Saturn V’s New Mission Is To…Mississippi?

Looking at the business end of the Saturn V as it gets moved towards the barge that will transport it to Mississippi. Image: Infinity Science Center.

Tourist attractions can be pretty hokey. In the part of Canada where I’m from, one town boasts the “largest hockey stick in the world.” I’m not kidding. You can see it when you drive by. But Mississippi is getting what may be one of the world’s greatest tourist attractions: a Saturn V rocket, or the first stage of one, anyways.

Obviously, this is more than just a tourist attraction. This is an historic science exhibit of epic proportions. This Saturn V is the rocket that was supposed to launch Apollo 19 to the Moon in 1973, until that trip was cancelled.

For 38 years, this Saturn V has been at its home at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where it was built more than 40 years ago. But now, it’s found a new home at the Stennis Space Center, about 77 km. (48 miles) away. And getting there is quite a journey.

The heart of this journey is a 64 km. (40 mile) trip through the Intercoastal Waterway, and up the Pearl River. Not only that, but it had to be loaded onto a barge to start the trip, and unloaded once it arrived.

The actual home of the Saturn V will be the Infinity Science Center, which is a non-profit science outreach organization that has partnered with NASA, and is located next to the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. And people there are proud and excited to be a part of this.

“There’s a saying that if you wanted to get to the moon, you had to go through south Mississippi first,” said John Wilson, executive director for INFINITY Science Center. “Our goal with this Saturn V first stage exhibit is to educate our guests on our region’s critical role in space exploration and bring to life the ingenuity of the men and women who built, transported, tested and flew the machines that took us to worlds beyond our own.”

There’s a lot of history behind the Saturn V. It was developed to support NASA’s Apollo program to land men on the Moon. The Saturn V was launched 13 times between 1966 and 1973. It still retains its status as the world’s most powerful rocket, though its end will reign soon, thanks to NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzCsDVfPQqk[/embed]

This Saturn V was supposed to carry Apollo 19 on its way to the Moon until that missions was cancelled. One of the would-be crew members of Apollo 19, Fred Haise, was also a crew member on the ill-fated Apollo 13. Fred Haise is now on the Board of Directors at the Saturn’s new home, the Infinity Science Center. I can’t imagine how pleased he is to have his Saturn V coming home.

The Saturn V is a three stage rocket. The section being moved and exhibited is the first stage, known as the S-IC. It’s 42 meters (138 ft.) long and 10 meters (33 ft.) in diameter. This first stage had five massive F-1 engines which produced more than 7.5 million pounds of thrust.

The engines combined and burned liquid oxygen and kerosene for about 2.5 minutes. At that point, the rocket would be 61 km (38 miles) above Earth. Then, empty of fuel and with its job done, it would fall back towards Earth and burn up. But this one was built before its mission was cancelled, which is why its available for display.

The Infinity Science Center has 72,000 square feet of space, and has over 50 years of NASA history on display. Over 65,000 guests visit each year. That number is sure to rise, once the Saturn V comes home.

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NASA Releases Strange ‘Music’ Heard By 1969 Astronauts

Lunar module pilot Eugene Cernan en route to the Moon during the Apollo 10 mission in the spring of 1969. Credit: NASA

Calling it music is a stretch, but that’s exactly how the Apollo 10 astronauts described the creepy sounds they heard while swinging around the farside of the moon in May 1969. During the hour they spent alone cut off from communications with Earth, all three commented about a persistent “whistling” sound that lunar module pilot (LMP) likened to “outer-space-type-music”. Once the craft returned to the nearside, the mysterious sounds disappeared.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNryDb7JDuU
Apollo 10 Farside-of-the-Moon Music.

Hands down it was aliens! I wish. Several online stories fan the coals of innuendo and mystery with talk of hidden files and NASA cover-ups narrated to disturbing music. NASA agrees that the files were listed as ‘confidential’ in 1969 at the height of the Space Race, but the Apollo 10 mission transcripts and audio have been publicly available at the National Archives since 1973. Remember, there was no Internet back then. The audio files were only digitized and uploaded for easy access in 2012. Outside of the secretive ’60s, the files have been around a long time.

The story originally broke Sunday night in a show on the cable channel Discovery as part of the “NASA’s Unexplained Files” series; you’ll find their youtube video below. As I listen to the sound file, I hear two different tones. One is a loud, low buzz, the other a whooshing sound. My first thought was interference of some sort for the buzzing sound, but the whoosh reminded me of a whistler, a low frequency radio wave generated by lightning produced when energy from lightning travels out into Earth’s magnetic field from one hemisphere to another. Using an appropriate receiver, we can hear whistlers as descending, whistle-like tones that last up to several seconds.

Lightning’s hardly likely on the Moon, and whistlers require a magnetic field, which the Moon also lacks. The cause turns out to be, well, man-made. Cernan’s take was that two separate VHF radios, one in the lunar module and the other in command module, were interfering with one another to produce the noise. This was later confirmed by Apollo 11 astronaut Mike Collins who flew around the lunar farside alone when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon’s surface.

In his book Carrying the Fire, Collins writes: “There is a strange noise in my headset now, an eerie woo-woo sound.” He said it might have scared him had NASA’s radio technicians not forewarned him. The “music” played when the two craft were near one another with their radios turned on. Unlike Apollo 10, which never descended to the Moon’s surface but remained near the command module, the Apollo 11 lunar module touched down on the Moon on July 20, 1969. Once it did, Collins writes that the ‘woo-woo’ music stopped.

The astronauts never talked publicly or even with the agency about hearing weird sounds in space for good reason. Higher-ups at NASA might think them unfit for future missions for entertaining weird ideas, so they kept their thoughts private. This was the era of the “right stuff” and no astronaut wanted to jeopardize a chance to fly to the Moon let alone their career.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjLZBrQ-Oq4
Outer Space Music Part 1 of NASA’s Unexplained Files —  to be taken with a boulder of salt

In the end, this “music of the the spheres” makes for a fascinating  tidbit of outer space history. There’s no question the astronauts were spooked, especially considering how eerie it must have felt to be out of touch with Earth on the far side of the Moon. But once the sounds stopped, they soldiered on — part of the grand human effort to touch another world.

“I don’t remember that incident exciting me enough to take it seriously,” Gene Cernan told NASA on Monday. “It was probably just radio interference. Had we thought it was something other than that we would have briefed everyone after the flight. We never gave it another thought.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sh2-P8hG5-E
Messages from the Ringed Planet

Want to hear some real outer space music? Click the Saturn video and listen to the eerie sound of electrons streaming along Saturn’s magnetic field to create the aurora.

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6th Man on Moon Edgar Mitchell, Dies at 85 on Eve of 45th Lunar Landing Anniversary

Apollo 14 astronaut crew, including Moonwalkers Alan B. Shepard Jr., mission commander (first) and Edgar D. Mitchell, lunar module pilot (last), and Stuart A. Roosa, command module pilot (middle) walk out to the astrovan bringing them to the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.    Credit: Julian Leek

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the 6th man to walk on the Moon, passed away on Thursday, Feb. 4, on the eve of the 45th anniversary of his Apollo 14 mission lunar landing.

Mitchell passed away in West Palm Beach, Fla., just 1 day prior to the 45th anniversary of the Feb. 5, 1971 landing of Apollo 14’s Lunar Module “Antares.”

Mitchell was accompanied by Apollo 14 commander Alan Shephard, Jr., the first American in space, for the descent to the Moon’s surface inside “Antares.”

Meanwhile the third Apollo 14 crewmember command module pilot Stuart A. Roosa, flew solo in orbit around the moon while remaining inside the Command and Service Module “Kitty Hawk” during the lunar landing trek by his two crewmates.

Shephard and Mitchell safely touched down in the Fra Mauro highlands on Feb. 5, 1971 and spent a record 33 hours on the Moon.

“It’s the 45th Anniv of the #Apollo14 landing on the moon & yesterday we lost another Lunar Pioneer Edgar Mitchell,” tweeted Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon along with humanities first moon walker Neil Armstrong, during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.

Apollo 14 marked NASA’s third successful lunar landing mission, following the ill fated Apollo 13 mission, which abandoned its originally planned third moon landing flight after a sudden in flight emergency and explosion in the service module on the way to the Moon.

Apollo 14 launched on Jan. 31, 1971 from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.

Altogether only 12 humans, all American’s, have walked on the Moon during a total of six NASA lunar landing missions in the 1960s and 1970s. No human has visited the Moon since the Apollo 17 lunar landing in 1972.

“On behalf of the entire NASA family, I would like to express my condolences to the family and friends of NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.

“As a member of the Apollo 14 crew, Edgar is one of only 12 men to walk on the moon and he helped to change how we view our place in the universe.”

The lead photo was taken by long time space photographer Julian Leek, who was an eyewitness as the Apollo 14 crew departed the Operations and Checkout (O & C) Building at the Kennedy Space Center to board the astrovan transporting them to the launch pad 39. Leek’s historic photos are shared exclusively with Universe Today.

“Again we were off to the moon with Apollo 14 this was my 5th mission to take photographs on a freelance basis, Leek told Universe Today exclusively.

“The crowds at the O & C building for walk out for Apollo 14, had the same excitement as for Apollo 11 as NASA had just recovered from the near loss of Apollo 13.”

Another photo from Leek shows the Apollo 14 spacecraft and the Saturn V Moon rocket at the launch pad prior to lift off on Jan. 31, 1971.

“Every mission was different but on this mission had the first man in space as the commander Alan Shepard,” Leek told me.

“Those days we used film so it was always a race to see who could get it processed the fastest and out to the news services. I have covered Apollo , shuttle and unmanned launches from KSC and CCAFS since 1968.”

Shepard and Mitchell were assigned to traverse the lunar surface to deploy scientific instruments and perform a communications test on the surface, as well as photograph the lunar surface and any deep space phenomena, according to a NASA description.

“Mitchell and Shephard set mission records for the time of the longest distance traversed on the lunar surface; the largest payload returned from lunar surface; and the longest lunar stay time (33 hours). They were also the first to transmit color TV from the lunar surface.”

“Mitchell helped collect 94 pounds of lunar rock and soil samples that were distributed across 187 scientific teams in the United States and 14 other countries for analysis.”

Mitchell applied to be an astronaut after President Kennedy issued his famous 1961 call to send astronauts to the moon “before this decade is out.”

“After Kennedy announced the moon program, that’s what I wanted, because it was the bear going over the mountain to see what he could see, and what could you learn, and I’ve been devoted to that, to exploration, education, and discovery since my earliest years, and that’s what kept me going,” Mitchell said in 1997 interview for NASA’s oral history program.

“To me, that (spaceflight) was the culmination of my being, and what can I learn from this? What is it we are learning? That’s important, because I think what we’re trying to do is discover ourselves and our place in the cosmos, and we don’t know. We’re still looking for that.”

In his book “The Way of the Explorer”, Mitchell wrote, “There was a sense that our presence as space travelers, and the existence of the universe itself, was not accidental but that there was an intelligent process at work.”

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Space Station Back At Dusk / See Orion’s Curlicue and Five Dawn Planets

Rays of aurora borealis reach 60 miles and higher over the Pacific Northwest on Jan. 20, 2016 in this photo taken by astronauts Scott Kelly and Tim Peake from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

I hadn’t been paying attention, so I was pleasantly surprised two nights ago to see the International Space Station (ISS) made a bright pass in the southwestern sky. A quick check revealed that another round of evening passes had begun for locations across the central and northern U.S., Canada and Europe.  I like the evening ones because they’re so much convenient to view than those that occur at dawn. You can find out when the space station passes over your house at NASA’s Spot the Station site or Heavens Above.

The six-member Expedition 46 crew are wrapping up their work week on different types of research including botany, bone loss and pilot testing. Plants are being grown on the International Space Station so future crews can learn to become self-sustainable as they go farther out in space. While they work their jobs speeding at more than 17,000 mph overhead, we carry on here on the surface of the blue planet.

U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly regularly tweets photos from the station and recently noted the passing of Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who died Thursday at age 85 on the eve of the 45th anniversary of his lunar landing on February 5, 1971. Mitchell was one of only 12 people to walk on the moon and described the experience to the UK Telegraph in 2014:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1NGXL3wc0M
Relive the Mitchell’s Apollo 14 mission to the moon in 9 minutes and 57 seconds

“Looking at Earth from space and seeing it was a planet in isolation … that was an experience of ecstasy, realizing that every molecule in our bodies is a system of matter created from a star hanging in space. The experience I had was called Samadhi in the ancient Sanskrit, a feeling of overwhelming joy at seeing the Earth from that perspective.”

Only a human could stand in so barren and forbidding a place and experience such profound joy. You don’t have to go to the moon to be moved by sights in the night. Just step outside and watch the ISS glide by or grab a pair of binoculars and aim them at Orion’s Belt. Orion stands due south around 8 o’clock in in mid-February practically shouting to be looked at.

The Belt is lovely enough, but its surroundings glitter with stars just below the naked eye limit, in particular a little curlicue or “S” between Alnilam and Mintaka composed of 6th and 7th magnitude stars. Look for it in any pair of binoculars and don’t stop there. Take a few minutes to sweep the area and enjoy the starry goodness about then drop a field of view south for a look at the Orion Nebula. Inside this fuzzy spot 10 light years across and 1,350 light years away, hundreds of new stars are incubating, waiting for the day they can blaze forth like their compadres that make up the rest of Orion.

After touting the advantages of evening sky watching, forgive me if I also direct you to the morning sky and potential sleep loss. Although the waning crescent moon has now departed the scene, the wonderful alignment of Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter remains visible in the coming week even as Mercury slowly sinks back toward the eastern horizon. If you haven’t seen this “gang of 5”, set your alarm for a look starting about an hour before sunrise.

Find a location with as wide open a view as possible of the southeastern horizon. Jupiter, Mars and Saturn are plenty high up at that time and easy to spot, but Venus and Mercury hover only 5°-10° high. Both will pose no problem if you can get the trees and buildings out of the way! By the end of the coming week, Mercury will become challenging and then slip away.

Clear skies!

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NASA Says “No Chance” Small Asteroid Will Hit Earth On March 5th

Artist's impression of a Near-Earth Asteroid passing by Earth. Credit: ESA

On October 6th, 2013, the Catalina Sky Survey discovered a small asteroid which was later designated as 2013 TX68. As part Apollo group this 30 meter (100 ft) rock is one of many Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) that periodically crosses Earth’s orbit and passes close to our planet. A few years ago, it did just that, flying by our planet at a safe distance of about 2 million km (1.3 million miles).

And according to NASA’s Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, it will be passing us again in a few weeks time, specifically between March 2nd and 6th. Of course, asteroids pass Earth by on a regular basis, and there is very rarely any cause for alarm. However, there is some anxiety about 2013 TX68’s latest flyby, mainly because its distance could be subject to some serious variation.

Basically, the asteroid is expected to make its closest approach on March 5th, and will pass Earth at a distance of between 14 million km (9 million) and 17,000 km (11,000 miles). By comparison, the Earth’s Moon lies at an average distance of 384,399 km (238,854 miles) from Earth, ranging from about 362,600 km (225,309 mi) at perigee to 405,400 km (251,904 mi) at apogee.

This means that there is a chance that, between March 2nd and 6th, this small asteroid will get far closer to Earth than the Moon ever does. The reason for this variation in estimates has to do with the trajectory of the asteroid, which scientists cannot entirely predict. This in turn is due to the fact that they have only been able to track it since its discovery, just three years ago.

But before anyone starts contemplating building bomb shelters in their backyard and stocking up on dry goods and bottled water, there are few things that need to be clarified. For one, scientists at CNEOS have determined that there is NO CHANCE the asteroid will impact on the Earth on this pass.

And while NASA has identified an extremely remote possibility that 2013 TX68 could impact Earth when it passes us again on Sep. 28th, 2017, the odds of that actually happening are no more than 1-in-250-million. To top it off, the asteroid will be making flybys again in 2046 and 2097, and in both cases the odds of an impact are even lower.

As Paul Chodas, manager of the CNEOS, explained in a recent NASA press release:

“The possibilities of collision on any of the three future flyby dates are far too small to be of any real concern. I fully expect any future observations to reduce the probability even more… This asteroid’s orbit is quite uncertain, and it will be hard to predict where to look for it. There is a chance that the asteroid will be picked up by our asteroid search telescopes when it safely flies past us next month, providing us with data to more precisely define its orbit around the sun.”

In addition, in the unlikely event that the asteroid does hit Earth, it is too small to cause any significant damage. Consider the asteroid that broke up in the atmosphere over the Russian town of Chelyabinsk in 2013. That asteroid measured roughly 20 meters across (65 feet), and caused significant property damage and over 1500 injuries. However, this damage was limited to the effects of the sonic boom caused by its explosion in the atmosphere.

What’s more, much of the damage caused by the Chelyabink asteroid was due to the fact that it was undetected before its atmospheric entry – in part because its radiant was close to the Sun. As such, much the harm it caused was the result of panic and the townspeople being unprepared.

At roughly 30 meters (100 feet) in diameter, 2013 TX68 would likely produce an air burst with about twice the energy of the Chelyabink asteroid. However, since scientists are actively monitoring this and other NEOs, the odds of it exploding above a community without warning are even worse than it actually entering our atmosphere.

Above all, we should remind ourselves that Near-Earth Asteroids pass by Earth all the time and cause no damage. In fact, NASA’s Near Earth Object Program (NEOP) indicated that in 2016 alone, NEO’s have passed Earth on ten occasions. What’s more, the JPL’s Asteroid Watch program has listed the next five approaches that will take place in February, and has concluded that these will all take place at distances of between 7,338,608 km (4,560,000 mi) and 151,440 km (94,100 mi).

And before 2016 is out, NEOP anticipates that NEOS will make another 80 passes of Earth. In the vast majority of these cases, the asteroids will be well outside of the Moon’s orbit. Of course, if you still feel concerned, you can always check Asteroid Watch’s Twitter account for news and updates on the possible approach of asteroids.

In the meantime, rest easy. We’re not due for Armageddon or an Extinction Level Event anytime soon!

Further Reading: NASA, NASA Planetary Defense

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