Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Red Moon

After having spend most of the x-mas break reading about the N1 moon rocket and trying out the already existing addon for Orbiter, I have decided to try to write my own N1-L3 addon. Initialy, my idea was to continue the good work that McDope and al. had done, but from the feedback I got on the forums, it looked like this wasn't a good idea as the author of the addon didn't want anyone taking over his project ... nevermind the fact that the project haven't been worked on for more than a year and that all the source code is included ... Anyway as I think that author's wishes should be respected, I have started working on a addon, built from scratch (using the very sparse data available on the web on the Soviet Moon Program). In fact this is much better as this allow me to learn even more things. The only problem is that I cannot do the 3D models ... so in order to get started I'll be using the one from the old addon, then , once I'm ready to release something, I'll switch to use someone else (with permission of course) meshs. Lukily, Urwumpe (one of the addon maker) has been working on some great looking one:

Nice eh? Can't wait to use them! Now, how does this new project fit with my already busy Orbiter/Space schedule? Well ... as my goal is to make an addon as detailed as NASSP (Bold and cocky? Yep ... ), there's going a lot of work to be done and lots of knowledge to be learned (guidance, spacecraft design, spacecraft design) ... nothing that really conflict with learning spaceflight :)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

To all of you on the good Earth ...

Well ... here come another anniversary, this time it have been 37 years since the famous Christmas Eve broadcast from lunar orbit by the crew of Apollo VIII. Santa's been in early for me as I stumbled on an interesting add-on for Orbiter that reproduce the russian lunar program ... I mean the way it should have been if the monstrous N-1 rocket didn't blow-up the 4 times it was launched ... I'm going to explore this add-on a bit more as it have the major advantage of being way simplier than NASSP (there is no panels and no simulation of the inner working of the spacecraft, so that's good for a newbie like me) and it's also an exciting part of the race to the Moon ... and man ... 30 engines on the first stage! Holly guacamole!

Anyway ... Happy holidays to all!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

From the lovely Apollo room high atop everything

In case you haven't noticed, I'm kind of a pessimistic person, so when I ordered on the web Apollo 7: Shakedown Cruise, just a week before heading for Europe, it sure sounded like an outburst of optimism on my part ... Needless to said, I only received the DVD when I returned home, 2 weeks after ... Anyway, it took me some times to watch all its contents, and I'd like to share a few comments on it .... sort of a review I guess. I had to use VLC to grab a few images from the DVD, don't base your opinion on the rather poor quality of the snapshots you'll see in this post, the DVD image quality is much better.

The set by Spacecraft Films, is composed of two DVD (there's a trailer online) and of a little pamphlet which offers a short overview of the mission and lists the contents of both discs. The set covers the preparation, departure and recovery as well as the full television broadcast and onboard camera videos. Most (if not all) of the videos feature some kind of audio contents but, aside from the launch, they do not have their matching audio. That may sound a bit desapointing but in most case it make sense. Only ├╝ber-nerds would want to listen to the audio of the altitude chamber test ;-)

The Preparation section use 3 separate pre-flight interviews of Wally Shirra (CDR), Don Eisele (CMP) and Walt Cunningham (LMP) as audio for the videos its contains:
  • Altitude chamber
  • Crew briefing (with Deke)
  • Inside view of the spacecraft
  • Countdown Demonstration Test (CDDT)
  • Interview with the crew in front of the launch complex
  • Launch complex 34 views
  • Suiting-up on launch day
  • Crew walkout and white room views
  • Crew insertion in the Command Module
  • Closing of the hatch
Each of the interviews covers separate aspects of the mission, depending on the assignment of the interviewed in the crew. With the Commander (CDR), the interview mostly focus on the mission objectives (but also on the various simulators used in preparation for the mission). With the Command Module Pilot (CMP), the subjects range from its background and duties on the mission (and CMP's duties in later flight) to details of the navigation system. As for the Lunar Module Pilot (LMP), the interview, once his background and job during the flight (there was no Lunar Module on this flight) have been covered, jumps to some details on the first days on orbit, the planned rendez-vous with the S-IVB, the Apollo systems and deorbiting. As for the videos, they are pretty much all interesting (aside from some part of the Launch Complex one) and of good quality:

It's only by watching these videos that we can see that getting out of the CM in full suit isn't an easy task, and that closing (from the outside only?) the hatch requiere up to 5 pad crews members!

A video of the Launch Pad with the SA-205 rocket (day and night) provides the background for the pre-launch press conference (recorded a day before the launch). It's interesting to note that one of the question answered by a panelist is about what will be done with the left-over Saturn IB. Altought the name Skylab isn't mentioned, a reference to a planned orbital space station is made.

The second section Departure is composed of the following videos:
Like I was saying earlier, the launch video features the real audio track from a few seconds before the launch to orbit insertion. Sadly, it turns into audio only after the S-IVB ignition. The multi-angle feature is the major grip I had with this DVD. I don't know if it's because I'm too dumb to figure out how to use it, or if the DVD players (I tried in my living-room and with WinDVD on my PC) I use don't support it well (or if it's the DVD fault) ... but man, I had a real hard time with it. I don't event know if I saw everything there is to see! I keept pressing the multi-angle button but nothing was happening then suddently the view was changing to another angle ... sometimes it changed angle on it's own ... Well it was a frustrating. I wish I had mastered that part better 'cause some of the angles were offering some pretty neat views (BTW, there is a video of the launch available online, courtoisy of the good people at the National Air and Space Museum).

The rest of the videos in the section, offers as audio the post-launch press conference ... but as they talk about the Spacecraft Lunar Module Adapter (SLA) panels issue (one of the panel didn't fully open) it is clear that this conference didn't occurs until at least 3 hours into the mission.

The next section regroup all the Television broadcasts from the Lovely Apollo room, and is mostly composed of views of the crew working/exercising/joking as well as tours of the spacecraft. It's kind of funny to hear the Capcom telling the crew that the quality of the pictures is "real good" ... when it's pretty hard to figure just what the heck we are looking at. See for yourself:

Nevertheless, all seven TV transmissions are interesting and most of the images are not all that bad:

Or maybe they are .... can you read the above message? :-) In the fourth transmission (which is missing 01:41mn of video at the beginning) the crew shows weightlessness and one of them make a statement that I found rather funny "... use legs a lot more than in 1G ... like a monkey in his cage" :-)

The previous to last section of this DVD set, contains all the Onboard videos, which were taken by the crew using a 16mm Data Acquisition Camera (DAC). The audio track is a post-flight briefing with the Apollo management. I wishs they had used real audio from the mission as it will have been a much better choice. Of course finding the correct audio for the right video sequence will have been a bit difficult, but it will have been way more interesting as given use a context to what was been recorded. As for the quality of the video ... well there is little doubt that the images looks way better than the TV transmission, and they are in colors!

During the 35 minutes (34:50 to be precise) of this section, I counted the following 13 sequences:
  • View of the sea from orbit
  • Some stuff flying by with the Moon in the background
  • View of the earth curvature
  • View of the surface with orbital motion
  • Rendez-vous with the S-IVB stage (including some close-up)
  • S-IVB stage slowly tumbing away
  • Orbital motion
  • One member of the crew getting into his suit
  • Sunrise in space
  • Crew doing some stuff (eating, 0G demo)
  • CMP at the G&C optics
  • More crew doing stuff
  • Tour of the Command Module
The last section of the DVD, Recovery, is composed of 5 sequences and use audio from the de-orbit burn and recovery as well as the message addressed to the crew by LB Johnson:
  • Capsule in the ocean
  • Crew extraction
  • Crew on the deck of the USS Essex
  • Return of the crew to the Cap (or is it Houston?)
  • Some views of the crew in debriefing

So, is that set worth the +$30 (CAN) it cost? Well ... yeah I think so. The quality is good, the menus are simple and easy to use and the contents is interesting even if the mission isn't the most exciting of all. And so, aside from the little things I noted in this review, this a good purchase that I recommend to all interested in this particular mission.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Winter break is almost over ...

A bit more than 2 months ago, I was posting for the first time on this blog. In a way, it's not very surprising that once the initial excitement (and obsession) started to fade, I wasn't going to be able to keep up with some of my initial goals and timeline. For example, if you have been following this blog since then (no, you have? Really?) you are probably wondering where all the Astronomy and spaceflight mechanics stuff have gone ... Well, in fact it haven't been yet. I did started to study my astronomy books and took some notes for a first related post, but I didn't have enough time to really dive into it, at least not in the way I wanted to. Like I was saying, it's not very surprising, as keeping up a time consuming hobby while trying to keep a normal (altought very geeky) life is a bit tricky. Anyway, the good news is that from January on, I'll have more time to spend on Orbiter and my thirst of space/Apollo related knowledge! How come? Well, my significant other is heading back to university ... leaving me not only with some extra spare time, but also with the (not so exciting) duty of making dinners ... darn! I'll take any easy recipies you may have ;-)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Ain't Apollo, but I can see the Moon!

Although my main focus as been Apollo (and everything that's related to it) I have to admit that I do like the Space Shuttle as well even if this program doesn't have the same nerd factor. In fact, it's among my long term goal to fly it in Orbiter (once there is some kind of panels for it, there is a project for that), kind of an historical evolution ... I also have some rather wicked idea for some what if scenario. Anyway, I wanted to share a rather nice web site I found on the Shuttle, on which you will find a wealth of images, documents and information: STSLiftoff. If you are interested by some video from either the liftoff or landing of the STS (Space Transportation System), you can head for the forums of which have quiet a few.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

It was 33 years ago ... on Taurus-Littrow

05:40:56 GMT, December 14th 1972, Gene Cernam climb back onboard Challenger, the lunar module that brought him and Harrison Schmitt down to the surface of the moon, after their last EVA (Extra-vehicular activity) which lasted 7 hours and 17 minutes. Over the 22 hours that the 2 astronauts spent outside the LM, the traversed 30km (18.64 miles) and collected more than 110kg (242.50lbs) of rock, beating all the previous missions. A real nice finale for the Apollo program.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum have a nice set of pages on the Apollo program where we can find the map of the EVA and LRV (lunar roving vehicle) traverses:

As well as a comparaison between all the Apollo flights that landed on the Moon:

As I finished Moondust last night, I can said that even thought both moonwalkers are smiling in the above picture, Gene Cernam wasn't too happy to have that particular geologist on his mission ... who by the way very recently released a book (his first?) Return to the Moon: Exploration, Enterprise, and Energy in the Human Settlement of Space. Now, don't get all excited, from what I have seen that book isn't about his Apollo experience :-)

Monday, December 12, 2005

Moondust allergy?

Since last week, I have been reading Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth (no I'm not really a slow reader ... I just don't have that much time!) written by Andrew Smith. At first, I wasn't sure I was going to like that book, but then, once the author started interviewing (or trying to) the Apollo astronauts, things really started to get interesting. Throughout his various encounters, Mr Smith shows us sides of these men that few people have ever seen. Altought they all have accomplished more than most of us will ever dream to, they are far from been the perfect men we like to think they are. I couldn't help but feel sadness when reading that most of them charge money for an autograph (the price depending if they are moonwalkers and if they were CDR, CMP or LMP). I guess this can be understandable when finance is an issue, but it still doesn't sounds all that right to me. The way fame have tormented some of them is also rendered in the book in a way that really make you think about how you will act if you were to meet them. Will you act like most people and ask them the same questions they have been asked over the past 30 years? Will you ask them for an autograph? It really made me think about the way I'd like to be treated if I was a celebrities (thanks god I'll never be!), and that really make understandable the behavior of Armstrong and Young, which are well known for their resistance to any public attention. By mixing his own childhood memories with the recollections of these now senior citizens, the author paint a rather dark but vively picture of the time that gave birth to the Apollo program ... It sure make the whole experience looks less romantic :-(

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

No no, really. There was some science!

It have been said, many time, that the whole Apollo program wasn't about science, but about national prestige and beating the soviet. Like in many things is life, there is a bit of truth in that statement, but hopefuly there was some real good science made during the moon missions, especially in the laters one, such as Apollo XVII which liftoff was exactly 33 years ago today. On Apollo XV and XVI for example, there was in the Scientific Instrument Module (SIM) bay of the Service Module, a mini satellite (subsatellite), which was ejected once the spacecraft was in lunar orbit:
With the weight of 36.3kg and a size of about 78x36cm, it was designed to map the gravity and magnetic fields of the Moon as well as measure the density and energy of electrons and protons:

Thanks to Michael Brainard, this part of the Apollo mission is about to be added to NASSP. Of course there is still lots of work to be done, but the 3D model and the texture (hacked a little bit by myself) are available:

It is obvious that this isn't a very critical component of the Apollo mission, but it will add to the realism of the whole Orbiter/Apollo experience, so this is a very welcomed addition IMHO.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Just another Apollo?

Reconnecting yesterday with the many web sites I check daily, I came accros two interesting articles in The Space Review related to my beloved Apollo program. The first one, Hugh Sidey and the Apollo decision, paints a not very flattering portrait of JFK at the moment he decided to direct the nation towards the moon. The second article, Just another Apollo? Part 1 and 2, examines why ESAS is not just Apollo on steroid. A very well done article if I may say.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Jet lagged

On my way to visit my family (+13h flight), I finished Gene Kranz book "Failure is not an option" that I had started a few weeks ago. In fact, I was so close to the end before the journey that I finished it in the first hour ... hmm ... Anyway, I mostly enjoyed that book, which give a very nice insight into the business of flight control from Mercury to Apollo (and not much beyond that). As an Apollo's fan, I will have liked if it have been mostly about Apollo, but in fact most of the book is about the early days of the American Space Program .. oh well, it's still a great book by my standard. There was an interresting interview of Mr Kranz by Wired a few months back, right before the last flight of the shuttle. When asked if he thought that NASA was more risk-averse now than 40 years ago, he answers: "I think the entire nation is more risk-averse. Everyone's looking for guarantees." ... that's so true :-( Once I recover from my trip, I'll start reading the next book on my "must read" book stack "Moondust: In search of the men who fell to earth" by Andrew Smith. From some reviews I have seen on the web it's another great read.