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It has been several weeks since either superpower has announced an orbital launch, but space news still manages to fill the front pages of my local newspaper:

One story that has been building for several days is the impending (and now historical) launch of a Soviet missile into the Pacific Ocean. To the unitiated, such a feat seems hardly noteworthy—after all, the Pacific Ocean is quite literally the largest target on Earth.

Take a closer look. The Soviet ICBM actually struck within 1.24 miles of its target, which is a rather remarkable feat of guidance. A nuclear bomb delivered within a mile radius of any point of Washington D.C. would surely do the job expected of it.

Moreover, the uproar surrounding this flight has been riotous. Ever since the Russians announced the mission, citizens of our fair democracy have been up in arms. How dare the Communists violate the sacred neutrality of our oceans?

Well, the same way they violated the sacred neutrality of orbital space, and you'll notice that the President was just as easygoing about Sputnik as he was about this latest launch; clever fellow, that Ike. After all, if the Soviets open that can of worms, how can they protest when we follow suit?

In less contentious news, the last of the Little Joe test flights has had a successful flight with the adorable Miss Sam, a rhesus monkey, at the (dummy) controls. It's about time we saw equal representation in our "manned" space program! For those who don't know, Little Joe is a midget rocket that lofts a Mercury capsule several miles into the sky for a test of the emergency abort system, which is another rocket bolted to the spacecraft's nose. If the Mercury booster fails, the escape rocket will pull the capsule and pilot to safety—theoretically. Anxiously witnessing the flight were two of the Mercury Seven astronauts: Shepard and Glenn (one of whom, it is rumored, may be the first American to ride the Mercury for real into space).

Happily, the thing seems to work! Miss Sam flew to a height of nine miles and a maximum velocity of 2000 miles per hour before the escape rocket fired and jerked the Mercury away from the still blazing rocket. This test was particularly important because it was done at "max q," the instant of maximum booster acceleration. If the system works under those conditions, it should work all the time.

Miss Sam was recovered by helicopter almost immediately upon her splashdown into the Atlantic Ocean, 8 and a half minutes after launch. Less than an hour after leaving the ground, the intrepid monkey-naut was safely back on Wallops Island where she'd started from.

This flight marked the last time a boilerplate Mercury will be tested. The remaining two Little Joe flights will feature real production models off the McDonnell assembly line. Thus, humanity gets one step closer to the stars.

See you in a few!


Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns. While you're waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!

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I admit it. I splurged last night.

I'm not the poorest of people, but I am thrifty. Last night, however, I took a detour on the way home. I ended up at my favorite cafe off Grand Avenue in downtown Escondido. They sell pizza, which I've noticed is becoming as commonplace as burgers these days. I ordered a slice pepperoni, a salad, and I washed it down with a beer. Then I sauntered down to a local coffee shop and enjoyed a day-old brownie and a cuppa joe. For dessert, I had a new 35 cent Ace Double (novel, that is).

The night set me back 16 bits, but all of the week's stress washed away. It beats a head shrinker, right?

Now, you might expect that this is a lead-in to a review of the Double, but I haven't finished it yet, so you'll just have to wait. In the meantime, here's an exciting Double Dose of Space News.

Remember Little Joe? It's that cluster of rockets with a Mercury capsule on top designed to test out the abort systems on the spaceship. That little tower on top has rockets that will propel a Mercury and its pilot to safety if something goes wrong during booster launch. The first flight was a total bust.

Since then, there have been two missions, the first of which was not entirely successful. Little Joe 1-A, launched November 4, seemed to go off okay, but the escape rocket went off too late, and the pressure on the capsule was far too low to make a good test of the system.

December 4 saw the next flight, Little Joe 2. NASA decided to go for broke with this one and fully equip the capsule with a host of biological specimens. One minute into the flight, the escape rocket blasted the Mercury and its contents, including seeds, bugs, cell samples, and a rhesus monkey named "Sam," at Mach 6 to an altitude of 53 miles. Sam experienced a good three minutes of weightlessness during the flight. All occupants were recovered several hours later, safe and sound.

The flight was a complete success, but it was not as strenuous a test as it might have been. The next mission will feature an abort rescue at "max q," or the craft's strongest acceleration. If the escape system works then, it will be probably be rated safe for actual use. Exciting stuff!

Next up: 1959's Galactic Stars awards!

Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns. While you're waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!

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You certainly can't fault the Air Force for lacking persistence. The flyboys launched yet another in the ill-fated Discoverer series on the 19th. This was the sixth time a "biological specimen" capsule was sent up for the purpose of catching it when it came back down, not that the Air Force has put anything living inside the capsule for several launches. Like its predecessor, Discoverer V, the probe made it into a polar orbit, but the retro-rocket that was supposed to send the capsule back to Earth failed to work properly. Air Force engineers have determined that the malfunctions are due to the extreme cold encountered at the edge of space.

NASA's not having much luck, either. As we've discussed before, our nation's civilian space agency is working feverishly on its first manned space capsule, called Mercury. There are lots of moving parts to such a momentous undertaking. You've got two types of boosters for the missions (Redstone and Atlas for sub-orbital and orbital missions, respectively--they were going to use a Jupiter, too, but canceled the mission as superfluous). You've got the capsule, itself. You've got the global tracking system. You've got the pilots, themselves.

There are other details--smaller, but no less important. For instance, the Little Joe booster (really a cluster of four Sergeants, like the kind you find at the top of a Juno) has been developed to test the Mercury capsule on short hops. Yesterday, Little Joe 1 stood poised for take-off. Its mission was to test out the Mercury escape tower, which is designed to lift the spacecraft's passengers to safety in the event of an early booster malfunction.

Well, it didn't work.

The rocket had been sited at Wallops Island, where we launch sounding rockets from. It had been pointed at the Atlantic Ocean tilted at a sharp degree angle in order to simulate a challenging abort. 35 minutes to launch, there was a whoosh, and crewmen and photographers scrambled for cover. The Little Joe didn't go anywhere, but the escape tower took off with its capsule payload, flew about 2000 feet into the air, then jettisoned the capsule. Thud.

They're still trying to figure out what went wrong.

At least Explorer VI is still working. In fact, I hear that the spacecraft may already have used its onboard camera to take the first picture of the Earth from outer space! More news on that as it comes in.

See you in three days with the rest of... ugh... this month's Astounding.

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