Eyes Turned Skywards

Post 1: "DBWI" Introduction
  • "When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."

    --Commonly attributed to Leonardo da Vinci

    Truth is Life and I have been working on this for a while, and we're finally ready to begin posting this. The below is a teaser for our new project, Eyes Turned Skywards. The first real post will follow in the next few days, and after that we're planning on a weekly posting schedule. Hope everyone enjoys this as much as Truth and I have enjoyed making it.

    (NOTE FROM 2018: A wiki page exists on the Alternatehistory.com wiki here, including a chapter list, copies of many of the images created by the talented @nixonshead, a condensed timeline of some of the key events, and some data on major rockets and spacecraft introduced or used in the timeline.
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    Post 2: Initial Point of Departure
  • As promised, here's the next installment in Eyes Turned Skyward.

    Eyes Turned Skyward, Post #2:

    When Nixon won the 1968 Presidential election, the future of the US space program looked grim. Strongly identified with his hated rivals, Kennedy and Johnson, it was practically a symbol of his near-decade in the political wilderness. And yet...and yet...some element of the American psyche has made every president, from Eisenhower down to Clinton, seek not to destroy the program, but put their own stamp on it. Nixon was no different, and after briefly considering the interim Administrator Thomas Paine as the man to lead Nixon's transformation of the program, decided that the manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office, George M. Low--the man, in short, responsible for making sure that the Apollo spacecraft would be a safe and reliable method of transporting men from Earth to the Moon--would be an ideal pick as only the third Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Low would serve into Carter's term, having a large impact impact on NASA, perhaps larger than the legendary James Webb.

    Once confirmed as Administrator in mid-1969--just in time to see the fruition of his work at the ASPO in the triumph of Apollo 11--Low quickly proved a perceptive and far-seeing leader. Low realized that the techno-optimism that had driven the '50s and '60s was coming to a close, and the coming decade would be an era not of unbounded growth for the space program, as some at NASA hoped, but instead, as Jerry Brown would later put it, an era of limits. It was not just the war in Vietnam, nor the war on poverty, nor the war in the cities. Indeed, there was a growing opinion that technology was a war against the planet itself, that the high technology symbolized by a man walking on the Moon was fundamentally destructive and immoral, that it should be abandoned. To the extent possible, the mission of the Administrator at the start of the decade would be to convince Congress and the public that spaceflight could play an important role in all these problems, a role symbolized by the partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that was beginning the public weather satellite system. At the same time, with the success of the civil rights movement, the burgeoning women's rights movement, and the nascent gay rights movement, the all white male (and mostly test pilot) astronaut corps was increasingly out of step with the country. This, too, was damaging the space program, as the image of astronauts as elite heroes exploring a new frontier was slowly changing into a view of them as elitist jocks having fun at public expense. It was clear that the astronaut needed to be remade as a dedicated public servant, and a vital part of that would be including minorities and women in future astronaut groups. All this, too, would have to be done on a far smaller budget than had achieved lunar landings in less than a decade from the beginning of the program.

    Post-Apollo planning had of course been in progress for some time, both within NASA itself and amongst all those outside of the Administration who favored spaceflight. Most, naturally enough, concentrated on the reuse of the capabilities developed during the Apollo program, such as the heavy-lift capacity of the Saturn V or the ability to land on the Moon demonstrated by the LM in July 1969. The efforts doing so were gathered under the heading of the Apollo Applications Program, which would see a series of increasingly advanced and long-term lunar missions and the launch of basic orbital stations during the early part of the decade, just following the basic Apollo flights. In the middle of the decade, a reusable logistics "space shuttle" and a corresponding deep-space "nuclear shuttle" would be developed, and then used to establish major stations on and around the Moon and in Earth orbit. This would be followed up in the 1980s by a mission to Mars utilizing the technology developed earlier. Such a project would require billions of dollars but would fully leverage the capabilities developed by Apollo. Many of the ideas were very clever in their reuse of existing technology, such as the "wet workshop" idea for basic space stations. A wet workshop was a Saturn IB upper stage launched into Earth orbit, emptied of its fuel, then pressurized and filled with equipment for a short-term mission by an astronaut crew, an audacious but brilliant plan to get a space station on the cheap. Nevertheless, despite such economies, AAP would be very expensive, and Nixon and Congress were sending out clear indications that such expense could not be sustained. Shortly after Low's appointment, Nixon had asked the National Aeronautics and Space Council, chaired by his Vice-President Spiro Agnew, to develop and present a plan for NASA's future. At first, this seemed like a golden opportunity to produce a plan that would continue America's advance in space indefinitely, especially considering Agnew's dedication to the prospect. However, shortly reality set it. With the Vietnam War still raging in Indochina and Johnson's massive and costly domestic agenda not on the cutting block, neither Nixon nor Congress showed any enthusiasm for an expensive space exploration program, with the latter continuing to cut back on investment in the nuclear rockets assumed at that time to be needed for trans-Mars voyaging even after Armstrong's triumphant first step. The message was clear to Low, and despite Agnew's energy he began to turn towards the plans proposed by the Administration and OMB.
    Post 3: Shuttle Cancelled and a Change of Direction
  • Well, folks, it's Wednesday, and you know what that means: New Eyes Turned Skyward! When we last left off, the new NASA Administrator George Low was facing a future of shrinking budgets, and having to make hard choices on what to cut and what to save.

    Eyes Turned Skyward, Post #3:

    The plans Low was considering envisioned a space-station centered strategy for NASA, where logistics and crew would be dealt with not by an advanced (and expensive) shuttle craft but rather modified variants of existing spacecraft, particularly the Apollo CSM and Saturn IB (though the Gemini and Titan III were advanced as options by their respective manufacturers). As NASA thought prior to Kennedy's famous speech generally held that the main goal of the space agency should be to construct a permanent space station, vaguely followed by a flight or two around the Moon (but no landings, at least until later), this was in many ways a return to form. As eventually adopted in the FY 1971 budget, the Skylab program would consist of two main parts. After the launch of Apollo 18, a "dry workshop"--essentially the wet workshop constructed on the ground and therefore much more capable--named "Skylab" would be launched into LEO. This would carry as its main piece of scientific equipment a solar telescope, the Apollo Telescope Mount, originally intended for AAP projects. In addition, it would carry a wide variety of remote sensing equipment, intended for tests of both the equipment for future remote sensing missions and of the ability of astronauts to contribute to or detract from Earth observation, a number of biological experiments probing the effects of space on living organisms for the benefit of future astronauts, and a number of materials experiments investigating whether the unique environments of space could be used in manufacturing processes impossible on Earth. In all this it was quite similar to the contemporaneous Soviet Salyut program, right down to the provision of several non-Skylab "free-flyer" missions to test experiments and capabilities before using them on the station itself. Once this preliminary program was wrapped up, the second part would begin. A heavily modified variant of the backup built for the first Skylab--Skylab B--would be launched by the last Saturn V into a similar orbit. This advanced Skylab would delete the solar telescope, but otherwise be far more capable, designed for continuous resupply, on-orbit repair, and even perhaps a degree of expandability. This would be occupied by a series of crews operating many different experiments, including (perhaps) some Japanese or European ones, for 5-6 years after launch. After Nixon and Brezhnev agreed to start the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, that too was included in the plan. After the initial test flight, Skylab B would play host to several Soyuz and Apollo crews at the same time, for stays of up to as much as 90 days together, becoming the "International Skylab". Afterwards, additional modules (suitably equipped for automatic or semi-automatic rendezvous and dock operations) might be launched, further extending the station's capabilities, or a whole new station, designed from the ground up using "lessons learned" by the Skylab missions, might be developed. While this promised a new era of international cooperation, at NASA the technical challenges of the plan were wearing, for NASA's equipment (designed to achieve the Moon landing ASAP) was ill-suited for the missions at hand, in particular the Block II CSM and the Saturn IB rocket.

    The Block II was, especially after the modifications following the Apollo 13 accident, a reliable and capable spacecraft. Still, it had its shortcomings for the new type of space station missions planned for the 1970s and beyond. In particular, at its full wet mass--the mass of the entire spacecraft while fully fueled and carrying its maximum payload--it weighed over 65,000 lbs (30,000 kg), far more than the comparable Soviet spacecraft, the Soyuz, which had a mass of just 14,500 lbs (6,500 kg) while providing only 50% more habitable volume for the crew. While it was far more capable than its Soviet equivalent--the Soyuz itself was not capable of being used on circumlunar flights, and the two variants that were were far less commodious than either Soyuz or Apollo--those capabilities were entirely superfluous, and prevented it from being launched by either the Saturn IB or the planned Saturn IC without carrying a smaller-than-capacity fuel load. As such, it was of no surprise to anyone that in FY 71 NASA requested funding for the development of the "Block III" variant, which was immediately contracted out to North American Rockwell. It would feature enhanced on-orbit life while in 'sleep' mode, reduced fuel space, a combination of parachutes and airbags that would allow NASA to dispense with the expensive naval recovery fleet, and many other improvements that would make it lighter but more capable of achieving the missions placed upon it.

    Due to the need for continuous resupply and crew cycling, low cost reliable launch vehicles were a must for NASA's forthcoming projects. However, though the Saturn IB was reliable, it was certainly not low cost in comparison to the other launchers available at the time. While it cost five times more to launch than the Titan IIIC, it was only capable of lofting two-fifths again as much payload, a poor bargain in anyone's book. Various proposals to replace or improve it had been floated for some time, ranging from simply upgrading its engines and decreasing its structural mass to outright disposing of it for a new rocket, perhaps one based on a huge solid first stage or the S-II stage from the Saturn V. Under the circumstances the agency found itself in in 1970, though, merely recapitulating the basic design would get them nowhere--it was clearly far too expensive for sustained use--but an all-new design would require much of the NASA budget and might not be ready by the time the existing stocks of Saturn IBs were depleted. The concept of the Saturn IC, a significant modification which yet used mostly existing Saturn hardware, broke into this logjam in late 1970. It had been noted that the F-1A, a relatively modest upgrade of the existing and highly successful F-1, had a greater thrust than the cluster of 8 H-1s used on the first stage of the Saturn IB, and a considerably larger specific impulse. Combined with a modest upgrade to the S-IVB second stage, this would allow a rocket using a single F-1A as the first-stage engine to lift a greater payload than the Saturn IB, especially if the cluster design of the first stage was replaced with a lighter monolithic design, while being considerably simpler in design and cheaper to fly. The idea of the Saturn IC quickly gained acceptance by the agency, and by 1971 development on the new first stage was beginning at Michoud, with first flight expected by the middle of the decade.

    Finally, there was the issue of logistics and station resupply. It was quickly realized that, while Skylab A itself would probably not need much resupply, Skylab B and any future stations would. The sheer mass and volume of supplies needed--everything from film for cameras and telescopes to mail for the astronauts--made Apollo flights a poor way to provide this service. They were burdened by having to carry a crew, the limited available volume within the CSM itself, and the unwillingness of the still mostly-pilot astronauts to "deliver milk". Thus, thought turned towards developing some type of autonomous vehicle that could be launched by the Saturn IC carrying a substantial amount of cargo and supplies to orbit, then rendezvous and dock with Skylab without needing a crew on board. As analysis slowly proceeded, it gained the name "AARDV," for Autonomous Automated Rendezvous and Docking Vehicle, but was quickly paraphrased to "Aardvark," and began to take shape. A suitably modified Block III SM would be used as the "brains and brawn" of the vessel, responsible for on-orbit maneuvering, while a large pressurized container would replace the CM to store cargo. While this pressurized container would not be able to reenter, it was soon recognized that this would allow the easy disposal of trash, allowing the use of the oxygen tank of the S-IVB as additional pressurized volume on Skylab B.
    Post 4: Planetary Exploration, Mars and Voyagers
  • Okay, it's Wednesday again, and since e of pi hasn't put up the next post yet, I'll take care of it. In this post, we take a bit of a detour into robots--I promise that you'll love it, though.

    Eyes Turned Skyward, Post #4:

    "Life on Mars? The possibility might seem outlandish. As we have seen, Mars is many times colder and drier than the Earth, and it has only a thin atmosphere to protect it from the harsh environment of space. Certainly nothing like Barsoom or Lowell's vision can be found there. But there is a way. Microorganisms, living under the surface, protected from radiation and cold, only coming to life when conditions are right, much like certain plants found in deserts around the world, could yet survive on Mars, remnants of a wetter and warmer past... Wolf Vishniac has worked on the problem of finding such life, if it exists, for over a decade. For the Viking missions to Mars, he devised a simple test--the "Wolf Trap". Simply place a sample of soil in a habitable environment--warm, accommodating, and full of nutrients--and see what happens. The Viking missions to Mars each carried one of his "Wolf Traps" along with other experiments...Unfortunately, while the biological experiments all indicated that there might be some form of life, the chemical experiment indicated that there were no organic materials at all in the soil...One hypothesis is that there are only a very few thinly spread organisms encapsulated in thick protective spores. Such a population would be almost impossible to detect chemically..."

    --Carl Sagan, Cosmos: Voyaging the Universe

    "When Pioneer 11 entered the Saturn system, many wonders awaited. None, however, were more peculiar than the moon called Titan. The only moon in the Solar System with an atmosphere, it is eternally shrouded in thick haze, much like Venus except far colder...In fact, Titan seemed so odd that the committee in charge of the trajectory for the Voyager probes had to make a decision. We had two probes that could be redirected to fly by Titan, Voyagers 1 and 2. However, those were already supposed to use the boost provided by Saturn to fly on to mysterious and distant Pluto. If they were redirected to Titan, that would be impossible. Eventually, it was decided to fly Voyager 1 by Titan but let Voyager 2 fly on to Pluto..."

    --Carl Sagan, Cosmos: Voyaging the Universe

    While the shock of falling budgets was partially mitigated by the relief of falling costs as the Apollo program wound down, even the development of the Saturn IC and the Block III Apollo still consumed large amounts of money, and so tremendous pressure was placed on the less prominent unmanned programs to cut costs and fit in with existing budget allocations. Several programs, most notably the OSO series of solar telescopes, were canceled outright, with the OSOs being the victim of the solar-physics orientation of Skylab A. However, many programs survived (if damaged in the process), and went on to become legendary examples of unmanned exploration.

    While the Mars Voyager program was already effectively dead, having had its budget axed in 1968 and in any event relying on unavailable Saturn Vs for launch, planetary scientists were still fascinated by the Red Planet, especially after Mariners 6 and 7 flew by in early 1969. Though these two probes combined still missed almost all of the most interesting features of the planet, the data returned was still curious enough that scientists pushed for a more ambitious project in the years ahead, something more like Voyager's orbiter-lander combination to directly investigate Mars' surface conditions. Even under the straitened circumstances of NASA at the time, they were able to easily get support, and a scaled down version of Voyager was planned for the 1975 launch opportunity. Instead of Saturn Vs, there would be Titan IIIs, and instead of Surveyor-derived landers there would be specialized (and lighter) vehicles, but two probes would still be ready by that launch date, with a special focus on biological experiments. Finally breaking the plague of Mars probe failures, Vikings 1 and 2 were both highly successful, with the former touching down at Tritonis Lacus on July 4th 1976, a perfect celebration of the nation's 200th birthday. Both survived for years on the surface, with the orbiters producing the first detailed global maps of Mars on their own multi-year missions. Even today, new analyses of the reams of data returned by the probes produce new research papers, making them one of the most scientifically productive unmanned missions ever launched, surpassed only by the second major unmanned program of the 1970s: the Voyagers.

    Scientists at JPL, meanwhile, had realized that the forthcoming decade presented a golden opportunity for studies of the outer solar system. An exceedingly rare planetary alignment, termed the 'Grand Tour', would allow relatively modest rockets and a relatively small number of probes to perform flybys of all of the outer planets. They therefore proposed to do just that, using four large, expensive probes to study all five worlds, perhaps allowing more detailed orbiter missions at some future date. This, however, was a bridge too far for NASA. Each probe would massively dwarf Mariners 8 or 9 in cost, and the strain of winding down the Apollo program to its new Earth orbit mission while undertaking even the limited development of the Saturn IC and Block III CSM were too much for such an ambitious planetary program. Eventually, their mission was scaled back to the more limited two-part Voyager program, consisting of two Mariner Jupiter-Saturn probes (launched in 1977) and two Mariner Jupiter-Uranus probes (launched in 1979). In total, this would be a far less ambitious mission than the original Grand Tour or TOPS proposals. However, JPL had not entirely given up on the possibility of expanding the mission back towards its initial configuration, even if Headquarters didn't approve, and had designed the missions to hit the launch windows planned for the original Grand Tour configuration. Coupled with a certain degree of over-engineering, extended missions which would allow flybys of Neptune and Pluto would be relatively easy and inexpensive to conduct, and program scientists were confident the money would be found when the time came. As the 1980s progressed and NASA's budget expanded, this confidence was fulfilled, and the Voyagers went on to survey all of the outer planets.
    Post 5: Apollo 18
  • All right, it's Wednesday, and that means a new post for Eyes Turned Skywards. This week: Apollo 18. (Topic for discussion: would they end up making a slasher movie called Apollo 19 ITTL? Might it be any good?) I'd like to thank everyone who put in names for the Apollo 18 CM/LM, and to those people who helped me figure out where the CM would end up. Anyway, without further ado, this week's installment of Eyes Turned Skyward:

    Eyes Turned Skyward, Post #5:


    Over the course of 1970, the slow death of the Apollo Applications Program, combined with an increasing focus by NASA on a space- station following the Apollo missions and the continuing budget cuts by a Congress hostile to continued space exploration began to take its toll on the Moon landing program. Originally, there were to be 14 manned Block II flights, Apollos 7-20, with the last 13 of those requiring the Saturn V, and the last 10 landing on the Moon. Further, these would be proceeded by two test flights of the Saturn V, Apollo 4 and Apollo 6, leading to the use of 15 Saturn Vs in all, exactly the size of the first production run. All very fine on paper, but events proved that this plan was unworkable when the second production run of Saturn Vs was canceled in late 1968, at the same time that Skylab was reworked into the dry workshop configuration, and now required a Saturn V for launch. Apollo 20 ended up sacrificed on the alter of Skylab as a result. As the year proceeded, even the reduced program so created became increasingly untenable. With the perceived need in NASA to have a Skylab follow-up ready for launch when Skylab itself ended--something that would clearly require another Saturn V to be available--and further budget cuts (threatened and imposed) by Congress, it became necessary to save another Saturn V in reserve, sacrificing another lunar mission. Despite earlier proposals to cancel then-Apollo 19 as well, or even all future lunar missions, only Apollo 15 ended up having to take the bullet for the rest of the program thanks to shrewd negotiation by NASA's management, the support of OMB Deputy Director Caspar Weinberger, and pressure from the scientific community.

    Thus, even as preparations for the Skylab stations and improved hardware continued, NASA wrapped up the Apollo program with the fourth and final J-class mission, Apollo 18’s trip to Hyginus Crater. Like Apollo 15, 16, and 17, Apollo 18 would feature a lunar rover, and continue to push the Lunar Module to its absolute limits. However, fighting these goals to get the most out of the final Apollo mission was the feeling among many in the NASA structure that conservative planning was required. By 1973, spaceflights to the moon had become routine, almost to the level that a well-executed mission would not play in the public eye at all. However, if a mission was to be another dramatic failure, like Apollo 13 or worse, it could endanger the future of all of NASA’s programs.

    This balancing act between a scientifically focused mission and one that would not take unnecessary risks was perhaps best embodied in the crew. The Commander selected was Richard Gordon Jr, a space veteran who had flown with Pete Conrad on Gemini 11 and as Comand Module Pilot on Apollo 12. Apollo 18 would be his second visit to lunar space. Joining him, though, were two astronauts on their first flights. Vince D. Brand was similarly a test pilot, and though his flight to the moon as Command Module Pilot of Apollo 18 would be his first, he had acted as backup for several other missions and played a role in ground-testing of Apollo hardware. The Apollo 18 Lunar Module Pilot, though, was an embodiment of the boundaries later Apollo missions were pushing. Harrison Schmidt was not a test pilot by trade, but a geologist, the first of a class of “scientist-astronauts.” While his training and experience with the Apollo equipment was in no means lacking, his lack of military flying background made him an exception. Though the results returned on previous missions with geology-trained pilots were acceptable, many scientists looked forward to seeing the flight of a flight-trained geologist. Indeed, this desire was so strong that when the cancellation of the Apollo 19 mission was considered along with the original Apollo 15, there was a serious push inside NASA to have Joseph Engle bumped from his flight to make room for Schmitt.

    With mission goals that would strike a balance between stretching the Apollo capabilities in pursuit of science and the worries about avoiding a very public failure on the final moon launch, Apollo 18 flew skyward in a trouble-free launch in July, 1973. The Apollo hardware demonstrated its maturity: no serious issues were encountered with the Saturn V, the Apollo capsule Windjammer, or the Lunar Module Polaris, and the mission managed to slightly edge out Apollo 17 to set new records for duration on the surface, EVA times, and mass returned as engineers fine-tuned the Apollo system to realize every gain that could be made without risking the mission. Schmitt performed all his flight tasks perfectly, and the only complaint from the scientists was that the single TV camera per mission meant Schmitt’s investigations could only be heard over the radio, with camera focus only on the most interesting finds.

    The geologic potential of the mission were astounding. The landing site, Hyginus Crater and the associated rille, were interesting in several senses. First, Hyginus itself was an anomaly among the multitude of craters scattered over the lunar surface: it lacked the traditional raised outer rim, indicating a possible volcanic origin. If confirmed, and especially with additional data about the many theories for rille origins, it could reveal fascinating new insights into the moon’s volcanic history. Schmitt’s mission would be a geologist’s playground, with a landing on the flat lunar surface at 7*32’47” N, 6*26’20” E. The first rover traverse would cover 15 km, including a drive along the rim of both the crater and the rille, the second would cover another 15 km venturing into the crater, while the final traverse would cover only 11 km but cover several km of the rille bottom.


    The mission achieved every major objective, and the geologic results helped form a better picture of the moon’s volcanic features. The crater was revealed to have indeed been formed volcanically, and the discoveries made from analysis of the rille included the possibility of lunar lava tubes. In addition to the intriguing speculations this created about the moon’s history, this also fueled the trend of “tube colonies” that made an appearance in many science fiction stories of the late 70s and 80s, though the first actual lava tube (in the Marius Hills) would not be confirmed for several decades.

    The Apollo 18 Command Module Windjammer was initially displayed at the Luftwaffenmuseum der Bundeswehr, but in 1983 it returned to the United States and is now on display in the space gallery of the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
    Post 6: Skylab Launch and Recovery
  • Well, speaking of posting schedules, it's Wednesday again. And with that, inevitable as congressional pork, comes a new update to Eyes Turned Skywards. This week, Skylab's launch brings with it the start of NASA's new station-focused direction. There's just one or two teeny-weeny little issues...

    Eyes Turned Skywards, Post #6:

    As Polaris lifted off from Hyginus to join Windjammer in orbit and return Apollo 18’s crew safely to Earth, all eyes at NASA moved towards Skylab. Scheduled to fly in late 1973, the fabrication of the primary unit, Skylab A, and the backup unit, Skylab B, was proceeding smoothly. As the launch date approached, tension and pressure mounted, as this launch was seen as the make-or-break moment for NASA. Having strongly committed themselves to space station development, some within the agency feared that a launch failure could destroy the agency's human spaceflight division. The station would launch on a modified version of the Saturn V vehicle, with the Skylab station replacing the third stage of the full Saturn V. Nominally, the station would begin deployment ten minutes after launch, with the Apollo Telescope mount deploying first, then the station’s solar arrays. However, it became clear very quickly that the launch had been anything but normal.

    The first indication was a slight spike in the g-meter, recording any unusual accelerations of the vehicle, about 45 seconds after launch, right as the Saturn V was passing through Mach 1. Fifteen seconds later, Houston received indications that the micrometeroid/solar shield had prematurely deployed, although the full significance of this would not become apparent for some time. It was not until 41 minutes after launch, when the great wing-like solar arrays on each side of the station were to deploy and begin providing electricity to the station’s systems that controllers on the ground realized anything was wrong; they did not deploy when the commands were first sent, nor did they deploy the second or third times. Further, the internal and external temperatures of the station continued climbing and climbing, far beyond what they should have been. It was then that NASA realized the awful truth: the telemetry from the vehicle during launch hadn’t just been noise in the circuits. It had been the vital shield departing the station, tearing off one of the solar arrays and jamming the other. Without the shield, and without at least one working solar array, the station would be utterly useless--this, just after NASA had staked its future, all, on the success of the station program.

    The 10 days that followed are, in many ways, NASA’s finest hour. While the effort surrounding the recovery of Apollo 13 is often put ahead of it, some of (if not the) finest engineering activity of the entire agency’s history took place during the rush to save Skylab. The first challenge was simply to ensure the station, if a method was devised to repair it, would be in shape to be repaired. High temperatures could spoil the prepackaged foods, cause dangerous gasses to be emitted by the fittings, or cause equipment to fail. The maneuvering necessary to prevent this could deplete so much of the vital gas used to control the station that it would be impossible to dock with it or point the solar camera--the most prominent experiment on the station--at the Sun. Heroic efforts on the part of the engineers and physicists responsible for controlling the station allowed the preservation of the station’s function during the time it took for NASA to invent a solution for the greater problems.

    These solutions, especially to the non-existent solar shield, were the second challenge NASA faced. Dozens of ideas on how to replace the shield were invented, trialed, and reviewed; three were selected, and two ultimately flown. Jack Kinzler, a high school graduate who was chief of the Technical Services Division at the Johnson Space Center* in Houston, invented the most important of those solutions, a “parasol” which would be deployed on the first mission. It was designed to pack up tightly and be deployed through a scientific airlock in the habitat section, then self-deploy using telescoping fiberglass rods. While it was ultimately too fragile to serve permanently, it was light and simple enough to easily be deployed on the first mission, serving as a stopgap for a more permanent solution to be deployed.

    The jammed solar panel also posed significant problems to the station’s future functionality. Without it functioning properly, many experiments on board the station would not be able to get enough power to work, and the astronauts themselves would only barely be able to live on the station. The station would be virtually worthless, even if the shield were fixed. Compounding the problem was that pre-flight analysis had concluded that the lack of handrails and other necessary devices around the solar arrays meant that astronauts could not reach them, and therefore could not repair them in the event of a problem. After several days on intense brainstorming, the engineers responsible at Marshall had developed a possible solution, requiring a so-called “stand-up EVA” from the Command Module, circumventing the lack of handholds. Finally, solutions had been found to all of the problems facing Skylab; now, it was up to the astronauts of the first Skylab crew, the veteran Pete Conrad and the rookies Paul Weitz and Joseph Kerwin to actually put those solutions into place.

    *edited Oct 5, 2011 from "then-Manned Spaceflight Center"[/I]
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    Post 7: Skylab 2 and Skylab Repairs
  • Well, it's Wednesday again, and you know what that means: new ETS! Today's mission:


    Eyes Turned Skywards, Post #7:

    Ten days after Skylab's launch, another launch day dawned cold and clear at the Cape after a late January cold snap and overnight freeze. While those at the Cape were confident that the cold snap and freeze would not hamper their ability to conduct launch operations, flight controllers in Houston were less sure. The future of the program had been gambled upon the success of Skylab, and any failure now could be fatal not just to the crippled station in orbit, but to NASA in its entirety. Having participated in some of the development effort at NASA to find a solution to the myriad issues plaguing Skylab, the astronauts were more sanguine about their prospects than the flight controllers. Commander Pete Conrad summed this up in a phrase shortly after liftoff that quickly became the unofficial motto of the mission: "We Fix Anything". Additionally, however, it was obvious that there was an urgent need to repair the station. Another five days of non-functionality could permanently cripple the station and prevent it from ever being used, and without NASA ever attempting a repair. In the end, go-ahead was given and Skylab 2 experienced a picture-perfect liftoff, smoothly climbing into orbit ready to rendezvous with the station and begin repair attempts.

    The first priority was to examine the jammed solar panel. It was possible that it was merely stuck, and a good hard pull would set it free, but the data flight planners had available could not resolve the issue. After rendezvousing and taking a short lunch break, the crew set out to discover if this was the case. Visual inspection seemed to be favorable, although not compelling, and they were given the go ahead to make the attempt, with Paul Weitz taking the lead during the EVA. Unfortunately, things would not prove so simple. While Weitz was able to use the "shepard's crook" tool to grab the stuck panel, his efforts to simply pull it free were futile, instead causing noticeable motion of both the Apollo spacecraft and the station itself. Faced with this defeat, ground planners decided to instead focus on deployment of the parasol developed at Johnson Space Center. While the power supply issues caused by the jammed panel were serious, the extremely high interior temperatures caused by the loss of the sunshade/micrometeroid shield were far more pressing. Happily, the high temperatures had not caused toxic materials in the interior to degass, and the parasol was quickly and successfully deployed from the sun-side scientific airlock. Unfortunately, this would prevent some of the planned scientific agenda from taking place, as the airlock remained blocked for the remainder of Skylab's lifespan.

    With the failure of the first attempt to unjam the solar panel and the success of parasol deployment, the Skylab 2 crew settled in to begin working on their scientific agenda while the ground crew worked on a different procedure to fix the station's power supply problems during a space walk near the end of the flight. This agenda consisted of three major areas: solar physics, earth observation, and biomedical studies, with observations of Comet Kohoutek (then close to perihelion) also included when possible. Each proved highly successful, with the biomedical research providing particularly important results that validated NASA's focus on further space station development. Contrary to the fears of some before the flight, astronauts proved entirely able to function in space and space sickness turned out to be much less debilitating on long missions than had previously been suspected. Indeed, being in space appeared to provide some protection against motion sickness, at least once an initial acclimatization period was completed.

    Finally, after several weeks on the station, the ground crew had developed a plan to unjam the solar panel and restore full functionality to the station. The first step would be building a jury-rigged EVA path from the edge of the main Skylab module to the solar panel root. As it was never intended that astronauts would be spacewalking down the habitat, and the outer skin was supposed to be protected behind a pop-out solar/micrometeroid shield, no handholds, footholds, or other assistance devices had been provided leading to the spot, and from Gemini experience NASA knew that it would be nearly impossible for astronauts to reach the panel without something to hold on to. Using this rail, one of the spacewalkers would move to the panel and place a cutting tool on the strap which had prevented the panel from opening. Then, using the improvised EVA rail as a lever, he would force the cutting tool's jaws closed and cut the strap. Unfortunately, this would not quite be the end, as the panel mechanism had probably jammed due to space exposure since launch. Therefore, the rail would see one final use to help force the mechanism open, hopefully curing Skylab's power supply woes once and for all. After an intensive review of the plan with the ground and a good night's sleep, Pete Conrad and Joe Kerwin stepped out of the airlock nearly halfway through the mission to begin their spacewalk. Three and a half hours later, they reentered the airlock having accomplished the first inflight repair of a spacecraft in history (and what was at that point the longest spacewalk in history). The solar panel had been successfully deployed, and juice was already flowing into the station's batteries.

    After the drama of Skylab's first few weeks, the remainder of the mission seemed to flash by as if a dream. Another spacewalk took place nearly two weeks after the main one, this time to retrieve and change out film in the Apollo Telescope Mount, but it was no longer a life-and-death matter. The success of the repair had boosted NASA's credibility to new heights back on Earth. Critics who had questioned the value of astronauts and the usefulness of space stations as opposed to robotic platforms were silenced by the salvaging of a mission that would otherwise have caused the write off of hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars of equipment and training. Finally, after 28 days in space, the first Skylab crew returned to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean near the recovery ship USS New Orleans.
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    Post 8: Apollo-Soyuz Test Project I, Skylab 3, 4, 5, and Skylab End-Of-Mission
  • Well, it's once again turned into Wednesday, so once again, here's a new ETS post. When we left off, Skylab 2 had succeeded in performing basic repairs to save the Skylab station. This week, it's time to put it to use.

    Eyes Turned Skyward, Post #8:

    With the completion of the first manned Skylab mission, Skylab (and indeed NASA’s entire station-focused program) had been saved from failure. It now fell to the later missions to fully utilize the station. Skylab 3 and 4, launched in June and November of 1974 respectively, would complete repairs to the station and then use the station’s capabilities to perform observations of the Earth, the Sun, and other astronomical bodies, as well as performing biological observations on the effects of microgravity on humans and other living things. Every Skylab flight was intended to beat the record of the previous mission in terms of time in space, culminating with Evans, Gibson and Pogue’s 84-day Skylab 4 flight. In addition to this data, the feedback of the astronauts on the realities of long-term spaceflight from food to sleeping to scheduling to use of space were being monitored and incorporated into planning for the follow-up spacecraft (Block III Apollo and the AARDV) and the modification of the backup Skylab-B into a a follow-up station, Spacelab, which was to play host for the second phase of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.

    As these plans and preparations were being finalized and put into action, the first ASTP mission was carried out in 1975. On this flight, the Russian Soyuz 19 conducted rendezvous and docking in low Earth orbit, exchanged gifts and performed the first international joint operations in space, including several precision formation flight maneuvers, including using the Apollo spacecraft to occlude the sun to enable the Soyuz crew to image the sun’s corona. In addition to being the fourth flight of veteran American astronaut Thomas Stafford and the second for Alexei Leonov (the first spacewalker in history), this flight was the first flight for both Bruce McCandless and Mercury 7 member Deke Slayton, who at 51 was the oldest astronaut to fly to that point. However, despite its politically valuable joint operations successes and personnel records, failures of the Apollo hardware during descent and splashdown nearly cost the crew their lives. The CSM’s RCS was accidentally left active during entry, leading to the cabin being flooded with toxic nitrogen tetroxide fumes. Additionally, airbags in the nose designed to prevent the capsule from coming to rest in a nose-down attitude failed to deploy. Thankfully, the capsule did not require this assistance as it touched down successfully nose-up, but it was a less-than-stellar end to the last flight of a Block II CSM with two failures that put the crew at risk.

    Although the splashdown of the ASTP-II marked the end of an era with the retirement of the Block II Apollo, it was not the last flight for the Saturn 1B. The new Saturn 1C intended for Spacelab crew and cargo flights was delayed into 1978, so planning for Spacelab called for flying the first tests of the Apollo Block III CSM and the Aardvark logistics spacecraft on three surplus Saturn 1B boosters, including the new Skylab 5 mission. Following a successful first flight of the Aardvark in January 1976 during which maneuvers similar to those required to rendezvous and dock with Skylab were demonstrated under ground control, the Skylab 5 mission was launched in May 1976.

    The Skylab 5 mission plan was a variant on a mission that had been discussed for several years. Essentially, the crew were to dock with the orbital workshop (testing out the Block III CSM in the process), spend 20 days checking out and securing the station, then receive an Aardvark. Using supplies from the Aardvark, the crew could then extend their stay another 40 days before departing the station and leaving the Aardvark attached. Finally, the Aardvark’s engines (commanded from the ground) would be used to de-orbit Skylab, demonstrating orbital control techniques that would be used on Spacelab for the re-boost of the station. In the event of an Aardvark failure, contingency options included falling back to an earlier plan to use the Apollo’s SPS engine to perform this de-orbit burn. It was an important step in the transition from Skylab’s orbital outpost to Spacelab’s international base in space, proving many of the techniques and technologies needed for the long-term supply and operation of the future station.

    The Skylab 5 crew consisted of the backup crew from the Skylab 3 and 4 missions, Rusty Schweickart as commander, with Vince Lind as Pilot and William Lenoir as Scientist-Pilot. Skylab 5 was Schweickart’s second flight, having served as CMP and performed EVAs on the Apollo 9 flight that first tested the Lunar Module in Earth orbit. During that flight, his EVA had almost had to be cancelled due to Schweickart’s issues with microgravity adaption. Post-flight, he had spent extensive time working with flight surgeons on the causes of space sickness, and the further study of this was to be a goal on Skylab 5. Skylab 5 was the first flight for both Lind and Lenoir, though both had extensive experience as backup crew and in the support of experiments from past flights.

    In addition to the purely technical aspects of the mission, there was other importance--the flight would (if the AARDV was successful) overlap with bicentennial celebrations on July 4, 1976. In honor of this, NASA worked to arrange a special event on Skylab. The event would begin with a call from President Ford to the station astronauts. Next, NBC, ABC and CBS reporters including the venerable Walter Cronkite would have the chance to conduct the first live interview with astronauts in space. Finally, NASA would be covering the landing of Viking 1, hoped to be the first successful Mars landing. In addition to these activities in space, NASA also played host to a science and technology exhibit in a series of geodesic domes in the parking lot of the Vehicle Assembly Building. The keystone exhibit consisted of the Skylab test article (as ongoing modification work rendered Spacelab unfit for display), mockups of Apollo Block III and the AARDV, the Pioneer H space probe, and a mockup of the Viking 1 lander. At the event, the Pioneer H was officially transferred to the Smithsonian, though it would not be moved to the museum until 1977.

    Beyond the bicentennial events, the Skylab 5 mission was a complete success, achieving all major objectives. The Block III Apollo and the Aardvark both performed well, and the re-docking maneuver of the CSM to make room on the station’s MDA for the Aardvark was executed perfectly, a prelude to the common use of such port swaps on future stations. The transfer of supplies and equipment into the station from the Aardvark was achieved, and though microgravity added some wrinkles that had been unanticipated, they were not showstoppers. Finally, the ground-commanded de-orbiting of the station using the Aardvark’s engines went perfectly, verifying that re-boost of Spacelab and future stations would be possible using the Aardvark’s engines, a key element in the plans for Spacelab. The station entered on-time and on-target over the Pacific Ocean to avoid debris falling onto populated areas. The Skylab program was officially complete, having generated information about long-duration spaceflight that were critical to the preparations and plans for Spacelab.
    Post 9: Europe, Europa, and the Rocket That Almost Wasn't
  • Well, it appears once again the continued motion of the Earth has turned it into Wednesday, so here comes this week's installment of Eyes Turned Skyward. This week, we take a look a little behind the ate of the earlier posts and across the Atlantic at the rocket that failed to fail: Europa.

    Eyes Turned Skyward, Post #9

    From Europa: The Rocket That Almost Wasn’t (Hilbert, 1985)

    Even though it was the home of many early rocket pioneers, the aftermath of World War II and the destruction it had caused, especially in Germany, caused Europe to fall behind in the space age. European rocket scientists were left to watch the United States and the Soviet Union take the lead in exploring space. As the long boom set in, however, the practical benefits of space became more apparent, with American weather and communications satellites showing that space was not just a place for national competition. By the early 1960s, a desire for a certain degree of independence from the United States began to manifest and European governments became more willing to spend money on frivolities such as space, starting their own native space programs. However, even as the French became only the third nation to launch their own satellite in 1965, it had become clear that alone, no single nation’s program could match the funding of their American or Soviet counterparts. After discussion, a solution was decided on: the European nations would form two organizations to co-operate on the development of their own space research program and the development of their own native launch system, although the British continued work on their native Black Arrow system in parallel. The European Space Research Organization (ESRO) was founded in 1962, to begin development on native European satellites and scientific observations. ELDO, the European Launcher Development Organization, was founded in 1964 with the goal of creating a native European launch vehicle to carry those payloads and break the American and Soviet monopoly on spaceflight.

    ELDO focused its development on a vehicle called Europa, based on the modified Blue Streak missile originally developed by the UK for its previous work on a native launch system. Under the auspices of ELDO, Blue Streak was to be leveraged into a 3-stage launcher capable of placing a 1-ton payload into Earth orbit, allowing a 360 kilogram payload to be placed into a geostationary transfer orbit. Britain would provide the Blue Streak first stage, France would provide the Coralie second stage, and Germany the Astris upper stage. Italy worked on payload interfaces and other payload development, while the Netherlands and Belgium worked on tracking and telemetry. Australia was to provide the initial launch site, Woomera.

    The test program was divided into three phases. The first phase was to consist of proving the Blue Streak first stage. This began in 1964, and consisted of three launches from Woomera. All were successful, and ELDO moved forward with the second phase, which consisted of suborbital launches of the three-stage configuration, with the upper stages inactive on the early flights (serving only as aerodynamic dummies). With successive flights, additional stages would be made active until the entire vehicle was proven. Finally, phase three would see four test launches into orbit, with the goal of reaching operational status in 1970.

    The best-laid plans can easily go awry, but the issues Europa encountered were particularly spectacular. The program’s early history is sometimes forgotten by the general public, but in 1967 the program seemed on the verge of total collapse. Three consecutive flight attempts ended in failures due to issues in the second and third stages. Despite its lead role in the project, British interest was waning, and it seemed like the failure of ELDO was all but assured. However, the seventh test flight, the second with an active Coralie stage, finally succeeded completely on December 5, 1967 following a complete re-design of the electronics associated with the rocket’s flight sequencer, determined to be the cause of the flight 6 failure. A review of the electronics of the other stages also revealed other dangerous issues, like a lack of insulation on critical third-stage components. The vital good news of the flight 7 success helped revitalize the project’s flagging British support and greatly boosted the morale of the engineering teams involved, promoting a new feeling of having finally gotten ahead of the rocket’s issues. Eleven months of analysis and rework followed, but the result was a successful first flight of the complete Europa configuration on November 26th, 1968. The successful flight of a native-launched European payload into orbit would have to wait until the 10th test flight in 1969, but ELDO would prove it could match the achievements of the Americans and Soviet Union.

    With the successes, though, there also came changes. Changing requirements lead the program to shift operations to the Kourou launch site in French Guiana, effectively eliminating Australian participation. A four-stage variant, Europa 2 (boasting a slightly improved payload), was the first to fly from this site in 1971, proving that the success of Europa 1 was not a fluke. In a commitment to the project, the British government established the British Space Agency to co-ordinate their involvement in ESRO and ELDO.

    At the same time, the European space program as a whole was driven into something of a crisis. With its own success, it had proven it could play the game of the superpowers, but now it had to make use of those capabilities. There were calls for ESRO to examine its goals in light of the native launch capability of Europa, for the exploration of European-developed telecommunications systems (not originally part of the ESRO charter, but clearly an up-and-coming technology), for improved launchers, and possibly even for a manned spaceflight program. For any of this to be possible, better cooperation and coordination would be needed. Indeed, the issues ELDO had faced largely stemmed from a lack of co-ordination among the national engineering teams. Thus, in 1972, the ESRO and ELDO member nations agreed to merge the two organizations into the new European Space Agency, or ESA. ESA was directed to continue launcher development under a new unified program, continue research and telecommunications programs begun under its predecessors, as well as to explore the potential for European manned flights via cooperation with the United States.
    Post 10: Skylab Lessons and Learning for Spacelab
  • Well, it's Wednesday once again, and that means a new post. This week we're covering more about the science aspect of Skylab, and some of the lessons learned that will carry forward into Spacelab

    Eyes Turned Skywards, Post #10

    There were three main areas of research on Skylab. First, there were the solar observations. The heart of the scientific agenda for the station, these were the most important, most valuable, and most spectacularly successful of the experiments on board, recording a hitherto unheard of amount of data about solar behavior over a surprisingly active period of time. Having astronauts controlling the telescopes proved to offer significant advances over the automated OSO telescopes that proceeded Skylab, exemplified by the second crew discovering and acting upon a warning signal of flare activity, allowing them to capture a flare from its birth to its fiery eruption from the Sun. Solar astronomers who participated in Skylab experiments were virtually unanimous in expressing their delight in the quality of the data recorded, and in the value of astronauts for collecting that data. In fact, the quality of the data was so high, and the causes of solar behavior so important and unknown, that it was briefly suggested that the backup ATM fly on Spacelab to allow observations during the next solar maximum, when activity was expected to be even higher. While the idea was quickly quashed, and a satellite incorporating some ATM instruments flown instead, the incident goes to show the high regard astronomers had for Skylab data.

    Second, there were the Earth observations. While astronauts had reported seeing astonishing levels of detail from their orbits, and hand-held cameras had been in use since the Mercury flights to record these details, Skylab was the first crewed spacecraft that contained a dedicated battery of sensors for observing the Earth from space. While the conceptually similar MOL missions had been canceled due to advancements in spy satellite technology, for civilian purposes Skylab again proved the value of astronaut-operated instruments, although it was not as successful in doing so as the solar observations. The third and fourth missions in particular showed that a "spontaneous" program, with astronauts instructed broadly on areas and items of interest but allowed to follow their own judgment on what precisely to image, was of great value. The more rigorously planned programs of the first and second missions, by contrast, were less successful, and showed little superiority over Landsat work. Indeed, in some respects Earth observations from Skylab were much less useful than Landsat observations. As with prior missions, too, astronauts enjoyed observing the Earth when they were not otherwise occupied, using binoculars, sketch pads, and hand-held cameras to further augment the Earth observations data. The Spacelab design effort took into account these lessons learned, and provided a large amount of useful data that helped refine our understanding of a wide variety of geological, meteorological, and oceanographic phenomena.

    Last but far from least, there were the biomedical experiments. In some ways, these were the most crucial experiments of all. It may sound absurd now, with record zero-g durations by both American and Russian spacefarers of over a year, but at the time there was real doubt in the medical community that humans could even survive more than a few weeks in space, doubt amplified by the deaths of the Soyuz 11 astronauts after a 23 day flight, and the collapse and death of Bonnie, a macaque monkey flown on Biosatellite 3, after just 8 days in space. Further, there had been some alarming incidents during the Apollo flights, particularly irregular heartbeats in several crewmembers during Apollo 15 and Rusty Schweickart's severe space sickness during Apollo 9. All of this combined to fuel pessimism over the ability of astronauts to function during long spaceflights. Given NASA's new emphasis on space station operations, it was crucial to establish that they could, indeed, do so. To that end, a highly comprehensive biomedical program was established, with never before or since seen controls on virtually every activity the astronauts were expected to regularly perform. Everything from their diet to their exercise was studied and regulated, and they were subjected to unpleasant and sometimes humiliating medical tests, most importantly one essentially designed to induce motion sickness. In all probability, the four Skylab crews have been more closely and heavily studied than any other group of men in history. Despite that, the astronauts were able to enjoy some surprising luxuries. Everything from sugar cookies (well-liked by all four crews) to filet mignon was on the menu, even if they had to carefully track exactly what they ate. The results, happily for NASA, showed that the effects of microgravity could be significantly countered by exercise, while surprisingly microgravity appeared to confer some degree of protection from motion sickness after an initial adaptation period. Combined with the efforts the first and second crews made to repair the station, Skylab proved that astronauts were indeed capable of functioning, and functioning at an extremely high level, during long-duration spaceflights.

    In addition to the three major research areas, there were several other research activities carried out during the flight. The two most important of these for future activities were NASA studies on space station, and by extension microgravity, design principles, and the student experiments program. Most of the NASA studies were passive in nature, simply recording crew impressions of how well or poorly different areas of the station worked, and how much or little they facilitated the astronauts' tasks on orbit, providing valuable feedback for Spacelab interior design. However, there were two "experiments" which had direct bearing on future space station projects. The first was the testing of several designs of maneuvering units that could allow future astronauts to conduct untethered EVAs from future stations, possibly for assembly or maintenance purposes. Skylab 5 was the second of these, proving the concept of resupplying a space station while in use, a vital capability for future space stations and one that would in the future allow for much more flexibility for station operations. The student experiments had a more elusive importance and impact. While they did not generally do much useful science, they were successful in engaging public and in particular student interest, especially the well-known "spider" experiments, and the utility of small supplemental experiments was not lost on NASA. Using their experience from these experiments, a similar program was planned for Spacelab. Unlike Skylab, however, not just student projects but also corporate, government, and foreign payloads were flown, provided they did not require much crew attention and time.
    Post 11: Preparations and Conversions, Skylab-B Becomes Spacelab
  • Well, once again Wednesday has rolled around. This week, we turn our attention to the preparations for Spacelab and take an in-depth look at the modifications made to it in preparation for its flight.

    Eyes Turned Skyward, Post #11:

    Assembly work on Spacelab resumed at an almost indecent haste once it became clear that Skylab had been repaired and therefore there was no longer any potential need for a Skylab B to replace the wounded station. Since construction had been stopped at an early stage--little more had been done than removing the engine and most of the hardware needed for it--a considerable amount of work would be needed for completion, and it was obvious it would be at least several years before launch. However, despite this and the lack of data from Skylab to support particular designs, the engineers and designers working on the project already had clear ideas about the most major changes needed for Spacelab compared to Skylab.

    First and foremost, of course, was correcting the failure of the micrometeroid/solar shield deployment mechanism that had nearly caused the loss of Skylab. Since the same basic shield idea would be used on Spacelab, this was obviously a very high priority. Further, since the failure had been the result of what had been believed to be a non-safety-critical part, a thorough program of safety scrubbing--rigorously analyzing the entire spacecraft for potential failure modes in all components--was begun. While this energetic approach to ensuring the correct and safe functioning of the station did divert resources from the main program, the legacy of nearly a decade of highly successful service indicates that this diversion paid off handsomely.

    Next was expanding the available pressurized volume. While the hydrogen tank that had been used by Skylab for the vast majority of its pressurized volume was very large and more than adequate for that station, NASA believed that Spacelab might be in use (indeed much more active use) for considerably longer. A permanently manned duration of at least several years was believed likely, and in conjunction with the ASTP II program more volume was desired for habitation. Adding additional volume would allow the gradual extension of Spacelab capabilities as necessary, whether that was more habitat volume for extra crew or more laboratory space for materials science experiments. The most obvious way to increase the pressurized volume of the station was to use the SIVB’s oxygen tank, with over 2,500 cubic feet of volume (similar to a 40-foot shipping container). Doing so would increase the pressurized volume of the Orbital Workshop section of the station by over 25%, and would be relatively easy to accomplish on the ground. Skylab and previous "wet workshop" studies had left the tank open to vacuum due to limited resources and planned to use of the tank as a kind of "dumpster" to store garbage, but the newly developed AARDVark could supply whatever might be needed to use the tank over time and be used for trash disposal by incineration during reentry.

    Another aspect of Skylab's design considered decidedly inferior by most of the engineers working on Spacelab was the arrangement for the airlock "module". Inserted between the Orbital Workshop and Multiple Docking Adapter, use of the airlock prevented anyone inside the Orbital Workshop from reaching the CSM in case of an emergency, forcing anyone not going on a spacewalk to wait it out inside the CSM. Engineers on Spacelab had designed a new Airlock Module, fitted to the emergency docking port for use. At this point, however, the politics of the station began to interfere in the design process. One of the major goals of Spacelab and a significant factor in maintaining the station's development funding through the decade was the ASTP II mission with the Soviet Union. However, the Soyuz spacecraft used by the Soviets naturally used a very different (and completely incompatible) docking system from the Apollo spacecraft, in addition to having a different internal pressure and atmospheric composition, mandating the use of a docking adapter from Soyuz to Spacelab to allow cosmonauts to pass from one to another, much like on ASTP I. Since the emergency docking port was the only one free for mounting of this adapter, and since the adapter could neither be launched on a later Apollo flight (not the last time the probe-and-drogue system would cause operational difficulties for NASA) nor with the Soyuz (the weight would prevent the Soyuz from being able to reach Spacelab at all) and thus had to be launched with Spacelab, the airlock module could not be launched with Spacelab itself. If it was, the resulting airlock-docking module stack would protrude beyond the edge of the aerodynamic fairing covering the Multiple Docking Adapter. Instead, it would have to be launched with the third Spacelab flight, after the ASTP II flight. Until then, the CSM could be temporarily used as an airlock "module"; since there were no scheduled spacewalks before the third flight, this was considered an acceptable emergency substitute.

    The development of the airlock module opened up a new line of thought about how to expand Spacelab's pressurized volume--perhaps some kind of similar but larger module could be launched and maneuvered into place with the AARDV? European scientists and engineers suggested the creation of a Research Module--a small "add on," massing perhaps 14-15 metric tons, which could be launched and docked to the station in the same fashion as an AARDVark. Such a module might be able to add additional capabilities to the station even better than AARDVark flights could, and might be useful to gather information about future modular constructions (which seemed increasingly likely with the demise of US heavy lift capability). After significant study, development of the Research Module was approved by NASA to be carried out by the ESA, with a launch sometime after ASTP II. This meant that a basically European project was being subjected to the whims of the US political process, one of the first whiffs of the conflict that would slowly build between the two agencies and indeed between the United States and Europe on the subject of space flight.

    Finally, near the end of the design and development process, the first elements of actual use data from Skylab began filtering in. In the main, this data confirmed the direction taken--Skylab was quite usable and most of its systems functioned well, and Spacelab would be more of the same--but it did lead to some small changes around the edges. For example, the bicycle ergometer design, with its elaborate (and as events proved, entirely counterproductive) tether system was completely changed, while a treadmill (useful both for aerobic exercise and, more importantly, for maintaining lower body strength) was added. The shower, which had proved largely useless and superfluous in orbit, where sponge baths were both easier and just as good for getting clean, would be removed. And, in a move which would be much lamented by the Astronaut Corps, the freezer (which had allowed Skylab astronauts to enjoy such delicacies as real ice cream and filet mignon) would be removed. Supplying frozen or refrigerated food would impose too large a payload penalty on the AARDVarks carrying the food, and the capability was removed early in the design process.

    However, not every change to Spacelab was adding capabilities over Skylab. In a controversial move, the Apollo Telescope Mount, one of the scientific centerpieces of Skylab and a highly productive instrument, had been totally deleted from Spacelab's design. Due to the need to accommodate CSM, AARDVark, and Soyuz capsules simultaneously, Spacelab required at least three docking ports. Even in routine operations, it would be normal to have a CSM and AARDVark docked at least some of the time, and a third port was desired for emergency operations. Given a Multiple Docking Adapter design similar to Skylab's (in order to save on development costs), the only way to accommodate three ports was to delete the ATM. Since Spacelab had been sustained partially on the need to accommodate ASTP II, and with the beginnings of significant European involvement in the station, retaining the ATM was never seriously considered as an option, despite the pleas from solar physicists. Observations would simply have to revert to automated and ground-based platforms, whether or not Skylab had been more effective.
    Post 12: European Involvement in Spacelab and Europa Improvements
  • Having touched on Skylab mods and prep last week, we return to the European program for this week's Eye's Turned Skyward update. Sorry this one ended up a bit on the short side, a lot of what was to be in it has ended up in other updates.

    Eyes Turned Skyward, Post #12:

    Over the two years following the foundation of the ESA, some business continued on track from its predecessors, ELDO and ESRO. Payloads originally developed by ESRO began to be transitioned to Europa 2, launching from France’s Kourou launch site in French Guiana. A newly unified engineering team began work on exploring further options for Europa evolution, continuing to expand its capabilities. Additionally, options for cooperation with the United States on their Spacelab station were explored.

    The Spacelab station was always intended to serve an international role, serving as a site for the second Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. In this second phase, Soyuz capsules would dock to the Spacelab station, and the combined crews--US and Soviet, would work together for a total of 90 days between two missions, making use of the new station’s expanded lab volume in the new annex constructed inside the original S-IVB stage’s liquid oxygen tank. European space agencies had been in discussion with NASA about becoming part of this effort almost since the founding of the ESA, and by 1975, they had been allowed to join as a junior partner. In exchange for support including developing the European Research Module, a small 15-ton supplemental lab space intended to add (among other things) telescopes and other astronomical instruments and demonstrate modular assembly techniques for possible use in future stations, the ESA would be allowed to send several astronauts to the station on post-ASTP II flight as third-seat scientist-pilots as well as send up experiments on the AARDV supply flights to be used on-orbit. The ESA was interested in doing more, but NASA wasn’t sure it could offer anything else during the first years of the station’s life.

    The reason for this was simple: Spacelab’s schedule was already stressed by the ASTP project. Adding other international partners created additional pressures on crew transport, cargo supply, and ground-side elements like training, since the ESA’s astronaut selections would do as much if not more training with NASA alongside American astronauts than they would in their home countries. Partially this was because NASA facilities had equipment and simulators the ESA couldn’t afford to build for just a few astronauts. It was also a way for NASA to ensure that ESA’s astronauts would mesh well with their American colleagues and potential crewmates, part of a goal of minimizing culture clash.

    Partly in response to their nascent manned program, the ESA was also exploring ways to expand the capabilities of the Europa launch vehicle. After its troublesome start, the vehicle had settled in and built up a decent list of launch successes, including several ESA science missions that might otherwise have had to fly on other nation’s launchers. However, even the Europa 2 variant was only capable of placing 1200 kg into LEO or placing 360 kg on its way to GEO. European engineers hoped to continue to expand Europe’s capabilities, and began work on a new revision, Europa 2-TA which would add two French Black Diamant solid rocket boosters on either side of the Blue Streak first stage, allowing an increase in payload to just under 2 tons with similar increases in capability to geosynchronous orbits. However, Europa 3 would have to see much larger changes. In order for more substantial increases to be possible, either a new first stage would have to be developed or far more powerful boosters would have to be added. The debate over the direction to take the Europa 3 evolution would bitterly divide the ESA even as the agency’s first astronauts were training for their role in the American’s Spacelab “International Outreach Program.”
    Post 13: Space Advocacy I: Birth of the National Space Organization
  • Well, this is a bit of a change from what ETS focuses on normally, but I hope you'll enjoy this week's update for what it is.

    Eyes Turned Skyward Post #13:

    The practice of space advocacy--of citizen's groups pressuring Congress to undertake some activity in space, in just the same way an environmental group might lobby to protect a river or a corporation might appeal for a tax cut--was and is in many ways the child of the 1970s. During the 1950s and 1960s many people in the US supported space exploration, true, but the nature of the political process that led to the Moon program--the interactions between the aerospace industry, Cold War attitudes and politics, and, later, the martyrdom of John F. Kennedy--made public support irrelevant to the Moon program. "We" had to beat the Russians, and it didn't matter if many Americans believed that that money would be better spent on welfare, plumbing, or a tax cut (and there were many Americans, even in the heady days of the mid-'60s, who believed exactly that): Americans were going to the Moon. However, the Apollo program eventually began to wind down under the stress of Vietnam and the achievement of "victory" over the Soviets, and with it official support for space exploration and development. Slowly, a sense was growing in those who wanted an expanded space program that they could no longer stand on the sidelines and cheer; instead, they needed to take the field and become persuasive and forceful advocates of such a program.

    The first stirrings of such a movement came with the fight to save Skylab and Spacelab (then known as Skylab B, or International Skylab). Many within the country, most prominently political figures such as Senators William Proxmire (D-WI) and Walter Mondale (D-MN) were fervent opponents of the space program, arguing that the resources and technical talent represented by it could be put to much better use elsewhere, perhaps in curing diseases, improving public health, cleaning up the environment, or so on. As the techno-optimism of the 1950s and 1960s faded into the malaise of the 1970s, moreover, this feeling was growing, and spreading into a broadly-based anti-technology feeling. High technology of the sort represented by aerospace endeavors like the Supersonic Transport or the Apollo program was no longer in vogue, and many who were in favor of these programs felt under attack. Naturally, a counterattack was in the offing; including such prominent members as science fiction writers Larry Niven and Arthur C. Clarke, a wide variety of small, local movements came into being to argue for such high technology, while diplomats pointed out that we had agreed with Russia to launch International Skylab, and Skylab would surely be necessary before that to gain experience in space station operations. Together, these arguments carried the day, at least for Skylab, and the Skylab-Spacelab program continued on unabated. While the organizations that had sprung up to ensure this outcome largely died off having achieved it, the seeds were still planted for larger movements later in the decade.

    The first indications that those seeds would sprout into something remarkable was the foundation of the National Space Organization, still one of the Big Three space advocacy organizations. The group originated from discussions between NASA and existing professional aerospace organizations. Given the tight budgets of the 1970s, NASA officials desired an organization which could press Congress for more funds to be directed towards spaceflight, in much the same way that citizen's groups had pressed naval construction at the beginning of the century. Of course, NASA could not directly organize such a club, but outside groups could, and by mid-1975 the National Space Association had come into existence (the name was quickly changed due to feedback indicating people didn't want to pay dues to another Association). Despite quickly recruiting von Braun to serve as its public face (and almost as quickly having him retire due to increasingly ill health), the Organization grew slowly. The founding goal was to reach 100,000 members and several dozen major corporate sponsers within a few years, but by 1977 barely 15,000 had actually joined, and it became apparent that stronger measures were needed to make the Organization successful. About this time, the board had been approaching the increasingly well-known space scientist Carl Sagan, looking to recruit him to the board to replace von Braun. While Sagan made a number of demands, mostly centered around greatly increasing the attention paid by the Organization to the robotic and scientific parts of the space program, the board was ready to agree to nearly anything, and Sagan was quickly accepted.

    Sagan soon realized that a direct appeal to the public was needed to show support for the space program to lawmakers and to drum up support for the NSO. While constrained by his role in the Voyager program, he turned his considerable skills towards pro-space advocacy, culminating in the production of the television show Cosmos in 1981. In parallel with this campaign, the membership of the NSO began to rapidly increase, reaching over 150,000 members by 1983. This growth made the NSO by far the largest and most influential space organization in the United States, and it began to actively lobby the government.

    With its close connections to NASA, moreover, the NSO had actually begun to play a part in NASA's own efforts, particularly those related to education and publicization of its activities. However, something remarkable had happened between 1975 and 1983, something which had given the NSO a run for its money, and something which was attributable to one many alone: Gerard K. O'Neill, a physicist and passionate supporter of space colonization from Princeton University.
    Post 14: Saturn 1C and Preparations of LC39
  • Well, I know this may not see a lot of views what with the holidays, but I want to keep our update record strong. This week, we turn to the final preparations for the Spacelab mission.

    Eyes Turned Skyward, Post #14

    For NASA, the period between 1976 and 1978 was one of preparation. The Skylab program had ended with the de-orbiting of the orbital laboratory at the end of Skylab 5, and all effort had turned towards the preparation of the Spacelab station and equipment. Parts of the system had been proven, of course. The Spacelab station was built from the backup Skylab, modified with the removal of the Apollo Telescope Mount (ATM) and the outfitting of the LOX tank of the SIVB as an additional laboratory space. A revised Multiple Docking Adaptor (MDA) would allow an Apollo capsule and an Aardvark resupply craft to be docked simultaneously, and for an additional craft to dock for short periods. During the initial use of Spacelab as an “International Skylab” for the ASTP II, this was to be a Soviet Soyuz using an adaptor, but after the ASTP II mission it would be used to attach an airlock and to dock “surge flights” to add an additional three crew members (mixing American, ESA, and other astronauts)for short periods. The Block III “LEO taxi” Apollo CSM and the Aardvark supply vehicle had been tested by independent flights and then proven on the Skylab 5 flight. The launch vehicle for the station was the last of the Saturn Vs, with the Spacelab station again replacing the S-IVB upper stage. The only remaining unproven hardware was the crew launcher for the program, the Saturn IC.

    The Saturn IC had emerged in 1972 as part of the post-Apollo shift to a focus on orbital space stations and long-duration manned flights in low Earth orbit. It was to replace the expensive and complex S-IB as a crew launcher for the post-Skylab station that evolved into Spacelab. To simplify the vehicle and increase payload, the Chrysler-built first stage with its multitude of tanks and 8 H-1 engines would be replaced with a new Boeing-built first stage using a common-bulkhead design and mounting a single F-1A engine, an improved version of the powerful F-1 originally developed for the second production run of Saturn Vs. The S-IVB upper stage would be largely unchanged, but a similarly upgraded J-2S engine would replace the J-2 of the Saturn IB. By 1977, the first Saturn 1C was approaching readiness inside of a Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) that was in a state of controlled chaos.

    The transition of NASA’s direction from moon missions to space stations begun in 1971 can said to have finally finished in 1977 and 1978. Hardware like the Mobile Launcher Platforms and Mobile Service Structures for the Saturn Vs were being modified for their new roles. While MLP #2 and pad LC39A was reserved for the Saturn V that would carry Spacelab to orbit, MLP #1 and #3 as well as LC39B were being converted for the use of the Saturn IC, moving access arms and work platforms to better serve the new rocket. The first launch was to use MLP #3, since MLP #1 had had a “milkstool” mounted to allow the Saturn IB to be launched without extensive modifications to the platform. Because of this, the MLP required not only the same modifications as MLP #3 to, but the additional time and effort to remove the milkstool.

    In many ways, the transition of the MLPs was characteristic to all of the preparations occurring at Kennedy Space Center. Even as the technicians prepared for the operational Spacelab flights using revised Apollos and Saturn ICs, the station launch on a Saturn V would require the same infrastructure used since the complex’s construction. Indeed, the VAB crews experienced some of the same transitional headaches with the rockets themselves as they did with the Mobile Launch Platforms, Mobile Service Structures and other equipment. The Saturn IC and Saturn V shared a common heritage, but were of different generations. The electronic brains of the Saturn V had been designed in the mid-60s and by 1977 were more than a decade out of date, while the avionics of the Saturn IC were brand new and used the latest technology Boeing could cram into them. The engines of the Saturn V, the F-1 and J-2, had been revised into the engines of the Saturn IC, the F-1A and J-2S, but the differences between the two were enough to cause issues with the tools and equipment used to service and prepare the systems, meaning critical ground support equipment had to duplicated or have modifications carefully scheduled to ensure it could support both the Saturn 1C and the last Saturn V.

    In spite of these issues and the delays they caused, the maiden Saturn IC rolled out to the pad on a newly-rebuilt MLP #3 in mid-July 1977. After several weeks of simulations, testing, and inevitable pad delays, the final preparation mission for the Spacelab program roared skyward on a tower of flame. Ten minutes later, the S-IVB stage cut off, leaving itself and a payload simulator consisting of tons of metal carefully designed to simulate an Aardvark supply spacecraft in a 200 km circular orbit, with less than 1% error in both apogee and perigee. The successful flight left behind the last of the Saturn Vs in its own VAB highbay, beginning the process of stacking the stages and finishing the checkout of the Spacelab station, while in the recently vacated highbay, work was already underway to complete modifications of MLP #1 and begin preparing the first manned Saturn 1C. The same-day launches of the last Saturn V and the first Spacelab crew on the second Saturn 1C, intended to occur in early 1978, would mark the end of a transitional period that had lasted almost since the liftoff of Apollo 18 in 1973.

    In another major transition, in 1977 NASA announced that it would begin the selection process for its eighth astronaut group. Even the greenest astronaut in the Corps had been with NASA since 1969, while many or most of the more veteran astronauts had either retired or were about to. With Spacelab operations expected to result in a greatly increased number of flights compared to the post-Apollo 18 period, it was obvious to everyone that NASA needed new blood in the Corps. Importantly, for the first time NASA would recruit pilot and non-pilot astronauts at the same time, while abolishing the requirement for non-pilot astronauts (now called "Flight Scientists" instead of "Scientist Pilots") to pass flight school prior to assignment. This set the stage for the largest NASA astronaut group up to that point, and when selection was completed what turned out to be the most diverse. The inclusion of females and minorities in higher education and the military had greatly expanded since the last open selection (group 6, since group 7 had been restricted to veterans of the Air Force's MOL project), and thus the new group would also include the first female and African-American astronaut candidates. The final list of 20 new astronauts would give NASA the astronauts it needed to ensure the success of the Spacelab program.
    Post 15: Space advocacy part II: Gerard K. O'Neill, Space Colonization, and the Lunar Society
  • Well, this week we're returning to cover some more of the 70s space advocacy developments. Last time (in post 13) we covered the NSO and Carl Sagan, this week let's look in on another major group.

    Eyes Turned Skyward, Post 15

    Gerard K. O'Neill was perhaps an unlikely prophet to lead what, at times, seemed more of a religious than a technological movement. Known in the scientific community for having invented the colliding-beam particle accelerator in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he had been one of the first applicants for the scientist-astronaut positions opened in the mid-1960s, saying that "to be alive now and not take part in it seemed terribly myopic" when asked why he did so. While he was not accepted as an astronaut candidate, he retained a keen interest in spaceflight after he returned to Princeton. Over several years, as the result of special projects he assigned the freshman students he was teaching, he became convinced that planetary or lunar surfaces were suitable only as resources for a true space society, not (as had generally been envisioned by previous thinkers) as the actual location of settlement. Instead, great stations could house hundreds of thousands or millions of people in comfort, supplied by resources extracted from the Moon or asteroids, with energy provided by the Sun. Over time, he honed these ideas from relatively vague notions to a detailed plan, spelling out how the world could procede to a future of virtually unlimited energy, resources, and living room by utilizing space. In 1974 he finally managed to publish an article spelling out this plan in the magazine *Physics Today*, a few months after an article describing him and his plan had appeared in the *New York Times*.

    The response floored him. While he had had enthusiastic reactions to the seminars and talks on the subject he had been giving for several years, those had, by and large, been given to people with a technical education, who might have been expected to be unusually interested in space colonization. Now he was receiving a flood of attention from regular people; from those who, all the studies indicated, were unenthusiastic about or even hostile towards the space program. He quickly had to hire a secretary to deal with the incoming mail, and followed by setting up a mailing list so that his fans could stay informed about what he was doing, which, although he didn't realize it yet, would be the precursor to the Lunar Society. In addition to confirming public interest in the idea, these letters brought two items of information that proved of great import.

    First, O'Neill learned of the work of Peter Glaser, who had suggested that it might be possible to build giant solar arrays in space that could beam power down to the ground. Such arrays would be unaffected by weather and would be able to produce power around the clock, in contrast to ground-based arrays, greatly increasing their apparent power output. More importantly, such arrays would necessarily have to be very large to provide useful amounts of power, and could, in large part, be built in space out of space-based materials. Since O'Neill's colonies already required extensive mining efforts on the Moon or in the asteroids for materials, and relied on space-based manufacturing and construction to be economical, it was apparent that such satellites could also be built there, for a potentially substantial and (more importantly) direct and immediate payoff. Almost immediately, the justification for the colonies switched from accommodating Earth's growing population directly to supporting the construction of power satellites.

    Second, results from the Apollo 18 flight indicated that the Moon had been volcanic activity relatively recently, and therefore that there were likely lava tubes on the Moon which could be used for initial settlement. A colony could be built in such a tube much more quickly and cheaply than a full space colony could be, while ecological requirements, space manufacturing (particularly using lunar materials), lunar launch systems, space power systems, and other important techniques and technologies could be developed or proved on the Moon before any of the actual space colonies were built. Further, once the lunar colony was constructed, along with a construction station at L-5, it could begin producing segments of the Island One colony and solar power satellites immediately, allowing a more rapid development process and faster payback of initial construction costs. Thus, constructing a proper lunar colony first might better enable the long-term goal of large space colonies.

    Together, these concepts increased public interest even further. Now, it looked as though the idea might not be good just for the environment, but for the pocketbook as well, with sales of massive amounts of clean solar energy both undercutting existing utility prices and generating massive profits, while financing colonization of space. Even NASA was affected, with centers from Ames to Kennedy funding small-scale studies of space manufacturing using Skylab data--what could be made, how could it be made, what were the limitations? Robotics, astroculture (high-density agriculture or the sort needed for space colonies), and the problem of cheap lift dominated the studies, with the last proving to be the most persistent and important difficulty. Being able to cheaply lift cargo into space was clearly vital to O'Neill's expansive vision; while he did rely heavily on extraterrestrial resources, many key components and of course most of the initial equipment still needed to be produced on Earth, making the plan dependent on low-cost lift for at least the initial stages.

    To O’Neill, it was clear that for his plans to work, cheap lift was the key. With cheap lift, demonstrating astroculture, in-space manufacture, transmitted power, and scouting for good lunar mining and colony sites would become easy. Without it, the venture would be impossible to get off the ground. What was needed was something like the proposed Shuttle that Nixon had killed, a cheap high-flight-rate reusable vehicle to lower the cost of spaceflight. What this required, clearly, was an organization capable of advocating and pushing for such a direction. O’Neill came to believe that his mailing list consisted of just the right people to form such an organization. By mid 1976, the Lunar Society was formed, with the goal of promoting O'Neill's agenda for space by supporting research into the key technologies and pushing NASA and the US government to commit to such a project. To most members, it seemed a natural outgrowth of the agency's station-focus, with retained technologies from the Apollo era allowing some of the more expensive key research areas (related to the exact location and qualities of lunar lava tubes and biomedical results of long-term habitation on the lunar surface) to be conducted relatively inexpensively.
    Post 16: ELVRP I (Expendable Launch Vehicle Replacement Program) and the Delta 4000
  • Hello all! Sorry about the delay in this post getting up, real life has been eating my lunch the last few days. Anyway, this week in ETS we're jumping back a bit to the mid-70s and taking a look at the military space.
    Eyes Turned Skyward, Post #16:

    For the military, the space launch systems of the mid-1970s were anything but adequate. The Air Force, the Navy, and especially the National Reconnaissance Office (popularly known as the NRO, although its existence was top-secret at the time) were launching increasingly large and heavy satellites to perform a wide variety of missions in space, from communications to meteorology to perhaps the most important of all, spying. Spy satellites in particular were monsters, with the latest KH-9 weighing over 25,000 pounds (11,000 kg), severely taxing the largest launch vehicles the Air Force had available. Further, they had been growing rapidly in weight over the last decade, with the KH-9 weighing over 4 times as much as its predecessor, and even where they weren't all that heavy themselves it was obvious that existing launch vehicles were inadequate, as with signals intelligence satellites and their high orbits that demanded large launch vehicles to place their upper stages into orbit. Further increases in capacity would be needed for the planned GPS network that would allow American forces to easily pinpoint their location anywhere on the planet, but which demanded a huge number of satellites in medium orbits to function. It was clear that the existing hodgepodge of "legacy" ICBM-derived launch vehicles was not really capable of servicing the payloads envisioned for the 1980s and beyond. So it was that the ELVRP, or "Expendable Launch Vehicle Replacement Program" was begun in 1975.

    From the start, it was revolutionary in outlook. The goal was to deliver a cheaper, more reliable, more easily serviceable booster using existing technology that was designed--from the ground up--to serve as a launch vehicle, replacing most boosters then in use by the US military with a single family capable of servicing most planned payloads. All previous US launch vehicles, aside from the expensive and NASA-exclusive Saturns and the extremely limited Scouts, had been derived from ballistic missiles, whether directly (in the case of the Atlas or Titan II) or indirectly (as with the Titan III or Vanguard). Indeed, most launch vehicles worldwide, from Soviet launchers such as the Proton and even the N-1 to the Europa design developed by the European Launcher Development Organisation, had at least some missile heritage. The ELVRP constituted nothing less than the first steps towards modern launcher designs and modern launch management.

    The first vehicle contracted under the ELVRP was intended to replace the Titan III variants and other rocket in similar payload ranges. The DoD demanded a capability of no less than 13,000 lbs, ideally with some ability to tailor vehicle capability to specific mission requirements. Competition for the contract was fierce, with most aerospace companies currently involved in astronautics submitting at least some proposal. After all, the whole point of the ELVRP was to cut down the numbers of rocket designs in service, meaning a failure to get in the game could be a death knell. Convair submitted the Atlas 1, a largely re-engineered Atlas variant. Martin submitted a variant on the Titan, while McDonald Douglass submitted the Delta 4000. Even Boeing, busy with the new redesigned first stage for the Saturn 1C, put in a proposal, the largely-clean-sheet Neptune, though it was essentially understood to be dead-on-arrival.

    Very quickly, the competition was reduced to the Titan IV and Delta 4000 proposals. While the DoD was interested in a new design, they also did not want to risk their entire space launch capability on totally untried components. Titan IV and Delta 4000 shared many features: both were based extensively on existing vehicles, both would use a liquid core boosted by a variable number of solid rocket engines, and both were intended for use with the venerable Centaur upper stage. However, Titan’s core stage still used toxic hypergolic fuels, while the Delta 4000 used the less toxic and more easily handled kerosene/LOX fuels. Furthermore, the Delta design had incorporated flexible solid booster configurations for years, and the McDonnell Douglas team was able to present designs for an entire family of boosters capable of scaling across almost all of the Air Force’s medium-lift needs, including detailed cost, development time, and performance estimates. By contrast, the Martin team seemed ill-equipped to handle the variety of missions their proposed booster would launch, and often seemed lost in presentations. The Delta 4000 quickly became the leading contender, and after its selection, work began with a first flight tentatively scheduled for 1980.
    Post 17: ESA update, Europa 3 design, the Seat Wars, and the creation of the Block III+ Apollo
  • Hello everyone! It's my favorite holiday of the year: the last day of finals! (And, if my co-op accepts my acceptance of their offer, my last day of school until August!) To celebrate, here's the next update for Eyes Turned Skyward. I hope you enjoy it, I made it myself. Note that some of the contents of this post are there because of earlier comments on this thread. Truth and I want to make this the best quality TL we can, so please...if you have comments or speculations on this or any other post, feel free to chime in. On another note, we've now passed the 10,000 view mark, and are probably going to hit 11,000 on this update. Thank you all for continuing to follow this TL.

    Eyes Turned Skyward, Post #17:

    By 1977, ESA was far more of a mature organization that the motley sum of parts of ELDO and ESRO that it had begun as in 1972, let alone the fractious amalgamation of independent space programs that had made up ELDO and ESRO. However, it was still facing many challenges; first and foremost was the agency’s manned program. ESA had signed on as a partner for NASA’s Spacelab program, bartering the construction of a European Research Module to expand the station’s capabilities (including adding astronomical equipment and more lab space) in exchange for slots for their new astronaut corps to fly to the station after the completion of the ASTP II flight. However, the development of the ERM and the training of ESA’s first astronauts would be over-shadowed by what some historians would come to dub the “seat wars.” The seat wars were a series of conflicts between ESA managers, mission planners, and astronauts and their NASA counterparts, with additional conflicts between the same NASA managers and members of their own science contingent and astronaut corps over the availability and allocation of slots for flights to Spacelab. The complaints from the NASA scientists and from ESA were both about the fact that the Block III Apollo left non-pilots fighting for a single seat per flight. ESA was thus only offered four slots for their astronauts in the period 1978-1980, which they felt was unfair given their contributions in developing the ERM and reflective of a general attitude at NASA that took them for granted and failed to fully appreciate their contributions to the international scientific potential nature of Spacelab. NASA’s science corps, in turn, pointed out that the so-called “throttle-jockeys” of the astronaut corps had much greater chances of flying than Flight Scientists with similar seniority.

    However, NASA managers responded, these complaints about insufficient seat allocations ignored the simple facts of the hardware available. The Block III had just three seats, and two had to be occupied by pilot-trained NASA astronauts. ESA offered to take the problem off NASA’s hands if they could be allowed to fly their astronauts as pilots, rather than flight scientists, thus opening that slot for NASA’s own science corps. However, NASA managers were unwilling for the moment to put their spacecraft’s controls into foreign hands and NASA’s pilot-astronaut corps’s reaction was viscerally and emphatically negative. The rejection of the proposal was rapid and quite clear. ESA astronauts would continue to fly as Flight Scientists, not pilots. NASA’s scientists meanwhile pointed to the increased size of the laboratory volume of Spacelab compared to Skylab and the potential need for more experienced scientists to carry out experiments. While NASA’s own studies indicated that fully using Spacelab might require more crew time than would be available from a three-person crew, an increase to six-person crews would require keeping two Apollo crews on-station, and would still leave just two open slots. However, NASA’s science corps was even more incensed by this response and the ESA began making noises about withdrawing its participation.

    In this polarized environment, Rockwell International (the result of merger between North American Aviation and Rockwell-Standard, the inheritor of the Apollo CSM contract) stepped forward with a proposal. With their involvement in the space program, they could hardly fail to be aware of the seat wars and they had a proposal; The essential thrust of the disagreement was over how to use the three seats of the Block III, but what if the Block III didn’t have to have just 3 seats? What Rockwell’s Block III+ proposal laid out was a plan to modify the basic Block III design to the so-called “rescue Skylab” five-seat configuration, and make use of the four tons of margin available on the Saturn 1C to move lockers and supplies to a new additional volume. This new “Mission Module” would sit below the Apollo CSM during launch as the Docking Module had on ASTP, then after second stage burnout would be extracted. The CSM would dock with one of two axial ports, with the crew then free to use facilities in both the Command Module and the Mission Module during the trip to Spacelab. Upon arrival, the Block III+ stack would dock to Spacelab just as the basic Block III would by using the second axial port at the front of the MM. The Mission Module would be discarded before entry just as the service module was. The idea was something of a combination of the rescue Skylab and Russian Soyuz concepts, but on a larger scale. The Mission Module would be roughly 2 m in diameter and 3 m long, massing about 3.8 tons and offering roughly 10 cubic meters of additional volume, though some of that would be taken up by lockers, a waste disposal system, and other fittings. However, this would still offer the Block III+ crew about as much personal space as Apollo Block III would. Faced with the rumbles within NASA and the diplomatic ramifications of even threats of an ESA pullout of Spacelab, managers signed off on the plan, and money was included in the FY 1979 budget to begin the estimated 2 year development program.

    For NASA’s science contingent, this settled their major concerns. There would now be three seats for non-pilots available on each flight instead of just one, meaning they wouldn’t have to see Flight Scientists bumped to allow ESA astronauts to fly. Their plans for Spacelab use in the early 80s now focused on the best way to make use of five astronauts in the basic lab and the ERM. However, the ESA was less satisfied by the resolution to the seat wars. Though they would now be allowed to fly potentially one astronaut per mission starting in 1981 on top of the slots already promised for 1978-1980, they felt that NASA was treating them as an organization to be humored, a source of political cover as opposed to a true international partner worthy of respect. This drove them to continue to pursue development of their own launch capabilities in parallel with continuing training of their astronauts for missions in co-operation with NASA and tied back into the other major issue facing the ESA, the continuing debate over what to do about evolving the Europa launch vehicle.

    The major question was whether to simply enhance Europa with more powerful boosters and a possible stretch of the first stage, or to build a whole new more powerful first-stage. Enhancing Europa to accept even more powerful boosters than the French Black Diamant boosters of the Europa 2-TA would require thickening the stage walls further, plus a stretch of the first stage to fully utilize the potential gains. A full new first stage would cost more, but would in turn offer the chance for even more evolution in the future. While both options could get payloads into the 2-4 metric ton to LEO range, the desire on the part of the ESA leadership to develop their own manned capability in the near future, both for prestige and to prove to NASA that the ESA was worth taking seriously as a partner, favored the new first stage that would potentially be able to be evolved to reach the 5,000 to 6,000 kg range that a even a minimalist manned multi-crew capsule would require. This drove the decision in 1978 to focus on a new first launch vehicle to be designated the Europa 3. The new first stage would be built with a larger diameter, and would feature four RZ2 engines redesigned by Rolls-Royce for better performance in ISP and thrust. The second and third stages would be French-built using LH2/LOX engines. With the Europa 3 slated to enter service in 1985, European designers began several studies into minimal-mass crew-launch options.
    Post 18: Spacelab launch and ASTP II mission
  • Well, the inevitable but pesky rotation of the Earth has once again lead to the condition referred to as "Wednesday," which means once again it's time for another installment of Eyes Turned Skyward. This week, Spacelab finally gets off the ground, and we see the way rising international tensions between the US and the USSR affect ASTP II.

    On a more personal note, I wanted to follow up on what I mentioned last week, if only to brag. As I speculated it might be, last week was indeed my last day of classes until August since I'll be spending the spring working as a co-op at GE Aviation, and if they like my work they may hire me back for the summer too. This is good news for me from a career and financial standpoint (whoever decided that engineering co-ops deserved to be paid on a salary basis for their trouble...thanks) but it's also some good news for the TL since it means I don't have homework to worry about all spring as truth and I work on writing more of Part II. Anyway, enough about me, let's talk about SPACE(lab).

    Eyes Turned Skyward, Post #18

    By April 1978, Spacelab was finally ready for launch into space. While relations had not yet become as frosty as they would after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan late the next year, by 1978 the superpowers had clearly come a long way from the good feelings of the early '70s that had led to the ASTP II agreement. Although many, especially on the American side, argued for the cancellation of the mission, the orientation of Spacelab, especially the early Spacelab missions, towards ASTP II and related activities, combined with the difficulty of reorienting those missions to do other things and a desire in many people to return to detente sufficed to push it through to completion. Despite everything, Spacelab would be going ahead, and so would ASTP II. The Saturn V--the last Saturn V--rolled out to the pad amid a surge of enthusiasm from the public, who flocked to Kennedy Space Center in droves to watch the launch. Nothing like it had been seen since Apollo 11. Despite the inexperience of the pad crew, which had not launched one of the boosters in four years, stacking and roll out went smoothly, and the lab blasted into the sky atop a pillar of fire. Controllers at Kennedy and Johnson watched closely and anxiously for any signs of anomalies like the Skylab flight, but all systems remained nominal through ascent. Once Spacelab was on orbit, solar panel and shield deployment were quickly verified, allowing the controllers to give the go ahead for the crew launch.

    A few hours after Spacelab soared into the Florida sky, its first crew followed atop a Saturn IC. Consisting of Vance Brand, a veteran of the Apollo 18 moonflight, and rookies Richard Truly and Story Musgrave, Spacelab 2 had an unglamorous but vital mission: ensuring that the station and its systems functioned properly and were set up for the ASTP II mission in July. Overshadowed by the ensuing joint flight, they nevertheless went about their task with energy, quickly confirming that the station was working just fine (a welcome change from Skylab). The activities of the first Spacelab crew marked a significant milestone in the program, not least because of their activation of the first batch of ASTP II-related experiments and equipment. Several experiments, mostly related to the behavior of certain materials during duration flight, were to operate during the gap between Spacelab 2 and ASTP II itself, and several others had suffered last-minute manifest changes that had prevented launching them on-board the lab. For the rest of their 28-day mission, the Spacelab 2 crew busied themselves preparing the way for the next mission.

    Finally, it was time for the raison d'etre of Spacelab, the second joint US-Russian spaceflight, ASTP II. The first to launch was the Spacelab 3 crew, commanded by Apollo 16 commander John Young, accompanied by two rookies, Pilot Robert Crippen and Flight Scientist Karl Henize, an astronomer who had been involved with the design of telescopes for Skylab, who lifted off from Cape Canaveral on July 8, 1978, spending several days re-activating the station and readying it to receive and support the Russian astronauts. The Russian component of the ASTP-II was the 2-man Soyuz 29 crew of Nikolai Nikolayevich Rukavishnikov and Valery Ryumin launched July 15 in a Soyuz 7K-TM spacecraft, a modified version of the basic Soyuz with the APAS docking collar instead of the standard Russian probe-and-drogue also used on the original ASTP-I flight. Rukavishnikov was on his third spaceflight, having been involved with preperations for ASTP-I, while Ryumin was only on his second flight and was essentially a rookie since the Soyuz 25 flight had failed to dock to the Salyut 6 station. However, he had been closely involved with space station design and development both before and during his astronaut career and was on something of a “fast track.” After docking with Spacelab on July 16, Rukavishnikov and Ryumin assisted the Americans in finishing with preperations, including checking experiments left behind by the Spacelab 2 crew. Over the course of the missions, a number of joint experiment were carried out: the science airlock was used to expose several biological and material experiments, and cosmonauts and astronauts worked together on space adaption studies. Over the course of the 60-day flight, the joint crew also received and processed an Aardvark logistics craft, transferring experiments into the lab annex and loading trash from the station into the Aardvark.

    Unfortunately, while all the flight’s experimental and logistical objectives were met, the flight was not quite the triumph of diplomacy and co-operation that the ASTP-I mission had been. In part, this was due to the renewed tensions between the USA and the USSR, which strained diplomatic ties and indeed had posed some risk of cancellation of the entire joint flight. However, other issues were less political and more personal and cultural. Unlike the relatively short ASTP-I flight, the 60-day mission could not be fully rehearsed in advance with both groups, leaving questions about the Russian crew’s responsibilities and priorities that caused disagreements between Moscow and Houston about schedules and procedures. Personality clashes occurred among the crew and between the crew and the ground, though this was not widely reported at the time. Considering the tensions of the times and the lack of co-operative training with the crews, it is perhaps not surprising that the mission would be this tense, but these incidents and historical parallelism with ASTP I, commonly seen as the end of the first space race, have lead many historians to mark the end of ASTP II as the start of a second era of competition in space.
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    Post 19: Beginning of Hubble
  • Sorry this is up a bit late, I've been working on writing and lost track of time.

    Eyes turned Skyward, Post #19

    Magazine advertisement, background is a composite of image of girl on-stage in school play in upper left fading into the “Pillars of Creation” on the lower right, with following text:

    (Upper left) Whether it's the birth of a star...

    (Lower right) or the birth of a star...

    (Lower center)Kodak is there

    (Sample ad copy from Kodak's "Universal" campaign, 1986-1991)

    The attraction of a space telescope over a ground telescope lie mainly in two areas. First, it is immune to the vagaries of the atmosphere, above all the phenomenon of turbulence, or "seeing," caused by constant, tiny fluctuations in the atmosphere above a telescope. While ideally a telescope will be limited in its maximum possible resolution only by the size of its optics, in the presence of seeing large astronomical telescopes behave as if they are much smaller than they actually are. Although large telescopes still offer advantages (mostly in terms of light-gathering area) that make them worth using, the presence of seeing sharply limits their capability compared to their theoretical limits. In space, however, there is no atmosphere, and therefore no seeing. In theory, this could allow a 10-20 fold increase in resolution, even with a relatively small 2.5 meter mirror, allowing astronomers to gather more detail on known objects and see smaller objects than had previously been possible. Secondly, a space telescope can detect many more wavelengths of light, and detect less intense sources of those wavelengths, than a ground telescope can. Even on a perfectly clear day, the atmosphere absorbs or reflects back into space about a fifth of incoming solar radiation. For many other wavelengths of radiation, such as infrared or high-energy bands, the atmosphere is practically opaque. Dim sources, such as distant galaxies, or sources which radiate primarily in those blocked bands, cannot be detected at the ground at all, requiring telescopes above the atmosphere to get even a glimpse.

    These advantages had been identified by the American astronomer Lyman Spitzer as early as 1946, and amateur astronomers of a science-fictional bent had doubtlessly thought of these capabilities even earlier, but the technology of the time was simply nowhere near advanced enough to actually launch such a mission. Instead, astronomers had to accept the presence of seeing in ground-based telescopes, and rely on the glimpses of otherwise blocked radiation afforded by sounding rockets and balloon flights through the 1950s. However, with the launch of Sputnik the idea of putting a telescope in orbit no longer seemed so remote or difficult. Less than a year after Yuri Gagarin's first flight, NASA launched the first space observatory, dedicated to watching not distant galaxies but instead the Sun, the Orbiting Solar Observatory. In conjunction with ground observations and several other satellites, these would make the most in-depth study of the Sun over a single 11-year solar cycle in history. The eight OSO missions gave birth to the solar telescope that formed the scientific centerpiece of Skylab, and led directly to the network of space-based solar observatories that operate today, providing advance warning of solar flares and activity that can have significant economic impacts on Earth. However, they also helped validate the concept of the space observatory in general, leading to the Orbiting Astronomical Observatories later in the decade. These were the first of their kind, and the spectacular success of OAO-2 and OAO-3, along with the contemporary US-Italian Small Astronomical Satellite program, further proved the value of space-based observations. Like the OSOs, the OAOs were ultraviolet and x-ray observatories, focused on observing those wavelengths not visible at Earth's surface. Combined with indefatigable support by Spitzer, however, the idea of orbiting a large, visible-light telescope had gained traction, and in 1968 NASA officially started working on the idea. At the time, plans for the "Large Space Telescope" involved a 3 meter main mirror and extensive on-orbit servicing, all allowed by the planned "space shuttle". Additionally, while mainly oriented at visible observations, the LST (as it was then known) would also be capable of some ultraviolet and infrared observations, effectively allowing for three telescopes in one package.

    With the demise of the space shuttle, however, and continuing budget pressures, these plans were increasingly scaled back. The first idea to be dropped was servicing. Although certainly possible through making the telescope part of a future space station, the relatively dirty vacuum surrounding any human-occupied space vehicle and the vibrations caused by human movement meant that it simply wouldn't be worth it. This would limit the telescope's operational lifetime to only 5-10 years before too many critical parts would likely fail to continue observation, and would also mean that the telescope would become increasingly out-of-date by the time it was actually retired. Worse, any difficulties with the instruments that could otherwise be corrected would have to be accepted by the astronomers. Still, it would offer significant advantages over existing telescopes, enough that there was little resistance to the need from the astronomical community. Next to fall was the size of the mirror, which acted as the major control of the overall cost, due both to the cost of launch and the cost of manufacturing such a large object to such precise tolerances. Eventually, a 2.5 meter mirror was agreed upon. While not as large as the original design, it offered significant savings and (when combined with the LST's unique environment) would still make the observatory top-class in terms of observing ability. Mirror fabrication was handled by the team of Eastman Kodak and Itek, who produced two separate mirrors that were then cross-checked against each other, ensuring that they were correctly fabricated to a hitherto unheard-of precision. Their competitor, Perkin-Elmer, had offered a strong bid relying on technologically advanced computer-controlled grinding machines, but the great experience of Kodak and Itek in space observation (each had been responsible for optics systems on board US spy satellites) and their use of proven techniques eventually won out over the promising but risky system proposed by the relative newcomer. Finally, an agreement was made with the nascent European Space Agency to provide some funds and materials for the telescope, in particular the solar panels responsible for powering its systems, in exchange for providing a permanent share of the observing time to European astronomers. The only one of the original capabilities the telescope would possess without modification was the ability to observe at infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths as well as visible wavelengths. As the project gradually picked up steam, the telescope finally acquired a real name: Hubble, after the famous American astronomer who demonstrated that the universe was not static, but expanding over time.
    Post 20: Spacelab missions 1978 through 1979, Spacelab 4-Spacelab 7. Launch of the first ESA astronaut, Ulf Merbold, and addition to the station of the Airlock Module and the European Research Module
  • All right, sorry this took so long. In some repayment, it's a bit longer than normal.

    Eyes Turned Skyward, Post #20

    With the launch of Spacelab, projects that had been underway for years began to show results very rapidly. Most news-worthy was the tensions that came about in the ASTP II mission, but the following missions were no less critical. In fact, for all the political and diplomatic implications of ASTP II, it had involved mostly technology barely different from that of ASTP I. However, missions planned in 1979 and 1980 were to push the state of the art in Western space station operations far beyond what Skylab had already established and narrow the gap between Soviet and American experience in space. These advances occurred in two major areas. The first was in the realm of the crew itself, with regular flights and increasing durations, culminating in experiments with continuous manned operations. The second was in logistics and supply, with increased developments and experience in unmanned support flights coupled with the world’s first use of modular station assembly.

    The first use of modular techniques actually was a disassembly with the end of the Soyuz 29 visit to Spacelab as part of ASTP II in 1978. On their departure, the Soviet crew used their craft as a tug to pull away the now-unnecessary Docking Module which had served as a quasi-airlock between the Soviet craft and the rest of the station. This cleared the zenith port on the MDA for the Airlock Module, already being prepared on the ground for a launch in 1979. After the departure of their Soviet co-occupants, the Spacelab 3 crew spent a week tying up loose ends, including using the Aardvark’s engine to begin the process of raising the station’s orbit to the same low-drag 430 km circular orbit that had been used on Skylab, as opposed to Spacelab’s original 225 km orbit, which had been selected for access by Soyuz. With this complete, the Aardvark was undocked and guided to entry by remote control, and the Spacelab 3 crew followed within two days.

    The Spacelab 4 crew, consisting of Apollo veteran Stuart Roosa (who had delayed his retirement in order to serve as station commander), accompanied by rookie pilot Gordon Fullerton and Dr. William Thornton, launched to the station in November of 1978 for a stint that would last through January of 1979. On his flight, Thornton (the first medical professional to fly to space) largely dealt with experiments that focused on his specialty, the long-term effects of spaceflight, including following up on work with Space Adaption Syndrome that had been begun on Skylab 5 with Rusty Schweickart. On the technical side, the station crew received an Aardvark load of supplies, and set to work on improving the makeshift sleep stations in the laboratory annex that had been used by the Soviet cosmonauts during ASTP II. Originally intended to be temporary and removed after the flight, the now-planned Block III+ and five-person crews to come meant that the additional sleep stations were instead modified to be permanent with improved space and better air circulation. Roosa’s crew also made similar modifications to the station’s air processing systems to ensure that they could handle the load of a five-person crew for years to come. Finally, they used the Aardvark’s engines to complete raising the station’s orbit to 430 km.

    With three weeks left in their time on-station, the crew was finally ready to conduct the first modular assembly operation in spaceflight history. Using an Aardvark bus (an Aardvark minus the pressurized cargo module with an added payload adaptor), the Airlock Module was launched from Kennedy Space Center on a Saturn 1C rocket and brought to rendezvous with the station. With the experienced hand of Roosa controlling remotely from the station, the module was brought gently into a docking with the zenith port on the MDA using the same probe-and-drogue system as used on Apollo and Aardvark. After letting vibrations from docking damp out, the crew checked seals and waited hours while ground operators checked out the module’s functions. Finally, the crew opened the hatch, connected power and data cables, and strung ductwork to circulate air into the module. With their job complete, Spacelab 4’s crew made one final piece of history as they welcomed the Spacelab 5 crew aboard the station in late January (the first time two separately-launched US crews had ever occupied the same spacecraft), with Stuart Roosa formally turning over the station to the Spacelab 5 commander, fellow lunar veteran Joseph Engle in a change-of-command ceremony that would set the tradition for future operations.

    After Spacelab 4’s departure, Spacelab 5 undocked from the zenith port of the airlock module, withdrew several hundred meters from the station, and maneuvered to re-dock at the now-open nadir port on the MDA in a port-swap maneuver that would over time become routine. In addition to Engle, the Spacelab 5 crew consisted of pilot Karol Bobko and the first ESA astronaut to fly, Dutch physicist Wubbo Ockels. During their mission, which would push the standard duration from 3 months to 4, they would continue work on biomedical experiments and do trial EVAs using the new airlock to place experiments on new exposed pallets on the airlock module itself. However, other than being a point of prestige for the ESA with the flight of their first astronaut and several late night monologues riffing on the idea that new astronauts were being selected on the basis of silliest names, the mission was otherwise low-key and routine compared to the preceding flights. The same was also true of the Spacelab 6 flight. Engle turned over command of the station to fellow ex-Apollo LMP Fred Haise, who along with pilot Robert Overmeyer and flight scientist Joseph Allen stayed on the station for four months from May to September 1979. The most notable fact about the mission was that once again an Apollo veteran retired after serving as station commander, as Haise ended his career with NASA after the mission to accept a position at Grumman Aerospace.

    Spacelab 7 launched in September 1979, commanded by Jack Lousma with pilot Henry Hartsfield and ESA flight scientist Ulf Merbold, and quickly set its own list of firsts. It was the first time that Spacelab had been commanded by someone who wasn’t a veteran of the moon flights (Lousma had made his first flight on Skylab 3), and Lousma was also the first astronaut to have flown to both stations. Lousma favorably compared Spacelab to Skylab in both space and capabilities, but mourned the loss of the freezer that had allowed an expanded diet onboard the shorter-lived station. However, Lousma’s list of firsts was overshadowed some by the publicity surrounding Merbold. Though a long-time citizen of West Germany, Merbold had grown up in East Germany, defecting to study Physics in West Germany. Comparisons between Merbold and Sigmund Jahn (the East Germany who just one year before had become the first German to fly to space) were obvious. Where Jahn had spent only 7 days onboard Salyut 6, Merbold would be on Spacelab for a planned 120 days, and was to be in charge of installation and checkout of the new European Research Module of the station. Glossing over the tensions still simmering from the Seat Wars, official NASA press releases stressed the close working relationship of the US and European space agencies. After the mission, the used capsule was presented as a gift to West Germany to commemorate the flight. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Apollo capsule used by Merbold and the Soyuz capsule used by Jahn would end up being displayed side-by-side in the Militärhistorisches Museum in Dresden, Germany.

    The launch of the European Research Module, the first major ESA contribution to the American program, came in October 1979, three weeks into the mission. Propelled by an Aardvark service module “tug” just as the lighter airlock had been, the ERM was carefully maneuvered to within visual range of the station by ground control. From there, the station’s crew took over, using radar and cameras to guide the station’s new module into a docking at the MDA’s axial port. As with the airlock, a waiting period then followed as the ground verified systems functions, then the hatch was opened between the modules, and the fitting out process began. The module’s own environment systems were tied into the station’s system, and power and data hookups were made. However, the connections were complicated by the additional fittings required to allow fuel, water, and other vital fluids to be transferred from Aardvarks docked to the ERM’s forward axial port to Spacelab’s main tanks. Several weeks of checkout followed, including the arrival of an Aardvark that carried some instruments intended for the lab that had been omitted on launch to keep the module’s mass and center of gravity within the Aardvark tug’s limits. The process took longer than expected, but careful work on the ground testing the process ensured that no serious issues were encountered. This data on the performance of a more complex module assembly was carefully studied to help shape stations that might follow Spacelab if funding could be obtained. The module added further lab space, several external experiment stations, and Earth science equipment.
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