Springtime comes and the trees become green, flowers bloom, birds sing, bees buzz and a young boy’s thoughts turn toward… Skylab. Well at least mine always do. At the time of Skylab I was a High School kid and rabid space-buff who had just witnessed the end of Apollo. Thus, the concept of having US astronauts up in space for weeks and even months at a time aboard the Skylab “workshop” was pretty cool. Besides, on my first visit to the Kennedy Space Center three months earlier, I had seen Skylab 1 through an open door in the VAB. Okay, so what if it was just a sliver of a peek at the base of the LUT, but still- I saw it! So, as the launch day for Skylab 1 approached- I was glued to the TV.
Here is how it happened.
What really happened was that as the Mach 1 shock wave passed down the vehicle a reverse flow of air along the skin of the vehicle found its way up what was called the “Auxiliary Tunnel”; a conduit that ran the length of the workshop. Entering through two uncapped stringers at the base of the tunnel, the high pressure air moved up the tunnel and popped the rubber boot at the top. The airflow then got up under the shield structure and propagated a bulge that was just enough to lift the shield more than two inches into the slipstream, which was now at Mach 1.05. By 63.289 seconds into the flight, less than one second after it had started, the damage was done and the shield had torn away and loosened both Solar Array Assembly (“SAS”) wings as it went. The worst of the damage, however, was not done yet.
As the two and a half story tall 22 foot wide hunk of meteoroid shield fell. It struck the Saturn V at least twice. The first impact was on the S-II adapter, where the debris punched a hole in the adapter’s skin. This showed up in post flight data as the pressure in the adapter area was shown to drop at an abnormal rate. However, the potential fatal blow came when the shield’s remains struck the Saturn V for the second time. The impact area included the second plane separation point where the shaped charge was located that pyrotechnically blows the parts of the airframe apart so that the “skirt” ring can be dropped. This “skirt sep.” often seen in videos, normally takes place 30 seconds after first stage separation. It is a critical event and, in manned Apollo flights, if the skirt failed to separate from the S-II, it was an abort situation requiring use of the escape tower. The reason why this “skirt sep.” is so critical is not one of weight, but rather it is thermal in nature.
If the skirt failed to drop away, hot gasses from the five J-2 engines would become trapped in the confines of the skirt and the issue would become critical at center engine cut off. Then, with the four outboard engines still firing in the near vacuum of space and no center engine to provide its flow, a back-flow of heat would occur. The temperatures imposed on the base of the stage along the thrust structure would quickly spike and go into the range where a “thermally induced failure” of the stage could take place as the thrust structure melts and the burning engines push up into the LOX tank. On AS-513, that is what began to take place and the vehicle was within seconds of failure when the shutdown of the four outboard engines finally occurred. Had there been the loss of one engine, and the stage had been forced to burn a bit longer to compensate, they’d have lost the entire vehicle.
So, why didn’t the skirt separate? Here is why. Normally when the separation signal was given, two Exploding Bridge Wire units fired at opposite ends of the Linear Shaped Charge (LSC) loop that passed completely around the vehicle at the separation plane. The detonating LSC would blow apart 199 tension straps holding the two sections together and the two sections would come apart. A back-up charge would fire if an electrical plug between the two sections did not disconnect, indicating that the two sections were less than ¼ inch apart. On AS-513, the meteoroid shield impacted the seam where the LSC for the skirt was located and broke the loop. When the LSC fired, the explosion only propagated 165 degrees around the separation plane- (about 89 tension straps), but that was enough to pull the electrical plug used to indicate separation out more than ¼ inch; so no back-up charge firing was commanded and ground controllers had a green light on the “skirt sep”. Thus, the vehicle continued on its way and no one knew that the skirt was still attached because ground cameras were blocked by cloud cover. It was not until post-flight data was examined that the spike in S-II base heating was discovered. Later it was also calculated that that the huge meteoroid shield had impacted the S-II skirt at between 200 and 1,000 feet per second. It was a close one-they almost lost the whole damned vehicle!
A second anomaly, which is also always misreported, involved the loss of SAS wing #2. While most accounts say that it was lost with the meteoroid shield … in fact IT WAS NOT. Although loosened by the shield’s departure, SAS wings #1 and #2 stayed connected to the work shop all the way up. At S-II shutdown, however, four solid fuel retro rockets mounted at 90 degree intervals around S-II forward adapter skirt fired to aid in separation of the S-II from the upper stage. SAS wing #2 was centered just 16.8 degrees off of one of the retro rockets. The plume from that retro firing hit the already loose SAS wing and blew it “…completely off the bird.” as Pete Conrad observed later. SAS wing #1, however, was held down by debris from the meteoroid shield which was enough to hold it against its associated S-II retro’s plume.
Although Skylab was largely ignored by the media of the day and is somewhat forgotten today, its booster, AS-513, was unique- not only in its appearance- but also for its 592 second wild ride up hill. In 1973 we space buffs weren’t told a lot of details about this Saturn V’s flight- the media didn’t care and NASA wasn’t looking to expose their own faults any more than they absolutely had to. But now you not only know the facts about AS-513, but you can also have the satisfaction of watching, or reading all of the 40th anniversary accounts of the launch of Skylab 1 and when you hear them say, or read them state that the damage took place at “Max-Q” or “…at the point of maximum vibration…” (which is one of my personal favorite moronic statements made in such presentations), you can snicker and say; “They got it wrong again.”
(Note: This text is a segment from a series of books being written by Wes Oleszewski titled “Growing up with Spaceflight” that will be released on Kindle beginning in 2014.)
Posted by Wes Oleszewski at 9:49 AM
And, just in case any of you out there were wondering how I actually do feel about the president's space policy... here's a piece that I published on ANN back on Sept. 20th, 2011... Oh, and by the way, I am all for SpaceX, the SNC Dream Chaser and the Boeing CTS-100, I'm simply not a Newspace zealot.
When President Obama signed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 it placed into effect PL111-267. This law mandated that it will be the policy of the United States to have a Federal space launch system and that NASA must develop a Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle to replace the Space Shuttle- it was called the “Space Launch System” or “SLS.” In that law Congress saw fit to specify lifting tonnage, launch date, exploration destinations, use of existing materials and man power and a very clear date for reporting to the Congress on the beginning of development as well as the progress of the program. Although that action caused the Internet critics of human spaceflight to try and malign the proposed system by dubbing it the “Senate Launch System.” The program specifics were not born out of the desire of the Senate or the House to design a launch system. These specifics were instead born out of a well earned mistrust of NASA’s politically appointed upper management to actually follow through with the intent of the Congress.
Since the beginning of the Constellation program, which was supposed to be the follow-on to the Space Shuttle, the project had wide support. For example, in 2005 the House approved the program by a vote of 385-15 and in 2008 the vote was a 409-15 approval. Thus both Republican and Democrat controlled Congresses approved of the direction in which NASA was headed. Yet in the beginning of 2010, in his Fiscal Year 2011 budget Proposal, President Obama saw fit to simply cancel Constellation and re-direct the funds for NASA’s human spaceflight program to start-up “commercial” operators. There was no goal for NASA that proposal, no schedule, no launch system- it was, in fact, a program to nowhere. This sent a shock wave through the Congress and the aerospace industry.
Prior to his election, candidate Obama had stated that when elected he “…will expedite the development of the Shuttle's successor systems [Constellation] for carrying Americans to space so we can minimize the gap,” [between the Shuttle and Constellation]. But on February 1, 2010 President Obama did exactly the opposite.
To say that the Congress was outraged would be somewhat of an understatement. Aside from a hand full in the Congress, the opposition to the Obama space program was quite heated. In the first hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology following the bombshell of the Obama FY2011 Budget Proposal, the normally reserved senior Representative Ralph Hall started to read his opening remarks and then stammered and stopped and said “…I’m so damned mad I can’t even read this.” There were applause in the chamber. In every hearing thereafter, in both houses of Congress, there was great opposition to the Obama space program to nowhere.
The spin quickly began and the script was made official with talking points saying that there was nothing wrong with the Obama proposal, it was simply that NASA had “Rolled it out poorly.” The Obama appointed NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and his ever grinning side-kick Assistant Administrator Lori Garver spouted this talking point many times as did a select few in the Congress such as Bill Nelson. This loyal Democrat who helped Obama win Florida, where the president’s new space program was about to put thousands of skilled workers out of a job while bankrupting much of the Space Coast. In late March or 2010 Nelson, along with KSC Director Bob Cabanna, did a panel discussion at the University of Central Florida. There Nelson assured the crowd that the president was going to “fix” his FY2011 space proposal on April 15 when he was scheduled to visit KSC. When asked, “What if he doesn’t?” Nelson frankly replied, “Then we (the Congress) will fix it for him.” For the next few weeks Nelson repeatedly stated that he had assurances from the White House, that the president would make major changes in his proposal on April 15th and would make a major announcement on a time-table for NASA and an objective- which would be Mars.
On the appointed day the president arrived at KSC as Bill Nelson stood proudly by waiting for the big announcement. Instead, President Obama visited the SpaceX facility, rubbed elbows with Elon Musk, went to designated speaking area and announced that the Orion spacecraft that he had canceled would now serve as a multi-billion dollar rescue pod to be hung on the International Space Station (ISS). He also sneered at returning to the moon with a been there, done that, quip… and other than some standard Obama circle-speak, that was that. He then boarded Air Force One and jetted down to Miami for a campaign fund raiser.
It is said that in Washington D.C. a friend is someone who stabs you in the chest rather than in the back- the president was apparently not being friendly to Senator Nelson.
From that point on the Congress went about “fixing it” for the White House. They invited NASA and aerospace industry engineers to conceive of a launch system that could take the Orion from the Constellation Program and use it to explore beyond low earth orbit and to back-up the Obama blessed “commercial” operators who were supposed to take over shuttling U.S. astronauts to the ISS. They asked the engineers to make, to the greatest extent practical, use Space Shuttle hardware and facilities as well as those that were in development for Constellation. Additionally, the Congress asked that the new program consider current and future budgetary restraints. By mid-summer the Senate had what they needed to mandate a palatable and realistic direction for NASA. Following the Congressional summer recess of 2010 the Senate’s Authorization Act was accepted by the House and went before the President, who signed it into law. You would think that was it- done- let’s get started, but you must remember that this is the Obama Administration we are talking about.
Members of the Senate did indeed remember that they were dealing with the Obama Administration. This president wants things done his way- period. If he cannot get his way past the Congress, he will make an end run around that body and get his way administratively. A good example of this can be seen in “Cap-N-Trade.” This pet project of the Obama White House could not get past the Congress, so the administration simply went around the Congress and is currently trying to impose it by way of the EPA. In the nine months between the announcement of the FY2011 Budget proposal and the signing of the NASA Authorization Act the Congress developed a well earned mistrust where the President was concerned. Additionally, the members of Congress clearly did not trust the politically appointed “leaders” at NASA to execute the law to any greater degree than they trusted the Obama Administration to follow the law.
For that reason, the members of the Senate who wrote the Authorization Act placed some specifics into the act. These included a 90 day countdown from the day of the Act’s entry into law that required the production of a full report on vehicle specifications must be delivered to the Congress and made public. The Congress did NOT “design the rocket.” That little myth has become a common slur used by those who still want the original Obama program-to-nowhere to return. Another common slur that is used by the fans of the Obamaspace is to say that SLS stands for “Senate Launch System.” When you read a comment posted anywhere in the Internet’s assorted public space “forums,” it should be considered to say nothing more than “I want the Obama plan to nowhere.” It also says that the person posting that message knows nothing about NASA as a whole and cares little about the agency itself.
Of course the opinions of the semi-informed lemmings of the Internet forums are of no matter in this saga- the real struggle is in the political arena. You see, the Congress established NASA and the agency is under their direction. NASA, however, is administered by persons appointed by and serving at the pleasure of the President. That, is the real ball to which we must keep our eye upon.
Likewise, we often hear and read the saying “The Congress writes the checks.” That is not correct- in fact, the Congress only APPROVES the checks. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) actually “writes the checks.” What most people do not realize is that OMB is not required to disburse as much as Congress has approved. They can, and often do, disburse far less and can also delay funds as they wish in order to steer an agency in one direction or another. OMB is under the direction of the President.
For 339 days after the president signed the law that created the SLS, Congress waited for the report that was to be submitted by NASA’s politically appointed “leadership” within 90 days after the President’s signature. Likewise the engineering specifications for the SLS were being held up, not by NASA’s career civil servants, not by engineers, not by contractors- but by… (you’ll never guess)… OMB! Yes, OMB, which- again- is under the direction of the President, had insisted on an “independent” review of the costs in the SLS plan before it invested billions in the system. This sounds quite responsible until you know that OMB has NOT called for any independent review or accounting of those so-called “commercial” operators that Obamaspace desires to become the exclusive providers of transportation of humans to and from space and who will also be getting billions of dollars to fly rockets.
While announcing the SLS, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden as well as Senator Bill Nelson attempted to spin the administration’s delaying tactics and as being the grand plan of the President all along intended to ensure that the new program would be “sustainable” and “affordable.”
Sorry- NO SALE guys.
This was Obama playing basketball and trying to run out the clock until he could get that last three point shot and win the game for himself. Tell the thousands of honest, hardworking spaceflight workers who lost their jobs, homes and self-worth in the nine months that it took to start this program, all about this study. While you are at it tell the businesses, the restaurants, mom and pop stores, the auto repair shops and so on that depended on those same workers all about the studies and other delays. No sale.
Posted by Wes Oleszewski at 1:57 PM
At the request of a space-pal of mine who asked me to do something on the SLS... I already did! Here's a piece from September 11, 2011.
On October 11, 2010 President Obama signed The NASA Authorization Act of 2010. This placed into effect PL111-267 which is the law that mandated that NASA must do specific things by specific dates in order to bring to reality the government-owned launch system that is to be the next step beyond the shuttle. Of course you cannot have any NASA launch system without an acronym that becomes its moniker. In this case the Space Launch System has been dubbed the “SLS.” Although, by law, NASA was supposed to produce a complete plan for the SLS within 90 days of the law’s signing, that release did not come until September 14, 2011- some 339 days after the law was signed.
Birth of the SLS came in the wake of the Obama Administration’s FY2011 Budget Proposal. Within that proposal was placed the proposal for NASA’s budget and with that President Obama canceled the Constellation Program which was the replacement for the Space Shuttle that NASA had already spent a half dozen years and nearly $10 billion working to develop. Additionally, the Obama plan had no defined objective for NASA and no timetable to do anything other than wait for some undefined “Path breaking” and “Game Changing” technologies that were to come from someplace that was equally undefined. It also took all of United States manned spaceflight efforts and simply turned them over to a select few private, start-up companies that were selected for reasons unexplained. That portion of the overall FY2011 Budget Proposal sent shock waves through the aerospace community, through NASA, through NASA contractors and through the Congress where, by the way, Constellation had wide support on both sides of the aisle. This, however, meant nothing to the Obama Administration which had other ideas about NASA. Simply put, they sought to completely gut the Federal human spaceflight program and rebuild NASA as an academic think-tank in one swift stroke. Although that may have worked for Hugo down in Venezuela, it did not go over at all for Barack in the United States.
Within months of the Obama FY2011 budget proposal, the Congress had negated the administration’s “new” direction for NASA and composed a new space act which President Obama, grudgingly, signed into law. In that law the Congress directed NASA to come up with a launch vehicle that could loft 70 tons and later evolve into a vehicle that could loft 130 tons. In an effort to preserve the maximum amount of talent and skill in the spaceflight work force, the law-makers specified that work on the new launch vehicle must begin with a detailed design plan from NASA due 90 days after the law was signed and then press to begin physical construction immediately thereafter. The new vehicle was also to make the maximum use of Shuttle and Constellation hardware and facilities to the greatest extent possible in order to preserve the workforce. Under the influence of the White House, NASA finally delivered the SLS plan 249 days behind that imposed schedule.
Now that NASA’s politically appointed administrators have finally released to the public the details of the new vehicle, we can take a good look at the new launcher. Of course, the spaceflight community has known since 2010 what the SLS configuration will likely be. In fact the basic arrangement has been discussed by NASA engineers for several years. The basic arrangement uses a Space Shuttle external tank as the “core” of the vehicle with two Shuttle derived SRBs attached in a manner similar to that of the Shuttle itself. The difference being that the SRBs each have five segments instead of the four segments used on the Shuttle. Additionally, the core tank has a thrust structure built onto its base and attached there will be either three or five Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME). Atop the tank will be placed a second stage that will be powered by a J-2X engine derived from the Saturn rockets that were used in the Apollo program. That stage will be used for boosting cargo or for boosting the Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) into missions beyond Earth Orbit (BEO). In early test flights that second stage may be substituted with a Delta IV “kicker” upper stage that can be used to boost the Orion. This overall configuration allows for the launching of crews and the safety of a Launch Abort System (LAS), or escape tower, to cover all phases of boost.
In operation the SLS will lift off by first igniting the SSMEs, followed several seconds later by the SRBs in a manner similar to the Shuttle. The primary difference will be that the five SSMEs will develop a combined thrust of ~2 million pounds while the five segment SRBs will each develop ~3.6 million pounds of thrust giving the vehicle a total thrust at liftoff of ~9.2 million pounds. That is 1.5 million pounds more thrust than the Saturn V moon rocket’s maximum liftoff thrust of 7.7 million pounds and just a bit short of the Soviet N1 rocket which reportedly produced ~10 million pounds of thrust. That will, however, make the SLS the most powerful rocket ever launched by the United States.
At staging the two SRBs will drop away as they have done with the Space Shuttle, however, these new five segment SRBs will have burned significantly longer than the Shuttle SRBs and will stage at a far higher altitude. The decision as to if or not the new SRBs will be recovered for reuse has still not been announced by NASA. (Update, 2013: the SRBs will not be recovered)
After SRB jettison, the core stage will continue to fire to near orbital velocity. At the end of its burn it and its formerly reusable SSMEs will burn up on reentry. In case you are wondering why they are throwing away the “reusable” SSME’s, there is a good reason. It was found that the “cost savings of reusability” attached to the SSMEs turned out to be a myth. Each and every time that an SSME was returned from a Shuttle flight, it was removed from the orbiter, disassembled, inspected, reassembled and reinstalled into the orbiter. The overhead cost it doing that turned out to be more than the cost of building a new, disposable version of the same engine. Although this inspection standard was required to maintain the high degree of safety involved in the Space Shuttle program, it more than negated any cost savings in the concept of “reusability.” Thus, the early SLS vehicles will use up the stock of reusable SSMEs (also known as RS-25D engines) and then transition into a semi-new and disposable version of the SSME, (the RS-25E) all of which will discarded in the launch process. In doing so the SLS program can actually operate with less overhead than the Shuttle.
Ground Support Equipment (GSE) for the SLS will make use of hardware left over from the Constellation program that was canceled by the Obama Administration, as well as facilities from the Shuttle program that was ended by the Bush Administration, plus facilities and equipment left over from the Apollo program that was canceled by the Nixon administration with the help of the Johnson administration. Thus, the facilities of Launch Complex 39 plus the VAB and Launch Control Center will all be pressed into service.
One of the Constellation contracts that was able to be completed before the Obama administration decided we did not need to go to the moon again because, as the President so snidely put it “Buzz (Aldrin) has already been there” was a mobile launcher. This launch platform and umbilical tower also known as an LUT is similar to those that rolled to the pad with the Saturn V. The difference, however, is that this LUT is made to be ultra light weight. The Apollo LUTs were constructed of steel “I” beams and built without weight considerations being a major limiting factor. This could be done because the Saturn V itself, when rolled to the pad, un-fueled, on its LUT weighed just over 502,000 pounds. The LUT itself weighed in at 10.6 million pounds. The result was that the crawler was designed to carry over 17 million pounds of load, including its own weight. A fully stacked Constellation heavy launch vehicle would weigh nearly five times more than the un-fueled Saturn V because the twin SRBs are always “loaded” and each weighs more than 1.4 million pounds. Thus, a new lightweight LUT had to be designed and constructed. Intended for the Ares I, that LUT was fully erected when President Obama canceled Constellation. Some in the media referred to it as “That B.W.M.: big waste of money” but the fact is that the LUT is simply a skeleton and has no vehicle specific workings installed- thus it can be adapted to another vehicle. Enter the SLS and what will be a new use for the Constellation LUT.
So, at this moment in time the SLS is ready and able to move ahead. And after having signed into law a launch system that he does not want, President Obama has used every tactic his administration can imagine to delay and block the actual production of the SLS vehicle and the implementation of the law that created it. The President’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has refused to request funds for the vehicle, NASA’s politically appointed administrators have foot-dragged reports and plans required by the Congress while OMB required a protracted “independent” survey of the costs involved. When that survey did not show the inflated costs that the administration wanted to see, the report was tossed into a tar pit of the NASA Administrator’s office. Finally, information was “leaked” to the Wall Street Journal and the Orlando Sentinel stating that the SLS was found to cost about twice as much as planned and the White House had “sticker shock.” For Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and Bill Nelson, that was the last straw. They finally marched into the offices where the delay tactics were originating and applied the needed pressure to get the program made public and get the SLS moving. Exactly what the pressure was and where it was applied is unknown, but the fact is that on September 14, 2011 the United States Congress may have, at least for the moment, rescued NASA’s human spaceflight program from strangulation by the Obama administration.
Posted by Wes Oleszewski at 1:39 PM
I wrote this on August 15th, 2009- back when we still had a human spaceflight program, when we still had an operational Space Shuttle, when we still had a clear goal in space- the return to the moon and before tens of thousands of spaceflight workers had been put out of work by Obama when he canceled Constellation- this nation's return to the moon and put in place a plan to go to nowhere. Read this and see that I saw this guy comin' and I knew what he was going to do...
August 15, 2009
A big ol' plate of NASA to cancel
There are so many aspects and dynamics going on right now in the world of the DC vote grubs that no one knows what will be next, or in the future for anything. Frankly I think we'll be lucky if they don't change the flag to green with a red hammer and sickle and then have Obama come on the TV and declare himself president for life- because most of the media would simply go along with that. In reality, the party in power is rapidly ripping itself to shreds while the other party is trying to figure out where all of that ripping noise is coming from. Into all of that, the Augustine commission is about to slide, in front of the most liberal left wing President in American history, a great big platter of NASA all garnished with "Nothing fits any budget" sprinkled all over it... YUM! Sitting there with his knife in one fist, his fork in another and his red hammer and sickle bib covering his nice suit what will the President do with such morsel?
Take a wild freakin' guess. Go ahead- all of you space coast workers who voted for him after his shoot and scoot campaign stop at KSC and all of you aerospace workers who voted for him because the union said you should, and all of you NASA workers who had senator's Bill and Babs present him to ya'... come on... guess!
Anyone think that after quadrupling the national debt in just six months and taking heat for running the fiscal boat of the United States full speed onto the rocks, the President may just take this opportunity to fulfill one of his most chanted campaign slogans and make a "change?"
The media is already on board- as it was said today in the Orlando Slant-enal it is now up to the President "...to decide whether human space exploration is a worthy priority or an unaffordable luxury." OH BOY!... it is a left-wing liberal's dream come true! How better to take the last thing that the USA actually leads in- spaceflight- and gut it, thus bringing us closer to the liberal's goal of finally making us a third world nation!
And even if President Obama does not decide to gut and castrate NASA- there is the congress. The Health Care socialization movement is so damaging to the Democrats that they could lose more than 80 seats across both houses next year. That means that some bedrock NASA supporters may be out, and those who replace them will not be in the mode of increasing budgets of any agency. It is going to be cut, reduce and repeal in an attempt to pull back from the insane spending of our current one-party government.
So- the entire balance of United States human spaceflight now will be cast into the bee hive of indecision and CYA politics that is Washington DC. What will the President do? Lead? or vote "Present?" Perhaps he'll send us on a grand adventure to discover... EARTH! Ya' know- chase the left's global warming myth at the rate of a few billion bucks a year until he's thrown out of office. What will the headless chickens in the congress do? And even more important- what will the next batch of vote grubs who replace the current herd of wafflers do? Will they vote to allow our great garden of technology wilt on the vine- like they did four dechades ago? We can only watch.
Oddly, some at NASA are actually delighted at the prospect that project Constellation may be cancelled- because they feel it has been raiding money from the agency which will somehow find its way back to whatever they are personally working on. I fear they have a shock coming. In that embarrassingly inaccurate movie "The Right Stuff" there was a line that went "No bucks- no Buck Rogers." Of course the writers of that script, along with getting almost every other fact wrong, also got that quip wrong- the way it really works is No Buck Rogers- No Bucks. Without human spaceflight, NASA will fade into the federal background. Be careful what you wish for people- those who wished for the death of the Ares I, those who wished for the cancellation of Constellation, those who wished for an end to the shuttle program, those who wish for the end of the ISS, those who chanted for "Change" and those who wish for the end of NASA itself- you may all get what you want, and all at the same time.
Posted by Wes Oleszewski at 7:52 PM
Forty years ago today, February 7th, 1973 was THE most exciting day of my 15 years of life to that point. 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 me, encompasses 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 and images of basking in the warmth of the bright sunshine- escaping the cold and gray gloom… and that’s in September, it is even more so in the winter. 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… which just happened to also be in Florida.
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 mock up 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.
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 Sunday 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.
By the time we go 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 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. (For anyone wondering, the service towers at LC19 were demolished on My 30, 1977, the erector's skeletal remains are still there. The "White Room" was removed to the CCAFS Museum and today has been restored as a display.) 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-43 and in my mind were pretty important as well.
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…” the groaned, “I don’t think so.” I shot back, “I’d know ‘em anywhere, 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.
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 were as tall as a football field is wide- it simply boggled my mind. Another unexpected aspect of the inner VAB was 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 was the transfer isle. 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 isle, 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 isle 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! Grabbing my Instamatic camera I snapped a picture. It was one of the only photos that I took that day that actually 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. And 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. 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 and 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.” I frowned and replied, “Like what?” 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 are once again allowed- but only until the SRB segments for the new SLS launch vehicle begin arriving. Thus, on this 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. The cost of just getting through the gate into the visitor’s center is more for one person than I spent in my entire shopping spree on my first visit. Of course gas cost just 32 cents a gallon back then too. The launch vehicle that was being readied to be the Skylab rescue vehicle back in 1973 now rests in the rocket garden, badly in need of a paint job. And the VAB, stands 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.
Oddly, all along the tour, our guide talked about the Space Shuttle in present tense- as if it was still in operation. I showed my little girls where daddy goes to cover launches for the Aero News Network and we talked about the fantastic things that used to happen at KSC. 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 stuff and said “Just Go!” So they did, but not nearly with the zeal of their father four decades earlier. My youngest one took me by the hand 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.
Posted by Wes Oleszewski at 4:35 PM
Part 1; Late Night With The Saturn V
For months we had been told that Apollo 17 would be the end of the Apollo program. Some in the media, such as the ever-pompous David Brinkley, reported the story almost gleefully. Of course Brinkley gracefully avoided the fact that the end of Apollo had already cost nearly 20,000 jobs over the past few years just at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) alone. After all, what are 20,000 families without a pay check and just as many lives and careers shattered when viewed from his position high atop the media elite. Others in the media, such as John Chancellor, were almost embarrassed to speak of the ending of humanity’s greatest effort; the exploration of the moon. For me, a ninth grader and rabid space-buff, the excitement of the coming mission seemed tempered with the first doubt about the future of America’s manned spaceflight program. For all 15 years of my life we Americans had always had a manned space program that was always moving forward, outward into the unknown of space and doing more in giant leaps. Now we were being told that it was all going to stop and pull back.
As far back as Apollo 16 I knew that Apollo 17 would be a night launch of the Saturn V. In fact it would be NASA’s first manned night launch and its last until STS-8 on August 30, 1983; just over a decade later. During the Apollo 16 mission Walter Cronkite interviewed Gene Cernan, who would be the commander of the upcoming Apollo 17 mission. They agreed that the night launching of his Saturn V would really be something to see; that was an understatement. Of course for me, the down-side of a night launch was that I would not get to take my normal day-off from school to watch a launch that took place late in the evening. It was a good lesson in life for a kid- there is always a down-side.
At 8:30 on Thursday morning, November 30th, 1972 the countdown for the launch of Apollo 17 began at KSC for a scheduled liftoff at 9:53 pm the following Wednesday. The evening news reports garnished that fact with the prospect of a labor action spoiling NASA’s plans. Technical writers and illustrators were threatening a strike at KSC. Although their duties alone had nothing to do with the launch itself, there was the possibility that other KSC employees, who did have a direct responsibility in the launch process, may refuse to cross the picket lines. As it turned out, the labor issues were settled long before the matter turned into a picket line and could threaten any part of the launch process.
Taurus-Littrow was the name of the landing site for Apollo 17. Located near the south east rim of the Moon’s Sea of Serenity, the site is a meandering valley between three mountains called “massifs” 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’d 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 120 minute tapes in half and then place the historic tapes into 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 missed 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 the executives at those two networks had a greater sense of history and the news coverage thereof, or that their eyes did not bleed as easily as the suits at NBC. 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 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. 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 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.
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. Of course 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 of work. Dad always had a keen sense of how involved I was in spaceflight- even if it was 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 getting’ 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.
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 they could actually get a CBS station, of course. 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, the jumper would show the sequencer a closed circuit and so would the manual switch. The sequencer would then 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- needed to convince themselves that the bread-board work-around would actually work safely. It 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 what remaind 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 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 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. Reporter 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…” The boost of the S-IC first stage on Apollo 17 was completely nominal and 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.
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 “Lever Sense Arm.” Level sense referred to a set of five probes in the 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 retro-rockets buried in the S-IVB’s adapter ignited while at the same time two posi-grade ullage motors on the stage 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 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 make its Trans-Lunar Injection burn 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 on board 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, 40 years 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.
Posted by Wes Oleszewski at 1:59 PM