Category Archives: Space Flight

29 May 1947, 0130 GMT

Hermes II (NASA)

29 May 1947: At 1930 hours, Mountain Daylight Time, a Hermes II two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket was launched from Launch Complex 33 at southern end of the White Sands Proving Grounds, east of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

White Sands Proving Grounds Gate sign

Earlier in the day, a launch attempt failed when the first stage engine failed to produce thrust. Repairs were made and the second attempt succeeded—sort of. . .

The plan was for the rocket to arc toward the north, heading for the far end of the proving grounds. Instead, the Hermes II arced to the SOUTH.

The Range Safety Officer was prevented from sending a DESTRUCT signal when a program scientist physically restrained him. The rocket peaked at 35 nautical miles (65 kilometers), passed over Fort Bliss and El Paso, and after about five minutes of flight, hit the ground about one-half mile from the Buena Vista Airport in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

People standing on the rim of the crater on the night of 29 May 1947. (El Paso Times)

At impact, the rocket dug a crater 50 feet (15.2 meters) across and 24 feet (7.3 meters) deep. The explosion shook buildings in El Paso and 25 miles (40 kilometers) away in Fabens, Texas. The rocket barely missed a powder magazine where mining companies were storing dynamite and other explosives.

Fortunately, there were no injuries, and property damage was minor.

Hermes II crater near Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The crater is approximately  50 feet across and 24 feet deep, (White Eagle Aerospace)

Hermes II was the world’s first multi-stage rocket. Developed from the German V-2 rocket (Vergeltungswaffen 2), it was intended to serve as a test bed for ramjet development. The upper stage had a broad wing for flight tests of a split-wing two-dimensional ducted-airfoil ramjet. (For this launch the ramjet was not operational.) The span of the fins were increased to improve stability.

The Hermes II was 51.50 feet (15.70 meters) tall. The tail fins had a span of 17.75 feet (5.41 meters), and the second stage wing span was 15.26 feet (4.65 meters). The rocket had a gross weight of 31,750 Pounds (14,400 kilograms). The liquid oxygen/alcohol-fueled engine produced 60,000 pounds of thrust (267 kilonewtons).

In 1948, the Hermes II was redesignated RTV-G-3 by the U.S. Army.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 May 1962, 12:45:16 UTC, T plus 00:00:00.57

MA-7 liftoff, 12:45:16 UTC, 24 May 1962. (NASA)

24 May 1962: Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Scott Carpenter, United States Navy, NASA Astronaut, was launched aboard Mercury-Atlas 7 at 12:45:16.57 UTC (7:45:16 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time) from Launch Complex 14 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was the fourth manned space flight of the American space program. Carpenter was the sixth human to fly in space.

Scott Carpenter reported,

     When the ignition signal was given, everything became quiet. I had expected to feel the launch vehicle shake, some machinery start, the vernier engines light off, or to hear the lox valve make some noise, but I did not. Nothing happened until main engine ignition; then I began to feel vibration. There was a little bit of shaking. Lift off was unmistakable.

RESULTS OF THE SECOND U.S. MANNED ORBITAL SPACE FLIGHT MAY 24, 1962, NASA SP-6. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Manned Spacecraft Center, Project Mercury. Pilot’s Flight Report, Page 69, Column 2

According to the NASA post-flight mission report, “The performance of the launch vehicle was exceptionally good. . . .”

MA-7, Aurora 7, lifts of from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 7:45:16 a.m., EST, 24 May 1962. (NASA)

During the launch, Carpenter experienced a maximum of 7.8 gs acceleration. 5 minutes, 12.2 seconds after liftoff, Aurora 7 separated from the Atlas booster and entered Earth orbit, having reached a speed of 17,534 miles per hour (28,219 kilometers per hour). The orbit was elliptical, with a minimum altitude of 86.87 nautical miles (160.88 kilometers) and a maximum of 144.96 nautical miles (268.47 kilometers). Carpenter completed an orbit every 88 minutes, 32 seconds.

Carpenter, Malcolm Scott, Lieutenant Commander, United States Navy, NASA Astronaut, 22 October 1964. (National Aeronautics and Space Administration S64-34357)

During the orbital phase of the mission, a pitch horizon scanner—part of the automatic flight control system—malfunctioned, causing the capsule’s attitude jets to fire to correct perceived errors in the ship’s attitude. This caused an excessive consumption of the hydrogen peroxide fuel for the reaction controls.

At T+04:30:00 (four hours, thirty minutes after launch) the Mercury capsule’s retrorockets fired to slow the capsule and begin the reentry phase of the flight. Each of the retro rockets fired at 5 second intervals and burned for 10 seconds. The capsule decelerated 550 feet per second (168 meters per second) and fell out of orbit. The PHS failed again, yawing Aurora 7 25° off track, which prevented the full thrust of the retrorockets from being directed along the correct path. Scott Carpenter had to fire the rockets manually, resulting in a 3 second delay, and this, along with the misalignment of the capsule, caused Aurora 7 to overshoot the planned splashdown point in the Atlantic ocean by approximately 250 nautical miles (288 statute miles/463 kilometers). (N. 19° 27′, W. 63° 59′)

At 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) Aurora 7‘s main parachute opened. The spacecraft “splashed down” at 17:41:21 UTC. The total duration of the flight was 4 hours, 55 minutes, 57 seconds.

Scott Carpenter was hoisted aboard a Sikorsky HSS-2 Sea King helicopter from USS Intrepid (CVS-11). Aurora 7 was recovered by the Allan M. Sumner-class destroyer, USS John R. Pierce (DD-753), 6 hours after its landing.

A Sikorsky HSS-2 Sea King, Bu. No. 148964, hoists Scott Carpenter from Aurora 7. (U.S. Navy)

The flight of Scott Carpenter and Aurora 7 was a success, but Carpenter was subject to criticism for his performance during the mission.

In 1963, Carpenter was injured in a motorcycle accident and lost some mobility in his left arm. Despite two surgical procedures, it was determined that he was ineligible for spaceflight. He resigned from NASA in 1967 and retired from the U.S Navy in 1969 with the rank of Commander.

Carpenter enters Aurora 7. (NASA)

Mercury 18, named Aurora 7 by Carpenter, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. Designed to carry one pilot, the Mercury space craft could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by thrusters. The space capsule was truncated cone with sides angled 20° from the longitudinal axis. It was 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters) long and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.50 inches (1.892 meters). The total height of the spacecraft, from the tip of the aero spike to the booster adapter, was 26 feet, 1.26 inches (7.957 meters). Aurorra 7 weighed 4,244.09 pounds ( kilograms) at Launch.

The rocket, a “1-½ stage” liquid-fueled Atlas LV-3B, number 107-D, was built by the  Convair Division of General Dynamics at San Diego, California. It was developed from a U.S. Air Force SM-65 Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile, modified for use as a “man-rated” orbital launch vehicle.

The LV-3B was 65 feet (19.812 meters) long from the base to the Mercury adapter section, and the tank section is 10 feet (3.038 meters) in diameter. The complete Mercury-Atlas orbital launch vehicle is 93 feet (28.436 meters) tall, including the escape tower. When ready for launch it weighed approximately 260,000 pounds (117,934 kilograms).

Diagram of Atlas LV-3B (Space Launch Report)

The Atlas’ three engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. Two Rocketdyne LR89-NA-5 engines and one LR105-NA-5 produced 341,140 pounds (1,517.466 kilonewtons) of thrust. The rocket was fueled by a highly-refined kerosene, RP-1, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.

Malcolm Scott Carpenter died 10 October 2013 at the age of 88. His spacecraft, Aurora 7, is on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, Lakeshore Drive, Chicago, Illinois.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 May 1969, 21:30:43 UTC, T + 100:41:43

After descending to within 8.2 miles of the Moon's surface, Lunar Module Snoopy rendezvous with Command Module Charlie Brown in Lunar Orbit, 22 May 1969. (NASA)
After descending to within 8.2 miles (14.4 kilometers) of the Moon’s surface, Lunar Module Snoopy rendezvouses with Command and Service Module Charlie Brown in Lunar Orbit, 22 May 1969. (NASA)

22 May 1969, 21:30:43 UTC: Just over 100 hours after launch from Kennedy Space Center, Snoopy, the Lunar Module for the Apollo 10 mission came within 47,400 feet (14,447.5 meters) of the Lunar surface during a full dress rehearsal for the upcoming Apollo 11 landing. Mission Commander Thomas P. Stafford and Lunar Module Pilot Eugene A. Cernan rode Snoopy toward the surface and back, while John W. Young remained in orbit around the Moon aboard the Command and Service Module, Charlie Brown.

Thomas P. Stafford had flown two previous missions in the Gemini Program, Gemini 6 and Gemini 9. Apollo 10 was his third space flight.

John Watts Young flew six space missions: Gemini 3 and Gemini 10, Apollo 10 and Apollo 16, and Space Shuttle missions STS-1 and STS-9. He was to command STS-61J when the space shuttle fleet was grounded following the loss of Challenger. Young has flown 34 days, 19 hours, 39 seconds in space. He made 3 EVAs with a total of 20 hours, 14 minutes, 14 seconds outside his spacecraft.

Eugene A. Cernan had flown Gemini 9 with Stafford. He would later fly Apollo 17 back to the Moon. On 13 December 1972, Gene Cernan was the last man to stand on the surface of the Moon.

Charlie Brown, the Apollo 10 Command and Service Module in lunar orbit, 22 May 1969. (NASA)
Charlie Brown, the Apollo 10 Command and Service Module in lunar orbit, 22 May 1969. (NASA)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 May 1969

Apollo 11/Saturn V (AS-506) on the crawler transporter at Kennedy Space center, Cape Canaveral Florida, 20 May 1969. (NASA)
Apollo 11/Saturn V (AS-506) and its Mobile Launch Platform on one of the two Crawler–Transporters at Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 20 May 1969. (NASA)

20 May 1969: The Apollo 11 Saturn V (SA-506) “stack” was rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building aboard a Mobile Launch Platform, carried by a Crawler-Transporter, and moved to Launch Complex 39A. The rocket would be launched for the Moon at 13:32:00 UTC, 16 July 1969.

The two Crawler-Transporters are the world’s largest self-propelled land vehicles. They were designed and built by Marion Power Shovel Company, Marion, Ohio, and were assembled on Merritt Island. (The Crawlerway connected the island to mainland Florida, so that it now forms a peninsula.) They are 131 feet (39.9 meters) long and 113 feet  (34.4 meters) wide. The height is adjustable from 20 feet (6.1 meters) to 26 feet (7.9 meters). The load deck is 90 feet × 90 feet (27.4 × 27.4 meters). The transporters weigh 2,721 metric tons (3,000 tons).

A Crawler-Transporter carrying a Mobile Launch Platform. (NASA)

The Crawler-Transporters were powered by two 10,687.7-cubic-inch-displacement (175.1 liters) liquid-cooled, turbosupercharged, American Locomotive Company (ALCO) V-16 251C 45° sixteen-cylinder 4-cycle diesel engines. This engine produced 2,750 horsepower. The engines drive four 1,000 kilowatt electric generators. These in turn supply electricity to sixteen 375 horsepower traction motors.

Two 1,065 horsepower White-Superior eight-cylinder diesel engines provide electrical and hydraulic power to operate the crawlers’ systems. The hydraulic system operates at 5,200 p.s.i.

The maximum loaded speed is 0.9 miles per hour (1.4 kilometers per hour).

Since the time of the Apollo and Space Shuttle Programs, the Crawler-Transporters have been upgraded to handle the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rockets. The original ALCO locomotive engines have been replaced by two Cummins QSK95 16-cylinder diesel/C3000-series 1,500 kW power generation units. The new engine displaces 5,797 cubic inches and produces a maximum 4,200 horsepower at 1,200 r.p.m. The QSK95 has 46% less displacement than the old ALCO, weighs 39% less, but produces 57% more horsepower. The generators also double the electrical output.

Inside the Vehicle Assembly Building, a Cummins power generation unit is lowered into a Crawler-Transporter. (NASA)

The Saturn V rocket was a three-stage, liquid-fueled heavy launch vehicle. Fully assembled with the Apollo Command and Service Module, it stood 363 feet (110.642 meters) tall. The first and second stages were 33 feet (10.058 meters) in diameter. Fully loaded and fueled the rocket weighed 6,200,000 pounds (2,948,350 kilograms). It could lift a payload of 260,000 pounds (117,934 kilograms) to Low Earth Orbit.

A Saturn V S-IC first stage being lifted inside the Vehicle Assembly Building. (NASA 68-HC-70)

The first stage was designated S-IC. It was designed to lift the entire rocket to an altitude of 220,000 feet (67,056 meters) and accelerate to a speed of more than 5,100 miles per hour (8,280 kilometers per hour). The S-IC stage was built by Boeing at the Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, Louisiana. It was 138 feet (42.062 meters) tall and had an empty weight of 290,000 pounds (131,542 kilograms). Fully fueled with 203,400 gallons (770,000 liters) of RP-1 and 318,065 gallons (1,204,000 liters) of liquid oxygen, the stage weighed 5,100,000 pounds (2,131,322 kilograms). It was propelled by five Rocketdyne F-1 engines, producing 1,522,000 pounds of thrust, each, for a total of 7,610,000 pounds of thrust at Sea Level. These engines were ignited seven seconds prior to lift off and the outer four burned for 168 seconds. The center engine was shut down after 142 seconds to reduce the rate of acceleration. The F-1 engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation at Canoga Park, California.

A Saturn V S-II second stage being positioned above the S-IC first stage. (NASA MSFC-67-58331)

The S-II second stage was built by North American Aviation at Seal Beach, California. It was 81 feet, 7 inches (24.87 meters) tall and had the same diameter as the first stage. The second stage weighed 80,000 pounds (36,000 kilograms) empty and 1,060,000 pounds loaded. The propellant for the S-II was liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The stage was powered by five Rocketdyne J-2 engines, also built at Canoga Park. Each engine produced 232,250 pounds of thrust, and combined, 1,161,250 pounds of thrust.

A Saturn V S-IVB third stage with its Rocketdyne J-2 engine. ( NASA)

The Saturn V third stage was designated S-IVB. It was built by McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Company at Huntington Beach, California. The S-IVB was 58 feet, 7 inches (17.86 meters) tall with a diameter of 21 feet, 8 inches (6.604 meters). It had a dry weight of 23,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms) and fully fueled weighed 262,000 pounds. The third stage had one J-2 engine and also used liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for propellant. The S-IVB wou place the Command and Service Module into Low Earth Orbit, then, when all was ready, the J-2 would be restarted for the Trans Lunar Injection.

Eighteen Saturn V rockets were built. They were the most powerful machines ever built by man.

Saturn V SA-506 traveles the 3.5 mile "crawlerway" from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Complex 39A, 20 May 1969. (NASA)
Saturn V SA-506 travels the 3.5 mile “crawlerway” from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Complex 39A, 20 May 1969. (NASA)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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