How NASA’s Chris Kraft Conducted the Symphony That Put Men on the Moon

Aug. 27, 1965

Chris Kraft scared the hell out of me — in all the right ways, yes, but still. During the Apollo program, Kraft, who died at age 96 on July 22, was NASA’s Director of Flight Operations, and later ran the Johnson Space Center in Houston. I first met him in the early 1990s, when I was writing Apollo 13, and I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. I’d heard he was blunt, profane and brilliant and did not suffer fools easily. What I actually found was that he was, well, blunt, profane and brilliant and did not suffer fools easily.

During the course of our conversation, he described someone he had once worked with at NASA as “a dumbass.” I asked him what he meant specifically by that term. He looked at me wonderingly and said, “I mean stupid! Not intelligent!”

He told me about how he had grounded Scott Carpenter, one of the Original Seven astronauts, after a single flight because he overshot his splashdown target by 250 miles, forcing the Navy to go looking for him — a mistake Kraft attributed to Carpenter’s fooling around with sightseeing and scientific observations when he should have been focused on reentry procedures. He told me too about grounding the entire Apollo 7 crew for general insubordination and indiscipline during their 11-day Earth-orbital mission. When one of the astronauts, who would surely have punched his ticket for a later trip to the moon if Apollo 7 had gone well, asked Kraft if it was really true, that he was really finished, Kraft answered, “You heard it from the horse’s mouth.” If he took pity on the busted spacemen, he didn’t show it.

But pitilessness was what space travel demanded, and still demands today. There is too much that can kill you — too much that seems almost to be trying to kill you — to give in to sentiment. Kraft understood that intuitively. A graduate of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, he went to work first for NACA, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, in Hampton, Virginia, becoming one of what the locals referred to as the “Brainbusters,” the distracted-looking young geniuses who always seemed as if their minds were on much bigger things.

Or not always so big. Kraft liked to tell the story about the house he and his wife built in Hampton, after he had put enough money away from …read more

Source:: Time – Science


India Launches Moon Mission a Week After Aborting Over Technical Problem

NEW DELHI — India successfully launched an unmanned spacecraft to the far side of the moon on Monday, a week after aborting the mission due to a technical problem.

Scientists at the mission control center burst into applause as the rocket lifted off in clear weather as scheduled at 2:43 p.m. from Sriharikota in southern India. K. Sivan, head of India’s space agency, said the rocket successfully injected the spacecraft into orbit.

The spacecraft — named Chandrayaan, the Sanskrit word for “moon craft” — is scheduled to land on the lunar south pole in September and send a rover to explore water deposits that were confirmed by a previous mission that orbited the moon.

India’s first moon mission orbited the moon in 2008 and helped confirm the presence of water. The country plans to send its first manned spaceflight by 2022.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India’s lunar program will get a substantial boost, writing on Twitter that the country’s existing knowledge of the moon “will be significantly enhanced.”

Sivan said at a news conference that the successful launch of the spacecraft was the “beginning of India’s historic journey” to the moon.

The launch of the $141 million moon mission a week earlier was called off less than an hour before liftoff due to a “technical snag.” Media reports said the launch was aborted after scientists from the Indian Space Research Organization identified a leak while filling helium in the rocket’s cryogenic engine. The space agency neither confirmed nor denied the reports, saying instead that the problem had been identified and corrected.

The spacecraft is carrying an orbiter, a lander and a rover that will move around on the lunar surface for 14 earth days. It will take around 47 days to travel before landing on the moon.

India put a satellite into orbit around Mars in the nation’s first interplanetary mission in 2013 and 2014.

With India poised to become the world’s fifth-largest economy, Modi’s ardently nationalist government is eager to show off the country’s prowess in security and technology.

India successfully test-fired an anti-satellite weapon in March, which Modi said demonstrated the country’s capacity as a space power alongside the United States, Russia and China.

…read more

Source:: Time – Science


How Neil and Buzz Almost Were Stranded on the Moon in 1969

Even after half a century, people still don’t know much about the little broken switch that nearly stranded Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface in July of 1969.

No one will ever be certain how the switch broke, but Aldrin is pretty sure it happened after he and Armstrong reentered the lunar module following their two-and-a-half hour moonwalk. The flight plan called for them to seal the hatch, repressurize the cabin, disconnect their backpacks and connect their suit hoses to the spacecraft’s life support systems. Then they would vent the cabin once more, open up the hatch and chuck the backpacks and other unneeded equipment onto the moon’s surface, reducing the weight of the ship for liftoff.

They’d practiced the routine uncounted times, but in all of the shifting and moving and garbage-tossing this time, one of the astronauts banged something or other against Aldrin’s side of the instrument panel, snapping off the switch that sent power to the ascent engine. Without power, the engine wouldn’t light and the crew would go nowhere, leaving Michael Collins, orbiting overhead in the Apollo command module, to fly home alone. Aldrin spotted the problem after they had shut the hatch once more and he looked out the window.

“I saw something that didn’t belong, in the dust,” he told TIME in a conversation last year. “And it was this thing that looked like a circuit breaker. We got up on my side and looked and it was the engine arm circuit breaker.”

In Houston, engineers scrambled to find a workaround that would reroute power to the engine without the switch, but after several hours, they had nothing. In the end, the solution was wonderfully simple, wonderfully crude. The stem of the switch was still visible, recessed inside the small hole remaining in the instrument panel. It was far too small a hole for a finger. But a pen—a felt tip to prevent the risk of a metal-on-metal short—might do just fine. Aldrin had one and he used it, and on the pivot point of a fifty-cent bit of plastic nothing, history turned and the lunar module lifted off.

We’re contemplating that history a lot this week, as the world celebrates the half-century anniversary of Apollo 11—and there’s nothing wrong with that. But celebrating history is, by definition, a backward-looking exercise—a fond one, but backward all the same. Yet, tantalizingly, there is a lot of …read more

Source:: Time – Science