Monday, February 27, 2006

First Geek on the Moon #2

Over the week-end I finally went over the half-way mark in First Man (that biography which dropped on your foot will result into a few broken toes ...), and so far I have enjoyed every pages. IMHO, the author really do a good job in painting a living (and interesting) portrait of Neil Armstrong, without overloading the book with too much of these everydays details, which are sometime nice to know, but so often unnecessary (if you ever want to know which brand of cereals Mr Armstrong prefers, well ... You'll be sadly disappointed). That remind me that thanks to the JSC Oral History Project, over 200 interviews of individuals having participated to space exploration (from Mercury to the Shuttle), are available for us space nerds to enjoy. Altought most of the interviews are from people most of us have never heard about (a shame really), severals astronauts are among the more famous individuals interviewed from Armstrong, Neil A. (obviously) to Schmitt, Harrison H. “Jack” (to cite only a few). Overall this web site have also some good contents on the manned space programs (including the cooperation between the US and Russia on the Shuttle-Mir program).

Speaking of history (this time at the present tense), it looks like NASA have finaly settled in the naming of its up-coming new spacecrafts and launchers (part of ESAS), according to some rumors: Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) will be known as Altair and the Lunar Surface Ascent Module (LSAM) will be Artemis. As for the launchers, it will be Ares I for the Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV) and Ares V for the Cargo Launch Vehicle (CaLV). Once again, we're back into the Greek mythology theme ...

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Twilight Zone

I often compare software development to playing with Lego (hey ... Lego are good from 7 to 77 years old!) ... granted a must more advanced (and complex) set, but it's the same kind of fun, well at least for me (feel free to differ on that). When I said fun, I don't mean that it's fun all the time. Take last night for example: I am about to finish some weeks long ongoing work, which for me is a certain milestone ... I'm very close to it now, I can almost feel the satisfaction in a job well done just about to reach me ... but somehow things start the crumble, what I thought was working suddenly refuse to, and that darn compiler reject (the nerve!) my code from some obscure raisons that I can't just quiet figure out. All that sounds familar to you? Well then you also have reached the Twilight Zone! Oh yes, it does exists ... I have been in (and out ... or so I like to think) that zone. In the end (after many hours of cursing) I found the culprint in the form of an older version of a .LIB file that somehow ended-up at the wrong place, thus causing the linker to use it instead of the latest one ... ehence symbols going AWOL. It may sounds like a trivial issue which shouldn't take much long to figure out ... but it somewhat eluded me for a very frustrating while X-|

Anyway ... so (yeah let's get to the point of this post) I'm kinda back to where I was two weeks ago with my Orbiter's SDK, that is I can assemble the Soyuz Launch Vehicle and put it on its animated launch pad:

Sure this isn't particulary stunning, but I think it's cool nevertheless :P BTW, if you want to know more about the launch complexes used by the Russian Space Program, have a look this page from the pretty good Kosmonavtka site by Suzy McHale.

Next on my todo list? Get the damn thing off the pad! :-D That also may sounds like an easy job (afterall I already did it in the previous version of the SDK), but ...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Breaking stuff ...

I finaly decided to change my desktop background from an Apollo related one to a Space Shuttle one. I took the picture (sts104-358-005) from the NASA Shuttle Mission Imagery, and edited it a bit to fit the most interesting part on my screen. Feel free to grab it and use it as you wish, within the limits of the NASA Copyright of course. BTW, if you are into the Shuttle, be sure to follow the adventures of Orbinaut deadstick, whom over the past few days have been posted many screenies (photoshopped) of his imaginary STS-2B mission on the Orbiter forum.

Over the past week I have been breaking my Orbiter SDK and rebuilding it, mostly from scratch (ehence the title of this post). I wasn't totaly satisfied with it ... and actualy it was more R&D material than thoughtfully engineered. So yeah ... it's somewhat of a stepback ... but it's all for the best, or so I hope ...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

First Geek on the Moon

Last saturday, after finishing Red Moon by Michael Cassutt, I finaly started reading Neil Armstrong's biography: First Man. So far (I have only covered only 6% of that 785 pages thick book), so good. It is pretty obvious that Mr Armstrong is in fact a geek, or as he called himself, a nerdy engineer. A few things (aside from the scholar childhood) give it away, like spending a fair amount of his hobby time making models of planes and teaching maths to enlisted crew members, while been a young (21 years old!) naval aviator. Quiet a different image from the popular one projected by movie such as Top Gun. Also, his (quiet honorable) time in the Navy was not the result of a vocation, but driven by the need to paid for his college tuition, from which he graduated in 1955 with a degree in Aerospace Engineering.

Speaking of astronauts, there's an interesting (but short) transcript of an interview of Dick Gordon (Apollo 12 CMP) posted on the forum. It'll be no surprise to anyone to learn that the interviewed considere himself the best astronaut to ever fly in space ;-)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

I love the smell of Moondust in the morning

I noticed today (yeah I have been busy lately) that there is a new episode of the NASA's Apollo Chronicles up since the end of January. So far the whole serie has been quiet interesting, each episode looking into subjects not often (if at all) covered in the more serious (I was going to said adults oriented) articles, such as the mysterious smell of Moondust described by many moonwalkers as similar to spent gunpowder. Having fired a couple of rounds (with an old circa 1950 rifle) while I served in my country's Navy, I can tell ya that moondust stinks ... I can't stand the smell of sulfur :-( Oh well, I guess I won't make it in the next moon mission crew ;-)

I have recently switched my Orbiter focus from the N1 rocket to the Soyuz Launch Vehicle, in order to have a wider test base for my SDK. This isn't totaly unrelated to the Soviet Moon program, as the Lunar lander (LK) was tested 3 times in LEO (Cosmos 379, 398 and 434) in the early 70s after been launched from Baikonur with a 11A511L launcher. The following screenie show a 11A511 launcher sitting on its pad, with a Soyuz 7K-T as payload:
All the meshes that I'm using are used with authorization from their respective authors (Urwumpe for the Soyuz launcher, Castorp for the Soyuz 7K-T and Zardoz for the launch pad), and all 3 looks pretty good. I have to add support for animations, so that the launch pad can open and that the 7K-T can fold it's various antennas so that it can fit in the Soyuz shroud...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Archives gones wild! #2

Yesterday LPOD image pointed me towards the scientific images (and data) acquired during the Apollo missions. Sites such as the one from the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) are a nice additions to that (oh! so ever growing) Apollo's bookmarks, as you won't find just the touristics and engineering pictures taken by the Astronauts like on the Project Apollo Archive, but you will also find pictures from the mapping and panoramic cameras used in the later missions (Apollo 15,16,17), as well as some pictures taken during the umanned Apollo 4 and 6 missions. If a given picture is available from the Project Apollo Archive, it is likely that the quality of the image you will find there will be way better than what's availabe from LPI. For example, here's AS12-47-6869 (left from PAA, right from LPI):

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

To vent or not to vent ... #2

Well, I may not have found (yet) any picture of the Soyuz Launch Vehicle venting, but over at the Energia web site, I found an interesting video (RealPlayer needed) which shows the rocket venting away before liftoff ... in a very Saturn 5 fashion :) In fact this isn't really a surprise as the propellant used in the Soyuz launcher is a mix of LOX and Kerozene, quiet similar to the US moon rocket. In order to stay in liquid form the LOX must be keept (super) cold (−219 °C) and most of the rockets do not contains any special apparatus (cryogenic systems) to maintain this kind of temperature (a side from some thermal protection on the tank). Once the LOX reach −183 °C it will boil-off and be vented out. The amount of LOX that will be lost to boil-off between the time the tank are fully filled and the actual liftoff is likely to be taken in consideration during the design of a rocket. For example, the second stage (Block B) of the N1 rocket was supposed (according to to lose 1000kg of propellant from liftoff to ignition. Knowing that the burn time of the first stage (Block A) was of about 125s, the boil-off rate is of 8kg per second. My guts feeling is telling me that the rate is probably a function of a complex equation which depends on the amount of fuel and the ambiant temperature, but for a space simulator addon a static rate such as the one we calculated above is good enough I will think.