Thursday, April 24, 2025

WELCOME to Wes Oleszewski's Space blog: Growing up with Spaceflight

The Home of the "GROWING UP WITH SPACEFLIGHT" book series


Some people got to experience America’s space program up-close and personal, hands-on, steeped in the excitement of the peaceful advancement of human civilization. 

The rest of us had to watch it on TV.

Hello. Wes Oleszewski here and this is my space blog where you'll find cool picture, fun facts and, of course, shameless self promotion of my books.
Get your copy HERE!


Growing Up With Spaceflight is a series of print books and e-books that looks back across the years at America's manned space program as seen through the eyes of a kid who went from being semi-interested child, to a rabid space-buff adolescent, to an adult standing in the footprints of the newsmen who brought us all into the world of NASA and spaceflight. That person is, of course, the author of this series of books is ... me... Wes Oleszewski. 

If you are seeking a "serious as Gene Kranz" telling of the history of United States manned spaceflight, these are NOT the books for you. If, however, you are looking to be taken back to your own childhood days of watching America's space program, you have indeed come to the right place.

The full series of "Growing Up With Spaceflight" was released beginning in early 2016 and links for obtaining your copy are published here.

The first of the six book series was "Apollo Part 1" simply because it was the first book completed. It was, of course be followed by "Apollo Part 2" because the universal law of books requires that you must follow a Part 1 with a Part 2. Next came "Skylab ASTP" followed by "Space Shuttle." Finally there was "Mercury" and at length, "Gemini."


The "Gemini" and Mercuyt" books in the series does something really spacial. Since the author was real busy flunking the third grade and then repeating that same grade during project Gemini and was too young to recall much about Mercury, his memories consist largely of looking out the classroom window, being hit with a ruler and being publicly chastised for cartooning while not doing his "work."  Thus, he needed help with bringing the Gemini era back to life. That is where those of YOU who also were growing up during Gemini came into the picture. Wes asked for those of you who wanted to share your personal memories of Gemini and Mercury with him to send them into him so he could publish them in the Gemini and Mercury volumes of Growing Up With Spaceflight. So those two volumes contain the memories of other space-buffs as well as those of the author. And some of your memories are REALLY cool.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Author W. Wes Oleszewski was born and raised in mid-Michigan and spent most of his life with an eye turned toward aviation and spaceflight with an occasional side-track toward the Great Lakes. Since 1990 he has authored 17 books on the subject of Great Lakes maritime history, specifically shipwrecks and lighthouses. 
                 Now he has turned his attention and writing talents toward spaceflight.
                Noted for his meticulous research, Oleszewski has a knack for weeding out the greatest of details from the most obscure events and then weaving those facts into the historical narratives which are his stories. His tales of actual events are real enough to thrill any reader while every story is technically correct and highly educational. Oleszewski feels that the only way to teach history in this age of computer and video games is through “narrative.” The final product of his efforts are captivating books that can be comfortably read and enjoyed by everyone from the eldest grandmother to the grade-school kid and future pilot, or historian.

                Born on the east side of Saginaw, Michigan in 1957, Wes Oleszewski attended public school in that city through grade nine, when his family moved to the town of Freeland, Michigan. In 1976 he graduated from Freeland High School and a year later entered the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Florida. Working his way through college by way of his own earned income alone, Oleszewski graduated in 1987 with a commercial pilot’s certificate, “multi-engine and instrument airplane” ratings as well as a B.S. Degree in Aeronautical Science. He has pursued a career as a professional pilot as well as one as an author. He holds an A.T.P. certificate and to date has filled more than three logbooks with flight time most of which being in airline category and jet aircraft. Recently he gave up the life of a professional aviator and now enjoys his job as a professional writer.













Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Please... just STOP


Recently I’ve seen a lot of social media banter about if or not the Inspiration 4 crew should be called “astronauts.” Perhaps we need a new name for these sorts of people- such as… (fill in the moronic suggestions here)

 

Folks, stop. JUST STOP!

 

Astronaut; noun: One who flies in space, space venturer.

 

These four individuals climbed atop a rocket that was just nine feet shorter than an Apollo Saturn IB and launched with 1.71 million pounds of thrust, which was just over 100,000 pound greater than the Saturn IB, and flew to an orbital altitude higher than any humans had flown since Apollo 17- which took place just 14 months shy of a half century ago. And then the Inspiration 4 crew returned safely by splashing down in the Atlantic off Cape Canaveral. They were the first all-rookie crew to orbit the Earth since Skylab 4 launched on November 16th, 1973.

 

If that isn’t space venturing, I don’t know what is.

 

I’ve been watching spaceflight since Freedom 7 and this WAS a space mission accomplished by people who have earned the title of “Astronaut.”

 

For those who quip about billionaire and who paid for what, let’s take a look at this mission’s Pilot In Command; Jared Isaacman. Aside from being a highly successful businessman, he is also a highly skilled pilot. He flies right wing for the Black Diamonds jet flight demonstration team and broke the world record for circumnavigating the globe in an aircraft. Plus, he holds a degree from the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Frankly, as a retired professional pilot, I’d be confident sitting next to him in any flying machine, any time- including a spacecraft.

 

All of these crewmembers trained for this mission and none of them just walked aboard because they simply had a ticket.

 

These people launched from sea level, orbited the Earth higher than anyone in a half century and returned to sea level. They all four are astronauts and to argue that point, is completely missing the point


 

Friday, September 17, 2021

This is Private spaceflight

 

There are times when I just have to say, “I warned you!” That especially applies to the zealots of “All Commercial, private spaceflight.”

 

Many years ago when Elon Musk first implanted the concept that private companies could do spaceflight better, and cheaper than NASA, the social media sites lit up. Between the “Down with NASA” crowd and the “NewSpace” mob there were endless usernames and newborn arm-chair experts who were delighted to take out their surfboards and ride this wave of all-private spaceflight. It’s here, it’s new, it’s really cool! Who needs NASA, Elon can do it all. “When the Falcon 9 Heavy comes out, it’ll replace all of the heavy boosters.” “NASA is finished.” Were some of the common quips.

Early on I stepped into this rapid current of all commercial spaceflight zeal and added a single note of critical thinking.

 Be careful what you wish for.

All-private spaceflight is exactly that… PRIVATE.

 They can do whatever they want and unlike NASA, which is paid for with U.S. tax money, the commercial carriers don’t have to show spit to anyone, especially the zealots who cheered them on. We’re so used to NASA’s onboard public broadcasts from space that we have a whole generation of space fans who think that’s the way it has to be done. Now, the first “All commercial” space mission, monikered “Inspiration 4” just gave the NASA haters and private spaceflight fans a good dose of the word, “private” while also fizzling the word “inspiration.”

Upon reaching orbit, the mission- which had a five hour live TV buildup, was blacked out.

 Other than a tweet or two saying everything was great, about 9 minutes of recorded video and a few photos dumped onto Facebook, there was pretty much nothing from the crew. Suddenly the questions began… is there a widespread case of space adaptation syndrome going around the crew? What’s going on?

 Folks- it looks a lot like private spaceflight.

 One clue may be that the pay-per-view Netflix service, which was said to be an affiliate of the mission, and which will be selling subscriptions, for those not already in their pocket, to allow viewing of the entire mission after splashdown, may have something in hand here. Unlike NASA, SpaceX owns every single thing that goes on during this mission- including the inspiration. And it is simply good commercial business for them to sell it to those who will best feed the company’s bottom line. A global network of paid in-home, or on the net subscribers would fit nicely. But… nawww say the SpaceX zealots… Elon would never do that.

 Why do you think that SpaceX has bought a strip of Texas beach to build their own launch site? So they can avoid range delays- sure. But also, so they can slam the gates and keep out whoever they want. Private spaceflight is exactly that… it’s private. I was a corporate pilot, and our flights were private. Even when people asked who was aboard or who owned the jet, we simply said that information was private. Sure you can stand a mile away and watch the ramp with binoculars and maybe catch the time that we depart, but that’s about it. The fact that your favorite rock star or movie star is aboard, and where they’re going is all up to you to guess. Likewise, the day is coming when rockets will depart from Texas and all of you commercial space buffs who didn’t pay to get inside the gate will have to stand miles away with your binoculars and watch from a distance while guessing about what’s really going on.

 Burt Rutan stood at the Oshkosh airshow two decades ago and walloped government spaceflight. Exalting the purpose of private spaceflight he half shouted into a microphone to a crowd of his fans, “…NASA is screwing you!” His was the concept of private spaceflight for everyone… yep, everyone. Early this year, we saw the product of his vision as Sir Richard Branson opened the doors to space with a Rutan vehicle, that only billionaires can afford to ride. Looks to me, like Rutan is screwing you. Now here comes Elon and SpaceX and private orbital spaceflight… blacked out to the public until after the mission is over- sort of the way the old Soviets did it. But, unlike the Soviets, you can subscribe to Netflix, and see it post mission. Gee… how inspirational. At least NASA let us see things live… because we’d already paid for it in tax dollars.

 You wanted non-government spaceflight and now you’ve got it. 

Be careful what you wish for… you just may get it.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

SpaceX- Inspiration 4

 


SpaceX’s latest mission “Inspiration 4” had an amazingly successful launch on Sept. 15th, 2021. Sending history’s first all non-governmental crew into orbit. It was the ultimate in corporate flying and was dedicated to benefit Saint Jude Hospital- a beyond worthy cause. As a former corporate pilot, this one warmed my heart. As a spaceflight historian I was keen to see some of the historic landmarks involved. The first pure non-government crew, the first crew to fly higher into space than any mission since Apollo 17, the youngest person, age 29, to fly in space who was also the first person in space with a medical prosthetic.

 

I watched the launch itself on SpaceflightNow and took in the more than four hours worth of coverage. I have to say that SpaceX has taken launch coverage of human spaceflight to a level that has not been seen in a half century. In fact, it took us space buffs into points of view that we never dreamed of in the olden days. Their HD cameras and remote drone views following the crew caravan around KSC are amazing. Plus, the videos of the personal stories of the crew members, two of whom are alumni of the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University from which I proudly wear a class ring, were so well done they should be given an award.

 

About the only draw-back to the launch coverage was the constant noise and clatter in the background as the hosts were apparently seated, as always, just outside the company cafeteria in Hawthorne. Additionally, I guess SpaceX management likes the cheerleading crowd boisterously celebrating every milestone in the event. Yet that was tiresome and unprofessional nearly a decade ago. We get it… your employees are excited and happy, but at times their shouting on cue drowns out the engineering calls from launch control. This is spaceflight- not a college pep rally.

 

Also, the hosts really need to brush up on their spaceflight history. During the entire length of the crew insertion process, one of the hosts repeatedly stated that the crew would be making a final phone call from the phone at the level of the crew access arm, “…which has been a tradition since the Apollo days…” NO! The Apollo crews were unable to use a telephone through their bubble helmets. For crying out loud- just look at the photos from those missions. The crews were sealed into their suits and oxygenated long before arriving at the LUT. Taking off the helmets to make a phone call would have negated that entire process. It’s one thing to make a slip of history while doing a live broadcast, it’s another to keep repeating the bad history over and over. No astronaut that flew aboard an Apollo command module ever made a phone call from the LUT or anywhere else once their helmet was secured.

 


Of course, what do I know… I only wrote three books on the subject.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Apollo 15- A half century ago today... Launch Day!

 The following is an excerpt from Wes Oleszewski's book "Growing up with Spaceflight, Apollo Part Two" It is protected by copyright 2015 Wes Oleszewski, no part may be reused without the author's permission- publication here does not imply such permission.


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On March 10th, 1971, just one month after the conclusion of the Apollo 14 mission, a chartered C-130 aircraft delivered a very special package to NASA. Contained in the dark gray convex hexagon-shaped box was the most unique vehicle to be flown in space since the Lunar Module itself; the first flight-ready Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV). This was an event that went unnoticed by the news media and unknown to those of us outside of NASA. It had been mentioned in passing during the Apollo 14 mission, but otherwise went completely overlooked by the general public.

Conceived in 1964, before anyone had set foot on the lunar surface, the idea of a roving vehicle languished at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) until April 7th 1969 when a Lunar Roving Task Team was formed there. When the word went out that NASA was seriously looking for a lunar rover, a number of companies came forward seeking a contract. In the end General Motors and Boeing ended up with the contract to design and build the LRV. Although the roving vehicles that had been suggested in years past were usually huge and heavy, the one that would be practical for an operational Apollo mission had to be small and lightweight. Additionally, in order to ride on the lunar module it needed to fit into a space that measured five feet tall, five feet wide and five feet deep. The problem thus became how do you build a car that can operate in a vacuum on a soft powdery surface a quarter of a million miles from the nearest gas station, have it weigh less than 500 pounds and fit into a triangular space that measured five feet in all three directions. The person who, for the most part, solved the problem was a Hungarian engineer from General Motors by the name of Ferenc Pavlics. His concept was for a lightweight flat chassis vehicle that folded up upon itself. This allowed the LRV to fit into the unused space of the LEM descent module’s Quadrant 1. Shortly after the first LRV was delivered to NASA, it was shipped to KSC and loaded into the Apollo 15 LEM. Lunar exploration was about to take on a whole new and exciting look.

Some kids looked forward to Christmas, some kids looked forward to their birthday and some kids looked forward to the last day of school... I looked forward to every Apollo launch as if it were all of those rolled into one. So it was that on the morning of July 26th, 1971 I was in what had become my standard “Apollo-watchin’ position.” This may have been the standard position for tens of thousands of space-buffs around the country; sitting cross-legged about 18 inches away from the picture tube of our family TV, glued to Walter Cronkite. It was launch day for Apollo 15 and even though I had recently turned 14 years of age, I had slept the night before like a little kid waiting for the sounds of Santa hitting my rooftop. Up before dawn and busily dialing between the three networks I went looking for any snip-it of information on the mission.

While most of the kids in our subdivision of Sheridan Park were deep into their normal mid-Michigan summer activities, namely swimming, biking and just plain hanging out, I had been distracted from all of that lately by the upcoming Apollo 15 mission. In fact the afternoon before the launch I had gone with some of my pals to the theater to see “The Andromeda Strain” and while the movie was terrific my mind was on Apollo 15. I had a special plan of attack for getting as much as I could out of the flight. For Apollo 14, I had hijacked my little sister’s new cassette tape recorder and recorded portions of the mission coverage off the TV onto two 30 minute tapes. Having played those over and over every day since the mission ended, I found that a total of 60 minutes of Apollo was simply not enough. Thus, for Apollo 15 I had purchased, with my last dollar, a three pack of cheap-O 60 minute cassettes. I was now so broke that my Mom actually had to give me the money to go to the movie the day before the launch! Still, I sat through the movie quietly planning exactly what parts of the Apollo 15 mission coverage I would capture on each cassette. Indeed in my teenage mind I had it planned out just like NASA planned the mission... well, almost.



Late into the evening prior to launch-day I decided to do a flight readiness test of my recording equipment. Suddenly- A GLITCH! My, or rather- my sister’s, external microphone had failed! This was before they started putting built-in microphones on recorders- so I was really screwed. It was 9:45 at night- there wasn’t a store in the Saginaw Valley that was open- especially not one with a microphone. Worse yet, I had spent my last dime on the tapes! I scrambled for a solution. Wiggle the wires... no use. Tap on it- no good. Take it apart... now it’s REALLY busted! Sheridan Park- we have a problem!

 Perhaps, I pondered, when the store opens at 9:00 in the morning, I could get there and, after negotiating some sort of a lawns-to-be-cut-later deal with my parents, I could buy a new microphone, and make it back home within the 26 minutes between the time the store opens and the launch takes place... okay... that was nuts. There was no way that was going to happen, just the negotiating the lawn-cutting part with my parents alone was on a par with negotiating with North Vietnam. I sat there looking at the disassembled microphone and I thought “What would Gene Kranz do?” Simple. He’d call a meeting of his engineers and controllers and he would tell them to go out and find a solution to the problem with what they had.”

With what they had... hummm...

It was then that the thought struck me that several months back I had accidentally stuck an earphone into the microphone jack and it fit; in those days both had 1/8 inch jacks. And an earphone had the same basic elements to it as the microphone that was now laying in pieces in front of me. I knew that because I had dissected plenty of earphones. In short order I was rooting through the family “junk drawers” and had scrounged up an earphone that I had not yet dissected.

I tested it in the microphone jack; IT WORKED!



Sure, the sound had a lot of tin in it and some 60 Hz hum, but it recorded! Using a four inch by six inch railroad “pounding card” that Dad had brought home from work, some electrician's tape and a hand full of tissues I had a microphone that the boys in the backroom at Houston would be proud of. 



I added a small measuring stick to give me the optimum distance from the TV speaker and I was “Go for the launch of Apollo 15!”

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Oh Ha Ha... Please Further Demonstrate How Little You Know About Aerospace


On July 20th, 2021 Blue Origin launched four humans on a sub-orbital flight to space and then returned them by parachute and their booster by way of a powered landing. It was a great event and got more media coverage that some previous Space Shuttle missions.

Then someone said Send In The Clowns and the cyber idiots and media meat puppets came calling.

It was an easy joke to make... and it was nothing new. In fact since the design of the New Shepard vehicle was first revealed it was quickly compared to Dr. Evil's phallus-shaped rocket from the movie "The Spy Who Shagged Me." It was comical then... but now it's as old as most internet spoofs. Yet the media exploded with it once more.

Oh, ha, ha, ha, now please further demonstrate how little you know about aerospace... and so they do... by the millions. From tweets to FaceBook Memes to posts in forums by people who hide behind usernames to news media meatpuppets on 24 hour cable channels, they came out in droves following the flight.

Why?

Well it's a common reaction of those who have essentially no knowledge of the actual engineering that went into the vehicle itself. So, making that sport of the flight is a good way for those whose level of aerospace knowing is far less than their ability to play video games on their phone. It makes them cyber cool while addressing an event of which they have only a superficial understanding. The same goes for the meat puppets who do the news casts. It fills some precious ratings minutes and offers an opportunity to take a shot at a billionaire like Bezos while at the same time not having to know the difference between hypersonic and hypergolic (Tucker Carlson would now have his staff look that one up.) 



The cold had fact is that a large degree of complex engineering went into making this flight happen. There are a great deal of developmental steps forward that came into play. There are also many hazards that have been opened up along the way as well.

Steps forward range through the aerodynamics in the sub-sonic, trans-sonic and hypersonic fields of flight. Guidance and stabilization in those areas appear to have been honed to a very fine edge. The actual "look" of the vehicle is a factor of those areas of concern. Keep in mind that those regions are in play not only during the boost, but also during the return. One clever step was selecting a non-ballistic trajectory. It's a long-known mode that prevents the vehicle and it's passengers from being exposed to excessive G-loads on reentry. Likewise the booster has the return mode as much in its design as boost. But the heart of the flight is in the onboard avionics and computer systems as well as the light level of redundancy needed to make it look easy.

Yet, the one thing that, in my very humble opinion, I find to be an open door to hazard is the total dependence on autonomy. Yes, I know, computers and systems are now so advanced that it can handle every possible emergency... until the emergency pops up that the programmer never imagined. Sorry folks but I had it trained into me that you never trust that damned autopilot, because when you do, it'll take you to a smokin' hole in the ground. Yet, today we see more and more aircraft trusted to automation to a growing degree and the New Shepard is a far extension of that trust. I hear the argument, "well elevators used to have operators and many trains run by automation, why not aircraft and spacecraft?"  Elevators and trains have one huge difference from flight vehicles; they are both always in contact with the ground. 

A pilot is a human circuit-breaker. We are the ones who, at the greatest degree, separate the vehicle from electronics and fly it. When you take us out of the loop and depend completely on the computer, well... garbage in, garbage out- and at hypersonic speeds and realm of space, it only takes one tiny bit of garbage and then it's a long tumble back to that smoking hole in the ground.

Instead of six passenger seats- the vehicle should have five passenger seats and one pilot's seat as well as an abort handle and a control handle.

I've always looked at flight of any sort by what I call my 50/50 rule... anytime you elevate the human animal above 50 feet or accelerate it beyond 50 knots, or both... you can kill it. 

But hey, I'm old fashioned- thinking in the stone age... let's all just make some more Dr. Evil's rocket memes... right!



 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Toy shelf


It strikes me that every space kid needs a space shelf... even if the kid is over 60.


On my shelf is stuff which likely pre-dates many of you who are reading this.


For example, the black plastic bag that you see pinned to the wall contains a piece of a crashed SR-71 from 1967.


Central to this post, however, is the little vehicle seen on the farthest right, directly in front of the Gemini reentry module.


That piece dates back a half century to the summer of 1971.


Considering that when the summer began the Apollo 15 mission was about to take place, and that they had the coolest mission patch EVER, and that their command module pilot was from Michigan where I lived, and that they were landing in THE most amazing spot on the lunar surface plus they had given their lunar module the beyond cool name of "Falcon," well it simply drove 14-year-old me into space buff insanity. I decided that I had to make a Falcon lander of my own... and put ants into it... and then land it some place remote, unreachable and preferably with a rille in which to land.

There was just one problem... making a "lander" and finding that location. After all I had just turned 14 and I didn't have a dime to my name, so I'd have to kluge something up from scratch.

From July 26th to August 2nd 1971 the Apollo 15 mission took place- and I was glued to every second of it. My rocket pal Cj Vanston joined me in the insanity. During the EVAs we were camped out in my room glued to my little portable black and white TV because family members kicked us off of the big, color, living room TVs. The coverage on all three networks was continuous, but regular family members could stand just so much and then Cj and I have to retreat to my room. When the mission was off the air we were launching model rockets or trying to do weightless simulations in my backyard above ground pool or his backyard built-in pool. It was the greatest event of that summer.

Afterward some of my friends were goofing around on "the big D" which was a small traffic island on the cul de sac of our street. There was a man-hole there and they were dropping fire crackers into it. I went to have a look, and down about 15 feet was the worn cement bottom with some large cracks and peppered with stones that kids had dropped down through the few two and one quarter inch holes in the manhole cover. What stood out the most was an eight inch wide drainage trough that ran through the middle. Suddenly, in my space program insane mind... It had a rille!



Of course to a 14-year-old space nut who'd just watched the expanse of Hadley Rille on live TV, this was enough to inspire the building of a lander and naming it Falcon. This is that actual lander from 1971.
The body was made from a disposable salt shaker that I'd nabbed from a recent wedding reception



And the leg struts were made from toothpicks covered in the same gold foil that a brand of breath mints were wrapped with. The legs were just the right size to be angled through the vent hole in that manhole cover.


Likewise the descent stage was also wrapped in that same foil to disguise the fact that it was an inverted piece from a cheap game of checkers.






The descent engine came from a really crummy model that tried to pass it off as a Saturn V J-2 engine.




Inside was the cockpit with its couches for the F-4B ant space suits (A) and it even had a mid-deck (B) which I then called the "Egress Deck."

The inner structure was constructed so that the crew could see out through the windows- neglecting the fact that ants actually do very little with their eyes.



In the top, which was actually a cheap wheel from a rubber-band powered airplane that I'd wrecked, was a big screw eye used to hook and lower the lander down to the Apennine Sewer.



According to my crude notes of the time the first landing and recovery went very well. On the second mission- a 3 day stay- the entire crew croaked.

Darn.

Thereafter the little craft did survive for 25 years in a shoebox among tons of other childhood insanity trinkets and another 25 years on my space toy knick-knack shelf that denotes my insane, but fun childhood. I think the only thing sillier that the fact that I built and operated this thing was the fact that I've kept in for a half century.

They say that AD/HD people never grow up... here you have my proof.

Happy anniversary Falcon





Visit www.authorwes.com and check out "Growing up with Spaceflight" or look for them on Amazon