Was NASA’s First Launch Delay its Most Significant?

In January 1961, the pieces of the manned spaceflight puzzle were slowly coming together. NASA had a capsule, astronauts to ride inside it, and rockets to launch it. The capsule had even successfully launched on top of the rocket. The missing piece was the go-ahead for astronauts to launch inside a capsule, but flight surgeons and rocket engineers were playing it safe. Had they been a little more bold, Alan Shepard could have been history’s first man in space. Instead, Wernher von Braun’s concern that his rocket might explode and kill an astronaut delayed Shepard’s launch and secured his position as the first American in suborbital space. (Left, Alan Shepard on the morning of his May 5, 1961 suborbital flight.) Continue reading “Was NASA’s First Launch Delay its Most Significant?”

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Vintage Space Fun Fact: Slayton’s Bow Tie

On Thursday April 9, 1959, the seven Mercury astronauts were introduced to the world at a press conference. Six nervous men sat shifting in their seats at a long table facing a room full of press; John Glenn was the only one smiled at the cameras, pleased as punch to be there. Sitting in alphabetical order, Deke Slayton sat on the far left of the table, fingers intertwined on the table in front of him looking up at the room with only his eyes. On his right sat Alan Shepard, leaning back looking much more calm. Slayton’s mannerisms could be chalked up to nerves, or it could be discomfort after a prank Shepard played moments earlier. (Left, Shepard and Slayton as the press conference began on April 9, 1959.) Continue reading “Vintage Space Fun Fact: Slayton’s Bow Tie”

John Glenn: the Man Behind the Hero

In the early days of the Mercury program, John Glenn looked like the perfect astronaut. Tall with boyish good looks, he was always smiling and happy to share his love of family, country, and God with the media. (Left, the Mercury astronauts.)

America loved him, but he wasn’t the favourite among his fellow astronauts. He set himself apart as the one among them who wasn’t cool and laid back like a test pilot ought to be. He didn’t hide his eagerness to fly in space, and when he was passed over for the first launch, he fought to have the flight assignment changed. In the end, he was at the right place in the flight lineup at the right time to make the first orbital flight and secure his place in history. But it was never certain to be his flight, and it’s a very interesting story. Read the full article on Scientific American’s Guest BlogContinue reading “John Glenn: the Man Behind the Hero”

Fun Facts and Finds About John Glenn

Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s Friendship 7 flight. The first orbital mission of the Mercury program, which launched on February 20, 1962, was a major achievement for NASA and a significant milestone to the American people. The flight marked the US finally matching the Soviet Union in space and was a major step towards the lunar landing goal Kennedy had set the year before.

My article commemorating the mission will appear tomorrow on Scientific American’s Guest Blog, but I thought it might be fun to share some of the interesting facts and bizarre finds I came across during my research. (Left, Glenn trains in a simulator. 1959.) Continue reading “Fun Facts and Finds About John Glenn”

Vintage Space Fun Fact: Tang in Space

When people think about what NASA has done for the Earth-bound among us, most cite the invention of space foam and Tang among its greatest accomplishments. That’s not entirely true. Offshoots of technologies NASA has developed have given us things like LASIK eye surgery and the ability to turn on appliances remotely from our smartphones. Also, NASA didn’t invent Tang. But Tang’s story does run parallel to NASA’s. (Left, a 1960s advertisement for Tang with an image of a Gemini spacecraft in orbit that draws a comparison between the astronauts and the average consumer. Clever marketing.) Continue reading “Vintage Space Fun Fact: Tang in Space”

Vintage Space Fun Fact: Cape Canaveral Monsters

Last weekend, I saw Cape Canaveral Monsters. The 1960 sci-fi release epitomizes B movie with awful effects, emotionless acting, and a paper-thin plot that attempts to explain the high fail rate of America’s launch vehicle by the presence of aliens (and, oddly, not monsters). So this post isn’t really a “fun fact.” It’s more just fun, with a little bit of fact to back it up. (Left, the movie poster for Cape Canaveral Monsters. The tagline reads “You humans with your puny minds! You must not learn the secrets of space!”) Continue reading “Vintage Space Fun Fact: Cape Canaveral Monsters”

Painting Rockets

I recently built my first model — a 1:144 scale Saturn V. I posted this picture of the painted but unassembled rocket online, and it wasn’t long before I got an email from a fellow space-enthusiast. He asked about the paint scheme I used. He used the same design on a model years ago, and neither of us followed the paint scheme of any Saturn V that actually flew. I’d been so distracted following the directions and getting the lines straight that I didn’t stop to look at where the lines were going. It got me thinking about the Saturn V’s design scheme, which might be one of the more interesting histories of paint. Turns out, most of the readily accessible information is geared towards model builders. That’s all well and good, but it didn’t tell me why German-built launch vehicles have always varied their paint scheme.  Continue reading “Painting Rockets”