“What do we do now?

LM ascent engine

One of the advantages one gets from writing books and giving lectures about them is that you get to see some interesting places and meet some interesting people. This is what happened to me last week when I gave two lectures about the Apollo 8 mission to the Moon on consecutive nights to three different Buffalo aerospace organizations at two different venues. My entire visit was as a guest of the Niagara Frontier Section of American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, as part of its Distinguished Lecturer program, something I have participated in now for almost a decade.

The first lecture was at the Niagara Aerospace Museum. Prior to my evening talk Don Erwin, a member of the museum’s board of trustees, gave me detailed tour of the museum and its holdings, which include a wealth of artifacts going back to the very beginnings of flight and running through the Apollo lunar missions. Many of aviation’s first innovators came from the western New York area, and the companies they created ended up building important components for the later U.S. effort to get to the Moon.

looking into ascent engine nozzle

Above on the right is one of their more significant artifacts, a lunar module ascent engine. Built mostly by Bell Aerospace, this particular engine was used to test the engine to make sure the design would work. It had to work, by the way, since it had no back-up and if it failed then the astronauts would have been stranded on the Moon.

Since it really only had to work reliably once, however, the nozzle was made of ablative material rather than a heavier metal. The second image on the right looks into that nozzle, where you can see the result of the various test firings done to prove out the engine. There is obvious wear to the interior of the nozzle.

What made this museum especially fun was how accessible everything was.
» Read more