Thursday, June 30, 2011

Where Did Buzz Aldrin Show Up? Part 123,659 - Transformers: Dark of the Moon Premiere

Buzz Aldrin does some weird lurching dance, while Mike Collins and Neil Armstrong remain unimpressed. 1969 Life magazine photo. Initial 1969 rehearsals for "Dancing With The Stars" = not a success.

Where did the World's Only Apollo Astronaut Buzz Aldrin show up this week? He was seen hanging out with his bro Shia LaBeouf at the Transformers: Dark of the Moon premiere last night. He was also seen gettin' down with some blonde "news reporter" who was wearing blue suede stripper shoes (but they were probably really superior stripper shoes, not like the $12.99 ones you can buy at Burlington Coat Factory). From the heavens, an ethereal Jack Swigert shouted out from the window of his Eternal Corvette, "DON'T DO IT BUZZ."

Meanwhile, Frank Borman was probably sitting somewhere reading this story on The Daily Mail online while lighting his cigars with $100 bills with a smug look on his face. Neil Armstrong and Mike Collins were not available for comment. 

This isn't really a space story at all, as you have just found out.

UPDATE: Turns out that ol' Buzz had no effing clue who Shia LaBeouf was. Here is a gratuitous picture of my facial expression reading that news story:


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Vintage Shuttle Astronauts: Tan Astronaut Is Tan - Bob Crippen (...But Who Else?)

Bob Crippen did not discover self-tanner, but he certainly must have discovered something to "extend and prolong that St. Tropez tan." Bob and John Young get ready for STS 1, 1981 NASA photo.

Also, this photo above. From the right: Crippen, Nancy Reagan, President Ronald Reagan, and STS-2 mission commander Joe Engle, 1982 NASA photo. 

...And also this. Crippen, Richard Truly, John Young, and Joe Engle. 1981 NASA photo. Because this is a serious blog about science. 

Oh yeah, I thought I would throw this in, too. Bob overpowers the shuttle Columbia's environmental control system with Hawaiian Tropic. 1981 NASA photo. 

Now that the shuttle program is winding down to its end, it's time to reminisce about the very first shuttle astronauts who pioneered the world's first reusable space vehicle. So let's discuss the pilot of STS 1, Robert Laurel Crippen (or "Crip"). A U.S. Navy test pilot, he was part of Astronaut Group 7 in 1969 (which also included STS 2's pilot, Richard Truly). In 1978, Crip and John Young were named as the first two astronauts to test-drive (so to speak) the then-experimental space shuttle. Before that, in 1972 he was part of a crew called SMEAT which functioned as sort of a long-duration "let's pretend we're in space!" Skylab prototype; he also was on the support crews for the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz missions.

Crip is also well-known within the NASA fan community as having perhaps the most ubiquitous "natural glow" ever. In contrast, in some Gemini 3 press clippings from 1965, John Young was described variously as being "swarthy" and as having a "dark complexion" (probably because he's a naive Florida boy at heart, and didn't know what SPF was until Gus Grissom told him that it existed). Crip makes John Young look like Gwen Stefani in comparison. That should tell you how tan Bob Crippen is.

Bob Crippen went on to fly four shuttle missions in total during the 1980s. Other than perhaps Pete Conrad, inexplicably he was the only astronaut ever to maintain a tan in space. Which leads me to believe that Bob Crippen isn't real.

To read more about Bob Crippen's career (and not about his unbelievable astro-tan), check out this NASA link.  

Monday, June 27, 2011

Jack Swigert of the Week: Um, hey, Apollo 7.

Because Jack was once on Apollo 7's support crew. Poor guy. 1968 Life magazine photo.

Jack was a CAPCOM during Apollo 7, and was the recipient of a lot of sassy back-talk from Wally Schirra and the boyz from that particular crew. You can more read about that scandal here. At any rate, Schirra regularly trolled ol' Jack with some nice nuggets like this one: 

SCHIRRA: You've added two burns to this flight schedule, and you've added a urine water dump; and we have a new vehicle up here, and I can tell you at this point TV will be delayed without any further discussion until after the rendezvous.

CAPCOM (Poor ol' Jack): Roger. Copy. 

I hope Jack got a raise or something that year. He probably got the last laugh at some awesome post-Apollo 7 "All the hot stewardesses at my house! WOOT!" party. I hope he did, at least, for his suffering. 

Bitchery taken directly from the Apollo 7 Air-to-Ground Voice Transcriptions. You tried, Jack.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Astronauts As Cultural Icons, Part 1: Neil Armstrong Does Chrysler Ads, 1979

Here's a clip of Neil Armstrong, semi-reclusive Gemini 8 and Apollo 11 astronaut, doing a TV spot for Chrysler vehicles in 1979. Neil did a pretty good job at being a pitchman despite not having acting experience; being a living symbol of one of the greatest engineering feats of all time certainly added to his credibility as an automobile company's spokesman. 

Many have wondered why Neil chose to advertise vehicles in the late 1970s. Well, when you were the first man to step on the Moon's surface, I'm pretty sure you can do whatever the hell you want. There's your answer.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Astronauts Standing by Spacecraft Looking Badass: John Glenn and Scott Carpenter Edition

John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, and Friendship 7 from "An Evening with Two Mercury Astronauts," from the National Air and Space Museum, June 23, 2011. Photo by Samer Farha via Flickr. Glenn and Carpenter are the last surviving members of NASA's first astronaut group, convened in 1959. Glenn made his historic first U.S. orbital flight aboard the Mercury capsule in February 1962; Carpenter flew a three-orbit mission on Aurora 7 in May 1962.

NASA Space Shuttle Publications, Early 1980s: Relics Of A Not-So-Distant Past

Part of a package I received from NASA in the 1980s. Pictured: a synopsis of the early shuttle missions, and a space shuttle schematic poster. Photo by Emily Carney.

Given that the final space shuttle launch (Atlantis, STS-135) is scheduled on July 8th, I've been feeling pretty nostalgic lately about the halcyon days of the space shuttle program from 1981 to 1985. When I was a tiny space nerd in the early 1980s, I sent a fairly rapturous letter to NASA asking raving about how awesome I thought the space program was, how I wanted to be an astronaut, etc. etc. It probably was no different in content from any other letter from a typical spaceflight-obsessed kid. In response, they quite generously sent me a package crammed full of space shuttle related documents and launch vehicle schematics. I still have all of this material at present time; a small sample is pictured above. 

Not pictured here is a pretty curious looking enclosure that I probably didn't look at as a child, because it wasn't as fascinating to me yet as previous accomplishments like Apollo, Skylab, and the shuttle, and also it seemed somewhat impossible that such a thing could exist at the time (the mid-1980s). It was a schematic and description by McDonnell Douglas of a space station which the shuttle would be able to dock with. Although I didn't realize it at the time, I had been looking at an early prototype of the International Space Station, and I didn't even know it, or appreciate it. Unsurprisingly, NASA would once again make the seemingly impossible happen, and we got our fortress in space. 

Mid-1980s artist's rendering of proposed "Space Station Freedom," an early prototype of the International Space Station. Image by McDonnell Douglas and NASA. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

ESCANDALO in Space, Part IV: Sally Ride Dares to Wear Short Shorts in Space

"Who wears short shorts? We wear short shorts." Sally Ride, sans short shorts, on the space shuttle Challenger's flight deck. NASA photo.

It's hard for me to believe that merely 30 years ago, no American woman had ever flown in space. To their credit, NASA rectified this situation when one of the first female astronauts selected in 1978, physicist Sally Ride, made her first flight on the space shuttle
Challenger in June 1983. As it was, Sally's foray into manned spaceflight was not without controversy.

Like many government workers who possess uniforms or issued clothing, NASA's astronauts have items of clothing issued to them which they wear during spaceflights. One item issued to NASA's astronauts happened to be athletic shorts. These shorts are basically "physical training" shorts used when military members exercise, or happen to be working or hanging out leisurely. These shorts would cause a minor flap when Sally, the first U.S. woman in space, happened to be photographed wearing these shorts in space; parts of her thighs were exposed.

This shouldn't have been at all shocking. However, some people with way too much damn time on their hands were SCANDALIZED by the vision of an attractive young woman's bare legs on television and in pictures, and decided to write NASA about it. This line of thinking is pretty sexist, in my estimation. First, what was Sally supposed to wear while working and living in space - a full business suit? Also, her choice of work outfit was no different from the ensembles men wore in space. For example, here's Joe Engle doing his mission commander thing on STS 2 in 1981:

Clearly, no one was scandalized to the point of INSANITY by Joe Engle's legs; as far as I know, NO ONE wrote letters to NASA begging Joe to wear woolen trousers during further shuttle missions. Also, no one - male or female - accused Joe of "setting men in spaceflight back" because he wear shorts in space.

This may have been the dumbest NASA "scandal" ever. Another female astronaut, Judith Resnik, fell prey to the same controversy in the 1980s when she was photographed in a similar pose during a shuttle flight. So, in tribute to these brave, pioneering women who should have not given a single damn about what they looked like IN SPACE, I'm going to post the most scandalizing, upsetting picture of Frank Borman known to mankind:

"...Dear NASA, I have found a picture of Frank Borman jogging in Life magazine wearing some of your regulation short shorts. This is unacceptable."

Also, I found a completely outrageous, beastly photo of Pete Conrad. It's so heinous, I won't even post it. Wait, hell yeah I will:

Pete Conrad's contemptible 1973 Skylab attire clearly caused people to lose tons of respect for the men of NASA. GET IT TOGETHER TWEETY!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Mike Collins: The Real Dark Horse of Apollo 11

Collins, like, raps, cats. 1969 Life magazine photo.

Most manned spaceflight enthusiasts have been wholly familiarized with the stories of the two moon-walkers of Apollo 11. There's Buzz Aldrin, who has written not just one but two autobiographies (1973's Return To Earth and 2009's Magnificent Desolation), and who also appears to be just about everywhere on TV at the drop of a hat. There's Neil Armstrong, the subject of James R. Hansen's fine 2005 authorized biography, First Man. Also, we've already established that publicity-wise Neil is Buzz's polar opposite. Save for a few Apollo reunions, we don't see much of Ye Mighty Neil.

Then there's the third crew member of Apollo 11, who didn't walk on the moon but orbited the lunar terrain roughly 60 miles above his more famous counterparts. He's the coolest astronaut you probably aren't that familiar with, and he probably wrote the greatest, funniest, most eminently quotable astronaut autobiography ever. That man is Mike Collins.

A short biography of Mike Collins: an Air Force test pilot, Collins joined NASA in 1963 alongside colleagues such as Alan Bean, Buzz Aldrin, Eugene Cernan, and Roger Chaffee. In 1966, he made his first flight on Gemini 10, with mission commander/Florida's favorite country boy John Young (who Collins described hilariously as being generally unflappable, but very uncommunicative). He made a successful EVA on that mission, and was supposed to be on Apollo 8. However, a back injury necessitated surgery; as it was, Collins was scrubbed from that flight. But read on, as Collins would ultimately be rewarded with one of the baddest assignments ever as a command module pilot.

After making a quick recovery from surgery, Collins was thrown into training for Apollo 11. It's pretty well known that while his two more famous counterparts were on the moon, Collins was left to his own devices inside the command module. Collins possessed a much less publicly visible role in perhaps the most historical NASA mission, ever. This is where Collins' unique brand of class and duty comes into play; in every account of Apollo 11, Collins did not appear to be resentful or upset that he never walked on the moon. Many of his colleagues would have not acted with such self-restraint.

After Apollo 11, Collins left the space biz, and at one point worked for the Smithsonian Institution, which is pretty awesome in itself.

Mike Collins was also sort of the Cool Hipster Dad of NASA in the 1960s. He liked poetry, enjoyed painting as a hobby, was an expert about fine wines, and was very well-read. Collins bucked the trend of being a typical fighter jock, and was extremely verbose and funny.

Collins' book
Carrying The Fire: An Astronaut's Journey (1974) is a must read for any space enthusiast, young or old. His descriptions of John Young's country boy ways and Buzz Aldrin's knack for accessorizing will have you in hysterics. It is an ideal bookshelf companion to Eugene Cernan's Last Man On The Moon (my other favorite astronaut biography, which is also hilarious at parts...I'll save that review for a later time).

Here's a typically strident, yet on-point quote from Collins in 2009, when being interviewed for the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11; he had been asked, "Are you grumpy?":
At age 78, yes, in many ways. Some things about current society irritate me, such as the adulation of celebrities and the inflation of heroism…Celebrities? What nonsense, what an empty concept for a person to be, as my friend the great historian Daniel Boorstin put it, "known for his well-known-ness." How many live-ins, how many trips to rehab, maybe—wow—you could even get arrested and then you would really be noticed. Don’t get me started.
Collins also stated that he currently enjoys "running, biking, swimming, fishing, painting, cooking, reading, worrying about the stock market, [and] searching for a really good bottle of cabernet under ten dollars." Hopefully Mike is busting out a celebratory bottle of wine somewhere, and is continuing to chill under the stars.

Friday, June 10, 2011

McDivitt Vs. Young: Military Uniform Dance-Off - Who Wins?


NASA photos, 1968. Because this is an important blog about science.

U.S. Air Force Colonel James McDivitt (Gemini 4 and Apollo 9) is pictured up top.

U.S. Navy Commander John Young (Gemini 3, Gemini 10, Apollo 10, Apollo 16, STS 1, STS 9, hell, probably every damn spaceflight ever) is pictured at bottom.

So, who wins this military uniform dance-off? Some points to ponder: McDivitt rocks the Air Force blue uniform with his special brand of solemn swagger, while Young brings a subtler, "quiet storm" approach to his photo shoot, his hair expertly tousled and pomaded to a shine. Young has forgone his usual turtleneck for some sharp U.S. Navy dress blues. However, McDivitt remembered to bring his hat that day.

Who wore it better? Cast your votes in the comments section.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Neil Armstrong: The Courage of Restraint

Neil Armstrong in a pensive mood, 1969. Life magazine portrait.

If you've never read First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, the excellent authorized biography by James R. Hansen, you need to go to your nearest bookstore and get it, now.

Obviously Neil Armstrong is admirable for his contributions to aeronautical engineering (like superbadass Joe Engle, he also pioneered hypersonic flight with the X-15 space plane) and the U.S. space program, but I really admire Neil for what he did after he became the first man to walk upon the moon's surface.

Neil employed a rather quiet, unassuming attitude about public life; for a while he taught engineering at the University of Cincinnati, but generally (save for some appearances at Apollo-themed NASA reunions) Neil kept public sightings/shenanigans to a minimum, and recoiled from the profitable business of signing astronaut autographs. This practice upset some of his fans, but I respect it immensely - it's no secret that a lot of these signatures can be copied, and Neil was probably concerned about people profiting insanely from his mere signature (and perhaps faked signatures). I think I read somewhere that about 90% of "Neil Armstrong" signatures are fakes. Can you blame him for not wanting to get involved in this sort of foolishness? I don't think Neil "owes it to the public" to sign autographs at all, if he doesn't want to; he owes it to himself to live a private existence, untroubled by controversy.

Perhaps my favorite clip ever involving Neil concerns Bart Sibrel, the moon conspiracy theorist hack who is also extremely mentally unstable. Like most NASA enthusiasts, I do love the clip of a clearly pissed-off Buzz Aldrin knocking the shit out of Sibrel. I wish there was a way I could make this clip a perma-loop playing constantly on my computer's screen at all times. However, Neil's response to Sibrel's harassment is also notable due to his class and characteristic quiet restraint.

When being trolled constantly with a freakin' Bible by some crazy asshole about whether he walked on the moon, Neil simply and emphatically says, "Mr. Sibrel, you do not deserve an answer." All of the obnoxious moon landing conspiracy folks could learn a lesson in true courage and restraint from the First Man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong.

I have to admit though - I probably would have settled the "discussion" with Sibrel just as ol' Buzz had. With my mighty fists. I am probably gonna get a cease and desist from some moon conspiracy hack for writing this, and all I have to say is COME AT ME, BRO! I am an alpha female, and I look forward to the challenge - I'm not taking this post down!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

June 2011 Links of Interest...

Frank Borman is serious business, 1963. Life magazine photo.

This month's issue of Popshifter is dedicated to all things sci-fi and is brilliantly titled "Climb Onto the Nearest Star." The entire issue is fantastic, and is highly recommended reading. I wrote some pieces expressly for the (two?) NASA geeks out there:
Also, Spacelog is a relatively new Web site which presents mission transcripts in a linkable format; these links can be connected to social networking sites (i.e. Facebook and Twitter). This is a pretty awesome site for those interested in the second-by-second action associated with historical manned missions. Also, tooting my own horn: I transcribed the Mercury-Redstone 3 Freedom 7 PAO transcript.

Jack Swigert of the Week: HEY LAYDEEZ, IT'S SURVIVAL TRAINING TIME!!!!1111

"Do these orange jumpsuits camouflage us? No...? THEY LIED TO US!" Unidentified astronaut, Jack Swigert, and Charlie Duke work the survival training look, 1967. Image courtesy of Insert Space Here.

Perhaps some of the very best astronaut images from the 1950s and 1960s involve the various, completely random forms of training these men were subjected to. Here's a picture from a 1967 survival training photo set. Apparently NASA didn't know that bright orange jumpsuits failed to camouflage full-grown men; also, Jack has apparently ripped his jumpsuit in the backside (4 tha laydeez!), while Charlie Duke attempts to look like he isn't frazzled at all by having twenty pounds of river mud all over him. This was NASA's attempt at giving these poor dudes a "spa day."

However, it has been universally agreed that the best NASA training photo set from Life magazine involves this picture. Astronaut Groups One and Two Parachute Training, forever.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Joe Engle: The "You Are Tearing Me Apart, Lisa" of NASA

This picture is kind of a cop-out, because it never happened in real life. But, keep on reading. NASA portrait, late 1960s - early 1970s.

Joe Henry Engle was like the Space Shuttle Enterprise of the Apollo program. They gave him a nice pressure suit, some neat spacecraft models, a little toy rover with two miniaturized space dudes in it, put him in front of the inflatable Moon, snapped some pictures of him smiling, and basically told him he was going to the Moon on Apollo 17...until he wasn't.

Joe Engle was (and is) a truly amazing pilot who flew hypersonic flights on the X-15 (an experimental space plane which Neil Armstrong had also flown). After achieving "astronaut" status at age 32 (flying in excess of altitudes of 50 miles), the only badass thing Joe really had left to do was to fly in Earth's orbit, so he joined NASA as an astronaut in 1966 alongside other notable astros like Jack Swigert and Charlie Duke.

At some point Joe started training for the Apollo program, and I believe he did a sort of pre-SMEAT Skylab "Hey guys, let's pretend we're in space!" mockup mission with Vance Brand and Joseph Kerwin. Joe became the backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 14, and he became close friends with Eugene Cernan (they also had a very memorable backup crew patch).

Joe was slated to be the LEM pilot for Apollo 17, but NASA decided to send a geologist (Harrison "Jack" Schmitt) on the mission instead. Supposedly, NASA brass gave Joe a choice between flying on Apollo or on the then-nonexistent Space Shuttle; Joe preferred to take the Shuttle option, as it resembled a plane, and he had already flown a space plane. Gene discusses this whole situation at length in his great book, Last Man On The Moon, and seemed kind of broken up about NASA "breaking up the band."

However, Joe had the last laugh. He ended up commanding the second shuttle mission in November 1981, and became the first and ONLY space shuttle commander to reenter and fly the shuttle manually - without computer assistance - from a speed of Mach 25 to touchdown. Why did he do this? NASA claims it was to test the shuttle's operational limits, but I'm sure Joe did it for shits n' giggles because he knew he was badass enough to do it. Hell, he probably wrote "SHOW ME THE RECEIPTS" in smoke plumes in the sky from the shuttle's engines just because he was able to prior to touchdown. Also, he returned to space in 1985 on the shuttle Discovery.

What started out as an "Untold Victims of Apollo" story became a resounding success story, and Joe Engle came out of it all clearly winning.

Here's a picture of Joe (in the middle) when he decided, briefly, to form a psychedelic power trio with Vance Brand and Joseph Kerwin:

Hippietastic image courtesy of Insert Space Here on Tumblr.

For more information about Joe Engle's career, check out this NASA link.