Rockets mice-and-men


Published on

  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Rockets mice-and-men

  1. 1. Rockets, Mice and Men eBook Edition by Brian Lawrenson @@@Title: Rockets, Mice and MenAuthor: Brian Lawrenson, owns the copyright to the material inthis eBook. © 2010 Brian LawrensonSmashwords EditionISBN: 978-1-921814-04-4Published: June 2010Published and distributed by SmashwordsThis eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. Itmay not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you wouldlike to share this book with another person, please purchasean additional copy for each person. If you are reading thisbook and did not purchase it, please respect the hard work ofthe author and visit and purchase your owncopy.
  2. 2. Rockets, Mice and MenMickey, a little white mouse, is the central character in thisstory. He normally lived in the Physics department of RhodesUniversity, where he was in training to become South Africa’sfirst astronaut.Becoming involved with this tiny white mouse was the start ofa dream that was achieved when I went to the John F KennedySpace Centre, in Florida in November, 2004. This is the storyof the Kennedy Space Centre and the USA space program but moreimportantly the story of how the dream came about. ***I’ll always remember that morning in 1958. The sun had justbroken the horizon leaving the scene bathed in an incandescentlight. It was chilly, perhaps six degrees above zero. We werein a bunker at South Africa’s only rocket range. It waslocated some 20 miles outside of Port Elizabeth at a disusedaerodrome. Who were we? well, the newspapers called us the“rocket men”.A voice over the portable radio transmitter announced: “Tminus one hour and twelve minutes and counting”. We’d been upall night and were feeling like it. The trickiest part of thelaunch was ahead. Four of us dressed in fireproof asbestossuits had to carry the three parts of the two hundred poundrocket, 50 meters to the thirty foot high launch tower. Therewe had to fit the rocket pieces into the tower’s guide-rails.One slip and the rocket could have exploded and the wholeprocess ended up in a disaster. Loading the first stage of aneighteen foot, three stage, solid fuel rocket into the launchtower was the most difficult. It was filled with one hundredand twenty pounds of highly explosive solid rocket fuel. We’dspent the night carefully mixing and loading the fuel into therocket cases. It was a slow, dangerous and stressful process.As we assembled the rocket parts, Brian Evans, the designer ofthe rocket looked on carefully observing every step andticking off each procedure as it was completed. After fifteenminutes, the first stage was locked in place followed by theremaining stages. These were much easier. The final stagecontained a capsule housing the central character of the storyand about this time Mickey probably was wondering what all thefuss was about.As the rocket was now assembled in the tower, the four of uscould go back to the bunker and remove our heavy asbestossuits. It was just as well because we were already bathed inperspiration. Towelling off and with fresh T-shirts we took upour allotted tasks for the launch. It was now T minus twentythree minutes. We were seven minutes behind schedule. Thisadded to the tension.
  3. 3. The final step in the pre-launch procedures had to be carriedout. This was tricky, meaning dangerous. Brian Evans, wouldcarry out this task himself. The electrical connections to thethree stages of the rocket had to be switched to “live”. Therewas only one way to do this and that was to climb the towerand flick a switch. This might sound rather crude but in 1958the electronics that we know today, didn’t exist. Any error ormalfunction of the battery powered electrical circuit at thisstage could have prematurely ignited the solid fuel. Brianknew that if an explosion occurred, even wearing an asbestossuit, his chance of survival, were minuscule.As we watched tensely, the second and third stage circuits,each including a mercury switch, were activated and Briancould come down to ground level to connect the first stage’sfiring circuit to the control bunker. The minutes ticked by.He stepped back from the launch tower. It was done. We couldrelax. The loudspeaker boomed, “We were now at T minus sixminutes. We are go for launch. Repeat, go for launch.”The early morning scene at the St Albans Rocket Range wasunreal. There were some two hundred soldiers in full combatkit dug into trenches around the disused airport. Officerswere busy giving orders on their walkie-talkies. These membersof the South African Defence Force were using the occasion asa training exercise. About fifty specially invited guests werehunkered down in an observation bunker some three hundredmeters from the tower. Nearby a group of reporters andphotographers crouched behind their sandbagged enclosures. Ahundred meters closer was the main control bunker manned bythe members of the Port Elizabeth branch of the AeronauticalResearch and Experimental Group (AREG) of the South AfricanInterplanetary Society.The radio crackled again with the Launch Controllerannouncing: “T minus sixty seconds. Keep you positions, if therocket explodes, shrapnel will fly in all directions at groundlevel”. That should keep their heads down, I thought.A hush descended over the spectators; it was only broken bythe whir of a number of movie cameras that had started torecord the occasion. T minute five seconds, “four, three, two,one, fire!”With a flash, a roar and a cloud of dense white smoke, thethree stage rocket roared out of the launching ramp headingskywards. It left the launch tower covered in a plume of smokeas it disappeared out of our sight. The rocket was beingtracked by army personnel who later confirmed that it reachedan altitude of over twelve kilometres (seven miles) before thefuel ran out and it plummeted back to earth. This created anew South African altitude record for rockets.
  4. 4. As the rocket accelerated skywards, the second stage afterignition, went through the sound barrier with a loud “plop”and the shock wave tore the tail fins off the rocket casing.They spiralled down to the ground landing about thirty metersfrom where the photographers were sheltering. Shortly afterthe launch, the one and a half meter long, 6 inches diametermetal case of the first stage had plummeted back to earthabout half a kilometre from the launch pad. It imbeddingitself more than one meter into the ground. It had risen to2,300 meters (7,000 feet). The second and third stages hadfired perfectly. The vertical plume of smoke was visible frommore than ten miles away.Suddenly the tension of the last two days was lifted from ourshoulders. It was congratulations, hugs and handshakes allround. We emerged from our bunkers ready to meet the worldgrinning from ear to ear. The project director was mobbed bythe assembled press. Questions were everywhere. “Where is themouse?” someone wanted to know. A recovery team were sent outto search for it. “It should have floated down to earth byparachute,” one of our members stated. Notes were scribbled innotebooks and we spent the next half hour posing forphotographs.
  5. 5. The next day, when reporting the achievement, the localnewspapers stated that when the third stage came down to earthby parachute, Mickey’s container was missing. Now I have totell you something that was highly confidential at the time.Mickey was clothed in a specially designed space suit, builtby students of Physics department at Rhodes University actualdied from the effect of “G” force shortly after take-off. He
  6. 6. had given its life in the advancement of human knowledge andthereby joins a long list of space travel pioneers who died inefforts to advance our knowledge. His suit was connected to aminiature transmitter that sent messages with the mouse’svital signs to central control. The container had gone missingon purpose. This turned out to be a good thing because a fewdays later, after a follow up a newspaper article headed“Where is the Mouse Now?”, the local Royal Society for thePrevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) started aninvestigation into the incident. Without a mouse, there wasn’tmuch to investigate. Today, Mickey rests in an unmarked graveat the St Albans aerodrome.Now you are probably wondering just what my parents thoughtabout this activity, after all I was still at school. Well,initially they didn’t know. When I joined the AREG group, Iwas seventeen and in my second last year at high school.However, shortly after that an incident happened that madethem very aware of what I was up to. I had been reading aboutsome new chemicals that had been written up as making a veryeffective solid rocket fuel. Once mixed, they could be heatedinto a liquid, poured into the rocket case and then allowed tocool. Now I might have been well read, but I was veryinexperienced. I knew about flash points, which is thetemperature at which a mixture will ignite. I mixed up thiscocktail of chemicals using an old stainless steel pan andheated it on my electric mother’s stove, at home. The quantitywas about a heaped teaspoon. I had the heat on low and after afew minutes it hadn’t melted, so I turned up the heat. Iturned away to the kitchen sink and in less than thirtyseconds, the mixture exploded – WHOOSH. The pan was wrecked. Irushed outside as the cloud of dense white smoke filled thekitchen. After I’d cleared the smoke, the kitchen wall andceiling were covered with a black/ brown stain. What does onesay in this situation? “Mom, I’ve burned the toast”. We had alittle discussion at dinner that night and I ended uprepainting the kitchen wall and ceiling. There would be nomore experiments at home. I had learned a valuable lesson.
  7. 7. The successful launch of the R6 rocket was the culmination offive years of work in designing and test firing rockets.Whilst the AREG group were strictly amateurs they had madesome significant contributions to the development of rocketsin South Africa. One member of the group, Alan Bowman, later
  8. 8. became an rocket scientist at the Farnborough Establishment inEngland. Another member of the group Desmond Prout-Jones, withthe help of the AREG members, went on to design and build arocket that went up to nearly forty kilometres, that is overtwenty five miles. He is also the author of the book: Crackingthe Sky printed by both Michigan State Library Press and UNISAPress. The book describes the rocket experiments in SouthAfrica that were carried out by the group between 1947 and1963. Over five hundred rockets were launched or static testfired - all without a major accident.There is a photograph in the book of nine members of the teamexamining the R6’s first stage rocket that was deeply embeddedin the ground at St Albans. It is interesting that theseventeen year old youngster on my left in the photo is nowProfessor Cedric Smith. Cedric is rightly known as one of thepioneers of rocket science in South Africa.We might have lacked formal qualifications then, but we wereyoung, keen and prepared to help each other expand ourknowledge. For two years, I was the Technical Correspondent ofthe group. This meant that I typed the letters to mainly USArocket supply companies asking for technical assistance withvarious rocket related matters. My Dad’s old manual typewriterwas pounded late into the night. The replies, often fat largeenvelopes, which arrived at Dad’s post box, would be coveredin USA stamps. Little did the experts from the leading firmsin this field in the USA, know that they were writing to anineteen year old who had just left high school. In thosedays, rocket science was in its infancy and there wasn’tnearly as much to know, as now.Our Project Director checked my writings for technicalcorrectness and over a number of years the Americans who bythen had founded NASA, found our research of interest. Thiswas particularly so when we commenced building and testingliquid fuelled rockets. A sizeable concrete test bed was builtand put into use. Clearly our abilities and capabilities weregrowing rapidly. However, we were hampered by the inadequaciesof the St Albans airport site. The officials were concernedthat the remains of our rockets might have landed in populatedareas. Yes, they might have but they never did.Suddenly in 1963 the Government forced the group to close theprojects down. The capability of the group and an associatedRocket Research Group in Johannesburg, had grown to the extentthat the scope of the projects was beyond the ability of thegovernment to control them. However, a number of the membersof the group were offered jobs working on rocket relatedprojects for the South African Defence forces. The focus offurther research moved to a site near Johannesburg.I decided that it was time to spread my wings, overseas.
  9. 9. ***In April 2002, a young South African became the first Africanto venture into space when he joined a team of cosmonauts onthe Russian Soyuz capsule on a journey to the InternationalSpace Station. Mark Shuttleworth conducted several experimentsduring his 10-day space flight. One experiment was the veryfirst in the world to assess the impact of zero-gravity on thedevelopment of stem cells and embryos; another was todetermine the effect of microgravity on the cardiovascularsystem and muscles; and a third was an attempt to crystalliseHIV proteins in weightlessness in the hopes that, when X-rayed, they will give an accurate view of the virus structure.Mark has used his adventure as a springboard for an education-outreach programme, which aims to encourage students toembrace mathematics and science. He has, since his return fromspace, worked to enhance science education in South Africa andhe has worked to fuel an interest of young people in space,science and astronomy.I don’t know if Mark knew about the work the AREG did in the1960s but I’d like to feel that his success is a fittingending to the story of those young rocket pioneers who were“reaching for the stars”. ***To return to the start of this story in 2004, we had justspent five wonderful days exploring New York. My wife, Jill,and I love travelling by train so we purchased a 15 day passon Amtrak. Our route was down the coast to Orlando and crosscountry to Los Angeles with a stop-over in New Orleans. Therewas a slight drizzle falling as we wheeled our suitcases intoPenn Street station. We were to catch the 12.15 en route toOrlando with a stop-over in Savannah.Train travel gives you lots of time to walk around and meetinteresting people. Many of them were Americans who enjoytravelling. We remember meeting a couple who’d sold theirhouse, bought a motor-home and travelled America from North toSouth and from East to West. “We’d decided that we’d try itout for a year and see if we liked it and here we are sevenyears later still enjoying it”. They had been visiting familyin Charleston and where heading back to Florida to pick uptheir motor-home. “Where are you going next?”, we asked. “Oh,we’ll just head over to New Orleans and explore some of thelittle towns on the Mississippi”. It sounded an idylliclifestyle, if that was your thing.Another couple told us about having their home in southernFlorida blown down, not once but twice, the last time by thecyclones that had battered the Florida coast in 2003/2004.They were returning to see how the re-building was getting on
  10. 10. and seemed to be coping better than I think that we wouldhave. We wished them well.After a stay-over at a Holiday Inn in Orlando, we picked upour hire car. “Do you have a map, I enquired?” No they didn’tbut the route to the Kennedy Space Centre was easy to follow.We soon adjusted to driving on right hand side of the road.After parking the car, we headed for the Ticket Plaza where webought Maximum Access Tickets. I was about to realise a dreamthat I’d had for forty five years. ***The Kennedy Space CentreI‘d like you to come with me on a conducted tour of thevisitor facilities at the Kennedy Space Centre. But to set thescene, first I’d like to give you a little history. Mostpeople believe that Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy SpaceCentre is the same facility. They aren’t. Cape Canaveral,which is an Air Force Base, lies to the east of the KennedySpace Centre. The first rocket to be launched from there wasthe Bumper 8 in July 1950. Rockets are still fired from CapeCanaveral and the Air Force team there provides weatherinformation and logistics support for Shuttle launches.The Kennedy Space Centre is the location where the NationalSpace Administration (NASA) launches and lands the SpaceShuttle. The facility had its name changed to the John FKennedy Space Centre seven days after the assassination ofPresident Kennedy in 1963. President Kennedy’s role inextending the boundaries of space exploration was enormous.NASA was formed in 1958 with the challenge by the President in1961 to land men on the moon and return them safely to Earthbefore the end of the 1960s. The Centre opened in 1962 - thefacility was then known as the NASA Launch Operations Centre.In July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 lifted off from Pad 39A, and fourdays later Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon.The idea for a Visitor Centre first started in the 1960s andgradually the facilities were expanded and bus tours wereintroduced in 1967. The following year over 800,000 peoplevisited the centre. The attendance grew each year until itwelcomed over two million visitors per annum. The currentfacility was built between 1995 and 2000, at a cost of morethan $130 million dollars, all paid for by sponsorship anddonations. It is open every day apart from Christmas Day from9 am. Tours start at 10 am and run every 15 minutes.For information and tickets visit their
  11. 11. Our tour starts at the Rocket Garden. This is a collection oftall reminders of the rockets used in early space exploration.These include Mercury and Gemini rockets. The giantApollo/Saturn rocket is displayed horizontally. This was thefirst rocket to be totally developed by NASA and itsignificantly moved the space exploration project into topgear. One of the exhibits in this area is the gantry used byNeil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins before thelaunch of Apollo 11. We stopped to have our photograph takenon the gantry. As we stood on the metal plates that they’dwalked across to the capsule waiting atop the huge Saturn Vrocket, we paused to wonder how these three brave men felt onthat July morning. They were thirty stories above the groundand their next stop was the Moon.
  12. 12. At the opposite side of the Visitor Complex stands a full sizereplica of the Space Shuttle. A gantry with steps up helps youto get up real close and you can peer into the flight deck andthe area where the astronauts eat, sleep and carried outexperiments. You wonder just how you’d adjust to living in a
  13. 13. “shoebox”. Getting dressed involved a three hour process ofcarefully putting on protective clothing so they could go outfor a “space walk”. To float about in weightless space insidethe Shuttle was one thing but to float about outside the craftmust have been an adrenalin pumping moment. To prevent themdrifting off into space, astronauts used a tether to keepthem attached. The views of the earth from space must havebeen awesome but to see views of the earth with your spaceshipin the foreground must have been the ultimate experience.The Cargo Bay housed the Spacelab, satellites and is where thenew Space Station modules hitched a ride into orbit. The fiftyfoot long robot arm that helps the astronauts to lift thingsin space is the one used to rescue the Intelsat communicationssatellite in 1992 when it was stranded in the wrong orbit.Just standing next to the Shuttle towering over you, gives yougoose bumps. Somehow the black and white tiles that providethe insulation against the searing heat of re-entry seemedvery thin and inadequate.Nearby is a huge space mirror dedicated to the twenty fourastronauts that have lost their lives in NASA’s quest to getinto space. The names include the seven astronauts who losttheir lives when the Shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry inFebruary 2003. The poem that Col. Aldrin read at the servicefor the seven astronauts who died during the Challengerdisaster was an updated version of a song about space that wasfirst written many years ago. The lyrics are:Fire in the SkyPrometheus, they say, brought Gods fire down to manAnd weve caught it, tamed it, trained it since our historybegan.Now were goin back to Heaven, just to look him in the eye:Theres a thunder cross the landAnd a fire in the sky!Gagarin was the first, back in 1961When, like Icarus undaunted, he climbed to reach the Sun,And he knew he might not make it, for its never hard to die:But he lifted off the padAnd rode a fire in the sky!Yet a higher goal was calling and we vowed to reach it soonAnd we gave ourselves a decade to put fire on the MoonAnd Apollo told the world we can do it if we try:There was "One small step..."And a fire in the sky!I dreamed last nightOf a little boys first space flight,
  14. 14. Burned into me,Watching the black and white TV:There was a fire in the sky!Ill remember til I die:A fire in the sky--A fire in the sky!Then two decades from Gagarin, twenty years to the dayCame a shuttle named "Columbia", to open up the wayAnd they said "Shes just a truck," but shes a truck thatsaimin high!See her big jets burnin,See her fire in the sky!Yet the gods do not give lightly of the powers they have made,And with Challenger and seven, once again the price is paidThough a nation watched her falling, yet a world could onlycry,As they passed from us to glory,Riding fire in the sky!Now the rest is up to us, and theres a future to be won:We must turn our faces outward, we will do what must be done:For no cradle lasts forever; every bird must learn to fly:And were goin to the stars--See our fire in the sky!(Reprise)Yes, were goin to the stars--See our fire in the sky!Ill remember til I die:A fire in the sky--A fire in the sky!Music and lyrics by Jordin KareBridge by Kristoph KloverFewer than five hundred men and women have flown in space butevery day one of the members of the NASA astronauts teamprovides a daily briefing for visitors. This is particularlytargeted at school children and after the briefing they areencouraged to ask questions. On the day that we were there,the questions were: “How do you sleep in space?” – apparentlyit takes quite some time to train the body to sleep in theweightlessness of space, “What do you eat?” - it seemed a lotof prepared food with a lot of artificial flavouring. “How doyou go to the toilet?” – on a specially designed toilet. Ifound the exchange informative and process inspirational.There was heaps of information, stories, illustrations anddisplays. The children sitting in the audience, were inspired
  15. 15. too, and that perhaps now dream that they too may travel inspace.Next, we were on time to visit the IMAX theatre. There are nowtwo huge IMAX theatres each with a 5 storey high screen withsurround sound. 3-D glasses give a totally realistic effect asyou feel that you are floating alongside the astronauts asthey float in space. The astronauts themselves have said thatwatching the IMAX film is the next best thing to actuallybeing in space. They should know because they shot thefootage. In the giant IMAX theatre the dream of spaceflightcomes alive on huge five storey high screen. The film that wewere seeing, “Space Station”, showed the life of theastronauts at the International Space Station (ISS). It wasdramatic and compelling. You felt that you were right therewith the astronauts as they drifted weightless towards you,hands outstretched, you felt that all you had to do was reachout and you could touch fingers. I did this a number of timesand it added to the experience. The film provided tons ofinformation about the work being done at the ISS and how workin space is designed to make life on Earth better foreveryone. I don’t remember how long the film lasted, perhapshalf an hour, as I was totally absorbed in watching it. Theexperience left me feeling that I’d been in space - the IMAXexperience to me was the highlight of the visit the KennedySpace Centre.The 2010 IMAX screening program contains footage from one ofthe moon walks and a unique look into the Hubble SpaceTelescope and how we view the Universe and ourselves. Itlasted for 43 minutes.Still feeing slightly weightless, we left the theatre to visitone of the huge exhibition halls. We lunched in the giantApollo/Saturn centre with sections of the huge Saturn V rocketsuspended from the ceiling. The complexity of the five hugemotors was mind blowing. The Saturn had millions of parts.This amazing launch vehicle was the cornerstone of the lunarlanding program. If any single component failed, it could havejeopardised the whole mission. As I looked up, I reflectedupon the contrast with the simplicity of those rockets thatwe’d built back in 1958.After lunch, we’d booked on the restricted area tour, whichtook us by coach out to the Vehicle Assembly Building, theLaunch Complex 39, the Shuttle Landing Facility and theInternational Space Station Centre.The Vehicle Assembly building is giant –the largest buildingin America, we were told. It is 525 feet tall and covers anarea of eight acres. It is here that the Space Shuttle isassembled on a Mobile Launcher Platform and its connectionstested before being moved to the Launch Pad. The two externalboosters are then added and then the attachment of the orange
  16. 16. coloured external fuel tank. Once the assembly and testing iscompleted, the Mobile Launcher Platform is hauled by two hugeCrawler Transports to the Launch Pad. The top speed is abouttwo miles per hour but normally it travels at half that speed.The distance to be travelled is about three and a half miles.It has an amazing hydraulic system that ensures that thelaunch platform is always perfectly level, even up the slopeas it approaches the launch pad. There are two launch pads,essentially identical. The huge tower of the pads is the FixedService Structure and it connects the upright Shuttle to thetower via a service gantry. This is where the seven crewmembers have to walk out to take their seats in the Shuttle.Nearby is a huge storage facility for the liquid oxygen andhydrogen that is used to power the Shuttle. It’s not quitelike calling into a gas station and say “Fill her up, please”.Our next stop was the Shuttle Landing facility which is a hugerunway – so wide and long that it can be seen from space. Likeeverything else at Kennedy Space Centre, the dimensions aremind blowing, for example, the concrete runway is sixteeninches thick. There is a concrete path to enable the Shuttleto be returned to the Obiter Processing Facility – to beprepared for its next journey.We detoured to see a few of the estimated five thousandalligators that live in the Wildlife Refuge that co-existswith the Kennedy Space Centre. They double as unpaid securitystaff, too.
  17. 17. After this, we moved on to the International Space Stationbuilding. The ISS program is the largest and most ambitiousspace program since the Apollo moon landings. The ISS tourincluded seeing replicas of a habitation unit, a laboratorymodule and a multi-purpose logistics module. What I found
  18. 18. interesting was how all the interfaces between components andmodules have been standardised so that various nations canbuild separate units and when all the components were fittedtogether, everything is compatible. Joining NASA in theconstruction and operation of the new station are Russia,Brazil, Canada, Japan and fourteen member nations of theEuropean Space Agency. Eventually the living space aboard thestation will be the equivalent of the space inside two 747 jetairliners. Through glass viewing platforms we were able towatch technicians putting final touches to two modules thatwere due for launch in early 2005. These are now in orbit. Thevideo and the presentation about the future of the ISS wasespecially interesting. If only I was forty years younger!!!!As we viewed the various displays, I was reminded of thesomewhat minuscule role that Mickey had played in this greatgame. But he was a pioneer. He was one of the hundreds,perhaps thousands, of mice that have taken part in hundreds ofexperiments that have been carried out in space. Each ofthese, in some small way, has helped to expand our knowledge.It was getting dark as we made our way out of the KennedySpace Centre. Despite the navigation challenge getting back toour Holiday Inn in Orlando, it didn’t take the edge of theday. Jill and I agreed that it had been a fantasticexperience. Although I’d had to wait forty years, my dream ofvisiting Cape Canaveral had come true. ***The facilities have been upgraded at the Kennedy Space Centresince our visit in 2004. There are now even more opportunitiesto meet the astronauts including lunches, half-day and two-dayastronaut training experiences and functions at theAstronaut’s Hall of Fame. There are also week-long Summercamps in June and July where young people can experience,imagine and be involved in space shuttle missions usingmotion-based simulators. There is a brochure that describesthis at the Kennedy Space Centre website.The 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission will becelebrated. This is known as “the successful failure” that wasto have been the third manned moon landing. An explosionaboard the spacecraft changed the course of the mission and itthreatened the lives of the three astronauts aboard theShuttle: Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise. This createdwhat must be the most infamous words in space travel history:“Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” After a dramatic anddaring rescue attempt by the astronauts and mission control onEarth they were able to return the crew safely back home afterhaving spent four days in the Lunar Module Aquarius whichacted as a lifeboat until a repair program was worked out.They rounded the far side of the Moon before the repair could
  19. 19. be affected and after travelling for more than 250,000 milesthey safely returned to Earth on April 17th, 1970.The Apollo program rockets and hardware are the central focusof the exhibits at the Kennedy Space Centre, so it is perhapsappropriate to review the history of the epoch making rocketprogram.Following President Kennedys famous speech on May 25, 1961,NASA announced that the program to fly astronauts around themoon would be redesigned to support a lunar landing beforethe end of the decade.It is believed that the Apollo program stands as mankindsgreatest technological achievement. In all, six missionslanded on the surface of the moon, and three others orbitedthe moon without landing, including the ill-fated Apollo 13.The Apollo spacecraft comprises three parts: The conicalCommand Module where the crew ate and slept on its way to themoon and home; the Service Module, supplying electricity,manoeuvring power and thrust to get home from lunar orbit, andwater to the spacecraft; and the Lunar Module, or LM, a two-part, totally self-contained spacecraft that used its ownrockets to land on and take off from the surface of the moon,and even served as its own launch pad. There are examples ofall of these on display at the Kennedy Space Centre .The Apollo program started in tragedy, when a fire in theCommand Module on the launch pad during the pre-flight testingclaimed the lives of: the second man to fly in space, Virgil"Gus" Grissom, our first man to walk in space, Edward White,and rookie astronaut Roger Chaffee. The date was January 27,1967. The result was a huge delay in the program and majorsafety upgrading.After an unoccupied test flight (named Apollo 4), using thenew launch vehicle Saturn V, the flight of Apollo 8 withastronauts aboard circumnavigated the moon in December 1968,and by the following July, Apollo 11 placed men on the Moonand brought them home again.On July 20, 1969, man set foot on another celestial body forthe first time. On that day we evolved from homo sapiens tohomo universalis, Man of the Universe.They landed at 4:17 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (USA) with lessthan 30 seconds of fuel remaining. Neil Armstrong in takingthe "Small Step for Man" wrote his name into history books. Hewas shortly joined by "Buzz" Aldrin, and the two astronautsspent twenty one hours on the moon collected 46 pounds oflunar rocks. Their lift-off from the surface of the moon wasin part captured on a TV camera they had left behind. Theywere reunited with Michael Collins who had been patientlyorbiting the moon in the Command Module "Columbia."
  20. 20. The astronauts left behind a plaque on the lunar surface thatreads:"Here Men From Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon The Moon. July1969 A.D. We Came In Peace For All Mankind."The whole Earth grew that that day back in 1969 and all of uswho watched it on TV will always remember the images.In all, twelve men were to walk on the moon before the Apolloprogram was ended. The last three missions featured the LunarRover, which permitted the astronauts to drive about andexplore various terrains too rough for the LM to attempt toland upon. On the last Apollo mission to the moon, theastronauts spent 22 hours in moon walks and camped out on themoon for a total of three days.Were these the first Moon tourists?Sadly, the last three Apollo launches (18-20) suffered budgetcuts and were cancelled. We have not returned to the moonsince then. But the Apollo spacecraft was used for four latermissions, the three long-duration Skylab missions and thefinal Apollo flight, the Apollo-Soyuz linkup with the SovietSoyuz 19.This, the final flight of the Apollo spacecraft, was the firsttime that spacecraft built by different nations had docked. Itstarted era of cooperation between the Russians and theAmericans that is now an essential part of our efforts tobuild a permanently occupied space station.The American crew included three-flight veteran ThomasStafford, rookie Vance Brand, and the last of the originalseven Mercury astronauts to make it into orbit, Donald K."Deke" Slayton. The Soviet crew included the first spacewalker, Alexei Leonov, and rookie Valeri Kubasov. Theastronauts and cosmonauts met in the doorway of the dockedmodules, shook hands, exchanged flags and gifts and conversedbriefly using a prepared script as neither group were bi-lingual. The potted trees that they exchanged, were laterplanted in each others countries.It would be six long years before another American astronautwould go into space, this time aboard the reusable SpaceShuttle. The Apollo era, an era of the greatest achievementsin mankinds history, had ended.Early 2010 saw the last flight of the Space Shuttle series. Asthese workhorses have aged, the risks of these flights hasrisen and now more modern forms are being designed ad built. ***I’d like to end this story with another small part of the AREGhistory that I believe deserves to be told. Not long after thenews of the Russian launching of “Sputnik”, the members of the
  21. 21. AREG were asked to set up a special observation unit in SouthAfrica that would be used to monitor the orbits of “Sputnik”.Much to the world’s surprise the Russians launched Sputnik 1on October 4th, 1957. It orbited the earth over 1,400 timesuntil its batteries failed and the then familiar beep, beep,beep disappeared and eventually on January, 4th, 1958 itburned up after re-entering the earths atmosphere. I wasn’t aparticularly impressive device being only 23 inches indiameter and weighing only 184 pounds (83.6 kg) but it was thefirst artificial satellite launched into space. Sputnik 2 waslaunched a month later. It contained the dog Laika whoeventually gave its life to science, not unlike our littlewhite mouse. These satellites surprised and alarmed the Westand shortly after their launch there was a mad scramble to getsome order into understanding the orbit of these objects. Thisis how we became involved.On one Friday morning before the end of October, a woodencrate arrived from the USA. We were to collect it at theairport. “Priority” and “Fragile, Scientific Equipment” wasstamped all over it. Using a borrowed trailer, we carefullytransported it to the Scout Hall that we used for ourmeetings. The lid was lifted and inside the bundles ofpackaging there were 6 or 8 pieces of apparatus that lookedlike shortened telescopes with a mirror attached. I can’trecall exactly, but I think that the material said that theycame from Project Moonwatch.“Read this First” stated the instructions. The envelopeincluded a list of instructions and a diagram of how we wereto construct a viewing platform. Essentially this was a“bench” with seating for, I think, six or eight people. Eachpiece of the apparatus had to be attached and calibrated. Atimber beam was procured the next morning and the apparatuswere attached to the bench beam at carefully measureddistances. This meant that when the members sat astride thebench, each of us could view a segment of the night sky. Eacheye piece/telescope had a slightly different setting covering4 degrees of the sky and making an arc of the sky north tosouth. By mid-afternoon the construction was completed and wewere given our briefing of what was expected as the sun wentdown.There was an air of great excitement. We’d lived on coffee andsandwiches all day. Now these were forgotten. Our membersscanned the night sky. We knew that the satellite was visiblewith the naked eye but at this point, we did know when itwould turn up. “There it is”, someone yelled. We crouchedlower over our strange little telescopes. There was silence asthe seconds ticked by. We held our breaths not daring tobreath. We had our synchronised stop watches at the ready. Asthe satellite passed through the visual field of one of our
  22. 22. members, he clicked his stop watch and yelled out “contact”.Everybody cheered and we all stood up and embraced feeling theexcitement of this momentous occasion. We were so excited tobe a part of the quest to reach the stars. A small part.Probably in 2010 terms an insignificant part but that was nothow it was, then. In 1957, this was the only “technology” thatcould provide the needed answers and we like many otheramateur observation groups around the world played a small butvital role.Soon this observation and recording became a nightly event anda roster was set up. Some nights, we recorded two circuits.The circuit time was 96 minutes. Some nights the view wasblocked by a cloud cover. But night after night we recordedthe information. It was telexed to somewhere in the USA.Sputnik 2 followed and we kept up our observations for aboutfour or five months after which I think more a sophisticatedsystem of observation was put in place. I don’t know whathappened to the apparatus but in 2005 I was surprised to seeone of these same units on display at the National ScienceMuseum in Canberra, Australia. Clearly we were not alone inour endeavours.I tell this story because it illustrates just how primitivethings were in those early days. It’s almost unbelievable butyes it did happen and in some very small way helped to get usto where we are today – still “reaching for the stars”. @@The End@@ For more information: Marco Polo Press Sydney, Australia and San Mateo, California, USA www.marcopolopress.comBy the same author:Paperback: Following Marco Polo’s Silk RoadSecond Edition Published February 2010Paperback: 344 pagesISBN: 978-1-43924-942-0Also available as an eBookList of eBooks
  23. 23. Straw Hats and Bicycles Travels in Vietnam and CambodiaCruising the Inside Passage AlaskaAbove the Arctic CircleThe Grand Canyon and BeyondRockets, mice and menSilk Road eBook SeriesJourney from VeniceSyria and Jordan AdventuresChina Silk Road AdventuresSecrets of the Terracotta WarriorsJourney to Lhasa TibetIstanbul and Travels in TurkeyBeijing City of EmperorsThe Golden Road to SamarkandTravelling in Rajasthan by TaxiTravels in North Western Pakistan and KalashiaThe I Love Lukla ClubSouth America eBook SeriesMachu Picchu and the IncasCruising Cape Horn and PatagoniaThe Secrets of Easter IslandBrazil Beaches and WaterfallsUpcoming TitlesGrand Canyon and BeyondHawaii AlohaNew Zealand The Land of the Great White CloudCruising New ZealandCruising South PacificBeautiful Villages of EnglandVienna ExploredPrague Explored These are products of Marco Polo Press Offices in Sydney, Australia and San Mateo, California, USA A company dedicated to providing books for people who enjoy travelling and reading about travel and history.About the AuthorBrian Lawrenson was born in Yorkshire, brought up in PortElizabeth, South Africa. After hitch-hiking round UK andEurope in the 1960s he met and married his New Zealand bornwife, Jill, in London and migrated to Australia in 1968. Sincethen they have travelled to more than 70 countries.Apart from travels in the Australia, including the Red Centre;they have explored New Zealand; visited the Islands of thePacific; journeyed through the Middle East, across CentralAsia and China; criss-crossed Canada and stayed in the remoteResolute Bay; discovered the beauty of over 20 states of the
  24. 24. USA; exploring the Inca trails of South America and cruisedround Cape Horn; and visited many of the countries of the FarEast including Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. And lots more.Brian and Jill live in their favourite city, Sydney.Brian Lawrenson is a traveller, writer, speaker and the authorof Following Marco Polo’s Silk Road. He is also runs thesmall independent publishing house Marco Polo Press. MarcoPolo Press is a member of the Independent Book PublisherAssociation (IBPA). Brian Lawrenson is a member of theAustralian Society of Authors and a number of Travel WritersAssociations. He has been featured on TV, Radio, in magazinesand local newspapers. ## The End of the eBook ##