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

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 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.

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:

And in the dark with the case’s inbuilt lights turned on:

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:

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.

Now just four

Alan Bean, the Lunar Module Pilot of Apollo 12 who actually got to fly the LM in lunar orbit thanks to his friend, Commander Pete Conrad, has died at 86.

Here’s how they landed on the Ocean of Storms on 19 November 1969. 16mm film of the final approach from Bean’s LM window begins at 8:39, but the first part of the video does a nice job in explaining all the steps from Powered Descent Initiation through landing.

One of the many interesting things that happened during their flight is discussed in this somewhat not-safe-for-work clip from the excellent documentary”In the Shadow of the Moon”:

I highly recommend the seventh episode of the excellent “From the Earth to the Moon” series. In that episode, Apollo 12, arguably the best Apollo mission in terms of fun, is presented in accurate detail from Al Bean’s perspective. You can view it or download it at archive.org here.

After he left NASA, Bean pursued painting as a new career, and well:

A few hours after I read the news, the wallpaper on my desktop – one of 3,700 rotated randomly – happened to change to this high-res photo of Bean taken by Conrad on the surface of the moon during one of the best days of both of their lives.

Click for 4095×4095

Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon, and Al Bean

This one’s getting a case

After watching eBay for a couple of years, I finally found a Buy It Now listing with a decent price for this long-discontinued Corgi Sikorsky Sea King model – specifically, the chopper from the USS Hornet that picked up the Apollo 11 crewmen, and those from Apollo 8, 10, 12, and 13 as well. I happened to be at my computer at o’dark thirty when the new listing notification email came in from eBay, so I snapped it up within a few minutes of the listing being posted, thus avoiding any bidding starting, which for this model often results in a price inflated by 75% over the maximum that I was willing to pay. The Buy It Now price in this case happened to be exactly my maximum.

The diecast metal Sea King is well done, and more impressive in person than in photos I’ve seen. The only detail I see missing is the two capsule silhouettes behind the knight shield at the nose that represent its previous recoveries of Apollo 8 and Apollo 10 (see the Apollo 12 photo below, where it has silhouettes representing 8, 10, and 11), so I may paint those myself. This will most likely go in my office, so I’ve ordered a 15x12x9″ acrylic case for it. I’ve read in multiple places that the base has a tendency to warp over time due to the weight of the helicopter, so on advice of the customer support folks at Hornby/Corgi, who had a chat in their office about that problem yesterday and sent me a few possible solutions, I’m going to superglue the entire base to the floor of the display case.

Apollo 12’s recovery was also by the USS Hornet and the same helicopter

Now there are five

John Young, the Commander of Apollo 16 pictured loading the Lunar Roving Vehicle in the FQN banner above, died on Friday. He also flew on Gemini 3, Gemini 10, Apollo 10, and was the Commander of STS-1, the first orbital Space Shuttle flight, as well as STS-9.

Just five humans remain who have walked on the surface of another planetary body: Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11), Al Bean (12), Dave Scott (15), Jack Schmitt (17), and Charlie Duke, who also landed in Orion on Apollo 16 and spent twenty hours over three EVAs walking and driving around on the moon with Young – with a leap or two thrown in:

John Young on the Descartes Highlands, 21 April 1972; click for a larger version

“Anyone who sits on top of the largest hydrogen-oxygen fueled system in the world, knowing they’re going to light the bottom, and doesn’t get a little worried…does not fully understand the situation.”

I got mine at the GPO Bookstore

When I was a kid and through my late teens, I regularly visited the Government Printing Office Bookstore in Boston. The Federal Building was just a short walk from North Station, so I’d take the train in – never once getting kidnapped or murdered that I recall. They had a whole corner devoted to NASA books, usually forty or fifty of the most recent volumes, so for me, it was like visiting the Kennedy Space Center in miniature. I didn’t have much money, but I’m pretty sure train fare for the twenty-five minute run into town was between US$2 and $3 each way, so ten bucks carefully saved up would cover the trip plus one or two books.

I got several of my NASA books right there, at their gloriously low original GPO prices. For example, the 681-page This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury was US$5.50. This collectSPACE article lists most of the better NASA history volumes that were at one time or another in the bookstore.

The P in GPO now stands for Publishing, not Printing, and the Boston GPO Bookstore closed in 2001, but I still have all the books I got there. Now the real reason for this article is not nostalgia or sidelong swipes at milk-carton-kid-based helicopter parenting, satisfying though those are, but this: I recently found something of a bonanza for people who are interested in these books in their original form but don’t want to spend US$50, $100, or more for them – or who, like me, own them but would love the convenience and frugality of free PDFs of the originals. The NASA Technical Reports Server has full page-by-page scans – and good quality scans, I’ll point out – of many of the original books, including:

There are other good volumes there as well, including Apollo Expeditions to the Moonmine was $2.25, but it’s now $40 or $50 for a good condition original – Where No Man Has Gone Before, and the like. The part 1-3 articles linked in the collectSPACE article above mention more of these – there’s also a final part 5 not linked there. The best way to search the NTRS site is with NASA SP-nnnn where nnnn is the publication number.

Click on any of these page scans from the PDFs for a larger version. They’re larger than these screenshots in the PDFs.

From Moonport

From Chariots for Apollo

From Stages to Saturn

From Apollo Expeditions to the Moon

My copy of that one

“The flight was extremely normal for 36 seconds…”

“…and after that it got very interesting.”

– Apollo 12 Commander Pete Conrad in the post-flight technical debriefing, referring to the first of two lightning strikes on the vehicle during launch.

I just found out I can upgrade my Galaxy S5 at no cost to an S8, so I ordered a new phone skin from Skinit that will ship tomorrow – as it serendipitously turns out, the 48th anniversary of the date the photo was taken.

This is Apollo 12, taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building as the stack began its 3½ mile journey to Launch Pad 39A on 8 September 1969. This assembly of Crawler-Transporter, Mobile Launcher (aka Launch Umbilical Tower), Saturn V, and Apollo weighed over 18 million pounds, the equivalent of twenty or so 747s, and moved at a stately 80 or so feet per minute.

From the remarkable 600-page Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations: “These novel mechanisms almost defy verbal description, and the reader should refer frequently to the illustrations in this chapter.”

Here’s a higher-resolution copy of the source photo – click for a larger version and note the people in white hardhats at the edges of the platform:

NASA photo AP12-S69-51309

Apollo-era photo of the 526-foot-high Vehicle Assembly Building and crawlerway leading to Launch Complex 39 with Pads 39B (upper left, 4.2 miles from VAB) and 39A (upper right, 3.5 miles from VAB). Apollo 12 launched from Pad 39A.

NASA photo AS12-68-7134: Pete Conrad wiggling Surveyor 3 by its camera on 20 November 1969 (Okay, Houston. I’m jiggling it. The Surveyor is firmly planted here; that’s no problem.”)

Five-point landing

Here’s one of several good reasons why the Lunar Module had both a descent stage and an ascent stage: Apollo 15’s five-point landing, which dented the descent engine bell quite a lot. The other bits strewn about are not landing damage but simply the detritus from unpacking and setting up equipment. Tidiness was not a concern.

 

Why did this damage occur? The rear leg of the LM landed in a five-foot deep crater, resulting in a fairly steep landing angle of 11°. To wit:

New digs

We moved our offices into a new building a couple towns away this week, and I ended up with a substantially larger office – “All the more to decorate” thought I, rubbing my hands. A gallery of my new digs is below. I haven’t decided yet how to fill out one wall, but the other walls are pretty much as I want them. I still see trees and greenery out my window (two windows, actually), thank goodness, and there are wild turkeys at the new place, too.

In the process, I finally got around to having my William Phillips “Clipper at the Gate” limited print framed at this little shop, and it came out pretty spiffy, with the frame and matting matched to the bluish silver of the aircraft, the deep blue of the water, and the red of the Golden Gate Bridge (actually called International orange) and the wing stripes. The aircraft is the Boeing B-314 flying boat, in this case the Pan American Airways California Clipper, NC-18602, which made regular runs between San Francisco and Hawaii – a nineteen-hour leg – before continuing to farther destinations.

Only twelve B-314s were produced by Boeing, all for Pan Am, but it was – and still is – considered the acme of flying boat technology. The initial six had a range of 3,500 miles with fuel capacity of 4,200 gallons and the second group of six could travel 5,200 miles with 5,400 gallons, both variants far exceeding the range of other aircraft of the day. Travel on the clippers was strictly deluxe, with ticket prices comparable to Concorde’s and meals catered by top-notch hotels.

The B-314 model on my desk, in the same 1:200 scale as the B-17 and B-747, is also of NC-18602. The “Fly to South Sea Isles” poster is a high quality limited edition reproduction of a 1930s Pan Am poster that was made about twenty years ago [some weeks after writing this, I found my Hansa Editions print was actually produced thirty years ago]. An original copy of the 1938 George Lawler poster – not the original painting, just a poster – recently sold for US$20,000 at auction, where the listing read:

One of the most iconic and desirable of all the early Pan Am flying boat posters, this image of the Boeing 314 Flying Clipper landing in a tropical lagoon captured, and continues to capture, the imagination of travelers. The location shown on the poster is an imaginary composite of several renowned bays throughout the South Pacific. It has been speculated that the view is Tahiti, Pago Pago and/or Diamond Head, however, the physical characteristics depicted do not coincide with the actual geography of any of these islands. Lawler most likely worked from photographs to derive a fantasy collage of a location infused with realistic details from various islands. It is rare to find this poster with text. We have found only two other examples at auction.

The tail end of the gallery shows in detail some of the photos and items on display. I had 16×20 prints made of the three high resolution Apollo photographs – done beautifully by Shutterfly and Snapfish, I’ll add. Of the three drawings of mine on the wall, just one, the woman holding a newborn Bengal kitten, is my original pencil drawing – the other two are from high resolution scans I made before presenting the original drawings to their subjects.

Click on any image to enter the gallery, and from there you can view a 1920-wide version of any photo by clicking this at the lower right (you may need to scroll down to see it):