Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bumper to Bumper

Bumper 7 on the pad at Launch Complex 3 on July 28, 1950.

What was the first rocket launched at Cape Canaveral?

That was Bumper 8 on July 24, 1950. The Bumper program began in White Sands, New Mexico. It was a German V-2 rocket with a WAC Corporal missile atop. Six Bumpers were launched in White Sands, then the program moved to Cape Canaveral for the last two launches.

Bumper 7 was scheduled to launch first, on July 19, but flamed out on the pad. It was returned to Hangar C for repair, and replaced by Bumper 8. After Bumper 8 launched on July 24, Bumper 7 returned to the pad and launched on July 29.

If you visit the Air Force Space and Missile History Center, you'll find the LC-3 exhibit has a video display running old films of the Bumper launches at the Cape. The color films are in fairly poor condition, turned pink from their age. I volunteered to attempt repairing them using Adobe Premiere.

Click here to see a side-by-side example of the film repair. You'll see on the left the "pink" tint caused by the aging of the film's chemicals. On the right is how it looked after using Premiere.

Eight clips were repaired. Click here to see all eight Bumper films. It runs about 13 minutes. The first two clips have sound, the rest do not. Given the age and condition of the films, some repairs were more successful than others.

Launch Complex 3 still exists, although it was abandoned long ago. Click here to view a blog I wrote on October 25 with photos of LC-3 as it appears today.

SpaceX Signs Contract to Fly British Satellites

Florida Today reports that SpaceX has signed a contract to launch small satellites for England's Surrey Satellite Technology.

"We actually see SpaceX as one of the things that will open up the American market to small satellites," said Philip Davies, business development manager with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. in Surrey, England.

The company has built nearly 40 dishwasher-sized satellites, which are used for communications and Earth imaging. It sees a growing market once SpaceX establishes itself as a low-cost launch provider. That California-based company, owned by Internet tycoon Elon Musk, has had two successful launches from Cape Canaveral and plans a third this summer.

"The world's appetite for data from imaging satellites is growing exponentially," Davies said. "We see SpaceX as one of the key developments with having cost-effective launches here in the U.S."

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Turning a Negative Into a Positive

The first launch of a Polaris missile, from the submerged U.S.S. George Washington submarine on July 20, 1960.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I volunteer as a docent at the Air Force Space and Missile Museum at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The museum has a large archive of historic images and documents, some of which are online. Most are not. Thousands of negatives await discovery in the archives, slowly decaying as time takes its toll.

The Air Force once assigned an archivist to the museum, but he was transferred in 2010 so the volunteers work in the archives as circumstances permit.

Some of the images have been enlarged and are displayed in the History Center outside the CCAFS south gate. (Touring the History Center is free.)

I have a digital photo scanner, so I volunteered to scan the archive negatives and fix them in Adobe Photoshop. Many of the negatives from the 1950s and 1960s are in 4"x5" dimensions, and some are in better shape than others.

Below are some images I've scanned so far.

A Polaris missile is launched from the USNS Observation Island. From the deck of this ship, President Kennedy watched an A-3 Polaris launch on November 16, 1963, six days before his assassination in Dallas.

A Jupiter launch on October 22, 1957.

A Minuteman I in its silo on April 10, 1963.

A Minuteman II launch on September 24, 1965.

The final images are of a Minuteman II launch on March 31, 1966. A third image is badly damaged and will require a lot of work if it will see the light of day.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lockheed Martin Unveils Orion Simulation Center

NASA's Orion web site features the above photo of Orion at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans last month, prior to shipping to Denver, Colorado.

Aviation Week reports that "Lockheed Martin unveiled its suburban Denver Space Operations Simulation Center (SOSC) on March 21, a large development, evaluation and testing facility for NASA’s Orion/Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle."

Lockheed hopes to launch Orion on its first test flight in 2013 and prepare for congressionally mandated operations by the end of 2016 ...

Orion would be restricted to crew rescue duties at the International Space Station under the strategy outlined by President Obama last year. However, Congress favors the deep-space exploration mission designated by the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. The facility’s capabilities include Orion space station docking as well as asteroid encounter simulations.

The article also notes, "The company has developed a range of prospective deep-space missions that follow the 'flex path' strategy outlined by the Obama administration-appointed Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee in 2009."

Florida Today: "End Posturing and Act"

A March 24, 2011 Florida Today editorial is an implicit rebuke of recent false claims by Rep. Sandy Adams, whose district includes Kennedy Space Center.

An opinion column in this morning's Florida Today demands that members of Congress should "end their posturing and act" to close the gap in which NASA relies on Russia to reach the International Space Station, by fully funding commercial space.

The opinion column is an implicit rebuke of a March 17 letter written by Space Coast congresswoman Sandy Adams, which falsely blamed President Obama for the reliance upon Russia:

Throughout history, scientific exploration has been a hallmark of the great nations — the ones that led. But once again, the Obama Administration's budget willingly ceded that leadership to China, Russia and India — countries that understand the importance of human space exploration. We cannot continue to accept this administration's assault on American exceptionalism and world leadership.

Speaking of the recent announcement that a ride on Soyuz will now cost $63 million, the Florida Today editorial commented:

In the hyper-partisan climate in Congress, the announcement brought familiar criticism from Republicans that the Obama administration is ceding U.S. human spaceflight to Russia.

That’s far from the truth.

President Bush made the call to fly U.S. astronauts aboard Russian rockets as part of his decision in 2004 to end the shuttle program in 2010 without having a new American rocket ready to replace the orbiters.

The move was supported by Republicans who then controlled Congress and Democrats backed it, too, when they took over in 2006. When President Obama entered the White House in 2009, the shuttle's shutdown was well under way and the Russian policy long set.

The rhetoric accomplishes nothing, further poisoning the atmosphere when level-headed bipartisan leadership is necessary to steer NASA through the post-shuttle transition.

This wasn't the first time Adams falsely included China on her list of phantom space enemies. In a December 29, 2010 Daytona Beach News-Journal guest column, Adams wrote, "We cannot and should not be forced to rely on the Russians and Chinese to get our astronauts into space." But she failed to produce any evidence that U.S. astronauts are being forced to fly on Chinese rockets, or of any formal relationship at all between NASA and the China National Space Administration.

The Indian Space Research Organisation is new to Adams' space enemies list, but they've never flown a human in space and don't plan to even attempt it until at least 2016.

Ms. Adams' falsehoods aside, the Florida Today cites efforts by SpaceX, United Space Alliance and other vendors to offer their own human space flight vehicles by 2015, if not sooner. The editorial notes that the Russians are "exploiting their upcoming ridership monopoly by jacking up the price ... The U.S. will have to live with it until it can field a new rocket and spacecraft."

Every day that passes without the funds pushes back the advent of a robust new U.S. commercial launch industry staged on the Space Coast, and with it the nation’s human spaceflight program.

The column concludes:

Members of Congress can complain all they want about the Russians, and attack the White House, but they are the ones holding the next generation of spaceflight hostage.

They should end their posturing and act.

After reading Rep. Adams' letter, I sent a letter to her on March 22 through the Rep. Sandy Adams web site. The letter is below. I received an automated reply that I would receive a response from Ms. Adams. If and when that happens, I will post it here.

Dear Rep. Adams —

I have read the letter you sent on March 17, 2011 to the chair of the House Budget Committee. I continue to be disappointed by your fundamental lack of understanding about both the history and current events surrounding NASA, as well as your apparent philosophy that our nation is better served by a "socialist" space program than one driven by the private sector.

Let's begin with your claim that the Obama administration "willingly cedes that leadership to China, Russia and India." Anyone who knows the basic facts about the current state of NASA will realize this is nonsense. And it is consistent with your baseless claim last December in a Daytona Beach newspaper that U.S. astronauts might be forced to fly on Chinese rockets.

To review the events of recent years ...

After the orbiter Columbia was destroyed during re-entry on February 1, 2003, President Bush appointed the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB). The CAIB concluded that the Space Shuttle was a complex and risky system that needed to be retired from service, but couldn't be because no other option was available.

On January 14, 2004, Bush announced his Vision for Space Exploration. He proposed that the Shuttle be retired as soon as construction of the ISS was completed, circa 2010. He also proposed what we know today as Constellation.

The problem was he didn't seek the funding to make Constellation a viable project.

Two weeks later, then-NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe appeared before the Senate Science Committee. O'Keefe told the Senators that NASA had already begun negotiations to immediately fly U.S. astronauts on Soyuz capsules, to minimize "risky" Shuttle use, and in 2010 they would fly full-time on Soyuz for at least four years.

No less than committee chair Senator John McCain criticized the proposal, saying that the estimated cost for Constellation was way too low. Senator Bill Nelson predicted that Constellation wouldn't be ready by 2014, but would be delayed for years as NASA programs inevitably are, meaning astronauts would fly on Soyuz until about 2017, in his estimation.

History proved both men to be right.

In the next few years, the GAO repeatedly criticized Constellation's failures. They found that Constellation was behind schedule, over budget, and badly managed. The GAO's most critical report was issued in August 2009; it found that Constellation "lacked a sound business case" because it had nowhere to go. The Ares I, which was to service the ISS, was to be funded by decommissioning the ISS in 2015. Since Ares I wouldn't be ready until 2017, it had nowhere to go!

Coupled with the Augustine Committee's late 2009 report that the Ares V would not fly its first lunar mission until 2028, if ever, the Obama administration did the right thing — they cancelled a boondoggle program.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration in 2005 began the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. To provide more money for Constellation, the administration decided to shift cargo delivery to the private sector. Ares I would be used only for crew delivery.

The Obama administration, essentially, expanded COTS to include crew as well as cargo. As SpaceX demonstrated last December, they are farther along in developing a crew delivery system to the ISS than was Constellation, and at a fraction of the cost.

So please explain to me where it is that the Obama administration has "ceded" our leadership to other nations. Russia? That was a Bush administration decision in 2004. China? We have no relationship with them, and all they've done is launch a two-man crew that puts them about where we were in 1965. India hasn't flown any humans in space.

You also cite "the administration's assault on American exceptionalism." I don't think you understand what the phrase means. "American exceptionalism" was a phrase coined by Joseph Stalin in 1929, deriding the notion that U.S. capitalism was immune to a communist revolution.

You have written that human space flight is "the primary focus" of NASA. I suggest you read the National Aeronautics and Space Act (as amended), NASA's charter. Nowhere does it require NASA to fly humans into space, to send humans to explore other worlds, or even to own its rockets. But it was amended by the Reagan administration in 1985 to prioritize commercial access to space.

I firmly believe that humanity must go to space, and would like to see more spent towards that goal. Your colleagues in Congress, sadly, decided long ago that they would not adequately fund a government human space flight program. The Bush administration knew this, and promised it could build Constellation within budget constraints, but as the GAO repeatedly noted this was a fallacy. The Obama administration finally faced the truth, and came up with a way to fly astronauts to the ISS years sooner than would have happened under Constellation.

Because Congress will not fund a robust government space flight program, the only other way for humans to reach space is by the private sector. While it is unlikely that you or I will afford such a trip in our lifetimes, the only way the cost will be brought down is to unleash the private sector to do what it does best.

Right now, the only way in the United States to reach space is as a government employee. That's fundamentally wrong; the government should not decide who can go to space. I look forward to the day when private citizens fly aboard a SpaceX capsule to a Bigelow inflatable space station, built by American ingenuity freed of government constraint. This day may happen within the decade, if not sooner.

Yes, it's unfortunate that thousands of jobs are being lost at Kennedy Space Center, but that decision was made in 2004 and the locals have had seven years to prepare. Jobs shouldn't be kept just for the sake of jobs. Should the government have blocked development of the horseless carriage to protect the stagecoach industry? Of course not. Capitalism forces the evolution of technology. The side-effect is often the loss of jobs in one sector, but the growth of jobs in another. Trying to protect a government monopoly on space access is ... well, socialist.

Rep. Adams, I hope you will cease writing and speaking nonsensical remarks like trying to frighten people with a non-existent Chinese threat, or by using the phrase "American exceptionalism" which was coined by the most brutal Communist dictator of the 20th Century. A mature leader would be more informed and responsible than you have demonstrated so far.

Thank you for your time.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Big Challenge

The Vehicle Assembly Building under construction in 1965.

I recently came across a copy of The Big Challenge, a 25-minute documentary produced circa 1965 by NASA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The documentary is about the design and construction of Kennedy Space Center, in particular the Vehicle Assembly Building and the LC-39 pads originally used for Apollo.

This copy is in black-and-white; a color version exists but so far I've been unable to obtain a copy. This version also gets fuzzy at times, as the transfer process long ago was less than stellar.

Click here to watch the video. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Soyuz Ride Now Costs $63 Million

Florida Today reports NASA has announced a new contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) that raises the cost to fly astronauts to the International Space Station to about $63 million per seat.

Using Soyuz to supplement and eventually replace Shuttle began with the Bush administration in January 2004. I've covered this before in an April 26, 2010 blog about how the Bush administration publicly announced in late January 2004 the Soyuz plan, and in a November 28, 2010 blog about then-NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe's testimony before the Senate Science Committee on January 28, 2004 detailing their planned "gap" in the ability of the U.S. to reach the ISS after retiring Shuttle.

The Bush administration intended to eventually replace Shuttle with what came to be known as the Constellation program. That program included the Ares I, which would take astronauts to low earth orbit and the ISS. But the U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee (commonly known as the Augustine Committee) concluded in late 2009 that Ares I wouldn't be ready until 2017 — two years after the ISS would have been decommissioned to pay for Constellation under the Bush plan, meaning Ares I had nowhere to go. That's why an August 2009 Government Accountability Office audit concluded that Constellation "lacked a sound business case."

After the release of the Augustine Committee report, the Obama administration proposed that Constellation be cancelled. The savings would be used to extend the ISS until at least 2020, and possibly to 2028. The money would also be used to expand the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program begun in 2005 during the Bush administration to include crew as well as cargo. After SpaceX orbited its Dragon capsule last December, founder Elon Musk said he thought his company would be ready to fly crew by 2013, although comments by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden suggest NASA might not be ready until about 2015.

Members of the Congressional space committees, who have been generally hostile to commercial human space flight, have proposed reducing the NASA COTS budget while funding a new government rocket program. That would only prolong the use of Russian Soyuz capsules by U.S. astronauts to reach the ISS.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Another Astronaut Joins SpaceX

Astronaut Garrett Reisman flew to the International Space Station on STS-123 and returned three months later on STS-124. He also flew on STS-132.

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman announced yesterday that he is leaving NASA to join SpaceX, according to

"I saw what was going on in the commercial space area and I really believe strongly this is the future of human spaceflight and I had a strong desire to get involved with that," Reisman told "That's really what led me to make this decision, which was not an easy one to make."

Reisman will be working for former NASA astronaut Ken Bowersox, who is SpaceX's vice president of astronaut safety and mission assurance.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Book Review: "John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon"

Once upon a time, King Arthur dreamed of a great steed that would aid his Knights of the Round Table in their quest for the Holy Grail. These travels would surely impress other lands that hadn't yet decided whether to align with Camelot or the Saxons. He entrusted his wizard Merlin to conjure up this noble beast to be known as “Apollo,” a god of light and the sun.

As with all fables, this one is fantasy too.

President John F. Kennedy and Arthurian lore were forever linked in American mythology by his wife Jackie shortly after his November 22, 1963 assassination.

And because Kennedy had chosen a manned Moon mission as the field upon which to joust with the Soviet Union, Apollo became part of his administration's Camelot mythology.

Take for example this page on NASA's web site promoting President George W. Bush's Vision for Space Exploration proposal in 2004:

In a time of uncertainty at home and abroad, an American president proposes bold new steps in the exploration of space.

He calls for "longer strides" which "may hold the key to our future here on Earth." He touts the potential of "even more exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the moon, perhaps to the very end of the solar system itself."

The year is 1961. The president is John F. Kennedy. But the words ring true today, as NASA once again aims for new frontiers with the Vision for Space Exploration.

Kennedy's legacy as a space visionary has been diffused by the prism of history. This myth was substantially debunked by a tape recording of a November 21, 1962 meeting between Kennedy and NASA Administrator James Webb, along with budget and other government officials. Webb pressed for more money to accelerate Apollo as well as conduct more science missions. Kennedy replied, "I'm not that interested in space," and reiterated that his sole interest was in showing the world that U.S. technology was superior to the Soviet Union.

Kennedy with NASA Administrator James Webb.

Now comes John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon by Dr. John M. Logsdon, arguably the pre-eminent American space historian of our time. Originally a physicist by education, Logsdon changed careers and by 1970 held a Ph.D. in Political Science. His seminal work, The Decision to Go to the Moon: Project Apollo and the National Interest, was published in 1970 and is described by fellow historian Roger D. Launius as "THE classic study of the process whereby U.S. President John F. Kennedy reached the decision to support an effort to land Americans on the Moon by the end of the 1960s."

Forty years later, Logsdon himself views that original work as insufficient. He writes in his new book's preface, "... I became increasingly dissatisfied with the completeness of the study's narrative elements. The basic story stood the test of time, but because my research for the book was carried out even before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin reached the Moon, only a very limited base of primary documents on which to base the study was available." He also notes that "I had totally missed an important theme in President Kennedy's thinking in the January - May 1961 period" — Kennedy's desire to seek cooperation in space with the Soviet Union, not competition.

During his Senate years, Kennedy showed no interest in space exploration. Like many Americans in the late 1950s, he mistakenly viewed Soviet achievements with the Sputnik launches aboard their R-7 intercontinental ballistic missiles as evidence of a "missile gap" that threatened U.S. security. (Apparently Kennedy himself originated the phrase, in a Senate speech on August 14, 1958.) During his 1960 presidential campaign, Kennedy received a CIA briefing which showed him no missile gap existed — but he didn't correct the public misperception he himself helped create.

In 1960, Kennedy wrote a letter to a college freshman in which he claimed "it is evident that we have suffered damage to American prestige and will continue to suffer for some time."

The choice of the word "prestige" is interesting because, as the Kennedy administration evolved its thinking about space through an early 1961 task force headed by Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, the word "prestige" is the primary justification. Logsdon cites many internal documents and interviews where "prestige" was weighed as a benefit.

Ted Sorensen, Kennedy's speechwriter and confidant, said that prestige was an important element of the President's decision to propose a manned lunar mission.

Ted Sorensen, Kennedy's advisor and speechwriter, recalls that Kennedy's attitude towards the space program was influenced by "the fact that the Soviets had gained tremendous world-wide prestige from the Gagarin flight at the same time we had suffered a loss of prestige from the Bay of Pigs. It pointed up the fact that prestige was a real and not simply a public relations factor in world affairs."

Defense Secretary Robert McNamara wrote to Johnson that "Dramatic achievements in space, therefore, symbolize the technological power and organizing capacity of a nation," that "major achievements in space contribute to national prestige" and "constitute a major element in the international competition between the Soviet system and our own."

The task force's May 1961 final report stated that, "Projects in space may be undertaken for any one of four principal reasons." They were "gaining scientific knowledge," "commercial or chiefly civilian value," "potential military value," and "for reasons of national prestige."

The U.S. is not behind in the first three categories. Scientifically and militarily we are ahead. We consider our potential in the commercial/civilian area to be superior. The Soviets lead in space spectaculars which bestow great prestige. They lead in launch vehicles need for such missions. These bestow a lead in capabilities which may some day become important from a military point of view.

In retrospect, the last assumption was inaccurate. Kennedy repeatedly sought collaboration in space with the Soviets. Logsdon cites that Nikita Khrushchev wrote in his memoirs he was unwilling to collaborate because it would expose the true weakness of Soviet ICBMs. "We had only one good missile at the time; it was the Semyorka [the R-7 ICBM] ... Had we decided to cooperate with the Americans in space research, we would have had to reveal to them the design of the booster for the Semyorka ... They would have learned its limitations, and from a military standpoint, it did have serious limitations. In short, by showing the Americans our Semyorka, we would have been giving away both our strength and revealing our weakness."

In any case, the Johnson task force report continued:

It is for reasons such as these that major achievements in space contribute to national prestige. Major successes, such as orbiting a man as the Soviets have just done, lend national prestige even though the scientific, commercial or military value of the undertaking may by ordinary standards be marginal or economically unjustified.

This nation needs to make a positive decision to pursue space projects aimed at enhancing national prestige. Our attainments are a major element in the international competition between the Soviet system and our own. The non-military, non-commercial, non-scientific but "civilian" projects such as lunar and planetary exploration are, in this sense, part of the battle along the fluid front of the cold war. Such undertakings may affect our military strength indirectly if at all, but they have an increasing effect upon our national posture. (Emphasis in the original text.)

It was in this context of "prestige" that Kennedy proposed a manned lunar mission, before a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961. I've written before about that speech and subsequent events, so I won't cover that again, and of course it's covered at length in Logsdon's book.

Logsdon adds a new dimension to the subject, documenting Kennedy's ongoing efforts throughout his administration to collaborate with the Soviets rather than compete.

In his September 20, 1963 speech to the United Nations, President John F. Kennedy proposed a joint Moon mission with the Soviet Union.

Logsdon recalls Kennedy's September 20, 1963 speech before the United Nations. Kennedy proposed that the U.S. and USSR embark on a joint expedition to the Moon. He said:

Why, therefore, should Man's first flight to the Moon be a matter of national competition? Why should the United States and the Soviet Union, in preparing for such expeditions, become involved in immense duplications of research, construction and expenditures?

It may have been the immense expense of Apollo was foremost on his mind. Logsdon writes that Kennedy directed three different reviews in 1963 questioning whether Apollo was worth the cost. All three, including the last that was completed one week after his death, concluded the expense was justified.

But there's also some evidence to suggest that JFK was looking for a way out. At his lecture last Friday at Brevard Community College, Logsdon said a second audio tape exists of Kennedy meeting with NASA administrator James Webb. This meeting was on September 18, 1963, two days before the U.N. speech. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum has the tape but so far declines to release it. Until then, we can only speculate about its contents.

In a 1969 oral history interview, Webb said (as quoted by Logsdon):

The President said that he was thinking of making another effort with respect to cooperation with the Russians, and that he might do it before the United Nations, and he said, "Are you in sufficient control to prevent my being undercut in NASA if I do that?" So in a sense he didn't ask me if he should do it; he told me he thought he should do it and wanted to do it and that he wanted some assurance from me as to whether he would be undercut at NASA.

Logsdon's book also sheds light on the early days of NASA and why it grew into today's unwieldly bureaucratic behemoth. Why is the Johnson Space Center located in Houston? It's not because of Lyndon Johnson, common myth to the contrary.

Congressman Albert Thomas was the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that controlled NASA's funding. In October 1958, he told NASA Administrator T. Keith Glennan that he would sever funding for a new laboratory unless it was located in Houston.

Rice University was willing to donate 1,000 acres of land to attract the Manned Spacecraft Center (JSC's original name) to Houston. Thomas repeated the earlier offer to James Webb, NASA's new administrator, as well as the implied consequence of turning him down. An initial assessment by the NASA site selection team suggested nine locations — none of them Houston — but "an additional fourteen sites were brought to the attention of the team," Logsdon writes.

President Kennedy with Rep. Albert Thomas in Houston on November 21, 1963. Kennedy was murdered the next day in Dallas.

Logsdon quotes Webb's recollections in his 1969 oral history interview:

... Kennedy at some point called Albert Thomas to seek his support for several bills before the House of Representatives. Thomas had been vague about his willingness to support the bills until Kennedy told him: "Now, you know Jim Webb is thinking about putting this center down in Houston." From that point on, Thomas supported the three bills and "felt that he had a commitment from Kennedy" about the location of the new center.

Twenty-three sites were visited, and more were considered due to political pressures. Massachusetts Governor John Volpe lobbied Kennedy to bring the center to Boston, even though the selection criteria made it clear that local weather must be favorable year-round. Delegations from Virginia and Rhode Island also lobbied for consideration.

The first site chosen was MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, which was scheduled for closure, but the Air Force changed its mind and the selection team moved on to the second choice, the Rice University site in Houston.

The book concludes with a chapter assessing "how well Apollo served the objectives sought by President Kennedy in sending Americans to the lunar surface, in terms of its impact on the evolution of the U.S. space program since the end of Project Apollo, and in terms of how humanity's first journeys beyond the immediate vicinity of their home planet will be viewed in the long sweep of history."

I prefer to evaluate the book in terms of the lessons it can teach us about today's U.S. space program.

The book documents that the Moon program didn't happen simply because JFK walked into Congress one day and said let's go. His proposal happened in a very specific and limited context.

Kennedy had run for office claiming that a "missile gap" existed, and once elected found himself trapped by that claim. He defined the "space race" as the ability to lift heavy payloads into orbit, not by who could first explore the heavens. Like many others of his time, he mistakenly assumed that a heavier payload meant a more devestating nuclear weapon; in reality, it meant that the U.S. was better at miniaturization than the USSR.

When Kennedy visited Cape Canaveral one week before his death, he learned that the Saturn I would be the first American rocket with more thrust than the Soviet equivalent. "That's very important," he told NASA Associate Administrator Robert Seamans. "Now, be sure that the press understands this." Later in the day, he said to Seamans, "Now, you won't forget, will you, to do this?"

In the next two years, Kennedy reiterated to NASA bureaucracy that the goal was to best Soviet lift thrust, as measured by the ability of the Saturn rocket to send a crew to the Moon. Science was not the primary motivation. Prestige was.

President Bush proposes the Vision for Space Exploration on January 14, 2004. His administration attempted to draw parallels with President Kennedy's space program.

That competitive element is missing from today's world of space politics. President Bush proposed in 2004 his Vision for Space Exploration, which begat Constellation and its Ares V heavy-lift rocket intended for missions beyond low Earth orbit. But the Bush administration never sought funding adequate to make it a reality, and Congress showed no inclination to provide it anyway other than to assure jobs were preserved in their districts.

No urgency exists today because there's no perceived external threat making such an exorbitant expense necessary. No other nation has an active crewed lunar mission in the works, nor has one been attempted since the U.S. left the Moon in 1972. Let's say that China, the current bogeyman in some quarters, were to land on the Moon in 2020. So what? We did it fifty years before.

I strongly believe in a permanent human presence in space. It is humanity's destiny to expand and explore, as we've done over the millenia.

But it's wrong to think the answer is an Apollo rerun. The circumstances have changed. A new model is required.

That's a subject for another day. But I recommend that those who think the answer is an "Apollo on Steroids" should read Logsdon's book. Myths are inspirational, but it's important to remember that they're only myths.

KSC Worker Killed at Launch Complex 39-A

Florida Today reports that a United Space Alliance employee fell to his death at 7:40 AM this morning at Launch Complex 39-A.

This is the pad where the Shuttles launch.

Few details are available, but when they're online I'll update this post.

UPDATE 3:30 PM EDTFlorida Today reports that USA has identified the worker as engineer James D. Vanover.

UPDATE 7:00 PM EDTBright House News 13 reports that Vanover was a 28-year employee at KSC, the last fifteen as an engineer working on the Orbital Access Arm.

It's believed to be the first launch pad fatality since March 1981.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Articles of Interest

Making a lap around the Internet of articles you might find interesting ...

Florida Today columnist John Kelly writes in today's issue that the federal government faces a conundrum — should it continue to subsidize the commercial launch industry here in the United States, or go with cheaper options overseas? In doing the latter, the government might cause the collapse of the U.S. commercial launch industry, costing jobs.

Aviation Week reports that “U.S. spaceflight managers are mapping a course for the International Space Station’s coming decade that they hope will 'seed' a high-value commercial research economy in low Earth orbit, but first they must navigate some treacherous passages on Capitol Hill.” The article notes that “NASA is in discussions with Bigelow Aerospace about using one of its inflatable habitats as a combination orbital testbed/storage space on the ISS.” But it also quotes House Science Committee chair Ralph Hall (R-TX) as saying that his committee's “first priority is to continue with the development of the Space Launch System and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.” There continues to be a disconnect between what NASA sees as necessary for our space future and the pork members of the Congressional science committees want to funnel back to their districts. reports that the 8.9 earthquake that struck Japan on March 11 forced their JAXA space agency to evacuate its space center in Tsukuba. The article states that the facility suffered some damage, but the extent is not known. “The space center oversees Japan's Kibo laboratory on the space station, as well the JAXA's unmanned cargo ships that deliver supplies to the orbiting lab. Flight controllers with Tsukuba's Space Station Integration and Promotion Center have been sent home for safety, JAXA officials said.” NASA is handling Japanese ISS interests for the time being.

On a personal note ... Regular readers know my wife and I moved here to Florida in June 2009 from Southern California, where I spent my entire life. We always grew up preparing for “The Big One.” Japan just had its “Big One.” The San Andreas Fault in Southern California is overdue for a major quake that occurs historically about once every 150 years. If and when it happens, the magnitude probably will be around 8.0. Watching the Japan quake footage, I can't help but think that for California this is a preview of coming attractions.

Space News reports that the continued inability of Congress to fund the current year's federal budget could force NASA to delay two top-tier Earth science missions by up to one year. “According to a March 9 laundry list detailing potential program impacts to NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD), the shortfall could delay the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite 2 (ICESat-2) and Soil Moisture Active and Passive (SMAP) missions while increasing their cost.” The federal fiscal year began on October 1, 2010 and runs through September 30, 2011. We are more than five months into that year, but Congress has yet to pass a FY11 appropriations bill. How does the government function without money? Congress passes a “continuing resolution” that extends the prior year's funding amounts for a limited time. NASA, for example, has been operating on FY10 funding levels since October 1, which is why they continue to work on the defunct Constellation program even though it was cancelled. The Space Politics web site addresses the latest on this folly.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Another "JFK" Book Review

Space Politics publisher Jeff Foust adds another review of John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon by John M. Logsdon.

Click here for Jeff's review.

Contrary to much of the mythology that sprung up around Apollo, which is still clung to by some in the space advocacy community, Kennedy was not particularly interested in space. It was not a subject he devoted much time to during his Senate career, and devoted little attention to it during the campaign and the post-election transition period. He showed little urgency in finding a new NASA administrator until after he was inaugurated, eventually selecting James Webb. He also deferred leadership of the National Aeronautics and Space Council to his vice president, Lyndon Johnson. Later in his presidency, though, when space did become a major issue, the space council did not play a major role in the decision-making process—a lesson for those who, to this day, continue to seek the reestablishment of the council.

A reminder that Mr. Logsdon will be in Cocoa March 11 at the BCC Planetarium to discuss his book.

I'm almost done with the book and will publish a review after attending the lecture.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

X-37B Launches from CCAFS

An Atlas V with the X-37B inside the fairing launches today from Launch Complex 41. Photo source: Florida Today.

United Launch Alliance launched its Atlas V today with the X-37B orbital space plane.

I was out on the causeway that links Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to Kennedy Space Center, and filmed video of the launch. Click here to watch the launch video. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.

The below graphic shows where the video was filmed in relation to the launch site and other landmarks.

The X-37B last launched on April 22, 2010. (That was a different vehicle, OTV-1. Today's launch was OTV-2). Click here to watch video of that launch as filmed from north Merritt Island. In this video, you can see the fairing separate from the rocket near the end of the clip.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Orbiter Retirement Decision Planned for April 12

Florida Today reports NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told the House Appropriations Committee today that he'll announce on April 12 which sites will be chosen to house the Space Shuttle orbiters in retirement.

To quote from the article:

Discovery, now in orbit, is headed to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum. The other two — Atlantis and Endeavour — will go to educational facilities — such as museums — that have yet to be named.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is one of 29 locations seeking an orbiter. It announced plans in December to build a $100 million exhibit as the centerpiece.

The report doesn't note that Enterprise, currently displayed by the Smithsonian, will go elsewhere once the museum receives Discovery.

Bolden Defends Commercial Spaceflight

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden testifies March 2 before the House Science Committee. Photo source:

MSNBC reports on NASA Administrator Charles Bolden's appearance Wednesday before the House Science Committee.

The debate, heated at times, came down to how much money NASA will spend encouraging the development of commercial spacecraft compared to the funding allocated to building NASA's own next-generation space vehicle. President Barack Obama has proposed an $18.7 billion budget for NASA in 2012, one that would keep it locked at 2010 levels.

Last year, Congress passed – and Obama signed into law – a bipartisan NASA authorization bill. While that act did include funding for privately developed spaceships to take over the job of transporting astronauts to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station, it also instructed NASA to start building a heavy-lift rocket for future spaceships as a backup.

The article cites concerns by certain members that commercial vehicles might be less safe than one built by NASA (although no one seems to have mentioned the fourteen lives lost on Shuttle). Bolden's reply:

Bolden disagreed that private spacecraft are any less safe than NASA's, which have traditionally always been built, and operated, through commercial contractors anyway. The new model, he said, was mainly a different acquisition format.

The Washington Times quoted Bolden as saying:

"We have got to develop commercial capability to get into low-Earth orbit," he said. "The nation needs to become unafraid of exploration. We need to become unafraid of risks."

Space Politics posted a March 1 letter signed by over fifty space leaders urging support of commercial spaceflight. Among the signatories are former astronauts Loren Acton, Jeffery Ashby, Ken Bowersox, Jay Buckey, Robert Cenker, Owen Garriott, Richard Garriott, Jeffrey Hoffman, Millie Hughes-Fulford, George Nelson, Rusty Schweickart, Richard Searfoss, Brewster Shaw, Kathryn Thornton, and Jim Voss.

X-37B Ready to Launch

Aviation Week reports that the U.S. Air Force is ready to launch its second test of its orbital space plane.

Three months after the U.S. Air Force’s experimental Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) returned from a debut spaceflight that spanned 224 days, its sister ship is being prepared for liftoff March 4 on a follow-on mission.

Like its predecessor, OTV-2 will launch aboard an Atlas V booster from Cape Canaveral AFS. The 2-hr. launch window opens at 3:39 p.m. EST.

Exactly what the vehicle, also known as X-37B, will do in space is classified, as are any cargo or payloads that it may carry. The two spacecraft, built by Boeing Phantom Works, resemble diminutive space shuttles. They are intended to test technologies and processes for low-cost, quick-turnaround, reusable space vehicles, as well as serve as orbital testbeds for instruments that could be incorporated into future satellites.

So it's not the same craft that launched last year. My mistaken assumption.

The article also offers this critical analysis of the orbital space plane concept:

Still, not everyone is a fan of the OTVs. "Because of its weight and relative lack of maneuverability, the spaceplane is not well-suited for a number of missions," says Laura Grego of the Union of Concerned Scientists. For instance, due to extra structure to withstand repeated re-entries, the vehicle ostensibly would have a harder time carrying payloads to orbit, let alone maneuvering in space, rendezvousing with satellites, and releasing multiple payloads, she said March 2. "Yes, the spaceplane may offer more flexibility and is potentially reusable, but that comes at a very high price compared with the alternatives. We have not seen an analysis that shows why it is worth that high price."

UPDATE 10:00 AM ESTFlorida Today reports high winds may delay Friday's launch.

The weather forecast, however, calls for a 70 percent chance that gusty ground winds and/or thick, electrically charged clouds will force a launch delay. The weather for an attempt on Saturday improves slight -- there is only a 60 percent chance of a weather delay that day. But on Sunday, the percentage chance of a delay returns to 70 percent.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Florida Today on Emerging Commercial Space Market

Today's Florida Today has this opinion article about the emerging commercial suborbital flight industry and suggests the Space Coast should aggressively court these opportunities.

The article concludes:

It's critical Florida stay aggressive in this arena because a lack of foresight from the state's political leaders in much of the past decade allowed New Mexico and California to land the start-up companies.

That puts them at a distinct advantage as the industry starts making flights and ramping up.

Still, it's not too late to get in on the ground floor, with Space Florida officials showing good judgment in finally getting the state involved.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

More Commercial Space Coming to Brevard County

The XCOR Lynx suborbital vehicle. Photo Source:

Florida Today reports that XCOR Aerospace could bring 340 jobs to Brevard County over the next five years to service its Lynx suborbital craft that could launch from Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle landing strip.

The flights would be suborbital, on private spacecraft whose operators say could be ready to launch within a year or two and would fly customers far beyond wealthy thrill seekers.

The nascent suborbital industry also holds potential for microgravity research and testing technologies that will help reduce the cost of space travel, proponents said Monday at a conference at the University of Central Florida.

"I like to think that it's 1979 and the PC is just about to appear in the next year, and we're at one of those early conferences in Silicon Valley," said Alan Stern, associate vice president of the Southwest Research Institute and a former head of NASA science programs. "I think the power of suborbital for transforming spaceflight is something similar."

The article also notes that Virgin Galactic might consider the Space Coast for a second port in addition to its New Mexico facility currently under construction. Virgin announced yesterday they have signed a contract with the Southwest Research Institute to take scientists into suborbital flight from their Spaceport America facility outside Las Cruces.