Thursday, November 29, 2012

50 Years Ago: X-15 Crash

X-15 #2 upside down and in trouble on lake bed.

I found an interesting little incident that happened during the X-15 rocket plane tests back in 1962. On November 9, 1962, pilot Jack McKay was dropped from the B-52 mothership in X-15 #2 over Mud Lake, Nevada. The goal was to reach an altitude of over 120,000 feet. It was the seventh time McKay had flown one of the rocket planes, and it was the 31st mission for the #2 craft. Suddenly engine trouble put the mission in jeopardy. McKay piloted the craft down in a glide to land on the superflat dry lakebed below. Unexpectedly (of course) the nosewheel broke upon touchdown and the craft lost control, sliding nose down and then turning sideways, posing the danger of cartwheeling and breaking up. However, the craft had slowed down, and then flipped over on its back only once, saving the craft and pilot. The picture above shows its final resting position and state after emergency crews had "safed" the X-15. McKay suffered only light injuries, and the X-15 had damage to the nosegear, nose, wings, and tail. Engineers determined the craft could be repaired. That's a very tough vehicle! (and pilot, too!)

Pilot Jack McKay on the right, with a rebuilt X-15 in 1966.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

50 Years Ago: Saturn Rocket Testing

Unmanned SA-3 lifts off from Pad 34.

On November 16, 1962,  NASA achieved an important milestone on the path to the Moon when they launched mission SA-3. This unmanned test included the primary mission of launching the SA-1 first stage, which would become the first stage of the Saturn 1 rocket. The second and third stages were dummy stages and included test monitoring sensors. The launch was kept under tight security, as the area had been hit by a tropical depression in September followed by the ongoing Cuban Missile Crisis. As the test reached its successful conclusions, the second and third stages were remotely detonated from mission control, and the first stage crashed into the Atlantic some 270 + miles downrange.

Cutaway diagram of the S-IV stage.

Also on the 16th, a very large package arrived in Alabama. Shipped all the way from Douglas Missile and Space Systems in Santa Monica, California, the S-IV (200) stage of the Saturn rocket arrived at the Huntsville Marshall Space Flight Center. The 23-day journey by barge was made by the first Saturn stage of many more to come. The S-IV stage would become the second stage of the Saturn 1 rocket, and the third stage of the Saturn V. This particular piece would be used in testing at the Center to see how it would react to the stresses of flight.

Barge docks at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

ISS Expedition 33 Readies for Trip Home

Making a mess in the Destiny Module.

Ever notice how things get a little messy when you get ready for a trip? Looks like that's true off the planet as well as at home. Expedition 33 crew members Sunni WIlliams, Aki Hoshide, and Yuri Malenchenko are preparing everything they need for their upcoming flight home to Earth. 

On Saturday, Commander WIlliams will turn over command to astronaut Kevin Ford in the official Change of Command Ceremony. On Sunday, the three Expedition crew members will undock from the iSS in their Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft for the de-orbit burn and re-entry through the atmosphere. Once they undock, Commander Ford will then officially be leading Expedition 34, along with cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin.

Expedition 34 will receive the second part of their crew in mid-December.

Unmanned Progress Resupply ship approaches ISS.

On November 1, Russia launched a Soyuz rocket lifting the Progress M-17M unmanned supply spacecraft into orbit. The trajectory of this mission enabled the craft to fly the "shortcut" path to dock with the ISS only a few hours later. The success of this mission paves the way to launching manned Soyuz capsules on the same trajectory in the near future, thus saving hours of cramped claustrophobic flight in the Soyuz craft. This Progress capsule brings astronaut supplies, and station life support and fuel supplies. Later the same day, another Progress ship docked at the station used its maneuvering thrusters to boost the ISS orbit in order to dodge some space debris.