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.













Monday, January 27, 2020

APOLLO 1


This blog entry begins with an excerpt from my book, "Apollo Part One" and following that I'm going to give some perspective, so stay tuned.




"APOLLO 1
THE BLIZZARD OF ‘67

Up in the great state of Michigan we were totally unaware of the fever pitch at which the work on Apollo was progressing at Cape Canaveral and at other NASA centers around the country. In fact, on Thursday, January 26th, 1967 we were getting our first taste of a massive blizzard. After local weather broadcasters predicted, “a good amount of snow” we got plenty more than that. My Dad had driven the family car to the railroad depot in Flint about 30 miles south of our house. He was working as a railroad engineer on the “third trick” night shift at the at the Buick Fisher Body plant. This meant that he had spent all night running a switch engine in snow that began to come down far more heavily than predicted. By the end of his shift on Friday morning, the roads were impassable and the snow was coming down even harder.


Dad called home to see if we were all okay and to tell Mom that he was stranded. She was a bit scared- considering that this was the worst snow storm in a half century and she was home with three kids ages 9, 7 and 3. Dad immediately told her that he would get home- somehow.



 Of course we three kids were delighted. The schools were all closed and we watched with endless fascination as the snow blew and drifted. Eventually the drifts got so high that I could stand on a stool, crank open the bedroom window and touch the top of a drift that was right there at window level five and one half feet above the ground. Nothing moved and no one ventured outside all day on Friday the 27th, except for my Dad. The C&O line that he worked for had a freight train that came through Flint from Toledo, Ohio and ran up to Saginaw every morning. Dad hopped aboard the engine on that train and rode it up to the town of Bridgeport. There, the train passed within 100 yards of my paternal Grandma’s house. Dad had them stop there, he hopped off and hiked over the fence and through the drifts to Grandma’s house. She provided him with some warm dry clothes and hot coffee and then he set out, on foot, for our Sheridan Park home a mile and a half away. He had called from Grandma’s house to tell us he was on the way and all three of us kids kept watch out the back windows. After what seemed like hours, he came trudging along the Grand Trunk Railroad tracks behind our house and through the blizzard to our back door. We all cheered as if Santa had arrived; now we would all be snowed-in together.

That evening, as the snow piled up some folks gathered around a warm fireplace. On our side of town, however, almost no one had a fireplace and at our house we all gathered around a warm TV set. It was late in the evening and almost bedtime, we were watching ABC’s local channel 12, and my most favorite show, aside from “Batman” of course, “The Time Tunnel.” Suddenly the program was interrupted by an ABC News “Special Report.” There on the screen in glorious black and white was ABC’s “Science Reporter” Jules Bergman. Hardly looking into the camera Bergman began to read from some papers in his hands. His voice was shaking and cracked at least once- I thought he was actually going to cry, but as I listened to his words I knew why. Most of what I got from what he was reporting was that the three astronauts of the Apollo 1 mission, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, had just been killed by a fire on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. I really did not soak in much more than that. My Mom put her hand over her mouth and gasped and my Dad said nothing. You always knew that something was really bad when my Dad went silent. Before a moment seemed to pass the news bulletin was over and the “Time Tunnel” returned.


Mom put us all to bed that evening but there was too much blizzard going on for me to sleep. I spent a protracted time looking out my bedroom window and watching the snow blow past under the street light. What kept running through my mind was that the astronauts had been killed in a fire at the pad.

“At the pad, how could that happen?” I wondered. “Were they down in the place under the rocket and someone accidentally started the engines?” my nine-year-old brain pondered, “How could NASA let that happen? Didn’t they have their spacesuits on? Aren’t astronauts indestructible?”

I kept picturing three astronauts in spacesuits walking down in the flame trench and then somehow the rocket engines just lit up and incinerated them. It was an awful thought for a kid with a very vivid imagination; almost as awful as the actual event on Pad 34."

Of course there is much more to the story, and you'll have to read the book to find out the rest. 
NOW... the blog part...

As a space buff and spaceflight historian I find that the end of January each year is simply the worst. Not because of the three U.S. manned spaceflight tragedies that took place at that time of the year, but because of the social media ratcheting up of grief over those events. Sure, we all should remember those who were lost, but let us leave it as that. Launch Complex 34, for example is treated like a grave site. It is NOT a grave site where anyone should go to weep. In fact it is a historic landmark where three astronauts were killed in an accident, but it is also the place where huge steps forward in the peaceful exploration of space took place. Certainly, in the middle of that the Apollo 1 fire also took place and three astronauts were killed. Yet we need to keep that within the total context of the history of the site.

On May 5, of 1961 Alan Shepard launched into space on a Redstone booster from the Cape and on July 21 of that same year Gus Grissom also boosted from LC-5, just 8,330 yards from where he would lose his life less than six years later. Americans were thrilled by these two flights which were boasted in the media as being a great leap in our space race with the Soviets. The Soviets, however, were quick to point out that their R-7 boosters were so much more powerful than the Redstone they made the two American space launched look like, "...a flea's jump..."

Soviet propaganda was right, yet was ignoring an American operation that was taking place right out in the open. On the same day that Alan Shepard's Freedom 7 was launched, the SA-1, S-I first stage was in the test stand at MSFC being test fired for the second time. That firing of 44.17 seconds duration produced far more power than the Soviet R-7. Some three weeks after Grissom's Liberty Bell 7 flight, that first Saturn I booster arrived at Cape Canaveral's Launch Complex 34 and was erected on the launch pedestal. It would shake the world on October 27, 1961 when it successfully launched as the world's most powerful booster.



Three more Saturn I vehicles would fly from Complex 34. The Soviets would never catch up in successful listing capability.



On August 18, 1965 the first Saturn IB would begin stacking at Complex 34 and on February 26, 1966 it would launch as AS-201, the first all-up test of the Apollo configuration. The second fully Apollo configured Saturn IB would launch on August 25 of that same year. Following its flight AS-204, the Apollo 1 vehicle would be stacked.

After the tragic Apollo 1 fire, AS-204 would be de-stacked and later used for the un-manned Apollo 5 flight that tested the Lunar Module in Earth orbit and AS-205 would be stacked at Complex 34. Notice here, that NASA did not shut down the complex after the fire and forever mark it as a grave site. Instead they did what is always done in flight test after a failure. They pressed ahead and tested the more than 800 changes to the Apollo CSM. 

Apollo 7 made history as it lifted off from Complex 34. It was the first manned flight of an Apollo spacecraft, it was the first manned flight of a Saturn launch vehicle, it saw the implementation of scores of new flight crew and pad crew safety features that would be carried forward to today. It was also the last manned launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station up to this writing on January 27, 2020.

Thus, I'm not saying do not remember the Apollo 1 crew, what I am saying is as you do so also remember all of the huge leaps forward in spaceflight history that also took place at Complex 34. When you visit that site, indeed take some time to remember the crew. Then take some more time and walk around the cement base of the pad and look at the names and dates that were scrolled into the freshly poured concrete. Those men were not making a grave site, they were building a place where history would be made. Remember them as well.


Some of you reading this may think I'm crass or dismissive. No, I'm a historian and I witnessed the above stated history and the three spaceflight tragedies on TV and in person, some of which took place before some of you were even born. History, in spite of social media, must be kept in perspective. If you think that's wrong or dismissive, I'd ask why it is that you do not venture out into the desert and visit the site where Mike Adams' X-15 hit the ground killing him on November 15, 1967, less than a year after the Apollo 1 fire. He was an astronaut too. Post flight data showed that he had indeed crossed the threshold into space on that flight, and he was awarded astronaut wings after his death. 


History has to be kept in perspective.



To read more about the Apollo 1 fire click HERE 

You can also get it in e-book form






Sunday, December 22, 2019

WAKEUP CALL




On December 22, 2019 I watched NASA’s live coverage of Boeing’s Starliner CST-100 spacecraft’s reentry and recovery. The vehicle, after suffering an event timer glitch in the initial orbital insertion and thus ending up in a contingency orbit, returned to earth flawlessly. This was a critical step toward the true goal of Commercial Crew- which is to send U.S. astronauts to the ISS from U.S. soil aboard U.S. launch vehicles and spacecraft once again.

Shortly after the landing and successful recovery the predictable social media dribble began and I saw the following comments:

… NASA PR team haven't learnt [sic] to write notes to each other. First time was amusing, since then it's unprofessional. Every now and then you will hear whispered conversations - like it's dead air, or give a shout out to a team who've been up since 10pm.... Check your feeds and mics....

And

 Lots of dead air. Need to work on the PR side of things.”

Here’s a little wakeup call to those of Generation Whatever, from someone who not only grew up with the space program, but who has also been employed to cover manned spaceflight from the KSC Press Site.

NASA PAO (that’s Public Affairs Office for you in Gen. Whatevers ) is NOT there to entertain you. Their job is to present applicable facts to the general public as the mission proceeds. PERIOD!

It is up to us in the media to take that raw feed and try and make it interesting yet accurate.

The problem here, in my opinion, is that the glitzy dog and pony shows put on by SpaceX has blurred the line between what NASA PAO must do and what Elon Musk likes to do during and surrounding a flight.  

During the Apollo era no one listened PAO Jack Riley giving mission reports and then complained, “Well he’s no Walter Cronkite.” That’s because they had two differing jobs. The same holds true today. If you’re working at the press site and you want mission audio- they will give you the raw audio, and then it is up to us in the medial to take out the “dead air” and “whispers in the background” and broadcast it to the public. In SpaceX land, however, it’s totally their show. They can have cheerleading crowds of employees shouting and applauding in the background while their hipster commentators chatter between and over CGI video and really cool live onboard video. There is nothing wrong with that. I actually love the onboard video. But, you cannot expect the same thing from NASA. Such is not their job.

Further, it is important to keep in mind that the next step for the commercial crew providers will not consist of launching wheels of cheese, or space suited dummies in discarded roadsters. The next step is far more serious because it involves launching humans into space. This won’t be CGI and if something goes wrong the consequences will go far beyond a rash of bad tweets. They will not be able to just cut the feed and explain away the results on good old social media. Additionally, when manned flight does resume from the Space Coast we’re going to require thoughtful, correct information coming out of NASA as opposed to hip babble and forced smiles coming from the contractor.

Spaceflight is a serious, life and death pursuit and it is not intended to entertain you no matter how SpaceX has come to package it lately. If you do not like it NASA PAO’s way, you would be best served by sitting down with your video games.

Spaceflight as it happened- click HERE


Thursday, July 4, 2019

500-F: BEAUTY QUEEN WITH FEET OF LEAD.



Apollo 11 fever is spreading and along with it are tons of images of what many think is the most photogenic of the Saturn V vehicles. Its image is being replicated on T-shirts and space packages and anywhere else that the newborn space hucksters can find a use for it. Most of them have no idea as to which Saturn V it actually is… it just looks cool. And that whim is hard for any space buff to argue.

Saturn V configurations circa 1964

 As with all of their Saturn boosters, the von Braun team tested the Saturn V in stages using assorted full-scale dummy Saturn V vehicle components. One of those, seen in this plan, was vehicle 500-F, the “F” standing for “Facilities” checkout.


Vehicle 500-F was never intended to fly, instead it had a more critical role to play. This complete Saturn V was set to test all of the systems and connections that would be required for the flight vehicles. It would test the assembly techniques and tools in the VAB, prove the Mobile Launch System could work, test the fuel and electrical connections at Pad 39A and most importantly, allow systems to fail. The idea was that if you were going to have a system failure, let it happen to this vehicle, and not the flight vehicles.



This image of 500-F was on the cover of a loose-leaf
notebook that my best friend, Jimmy Brink, brought
back for me from his vacation to Florida in the summer
of 1972. I used that notebook to record all of my crazy
model rocket projects all the way up until I left for
college in 1977. I still have it today as a treasure.
Back in the day I studied every detail of the 500-F
rollout photo endlessly
On May 25, 1966 the first fully stacked Saturn V, vehicle 500-F, rolled out of the VAB perched upon a freshly painted brand new Mobile Launcher.






Considering the significance of this event, it is no wonder that vehicle 500-F was one of the most photographed of the Saturn rockets. Both NASA and the news media had an army of photographers on hand to capture the event. NASA maintained their photographic army during the entire 500-F test run, and the vehicle seems to show up on every post card and NASA publication to this day.




Aside from black "T" roll pattern and the extra patterns
on the S-IVB-F stage, note that the American flags are
not applied (the were huge decals by the way) and
 the anti-sway arms are attached to the S-IVB
adapter rather than at the Launch Escape Tower where
it would be on future flights.
500-F can always be identified by its paint scheme. No other Saturn V carried this paint scheme out of the VAB. The “T” shaped black stripes on the S-IC stage are what instantly tells the space buff that they are looking at an image of 500-F. 


















Anti-sway arms seen here on Apollo 14














Areas of the roll pattern that were painted white are
clearly seen here on Vehicle 501, Apollo 4.
This paint scheme, however, was dropped from later Saturn V vehicles. The reasons were that the black colored band around the interstage area, which is where the LOX tank and RP-1 tanks were the closest together, readily soaked up the Florida sun and caused the open space to become so hot that some of the sensors in the area failed or gave incorrect data. Additionally, the heat made it dangerous for pad technicians to work inside that space. Unfortunately, the S-IC stages for Apollos 4 through 10 had already been assembled and painted with the black band “T” roll pattern. The stages for Apollos 4, 6, and 8 had to be repainted in the VAB to have the “T” pattern around the interstage whitened out. Apollos 9 and 10 had theirs repainted before being barged to KSC. All of the others had their interstage painted white prior to assembly.

 
Mobile Service Structure being
crawlered up to 500-F
The 500-F tests also allowed the Mobile Service Structure to be placed around a Saturn V launch vehicle for the first time. When you look at this image, you can see the importance of the 500-F test. Everything had to fit, and 500-F made sure that everything did indeed fit. Interestingly, although 500-F had been mounted on Pad 39A on May 25, it stood there alone with the LUT for more than two months. The Mobile Service Structure didn't get its first ever crawler lift and ride to the pad until July 20, 1966!






Of course the best thing about 500-F was that it left us with some really cool pictures to admire. 








Yet the real purpose was to check fittings and systems.




















Here is a clear view of the mass-simulators (arrows) seen
as S-IC-F was lowered onto the mobile launcher's
platform in the VAB's high bay number 1 on  15 March 1966.
What many space buffs do not know is that the S-IC-F first stage of 500-F only had one F-1 engine, and that was a mockup. In the place of the other four F-1s were four “mass simulators” which were simply dead weights with the same mass as an F-1 engine. Although the S-II-F had been constructed with J-2 engines, it too was switched to five mass simulators before being stacked as a part of vehicle 500-F. Interestingly, S-IVB-F first arrived at KSC on June 30, 1965 and was used for facilities checkout on Launch Complex 34. S-IVB-F never had an engine or mass simulator installed.




Seen here are the five S-II J-2 mass simulators.
Thanks to Stephen Isherwood
Facebooks "VAB Past, Present & Future" page.










Each and every component that made up the Saturn V launch system had, until this point, been simply drawings on paper on the desks of thousands of engineers around the country. This was the first time that they had all been physically put together.

500-F even provided for an unexpected test of emergency procedures when Hurricane Alma came blowing past the Cape. In a test under actual conditions, the vehicle was removed from the pad and returned to the protection of the VAB. At 1:00 pm on June 8, 1966 the order was given to move 500-F back into the shelter of the VAB. It took three hours to unplug and detach everything and the crawler began to move the stack at 5:33 pm.  By 11:43 pm the trip was successfully completed in driving rain and winds of up to 65 miles per hour.



Although 500-F provided critical systems data that was key in the success of the flight versions of the Saturn V, it continued to provide really cool photo opportunities. In this one we see an Air Force Titan III launch.






In this photo (the author’s favorite, by the way) Gemini 11 is seen lifting off on September 12, 1966. In the background can be seen Launch Complex 37 (arrow) and vehicle 500-F (longer arrow) on Pad 39A.














And in this one Don Knotts poses in front of 500-F which was his costar in the movie “The Reluctant Astronaut.” That movie, which was Knott’s own concept inspired by a mild fear of flying that he had developed in the mid 196os but overcame some years later. He was on an airliner fearful of every bump when he picked up a newspaper and began to read a story about an astronaut. “What if there was an astronaut who was afraid of heights?” he thought- and the “Reluctant Astronaut” concept was born. They were given 23 days by the studio to shoot the entire movie- and did so. Along the way they asked NASA if the crew could shoot at Houston’s Manned Space Center and Kennedy Space Center expecting to be turned down. Instead, NASA opened the doors and let them shoot where ever they wanted! They even shot on the mobile launcher for vehicle 500-F.





On October 14, 1966 vehicle 500-F was rolled back to the VAB from Launch Complex 39A and de-stacking of the stage was completed seven days later. The S-IC-F stage was then barged back to MSFC Huntsville- I’ve uncovered no firm record of its end. The S-II-F stage was transferred to MSFC Huntsville and in June 1969 and it was given five J-2 engines and made into a display. Eventually it became a part of MSFC’s horizontal Saturn V and was declared a national landmark. Likewise, at the same period in time S-IVB-F was also placed as a part of that display.


Check out the whole Growing up with Spaceflight series HERE
and save a lunar module.


Thursday, June 20, 2019

WHY DID THE SKYLAB SATURN IBs HAVE WHITE TANKS?


NASA image KSC-73PC-349, AS-206, Skylab 2.


Here’s another question that often comes up on spaceflight social media. Why were the Saturn IB first stage tanks on the Skylab (and ASTP) missions painted all white instead of the usual black and white? Considering all of shots in the dark that people who think they can answer this question post, I guess it’s time for the correct answer.
AS-206

To be factually correct, the RP-1 fuel tanks on those vehicles were not painted all white specifically “for Skylab.” In fact the first Saturn IB with all white tanks, AS-206 was stacked on Pad 37B on or about January 22, 1967 and was intended for use as the booster for the first unmanned lunar module Earth orbital flight. When that mission was handed over to AS-204, the booster intended for Apollo 1, and the Apollo schedule was reduced due to the Apollo 1 fire, AS-206 was placed in long term storage. It was later brought out to boost Skylab 2.

So, why the all white tanks? You may ask.



Beginning with the very first Saturn I tanks, those constructed for S-I-D, the dynamic test stage, the S-I stage’s RP-1 fuel tanks were painted black on the outward facing surfaces and zinc chromate on the inward surface. That stage had its birth on March 7, 1961 at MSFC. The black area had a vertical white strip in which the red lettered words “UNITED STATES” were monikered. The black tanks were painted as such for visual and photographic tracking purposes. 

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for more on Skylab/ASTP try my book
You can get your e-book version HERE!



Early Apollo Applications cluster.
As the Saturn I program began to roll, plans were advanced to build and fly the “up-rated Saturn” which later became the Saturn IB. At that time the plan was to fly a huge amount of Saturn IBs. In fact on December 5th, 1966 the schedule for ONLY the Apollo Applications Program (which later became Skylab) called for 15 Saturn V launches and 22 Saturn IB launches! (Ref; Skylab: A Chronology, p. 100) 




That didn’t include any of the hardware needed for the Apollo lunar program. The folks building the tanks had to get moving on the production line.
Saturn I boosters. Likely SA-4 far right
SA-5 on the left.


Thus, having seen this coming, the production of Saturn IB tanks was already in high gear. In fact the tanks and other components for the S-IB-5 stage was started on January 8, 1965, more than a year before the very first Saturn IB, AS-201 was launched on February 26th, 1966.

On April 19th, 1965 the AS-201 stage had just completed static firing in the test stand when ripples in the black fuel tank, F-3, were noticed. Later consideration determined that the heat of the sun on the tanks was causing the distortion. The answer to the problem was just to paint those tanks white from then on- which would better reflect the sun’s heat. It was too late to alter the tanks for the S-IB stages that had already been produced, S-IBs 1 through 5, (S-IB-5 became AS-205 and boosted Apollo 7) but work on the construction of the tanks for S-IB-6 (which became AS-206 and boosted Skylab 2) and the others that would follow had not yet begun.

Saturn IB tanks for AS-210 lay
 waiting at Michoud with black tanks
already in the stages in the background.
Photo from "Michoud Assembly Facility"
by Cindy Donze Manto- see ad below.

So, when construction of the tanks for S-IB-6 began in October of 1965, all of the tanks were painted white. As it worked out, S-IB-6 would, by default alone, become the booster for Skylab 2 after being in long term storage since 1967. It would show off the all white S-IB tanks for the very first time. Likewise all of the following Saturn IB vehicles had all white tanks.

AS-210, Apollo/Soyuz booster. The last
Saturn IB to fly.








Now, once again, you have the facts. Please do not bother arguing with people on social media… just send them here.




If you like the facts you read here... try one of my books HERE!

Or get an autographed and personalized  copy HERE