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Hypersonic ASSET

Fifty-four years ago today, the first ASSET flight test vehicle (ASV-1) successfully flew 1,600 nm down the Eastern Test Range (ETR) following launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Boosted atop a Thor launch vehicle, the hypersonic glider reached a maximum velocity of 10,900 mph (Mach 12).

The Aerothermodynamic/Elastic Structural Systems Environmental Tests (ASSET) Program was a United State Air Force flight research effort aimed at exploring hypersonic lifting entry. Programmatic objectives included evaluation of hypersonic lifting vehicle (1) reentry aerodynamic and aerothermodynamic phenomena (2) structural design concepts, and (3) panel flutter characteristics and body flap oscillatory pressures.

The basic ASSET vehicle configuration was a 70-deg delta planform wing with highly-radiused leading edges. The windward surface of this wing was flat and had a 10-deg break in slope roughly two-thirds of the way back from the nose. A blunted cone-cylinder combination was raked into the leeward surface of the wing to form the fuselage of the vehicle. The aft portion of the vehicle was terminated with a flat base region.

There were two (2) types of ASSET flight vehicles. The Aerothermoelastic Vehicle (AEV) variant was flown to investigate windward panel flutter characteristics and body flap oscillatory pressures. A pair of these vehicles were flown. Each weighed AEV weighed 1,225 lbs and was launched into a suborbital flight path by a Douglas Thor booster.

The Aerothermodynamic Structural Vehicle (ASV) variant was flown to determine external airframe surface temperature, heat flux and pressure distributions in hypersonic flight. These data were used to evaluate materials and structural concepts under reentry conditions. A quartet of these vehicles were flight tested. Each ASV weighed 1,130 lbs and was boosted by a Thor-Delta launch vehicle.

ASSET vehicles were boosted to altitudes between 168 KFT and 225 KFT depending on mission type. AEV entry insertion velocity was roughly 13,000 ft/sec while that for ASV shots varied between 16,000 and 19,500 ft/sec. ASSET performed hypersonic flight maneuvers via a combination of aerodynamic and propulsive controls. The windward-mounted body flap was the lone aerodynamic control surface while a set of 3-axis attitude control thrusters were located in the vehicle’s base region.

The first flight of the ASSET Program (ASV-1) took place on Wednesday, 18 September 1963. ASV-1 lift-off occurred at 09:39 UTC from Cape Canaveral’s LC-17B. Due to booster availability issues, a Thor DSV-2F launch vehicle was used for this mission rather than the higher energy Thor-Delta DSV-2G. Insertion altitude and velocity were 203,200 ft and 16,125 ft/sec, respectively. The ASV-1 mission was highly successful with the exception that the vehicle was lost when it sunk in the South Atlantic during recovery operations.

ASV-1 represented the first time in aerospace history that a lifting vehicle configuration had successfully flown a double-digit Mach number reentry trajectory. Five (5) more ASSET vehicles would fly before completion of the flight research program. The sixth and last mission occurred on Tuesday, 23 February 1965.

The ASSET Program garnered a wealth of first-ever hypersonic vehicle aerodynamic, aerothermodynamic, aerothermoelastic and flight controls data. This priceless information and the valuable experience gained during ASSET contributed significantly to the design and flight testing of the PRIME SV-5D and Space Shuttle Orbiter.

Strangely, only one of the ASSET flight test articles was ever recovered successfully. In particular, ASV-3 was recovered following its 1,800 nm suborbital flight down the Eastern Test Range on Wednesday, 22 July 1964. The recovered airframe is currently on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

Posted in Aerospace, History

Strange Wings: XP-56 Black Bullet

Seventy-four years ago this month, flight testing of the USAAF/Northrop XP-56 Black Bullet commenced at Army Air Base, Muroc in California. Northrop Chief Test Pilot John W. Myers was at the controls of the experimental pursuit aircraft.

The XP-56 (X for Experimental, P for Pursuit) was an attempt at producing a combat aircraft that had superior speed performance relative to conventional fighter-like airframes of the early 1940’s. Towards this end, designers sought to maximize thrust and minimize weight and aerodynamic drag. The product of their labors was a truly strange aircraft configuration.

The XP-56 was essentially a hybrid flying wing to which was added a stubby fuselage to house the pilot and engine. Power was provided by a single Pratt and Whitney R-2800 radial piston engine driving contra-rotating propellers. A pusher power plant installation was selected in the interest of reducing forebody drag. Gross Take-Off Weight (GTOW) came in at 11,350 lbs.

The XP-56’s wing featured a leading edge sweep of 32 degrees and a span of 42.5 feet. The tiny fuselage length of 27.5 feet necessitated the use of elevons for pitch and roll control. Aft-mounted dorsal and ventral tails contributed to directional stability while yaw control was provided by a rudder mounted in the ventral tail.

Under contract to the United States Army Air Force (USAAF), Northrop built a pair of XP-56 airframes; Ship No. 1 (S/N 41-786) and Ship No. 2 (S/N 42-38353). Top speed was advertised as 465 mph at 25,000 feet while the design service ceiling was estimated to be around 33,000 feet. The XP-56 was a short-legged aircraft, having a predicted range of only 445 miles at 396 mph.

XP-56 Ship No. 1 took to the air for the first time on Monday, 06 September 1943. The scene was Rogers Dry Lake at Army Air Field, Muroc (today’s Edwards Air Force Base) in California. Northrop Chief Test Pilot John W. Myers had the distinction of piloting the XP-56. As described below, this distinction was dubious at best.

Myers actually flew XP-56 Ship No. 1 twice on the type’s inaugural day of flight testing. The first flight was really just a hop in the air. Using caution as a guide, Myers flew only 5 feet off the deck in a 30 second flight that covered a distance on the order of 1 mile. The aircraft registered a top speed 130 mph. While the XP-56 exhibited a nose-down pitch tendency as well as lateral-directional sensitivities, Myers was able to complete the flight.

The XP-56’s second foray into the air nearly ended in disaster. Shortly after lift-off at 130 mph, the XP-56 presented pilot Myers with a multi-axis control problem about 50 feet above the surface of Rogers Dry Lake. The strange-looking ship simultaneously yawed to the left, rolled to the right, and pitched down. Holding the control stick with both hands, it was all the Northrop Chief Test Pilot could do keep the nose up and prevent the XP-56 from diving into the ground.

Myers attempted to throttle-back as his errant steed passed through 170 mph. The anomalous yawing-rolling-pitching motions reappeared at this point, once again testing Myers’ piloting skills to the max. The intrepid pilot was finally able to get the XP-56 back on the ground. Albeit, the landing was more of a controlled crash. All of this excitement took place in about 60 seconds over a two mile stretch of Rogers Dry Lake. John Myers had certainly earned his flight pay for the day.

XP-56 Ship No. 1 was demolished during a take-off accident on Friday, 08 October 1943. Although he sustained minor injuries, Myers survived the incident thanks largely to wearing an old polo helmet to protect his valuable cranium. Following the mishap , Myers said that “the airplane wanted to fly upside down and backwards, and finally did!”

XP-56 Ship No. 2 flew a total of ten (10) flights between March and August of 1944. Northrop test pilot Harry Crosby did the piloting honors this time around. Like Myers, Crosby had his hands full trying to fly the XP56. However, Crosby was able to coax the XP-56 up to 250 mph.

Despite valiant attempts to rectify the XP-56’s curious and dangerous handling qualities, Northrop engineers were never able to satisfactorily correct the little beast’s ills. This, coupled with the facts that the XP-56 (1) did not deliver the promised speed performance and (2) was being eclipsed by rapid developments in aircraft technology, the strange aerial concoction became a faded memory by 1945.

A final thought. Just why the XP-56 was given the nickname of Black Bullet is not clear. Ship No. 1 was bare metal and thus silver in appearance. Ship No. 2 sported a dark grey and green camouflage paint scheme. The Bullet moniker could be in deference to the bullet-like nose of the fuselage. In the final analysis, the name Black Bullet probably just sounded cool and evoked a stirring image of a bullet speeding to the target!

Posted in Aerospace, History

Exceptional Airmanship

Thirty-four years ago today, the valiant crew of a USAF KC-135 Stratotanker performed multiple aerial refuelings of a stricken USAF F-4E Phantom II over the North Atlantic Ocean. Conducted under extremely perilous flight conditions, the remarkable actions of the aerial tanker’s crew allowed the F-4E to remain aloft long enough to safely divert to an alternate landing field.

On Monday, 05 September 1983, a pair of USAF F-4E Phantom II fighter-bombers departed the United States for a routine flight to Germany. To negotiate the trans-atlantic distance, the F-4E’s would require aerial refueling. As they approached the refueling rendezvous point, one of the aircraft developed trouble with its No. 2 engine. Though still operative, the engine experienced a significant loss of thrust.

The problem with the Phantom’s engine caused it to lose speed and altitude. Further, its No. 1 engine began to overheat as it tried to keep the aircraft airborne. As if this were not enough, the aircraft’s starboard hydraulic system became inoperative. Coupled with the fact that the fuel gauge was edging toward empty, the specter of an ejection and parachute landing in the cold Atlantic looked all but certain for the F-4E crew.

Enter the venerable KC-135 Stratotanker and her crew of Captain Robert J. Goodman, Captain Michael R. Clover, 1st Lt Karol R. Wojcikowski and SSgt Douglas D. Simmons. Based with the 42nd Aerial Refueling Squadron, their immediate problem was two-fold. First, locate and navigate to the pair of F-4E aircraft flying somewhere over the open ocean. Second, get enough fuel to both aircraft so the latter could complete their trans-atlantic hop. Time was of the essence.

Following execution of the rendezvous, the KC-135 crew needed to get their steed out in front of the fuel-hungry Phantoms. The properly operating Phantom quickly took on a load of fuel. However, the stricken aircraft continued to lose altitude as its pilot struggled just to keep the aircraft in the air. By the time the first hook-up occurred, both the F-4E and KC-135 were flying below an altitude of 7,000 feet.

Whereas normal refueling airspeed is 315 knots, the refueling operation between the KC-135 and F-4E occurred below 200 knots. Both aircraft had to fly at high angle-of-attack to generate sufficient lift at this low airspeed. Boom Operator Simmons was faced with a particularly difficult challenge in that the failed starboard hydraulics of the F-4E caused it to yaw to the right. Nonetheless, he was able to make the hook-up with the F-4E refueling recepticle and transfer a bit of fuel to the ailing aircraft.

The transfer of fuel ceased during the first aerial refueling when the mechanical limits of the aircraft-to-aircraft connection were exceeded. The F-4E started to dive as it came off the refueling boom. At this critical juncture, Captain Goodman made the decision to follow the Phantom and get down in front of it for another go at aerial refueling. As the second fuel transfer operation began, the airspeed indicator registered 190 knots; barely above the KC-135’s landing speed.

While additional fuel was transferred to the F-4E, it was still not enough for it to make the divert airfield at Gander, New Foundland. The KC-135 performed two more risky aerial refuelings of the struggling Phantom. The last of which occurred at an altitude of only 1,600 feet above the ocean. At times during these harrowing operations, the KC-135 actually towed the F-4E on its refueling boom to help the latter gain altitude.

At length, the F-4E manged to climb to 6,000 feet and maintain 220 knots as its No. 1 engine began to cool. Able to fend for itself once again, the Phantom punched-off the KC-135 refueling boom. Goodman and crew continued to escort the F-4E to the now-close landing field at Gander, New Foundland. The Phantom pilot greased the landing much to the relief and joy of all.

For their heroic efforts on that eventful September day over the North Atlantic, the crew of the KC-135 received the USAF’s Mackay Trophy for the most meritorious flight of 1983.

Posted in Aerospace, History

A Distant Echo

Fifty-seven years ago this month, the United States successfully launched the Echo 1A passive communications satellite into Earth orbit. The 100-foot diameter balloon was among the largest objects ever to orbit the Earth.

A plethora of earth-orbiting communication satellites provide for a global connectivity that is commonplace today. Such was not always the case. Roll the clock back more than a half-century and we find that a global communications satellite system was just a concept. However, keen minds would soon go to work and provide mankind with yet another tangible space age benefit.

Communications satellites are basically of two types; passive and active. A passive communications satellite (PCS) simply reflects signals sent to it from a point on Earth to other points on the globe. An active communications satellite (ACS) can receive, store, modify and/or transmit Earth-based signals.

The earliest idea for a PCS involved the use of an orbiting spherical balloon. The balloon was fabricated from mylar polyester having a thickness of a mere 0.5 mil. The uninflated balloon was packed tightly into a small volume and inserted into a payload canister preparatory to launch. Once in orbit, the balloon was released and then inflated to a diameter of 100 feet.

The system described above materialized in the late 1950′s as Project Echo. The Project Echo satellite was essentially a huge spherical reflector for transcontinental and intercontinental telephone, radio and television signals. The satellite was configured with several transmitters for tracking and telemetry purposes. Power was provided by an array of nickel-cadmium batteries that were charged via solar cells.

Echo 1 was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Friday, 13 May 1960. However, the launch vehicle failed and Echo 1 never achieved orbit. Echo 1A (sometimes referred to as Echo 1) lifted-off from Cape Canaveral’s LC-17A at 0939 UTC on Friday, 12 August 1960. The Thor Delta launch vehicle successfully placed the 166-lb satellite into a 820-nm x 911-nm orbit.

An interesting characteristic of the Echo satellite was the large oscillation in the perigee of its orbit (485 nm to 811 nm) over several months. This was caused by the influences of solar radiation and variations in atmospheric density. While these factors are just part of the earth-orbital environment, their effects were much more noticeable for Echo due to the type’s large surface area-to-weight ratio.

Echo 1A orbited the Earth until it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere on Saturday, 25 May 1968. Echo 2 was a larger and improved version of Echo 1A. It measured 135-feet in diameter and weighed 547-lb. Echo 2 orbited the Earth between January of 1964 and June of 1969. Other than the Moon, both satellites were the brightest objects observable in the night sky due to their high reflectivity.

The Echo satellites served their function admirably. For a time, they were quite a novelty. However, progress on the ACS scene quickly relegated the PCS to obselescence. Today, virtually all communication satellites are of the ACS variety.

Posted in Aerospace, History

X-15 Maximum Apex Mission

Fifty-four years ago today, NASA chief research pilot Joseph A. Walker flew X-15 Ship No. 3 (S/N 56-6672) to an altitude of 354,200 feet. This flight would mark the highest altitude ever achieved by the famed hypersonic research vehicle.

Carried aloft by NASA’s NB-52A (S/N 52-0003) mothership, Walker’s X-15 was launched over Smith Ranch Dry Lake, Nevada at 17:05:42 UTC. Following drop at around 45,000 feet and Mach 0.82, Walker ignited the X-15’s small, but mighty XLR-99 rocket engine and pulled into a steep vertical climb.

The XLR-99 was run at 100 percent power for 85.8 seconds with burnout occurring around 176,000 feet on the way uphill. Maximum velocity achieved was 3,794 miles per hour which translates to Mach 5.58 at the burnout altitude. Following burnout of the XLR-99, Walker’s X-15 gained an additional 178,200 feet in altitude as it coasted to apogee.

Joe Walker went over the top at 354,200 feet (67 miles). Although he didn’t have much time for sight-seeing, the Earth’s curvature was strikingly obvious to the pilot as he started downhill from his lofty perch. Walker subsequently endured a hefty 5-g’s of eyeballs-in normal acceleration during the backside dive pull-out. The aircraft was brought to a wings-level attitude at 70,000 feet. Shortly after, Walker greased the landing on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

The X-15 maximum altitude flight, in which the aircraft’s design altitude was exceeded by more than 100,000 feet, lasted 11 minutes and 8 seconds from drop to nose wheel stop. In that time, Walker and X-15 Ship 3 covered 305 miles in ground range. This mission was Ship No. 3’s 22nd flight and the 91st of the legendary X-15 Flight Research Program.

For Joseph Albert Walker, the 22nd of August 1963 marked his 25th and last flight in an X-15 cockpit. The mission qualified him for Astronaut Wings since he had exceeded the 328,000 foot (100 km) FAI/NASA standard set for such a distinction. However, it would be more than four decades after his historic mission that Walker would be officially be recognized as an astronaut. In a special ceremony conducted at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center on Tuesday, 23 August 2005, Joe Walker was posthumously awarded his Astronaut Wings.

Posted in Aerospace, History

The Big Bang

Fifty-three years ago yesterday, the fabled North American X-15 hit a speed of 3,590 mph (Mach 5.23) in a flight that reached an altitude of 103,300 feet. While decelerating through Mach 4.2, the nose gear of the aircraft unexpectedly deployed in flight.

The 114th powered flight of the legendary X-15 Program took place on Friday, 14 August 1964. USAF Major Robert A. Rushworth was at the controls of X-15 Ship No. 2 (S/N 56-6671). The mission would be Rushworth’s 22nd flight in the famed hypersonic aircraft.

X-15 drop from the NB-52A (S/N 52-0003) launch aircraft took place over Delamar Dry Lake, Nevada. Seconds later, Rushworth called for 100% power from the X-15’s XLR-99 liquid-fueled rocket engine as he pulled into a steep climb. He subsequently pushed-over and then leveled-off at 103,300 feet.

XLR-99 burnout occurred 80.3 seconds after ignition. At this juncture, the X-15 was traveling at 3,590 mph; better than 5 times the speed of sound. Following rocket motor burnout, the aircraft slowed and began to lose altitude under the influence of weight and aerodynamic drag.

As the Mach meter needle passed through Mach 4.2, Rushworth heard a loud bang from the airframe. The aircraft became hard to control as it gyrated in pitch, yaw and roll. Rushworth was equal to the moment and brought his troubled steed under control. However, the aircraft had an uncommanded sideslip and Rushworth had to use left aileron to hold the wings level.

Gathering his wits, Rushworth realized that the loud bang he heard was very similar to that which occurred when the nose gear was deployed in the landing pattern. Unaccountably, the X-15 nose gear had deployed in supersonic flight. An unsettling confirmation of Rushworth’s hypothesis came when the pilot spotted smoke, quite a bit of it, in the X-15 cockpit.

As Rushworth neared Edwards Air Force Base, chase aircraft caught up with him and confirmed that the nose gear was indeed down and locked. Further, the tires were so scorched from aerodynamic heating that they probably would disintegrate during touchdown on Rogers Dry Lake. They verily did.

Despite his tireless nose gear, Rushworth was able to control the rollout of his aircraft fairly well on the playa silt. He brought the X-15 to a stop and deplaned. Man and machine had survived to fly another day.

Post-flight analysis revealed that expansion of the X-15 fuselage due to aerodynamic heating was greater than expected. The nose gear door bowed or deformed outward more than anticipated as well. Together, these two anomalies caused the gear uplock hook to bend and release the nose gear. Fixes were subsequently made to Ship No. 2 to prevent a recurrence of the nose gear door deployment anomaly.

Rushworth next flew X-15 Ship No. 2 on Tuesday, 29 September 1964. He reached a maximum speed of 3,542 mph (Mach 5.2) at 97,800 feet. The nose gear door remained locked. However, while decelerating through Mach 4.5, Rushworth heard a bang that was less intense than the previous flight. This time, thermal stresses caused the nose gear door air scoop to deploy in flight. While the aircraft handled poorly, Rushworth managed to get it and himself back on the ground in one piece.

Following another redesign effort, Rushworth took to the air in X-15 Ship No. 2 on Thursday, 17 February 1965. He hit 3,539 mph (Mach 5.27) at 95,100 feet. On this occasion, both the nose gear door and nose gear door scoop remained in place. Unfortunately, the right main landing skid deployed at Mach 4.3 and 85,000 feet.

Thermal stresses were once again the culprit. Despite degraded handling qualities with the landing skid deployed, the valiant Rushworth safely landed the X-15. Upon deplaning, he is reported to have kicked the aircraft in a show of disgust and frustration. Unprofessional maybe, but certainly understandable.

Yet another redesign effort followed in the aftermath of the unexpected main landing skid deployment. This was the third consecutive mission for X-15 Ship No. 2 and Rushworth to experience a thermally-induced landing gear or landing skid deployment anomaly. Happily, subsequent flights of the subject aircraft were free of such vexing issues.

Posted in Aerospace, History

GT-5 – Eight Days or Bust

Fifty-two years ago this month, NASA astronauts Leroy Gordon “Gordo” Cooper and Charles M. “Pete” Conrad set a new spaceflight endurance record during the flight of Gemini 5. It was the third of ten (10) missions in the historic Gemini spaceflight series. The motto for the mission was “Eight Days or Bust”.

The purpose of Project Gemini was to develop and flight-prove a myriad of technologies required to get to the Moon. Those technologies included spacecraft power systems, rendezvous and docking, orbital maneuvering, long duration spaceflight and extravehicular activity.

The Gemini spacecraft weighed 8,500 pounds at lift-off and measured 18.6 feet in length. Gemini consisted of a reentry module (RM), an adapter module (AM) and an equipment module (EM).

The crew occupied the RM which also contained navigation, communication, telemetry, electrical and reentry reaction control systems. The AM contained maneuver thrusters and the deboost rocket system. The EM included the spacecraft orbit attitude control thrusters and the fuel cell system. Both the AM and EM were used in orbit only and discarded prior to entry.

Gemini-Titan V (GT-5) lifted-off at 13:59:59 UTC from LC-19 at Cape Canaveral, Florida on Saturday, 21 August 1965. The two-stage Titan II launch vehicle placed Gemini 5 into a 189 nautical mile x 87 nautical mile elliptical orbit.

A primary purpose of the Gemini 5 mission was to stay in orbit at least eight (8) days. This was the minimum time it would take to fly to the Moon, land and return to the Earth. Other goals of the Gemini 5 mission were to test the first fuel cells, deploy and rendezvous with a special rendezvous pod and conduct a variety of medical experiments.

Despite fuel cell problems, electrical system anomalies, reaction control system issues and the cancellation of various experiments, Gemini 5 was able to meet the goal of an 8-day flight. But it wasn’t easy. The last days of the mission were especially demanding since the crew didn’t have much to do. Pete Conrad called his Gemini 5 experience “8 days in a garbage can.”

On Sunday, 29 August 1965, Gemini 5 splashed-down in the Atlantic Ocean at 12:55:13 UTC. Mission elapsed time was 7 days, 22 hours, 55 minutes and 13 seconds. A new spaceflight endurance record.

Gemini 5 was Gordon Cooper’s last spaceflight. Cooper left NASA due to a deteriorating relationship with management. Pete Conrad flew three (3) more times in space. In particular, he commanded the Gemini 11, Apollo 12 and Skylab I missions. Indeed, Conrad’s Apollo 12 experience made him the third man to walk on surface of the Moon.

Posted in Aerospace, History

Lifting Body Precision Landing

Forty-two years ago this week, the USAF/NASA/Martin X-24B became the first lifting body to make an unpowered precision landing on a concrete runway. The feat was pivotal to convincing NASA officials that landing the Space Shuttle Orbiter in an unpowered state was operationally feasible.

Early Space Shuttle Orbiter operational concepts featured the use of a pair of turbojets to provide a powered landing capability. These airbreathing engeines were to be internally stowed just below the Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) pods. The turbojets would be deployed and started once the Orbiter had decelerated to high subsonic flight speeds.

While airbreathing propulsion would give the Orbiter a loiter and go-around capability, the drawbacks were significant. Jet fuel would have to be carried into and out of earth orbit. The weight of this fuel and the turbojets would severely penalize Orbiter payload capability. Further, the system would increase both the complexity of and cost to Shuttle operations.

As the Shuttle Program grappled with the development of a powered landing capability for the Orbiter, the NASA DFRC flight test community made what appeared to be a rather bold claim. The Orbiter could simply glide all the way to touchdown and land deadstick. After all, X-planes had been doing so safely and without incident since the late 1940’s.

A leading proponent of unpowered Shuttle landings was NASA DFRC test pilot John Manke. He was convinced that the Orbiter could routinely and safely conduct unpowered precision landings on a concrete runway. If true, the Orbiter could land anywhere a 15,000-foot concrete runway was located.

Manke proposed that the X-24B (S/N 66-13551) lifting body be employed to conduct unpowered precision landings on Runway 04/22 at Edwards Air Force Base. He and fellow test pilot USAF Lt. Col. Michael V. Love practiced low lift-to-drag precision landings using F-104 and T-38 aircraft in preparation for the demonstrations.

On Tuesday, 05 August 1975, John Manke successfully made the first-ever unpowered precision landing of an aircraft on a concrete runway. The X-24B main gear touched-down exactly at the aimpoint situated 5,000 feet down Runway 04/22. On Wednesday, 20 August 1975, Mike Love duplicated the feat.

Following the successful unpowered precision landings with the X-24B lifting body, John Manke was quoted as saying: “We now know that concrete runway landings are operationally feasible and that touchdown accuracies of ±500 feet can be expected.” NASA Space Shuttle Program management concurred and officially adopted the unpowered precision landing concept.

History records that thirty-one years of Orbiter flight operations confirmed the wisdom of that long-ago decision.

Posted in Aerospace, History

Safe Return

Forty-eight years ago today, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., and Michael Collins returned safely to Earth when they splashed-down in the Pacific Ocean at a point 812 nautical southwest of Hawaii. The epic journey to the Moon and back covered 952,700 nautical miles. Mission total elapsed time was 195 hours, 18 minutes, and 35 seconds.

Following splashdown, the Apollo 11 astronauts and their Command Module Columbia were brought aboard the USS Hornet (CV-12). 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 Johnson Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston, Texas. Once there, the astronauts and several medical staff were transferred from the MQF to more substantial accommodations 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 nor transmitted a lunar disease.

Parenthetically, Apollo 11 brought the first geologic samples from the Moon back to Earth. Roughly 48 pounds of lunar rock samples were collected. Two primary types of rocks, basalts and breccias, were found at the Sea of Tranquility landing site. Subsequent analyses indicated that these samples neither contained water nor provided evidence for living organisms at any time in the history of the Moon.

Posted in Aerospace, History

For All Mankind

Forty-eight years ago today, the United States of America landed two men on the surface of the Moon. This feat marked the first time in history that men from the planet Earth set foot on another celestial body in the solar system.

The Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle landed in the 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 aboard the Eagle, 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 2,982 demanding days, a number of lives, and a great deal of national treasure to do so. “Mission Accomplished, Mr. President”.

Posted in Aerospace, History
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