NASA Called, They Want Their Cockroaches Back

News hit earlier this month that the infamous “cockroach moon dust” was up for auction? Turns out, NASA is trying to block the sale as they assert that they own all the lunar material brought back from the Apollo missions. What? You didn’t know about cockroach moon dust? Well, it is a long and — frankly — weird story.

It may sound silly now, but there was real concern in 1969 that Apollo 11 might bring back something harmful. So much so that NASA tricked out an RV and kept the astronauts and a volunteer in it for about three weeks after they came home. During that time they were tested and some experiments were done to see if they’d been exposed to anything nasty.

One of those experiments was to feed lunar dust to cockroaches (by the way, the table of contents has a mistake in it — check out page 8). Seriously. But that isn’t even the really weird part. A scientist who worked on the project by the name of Marion Brooks decided she wanted a memento, so she extracted the lunar dust from the dead cockroaches and saved it in a vial. At least we learned a new word: chyme.

RR Auction — the RR stands for Remarkable Rarities — was starting the bidding for some dead cockroaches and a vial of chyme at about 12 grand but it was sure to go higher than that, perhaps up to $400,000 USD. That was before they got a cease and desist from NASA.

It appears the collection has been sold at least once before. NASA has cracked down on anyone selling lunar material as even those given to people are considered on loan from the agency. However, many of the rocks given to different countries and state governments are now unaccounted for.

Back in 2002, interns Thad Roberts and Tiffany Fowler worked in the building where NASA stores most of the moon rocks it has. They took a 600-pound safe containing about 100 grams of moon samples and some other materials. With some help, Roberts tried to fence them to an amateur rock collector who helped the FBI set up a sting. Roberts got over 8 years in federal prison for his efforts, just a little more than an accomplice, Gordon McWhorter, who claimed to have been duped by Roberts. There have been a few other cases of theft, most of which remain unsolved.

This is one of those tricky things. From NASA’s point of view, they own all the moon rocks (with a few exceptions, mostly of material that didn’t come from Apollo). If you steal them, they want them back and if you are given them on loan they don’t appreciate you giving them away, selling them, or losing them. On the other hand, outside of outright theft like the Roberts case, it is hard to imagine that you want to control old roach chyme.

There’s two things we do wonder. First, who saves roach chyme even if it did start as lunar dust? Second, if three little pebbles brought back by the Soviet Luna 16 probe sold for over $850,000 and this dust might have gone for $400,000, why aren’t more of these “New Space” startups scrambling to bring some fresh samples back? Seems like it might pay for itself.

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Hackaday Links: April 17, 2022

There are plenty of stories floating around about the war in Ukraine, and it can be difficult to sort out which ones are fact-based, and which are fabrications. Stories about the technology of the war seem to be a little easier to judge, and so stories about an inside look at a purported Russian drone reveal a lot of interesting technical details. The fixed-wing UAV, reported to be a Russian-made “Orlan,” looks quite the worse for wear as it’s given a good teardown by someone wearing Ukraine military fatigues. In fact, it looks downright homemade, with a fuel tank made from what looks like an old water bottle, liberal use of duct tape to hold things together, and plenty of hot glue sprinkled around — field-expedient repairs, perhaps? The big find, though, is that the surveillance drone carried a rather commonplace — and cheap — Canon EOS Rebel camera. What’s more, the camera is nestled into a 3D printed cradle, strapped in with some hook-and-loop tape, and its controls are staked in place with globs of glue. It’s an interesting collection of hardware for a vehicle said to cost the Russian military something like $100,000 to field. The video below shows a teardown of a different Orlan with similar results, plus a lot of dunking on the Russians by a cheery bunch of Ukrainians.

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Alone, But Not Lonely: Remembering Astronaut Michael Collins

With many of the achievements of the Space Race now more than half a century behind us, it’s no wonder that we’re steadily losing the men who rode the rockets of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs into space. They were all very much in their primes at the time, but no matter what you’ve accomplished in life, even if it includes a trip to the Moon, time eventually catches up to you.

Still, it was quite a shock to learn today that astronaut Michael Collins passed away today at the age of 90. Collins made his trip to the Moon aboard Apollo 11, the mission which would see his crewmates Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin descend to the surface in the Lunar Module Eagle and take the historic first steps on its surface in July of 1969.

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LEGO Lunar Lander Animatronic Movie Released

Retired scientist [Mark Howe] spent the last couple months making an animatronic movie featuring his LEGO lunar lander in a video recreation of the Apollo 11 moon landing (also embedded below). [Mark] is not only the producer, but serves as the technical director, set designer, and cameraman as well. He designed and 3D-printed a custom special effects stage for the scene. It gives motion to the LEM using stepper motors, timing belts, pulleys, and a linear guide rod, all hidden inside a discrete upstage tower. He simulates the Lunar regolith using grout, spray adhesive, and a smattering of small rocks.

[Mark] implements the special effects sequencer in an Arduino Nano, and provides sound effects using an Adafruit audio sound board which he loaded up with sound files from the real Apollo 11 landing. Floor strip lighting is provided by an array of Neopixels, and a back-lit Earth is lowered from the fly space for one cut. He made a custom PCB motherboard to hold the Arduino, sound card and motor drivers.

The resulting production is quite impressive.┬áThis isn’t [Mark]’s first attempt to relieve the double boredom of both retirement and coronavirus isolation — back in December he produced a similar animatronic movie recreating a Saturn V launch. Thanks to [jhookie55] for the tip.

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Apollo Missions Get Upgraded Video

July 20th marked the anniversary of the first human setting foot on the moon. If you were alive back then, you probably remember being glued to the TV watching the high-tech images of Armstrong taking that first step. But if you go back and watch the video today, it doesn’t look the way you remember it. We’ve been spoiled by high-density video with incredible frame rates. [Dutchsteammachine] has taken a great deal of old NASA footage and used their tools to update them to higher frame rates that look a lot better, as you can see below.

The original film from the moon landing ran between 12 frames per second and as low as 1 frame per second. The new video is interpolated to 24 frames per second. Some of the later Apollo mission film is jacked up to 60 frames per second. The results are great.

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Apollo 11 Trig Was Brief

In this day and age where a megabyte of memory isn’t a big deal, it is hard to recall when you had to conserve every byte of memory. If you are a student of such things, you might enjoy an annotated view of the Apollo 11 DSKY sine and cosine routines. Want to guess how many lines of code that takes? Try 35 for both.

Figuring out how it works takes a little knowledge of how the DSKY works and the number formats involved. Luckily, the site has a feature where you can click on the instructions and see comments and questions from other reviewers.

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Ask Hackaday: What Are Your Apollo Memories?

This month will mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission that brought to a successful conclusion the challenge laid down by President Kennedy only eight years earlier. Three men went to the Moon, two walked on it, and they all came back safely, in a dramatic eight-day display of engineering and scientific prowess that was televised live to the world.

If you’ve made more than 50 trips around the sun, chances are good that you have some kind of memories of the first Moon landing. An anniversary like this is a good time to take stock of those memories, especially for something like Apollo, which very likely struck a chord in many of those that witnessed it and launched them on careers in science and engineering. We suspect that a fair number of Hackaday readers are in that group, and so we want to ask you: What are your memories of Apollo?

A Real American Hero

My memory of the Moon landing is admittedly vague. I had just turned five the month before, hadn’t even started kindergarten yet, but I had already caught the space bug in a big way. I lived and breathed the space program, and I knew everything about the Mercury missions that were over by the time I was born, and the Gemini missions that had just wrapped up. Apollo was incredibly exciting to me, and I was pumped to witness the landing in the way that only a five-year-old can be.
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