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LADEE, first flight to the moon from Wallops Flight Facility

Of course everyone reading this knows about the #NASASocial event for the launch of the LADEE mission to Lunar orbit happening this week on Thursday (9/5) and Friday (9/6).  Follow NASASocial/lists/ladee-launch-social plus @NASA_Wallops, @NASALADEE, @NASAAmes, @NASAGoddard, and also @LRO_NASA for updates.

A nice piece of Wallops history was raised by @TeresaR_WV: “Explorer 9 was the first spacecraft placed in orbit by an all-solid rocket and the first spacecraft successfully launched into orbit from Wallops Island.” (1961, NSSDC).

The LADEE social will be covering a huge range of subjects, including the following.

The LADEE mission will be collecting data on the Lunar Exosphere, specifically tightening the boundaries on gas and dust types and quantities found at altitudes under 50 km so that future work can develop an understanding of the surface boundary exospheric processes that occur on inert rocky bodies like the Moon and Mercury. And the LADEE mission will be flight qualifying the LLCD free space optical communications link. Data collection in the Lunar Exosphere will employ three instruments.

The Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS) determines captured (Lunar Exosphere) gas particle types (element) using a kind of electromagnetic filter called an RF Quadrupole or Quadrupole mass analyzer, or Mass Spectrometer. Instruments very similar to this one have flown on many deep space missions including CASSINI. In determining gas types with fairly high frequency (many per second), gas quantity and distribution can be determined over time.

The Ultraviolet – Visible Spectrometer (UVS) will determine observed (Lunar Exosphere) gas types by the characteristic electromagnetic emission spectra of gas particles impacted by solar radiation. It is also capable of a few additional modes (that I haven’t groked yet) that provide information about gas and dust processes in the exosphere.

The Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX) captures larger “dust” particles to determine composition and distribution over time, not entirely unlike the NMS. Also not entirely unlike the NMS, it employs an electromagnetic process to do so.

The NMS and LDEX are forward facing, while the UVS is rearward facing, in LADEE’s direction of flight. That is, LADEE flies sideways relative to its Lunar Capture rocket engine which it points out of the way otherwise.

The NASA TV broadcast schedule includes events on Thursday and Friday.

September 5, Thursday

10 -11:30 a.m. – NASA Social for LADEE Mission Live from the Wallops Flight Facility – HQ/WFF (Education Channel)

3 p.m. – LADEE Prelaunch Mission Briefing – HQ/WFF (All Channels)

4 p.m. – LADEE Mission Science and Technology Demonstration Briefing – HQ/WFF (All Channels)

September 6, Friday

6-10 a.m. –Live Interviews on the LADEE Mission – HQ/WFF (All Channels)

4-6 p.m. – Live Interviews on LADEE Mission – HQ/WFF (All Channels)

9:30 p.m. – Live Launch Coverage and Commentary on LADEE Mission – HQ/GSFC/WFF (Public and Media Channels)

9:30 p.m. – Simulcast of NASA EDGE Live Webcast of LADEE Mission and Launch – LARC/HQ/WFF (Education Channel)

September 7, Saturday

2 a.m. – LADEE Post Launch News Conference –HQ/WFF (All Channels)

The LADEE Mission Pages have info for viewing the launch from the US East Coast, and most importantly how to get involved in citizen science!

Yuri’s Night Trivia Questions (yes with answers!)

So Erin Bonilla (@EBon) asked me to work up the trivia contest questions for this year’s Yuri’s Night in DC at the Science Club. I decided it would be a fun resource to make available so I made two files – one with answers, and one without.  Print out the one WITHOUT answers to give to your victims participants and give them 30 or so minutes to answer, collect and score then hand out the prizes (you DO need prizes! :) ) and answer sheets.  People had a lot of fun with this one, all the questions got at least one right answer, and nobody got a perfect score so I think it’s pretty balanced!
Here ya go!

The one WITH answers

Obviously the one WITHOUT answers





@NeilTyson to host “John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon with John Logsdon” on March 5th

John Logsdon

If you are in the New York City area, you have a chance to join author John Logsdon as he traces the factors leading to President John F. Kennedy’s decision to send astronauts to the Moon and discusses Kennedy’s concerns as the massive effort unfolded. The program, hosted by Hayden Planetarium Director Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson, will conclude with a signing of Logsdon’s book, John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon.

The program ”John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon with John Logsdon” will be held at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium on March 5th at 7:30pm. Tickets are $15 and $13.50 for members, students, or seniors. Click here to purchase tickets or to get more information.

Thanks to Ellen Evaristo of the American Museum of Natural History for the information.

Apollo 14 at Forty: Shepard, crew return America to the moon

Apollo 14 at Forty: Shepard, crew return America to the moon

America’s first man in space, Alan B. Shepard, stood on the dusty soil of the moon. His white space suit made it hard to move freely as he hopped across the plains at Fra Mauro, the landing site for Shepard and fellow moon walker Edgar Mitchell.

As the lunar journey neared its end, Shepard took his handle from a rock collection tool and fastened a six iron wedge at the end of it, dropped a small white ball onto the dry soil and made the first golf shot on another celestial surface.

The ball shot into a nearby crater, and he thought to himself, “A hole in one.”

Shepard then perfected his back swing for the second and last golf ball. “There it goes… miles and miles and miles!” he exclaimed as the second ball soared and arced out into the solid black sky.

It had been a long journey for America’s fifth human to reach the moon. As NASA worked to return America back to space following the Apollo One fire, the space agency’s senior astronaut was loosing his hearing in his left ear and his balance. His equilibrium was gone by autumn of 1968.

A secret ear operation suggested by fellow astronaut Tom Stafford was then performed by a Los Angeles doctor which allowed the astronaut to return to flight status a year later.

He was ready to now aim for a moon flight, particularly Apollo 13 and the Fra Mauro region.

However, crew rotation by chief astronaut Deke Slayton put Shepard on board Apollo 14, and when the preceding flight aborted it’s lunar landing due to a blown oxygen tank, Fourteen set it’s mission sights on Fra Mauro.

Apollo 14 lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center on January 31, 1971, at 4:03:02 pm EST, forty minutes late due to rain over launch pad 39-A, to begin a nine day voyage upon the ocean of space.

Once the crew reached space and left earth orbit for the moon, they ran into a problem with the docking latches which connect the lunar module Antares with their command module Kitty Hawk.

For one hour, Kitty Hawk’s pilot Stuart Roosa brought the command module in slowly to dock it perfectly on four tries, however the capture latches would not latch. Kitty Hawk’s fuel was running lower than had been planned at this point in the flight as well.

If the latches could not dock the two craft together, the mission would have to be aborted.

As the crafts moved past a distance of 20,000 miles away from earth, the idea was discussed to go in at a faster rate to awake those latches and dock the module. It worked and the crew sped on toward lunar orbit.

The three day journey to lunar orbit was quiet.

Antares trip down to the lunar surface was not.

Software issues with the lunar module’s landing computer, and later with the landing radar caused big concerns for both the crew and in mission control.

Once the control center sent up new commands to the computer, they were given a go for landing.

Antares single engine fired to bring the craft down and land. It was human kinds third landing upon the moon.

Landing at Fra Mauro on the eastern edge of the Ocean of Storms occurred on February 5 at 4:18:11 a.m., just 130 feet shy from the target site.

“Okay, we made a good landing,” the 47-year-old Shepard said upon landing Antares.

Hours later, he became the fifth human to set foot upon the moon and radioed to mission control on what it took for him to reach this point, “Al is on the surface. It’s been a long way, but we’re here.”

To which Slayton replied, “Not bad for an old man.” Shepard would be the only Mercury astronaut to reach the moon.

Shepard and Mitchell collected nearly ninety-three pounds of lunar rocks during their nearly five hour set of two moon walks.

This week marks the fortieth anniversary of Shepard and his crew’s flight aboard Apollo 14, the mission which returned America to the moon following the odyssey of the Apollo 13 flight the following spring.

In October 1995, I enjoyed a candid conversation with Alan Shepard on his thoughts about the space program of the time. And, although it has been fifteen years, his words echo true in 2011 as it did then.

Charles Atkeison: How does the space program today differ from what you experienced during the 1960′s and into the early 1970′s? Do we still have a focus for what we want to do at NASA?

Alan Shepard: I think as far as NASA’s concerned, yes. The difference as far as the general public’s concerned is that the pure excitement of the early days is gone because, “so we’ve done that. What do we do tomorrow?”, kind of routine. The fact that the public in general is excited about exploration made the lunar mission a very well recognized, well appreciated phase.

The folks that are flying today are just as dedicated as we were even knowing ahead of time that they are not going to receive the same kind of appreciation and recognition that those of us did in the early days.

Charles: Do you consider yourself the Christopher Columbus of the modern age?

Alan: I really don’t. I consider myself very fortunate to have been allowed to make a couple of space flights for the United States. I recognize a few of us get a lot of attention, but literally hundreds of our close associates are the ones that did all the work. I remember saying in May of 1961 at the White House, when I received a medal from President Kennedy acknowledging that these hundreds, yes thousands of dedicated individuals on the ground are the ones to whom the accolades of the day should go. And I still feel that very strongly.

Charles: I remember the scene, Kennedy drops your medal during the presentation. What went through your head right then?

Alan: Well, we almost banged heads ’cause both of us (Shepard laughs) … it was kind of cute. ‘Cause Jack said, “Here,” and Jackie (Kennedy) said, “No. No, Jack, pin it on.” So then he recovered and pinned it on. So we had a lot of fun with that.

Charles: Thank you.

During a visit to the Kennedy Space Center’s Saturn V center, guests can walk up to and study the moon craft, Kitty Hawk.

Commander Shepard passed away while at his home in California following a two year bout with leukemia in July 1998. Crew mate Roosa passed away three years earlier due to an inflammation of the pancreas. Ed Mitchell is now eighty and lives near West Palm Beach, Florida.

In May, America will once again recall the Christopher Columbus of the space age in Shepard, as we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of America’s first trip into space, Freedom 7.

Story by
Charles Atkeison

Teaser of Moonscape, a free Apollo 11 documentary

Swiss journalist Paolo Attivissimo is working on Moonscape, an upcoming free Apollo 11 documentary funded and produced by space enthusiasts, with a focus on accuracy and original material It will use the highest quality footage, audio and images, and feature synchronized views. Here is the first English teaser.

Paolo is a great Apollo expert and enthusiast. He also built an Apollo US flag replica that was saluted by a guy named Buzz.

It’s All About “Vigah”

John F.
Kennedy’s spirit remains alive and intensely in my heart. That momentous day
when he vowed that we would “land men on the moon before the end of this decade”
brought me to my feet with tears in my eyes. Sadly, while I was deeply embroiled
in Navy rocket programs the word came he had been assassinated. Tears flowed
again, that time from grave loss.


The essence
of that spirit I hold so dear is, in his words, “vigah.” With his words, his
actions and his strong belief in the future of America and especially its young
people, he infused all of us with “vigah.” With that infusion we did the near
impossible and put men on the moon as directed; safely and on time.


As we ponder
whether we will venture anywhere in space in the next decade, we stammer and
lose faith.  Wherever it must originate,
however it will be communicated, and whenever it will take hold, we must
re-infuse our belief in ourselves, our future and especially our dreams to
explore all that surrounds us.  We must
regain “vigah.” We must do it now, and we must impart it throughout the space
community, the Congress and our President.


We are a “can
do” people. The impossible is an irritant that drives us to succeed against
seemingly dreadful odds.  Why are we now
revoking that can do spirit?  Whatever
the initial budget, we must find a way. Whatever the technological hurdles, we
must find a way. Whatever the naysayers shout, we must press on.  Whatever it takes, we will do it, and we will
do it with ‘vigah.”

Apollo at Forty

Forty years ago
humans embarked on a dangerous journey from which their safety and
return could not be guaranteed. Not since humans first journeyed far
from the savannahs of Africa or set sail
across vast oceans has any trip been so defining of the spirit that
lives in all of us. We are seekers of knowledge, of new frontiers, we
are restless spirits and explorers always seeking to chart the unknown
in the quest for understanding what lies beyond our shores.

Today we remember and celebrate not just an era when giant rockets
and giant men ventured across the stars to set foot on another world,
but when we as humans dared to leave the safety of our shores and
fulfill our destiny as explorers – to reach out and quench that thirst
for knowledge by not just dreaming, but by turning our fears into
courage, our dreams into words and our words into action.

We remember the words of Neil Armstrong as he stepped on to the
surface of the moon “One small step for man, one giant leap for
mankind” and later “Here men from the planet earth first set foot on
the moon – we came in peace”. Only five hundred of us have ever left
planet earth to venture into space. Just twenty-eight of the billions
of us have ever left the confines of low-earth orbit earth to venture
to the moon and only twelve of us have walked on its surface, but it is
not the number of us that made the journey that was important. What was
important was that we decided to go at all – for in the end it was not
just twelve men who made the journey, but a civilization that made that
journey with them.

On this day, we mark that great adventure and the skill, courage and
bravery of all who made that journey possible. Many are no longer with
us, but their spirit and their commitment live on. The fruits of their
work shall sit for an eternity on the surface of the moon and will
survive long after the humans that built it or remember it will walk
the face of the earth. It will live on as a monument to an era when
risk, daring and a strong national will defined the human spirit.

We can only hope that the spirit of that time is not lost on future
generations. Our spirit and our drive to seek out new frontiers cannot
be silenced by those who think exploration too risky or too costly.
Hundreds have paid the ultimate price for the dream of space
exploration. Perhaps millions over the existence of humankind have done
the same to move us forward off the plains and off the shores to a bold
new world over the horizon. Today, we also remember the small steps of
our ancestors that made “a giant leap” possible.

Back in the Day… (Chapter Two)

Chapter 2 – NASA’s Best Kept Secret (and no, its not Area 51)

Much of the general public is familiar with the more notable NASA
facilities. KSC, JSC and JPL are for many people, household names.
Others like Ames less so and hardly anyone knows of Wallops Island or

Perhaps the least known is White Sands Test Facility. And before the
folks at Facility IV&V jump all over me, they didn’t exist “back in
the day.”

Originally known as the Apollo Site and later renamed White Sands
Test Facility, WSTF lies in the high desert of New Mexico far from

It lays approximately 18 miles northeast of Las Cruces, New Mexico
and is at the end of a six mile road to nowhere called appropriately,
NASA Road. This is not to be confused with NASA Road One. If you are on
NASA Road One and you are looking for WSTF, you have a long hard trip
ahead. NASA Road is in a different state!

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect Apollo Site was obtained when
some poor rancher didn’t pay his taxes. I say this, because the land on
which WSTF sits, is not fit for man nor beast. Well maybe some
jackrabbits, snakes, and lizards, but that’s about all.

If you are looking for White Sands Test Facility it would be logical to look near or on White Sands Missile Range. Right?


The two are worlds apart. WSMR is military and WSTF is civilian. And
if the separation of these two cultures is not sufficient, the two are
separated by a mountain range! WSTF is on the west side of the San
Andreas Mountains, some eighteen miles from Las Cruces and WSMR is on
the east side, close to Alamogordo.

Back in the day, the north end of the San Andreas range was called
the Organ Mountains. They were called that because the mountains were
very rugged, and appeared to some like the standing pipes of an church
organ. US 70 connects Las Cruces with Alamogordo and goes over a
mountain pass. If heading east from Las Cruces, WSTF is north of US 70
and the other side of the mountain, WSMR is south of the highway.
Confused yet? Maybe this is why nobody knows where WSTF is.

As a small matter of interest, back in the day there was a small
beer joint on the highway just below the summit pass through the
Organs. Locals called that watering hole Balls.

From August 1963 to January 1966, a series of unmanned flight tests
were conducted at WSMR to demonstrate the adequacy of the Apollo launch
escape system and to verify the performance of the command module earth
landing system. The launch vehicle used for five of these tests was the
Little Joe II. Glynn Lunney (later the flight director during the most
critical hours of the Apollo 13 mission) took charge of the
“boilerplate” tests of the Apollo abort escape system at WSMR.

(See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Joe_II and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glynn_Lunney)

At the same time, on the other side of the mountain, engine firing
tests were being conducted on thrusters and LEM ascent and descent
engines that were deemed to be too dangerous because of the safety and
health aspects of hypergolic propellants, for testing at other NASA

Here is where we pick up on the story “Back in the Day…”

After college, I went back to the Los Angeles area and found
employment as an analytical chemist for a laboratory running analyses
on foods and foodstuffs. I spent long boring hours determining the
butter fat content of raw milk, fresh from a cow (and smelling like
it), fusil oil content in liquor (that’s the stuff that makes you go
blind from drinking moonshine) and looking for “gross filth” in canned
goods. Gross filth is the polite term used to describe fly eggs, bug
parts and other yucky things that show up from time to time in food. It
was a far cry from the excitement of those student days working “out on
the range” at White Sands Missile Range. Needless to say, I was not
enamored of a long term relationship with gross filth!

Realizing boredom was setting in, I decided to go back to New
Mexico, try for a full time job with PSL or perhaps WSMR. By that time,
WSTF was up and running. I applied for and managed to secure a position
at White Sands Test Facility in the early days of the Apollo program.
Actually, it was not so much a position as it was a grunt job; junior
bench chemist. But I gained a tremendous amount of experience and
knowledge that stood me in very good stead in the years to follow. And,
I made enough money to fulfill the first of my life-long ambitions. I
learned to fly!

From my days as a co-op student at New Mexico A&M studying
chemistry and working part time at White Sands, I was vaguely aware of
class of fuel and oxidizers that were hypergolic, in other words needed
no source of ignition. Mixing certain chemicals with others could cause
spontaneous combustion. Some hypergolic fuels and oxidizers were used
in the German rocket program during WWII. One such oxidizer was red
fuming nitric oxide. In Germany it was known as S-stoff. In our early
missile program a version of this oxidizer, IRFNA, red fuming nitric
acid with an inhibiter added, was used most notably in the Air Force
medium range ballistic missile, Thor.

Perhaps the most important rocket propellants ever developed were
the Nitrogen Tetroxide (NTO) oxidizer and hydrazine family of fuels,
Monomethyl Hydrazine (MMH), Dimethyl Hydrazine (DMH) and Aerozine-50, a
mixture of the two.

Early long range missile development centered around petroleum based
fuels and cryogenic oxidizers. Examples of these were kerosene or
alcohol and liquid oxygen. The problem is that cryogenics, gases cooled
to super cold temperatures at which they become liquid, are not readily
storable. They can be contained in dewar flasks, which are similar to
the familiar thermos bottle, but much, much more sophisticated (and
expensive). Cryogenic propellant tanks for missiles must be
continuously “topped off” to maintain flight readiness. This is not
practical when designing an ICBM (from which our first manned space
flight system, the Mercury-Atlas was developed).

Consequently, an ICBM had to be “tanked” before launch. This was not
acceptable when faced with the possibility of our enemies adopting a
“first strike” scenario. We needed a rapid reaction system, one where
our missiles could be fueled with storable fuels and oxidizers, and
which could generate the same specific impulse levels, read thrust, as
cryogenic oxidizers used in our first generation ICBMs. The answer came
with the Titan II. Titan used storable propellants, Aerozine-50 and
Nitrogen Tetroxide.

The Titan II was the basis for our second generation manned spacecraft project, Gemini.

Designers of the Apollo system settled on cryogenics for most of the
rocket engines but dictated hypergolics for the thrusters and the
ascent and descent engines of the Lunar Excursion Module and the
Service Module engine. The thinking being that the only the Command
Module, Service Module, LEM engines and various thrusters needed
storable propellants. All other stages of the Saturn V would be
discarded in or on the ascent to earth orbit.

The only downside of using the hypergolics is that they are highly toxic!

Hydrazines rot your liver and smell like dead fish, set out in the
sun for a couple of days. A favorite practical joke on new comers was
to shove a sanitary napkin, stained with ketchup and a small drop of
A-50, shoved far back in your desk drawer. This was my baptism in my
unit at WSTF. Thanks guys!

NTO exists as a gas/liquid phase in equilibrium at room temperature.
The red brown gas boiling off is essentially nitric acid anhydride,
needing only water to form nitric acid. High school chemistry students
soon learn that nitric acid burns like hell. Breathing in Nitrogen
Tetroxide fumes react with the moisture in the lungs forming nitric
acid and thus dissolves your lungs from the inside out. Bummer!

NTO leakage on the engine test stands at WSTF was known as a “BFRC.”
One might hear over the loud speakers, “We have a BFRC on 3!” A new
secretary asked her boss, “What does BFRC mean?” Like a pluperfect
idiot he told her. “BFRC means Big F*cking Red Cloud.” Shortly
thereafter a directive came down from the head-shed that from that time
forward, BFRC’s would be referred to as “Propellant Excursions.” I
really believe to this day that “BFRC” better described the urgency of
the situation.

At WSTF I became very proficient in the handling of, and the
analyzing of the chemical properties of the hypergolics. One might say
I enjoyed sticking my head in the mouth of the lion.

While at WSTF a call came down from NASA HQ for candidates to form a
hypergolic analysis unit at the Merritt Island Launch Area, MILA. The
winner would get an all-expenses paid vacation in a mosquito infested

My boss won the lottery. He made the mistake of adding a caveat, he
would accept so long as he could take his best “technician.” The powers
that be informed him that they had not considered a sidekick as part of
the deal, but that personage should submit a resume for consideration.
I did.

Tonto got the job!

I’ll never forget the phone call I received the following Thursday morning.

It went something like this.

Him: “Can you be down at the Cape on Monday morning?”

Me: “I suppose, but don’tcha think we ought to discuss a few things first?”

Him: “Like?”

Me: “For a visit, er, interview? Do I need to bring a toothbrush maybe wear a bra or something?”

Him: “Forget the small stuff, can you be at work here Monday?”

Me: “Ummmm, do we need to talk about salary maybe? And, Oh yeah, I
got a house here, and how much it’s gonna cost me to move, and Oh Hell,
lotsa things.”

Him: “Don’t sweat the small things. Double your current salary,
we’ll buy your house and front your moving expenses and advance the
down payment for a house on the island. That good enough for ya? I need
an answer NOW!”

Me: (Gulp) “I suppose.”

Him: “Suppose?”

Me: “er, yes.”

Talk about jumping off the deep end, but then I always did say I wanted to see the world!

Next stop, Merritt Island where the big kids play…

Looking back

I left the Aerospace industry in the seventies. I was an Apollo propellent systems chemist with a specialization in hypergolics.

When Apollo 18, 19 and 20 were cancelled, many of us found ourselves without a job, and with the Shuttle years away, many of us were without a career as well.

Many decades and many, many miles later I signed on to twitter and found a wonderful group of active members, workers and enthusiasts in the spaceflight community.

Through your tweets and blogs, I feel connected once again to the love of my life, the dreams of my youth, when a few of us answered John F. Kennedy’s clarion call to reach for the moon and the stars.