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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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Uncategorized
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

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics

A Dry Cleaner Once Demanded Restitution from NASA

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

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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

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics
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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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics

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

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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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NASA’s Bold Apollo 9 Plans Made the Moon Landing Possible

By Amy Shira Teitel | March 1, 2019 1:26 pm

The crew of Apollo 9 during a pre-flight test. NASA.

The crew of Apollo 9 during a pre-flight test. NASA.

Apollo 9 launched 50 years ago, on March 3, 1969, and it might be the most important but least celebrated of the early Apollo missions. In fact, it was so important to NASA’s ultimate lunar landing goal that the space agency had a series of contingency missions in place to ensure it could get as much data as possible if something went wrong.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: Apollo 9, History, Moon

NASA Once Made an Official Ruling on Women and Pantsuits

By Amy Shira Teitel | February 12, 2019 12:03 pm

Student Kathy L. Jackson wearing pants as she greets Astronauts and MSFC Personnel(L-R); ASTRONAUTS Rusty Schweickart, Owen Garriott, and MSFC Skylab Program Manager Leland Belew. NASA/MSFC

Student Kathy L. Jackson wearing pants as she greets Astronauts and MSFC Personnel(L-R); ASTRONAUTS Rusty Schweickart, Owen Garriott, and MSFC Skylab Program Manager Leland Belew. NASA/MSFC

In 1970, NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Centre was forced to address a tricky new issue in the realm of women in space: the validity of pants in the workplace.  Read More

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

The Soviets’ Lunar Program in 1969

By Amy Shira Teitel | January 29, 2019 1:11 pm

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Earthrise from Apollo 11 with the Lunar Module in the foreground. NASA.

Last week, I did the first in a series of interviews about Apollo 11 with CBC’s Quirks & Quarks. As a Canadian, this was a big deal for me! I grew up listening to this show every Saturday at 12:06pm with my Dad, usually in the car on the way home from gymnastics. Not only that, it’s an award-winning nationally syndicated show. So to be on the show as an expert was absolutely incredible! You can listen to the whole episode here; I come in at about the 26-minute mark.

Of course, the segment was cut down for length. Bob McDonald and I talked for about 25 minutes about the state of the Apollo program in January of 1969, and among the pieces that didn’t make it into the final podcast was a really interesting chat about where the Soviets. What were the Soviets up to when the Apollo 11 crew was selected? We always talk about the race to the Moon being a race with the Soviets, so where were they? It’s a really interesting point that I thought was well worth diving into as a supplementary little blog post.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics
MORE ABOUT: Apollo 11, Luna, Moon, Soviet, Zond, Zond 6
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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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