Hallway update

I added a new 12×36″ enlargement to my refreshed hallway gallery today, a 1:3 aspect ratio crop of a high-resolution scan of the photo of the first flight of the Wright Flyer on 17 December 1903 at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

Click for a larger version

Orville is piloting and that’s Wilbur at the wingtip. John Daniels, one of the five witnesses to the flight, took the photograph with Orville’s pre-positioned camera – so awed by what he saw that he almost forgot to squeeze the bulb to capture this image on the 5×7″ glass plate negative.

From the Flyer to the Apollo 16 Lunar Module Orion above it was a span of just sixty-eight years and four months.

The full-size first flight image from the Library of Congress can be found here – be aware that it’s 27MB.

Edited to add: The comments here include a discussion in some detail of the soon-to-be-released film “First Man” and HBO’s 12-part 1998 series “From the Earth to the Moon”.

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2001, 70mm, 50 years

This week, at an IMAX theatre with 70mm film equipment, I’ll see 2001: A Space Odyssey in a theatre and in 70mm for only the second time in my life. I was a kid the first time, here:

The marquee of the RKO Boston Theatre, April 1968

I believe I’m in for a treat:

“For the first time since the original release, this 70mm print was struck from new printing elements made from the original camera negative. This is a true photochemical film recreation. There are no digital tricks, remastered effects, or revisionist edits. This is the unrestored film – that recreates the cinematic event that audiences experienced fifty years ago.” – Christopher Nolan

US 70mm film screenings are listed here. UK and Ireland listings here.

 

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Don’t get me started

The excerpt below is from the site of Apollo 17 Lunar Module Pilot and geologist Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, and it’s the most…well, invigorating description of a jump start I’ve ever read.

This goes hand-in-hand with my article on the explosive guillotine in the Lunar Module because Schmitt describes an emergency scenario that Apollo crews planned for and practiced in which the launch sequence has failed: The guillotine has not fired, the four explosive bolts holding the two stages together have not exploded, and the ascent engine has not started. This is one of several contingency methods mission planners worked out.

Bear in mind as you read Schmitt’s explanation that this would be happening after they had tossed their Portable Life Support System backpacks out onto the lunar surface to save weight during the ascent, and after they had closed up the LM and repressurized the cabin in preparation for departure from the lunar surface.

It’s not often I find something about Apollo I’ve never heard before, and this one is boggling. I bolded the last bit of the excerpt because that’s the point when the ramifications sank in and my eyebrows shot off.

Wednesday, November 8th [1972], brought on our last full Lunar Ascent Mission Simulation involving Mission Control in Houston. Six weeks hence, we hoped we would be undertaking the real thing and departing the Moon at the conclusion of a highly successful exploration effort. This “Sim” required over three straight hours in LMS2, including the debriefing with SIMSUP (Simulation Supervisor). Failure or degradation of the primary guidance or engine ignition subsystems constituted the primary concerns addressed in Ascent Simulations. We particularly worked through several scenarios involving failure of the various software-initiated means of igniting the Ascent Engine.

Schmitt in Lunar Module Simulator 2. NASA photo ap17-KSC-72PC-539

We did not have a great deal of concern about our Challenger Lunar Module, like all the others before it, having just one Ascent Engine, because, in fact, it was at least two engines that just looked like one. Only the solid metal fuel and oxidizer injector ring and the exhaust nozzle below that ring did not have identical, that is, “redundant” components that would function even if a primary component failed. No one could imagine a failure mode for these non-electronic and solid pieces of hardware.

If all internal Ascent Engine ignition options actually failed, and many such options existed to fall back on, we also had a set of jumper cables that could be used as a next to last backup to ignite the Ascent Engine. These were called the “ED/APS Emergency Jumper Cable” and would use power from an independent Pyrotechnic Battery in the Descent Stage to open the engine’s fuel and oxidizer valves and fire the pyrotechnic cable and bolt cutters that would simultaneously separate us from the Descent Stage.

To use the second of these cables, however, one of us would need to egress Challenger in order to access a regular Descent Stage battery. Integrity checks of our suit would determine which one of us would perform this emergency EVA. If Cernan’s pressure suit did not pass its pre-egress checks sufficiently to permit egress with the jumper cables, we would change positions in the cabin, a tough task on its own. As we would have already jettisoned our Portable Life Support Systems, it would be necessary to use the OPS (Oxygen Purge System) we had retained to support the EVA that Evans would perform to retrieve film canisters from America’s Scientific Equipment Bay after leaving lunar orbit for home. The 8000 psi oxygen bottle in the OPS could provide a maximum of 30 minutes of oxygen and air-cooling once activated. There would be no water cooling, however, without a PLSS.

With the Challenger’s cabin depressurized, the winner of the integrity check contest would take one end of the pair of cables out the hatch and down the ladder and move to QUAD III where a battery could be accessed. He would then tear away the Kevlar covers and attach the color-coded pair of cables to the positive and negative terminals of a battery and then return to the cabin. At the optimum liftoff time for ascent into a rendezvous sequence with Evans, Cernan would attach the cables to two circuit breakers near his left shoulder. This action would supply instant power to the two sets of hypergolic (ignite on contact) hydrazine and nitrous oxide valves in the Ascent Engine. Once power reached these valves, they would open and lock open. With opening of these valves, a signal would go to the cable and bolt cutters. We would be instantly on our way into lunar orbit, still in an un-pressurized cabin, dragging our jumper cables behind us. Once back in lunar orbit, we could clear and seal the hatch and pressurize the cabin.

The aim of this emergency EVA was to bypass relay boxes, internal wiring, and the Explosive Devices control panel in order to get power directly from a descent stage battery.

The descent stage explosive device battery, aka the pyro battery, in question was near the front, highlighted here. This procedure bypassed that in favor of a regular descent stage battery.

In later LMs, Apollo 17’s included, five descent stage batteries were at the back of the LM, shown below in an illustration from the Lunar Module LM 10 through LM 14 Vehicle Familiarization Manual [link to PDF]. Two of the five had low voltage taps; the jumper cable would be affixed to one of those.

I’m glad they never had to do this, but it actually sounds like it would work. You might think, “Yeah, except for all the cardiac arrests and such”, but you have to remember that these guys were cool customers. Witness the fact that they practiced for this instead of climbing out of the sim and seeking the nearest bar posthaste when told of the method.

Schmitt says this method was the “next to last backup”, which makes me wonder intensely what on Earth Moon the last backup was. Spit and baling wire?

Edited 24 August 2018 to add: The entire emergency EVA procedure is detailed in Apollo Operations Handbook/Lunar Module/LM 11 and Subsequent/Volume II Operational Procedures, available on the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal site. See section 5.4.25 Loss of ED Sub-system.

https://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/LM11HandbookVol2.pdf

I think I found the answer to my “What’s the last backup?” question there: The other choice was to quickly get to the rover – in the case of Apollo 17, parked about 158 meters away for best liftoff camera coverage – start it up, drive it back to the LM, and hook up to one of its two batteries. Now that would really be a jump start for the ages, but I think far less preferable considering there was just 30 minutes of oxygen available in the OPS.

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Cheap at half the price

This silly little Amazon Treasure Truck notice popped up on my tablet earlier tonight:

Amazon knows I live in Massachusetts, right next to one of the most prolific and sustainable lobster environments in the world, but maybe they don’t also know that, for a few weeks now, the Market Baskets around here have been selling live lobsters for US$4.99 a pound, as is their wont in the summer. Yes, you’ll have to buy about three pounds of lobsters to net a pound of meat, but that’s still only $15. And it’s fresh.

I know there are some lobster farms in Asia – rock lobster, because other species don’t survive farming attempts – but wild-caught is what you get here. No need to farm:

I think the wholesale price is what’s represented in the chart, so you can see that Market Basket has a mighty slim profit margin when they drop lobster down to $4.99, unlike other area supermarkets that continue to price theirs at up to $9.99 a pound (pffft!).

120 million pounds of lobster is the equivalent of eighteen fully-fueled Saturn Vs. As is the case with size of Wales or Olympic swimming pool comparisons, this helps the reader not one whit, of course, but at least the writer is amused. And now craving lobster, so there’s my comeuppance.

At Market Basket, ten bucks for this much lobster, two for the tarragon; maybe ten cents for the Luzianne sweet tea

 

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Wildfire topics that few talk about

I refer you to the 31 July 2018 “Built to Burn” episode of 99% Invisible, podcast and transcript here.

I think this and McPhee’s “Los Angeles Against the Mountains” are vital to the proper understanding of wildfires, especially in the western United States. You can’t build developments in guaranteed wildfire zones, take no preventative measures, even the simplest and most effective, to protect the homes – the topic of the 99PI episode – and blithely expect nothing dire will ever happen. A few embers from a fire that never actually reaches your house can easily ruin everything.

99PI will have a follow-up episode this week.

“One of the very frustrating things that I had experienced this past summer, particularly from the California fires, is the continued sense of fatalism: ‘Oh, well, there’s nothing that could be done.’ Well, no. The bottom line is that we can do something; it just doesn’t have anything to do with controlling the wildfire.”

Watching news footage from the California fires, something stands out, especially if you’ve spent a lot of time with Jack. Once you get over the shock of seeing neighbourhoods reduced to ashes and the drama of firefighters talking about how there was nothing they could do to stop the flames, your eyes shift to something else: the green trees, untouched by fire, surrounding the burnt-out homes.

From this week: Lake Keswick Estates in California; click for a larger version

From this week: Lake Redding Estates in California

 

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State of mind not proportional to desk clutter

My old home office desk was feeling too samey of late, so I replaced it. The old one was all wood – well, veneered particleboard – and similar to the new one, with the same 4×3 foot footprint along with a raised monitor shelf and pull-out keyboard tray, but the new one is a better design, with 50% more desk space, 50% more bottom shelf space, 50% more room on the keyboard tray, and maybe 200% more class.

I found it via an image search for “workstation desk”, with this picture of the Cyrus desk, a metal and wood design with a heavy tempered glass desktop, on the third or fourth result page. From the look of it, I figured it would be pricey, probably between US$200 and $300, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it was just $130 on Amazon, which I believe is $40 less than I paid for that boring old workstation fifteen years ago.

I assembled it in a couple hours and found it quite sturdy. I think it’s so far away from samey as to be fantastic. I said to a visiting friend the other day, “I love this desk”, not something you hear me exclaim of many inanimate objects. My printer is on a separate glass and metal stand on the bottom shelf, with paper storage underneath, and the PC, not visible at lower right, and all cables and power strips are self-contained on the desk instead of partly behind and underneath as they were before.

As an example of how much more room there is on this desk, I could fit the keyboard and trackball and not much else on the keyboard tray before. On the new one, from left to right, I have a Logitech Harmony remote horizontal charging stand, a Motorola S305 Bluetooth headset, the keyboard, a Logitech trackball, and its receiver, which formerly sat on top of the PC. I added a hook on the left corner of the desk for the backscratcher and a soft rubber five-channel cable manager on the right corner to corral all the pesky USB cables. The 8″ long metal USB 3.0 hub with 7 ports and 3 charging ports that also used to be on top of the PC is now at the rear corner of the desk instead.

The old desk was perfectly usable, so I put it outside festooned with large “FREE” signs visible from the street. It took eight days, but someone finally got themselves a good desk and, on a less magnanimous note, I didn’t have to dismantle it to put in the dumpster.

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Posters and framing on the cheap

Click for a larger version

Last weekend, I refreshed the pictures in my upstairs hallway, the new ones shown above. As a frame of reference, the photo shows an area of about 7×3 feet. For about a hundred dollars total, I was able to get three 16×20″ prints and one 12×36″ panorama of high-resolution Apollo-era photographs from Shutterfly and mount them in the best borderless clip frames available.

There was a time when I did my own picture mounting on foam board and framing using mail-order Nielsen #11 frame pieces and locally-sourced, custom-cut sheet glass (I never attempted matting), but these days I most often use clip frames – good ones, that is – because they’re easier, they look clean and classy, and they’re a lot cheaper than professional framing or even DIY Nielsens. The last picture I had mounted, double-matted, and framed, the “Clipper at the Gate” shown below, cost me well north of US$200 – and that didn’t include the signed print, which I had purchased several years previously. Don’t get me wrong – the framing and matting is well-done and quite attractive, but I have a lot of drawings, paintings, and photos on my walls and I am well south of a millionaire.

I was able to get those four hallway prints done both well and on the cheap thanks to four things:

  • In recent years, the negatives from the Apollo programme have been scanned with better equipment and at much higher resolution, which allows for nice-looking enlargements – not the case with the low-res images previously available. In the case of the three-foot-wide print, someone stitched together a 10,000-pixel-wide image from a panorama photo series Charlie Duke took during Apollo 16.
  • The recently completed Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project used current technology to produce, from the data on hundreds of carefully preserved original 1960s magtapes, awe-inspiring photos far beyond the resolution and quality NASA could produce fifty years ago. The top middle picture in the hallway is an oblique photo of Copernicus from 150 miles south of the crater that was taken by chance during a “let’s move the film forward a bit” housekeeping task on Lunar Orbiter 2.
  • A plethora of discounts, including 40% or 50% off sales that Shutterfly runs every week or two, periodic Visa Checkout deals (US$25 off the next order), and even $25 Shutterfly credits that Best Buy includes with many hard drive purchases means you can easily get prints in these bigger sizes for $12-$16 each. That’s cheap for high quality large prints.
  • Massachusetts-based Quadro Frames, which I’ve used for many years, produces the highest quality borderless clip frames I’ve seen; other, more widely-available types are mostly flimsy and ill-fitting. 16×20″ frames from Quadro are US$12.50 and it’s $20 for 12×36″. Each frame is precisely fashioned and includes a sturdy, non-bending backing board with perfectly cut, strong clip channels on the back, pristine and perfectly clear PET plastic glazing panels with peel-off protective sheets on both sides (or glass panels for just $3 more), and more than enough clips that slip into the back channel with a satisfying firm snap. Even their care in shipping to guarantee safe arrival is the best possible: I always think, “Wow, just look at that” when I open boxes from them. For some of my orders, I’ll wager it’s taken them half an hour or more to pack the materials so fastidiously. It’s a good example of corporate responsibility and pride in doing things right.

Here are the source photographs I uploaded to Shutterfly for the hallway prints. You can pause the slideshow and right-click to view and/or save any image at its full size.

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I also got these three enlarged to 16×20″ and they’re up elsewhere in the house:

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The moon is a messy place

In which I discuss moon suits, moon dust, moon models, and moon stories

“Smells like someone just fired a carbine in here.”
– Apollo 17 Commander Gene Cernan on smelling moon dust inside the Lunar Module

I finally got around to making my 1/6th scale Gene Cernan figure look a little more realistic. Brand new, it looked like this:

Apollo 17 Commander Capt. Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon, in 1/6th scale

I never quite liked the pristine look of it because the only time it was that clean was the day it arrived from the manufacturer, ILC Dover, a division of Playtex at the time the suits were designed. Yes, Playtex designed the 21-layer Apollo suits. Here’s the figure after I applied a fair amount of graphite powder using two different brush sizes:

Now you may think I went a little over the top with that, but I didn’t. My variation is probably about what Cernan’s A7LB suit looked like after two of the three seven-hour moonwalks he and Jack Schmitt made. Below you can see what his suit looked like after their third and final moonwalk on 13 & 14 December 1972 – and this was after they spent quite a while brushing each other off before re-entering the Lunar Module for the last time.

Click for a larger version

The large brush they used for the suits – and the lunar rover – was six or seven inches wide. They also had a smaller brush for camera lenses and such. You can see both in this compilation. Gene Cernan raises his gold-plated visor here while cleaning the rover’s camera lens.

Moondust is funny stuff – fine, powdery, almost like snow, and it smells of burnt gunpowder when it’s on the moon. That smell goes away on prolonged contact with normal air, so the returned samples no longer smell of anything. They don’t really know why it smells like gunpowder, but there are some theories.

Excerpts from the Apollo 17 Technical Crew Debriefing [corrected link to PDF] on 4 January 1973, during which the problems with dust came up a lot:

“Dust – I think probably one of the most aggravating, restricting facets of lunar surface exploration is the dust and its adherence to everything no matter what kind of material, whether it be skin, suit material, metal, no matter what it be and it’s restrictive friction-like action to everything it gets on. For instance, the simple large tolerance mechanical devices on the Rover began to show the effect of dust as the EVAs went on. By the middle or end of the third EVA, simple things like bag locks and the lock which held the pallet on the Rover began not only to malfunction but to not function at all. They effectively froze. We tried to dust them and bang the dust off and clean them, and there was just no way. The effect of dust on mirrors, cameras, and checklists is phenomenal. You have to live with it but you’re continually fighting the dust problem both outside and inside the spacecraft. Once you get inside the spacecraft, as much as you dust yourself, you start taking off the suits and you have dust on your hands and your face and you’re walking in it. You can be as careful in cleaning up as you want to, but it just sort of inhabits every nook and cranny in the spacecraft and every pore in your skin. Although I didn’t have any respiratory problems, I think the LMP, which he can comment on later, had some definite local respiratory problems right after the EVA – due to dust in the cabin.”
– Commander Gene Cernan

“Dust – We’ll just talk about in-cabin dust. After the first EVA, there was considerable dust in the cabin. It would be stirred up by movements of the suit and the gear that we had. Almost immediately upon removing my helmet, I started to pick up the symptoms that you might associate with hay fever symptoms. I never had runny eyes or runny nose. It was merely a stuffiness in the nose and maybe in the frontal sinuses that affected my speech and my respiration considerably. After about 2 hours within the cabin, those symptoms gradually disappeared. By morning of the next day they were gone completely. After the second and third EVAs, although I’m sure the dust was comparable, the symptoms were not nearly as strong as after the first EVA. That was as if I either developed a mucous protection of the affected areas or had some way or another very quickly developed an immunity to the effects of the dust.”
– Lunar Module Pilot Jack Schmitt

Here’s James Burke wearing – and removing, one by one – all the components of the A7L spacesuit. The A7L was used through Apollo 14 and the more advanced A7LB was used on Apollo 15-17.

That report was prepared prior to the moon landings. In 1979, Burke did an excellent ten-year anniversary documentary that explains a lot of the workings of lunar missions better than most.

I think this is a great time to start reading Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo. I’ll do that tonight.

I also now have a lighted display case for the Dragon Lunar Approach model I have at home. In normal light, it looks like this:

In the dark with the case’s inbuilt lights turned on, this is closer to how the pair would appear in the sunlight of deep space during the translunar coast:

Finally, a treat: Several years ago on BBC Radio 4, Jeanette Winterson did a fascinating ten-part, 150-minute series about the moon from many perspectives. It’s called “The Inconstant Moon” and you can listen on her site here. Quite a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

Radio 4 used this graphic for the programme:

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Musk decides not to murder tourists

Surprise, surprise, there will be no slaughtering of tourists around the moon in Q4 2018 as originally stated early last year. That’s a sensible thing. Besides, nobody but the worst of humanity would want to see the millions of laugh-cry emojis that would inevitably be pasted willy-nilly by the worst of humanity.

“If I’ve told you media people once, I’ve told you a hundred million times that I never engage in hyperbole! Ever, do you hear me? Now get out or I call in the bulldozers!”

See also: NASA decides not to murder astronauts

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No such thing as a mistake

I’m losing a bit of faith in the QI podcast “No Such Thing as a Fish” lately. In nearly every episode in recent months, I’ve noted at least one mistake, sometimes as many as three when subjects on which I know a fair amount come up. They’re mostly small mistakes, but they’re bothersome since Quite Interesting is noted for its high accuracy, with only a handful of mistakes that I can recall in the fifteen years of the television series. I have much enthusiasm for high quality – see my site name – so I have a lot of respect for QI.

As an example, the most recent podcast claimed that the falcon feather/hammer Galileo demonstration Commander Dave Scott gave during Apollo 15 was done during Apollo 12. A small mistake, but that’s pretty sloppy by QI standards. Such mistakes make me wonder about the accuracy of the things they discuss that I’m not familiar with, and if the television show is also going to be somewhat untrustworthy next series since the podcast crew work there.

I think the problems may have started when the podcast co-presenters started going on tour, publishing books, &c a year or so ago. It’s likely they rely on each other to be careful with their research, but with their busy schedule, they’re slipping substantially and don’t yet know it. Some cross fact-checking would be prudent if they’re going to continue travelling a lot. Don’t make me come over there.

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