For those involved or interested in human spaceflight, the last week of January is a solemn time of remembrance, as we commemorate Apollo 1 and the Space Shuttle missions Challenger and Columbia. How does our Museum deal with the memory of such tragedies?
As the Apollo program took form in the early 1960s, NASA engineers always kept the safety of their astronauts at the fore in light of the enormous risks they knew were inherent in the goal of landing on the Moon and returning safely. Wherever possible, they designed backup systems so that if a primary system failed the crew would still have the means to return home safely. Sometimes creating a backup was not always practical. For example, the Service Module’s engine needed to fire while the crew was behind the Moon to place them in a trajectory that would return them to Earth. There was no practical backup if the engine failed. But even in that instance a plan was worked out to use the Lunar Module’s (LM) engine as a backup. D
When most people think of emergency fixes in space, the first incident that comes to mind is the famous Apollo 13 mission. The astronauts fashioned duct tape and surplus materials into air filtration canisters in the lunar module to keep all three astronauts alive for the entire trip home.
Gene Kranz is best known for his stellar performance as flight director for the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. But Kranz is also known for another thing: his white vests. Kranz’s vests had legendary status around mission control, and also in the minds of the public after actor Ed Harris wore an exact replica of Kranz’s most famous vest in the 1995 movie, Apollo 13. Kranz’s vests represented the strong and can-do approach that pervaded his mission control team, especially during the Apollo 13 mission in which the astronauts’ lives were at stake.
We’ve received a few comments and questions about why our stretch goal for the Neil Armstrong #RebootTheSuit Kickstarter project is Alan Shepard’s Mercury Freedom 7 spacesuit. The short answer is that the two suits bracket the ideas and accomplishments of the Apollo space program.
One of my earliest memories is of watching the Moon landing on TV with my dad. I was barely four years old, so the whole thing really kind of went over my head. I do remember being upset that "Mr. Dressup" had been pre-empted. Also, I was fascinated by the fact that my dad was practically climbing into the TV, he was so excited! (He was a science teacher—genes that skipped me, sadly!) I learned that day, if people could walk on the Moon, anything was possible.
Much like medical triage, conservation triage analyzes the risk posed to an object and the hazards associated with not taking immediate action. Triage conservators ask questions such as: Can the object be handled safely by staff and researchers? Will the degradation of the object continue if it is not treated immediately? What treatment can we do, with the resources at hand, to keep this object stable as long as possible?