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!