NASA now demolishing the obsolete mobile launch platform used during Apollo

The second of three mobile launch platforms that were used during the Apollo program to transport the Saturn-5 rocket to its launchpad but are all obsolete and no longer in use is finally being demolished for salvage.

The first has already been scrapped, while the third is still in use for “servicing the crawlerway between SLS launches.”

NASA has been storing the platform in the Vehicle Assembly Building, but there was no longer room there, with Boeing taking over more space for assembling SLS core stages. The platform itself was deemed unsafe for display at any museum, with the cost of making it safe too high.

Better to salvage it than have it sit in the way of future space operations. After all, when you get down to it, it is simply some metal and hardware. The history was accomplished by the humans who built it, and who would be appalled if later generations used their work as a club to prevent new achievements in space.

Remembering Apollo 17, fifty years after the last manned mission to the Moon

LRO oblique view of Apollo 17 landing site
Click for full image.

Link here.

The article comes from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team, and includes a number of LRO photos of the landing site, including the oblique annotated image to the right, reduced to post here. As the article notes:

The Apollo 17 crew was the last of an era in human space exploration and the last to set foot on the Moon. Fifty years later, the landing sites, hardware, and footsteps remain delicately preserved on the lunar surface. Join the LRO team as we commemorate their inspiring achievements with additional images, research, maps, interactive sites, and a dedicated video. LRO continues to image the Apollo sites whenever possible, under multiple lighting conditions, and combine these images into interactive sites, like the Apollo 17 Temporal Traverse. The Lunar QuickMap 3D tool can be used to preview the Apollo landing sites and search for LROC images of the areas. For downloadable maps of the Taurus-Littrow Valley, visit the Map Sheets section on our downloads page here. Finally, the Apollo 17 fiftieth anniversary video below presents highlights of the mission with landing site views reconstructed using LROC images and topography.

I have embedded that video below. It does a marvelous job summarizing this mission, which in many ways remains the most daring human exploration mission since Columbus dared cross an ocean in a tiny ship only slightly larger than many lifeboats.
» Read more

Gemini/Apollo astronaut Jim McDivitt passes away at 93

R.I.P. Jim McDivitt, who was the commander of both the Gemini 4 and Apollo 9 missions in the 1960s, passed away on October 13, 2022 at the age of 93.

He first flew in space as commander of the Gemini IV mission in June 1965. McDivitt was joined by fellow Air Force pilot Ed White on the program’s most ambitious flight to date. During Gemini IV, White would become the first American to venture outside his spacecraft for what officially is known as an extravehicular activity (EVA) or as the world has come to know it, a spacewalk. … The mission’s four-day duration nearly doubled NASA astronauts’ previous time in space to that point, with the longest American spaceflight previously being Gordon Cooper’s 34-hour Mercury 9 mission.

McDivitt’s second spaceflight as the commander of Apollo 9 played a critical role in landing the first humans on the Moon. This was the first flight of the complete set of Apollo hardware and was the first flight of the Lunar Module. The mission launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on March 3, 1969, with Commander James McDivitt, Command Module Pilot David Scott, and Lunar Module Pilot Russell Schweickart. After launch, Apollo 9 entered Earth orbit and the crew performed an engineering test of the first crewed lunar module, nicknamed “Spider,” from beginning to end. They simulated the maneuvers that would be performed during actual lunar missions. During the mission, the astronauts performed a series of flight tasks with the command and service module and the lunar module. The top priority was rendezvous and docking of the lunar module with the command and service module. The crew also configured the lunar module to support a spacewalk by McDivitt and Schweickart. On Flight Day 10, March 13, 1969, the Apollo 9 capsule re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, within three miles and in full view of the recovery ship, the USS Guadalcanal, about 341 miles north of Puerto Rico.

To me, McDivitt’s most important discovery occurred early in his Gemini mission. After launch he was tasked with an attempt to approach and rendezvous with the upper stage, shortly after deployment. He was surprised to find that his intuition about doing so was utterly wrong. Whenever he tried to close the distance by applying thrust in the direction implied by his earthbound instincts, the distance actually increased.

McDivitt’s experience showed that rendezvous and docking in orbit was not going to be simple. In fact, it took almost the entire Gemini program in 1965 and 1966 to figure it out.

McDivitt never went to the Moon, but he was like all the first generation of American astronauts, professional, careful, dedicated, and remarkably good at what he did. May he rest in peace.

Apollo 16 Lunar Rover “Grand Prix”

An evening pause: This seems especially appropriate with the arrival of another rover on Mars last week.

On their first day of three on the lunar surface, John Young and Charles Duke deployed their rover and took it for a test drive before heading out to nearby Plum Crater for two hours of sample gathering and exploration.

This footage shows Young driving with Duke filming and reporting what he sees. The goal was to gather engineering data on how the rover’s wheels functioned in the very dusty lunar soil.

This short clip nicely illustrates the ambitious achievement of the American Apollo missions that should give pause to any arrogant modern young engineer. This was before home computers and CAD-CAM. It was designed by hand and slide-rule, using inches, pounds, and feet. And it worked, and worked magnificently. Oh if we today could only do as well.

Hat tip Björn “Local Fluff” Larsson.

House passes bill that attempts to protect Apollo Moon sites

The House today passed a bill that would require any American business planning a Moon mission to agree to not disturb the Apollo lunar landing sites.

[The bill] requires any federal agency that issues a license to conduct a lunar activity to require the applicant to agree to abide by recommendations in the 2011 NASA report “NASA’s Recommendations to Space-Faring Entities: How to Protect and Preserve the Historic and Scientific Value of U.S. Government Artifacts” and any successor recommendations, guidelines or principles issued by NASA.

All well and good, but this does nothing to stop other nations from touching those sites. Moreover, making all of those sites and whatever the astronauts did there totally sacrosanct is not reasonable. On the later Apollo landings the astronauts used a rover to travel considerable distances. Should every spot the astronauts visited by now considered holy? If anything, scientists will wish to return and gather more data at these locations to better understand the initial Apollo results.

Not that any of this really matters. In the long run the decision on how much these sites should be protected will be made by the people who live on the Moon. I suspect, as pioneers living on the edge of survival, they will have less interest in making memorials to past achievements and be more focused on getting things done, now.

New data confirms and localizes uplifted lunar dust as seen by Apollo astronauts

The uncertainty of science: In a paper released today, scientists reveal the detection of electrostatic dust events on the Moon similar to those observed by Apollo astronauts, and find that these events might not be global but instead confined to craters during twilight. From the abstract:

Lunar horizon glows observed by the Apollo missions suggested a dense dust exosphere near the lunar terminator. But later missions failed to see such a high‐density dust exosphere. Why the Apollo missions could observe so large number of dust grains remains a mystery. For the first time, we report five dust enhancement events observed by the Lunar Dust Experiment on board Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer [LADEE] mission, which happen near a twilight crater with dust densities comparable to the Apollo measurements. Moreover, the dust densities are larger on the downstream side of the crater and favor a higher solar wind temperature, consistent with an electrostatic dust lofting from the negatively charged crater floor. We also check the Apollo observations and find similar twilight craters, suggesting that the so‐called dust exosphere is not a global phenomenon but just a local electrified dust fountain near twilight craters.

The dust clouds the astronauts thought they saw near the horizon have been theorized to be dust uplifted by static electricity. However, all later missions had so far failed to detect this phenomenon, until now. That the result also pinpoints the location and ties it to twilight is important for future missions to the Moon. Astronauts can thus minimize any damage by this dust by shutting down operations during lunar twilight periods.

Woman sues NASA to keep possession of moon dust

A Tennessee woman is proactively suing NASA in order to guarantee the agency will not try to steal a vial of moon dust that Neil Armstrong gave to her in the early 1970s.

Murray Cicco received the small glass vial full of gray moon dust in the early 1970s. The vial came with a note: “To Laura Ann Murray — Best of luck — Neil Armstron Apollo 11.” …Armstrong’s note and signature have been verified and testing has confirmed the contents in the vial he gifted her do include dust from the moon.

Decades after receiving the glass vial of moon dust, Murray Cicco is moving forward with her federal court case in Wichita, even though she lives in Tennessee. The reason for filing the case in Kansas goes back to a previous case in 2016 where a U.S. District Court judge in Wichita ruled in favor of a collector who bought a bag containing moon dust that was mistakenly placed in an online government auction. In that case, the bag was then sold at auction last year for $1.8 million.

While NASA hasn’t demanded Murray Cicco give up the vial of moon dust, Murray Cicco’s attorney has requested a jury trial in Wichita to stay ahead. “There is no law against private persons owning lunar material. Lunar material is not contraband. It is not illegal to own or possess,” the court document detailing the case says. “Therefore, she requests judgment declaring her the rightful and legal owner of the vial and its contents, and vesting title in her name.”

This is a very wise move on her part. NASA has for years made it clear that it thinks it owns all moon material brought back by the Apollo missions, and has had the arrogant policy of demanding the return of any moon dust or rocks that it discovered was in the possession of any private citizen, no matter how small, or how well documented the ownership. This court case acts to block such actions, before NASA can even think of them.

International group forms to get UN protection of Apollo sites

An international group of lawyers, academics, and business people has formed an organization called “For All Moonkind,” aimed specifically at getting UN protections for the six lunar Apollo sites.

They are going to the UN because, based on the Outer Space Treaty, this is the only place that has jurisdiction. Unfortunately. This quote illustrates why:

“Though we are based in the US, we are an international organization,” said Michelle Hanlon, US space lawyer and Co-Founder of For All Moonkind. “Humaid Alshamsi [the UAE participant] brings tremendous experience in public and private aviation and space law to our team. We are thrilled that he has agreed to join our effort.”

For All Moonkind was critical of the auction by Sotheby’s of the Apollo 11 Contingency Lunar Sample Return Bag used by astronaut Neil Armstrong. “The astronauts of the Apollo project represented all of us here on Earth,” explained aviation and space lawyer and Advisory Council Member Humaid Alshamsi, “they went to the Moon in peace for all, and the relics of their historic achievement should be shared by all. The loss of this artifact to a private collector is a loss for humanity.”

The Outer Space Treaty forbids any nation from claiming territory in space, thus leaving it under the control of the UN and the international community, a community that — as demonstrated by this quote — is hostile to capitalism and private enterprise. While I laud this group’s desire to protect these historic sites, I fear their actions are going to place limits on the freedoms and property rights of future space colonists.

The difficult task of legally preserving the Apollo lunar sites

Link here.

While I heartily agree that these historic sites should be preserved, if you read the article you will notice how the focus with these people is not the future, but preserving relics of the past. I say we don’t need more memorials. The best memorial for Apollo 11 would be thriving city on the Moon, even if it trampled on Tranquility Base.

Note also that the restrictions imposed by the Outer Space Treaty once again make things worse. Under the treaty, there is no way for the U.S. to reasonably preserve these American historical sites, without first getting the approval of the UN. The result? I guarantee that any arrangement we manage to work out will almost certainly restrict the freedoms of future space colonists. This not a good thing, and it certainly isn’t something we here on Earth should be doing to the brave people who will someday want to build new civilizations on other worlds.

Auction of silver medals flown on Apollo brings in $800K

Coins in space: An auction in May of silver medals carried by astronauts on a variety of Apollo missions has brought in nearly $800,000.

Robbins medallions were minted by the Robbins Co. of Attleboro, Mass. These .925 fine silver medals have been produced for every manned U.S. mission since Apollo 7. The medals were paid for by the crews and available for purchase only by NASA astronauts at the time. Medals that were actually flown on missions are especially coveted.

Bras in space: How a bra company made the spacesuits the astronauts wore on the Moon.

Bras in space: How a bra company made the spacesuits the astronauts wore on the Moon.

Fascinating interview, though I find it humorous how it is considered absurd and unlikely for a private company that makes bras to make these spacesuits. In truth, when the Apollo missions happened, Americans had no doubt that ordinary private businesses were the best places to go to get something novel and creative done.

New analysis of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images suggests that most of the American flags planted at the Apollo landing sites are still standing.

New analysis of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images appears to prove that most of the American flags planted at the Apollo landing sites are still standing.

Sadly, the analysis also seems to prove what Buzz Aldrin reported, that the Apollo 11 American flag was blown over by the exhaust from the ascent stage when the astronauts took off.

I wonder if anyone from the United States will ever have a chance to pick it up?

What is the current state of the six American flags planted on the Moon by Apollo astronauts? One NASA engineer takes a look.

What is the current state of the six American flags planted on the Moon by Apollo astronauts? One NASA engineer takes a look.

James Fincannon has been an important contributor here at Behind the Black, sending me some interesting tips from time to time that have resulted in some good posts, such as this one about caves on the Moon.

Apollo astronaut has been forced to return camera to NASA

Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell has been forced to return to NASA the camera he used on the Moon.

[He had been allowed to keep the camera after his return in accordance with] a practice within the 1970’s astronaut office that allowed the Apollo astronauts to keep equipment that hadn’t been intended to return from the moon so long as the items did not exceed weight limitations and were approved by management.