Thursday, April 24, 2025

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

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


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

The rest of us had to watch it on TV.

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


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

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

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

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


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




ABOUT THE AUTHOR


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

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













Tuesday, February 7, 2023

A HALF CENTURY AGO- THE CAPE!

 


THE TYPE OF KID TOUR BUS DRIVERS HATE

50 years ago, February 7, 1973 was a day that I’ll take to my space-buff grave and never forget it.

It was just three months prior to the first Skylab flight and it was, to that point, THE most exciting day of my 15 years of life. It was the day that I made my first journey to the Mecca of space-buffs; known to me then simply as "The Cape." It was a name that, to space-buffs, encompassed all of Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. Sure, there is a difference between the two places, but to a wide-eyed, space-crazed 15-year-old that place was just “The Cape.”

For nearly a year my folks had been planning and saving as they looked ahead toward a mid-winter vacation in Florida. Thanks to selling a lot of programs at events at the Saginaw Civic Center as well as working there as a Zamboni driver for his second job, plus Mom’s employment in the concession stands and a windfall of life insurance from the passing of my paternal grandfather, we were able to buy a brand new 1973 Ford LTD station wagon and take our first family vacation since 1968. Florida was the destination, but to me the only target on the map was The Cape.

To people raised and residing in the north central and Great Lakes states, the word “Florida” invokes a sort of magic as well as images of basking in the warmth of the bright sunshine- escaping the cold and gray gloom… and that is in September, it is even more so in the dark depths of February. Thus, it was that on the fourth day of February, 1973, with our station wagon heavily packed we departed our driveway in Sheridan Park at 10:22 am headed for The Cape! Okay, so the rest of the state just happened to also be Florida… that was up to the rest of the family to keep in their minds; I was focused on spaceflight.

Following two days on the road and one day in Daytona Beach my parents probably grew tired of me scratching at the window and panting toward the south. At mid-day on February 7th, we set out from Daytona for “The Cape.” I staked out a seat in the tailgate of the car so that I would have windows on three sides… just in case. That was probably a good position for me, because upon seeing the VAB in the distance across the Indian River from the 528 causeway, I was bouncing around like a Superball in a paint-shaker. I could not wait to get to “The Cape.” Of course the rest of the family wanted to do nonsense such as eating and finding a hotel.

By the time that we were finally headed down the 405 toward the KSC visitor’s center I was wound up so tight that the seat cushion was close to becoming a permanent part of my butt. Before crossing the river we approached the building for press credentials and standing there was a full-scale mockup of a Mercury Redstone. My Dad decided to pull over and stop. Looking back to tell me to get out and take a look, Dad found that it was too late, I had bailed out before the car came to a complete stop. After some photos we were on our way once again and in short order we had parked at the visitor’s center. Again, I bailed out nearly before the car had stopped.


The visitor’s center at KSC was a far cry from what it is today. In 1973 the parking lot was fairly small and there were only a couple of small pole-barn sized buildings. There was also no charge for admission. Of course, I blew directly into the first building… whoa! There on display sat the Apollo 7 command module and the Gemini 9 spacecraft! I was standing there in a daze when my mom rushed past and nabbed me by the sleeve.

“Come on,” she urged, “the last bus tour’s about to leave!”

We were the last persons on the last bus that day and before I knew it we were wheeling through the security gate and into my version of wonderland. The bus tours in 1973 were not divided up into different tours of different areas of “The Cape.” Instead, it was a Grand Slam sort of tour that simply went everyplace. We cruised past the O&C building and office buildings. Me, the know-it-all kid informed my mom that,

“This is where the astronauts stay and then walk out.”

A moment later, the bus driver said the same thing over the P.A. Then it was onto the NASA Parkway- and there, across the river, out of my window I could see the ITL!

“Ma! There’s the Titan IIIC facility!” I half shouted, rapidly turning into the kind of kid that the tour bus drivers all hate.



A second later, the bus driver announced that if everyone looked to their left, they would see the Titan IIIC facility… the people seated near me were already looking as I explained how the vehicles were assembled, what they boosted on and that the core was similar to a Titan II, only it was called a Titan IIIA. The bus driver didn’t go into that much detail.

I had been there a thousand times in my mind, and I knew what was where.

By the time we got onto the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, I was a bit ahead of the tour and those folks in the back of the bus near me already knew that famed Project Mercury Hangar “S” was coming up. Then came the old Mercury Mission Control building and soon our first stop- which would be the place where the Mercury Redstones were fired, or as I put it more simply to my mom; the place where Alan Shepard was launched. Although the bus driver called it Launch Complex 5 and 6, the blockhouse and museum that we toured was actually Complex 26, A and B. In the “rocket garden” associated with the museum were all of the rockets that I knew so well. Mace, Bomarc, Polaris, Corporal, Snark- they were all there and they were real- not just tiny white plastic models. My mind boggled, yet too soon it was time to get back on the tour. 



Now we proceeded down the famed “ICBM Row.” The launch complexes for all of my favorite missions, Atlas Complex 14, Gemini Titan Complex 19 and finally Launch Complex 34 where all there. Complex 19 had its erector lowered, but its service tower was still standing; I snapped an out of focus photo. Finally we stopped at Complex 34 where we again were allowed off the bus.

I don’t think my mouth had stopped for one second. My Mom noticed that the people seated near me in the back of the were no longer listening to the bus driver, they were listening to me, the 15-year-old space geek. Not because I was loud, but because I actually knew what I was talking about. As we walked from the bus into the LC-34 blockhouse, I went from broadcast mode to record mode; because the driver was talking all about the blockhouse, and I did not know much about them. I soaked up every word. Once outside again, the driver talked about the Apollo 1 fire and told everyone that it had happened here. Then as we filed back toward the bus, I told everyone about SA-1, 2, 3 and 4 as well as AS-201 and 202, which had also taken place at LC-34 and in my mind were pretty important as well. As we filed aboard the bus I tried to imagine what the launch tower and service tower must have appeared. They had been reduced to scrap and removed just months earlier. Looking down at me feet I spotted a rusting bolt and washer- which went immediately into my pocket.


Pressing on we headed for Launch Complex 39A. I pointed out the press site and the Mobile Service Structure, which was in its parking place next to the crawler way. Suddenly, I saw something along the roadside that I recognized, but no one else had apparently noticed; lunar rover tracks in the sand! Excitedly I pointed them out to my mom and, of course everyone seated nearby,

“Look! Those are rover tracks! That’s where the Apollo 17 astronauts practiced driving the rover!”

Mom was suddenly doubtful,

“No…” she groaned, “I don’t think so.”

“I’d know ‘em anywhere,” I shot back, “those are rover tracks!”

Once again, the bus driver came over the P.A. and confirmed my sighting. Mom never doubted me again when it came to spaceflight.

At the foot of Pad 39A was a sign listing all of the Saturn V launches that had taken place there thus far. Only one was yet to come- Skylab 1. Mom wanted me to pose in front of the sigh as she shot a picture of her child who was growing up with spaceflight. I posed reluctantly, but 42 years later that photo would be on the cover of my book on Skylab and ASTP.



Our final stop was the legendary VAB, the Vehicle Assembly Building. For any space-buff, the VAB is pretty much the monolith that marks the center of the American spaceflight universe.  Now, I was finally going to not only see it, but actually go inside! Getting off the bus we all did what every first-time visitor does; we craned our necks until we nearly fell over backward and looked straight up the side. As we entered the transfer isle through the standard doorway on the north side, I found that the VAB is so huge that it plays a trick on your brain. Your mind shrinks it down into proportions that you can handle. As a result, the massive openings into the high bays through which the launch vehicle stages are passed seem big, but not as large as they actually are. When the tour guide told us that those openings are as tall as a football field is wide- it simply boggled my mind. Another unexpected aspect of the inner VAB is the lattice of crossing I-beams and girders. I had always imagined it as being far more open and hangar-like, but the only real open space is the transfer aisle. The high bays are so filled with platforms and access workings that they completely hide the big launch vehicles until it is time to roll them out.

In fact, as we stood in the transfer aisle, directly to our right, at the other end of the VAB the fully stacked Skylab 2 Saturn IB was being prepared on its “milk stool” launch pedestal in high bay 1. Across the aisle from it, in high bay 2 was the fully stacked Skylab 1 Saturn V on its mobile launcher. Additionally, there were two Saturn V S-II second stages in storage in the other high bays and as many as four S-IVB stages in storage in the low bays. We could not see a hint of any of them.

Leaving the VAB we headed back to the visitor’s center. As we passed the VAB on our way out I saw that they had the lower doors open on high bay 2 and you could see the base of the mobile launcher for Skylab 1! For a moment the white and silver of the SA-513 booster glinted at me! Grabbing my Instamatic camera, I snapped a picture. It was one of the only photos that I took that day that came out in focus.



It was not until decades later that I discovered that my visit to the VAB had come at the worst time. You see, just five days earlier the Skylab 2 vehicle had been rolled back to the VAB after having resided at Pad 39B since the 8th of September. The vehicle was rolled back to the pad again just 19 days after I left! Additionally, the Skylab 1 Saturn V was rolled out to LC-39A on April 16th. So, over an eight-month period, between September of 1972 and May of 1973 there had been a Saturn launch vehicle on one of the pads at LC-39, but I happened to visit there on one of the 24 days where there was nothing on the pads.

Just my luck.

We got back to the visitor’s center with just five minutes remaining before the gift shop closed. My Dad gave me a pat on the shoulder and pointed to all of the space stuff for sale and simply said,

“Just go!”

This was my part of that two-week vacation and now I had a mountain of space goodies and only 300 seconds to figure out what I wanted. My hands were not big enough. I nabbed books, patches, stickers, post cards and a Cashulette Saturn V model with its LUT and dumped the whole pile at the cash register.

That night, in the hotel, I lay on the floor looking over my “stuff” smiling gleefully with my head still spinning. I even took the time to put the decals on my new Saturn V, the rest of the construction would have to wait until I got home and found my glue. The following day, my dad said that I had been cheated a bit in that we got to KSC so late that I did not have the chance to see the rocket garden at the visitor’s center and I had not really had time to “shop” in the gift store. So, before heading out to Disney World, we returned to the KSC visitor’s center once again and I gave my dad the guided tour of the rockets before I hit the gift shop once more. My Dad warned on the way out,

“That’s it- do not expect to buy a lot of souvenirs at Disney.”

“Like what?” I frowned and replied.

Indeed, I had all I wanted.

Forty years later- almost to the day, I was once again on the KSC tour bus on my way to the VAB. For more than 30 years the VAB had been off-limits to tours because Shuttle SRB segments were being stored there. Now, with the end of the Shuttle program, tours were once again allowed- but only until the SRB segments for the new SLS launch vehicle begin arriving. Thus, on that year’s annual family outing to Disney, I requested that we should take our kids and do the VAB tour. Much has changed since 1973, of course. Now the cost of a single ticket on the tour is more than the cost of taking the entire family back then. Of course, gas cost just 32 cents a gallon back in 1973 too. In 2013 the launch vehicle that was being readied to be the Skylab rescue vehicle back in 1973 now rested in the rocket garden, badly in need of a paint job. And the VAB, stood empty- devoid of flight vehicles of any sort and having no firm idea as to when another launch vehicle will be stacked within it. It was somewhat sad to see it that way. As we left, I snapped a single photo of the VAB to match the one I had taken four decades earlier.

When we got to the visitor’s center gift shop that Sunday night, we had just 10 minutes left before they closed. I thought of my dad, pointed my daughters toward all the space stuff and said,

“Just Go!”

So, they did, but not nearly with the zeal of their father four decades earlier. In short order my youngest one took me by the hand and led me over to a series of shelves with boxed space toys on it.

“I want that Daddy,” she said, pointing her tiny finger toward a Saturn V, nearly the same size as my Cashulette model.

Looking around at all of the stuffed toys and sparkly doo-dads and gizmos designed and packaged to catch a kid’s attention, I asked skeptically,

“You want that?”

“Yes,” she replied firmly, “it’s a Saturn V.”

Well I’ll be…

It must be genetic.









Tuesday, January 3, 2023

YOU ONLY HAVE ME BEAT BY 3 PILLS

 


Today, January 3, 2023 I saw the sad news of the passing of Apollo 7 Astronaut Walt Cunningham. I first met Walt and his lovely wife Dot at a national Assn. of Rocketry Annual Meet held at Manassas, VA in the early 2000s. He was signing copies of his book “All American Boys” in both print and in audio book. Considering that he was one of the first men to fly the Saturn IB, and that I was there selling my Dr. Zooch S-IB kits, I decided to stroll over, show him my display and see what he said about it. He held it with a fighter pilot’s delicate touch and admired it. Then he showed it to Dot and said,

“This was a great rocket… smooth and great to fly.”

I asked if he would be kind enough to autograph it if I bought a copy of his audio book. Adding that I already had the hardcover and had read it cover to cover. With that he added his signature to both and denoted “Apollo 7.”

Many years later, I was attending Spacefest to sign and sell my “Growing up with Spaceflight” books. I had my youngest daughter in tow and when it was time for breakfast, she wanted to just stay in our room and watch cartoons. Thus, I went to my morning meal solo. Sitting there waiting for the server to bring my drink order, I saw Walt and Dot walk in. They looked around the cafĂ© appearing somewhat lost. As the server directed them to a table, I spoke up and invited them to dine with me. They accepted and sat down. Then as the server approached, I said,

“Their meal is on my tab please,”

Dot politely declined- but I insisted, saying it was my pleasure, plus, since I was there on business, it was also tax deductible.

Now dot happily accepted as did Walt.

One huge rule is when you meet an astronaut, you do not want to talk about spaceflight, unless they bring it up first. Always talk about aviation or in this case- authoring.

Walt and I got into a long conversation about our books and the writing process. Since I knew that Walt had written all of his book himself, we really had common ground.

At one point he reached into his pocket and meekly pulled out a tissue with a bunch of pills in it,

“One of the worst parts about growing old is they make you take all of these damned pills,” he grumbled.

Taking a quick look and count I replied,

“I’m 25 years younger than you, and you only have me beat by three pills.”

Looking over at me he half grinned and said,

“Well… now I don’t feel so bad.”

We had an amazing breakfast together and talked so much that we were all several minutes late getting back on the convention floor to man our booths.

After the day’s events were done, I got on the phone and called my mom ho was up in Michigan,

“Guess what I just got to do? I got to buy Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham and his wife breakfast!”

It was a high point in my life as a spacebuff.

Check out my "Growing up with Spaceflight- Apollo Part One HERE!
And read the complete Apollo 7 story


Monday, December 19, 2022

MY LAST APOLLO DAY-OFF FROM SCHOOL

 

Reentry for Apollo 17 took place on Wednesday afternoon December 19th, 1972. This was my last “Apollo day-off from school” and for the first time during the mission the TV coverage was pretty extensive. That was good for me because the lightweight coverage of the rest of the mission had left me with about a half hour of audio tape to fill.

There was an interesting “first” that happened during Apollo 17’s reentry. For the first time NASA PAO allowed us to all hear what the astronauts were actually saying inside the spacecraft, in real time, during the reentry and recovery phase. Apparently they allowed Ron Evans to go on open microphone, or “VOX” with the other crewmen in the background. Either that or Evans had a stuck microphone, no matter, it was still pretty cool. The only time that he could not be heard was during the black-out portion of the reentry. As soon as the black-out cleared, however we could hear him again.

I was entranced! It was so cool to hear them talking to each other and Evans making calls. I did not even care that I did not know what most of it meant; I would figure it out later when I played the tapes over and over driving my family insane. Splashdown was a work of art and the impact of the spacecraft was captured up-close by a TV camera on one of the recovery helicopters. Later we saw close-up pictures of the crew exiting the vehicle and flopping into life-rafts. The images were so good that you could see Schmitt scoop a hand full of the blue Pacific water and toss it gleefully at Evans. In short order the crew were on the deck of the carrier TICONDEROGA making short speeches. I considered Cernan’s statement about Apollo 17 being the end of the beginning. It rang hollow, even to a 15-year-old; Apollo 17 was over, and so was the Apollo program. 

The networks went back to their beloved regular programming, because that is what people were “really” interested in, and I packed up my recording gear and my models and went back to my room. I spent the next four hours listening to my Apollo 17 tapes and trying to recreate Apollo itself with my well-worn command module model; it didn’t work.

My model command module- circa 1967


Spool the clock ahead to 2009. While writing my second book on Project Apollo, I glanced over my shoulder and saw my five-year-old daughter in “the play area” of our home rooting through a basket of assorted and well-worn toys. Coincidentally, she came up with an old, partly broken Saturn V toy and, raising it over her head, she was making the “Shhhhoooommm” sound.

“Where ya’ goin’ sweetie?” I asked, expecting an answer about some cartoon show fairyland.

“To the Moon,” she unexpectedly replied.

Without hesitation I dropped my work and turned to her,

“You wanna go to the Moon eh? Well daddy can help.”

With that I dug into my collection of space stuff and soon we had a LEM, a CM and a couple of astronaut action figures from the “Daddy Shelf.” A bit of dusting off and we were down on the carpet playing lunar EVA. Soon daddy asked,

“Do you wanna see real men walking on the Moon?”

“Yeah,” she replied with a wide smile.

I broke out my Spacecraft Films Apollo 17 DVD set and put EVA number one on the big TV. As they worked the ALSEP she asked, “What are they doing?”

I told her that they were setting up experiments.

“We need some experiments,” she said with a glow.

Thus, we gathered old pen tops, toy thimbles, doll chairs and even a packing peanut with a toothpick stuck in it- they all turned into lunar experiments.

“Ya’ know what else we need?” she asked, “It starts with an “R”… rover.”

Gleefully stunned that my kid even knew what an LRV was, Daddy got one of those from his collection too. For the entire afternoon we played being on the Moon. 



At one point she glanced at the TV and asked innocently,

“Are those guys on the Moon right now?”

“No,” I replied and explained that all of that took place long ago when daddy was a little boy and that we do not go to the Moon anymore. Busying her tiny fingers with our “experiments” in our ALSEP on the carpet, she asked,

“Why?”

Indeed, “why?”

How does one answer that to a five-year-old? How does one who had the privilege to watch men walking on the lunar surface, live, on television, explain to the next generation why it is that we as a nation simply gave it up? How does one explain to our children that they will quite likely not have the chance to go and do such things themselves— or for that matter even have the chance to see it happen, live? How does one explain the myth that the money spent on Apollo would be better used to cure all of the ills here on earth if we would just stop going to the Moon? How does one explain to a kid what myopic, self-serving politicians are? How does one explain to future generations that my generation stepped away from the peaceful advancement of human civilization because the TV ratings were low? Perhaps we should use the words of President Barack Obama when he casually defunded the Constellation program's return to the moon and simply, arrogantly state that we no longer go to the Moon because,

“…to put it bluntly, Buzz has already been there.”

Indeed, “why?” will be the next generation’s question and my generation has no good answer.

My little girl is all grown up now and in college where her minor is Space Studies. On November 16, 2022 she stood on the river bank just outside of Titusville, Florida and along with her school mates screamed "GO BABY GO!" as the Artemis I launch vehicle boosted the next generation of lunar spacecraft, Orion, to the moon. Yet once again critics from my generation arise in myopic opposition to the program. Wine may get better with age, yet NASA critics just maintain a predictable, worn-out ignorance.


Get your copy of Growing up with Spaceflight, signed and personalized at www.authorwes.com


 


Wednesday, December 7, 2022

LAUNCH OF APOLLO 17

 The following is an excerpt from my book "Growing up with Spaceflight, Apollo Part Two" and is protected by Copyright 2015 Wes Oleszewski. No part of this may be republished in any form. 


Taurus-Littrow was the name of the landing site for Apollo 17. Located near the southeast rim of the Moon’s Sea of Serenity, the site is a meandering valley between three mountains called “massifs” (pronounced mass-eefs) in a range dubbed Taurus. Littrow is the name attached to a nearby crater. Overall, the lunar EVAs would be the longest ever and I could hardly wait for them to take place.

In order to tape record the mission, as I had recorded Apollos 14, 15 and 16, I had been saving up what money I could in order to buy what I believed to be “the best” quality cassettes. In my arsenal I had two Memorex 120-minute cassettes and two off-brand 60-minute cassettes. The Memorex tapes were for the actual mission audio and the off-brands were to capture the “extras” that the news media may just toss out here and there. Yep- I had it all covered from flight broadcasting to contingency broadcasting. This time I would be using the best of everything… right? Well, 30, years later in 2002, when I went to take my carefully stored “Apollo Tapes” and transfer them to digital CD, the only ones that gave me trouble were those expensive Memorex cassettes! They were so bad that I had to take apart freshly bought modern cassettes and physically cut the Memorex 120-minute tapes in half and then place the historic tapes into the modern, off-brand, cases in order to get them to play. Meanwhile, my off-brand cassettes from the Apollo and Skylab era still play just fine. Yet, in December of 1972, I thought that I had it all covered.

It was clear from the beginning that the TV coverage of the Apollo 17 mission would be at a bare minimum. NBC, for example, came on the air at 9:45 pm, just 13 minutes before the scheduled launch time. For Apollo 16, NBC’s launch coverage had started nearly a full hour before launch time. But Apollo 16 had launched on a Sunday at mid-day when most network affiliates were showing old movies on some sort of “Award Theater.”  Apollo 17, however, was supposed to launch in “prime-time” and most network executives would have blood shooting out of their eyes at the thought of losing even a minute of prime-time to cover a spaceflight. Thus, their Wednesday evening viewers were now scheduled to missed only the end of "Hec Ramsey.”  ABC and CBS were both on at 9:30 with launch coverage; meaning that their viewers would miss the last half hour of "The Movie of the Week" and "Medical Center" respectively. Either that or the executives at those two networks had a greater sense of history and the news coverage thereof, yet perhaps their eyes did not bleed as easily as those of the suits at NBC.

It was the plan of all of the networks, however, was to catch Apollo 17 getting off the ground and into orbit, which was scheduled to take a total of 11 minutes and 46 seconds, and then switching at the top of the hour to, “…our regularly scheduled program, already in progress.,” Thus, the executives at the networks would be keeping those prime-time advertising dollars and ratings points firmly in their pockets as well as keeping the shooting of blood from their eyes to a minimum. They would also rob us space-buffs of scads of spaceflight TV watchin’ in the process. After all, they figured, no moon flight had ever suffered any sort of a technical delay, so their bet on the timing of this coverage seemed to be a sure thing. The network suits would win, and the space-buffs would get skunked once again. It was well planned by the three big networks- who were all we had to watch in this era before wide-spread cable TV. Of course, events of that Wednesday evening would cast immense suffering upon those network suits- especially at NBC.


To those of us not in the firing room at KSC, the final minutes of the countdown, appeared to be moving along smoothly for Apollo 17. That included the crew which consisted of Commander Gene Cernan, Command Module Pilot Ron Evans and Lunar Module Pilot Jack Schmitt. What only a few people in the firing room knew was that there had been a glitch at the 2 minute and 47 second mark in the count. At that point the automatic sequencer failed to send the signal to pressurize the S-IVB third stage’s liquid oxygen (LOX) tank. Controllers in the firing room quickly moved to manually pressurize the tank and it did come up to pressure, but their action was not swift enough to satisfy the sequencer and at T-30 seconds the count was “cut-off” by the sequencer itself. There was a great deal of confusion in the media as the NASA Public Affairs Officer, Chuck Hollingshead, went into low-flow mode. The public was left guessing as to what the problem was and whether or not there would be a launch tonight. It soon became clear that that those “regularly scheduled programs” were not going to be seen tonight and the well-planned broadcast schedule of those network executives turned to toilet paper. Before the evening was over, they would lose their 10 o'clock hour and broadcasting "The Julie Andrews Hour," "Cannon" and "Search" all because of the Apollo 17 launch sequencer. It was a rough night to be a TV broadcast executive, but an intense night to be a space-buff.

AS-512, the Saturn Booster that was supposed to send Apollo 17 to the moon just sat there, venting LOX in that familiar white trail of vapor; commonly called “goxing.” Of course, as the countdown clock stood frozen at the T-30 second mark the controllers in the firing room were already working the problem and actually had in place a “work around” solution. First, however, the countdown and the sequencer needed to be recycled to the T-22-minute mark. This recycle was a long involved, procedure-rich activity that would take nearly a full 40 minutes just to complete. Naturally, I was glued to our family TV as everyone else in the family went to bed- with the exception of my dad who worked midnights on the railroad. He just wished me luck by saying to me,

“I hope you get that one off the pad tonight,” as he left for work.

Dad always had a keen sense of how involved I was in spaceflight- even if it was just through a TV set located 1,042.93 miles away from Launch Complex 39A.

Before going to bed for the night, my mom left me alone in the living room with a clear warning,

“No matter how late you stay up for that tonight,” she half snarled in a firm parental tone, “yer’ still gettin’ up and goin’ to school tomorrow.”

Indeed, our deal had been that I could only stay home from school to watch the critical parts of the mission that took place during school hours. Now she had me on a technicality.


THE K577 RELAY

I kept CBS tuned in during this phase of the mission. The other networks had good people working the flight, but a good space-buff always kept Cronkite and Schirra tuned in during an anomaly; provided, of course, that they could actually get a CBS station. Meanwhile, the broadcasters did their best to make something out of the nothing that PAO was spooning out. Unknown to us all was the fact that the engineers in the firing room were all set to implement their work-around and by-pass the sequencer. This was not a work-around in the sense that we would see in the Space Shuttle era. This was a “bread-board” work-around. A bread-board is a term for a type of tool used in electronics to study and test circuits. Components are connected together with “jumpers” which consist of a single wire with either clips or plugs on each end. Those jumpers can be used to either connect or by-pass a given component or circuit. In the case of the Saturn V sequencer, (and you electrical engineers reading this please forgive me for over-simplifying here, but I’m writing for “normal” people), there was no big master computer teaming with scads of hard drives. Much of what the sequencer did came down to open relays and closed relays which executed each action that needed to be done by triggering additional relays down the chain. Each of these banks of circuits had a one-hole jack on one side and a similar jack on the other. If the circuit, or its associated relay should fail to trigger its task by closing, a technician could by-pass it with a switch or a by-pass could be done by inserting a jumper with a banana plug on each end into the two holes and thus “jump” across the circuit.  The system hardware had actually been built with this option in mind.

 Basically what had happened was that when the sequencer looked, at the speed of light, for the S-IVB pressurization trigger it saw that K577, the “S-IVB LOX Tank Pressurized” interlock relay was open rather than closed because it did not receive the signal to close. Although the tank had been pressurized manually, the sequencer instantly, seeing the open relay, cut-off the count. It never got as far as the switch that the technician had closed. In the work-around, inserting the jumper would show the sequencer a closed circuit at the open relay as well as the manual switch. The sequencer would then be satisfied and simply move along and launch the Saturn V.

There was, however, one last hang-up that delayed the launch even farther. The folks at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama- who had designed and constructed the Saturn V and the sequencer- needed to convince themselves that the bread-board work-around would actually work safely. This was, however, an expected delay by the ever cautious MSFC engineers and while the team in the firing room at KSC waited, they successfully rolled the countdown clock back to T-22 minutes and began counting down again. They could now go as far down as T-8 minutes, where the chill-down of the J-2 engines in the second and third stages had to be started. If they had no decision from Huntsville by then, they would have to hold until the launch window was violated by through what remained of the countdown. The count did indeed tick down to T-8 minutes and then was held again awaiting word from MSFC.


 Meanwhile excess hydrogen from the S-IVB and S-II stages was being drained off and sent to a “burn pond” adjacent to the launch pad where it was set aflame. Cronkite went to great lengths to assure the viewing public that this was an intentional, necessary and totally harmless fire. For more than an hour, everyone, from the news broadcasters, to the firing room engineers, to a little kid in Saginaw, Michigan all waited tensely for the count to resume.


Swing Arm Number 9, which was the access arm to the command module, had been swung back to the 12 degree “park position.” I wondered what it was like inside the Apollo 17 command module as the crew waited out the protracted delays. In his later book, “The Last Man On The Moon,” Gene Cernan summed it up by reporting that CMP Ron Evans, "… didn't think the delay was any big deal and he went to sleep, his relaxed snore a deep undertone to the chatter on the radio net."

Somewhere near 20 minutes after midnight Eastern time, MSFC finally transmitted their blessing upon the KSC work-around that the folks at Huntsville who had actually, themselves, designed into the system. The count began again at 25 minutes after midnight and progressed to the point where the S-IVB LOX tank was to be pressurized. Again the console operator manually pressurized the tank. Then when the sequencer looked toward the K577 relay it electronically saw the jumper and thus concluded that the relay was closed. The count continued to ignition and liftoff- which took place at 33 minutes past midnight.

It was impossible to grasp the full glory of a Saturn V night launch through our family television set, but the voice of Chuck Hollingshead as he called the liftoff gave a good indication of what was taking place.


“It’s just like daylight here at Kennedy Space Center…!” he shouted with the greatest of excitement as the TV cameras that had focused on the vehicle were video-smeared by the brightness.

 NBC reporter/anchorman John Chancellor afterward stated, “… …The whole sky became pinkish-green, like nothing I have ever seen. It looked like a hazy day… it was as bright as the sun with a flaming tail, maybe half a mile long… every car in the parking lot here, in the middle of the night at the press site was clearly identifiable, the license numbers could be read…”

Boost of the S-IC first stage on Apollo 17 was completely nominal, yet Cernan sat in his CDR’s position with the abort handle in his left hand almost daring the guidance system to fail. That was because he knew that if he turned the “T” handle counterclockwise he could activate the abort system and the escape tower would fire, but if he turned it 45 degrees clockwise he could disconnect the IU from its guidance duty and the Saturn V would be commanded by the CDR’s joystick hand controller that was in his right hand. That would allow Cernan to achieve every pilot’s dream and hand-fly the most powerful flying machine ever to successfully take to the sky.

 At staging the firing of the eight retro-rockets shot out a brilliant halo of yellow flame that seemed to be a few thousand feet across as it expanded in the near-vacuum of the upper atmosphere. From that point on, Apollo 17 was little more than a white dot on our TV set. For the last time an Apollo crew was thrown against their straps by the Saturn V. It was also the only time that Cernan took his hand off of that abort handle, he knew the jolt was coming and did not want to accidentally trigger an abort.

I listened intently to all of the onboard reports and calls. “Mark, 1 Bravo,” an abort mode, “Skirt Sep.” the point where the interstage skirt that had held the first stage to the second stage separates. If it had not dropped away the crew would have to abort using their escape tower. “Tower Jet,” since the skirt departed cleanly, the launch escape tower was no longer needed, and was jettisoned to save weight. Now all three astronauts could look outside. Prior to this the Command Module had a Boost Protective Cover (BPC) over it. But, when the tower jettisoned it took the BPC with it. Later in the second stage burn as its fuel and oxidizer drained away, the stage’s level sensor was armed and prior to that the crew was given an expected time for “Level Sense Arm.” Level sense referred to a set of five probes in the S-II LOX tank’s bottom that while whetted remained neutral, but when any two of these were uncovered they signaled the Saturn V’s Instrument Unit (IU) to begin the sequence of engine shutdown and staging. The system was not armed until late in the stage’s burn to prevent a false shutdown. Level Sense, shutdown and staging for Apollo 17 took place as planned.

As separation of the second and third stage took place a series of four retrorockets buried in the S-II to S-IVB’s adapter ignited while at the same time two posi-grade ullage motors on the stage S-IVB fired. These were all solid propellant rocket motors that burned briefly; the retros to separate the two stages and the ullages to seat the S-IVB’s propellant fuel and oxidizer. Once expended the ullage motors were jettisoned to scrub weight. In the end the S-IVB’s lone J-2 engine shut down some three seconds early, but Apollo 17’s parking orbit was fine. Unlike previous lunar missions, Apollo 17 would alter the timing of its Trans-Lunar Injection in order to help make up for the delayed launch at the beginning of its third orbit some three hours after launch.

One loss caused by the delayed launch was that there would be no TV coverage of the Transposition and Docking event- where the CSM separates, moves out, turns and then goes back to dock with and remove the Lunar Module from the S-IVB. The tardy launch left the earth-bound antennas that would normally receive the onboard TV, out of position- so there would be nothing to watch. I packed it up and went to bed with two thoughts heavy on my mind; 1) this was the last time that humans would launch aboard a Saturn V and fly to the moon, and 2) my mom was going to wake me up in about five hours so that I could trudge off to waste yet another day in the mayhem of Webber Jr. High School.

For the record, five decades later, I remember every detail about the launch of Apollo 17 that night- but I don’t recall a damned thing that went on at that “school” the following day.

Monday, November 14, 2022

FINAL FLIGHT LLTV

 

Armstrong in the LLTV

With the coming 50th anniversary of the Apollo 17 mission it's important to note that the final flight of the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV) took place on December 13, 1972. The pilot was Gene Cernan.

I've seen TV documentaries that love to express how dangerous the LLTV aircraft were. Several talked about how the astronauts "hated it." Another said that it was so hazardous that NASA cancelled its use.

In fact I've talked to several Apollo moon-walkers who, when asked, said that this was a very useful training device. The proof of that is the fact that the LLTV was in use right up until the final Apollo lunar mission.

     



Monday, September 5, 2022

BE PREPARED FOR A ROLL-BACK


While everyone in the media is talking about the LH2 (Liquid Hydrogen) leak in the Space Launch System’s quick release connector, one small detail is somewhat overlooked.

When the current lunar launch window closes on Tuesday September 6, 2022, the certification date for the batteries in the vehicle command destruct system also expires. There is no way to re-certify the system at Launch Complex 39B because there is no access arm to that area of the booster. The only way to re-certify the system is by way of the access platforms in the VAB.

Thus, conjecture as to if or not the engineers need to construct some sort of weather shelter in order to service that leaky quick-disconnect in order to repair the LH2 leak at the launch pad is mooted unless they can get it all done and launch before the command destruct system expires.

Although the VAB provides plenty of shelter from Florida’s weather, the downside to a roll-back and repair indoors is that once the repair is finished there is no way to completely test the fix. The only way to test that fitting is to roll the vehicle all the way back out to Pad 39B where the LH2 can be fed into the system.

Additionally, although it has been discovered that the August 29 scrub caused by readings that one of the core stage’s RS25 engines was not being properly chilled was caused by a faulty sensor- it is important to point out that the KSC weather rules went red 16 minutes before the launch window opened. The weather continued in the red through most of the launch window. So, faulty sensor or not, the launch was scrubbed for weather before it ever got started.