Apollo 1: the Fire that Shocked NASA

NASA’s Apollo program began with one of the worst disasters the organization has ever faced. A routine prelaunch test turned fatal when a fire ripped through the spacecraft’s crew cabin killing all three astronauts. Today marks the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire, a tragic and preventable accident. There were warning signs, similar accidents that had claimed lives both in the United States and abroad. The Apollo 1 crew could have been saved from a gruesome death. (Left, the Apollo 1 crew, Ed White, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chaffee jokingly say a little prayer for their problematic spacecraft in this unofficial crew portrait. 1966.)

Read the whole article on Scientific American’s Guest Blog.

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Vintage Space Fun Fact: How to Not Swear on the Moon

In the 1960s, NASA’s astronauts were the cool, calm, and collected faces of the space program who represented American values — most were married and had some sort of religious affiliation. NASA’s public affair office took great pains to keep its astronauts’ images clean, but they were still men who occasionally cursed when faced with a bad situation. As NASA gathered steam and took a firm place in the public eye, the organization had a job covering up some of the less radio- and family-friendly transmissions. (One of the surface shots taken by the crew of Apollo 10. 1969.) Continue reading “Vintage Space Fun Fact: How to Not Swear on the Moon”

Taking Gemini to the Moon

Apollo 8 is usually synonymous with Christmas — at least among spaceflight enthusiasts. In 1968, NASA made the daring decision to send Apollo 8 into lunar orbit in the name of getting American men to the moon ahead of the Soviet Union. On Christmas eve, the crew – Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders – famously read from the book of Genesis. (Left, an artist’s concept of Apollo 8 firing its main engine to return to Earth.)

Sent with only a Command and Service module, the mission is often considered one of NASA’s greatest risks of the space race. But there were other equally audacious lunar missions in the planning stages long before NASA had a viable mission with Apollo 8. As early as 1961, the agency considered sending men to the moon, and even landing them on the surface, with a Gemini spacecraft. Continue reading “Taking Gemini to the Moon”

Vintage Space Fun Fact: High Flying Gemini

With the exception of Apollo flights, manned spaceflight has operated exclusively in low Earth orbit, the area in space that extends up to about 1,300 vertical miles. In 1966, the Gemini XI crew set an as-of-yet unbroken altitude record within low Earth orbital flights. Using the Agena’s engine, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon reached an apogee (peak distance from the Earth) of 850 miles; most Gemini missions, and missions since, have operated under the 200 mile altitude. (Left, Dick Gordon during an EVA. 1966.)

So why did Gemini XI get to fly higher than any other mission? In short, because Conrad wanted to.  Continue reading “Vintage Space Fun Fact: High Flying Gemini”

Vintage Space Fun Fact: Gene Kranz’s Vests

Flight director Gene Kranz is perhaps best known as the man behind the team that got the Apollo 13 crew home safely. He is also known for his trademark flattop hair style and his vests. In training and during missions, he was rarely seen without a vest over his button down shirt. But these vests were more than just a fashion statement. Inseparable from the man who wore them, Kranz’s vests became symbolic of the “can-do” attitude mission controllers adopted when dealing with emergencies in space. (Left, Kranz eats at his console in the Mission Operations Control Room in Houston. 1965.)

So just how did a vest become such a powerful symbol? Continue reading “Vintage Space Fun Fact: Gene Kranz’s Vests”

Remembering Apollo’s Last Moonwalk

Today marks the thirty-ninth anniversary of the last Apollo mission’s, Apollo 17’s, final moonwalk. On December 13, 1972, Commander (and Apollo 10 veteran) Gene Cernan and Lunar Module Pilot Jack Schmitt made their last of three lunar EVAs. NASA commemorated the anniversary by posted this image of Schmitt on the moon as its “Image of the Day.” I commemorated the anniversary with a look at some mission details and a few interesting facts about the lunar-walking crew members. Read the article at Universe Today.

Vintage Space Fun Fact: The Mercury ‘7’s

Each of the Mercury missions had a name followed by the number 7. Alan Shepard flew Freedom 7, Gus Grissom in Liberty Bell 7, John Glenn aboard Friendship 7 (pictured), Scott Carpenter in Aurora 7, Wally Schirra flew Sigma 7, and Gordon Cooper aboard Faith 7. Deke Slayton never flew because of a heart condition, but had he flown his mission would have been Delta 7.

So, what’s with all the ‘7’s?  Continue reading “Vintage Space Fun Fact: The Mercury ‘7’s”