Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia, and those who sacrifice for the stars

By Phil Plait | January 27, 2011 9:45 am

[Today is the 44th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire, tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of the loss of the Shuttle Challenger, and next week is the 8th anniversary of the loss of Columbia. I wrote the post below four years ago, but it still reflects my feelings today. I have updated it a bit to keep it current, but overall it stands as it did in 2007, on the 40th anniversary of Apollo 1. Once you've read it, I recommend you read a followup I posted, which has a different but also important view on these events.]


On January 27, 1967 — 44 years ago today — a fire swept through the Apollo 1 capsule during a test, killing all three astronauts.

Ed White, Roger Chaffee, and Gus Grissom didn’t have a chance. 17 seconds after the first yell of "fire!", they were dead.

A series of events and circumstances led to the fire. Perhaps the most famous is the pure oxygen atmosphere used in the capsule during the test. Why did NASA do that? The capsule was designed to use a pure O2 atmosphere while in space. Our air on Earth is a mix of nitrogen and oxygen, but this is difficult to use in space. The capsule needed to be as lightweight as possible (to save on fuel), so using a lower cabin pressure (5 pounds/square inch instead of 15 as on the surface of the Earth) means less equipment and therefore less weight, and less need for structural strength in the capsule. However, at lower pressure nitrogen can form bubbles in the blood, causing the condition known as "the bends", which can be crippling or fatal. So, at lower cabin pressure, there cannot be nitrogen in the air. Another gas could be substituted but that only works at higher pressure. The air has to have a certain amount of oxygen in it for the human body to survive, and at lower pressure that means essentially 100% of the air must be O2.

The danger of a fire is very real in space, but the lower pressure and lack of gravity (which means no convection; hot air cannot rise) makes a fire danger with pure O2 in space is no worse than it is on Earth with our air.

But that means the equipment on board that supplies the air can only handle pure oxygen, which in turn means that on the ground they needed to test with pure oxygen. The big difference is, on the ground the pressure is Earth-normal: 15 psi. At this pressure, fire danger is much higher.

A spark is what caused the fire. In the pure O2, it swept rapidly through the capsule. The hatch in the capsule that led outside was designed to open inward, to prevent it from being blown accidentally (which had happened in a real flight in 1961– ironically, Grissom’s Liberty Bell Mercury flight). It had a complicated set of procedures to open, and the astronauts couldn’t get it unlatched in time.

And so they died.

But I’ll take this opportunity to make a point. People die. When they push back frontiers, when they explore, when they stand on the vanguard of what is known and what isn’t, the chances of catastrophe are higher. The best we can do is try as hard as we can to minimize those risks. Of course, the way to make risks absolutely minimized is to go nowhere, do nothing.

That is unacceptable. Ships are safest in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.

NASA, along with a handful of agencies for other countries, want to go back to the Moon, and push back the frontiers even farther to near-Earth asteroids and to Mars. I agree, and know that we must continue on. And, at some point, in some way, we will lose more people. This is inevitable, but it does not mean we should not go.

So remember the names of Grissom, White, Chaffee

… and Komarov

… and Dobrovolski, Patsayev, Volkov

… and Scobee, Smith, McAuliffe, Onizuka, Resnick, McNair, Jarvis

… and Brown, Husband, Clark, Chawla, Anderson, McCool, Ramon

This list will not end. But there are billions of us, billions, whose names are not on this list, yet our lives have been changed forever due to the ones who are.

Per ardua ad astra.


Related posts:

- What value space exploration
- Give space a chance
- 40 years later, failure is still no longer an option
- NASA’s next small step: to an asteroid


CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Space

Comments (77)

  1. Firemancheesehead

    I was in my middle school library at the time, 8th grade, New Smyrna Beach, FL. Someone came in and said the shuttle just blew up. We ran outside, and it was surreal to see the plume, and falling debris. We didn’t do anything the rest of the day at school, we watched the news in every class.

  2. Messier Tidy Upper

    Ships are safest in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.
    NASA, along with a handful of agencies for other countries, want to go back to the Moon, and push back the frontiers even farther to near-Earth asteroids and to Mars. I agree, and know that we must continue on. And, at some point, in some way, we will lose more people. This is inevitable, but it does not mean we should not go.

    ^ That! Yes! Well said & seconded by me. :-)

    We are, I think, far too risk averse these days.

    Without courage and willingness to risk sacrificing ourselves, we go nowhere. :-(

    “We do these things not because they are easy but *because* they are hard.” Said JFK famously. Too durn right.

    He might’ve added : “.. and we risk our lives willingly in so doing these hard things.”

    Apollo came close to losing lives again many times – but was lucky, even with Apollo 13. I wish we saw their like again today. Yegods, how I wish that.

    Alas, far from his famous slogan, when it comes to returning Americans to Earth’s Moon, Obama’s mantra has become : “No, we can’t!”

    .. & you have no idea how much that S***’s & galls me. :-(

    JFK got us to the Moon.

    Obama killed our dreams of returning there.

    That’s how Obama will go down in history, ultimately. That’s what he will be remembered for in a thousand years time.

    And I will never forgive him for that. :-(

    I hope he reads this and hangs his head in shame. (Yeah, I know chances are 99.99999999% that he won’t but I can always hope right?)

    ***

    “The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.”
    - Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Mercury astronaut killed in the ‘Apollo 1’ fire.

    “This [space] is the new ocean and I believe the United States must sail on it and be in a position second to none.”
    - President John F. Kennedy after John Glenn’s first orbits in ‘Friendship-7’ on Feb. 20th 1962.

    “This is surreal, how each grain of moondust falls into place in these little fans, almost like rose petals.”
    - Buzz Aldrin (during his first Moonwalk July 1969), Page 38, ‘Magnificent Desolation’, B. Aldrin, Bloomsbury, 2009.

  3. Elwood Herring

    The HBO series “From Earth To the Moon” did an excellent chapter on the Apollo 1 fire. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  4. CB

    Has it really been 8 years since the Columbia disaster? It still seems so recent.

    What you said about the danger of the frontier and the importance of going anyway is as true today as it was when you wrote it, as it was after Challenger was lost, and as it was after the Apollo 1 disaster. Can you imagine if we had given up Apollo after that?

    I think the most important thing to realize is that everyone who stepped into an Apollo capsule after that, or a Space Shuttle orbiter, was not just aware of the danger at an intellectual level but at the very visceral level of having seen friends and colleagues killed by the very same choice and went anyway. To them, it was worth it to risk their lives.

    So who am I to say otherwise?

  5. Messier Tidy Upper

    And if by a million to one chance Obama does get to read this, I want to tell him *in person* that he is one sorry sack of stinking excrement for that one pathetic, gutless, visionless, hopeless, horrendous decision to scrap the Ares-Consellation Bush Lunar Return Plan without replacing it with another alternative NASA mission plan B or C or D or even Z for getting Americans and Westerners more broadly back to the Moon. :-(

    I don’t care how much it costs. You had enough to bail out the bankrupt banks & afford your healthcare plan that’s going to be repealed anyhow as soon as your one term is up in 2012 and the Republicans take over again. :-(

    You can afford that, you can afford to lift the less than 1% of the US budget that NASA gets in order to get us somehwere special and invest in the future in a way that will restore US pride and position far above how anything else could.

    I don’t care what pitiful excuses you offer.

    In the 1970′s we could travel to the Moon.

    Today we can’t.

    That buck does stop with you, Mr President, you sack of manure. :-(

  6. Peter Davey

    In his award-winning play, “A Man For All Seasons”, Robert Bolt writes of “that happy land that needs no heroes.”

    He did not write of “that happy land that wants no heroes”, or, “that happy land that does very well without any heroes” – possibly because he felt that there was no evidence that any such places had ever existed, or could ever exist.

    I suspect that he is not alone in that view.

  7. CS27

    As for Grissom, White, and Chaffee, I agree with you 100%. Their deaths were a monument to NASA’s arrogance and stupidity at the time, and the lessons, I believe, were well learned. As for the two Shuttle crews, those people were no less brave and their deaths no less tragic, but their missions were so pedestrian and unimaginative by comparison to Apollo. The Space Shuttkle was mediocre 1970s technology constantly being rertrofitted to accomplish tasks fior which it was not well suited. OK, I’ll grant you the Hubble fix was a wonderful accomplishment, but the rest of it – much like the ISS – consisted of entirely self-serving tasks. We’ll send up a bunch of people, put them in danger, see if we can keep them functioning for a specified period of time, then being them home. So what?

  8. Firemancheesehead

    I forgot to add, that WESH, the local NBC affiliate in Orlando will be running a special on the Challeneger tonight at 7pm. The will interview the engineer from Morton Thycol (sp?) who warned NASA not to launch. I’m not sure if WESH will stream it live or not.

  9. CB

    But on the other hand…
    @ #2

    Alas, far from his famous slogan, when it comes to returning Americans to Earth’s Moon, Obama’s mantra has become : “No, we can’t!”

    .. & you have no idea how much that S***’s & galls me. :-(

    Well it shouldn’t.

    We’re talking about the spirit of exploration.

    Returning to the moon in another Apollo-style mission where we put boots on the ground, plant a flag, tool around in a moon-buggy for a while, then leave is not exploration. Okay? Constellation is not exploration. You don’t recreate the spirit of exploration of Apollo by repeating it. You don’t recreate the spirit of exploration of Lewis and Clark by visiting Portland. You dig?

    Obama’s actual plan, assuming it isn’t gutted by Congress’ insistence on keeping a shuttle-derived launcher in the works, is what will enable us to go beyond Apollo. Truly new things are being developed, things that will let us go to the moon and stay there. Got to Mars, and stay there. Actually explore.

    The biggest danger to true space exploration are the people who, like Al Bundy, can’t think beyond the glory of their youth, and whose biggest ambition is to recreate it by doing the exact same thing.

    If they get their way, it is them who I will never forgive. It is them who should hang their heads in shame at their utter failure to understand the true spirit of exploration and adventure.

    Seriously, your own lack of vision has blinded you to the reality of what true vision looks like.

  10. Messier Tidy Upper

    Apollo & the Moon landings were the greatest thing the United States of America ever accomplished.

    They will be what it is remembered for in millennia’s time.

    The human race will know the names of Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin & Neil Armstrong long after every worthless politican – & even JFK – is forgotten.

    That I believe.

    There has not yet been a woman on the Moon.

    Nor yet an astronomer.

    Nor yet a full stay over a Lunar day – or one Earth moon-th.

    No Lunar colony that everyone back in the 1970′s fully expected would be up & running by the mid 1980′s or so.

    There is so very much we have missed out on and NOT done since Apollo 17 landed in 1972, before I was even born.

    Words cannot fully express my disappointment and, yes, anger at this. :-(

  11. CB

    Here’s another take on it, from people who know the most about pushing the frontier because they did it:

    Neil Armstrong wants to go back to the moon in the same sense that Apollo went to the moon, and thinks it’s a terrible shame that we haven’t and aren’t going to do that.

    Buzz Aldrin thinks going to the moon again, or Mars at all, is pointless if it’s a boot-and-flag mission and not the first step of establishing a permanent presence — which Apollo/Constellation isn’t.

    Which one of these two has more vision, wants to push the frontier, wants to truly explore and go beyond what we’ve done rather than engage in a sad recreation of the past?

    Hint: The same one who supports Obama’s plan.

  12. CB

    Apollo & the Moon landings were the greatest thing the United States of America ever accomplished.

    Indeed. And we will never, ever top that if we only repeat it.

    Nor yet a full stay over a Lunar day – or one Earth moon-th.

    No Lunar colony that everyone back in the 1970′s fully expected would be up & running by the mid 1980′s or so.

    Doing that will require more than what can be launched in a single shot. It will require more resources than can be carried with a single lift vehicle. It will require more than Constellation would ever be able to do. It will instead require the techniques and technologies that the new NASA plan is developing.

    The reason everyone expected there to be a lunar colony is because they expected that cost to orbit would decrease (the promise of the shuttle that never panned out), and that techniques for docking, refueling, and assembling ships in orbit would be developed. They expected that we could have factories processing resources in-situ on the Moon so not everything would need to be carried in rockets.

    There is so very much we have missed out on and NOT done since Apollo 17 landed in 1972, before I was even born.

    Words cannot fully express my disappointment and, yes, anger at this.

    I understand your anger, and share it. Yes, there is so much we have not done. And there are a lot of reasons for that, but they’re all in the past. The question for us today is how to we go forward.

    The best plan to actually do those things is not the one that continues the tradition of having giant one-off rocket missions.

    The best plan is the one that actually enables us to go beyond what we’ve already done, and do more.

  13. Elwood Herring

    I fully endorse Messier Tidy Upper in post 12, except I’d go so far as to say that Apollo and the Moon landings were the greatest thing the Human Race ever accomplished. We’ve been going downhill ever since. I do remember the Apollo project, and the news of the fire. I grew up in the 60′s thinking (with good reason at the time) that space travel would be commonplace by 2000. When the Apollo mission was cancelled I was gutted. Up to that point I wanted to be an astronaut myself. I was 15 then.

  14. CB

    Expensive defense-contractor-made heavy lift vehicles will never make space travel commonplace. It’s why it never became commonplace.

    Turning trips to LEO into a commercial commodity is the first step in making it commonplace.

    The recent successful launch of the Falcon 9 with the Dragon capsule, and NASA’s contract with SpaceX to provide cargo and crew transport to the ISS, is the best thing to happen to space travel in 40 years. And people are calling this a travesty. It’s depressing. I just pray these people and their Representatives can’t screw it up too much. :(

  15. Steuard

    I’ve got to share this with a wider audience, and it seems appropriate here. John Roderick of The Long Winters wrote a song called “The Commander Thinks Aloud” in memory of the Columbia crew. It’s a sad and beautiful song, and the video below starts with a performance (with Jonathan Coulton and Paul and Storm) that reduced a ship full of nerds to tears.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siF2JGztdEw#t=142s

  16. Terry

    We are, I think, far too risk averse these days.

    If the Wright brothers were trying to make that first flight today, they’d be sued for public endangerment. Heck, the state might even forbid them from trying to fly ‘for their own good’. Freedom is going out with an entropic whimper of fear against ‘danger’.

  17. Dan I.

    Wow I never really processed that they were that close together (Apollo, Challenger, and Columbia). Maybe NASA should just go on hiatus from late January till about Mid-February.

    But we definitely need to keep pushing the envelope.

  18. Old Rockin' Dave

    After each of these disasters I heard people ask, “Is it worth the risk of lives?”
    There is only one answer. I am sure someone asked that question the first time someone else sat astride a log and paddled it out of sight of the shore.

  19. I was in third grade when the Apollo fire happened. It was such a shock that our HEROES died. A couple of days later -maybe the day of funerals- a political cartoon showed the three in their space suits floating toward heaven. The caption said “Now, they belong to the stars.” That made me start crying all over again.

  20. NAW

    Though I was not alive when the Apollo fire happened. I remember it due to this being my birthday. Kind of harsh but I will admit, thinking of this may have been something that got my mind into science. I read up on what happened and what they did to fix the problems. It was my first look into what all of these other people do at NASA and other places. I knew I was not astronaut material but I can be on of these guys that get them there safely.

  21. Gregg

    Ugh… someone always has to throw in Obama some where. Why not blame him for the failure of Beta tapes or the reason people vote more for American Idol, then the presidency.

    What it boils down to is what some one posted on here about the spirit of exploration. Back during the space race where we were in constant competition with the Soviet Union, no one had a problem with putting money to help and fully back space exploration. You ask the average joe on the street now whether we should contribute to space exploration versus education, health care, or military, space exploration will be kicked to the curb.

    People dont see it as a considerable project. We pour money in to buying the newest iPhone because the one we just bought became worthless. We are willing to fight to the death over things that have become misconstrued or misunderstood, but not for the things that in the end will help us improve life. Much of our technology derived from space exploration. The electronics we have, the materials that make life easier, the technology that makes things work all came from space exploration.

    …unfortunately, in the end, it takes want and money. None of which people are willing to spend… lest there be a reality show about it.

  22. QuietDesperation

    This is what we need.

    [1] Reduce the launch costs to orbit. Without this nothing else will happen. In the top ten priorities for establishing a lasting human presence in space, overcoming Earth’s gravity *cheaply* is numbers 1 through 9. Laser systems, mass drivers or space planes or whatever it takes, you HAVE to get the cost per kilogram down by two orders of magnitude. One order of magnitude will suffice for some next phases, but the goal should be two.

    [1A] Heavy research into interplanetary propulsion, and this includes things only a supervillain would dare fire up on Earth’s surface, but would be a blip in the generally hostile environment of space. Get a trip to Mars down to weeks or even days.

    [2] Establish a major, permanent presence in Earth orbit. By major presence I do not mean the ISS. What I mean is a facility capable of assembling other spacecraft, performing extensive science and housing a good number of wealthy tourists. Sorry, folks, but as with air travel, the wealthy will be in the vanguard. They are willing, so use them as you would any other resource. It’s how things get done in the real world.

    The other spacecraft built on site would be solar power sats, factories for products that can be sold back Earthside for a profit and, yes, vehicles capable of insertion into Lunar orbit.

    [3] *Now* you can start sending people to the Moon. Mission #1 should be to survey locations for a permanent base and assaying local resources. Every mission should have a purpose. We need solid reasons above and beyond “because it’s cool” or flowery (and, sorry, highly debatable) “it’s our destiny” talk. Resources like Helium-3, lunar farside observatories, maybe uranium if fusion doesn’t pan out for a long while, and so on.

    [4] Once you have established humanity on the Moon, then you can start the Mars talk.

    If you accomplish this multistage approach, where you secure each step before moving to the next, I believe a lasting human presence in space is assured.

    If you try to do another “no guts no glory” big single leap back to the Moon for no other reason than “We should! I want to!” then you might make it, maybe even a few times, but I guarantee it’ll implode like Apollo eventually did with no public support, and you’ll be back to square one.

    With all the Presidential talk about “infrastructure” I’d would expect some of you to realize a similar thing is needed if space is ever going to be open to anyone but agents (either direct or proxy) of the government and a small handful of rock stars.

    As for when people ask if it is worth the risk of life, that’s the easiest of all. Simply explain that the risk taking is the decision of the people involved. If others are willing to take the risk, it’s no business of the person asking the question.

  23. Tasha

    I’m sure they themselves wouldn’t have wanted their deaths to stop science and exploration. They knew the risks and still took it willingly and they died honorably, for science and exploration.

    And on a side note to Messier Tidy Upper:
    Your economy is crippling and your country is dealing with bank bailouts, and an almost 10 year war that’s costing billions upon billions of dollars every year and stopping the exploration that you so dearly want and all Obama is trying to do is clean up the mess and make sure your country can survive and if science takes a side note then that happens. The economy in the 60′s war flourishing and they could afford to spend that money on science. Maybe if the war in Afghanistan was a cold one, you would see more development.

  24. Brown

    For the record, in the photo, Ed White (the first American to walk in space) is on the left; Roger Chaffee (who did not make it into space) is on the right; and Gus Grissom (the first American to go into space twice) is in the center.

  25. DrFlimmer

    @ Tasha,

    if I’m not totally mistaken, I think, MTU is from Australia and not the United States. (MTU: correct me, if I’m wrong!)

    @ QuietDesperation

    I agree with you. For the purpose of an actual space-faring human race, we need to take the steps one at a time as you proposed.
    It is worthless to do another “jump’n'flag” run as Apollo. Such money could be better invested in real science, which could eventually lead to better space ships and, thus, to better and longer trips through our neighborhood.

    I like the BBC documentary “Space Odyssey”, where they built a space ship in LEO and started from there to visit the planets. However, these visits were also only “jump’n'flag” runs…..

  26. Apuku

    If we want a manned space program, then chemical rockets are a poor solution. Instead, we should plan to get off the planet with enough resources to do truly useful things. A 10,000 tonne spacecraft with a 6,000 tonne payload is well within our engineering capability; even larger vehicles (millions of tonnes, the size of a city) are probably feasible. Such vehicles would let us explore our entire solar system and actually live in space or on another planet or moon permanently. Launching such a vehicle would result in a some nuclear fallout, but even one launch has the potential to allow the human race to colonize the solar system. Most of the fundamental work for this was done in the 50s by Stanislaw Ulam, Ted Taylor and Freeman Dyson, much of it for Project Orion (you can Google for more info). Sadly, I don’t think it’s likely to happen – politicians and the general populace don’t have the vision.

  27. Scott

    “Ships are safest in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”

    Well said…

  28. BJN

    Human exploration in space is far less important than figuring out how (or if) our species can keep spaceship Earth habitable and hospitable for a technological civilization. Its so much easier here than on any of the worlds we can reasonably dream of visiting, yet we’re failing miserably. Apollo was possible because it was a surrogate for nuclear war. We’re not going to see funding for any project of that kind without the kind of fear-based motivation that launched NASA and the Moon race. Our carbon energy economy should be our new “Sputnik moment” but there’s no “mushroom cloud moment” that’s sufficient to convince conservatives to sacrifice for the common good.

  29. Larry

    #3: The HBO series “From Earth To the Moon” did an excellent chapter on the Apollo 1 fire. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    I came here to comment to say exactly the same thing. It was an emotionally powerful episode and, in my opinion, was the 2nd best episode of the series (after the Apollo 11 episode). The subsequent scene where Frank Borman testifies before Congress had the line of the series when he said “stop this witch hunt and let us go to the moon”.

    Great episode. Great series.

  30. Hrpuffnstuff

    This is the way the world ends This is the way the world ends This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper. ~ T.S. Elliott

  31. Discovery’s “When We Left Earth” also did a great segment on the Apollo mission (although it could have talked a bit more about the fire, IMO.) Still, another great series that I enjoyed very much. The chapters on the Challenger and Columbia tragedies were very powerful.

    While going to the Moon again won’t be “new”, it will still be “exploring.” There’s a lot of Moon we have yet to investigate, and going there would be a way to train for the much more intensive process of going to Mars. There’s a lot we can learn about off-world living still, and the Moon is a heck of a lot closer than Mars…plus if there’s a problem, getting aid there or astronauts back home will be a lot easier. (“Easy” being a relative term here!) The Moon definitely has a place in our spacefaring future…it’s just a matter of when we can commit to it.

  32. Peter B

    Quiet Desperation @ #24 said: “[1] Reduce the launch costs to orbit. Without this nothing else will happen. In the top ten priorities for establishing a lasting human presence in space, overcoming Earth’s gravity *cheaply* is numbers 1 through 9. Laser systems, mass drivers or space planes or whatever it takes, you HAVE to get the cost per kilogram down by two orders of magnitude. One order of magnitude will suffice for some next phases, but the goal should be two.”

    With the greatest of respect, this is no better than the mice deciding that they needed to put a bell on the cat. Without a realistic idea for how costs can be reduced, saying they need to be reduced is worthless. We’re limited here by a combination of physics and chemistry (and perhaps a bit of legality too).

    “[1A] Heavy research into interplanetary propulsion, and this includes things only a supervillain would dare fire up on Earth’s surface, but would be a blip in the generally hostile environment of space. Get a trip to Mars down to weeks or even days.”

    Possibly, but there’s still the issue of delivering this material safely from the Earth up to orbit.

    “[2] Establish a major, permanent presence in Earth orbit. By major presence I do not mean the ISS. What I mean is a facility capable of assembling other spacecraft, performing extensive science and housing a good number of wealthy tourists. Sorry, folks, but as with air travel, the wealthy will be in the vanguard. They are willing, so use them as you would any other resource. It’s how things get done in the real world.”

    Has anyone demonstrated stuff like the construction in zero G of objects which have to be able to survive the stresses of acceleration? Has anyone demonstrated refueling in zero G? If you want to travel to Mars in a few days, these are both issues which need to be resolved.

    “The other spacecraft built on site would be solar power sats, factories for products that can be sold back Earthside for a profit and, yes, vehicles capable of insertion into Lunar orbit.”

    Okay, cautiously.

    “[3] *Now* you can start sending people to the Moon. Mission #1 should be to survey locations for a permanent base and assaying local resources. Every mission should have a purpose. We need solid reasons above and beyond “because it’s cool” or flowery (and, sorry, highly debatable) “it’s our destiny” talk. Resources like Helium-3, lunar farside observatories, maybe uranium if fusion doesn’t pan out for a long while, and so on.”

    Are you suggesting missions at the moment don’t have a purpose? Does that first mission need to be manned? Wouldn’t a fleet of unmanned rovers be cheaper and quicker? Otherwise, I agree exploitation of the Moon must be resource-based.

    “[4] Once you have established humanity on the Moon, then you can start the Mars talk. If you accomplish this multistage approach, where you secure each step before moving to the next, I believe a lasting human presence in space is assured.”

    Possibly. I thought the best way might be to follow the resources – perhaps the asteroid belt or a NEO asteroid might be a better first target…?

    “…As for when people ask if it is worth the risk of life, that’s the easiest of all. Simply explain that the risk taking is the decision of the people involved. If others are willing to take the risk, it’s no business of the person asking the question.”

    I agree that we shouldn’t stop risk-takers if they carry the financial as well as the personal burden, but it’s everyone’s business if there’s taxpayers’ money involved.

  33. I wasn’t even born then. I read Gene Kranz’s book and the section on the Apollo 1 fire was very powerful.

    It has been pointed out that the major redesign of the capsule really put an emphasis on preventing electrical shorts that could cause fires. Apollo 13 had to repower a capsule with quite a bit of condensation on the panels, conditions ripe for a short. The redesign could well have played a role in saving the crew of Apollo 13.

  34. Matt B.

    When I heard about Columbia, someone wondered aloud on the radio whether NASA would even be able to get astronauts anymore. I immediately said (to no one) that they will never run out of volunteers.

  35. mike burkhart

    These accidents are tragic and the loss of life sad.But I think we have to face facts space exploreation is dangerious and people will be killed in it .Just like people lost there lives exploreing the Americas ,the Artic,Antarica and Africa. To risk ones life to explore and bring knowlege is worth it .After all if people had not risk there lives to find out things we would still be in the dark ages thinking the Earth was flat and everything in the universe revolved around it.

  36. #3 Elwood Herring:
    It’s treated even better in Andrew Chaikin’s excellent book, A Man on the Moon, on which the TV series was based.

    #35 Hale-Bopp:
    The redesign almost certainly played a part in saving the Apollo 13 crew!
    As terrible as the Apollo 1 tragedy was, it could have been much worse. Because it happened on the ground, people were at least able to examine the wreckage, figure out exactly what had gone wrong, and then learn from the mistakes to make the spacecraft safer. Had it happened in space ( though as Phil said, that would have been less likely ), it would have been near-impossible to determine the cause.

  37. Christopher Ambler

    Hey, Phil, I took this a few years back.

    http://journalpix.com/Personal/Heroes.jpg

    I call the shot “Heroes.” Hope you enjoy it.

  38. Chris Winter

    Another quote without comment — a memory of a memorial:

    Keith Cowing’s Devon Island Journal 20 July 2003: Arctic Memorials and Starship Yearnings
    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=9821

  39. Messier Tidy Upper

    I apologise for my comments abusing Obama at #7 here.

    I detest Obama’s decision on the Ares-Constellation cancellation which was an appalling error and, I think, an utter betrayal of science and the US national interests and all the whole “audacity of hope – Yes, we can” sloganeering guff B.H. Obama engaged in and promised his supporters. I don’t see any “audacity” or “hope” or “(positive) change” in cancelling the dream of returning Western astronauts to the Moon. No, more than a “dream” – Bush’s Lunar return plan (which, yes, he didn’t fund well enough – The answer = FUND it properly not scrap it!) was a national & international investment that could have returned who knows what positive benefits in terms of new and better technologies, national morale and international presteige. :-(

    I am steaming mad at B. H. Obama over that (yes, still) and I let my emotions get away with me while over-tired and after having a few beers last night. Unfortunately, I got too carried away and was rude and engaged in abusive name-calling in my comment #7 above. These are things I disapprove of & that I chide others for and are errors I seek to avoid committing myself. I should not have called Obama the names I did, I’m not proud of doing that and I apologise for that uncivil comment. I will try hard to be more controlled in my expressions of (I think well justified) anger in future.

    @27. DrFlimmer :

    @ [#25.] Tasha, if I’m not totally mistaken, I think, MTU is from Australia and not the United States. (MTU: correct me, if I’m wrong!)

    You are quite correct DrFlimmer – I am indeed an Aussie.

  40. Joseph G

    @#24 Quiet Desperation: That’s the thing, though – what exactly does the moon have to offer as a base for a colony that justifies the extra orbit/surface transport cost over a space station? My understanding is that the moon has lots of silicates and not much in the way of useful metals? Or maybe I’m missing something.

    Other then that, though, I think your priorities are right on the money.

  41. Messier Tidy Upper

    @25. Tasha :

    And on a side note to Messier Tidy Upper:
    Your economy is crippling and your country is dealing with bank bailouts, and an almost 10 year war that’s costing billions upon billions of dollars every year and stopping the exploration that you so dearly want …

    My nations economy actually isn’t in that bad a shape although it is a much smaller nation with much less available cash & resources than the superpower that is the United States of America. Because as DrFlimmer has correctly pointed out, I’m an Australian not an American! ;-)

    Plus I’m not sure that last statement there is true. The initial breakthroughs in rocketry came in World War II with the V2 and Werner Von Braun’s pioneering if unethical work for the wrong side of that conflict. War, sad but true to say, tends to spur innovation and speeds up development. The Cold War and the goad of the Soviet space rivalry is arguably the main reason why we – as a species – got to the Moon.

    … and all Obama is trying to do is clean up the mess and make sure your country can survive and if science takes a side note then that happens.

    Investing in science is the way out & should be seen as part of the solution not an optional extra that can be cut, methinks.

    The money spent on space exploration, as the BA has pointed out before :

    gets spent right here on Earth!

    Provides employment and an economic boost and improves the national mood
    right here on Earth.
    NASA has less than 1% of the US budget – and delivers an amzing amount of benefits in many ways for that. Science returns and contributes back to society in a way that other money that *does* get wasted does NOT.

    If we have to prioritise then there’s other things that need to go – other areas where money is wasted for no positive national return. Personally, I’d cut *all* government arts & sports funding, scrap the worse than useless UN altogether and cancel all foreign aid assistence to indifferent or hostile foreign nations esp. the likes of China and certainly Pakistan (who have been playing both sides in the war on Jihadist terror) before I’d cut a single dime out of the science and space exploration budgets.

    Obama is, let’s face it, doing a terrible job of “fixing the mess.” Far from fixing things he’s making them worse by for example appeasing the Wests enemies and shunning the closest US allies such as Israel, I could say more here .. much more .. but that’s a whole other controversial topic or twenty so I’ll leave it at that. :-(

    The economy in the 60′s war flourishing and they could afford to spend that money on science. Maybe if the war in Afghanistan was a cold one, you would see more development.

    Or maybe if we’d just nuked Afghanistan & the other rogue Jihadistans down to below sea level and been far harsher and more ruthless instead of being perhaps too fussy over the human rights of bloodthirsty brain-washed Islamists who’d cheerfully behead us all and gloatingly destroy our entire way of life just because of their hatred for everything & anything “unIslamic” (incl., btw., other “moderate” / other sect Muslims) we’d see more development and no more Jihadist activity these days? :roll:

    Not that I’m necessarily recommending that option (I’m really not) but it’s another alternative hypothetical possibility isn’t it? That’s all the stuff of a parallel universe or two though. Fascinating to speculate about but ultimately we’ll never know & it’s a moot point.

    We’ve got the world we’ve got, history’s taken the course it has, we have to deal with it for what it is & work to change it for better now.

    “We can’t afford to spend the money on science?”

    No, that’s totally the *reverse* :

    We can’t afford NOT to spend the money on science and space exploration & development if we’re to have a chance at a better future.

  42. Chris Winter

    I think everyone here understands that the missions in which the men of Apollo 1, the men and women of STS-51L and STS-107 lost their lives were worth the sacrifice. They are specially noteworthy parts of the mission we all share: to advance human capabilities. That advancement was never steady, never safe, and never will be — the bumps can get really bad, as we remember today.

    On the occasion of Columbia’s loss, I wrote:

    Since before the dawn of human history, humankind has lived with harsh limits. Mere survival consumed all the energies of our distant ancestors. Through struggle, across aeons of time, they learned: cooperation in hunting; mastery of fire; language; agriculture; many more skills. And perhaps the greatest thing they learned was not any particular skill, but the drive to acquire skills, to improve their situation, overcoming whatever obstacles they met along the way. Today we reap the benefits of that learning, taking it for granted for the most part. Even the nearer and more clearly recorded achievements, such as the codes of law buttressing our communities, or the discoveries of science that enhance our daily lives, are seldom remarked upon. Thus we often have to be reminded that we — all of us, not just the pioneers of our own time — stand on the shoulders of giants.

    Yet even those who stand on the shoulders of giants can run into trouble when they try to reach a little higher. That truth was driven home to us today when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up over Texas. In striving to “expand the envelope” — to push beyond mastery of the air into the vacuum of space, we encounter new and very harsh limits. Being human, we will make mistakes; and sometimes they will cost us dearly.

    The price will always be high. But advancement will proceed; we will continue pushing those limits. We will lose more pioneers, pause to mourn them, then pick ourselves up and press ahead. We cannot do otherwise, or we lose the future.

    The one thing I hope we will lose is that tendency to complacency and tunnel vision, that damnable willingness to believe despite evidence of trouble that because a bad thing hasn’t happened yet, it never will happen. We desperately need to learn the habit of thinking about alternatives, even unpleasant ones.

  43. Phil

    Thanks for posting this. As a brother of Triangle Fraternity, it’s good to remember the Challenger explosion and our loss of Br. Ellison Onizuka.

  44. Messier Tidy Upper

    @43. Joseph G :

    @#24 Quiet Desperation: That’s the thing, though – what exactly does the moon have to offer as a base for a colony that justifies the extra orbit/surface transport cost over a space station? My understanding is that the moon has lots of silicates and not much in the way of useful metals? Or maybe I’m missing something.

    The Moon does indeed have many things to offer – most importantly I think – *knowledge* and the ability to build up and practice and get experienced at & bring to fruition a whole range of infant technologies! :-)

    Earth’s Moon offers a low-gravity well that is easy to move from on to other worlds. It makes a great relatively nearby testing gound with alien conditions that’s just about on our doorstop astronomically-speaking.

    Selene offers a chance to experiment with means of living off-planet, establishing ecologies off-planet, than can be put to use elsewhere further out into the Black but which we can learn from while still within easy reach of help from home.

    The Moon offers helium-3 a potential fuel of the future that’s worth far more than gold. Our natural satellite is an El Dorado for He-3 mining. :-)

    Luna offers water and resources that can be relatively easily exploited without any concerns for environmental issues or risking other lifeforms. (Mars is probably utterly lifeless but we’re not 100% sure of that even now.)

    The Moon has *space*, plenty of free land to use in all sorts of novel ways, my personal fave being a Farside radio telescope & a few other super-observatories, plenty of potential power sources such as major unhindered solar power during the day and He-3 or nuclear in various modes during the Lunar night. Luna offers lots of opportunities to expand and achive all the firsts – first woman, first astronomer, first nearly everything really – and discover all sorts of things in all sorts of ways and even amazing possibilities for us to play – we can fly in lunar gravity just under our own power, frex.

    Oh & there’s so much more that we’ll probably only realise once we’ve gone there too.

    Travelling to and properly exploring and colonising our Moon is the next logical step forward. Not at the expense of going to Mars or the asteroids, (near Earth & otherwise) or elsewhere in our solar system but as a stepping stone and an aide in doing so as well. :-)

  45. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 43. Joseph G

    .. & anyone else whose wondering why return to the Moon – see also :

    http://www.outofthecradle.net/archives/2008/06/25-good-reasons-to-go-to-the-moon-2/

    &

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/26/AR2005122600648.html

    & this excellent post :

    http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/item_SgnGsjK7xDZ6hAahL6KuFP;jsessionid=A5CEDE6F40808412AF8777FF6B51B419

    “WE NEED A MODERN APOLLO PROGRAM – BIG DREAMS WILL SAVE NASA” [headline] by a very familiar name back on May 17th 2009. 8)

  46. Messier Tidy Upper

    Also in another blog post the same author of the linked NY Post article wrote :

    When I look at the Moon, I see a place where people will one day work, live, breathe, play, and explore. I also see that future receding two years for every year NASA doesn’t have a rocket to go there, and I’ve been watching that movie play for many years now.

    I’m tired of it. When I look out my window now I see a future I’ve been dreaming of my whole life, a future that seems just out of my reach. When my children, my grandchildren, look out their windows in that future, y’know what I want them to see?

    The blue-green crescent Earth hanging in a pitch black sky over a cratered horizon.

    Let’s give space a chance.

    - ‘Give space a chance’, posted on Bad Astronomy blog 2010 January 30th, 1:47 PM

    Exactly! Seconded. Well said there, Dr Phil Plait. :-)

    I know we differ on the exact best policies and craft to get us there, BA. I know you’re a big fan of Obama and his space plan whilst I can’t stand either of them but on *that* paragraph on that goal we are in full agreement. :-)

    [Edited to add] Even if I disagree with a lot else that you wrote there : :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/01/30/give-space-a-chance/

    Also here :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/01/27/rumor-obama-to-axe-ares-and-constellation/

    where I agree completely with this part :

    I think we do need to go back. I also think we can do this even in a recession; the money involved is trivial compared to things like the bank bailouts and the two wars we’re fighting. And this will create jobs, high-tech jobs, employing tens of thousands of people. And don’t give me any baloney about spending the money here on Earth rather in space. That’s a false dichotomy, and totally wrong.

    Plus from another NY Post article that the BA linked to via his own post (‘My NASA OpEd in the New York Post’, May 18th, 2009 7:30 AM) this :

    Here’s how the President can ensure America will continue to lead in space: Restore funding to keep Orion and Ares on track. Make the science and technology investments that will keep the space station’s laboratories humming. Send our explorers not just to the moon, but far beyond. Orion astronauts can explore nearby asteroids, where they will collect samples from the dawn of the solar system, tap valuable space resources, gain the engineering skills to guard our planet against a cosmic impact, and inspire us with views of a breathtakingly distant Earth, five million miles away.

    Our nation needs a new generation of scientists and engineers. We should turn our young people loose to explore the moon, the asteroids and the solar system. This same world-beating corps of explorers will also conquer terrestrial challenges in energy, defense, environmental protection and high-tech competition. [Emphasis added.]

    http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/item_stHwlj6JPCSEggWpIArZFP/1

    Written by the Shuttle astronaut, (NOT the singer), Tom Jones.

  47. DrFlimmer

    @ MTU

    You know, my question is not if we should go some time, but rather how we go.
    And that is one of the major points I strongly dislike about Constellation and the recent language of Congress:

    “The rocket must reuse Shuttle technology…” (more or less)

    How stupid is that? This technology is 30 years old (although some improvements have been made, but still…). Why not built something new? New technology? More efficient technology? You can’t tell me that we haven’t come any further since 1980.

    And that’s my problem: Constellation may have been a plan to go back to the moon. But in what way? Rebuilding the Saturn V would have been as good as that plan of GWB.
    And just keeping Constellation just in order to have a plan at all, regardless of the fact that it was ill-devised, that doesn’t sound like a good plan to me.
    That is why I am all for axing Constellation (the only good thing was the name of the capsule “Orion” — but that’s due to a German science fiction TV series from the 60′ies, where the spaceship was also named Orion).
    Let’s make a new plan, a good plan, with some substance to it that it may last a little longer than just a foot step. Obama’s plan could have been a step towards that. But sadly, Congress is about to kill that one, as well, with its stupid “Shuttle reuse” babble.

    Last year I watched Obama’s speech live on the internet. The plan he presented wasn’t so bad. The problem is, there is almost nothing left since Congress began to “work” on it.

  48. Messier Tidy Upper

    While I’m not impressed by Obama I’m equally unimpressed by this touted alternative – for Sarah Louise Palin’s latest bit of incoherent idiocy see :

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2011/01/too_bad_the_ussr_won_the_space.php?utm_source=mostactive&utm_medium=link

    *FACEPALM*

    & also slightly different but equally full of *facepalm* :

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/01/speaking_of_wtf_moments_heeeee.php

    Via the Pharyngula blog for those who might not already have seen it.

    Not knowing about Sputnik for pity’s sake!?

    To think she might have been one very old man’s heart failure away from the US Presidency. *Shudder* :-(

    I *really* hope the Republicans come up with somebody better than S. L. Palin when they come to choose candidates for 2012.

    Politics; it’s despair inducing. Both sides are so bad. :-(

  49. Messier Tidy Upper

    @50. DrFlimmer :

    Let’s make a new plan, a good plan, with some substance to it that it may last a little longer than just a foot step. Obama’s plan could have been a step towards that.

    New plans? Sure, lets make lot’s of them – but, for pity’s sake, let’s finish the one’s we’re *already* working on first!

    Ares-Constellation, I thought was finally getting somewhere, finally taking tangible, touchable, form rather than just being blueprints and animations and imagination.

    They successfully launched the first – and now only – Ares I-X on the 28th of October 2009.

    To just throw that work away, to stop the program there & go back to the drawing boards again?

    That was an unforgivable, criminal waste of efforts and money and resources! :-(

    We were already committed to Ares-Constellation It was the agreed plan and it was (in my view) waa-ay too late to start chopping &changing plans. Time instead to just build it, fly it and make the best of it while planning for its successor to replace it in due course.

    Where would we be if we’d just thrown all of the Apollo-Saturn plan away in 1967 before the flight of Apollo 7 took place?

    Where will we end up going if *every* goshdurn president cancels his precedessors program?

    Nowhere. Abso-flipping-lutely nowhere that’s where. :-(

    We had a plan, we had a rocket, we should have just got on with it an flown it. Period.

    The time to work on new plans was later after Ares-Constellation has had its fair go.

  50. Donovan

    Coming from Concord, NH, Christa McAuliffe is a local hero. My father was her Sunday School co-teacher. Phil, I ‘invite’ you to visit the planetarium named after her, just a short walk from the State House, and just a longer walk from the high school she taught woman centered history at (‘invite’ in quotes, as i am away from home for school).

    The decision to abandon the Constellation program was of course a good one. NASA doesn’t build rockets. They don’t build capsules. Really, they don’t build much. The building is done by private contractors. Having a contract with the government is a tricky affair. They do levy heavy fines for failing to live up to the contract, and the people with the fining power don’t play politics. But very large contractors can afford very sneaky lawyers.

    Essentially, we’re discussing incentive.

    Government contractors have an incentive to add cost to the project. By having a contract that makes NASA foot the bill for added expenses, and finding ways to add such expenses without violating the contract is the object of the game. This is why so many military (and NASA) inventions are so completely unnecessary they’re never even used. Successful government contractors make more money the more they waste.

    Private industry, though, has an incentive to cut costs. This is a problem when such companies take over public programs and can force their business model rather than try to entice (I point this out so as not to be mislabeled as a “Free Market” capitalist). But for now, this is not the case. If Verizon wants new satellites, they would pick the company that can get a satellite functioning in orbit for the smallest cost. Waste [i]loses[/i] money for private industry.

    We still need the unwieldy government contractors, but for space exploration not offering returns on the investment, like going to Mars or an asteroid.

  51. DrFlimmer

    @ Messier Tidy Upper

    Actually, you just proved my point: “Even the worst plan is better than no plan!”. We agree to disagree on that one.

    And one more time: Ares I-X was nothing compared to Apollo 7. It wasn’t even close to Ares I (apart from the outer appearance of the rocket). It was merely a SRB of the Shuttle with a new head. Not very far into a program that ran about 4 years or longer up to that point. The Augustine Commission found out that Ares I wouldn’t be ready to flight before the (then) proposed ending of the ISS, Ares V even further away (not one piece of hardware built up to that point). So, NASA wasn’t much further in the program than blueprints.
    Actually, it may have been the last moment to cancel it, and in my opinion (and, yes, you disagree here) it was the right thing.

    I agree with you, that it would be unwise if every new president cancels the programs of his predecessor.

    Btw: I don’t want tons of plans, I just want a good one, with new (and most likely better) rockets. And not something that looks like a stripped down version of the Shuttle (Ares I was exactly that).

  52. Messier Tidy Upper

    One more link here :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/12/10/that-leaves-more-than-14-million-square-miles-left-to-explore/

    Dealing with those innumerable reasons to explore the Moon. The title says it all really – although there’s plenty more there. ;-)

    Also, *if* Ares-Constellation had to be cancelled for whatever reason – & I don’t think it did but *if* it had to be – then why the blazes couldn’t we have moved to plan B :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/07/03/nasas-plan-b/

    or even plan C :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=An508xfQyDY&feature=related

    (Imagine here a modified version with a LEO rendezvous and then a lunar mission from there using two launches – separate rocket for the Lander and CSM type craft?)

    Instead of giving up on the whole idea of a Lunar return? :-(

  53. QuietDesperation

    @Peter B: Yeah, there’s many unknowns. That’s what that research and development is for. :-) I’ve worked telecommunication R&D for 20 years, so I know that sometimes you get results that lead you in unexpected directions. But cost to orbit must be reduced, and it’s not like there’s been zero work done in that area. There are decent ideas floating about. We’re not mice. We’re a sapient species. Someone will figure out how to bell the cat.

    MTU said “Obama is, let’s face it, doing a terrible job of “fixing the mess.”

    When it comes to the economy, some of us understand the Executive Branch has little power over it. Heck, the Congress has limited power, and most of it is negative. Government and taxation is in the “necessary evil” category, and the optimal route is to pass the minimal law required to help solve a problem. We *never* do that, and you get endless abuses and unintended consequences. I’m not preaching libertarianism here. If something honestly requires a large, detailed law and administrative entity (FAA & air travel is a good example), then so be it. The TSA would be a related bad eaxmple. ;-) Some entities embody both. The FCC is needed to regulated limited spectrum and keep idiots from making planes crash. When they start telling me what I can and can’t watch on TV, I reach for the pitchfork and torch.

  54. Fernando

    And remember all the astronauts and cosmonauts killed in accidents like Bondarenko (if NASA could have known about his death, the crew of Apollo 1 could have been saved),Gagarin, Bassett, See,Clifton Williams (he could have walked on the moon, but like the former, died in an air crash) and many others.
    This is a day to mourn them and think about what went wrong and correct them, not thinking in politics. It’s very annoying, more annoying than other days.

  55. Mike

    Is it true that the Apollo 1 fire was NASA’s way of eliminating Gus Grissom because they feared he was ready to spill the beans on the moon landing hoax?

    I read it on the Internets.

  56. CB

    @ MTU

    Instead of giving up on the whole idea of a Lunar return?

    For the last time, we haven’t. We’ve only given up the idea of a completely stupid and pointless boots-and-flag mission.

    Doing more, doing some real exploration, means developing a variety of technologies and capabilities first. Which is the plan. There is no specific plan for a moon landing because that would be foolish when you aren’t sure yet what capabilities you will have and when.

    Setting hard goals and dates, “We must get back to the moon by 2020″ and whatnot, do nothing but force NASA to begin solving the problem with the tools they have on hand. It’s how we got Constellation, a project that solved zero of the real problems limiting space travel.

    The current NASA plan is the best way to expand our presence in space. Every realistic vision of a future where humans are exploring the solar system and establishing colonies on other worlds makes use of technologies and capabilities NASA is in the process of developing.

    It does not involve launching everything you’re ever going to send on a single heavy-lift vehicle. Constellation, Ares, DIRECT, are all detrimental diversions from the goal of true progress.

    Progress is not doing the same thing again. Vision is not limiting your sight to the way things were done before. Progress is doing new things. Vision is seeing how a new way of doing things can expand the possibilities beyond what they would ever be if you restricted yourself to the old ways.

    Have vision. The future of space exploration is brighter than ever. Assuming Congress doesn’t gut the effort. Sadly those who simply hate NASA, and those who love it but are fixated on the past, are working together.

  57. réalta fuar

    @CS27 I couldn’t agree with you more. Aside from (arguably) the Hubble missions there have been no shuttle missions that have done anything close to being worth a human life.
    They’ve all been make-work to give the shuttle something to do. Of all the stupid things an ex girl friend ever said, the dumbest had to be “I hope they got their data back” after we awoke to hear about the Columbia tragedy on the radio.
    There are some factual errors in the B.A.’s post: Apollo 1 was pressurized to 2 psi GREATER than atmospheric with pure O2. There was NO reason for this, other than utter stupidity. That’s more than *5 times* as much oxygen as STP. Afterwards, all ground tests were done with a normal N2 + O2 atmosphere, with the changeover to pure O2 during real missions being done gradually during ascent.
    To all the Obama bashers out there: rest assured, there’s a good chance you’ll NEVER have a president as pro-science as him in your lifetime. The only president you’ve had in the last 60 odd years who comes close is the engineering trained Jimmy Carter, and it’s easy to guess what you thought of Carter!

  58. gss_000

    @CB

    I agree with some of your points, but you’re wrong about the goal of Constellation at least. Constellation was working to develop long term exploration of the moon and head towards Mars. In many ways, it had the same goals as President Obama’s plan now: to end at Mars. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin did no favors when he said it was “Apollo on steroids,” but anyone saying it was a “flags and footsteps” mission is just as wrong as those who say Obama killed human spaceflight. NASA was solving the problems you mention, but a lot of that got lost in the rhetoric.

    In fact, if you look at Obama’s space plans, it’s just as likely to be a flags and footsteps mission as Constellation was. The tech to stay on Mars is the same tech that was under development with Constellation. Now I love the idea of heavier tech development under the new plan, but there’s no systematic development plan under it right now. It’s a “shotgun” format where a lot will be developed and we’ll see what happens then. I don’t know if this can be sustained long term. I am looking forward to what comes out, though.

    What Constellation detractors forget is that it survived multiple Congresses led by different parties. Very few plans have done that. It needed revision as its future was bleak, but no long term plan doesn’t. In fact, if you see the Augustine Report, while the committee did say the budget made its future questionable, the members actually praised NASA for its management with the lower funds NASA always got in the budget.

    Again, I like a lot in the new plan, but what you say isn’t really different than the old plan. This is NEOs and Mars instead of moon and Mars. The tactics are different, but they both aim to do the same thing in the end. The way things are going, I think this new plan will be killed too after a commission during the next Presidency or the first Republican President. (Remember candidate Obama supported a return to the moon).

  59. Zippy the Pinhead

    I know you’re trying to make a point about risk, but the Apollo I deaths were completely avoidable. First there was no reason for the astronauts to be in the capsule during the test. Second as you point out there’s a big difference between 5 psi and 15 psi partial pressure of oxygen. Fire was a known and foreseeable danger in those conditions.

  60. Ken

    I think you have missed the entire point of these three NASA human space flight disasters. Each of them was the result not of pushing the boundaries, but instead of ignoring well known, well understood, and well documented engineering and management practices. “Normalization of deviance” is in fact what happened in all three of these scenarios, NASA has never learned its lesson. All three were failures of program management and system engineering in the most basic sense. In all three cases it was known by many people that these astronauts were going to die by the mechanisms that killed them, but NASA’s broken culture resulted in their deaths anyway. While your intentions are good I’m sure, the reality is that you do the victims and their families a tremendous disservice by failing to acknowledge and highlight what is really the root cause of these tragedies. You are just re-enforcing the NASA human spaceflight culture of elevating their victims to the status of heroes bravely challenging the unknown because it is more palatable than facing the hard truth that three times now a culture of hubris and neglect within NASA has resulted in trivially preventable deaths. Worse still, by adopting this attitude you are helping to contribute to the next batch of victims.

    Please, take the time to actually carefully read the extensive literature on the deeply flawed culture that lead directly to all three of these tragedies. One could of course forgive one mistake, or perhaps three different mistakes, but that is not the case. The root cause of all three accidents is the same and it is shameful that NASA human spaceflight has refused to learn the lesson. Please, don’t be a part of the problem by providing cover for the organization by being a weak mouthpiece that just repeats the shameful, manipulative PR we’ve been fed the past four decades.

    P.S. I see your subsequent post, and am glad you’ve taken the time to consider what is actually the result of the deaths involved. I agree, nothing is risk free. But I hope also you understand why your original point is so objectionable – it reads exactly like the standard cover for neglect and ineptitude. Let ‘em die and then call it inevitable making the victims heroes when we feel guilty about it.

  61. Joseph G

    @ Messier Tidy Upper: You do make quite a convincing case. I get the impression that this is a bit of a personal cause celebre. Not that there’s anything wrong with that :)

  62. gss_000

    @64. Ken

    While you are right that oversights led to these problems, to say “The root cause of all three accidents is the same and it is shameful that NASA human spaceflight has refused to learn the lesson” is wrong. Look at what is happening with the shuttle now. It could have launched if NASA had not learned its lesson. Instead, they decided to be extra cautions with Discovery and Shuttle Program Manager John Shannon has repeatedly said he has felt no pressure to launch just because of schedule. They are waiting to be sure they are comfortable with the safety.

    Let’s not let NASA, or any of the commercial spacecraft companies, get complacent. But let’s give them the credit where credit is due. Every analyst who holds your view also notes that the NASA of today has learned the lessons of those tragedies and are applying them.

  63. Jeffersonian

    One thing for sure is that this is well written and clearly explanatory of that event.

  64. Peter B

    Mike @ 58 asked: “Is it true that the Apollo 1 fire was NASA’s way of eliminating Gus Grissom because they feared he was ready to spill the beans on the moon landing hoax? I read it on the Internets.”

    Are you serious?

    Seriously, are you serious?

    *If* NASA wanted to eliminate Gus Grissom, how do you think they’d do it? A car or plane accident, such as killed other astronauts, or a very public one which would cause a Congressional inquiry?

    And why do you think NASA would need to fake the Apollo Moon landings?

  65. Peter B

    Quiet Desperation @ #56 said: “I know that sometimes you get results that lead you in unexpected directions.”

    I can’t argue with you there…

    “But cost to orbit must be reduced…”

    Well, of course it must. But “must be” “will be”.

    “…and it’s not like there’s been zero work done in that area. There are decent ideas floating about.”

    Okay, now I’m curious. Can you tell me what these ideas are?

    “We’re not mice. We’re a sapient species. Someone will figure out how to bell the cat.”

    The analogy I like to use in these circumstances is to imagine President Teddy Roosevelt challenged the American aeronautical community to develop a supersonic aircraft. We know *now* how to make supersonic aircraft, but it surely wouldn’t have been obvious to people 100 years ago. Depending on your answer above, why should we assume someone *will* work out how to cut cost-to-orbit by 99% or even 90%?

  66. Joseph G

    Peter B: I certainly hope so. But I fear that the problem with lowering launch costs is that they aren’t that amenable to the kind of cost-cutting that we’re accustomed to with other, smaller machinery.
    Bottom line, you’ve still got to boost your payload to an extremely high speed, and there’s a lower limit to the cost of that much energy. Not to mention the hardware (the means of harnessing that energy).
    I hope I’m being too pessimistic, but it seems to me that, though it’s possible to go quite a bit lower, launch costs are going to hit a floor well before we get to a 90% reduction.

  67. Messier Tidy Upper

    @59. CB :

    @ MTU : “Instead of giving up on the whole idea of a Lunar return.”
    For the last time, we haven’t. We’ve only given up the idea of a completely stupid and pointless boots-and-flag mission.

    You asserting that Ares-Constellation was that does NOT make it true.

    Constellation would have been far from pointless – it would’ve explored new regions with new more advanced spacecraft, more people, more time on the Moon to do and discover more. It would’ve been a great step forward from where we are now, going nowhere but LEO indefinitely hoping that private space agencies can do the work we found too hard to keep doing and that the Russians still show us charity and let us ride with them in exchange for large sums of US cash.

    All just when we were finally getting the rocket program that was going to do the job – to resume the leadership of the space race, to lift national morale, boost the economy and start the Western world and esp. the US really moving forward positively again. Constellation was too far advanced to cut at this stage – Obama’s decision was as dumb – or dumber – as cancelling Apollo before it’s first manned flight.

    Yes, Constellation had its teething problems – so did the early Apollo program, so did the early Mercury problem, so did the Hubble Space Telescope when it was launched with a flawed mirror.

    The answer to that is getting on with it, persisting with the program, properly funding what was needed and fixing those problems. That approach worked for Apollo, worked for Mercury and we fixed the Hubble with many Shuttle missions* – I think doing that would have worked for Constellation too. We’ll never know now I guess. :-(

    As #61. gss_000 correctly observed :

    … you’re wrong about the goal of Constellation at least. Constellation was working to develop long term exploration of the moon and head towards Mars. In many ways, it had the same goals as President Obama’s plan now: to end at Mars. … [SNIP] … NASA was solving the problems you mention, but a lot of that got lost in the rhetoric.

    In fact, if you look at Obama’s space plans, it’s just as likely to be a flags and footsteps mission as Constellation was. The tech to stay on Mars is the same tech that was under development with Constellation.

    …[SNIP] … What Constellation detractors forget is that it survived multiple Congresses led by different parties. Very few plans have done that. It needed revision as its future was bleak, but no long term plan doesn’t. In fact, if you see the Augustine Report, while the committee did say the budget made its future questionable, the members actually praised NASA for its management with the lower funds NASA always got in the budget.

    I guess its easy to denigrate Constellation now its been cancelled. I guess Obama-maniacs kind of *have* to do so otherwise they’ll have to ‘fess up that their idol is imperfect and stuffed up badly.

    We’ll never know what we’ve missed out on, we’ll never see Constellation lift off or know where it would’ve landed, who it would have landed and how brilliantly they might have suceeded had Constellation gone ahead.

    I like to think somewhere there’s a better parallel reality where Constellation is moving forward and having astounding successes. Where NASA and the USA are restoring pride and hope and making ground-breaking discoveries and spin-offs. Where we know the names of the first Constellation crews and the first lady on the Moon has a high school named after her already, where astronomers are building a farside telescope and .. all the other stuff that’s now just wishful thinking in this universe. Sigh. :-(

    @65.Joseph G : @ Messier Tidy Upper: You do make quite a convincing case. I get the impression that this is a bit of a personal cause celebre.

    Yeah, you could say that – & thanks. :-)

    ————–

    * That fact alone is enough in itself to justify the Shuttle as a positive for science many times over in my view for those who like to knock that program.

  68. Keith Bowden

    My two cents… I can see both sides of the argument, but ultimately I have to accept the direction in which NASA is going now and I hope that the current plan does everything that it’s intended. (Although, I must admit, every time I hear about going to an asteroid before Mars, I think asteroid belt, not near-Earth asteroid. Makes my head spin for a moment.) :)

    MTU, thanks for your enthusiastic support for the US space program; even though you hate the current plans, your passion is evident and appreciated, mate! I can’t say that I agree or disagree with you (as I say, I appreciate both sides of the argument), but I always enjoy reading your contributions to the conversations here.

  69. Gary Ansorge

    Gone but well remembered.

    Gary 7

  70. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Gary Ansorge : Yes. We all die. Not all of us really live. (Quoting from ‘Braveheart.’) The astronauts who perished – they *really lived* and will be long remembered.

    @41. Chris Winter :

    Another quote without comment — a memory of a memorial:
    Keith Cowing’s Devon Island Journal 20 July 2003: Arctic Memorials and Starship Yearnings

    Thanks for sharing that article with us all. I’ve quoted and linked it again in the Challenger astronauts memorialized on the Moon BA blog thread (posted January 30th, 2011 7:00 AM) for those who might’ve missed it. (Comment #21 awaiting moderation.) Also because I think its worth repeating and belongs on that thread too. Hope you don’t mind.

    @72. Keith Bowden : Thanks, glad to hear it. :-)

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