In families with three kids, the middle child always seems to get the short end of the stick. The first child gets all the attention for reaching every milestone first, and the third child will forever be the baby of the family, and the middle child gets lost in-between. Something similar happened with the U.S. manned space program in the 60s. The Mercury program got massive attention when America finally got their efforts safely off the ground, and Apollo naturally seized all the attention by making good on President Kennedy’s promise to land a man on the moon.
In between Mercury and Apollo was NASA’s middle child, Project Gemini. Underappreciated at the time and even still today, Gemini was the necessary link between learning to get into orbit and figuring out how to fly to the Moon. Gemini was the program that taught NASA how to work in space, and where vital questions would be answered before the big dance of Apollo.
Chief among these questions were tackling the problems surrounding rendezvous between spacecraft. There were those who thought that flying two spacecraft whizzing around the Earth at 18,000 miles per hour wouldn’t work, and Gemini sought to prove them wrong. To achieve this, Gemini needed something no other spacecraft before had been equipped with: a space radar.
Continue reading “Radar in Space: The Gemini Rendezvous Radar”
The recent influx of home assistants proves that everything old is new again. If we told you about a life-sized robot that was self-charging, had a map of your home for navigation, and responded to voice commands, you’d assume we were going to point you to a Kickstarter or a new product release. Instead, we will point you to this post about a robot marketed in 1985.
You have to put all this in context. In 1985 the personal computer was practically a solution in search of a problem. Back then it was wildly popular to predict that every home would one day have a computer. But we weren’t quite sure what they were going to be doing with it. Home finance, games, and storing recipes were all popular guesses. A few far-sighted folks realized that music, photos, and even video might one day be major selling points. Everyone wanted a piece of this market but no one really understood what the market would look like.
Continue reading “The Robots Were Coming! The Robots Were Coming!”
Before the Saturn V rocket carried men to the moon, a number of smaller rockets carried men on suborbital and orbital flights around the Earth. These rockets weren’t purpose-built for this task, though. In fact, the first rockets that carried people into outer space were repurposed ballistic missiles, originally designed to carry weapons.
While it might seem like an arduous task to make a ballistic missile safe enough to carry a human, the path from a weapons delivery system to passenger vehicle was remarkably quick. Although there was enough safety engineering and redundancy to disqualify the space program as a hack, it certainly was a clever repurposing of the available technology. Read on for the full story.
Continue reading “Hitching a Ride on a Missile”
Lunar dune buggy rides, piloting the most powerful machine made by humankind, stuck thrusters, landing, eating, sleeping, and working on the moon. It does not get any more exciting than the Apollo program! I was recently given the opportunity to sit in on the MIT course, Engineering Apollo: the Moon Project as a Complex System where I met David Scott who landed on the moon as commander of Apollo 15. I not only sat in on a long Q and A session I also was able to spend time with David after class. It is not every day you that you meet someone who has landed on the moon, below are my notes from this experience.
Continue reading “Hanging Out With Someone Who Walked On The Moon”