Space Sunday: recalling Apollo 8

The first image taken by humans of the whole Earth, captured by Bill Anders. It shows the Earth at a distance of 30,000 km (18,750 mi). South is at the top, with South America visible at the covering the top half centre, with Africa entering into shadow. Credit: NASA / Bill Anders (as08-16-2593hr)

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of human beings setting foot on the surface of our Moon. The Apollo programme may have first and foremost been driven out of political need / desires, but it nevertheless stands as a remarkable achievement, given it came n the same decade when a human being first flew in space, and a little under 12 years since the very first satellite orbited the Earth.

To this day, Apollo stands as one of the most remarkable space programmes ever witnessed in terms of scale, cost, and return. It propelled a generation of American school children to pursue careers in engineering, flight, the sciences and more. In all, the Apollo lunar programme flew a total of 11 crews in space between 1967 and 1972, nine of them to the Moon, with two crewed missions to Earth orbit.

After the tragedy of the Apollo 1 fire in January 1967, which claimed the lives of Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White II and Roger B. Chaffee, NASA worked hard to redesign the Apollo Command Module, providing far greater insulation against the risk of fire, as well as altering the vehicle’s atmosphere (from 100% oxygen to a 60/40 oxygen / nitrogen mix) and altering the main hatch so that the crew could escape in the event of a launch pad emergency. In October 1968, the redesigned vehicle, along with its supporting Service Module (together referred to as the Command and Service Module, or CSM) was tested in Earth orbit for the first time by the crew of Apollo 7.

The crew of Apollo 8: (l) James A Lovell Jr, Command Module Pilot; (c) William A. Anders (Lunar Module pilot, although no actual lunar Module was flown); (r) Frank Borman, Mission Commander. This official photograph was taken on November 22nd, 1968, a month before they would orbit the Moon. Credit: NASA

Scheduled for launch towards the end of 1968, Apollo 8 had originally been planned as the first orbital flight test of the CSM and Lunar Module (LM). However, two events encouraged NASA to revisit their plans. Due to continued delays in the delivery of a flight-ready LM, the agency decided to swap the Apollo 8 and Apollo 9 missions and crews around; Apollo 9 would flight-test CSM and LM, once available. Meanwhile, Apollo 8, carrying Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders, and marking the first crewed flight of the mighty Saturn V rocket, would be used in an orbital flight designed to simulate the atmospheric re-entry at the speeds a Command Module would face on a return from the Moon without actually sending the crew to the Moon.

Then, in August and September 1969 photographs captured by US spy satellites suggested the Soviet Union had one of its massive N1 rocket, easily the equal of Saturn V, sitting on a launch pad. With fears that the Soviet Union was perhaps approaching the point where it could launch a crewed mission to the Moon, Apollo 8 was further revised and Borman, Lovell and Anders were informed they’d be spending Christmas 1968 where no other person had spent Christmas before: in orbit around the Moon, allowing them to fully check-out the CSM as it would be flown in an actual lunar landing mission.

Apollo 8 on the launch pad the night before launch. Credit NASA

So it was that on Saturday, December 21st, 1968, Borman, Lovell and Anders were strapped into their seats atop the 110.6 metre (363 ft) tall Saturn V, about to undertake the longest journey ever undertaken by humans up until that point in time. At 07:51 local time (12:51 UTC) the five massive F-5 engines of the rocket’s first stage thundered into life, slowly lifting the 2,812 tonne (US 3,100 short tons) vehicle into the sky.

On reaching orbit, the CSM still attached to the Saturn V’s third stage, spent some 2 hours and 30 minutes in orbit while the crew performed a final check of their systems. Then the S-IVB motor was re-started, and in five minutes accelerated the vehicle from 7,600 to 10,800 metres per second (25,000 to 35,000 ft/s), pushing it away from Earth and on course for the Moon. With TLI – Trans-Lunar Injection successfully completed, the crew separated the CSM and rotated it to photograph the expended third stage, still following behind.

The Apollo 8 S-IVB third stage, imaged from the Command module, shortly after separation. The object at the forward end of the rocket stage is a Lunar Module Test Article, a dummy payload carried in place of an actual Lunar Module. Credit: NASA (from official image AS8-16-2583)

After a mid-course correction, and around 55 hours and 40 minutes after launch, the crew of Apollo 8 became the first humans to enter the gravitational sphere of influence of another celestial body as the effect of the Moon’s gravitational force on the vehicle had become stronger than that of the Earth. Nine hours later, the crew performed the second of two mid-course corrections using the CSM’s reaction control system, bringing them to within 115.4 km (71.7 m) of the lunar surface and oriented ready for a burn of the Service Module’s main motor to slow them into lunar orbit.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: recalling Apollo 8”


Nostalgia at :nostos:deer: in Second Life

:nostos:deer:; Inara Pey, December 2018, on Flickr
:nostos:deer: – click any image for full size

Second Life is always changing. Not just technically in terms of capabilities and options, or even visually in terms of the overall look and feel; but physically as well. Regions come, regions go – often with much lamenting in the case of the latter. Regions change hands from public to private; settings change with time both in reflection of the seasons and as of the evolving nature of design and model building.

Such is the way of things, it is sometimes easy to forget that there can also be found in Second Life a sense of constancy; travel through the mainland continents, for example will reveal places that many not have changed for a very long time, offering glimpse’s of the grid’s past and a reminder that it does have a history.

:nostos:deer:; Inara Pey, December 2018, on Flickr

While they can be harder to find, such places do exist among the myriad of private regions scattered across the grid. Take :nostos:deer:, for example, the full region held by Dora Nacht and Hide Mint, and home to their Little Hopper brand. I first visited it almost six years ago, in February 2013, when it was already over a year old. I’m not sure I’ve actually ever been back, but sorting through photos on my hard drive recently brought me to a folder of images taken during that visit; seeing it was still on the map, curiosity got the better of me, so I hopped over to take a look, and it was like stepping back in time.

In 2013, I was struck by the simple design of the region and the sense of fun and whimsy within it, and it is true to start that, but for the snow present in 2018, almost nothing about the region has changed. The mine shaft entrance / teleport up to the skyborne store is still there, nestled by the deep gorge of the river that cuts through the region; the little purpose-built (by Hide) tram clatters along its single track, rolling from little station and out towards the coast before committing a 180-degree turn and trundling back as if it had a sudden change of heart; the east side beach is still watched over by the single finger of a lighthouse.

:nostos:deer:; Inara Pey, December 2018, on Flickr

And there is the other little tram, still caught it time as it skitters on spinning wheels at the end of a track from which the bridge has vanished out from underneath it, rail sleepers tumbling like a twisted staircase into the sea below. Throughout the region, there is still an air that this is a place for doing things in a not-really-actually-doing-things kind of way.

For example, the canoe awaits paddlers down in the river gorge, while the swan pedalo boats similarly await attention in the north-west. Elsewhere, wooden logs lie like abandoned sleepers to form paths both up hill and down dale for those wishing to follow them. But there is not sense of having to do all or any of this, with the region offering many places where people can simply sit and rest and let time pass them by.

:nostos:deer:; Inara Pey, December 2018, on Flickr

Compared to the sophistication of modern region designs, some might view nostos:deer as “lacking”. It relies entirely on simple terraforming; there is no use of mesh landforms or other elements, the tress are predominantly prim-based, and so on. But that doesn’t make the region any less attractive per se.

Rather, the fact that it has stood so unchanged for so long allows it to stand as a glimpse into a bygone era of Second Life’s history. Equally, for those of us who remember it from visits taken four or five or six years ago, its unchanged nature causes a warming rush of familiarity, almost a sense of homecoming in keeping with the first part of the region’s name, mixed with a deep sense of nostalgia and re-discovery.

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