Walter and Donald (Deke => D K) Tracy, the forgotten brothers.
Two NASA anniversaries rolled around this week, but you would be forgiven for missing them. The first was the anniversary of the launch* of the United States' only solo Space Station, Skylab, designed to host astronauts for months at a time. The second big day (in 2018, when we published this article) marked 55 years since the …
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Jeff ... never talks about Walter and Deke.
Let's just say they were a big disappointment when it came to that fateful "Time to decide, boys: Join The Hood's Gang or go it alone with this crazy rescue thing I've been talking about with Brains over beers" conversation.
As part of our work training we do a Kepner Tregoe Analysis course (problem solving, situation appraisal, that sort of thing) and one thing I learned was they used it during Apollo 13.
Went into quite some detail, and to understand quite how ingenious they had to be (and unfortunately how many self-created issues of incompatible hardware they had to overcome - square filters in round holes and suchlike) is fascinating to read. Those men truly earned their "steely-eyed missilemen" status.
Can't find the full one they shared with us, but the link below has an abbreviated version:
The Mercury astronauts repeatedly watched failures of the Atlas rockets that were going to carry them to orbit. Gus Grissom is on record as saying: "Are we really going to get on top of one of *THOSE* things?
And then they climbed on top of a tin balloon filled with explosives. There's not enough beer in the universe for people like that.
Footage of some early (unmanned) Atlas flights here:
And maximum Michael Bayness of a Atlas Centaur not quite getting off the pad here:
" so thin that, if pressurization was lost, it would collapse. Would anyone in their right mind want to climb on top of one of those?"
Ah shucks, don't worry about the rocket collapsing, if the Atlas loses internal pressure it's because the fuel and or LOX is rapidly leaking out. The explosion will kill you way before the collapse will!
I'll say 'manned' because
a) it's politically incorrect
b) it's true (there WAS 'a man' aboard)
c) Proper grammar defaults to male pronouns, etc. when sex is indeterminate or unimportant. See 'a'
/me wonders why the 'pee' problem in Gordo's flight was never mentioned in "The Right Stuff".
(my 'mailman' is a woman)
As I recall, in the first Mercury flight, Shepherd was delayed on the launchpad (not uncommon in the early days) and it was found no provision had been made for a full bladder. The ultimate 'solution' (no pun intended was for Shepherd to basically relieve himself in the spacesuit. I presume the leaking urine bottle was a later addition to the capsule, and by the sounds of it one that was perhaps a little gerry-rigged.
Maybe he should have honoured the tradition started by Gagarin of pissing on the tyre of the bus taking him to the Launchpad? Apparently it's now so ingrained as a lucky ritual that they all do it.
A house in space by Henry S. F Cooper I highly recommend for anybody interested in day to day practical side and problems of living aboard Skylab. The grit beneath the public relations gloss featuring such classic quotes as...
Why did I choose corned beef hash every day for breakfast?
Whoever designed this toilet has clearly never taken a dump in their life!
Don't tell mission control...
Skylabs unique floor system also gets several mentions with hilarious descriptions of the cleat quick step. (The official technical report was said to contain so many swear words it was redacted to just read: use velcro next time)
I have that book on my bookshelf....
Goes into details behind the strike and what really happened.
Mission control sending 16 hrs of work up on a list to be done at a rate of knots because that was how the apollo and previous missions were worked......... but the guys were trying to cope with finding stuff and getting stuff setup for the day while ground control bitched at them for being slower than the previous crew.
Does this remind you of anything?
No wonder they stuck 2 fingers up at ground control and went off and did their own thing....
"It was a great book/film. And Tom Wolfe died two days ago so a double whammy."
Truly marvellous. I showed the film to my daughter when she was 10, and she loved it. We've watched it together several times since. She's now 16 and going on to do Maths, Chemistry and Biology A levels. She's flown gliders, shoots .22 rifles and shotguns, and is an enthusiastic member of her school's Combined Cadet Force. The film worked.
My generation had Douglas Bader to venerate. Remembering that, I made sure my daughter had some proper role models to look up to.
Contemporary role models? They mostly appear to me to be variants of Kim Kardashian. Or some whiner with pink hair. Elon Musk? Sure, but he's not really in the calculated personal risk game, now is he?
..that current generations end up with heroes like this and the inspiration of routinely exploring new frontiers. Very different times. While many may argue that the money and resources spent on Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, etc. could have been used to feed hungry people, etc. (it would not have been anyway), it makes me sad that we haven't been back to the moon yet, and Mars is still a distant dream. All we have in manned (crewed) space flight is an aging space station and a few private companies that have tried to somewhat pick up the torch.
Reminded me of R.A. Heinlein's testimony before congress in 79, when they were looking for an excuse to do away with the space program. He gave them a list of subsidiary technologies primarily created while working on the space program. Since it had never been done before, an enormous amount of effort went into solving all the problems involved. The list of tech that owes it's existence to the early program is a real eye opener:
"The list of tech that owes it's existence to the early program is a real eye opener"
I can't give you enough thumbs up for saying this! And yes, the "collateral benefits" of NASA and the space program in general is hard to 'dollarize' but I would expect it to be a NET BENEFIT. It "gave back".
After all - with all of that money we bought rockets and blasted them into space. We got what we paid for. Imagine what we'd have got if we'd paid for something that DOES NOT GIVE BACK...
Ummm, and where do you think think NASA got the money from to hire the hungry people?
Yes, that would have been the taxpayers.
(I agree that it is better to use taxes to invest in the economy/people, rather than give freebies with no expectation of useful return, but since the whole concept of money is a smoke-and-mirrors affair that only works because we (all?) believe in it, it's an interesting question. Roll on the United Federation of Planets!)
could have been used to feed hungry people
Today we have more "hungry people" than back then. Generally due to war and planned elimination, c.f. Yemen. Remember the Live Aid concerts from the 80s for aiding Ethiopian "famine"? Engineered famine.
We also have economic refugees and an infinite supply of more where these come from. The World's Most Important Graph says something about Whitey's destiny.
In 1970 the world population was circa 3.7B, hence 28% is circa 1B.
In 2015 the world population was circa 7.2B (it is now circa 7.6B), hence 11% is circa 836M
So in practical terms, the real number of "under-nourished" people has hardly changed, just that we seem to have been successful (so far) in not creating more under-nourished people.
Yes, they were a far greater waste of resources by narcissistic millionaires who needed to deceive people into thinking they were good people aiding the world while eluding taxes because of course it's *the others" who have to pay for aids, you're too busy to stash your money in some tax haven...
And far less useful returns than the space programs.
"could have been used to feed hungry people"
I remember the scene in a film where a group of protesters are stopped at one of the security gates just before the launch of (I think) Apollo 11. The gist of the scene is that they'd rather the government spent money on the poor instead of blasting it into space. I think the NASA official defuses the situation by asking the protesters if they really think that cancelling the space programme would really help the poor.
For the life of me I can't recall what the film is.
@Unicornpiss - there's some argument that people like Tim Peake, Chris Hadfield, Peggy Whitson, Luca Parmitano, Helen Sharman, Michael Foale and Sunita Williams would all class as such heroes. Or at least deserve to, as probably do anyone with the balls to sit on a large firework built by the lowest bidder and pork-barrel scraper.
Maybe not the pioneers that the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo guys were, but still risk takers (such as Parmitano almost drowning in space) and great ambassadors for space and science in general to the public.
And as the shuttle sadly showed twice, even with "mature" technology, they could still kill if things went wrong.
I don't recall seeing the film you suggest but it's on YouTube and I'll watch it this weekend.
I'm sure the film I can't recall it was a fictional account of something significant being launched. Oh God! I hope I haven't imagined it! (No it wasn't When Worlds Collide.)
I was still a child when Skylab was around, but I loved the old Horizon programmes about it, really great stuff! The fact that you could moved around in normal clothes, and they always looked like they were having so much fun*, spinning themselves around (demonstrating the law of conservation of angular momentum), and swallowing floating globules of water. Even as a kid I was sad when Skylab had to end. :'(
But then of course we had space shuttle coming! :-D
*the bits on TV anyway
The draw of space exploration is the kind of peculiar attraction Tom Wolfe went about trying to describe (RIP). Nowadays the rewards are not viewed as valuable enough to fund the risk involved.
I seem to remember more media coverage about Skylab crashing down than going up.
I read in a public, academic book, that when Skylab launched, NASA was keen to see what the wrongly/party deployed solar panels, and associated damage, looked like. The NRO had secret spy satellites, of the kind which drop a film cartridge when it's been filled, which NASA were not allowed to know about, nor anyone else really. Apparently NASA had a visit from sunglasses and dark suits, who said "Your top 4 engineers on this, in here, now; no-one else. Here are some photographs. You may look at them for 15 minutes. They do not leave this room. We were never here, you never saw this." And it helped them decide that fixing it on-orbit was feasible, and what they needed to take and do. According to one of those NASA engineers.
Hugo, this is detailed in a book I read recently. 'Into the Black' by Rowland White
The Keyhole spy satellites were used to look at the Space Shuttle once it reached orbit, to look for any tiles which had become detached. This took some fancy orbit calculations, and a high speed relative closing speed between Orbiter and Keyhole.
I believe the book said that by the time of the Columbia disaster there was not an inspection performed.
These articles really are worth the price of subscription.
It's unfortunate that the advances in space flight of the 60s could not have been more collaborative than competitive. It took until the ISS for that. But we shouldn't forget these genuine pioneers (no pun intended) and their courage.
>These articles really are worth the price of subscription.
Perhaps this is a warning that soon we will need a Geeks Guide to the Galaxy...
Having grown up during this timeframe, being the son of a pilot, loving all things aviation and space, and ending up as an engineer myself I thoroughly enjoyed this article.
Anyone who isn't in awe of the folks that rode rocket and have respect for the folks that worked to make it happen is missing out.
You see glimmers of it in SpaceX today, it is heart warming to see the excitement and cheering in the background.
I am not sure I would want a world populated only by engineers, but I love being around them and feel truly at home.
I remember when the Shuttle was first a reality, one commentator (an astronaut who had velcro soles on Skylab time; can't remember who, though - stupid brain) remarked wryly that the only thing that worked properly on Skylab (by unanimous astronaut opinion) was the lavatory, and that [bafflingly] NASA was using a completely new design on the Shuttle.
NASA doesn't have the infinite wisdom they think they do. The toilet is just part of it. The Mercury and Gemini capsules were built by the same firm. When it came to Apollo, they went with another firm which then had to go through the learning curve and it cost 3 astronauts their lives. Much info out there on why they chose to use 100% oxygen (bad choice) instead of a mix like Mercury and Gemini. Manufacturing had major issues such as not conformal coating terminal strips and leaving the debris from wiring behind. They learned but at a terrible price.
Then there's the politics... such as launching at below ambient temperatures for the solid booster seals because of pressure due to certain politicians be present.
Skylab B in the National Air and Space Museum is quite a sight to behold and walk through. The whole museum is great, but the Skylab is mind blowing. Realizing you are standing inside a decked out *upper stage* fuel tank really drives home the immensity of a Saturn launch vehicle. In another exhibit you stand with your head inside the nozzle of a F-1 engine and realize that things just got real.
The one question I always had was how the astronauts could squeeze through the small hatches, what with their massive brass balls clanking together and all. Falling asleep while sitting on top of a bomb? I'd hate to see what makes these guys wake up...
I was surprised nobody (as yet) mentioned this:
The astronaut caused some controversy by claiming to be able to see railroad tracks and smoke-trails from orbit, something thought to be impossible. It took until a later Gemini flight to prove Cooper right.
If you do the calculations, Cooper shouldn't have been able to see those things. Plug in the diameter and focal length of the lens, resolution of the retina, Cooper's altitude, etc., and the conclusion is those objects are too small to make out.
Well, if you analyse it on the basis of a conventional camera, those things are too small to make out. But the human eye isn't a conventional camera. The eyes of all animals with foveal vision (that includes us) have microsaccades (small, jerky movements) when fixating on an object. The wetware in the brain is able to effectively increase the resolution of the eye by a kind of aperture synthesis. The different parts of the object either miss or hit a retinal cell during these movements and the brain stitches it all together to make a higher-resolution image.
Something we didn't even suspect happened until Cooper made his claims. And, I think, something of the sort is used in the cameras of modern mobiles to compensate for motion blur and other things.
Explanation above is greatly simplified and almost certainly wrong in the exact details. But close enough for El Reg commentards to argue over. :)
I remember as a kid watching all the Mercury and Gemini launches. I saw almost all the Apollo launches and landing on TV also. Marvelous times, indeed. It's only later when reading the stories behind the launches and about what really went on that I appreciated what those astronauts were up against besides "space". Steely eyed and steely balled they were. A toast....
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