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Monday, February 9, 2015

This Week in Flight Test: 9-February-2015

This the first in a series of weekly updates of the happenings in flight test.  Here I will post links to articles and videos on these flight test events with my own rambling about them from the POV of a former flight tester.

AFFT Museum Latest Acquisition

This one close to my heart.  When I worked at the AFFT, better known as Edwards AFB, I visited the museum often and even did a few video reports on the various unique aircraft they had in the collection.  The M2-F1 for those who don't know, was a lifting body design, developed in the early 60s to prove that a plane could fly without wings.  It was a minimally funded project, and first flew towed behind a Pontaic Convertible, as it had no engine of it's own.  It later flew, towed up to altitude by a NASA R4D tow plane.  Data gathered by the project led the M2-F2, M-F3, and the HL-10 that now acts as gate guard at the Armstrong Flight Research center, and to the designs of almost every fighter since.

Artifacts Found in Neil Armstrong's Purse

I make no bones about the fact that Neil Armstrong was my childhood hero, and a man I greatly respected as I grew up.  Not only was he an astronaut and the first man on the moon, he was also a flight test engineer and pilot with NASA.  So when it came to light last week that he saved some souvenirs from his Apollo-11 mission, it just made me smile.   

It seems that Armstrong's widow, Carol, while cleaning out his closest after his death (25 Aug 2012, the day before my 35th birthday) she found his old McDivitt  purse.  These were used to hold various mission items on Apollo missions, and were named in honor of Apollo 9 mission commander Jim McDivitt.  Inside the purse were all kind of little bits of memorabilia from the Apollo 11 mission.  For the most part these were mundane things, lights, mirrors, power cables, the kind of things flight tester like to acquire from a program as keepsakes.  

The two most interesting items, to me at least:

The Crewman Optical Alignment Sight (COAS)

This was device that Armstrong had to be intimately familiar with as it allowed him to dock the LEM with the Command Module (CM) upon their return from the moon.  Docking between the LEM and CM was no easy task because of the weight restriction placed on the design of the lander.  This device allowed Armstrong, and other mission commanders, to guide the craft without craning their necks the whole time.

Data Acquisition Camera (16-mm movie)

For me, this is the big one.  It pretty well known that there are no photographs of Neil Armstrong on the moon, except in reflections.  Neil was the one carrying the camera due to some internal NASA politics.  The footage of Neil descending the ladder and taking his first steps on the moon was taken with this DAC.  That right there is a serious piece of history.

Now I've seen some people complain that Neil taking these things was theft.  I don't see it that way.  All of these items would have been lost if Neil had not taken them.  All of them were non-mission critical and would have crashed back to the moon's surface with LEM ascent stage, destroyed.  That Neil preserved these, keeping them in his own private collection, I think, says a lot about how much he cared about these items and that he realized their importance.  As to why he didn't turn them in before he died, who cares, do you turn in all the little bits and bobs you "borrow" from work, or keep as souvenirs?

I am just glad that Carol did turn these in to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, where they will now go on display.  When I take my children there someday I will point them out, and thank Neil for keeping these safe for everyone to enjoy now that he is gone.

Space X News

This will probably be a part of every TWFT update as SpaceX is finally leading us back into space the right way.


Short form, the DSCOVR launch was scheduled for 8-Feb-2015.  Now the deployment of the DSCOVR satellite is a big deal in and of itself, and the primary mission of the launch, but the big deal everyone wants to see is the second landing attempt by the Falcon-9 rocket.  Landing a rocket so that it can be reused again will be a major game changer for space flight.  It will drop the cost a significant degree and finally allow the widespread utilization of space.  So I say, SpaceX, take all the time you need, get this right and take us to space.

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