Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bang! Zoom! You're Going to the Moon Alice!!!

The next few weeks will be dedicated to the Apollo missions leading up to the history making Moon walk. Many who lived in that time remember it like it was yesterday I can still remember all the Gemini missions and the manned Apollo missions like I was sitting there at Cape Canaveral at the launch center drinking Tang. Look above and you will see I still drink it. It was a great time to be alive and to be an American. You will find at the bottom of this blog a report on this weekend at a public star gaze. I have the honor of attending this every year. Hopefully those that lived through these magical years will set their grand kids down and tell them about those magical times when space was king.

Way back in 1961 we had a far thinking President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. At that time the Russians were kicking our butt in manned spaceflight. They had the first satellite, the first man in space etc... JFK said on March 25th 1961 that the USA would get to the Moon by the end of the Decade. Wow No.... Double Wow!!! Sitting here in the land of laptops and ipods with touchscreens and the works, it might be hard to imagine what kind of a row JFK just started to hoe. We had some technology but not the kind needed to hit outer space and hang out on the Moon! Everything would have to be invented or modified to get Man to the Moon. Just for starters so you might get a handle on what they were working with, the Apollo on board computer was no match for the $10.00 calculator when it came to processing power.The Calculator is what we buy for our 8th graders to go to school with The walls that kept men safe from the freezing and majorly inhospitable place known as space were sometime as thin as a sheet of tinfoil! They picked the best of the best for the space program. They needed problem solvers to be able to fix what ever goes wrong "up there". What about food? you couldn't just bring a corned beef sandwich with you. Gus Grissom found this out on a Gemini mission. Bread went everywhere. As a kid, I drank Tang. Why? Because the Astronauts drank it!Tang and freeze dried foods were invented or modified for the space program. Yup just about anything you could think of from breathing to how do you go to the bathroom in space had to be looked at. Are you starting to get a picture of what the American people had to do to make Man on the Moon a reality?

We start the countdown to July 20th 2009 to mark the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon walk by touching on the manned missions that changed the way we look at the moon forever. The very first mission of Apollo was a tragic event. I mention this mission because three very brave men lost their lives in pursuit of a dream. The mission, AS-204( Later named Apollo 1) was almost doomed from the start. Gus Grissom pulled a lemon from the tree in his yard and told his wife he was going to hang it on the capsule. There were so many flaws in the capsule design, some from the vendor, some from NASA that it made the Apollo one mission an accident waiting to happen. The 100% oxygen environment at High pressure contributed greatly to the deaths. Aluminum will burn like wood at those pressures. Highly flammable materials found their way in to the capsule as well. Velcro for one was considered explosive in a high pressure oxygen situation. An inward opening door was a huge problem for the crew as they could not get the door open because of the high pressure. Gus Grissom Roger Chaffey and Ed White were burned to death in the capsule while testing the system. Out of this tragedy came a rework of the capsule and new protocols that are used today to keep our Astronauts safe. This mission never got off the ground but I include it here as a testament to the men that flew after. An Apollo 1 mission patch was left on the Moon by the Apollo 11 crew. Next week Apollo 7 and 8 start the crescendo.

To Start with, I just wanted to thank the hundred or more that turned out for the Caesar's Creek State park campers star gaze. The folks with their kids were a smart group. They asked great questions. I was out till midnight last night showing off the night to all that would have a look There was a total of 5 astronomers there to answer questions and give explanations for what they were looking at The scopes ranged from an 8" Celestron dobsonian to a Meade 12" LX200. I had a young man about 15 saddle up to my scope and ask what are you looking at I said well right now I am looking at Saturn but it is a bit too light yet to see it very well. He asked can I look ? I said' "Why sure you can". Well he looked in my scope and I asked him to tell me what he saw. What I got surprised me a bit. He asked, "Can I put my chair here I want to look in your scope". I said, "Well yes but weren't you going to the movie showing behind us? He said, "Yeah I have seen it before but I have never seen stuff like that" (pointing to my eyepiece). Now that made my night. He stayed at my scope asking me questions about everything. How old? How far? How big? The other person that left a mark on me was a young mom. She had three kids in tow and wanted them to take a look in my scope. I have a step stool for them to climb upon and have a looksee. They were looking at a the great Hercules cluster M13 a Globular cluster that has an age of about 10 Billion years. It sits in the halo of our own galaxy. She helped each one of her kids to the eyepiece to which they each said Oh Wow!!! That was cute. At this point, she took a look, a short one and pulled back just long enough for her mind to grasp what she saw and she went right back to the eyepiece she said, "Oh my God that is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen". Here was the thing that slammed me... She added, " I studied about astronomy in high school but I never knew it was this beautiful. I just had no idea. I said, "This is just the tip of the iceberg". Get thee out to a star party and see some stuff!!!

Clear skies and great seeing too

Steve T

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