Tag Archives: Astronaut

20 January 1930

ALDRIN, Edwin Eugene, Jr., Apollo 11. (NASA)
Astronaut Edwin Eugene Aldrin, Jr., Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 11. (NASA)

20 January 1930: Colonel Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., Sc.D., United States Air Force (Retired), was born at Glen Ridge, New Jersey.

After high school, Aldrin turned down a full scholarship to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) and instead went to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, graduating in 1951 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering. He accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force and, after pilot training, served as a fighter pilot during the Korean War. Aldrin flew the North American Aviation F-86 Sabre with the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing. He shot down two enemy MiG 15 fighters for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Still images from the gun camera film show an enemy pilot bailing out of a Mikoyan-Gurevice MiG 15 shot down by Lieutenant Edwin E. (“Buzz”) Aldrin, U.S. Air Force, 5 miles south of the Yalu River, 14 May 1953. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Buzz Aldrin, 51st Fighter Interceptor Squadron, in teh cocpit of a North American Aviation F-86A Sabre, after shooting down an enemy MiG 15 fighter. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Lieutenant Buzz Aldrin, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, in the cockpit of a North American Aviation F-86E Sabre after shooting down an enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15 fighter during the Korean War. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)

After returning to the United States, Buzz Aldrin was a flight instructor at Bryan AFB, Texas, and then a gunnery instructor at Nellis AFB, Nevada. Aldrin served at the U.S. Air Force Academy before joining the 22nd Fighter Squadron at Bitberg Air Base, Germany, flying the North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabre.

Buzz aldrin in teh cockpit of a Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star at Bryan Air Force Base, Texas.
Instructor Buzz Aldrin in the cockpit of a Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star at Bryan Air Force Base, Texas. (Image from http://buzzaldrin.com/the-man/gallery/)

Edwin E. Aldrin earned his Doctorate in Science in Astronautics (Sc.D.) from M.I.T. by devising orbital navigation techniques. His thesis on Manned Orbital Rendezvous, earned Buzz Aldrin another nickname: “Dr. Rendezvous.” He was accepted by NASA as an astronaut for the Gemini Program, and with Jim Lovell, orbited the Earth for four days aboard Gemini 12. Aldrin performed the first successful “space walk.” He then went on to the Apollo Program.

Along with Neil Alden Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon, 20 July 1969.

Astronaut Edwin Eugene Aldrin, Jr. on the surface of The Moon, 20 July 1969. (Neil A. Armstrong/NASA)

Returning to operational service with the Air Force, Colonel Aldrin was assigned as Commandant of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Colonel Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., United States Air Force.
Colonel Edwin Eugene Aldrin, Jr., United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

In Return To Earth, (Random House, Inc., New York, 1973) Buzz Aldrin wrote about the depression he suffered: After you’ve been to the Moon, what else is there?

Buzz Aldrin has written several books and he continues to advocate manned space exploration.

HAPPY 87th BIRTHDAY, Colonel!

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 August 1931–27 December 1982

John L. Swigert, Jr., Astronaut
John L. Swigert, Jr., Astronaut, Command Module Pilot, Apollo XIII. (NASA)

John L. “Jack” Swigert, Jr., was born at Denver, Colorado, 30 August 1931, the first of three children of John Leonard Swigert, a physician, and Virginia Seep Swigert. Interested in aviation from an early age, he was a licensed Private Pilot at age 16.

Jack Swigert graduated from the University of Colorado in 1953 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering. He earned a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at Hartford, Connecticut, as well as a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Hartford.

Jack Swigert joined the United States Air Force, 13 October 1953, following his graduation from the University of Colorado. He flew fighters from bases in Japan and Korea, then after completing active duty, 2 October 1956, transferred to the Air National Guard, and served with the Massachusetts ANG and Connecticut ANG.

Captain John L. Swigert, Jr., United States Air Force, F-100 Super Sabre pilot, 118th Fighter Squadron, Connecticut Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Captain John L. Swigert, Jr., United States Air Force, F-100A Super Sabre pilot, 118th Fighter Squadron, Connecticut Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)

While flying with the Air Guard, Swigert also worked for North American Aviation, Inc., as an engineering test pilot, and then for Pratt & Whitney.

He became one of 19 men selected as crewmembers of NASA’s Apollo Program 1965. He requested an assignment as pilot of the Apollo Command and Service Module.

Swigert was a member of the support team for the Apollo 7 mission, and was then selected for the Command Module Pilot for the Apollo 13 backup crew, along with John Watts Young and Charles M. Duke, Jr. When the primary crew CMP, Ken Mattingly, was thought to have been exposed to measles, he was withdrawn from Apollo 13 and Jack Swigert took his place.

Apollo 13 was planned as the second lunar landing mission. The circumstances of its flight are well known. When disaster struck, all three astronauts performed an amazing feat as they had to improvise their safe return to Earth.

Swigert left NASA in 1977 and entered politics. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982, representing the the 6th District of Colorado.

On the night of 27 December 1982, before he could be sworn into office, John Leonard Swigert, Jr., aerospace engineer, fighter pilot, test pilot, astronaut and congressman, died from complications of cancer.

John L. Swigert, Jr. Memorial, bronze sculpture by Mark and George Lundeen, in the National Statuary Hall Collection, United States Capitol. Gift of the State of Colorado, 1997. (Architect of the Capitol)
John L. Swigert, Jr. Memorial, bronze sculpture by Mark and George Lundeen, in the National Statuary Hall Collection, United States Capitol. Gift of the State of Colorado, 1997. (Architect of the Capitol)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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North American Aviation, Inc., X-15A Hypersonic Research Rocketplane

Rollout AFFTC History Office
North American Aviation, Inc., X-15A-1, 56-6670, at Los Angeles Division, October 1958. (Air Force Flight Test Center History Office)

20 December 1968: After 199 flights, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration cancelled the X-15 Hypersonic Research Program. A 200th X-15 flight had been scheduled, but after several delays, the decision was made to end the program. (The last actual flight attempt was 12 December 1968, but snow at several of the dry lakes used as emergency landing areas resulted in the flight being cancelled.)

The X-15A rocketplane was designed and built for the U.S. Air Force and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, the predecessor of NASA) by North American Aviation, Inc., to investigate the effects of hypersonic flight (Mach 5+). Design work started in 1955 and a mock-up had been completed after just 12 months. The three X-15s were built at North American’s Los Angeles Division, at the southeast corner of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), on the shoreline of southern California.

The first flight took place 8 June 1959 with former NACA test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield in the cockpit of the Number 1 ship, 56-6670.

While earlier rocketplanes, the Bell X-1 series, the the Douglas D-558-II, and the Bell X-2, were airplanes powered by rocket engines, the X-15 was a quantum leap in technology. It was a spacecraft.

Like the other rocketplanes, the X-15 was designed to be carried aloft by a “mothership,” rather than to takeoff and climb to the test altitude under its own power. The carrier aircraft was originally to be a Convair B-36 intercontinental bomber but this was soon changed to a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. Two B-52s were modified to carry the X-15: NB-52A 52-003, The High and Mighty One, and NB-52B 52-008, Balls 8.

From 8 June 1959 to 24 October 1968, the three X-15s were flown by twelve test pilots, three of whom would qualify as astronauts in the X-15. Two would go on to the Apollo Program, and one, Neil Alden Armstrong, would be the first human to set foot on the surface of the Moon, 20 July 1969. Joe Engle would fly the space shuttle. Four of the test pilots, Petersen, White, Rushworth, and Knight, flew in combat during the Vietnam War, with Bob White being awarded the Air Force Cross. Petersen, Rushworth and White reached flag rank.

One pilot, John B. (“Jack”) McKay, was seriously injured during an emergency landing at Mud Lake, Nevada, 9 November 1962. Michael James Adams, was killed when the Number 3 ship, 56-6672, went into a hypersonic spin and broke up on the program’s 191st flight, 15 November 1967.

North American Aviation, Inc. X-15A 56-6670 on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California. (NASA)
North American Aviation, Inc., X-15A-1 56-6670 on Rogers Dry Lake, Edwards Air Force Base, California. (NASA Image E-5251)

Flown by a single pilot/astronaut, the X-15 is a mid-wing monoplane with dorsal and ventral fin/rudders and stabilators. The wing had no dihdral, while the stabilators had a pronounced -15° anhedral. The short wings have an area of 200 square feet (18.58 square meters) and a maximum thickness of just 5%. The leading edges are swept to 25.64°. There are two small flaps but no ailerons. The entire vertical fin/rudder pivots for yaw control.

Above 100,000 feet (30,840 meters) altitude, conventional aircraft flight control surfaces are ineffective. The X-15 is equipped with a system of reaction control jets for pitch, roll and yaw control. Hydrogen peroxide was passed through a catalyst to produce steam, which supplied the control thrusters.

The forward landing gear consists of a retractable oleo strut with steerable dual wheels and there are two strut/skids at the rear of the fuselage. The gear is retracted after the X-15 is mounted on the NB-52 and is extended for landing by its own weight.

 North American Aviation X-15A 56-6672 touches down on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)
North American Aviation, Inc., X-15A-3 56-6672 just before touch down on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA Image E-7469)

The rocketplane’s cockpit featured both a conventional control stick as well as side-controllers. It was pressurized with nitrogen gas to prevent fires. The pilot wore an MC-2 full-pressure suit manufactured by the David Clark Company of Worcester, Massachusetts, with an MA-3 helmet. The suit was pressurized below the neck seal with nitrogen, while the helmet was supplied with 100% oxygen. This pressure suit was later changed to the Air Force-standardized A/P22S.

X-15A cockpit with original Lear Siegler instrument panel. (NASA)
X-15 cockpit with original Lear Siegler instrument panel. (NASA image E63-9834)

The X-15 is 50.75 feet (15.469 meters) long with a wing span of 22.36 feet (6.815 meters). The height—the distance between the tips of the dorsal and ventral fins—is 13.5 feet (4.115 meters). The stabilator span is 18.08 feet (5.511 meters). The fuselage is 4.67 feet (1.423 meters) deep and has a maximum width of 7.33 feet (2.234 meters).

Since the X-15 was built of steel rather than light-weight aluminum, as are most aircraft, it is a heavy machine, weighing approximately 14,600 pounds (6,623 kilograms) empty and 34,000 pounds (15,422 kilograms) when loaded with a pilot and propellants. The X-15s carried as much as 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms) of research instrumentation, and the equipment varied from flight to flight. The minimum flight weight (for high-speed missions): 31,292 pounds (14,194 kilograms) The maximum weight was 52,117 pounds (23,640 kilograms) at drop (modified X-15A-2 with external propellant tanks).

Initial flights were flown with a 5 foot, 11 inch (1.803 meters)-long air data boom at the nose, but this would later be replaced by the “ball nose” air sensor system. The data boom contained a standard pitot-static system along with angle-of-attack and sideslip vanes. The boom and ball nose were interchangeable.

Neil Armstrong with the first North American Aviation X-15A, 56-6670, on Rogers Dry Lake after a flight, 1960. His hand is resting on the rocketplane's ball nose sensor. (NASA)
NASA Research Test Pilot Neil A. Armstrong with the first North American Aviation X-15A, 56-6670, on Rogers Dry Lake after a flight, 1960. His right hand is resting on the rocketplane’s ball nose sensor. (NASA Image E60-6286)

The X-15s were built primarily of a nickel/chromium/iron alloy named Inconel X, along with corrosion-resistant steel, titanium and aluminum. Inconel X is both very hard and also able to maintain its strength at the very high temperatures the X-15s were subjected to by aerodynamic heating. It was extremely difficult to machine and special fabrication techniques had to be developed.

Delays in the production of the planned Reaction Motors XLR99 rocket engine forced engineers to adapt two vertically-stacked Reaction Motors XLR11-RM-5 four-chamber rocket engines to the X-15 for early flights. This was a well-known engine which was used on the previous rocketplanes. The XLR-11 burned a mixture of ethyl alcohol and water with liquid oxygen. Each of the engines’ chambers could be ignited individually. Each engine was rated at 11,800 pounds of thrust (58.49 kilonewtons) at Sea Level.

Two Reaction Motors Division XLR11-RM-5 four-chamber rocket engines installed on an X-15. (NASA)
Two Reaction Motors Division XLR11-RM-5 four-chamber rocket engines installed on an X-15. (NASA)

The Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine was throttleable by the pilot from 28,500 to 60,000 pounds of thrust. The engine was rated at 50,000 pounds of thrust (222.41 kilonewtons) at Sea Level; 57,000 pounds (253.55 kilonewtons) at 45,000 feet (13,716 meters), the typical drop altitude; and 57,850 pounds (257.33 kilonewtons) of thrust at 100,000 feet (30,480 meters). Individual engines varied slightly. A few produced as much as 61,000 pounds of thrust (271.34 kilonewtons).

The XLR99 burned anhydrous ammonia and liquid oxygen. The flame temperature was approximately 5,000 °F. (2,760 °C.) The engine was cooled with circulating liquid oxygen. To protect the exhaust nozzle, it was flame-sprayed with ceramic coating of zirconium dioxide. The engine is 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters) long and 3 feet, 3.3 inches (0.998 meters) in diameter. It weighs 910 pounds (413 kilograms). The Time Between Overhauls (TBO) is 1 hour of operation, or 100 starts.

Thiokol Reaction Motors Division XLR-RM-1 rocket engine. (U.S. Air Force)
Thiokol Corporation Reaction Motors Division XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine. (U.S. Air Force)

The XLR99 proved to be very reliable. 169 X-15 flights were made using the XLR99. 165 of these had successful engine operation. It started on the first attempt 159 times.

The highest speed achieved during the program was with the modified number two ship, X-15A-2 56-6671, flown by Pete Knight to Mach 6.70 (6,620 feet per second/4,520 miles per hour/ kilometers per hour) at 102,700 feet (31,303 meters). On this flight, the rocketplane exceeded its maximum design speed of 6,600 feet per second (2,012 meters per second).

The maximum altitude was reached by Joe Walker, 22 August 1963, when he flew 56-6672 to 354,200 feet (107,960 meters).

The longest flight was flown by Neil Armstrong, 20 April 1962, with a duration of 12 minutes, 28.7 seconds.

North American Aviation X-15A-1 56-6670 is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. X-15A-2 56-6671 is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

A North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabre chase plane follows NB-52A 52-003 prior to launch of an X-15. (NASA)
A North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabre chase plane follows NB-52A 52-003 prior to launch of an X-15. (NASA)

Recommended reading:

Always Another Dawn: The Story of a Rocket Test Pilot, by A. Scott Crossfield and Clay Blair, Jr., The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, 1960

At The Edge Of Space, by Milton O. Thompson, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992

X-15 Diary: The Story of America’s First Spaceship, by Richard Tregaskis, E.F. Dutton & Company,  New York, 1961; University of Nebraska Press, 2004

X-15: Exploring the Frontiers of Flight, by David R. Jenkins, National Aeronautics and Space Administration http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/470842main_X_15_Frontier_of_Flight.pdf

The X-15 Rocket Plane: Flying the First Wings into Space, by Michelle Evans, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 2013

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 21.18.14
North American Aviation, Inc., X-15A-2 56-6671 accelerates after igniting its Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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John Herschel Glenn, Jr., Astronaut (18 July 1921–8 December 2016)

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., NASA Project Mercury Astronaut. (Ralph Morse/LIFE Magazine)

John Glenn, one of the original seven astronauts selected by NASA for Project Mercury, was a personal hero of mine. As a young boy growing up in Southern California, less than three miles from Rocketdyne’s engine test stands in Santa Susana, I followed the progress of all the astronauts. I recall having a map pinned to my wall, showing the orbital path of Friendship 7 as Glenn made his historic three orbits of the Earth. All of the astronauts, and the X-15 test pilots at Edwards, were heroes to me, but for some reason, John Glenn was special.

John H. Glenn, Jr., Pilot. (John Glenn Archives, Ohio State University)

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., was born at Cambridge, Ohio, 18 July 1921, the first of four children of John Herschel Glenn, a plumber, and Clara Teresa Sproat Glenn. The Glenn family resided in New Concorde, Ohio. Glenn attended New Concord High School, graduating in 1939, and then enrolled at Muskingum College, also in New Concord, where he majored in engineering. While in college, he learned to fly.

Soon after the United States entered World War II, John Glenn enlisted in the United States Navy as a Naval Aviation Cadet, 28 March 1942. He transferred to the Marine Corps while still in flight training, and after qualifying as a Naval Aviator, was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, 16 March 1943.

On 6 April 1943, Lieutenant Glenn married Miss Anna Margaret Castor, also from New Concorde. They would have two children, Carolyn Ann Glenn and John David Glenn.

In October 1943, Glenn was promoted to First Lieutenant. Initially assigned as a transport pilot flying the Douglas R4D-1 Skytrain with Marine Utility Squadron 315 (VMJ-315) in the Pacific, he was transferred to Marine Fighter Squadron 155 (VMF-155). He flew 59 combat missions with the Chance Vought F4U Corsair in the Marshall Islands.

Lieutenant John H. Glenn, Jr., USMCR, flying a Chance Vought F4U-1 Corsair with VMF-155, 1943. (Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum/John Glenn Archives, The Ohio State University)

In 1945, Glenn was assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron 218 (VMF-218), again flying an F4U-4 Corsair, patrolling China with the 1st Marine Division. Lieutenant Glenn was promoted to the rank of Captain in July 1945.

In 1946, Captain Glenn, was transferred from the USMCR to the regular Marine Corps, retaining his temporary rank. On 7 August 1947, the rank of Captain was made permanent.

Captain Glenn served as an advanced flight instructor at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, from June 1948 to December 1950. With the Korean War, Glenn was assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron 311 (VMF-311), which flew the Grumman F9F-2 Panther.

Captain John H. Glenn, Jr., USMCR, a fighter pilot of VMF-311, examines some of the 714 holes in his Grumman F9F-2 Panther. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain Glenn few 63 combat missions with VMF-311. He was promoted to the rank of Major, 28 June 1952. He served as an exchange officer with the U.S. Air Force, flying a North American Aviation F-86F Sabre with the 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing at K-13, an air base at Suwon, Republic of Korea. In July 1953, Glenn shot down three enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15 jet fighters.

Major John H. Glenn, Jr., United States Marine Corps, standing with his North American Aviation F-86-30-NA Sabre, 52-4584, “MiG Mad Marine,” at Suwon, Korea, July 1953. (John Glenn Archives, The Ohio State University)

Major Glenn trained at the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School at NATC Patuxent River, Maryland, in 1954, and from 1956 to 1959, was assigned to the Bureau of Aeronautics, Fighter Design Branch.

On 16 July 1957, Major Glenn flew a Chance Vought F8U-1P Crusader from NAS Los Alamitos, on the coast of southern California, to Floyd Bennet Field, Brooklyn, New York, in 3 hours, 23 minutes, 8.4 seconds, averaging 725.25 miles per hour (1,167.18 kilometers per hour). Thomas S. Gates, Jr., Secretary of the Navy, presented Major Glenn the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Major John H. Glenn, Jr., United States Marine Corps, with his Vought F8U-1P Crusader, Bu. No. 144608, after his record-setting flight, 16 July 1957. (U. S. Navy)

Major Glenn was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, 1 April 1959. He was selected as an Astronaut with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Project Mercury and joined the NASA Space Task group at the Langley Research Center. Lieutenant Colonel Glenn was the senior officer and the oldest member of “The Mercury 7.”

The Mercury 7. Front row, left to right, Walter H. Schirra, Donald K. Slayton, John H. Glen, Jr., and Scott Carpenter. Back row: Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Virgil I. Grissom, and L. Gordon Cooper. (NASA)

At 9:47:39 a.m., Eastern Standard Time (14:47:39 UTC), 20 February 1961, Mercury Atlas 6 lifted off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was the third launch of a manned Mercury spacecraft, and the first time that an Atlas rocket had been used.

Aboard the Mercury was John Glenn, making his first space flight. He had named the capsule Friendship 7. Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom had each made a suborbital flight, but Glenn was going into Earth orbit.

Each orbit took 88 minutes, 19 seconds. The spacecraft’s altitude ranged from 100 miles (161 kilometers) to 162.2 miles (261 kilometers).

During the 4 hour, 55 minute, 23 second flight, Friendship 7 orbited the Earth three times, and traveled 75,679 miles (121,794 kilometers). John Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. (Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had orbited the Earth 12 April 1961.)

After re-entry, the capsule parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean, splashing down only six miles from the recovery ship, USS Noa (DD-841).

Launch of Mercury-Atlas 6 from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, 14:47:39 UTC, 20 February 1962. (NASA)

When the Space Task Group was moved to the Manned Spacecraft Center at Houston, Texas, in 1962, John Glenn was involved in the layout and design of spacecraft cockpits and function of controls. On 16 January 1964, John Glenn resigned from NASA. He was promoted to the rank of Colonel in October 1964, then he retired from the Marine Corps 1 January 1965, after 23 years of military service.

Glenn worked in private industry for several years before beginning a career in politics. In 1974, he was elected to the United States Senate, representing his home State of Ohio. He served in the United States Congress from 24 December 1974 to 3 January 1999.

John Glenn wasn’t finished with spaceflight, though. From 29 October to 7 November 1998, Senator Glenn served as a NASA Payload Specialist aboard Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) during Mission STS-95. At the age of 77 years, John Glenn was the oldest person to fly in space.

During his two space flights, John Glenn orbited the Earth 137 times. His total time in space is 10 days, 49 minutes, 25 seconds (240:49:25).

In late November 2016, Glenn was admitted to Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center at Columbus, Ohio. He died there, 8 December 2016, at the age of 95 years.

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., Naval Aviator, Fighter Pilot, Test Pilot, Record-setter, Astronaut. Colonel, United States Marine Corps. United States Senator. American Hero.

Godspeed, John Glenn.

Senator John H. Glenn, Jr., NASA Payload Specialist, 1998. (NASA)

© 2016 Bryan R. Swopes

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7 December 1972 05:33:00 UTC, T + 00:00:00.63

Apollo 17 (AS-512) on the pad at Launch Complex 39A, 21 November 1972. (NASA)
Apollo 17 (AS-512) on the pad at Launch Complex 39A, 21 November 1972. (NASA)

7 December 1972: At 05:33:00 UTC, Apollo 17, the last manned mission to The Moon in the 20th century, lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The destination was the Taurus-Littrow Valley.

Gene Cernan, seated, with Harrison Schmitt and Ronald Evans. (NASA)
Gene Cernan, seated, with Harrison Schmitt and Ronald Evans. (NASA)

The Mission Commander, on his third space flight, was Eugene A. Cernan. The Command Module Pilot was Ronald A. Evans, on his first space flight, and the Lunar Module Pilot was Harrison H. Schmitt, also on his first space flight.

Schmitt was placed in the crew because he was a professional geologist. (He replaced Joe Engle, an experienced test pilot who had made sixteen flights in the X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane. Three of those flights were higher than the 50-mile altitude, qualifying Engle for U.S. Air Force astronaut wings.)

The launch of Apollo 17 was delayed for 2 hours, 40 minutes due to a minor mechanical malfunction. When it did liftoff, at 12:33 a.m. EST, the launch was witnessed by more than 500,000 people.

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.

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 (6770.19 kilonewtons), each, for a total of 7,610,000 pounds of thrust at Sea Level (33,850.97 kilonewtons). 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.

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 (1,022.01 kilonewtons), and combined, 1,161,250 pounds of thrust (717.28 kilonewtons).

The Saturn V third stage was designated S-IVB. It was built by Douglas Aircraft 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 would 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.

Apollo 17 launched 3 years, 4 months, 20 days, 16 hours, 1 minute, 0 seconds after Apollo 11, the first manned flight to The Moon.

Apollo 17 (AS-512) lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at 05:33:00 UTC, 7 December 1972. (NASA)
Apollo 17 (AS-512) lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at 05:33:00 UTC, 7 December 1972. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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