Thursday, October 11, 2018


The following is an excerpt from the "Apollo Part One" volume of "Growing up with Spaceflight" and looks closely at one of the more overshadowed events in the Apollo series; the launch of Apollo 7. On October 11, 1968- exactly a half century prior to this writing, NASA launched the mission that would lift the United States space program from the ashes of the Apollo 1 fire and place the nation back on the path to the Moon.
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The fact that between January 27th, 1967 and October 11th, 1968 North American Aviation and NASA were able to completely correct and clean up not only the design of the Apollo Command Module, its systems and the mountain of record keeping and changes in procedures to the point where they had a fine spacecraft is astounding. In its day, the Apollo CM was the most complex flying machine ever created. After the fire it had to be completely transformed from the death trap that had killed astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee to the amazing vehicle that future astronauts would trust with their lives.

At two hours and 25 minutes before launch the crew was inserted into the Apollo 7 CSM. Schirra was the first one in through the hatch followed by Cunningham who would be in the far right couch and finally Eisele was strapped into the center couch. The countdown proceeded until the T-6:15 mark when an unplanned hold was called. The S-IVB’s J-2 engine chamber had not reached the proper chill-down temperature and an additional two minutes and 45 seconds was needed to attain that limit. 

At T-3.35 seconds the ignition sequence of the booster’s eight H-1 engines began and at T-0.19 seconds the hold-downs began to release and the first manned Saturn IB achieved “first motion.” The vehicle’s Instrument Unit (IU) signaled that its umbilical had disconnected at 0.00 in the count which indicated actual liftoff and Apollo 7 was on its way. Launched on an azimuth of 100 degrees east of north, AS-205’s IU commanded a roll maneuver to a programmed 72 degrees at 9.95 seconds into the flight and at that exact same moment it commanded a pitch maneuver to start the vehicle tilting downrange. Just 28.15 seconds later the roll maneuver was completed and Apollo 7 was on its way.

At 74.15 seconds into the flight the AS-205 vehicle entered the area of maximum aerodynamic pressure on the vehicle (Max-Q). It was near this point that some of the maximum aerodynamic heating began on the vehicle as well. In order to shield the Command Module (CM) from this heating as well as from the heat of the Launch Escape System (LES) if it were needed, a Boost Protective Cover (BPC) was fitted over the CM. There was a small oval-shaped window in the cover in front of Schirra’s rendezvous window and a second small round porthole-like window over the hatch window that were built into the BPC. Other than that, the windows were all covered. As the vehicle approached Max-Q the noise and vibration impressed upon the crew reached its peak. Shortly after that time Schirra noticed a streamer of white smoke running down his window between the BPC and the CM. Something in there was burning itself away outside of the CM. Considering that this mission was being launched in the shadow of the Apollo 1 fire, that little streamer of smoke got Schirra’s attention in a big way. Ever-cool, Schirra said nothing as he simply watched the streamer. In a few seconds Apollo 7 was through Max-Q and the streamer rapidly faded away as did the earth’s atmosphere.

Four of the S-IB first stage engines cut off at 140.64 seconds into the boost and 3.68 seconds later the remaining four engines were cut off from their igniters. Exactly 1.26 seconds later the IU commanded separation of the two stages as the four S-IB retro rockets ignited in unison with the S-IVB’s three ullage motors. Just 1.39 seconds after separation of the S-IB from the S-IVB the IU commanded the second stages’ J-2 engine to start and 8.96 seconds later the LES with its BPC attached was jettisoned. From there Apollo 7 finished its boost phase exactly 616.75 seconds after liftoff. About 40 minutes later Schirra told his fellow crewmen about the streamer of smoke that he had witnessed outside of his window, their reaction was recorded as, “Huh!”

In 2008 I was attending NARAM at The Plains, VA selling model rocket kits. Also in attendance was Apollo 7 LMP Walt Cunningham. He was there signing copies of the CDs that made up the audio version of his book "All American Boys" (which is one of the best astronaut books yet written). I went over and bought a copy and had him sign it. Then I handed him one of my Dr. Zooch Saturn IBs. Holding it, he admired the model of the rocket he had once flown upon. Then he looked over at his wife and sighed, "This was a great rocket." Of course he didn't mean my model, but rather AS-205, the launch vehicle that had put him into space. Capitalizing on the moment I asked if he would sign my rocket. Without hesitation he did exactly that.
My Saturn IB- autographed by Walt Cunningham.

This past July (2018) I was attending Spacefest it Tuscon. While going to breakfast solo I was given a four top table and an iced tea. As I went up to order my omelet, in walked Walt Cunningham and his wife. I overheard them asking the host about a table and decided that this was my big chance! Stepping over I said to the host, "Please put them at my table." Walt's wife asked me, "Are you sure?" and I pointed to my table and said, "Absolutely, please sit at my table." Which they did. When they were out of ear shot I whispered to the host, "The bill is mine." When I got back to my seat I told the Cunninghams that their breakfast would be my treat."  They politely accepted. We sat and had the best conversation... not about space, but about writing books. 

For a life long space-buff this was my ultimate "YES!" moment. Something I could never have imagined doing as a kid or as an adult. It didn't make my my day, or my week, or my month... it made my YEAR! The Cunninghams are the finest of people.

Thanks to NOVAspace for putting on Spacefest.

Monday, August 20, 2018

What it was like: STS-1

The following first hand account of  what it was actually like to be there for the first space shuttle launch, is a excerpt from my book, "Growing up with Spaceflight- Space Shuttle." If you want to find out more about what it felt like to witness many of the shuttle launches, and you like what you see here- just get the book... it's that easy. 
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personalized copy HERE 

On the trip down toward the launch site we chattered about spaceflight history. Then, as we came within a dozen miles of Titusville, we suddenly saw spaceflight history. Above the trees the darkness was slashed by the crossed white beams of the pad spotlights. Although we could not yet see the shuttle, it was an image that we had always seen in books, magazines and on television. In spite of yourself it made your heart stop and your jaw drop.

Entering the town of Titusville we suddenly discovered that we had no idea where the hell we were going. Where would we park? What about private property? Collectively we decided just to turn toward the river. Driving down Grace Street we hit Riverview and the riverbank itself. For a few minutes we cruised up and down Riverview calculating a good place to park. I spotted a county pumping station and suggested we should park near it. That way if any of the locals gave us a hard time, we could just go onto county property. We pulled in, bailed out of the car and just stood there frozen by the sight of the white Space Shuttle bathed in those crossed spotlight beams. For a Moment, all three of us were kids again gazing at the wonder of spaceflight.

Snapping out of the Shuttle’s spell for a Moment, I saw that it was just after 10 pm and I decided to hike up Grace Street to the Mister Doughnut shop up on US1. There I found a pay phone and I called my folks up in Michigan to ask “Guess where I am tonight?” Being the parents of a rabid space-buff, it was an easy guess for them. When I returned to the car I was amazed to see that in the past 20 minutes, nearly every parking spot along the riverbank near us had been taken, and there were more cars coming. Clearly, there would be no problems with the local residents tonight.

Opening the trunk of his car, the guy who had parked right next to us, revealed a sort of mobile Space Shuttle flight-following station. Attached to the underside of the trunk lid he had a poster depicting each phase of the STS-1 flight profile. He had charts and table that listed each mission event, as well as assorted abort profiles and abort destinations. He had Shuttle cut-away diagrams that detailed ever component. Most importantly, however, he had a small portable TV that ran off of his car battery. In 1981 such TVs were not rare, but in our present location his TV was the center of attention.
Several hours into the night I decided to go for a walk up US1 and see what may be happening. The streets were busy as I strolled along, and every sign that could have its letters rearranged had a Shuttle best wishes message. After about a mile or so I came upon the local mall. Even though it was the middle of the night, the parking lot was filled as if it were the day before Christmas. The doors to the mall were propped open and people were coming and going. I went inside and was amazed to see that many of the stores were open and doing a good amount of business. Most noticeable was the local toy store which had set up a table just outside of their door. Upon the table was a cash register and stacks of Space Shuttle models which were apparently selling like crazy.

When I got back to the riverbank everyone was standing around gazing at the distant Shuttle or talking spaceflight. We talked about every aspect of spaceflight past, present and future. Most of us simply agreed that we had no idea as to what STS-1 would do, or what the Shuttle’s future would really be. It was like going to a space-buff convention. There was, however, only one problem with our space-buff paradise: access to a bathroom. On a later trip up the road to buy a cup of tea I found out that the guy running the Mister Doughnut shop up on US1 did not mind folks using his restrooms, as long as they bought a doughnut “or somethin’.” When I got back to the riverbank I spread the word and soon folks were strolling up the road to Mister Doughnut and returning “rested” with coffee, or a pastry, or both in hand. STS-1 was already helping the local economy, and the guy running the doughnut shop could testify to that.

Read the rest of the story in "Growing up with Spaceflight" "Space Shuttle"

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Saturn V holddowns

The question often comes up, "What held the weight of the Saturn V as it rested on the pad?" 

The answer is that the Saturn V rested upon four hold-downs anchored into the walls of the flame opening on the pad. Seen in the above photo- indicated by the arrows- these four pads were actually an integrated part of the overall hold down mechanism.

Keep in mind that the Saturn V, without the apollo spacecraft stacked upon it weighed in total just over 510,000 pounds. Yep- that's all... so it could easily rest and be transported to the pad sitting on the hold down pads. The more than 6,000,000 pounds of weight at liftoff was made up mostly of propellants.

Get the more on the Saturn V HERE!

The hold down itself, most of which was constructed above the pads shown earlier, clamped into the base S-IC stage's's lower ring and due to the simple law of inertia was more than enough to hold the vehicle against the thrust of it's F-1 engines as it built up to full power.

When the launch sequencer gave the command to release the vehicle, the clamps raised (the dotted line position seen above) and allowed the vehicle to move that first millimeter and begin trading inertia so it could lift off. 
Get the whole series HERE

Monday, August 13, 2018

SPLASHDOWN! Just like we planned it.


Recently there appeared a cartoon of a kid who splashed down his model rocket into his backyard pool. 

Well... I actually did that... by accident. 

The story begins with my space-buff pal CJ Vanston and I in the summer of 1971. It was about two and one half weeks after Apollo 15 had splashed down completing an historic mission to Hadley Rille. CJ would come to my neighborhood to spend about a week with his dad and step-mom every two weeks during the summer. In between those visits we'd both cook up crazy model rocket projects to punch holes in the sky over Sheridan Park- the subdivision of Saginaw, Michigan where I resided. Then, as soon as CJ hit town- all hell would break lose and the neighbors would be frightened for sure. The neighborhood kids, however, would be thrilled... especially when something went wrong.

More great spaceflight stories like this can be found in Wes' six book spaceflight series- visit HERE!

Of course at the ripe old age of 14, we always liked having an audience. The kids in the neighborhood would flock to my house at the first familiar "swoosh!" of one of our rockets. They then would peer through the cracks in the stockade fence that surrounded my backyard and watch as CJ and I rigged the next rocket. At the next swoosh, the chase was on as they all followed us downrange for the recovery. We launched from my back yard because a large farmer's field was directly behind my house and I had a lot of backyard room. CJ's back yard was mostly taken up by one of the neighborhood's few in-ground pools, so mine afforded the best launch site.

We had already done one flight this fine summer day and now we had a crowd of kids and stingray bikes all waiting on the next launch. This one involved a rocket with a see-through payload section and several ants aboard. CJ was really into B14-5 core-burning, high impulse engines that summer and so that was probably what was in this bird.

The launch boosted normally and much to delight of our rocket watchers. The B14-5 engine, however, had the thing really haulin' ass and when the ejection charge went off and the shockcord snapped! The booster section simply fell away while the payload section, on it's parachute and devoid of the booster's weight, began to drift away in the breeze.

CJ and I immediately realized that the payload section was heading off toward the neighborhood houses. We headed through my garage and into the street in a trot while keeping our eyes locked on that parachute. The wayward payload was on an "as the crow flies" course toward CJ's street. In fact, it was headed directly for his house! On foot we had to run down my street, around the corner and three doors up his block to intercept the descending payload. As we got to his house we arrived with a flock of neighborhood kids behind us just in time to see the parachute vanish behind his house.

Dashing up the driveway we both burst through the gate to his fence and saw the payload section floating in the middle of his pool! For a moment we were a bit stunned by the totally accidental landing in his pool. Looking behind us we saw a bunch of the neighborhood kids looking at the two of us. Here we were, the two space geeks who had launched from one of our backyards and splashed down in the other's pool. We looked at one another and simultaneously raised our hands...

"SPLASHDOWN!" We shouted in unison, "Just like we planned it!"

Everyone but us was amazed.

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Monday, July 30, 2018


For some reason there seems to be far more Skylab fans now than then were during the actual missions. Thanks largely to the fact that the spaceflight sites and writers on today's social media have done far more to cover the program than the professional news media did during 1973 and 1974. As a result there are a lot of new space buffs now discovering the program and questions pop up from time to time in regard to some of the more obscure details of Sklyab... such as "the hatch."

Skylab astronauts did several EVAs during the three missions that manned the vehicle- exiting the workshop by way of the airlock module which was equipped with a hatch... a Gemini hatch.

In order to make Skylab more palatable to politicians and a public who what been fed the notion that NASA was literally sending billions on dollars into outer space and allowing those dollar bills to simply float off into the void while countless poor people were dropping dead in America's streets from starvation when they all could have been fed by those same dollars, the space agency needed to create an image of a project that was simply using leftover hardware. 

In that light it was decided rather than designing, constructing and flight-qualifying a new EVA hatch to serve as the workshop's airlock, Skylab would use a hatch door leftover from the Gemini program. It was already flight-qualified. What a great way to save money!

There was just one problem... the airlock module was constructed as a cylinder and the Gemini hatch had been built as a part of a conical structure- the two shapes were about as compatible as a square peg in a round hole.

Now extra design work and metal-bending had to be done on the airlock in order to accommodate the surplus Gemini hatch. Of course, in flight the entire assembly worked like a charm, yet very little was ever said in the media, or by NASA public affairs office about how great it was to use a Gemini hatch on the orbital workshop.

In the summer of 2016 at Spacefest in Tucson, Arizona, I had the opportunity to chat casually with Skylab III commander Al Bean. We started off talking about another astronaut's son with whom I had attended college and then we talked briefly about Skylab. I made a joke that after walking on the moon they gave him a space station with a Gemini hatch to command. He laughed a bit and quipped that he thought they'd probably spent more money on adapting that hatch than it would have cost to just design and build a unique one for the airlock.

For more cool stories about Skylab, check out my book...

Or... the e-books

Monday, July 16, 2018


The following is an up-dated version of a piece I wrote on another of my blogs two years ago. With Bezos rumored to be setting a prince for seats on New Shepard, I figured it was time to re-do this.

Private and commercial spaceflight will soon open the frontier of space to everyone… except you.

More than a decade ago we watched breathlessly as SpaceShipOne rocketed into space and won the X-Prize. Anyone paying attention celebrated because at last the day was here; “commercial” or “private” spaceflight was about to make space accessible to us all. No longer would the far reaches of space only be accessible to astronauts, and cosmonauts working for assorted governments. In the years leading up to the flights of SpaceShipOne, Bert Rutan himself had boisterously spoken of the fact that NASA had a lock on space travel. Speaking to crowds of aviation enthusiasts he often said, “… NASA is screwing you!” He looked ahead to the time when commercial, private spaceflight capabilities such as the vehicle he was designing, would open spaceflight to everyone in the crowd of his listeners. Now the flight of SpaceShipOne would surely change lock on spaceflight... right? And with the aid and sponsorship of billionaire Sir Richard Branson Bert began the development of SpaceShipTwo which would carry paying passengers beyond the boundary and into space. Of course, if you think that you are going to be one of those passengers, think again.

Ticket prices for a trip on Rutan and Branson’s magic carpet to open space to “everyone” are currently set at a quarter of a million dollars per seat. So, only the extremely rich and highly famous among us can possibly afford to make that little flight. The reality is now it’s not just NASA that is screwing you, but it is now also Bert Rutan- because what he has designed is not a vehicle to allow regular folks to visit space. Instead what he has developed is space yacht exclusively for the rich and famous to make space their private playground. Of course "anyone" can go... you just have to go out and scrape up a quarter of a million bucks... how hard can that be? I mean, Sir Richard probably spends that on a weekend getaway.

Yet, many of us look at other options toward spaceflight such as billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin project. This private/commercial venture utilizes a returnable booster and a suborbital capsule designed to take private individuals into space and return them to the earth by way of the capsule. The system has now been tested a growing number of times with amazing success. The company’s own animation depicting the future shows space tourists in flight suits aboard the capsule enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime experience of weightlessness in space with an exciting yet pleasant return to earth. Indeed every one of us would love to go on that trip. CNBC reports that, although the company has not yet set a firm figure, an insider at Blue Origin has leaked the word that a price for such an adventure will be… seats starting at… $200,000.  

Thus the odds are good that unless you’re in the economic category of individual who will arrive at the launch site by way of your own private jet, you are unlikely to be able to ever afford that experience.

And then there is SpaceX and their vision of private spaceflight to fantastic destinations such as Mars. Elon Musk and his fellow visionaries at SpaceX are currently drumming up enthusiasm for us earthlings to travel with them and colonize Mars for the permanent habitation of mankind. What true space enthusiast would not want to take that adventure and make it their personal trip of a lifetime. Perhaps you have dreamed about this and perhaps you’ve looked at SpaceX’s plans for Mars and said to yourself THAT is how I would like to end my life. That’s right... it is a one way trip to your grave and will only cost you about a quarter of a million bucks (kind of makes Branson and Bezos' options look a bit more inviting eh?) It’ll be pretty hard to get a personal bank loan to finance that one way Mars adventure… because you won’t be around to make the payments- yer’ going there to DIE.

(This is my morph of the movie logo... to keep me from getting sued)

Now, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but the odds of anyone reading this actually making that trip are not only dependent on SpaceX turning that hyperbole into reality plus you raising a quarter of a million bucks, but also it depends on you becoming the absolutely physically perfect specimen to go on that trip. Frankly unless you have won the genetic lottery and are the type of specimen that could meet the approval of Hugo Drax himself your chances are better attempting to win the lottery and fly with either Branson or Bezos.

The bottom line is that the development of private/commercial human spaceflight will likely never evolve the way the transportation of airline passengers developed. In the early years only the rich and famous could afford the fly aboard airliners, yet as time went on and the amount of seats available as well as routes available grew dramatically and the price began to become affordable. Do not expect that to happen with spaceflight in your lifetime. Certainly, the rich and the famous will soon have their chance to experience spaceflight and Leonardo DiCaprio and Taylor Swift will buy their astronaut wings just for kicks and cocktail party bragging rights. 

Thus it will be said that now space is open to everyone… except you and me, of course.

Friday, July 13, 2018


Too often these days we witness social media postings that degrade the perception of the United States manned space program as some sort of contest between the Orion, the Dragon and the Starliner. There follows the predictable banter from assorted usernames as to which vehicle and program is better and who is in the lead… as if we were all watching a NASACAR event where pit stops and restrictor plates were being used. A true spaceflight watcher can actually lose I.Q. points from either engaging in one of these threads or simply by reading it.

I, myself, have fallen into this trap and felt I.Q. points being siphoned away. I had to sit down and binge-read several chapters of Dr. David Baker’s “A History of Manned Spaceflight” in order to regain what I had lost.

We see cheer-leading and trash-talking between the zealots of SpaceX and the followers of Boeing or the fans of Orion. There is just one problem… this isn’t fantasy football… this isn’t A RACE! What we are witnessing in human spaceflight today, just as it has always been, is the peaceful advancement of human civilization through spaceflight technology. Yet we still have the myopic dolts who will sit back and believe that their favored company or vehicle can “do it all.” I have some news for them- we don’t need just Dragon, we don’t need just Starliner, we don’t need just Orion and we don’t need whatever in the hell Blue Origin is actually creating… we need them ALL flying- and the sooner, the better.

When you remove yourself from viewing the whole picture and focus on whatever favored vehicle you happen to “like” as if it were a high school crush, you miss out on the history that is being made throughout spaceflight. I’m reminded of the EFT-1 launch. It was an historic, one-off flight of the next generation of human spaceflight hardware. Yet those who didn’t “like” Orion chose to ignore the mission and felt it more productive to sit at their keyboards and post “yawn” comments on social media. How childish is that?

We are, at this moment, just a few steps away from the actual dawn if a completely new era in human spaceflight. Put aside your “fanboy” nonsense and take a good look around. Do not relegate yourself to posting yawns on social media. Rather spend your time soaking in the new technology of spaceflight that is coming in from every direction. It has never been like this before as new and differing vehicles are actually in the final stages of preparation to advance our spaceflight technology. And if you just read that and scoffed, “Huh, Orion is just a bigger Apollo,” you need to go and read up on rope memory- because you don’t know what the flock you’re talkin’ about.

No one is a bigger cynic than I when it comes to aviation and aerospace and no one will be less likely to truly fall for the huckster’s hype than me. But, even I see the progress beyond the doughnut wall. Take off your social media horse blinders, stop taking the bait from the trolls and take a hard look around. There are good times ahead in human spaceflight and they are coming from a lot of different directions.

And if what I’ve written here just pissed you off… yawn.

It’s not a race.

Wanna know what it was really like to grow up during the Apollo era? Well, with the 50th anniversary of Apollos 9, 10, 11 and 12 happening in 2019 you would do well to check out APOLLO PART ONE, second edition, and a part of of the "Growing up with Spaceflight"series by Best Selling spaceflight author ... Me!