Riding Shotgun In The Apollo 12 Lunar Lander

Last week we had a walk through of the Lunar Module’s source code with Don Eyles, who wrote the landing programs. Now you can take a rather thrilling ride to see Don’s code in action.

Below is an annotated video of the Apollo 12 landing, in real-time. It’s worth setting aside a quarter-hour to check it out. In an age where everyone is carrying around an HD (or way better) camera in their pocket, following along with radio broadcasts, still images, and small slivers of video might not sound that awesome. But it is!

p63-apollo-12-codeThe video takes us from Powered Descent Initiation through touchdown on the Moon with Pete Conrad and Alan Bean. As the audio plays out the video has annotations which explain what is going on and that translate the jargon used by the team. With the recently celebrated push to publish the source code you can even follow along as the video displays which program is running at that time. Just search for the program code and you’ll find it, like this screenshot of the P63 routine. The code comments are more than enough to get the gist of it all.

If you enjoy this, the description of the YouTube video below includes links to similar videos for Apollo 11, 14, 15, 16, and 17.

[Thanks to Paul Becker for sending along this video]

32C3: 3D Printing on the Moon

How do you resist this talk title? You can’t! [Karsten Becker]’s talk about what kinds of 3D printers you’d use on the moon is a must-see.

[Part-Time Scientists] was a group of 35 people working on a mission to the moon. Then they won the qualifying round in the Google Lunar XPRIZE, got a bunch of money, and partnered with some heavy corporate sponsors, among which is Audi. Now they’ve added eleven full-time employees and updated the name to [PT Scientists]. (They’re taking applications if you’re interested in helping out!)

3d_printing_on_moon-shot0026A really neat part of their planned mission is to land near the Apollo 17 landing site, which will let them check up on the old lunar rover that NASA left up there last time. The science here is that, 45 years on, they hope to learn how all of the various materials that make up the rover have held up over time.

But the main attraction of their mission is experimental 3D printing using in-situ materials. As [Karsten] says, “3D printing is hard…but we want to do it on the moon anyway.”

3d_printing_on_moon-shot0027One idea is to essentially microwave the lunar regolith (and melt it) . This should work because there’s a decent iron component in the regolith, so if they can heat it up it should fuse. The catch with microwaving is directivity — it’s hard to make fine details. On the plus side, it should be easy to make structures similar to paved roads out of melted regolith. Microwave parts are robust and should hold up to launch, and microwaving is relatively energy efficient, so that’s what they’re going to go for.

But there are other alternatives. The European Space Agency is planning to bring some epoxy-like binder along, and glue regolith together in layers like a terrestrial cement printer. The problem is, of course, schlepping all of the binder to the moon in the first place.

And then there are lasers. [Karsten] talked lasers down a little bit, because they’re not very energy efficient and the optics are fidgety — not something you’d like to be supporting remotely from earth.

The final option that [Karsten] mentioned was the possibility of using locally-generated thermite to fuse regolith. This has been tested out on earth, and should work. [Karsten] thought it was an interesting option, but balls of hot thermite are potentially tough on rovers, and the cost of mistakes are so high that they’re going to put that off for a future mission.

In the end, the presentation ran only thirty minutes long, so there’s a great Q&A session after that. Don’t go home once you hear the audience clapping!

Send an Arduino to the moon for $300


We’ve seen Kickstarter campaigns to put a single satellite into space and one to launch your own personalized postage-stamp sized satellite into low Earth orbit. This time, though, you can break the bonds of Earth and send your own Arduino compatible satellite on a collision course with the moon. The project is called Pocket Spacecraft, and exactly as its name implies, it allows you to send a small, flat, 8 cm diameter spacecraft to the surface of the moon.

The pocket spacecraft are made of metallized kapton, a very thin membrane stretched inside a loop of wire. On board this paper-thin spacecraft are a pair of solar cells and a bare die MSP430 microcontroller connected to a suite of sensors. Before launch, you can program your tiny space probe with commands to relay data back to Earth, either useful scientific data or a simple tweet.

These pocket spacecraft will be launched from a cubesat – a highly successful line of amateur spacecraft that are usually launched by hitching a ride with larger commercial satellites. To get from low Earth orbit to the moon is much harder than just hitchhiking, so the cubesat mothership comes equipped with either a solar sail or its own engine that electrolysed water into hydrogen and oxygen, the perfect rocket fuel.

Pocket Spacecraft is an amazingly impressive feat; there are literally dozens of amateur-built spacecraft orbiting above our heads right now, but so far none have ventured more than a few hundred miles away from their home planet. Getting to the moon with an amateur spacecraft is an amazing accomplishment, and definitely worthy of the $300 price tag.

Building an artificial moon for Burning Man


If you were lucky enough to score passes to this year’s Burning Man, be sure to keep a look out for [Laurence Symonds] and crew, who are putting together an ambitious fixture for the event. In reality, we’re guessing you won’t have to look far to find their giant moon replica floating overhead – in fact it will probably be pretty hard to miss.

They are calling the sculpture “Lune and Tide”, which of an 8 meter wide internally lit moon which hovers over a spinning platform that’s just as big across. The inflatable sphere is made up of giant ripstop nylon panels which are home to 36,000-odd sewn-in LEDs. The LEDs illuminate the sphere to reflect the natural color of the moon, though with a simple command, [Laurence] and Co. can alter the lighting to their heart’s content.

If Hack a Day’s [Jesse Congdon] makes his way out to the festival again this year, we’ll be sure he gets some footage of Lune and Tide in action. For now, you’ll have to satisfy your curiosity by checking out the project’s build log.

Taking a moon light from grayscale to full color

[Terry Miller] picked up a moon light on the cheap. All it does is light up some white LEDs to simulate moon phases after sensing nightfall via an LDR. He figured he could do better and set out to replace the electronics with a more colorful offering.

He chose to use an ATmega328 because he already had it on hand. The chip drives a series of RGB LEDs in a multiplex arrangement. To protect the I/O pins (and drive the LEDs at their target current) he is using a set of high and low side MOSFETs. Rather than rely on the light sensor to switch on the lamp he decided to add an IR receiver. In the video after the break you can see that this lets him cycle through colors and effects, in addition to switching the lamp on and off with a remote control.

With the enclosure put back together he is still able to reprogram the chip thanks to a serial header included in the design. The device is battery operated and the life estimates are included in his write-up.

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The interstellar clock

[Alexander Avtanski] has put together a nice clock to meet all your interstellar travel needs. Besides being another PIC based timer, this is a neat little project because it incorporates pretty much every feature you could think of when building a clock for our solar sytem.  For example, it has 16 independent timers and alarms, it can  simultaneously give the time for multiple planets, as well as keep track of other stellar events like the eye of Jupiter or the phases of the moon. To get this project off the ground [Alex] reverse engineered an old dial up modem to serve as an enclosure and power supply and then added in a rechargeable battery so that his  his interstellar clock wasn’t tied to a wall.

[via make]

Amazing chassis hacks

[Crabfu] pulled off some great chassis work on top of a remote control drivetrain. His most recent build turns the tiny traveler into a lunar rover complete with passenger and a communications array. For this he’s sourced the parts from a toy but boosted the realism with hand-painted details that leave us in awe. His previous project sourced the body from a model truck kit. Once again, it’s the paint work that makes us envious of his skills.

Both projects conceal a Losi 1/24 scale micro rock crawler that provides for some incredible locomotion. See video of both builds after the break.

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