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Thursday, April 24, 2025
Thursday, November 12, 2020
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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Wednesday, August 12, 2020
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.
Sunday, June 7, 2020
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personalized copy HERE
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.
|Conrad (left) and Schweikart (right)|
in the neutral buoyancy tank before
the SL-2 launch.
|Joe Kerwin. Note: the tether attached to|
his chest, just below his helmet.
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