All posts in “space”

If Only…



Twenty-eight years ago this morning our hearts were broken…



“That’s One Small Step for A Man…” Neil Alden Armstrong (1930-2012)

Sad word today that Neil Armstrong – Naval Aviator, test pilot and first man on the Moon, has passed.  Neil Armstrong typified the “quiet professional” whose coolness in extremis events were exemplified in flying the X-15 and especially so on orbit as commander of Gemini VIII when things suddenly went very, very wrong (@ the 8:12 point).  That same coolness during an emergency and quiet, detailed approach to problem solving were key factors in his selection as mission commander for Apollo 11.  He was, in a manner of speaking, the antithesis of the silver screen’s version of the test pilot, and reveled in his engineering nerdiness – “I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer.”  That same quiet professionalism characterized his post-astronaut life back on Earth when instead of seeking the spotlight, he took to a lectern instead.

Neil Armstrong—Neil Alden Armstrong (1930- 2012 )  was born on 5 August 1930 on his grandparents’ farm near Wapakoneta, Ohio, to Stephen and Viola Armstrong. Because Armstrong’s father was an auditor for the state of Ohio, Armstrong grew up in several communities, including Warren, Jefferson, Ravenna, St. Marys, and Upper Sandusky, before the family settled in Wapakoneta.

Armstrong developed an interest in flying at age two, when his father took him to the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio. His interest intensified when he went for his first airplane ride in a Ford Tri-Motor, a “Tin Goose,” in Warren, Ohio, at age six. From that time on, he claimed an intense fascination with aviation.  At age 15, Armstrong began taking flying lessons at an airport north of Wapakoneta, working at various jobs in town and at the airport to earn the money for lessons in an Aeronca Champion airplane. By age 16, he had his student pilot’s license—before he even passed his automobile driver’s test and received that license and before he graduated from Blume High School in Wapakoneta in 1947.   Immediately after high school, Armstrong received a scholarship from the U.S. Navy. He enrolled at Purdue University and began his studies of aeronautical engineering. In 1949, the Navy called him to active duty, where he became an aviator, and in 1950, he was sent to Korea. There he flew 78 combat missions from the aircraft carrier USS Essex.

After mustering out of the Navy in 1952, Armstrong joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). His first assignment was at the NACA’s Lewis Research Center, near Cleveland, Ohio. For the next 17 years, he was an engineer, test pilot, astronaut, and administrator for NACA and its successor agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  In the mid-1950s, Armstrong transferred to NASA’s Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, where he became a research pilot on many pioneering high-speed aircraft, including the well-known, 4,000 mile-per-hour X-15. He flew over 200 different models of aircraft, including jets, rockets, helicopters, and gliders. While there, he also pursued graduate studies and received a master of science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California.

Armstrong transferred to astronaut status in 1962, one of nine NASA astronauts in the second class to be chosen. He moved to El Lago, Texas, near Houston’s Manned Spacecraft Center, to begin his astronaut training. There he underwent four years of intensive training for the Apollo program to land an American on the Moon before the end of the decade. On 16 March 1966, Armstrong flew his first space mission as command pilot of Gemini VIII with David Scott. During that mission, Armstrong piloted the Gemini VIII spacecraft to a successful docking with an Agena target spacecraft already in orbit. Although the docking went smoothly and the two craft orbited together, they began to pitch and roll wildly. Armstrong was able to undock the Gemini and used the retro rockets to regain control of his craft, but the astronauts had to make an emergency landing in the Pacific Ocean.

As spacecraft commander for Apollo 11, the first piloted lunar landing mission, Armstrong gained the distinction of being the first person to step onto the surface of the Moon. On 16 July 1969, Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin began their trip to the Moon. Collins was the Command Module pilot and navigator for the mission. Aldrin, a systems expert, was the Lunar Module pilot and became the second person to walk on the Moon. As commander of Apollo 11, Armstrong piloted the Lunar Module to a safe landing on the Moon’s surface. On 20 July 1969, at 10:56 p.m. EDT, Neil Armstrong stepped down onto the Moon and made his famous statement, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong and Aldrin spent about 2.5 hours walking on the Moon, collecting samples, doing experiments, and taking photgraphs. On 24 July 1969, the three men splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. They were picked up by the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.

The three Apollo 11 astronauts were honored with a ticker tape parade in New York City soon after returning to Earth. Armstrong received the Medal of Freedom, the highest award offered to a U.S. civilian. Armstrong’s other awards coming in the wake of the Apollo 11 mission included the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, 17 medals from other countries, and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

Armstrong subsequently held the position of Deputy Associate Administrator for Aeronautics, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC, in the early 1970s. In that position, he was responsible for the coordination and management of overall NASA research and technology work related to aeronautics.  After resigning from NASA in 1971, he became a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati and served from 1971 to 1979. During the years 1982 to 1992, Armstrong served as chairman of Computing Technologies for Aviation, Inc., in Charlottesville, Virginia. He then became chairman of the board of AIL Systems, Inc., an electronics systems company in Deer Park, New York. At the time of his passing, Armstrong was living on his farm in Lebanon, Ohio.  (NASA)

Fair winds and following seas … and may you rest in peace.

President Vladimir Putin (right) with General Vladimir Popovkin at the Voronezh Radar Station in a 2007 file photo (ITAR-TASS)

ROSKOSMOS Head on Recent Failures – “…Sabotage”

President Vladimir Putin (right) with General Vladimir Popovkin at the Voronezh Radar Station in a 2007 file photo (ITAR-TASS)

When all else fails – and your butt is on the line with a major PR catastrophe looming, it is best to man-up, square your shoulders and do your duty as organizational lead by assuming responsibility before The Big Guy…unless you are the head of Russia’s ROSKOSMOS space agency.  Then you can hint darkly about “sabotage”

Roscosmos director Vladimir Popovkin’s comments to state-backed daily “Izvestiya” echo a recent allegation by a retired Russian general who said a U.S. radar in Alaska might have emitted an electromagnetic burst to disable a mission to probe Mars’ moon Phobos in November.
“It’s not clear why our setbacks often occur when the vessels are traveling through what for Russia is the ‘dark’ side of the Earth — in areas where we don’t see the craft and don’t receive its telemetry readings,” Popovkin reportedly told “Izvestiya.” “I don’t want to blame anyone, but today there are some very powerful countermeasures that can be used against spacecraft whose use we can’t exclude.”

Never mind the fact that sloppy manufacturing, nonexistent quality assurance, much less configuration management might perhaps to be to blame?  Nope – easier to blame it on nefarious doings over on the dark side of the Bering Strait…

Just as the star-crossed BULAVA SLBM suffered a series of test failures stemming from absent quality controls and poor engineering design that caused a series of upper stage failures (finally corrected after a detailed autopsy of the design and manufacturing process), the PHOBOS-GRUNT mission was doomed by last minute modifications that were not part of the original design, poorly executed and with little, if any risk management applied.  The net result — when it came time to position the spacecraft to burn the thrusters setting it on path to Mars, they failed to start.  The satellite began to drift and when it was unable to orient itself to allow the solar panels to provide power to the spacecraft, it became so much space junk.  $5B rubles worth of space junk with over 7 tons of highly toxic nitrogen tetroxide and hydrazine used as fuel – and no means to conduct an intercept like the US did in 2008.  So, in a few days when Doc Newton is proven right (again) and Phobos-Grunt re-enters the atmosphere, there is a very real possibility some larger pieces may survive and make it all the way to the ground with the potential for property damage and personal injury.  The good news, if one wants to call it that, is that unlike that 2008 satellite which had been on orbit long enough for the hydrazine to freeze solid (and thereby improve chances of survival on re-entry), the odds are that isn’t in play here and most of the really toxic stuff will burn up in the upper atmosphere.

Still, in light of the other very public failures of multiple launches last year – including a failed ISS re-supply mission that forced a reduction in manning for the space station, questions are mounting regarding the direction and management of Russia’s space program, from outside as well as within:

In late November, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev hinted at the “need to carry out a detailed review” of the space program’s problems “and punish those guilty.”

Given that Popovkin’s appointment came about when his predecessor was fired over a failed SATCOM launch and in light of Medvedev’s hints of further punishments, perhaps it is understandable that the old chestnut of “sabotage” is trotted out – but the track record isn’t so good for others that have tried:

They were all disloyal. I tried to run the ship properly by the book, but they fought me at every turn. If the crew wanted to walk around with their shirttails hanging out, that’s all right, let them! Take the towline – defective equipment, no more, no less. But they encouraged the crew to go around, scoffing at me and spreading wild rumors about steaming in circles and then ‘Old Yellowstain.’ I was to blame for Lieutenant Maryk’s incompetence and poor seamanship. Lieutenant Maryk was the perfect officer, but not Captain Queeg. Ah, but the strawberries! That’s, that’s where I had them. They laughed at me and made jokes, but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, and with, with geometric logic, that, that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox did exist. And I would have produced that key if they hadn’t pulled the Caine out of action. I, I know now they were only trying to protect some fellow officer. (He pauses – looks at all the questioning faces that stare back at him, and realizes that he has been ranting and raving.) Naturally, I can only cover these things from memory… (Caine Mutiny)

Vlad, in the interest of post-Cold War relations and the big red reset button, allow me to offer another time honored excuse rational explanation:

Yep — gremlins

Flightdeck Friday Special Edition: The Space Shuttle – Thirty Years of Dreams, Sweat and Tears

The dream was given form and fire on April 12, 1981 with the launch of STS-1, the world’s first reusable spaceplane — the Shuttle Columbia. At the controls were a crew of only two, Astronauts John W. Young, commander for the mission, and Robert Crippen (both Naval Aviators) for this first “test flight” which would last 54 hours and recover at Edwards AFB in a powerless glide. Thirty years later we are on the eve of one of two remaining flights for the shuttle fleet. Waiting in the wings, still under development is an evolutionary outgrowth of the Apollo program – a conical spacecraft launched on a partially expendable booster to carry astronauts to the ISS and return via a water landing. An underwhelming development — back to the future, as it were. The intervening years have seen extraordinary triumph and unyielding pain as the human experience was painted across the cosmos. American ingenuity and enterprise given form and function. Born of a merger of the idealism of space exploration and hard realities of the Cold War, the Shuttle was supposed to take the extraordinary efforts of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs and turn it into a regular occurrence.

And it almost did – twice.

Each time though, we were reminded again of the terrible toll exacted when boundaries are pushed and knowledge expanded; while a system’s fundamental flaws were revealed, forcing an endgame determination. Still, along the way a semi-permanent habitat was built in low Earth orbit, satellites launched to look deep into space and give us new perspectives on Earth and scientific and industrial experiments performed.

But in 1981, that all lay in the future and now – now the Dream is given fire and form:

Article Series - Centenary of Naval Aviation (1911-2011)

  1. Flightdeck Friday: Smoke and the Battle of Midway
  2. Flightdeck Friday: RF-8 Crusaders and BLUE MOON
  3. Flightdeck Friday: Midway POV – Wade McClusky
  4. Flightdeck Friday: 23 October 1972 and The End of Linebacker I
  5. Former VFP-62 CO and DFC Recipient, CAPT William Ecker, USN-Ret Passes Away
  6. CAPT John E. “Jack” Taylor, USN-Ret.
  7. Flightdeck Friday: USS MACON Added to National Register of Historical Places
  8. Tailhook Association and Association of Naval Aviation
  9. Flightdeck Friday: Speed and Seaplanes – The Curtiss CR-3 and R3C-2
  10. Flightdeck Friday: A Family Remembers a Father, Naval Officer and Former Vigilante B/N
  11. Out of the Box Thinking and Execution 68 Years Ago: The Doolittle Raid
  12. The ENTERPRISE Petition – A Gentle Reminder
  13. USS Enterprise (CVAN/CVN-65) At Fifty
  14. A Golden Anniversary: The Hawkeye At 50
  15. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy
  16. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part II)
  17. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part III)
  18. Reflections on the E-2 Hawkeye’s 50th Anniversary
  19. An Open Letter to “The 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation Foundation”
  20. U.S. Naval Aviation – 100 Years
  21. Doolittle’s Raiders: Last Surviving Bomber Pilot of WWII Doolittle Raid, Dies at 93
  22. More Naval Aviation Heritage Aircraft (But Still No Hawkeye)
  23. Naval Aviation Centennial: Neptune’s Atomic Trident (1950)
  24. Naval Aviation Centennial: One Astronaut, A Future Astronaut and Reaching for New Heights
  25. Flightdeck Friday Special Edition: The Space Shuttle – Thirty Years of Dreams, Sweat and Tears
  26. Flightdeck Friday – Postings from the Naval Aviation Museum
  27. Saturday Matinee: US Naval Aviation – the First 100 Years
  28. National Museum of Naval Aviation – Some Thoughts and A Call to Action
  29. Flightdeck Friday – 100 Years of Naval Aviation and the USCG
  30. Guest Post: THE U.S. NAVY’S FLEET PROBLEMS OF THE THIRTIES — A Dive Bomber Pilot’s Perspective
  31. This Date in Naval Aviaiton History: Sept 18, 1962 – Changing Designators
  32. Centennial Of Naval Aviation – The Shadow Warriors

Flightdeck Friday: STS-133 & Last Flight for Shuttle Discovery

The oldest and perhaps most storied of the shuttle fleet, Discovery launched on her final mission today to deliver a final module to the U.S. segment of the International Space Station, the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module, as well as the first humanoid robot to fly in space, Robonaut2. Named for the ships used by Henry Hudson and James Cook, Discovery launched on her maiden flight 30 Aug 1984. Since that launch, no other shuttle – or spacecraft, has flown to space more (39 launches counting today) or carried more crew members to orbit (246 before today). Among her missions were many notable firsts — first satellite retrieved from orbit and returned to Earth on its second mission (TELESAT-H & SYNCOM IV-1 which had malfunctioned on-orbit), flew the first Russian cosmonaut on a US spacecraft (STS-60), first rendezvous with the Russian space station, MIR (STS-63) and was the last shuttle to dock with MIR (STS-91), reached the highest altitude for a shuttle in low Earth orbit (STS-82), and first ISS crew rotation (STS-102). More importantly, Discovery was the shuttle that returned America to space following the loss of the Challenger and Columbia…

Total miles traveled: 142,917,535; Total days in orbit: 351; (8,441 hours, 50 minutes, 41 seconds); Total orbits: 5,628 (all pre-STS-133). All in all, quite a ride.

And so as I await Discovery’s safe return to Earth and eventual emplacement in a museum, and as the remainder of the fleet is phased out and decommissioned over the course of the next year, I wonder how long it will be before we return to space on an American launcher.

2015? 2018? 2020?

Wonder what the odds are in Vegas on that…

(all images courtesy NASA)

US Space Program: Lost in Place?

Symbol for the Chinese Lunar Program officeWhat is the mission of NASA?

No — Seriously, what is NASA’s mission?

Is it to be the lead Agency for exploration in the fields of aeronautics and space?  Discovering new technologies, opening new vistas of engineering and scientific knowledge for further exploration and utilization by US industry and the free nations of the world?

Or is it a high-tech outreach group?

Led by a failure in vision from the Oval Office and Congress stretching back for at least the past 20 years, NASA has stumbled its way from one intermediary goal to another.  The Agency that laid and executed bold plans for manned exploration of LEO and the Moon and robotic missions of breathtaking risk to the outer planets has seen its preeminent position in cutting edge aeronautics overtaken and its manned programs turned into little more than a USPS run to the ISS every few or more months (and even that ceases at the end of this year maybe next year).

Challenged to expand its vision and at least get us back to where we once went, the best the Agency could do was come up with Apollo on steroids.  And even that wouldn’t have us in a position to go back to the Moon, much less Mars before 2025.

Well, fear not.  If NASA is too busy on feel-good outreach projects to bother with the hard stuff of exploration of the New Frontier, there are others more than ready to pick up the mantle:

On the occasion of the Global Lunar Conference (GLUC) organized by the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) and the Chinese Society of Astronautics (CSA), held form 31 May to 3 June in Beijing, China preseted a certain number of elements of its program of robotic and manned exploration of the Moon and Mars.  The lunar program includes three phases.  The first (2002-2007) included the Chang’e-1 orbiter.  The second (2008-2013) includes Chang’e-2 next October (test of descent maneuvers from a 100 km orbit), Chang’e-3 in 2013 (lander and rover, to operate for three months on the surface), and Chang’e-4 ( a back-up for Chang’e-3) The third phase (2014-2020) involves return of samples with Chang’e-5.  This latter would be launched by an LM-5 (Long March-5 SLV – SJS)This will lay the foundation for the future manned lunar mission by 2025.

— “China Unveils Its Lunar Program,” Air & Cosmos (French lang.) July 2010. (subscription)

Also cited were India’s joint and solo programs as well as those of the Russians, Japanese and South Koreans.

It wasn’t always like this — Americans loved (and I pray still do) a challenge, one where the stakes and the risks are great — and the reward greater:

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say the we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours. . . We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Some were willing to stake their all:

It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.

while acknowledging the lesser degree of surety of reward at journey’s end:

To be sure, all this costs us all a good deal of money. This year’s space budget is three times what it was in January 1961, and it is greater than the space budget of the previous eight years combined. That budget now stands at $5,400 million a year–a staggering sum, though somewhat less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars every year. Space expenditures will soon rise some more, from 40 cents per person per week to more than 50 cents a week for every man, woman and child in the United Stated, for we have given this program a high national priority–even though I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us.

But a nation mindful of its exceptional place in history, would do no less than that which is bold:

. . . if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon. . .on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, . . .and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.

President John F. Kennedy, 12 Sept 1962

Assuming we had leaders with vision, boldness and an ability to get things done:

As the leading space-faring nation, the United States is committed to addressing these challenges. But this cannot be the responsibility of the United States alone. All nations have the right to use and explore space, but with this right also comes responsibility. The United States, therefore, calls on all nations to work together to adopt approaches for responsible activity in space to preserve this right for the benefit of future generations.
From the outset of humanity’s ascent into space, this Nation declared its commitment to enhance the welfare of humankind by cooperating with others to maintain the freedom of space.
The United States hereby renews its pledge of cooperation in the belief that with strengthened international collaboration and reinvigorated U.S. leadership, all nations and peoples—space-faring and space-benefiting—will find their horizons broadened, their knowledge enhanced, and their lives greatly improved.

US National Space Policy, June 2010

And Then There Were Two…

Atlantis Lifts Off

Space shuttle Atlantis lifted off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the STS-132 mission to the International Space Station at 2:20 p.m. EDT on May 14. The third of five shuttle missions planned for 2010, this was the last planned launch for Atlantis. The Russian-built Mini Research Module-1, also known as Rassvet, or “dawn,” will be delivered and it will provide additional storage space and a new docking port for Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft. The laboratory will be attached to the bottom port of the station’s Zarya module. The mission’s three spacewalks will focus on storing spare components outside the station, including six batteries, a communications antenna and parts for the Canadian Dextre robotic arm.

Image Credit: NASA

When Atlantis returns from her last mission, there will remain only Discovery and Endeavor as operational shuttles — and each with only one flight left this year.  After that — we buy our way to the space station we led the way on construction and funding.  $55.8 million per seat to those moguls of capitalism, the Russians, who seizing the opportunity promoted by supply/demand, raised the price per seat to that level form the 26 million we currently pay.  In the meantime, the command module for the now defunct Constellation program is being looked at for a lifeboat mission off the ISS.  And an American man-rated booster is now what, 5, 10 years off?

It is enough to make a grown man weep:

And speaking of former spaceflight capabilities or the promise thereof:

Five years is a long time where spaceflight is concerned — especially when the competition is beating your brains out using your money:

and a newcomer has plans for the Moon:

Back to the Future: LRO Images Apollo 11’s Landing Site

Apropos that on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the landing on the Moon, the latest US visitor and (hopefully) precursor to our return via the Constellation program, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter imaged the location in Mare Tranquilis that was the site of Apollo 11’s landing (click on image to enlarge):

Tranquility Base, 17 July 2009

Note the object in the middle of the yellow box — that is the descent stage of the Eagle, left behind when Armstrong and Aldrin returned to the orbiting Command Module, Columbia, with Michael Collins still onboard:



Footprints on the moon — as seen from orbit (Apollo 14 landing site):


(click on image for larger view)

Flightdeck Friday: Apollo 11 Forty Years Later

316810main_08718NSA Logo_with_border-CMYK GPN-2001-000012

20 July 1969

102:42:08 Duke: Roger. Copy. (Pause) Eagle, Houston. You’re Go for landing. Over.
102:42:13 Armstrong (on-board): Okay. 3000 at 70.
102:42:17 Aldrin: Roger. Understand. Go for landing. 3000 feet.

102:42:19 Duke: Copy.
102:42:19 Aldrin: Program Alarm. (Pause) 1201
102:42:24 Armstrong: 1201. (Pause) (On-board) Okay, 2000 at 50.
102:42:25 Duke: Roger. 1201 alarm. (Pause) We’re Go. Same type. We’re Go.
102:42:31 Aldrin: 2000 feet. 2000 feet.
102:42:33 Armstrong: (On-board) (With some urgency in his voice, possibly as he sees West Crater) Give me an LPD (angle).
102:42:34 Aldrin: Into the AGS, 47 degrees.
102:42:35 Duke: Roger.
102:42:37 Armstrong (on-board): (Confirming Buzz’s LPD readout) 47. That’s not a bad looking area. (Garbled) Okay. (Pause) 1000 at 30 is good. What’s LPD?
102:42:41 Duke: Eagle, looking great. You’re Go. (Long Pause) Roger. 1202. We copy it.
102:43:01 Aldrin: 35 degrees. 35 degrees. 750. Coming down at 23 (feet per second).
102:43:07 Armstrong (on-board): Okay.
102:43:07 Aldrin: 700 feet, 21 (feet per second) down, 33 degrees.
102:43:10 Armstrong (on-board): Pretty rocky area.
102:43:11 Aldrin: 600 feet, down at 19.
102:43:15 Armstrong (on-board): I’m going to…
102:43:16 Aldrin: 540 feet, down at…(LPD angle is) 30. Down at 15. (Pause)
102:43:26 Aldrin: Okay, 400 feet, down at 9 (feet per second). 58 (feet per second) forward.
102:43:32 Armstrong (on-board): No problem.
102:43:33 Aldrin: 350 feet, down at 4.
102:43:35 Aldrin: 330, three and a half down. (Pause)
102:43:42 Aldrin: Okay, you’re pegged on horizontal velocity.
102:43:46 Aldrin: 300 feet (altitude), down 3 1/2 (feet per second), 47 (feet per second) forward. Slow it up.
102:43:52 Aldrin: 1 1/2 down. Ease her down. 270.
102:43:58 Armstrong: Okay, how’s the fuel?
102:44:00 Aldrin: Eight percent.
102:44:02 Armstrong (on-board): Okay. Here’s a…Looks like a good area here.
102:44:04 Aldrin: I got the shadow out there.
102:44:07 Aldrin: 250 (feet altitude), down at 2 1/2, 19 forward. (Pause)
102:44:13 Aldrin: Altitude-velocity lights.
102:44:16 Aldrin: 3 1/2 down, 220 feet, 13 forward. (Pause)
102:44:23 Aldrin: 11 forward. Coming down nicely.
102:44:25 Armstrong (on-board): Gonna be right over that crater.
102:44:24 Aldrin: 200 feet, 4 1/2 down.
102:44:26 Aldrin: 5 1/2 down.
102:44:29 Armstrong (on-board): I got a good spot (garbled).
102:44:31 Aldrin: 160 feet, 6 1/2 down.
102:44:33 Aldrin: 5 1/2 down, 9 forward. You’re looking good.
102:44:40 Aldrin: 120 feet.
102:44:45 Aldrin: 100 feet, 3 1/2 down, 9 forward. Five percent (fuel remaining). Quantity light.
102:44:54 Aldrin: Okay. 75 feet. And it’s looking good. Down a half, 6 forward.
102:45:02 Duke: 60 seconds (of fuel left before the ‘Bingo’ call).
102:45:04 Aldrin: (Velocity) light’s on.
102:45:08 Aldrin: 60 feet, down 2 1/2. (Pause) 2 forward. 2 forward. That’s good.
102:45:17 Aldrin: 40 feet, down 2 1/2. Picking up some dust.
102:45:21 Aldrin: 30 feet, 2 1/2 down. (Garbled) shadow.
102:45:25 Aldrin: 4 forward. 4 forward. Drifting to the right a little. 20 feet, down a half.
102:45:31 Duke: 30 seconds (until the ‘Bingo’ call).
102:45:32 Aldrin: Drifting forward just a little bit; that’s good. (Garbled) (Pause)
102:45:40 Aldrin: Contact Light.
102:45:43 Armstrong (on-board): Shutdown
102:45:44 Aldrin: Okay. Engine Stop.
102:45:45 Aldrin: ACA out of Detent.
102:45:46 Armstrong: Out of Detent. Auto.
102:45:47 Aldrin: Mode Control, both Auto. Descent Engine Command Override, Off. Engine Arm, Off. 413 is in.
102:45:57 Duke: We copy you down, Eagle.
102:45:58 Armstrong (on-board): Engine arm is off. (Pause) Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.
102:46:06 Duke: (Momentarily tongue-tied) Roger, Twan…(correcting himself) Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot. (Source: NASA Official Transcript)

It began life as a rough model constructed of paperclips and wood. It was the first true spaceship, designed for operations exclusively outside the Earth’s atmosphere. It had a 100% mission completion rate and on one flight, was the slender thread that brought three astronauts back safe to Earth. It was built by the legendary Grumman Ironworks at Bethpage New York. It was the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) later known as just the Lunar Module or LM. And thirty-eight years ago today, it was the vehicle that put the first men on the Moon.

Early in the decision-making process of how to get to the moon, two concepts were being considered – direct ascent to the moon or Earth-Orbit Rendezvous (EOR). In the first case, the moon landing would be accomplished by a single vehicle, shedding stages along the way. This would have required enormous lift capability (the Nova rocket) for launch from Earth and still have considerable mass for the return launch from the Moon. Alternately, EOR would launch components into Earth orbit where they would be assembled into a single vehicle which again, would land on the Moon. Like direct ascent, it would also have a substantial mass to both safely land on the Moon and launch to return to Earth. A guerilla-approach by supporters of the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR) eventually gained acceptance. One Saturn V would launch a spacecraft that was composed of modular parts. A command module would remain in orbit around the moon, while a lunar module would descend to the moon and then return to dock with the command module while still in lunar orbit. In contrast with the other plans, LOR required only a small part of the spacecraft to land on the Moon, thereby minimizing the mass to be launched from the Moon’s surface for the return trip. Now it was just a matter of designing the lunar lander…

The LEM contract was given to Grumman Aircraft Engineering and a number of subcontractors. Grumman had begun lunar orbit rendezvous studies in late 1950s and again in 1962. In July 1962 eleven firms were invited to submit proposals for the LEM. Nine did so in September, and Grumman was awarded the contract that same month. The contract cost was expected to be around $350 million. There were initially four major subcontractors — Bell Aerosystems (ascent engine), Hamilton Standard (environmental control systems), Marquardt (reaction control system) and Rocketdyne (descent engine).

The primary guidance, navigation and control system (PGNCS) on the LM was developed by the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory. The Apollo Guidance Computer was manufactured by Raytheon. A similar guidance system was used in the Command Module. A backup navigation tool, the Abort Guidance System (AGS), was developed by TRW.

Early configurations of the LEM included a forward docking port as it was believed the LEM crew would be active in docking with the Command /Service Module. Early designs included large curved windows. Configuration freeze did not start until April 1963 when the ascent and descent engine design was decided. In addition to Rocketdyne a parallel program for the descent engine was ordered from Space Technology Laboratories in July 1963, and by January 1965 the Rocketdyne contract was cancelled. As the program continued there were numerous redesigns to save weight (including “Operation Scrape”), improve safety, and fix problems. For example initially the module was to be powered by fuel cells, built by Pratt and Whitney but in March 1965 they were paid off in favor of an all battery design. The initial design had the LEM with three landing legs. Three legs, though the lightest configuration was the least stable if one of the legs were damaged during landing and the most stable, 5, was too heavy. The compromise was four landing legs. As features were dropped for weight consideration, the shape became more angular until it emerged as the LEM we all have come to know and love.

Development of the LM was problematic and by 1966 it was becoming clear to NASA that Grumman was going to have trouble making the very tight delivery timelines to ensure a lunar landing sometime in early 1968 (recall this was before the tragic Apollo 1 fire). Control of in-house costs was fairly efficient, estimates were, however, that by the end of June Grumman would spend $24 million more than its allotted funds. Moreover, since late 1965 Grumman’s scheduling position had been shaky, with delays indicated virtually across the board. In light of these severe overruns, Houston sent representatives to Bethpage to discuss cost-reduction measures. The reviews, lasting a month and a half, culminated in tightened test procedures and performance requirements. To make sure that cost-reduction measures were enforced, Grumman switched from quarterly to monthly meetings with its subcontractors, inviting the appropriate Houston subsystem manager to attend.

Despite these actions, lunar module costs had not leveled off by late spring. In-house cost control and forecasting had also begun to deteriorate, aggravating the problems already encountered. After a ten-day review, a review team reported its findings to company corporate officers and NASA officials with substantial recommendations on program management, costs, subcontractor control, and ground support equipment. To bring about the kind of cost forecasting and control that NASA wanted, Grumman adopted “work packages” – breaking the program down into manageable segments, with strict cost budgets, and assigning managers to ride herd on each package. By linking tasks to manpower, program managers could better judge and control work in progress. This approach was a real departure from the commodity-oriented approach used by Grumman until that time.

On top of the contracting difficulties, the LEM was running into technical and engineering difficulties with the navigation system, the rendezvous radar and the ascent engines. The former were the source of considerable weight gain and yielded questionable performance and reliability. The latter, however, was causing grave concern as test runs had shown tendencies to rough running and excessive nozzle erosion. The problem was eventually solved though by combining efforts by Rocketdyne and Bell into a new engine which subsequently ran exceptionally well. Other challenges were likewise overcome.

The first LM flight was on January 22, 1968 when the unmanned LM-1 was launched on a Saturn IB for testing of propulsion systems in orbit. The next LM flight was aboard Apollo 9 using LM-3 on March 3, 1969 as a manned flight (McDivitt, Scott and Schweickart) to test a number of systems in Earth orbit including LM and CSM crew transit, LM propulsion, separation and docking. Apollo 10, launched on May 18, 1969, was another series of tests, this time in lunar orbit with the LM separating and descending to within 10 km of the surface. The next flight would be the most famous – Apollo 11.

July 19, 1969. Apollo 11 passes behind the Moon and fires its Service propulsion engine in order to enter lunar orbit. In the several orbits that followed, the crew got passing views of their landing site, the southern Sea of Tranquility about 20 km (12 mi) southwest of the crater Sabine D. The landing site was selected in part, because it had been characterized as relatively flat and smooth by the automated Ranger 8 and Surveyor 5 landers, as well as by Lunar Orbiter mapping spacecraft. It was therefore unlikely to present major landing or extra-vehicular activity (EVA) challenges.

July 20, 1969. The lunar module (Eagle), separated from the Command Module (Columbia). Collins, alone aboard Columbia, inspected Eagle as it maneuvered before him to ensure the craft was not damaged. Armstrong and Aldrin used Eagle’s descent engine to right themselves and descend to the lunar surface.
As the landing began, Armstrong reported they were “running long” — Eagle was 4 seconds further along its descent trajectory than planned, and would land miles west of the intended site. The LM navigation and guidance computer reported several unusual “program alarms” as it guided the LM’s descent, taking the crew’s attention from the scene outside as the descent proceeded. In NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas, controller Steve Bales told the flight director that it was safe to continue the descent in spite of the alarms; the computer was merely reporting it was over tasked and that nothing was wrong with the spacecraft. Once Armstrong returned his attention to the view outside it was apparent that the computer was guiding them toward a large crater with rocks scattered around it. Armstrong took manual control of the lunar module at that point, and with Aldrin’s assistance, calling out data from the radar and computer, guided it to a landing at 20:17 UTC on July 20 with about 30 seconds of fuel left. Armstrong’s first words after landing: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

The one of the two remaining flight article LMs is LM-2, found today in the Smithsonian:

Oh, and the Soviets also had their design:

but it went nowhere…

  • Specifications: (Baseline LM)
    • Ascent Stage:
      • Crew: 2
      • Crew cabin volume: 6.65 m³ (235 ft3)
      • Height: 3.76 m (12.34 ft)
      • Diameter: 4.2 m (13.78 ft)
      • Mass including fuel: 4,670 kg (10,300 lb)
      • Atmosphere: 100% oxygen at 33 kPa (4.8 lb/in2)
      • Water: two 19.3 kg (42.5 lb) storage tanks
      • Coolant: 11.3 kg (25 lb) of ethylene glycol/water solution
      • RCS (Reaction Control System) Propellant mass: 287 kg (633 lb)
      • RCS thrusters: 16 x 445 N; four quads
      • RCS propellants: N2O4/UDMH
      • RCS specific impulse: 2.84 kN·s/kg
      • APS Propellant mass: 2,353 kg (5,187 lb)
      • APS thrust: 15.6 kN (3,500 lbf)
      • APS propellants: N2O4/Aerozine 50 (UDMH/N2H4)
      • APS pressurant: 2 x 2.9 kg helium tanks at 21 MPa
      • Engine specific impulse: 3.05 kN·s/kg
      • Thrust-to-weight ratio: 0.34 (in Earth gravity – The thrust was less than the weight on Earth, but enough on the Moon)
      • Ascent stage delta V: 2,220 m/s (7,280 ft/s)
      • Batteries: 2 x 296 Ah silver-zinc batteries
      • Power: 28 V DC, 115 V 400 Hz AC
    • Descent Stage:
      • Height: 3.2 m (10.5 ft)
      • Diameter: 4.2 m (13.8 ft)
      • Landing gear diameter: 9.4 m (30.8 ft)
      • Mass including fuel: 10,334 kg (22,783 lb)
      • Water: 1 x 151 kg storage tank
      • Power: 2 x 296 Ah silver-zinc batteries (secondary system)
      • Propellants mass: 8,165 kg (18,000 lb)
      • DPS thrust: 45.04 kN (10,125 lbf), throttleable to 4.56 kN (1025 lbf)
      • DPS propellants: N2O4/Aerozine 50 (UDMH/N2H4)
      • DPS pressurant: 1 x 22 kg supercritical helium tank at 10.72 kPa.
      • Engine specific impulse: 3050 N·s/kg
      • Descent stage delta V: 2,470 m/s (8,100 ft/s)
      • Batteries: 4 x 400 A·h silver-zinc batteries

GPN-2000-001209 GPN-2001-000014