As NASA came to grips with the enormity of the task handed to them by President Kennedy in his May 1961 congressional address, the list of hurdles standing between America and a manned moon landing was long and formidable. Although NASA’s senior management felt confident that the task could be accomplished before the end of the decade, the finer details of how this would be achieved were far less certain.
Much of the initial focus of Project Apollo fell on the fundamental question of which mission mode should be employed. Some favoured Direct Ascent – launching one huge spaceship directly to the Moon where it would land before returning to the Earth. Others argued Earth Orbit Rendezvous was far more achievable given the limitations of American rocketry at the time. A third group suggested Lunar Orbit Rendezvous may hold significant advantages, but all three approaches had one thing in common – they would involve the controlled landing of a spaceship subject to the Moon’s reduced gravity and lack of atmosphere. Continue reading →
Recently I returned from a trip to California. While this was a family vacation, it did give me the chance to visit some fantastic space and aviation related attractions reflecting the state’s rich aerospace heritage. Here’s a quick roundup of what I saw… Continue reading →
When NASA pilot Bill Dana brought the X-15 to a halt on Rogers dry lake on October 24th 1968, it marked the end of the research plane’s flying career. At the time there were hopes that a final 200th flight could be made before the end of the year, but following a number of cancellations and aborts it wasn’t to be.
The X-15 programme drew to a close just as the world’s attention turned to the Moon with Apollo 8’s successful lunar orbital flight and the push towards a landing during 1969 to meet Kennedy’s goal. Continue reading →
“Beware of the bull. He will carry you safely anywhere that you have to go and protect you from any enemies. He is awesome in battle. However, if you lose control of him or fall off, he will kill you as quickly as he would kill your enemy”
from At the Edge of Space – Milton O. Thompson
On 8th June 1959, Scott Crossfield dropped away from beneath the wing of the B-52 carrier aircraft in X-15-1 and made a relatively uneventful glide back down to Rogers Dry Lake. During the brief flight, the sole planned glide flight of the entire programme, Crossfield allowed himself an aileron roll, all the better to check the new aircraft’s handling. Unfortunately his first landing was far less enjoyable with the X-15 bucking wildly as he struggled to put it down on the lake. The source of the control problems was soon isolated and fixed and the X-15 moved forward on its mission to unlock the secrets of high-speed, high-altitude flight. Continue reading →
By any measure the North American X-15 was an amazing aircraft. By the end of the decade long, 199 flight programme the three aircraft had pushed airspeed and altitude records way beyond all previous marks. Many X-15 pilots qualified as astronauts on their high altitude flights and the wealth of operational knowledge that was gained continues to influence aerospace programmes to this day.
Yet for all this, the X-15 is often overshadowed by NASA’s other activities during the 1960s and its legacy overlooked. It could never go as high or as fast as the capsules launched from the Cape, but the fact remains, at the time it was designed the X-15 looked like it would provide America’s first forays in human spaceflight and as Tom Wolfe points out in The Right Stuff, they would FLY their vehicle there and back. Continue reading →
I don’t go around living in the past for the most part, but every once in a while you let yourself go back in time…
Recently released feature-length documentary The Last Man on the Moon is based on the autobiography of Astronaut Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17 in 1972 and the last person to have walked on the lunar surface. The film includes interviews with astronauts Alan Bean, Charlie Duke, Tom Stafford, Dick Gordon and Jim Lovell plus key figures from Mission Control, Gene Kranz and Dr. Chris Kraft. Combining these with archive footage and CGI sequences, The Last Man on the Moon not only tells Cernan’s own story but the shows the broader achievements and impacts of NASA’s race to the Moon. Continue reading →
I was born into the post-Apollo generation. Whenever I’ve looked at the Moon, it’s always been with the knowledge that humans have been there, walked on that surface, brought back rocks. As a child I became obsessed with space travel, devouring any book I could find on the subject. I memorised every detail about the rockets and spacecraft I read about, absorbed the stories of the brave astronauts and cosmonauts who flew them – these people became my heroes.
At the time I neither understood nor questioned why we stopped going to the Moon. The age of the Shuttle was here. Spaceflight would become safe and routine for my generation, no longer the preserve of steely test pilots – or so I thought as a small child, glued to the TV watching John Young and Bob Crippen take Columbia on her inaugural flight. They launched on April 12, 1981 – 20 years to the day since Yuri Gagarin had become the first human to experience spaceflight. How far we’d come in two decades! Where could we go in the next twenty years? Continue reading →