Put yourself in [This Old Tony]’s shoes: you get an email out of the blue asking you to take part in making a replica of a 50-year-old spacecraft. Would you believe it? He didn’t, at least not at first, but in the end it proved to be true enough that he made these two assemblies for Project Egress in his own unique style.
If you haven’t heard of Project Egress, check out our coverage of the initial announcement. The idea is to build a replica of the crew hatch from the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia, as part of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing next week. [Adam Savage] at Tested has enlisted 44 hackers and makers to help, spreading the work out among the group and letting everyone work in whatever materials and with whatever methods they feel like. [Old Tony], perhaps unsurprisingly, chose mainly Apollo-era dehydrated space-grade aluminum, machined using a combination of manual and CNC machining. We really like the finish he chose – a combination of sandblasting and manual distressing to give it a mission-worn look.
As for exactly what the parts themselves are, the best [Old Tony] could come up with to call them is a bracket and a bell crank. From the original hatch drawings, it looks like there were two bell cranks, which will transmit force around the hatch to the latches that [Fran Blanche], [Joel] and [Bob], and no doubt others have contributed to the build.
We’re eagerly anticipating the final assembly, to be executed by [Adam] live at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on July 18. Project Egress is as much a celebration of the maker movement as it is a commemoration of Apollo, and we’re pleased that people will get a chance to see the fruits of the labors of all these hackers in so public a forum.
Throughout the history of America’s human spaceflight program, there’s been an alternating pattern in regards to abort systems. From Alan Shepard’s first flight in 1961 on, every Mercury capsule was equipped with a Launch Escape System (LES) tower that could pull the spacecraft away from a malfunctioning rocket. But by the first operational flight of the Gemini program in 1965, the LES tower had been deleted in favor of ejection seats. Just three years later, the LES tower returned for the first manned flight of the Apollo program.
With the Space Shuttle, things got more complicated. There was no safe way to separate the Orbiter from the rest of the stack, so when Columbia made its first test flight in 1981, NASA returned again to ejection seats, this time pulled from an SR-71 Blackbird. But once flight tests were complete, the ejector seats were removed; leaving Columbia and all subsequent Orbiters without any form of LES. At the time, NASA believed the Space Shuttle was so reliable that there was no need for an emergency escape system.
In the post-Shuttle era, NASA has made it clear that maintaining abort capability from liftoff to orbital insertion is a critical requirement. Their own Orion spacecraft has this ability, and they demand the same from commercial partners such as SpaceX and Boeing. But while all three vehicles are absolutely bristling with high-tech wizardry, their abort systems are not far removed from what we were using in the 1960’s.
Let’s take a look at the Launch Escape Systems for America’s next three capsules, and see where historical experience helped guide the design of these state-of-the-art spacecraft.
You often hear people — especially non-hacker types — complain that money spent on space travel would be better off spent here on Earth. Of course that ignores one big factor, that space programs have resulted in a host of spin off technologies, many of which you use every day. JPL has an infographic that covers twenty things we wouldn’t have without space travel, and while it could be said that some of these things might have been invented anyway it would doubtless have taken much longer without the necessity and the income from space programs. If you want more detail, Tech Briefs has an interesting interview on the subject of what tech spun off the Apollo program.
Some of the inventions are pretty obvious, and others are more refinements of things that already existed. We all knew NASA pioneered freeze drying for food, for instance. However, some of them are pretty surprising. For example, according to the infographic, NASA asking Black and Decker to develop a moon sample collector led to the Dust Buster.
Hackaday Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams are back after last week’s holiday break to track down all of the hacks you missed. There are some doozies; a selfie-drone controlled by your body position, a Theremin that sings better than you can, how about a BGA hand-soldering project whose creator can’t even believe he pulled it off. Kristina wrote a spectacular article on the life and career of Mary Sherman Morgan, and Tom tears down a payment terminal he picked up in an abandoned Toys R Us, plus much more!
Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!
Imagine you’ve got an Apollo Guidance Computer, the machine that took men to the Moon 50 years ago. You’ve spent ages restoring it, and now it’s the only working AGC on the planet. It’s not as though you’re going to fly to the Moon with it, so what do you do with it? Easy – turn it into a perfectly awful Bitcoin mining rig.
The AGC that [Ken Shirriff] and others have been restoring barely resembles a modern computer. The AGC could only do about 40,000 operations per second, but raw speed was far less important than overall reliability and the abundant IO needed to run a crewed spacecraft. It was a spectacular success on the Apollo missions, but [Ken] wanted to know if turning it into a Bitcoin mining rig was possible.
[Ken] gives a great overview of how Bitcoin mining works, with one of the best explanations of the hashing algorithm we’ve seen. Getting that to run on the AGC was no mean feat, especially with limits imposed by the memory addressing scheme and the lack of machine instructions for manipulating words. He eventually got it working, though, clocking in at a screaming 10.3 seconds per Bitcoin hash. [Ken] estimates that the first coin will be successfully mined in a mere 400 zettaseconds, which is about a billion times older than the universe. With about 13 quadrillion years to the first ka-ching, you have plenty of time to watch a block mined in the video below; alas, it was an old block, so no coins were awarded to compensate the team for their efforts.
For those not familiar with Project Egress, it’s a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing that aims to recreate an important artifact from the mission: the Unified Crew Hatch, or UCH, from the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia. Forty-four makers from various disciplines have been tasked with making the various pieces of the UCH, and each one is free to use whatever materials and methods he or she wants. [Paul] chose what will probably turn out to be the consensus material – aluminum – and decided to play to his strengths by casting the part.
The handle itself is a chunky affair, as one would expect from something designed to be handled by an astronaut. [Paul] started with a 3D-printed version of the handle and created a two-piece mold in casting sand. The original part was probably machined, which meant that it didn’t have the draft angle that cast parts are supposed to have to make removal from the molding medium easier. [Paul] lucked out and got a perfect mold, and a perfect pour from silicon aluminum to boot. All the casting needed was a little cleanup and some holes to bolt it to the door.
[Paul]’s handle will get shipped to the Smithsonian along with the other parts, like [Fran Blanche]’s latch assembly, so that [Adam] can assemble the hatch live during the 50th-anniversary celebration later this month. Stay tuned for more Project Egress coverage as the parts keep rolling in.
[Fran Blanche] is on the team of elite hackers that has been offered a chance to contribute to [Adam Savage]’s Project Egress, a celebration of the engineering that got humanity to the Moon 50 years ago this month. By the luck of the draw, she landed a great assignment: building a replica of one of the fifteen latches that kept the Apollo Command Module hatch dogged down against the vacuum of space, and she’s doing a great job documenting her build with some interesting videos.
The first video below is mostly her talking through her design process, materials choices, and ideas about fabricating the somewhat intricate pieces of the latch. All 44 makers involved in the project get to choose what materials and methods they’ll use to make their parts, and [Fran] decided to use wood. Her first inclination was to use oak and brass, a nice combination with an 80s vibe, but in the second video, which covers more of the initial fabrication, she explains her switch to walnut. Unfortunately, the only CNC option she has is a Shaper Origin, which presents some difficulties; the handheld tool requires some complicated fixturing to safely machine the small parts needed, and its inability to read STL files means that [Fran] is stuck with a complicated software toolchain to drive the tool.
There are more videos to come as [Fran] gets further into the build, and we’re looking forward to seeing how her part and the rest of the makers’ builds come out.