Only Three People Have Died in Space

By Amy Shira Teitel | August 20, 2017 8:03 am

On April 19th, 1971, the Soviet Union launch history’s first ever space station, Salyut 1. Days later the Soyuz 10 mission failed after a problem with the docking hatch meant the crew couldn’t actually board the station. Unwilling to let Salyut languish, Soyuz 11 launched on June 6 and Georgi Dobrovolski, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev became the first men to live aboard an Earth orbiting station. Their mission wasn’t without its problems, but the problems were just beginning when the crew was brought home a week early. A valve opened early during the descent, and the crew, exposed to the vacuum of space, died from decompression.

*I’m currently traveling and forgot to copy my proper blog post to my hard drive before I left! I wanted to get the video up, but I’ll update this post and retweet it in three days with the full copy!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics

Sea Dragon is the Biggest Rocket We Ever Dreamed Of

By Amy Shira Teitel | August 11, 2017 10:58 am
Artist concept of the Sea Dragon in the water. NASA/Aerojet via Astronautix.

Artist concept of the Sea Dragon in the water. Aerojet via Astronautix.

Imagine standing among the small crowd in a viewing gallery aboard a command ship floating 35 miles off the coast of Cape Canaveral. Five miles away you see the upper portion of a rocket bobbing gently, waves lapping at the fuselage. Though isolated at sea there’s a buzz of activity in the air. The conversation on board is punctuated by a loudspeaker booming status updates on the rocket in the water. Finally, an announcement crackles saying that the Cape has given a GO for launch. With NASA’s blessing, the launch director on board begins the final countdown. You hear a distant rumble as a massive engine roars to life under water and gets progressively louder as the rocket starts to rise. In just seconds the staggering, 400-foot behemoth leaves the ocean and disappears from view into the sky. In less than a half hour its 1.1 million pound payload will be in orbit around the Earth.

This was the future Aerojet foresaw with its 1963 proposal for the Sea Dragon rocket.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics

The First Solar Eclipse Seen from Space was in 1966

By Amy Shira Teitel | August 3, 2017 7:33 pm
The solar eclipse seen from Gemini 12. NASA.

The solar eclipse seen from Gemini 12. NASA.

The Gemini program was sort of NASA’s overlooked middle child. It didn’t have the excitement of being the first time American astronauts flew in space like the Mercury did, and it didn’t have the glamour of going to the Moon like Apollo. Which means most people don’t know it happened. But the Gemini program was how NASA learned to fly in space, to perform rendezvous and docking maneuvers, change orbits, and test all the technologies it would need to complete the two-week long missions to the Moon. It was also the program that first gave astronauts a unique view of a solar eclipse from orbit. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics
MORE ABOUT: Eclipse, Gemini, History, NASA

No, NASA Didn’t Invent Tang

By Amy Shira Teitel | July 26, 2017 1:11 pm
A Tang ad using a Gemini image. via General Foods/Kraft.

A Tang ad using a Gemini image. via General Foods/Kraft.

Tang, the orange flavoured breakfast drink, is so synonymous with NASA that people seem to think the space agency invented it. Even Homer Simpson somehow called up NASA to demand why he couldn’t get “no Tang ’round here!” But contrary to popular belief NASA didn’t invent Tang. That honour goes to William Mitchell, the guy who also invented Pop Rocks and Cool Whip. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Uncategorized

The Soviet Rovers that Died on Mars

By Amy Shira Teitel | July 20, 2017 1:52 pm
The Prop M rover. via NASA

The Prop M rover. via NASA

Before Curiosity took selfies and Opportunity rolled a marathon, rovers on Mars were more modest. Sojourner, NASA’s first rover, was a microwave-sized robot designed to last just seven days, and more than two decades earlier the Soviet Prop M rovers were tiny little squat boxes that reached the Red Planet for a ski vacation.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics
MORE ABOUT: History, Mars, Prop M, Rovers, Soviet

The Missing Apollos 2 and 3

By Amy Shira Teitel | July 14, 2017 4:52 pm
Apollo 8's launch, also known as SA-503. NASA.

Apollo 8’s launch, also known as SA-503. NASA.

If you look up a list of all Apollo missions NASA flew in the 1960s and 70s, you’d see Apollo 1, then Apollo 4 through 17. So what exactly happened to the missing Apollos 2 and 3?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics

I Asked Apollo 11’s Mike Collins About His Underwear

By Amy Shira Teitel | June 26, 2017 4:47 pm
Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 7.32.20 AM

Excerpt from the Apollo 11 transcript. NASA.

One hundred and 31 hours, 42 minutes, and 30 seconds into the mission, the crew of Apollo 11 was reunited and preparing for the trans earth injection burn that would send them out of the Moon’s orbit and on a path back home. Command Module Mike Collins was still in his pressure suit — mission rules said the astronauts much be suited when redocking the Command and Lunar modules — and was getting ready to take it off for the TEI burn when Commander Neil Armstrong asked, “You ready for your underwear? Mike – you ready for your underwear? You ready for your underwear?” It turns out the underwear in question is the Liquid Cooled Garment, a brilliant piece of engineering born of necessity, and the first time the human biothermal processes was integral to a suit. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Uncategorized

Meet What’s-His-Name, the Apollo Astronaut You’ve Never Heard Of

By Amy Shira Teitel | June 20, 2017 2:33 pm
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Donn Eisele on board Apollo 7. NASA.

There are some astronauts we know a lot about, or at least whose names are familiar, like Neil or Buzz (as in Armstrong and Aldrin, the first men on the Moon). More nerdy space fans will also recognize the names Gene and Pete (as is Cernan and Conrad). But what about Donn, is Eisele? Donn Eisele — whose last name is pronounced Eyes-lee, not Eye-zell — is a fascinating character who flew on the first Apollo mission but most people have never heard of him. Read More

MORE ABOUT: space exploration

How Verbs and Nouns Got Apollo to the Moon

By Amy Shira Teitel | June 15, 2017 3:53 pm
The DSKY in action. NASA.

The DSKY in action. NASA.

The Apollo guidance computer did a lot with a little, but the idea that your cell phone has more computer power is a little off. Yes, a smartphone can hold more information but it doesn’t exactly have the software to get you to the Moon. But the comparatively weaker Apollo guidance computer (AGC) did, and though it didn’t have a keyboard and monitor like your desktop, it did speak in the familiar language we use every day of nouns and verbs.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Technology
MORE ABOUT: Apollo, History, Moon, NASA

Welcome to Vintage Space!

By Amy Shira Teitel | June 1, 2017 6:18 pm
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The Earth from the Moon on Apollo 8, 1968. NASA.

You might think the story of the Space Race is straightforward. That NASA was created one day so the United States could start sending things and people into space, and when it turned out that the Soviet Union had more advanced technologies — it did get the first satellite and human into orbit — President Kennedy decided we should go to the Moon. By the end of the decade, no less. Then NASA did what it does best: solved the problem. It launched Mercury orbital flights, then longer and more complicated Gemini missions, then Apollo went to the Moon. 

That is a good story, but it’s also the ultimate oversimplification. Digging into the details to build the whole story is what Vintage Space is all about — the abandoned paths and programs, the uncelebrated heroes, and the tiny but fascinating details that are lost in popular retellings. And it gets bigger from there. Vintage Space is also about the technologies that predate NASA and the echoes those vintage technologies still have today. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics
MORE ABOUT: History, NASA, Vintage Space
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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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