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Return to Earth

Forty-six years ago this month, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., and Michael Collins arrived back at the Johnson Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston, Texas following their epic journey to and safe return from the Moon.

Following splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on Thursday, 24 July, 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts and their Command Module Columbia were brought aboard the USS Hornet. Concerned that they would infect Earthlings with lunar pathogens, NASA quarantined the astronauts in the Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF), which was a converted vacation trailer.

The Hornet steamed for Hawaii and transferred the MQF for airlift to Ellington Air Force Base, Texas. Following landing, the MQF and its heroic occupants were transported to the MSC. Once there, the astronauts and several medical staff were transferred from the MQF to more substantial accomodations known as the Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL).

Combined stay time in the MQF and LRL was 21 days. During their forced confinement, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins debriefed the Apollo 11 mission, rested, and mused about their unforgettable experiences at the Moon.

The Apollo 11 astronauts were released from the LRL on Thursday, 13 August 1969, having never contracted or transmitted a lunar disease.

Posted in Aerospace, History

The Eagle Has Landed

Forty-six years ago today, the United States of America safely landed two men on the surface of the Moon. This astounding technical achievement remains unmatched by any other sovereign nation in the history of mankind.

The Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle landed in Sea of Tranquility region of the Moon on Sunday, 20 July 1969 at 20:17:40 UTC. Less than seven hours later, astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. became the first human beings to walk upon Earth’s closest neighbor. Fellow crew member Michael Collins orbited high overhead in the Command Module Columbia.

As Apollo 11 commander, Neil A. Armstrong was accorded the privilege of being the first man to step foot upon the Moon. As he did so, Armstrong spoke these words: “That’s one small step for Man; one giant leap for Mankind”. He had intended to say: “That’s one small step for ‘a’ man; one giant leap for Mankind”.

Armstrong and Aldrin explored their Sea of Tranquility landing site for about two and a half hours. Total lunar surface stay time was 22 hours and 37 minutes. The Apollo 11 crew left a plaque affixed to one of the legs of the Lunar Module’s descent stage which read: “Here Men From the Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon the Moon; July 1969, A.D. We Came in Peace for All Mankind”.

Following a successful lunar lift-off, Armstrong and Aldrin rejoined Collins in lunar orbit. Approximately seven hours later, the Apollo 11 crew rocketed out of lunar orbit to begin the quarter million mile journey back to Earth. Columbia splashed-down in the Pacific Ocean at 16:50:35 UTC on Thursday, 24 July 1969. Total mission time was 195 hours, 18 minutes, and 35 seconds.

With completion of the flight of Apollo 11, the United States of America fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s 25 May 1961 call to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth before the decade of the 1960’s was out. It had taken 2,979 demanding days and much national treasure to do so.

Posted in Aerospace, History

Leaving Earth

Forty-six years ago this week, the epic flight of Apollo 11, the first mission to land men on the Moon, began with launch from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at Merritt Island, Florida. Nearly 1-million people gathered around America’s famous space complex to witness the historic event. An estimated 1-billion viewers worldwide watched the proceedings on television.

The names of the Apollo 11 crew are now legend: Mission Commander Neil A. Armstrong, Lunar Module Pilot Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins. Each astronaut was making his second spaceflight.

The overall Apollo 11 spacecraft weighed over 100,000 pounds and consisted of 3 major components: Command Module, Service Module, and Lunar Excursion Module (LEM). Out of American history came the names used to distinguish two of these components from one another. The Command Module was named Columbia, the feminine personification of America, while the Lunar Excursion Module received the appellation Eagle in honor of America’s national bird.

The Apollo-Saturn V launch stack measured 363-feet in length, had a maximum diameter of 33-feet, and weighed 6.7-milllion pounds at ignition of its five F-1 engines. The vehicle rose from the Earth on 7.7-million pounds of lift-off thrust.

The acoustic energy produced by the Saturn’s first stage propulsion system was unlike anything in common experience. The sound produced was like intense, continuous thunder even miles away from the launch point. Ground and structure shook disturbingly and a person’s lungs vibrated within their chest cavity.

Lift-off of Apollo 11 (AS-506) from KSC’s LC-39A occurred at 13:32 UTC on Wednesday, 16 July 1969. The target for the day’s launch, the Moon, was 218,096 miles distant from Earth. It took 12 seconds just for the massive Apollo 11 launch vehicle to clear the launch tower. However, a scant 12 minutes later, the Apollo 11 spacecraft was safely in low earth orbit (LEO) traveling at 17,500 miles per hour.

Following checkout in earth orbit, trans-lunar injection, and earth-to-moon coast, Apollo 11 entered lunar orbit nearly 76 hours after lift-off. Now, the big question: Would they make it? Even Apollo 11’s Command Module Pilot, Michael Collins, estimated that the chance of a successful lunar landing on the first attempt was only 50/50. The answer would soon come. History’s first lunar landing attempt was now only 24 hours away.

Posted in Aerospace, History

Noisy Bird

Sixty years ago this month, the USAF/Republic XF-84H experimental turboprop fighter took to the air on its maiden flight. The test sortie was flown at Edwards Air Force Base with Republic test pilot Henry G. “Hank” Beaird, Jr. at the controls.

The XF-84H was an experimental variant of Republic Aviation’s turbojet-powered F-84 Thunderstreak. An Allison XT40-A-1 turboprop engine, rated at 5,850 hp, served as the power source for this novel aircraft. The XT40 drove a variable-pitch, 3-blade, 12-foot diameter propeller at 3,000 rpm. Thrust level was changed by varying blade pitch.

Owing to its high rotational speed and large diameter, the outer 2 feet of the XF-84H propeller saw supersonic velocities. The shock waves that emanated from the prop produced a deafening wall of sound. The extreme sound level produced intense nausea and raging headaches in ground crewmen. As a result, the XF-84H was dubbed the Thunderscreech.

The prop wash from the aircraft’s powerful turboprop necessitated the use of a T-tail to keep the horizontal tail and elevator in clean air flow. The engine’s extreme torque was partially countered by differential deflection on the left and right wing flaps and by placement of the aircraft’s left wing root air intake a foot ahead of the its right intake.

A pair of XF-84H prototype aircraft (S/N 51-17059 and S/N 51-17060) was built by Republic Aviation. The inaugural flight of an XF-84H took place on Friday, 22 July 1955 at Edwards Air Force. This test hop, performed in Ship No. 1 (S/N 51-17059), was cut short by a forced landing.

A total of twelve (12) test flights were made in the two Thunderscreech prototypes; eleven (11) in Ship No. 1 and one (1) in Ship No. 2. Total flight time accumulated by these experimental airframes was 6 hours and 40 minutes. The majority of flights experienced forced landings for one reason or another.

The XF-84H suffered from reduced longitudinal stability and poor handling qualities. The aircraft was also plagued by frequent engine, hydraulic system, nose gear and vibration problems. Faced with the type’s obvious non-viability, USAF opted to cancel the XF-84H Program in September of 1956.

Historical records indicate that the XF-84H reached a top speed of 520 mph during its brief flight test life. This figure was a full 120 mph short of the aircraft’s design speed. Nonetheless, the XF-84H held the speed record for single-engine prop-driven aircraft until Monday, 21 August 1989. On that date, a specially modified Grumman F8F Bearcat established the existing record of 528.33 mph.

Posted in Aerospace, History