Space Sunday: inside Apollo, rover delays & LOP-G changes

Apollo in Real Time. Credit: NASA
2019 through 2022 mark the fiftieth anniversaries of the Apollo Moon landings, and I’ve previously covered the flights of Apollo 11 (in three parts: part 1, part 2 and part 3) and the flight of Apollo 12. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the only Apollo mission to take place in 1970, and perhaps the second most famous of them all: the flight of Apollo 13.

On Friday, March 13th, in the run-up to marking the 50th anniversary of that dramatic mission (which I’ll be covering nearer the time), NASA has released Apollo 13: The Third Lunar Landing Attempt, the third in its web-based Apollo in Real Time.

Developed and produced by NASA software engineer and historian Ben Feist, Apollo in Real Time is a series of in-depth on-line resources that allow people to relive Apollo missions 11, 17 and now 13 by presenting all of the space-to-ground and on board audio from the missions; all of the mission control film footage, news pool television transmissions and press conferences audio; and all of the flight photography synced to a timeline for each mission covering when every word was spoken, scene was filmed and image was taken. Together they represent the most complete records of the three missions.

Putting these sites together has been a labour of love and a technical challenge for Feist. While almost all of the original audio recordings for the missions had been archived, they had been made using a tape format for which only one playback machine remained, requiring they be re-recorded digitally.

Apollo 13 In Real Time showing (top l) the moment of engine ignition; (bottom l) mission milestone / transcript / commentary options; (r top) adjustable audio tracks for entire mission and current period; (bottom r) options for displaying additional information / images. Credit: NASA

For Apollo 13, however, there was a particular problem: the five most important tapes from the mission – those recording the events leading up to, during and immediately following the explosion that crippled both the Service and Command modules – were missing, having been removed to be used in the post-accident investigations. These took time to locate, and proved to be in as poor condition as the rest.

Fortunately, Feist was able to enlist the help of Jeremy Cooper, a software audio specialist, who wrote an algorithm that allowed the distortions in all of the tapes to be eliminated during the re-recording process, providing a complete, high-quality audio record of all three missions.

Most poignantly, perhaps with the Apollo 13 mission, are not the exchanges between mission team members or with mission control and the spacecraft (many of which run concurrently with one another, hence the sheer volume of audio available), but the recordings of telephone conversations between the wives of the astronauts aboard the stricken space craft, and astronaut Ken Mattingly (who had been due to fly the mission, before he was exposed to a risk of contracting German measles and was replaced by Jack Swigert) at mission control.

My kids aren’t up yet and they don’t even know what is going on. They went to sleep before all this came up last night. And I was wondering what I could tell them as far as… um, um, in other words, are we really pretty safe right now?   

– Marilyn Lovell, wife of Apollo 13 commander James Lovell, on the phone to mission CapCom
Ken Mattingly
in the early hours of April 14th, 1970, following the explosion aboard the

These exchanges, filled with angst and concern, yet delivered in an eerie calmness, really bring home the situation faced by all involved in the unfolding situation.

Apollo 13 in Real Time includes photography by the crew. In these images, captured by Fred Haise, (l) the Lunar Module can be seen stowed in the upper section of the Saturn V S-IVB stage as Lovell guides the command and Service Module towards a docking with the round port in the top of the LM, ready to withdraw it from the spent stage. (r) The S-IVB stage as it drifts and diverges away from the mated CSM and LM post-extraction. The nozzles in the lower left corner are a group of attitude control thrusters on the LM. Credits: F. Haise / NASA

As well as recovering the audio from the missions, Feist and his team had to also painstakingly match it to footage recorded within Mission control throughout each mission – much of it without sound. All of this took considerable time and effort by Feist and his small team; in the case of Apollo 13, a total of eight months of continuous work went into putting together a complete history of the mission’s exact timeline of event from launch to splashdown.

Currently, you can join Apollo 13 in the moments leading up to launch or while it is “in progress.” However, from April 10th, and for the period of the mission from pre-flight through to recovery, you’ll be able to join in “right now” exactly to the hour in the mission, 50 years later and witness it unfolding.

Apollo 13 in Real Time: the Lunar module Aquarius, which served as the crew’s lifeboat (l) and the Command and Service Module (CSM), showing the area of the explosion and damage. Credit: NASA

Apollo 13 In Real Time, together with Apollo 11 and Apollo 17, provides a remarkable insight into these historic flights of exploration and discovery.

ESA Delays Rosalind Franklin’s Flight to Mars

Rosalind Franklin, the European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover, together with its Russian-built lander, has had its July launch date pushed back by two years. The British-built rover, which has had far more than its fair share of woes over the 10+ years of its development (including having to be entirely re-designed after NASA welched on an agreement to launch the rover), will now not launch until the August / September 2022 opposition launch opportunity.

The primary reason for the launch delay is related to the mission’s complex parachute system intended to slow the combined lander / rover as they pass through the Martian atmosphere and to a soft landing on the planet’s surface.

In all, the mission utilises three parachute systems: a high-altitude pilot parachute, designed to steady the vehicles after entry into the Martian atmosphere; an initial “first stage” supersonic parachute, designed to act as a speed brake and slow the lander and rover to subsonic speeds; and finally a much larger “second stage” parachute designed to manage the descent through the atmosphere. As late as August 2019, both of these latter parachutes were failing test deployments in simulated Martian conditions.

The ExoMars parachute systems. Credit: ESA

With the assistance of expertise from NASA – who have the greatest experience in the use of parachute landing systems on Mars – the cause of the failures was eventually traced to the containment bags for the parachutes, which were damaging both on their deployment. This forced a complete redesign of the bags, which was due to be tested at a high-altitude test range in Oregon, USA this month to confirm their readiness for use. However, the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus strain means that the testing is not now possible. Nor is the testing the only aspect of the mission impacted by the virus: the primary control and management centre for the rover mission is located in Turn, Italy, and is under lock-down, severely hampering mission management and coordination work.

However, it was the inability to carry out the parachute deployment tests that prompted the decision to postpone the mission’s launch date.

We agreed together it’s better to go for success than just to go for launch at this time. Although we are close to launch readiness we cannot cut corners. Launching this year would mean sacrificing essential remaining tests. We want to make ourselves 100% sure of a successful mission. We cannot allow ourselves any margin of error. More verification activities will ensure a safe trip and the best scientific results on Mars.

– ESA Director General Jan Wörner, announcing the ExoMars mission delay

Landscapes and avatars in Second Life

Focus Magazine: Charly Keating

Currently open at both the Focus Photo Gallery and the Focus Artist In Residence (FAIR) galleries, operated by Focus Magazine and curated by AngelaThespian and PatrickofIreland are a set of exhibitions I enjoyed viewing over the weekend for their mix of subject and styles.

Having opened on March 6th, the exhibition that the Focus Photo Gallery, located on the upper floors of the Magazine’s main building, features the landscape photography of Charly Keating (ladycharis). Described as a “painter of thoughts; photographer of dreams” her work is just that: art that offers settings as they might appear in thoughts and dreams.

Focus Magazine: Charly Keating

Dark-toned, carefully post-processed to emphasise certain elements – clouds, Sun, sky as a whole, the fall of light on a wall, and so on, and composed with an eye for harmony and balance between foreground and background, these are pieces in which it is easy to become lost. Such is the beauty of each scene offered, that it is both simultaneously new and yet familiar, regardless of whether or not we recognise the actual location where the original image may have been captured. They are evocative of memories that appear to be ours whilst in truth remaining Charly’s own vision.

Rich in colour and content, evocative in presentation, this exhibition served as my first exposure to Charly’s work in-world, and I look forward to seeing more in the future.

Focus Magazine: Rachel Magic

The remaining four artists considered here have their work exhibited at the FAIR gallery, a short walk across the sky platform from the Focus offices.

On the ground floor, Rachel Magic (larisalyn) similarly use her studies of landscapes settings and self-portraits to tell a story. She does so through a broad palette of styles, from black and white through to colour, with some using tonal approaches to their finish, others leaning more to painted scenes than photographs. All have touches of detail that help to draw the observer into them and frame their own narrative around the picture.

Focus Magazine: Jason Westfield

Across the hall, Jason Westfield offers a series of avatar studies that again offers a range of styles and approaches, from self-portraits through to subtle female studies rendered in a number of finishes that tend to draw the eye to them, although I personally felt the most evocative of the pieces displayed are Mask and Hand. The latter in particular is beautiful in its apparent simplicity, and yet deeply nuanced in potential interpretation and artfully presented.

The upper floor of the FAIR building presents what might be considered a join exhibition by SL partners Vin Soulstar and Airi Soulstar (AiriTryst).

Focus Magazine: Vin Soulstar

Both exhibits again focus on avatar studies and between them revel the couple’s relationship and a couple and as photographers. As such, these exhibits stand as both complimentary and complementary halves of the same coin, so to speak.

Within each side of the floor where they are displayed, we’re offered insight into the individual styles used by Vin and Airi – colour, tone, lighting, post-processing, finish – which sets them apart as individual photographers. At the same time, we are given witness to the manner in which they view their work and lives as an SL couple, which draws their respective exhibitions together into a single whole.

Focus Magazine: Airi Soulstar

An engaging series of exhibitions, nicely brought together in a single place, the Focus Magazine and FAIR galleries are well worth a visit. Should you do so, don’t forget to also pay a visit to the Exploratorium of Art, located under the main platform, and accessed via the building at its southern end.

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Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with Seanchai Library

Seanchai Library

It’s time to highlight another week of storytelling in Voice by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s home unless otherwise indicated. Note that the schedule below may be subject to change during the week, please refer to the Seanchai Library website for the latest information through the week.

Sunday, March 15th: Celebrating and Dancing in the Green

Marking the upcoming Saint Patrick’s Day, Seanchai Library will be at Murphy’s Pub on Chiaroscuro Isle.

  • 13:00 – Celebrating the Green: stories read by Dubhna Rhiadra, Aoife Lorefield, Corwyn Allen, and Kayden Oconnell.
  • 14:00 – Dancing the Green at the square outside Murphy’s Pub with Aoife Lorefield at 14:00 and Caledonia Skytower at 15:00.

Monday, March 16th 19:00: The Ugly Little Boy

Gyro Muggins reads a tale that started life as a short story by Isaac Asimov, and was later expanded into a full length novel by Asimov writing in collaboration with Robert Silverberg.

A 21st century time travel experiment results in a Neanderthal boy being pulled from his time. The intention is to study the boy and understand how his kind lived. However because of the potential for time paradoxes, the boy must be kept in a within a stasis module, a place physically separated from modern time; but he must still be cared for. So the company behind the experiment hires a children’s nurse, Edith Fellowes, to look after him.

Initially horrified by the child, Edith comes to forms a bond with him, discovering he is intelligent and capable of both learning and love. However, to Stasis – the company behind the experiment – the boy is little more than a commodity to be observed and with a story to be sold to the media. As such, he is only of value for as long as there is public interest in his story. When that fades, the company determines the child must be returned to his own time, his place to be taken by a subject from another era. But Edith knows that, thanks to all she has taught him, his own time is no longer a place he is equipped to survive within, and determines she must take action to protect him.

Tuesday, March 17th 19:00: Saint Patrick’s Day

At Ceiliuradh Glen, Seanchai Library.

18:30: Corwyn Allen Live!

With Gyro Muggins.

19:10: The Quiet Man

Released in 1952, John Ford’s The Quiet Man is regarded as a classic Irish-American romantic comedy / drama. Starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara (and assorted members of their RL families!) and Barry Fitzgerald, it is a popular choice among critics and film-lovers.

The screenplay for the film was drawn in a large part from a short story of the same name originally published in 1933 in the Saturday Evening Post, and penned by Irish author, Maurice Welsh.

Together with a number of other short stories by Walsh, The Quiet Man was gathered into a single volume of his short stories, The Quiet Man and Other Stories, which dealt with many recurring characters living in rural Ireland of the 1920s, and set against the backdrop of the civil unrest which affected the country at that time, while examining the complexities and occasional intrigues of life, love and Irish traditions.

Join Caledonia Skytower as she reads Walsh’s original tale of The Quiet Man, Paddy Bawn Enright to Mark St. Patrick’s Day.

Wednesday, March 18th, 19:00: The Phantom Tollbooth

Finn Zeddmore reads Norton Juster’s fantasy adventure for younger readers.

For Milo, everything is a bore and all activities little more than a waste of time. Then one day he arrives home in his usual state of disinterest, only to find a package waiting for him. He has no idea where it has come from or who might have sent it, but is clearly intended for him, given the label. Opening it, he discovers a small tollbooth and a map of “the Lands Beyond,” illustrating the Kingdom of Wisdom.

Reading the limited instructions – that warn him to have a destination from the map in mind – and thinking the package to be some kind of game, he sets the tollbooth up, decides Dictionopolis should be his destination, and propels the accompanying little car through the tollbooth.

Immediately he finds himself driving an actual car through a city that is clearly not his own. Here he discovers he must remain focused, lest his thoughts wander, and his journey wanders as well; a lesson he only discovers when he does daydream and finds himself in the Doldrums.

Also as he travels and meets new friends, so he also realises something else: life is far from boring or dull; it actually offers much to be discovered.

Thursday, March 19th, 19:00: Liath Luachra: The Pursuit

Based on the Fionn legends.

Ireland, 189 A.D. Liath Luachra and her band of warriors rush to rescue the kidnapped wife of their employer. Facts are a bit hazy, the employer is unpleasant, but Liath and her men are barely surviving and need the job. As always with an O’Sullivan story, the landscape is almost a character in the tale.

With Shandon Loring, also in Kitely –

Advanced Announcement – Seanchai Celebrates a Dozen

On Sunday, March 22nd, Seanchai Library will mark its 12th anniversary with an afternoon of festivities.