Humans aren't yet able to go to Mars ourselves, so we’re reliant on the help of rovers and landers to be our eyes and ears on the surface - our mechanical “boots on the ground.” This episode is our ode to ROBOTS!
Half a century ago, in February and June 1966, robotic spacecraft first landed on the Moon. I vividly remember those events from my days as a 14-year-old space buff. On February 3, the Soviet Union’s Luna 9 thumped down on the vast lava plain known as Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms), after a number of failed attempts. A Soviet stamp shows its landing configuration, which used air bags to cushion its fall. On the right is the first picture transmitted, from the turret camera in the cylinder on top.
During the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions, one of NASA’s concerns was the safety of its crews, something it monitored rigorously through the use of biomedical instrumentation. As initial flight planning commenced in 1959, biomedical equipment capable of transmitting from space did not exist. NASA quickly brought together medical staff and hardware engineers to develop biomedical technology.
Last October, we announced that we had acquired the collection of Sally K. Ride, the first American woman in space. Now, we can share that the archival portion of the collection has been processed and is available for research! See our finding aid for more detailed information.
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.
I recently shared that we uncovered handwritten notes and markings inside the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia—the spacecraft that carried astronauts Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin into lunar orbit and home on their historic voyage of July 1969. As part of our collaboration with the Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office to create a detailed 3D model of the spacecraft, we had access to previously inaccessible areas for the first time in many years. We found notes written on a number of locker doors and even a small calendar used to check off days of the mission. We did our best to imagine the circumstances surrounding the creation of these markings. In the weeks that have passed, I have been working with an extraordinary team of experts to see what we can learn about each of the markings we documented, especially the more technical numerical entries. Today, we are posting the Apollo Flight Journal (AFJ) website, a detailed account of all the information we’ve gathered so far.
Scientific images can rival those of the most talented artists, a fact that is now on display in A New Moon Rises at our Museum in Washington, DC. Take, for example, an image of Reiner Gamma, a beautiful and strange feature on the Moon that looks as though a tadpole has been painted across the flat surface of Oceanus Procellarum. The image demonstrates the phenomenon of lunar swirls – bright patterns that some scientists believe may result from the solar wind striking the lunar soil. A localized magnetic field anomaly may have given this swirl its peculiar shape. The photo is densely packed with scientific information.
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.