fleetfootmike: (Default)
Tune to follow - I have most of it, but the new MacBook to record it isn't arriving till mid-week.


There's a silence 'cross the barren land
No wind to stir the dust
And metal tools left lying
With no rain to make them rust.
A single footprint marks the place
Where once two heroes toiled.
A flag, forgotten, fallen lies
Amid the dusty soil.
And that one giant leap
Grows further now each day.
To the empty desolation
That's forty years away.
But one small step
Can start us off once more
On that longest march in history
To Tranquility's far shore.
Elsewhere on that landscape
A picture's left behind:
A simple family photo
For some traveller to find.
The one who left it's long years gone -
Safe now, no more to roam.
A reminder of a journey made
So many miles from home.
And that one giant leap....
Far and wide the débris
Of a dozen's labours lie:
Scattered remnants of a time
When mankind dared to fly.
The whole world watched in wonder,
Prayed that they'd be safe home soon.
Old men now, who still recall
Their steps upon the moon.
And that one giant leap...

And that one giant leap
Grows closer now, we pray.
Apollo's distant triumph
We will dare again some day.
Just one small step
Will start us off once more
On that longest march in history
To Tranquility's far shore.
fleetfootmike: (Default)
It's been a while, due to a trip to the US and not having the kind of keyboard that encourages long-winded typing... Also, I was kind of waiting till after I'd been to Kennedy...

The Apollo program is a story of many things: chief among them are personal courage (though I suspect most of the astronauts would deny that - Armstrong certainly avoids the public limelight chiefly because he doesn't want to be seen as a hero), and a measure of what can be done as a team if the will is there. Part of me wonders if (say) Obama laid down such a challenge in 2009, would it be possible to hit a similar target in 7 years starting from scratch? Clearly the technology is much more advanced - the AGC makes my watch look smart, even the Shuttle runs on 8086s... but I wonder if we aren't so enmeshed with caution and politics as to make an achievement like Apollo impossible. Which rather saddens me. Kennedy's speech was a great challenge, and I sometimes think the words that we most need today are the ones that come after "... not because they are easy, but because they are hard".
"...because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win..."

I have many friends who have not lived through a Moon landing - you only have to be 36 to be born after Apollo 17 (and only 23 to be born after the disaster that befell its namesake). People will live and die (if they're unlucky) before we go back. Sadly, Gene Cernan wasn't as right as he hoped:
"As I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come — but we believe not too long into the future — I'd like to just [say] what I believe history will record — that America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17."

(Amusingly, his last words before lift-off were the much more earthy "Let's get this mother out of here.".)


Learn. Teach your kids (if you have any) about what happened forty years ago (my son now has a 3' high Saturn V bought voluntarily out of his own money, and the sight of him wandering the Apollo/Saturn V Center at Kennedy in complete awe was wonderful). If you haven't, you owe it to yourself to watch one or more of Apollo 13, From The Earth To The Moon and Magnificent Desolation (if you can get to see this in IMAX 3D, as at Kennedy, it's absolutely awesome). Several of the Apollo astronauts have written (or had ghosted) autobiographies: Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, Charlie Duke (I now have a signed copy of this), Al Bean, Pete Conrad, Dave Scott, Gene Cernan, Al Worden (a poetry book that's as rare as hens' teeth), Ed Mitchell, Jim Irwin... and also Flight Controller Gene Kranz's excellent 'Failure Is Not An Option'. Missing from that list? the main one is Neil Armstrong, though he has an authorized biography.

We will not, should not, forget the story of the Apollo missions.
Now the rest is up to us, and there's a future to be won.
We will turn our faces outward, we will do what must be done.
For no cradle lasts forever, every bird must learn to fly,
And we're going to the stars - see our fire in the sky.

--- "Fire In The Sky", Jordin Kare

We will go back.
fleetfootmike: (Default)
I wonder perhaps if liftoff from the Moon was the hardest part - knowing that if the ascent stage on Eagle failed, that was... it. No second chance, no way home.

Admittedly, there were many stages on the journey to and from Tranquillity Base where that was true, but that one always struck me as being the most intimidating. President Nixon did, apparently, have a speech prepared for such an event.

One of the often-repeated moon hoax claims is 'look, they filmed the lander ascent stage taking off, they can't have done THAT on the moon'.

Well, guess what? They did. The TV camera for Apollo 15, 16 and 17 was mounted on the Rover and was remote operated (with attendant speed-of-light delay) by Ed Fendell in Mission Control. On 15, they were having trouble getting the camera to tilt, so the image stays focussed on the descent stage. On 16 he tried and got it wrong. The 'classic' footage you see is of 17, his last chance to get it right... so no pressure, then!

Today's music: Julia Ecklar's brilliant 'Phoenix'. We (as in Phoenix the band) performed this at the 15th UK filk con, the week after the Columbia disaster: I have a memory of [livejournal.com profile] cadhla visiting while we rehearsed, and coming out of a rehearsal that day to learn of the accident. We arranged it pretty much that day, and performed it as our set opener, with no introduction or comment. (It's on video somewhere, I'll try and put it up sometime.)

fleetfootmike: (Default)
Just for giggles, there's a repository of source code online - see http://googlecode.blogspot.com/2009/07/apollo-11-missions-40th-anniversary-one.html for links into it. Amusing, too: the coders had a sense of humour.

For example:
# Page 730
#	***********************************************
#	***********************************************

fleetfootmike: (Default)
For man?

For a man?

Amstrong said he meant to say 'a man', and several linguistic researchers have spent ages over the intervening years trying to decide whether he did or not: the latest attempt seems to suggest he didn't.

Either way, they're probably some of the most famous words in history. It wasn't that small a step, either. Because Armstrong's landing was surprisingly gentle, the lander legs didn't compress as much as they were designed to, and he had about a 3' drop off the last step on the ladder onto the LEM's foot, and from there, onto the surface of the Moon at 109:24:15 MET (Mission Elapsed Time) or 02:56:15 GMT on 21 July 1969.

The Apollo Lunar Surface Journal has a detailed and annotated transcript of the whole EVA. Compared to later EVAs, it was short: Armstrong and Aldrin spent two and a half hours on the moon, covering an area less than the size of a football pitch - small compared to later missions which had the LRV.

But yet, it was the first time man had set foot on another celestial body. A triumph of engineering and courage. And Michael Collins, meanwhile, orbited above - for an hour out of every two he was the lonliest man in the universe, a quarter of a million miles from Earth and separated from his two crewmates and radio contact with Mission Control by the bulk of the Moon.

Today's video is (slightly whimsically) the Police's "Walking On The Moon". Shot at Kennedy Space Center, that is a Saturn V that Stuart Copeland is drumming on. Which I went there in the early 90s, it was laid on its side in the visitor centre: now it's displayed in a huge hanger with many other Apollo-era items. It's made up of S-IC-T (a test first stage now painted to resemble the Apollo 11 first stage) and the second and third stages from one of the rockets originally allocated to the cancelled Apollo 18 and 19 missions.

Youtube link if the above doesn't work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Jg0GUS_B-E
fleetfootmike: (Default)
...but not without a few heartstopping moments on the way down.

Let's talk about the AGC - the Apollo Guidance Computer. The two mobile phones I bagged for disposal yesterday have more grunt than the AGC. It had 4KB (2K words) of RAM, 72KB of ROM and ran with a 2HMz clock. It was the world's first real time embedded computer. Apollo had two, one in the CSM with two display/keyboard modules (DSKYs) and one in the LEM with one DSKY.

Once the LEM undocked and headed for the lunar surface, the crew switched the rendezvous radar (the one that tracked the CSM) to 'auto', as per their mission checklist. A while later, the landing radar finally came on line. At this point, the AGC in the LEM was dealing with more inputs than it had in simulation (where it hadn't actually been receiving live radar data) and proceeded to give a 1202 program alarm...

Cue consternation in Eagle, and not a little in Mission Control until the relevant flight controller, who fortunately had seen it before on a simulation exercise, interpreted it correctly - basically the AGC was failing to process all its requests, and dropping non-essential ones on the floor (including the rendezvous radar data, fortunately). Program alarm 1202 and its sister 1201 reared their heads several times more over the course of the descent, but more importantly, the LEM was already going to come in long, and the landing site they were aiming for was boulder strewn and not a viable spot to set it down...

Armstrong took manual control, and began searching for a landing site on dwindling fuel. The last couple of minutes before touchdown are Aldrin calling out speed and altidude, and Charlie Duke, the Mission Control CapCom, dispassionately calling out seconds of fuel remaining.

And then:

102:45:21 Aldrin: 30 feet, 2 1/2 down. (Garbled) shadow.
102:45:25 Aldrin: 4 forward. 4 forward. Drifting to the right a little. 20 feet, down a half.
102:45:31 Duke: 30 seconds
102:45:32 Aldrin: Drifting forward just a little bit; that's good. (Garbled) (Pause)
102:45:40 Aldrin: Contact Light.
102:45:43 Armstrong (on-board): Shutdown
102:45:44 Aldrin: Okay. Engine Stop.
102:45:45 Aldrin: ACA out of Detent.
102:45:46 Armstrong: Out of Detent. Auto.
102:45:47 Aldrin: Mode Control, both Auto. Descent Engine Command Override, Off. Engine Arm, Off. 413 is in.
102:45:57 Duke: We copy you down, Eagle.
102:45:58 Armstrong (on-board): Engine arm is off. (Pause) Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.
102:46:06 Duke: (Momentarily tongue-tied) Roger, Twan...(correcting himself) Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot.

It's funny, but until this week, I'd never really registered Duke's stumble over 'Tranquility' - or for that matter known what 'ACA out of detent' is for (it's Armstrong moving the joystick so that the auto-attitude correction system stops firing the thrusters to correct the tilt of the LEM).

[Timestamps are MET - Mission Elapsed Time]

There's a full annotated transcript of the entire landing at the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal which makes fascinating reading. And if you want to play with a simulation of the AGC, there's one that'll run on Windows, OS X and Linux

And there is, really, only one choice for a video for today. Leslie Fish's "Hope Eyrie", as performed by Julia Ecklar.
fleetfootmike: (Default)
40 years ago today, Apollo 11 was on its way to the moon, on the long coast from Earth powered by the TLI (Trans Lunar Injection) burn. Relative to what was to come, it was a fairly uneventful part of the journey...

Quite surprising how many space-related news items have popped up since Thursday, though...
  • Voice of many of the US broadcasts, Walter Cronkite, has died. I'm sure this'll have more resonance with my US readers - me, I grew up listening to the excellent James Burke, of whom probably more later.
  • Endeavour has docked with the ISS, forming a joined spacecraft with a record-breaking THIRTEEN man crew. It was also pushed up into a fractionally higher orbit early this morning UK time to avoid a wayward piece of space debris - a problem that's only going to get worse as time goes by.
  • NASA have announced the restoration of some of the Apollo 11 TV footage - this was originally transmitted from the Moon in a slow-scan format that was converted for broadcast quite literally by displaying it on a monitor and pointing a camera at it. The resulting ghosting and odd reflections are very much a part of most folks' memories, I suspect. They'd have liked to find the original SSTV tapes, but they're now pretty sure they got scrubbed and reused for later Apollo missions or Landsat data.
  • And, almost cooler yet, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has overflown all the moon landing sites bar Apollo 12 (to come later along with better images of the others) and taken pictures. The LEM descent stages are only blocky 9 pixel blobs, but the shadows they throw are unmistakable. And on Apollo 14 you can see a surface experiment package and what's almost certainly the tracks of the astronauts and their equipment trolley. Cool as a penguin in a Saturn V cryo tank!
  • And finally, because their site deserves all the hits and love it can get, the Boston Herald's 'Big Picture' has a gallery of Apollo 11 images.
No song video today, but here's the words to Leslie Fish's "Toast For Unknown Heroes" for the thousands of people who made it happen.

And that's the way it is, Saturday July 18, 2009.
fleetfootmike: (Default)
5...4...3...2...1.... zero... all engine[1] running...


At 13:32 GMT on June 16th 1969, Apollo 11, atop the sixth Saturn V booster rocket ever launched[2], lifted off into the pages of history.

In a way, the Saturn V/Apollo CSM stack is a microcosm of the whole space program. Three stages, 363 feet tall, weighing 3000 tones, developing seven and a half million pounds of thrust at liftoff, all to return an 11 ft tall, 5 ton capsule back to Earth again. In the same way, thousands of people's individual contributions took three men to the moon and back.

Most of the stock footage you see of the Saturn V isn't actually of any of the manned flights, but of Apollo 4 and 6 - in particular, the top-of-the-launch-tower liftoff angle, and that glorious shot of the stage 1 interstage ring falling away high above the earth (in fact, if you find a clip that lasts long enough, you can see the camera drop off to be parachuted down after stage separation). Any launch pictures with a Service Module that's white rather than silver are of Apollo 4, as well :D

One thing you notice, comparing Apollo to the Shuttle, is how slow the initial lift-off is. For all it's (still) the biggest and most powerful rocket in the world, it has a heck of a lot of weight to shift.

Over a million people watched that launch from the Florida shores, and estimates of over 700 million worldwide. Here's Leslie Fish's evocative 'Witnesses Waltz', again sung by Kristoph Klover off the "To Touch The Stars" album:

[1] Not a typo. NASA Public Affairs Officer Jack King really did say that.
[2] Apollo 7 only had to reach Earth orbit, so launched atop the less powerful Saturn IB, as did the unmanned Apollo 5, and AS201 and AS202 (pre-Apollo 1 test flights).
fleetfootmike: (Default)
Last night, as I quite often do, I watched the Shuttle launch in the virtual company of a number of good friends on #filkhaven. It is, when you think about it, quite the achievement just to get to that state: never mind the weather, the sheer number of individual small parts that have to work, each built by a a different handful of people...

And we know, from bitter past experience, that just one of those parts going wrong can be fatal. NASA gets slated sometimes (largely by people who don't understand) for being too cautious, but after Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia? Can you blame them? Sunday's launch was scrubbed because the weather on the RTLS Abort strip was too bad: the Return To Launch Site Abort is the one NASA have never tested because it's way too scary - it involves turning the Shuttle round and using its main engines to slow it down and fly back to Kennedy...

And last night, Endeavour came roaring off the pad, peaking at 17,000 mph on her way to Earth orbit, on a mission to that dot I saw streaking across the sky last night. I'm sure I'm not the only one who holds my breath on every launch when I hear the words 'Go for throttle up', remembering what happened to Challenger. And I'm equally sure that during their hold on the pad forty years ago, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins thought back to their three colleagues on Apollo 1 who never made it into space. And I kind of bet they were watching last night, too, as Endeavour headed for orbit on a pillar of fire.

"They said she's just a truck, but she's a truck that's aimin' high..."

To celebrate that achievment, and salute the folks who made it and the ones who gave their lives trying, not just in the American space program, I give you Jordin Kare's 'Fire In The Sky', as performed by Kristoph Klover.

I can't watch this video without tearing up. And I don't care.

In memory:

Soyuz 1:
Vladimir Komarov

Apollo 1:
Gus Grisson, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee

Soyuz 11:
Georgi Dobrovolski, Viktor Patsayev and Vladislav Volkov

Greg Jarvis, Christa McAuliffe, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith, and Dick Scobee

Rick D. Husband, William McCool, Michael P. Anderson, David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel B. Clark, and Ilan Ramon

fleetfootmike: (Default)
...Apollo 11 lifted off from pad 39A at Cape Kennedy, carrrying Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on man's first journey to land on the moon.

I was nearly six. My memories of the space program start just before then - I'm positive I can remember building a Lego Apollo 8 on the kitchen table at my grandparents' house in Harrogate, and for some reason the name 'Jim Lovell' just stuck in my memory - my childhood hero: in fact, still to this day.

This will be the first of a series of posts on the moon landing anniversary: I've spent a fair bit of the past few days reading through a book on the space race with James, because I believe that the story of man's achievement in getting there is one of the greatest, most humbling and inspiring triumphs of engineering, science and raw courage ever. It saddens me that we haven't been back, and it saddens me even more that a sizable percentage of people know so little about it. I don't intend James to be one of them.

President John F Kennedy challenged NASA to go from the single sub-orbital hop made by Alan Shepherd in Freedom 7, the first Mercury spacecraft, to land a man on the moon inside a decade, and thousands upon thousands of people worked together and rose to the challenge. I wish I could have been even the smallest part of it.

I have absolutely no doubt we landed on the moon. I find the idiotic attempts to deny it all as a hoax to be ignorant, obsessive, mind-numbingly stupid and above all insulting to the courage of the men who risked their lives to get there, as well as the skills and dedication of the thousands who helped put them there. If you're one of them, and you're reading this, please, do yourself a favour and go away and study the available information objectively. Apply some common sense and scientific rigour.


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