Category Archives: Spaceflight
“We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”
– William Anders, Apollo 8 Commander
On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968, the Apollo 8 CSM entered orbit around the Moon and, after completing 4 full orbits, provided the three astronauts on board with an amazing sight: a blue Earth rising* beyond the Moon’s cratered limb. Commander Frank Borman spotted the scene first and, after taking a 70mm black-and-white photograph, was able to rotate the Command Module so Earth remained in view through the small windows while CM pilot Jim Lovell captured this famous image on color film. It was the first time any humans saw the Earth from the vicinity of the Moon…and it was also the first Christmas that astronauts spent in space.
“The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth,” Jim Lovell said.
On Feb. 7, 1984, astronaut Bruce McCandless II became the first “human satellite” when he performed the first test flight of NASA’s Manned Maneuvering Unit during STS-41B. Propelled by 24 small nitrogen-powered thrusters, the chair-like MMU allowed McCandless (who helped engineer the Unit at Lockheed Martin) to travel freely through space without any tethers or cords connecting him to a spacecraft. In the iconic image above, an edit of a photo captured by STS-41B pilot Hoot Gibson, McCandless is seen floating against the blackness of space. Here he was just a few feet away from the bay of the space shuttle Challenger, but he would eventually reach a distance of 320 feet (98 meters) from the orbiter!
A former Navy captain and previously Capcom for the Apollo 11 lunar mission, McCandless was 46 years old when he performed his historic tether-free EVA in 1984. This past Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, Bruce McCandless II passed away at the age of 80.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Bruce’s family,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “He will always be known for his iconic photo flying the MMU.”
Well this is interesting: an article on CNET by Eric Mack, based on a Nov. 27 report from the Russian news agency TASS, discusses findings by Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov that “living bacteria from outer space” were found within samples collected during spacewalks several years ago (Shkaplerov was a member of Expedition 42 in November 2014.)
The samples were swabbed from outside surfaces of the International Space Station, including areas where engine fuel waste is expelled, and brought back to Earth for study. In addition to some terrestrial bacteria that were accidentally brought to the ISS via contaminated computer tablets, there were also living organisms found that “were absent during the launch of the ISS module.”
“That is, they have come from outer space and settled along the external surface,” Shkaplerov stated. “They are being studied so far and it seems that they pose no danger.”
Today is the the 52nd anniversary of America’s first spacewalk, performed by NASA astronaut Edward H. White II on the afternoon of June 3, 1965 during the four-day Gemini IV mission. In NASA terminology spacewalks are also referred to as extravehicular activities, or EVAs—basically anything done outside the protection of a spacecraft. The video above shows footage of the historic Gemini IV EVA with narration by White himself. (Sound begins about 30 seconds in.)
The photo below was captured on medium-format film by fellow astronaut Jim McDivitt from inside the Gemini IV craft. It shows White free-floating in orbit during his EVA, holding the Hand-held Maneuvering Unit (or “zip gun”) that used canisters of propellant to move the user around. (You can see scans of the original photos from the mission here on ASU’s “March to the Moon” gallery.)
White was tragically killed just two years later on Jan. 27, 1967 in the fire that claimed his life and those of fellow Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee. But his legacy lives on each and every time an American astronaut “suits up” and opens a hatch to venture out into an alien environment, whether it’s in Earth orbit, on the Moon, on Mars…or somewhere we haven’t even thought of visiting yet!
We’ve all seen it in some form or another in science fiction movies: a character suddenly finds themself exposed, sans protective suit, to the vacuum of space. Maybe it was a crack in their suit or helmet, or they were caught in an open airlock, or they were sucked out of a hole in a spacecraft hull—possibly by their own fault or through the accidental or malicious actions of another. (If there’s one thing science fiction has taught us is that space is full of enemies.) From that point on, what happens to them seems to be up to the imagination of the director. Does their head swell and explode? Do they instantly freeze solid? Does the unfiltered UV light from the Sun fry them alive? Or do they just run out of oxygen and black out?