Astronautical engineer and astronomer George Robert Carruthers, a name well-known and dearly regarded in the space science community, and a good friend of the National Air and Space Museum, passed away on Saturday, December 26 after a long illness.
The Museum periodically performs a thorough, physical check of all our objects. We open panels and cases and closely inspect each object for any sign of deterioration due to light, humidity, vibration, or just the march of time. We always hope there are no surprises. But when conservator Robin O’Hern, gallery inventory coordinator Erin Ober, and their colleagues opened a large chamber in the Apollo to the Moon gallery, they got a shock; an acrid chemical smell.
It’s the little things we take for granted here on Earth; things like being able to lie down on a bed and not have it float away, or wake up without suffocating on our own exhaled carbon dioxide. While interning at the Museum, I’ve spent time researching several of those things we take for granted but astronauts in space cannot.
On this day in 2007, the Mars Phoenix lander was launched from a Delta II at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Phoenix flew to a site in the far northern plains of Mars where it analyzed components of the surface, subsurface, and atmosphere.
Radar instruments play an important role in our study of Earth’s nearest neighbors, such as the Moon, Venus, and Mars. Radar can provide a range of information regarding the materials that make up the surface of a planet and offer a unique perspective on the underlying structure. To get the most out of our research it is important to have a fundamental understanding of the hardware that makes up a radar instrument. What better way to achieve this than build our own.
One of the many threads in our Explore the Universe gallery is the changing role of women in astronomy over the past two centuries. In the present gallery, opened in September 2001, we examine how the role of women as astronomers has changed over time from assisting family members to leaders of research teams.
Ninety years ago today, on March 16, 1926, Robert H. Goddard (1882-1945) launched the world’s first liquid-propellant rocket. His rickety contraption, with its combustion chamber and nozzle on top, burned for 20 seconds before consuming enough liquid oxygen and gasoline to lift itself off the launch rack. The rocket took off from a snowy field outside Worcester, Massachusetts, reaching a height of about 12.5 meters (41 feet) and a distance of 56 meters (184 feet). It was smashed on impact. Goddard, his wife Esther, and a couple of assistants from Clark University, where he was a physics professor, were the only witnesses.
A few years after graduating from Earlham College with a BA in Mathematics, Margaret Hamilton soon found herself in charge of software development and production for the Apollo missions to the Moon at the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory. Her work was critical to the success of the six voyages to the Moon between 1969 and 1972. In a male-dominated field, Hamilton became known as the “Rope Mother,” which was an apt description for her role and referred to the unusual way that computer programs were stored on the Apollo Guidance Computers.
Training underwater for extravehicular activity (EVA)—popularly known as spacewalking—is now critical for preparing astronauts to work in weightlessness. But when cosmonauts and astronauts first ventured outside their spacecraft 50 years ago, in 1965 and 1966, they had no such training. Spacewalking did not appear difficult, nor did space program officials think that underwater work was needed. In the United States, it took Eugene Cernan’s June 1966 Gemini IX EVA to change attitudes. Fighting against his pressurized suit, while trying to do work without adequate handholds and footholds, Cernan quickly became exhausted and overheated. Only afterward did NASA Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston reach out to a tiny company outside Baltimore: Environmental Research Associates, Inc. (ERA). Funded by another agency center, it had been experimenting with EVA simulation in a rented school pool on nights, holidays, and weekends. That project became the foundation for Houston’s first underwater training facility.