo 16 and when I went into that I had Bill Pogue as Command Module Pilot and Jerry Carr as the Lunar Module Pilot and I had hoped we would get to fly Apollo 19.  At that time it was the last mission, we were in training for about 5 months and they cancelled.

Mission Control during the Apollo 13 splashdown

I went off to Harvard Business School and when I came back I went into the Orbiter Project Office, I eventually wanted to get into program management. While there I did some sport flying, did airshows, we inherited some aircraft, we got them cheap from 20th Century Fox, they had used them in the making of the film Tora, Tora, Tora, the attack on Pearl Harbour.  With these aircraft we would stage the opening act, couple that with a B17 and P40 Tomahawk, a little smoke and fire on the ground with explosives.

One day I was ferrying the aircraft and I had an engine fail at 300 feet, I got around to what I thought was a dirt field but turned out to be the start of a housing project.  there were no houses yet but they had started digging ditches, this was a fixed gear airplane, I couldn’t retract the landing gear and one of the wheels went into a ditch and flipped the wing, dug in, rotated upside down backwards and I was trapped for a while and received burns over 65% of my body.

I went in the University of Galveston Texas hospital.  This is to tell you another team work story with the goal of getting back to flight status.  I had a medical team that was a mix of the Shriners doctors who serviced the adult burn ward at University of Texas.  They were going to do the grafting and that kind of thing.  I was in hospital 3 months and it really took 14 months with the physical therapy I had with the one knee, one elbow and my wrist that I had to work through to get back to flight status.  We did one thing different, I had grafts all the way around my legs and normally they put a pin through your ankle and hoist your legs up to keep you from having a pressure point.  We were worried having left a gap in the bones, I’d have problems flying with the pressure differential with the gaps, the voids.  So the suit techs worked up a pair of sandals with velcro on the bottom and built a board at the end of the bed so I could just rest my foot onto the velcro.

Apollo 13 lunar module pilot Fred Haise chats with Guenter Wendt and other members of the pad closeout crew in the White Room following a countdown demonstration at Launch Complex 39A.
Apollo 13 lunar module pilot Fred Haise chats with Guenter Wendt and other members of the pad closeout crew in the White Room following a countdown demonstration at Launch Complex 39A.

The accident was in 1973 and in 1976 I left the Orbiter project office to go back to the astronaut office, I was named to command Crew One of two crews that were designated for the Approach and Landing Tests at Edwards in 1977.  Gordon Fullerton and I were crew One, Joe Engle and Richard Truly were Crew Two, so only 4 of us got to fly on top of the 747.  There were 8 flights, Gordon Fullerton and I flew 5 of them, Jo Engle and Dick Truly flew 3.  The first time we were going to release from the 747, we flew 3 flights to perfect the launch point, to worry about the load cell data we had from the stanchions.  We knew if we’d got to this point and separated we’d go straight up, would drift back into the 747 tail which we’d worried about.

Gordon Fullerton and I climbed aboard before dawn and taxied out.  Very unusually when you are in the orbiter up there, looking out the windows, you cannot see the 747 so its like a magic carpet climbing up to about 30,000 feet with us on top of the 747 to set up a rectangular pattern from Edwards Air Force Base to get set to the right point.  When it got to launch ready I’d fire the pyrotechnics to we’d go cleanly up and away. In reality, we dropped the 747 because we were generating lift and when we cut free they lost that lift so they had a tendency to pitch over and go down further.

Space Shuttle Enterprise rises from NASA's 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) during Approach and Landing Tests
Space Shuttle Enterprise rises from NASA’s 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) during Approach and Landing Tests

On any first flight you don’t do too much daring, we flew basically and initially pushed over to get pre launch and do a big pull out to make sure I could get to a zero sync rate, flew a box pattern and then on a final.  We landed, the air speed was about 270 knots and you normally started to pull out at 2000 feet, waited till 800 to put down the landing gear because that constituted drag, you don’t want to lose too much speed, these are called high energy approaches that were perfected during the X15 program.  You don’t have engines so your excess speed is what you have to play with to modulate and work your final landing.  We worried a lot of about ground effect, it’s the one thing you cannot find out in a wind tunnel, ground effect is basically how the aircraft is going to behave when you get within about one wing width of the ground.  Turns out the vehicle was a natural, if you were set up right and scooting along, you could let go of everything and it would land.

Apollo to me was a very big program, there were a lot of things that aligned to allow that to happen and be properly mapped through national interests, through congress, the administration and John F Kennedy’s declaration to be properly supported and funded to make that program happen.  The things that people considered and studied after to say why did Apollo happen?

There were several things, one of the things was the threat from the Cold War and the Soviets, they launched Sputnik, Yuri Gagarin to concede a gap in technology.  So this was chosen by the right leadership, John F Kennedy wanted to do something that declared what technology capability was in the US, and understand they offered a number of projects, personally I don’t think he was a space fan or had not studied astronomy but had looked at this as the right thing to do the job in that regard to express America’s capability in that sense. Another thing you have to have, and its been a continuing problem, is there cannot be something going on that draws on large amounts of your national budget, what ended up cancelling Apollo 18 and 19 was the cost of the Vietnam war and the budget to support that. The last thing is you can dreal about something but you need the technology to be able to pull it off, so you need all that stuff to pull it off and we have not really aligned since.

Space Shuttle Prototype Enterprise Approach and Landing Tests
Space Shuttle Prototype Enterprise Approach and Landing Tests

Space Shuttle was turned on while I was in the Orbiter project office and in the first 3 years of Shuttle, we got half the funding of our program plan.  When you have a program situation like that, similar to what they are facing today, you have to try and make do and hold schedule, so you start taking content out of the program in various ways.  In our case we deleted  the backup to Enterprise, we cut one out which is not a good thing to do in a test program, like to have something in case something didn’t turn out exactly right.  We turned one test orbiter vehicle, OV99, into a flight vehicle by only doing load tests up to 80% loads and mathematically extrapolating, so OV99 became Space Shuttle Challenger.  That way we bought another airframe without having to build one.  We deleted a lot of test orbiters, so there was great risk. Finally we ran out of ideas and what we could throw out.  Now what happens is that the schedule is going to go, that happened but another compounding factor was the early tile problem.  We missed the first launch date Shuttle by two years.  On Approach and Landing Test we only missed our first flight by two weeks from a schedule that had been created about four years before.

One of the other things that was reflected in a different way is a change in administration, in the case of Shuttle it was President Nixon and about the time we were getting ready to first fly Enterprise, President Jimmy Carter had come in.  It was pretty obvious that NASA and the space program wasn’t on his top 10 priority list in what he had campaigned for, he cancelled the B1 bomber program to months after he came into office which to us was an indication of his failings about aerospace in general.  It was reflected by the ground crew in a different way.  That morning we climbed aboard Enterprise to get in our operating seats, there were two Polaroid pictures, one each side of the ladder, with characters in blue suits like we were wearing with our helmets on, visors down and masks on so you couldn’t tell who they were.  They were sitting on this huge sweeper, the kind that clean big city streets and the sign said, if you follow this up, this is your next job.  So the workers were worried about their jobs, it would have taken us a year and a half to two years to regroup if we had crashed Enterprise.

(L-R) Gordon Fullerton, Fred Haise, Joe Engle and Richard Truly pose in front of the prototype orbiter Enterprise
(L-R) Gordon Fullerton, Fred Haise, Joe Engle and Richard Truly pose in front of the prototype orbiter Enterprise

In light of the changing administration, that could have been the end of the program.  Theres not been anything the same way since, the Space Station had to limp along with less funding.  In 1987, had one vote shifted in our House of Representatives, there would be no Space Station today.

If I look back on my personal standpoint, I just feel very fortunate with my career.  Beyond NASA in 1979 I joined the Grumman Corporation, headed space programs, some initial classified satellite projects with the DOD (Department of Defense), manufactured the Shuttle wings for the remaining shuttles that were being built.  got to start a subsidiary company with Grumman and ended up with Northrop and Grumman merged. A very lucky and interesting life, particularly of being around at the right time for Apollo.  I just happened to magically end up in a flying career, I was going to be a journalist and the Korean War is what turned me, I decided to go into service and ended up as a naval aviation cadet and became a pilot and loved flying. That put me on the right path go and get an engineering degree and become a test pilot for NASA for 7.5 years before I went into the astronaut program.  I arrived at the right time with the right experience, background to be qualified, apply and be accepted within that Apollo program.  There are many people today who have the same credentials but there is no program, so I truly feel very fortunate and lucky to get the chance.  Thank you.

Fred Haise during his talk Failure Is Not An Option 25 October 2014. Photo Nick Cook
Fred Haise during his talk Failure Is Not An Option 25 October 2014. Photo Nick Cook

To compliment Fred’s talk, he’s ready to take some questions from the floor.


 

  • Everyone knows about the oxygen explosion on the way out to the moon, but there was a potentially serious problem you had just after launch, the pogo effect.  Could you tell us about how bad that was and how it affected your operation in the Command Module?

The pogo effect was on the second stage which had 5 x J2 engines, smaller that the F1 engines on the first stage.  The centre engine failed and the reason it failed, this pogo effect, fluid flowing stability, so it ended up basically chugging.  But the chugging was of a degree that it was causing a pogo effect like being on a jack hammer.  It really wasnt that severe in the capsule, we could feel this chattering and then a light came on.  We had an array of 5 lights and the centre light went out telling us that engine had quit.  I talked to Dick Smith, the program manager at Marshall later, he said it probably wouldn’t have taken too many more cycles before it would have broken the structure.  It was sitting on a cross structure in that centre stage and we’d have had a much bigger bang right there.

The critical issue then was though, to get to orbit, we had to use just the four engines and burn them longer, including the third stage portion of that because it was ignited then after you separated the second stage to really get you fully in orbit.  We had the longest time of launch to insertion of any of the flights, but it didn’t take long.  The people on the ground did the calculations on the propellant and figured we had enough margin to ignite it again to accelerate to 25000 mph and get on our way.

Apollo 13 lift-off
Apollo 13 lift-off
  • I believe you had a little trick you used to play when coming from the LM to the mothership which, when the real explosion took place initially, the crew thought it was you playing up again. Would you care to explain what it was and how it worked?

This was not a trick I played just doing it on my own.  Through the LM activation, our shutdown normally on a test run, there was a repress valve, and when you cycle that valve, it made a bang.  Which you can imagine, we are in metal structures it tended to echo and magnify.  Jim Lovell thought I’d played that trick in both the chamber test and one other test on the ground and not informed them I was fixing a throw of the repress valve.  So Jim I think was hoping that’s what I had done again.

  • You were CapCom on Apollo 14 EVA 2, that must have been a bittersweet experience in a way because it should have been you up there.  Could you share your thoughts on that?

I volunteered, I would not normally have been a CapCom. I lined up with the team that was going to be on duty at that time, Gerry Griffin’s gold team and worked the normal sequences through the mission.  There’s 4 team cycles for every mission, 4 flight directors.  They actually had 3 flight directors in their teams that are normally dedicated to real activity times, launch, entry etc and the 4th team is kind of a floater that fills in here and there to give some relief and rest time to the other teams.  So I lined up with Gerry’s team, I knew I’d cover the second EVA. They landed at the same spot, Frau Maura, basically the same traverse that I had trained to do, same kind of sampling protocol, about the only thing new they had was a thing they had to drag behind them, which at time ended up being an impediment trying to get up the slope to Cone Crater.  But at any rate I figured I might be able to help in executing that EVA.  Yeah it was bittersweet, it was bittersweet every time someone landed, not just Apollo 14.

Fred Haise practices use of the Apollo Lunar Surface Close-up Camera
Fred Haise practices use of the Apollo Lunar Surface Close-up Camera
  • During Apollo 13 once you realised that mission’s original goals were going to be scrubbed, not going to be a landing, how did it feel not going to be on the moon against the gravity of the situation?

I guess what you’re asking me what my emotions or feelings.  There was somewhat of a change as time went by but initially at the point of explosion, I was still in the landing craft.  We had done a TV show, we pulled out some equipment that had not been talked about in previous flights, i was still putting away stuff that we had pulled out of storage, and that happened.  By the time I had drifted up the tunnel and got into my right seat which is where all the problems was, had all the electrical systems, cryogenics, fuel cells and communications, when I looked at the meters, had scanned very quickly, it was clear we had lost oxygen tank 2, those 3 meters were down at the bottom of the gauges for tank 2.  You wouldn’t consider that you were that unlucky to have 3 sensors fail all at the same time and so I knew we’d lost that tank without referencing mission rules, knew that was an abort.  So, I was stick to my stomach, I knew the show was over and had to come home.

It was not life threatening, I thought we still had that second tank, tank 1.  It took a little time for it to manifest itself that it had some slow leak and eventually lose it.  By that time we got very busy with ground, trying to give them a lot of readings, trying some system changes, they figured out this may well stop the leak, so we worked for that for about 1.5 hours before Jim and I knew it was all over, they’d run out of ideas, we went to the Lunar Module to power it up and left Jack alone.  Mission Control for almost 18 minutes, they didn’t think it was a real problem, thought it was instrumentation, rightfully so, they way the warning lights came on. You have a panel, called a caution warning, it has lights, some are red which are warning lights, that means something bad, and then you have some that are kind of orange/yellow and those are caution lights, which are also bad but not as bad.  We had seven of those on at once, plus the Master Alarm, plus a blue computer restart light.

Apollo 13 CSM in Assembly and Test.
Apollo 13 CSM in Assembly and Test.

The trouble was that they were cross systems that were not interrelated.  The vehicle was a very simple vehicle, there was no integration through the computer.  the only thing the computer did, it wasn’t much memory, guidance nav and control that was all, everything else for all systems was manual. So there was no way a problem even with the fuel cells would affect the RCS system.  Just no way, they are not interconnected.  Yet we had this cascade of lights across systems that shouldn’t happen at once. That was the confusion factor, more so for the ground ‘cos they’d not felt the big bang and the vehicle motion caused initially and seen the debris out the window which we didn’t report.  So for 18 minutes they thought this was not a real problem, going to work around the caution warning and electronics assembly and just press on with the mission.

Before Jack Swigert showed up in the LM, it was over 2 hours.  So at no time was it like you’d lost control of a car and about to skid off the road, it was a very slow evolving situation. Mainly trying to fight to a way to buy some time and eventually ran out of time and end up losing the vehicle. So now it was just living out the LM for 4 days instead of the 2 days it was intended to be active.  I really felt remorse obviously, mostly from missing the moon landing.

View of the Moon out of the Aquarius Lunar Module window
View of the Moon out of the Aquarius Lunar Module window
  • During the mission , was there any time you ever thought you weren’t going to make it?

No, we had no discussion but Jim Lovell did after we did the very first use of the LM descent engine. It wasn’t too long a burn (fire the engine), it was done all automated through the computer, Jim asked me to calculate consumables, oxygen, water, electricity.  I didn’t think, Jim didn’t think of the LiOH cartridges that cleanse the air of CO2, we didn’t think of that as a consumable, which was the most critical as it turned out.  I did not calculate oxygen, we had oxygen in the descent stage, the ascent stage, plus we had two full back packs from what we were going to use when we landed on the moon to go outside.  So I knew we had an abundance of oxygen, at that time it would have been a 150+ hour flight, we had cut that off by 10 hours.

Then the next thing I figured was electrical power.  We had four batteries, 1600 amp hours in the ascent and descent stage.  At an assumed power down I did from just looking at the books we had, and the amperage per component, I figured, to limp along we ended about 18 amps on a 30 volt system.  Water I ran out of, primarily water for cooling, even though we got so chilly, you had to provide something for the electronics, it ran out about 5 hours before the then reentry point.  I didn’t worry about the because Apollo 11, we had the rew turn off the water valve and we watched their LM die, it was the only one we left in orbit.  Later LM’s were later de-orbited, again used to make a meteorite impact.  But we turned off their water valve and watched each component that failed under various systems and the first critical component failed at about 8 hours.

Just like being in a fighter squadron, you’ve got no guarantee of getting back on any given day. Jerry Carr was my designee.  Before the launch, Jerry came to the house where all the insurance papers and all the things he might need to get out and help the wife and family, should I not make it back.

Navy divers pose with the Command Module before it is hoisted aboard the Iwo Jima.
Navy divers pose with the Command Module before it is hoisted aboard the Iwo Jima.
  • Was there any concerns in firing the LM rocket it erms of connection between the Command Module and LM, using in that configuration?  Clearly in the Apollo 13 film theres portrayals of you guys getting thrown around, did that happen in reality at all?

One thing that was not a concern, was Apollo 9.  Apollo 9 that Jim McDivitt, he decided to stay with the Lunar Module for first flight.  If he had not, he would have flown Apollo 8, so Pete Conrad and that crew would really have been first to land on the moon. He decided to stay with the LM because he had a lot of early investment and development of the first LM and they shook it out, did a number of firings both with the descent engine and ascent engine.  They made it with the Command Module, so with the automated system,it was smooth.  Now in our case we didn’t have computers for the last 2 burns we did which were highly exaggerated in the movie.  They showed us doing the burn with a stopwatch to run the engine on and off, the Earth going up and down in the window.  If you look at the data, we did 2 short burns, about 18 seconds on one and 21 on the other.  One using the descent engine, one using four jet RCS, the 100 lb thrusters on the LM and we did not deviate even one degree in any axis.  So that’s Hollywood adding a little drama. Incidentally, Jim had roll and I had pitch, the greatest deviation 0.9 degrees was in Jim’s axis.

The original Apollo 13 crew, Fred Haise, Jim Lovell and Ken Mattingly. Ken Mattingly was replaced by Jack Swigert 3 days before launch over fears that Ken Mattingly may develop measles.
The original Apollo 13 crew, Fred Haise, Jim Lovell and Ken Mattingly. Ken Mattingly was replaced by Jack Swigert 3 days before launch over fears that Ken Mattingly may develop measles.
  • One point in that movie there is a kind of fight between Jack Swigert and you, some Hollywood thing.  Can you tell us something about the way 3 people in that dangerous situation live and the role mission commander  Jim Lovell?

First of all is wasn’t true.  if I had not been putting away stuff in the LM, I would have been in my normal right seat position, I would have been the one to throw the switches to stir the cryo. There was nothing you could look at on the instrument panel that you were going to have an electric shock running through that switch, so no, never an argument.  I think the training you go through, which was a very intense 6 months, Jim Lovell and I had been in 2 crews before, he was the prime crew on Apollo 8 but as a backup you work together a little together each day, and then Jim Lovell and Ken Mattingly were the backup on Apollo 11 for another 6 month cycle. You are just intimately close to the people that you have around you.  The skills are spread by your training and your knowledge base.

For instance, Jack Swigert couldn’t apply a lot of utility in the LM because he didn’t know the LM. He’d never been in a LM until flight, he was the Command Module expert.  You were trained to do your component.  The Command Module pilot had to know the whole Command Module, he had to operate it alone because he was going to be in lunar orbit but also may have had to come on home alone.  If we didn’t get off the moon, he would have to come back and do re-entry on his own.  In the LM, we both knew the whole LM. For similar reasons, if one guy has a suit pop on the surface, one guy was going to have to come home alone with the LM.  So that’s the way we trained and spread the breadth of knowledge we would need  cover.

Overall view of the crowded Mission Operations Control Room during during post-recovery ceremonies for Apollo 13 aboard the USS Iwo Jima
Overall view of the crowded Mission Operations Control Room during during post-recovery ceremonies for Apollo 13 aboard the USS Iwo Jima
  • You said about hearing the full mission tapes 3 years ago, does this affect the way you look back at the mission and whether there was anything there that didn’t tie in with your memory from 40 years ago, how it changed your feelings on what happened?

No, when I listen to the tapes, it made we want to applaud because they really handled it in real-time and ad-libbed the situation, solely on what was in their brains.  There was not a procedure to go grab us.  Normally when you have a problem that can’t be solved by grabbing one of those books, and this time they handed off as a chip on the discrepancy report to the Mission Evaluation Room, which is located in another building, and there is a room full of more in-depth experts.  There is a sign over double doors going into that room and the sign said ‘God is welcome, all others bring data.’  Behind them they had communication links to all the prime contractors who in turn could call on their sub contractors, so you had an army to cover.

That army was pretty and that was one of the complaints I had with Ron Howard, about just how many people were involved, directly and indirectly.  At the peak of Apollo, which was before Apollo 11 flew, we were at over 400,000 people on the program, by the time we flew 13, we were probably down to a  1/4 million people.  There was a vast brain trust and the program drew some really talented people, to challenge through people.  The challenge of making it happen and go to the moon, people could have earned more money in a different way but they wanted to be a part of this.

A superb lecture from Fred Haise, a photo shoot and a signature.  I’ve heard a lot of new stuff, never had any idea before about his engine failure and flipping the plane on landing causing his burns.  The Space Shuttle Approach and Landing Tests is a great insight to the Shuttle program. The next lecture in April 2015 is for Colonel Eileen Collins, the first woman to command and pilot a US Space Shuttle.  I’ve already got my ticket.

You may also like:

Meeting astronaut Ken Mattingly

Meeting the moonwalker Alan Bean

Sy Liebergot Apollo 13 EECOM – The Longest Hour

 

Today, I met Apollo and Space Shuttle astronaut Ken Mattingly and listen to his lecture The Spirit and Triumph of Apollo 13.  The significance of the date is not lost on me, today is April 12.  On this day in 1961, Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human in space.  On this day In 1981, the first Space Shuttle mission is launched.  On This day in 1970, Apollo 13 is in space.

Ken Mattingly

 

A quick summary.  Ken Mattingly’s first assignment was the Command Module Pilot on Apollo 13.  However three days prior to launch, he was replaced with Jack Swigert from the back up crew as it was feared he had been exposed to measles shortly before.  Never having contracted measles before, flight surgeons thought the measles would be at the worst when he would he have been solo orbiting the moon while Jim Lovell and Fred Haise would have been on the lunar surface. Having been removed from the mission, Mattingly missed the resulting oxygen tank explosion, near crippling the spacecraft, but was able to help with the successful safe return of the astronauts.

On Apollo 16, he was the Command Module Pilot spending 126 hours and 64 revolutions in lunar orbit making him one of only 24 people to have flown to the moon.  During the return journey, he completed an EVA spacewalk to retrieve film and data packages from the science bay on the service module.  It was during this EVA that the famous wedding ring story emerges.  He was Commander of STS-4 on Space Shuttle Columbia completing the final orbital test flight for the Space Shuttle and finally on STS-51-C on Space Shuttle Discovery deploying a classified payload.

Rear Admiral Ken Mattingly, Apollo 16, STS-4, STS-51-C
Rear Admiral Ken Mattingly, Apollo 16, STS-4, STS-51-C

Starting with a photo with Ken, I walk in to shake his hand.  Without an ounce of shame, I stand there grinning like some celebrity space stalker (I’m not – for reference).  Apollo astronaut events are rare, Ken Mattingly at an event is even rarer.   Into the lecture theatre and I’ve got a cracking seat on the second row.  In he walks to a rapturous standing and long applause.  TK (as he prefers to be known) Mattingly has asked for the lights to remain on, it feels as if he’s looking straight at me – perhaps it’s that celebrity space stalker look I’ve got, either way its hypnotic.  I’ve done my best to record the transcript as below.

The Russians are quite pragmatic people and for a lot of reasons, they had some fairly large rockets. So they built this satellite to go on their rockets. So one day we woke up to the sound of this beeping from Sputnik and it scared the living daylights out of people living in the United States.  The Russians had put a satellite in orbit right over our heads, looking down at us, they can throw things at us… and the country was terrified.  So what do you do as a way of recovering. Well, we’re talking about putting a man in space, so we start building the Mercury system to do that.  But before we got there, there was a Russian orbiting near us and the panic was palpable.  President Kennedy was given a set of choices on what to do and how to do it, I don’t know what story they gave but it was on how to outstrip the Russians who appeared to have a head a start on us, by sending people to the moon and returning them to Earth by the end of the decade.  That gave ’em nine years and we had just put a human in orbit barely.

Russian Space Program Propaganda
Russian Space Program Propaganda

So the next nine years were total chaos, people working 24/7, the largest peacetime program that has ever been put together and they just recruited people.  The good thing is, is that people thought this was kind of cool.  So we were able to recruit people from all over the country, people were building parts for us, and we designed these things but it was a long and arduous product.  The most visible is the rocket, Saturn V, it weighs about 7 million pounds when you light the fire.  It’s about 360 feet tall and the only thing that is going to go anywhere is the little piece at the top with the lunar module which docks with the Command Service Module.  The Command Module is where people go and its about 12 feet in diameter. You go put 3 people in pressurized space suits and all the gear they need to go land and survive on the moon.  Go look in a museum to see a Command Module, it doesn’t look that small because its empty.  Let me tell you, you really get to know each other, two weeks in that little bathtub.

The world’s largest rockets engines, 5 of them at the bottom, creating a total amount of thrust of 7 1/2 million pounds. That’s not much more thrust than it weighs, so when a Saturn V takes off, it just barely comes up.  You can see a flame on a rocket go off, see the rocket start to move, birds flying off and then there’s a  noticeable time delay and all of a sudden your whole body is shaking and it’s the loudest sound you’ve ever heard, you feel it more than you can hear it, it’s a spectacular thing.  So that little sucker goes up, it takes you into Earth orbit, where you fly around the Earth for lap and a half, about 2 1/2 hours flight time where you check out all the systems and you light the upper stage one more time and it accelerates you out of Earth orbit on a trajectory that takes you to the moon.  The moon is about 220,000 miles away.  So it’s a long trip, speed doesn’t mean an awful lot.  What I want to do is tell you how we got this little moon critter to work and what its like.

Ken Mattingly during his talk on The Triumph and Spirit of Apollo 13.
Ken Mattingly during his talk on The Triumph and Spirit of Apollo 13.

When you get to fly in this thing, its kind of interesting, people have worked really hard to put this thing together.  When it takes off, its huge and shaking but inside its much more than that.  You hang on and as Frank Borman said, he thought he was the commander, when he lifted off and took him about 1 second to realise he wasn’t in charge of anything (audience laughs). When the second stage starts its like they turned on an electric motor, because it has hydrogen and oxygen as propellants and the nature of that is chemistry is that its smooth, you feel the thrust and feel the acceleration but there’s no shaking, it just kind of goes along.  You can see the indications on instrument panel, that changes, that’s a good sign.  When it stoops and that third stage takes over, its got just one engine and it just puts you in orbit.  The ground goes through and check out all the system in the vehicle, all the telemetry, everything has to be done by a check list.  There are mission rules that state you can’t go unless you have filled in all these squares, so they take time.

Charlie Duke, Ken Mattingly, and John Young pose in front of the Vehicle Assembly Building during the second rollout of Apollo 16
Charlie Duke, Ken Mattingly, and John Young pose in front of the Vehicle Assembly Building during the second rollout of Apollo 16

I remember I was sitting in the centre seat on launch, that was my position and I was the one that was supposed to get out of the couch and float over and do some reconfiguration and Id heard about people getting sick in space, and I thought, oh man, what if the first thing I do is throw up?  This is not a good start.  So I float out of the couch and all of a sudden its ‘I’ve been here forever, its perfect!’  It’s easy to go floating around get where you want to go.  I thought if I throw something will I miss ‘cos I’m compensating for gravity.  No, it takes one shot and by golly it goes straight.  You can have a ball, entertain  yourself for days just throwing.

So we went off and did our chores and were waiting for some ground results so had a chance to go over one of the side windows and look out.  As soon as I looked out, I said this going to the moon is really neat, I want to go there but I want to come back and see the Earth.  Its beautiful, its breathtaking.  Every time you go around you get to see a sunset and a sunrise, brilliant colours of red and purple.  You can see thunderstorms, as an aviator if you see a thunderstorm, you go the other way.  When you fly over in orbit, you think that’s cute, its like lights on a  Christmas tree, they go, sparkle, sparkle, sparkle.  When you fly over places like Australia and you look out over the plains, it was night-time and there was something that looked like a fire.  So you call the ground and ask where are we and what is that.  That’s a bunch of tribes out in the desert surviving.  We’re up here floating around and they’re down there surviving next to a fire.  Crazy.

Earth from Apollo 16
Earth from Apollo 16

You get to Africa, see the tops of clouds and there’s lightning. You’ll See a thunderstorm go off here and it triggers off another one and sets off a chain that can go for a thousand miles. So we get back to work and head off an a trajectory for the moon.  We dock with the lunar module and we’re on our way.  Put the spacecraft into an orientation so that the sun will shine on it and rotate it, our thermal control systems couldn’t handle hot spots so we would barbecue the spacecraft by having us rotate and spread the heat.  So now you spend 2 and a 1/2 days, the novelty of floating with somebody in your face all the time, but that’s what the transit is like.

The intention is that when you get to the moon, you will fire your engine again to slow down.  If you don’t slow down, you’ll come around in a big loop and go back to Earth.  If you want to orbit the moon, you have to slow down to stay in orbit and you do that on the backside of the moon.  For the landing, the lunar crew will then separate, land, come back up and rendezvous with the Command Service Module, then jettison that, fire your engine again and head for home.  Piece of cake, very simple.

Ken Mattingly makes notes in his flight checklist while undergoing spacesuit pressure checks for the Countdown Demonstration Test.
Ken Mattingly makes notes in his flight checklist while undergoing spacesuit pressure checks for the Countdown Demonstration Test.

We flew a number of these missions and people talk about it a tremendous success record, Apollo 13 was a failure.  I’m gonna tell you today, two things: Apollo 13 was not a failure, it was the only example of why we succeeded.  I’m gonna tell you why they came home, because if it wasn’t for those techniques, we wouldn’t have made it.  It’s not done by astronauts, we were the passengers who get to look out the window, we get the good deal.  All that’s down to people like you to make it happen.  How did we get so we could do this thing?

The Command Service Module Casper in orbit around the Moon. Image credit: NASA
The Command Service Module Casper in orbit around the Moon. Image credit: NASA

Some people built the spacecraft, some built the rockets, there are other organisation that worry about how to recover people, its spread all over.  It’s a countrywide endeavour that includes everybody.  What you see when you watch television is generally a scene of Mission Control Centre, there a huge engineering team that has built, designed and tested these things.  There are contractor plants all over the country that support that.  There are periods when you get bored of floating around but there are moments that capture your attention, they don’t last long, but they are indelible, you’ll never forget them. So we started out with Apollo 13, Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and me were supposed to be the crew that was going to take 13.

Couple of weeks before launch, through a crazy chain of events, we had one last weekend where we could go home to Texas and we came back to the cape.  Somebody picked up, went to a picnic with a family and when I got back to the cape I got phone call that one of the kids at the picnic had come down with the measles. The doctors said if you’ve been exposed to the measles, you’re immune, don’t worry about it.  After all, what adult hasn’t been exposed to the measles…….  How can you get through life not being exposed to measles.  So they said we’ll take your blood and see if you’re showing any signs of getting sick. So twice a day you in and give blood, I was afraid that if they launched me I was gonna be anaemic and not have any blood.  Finally a couple of days before flight, they couldn’t take the pressure and they said we just can’t take a chance, if you get sick it’ll be while you’re solo around the moon.

The original Apollo 13 crew of Lovell, Mattingly, Haise.
The original Apollo 13 crew of Lovell, Mattingly, Haise.

So, how many of you have seen Apollo 13 (the film)?  Some of you like me probably think Gary Sinise is a really good actor.  Let me tell you, his portrayal of someone feeling sorry for themselves is pure amateur.  I’d have gotten an Oscar in any film, I felt sorry for myself 24 hours a day.  Well there wasn’t any place for me in the Control Centre so I went and sat on the floor between the Flight Director and CapCom.  I sat there, no one asked me anything, who are and what are you doing here.  Things were going along just fine and Jack Swigert my replacement, I had done my very best to cheat him out of any simulator time.

One of the things that Freddo (Haise) had done, he wrote in his checklist to go into the Lunar Module with the TV camera and take pictures for the purpose of documenting the condition of the lunar module, give a tour so people in the control centre can see what we’re doing.  I thought that while this plays, I’ll go in the VIP lounge behind the control centre. There was only one other person in there.  He said to me you look like you need a beer, I said I sure do.  So he goes off to fetch and I’m sitting there waiting and all of a sudden I hear this voice that says “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

Apollo 13 Service Module after separation showing the damage from the oxygen tank explosion.
Apollo 13 Service Module after separation showing the damage from the oxygen tank explosion.

And the whole world changed.  From that instant on, the magic power that NASA had built, and its contractors involved and this whole team coalesced in a matter of minutes.  They went to their stations in the buildings, you could have looked in the middle of the night and there are heads in every office, lights are on and we hadn’t even made up an emergency drill to cover this.  It was announced on the radio that there was a problem and people just came to work and many of them didn’t go home for the next four to five days.

The Control Centre was made up of a group of consoles.  We divided the spacecraft up into its different constituent parts, systems, communications, propulsion, some is responsible for environmental controls, all of those things that are necessary for the spaceflight to work.  A console for each one – a console chief.  The Flight Director is the coach that orchestrates all this and they work in shifts so we can run around the clock.  Generally there are three shifts and it would be handled from one group to the next. When the accident occurred, they had trained and said don’t ever be fooled by false instrumentation, it can lead to do some really bad things.

mattingly-apollo-13

The first thought process was to look through all the instrumentation, is there something going on.  The console operator from environmental systems told the Flight Director “I think this is an instrumentation problem.”  Each of these console operators has a back room, staffed with contractors and engineering people because there’s too much data for one person.  The Flight Director turned round and said when was the last time instrumentation made a cloud of stuff that was coming out the side.

That took the wind out of everybody’s sail and the last chance for a simple solution. At that point we did a shift hand over to Glynn Lunney and his team from Gene Kranz’s team.  They decided to break into two teams.  Glynn would come on and handle the real-time situation step by step and the make safe while Gene would look at assumptions if the spacecraft was made safe.  They split their forces and started working the problem.  One of the most amazing pieces of leadership I have ever watched was Glynn Lunney, we’ve just had this unthinkable catastrophe, when you lose electrical power in that CSM, you are out of everything.  We had two batteries in there, little tiny batteries and used only for re-entry, last about an hour just flying the command module to give you electricity while you are coming through the atmosphere.

Glynn Lunney, seated nearest camera.
Glynn Lunney, seated nearest camera.

There was pandemonium and confusion, Glynn Lunney walks in and started at one end of the console and everybody got a specific task and in a few minutes had covered the entire control system, issued requests for specific information from specific people.  Because we had done so many simulations, some so bizarre that people criticised us because they said they would never happen, our future right now depended on those simulation we were criticised for.  We had never created this system, this problem, but in solving other unrealistic challenging problems we had built a toolkit of things you can patch together to get you home.

While we were sorting that out, somebody remembered we had a simulation where we had to evacuate the Command Module, called the LM lifeboat.  Turns out out that Fred Haise was already doing it, he’d started activating the Lunar Module because the CSM was going to die.  within an hour, he’d gotten the LM powered up and Jack was able to switch of the last switch in Command Module to save its re-entry batteries and they all moved into the “Lunar Motel.”  Now there’s three people in a place that hardly holds two.  That’s OK because there’s no electricity so the extra bodies create warmth.  The command module within hours, you could see frost all over the inside of the cabin.  All the electronics behind those panels are below freezing.

Ken Mattingly - The Spirit and Triumph of Apollo 13 - April 12 2014
Ken Mattingly – The Spirit and Triumph of Apollo 13

We didn’t qualify those things for that, they were supposed to be in a pressurised environment where we control the atmosphere. Gene Kranz and all his other system guys are trying to figure out what to do.  The first question is how to get home.  When you lose power in the service module, its the engine that’s supposed to put you in lunar orbit and its the one that burns you out.  Well, that’s gone, we can’t use any of that or the systems in the service module.

Somebody said we can turn this vehicle around, burn all the fuel in the lunar module and that’s just enough for what we call a direct return.  Takes all the propellant you can get your hands on and entirely intolerant of any error.  And it lands who knows where, but its on the planet.  That didn’t take a great deal of discussion.  We know we don’t have enough consumables to go all the way round the moon with all this stuff running but surely there’s a way we can patch together life support and just go around the moon. They would then shut down all the computers and go around the moon.

Then we got worried about alignment so that they could come home after they came round the moon.  They came up with a low-cost, low propellant way of getting back home except it put them landing in the Atlantic ocean and our recovery forces were in the Pacific.  So, they’re making progress in going to the right planet.  And so they made a maneuver that used all their propellant they had left that out them into the Pacific ocean, then it was lights out.  Went into survival mode, miserably cold, nothing works.  the guys on the ground were running round the clock mission planning meetings.  Each of these control systems and contractors on the phone, pick up the phone to any contractor that worked for the company for NASA, call and probably get the president of that company. Everybody was there.

Ken Mattingly (red stripe) during his EVA on Apollo 16.
Ken Mattingly (red stripe) during his EVA on Apollo 16.

One of the big problems we had on coming home was we had no data on the inertial platform that was used for stabilising the spacecraft, it was designed to work at a specific temperature.  Now its below freezing.  Will it work, should we count on it, what’ll we do?  We got a phone call from one of the contractors, it turns out this platform was built in the northern part of the US and they’d had a big ice storm and shut the plant down, told everybody to get home before the roads clogged.  This young technician was supposed to take this platform from one building to another building, when they said everybody go home, he parked his wagon and went home.

He came back after the weather cleared and remembered he’d left it in the back of the wagon.  So he went and set it on the table where he was supposed to take it and left. They asked him, weren’t you worried?  He said, yeah but I didn’t wanna tell ’em what I’d done but I did go back and ask the testers if they had used it.  They said yes, why?  Was there anything unusual about it?  They said no.  He said that’s OK I can sleep now.  That guy when he heard about the problem, he went and told his boss, who went and told his boss.  We had one data point that told us it was probably going to work.  You can’t believe what a  sense of relief it was to get that. You have to imagine the courage it took to go tell your boss, you’ve done something that dumb and covered it up.

Apollo 13 Successful Failure
Apollo 13 Successful Failure

But it was that kind of communication that brought ’em home and that integrity – don’t ever blow smoke on any of your friends, we’re in this together. Perseverance under pressure and you know how the outcome came.  It is a tremendous story.  So this team that did it, the average age of the people in the control centre was mid twenties.  All the codgers, leaders were 30 or more. Sometimes the social interactions were not entirely…smooth.  There were many arguments but everybody in that program was dedicated to success and that’s why Apollo 13 came back.  That’s why I got to go…and I’ve stopped feeling sorry about missing 13.  Flying to the moon is cool.

Ken Mattingly and Nick Cook
Ken Mattingly and Nick Cook

TK Mattingly is ready to answer questions after another standing thunderous applause.  He’s had the audience hooked, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a lecture theatre so quiet and with the lights on seemingly making it more personal.


A few questions from the audience are answered…

We learn that you never tire looking at the Earth, its beautiful.  The moon is not beautiful. Seeing the Earth rise over the moon is…erotic, beautiful.  But the craters, they all look the same.  You finally get to see where you can see some differences.  But as a place to go for a summer weekend, I’d go to California. We learn its very a comfortable ride on the Shuttle compared to the Saturn V, it doesn’t slam you into the back of the seat.  One of them is described as sheer terror.

Ken Mattingly (right) in the Command Module
Ken Mattingly (right) in the Command Module

Impressions of Chris Kraft.  Chris Kraft, one of the original members of the Space Task Group that started back with Mercury and started developing all the manned space flight activities.  Started out as an electrical engineer and through a chain of events became in charge of flight operations and those ground team that I was describing to you earlier was his baby, his solution.  It came from Mercury where they had flown these missions, they didn’t know what to expect.  They had a case on John Glen’s flight where they couldn’t tell from the instrumentation whether the heat shield had fallen off or not and it was a terrifying thought.  Chris enforced discipline and promised himself they would never again be caught without knowing what to do.  He set up a course of events that is the signature of flight operations in the NASA arena.  Engineers will talk to you all day about how things are supposed to work, but what happens when it doesn’t work. Everyone of those people on console had a big book of what if procedures and where they could share with each other.  Chris was the guy that created the Flight Control concept, the positions and the techniques.  Flight Controller is a very stressful job, its not for everybody.

Chris Kraft seated at centre.
Chris Kraft seated at centre.

Gimbal Engine Problem.  While in lunar orbit on the far side of the moon, he had to contemplate a near abort when there was a problem with gimbal angles on set of actuators that controlled the engine bell.  Thanked god he had a period of boredom before flight, had taken all the mission rules and written them down,  He called John and told them the gimbal test had failed, I had so much confidence in the hardware I was convinced I had done something wrong.  How many times can you rethink what you had done, what could I have done, I was going crazy.  The only people I could talk to were John and Charlie….they weren’t very sympathetic.  In fact that’s an understatement.  Turns out that there was problem with the electrical cable and pins were not connecting properly.

What’s you favorite space food?………(silence)  In Space, your taste for food actually changes, you lose the sensitivity, it’s just food, it’s not something you look forward to.

Ken Mattingly checks his wristwatch during suit-up for launch
Ken Mattingly checks his wristwatch during suit-up for launch

Did the ‘Spam in a can’ accusation ever bother you or your colleagues?  Aviators are an unusual community, their own vernacular and customs.  Most of us wanted to be in flight testing.  The people, that were the ‘real test pilots’ would sit around and make fun of people who were in the space program and call them ‘spam in a can.’  They’d have nothing to fly, what good are they. That attitude prevailed for quite a while.  Some of them had learned that pulling G’s was a lot of fun, flying zero G is even more fun.

Fantastically organised by the team at www.space-lectures.com, I’m in the queue for him waiting to sign his autograph on my print, already excited at the thought of the next lecture.  Another great day.

You can read about the Alan Bean event I attended previously here.

Alan Bean Apollo 12
Alan Bean Apollo 12

Between 1968 and 1972, nine American spacecraft voyaged around the moon.  Twelve of those men on board unearthly shaped spacecraft, stepped foot onto the surface of another world, the only beings from our planet to do so.  Apollo 12 blasted off from Kennedy Space Centre and on November 19th 1969, the Lunar Module Intrepid, separated from the Command Module Yankee Clipper.  In a controlled descent down to the lunar surface, two astronauts landed with pinpoint accuracy near the Surveyor 3 lander in an area called the Ocean of Storms and walked on the moon.  One of those men was Captain Alan Bean, the 4th man to walk on the moon and I met him today.

Alan Bean descends the ladder down tot he lunar surface

The chance to meet the Apollo 12 Lunar Module pilot, 4th man to walk on the moon, the Skylab 3 Commander and painter was fantastically organised by the team at www.space-lectures.com.  People seem to be amazed he’s in Pontefract.  Usually followed by some muttering about how they think it was faked and some massive conspiracy, oblivious to the fact that governments can’t even keep budgets secret.  Idiots.  Camera and video on standby.

Starting with a photo shoot, I walked in beaming like an idiot to be warmly greeted by this gentleman with a Texas drawl wearing his gold astronauts pin.  “Hey, how are you?” he asks shaking my hand, grabbing me close and patting me on the shoulder.  “Hi, my name’s Nick, thank you for coming today” I reply, “No, no thank youuuu for coming along today.”  Very warm, pleasant and welcoming, I can’t remember the other bits we said, I was too busy grinning.  Probably thought I was a raving lunatic but at least he didn’t launch himself out the room at escape velocity.

Alan Bean and Nick Cook

Then on to the public lecture to a packed theatre room of 450 people all patiently sitting in anticipation.  The bloke next to me had travelled up from Brighton.  I’m humming along to “giant steps are what you take, walking on the moon” with a poor Sting impression.  If you couldn’t guess it, they were playing songs with a space related theme in the preview.  I’m sat here in pure space geek heaven and I’ll do my best to retell his lecture.

After a 5 minute introductory video, Captain Alan LaVern Bean walks in to rapturous applause.  He starts by telling us a little bit about himself, he lives with Houston Texas with his wife Lesley and their 2 dogs, ET and Moonbeam, has a son and a daughter who are all grown up and has 8 grandchildren, “this world is filling up!”

Astronaut Alan L. Bean, Apollo 12 lunar module pilot and the 4th man to walk on the moon.

He flew Apollo, he flew Skylab and was back-up for a Russian mission.  Was training to be a Shuttle commander and there were a lot of people in training.  He took up painting when he was a test pilot and never thought he’d be able to do it as a profession.  Half his astronaut friends thought it was a good idea, half thought it was a mid-life crisis.  “What I hope to do today is tell you a few stories about the training I had to go to the Moon and tell you a few stories and show you some of my paintings about that experience on the Moon.” The lecture is in full swing now and the audience is hooked.

If people can work together, they can do things like go to the moon. We all have things in our own lives which we need our best knowledge to solve. Every flight to the Moon has to start somewhere. Every achievement of every impossible dream has to start somewhere.

For Alan Bean,  started life as an astronaut at Johnson Space Centre and one of his jobs was running around in a spacesuit to find out how much energy was used for the moon’s 1/6th gravity.  Important to calculate how much water needed in the backpack, the right amount of coolant and calculate the sun angle to know how much heat from the sun to keep the spacesuit cool.  Getting to know the equipment enough so it becomes familiar.  Then on to more training for the moon.  Not quite “put up the flag, talk to the president, jump around and pick up a few rocks” as they’d imagined.

Alan Bean traverses with the two sub packages of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP)

No, you’re going to have to learn about rocks.  “Wait a minute, that sounds like what geologists do, we’re airline pilots.”  Then its off to places that scientists thought they looked like the moon, volcanic fields in Hawaii.  “If you took that surface and dug some craters in there and got some dust out of your pencil sharpener, a million pencil sharpeners, get that graphite out there, spread it over the top a foot or two deep, and you’d have the Moon.”  They thought they’d find rocks 4.6 billion years old and craters 2 billion years old.  What they actually found on the moon was that everything 3.5 billion years or older.  Still, it wasn’t all work, General Motors decided to give them a new car each year.  Wasn’t going to turn that one down.

What NASA didn’t know was how hard it would be.  Neil Armstrong thought he had a 90% chance of getting there and back alive, but thought he only had a 50% chance of landing on the moon.  “I remember when I was there in mission control, looking up at Neil and Buzz, Neil was my office mate, he was in the same office, we both had the same secretary, so we talked a lot.  All of a sudden he shows up on the Moon!  It was as amazing to us as it was to everybody else.”  Alan then shows a painting he did of Neil to commemorate the occasion with an anecdote about the difference between Neil and Buzz, but explains that he got the watch wrong on the painting and ended up redoing it 3 times.

When the first men went to the Sea of Tranquillity, they landed within a 4 mile radius of their aim point.  For Apollo 12, the destination changed to the Ocean of Storms where Surveyor landed 33 months earlier.  The pinpoint landing was achieved by using a new method of getting data from 2 sites and using Doppler.  This was tried in the simulators 3-4 weeks before the flight.  “Up on the arm into the Saturn rocket, it was like something that was alive, an animal, it wasn’t at all like a machine.  It was weird, but powerful.”

Lunar Module Intrepid - Apollo 12
Lunar Module Intrepid – Apollo 12

“We’d been training in simulators all along, I was looking out one side and Pete (Conrad) the other.  There were so many more craters than I’d ever seen in one place, I thought there was no place to land.  It scared me so much I could feel my heart rate go up, I was feeling frightened and couldn’t do my job if I was scared, so I just looked at my instruments, did something on the computer, said something to Pete, calmed myself down.  Looked out again and wasn’t quite so scared.  Adapted on the way down, this was scary to me but it seemed that way to me, we’re all different.  We were supposed to land on the near edge of the crater with Surveyor in it, so he took us over as Neil had done and we went to the far right edge.

Alan Bean describing his first steps on the moon
Alan Bean describing his first steps on the moon

Alan Bean then explains how he took his first steps and took a while to get his balance.  It’s a bit like being on ice and you can’t get good traction.  The first thing he did was to toss his astronauts pin he’d been wearing since 1964 into the crater.  Now he’s been into space, he gets a gold pin to wear.  “When I look at the Moon at night, I get to the equator, look about 30 degrees and I think about that crater, I know where it is, and think about that little pin, which is going to be up there for millions of years, just as shiny as it was that day.”  Now he’s got us all laughing when he says they wanted to pull a joke on the scientists by putting a stone arrowhead in the soil and inadvertently filming it.

Alan Bean is talking about teamwork, changing your attitude, getting along with people and how he looked at other people he thought were effective like Jim McDivitt.  NASA was a team of 400,000 people, instead of getting frustrated at people, get to know them, find a way to care and admire your team mates.  You can have a good life and provide leadership this way.  There’s also a tremendous pressure to fit in, especially at school, follow your heart.  Alan Bean is very proud of his achievements on Skylab achieving 120% of their goals which is more than any other NASA mission.

Pete Conrad and Alan Bean in the Apollo Lunar Module Mission Simulator during simulator training

He’s also full of praise for Pete Conrad, the best astronaut he ever met.  Pete Conrad allowed Alan Bean to fly the LM on the dark side of the moon.  Of all the other commanders, not a single one of them let their Lunar Module Pilot fly.  On splashdown, looking out at the sea, Captain Bean was surprised at the movement of the sea.  On the moon, nothing moves except you.  He’s also never complained about the weather since getting back, he’s just glad we have weather.

Alan Bean signing his autograph on my photo
Alan Bean signing his autograph on my photo

All too quickly, but running well over time, Alan Bean leaves us with 3 things, “light to thy path, wind to thy sails, dreams to thy heart.”  A standing applause, he’s funny, self depreciating and he’s got the audience hooked.  He’s got time for another little joke while he’s still wearing his microphone off stage.  There he is autographing my photo on the left with his words of wisdom.  Not just the musing of an astronaut, but those of a man who is thankful for the opportunities he’s had.  Thank you very much Beano.

Links: Space Lectures

%d bloggers like this: