Monday, October 31, 2005

Apollo's back in style

I'd like to point out two recent articles on The Space Review related to some publications on the Apollo's astronauts:

A piece of the last true man
Reviews: Looking back at Apollo

The recent announce by NASA of the ESAS (Exploration Systems Architecture Study) seems to have sparked a renewed interest on the Apollo program ... I bet it have to do with the fact that the artists renditions show a very Apollo inspired spacecraft ... :-)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Karl Marx will have hated me ...

Oh Joy! Here come some more bureaucracy on this blog! :) I have been thinking about how each post should be marked when it is associated with a given class. The idea being that the post's title should carry some kind of standardized meaning in order to ease filtering and searching. Here's an example of what I may be using:

[103.3] CSM - DSKY #4

Which should be deciphered as been the 4th post (#4) related to the DSKY in the CSM part of the Apollo's class (103). Now that I think of it, I'm wondering if the .3 is really necessary ... unless each of the class' sections is numbered there won't be any need for it. Will I number each section? Also, if the section name appears in the title (CSM in this example) ... so yeah ... that's a bit of a bandwidth waste, let me fix that up:

[103] CSM - DSKY #4

Remember in school, when classes where interweaved on your weekly schedule? Well ... it's going to be about the same on this blog. In most case I have tried to lay each class sections in order (from basic to advanced) so this should be respected, however I will jump from one class to the other according to my progress and ... well ... my moods. Now, I'm definitly not schizophrenic (or so I like to think ...) but it may looks like it sometimes ... so try to keep up while I switch left, right and center on a weekly basis :P

Before heading out, I'd like to point out Music of the Spheres, FlyingSinger's blog also Orbiter oriented but way more eclectic than mine. Bruce (a.k.a FlyingSinger) is also the author of "Go Play In Space" a very well done eBook for beginner Orbinaut, a must read just like his blog.

Oh .. and one more thing. You'll be thrilled (I'm sure) to know that I have started working on the first class post! It should be out in a few days (I hope) .... :)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Orbinautus curriculum

Here's a little follow-up on a previous post regarding the contents of this blog for the coming months (or years ...). You may want to keep in mind that I'm in no way a teacher (and for the record ... I was a very average student) so don't expect top quality contents here ... I'll do my best nevertheless :)

So, I'm thinking of splitting my orbinaut studies into the following 4 sections:

101. Astronomy
  • The sky
  • From the Earth to the moon
  • The Solar System
  • The Stars
  • The Universe
102. Spaceflight
  • Reaching orbit, "Basic" orbital mechanics
  • Attitude control and steering in space
  • Re-entry
  • "Advanced" Orbital mechanics
  • Rendez-vous
  • Orbit prediction/planning
  • Navigation
  • Reaching the moon (TLI)
  • Moon operations (LOI,TEI,...)
103. Apollo
  • Overview of the program
  • Saturn IB & V
  • CSM
  • LM
  • Surface operations
104. Orbiter
  • Scenario editing
  • Using the MFDs
  • How to ...
I'm still working out the details, so it's likely that I'm going to shuffle around the contents of each section (and/or add/remove stuff) in the following days, so stay tuned for a more complete curriculum

Monday, October 24, 2005

From the earth to the moon

Last Saturday night I finished viewing the newly re-released DVD sets of "From the Earth to the Moon" ... I gotta said that it's an absolute must have for any Apollo fanatics out there! Each of the twelve episode covers a particular aspect of the Apollo program (in most case, one mission by episode) but focus on events happening in the background. If you were expecting to see 12 times Apollo 13, you'll definitely be disappointed :) The special effects are about the same level of quality than in the movie, altought in some episodes they could have been better (for example, the CSM&LM stack heading for the moon in the last episode). I wasn't really impressed by the special features shipped with the DVDs ... aside from a set of featurettes that covers the making of the series, there isn't much else.... Anyway, I think it is worth mentioning that Tom Hanks hired Dave Scott as technical advisor, a very wise decision which have vastly improved the fidelity of the serie.

If you have been following this blog since the very beginning (19 days ago) you are probably wondering "Where the heck is the math and physics!?? Stop the blahblah!" ... Well, fear no more! It is coming ... soon (tm) ... :-)

I have been reading my astronomy book for the past weeks and ,as you have seen, flew also a couple of times. Not a very impressive pace, I must agree, but I'm not in any particular rush so I hope you won't mind if I do take my time :-P

Before I wrap-up this post, let me mention the recently released IMAX movie "Magnificent Desolation : Walking on the moon 3D" once again Mr Hanks is behind this ... and it look pretty good .... I'll be seeing it in the very near future ... but I can already said that :

Tom Hanks is my master now

Sunday, October 23, 2005

In other words

I got to admit that I'm not really a crooner fan. However, the song titled "Fly me to the moon" and sung by Frank Sinatra is one of the song that I can listen to on a somewhat regular basis (read a couple of times by month). I was a bit surprised to find out that Sinatra wasn't actually the original singer of this world famous song... According to Wikipedia, it was written in 1954, that is 8 years before JFK sets the Moon as the goal of the U.S space program (and as a matter of fact the prize for the space race heating up with the russians) ... It's only in 1964 that Sinatra helped made this song popular ... I wonder how much of the fact that it's linked to the then on-going space race as to do with it success .... in a way it's a bit funny that a song (which original title was "In other words") which have only and hand full of space related contents (moon,starts,jupiter and mars) is regarded by many as a classical theme song for space ...

Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like

On a-Jupiter and Mars

In other words, hold my hand

In other words, baby, kiss me

Fill my heart with song

And let me sing for ever more

You are all I long for

All I worship and adore

In other words, please be true

In other words, I love you

Fill my heart with song

Let me sing for ever more

You are all I long for
All I worship and adore
In other words, please be true

In other words, in other words

I love ... you

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Fun with an S-IVB stage #2

Okay ... so it took me a long time to "dock" a second time with the S-IVB ... the first time was much easier as it was just after separation and so a simple transpostion and some translations was enough ... Anyway ... here's two screenshots that show the docking practice target better:

The docking target practise is well visible

"Houston, Apollo 7. We got capture"

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A little collage ...

Google have made available sometime ago a free image browser known as Picasa. If you haven't tried it yet, I suggest you do 'cause it's rather nice :) One of its features is the ability to create a collage of various images. Having on my HD a bunch of images from the Apollo VII missions, I decided to give that tool a try:

I'm using that image as by desktop background now ... I'm rather happy of the result, altought I will have liked a bit more control over the collage ... anyway .... feel free to grab this image (1280x1024) :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fun with an S-IVB stage

When not "studying" my astronomy books (more on that in later posts), I take my Apollo VII for a couple of orbits around the earth. It's a great opportunity to get familiar with the controls of this complex spacecraft, and get some practice at "flying" in space.

For example, last night (my local time) around 02:55 GET (time since liftoff) after the sunrise, I separated from the S-IVB stage (which brought me in orbit) and used the RCS (Reaction Control System) to rotate then translate in order to simulate a docking with it. Well ... in fact I did dock with it which is not realistic as the S-IVB stage doesn't have any hardware for docking ... oh well ... it's great for training anyway.

Here's a picture of the S-IVB, taken during the real mission. The docking practice target is visible:

I sadly didn't take any screenshots whiles performing the docking. However later on, after having undocked and flew around a bit, I took a few pictures (I had to scale them down obviously as I'm running Orbiter in 1280x1024):

CSM and S-IVB over the pacific

S-IVB view from the rendez-vous window

In the previous shot, you should have noticed the MFD (Multi-Functions Display) on the bottom-right, and probably you are thinking "that guy is cheating!" .... Well not really ... in a way ... You see, in real life the astronauts have the full support of MCC (Misson Control Center) which provides them with a lot of informations. In the case of docking, they were also carrying with them a rangefinder to help them calculating distance and delta with the S-IVB. So, in a way, using an MFD (and in this case the Docking MFD) isn't really cheating but rather making compromise ;-)

S-IVB in orbit

Altought the lighting isn't great the docking practice target is visible inside the S-IVB ... I really wish I took some picture when doing my first docking :-( ... oh well next time eh?

S-IVB view from the CM hatch window

S-IVB view from the rendez-vous window

It's kinda hard on a computer display to get an idea of how big the rendez-vous window was in reality. And in fact it appears that it was maybe smaller than we have it:

Anyhow .. I'm actually rather happy the two forward looking windows may be a bit bigger ... 'cause docking is hard enough already :D

(The two real images were taken from The Project Apollo Archive)

Friday, October 14, 2005

For starter ...

In order to fly myself to the moon, there is a rather large amount of knowledges and experiences that I need to acquire. Right now, I can see three main categories:
  1. Astronomy
  2. Mechanics (Spaceflight and Orbital)
  3. Apollo Hardware
1 & 2 are obviously tighly coupled and are definitly the major challenge facing me. Of course, the level of knowledge required in Astronomy can be limited, afterall I'm just flying to the moon and not writing a thesis on Quazar :) As the Apollo's Orbiter add-on is getting more and more realistic and complexe a good knowledge of the real Apollo hardware&software is a must. Hopefuly, this can be worked on in parallele to the Astronomy & Physics studies ...

Like I was saying in my previous post, I intend to proceed step-by-step, using as background the historical Apollo missions and slowly build my experience, starting with a (heavily) modified Apollo VII mission. Well actually ... with a set of missions, the idea been that I won't move forward (from VII to VIII and so on) until I'm fully satisfied with my level ...

Here's a first idea of what I hope to learn and master using the VII mission(s):
  • basic orbital mechanics (phasing, plan change, orbit change)
  • docking simulation
  • rendez-vous
  • re-entry
  • CSM controls & displays
  • knowledge of the basic ACG programs
hmmm .. yeah all that :-| .... so to help myself remember what need to be done, I have started working on establishing a flight plan loosely following the style and contents of the original Apollo missions:

However, a proper flight plan contains lots of information that are not easy to compute, such as the sunset and sunrise times for the spacecraft.... So it may seems like a trivial task, but filling-in the flight plan involve to know a lot of astronomy and orbital mechanics .. and this is a very good way to put to use what I'm suppose to learn :-)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Quick overview of the Apollo program ...

The Apollo program was based on the idea of processing one step at a time, aach one of the mission (from 7 to 17) bringing more knowledge, expertise and tests than the previous and this, starting with the first manned mission. Here's the major accomplishments of the missions leading to the first moon landing:

As an engineering flight, Apollo VII spent 11 days in LEO (Low earth orbit) performing check-out and test of the CSM (Command and Service Module). Docking simulations were also performed with the S-IVB stage as well as several rendez-vous.

Apollo VIII is well known for being the first human flight to orbit the moon, but its main goal was to gain operational experience and further testing of the CSM and S-IVB. A few scientific tasks were also performed by the crew (as well as navigation using stars). In fact, this mission wasn't really planned to reach the moon but because of delay in the LM (Lunar Module) flight readiness, the initial mission was pushed back and new goals sets.

During the 10 days they spent in LEO, the 3 members of the Apollo IX crew did a record number of firsts:
  • first docking and extraction of the LM from the S-IVB
  • first manned flight of the LM
  • first undocking, rendez-vous and re-docking of the CSM and LM
  • first Apollo's EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity)

Mostly known as a dress re-hearse-al for the lunar landing attempt planned for the next mission, Apollo X brought the crew, the CSM and the LM all the way in moon orbit where both spacecraft were tested some more, including rendez-vous and solo flight of the LM.

What was accomplished in Apollo XI was made possible by all the missions that were staged before. The crew took on where Apollo X left off and landed the LM on the moon, following this by over 2 hours of EVA on the surface. The next missions, far from just been some rerun were following the same step-by-step method that so well characterise the Apollo program. I will talk about them later in this blog (read: in a few years).

Obviously, most of what needed to be known in term of spaceflight (orbit, re-entry, rendez-vous, EVA ...) was worked out during the pre-Apollo programs, so this is something that will need to be taken into consideration when divising my own program in the following days/weeks...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


If you are a space enthusiast like myself, there is a couple of nice web sites you may want to add to your already overloaded bookmarks :)

Space News Blog
Unmanned Spaceflight Portal
The Space Review
NASA Watch
Space News As It Happens

There is probably more, feel free to add your favorites as comments.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

"we have lift-off, lift-off at 7:51 a.m. Eastern Standard Time."

Well ... hello there! ... Welcome to this blog which is very likely to bore you to death, causing you to leave and never come back to it :-) As you may have seen in the header part of this blog, I'll be posting here about Astronomy, spaceflights and more specificaly about the Apollo missions.

Since I was very little, I have always been facinated about Space and the various programs (well Okay ... mostly about the US one), spending countless hours of my childwood flying LEGO spacecraft around my room, reading space related books or watching space movies. Like (I hope ...) many other kids, I also went as far as simulating been an astronaut in my bed during many school nights when I really should have been asleep :-)

Sadly, my maths and physics grades were never as a good as my enthusiasm for spaceflight and astronomy, so when time came to choose what I will be doing for the next 40 years (or so), the airlock's hatch refused to unlock, canceling forever my EVA .... dang! :-|

Many moons have passed since this cruel episode .... and like many other geeks, I have always spent a good amount of my time following the various space programs ... checking the latest images from the Mars rovers, watching live on the Internet the liftoff of the Discovery space shuttle ...but I never really took the time to dive into the technical side of spaceflight (human or robotic) and complement the few basic astronomy knowledge I have ... shame on me (I guess) :-(

About 2 weeks ago, I stumbled on Orbiter , a free spaceflight simulator developped for the past 5 years by Dr. Martin Schweiger. Hundreds of people have been building Add-Ons for this great software adding new spacecrafts, rockets and so on on a daily basis.

One of the most well done addition to Orbiter is the one simulating the Apollo program. It's really amazing the see what the people working on it have done! A whole moon mission can be simulated (in real-time if desired) from liftoff to reentry, including (of course) landing on the moon! The focus of the people behind this add-on is to make it as realistic as possible, and as you can easily guess, flying to the moon is no piece of cake, even in a simulator :-)

After a few days of playing around, I suddently realize that this was the perfect opportunity for me to dive into the technical side of spaceflight and finaly learn more about astronomy. Orbiter and the Apollo add-on been the prefect playground for learning and experimenting!

So, what can you expect to see here? Well ... my goal is to use this blog to chronicle my progress in learning basic Astronomy and spaceflight mecanics (as my maths and physics skills need to be seriously brushed-up, it's going to take some time ...) and in learning and mastering the Apollo spacecraft (Crew and lunar module) as it is simulated within Orbiter. So don't expect to see a report on my own Apollo XI mission anytime soon ;-)

Before I end this rather long first post, I'd like to state that as my mother tongue is (obviously) not english, my posts will probably be rather full of grammar errors and spelling mistakes. Please bare with me, the more I post, the more it will improve ... or the more you will get used to it and won't notice it, eh!? :-D