Wernher von Braun was a superb engineering manager, an excellent pilot, and a decent pianist. In the U.S., he became a national celebrity while speaking and writing about spaceflight. But we don’t think him as a science-fiction writer.
It’s not a typical afternoon at work when you answer the phone and hear, "Hey, Dr. Neal. It's Kjell Lindgren calling from the International Space Station." Thus began a 15-minute surprise call from the ISS Expedition 44-45 NASA astronaut. Lindgren just wanted to say that he had with him the Museum flag and Gemini IV patch that he borrowed to take in his personal preference kit. He had unpacked them and shot some photos in the cupola for us. "I'm looking forward to bringing those back to you once I get back from my mission," he said.
I recently attended a screening of Bridge of Spies, a new movie directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks. Purportedly, Bridge of Spies was inspired by events surrounding the 1962 exchange of U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers and graduate student Frederick Pryor for Soviet spy Rudolph Abel. The movie event was sponsored by Virginia’s Cold War Museum which was co-founded by Francis Gary Powers, Jr., who was also in attendance and served on a Q&A panel after the film.
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