Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Last Hurrah: Skylab’s 1978-1979 Unmanned Mission

"An overhead view of the Skylab space station cluster in Earth orbit as photographed from the Skylab 4 Command and Service Modules (CSM) during the final fly-around by the CSM before returning home." Feb. 8, 1974 NASA photo

All things must pass away.” -George Harrison, “All Things Must Pass”
 
According to the NASA History book Living and Working in Space: The NASA History of Skylab, Skylab 4’s commander, Gerald Carr, boosted the space station’s orbit by firing the Apollo spacecraft’s attitude-control thrusters for three minutes at the end of his crew’s 1973-1974 mission. It was then expected that the space station might remain in orbit for another nine years, through 1983. By 1977, that expectancy shifted to 1980, the solar maximum year. But in early 1978, it was clear that Skylab might come down even sooner than expected. Solar activity had been the highest ever recorded by modern instruments, and this factor increased drag on the space station.

Adding insult to injury, a proposed Space Shuttle mission to attach a Teleoperator Retrieval System to Skylab was thwarted by the fact that the shuttle wasn’t yet ready for flight (and it wouldn’t be until 1981). Faced with this turn of events, Skylab thus began its final unmanned mission – with the aid of ground controllers and computer programmers. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Alone As Never Before: An Interview with ‘I Love You, Michael Collins’ Author Lauren Baratz-Logsted

The man who carried the fire: a close-up of Michael Collins during an Apollo 11 press conference, May 14, 1969. Photo Credit: The Project Apollo Image Archive
  
I knew I was alone in a way that no earthling has ever been before.” - Michael Collins, Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 astronaut

Author Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s newest book, I Love You, Michael Collins (to be released June 20th by Farrar Straus Giroux), is aimed at young readers, but can appeal to anyone who remembers what it was like to be “bitten by the space bug” at a young age, or people who simply love Michael Collins, one of NASA’s most beloved figures (and trust me, there are a lot of us). Many adult readers will be able to relate to the book’s young protagonist, a 10-year-old girl named Mamie, who is assigned to write one of the Apollo 11 astronauts for a school assignment in 1969. While Mamie continues to correspond with Collins throughout the book, changes arise on the home front, motivating her to emulate her hero by “staying with the ship.”

This Space Available interviewed Baratz-Logsted this week, and asked why she focused on a lesser-known Apollo 11 astronaut, and discussed the importance of keeping young adult books historically informative, but entertaining. Note: some book spoilers included.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

How Skylab’s Beast of a Computer System Inspired the Space Shuttle

From Dec. 5, 1973: "Scientist-astronaut Edward G. Gibson, Skylab 4 science pilot, stands at the Apollo Telescope Mount (ATM) console in the Multiple Docking Adapter (MDA) of the Skylab space station cluster in Earth orbit." The computer interface is at lower left, above the cables. Photo Credit: NASA
Skylab occupies a difficult spot in space history. One thing you hear too much when you’re a Skylab fan is how the first U.S. space station didn’t have any applications or purposes beyond its three crewed missions. This fallacy can be shot down on many levels, but one area that doesn’t get enough attention is how Skylab revolutionized the use of computer systems aboard spacecraft, and how its systems led to the development of the world’s most sophisticated flying machine, the Space Shuttle.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Future That Didn't Happen: An Interview with 'Amazing Stories of the Space Age' Author Rod Pyle

Several proposed military space programs, including the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, are covered in Amazing Stories of the Space Age, Rod Pyle's newest book. Image Credit: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

“Why didn't I learn to treat everything like it was the last time. My greatest regret was how much I believed in the future.”

- Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Author Rod Pyle's newest book, Amazing Stories of the Space Age (Prometheus Books), takes a different approach than many other titles in the spaceflight canon. Pyle educates the reader about little-known, little-flown, and defunct programs that didn't quite make it past the planning stage. Readers discover plans of military space stations, spies in orbit, robots resigned to suffer lonely deaths on remote planets, and a little Soviet space shuttle called...Buran something. 

This Space Available interviewed Pyle this week about his newest book. We discussed the impetus behind telling the tales of obscure space programs, and the importance of keeping the stories accurate, despite hard truths. Note: some book spoilers included.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Venus in Furs: An Interview with 'Island of Clouds’' Gerald Brennan

Venus: the enigma of the Solar System, and Island of Clouds' target. Gerald Brennan's newest book supposes NASA sent astronauts on a flyby mission to Venus in 1972. 1974 Mariner 10 image from NASA, processed by Ricardo Nunes 
I am tired, I am weary
I could sleep for a thousand years
A thousand dreams that would awake me
Different colors made of tears

- The Velvet Underground, “Venus in Furs”

One of the exciting new space titles to hit bookshelves in 2017 is Island of Clouds, part of the Altered Space Series from Tortoise Books. To be released during the spring, it tells the story of three astronauts who flyby a then-yet-unknown planet, and in the process – for better or worse – discover themselves, warts and all. The mission is based on actual Apollo Applications blueprints to fly astronauts to Venus, and the crew consists of three legendary (if somewhat unexpected) Apollo astronauts.

This Space Available interviewed author Gerald Brennan this week about his newest book, the lure of Venus as a destination, and the myth of the astronaut as “superhero.” Note: some book spoilers included.