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.













Thursday, November 12, 2020

STS 2; I WAS THERE… Only this time I was closer.

The following is an excerpt from my "Growing up with Spaceflight- Space Shuttle" book. All content here is Copyright 2015 Wes Oleszewski and may not be reproduced in any manner. 

 


Excitement concerning STS-2, the second launch America's space shuttle, was at a similar pitch in the second week of November, 1981. Yet that excitement came with a different tone. Now, although most of America- indeed most of the world- knew that there was a space shuttle but, most folks still didn't really know how it worked or what it was all about. Still its existence had permeated into the public mindset. Just over six months after the launch of the first space shuttle, when the roar of the SRBs and main engines on the Space Transportation System (STS) had awakened the nation, folks they still weren't quite sure what they were looking at. Seven months after that first launch, NASA was preparing to give the public another lesson.

 

Launch day, November 12th, found me on a bus headed from the Embry Riddle Aeronautical University's campus in Daytona Beach, Florida to KSC. Unlike STS-1, this time I actually managed to find a seat on the bus. So, instead of being 14 miles from the pad and camped out over night on the riverbank I would be standing on the causeway about 8 miles from complex 39A. Just the prospect of being that much closer to a shuttle launch was exciting enough on its own merit. As our bus exited I-95 in the predawn darkness there was an atmosphere of confusion surrounding the launch time. Earlier the previous day there had been a failure of a multiplexer aboard the orbiter and talk of a launch delay. The news media of the day had not quite evolved to the point of 24/7 coverage. Thus we were left with whatever reports had been on the 11 o'clock news the night before. Even those were highly sketchy, some saying that the unit had been repaired others saying the new unit was being flown in from California. Of course if you are like me you were not going to take a chance on missing a launch so, we all piled on the bus anyway.

 


This was the second time around for this whole trip to KSC to see the second shuttle launch exercise. Originally, STS-2 had been scheduled to launch some six days earlier. At that time the countdown had gotten as far as T-31 seconds and then cut off at auto sequence start. The cutoff was caused by a high temperature sensed by the sequencer. This event had been caused by clogged oil filters in an APU and the entire launch ended up being scrubbed. We had all spent in uncomfortably cold Florida morning walking around the causeway and listening closely to the loop on small loudspeakers strung along the waterfront. It'd been a case where a long night turned into a disappointing morning for most folks at KSC. For me, however, any chance to get onto KSC and get close to complex 39 was a plus.

 

As our bus inched its way toward KSC word came from a local radio station that the troubled component aboard the orbiter that had caused all of the doubt the night before had been replaced. The downside was that there would now be a delay of several hours in the launch. Considering that our bus was in traffic so thick that we had recently been passed by an armadillo on the roadside, we all saw the delay as a very good sign. At least it would give us time to get to the causeway and get off the bus before the launch.

 

As we turned onto the causeway the bus was stopped by a KSC official. Some brief conversation took place between the official and our bus driver, then the bus made of 180° turn and started heading back. Just as we were about to panic the bus driver came over the PA system. He explained that he had been told that there was no more room for buses of the causeway and instead we were being rerouted to view the launch from the VIP site. 


A cheer went up.

 

Doubling back about a quarter mile we came upon a two lane road that led north toward complex 39. Called "Static Test Road" this easily overlooked little roadway led to another small road off to our right. That golf club shaped drive looped around and allowed our bus plus another dozen or so other buses stop and unload. Although we were only about three quarters of a mile closer to the pad now than we were at the causeway, it seemed to us as if we were right on top of 39A. We were told that our location was called "bunker number 7." Actually it really wasn't much more than a cul-de-sac cleared of the Florida undergrowth that had once been used for tracking cameras. There was, however, a small set of bleachers constructed at the south end and that was already filled with the real "VIPs" who had arrived earlier. I guess the term "VIPs" was only being used in the general sense here because those of us on the buses who were the causeway overflow mixed quite easily with these folks. Most of them were friends of families or crews, contractors, or spaceflight workers.

 

As the crowd grew and our "VIP" area began to load up with spectators. Everyone went looking for a good place to sit on the ground yet still be able to stand up and take pictures of the launch. Scouting around quickly my buddy Jeff and I saw one large open area that seemed to have a perfect view. We both commented that we couldn't figure out why no one had staked out this area so we headed over there and planted our butts on the ground. It took about 15 seconds before we realized exactly why no one else had taken the spot. You see- it takes about 15 seconds before the first couple of fire ants from the nest you’re sitting on to start stinging you. Leaping to our feet we bounded out of there sweeping away fire ants as we went. We spent a good part of the rest of the morning watching that spot as other people made the exact same mistake.

 

Of course no VIP site is complete unless it has some extension of the KSC gift shop to take the money from the VIPs. Bunker number 7 was no exception to this rule. Indeed a small portable gift trailer had been set up and was doing a good business. They probably would have gotten every dime that I had if I had had a dime. Unfortunately all I had was my camera, my tape recorder, my thermos of hot tea and a fairly well-squished peanut butter sandwich with really cheap strawberry preserves on it. In my college days I formed a strange habit that I still retain to this day- that is traveling around without as much as a penny in my pocket. Later in the morning I was sitting for a short time in the bleachers when one of the real VIPs sat down beside me and showed me an STS-2 postal cover. She told me they were selling them at the gift trailer for $1.75 and then you could have them officially stamped and even mailed off at the postal trailer. I told her "That's really cool," and that it would be fun to mail one off to my folks. She told me I should do that and I replied that the only problem was that I didn't have $1.75. She looked at me a bit surprised, then I explained that I was working my way through college by way of Kmart. Sympathetic she asked "Well… didn’t you bring anything with you?" I said "Yeah," as I reached into my backpack and showed her my well-squished peanut butter sandwich with really cheap strawberry preserves on it. She laughed and handed me one of her postal covers with orders to take it and send it to my folks adding that she fully understood about working your way through college. She even pulled a couple of postage stamps from her purse and gave them to me. She said, “One day, that’ll be a collector’s item.” 


Joe Engle and Dick Truly were strapped aboard the Columbia at about that same time. To most of the public they were unknown rookies who had never flown before and space, but to us spaceflight buffs these two pilots were far from being rookies. Engle, in fact, was already an astronaut who had flown in space before he joined NASA. He had flown the X-15 a total of 50 times between 1963 and 1965 with three of those missions reaching altitudes above 50 miles. This qualified him to wear astronaut wings. Additionally Engle and Truly actually had a one up on the first shuttle crew, Young and Crippen. To date Young and Crippen had performed one landing of a shuttle orbiter, but the crew of Engle and Truly had already performed two landings of a shuttle order. In 1977 Engle and Truly were two of the four pilots who flew the space shuttle Approach and Landing Tests with the orbiter Enterprise.

 

Glued to assorted portable radios and at least one portable TV, we monitored the count as it was broadcast by various local news stations. When the count neared the planned time to come out of the scheduled T-9:00 hold, Launch Director George Page elected to take a moment before resuming the count. It was his intention to keep his controllers cool, take a deep breath and make sure they were doing everything right. That little bit of extra hold time, however, really annoyed some of the newsman- of course that meant nothing to the launch director. After just a few short minutes the count resumed and the Columbia had the undivided attention of several million of people around the world.

 

After the previous week’s scrub nearly everyone seemed to be hypersensitive to the T-31 second mark in the count. As that point came and went a cheer and applause echoed through the crowd. Apparently everyone seemed to have the perception that if you got past that moment in the count you were good to go. In fact, I noticed for many years that passing the T-31 seconds mark and the start of redundant sense sequencing tended to draw a smattering of applause. The cold hard truth was that it meant nothing more than detection of problems were turned over to the computer and thus, anything that would keep you from flying could not be detected several million times faster than when you are off the sequencer. So there was really nothing to cheer about.

 

In the final seconds prior to the launch I went and stood on the bleachers with the real VIPs. The guy standing next to me was armed with a Super 8 movie camera. At main engine start he raised the camera to his eye, pulled the trigger and began filming. I guess he didn't expect what those of us who had been there for the previous shuttle launch had already experienced. A few moments after SRB ignition the shuttle reached out and grabbed us compelling everyone scream "GO BABY, GO!" A moment later I glanced over to see the movie camera guy, mesmerized and standing there looking up at the departing shuttle, his mouth hanging open and his hand with the running movie camera down at his side- filming the bleachers. I nudged him with an elbow and got his attention then pointed down at the camera."OH!" He said as he returned to filming the launch. For some reason the shuttle did that kind of stuff to you.

 


A little more than 8 minutes later the United States had accomplished something never before done- they had reused a manned spaceflight vehicle. Columbia was safely in orbit and soon we were safely back aboard the bus- feeling that strange sense of pride, as if we had launched Columbia ourselves.


If you liked this real life adventure, and would like to read the rest just go to www.authorwes.com  and get an autographed and personalized copy of his books, or if you prefer e-book, visit Amazon and see the whole set. Of course it's much harder for the author to autograph e-books because they're... ya' know... just ones and zeros flowing across the internet.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Wrong Stuff


 Watching Disney Plus and Nat. Geo.’s new “The Right Stuff” TV program I saw that the show has a propensity to present the wrong stuff and ignore some of the people who actually had the right stuff.

 

In the episode that was broadcast in the final week of October, 2020 the small bit of story line that actually involved spaceflight was centered around the Mercury Redstone (MR-1) chuff. For those of you who are not readily familiar with MR-1 it was actually two different Redstones and a single Mercury capsule. After the first attempt failed to fully launch the Redstone, that specific booster was replaced with a new one. You will probably remember the video images of the first MR-1 Redstone igniting, then immediately shutting down followed by the escape tower firing and leaving the capsule behind, followed by the spacecraft parachute popping out of the nose and deploying. The date was November 21st, 1960. It was one of NASA’s more embarrassing moments.

 


I’ll set aside the fact that the TV show writers get the continuity totally screwed up as they go on to show John Glenn trying without luck to get the ear of “Senator John F. Kennedy” after the MR-1, as well as the New Year’s celebration welcoming in “1960” implying that MR-1 had taken place in 1959. In fact JFK had been elected President on November 8th, 1960 and thus was the President Elect for 18 days before the MR-1 chuff. 

Hey, what difference does it make? Who’s gonna notice that sort of stuff?

 Where they really went into the wrong stuff is by, not only over dramatizing the question as to if or not a 30.06 rifle should be used to put a hole in the booster, which was on the pad and over pressurizing. Of course Flight Director Chris Kraft did not drive a jeep like a madman out to the pad and tackle technician who was headed toward the Redstone with the rifle. The decision not to do that was made over the intercom system between Mercury Control and the blockhouse. Kraft never left Mercury Control, it was too dangerous and he was actually more level headed than that. 

Thereafter is when some of the true Right Stuff, that the writes ignore, took place out at the pad.

 

The problem was that the Redstone booster was over pressurizing its LOX tank. That cryogenic fluid was trying to boil and nearly all of the vents were closed for the boost. One relief vent, however, was indeed dumping some GOX, but it not even close to being enough. To complicate the situation relays and switches inside the Mercury spacecraft were now set for the vehicle to be in space. When the escape tower jettisoned it activated a relay within the spacecraft that energized the bus which put the .05G switch as well as the Automatic Stabilization and Control System online. With that system on line and the RETRO ATT switch in "AUTO" the retro rockets could be fired, or with the .05G switch ready and waiting for a g-load so it could do its job, the whole retro package could be triggered to jettison. Any of that in the the resulting huge cloud of LOX would cause a monstrous explosion. The fact that the capsule’s parachute was hanging beside the booster also gave the concern that a stiff wind may come up, catch the chute and pull the vehicle over- also resulting in an explosion. What they had on hand at that moment was a fully fueled and armed rocket with no connection to the ground, so there was no ground control actions that could safe the systems. There was only one course of action; do nothing.

Albert Zeiler (2nd from the right)
 It was decided by Mercury control to simply wait until the batteries aboard the Mercury Redstone ran down. That alone would take nearly 24 hours, and no one was absolutely sure exactly if that was enough time. In the blockhouse at Launch Complex 5 it was also decided that the technicians there could leave in single carloads, each being a safe distance from one another. The following morning Group Chief Albert Zeiler, who was part of von Braun’s German rocket team, technicians Ed Fannin and Jay Campbell ventured out to Pad 5 and showed that they had the Right Stuff.

 Zeiler, using his launch vehicle savvy that dated all the way back to the V2 days, walked gingerly around the launch pedestal and made a visual inspection. The vehicle had settled down onto the launch ring but was not exactly centered upon it. 





Additionally there were some stress creases in the load bearing structure of the booster. Fannin joined him and they mulled over what to do next. Both the fuel tank and LOX tank were still quite full. Thankfully, one of the pad safety men had also arrived and began cutting the parachute shrouds one by one to ensure that the winds would not inflate the chute and topple the vehicle. Zeiler concluded that they must drain the LOX. It was the only way to turn this huge bomb into a relatively smaller bomb.

 


Now the most steely-eyed missile man of them all volunteered to do what only those with the actual right stuff would be willing to do. Jay Campbell ventured out and with a screw driver and a few assorted other tools on hand plus a nitrogen charged hose. He went to the base of the Redstone, and opened the service hatch to the engine compartment. Connecting the pneumatic hose to the LOX valve control port. He then smoothly backed away from the Redstone, and when he was clear enough he ran like the devil to the safety of the blockhouse. Nearby, Zeiler and Fannin were stationed at the auxiliary  pneumatic control panel. From there they commanded an slight flow of nitrogen down the pneumatic hose. That pressure was enough to push the valve aboard the Redstone open. As those two missile men dashed into the blockhouse a huge “wooosh” was heard as the LOX blew out through the vent. In short order the LOX problem had been neutralized as the tank was fully drained.

 

Now the Mercury spacecraft itself had to have its retro rocket package and posigrade rocket motors muted. The three retro rockets were solid fuel rocket motors wired to fire in salvo when triggered. Each of the three retro rockets weighed in at 66.4 pounds and had a five second burn that produced 1,148 pounds of thrust. The posigrades were three much smaller solid fuel rocket motors wired to fire simultaneously in order to separate the spacecraft from the spent booster in space. These rocket motors were basically Atlas retro motors with some upgrades to increase reliability, such as dual igniters. They each weighted 4.8 pounds and provided 420 pounds of thrust for about one second, which was enough to give the spacecraft a separation rate from the booster of 15 feet per second. They burned Arcite 377 propellant. The only way to disarm this system was to short out four electrical pins located behind the spacecraft’s umbilical door and then open the hatch and manually reach inside and throw the switch that would effectively disarm the system.

 


Three more steely-eyed missile men with the right stuff volunteered for the job. Two, Bob Graham and Bob Jones were allowed to volunteer because they were bachelors. The third man to volunteer was Pad Leader Guenter Wendt who, although married with a family, was not going to let anyone else touch that live switch.

 


The “A” frame gantry modified with its special two story white room, monkkered “Surf Side Five,” was carefully rolled into position along its rails with Wendt and one of the other two men riding aboard in the white room. Normally this process requires a lot of radio chatter as the self-propelled gantry is moved. Today, however it was radio silence as the third missile man operated the motor controls. They were taking no chances. Once stopped within inches of the spacecraft the men had to drill away the heads of the rivets holding the cover that surrounded the umbilical socket in place. It was like cracking a safe that could blow up in your face at any moment. Once the rivets were all compromised, they removed the plate and Wendt reached in and, as he later put it, worked as carefully as a brain surgeon to short out each of the pins. Next they gingerly opened the hatch and Wendt reached in and disabled the retro package. The MR-1 Redstone was no longer a threat.

 



If the writers of the TV series wanted drama, this should have been it. Instead we got Gordon Cooper’s wife confronting his ex-mistress in a motel room and von Braun dressing like Santa… even though Christmas was a full month away.

 I’ve seen it stated on social media, in defense of the writing, that “…this is a story about the people, not the rockets.” To that I reply, look at the names I’ve presented here- they were people too, and they certainly had The Right Stuff.

 By the way folks- the research to find the names of these individuals took me less than 45 minutes.


www.authorwes.com
For more of the Real Stuff check out Wes' 6 book spaceflight series
at www.authorwes.com


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

ALT: THE FIRST FLIGHT


The following is an excerpt from my book "Growing up with Spaceflight: The Space Shuttle." This material is copyright 2015 Wes Oleszewski and may not be reused, copied, redistributed, or reprinted in any form.


THE ALT:
ENTERPRISE-  AUGUST 12, 1977
It was just after 11:50 Michigan time on the humid morning of August 12, 1977 as the first Shuttle orbiter ever constructed sailed effortlessly through the sky over Edwards Air Force Base. My eyeballs were glued to my bedroom’s TV set and I don’t recall breathing during the entire flight. After just over two years without any hint of United States manned spaceflight, the space-buff in me had reawakened. There may even have been a few drops of drool on my bedroom floor in front of where I was seated. I had shut the entire world out as I teleported myself into that T-38 chase-plane whose TV camera was capturing the flight. Of course I wasn’t really there. You could tell because there were no nose prints on the canopy glass.
Two years earlier, at 5:18 pm Eastern time on July 24, 1975, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) came to an end when the Apollo Command Module splashed down. Unfortunately, during most of the two years following ASTP, very little was heard as far as progress on NASA’s next venture in space, the Space Shuttle, was concerned. Instead the media was garnished with sound bites and brief filler stories where only the Shuttle and space program critics had the stage and danced to the tune of the negativity that was their trademark. Their song was the myth that if the Shuttle was canceled “all of that money” being spent would be sent instead to whatever federal program they favored. Everyone from astronomer and hater of manned spaceflight Carl Sagan to congressional blow-hard William Proxmire got into the act. Indeed all would be right with civilization if only the Space Shuttle were to be cancelled.
However, just a year and a half after the ASTP, the orbiter test bed ENTERPRISE was flying at Edwards AFB on the back of the 747 carrier aircraft. At first, the media did not see this as much of a story, but by August 12, 1977, when the first free flight of the Approach and Landing Tests, (also known in spaceflight speak as “the ALT,”) took place the media came back, at least for the moment and so did many folks in America. Coverage began early in the morning and ABC News nearly covered the event from wheels up to wheels stop. After all, the network brass at that moment saw the Shuttle as new and somewhat exciting. TV rating points may be gained. For myself, the ALT blended both of my passions: aviation and space. The first ALT free flight took place just 14 days before I left home to attend the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida to begin my aviation career. Two weeks before I embarked on that adventure I would be introduced to the Space Shuttle and an orbiter by the name of ENTERPRISE.
To me as well as a lot of other space-buffs, somehow the Space Shuttle was pie-in-the-sky compared to what Apollo had been. After all, spaceflight had to be done with giant tall rockets and capsules, didn’t it? A big glider that was boosted piggy-back into orbit and then simply sailed back to Earth to land on a runway seemed to be more like science fiction. As far back as Apollo 15, in the summer of 1971, the makers of Tang were running commercials depicting the all fly-back version of the Space Shuttle. They were pressing the official NASA line that the Shuttle would be making its first spaceflights in 1978. Yet it all looked like something out of a bad movie about the future. All of that changed for me on the morning of the first ALT flight.
Leading the news on the morning of August 12, 1977, was not the news of the ENTERPRISE and the ALT. Although that was the largest story of the day, the lead story was the fact that the court had ordered New York City’s “Son of Sam” serial killer David Berkowitz to undergo psychological evaluation; gee, there’s a shocker. Oddly, in that same day’s local news, my cousin Paul was also featured because he had served in the Army with Berkowitz. Paul even displayed a baseball glove that the killer had loaned to him, but never reclaimed. The news then went back to national subjects and the ENTERPRISE.
Much to my personal delight all three networks were giving saturation coverage to the ALT in their morning news programs. All three had gotten their star spaceflight anchor crews out to the desert at Edwards Air Force Base to announce the event. CBS had stationed their long time space reporter Morton Dean to sit at a desk in the desert and broadcast the flight, aided by technical advisor Leo Crupp from Rockwell International, which had constructed the ENTERPRISE. Similarly, ABC’s Frank Reynolds and Jules Bergman also were in position. NBC, however, came up with a somewhat different angle on coverage. Of course, they had Roy Neal, a veteran TV space reporter who had been covering flights since the first Mercury missions, standing next to what looked like a night-stand that had been “borrowed” from his hotel room. That piece of furniture was now being used to hold up a model of the Shuttle and 747 carrier aircraft. But back in the NBC New York studios they had anchored the coverage with Jack Perkins, aided by a big-screen projection TV and seven “high school science students.” The premise being that if the ALT’s moment in history was to have any meaning at all, it would have the most meaning for the “youth of America.” A valid point considering that most adults in the country at that time were indifferent toward the Space Shuttle program, including those who were running NBC. In the end, after the ENTERPRISE had landed, and Jack Perkins asked what the students thought of the flight. Those “high school science students” mercifully contributed less than a minute of adolescent stammering and interjections that decades later still remain somewhat painful to listen to.
The mechanics of the ALT were fairly straightforward. Using a Boeing 747 aircraft that NASA had purchased from American Airlines and heavily modified to carry Shuttle orbiters on its back, the ENTERPRISE would be taken aloft and then released to glide down and land on the dry lake runway at Edwards. Of course nothing in NASA can ever be that simple. In the case of the ALT a great deal of data was to be obtained and thus a great deal of planning, organization and practice had been involved. There had to be check points and calls in the mission profile to ensure that absolutely everyone was at the exact same point, on the exact page, at the exact same moment. Even this straight forward drop-test would be handled by Mission Control in Houston and thus was treated more like a lunar landing than an unpowered flight test from the Right Stuff days at Edwards.
Aside from the actual flight testing and data crunching, there was also an element of “show” added to the first ALT. NASA had been under fire from the usual gang of spaceflight haters both in the government and in the media. Critics were constantly after NASA to prove that the Shuttle program was “worth it.” So, it became important to put the best public face on the ALT. Stylized tents for VIPs were erected where a good view of the runway could be had. Invitations to all sorts of guests who would be spaceflight friendly were sent out and huge numbers of cars and campers were allowed onto the base to witness the event.

ENTERPRISE crewmembers, astronauts Fred Haise, commander; and Gordon Fullerton, pilot; were not allowed to eat breakfast at home and then just come to work at the flight line. Instead they were corralled into a special room adorned with historic aerospace photos and a pot of flowers and made to eat the “astronaut’s breakfast” of steak and eggs in front of the cameras. Haise, the spaceflight veteran, just casually jumped through that traditional hoop; Fullerton appeared obviously uncomfortable. Of course the cameras then followed the crew all the way up the mate/de-mate structure’s ladder to the ENTERPRISE itself. Again, Haise waved and smiled; Fullerton appeared obviously uncomfortable.


THE ALT:
AN EVOLUTION TO THE ERA OF LIMITS
NASA had the high hopes that this fairly simple mission would place a successful face on the Space Shuttle and that it would at least mute the critics for a short time. As the morning news shows signed off they announced their times for the start of their ALT coverage. Although the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) would release brakes for takeoff at 11:00 in the morning Eastern Time, the actual separation of the orbiter was planned for 45 to 50 minutes later. Thus, CBS and NBC would start their coverage at 11:30. ABC, however, would be starting their coverage with the SCA’s takeoff at 11:00. So I sat in my basement bedroom and glued myself to the local ABC station; WJRT channel 12 in Flint, Michigan. Cable TV was still five years into the future for my little farm town community of Freeland and I was forced to use an antenna to snag the signals out of the air. How primitive!
One of the little, lesser-known, facts about the departure of the SCA and ENTERPRISE is that when Haise and Fullerton were sitting in the cockpit, they could not see any hint of the huge 747 that was carrying them.
“It was kind of like riding a magic carpet ride,” Haise would later recall “You’re just moving along the ground and then you take off.”
Following the takeoff of the SCA and ENTERPRISE, the networks had little to do other than “fill” because the picture that was being broadcast from a NASA T-38 chase plane was simply the SCA, the orbiter and the other chase planes with blue sky and clouds as a backdrop. Thus there were clips of the “new” Shuttle EVA space suit, the “rescue ball” for emergency crew transfer, and the launch manifest. That manifest, it was said, would one day achieve 56 Shuttle flights per year! And finally there was the new type of astronauts called “Mission Specialists.” The jobs speculated for the Shuttle included building a solar power station in orbit that could beam back energy and one day provide as much as 25% of America’s electrical energy. Then there was the building of a space station to provide a permanent presence in space. Of course, only half of those predictions ever came true.  ABC even filled several minutes with clips from “Buck Rogers,” “Star Trek” and the hit movie of the summer of 1977: “Star Wars.”
There also were the interviews with the politicians who were on hand to watch the event. Foremost among them was California Governor Jerry Brown. He had joined the 1976 presidential race on the motto that the United States was entering an “era of limits.” That tag line became his campaign motto as he lost in the primaries to Jimmy Carter, who then took on the same motto to a somewhat lesser degree. When Brown failed to be nominated, he held on to his “era of limits” ideal and took it with him back to California. The problem was that an era of limits directly conflicted with the concept of a Space Shuttle. Reporters were keen to stick a microphone in Brown’s face and pose that question. Considering that billions dollars in Space Shuttle funding were being sent to California and that state was set to hugely benefit from the program, the reporters were in the hope that Brown would squirm. Yet Brown, the pure politician, simply circle talked and turned the question on its heels.
Brown said that the Shuttle was, “…marking an evolution in the era of limits. The planet is limited and that’s why it’s so important that we expand beyond.”
Fortunately, Brown was speaking far from the ENTERPRISE’s touchdown zone, because if the aircraft had gotten some of that greasy slick stuff that he was spewing, onto its main landing gear it may have slid off the end of the 15,000 foot runway, or even off of the seven-mile-long dry lake.


THE ALT:
GO FOR SEP.
While the mission climbed toward its designated release altitude, I am sure that most folks who were not directly involved with the Shuttle program had little clue as to just how complex the orbiter’s systems were. In Apollo, both the Lunar Module and the Command Module had computers to support their share of functions. Those computers combined had less computing power than a common calculator that grade school kids would carry in their backpacks 35 years later. The ENTERPRISE, however, had a set of five computers, four of which worked as redundant units controlling nearly every aspect of the vehicle. Yet a safe landing could be made with just one computer. The fifth computer acted as a back-up in case something happened to the four primary units. The orbiter’s fly-by-wire system that manipulated the aerodynamic control surfaces completely depended on those computers. In 1977, the use of computers to completely control anything, let alone a flight vehicle, was close to science fiction.
Reaching their pre-release altitude of 26,500 feet the SCA and orbiter were placed on their launch heading. At the controls of the 747, designated “905,” was the most experienced drop pilot on the planet: Fitz Fulton. Acting as his “co-pilot” was Tom McMurtry, who, with flight engineers Lou Guidry and Vic Horton, made up the rest of the crew. At the designated moment Fulton would “push over” into an eight degree dive and once the speed of 270 knots was reached the ENTERPRISE would be released by Fred Haise. CAPCOM “Bo” Bobco in Houston was working the flight with the ENTERPRISE crew with a snap and manner that made you think the vehicle really was coming back from space. Haise and Fulton, however, could not avoid a bit of Edwards test flight banter.
“Thanks for the lift, Fitz,” Haise casually quipped.
“You bet,” Fulton replied, “any time.”
Finally, the crew aboard 905 counted down the final seconds to pushover. They called the maneuver.
 “Houston copies pushover,” Bobco dutifully replied.
Upon reaching 270 knots in the eight degree descent, Fulton called “Launch ready.” Almost simultaneously Haise hit the button and fired a series of explosive bolts that held the ENTERPRISE to the SCA. Separation took place at 22,800 feet; slightly higher than planned.
At the moment of separation, Fulton pulled 905’s throttles to flight idle and opened the speed brakes while banking. Aboard the ENTERPRISE, Haise was holding in a five degree, nose-up attitude command. 
The two aircraft cleared one another nicely.
Also at the instant of separation, however, the orbiter’s Master Alarm went off. One of the four main computers, General Purpose Computer (GPC) number two, had dropped off line. Fullerton went through the procedure to isolate that GPC and the flight continued. This failure was later traced to a crack in a poorly soldered joint on the “queue” circuit board. The result was that the manufacturing method used to build those boards was later changed, as was the inspection process. Then all orbiters had their computers retro-fitted with boards made with the new process. THAT is what flight test is all about.
Haise’s first maneuver was to conduct a “practice landing” at altitude. In other words he put the orbiter into something similar to a pre-flare attitude and checked its handling. It handled fine, but on my TV set at home I kept hearing Haise and Fullerton talk about a “sideways lurch” being there. The “lurch” was the result of the pilots being seated substantially above the orbiter’s center of roll axes, as well as the short wingspan of the vehicle. When a roll input was placed into the controls, the nimble orbiter snapped into the roll and the seated pilots, rather than feeling rotation, instead felt as if they were being tossed sideways.
So sure were the engineers that this lurching event would be present that NASA had special vertical stabilizers added under the Shuttle Training Aircraft’s (STA) wings to help simulate the lurch. The STA was a modified Gulfstream II corporate jet whose controls and airframe had been altered to allow it to approach like a Shuttle orbiter.
Flying the ENTERPRISE, the crew found that the orbiter controlled very well. The orbiter was pitched down to an attitude that would maintain 207 knots of airspeed. Although the vehicle’s tail cone allowed it to pitch down less than the -22 degrees that would be needed for orbiters returning from space, the descent was still plenty steep. Haise quipped that it flew better than the STA. Houston, however, thought that they spotted a discrepancy. It was reported to the crew that it looked to Mission Control as if the ENTERPRISE’s lift to drag ratio (L/D) was “perhaps” slightly low, meaning the ENTERPRISE could come up short of the runway. Haise was cleared to start his base leg turn early to correct the problem.  Fullerton, who was then at the controls, began the base turn, but Haise slowed him down. Eyeballing out the window and checking his own instruments, Haise knew that Houston was wrong and they were in fact high on the L/D. When he passed that thought to Mission Control, they quickly replied with an order to apply 30% speed brakes. Apparently, they saw that Haise was correct. A heartbeat later, Houston recommended 50% speed brakes. Houston’s misevaluation about the L/D and the early start of the base leg had actually added a bit of energy to the ENTERPRISE’s flight path. Haise's cool test pilots judgement had gone a long way toward preventing an embarrassing over-shoot.
Haise had plenty of landing surface to aim at on the dry lakebed; in the neighborhood of seven miles worth. So the little added energy did not bother him at all.  He simply lined up and guided the ENTERPRISE down. Per the flight plan, the speed brakes were retracted at 2,000 feet above the ground as Fullerton armed the landing gear. Exactly 1,100 feet later, Haise entered into the pre-flare and raised the nose up from the dive-bomber descent to an easy -1.5 degrees approach angle. At an airspeed of 270 knots Haise commanded the gear down. Fullerton simultaneously pushed the landing gear deployment button. Planned gear-down speed had been 250 knots, but considering that Haise had picked up some extra energy in Houston’s botched L/D call, he used the gear deploy as an approved method for scrubbing off speed. The landing gear fully deployed at 265 knots, prompting its three cockpit indicators to go from a tiger-tail indication to the “DN” indication. Unexpectedly, there was no sound heard in the cockpit when the landing gear deployed, but the chase planes confirmed what the gear indicators had read. Haise guided the ENTERPRISE gently toward the runway, and with a bit of float, caused by the excess energy, the orbiter settled gently onto the runway.
I sat there stunned, gazing at my TV set with my mouth hanging open. The Shuttle was REAL. The darned thing could really fly like an airplane! It was the most fantastic thing I had seen in spaceflight since Conrad and Kerwin had deployed the SAS wing on Skylab. 
Yet some in the mass media had a different outlook on the ALT. After all it had not flown like pair of pliers, as some had predicted, and there had been no spectacular crash, or unforeseen emergency. So the if-it-bleeds-it-leads news media simply began to shrug the day’s event off. Closing out his 26 minutes of live coverage on NBC, Jack Perkins finished with his mumbling group of “high school science students” and, in a hollow attempt to link the ALT to current pop-culture and the red-hot movie “Star Wars,” he looked into the camera and said that this means that,
“…today we’re a little closer to Wookies than we were yesterday.”
It was the most moronic statement made that day- including the babble from NBC’s high school science students.
Famed radio broadcaster Paul Harvey led his daily “News” broadcast with the flight of the ENTERPRISE and then in the same breath stated that this day was also the one in which,
“…a man in Oklahoma set a world record by throwing a cow chip 179 feet.”
So it was that August 12, 1977, would pass into the pages of history with the headlines of the day documenting a mass-murderer, the ALT and cow chip throwing.
At the time of the ALT missions, NASA’s Public Affairs Office had told the news media that they predicted the first Shuttle launch could take place in “the spring of 1979,”  two years after the first ALT. Watching the event, it struck me that I would be down in Florida getting my degree in aviation during that time. NASA also predicted that flight rates would eventually reach more than one launch per week! Surely I would be there to witness some of that myself. It was a very exciting thought. Of course neither the folks in the news media, nor myself bothered to talk about that 1979 date with the folks at the National Space Technology Laboratory (later know as the Stennis Space Center) who were testing the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) during that time period. The SSMEs would not be de-bugged and flight capable at 100% rated thrust until the spring of 1980, and would not be flight ready at 104% until early 1981.


I also had no idea that the ENTERPRISE herself was far from being an orbital vehicle. In fact, she was in reality little more than an engineering test bed. Her SSMEs and RCS engines were mock-ups, as was her thermal protection system. Her mid-deck did not exist and there was no plumbing for operational SSMEs. Fiberglass made up a good deal of her components as well as her Orbital Maneuvering System pods. She was more of a flying mock-up than an actual orbiter. Yet, sitting there in Michigan that August morning in 1977, and watching the ENTERPRISE fly that first ALT, I was blissfully unaware of any of those shortcomings. All I saw was the future for me and the future for America’s space program. I immediately set to work building a small balsawood flying model of the ENTERPRISE. In a way, it became a metaphor for both my dreams of my immediate future in aviation and for the Shuttle program itself. That is because when it was done, I stored it in the hanging ceiling of my basement bedroom as I shipped off to college; over the years mice dragged it off into a corner and chewed it to pieces.

Much more about the ALT missions can be found in Wes' book.
You can get a signed and personalized copy HERE

or

You can get it in e-book or in print internationally HERE





Sunday, June 7, 2020

SKYLAB 2: THE MOST DANGEROUS AND DARING EVA EVER




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 The following is an excerpt from my book “Growing up with Spaceflight- Skylab/ASTP.” This material is copyright 2014 Wes Oleszewski and my not be reproduced without the express permission of the author. 













“This will be the most dangerous and daring EVA ever attempted!” one TV “journalist” spouted during the July 2005 STS-114 Space Shuttle mission. It was then that astronaut Stephen Robinson was scheduled to ride out on the Shuttle’s Remote Manipulator arm so he could pluck out a couple of pieces of gap-filler that were protruding from between a few of the orbiter’s tiles with his gloved fingers. In fact, the most daring and dangerous EVA ever attempted, which was done 22 years earlier by Pete Conrad and Joe Kerwin aboard Skylab. Their mission was to deploy the jammed SAS wing number 1 and their task was far more daring and far more critical than that of STS-114, yet it was nearly ignored by the news media of the day.

On the morning of Thursday, June 7, 1973, day 14 of the Skylab 2 mission, Conrad and Kerwin were in the airlock preparing to go EVA and make mankind’s first major repair of a space vehicle in orbit. The airlock hatch was actually a surplus Gemini spacecraft hatch that had been adapted for used on Skylab. After all, it was flight tested, man-rated so re-using it on Skylab would save a lot of time and money and that was a big part of the Skylab mentality; saving nickels and dimes in a multi-billion dollar program. Unfortunately, the process of engineering and adapting a hatch originally designed to conform to a conical hull so that it could later conform to a cylindrical hull ate up a degree of those dimes that had been saved. Still, the hatch was opened and armed with all of the implements needed to execute the “Rusty EVA plan,” Conrad and Kerwin emerged from the workshop into the vacuum of space.

Conrad (left) and Schweikart (right)
in the neutral buoyancy tank before
the SL-2 launch.
Back-up mission commander Rusty Schweickart, both before and after the launch of SL-2, had been working long hours in the Neutral Buoyancy Tank at Huntsville to develop a method by which the crew might be able to deploy the jammed SAS wing. With the aid of TV pictures sent down during the initial fly-around of the workshop as well as descriptions from the crew,  Schweickart had lead the team on the ground and improvised, then later fine-tuned, a method that would eventually lead to the success of deploying the SAS wing and thus saving the entire Skylab project.

Originally, during the initial fly-by of the Skylab 2 CSM, the limb-loppers were supposed to be used by Skylab 2 pilot Paul Weitz to cut completely through the aluminum strap that was thought to be holding the SAS wing down. But his angle to the strap negated that method of using the loppers. Now Schweickart came up with another use for the limb-loppers; they would make a good anchor. The plan was for Kerwin to extend a long pole with the limb-loppers secured to the end out as far as the strap. Next he would use the jaws of the loppers to bite into the strap cutting it about half way through and thus anchor the far end of the pole. Conrad would then move hand-over-hand out along the pole and secure a line onto the far end of the SAS wing. Then he would return along the line and he and Kerwin would move under the line and, with their feet on the workshop, both astronauts would stand up and exert as much pressure as they could on the line. It was felt that such leverage would break the SAS wing loose and allow its solar panels to deploy.

Learning began quickly as Kerwin opened a bag containing some of the ropes that were to be threaded out and used in the operation. Instead of neatly spooling out, the entire bundle of rope simply spring out and burst open in zero-G like a huge tangled web.

Conrad: “I wish you hadn’t pulled that rope outta the bag. Holy Christmas.”

Kerwin: “I gave it one tug and it all came.”

Soon Kerwin got the pole extended without any problem, but getting the jaws of the limb-loppers onto the strap was proving to be impossible. Throughout an entire day pass around the Earth, Kerwin struggled with the 20-foot-long pole, but without any foot restraints every time he moved the pole his body simply torqued away in the opposite direction. Conrad tried to hold onto Kerwin’s ankles and stabilize him, but it was no use. Frustrated, the two men grunted and cussed as the Skylab went in and out of the range of ground stations.



For those of you who grew up in the Space Shuttle, TDRS era with continuous communications between the ground and the spacecraft, it was very different in the Skylab days. Ground stations did all of the receiving and transmitting of communications and telemetry. Thus, the astronauts at work would be in range for three or four minutes and then out of communications for hours. To make matters worse, they were in total darkness on half of every orbit. Their suits were not equipped with lights.

Back on Earth, I was allowed to again take the day off of school. So staying home to monitor this critical EVA was no problem for me. The problem was the actual “monitoring” of the EVA itself. None of the television networks carried anything concerning the event. Considering that just a brief downlink of TV would be sent from the workshop, why bother to interrupt the game shows and soap operas? Once again, the only outlet for those of us outside of NASA to keep track of this critical and dangerous EVA was the top and bottom of the hour news broadcasts on the AM radio. My local station, 1400 WSAM, had NBC’s veteran spaceflight reporter Jay Barbree making the twice-hourly reports. Mixed in with Watergate and other assorted news, Jay’s reports were about 20 seconds long and often included a sound bite with the voices of the astronauts. His name spoken by the news anchor Wilson Hall meant that space stuff was soon to be heard. As the Skylab made that day pass, Jay’s clip had Conrad and Kerwin in an obviously frustrating situation and not doing well. The exchange went like this:


Conrad: "Joe, you got to have it tethered, and it'll slide out let it slide out, it can slide out."

Kerwin: "It's not tethered to what?"

Conrad: "The pole. Let me get it in front of the pole…"

Kerwin: "What are you going to tether the pole to? Oh, yourself, huh?"

Conrad: "No. Now you…"

Kerwin: "Oh! The BET!"

Conrad (in frustration): "I just… No, damn it! I'll tell you what I wanna do. Back…"

Kerwin: "What is that tether you’ve got on there?"
Conrad (with a resigned sigh): "That's the pole tether. Now, if you just stay with me a minute. Come on back with pole, I'll tell you what we’re going to do, we’re going to get it in the right configuration."

Kerwin: "We were in the right configuration…"

Conrad: "No we weren't. We were too short. We couldn't slide your pole back. See? Now the tether will go as far up the pole if you want to. You follow me?"

Kerwin: "Whew.”

In keeping with the media’s coverage of Skylab, that little, frustrated exchange between the two astronauts was repeatedly played through the entire day, even long after the crew had successfully completed their EVA. It was played the following day as well. The actual, jubilant, communications that came after they had succeeded was almost completely ignored.

Joe Kerwin. Note: the tether attached to
his chest, just below his helmet.
Kerwin’s biggest problem was getting his feet anchored. He had told Schweickart the problem was not a hand stability problem, but a foot stability problem. Then as the station was out of communication range, the two astronauts spotted a protruding “U” bolt on the surface of the workshop. They had some extra tethers and quickly cooked up a plan to solve the foot stability problem. They ran the tether through a loop on the front of Kerwin’s suit, pulled it tight and then when he stood up he had a three-point stance. In a matter of minutes he had the lopper anchored to the aluminum strap.


When next the crew came into range of a communications station, Conrad and Kerwin were still wrestling with the umbilicals but had the jaws of the limb lopper in place. That brief period of radio contact had them tangled in the umbilicals and being heavily coached by Rusty Schweickart in Mission Control. Paul Weitz was asking if they wanted him to come out and help. Conrad, however, quickly belayed that idea and things did not look good as the crew passed out of range of the Vanguard tracking ship.

It would be one hour and three minutes before the Skylab would again pass into communications range at Goldstone. The workshop was in its 347th orbit, and in Houston Schweickart and the engineers could only sit and wait. Conrad and Kerwin, however, were very busy.



After getting their umbilicals straightened out, Kerwin steadied the pole while Conrad crawled out along it as far as he could. He fastened the line to the SAS wing where it would do the most good and then came back. Kerwin then fastened the other end to the workshop. As Conrad headed back, the limb-lopper jaws decided to cut all the way through the strap and the huge SAS wing started to rise up with Conrad aboard! The wing, however, stopped at about 18 to 20 degrees up. A “snubber” on the hinge needed to be physically broken in order to fully deploy the wing. So Conrad returned to the area near Kerwin and prepared for the final maneuver. Now both astronauts ducked under the line, and with it over their shoulders they stood up and applied as much force as they could.

Kerwin later recalled that although there was no sound in the airless void of space, he felt a sense of release that would normally be associated with “a loud crack.” The SAS wing broke loose, the line let go and the two astronauts, who had been pushing with all of their strength against the workshop with their feet and the line with their shoulders, were shot into space, in Kerwin’s words, “ass over tea kettle.” Conrad said it was like being shot out of a bow and arrow. Of course both men had umbilical’s secured to the station, so they did not go far.

When each astronaut regained their senses and looked back at the workshop, they saw the SAS wing deployed and the solar panels coming out. This was indeed the most daring and dangerous EVA ever attempted and they had succeeded in a glorious manner.

As the workshop came into range of the Goldstone station, telemetry quickly showed the crew’s success. Power levels for SAS wing 1 were rapidly climbing. As soon as voice was enabled, the two crewmen were heard chattering about the open SAS wing.



"All right,” Conrad reported, “I'll tell you where we are. We've got the wing out and locked, the outboard panel and the middle panel are about out the same amount, and the third one is not quite. Now, Joe, I think before you come in, you better take a look up there and make sure that third one is clear of all the debris."

Communications were regained at one minute after the hour and in just minutes the ears of the space news media picked up the success. With my ears glued to the radio and with my tape recorder at the ready, I had been recording every news break and every shred of Skylab news all day. The word came first from Wilson Hall who was the NBC radio news anchor.

“There’s good news from space,” Hall simply said.

Then he tossed to Jay Barbree who came on and happily reported,

“In a daring difficult spacewalk man has proven that he can repair and save a billion dollar spaceship in earth orbit!”

I let out a “Wahoo!” that ended up on my tape. I knew what this meant to the program as well as to the future, yet I was among the few in the general American public who actually realized the weight of the situation and what had been involved in the repair. I don’t know how many other kids of my age had been following the EVA that day, but I do know that Jay Barbree and NBC radio had been the only source filling me in on that historic event.



Be sure and catch all of the real-time adventure of Skylab by reading my book, "Skylab/ASTP." There is MUCH more and it is indeed a fun ride- you'll feel like you are right there again, or for the first time.


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