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The third book in the spell–binding Beyond the Saga of Rocket Science series, gives a thorough exposé of the U.S. Apollo and Space Shuttle programs (the U.S. side of the Cold War Space Race).

Three brave astronauts perished in the Apollo 1 fire, and another three narrowly escaped death on Apollo 13. Nevertheless, the awesome Saturn V outperformed its N1 rival, and six Apollo flights put 12 Americans on the lunar surface between 1969-1972.

In Space to Stay brings together as never before the many difficulties plaguing rocket development––the politics, federal budgeting and funding, the lack of vision and consensus, and public apathy. In 1972 the nation became distracted at a critical time with the Watergate scandal and despite NASA’s pleas and a glimmer of hope with the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975 the public would not support a robust post-Apollo space program.

The book goes on to describe the historical evolution of the world’s space stations, culminating with today’s International Space Station. NASA is in the process of developing a new series of launch vehicles, the Space Launch System, with operations beginning in the early 2020s.

 

Apollo Program

Close–up view of the Apollo 1 command module after a disastrous fire on January 27, 1967. The speed and intense heat of the flash fire quickly exhausted the oxygen supply inside the crew cabin. Before they could open the cumbersome hatch, the crew of Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee lost consciousness and perished. The Apollo program was grounded for 20½ months while many fixes were undertaken.

 

The history–making trio of Apollo 11 astronauts (clockwise): Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin.

Historic Apollo–11 launch, July 16, 1969

On July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong took “a small step for man…a giant leap for mankind” to become the first human to set foot on the Moon.

Space experts thought of the Apollo missions as just a precursor to more ambitious plans to come. Knowledgeable experts inside and outside NASA knew that the manned moon landing space spectaculars and ostentatious plantings of the U.S. flag were just the first step in human exploration—and many would argue eventual exploitation–of the cosmos. American space advocates, including the incomparable Dr. Wernher von Braun, championed a logical, step-by-step long–term space program in line with the Soviet approach. Follow–on extended-stay lunar missions would enable permanently manned lunar habitats in the 1970s–1980s. There was a lot of moon left to explore, after all its surface area is about the same as North and South America combined. One or more permanent Earth–orbiting space stations, and perhaps in lunar orbit as well, would enable the first of a series of manned Mars missions as early as the mid–1980s, a manned Venus flyby mission, mining of valuable ores on the Moon and near–Earth asteroids, and eventual construction of city–size rotating habitats in free space. All of these space dreams were technically feasible. But what happened? Why hasn’t the first human been born on Mars yet?

In Space to Stay explains why. You’ll even learn how President Nixon’s Watergate fiasco, the Vietnam War, the demands of social programs, and a plethora of other reasons drew America’s attention away from space in the post–Apollo era. A disenchanted von Braun and his cohorts were forced to abandon any thoughts of an aggressive long–term space program. No human would even get out of low Earth orbit––much less set foot on the Moon again–– for 50 years!

President Richard Nixon fielding embarrassing Watergate investigation questions on March 15, 1973

Space Shuttle Program

Between 1981-2010 the Shuttle made 134 flights. It flew countless experiments to space, deloyed many satellites, and played an indispensable role in building the International Space Station. The Spacelab and SPACEHAB shuttle modules provided shirt-sleeve pressurized environments for various quantities, sizes, and locations of science experiment hardware.

The STS-1 crew members John Young (Commander) and Bob Crippen (Pilot)

 

First Space Shuttle launch on April 12, 1981 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. To save weight, engineers soon quit painting the external tank white.

Shuttle early in reentry when the g–forces are barely discernible to the crew (artist’s concept). The glow changes from reddish to glaring white–hot later in the reentry phase.

 

The crew of the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-51-L) in November 1985. Back row (L to R): Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judy Resnik. Front row (L to R): Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair.

The Shuttle was a marvel of engineering; however, it should never have been considered operational. While not intrinsically unsafe (2 failures out of 135 flights for a 98.5% reliability), it was in fact an experimental vehicle. The Soviets were concerned that the Shuttle could place massive experimental laser weapons into orbit that could destroy enemy missiles from a distance of several thousands of kilometers. Their reasoning was that such weapons could only be effectively tested in actual space conditions and that in order to cut their development time and save costs it would be necessary to regularly bring them back to Earth for modifications and fine-tuning.

A tracking camera captured this shot of the mostly intact Challenger crew cabin on January 28, 1986. The Shuttle’s nose cone containing the RCS thrusters is missing. It had probably been sheared off during the breakup.

The crew of Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-107), L to R: David Brown, Rick Husband, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, Willie McCool, and Ilan Ramon

Trails from the debris of Columbia are seen in the sky above east Texas, February 1, 2003.

The Soviets feared the U.S. Shuttle as a military weapon. Endowed with a 1,500 nautical mile (1726 mi or 2778 km) cross–range maneuver capability during reentry, it could make a sudden dive into the atmosphere to drop nukes on Moscow or other strategic targets. So in the 1970s they began developing the equally capable Energia–Buran space shuttle system. Like the U.S., they also developed and flew a variety of spaceplanes.

Side by side comparison between the U.S. Space Shuttle and Energia/Buran. They were outwardly similar and their performance was comparable: payload to LEO was 1.2% of total mass for the Shuttle, 1.25% for Buran.

In November 1988 a specially–designed Energia booster rocket lifted the Buran on an inaugural unmanned test flight (unlike the Shuttle it could fly with or without humans onboard). Buran orbited the Earth twice and made a flawless automatic landing at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. But the Soviet Union was crumbling, and this would be Buran’s last and only flight. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) formally ceased to exist on December 26, 1991.

World’s Space Stations

In the heydays of the Moon Race America had many fantastic military space plans, over a wide, well–financed, and totally secret front. Besides orbiting hundreds of reconnaissance spy satellites, the country planned manned military space stations, maneuverable manned spacecraft, the establishment of scientific and military bases on the Moon, and anti–satellites for knocking Soviet surveillance satellites out of the sky. Lucrative secret contracts were let for the development of a well-equipped Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) to enable astronaut spies to take better and more detailed photographs of the Soviet Union and its allies than competing spy planes and surveillance satellites. The MOL orbital spy station was equipped with a sophisticated camera the size of a car. The magnificent camera system and optics—an advanced set of folded mirrors tucked into the station—were so far ahead of their time that a nearly identical configuration is still in use today! Tied to NASA’s Gemini Program the United States had a secret “shadow” Gemini, complete with spacecraft, 17 highly trained MOL astronauts, and support personnel to boot.

Artist’s concept of the U.S. Air Force’s Manned Orbital Laboratory.

The Soviet Union countered America’s MOL and then some with the Almaz military space station. They surpassed the MOL by launching five Almaz space stations, including three extended–stay missions with two military cosmonauts. Like the U.S., Russia has continued launching spy satellites to this day. They followed Almaz with the Yantar, Orlets, Resurs, and Persona unmanned reconnaissance satellites.

Military Gemini B spacecraft in space, artist’s concept

The one and only MOL test launch, November 3, 1966 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (left). Proponents of competing approaches argued that equally capable reconnaissance systems and optics could be mounted on high–flying spy planes and satellites, and that they’d end up being cheaper than having to keep military men in space. Technology had advanced to the point that real–time operators on the ground––like their space–borne counterparts––could make snap judgments on which targets were of interest and zoom in on them as long as the automated systems in orbit and on the ground functioned properly. Which they usually did. Reconnaissance aircraft like the U–2 and SR–71 were even more mission–flexible. So the MOL program was cancelled in 1969.

On April 10, 1971 the Soviets orbited the world’s first space station: the Salyut. This accomplishment gave sagging Russian morale a much-needed boost after losing the moon race to the United States. In fact, for the next 30 years the Russians dominated space station development, with six further Salyut stations and the larger Mir space station which remained operational for 15 years (1986-2001) until the long–delayed ISS finally became a reality.

View of the Soviet Salyut 6 space station in orbit with two Soyuz spacecraft docked with it – one at either end. The Almaz space station, a militarized version of Salyut, was similar in outward appearance.

Mir Space Station upon completion in 1996. Mir was in orbit for 12½ years (compared to Skylab’s six years), and was occupied for 10 years, over 20 times as long as Skylab!

The Soviet Salyut, Almaz, Mir; and American Skylab space stations paved the way for the International Space Station which debuted in 1988. The ISS has 16 pressurized modules: five Russian modules (Zarya, Pirs, Zvezda, Poisk and Rassvet), eight US modules (BEAM, Leonardo, Harmony, Quest, Tranquility, Unity, Cupola, and Destiny), two Japanese modules (the JEM-ELM-PS and JEM-PM) and one European module (Columbus). When the Space Shuttle was retired after 135 flights in July 2011, Russian Soyuz spacecraft took over the ISS servicing and astronaut replacement role. Soyuz vehicles are used to launch manned Soyuz spacecraft as part of the Soyuz program, as well as to launch unmanned Progress supply spacecraft to the ISS and for commercial launches marketed and operated by Starsem, a European/Russian conglomerate. Today commercial companies like SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance are also servicing the ISS.

International Space Station in orbit, March 2011. Since then several modules have been added and more are planned. The ISS weighs almost 971,000 pounds (440,000 kg).

Spacecraft don’t just arrive at the ISS and magically find a docking port, like one would find a parking space in a parking garage on Earth. In Space to Stay uses plain language, easily understandable terms, and lucid explanations accompanied by clear illustrations to explain what spacecraft have to do and the systems they use to do it: orbital phasing and maneuvering, precise attitude control and stabilization, orbital rendezvous, approach, docking maneuvers, and undocking.

Reusable rockets able to launch payloads to orbit in a single stage are an extreme challenge to develop even with today’s best technologies In the 1990s Lockheed Martin’s Skunkworks developed the X-33, an ambitious single-stage-to-orbit completely reusable spaceplane. It never flew and NASA cancelled it in 2001 before a prototype could be completed. Many military space programs like the X-30 National Aerospace Plane have suffered a similar fate. Nevertheless, a number of X-vehicles (X-1 to X-56, of which 41 have flown) continue to maturate aerospace technologies.

Size comparison among X–33, VentureStar, and Space Shuttle

VentureStar in orbit (artist’s concept)

The Space Launch System is part of NASA’s deep space exploration plans including a crewed mission to Mars. The SLS is to be upgraded over time with more powerful versions.

SLS planned evolution and vehicle configurations, showing payloads to LEO. Note heavy reliance on Space Shuttle hardware. Block upgrades and timeframes are uncertain and depend on Congressional funding.

Artist’s rendering of SLS Block I Crew launching with Orion on Exploration Mission 1 in 2020 (NASA hopes) from KSC

Photo credits (in approximate order): NASA/GSFC, Wikipedia (2), NASA (12), Associated Press (2), flickrhivemind.net, NPO Molniya Research Industrial Corporation, S.P. Korolyov Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, U.S. Air Force (2), Science Photo Library, NASA/LaRC, NASA/Armstrong Flight Research Center.