Saturday, October 27, 2012

Life's a Beach

Here are before-and-after photos of the beach along Launch Complex 39, thanks to Hurricane Sandy. These photos were shot from Universal Camera Site 7, along the Cape Road halfway between Pads A and B. Note the loss of sand dunes and significant beach erosion.

Looking to the south on October 26.

Looking to the south on October 27.

Looking to the north on October 26.

Looking to the north on October 27.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Flirts With The Space Coast

The eye of Hurricane Sandy was forecast to pass about 200 miles east of the Space Coast, so its impact would be minimal compared to a direct hit.

Below are some photos from around Kennedy Space Center as the westerly bands of Sandy passed over the area.

On NASA Causeway looking towards the SpaceX pad at Launch Complex 40.

Looking across the Banana River towards the Vehicle Assembly Building in the distance.

At Universal Camera Site 7 on the Cape Road looking north.
And looking south. The location is about halfway between Launch Complex 39 pads A and B.
The orbiter Atlantis museum under construction endures a squall.

Inside the Vehicle Assembly, Atlantis was safe and sound.

The Orion prototype remains in the transfer aisle, atop the KAMAG transporter.

The wind rattling the VAB's aluminum panels raised a ruckus inside, but you'd never know it by this photo.

Man in Space

Click the arrow to watch the January 28, 2004 Senate Science Committee hearing chaired by Senator John McCain.

Senator John McCain told a Space Coast rally on October 24 that NASA should focus on a human mission to Mars.

McCain said NASA again needs to concentrate on a single project the American people can rally behind. “Let’s focus on putting a man or a woman on Mars. Let’s focus on that,” he said.

I found this odd, because McCain was one of the first critics of President George W. Bush's Vision for Space Exploration, which came to be known as Constellation.

Two weeks after the VSE speech, McCain chaired a Senate Science Committee hearing where NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe presented the details of the President's proposal. Here's what McCain said in the opening remarks:

I'm very curious to hear how Administrator O'Keefe thinks we can implement the President's proposal with the very limited resources that have been proposed. Two days go, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the deficit in Fiscal Year 2004 would reach $477 billion. It's been reported that the President's new proposal could cost between $170 billion and $600 billion. Needless to say, the $12 billion that the Adminstration has suggested be spent over the next five years falls far far short of what might actually be required to return to the Moon and reach for Mars and beyond.

Eight years later, in an era of trillion-dollar annual deficits, McCain calls for sending a person to Mars but doesn't talk about how to pay for it. A human Mars flight would cost a lot more than a return to the Moon.

Pandering and hypocrisy are nothing new during an election, but McCain's throwaway line for his Space Coast audience got me to thinking about a more fundamental question.

Why should we send a person to Mars?

Or anywhere else, for that matter.

For the generation that came of age in the 1960s, their space exploration paradigm has always been based upon sending a person to a destination. They recall President John F. Kennedy's proposal to put a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s.

But they don't recall why.

Nothing in the National Aeronautics and Space Act requires NASA to send people into space, to explore other worlds, or even to own its rockets.

All that changed with Kennedy's 1961 speech, although the Act itself was never amended to reflect his change of priorities.

Kennedy wasn't an explorer. In fact, he told NASA Administrator James Webb in November 1962, "I'm not that interested in space." Kennedy wanted to show the world that the United States had technology superior to the Soviet Union.

It's an outdated paradigm in today's world where the United States and Russia have been partners in space for 20 years.

Some claim that China poses a space threat, that they will conquer the Moon, but there is no evidence to substantiate such reckless claims. Chinese human spaceflight is based on 1980s-era Soviet Soyuz technology. They've demonstrated no technology capable of long-duration spaceflight in low Earth orbit, much less a trip to the Moon.

But members of Congress, and those who want to be, continue to use the 1960s paradigm as their vision for a government space program.

They recall the mythology but not the cost. In today's dollars, the NASA budget in the mid-1960s was about $35 billion per year. Today it's half of that, and that's in an era of trillion-dollar annual deficits. It's estimated that the Apollo program cost about $150 billion in today's dollars.

Can you imagine any politician seriously arguing that the U.S. spend $150 billion today for a publicity stunt?

Politicians love to say, "Let's go to the Moon," or to an asteroid, or to Mars, but no one ever seems to admit the true cost. Sound bites are always free. Human spaceflight programs are not.

As recently demonstrated by the Mars Science Laboratory aboard the Curiosity rover, the U.S. is quite capable of exploring other worlds using robotic devices. It's far cheaper and safer than sending a person.

The NewSpace generation is operating from a different paradigm.

Visionaries such as Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Jeff Greason and Bob Bigelow understand that the key to a permanent human presence in space requires bringing down the cost for access to low Earth orbit.

They all rely to varying degrees on NASA research, development and experience. That was the original intent of the National Aeronautics and Space Act.

Some complain about NASA's declining percentage of the federal budget. What they overlook is that, if you combine both federal and private space spending, the U.S. is spending more money on human spaceflight than any time since the 1960s.

The Bigelow Aerospace inflatable habitats have three times the volume of an International Space Station module.

What makes more sense — spending a trillion dollars so a person can walk on Mars, or investing a small fraction of that on creating a new economy in low Earth orbit so that humans can routinely access space by the end of this decade? Many of those may be for a few minutes on an adventure tourism spaceflight with Virgin Galactic or XCOR. But those will be people who will be inspired by space exploration because they did it themselves, not because a few surrogates went all the way to Mars so we can watch it in TV.

Boeing and SpaceX have partnered with Bigelow to seek customers who want to lease Bigelow's inflatable habitats. A recent NASA report documented that more than 800 patents have been issued since 1981 based on microgravity research aboard the Space Shuttle or the International Space Station. Almost 600 more await approval with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Low Earth orbit will be the location of the next Gold Rush. The gold will be microgravity.

If you want people exploring space, nothing drives exploration like a profit motive.

My personal opinion is that humans are destined to expand into the solar system. It's inevitable. And that's why we need to do a lot more research into how microgravity affects the human body. How to shield humans from radiation in space and on other worlds. How to develop new propulsion systems that reduce travel time.

None of that is achieved by a political stunt.

But it will be achieved once our elected officials realize that NASA needs to go back to its roots, to invest in research and cutting-edge technology so that our great economic engine can do what it does best.

Mars can wait.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Science Guy Chooses a Side

This press release was received this afternoon from the Obama for America campaign:

Hi guys, hope you’re doing well.

Wanted to put on your plate that Bill Nye, known for his TV show as “The Science Guy,” will travel to Brevard County for events in support of President Obama’s reelection.

After a tour of Dynamic Systems, Controls and Mechatronics at FIT, Mr. Nye will participate at a STEM roundtable on Tuesday morning at FIT. While not an OFA event, it is part of Mr. Nye’s trip in support of the campaign. The roundtable promises substantive discussion, with participants like:

Brian Bingelli, Ed.D, Superintendent, Brevard Public Schools
Dr. Anthony Catanese, President, Florida Institute of Technology
Adrianne Laffitte, Director, Florida Government Relations, Lockheed Martin
Dale Ketchum, Director, Spaceport Research & Technology Institute (SRTI)

WHAT: FIT Bill Nye tour and discussion, as part of his support for OFA’s Vote Now!
WHO: Bill Nye, Students, Faculty, OFA-Florida Supporters and Volunteers
WHEN: Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012, 10am-12pm
WHERE: Discussion will take place at Florida Institute of Technology, Gleason Performing Arts Center, 150 W. University Blvd, Melbourne, Florida 32901

Tomorrow night, Mr. Nye will attend a OFA debate watch party for President Obama in Cocoa, 644 W King St. Cocoa, FL 32922 (Club Vibez).

Thanks, and let me know if we should save you a spot at the roundtable.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Out On The Town

From time to time, NASA staff will lead contract employees on an orientation tour of Kennedy Space Center facilities. I'll tag along on the bus to take pictures.

This morning, we toured the Vehicle Assembly Building, the Launch Control Center and Launch Complex 39-A. Below are photos with comments.

Crew members moving an early Orion capsule and service module prototype in the VAB transfer aisle.

The capsule was used to practice Orion pad abort tests at White Sands, New Mexico in 2010. Now it's been covered with white paper so heat shield tile outlines can be drawn on the exterior.

The transporter is made by KAMAG, a German company. The transporter was originally used to move the Shuttle-era payload canisters to the launch pad.

Orbiter Atlantis as seen through the crossbeams of High Bay 4.

A look at the port-side access hatch and reaction control jets.

Atlantis atop the orbiter transporter.

Orbiter flags in the Launch Control Center lobby.

Firing Room 4 as seen from the Launch Director's console.

The aforementioned Launch Director's console.

The former Ares 1 mobile launcher that will be adapted for the Space Launch System, as viewed from the Firing Room 4 windows.

Firing Room 3 is undergoing renovation. It will be used to test software for Firing Room 1, which was recently renovated for Space Launch System and other LC-39B users.

The LC-39A service tower atop the Flame Trench.

A closer look at the Flame Trench. That's Mobile Launch Platform 2 atop the trench.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

More Atlantis Photos

Another opportunity today to take pictures of Atlantis in High Bay 4.

Unlike yesterday, when the high bay doors were open creating a lot of backlight, today the doors were closed so the photos with my dinky cameraphone were somewhat better.

KAMAG is a Germany company that makes heavy-lift transporters. In 2000, this transporter was delivered to KSC to transport the Shuttle payload canisters to the Shuttle on the launch pad.

Atlantis Rolls Over

The orbiter Atlantis was transferred yesterday from an Orbiter Processing Facility to High Bay 4 in the Vehicle Assembly Building. This is the last time in Space Shuttle history this transfer will happen.

Florida Today reports on the event.

Below are images of the transfer, and the orbiter in the High Bay. I shot these with my dinky cameraphone.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Does CCAFS Have a Moon Tree?

Is this a Moon Tree?

In January 1971, Apollo 14 launched from Kennedy Space Center. Among the items onboard were hundreds of tree seeds in the personal kit of Command Module pilot Stuart Roosa.

Because Roosa remained in the Command Module while his two crewmates descended to the lunar surface, the seeds never actually were on the Moon. But they came to be known as Moon Trees.

Five different seeds were flown — Loblolly Pine, Sycamore, Sweetgum, Redwood, and Douglas Fir. The seeds were given to the U.S. Forest Service, which distributed them across the nation and around the world.

Accurate records of their distribution were not kept, so their whereabouts are largely unknown.

One Moon Tree is a sycamore at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

The KSCVC Moon Tree.

According to the July 9, 1976 Spaceport News, the tree was presented on June 25, 1976 by the Forest Service to NASA at a 3rd Century America event. This was part of the U.S. Bicentennial celebration held at the Vehicle Assembly Building. The tree was to be replanted at the Visitor's Information Center, as KSCVC was once known.

Last week, I was approached by a local space historian who told me that another sycamore Moon Tree was planted at what is now the Space Florida complex outside Gate 1 of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. He said a plaque was once in front of this tree to note its historical significance, but that the plaque has disappeared.

At the top of this article is a photo of the alleged CCAFS Moon Tree. It's southwest of the SpaceX Launch Control Center. This map will give you an idea of its location:

The yellow arrow points to the location of the CCAFS Moon Tree. Original image source: Google Maps.

The 1976 Spaceport News article made no mention of a CCAFS Moon Tree, so now the quest has begun to determine if this really is one.

Calling upon the resources of the talented docents at the Air Force Space & Missile Museum, we've been able to piece together some circumstantial evidence.

This is the only sycamore in the complex. There seems no logical reason for one to be there.

Although sycamores can be found in Florida, this tree wasn't present when the complex opened.

The Canaveral Resident Center circa 1970. The building today is a Space Florida satellite office. The building in the background is today's SpaceX Launch Control Center. Image source: University of Central Florida Special Collections.

The complex began life as the Canaveral Resident Center for the Florida Technological University. "Florida Tech," as it was known then, began in Orlando in 1963 to serve the local aerospace university at CCAFS and KSC. The Canaveral Resident Center was for the university's local extension program.

The CCAFS annex in 1975 became the Florida Solar Energy Center. It was operated by the University of Central Florida, which evolved out of the old Florida Technlogical University.

This June 1979 image does not appear to show the "Moon Tree." It is taken from “Images of America: Cape Canaveral” by Ray Osborne.

A 1979 image does not appear to show the Moon Tree at its present location. A 1989 aerial photo provided by a museum docent does show the tree at a much younger age.

The 1989 image of the Florida Solar Energy Center complex. The red arrow points to what appears to be the sycamore. Image source: Air Force Space & Missile Museum.

So it appears that the sycamore was probably planted somewhere between 1979 and 1989.

We continue to research the sycamore, hoping to collect enough evidence to prove that this is a Moon Tree.

Can you help?

If you have any information, please e-mail me at and help us prove that this sycamore is worthy of historical preservation.

On the Beach

Cape Canaveral refers to the wedge of land protruding from the Florida coastline. Image source: Wikipedia.

Cape Canaveral refers to a geographic location, specifically a wedge of land protruding from the Florida coastline.

It lends its name to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and the lighthouse located near the Cape.

The City of Cape Canaveral was incorporated in 1963, as its residents did not want to be annexed by Cocoa Beach.

The city has a long stretch of beach often ignored by tourists who are attracted to Cocoa Beach and its pier.

My wife and I went out to the Cape beach today for a walk at noontime. Below are some photos.

Walking across the access bridge from the Harbor Heights tract.

The term “Canaveral” is derived from a Spanish word meaning a place of canes.

According to legend, the early Spanish explorers saw the reeds along the shoreline, thought they were sugar canes, and named the region “Canaveral.”

On the horizon, a submarine passes a dredge as it leaves Port Canaveral for the open sea.

Looking north towards Jetty Park and CCAFS. When we moved here in 2009, we stayed for three months in the condos to the left.

Looking south towards Cocoa Beach.