The Canadians Who Got America to the Moon

By Amy Shira Teitel | July 16, 2019 10:48 am
Canadian John Hodge, left, with astronaut Al Shepard and Flight Director Chris Kraft. NASA.

There was nothing particularly different about February 20, 1959. For the workers at the A.V. Roe plant in Malton, Ontario, it was just another Friday working on cutting-edge aircraft before the chilly winter weekend. Then, out of nowhere that afternoon, the plant’s public announcement system crackled to life. A.V. Roe’s President Crawford Gordon’s angry voice addressed the workforce as one. 

“That &$@#* prick in Ottawa,” Gordon began before dropping the bombshell: Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and his Conservative government had just cancelled the Arrow project. Effective immediately, all plans were to be destroyed and finished planes’ expertly engineered fuselages cut up and sold as scrap metal. In an instant, 14,525 people lost their jobs; following down the supply chain with contractors and subcontractors, the number affected was closer to 60,000. February 20, 1959, became known as Black Friday in the Canadian Aviation industry.

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MORE ABOUT: Apollo 11, History, Moon, NASA, Space

Luna 15 Accompanied Apollo 11 to the Moon

By Amy Shira Teitel | July 4, 2019 6:13 pm
(Credit: taffpixture/Shutterstock)

On July 13, 1969, Apollo 11’s Saturn V sat on launchpad 39A at Cape Canaveral. The pre-launch countdown was already underway though the actual final countdown wouldn’t start for another day and a half. Nevertheless, there was plenty of activity buzzing around the Cape, but the big news in space that day wasn’t the impending manned lunar landing attempt. It was Luna 15, the Soviet mission that would reach the Moon while Apollo 11 was in orbit.

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MORE ABOUT: Apollo 11, History, NASA, Space

How Apollo Astronauts Didn’t Get Lost Going to the Moon

By Amy Shira Teitel | June 15, 2019 9:01 am
A mockup of the Apollo Guidance Computer that navigated Apollo’s way to the Moon. MIT Library.

Driving, say, to a friend’s house, we usually have directions to follow like “turn left at the light then it’s the third door on the right.” The same isn’t true when going to the Moon; there are no signposts guiding the way. So how exactly did Apollo astronauts know where they were going when they went to the Moon?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts

Hal Laning: The Man You Didn’t Know Saved Apollo 11

By Amy Shira Teitel | May 23, 2019 12:00 pm

In the final minutes of Apollo 11’s descent to the lunar surface, five 1201 and 1202 alarms blared in the lunar module. The computer was overloaded with data, and for a brief moment it looked like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin wouldn’t land on the Moon. As we know, they did; Apollo 11 got a GO to land in spite of the alarms. What we don’t know is the man whose work allowed the crew reboot the computer and save the landing: Hal Laning. 

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MORE ABOUT: Apollo, Apollo 11

Apollo 10, the Mission That Got So Close to Landing on the Moon

By Amy Shira Teitel | May 11, 2019 11:32 am

AS10 Crew NASAApollo 10 doesn’t get much attention. On the rare occasion people talk about the mission right before the first lunar landing, it’s lumped into the “pre-Apollo 11” category and dismissed as one of the stepping stones on the bridge to the Moon. But it was far more interesting than just a mission that preceded Apollo 11.  Read More


A Dry Cleaner Once Demanded Restitution from NASA

By Amy Shira Teitel | April 27, 2019 12:37 pm


From the Nixon Library.

The amazing thing about national archives is that these libraries contain absolutely everything. Case in point: I recently found a letter in the Nixon Library from the Apollo Dry & Wet Cleaners in Pakistan. The owner was, apparently, a little miffed NASA took his business’ name for the lunar landing program and wanted press materials as restitution. Read More

MORE ABOUT: Apollo, History, NASA

Why Apollo Had a Flammable Pure Oxygen Environment

By Amy Shira Teitel | April 13, 2019 11:03 am

apollo 10

Apollo 10 Astronauts Thomas P. Stafford and Eugene A. Cernan in the Lunar Module Mission Simulator. (Credit: NASA)

Fire, as we know, needs three things: a source of heat, fuel and oxygen. Apollo lunar missions had all three in spades. There was plenty of electricity running through the spacecraft, lots of material that could be fuel and a 100 percent oxygen atmosphere under pressure. So why exactly did NASA design a spacecraft that was an explosion waiting to happen? (This is a question I get *a lot* so I hope this gives a full answer!) Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: Apollo, History, NASA, Space

We Shouldn’t be Scared of Nuclear Rockets in Space

By Amy Shira Teitel | March 29, 2019 2:33 pm

A schematic of the NERVA engine. NASA/AEC

A schematic of the NERVA engine. NASA/AEC

A few weeks ago, a spending bill passed by Congress included $100 million earmarked for NASA to develop nuclear thermal rocket engines. In spite of the ever-present backlash to nuclear material, it’s not uncommon when it comes to space exploration. The Curiosity rover is just one of many NASA missions powered by nuclear material, in this case, a multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG) that converts heat from decaying plutonium-238 into electricity. But that’s robotic and doesn’t impact humans, you say? The Apollo lunar landing missions also had nuclear generators on board; the ALSEPs used radioisotope thermoelectric generators to power some of the surface experiments.

Of course, a nuclear power plant for an instrument isn’t the same as a nuclear engine, but the challenges of working with the dangerous material remain. And yet, this won’t be the first time the space agency has tried to harness nuclear power for space travel. A small number of programs tried to develop nuclear power for manned space missions in the 1960s, one of which was called NERVA.

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The Women’s Guide to ID Badge Placement (According to the Government in 1947)

By Amy Shira Teitel | March 19, 2019 1:34 pm

via NASA.

via NASA.

Digging into NASA’s Apollo-era history of nuclear propulsion for manned deep space missions, I found another gem in the history of the government not really knowing how to address women’s clothing. This time, we’re talking beauty and badges. Read More


The New Apollo 11 Documentary is Jaw-Droppingly Gorgeous

By Amy Shira Teitel | March 6, 2019 12:07 pm

The new Apollo 11 documentary boasts that it is a “cinematic event fifty years in the making.” Which it is. It’s less a documentary and more a compilation of restored 16mm film and rarely-if-ever heard audio records from the first lunar landing mission, and it’s absolutely incredible. (Heads up: this blog contains spoilers, but then again, most of us know what happened on Apollo 11, right? Right.) 

The trailer, just in case you haven’t seen it kicking around yet.

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Vintage Space

Vintage Space is all about digging into the minutia of the space age. Rather than retelling glossy stories of astronauts, Vintage Space peels back that veneer to look at the real stories -- the innovations that failed, the unrealized technologies, and the human elements that are less publicity-friendly so often remain buried. Gaining a clear picture of spaceflight's past ultimately helps us understand our present position in space and have a more realistic expectation of what the future might bring.

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