Celebrating Apollo 11 in Second Life and Sansar

Recalling Apollo 11 in Sansar and Second Life – the Apollo Museum in Sansar

July 16th 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 on its historic voyage to the Moon which saw Neil Alden Armstrong and Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. set foot on the lunar surface on July 20th, while Michael Collins orbited some 11 km (69 mi) overhead.

I’m re-tracing the flight of Apollo 11 in my Space Sunday articles – part 1, published to coincide with the launch of Apollo 11 is available now, and part 2, covering the Moon landing and the return to Earth will follow on the weekend of the landing. But you can also celebrate the audacious achievement of Apollo 11 in-world in both Second Life and Sansar (and, I’m sure, in other virtual worlds as well – but I am focusing on SL and Sansar here, as it is in these worlds that I spend my time nowadays).

Second Life

Note: there are likely to be more Apollo 11 celebrations than recorded here. These are simply two I’ve enjoyed visiting.

International Spaceflight Museum

Where better to immerse yourself in all things space than the International Spaceflight Museum? Covering two regions, and with the likes of NASA’s (slightly ageing) Jet Propulsion Laboratory region adjoining or close by, the ISM allows you to take a walk through the history of international space-faring achievements, see the massive launch vehicles, re-visit missions both crewed and automated, travel the solar system, and take a glimpse of things to come.

ISM features several elements related to the Project Apollo and its precursor Project Gemini programme; for example, in the shadow of the Rocket Ring sit models of an Apollo Lunar Module (also known as the Lunar Excursion Module or LEM) and the combined Command and Service Modules (the former the capsule in which most of the Apollo crews flew to the Moon and in which all returned to Earth, the latter the power and propulsion system for the Command Module). These include cutaway schematics and other information.

Commemorating Apollo 11 at the ISM

However, located on the ISM’s Spaceport Bravo region, and in the lee of the mighty Saturn V lunch vehicle that carried every crewed Apollo lunar mission on its way to the Moon, is a display dedicated to Apollo 11 (as also seen at the SL16B celebrations in June 2019). It features a combined model of the Command and Service Module and a model of the Command Module itself that allows visitors a peek inside.

Close the this display is a model of the LRV – the Lunar Roving Vehicle, or “Moon buggy”. While this did not fly to the Moon until the Apollo J-class missions (15 through 17), it still stands as a reminder of the technical abilities of the Apollo programme.

While it didn’t fly to the Moon until Apollo 15, the Lunar Roving Vehicle played an important role in humanity’s first foray to the Moon

And if you want to get a feel for how truly massive the Saturn V rocket really was, then hop up onto the Mobile Launcher behind the Apollo 11 display.

Sitting atop a crawler / transporter the Mobile Launcher comprises the massive slate-grey launch platform base and the massive Launch Umbilical Tower (LUT) that included all of the service arms required to support the rocket (nine in all) with fuel, power, and direct access. The most famous of these arms lay close to the top of the tower as it stood in attendance beside a Saturn V. This arm held the White Room – the room where the astronauts, assisted by pad technicians, boarded their Apollo Command Module. Sadly, the White Room doesn’t form a part of the ISM’s Saturn V Launcher model – but you can climb the stairs all the way up to the swing arm on which it sat, and in doing so gain an appreciation for the size of the rocket next to it.

Headline Apollo Exhibit

Headline Apollo  is a pop-up exhibition by Diamond Marchant taking place at the Beckridge Gallery curated by Emerald Marchant in Bellisseria. It takes as its theme a look at Apollo 11 from the perspective of a north Texas newspaper, the Fort Worth Star Telegram. In doing so, it offers a unique perspective on the mission – which was as we know, managed out of the Manned Spacecraft Centre (later renamed the Johnson Space Centre), located further south, near the Texas state capital, Houston.

Beckridge Gallery: Headline Apollo

Given the size of the Bellisseria Homes, they make for a cosy gallery space, but this actually makes Headline Apollo more of an intimate visit. A guide note card is available both at the entrance to the galley and in the foyer (and which includes copies of some of the images seen in the exhibition). The exhibition itself is broadly split in two: to the left of the entrance foyer the launch and the flight to the Moon, to the right, the surface mission and return to Earth.

What makes this exhibition engaging is that Apollo 11 and the Apollo lunar missions as a whole, tend to be remembered in a way that frame them on their own. There might be some ruminations on major events of the time – such as the Vietnam War -, but by-and-large they are presented in something of a bubble. Headline Apollo, however, with its reproductions of front pages and columns from the Fort Worth Star Telegram frames the story of the mission alongside that of daily life in Forth Worth and America as a whole.

For example, sitting alongside the reports of Apollo 11 are those of a more infamous event that took place in 1969, one that would become known as the Chappaquiddick incident, which involved the death of a young woman in a car driven by Edward Kennedy, the youngest brother of John F. Kennedy, who had started America on its journey to the Moon in 1961.

Beckridge Gallery: Headline Apollo

This story, and the more local ones appearing on the reproduced pages of the newspaper put the Apollo 11 mission is something of a different perspective. We’re reminded that for all its faults and weaknesses, humankind can raise itself up, seek to achieve something better, and the bravery of just three men in a tin can can unite us all in a hope for a better tomorrow.

Complete with archival NASA photos an cover pieces from the likes of Time and Life magazines, Headline Apollo offers a departure from the more usual Apollo retrospectives and will be open to visitors through until July 28th, 2019.

Sansar

Sansar may be anathema to some Second Life users, but if you have the hardware to enjoy it – and remember you can with a suitable PC and without the need for a VR headset – then frankly, there is no better way within a publicly accessible virtual world to celebrate Apollo 11 and the entire Apollo lunar endeavour than by visiting the Apollo Museum ant Tranquillity Base.

The Apollo Museum

The Apollo Museum remains one of the highlights of Sansar (if first wrote about it back in 2017). Developed by Sansar Studios, Loot Interactive and NASA, it reproduces the main hall of the Apollo/Saturn V Centre at the Kennedy Space Centre, Florida, to offer visitors a fully interactive guide to the Apollo programme.

The Apollo Museum: Apollo Lunar Module (r) and Saturn V

Here you can walk the length of a Apollo Saturn V launch vehicle, from the exhaust bells of its five mighty F-1 engines to the tip of the Launch Abort System tower. Along the way, and set out on  time-line, you can re-trace the journey of Aldrin, Armstrong and Collins from the launch of Apollo 11 through to its splashdown 8 days later.

This is done by walking up the left side of the Saturn V, where exquisite models (the Earth and Moon not being to scale admittedly) and photos mark the significant stages of the the mission as they unfolded, culminating in Apollo 11’s arrival at the Moon and Armstrong and Aldrin’s descent to the Moon’s surface. The story then resumes on the other side of the Saturn V’s nose, with the two men ascending back to orbit to link-up with Collins in the Command and Service Module, before charting the trio’s return to Earth and splashdown.

The Apollo Museum: the little models re-creating the flight of Apollo 11, these showing the TDE phase of the mission, when Michael Collins manually flew the Command and Service Module to dock with and extract the Lunar Module from the S-IVB upper stage of the Saturn V

With interactive disks available that play audio relevant audio recordings from the mission, it’s a marvellous way to understand the mission, even if I do have a small quibble with the Lunar Module’s legs being shown unfolded during the flight to the Moon (this was actually only the case with Apollo 13, when the LM was being used as a lifeboat).

Beyond this, on the upper sections of the gallery, are sections devoted to all of the Apollo crewed flights, from the tragedy of Apollo 1 through the triumph of Apollo 11 to the near-disaster of Apollo 13, and thence to the the sounding bell of Apollo 17. These also include interactive panels that will play audio when an avatar stands on them, and are bracketed by a complete model of an Apollo Lunar Module (also referred to as the Lunar Excursion Module, or LEM) and a model of the Apollo 13 Command and Service Module showing the damaged and exposed part of the latter after it had been crippled by an explosion within a liquid oxygen tank.

The Apollo Museum

From a large disk under the Saturn V’s Launch Abort System tower, visitors can jump to Tranquillity Base, the landing area for Apollo 11.

Tranquillity Base

Also by Sansar Studios / Loot Interactive and NASA, Tranquillity Base reproduces the Apollo 11 Lunar Module as it sat on the Moon whilst Armstrong and Aldrin were on the lunar surface. This is a more static display when compared to the Apollo Museum, dominated by the Lunar Module and an overhead display which, when correctly aligned, provides insight into the surface equipment placed out on the lunar surface around the LM.

Visiting the individual elements will trigger playback of audio elements relevant to the science packages, whilst closer to the LM Armstrong’s famous statement on setting foot on the Moon’s surface can be heard.

Tranquillity Base: showing the Apollo 11 lunar Module Eagle in the background. In the middle of the picture is the Laser Ranging Retroreflector (LRRR), designed to gain accurate measurements of the Earth-Moon distance by reflecting lasers shot at it from Earth, and on the right, Passive Seismic Experiment Package designed to record “moonquakes”

And if you want to know how small the Earth looks from the surface of the Moon, be sure to tilt your camera up and around.

In Conclusion

As noted above, there are doubtless numerous other Apollo 11 celebrations – be they exhibits, parties or something else – across SL and other virtual worlds. But these are the ones I wanted to start here during this historic week. I hope you’ll take the time to drop-in and visits them.

SLurl Details

Advertisements

Firestorm 6.2.4: EAM and paving the way

On Monday, July 15th, 2019, Firestorm released version 6.2.4.57588 of their viewer.

However please note that this release is for Second Life only.

Essentially a  maintenance update, Firestorm 6.2.4.57588 brings the viewer up to parity with the official viewer, adding a range of fixes, improvements and updates from both Linden Lab and via the Firestorm team. The major new feature for this update is the Estate Access Management options.

As such, this release paves the way for Firestorm to be able to adopt the Lab’s Bakes On Mesh and Environment Enhancement Project, once these have in turn been released by Linden Lab.

Table of Contents

As per usual, this article provides an overview of the more visible updates in the release. Please refer to the release notes for a full list of updates and all associated credits. Also, note that this update means that version 5.0.11.53634 will be blocked from logging in to the Second Life grid in about three weeks.

A small personal note: my apologies to Firestorm users who may have been directed to this post by the Firestorm team’s release announcement or the Firestorm 6.2.457588 release notes and were unable to find it. My ISP suffered a major (8+ hour) outage some 90 minutes before the release was made, preventing me from uploading and posting this overview. 

Why A Second Life Only Release?

As noted above, Firestorm 6.2.4.57588 is for Second Life only. This is because Firestorm are changing how they support Second Life and OpenSim grids. You can read the full details in the official Firestorm blog post Second Life and OpenSim are No Longer Joined  at the  Hip, but in short, and in the future:

  • The Firestorm code is forked into two repositories: Second Life and OpenSim.
  • The Second Life dedicated viewer’s grid manager will only offer Agni and Aditi (SL main and beta grids).
  • The OpenSim dedicated viewer’s grid manager will NOT offer Second Life grids.
  • If you wish to access both OpenSim and Second Life, you will have to install both versions of Firestorm
  • the two versions will install entirely independently to one another and will not share settings or cache, so they will not conflict with each other.

To assist is identifying the two differernt grid versions, the Firestorm downalod pages has been changes to clearly differentiate between Second Life and OpenSim.

The revised Firestorm grid download selections

Note that at the time of writing, the OpenSim download page points to Firestorm 6.0.2.56680, which still works on both SL and OpenSim, and will use the same settings folders as 6.2.4. This will change with the next Firestorm update.

The Usual Before We Begin

As per my usual preamble:

  • There is no need to perform a clean install with this release if you do not wish to.
  • Do, however, make sure you back-up all your settings safely so you can restore them after installing 6.2.4.
  • Please refer to the official release notes for a full breakdown and changes, updates and credits associated with this release.

Lab Derived Updates

Firestorm 6.2.4.57588 brings the Firestorm viewer up to the current (at the time of writing) Linden Lab release viewer, version 6.2.3.527758, formerly the Rainbow RC viewer promoted on June 18th, 2019.In addition, this release includes some upstream fixes from current LL RC viewers, such as the HiDPI retina display support on Mac systems (Love Me Render RC).

Please refer to the Firestorm 6.2.4 release notes for details of specific Lab-derived fixes for this release.

Estate Access Management (EAM)

It has long been the case that the lists for managing access to a region / estate have been crammed into the General tab of the Region / Estate floater (World > Region / Estate or ALT-R). This has made the management of these lists – particularly the Banned list – difficult when reaching large numbers.

The Estate Access Management (EAM) project was introduced by Linden Lab to address the various shortfalls with the presentation of these list, through both back-end changes and a refactoring of the Region / Estate floater. Firestorm release 6.2.4.57588 includes the updated viewer UI, allowing estate owners and officers to make use of the improved tools.

In particular, the EAM moves the access control elements of the Region  / Estate viewer away from the General tab and into their own dedicated tab (show below).

Estate Access Management: as they have previously appeared (left) and as they are under EAM (right) – note: user names have been redacted from this lists shown

In terms of adding or removing names and groups, the new Access sub-tabs work in much the same way as the list boxes in previous releases. However, with the new design, additional functionality is added to some of the lists:

  • The Banned list additionally records:
    • The last date on which a banned individual logged-in to Second Life (to assist with housekeeping the list – if an account hasn’t been used in X months or years, why keep it on the list?).
    • The date on which an individual was banned.
    • The name of the estate officer / region holder who implemented the ban.
  • The Banned tab can be sorted into ascending / descending order by banned name, date last logged in, date banned, or by person banning them. Click on the column title to sort.
The Banned list provides more functionality: search, re-ordering, date banned, who did the banning (only applicable for banned implemented after the EAM back-end was deployed by Linden Lab earlier in 2019, pre-existing bans will have “n/a” in the new columns, as indicated by the Banned By column in this image. Note that names have been redacted from this list
  • The Estate Managers, Allowed and Allowed Groups tabs can be sorted into ascending / descending order by name. Click on the column title to sort.
  • The Allowed Groups, Allowed and Banned tabs all include a search option.
  • The number of allowed Estate Managers is increased from 10 EMs to 15 EMs – again in response to many requests from region holders.

Continue reading “Firestorm 6.2.4: EAM and paving the way”

A new (fae forest) in Second Life

(fae forest); Inara Pey, July 2019, on Flickr
(fae forest), July 2019 – click and image for full size

Miro Collas recently pointed out the Zuma Jupiter has relocated (and rebuilt) her (fae forest) region theme, prompting us to hop over and take a look at the new design in its new home.

I’ve previously written about (fae forest) in these pages in April 2019 (see Re-visiting Elvenshire in Second Life) and March 2017 (see A Mystical Fae Forest in Second Life). We enjoyed both visits due to the fairy-tale like look and feel to the designs, so I was looking forward to seeing what the relocation had led Zuma to create.

(fae forest); Inara Pey, July 2019, on Flickr
(fae forest), July 2019

In keeping Zuma’s previous designs I’ve written about, this (fae forest) maintains the fantasy element with its touch of whimsy, but it also has something of a darker tone as well. This latter aspect is somewhat apparent on arrival: the default windlight casts a hazy blanket across the region, causing distant trees to look a little ghost-like, an effect enhanced by the stardust that in places drifts on the wind.

Sitting as a humped island rising from the sea, the region has a distinct north-west to south-east orientation. Towards its centre there rises a vertically-walled table of rock, its broad plateau, complete with taller pillars and curtains of rock that in places rise above it, resembles a great, natural fortress; its castle-like look further enhanced by the ring of water that surrounds it like a natural moat.

(fae forest), July 2019

The land spreading to the west and east around this great plateau undulates gently and carries with it a feeling of being windswept and exposed. It is largely home to scrub grass, some of if providing grazing for sheep, while a few trees sit further around its eastward arc, the horizon of which is broken by the blocky form of a stone-built chapel. The grassland also sweeps around to the west and south, where it washes against the dark shadow of woodland – but more of that anon.

The great plateau is accessed through a set of stone-cut steps that face the landing point across the grasslands. Like the plateau, the steps are on a massive scale – each of them practically needs a staircase of its own to climb it. They provide the single point of entry to the table-top of rock from the lands below, as if again suggesting this is a place of natural fortification.

(fae forest), July 2019

However, the top of the plateau is not in any way given over to ideas of war or defence. Instead, it offers the clearest reflection of previous iterations of (fae forest). Richly wooded, it offers a lot to discover in what is a glorious garden sitting beneath boughs draped in lights and between which shafts of sunlight fall around a central giant gazebo. Nevertheless, the echoes of castles persist: on the south side of the gazebo more huge steps cut their way up through another great up-thrust of rock that rises like a giant natural motte to the lower plateau’s bailey, albeit one lacking defensive walls around its top.

Beyond the plateau’s bulk the landscape takes a different turn. Great columns of rock cover the south-eastern side of the region, looking for all the world like some giant’s hammer has been used to randomly pound each of them into the ground. Just to west the of these great stone blocks stands the dark woodland mentioned above, a place where rain falls and mist creeps between shadowy tree trunks.

(fae forest), July 2019

Here the region takes on something of a darker tone, not only because of the mist and rain and dark hue to the trees, but because of what lies amidst the tall trees. A ramshackle cabin raised on stout wooden legs and  looking for all the world like it should be sitting within some dank, dark corner of a bayou crouches on one side of the path. Beneath it, and somewhat ominously, baby dolls have been strung up, while facing it from the other side of the path is a strange oversized display cabinet in which hang more dolls, these ones perhaps best described as Chucky’s distance cousins, watched over by a distinctly nervous-looking cat (one of Cica Ghost’s creations).

The wood with its strange tableaux can come as an odd turn for the region to take, standing as it does in opposition to the more fairy-tale heights of the plateau above and behind it. However, it also adds to the overall atmosphere of the setting, adding to its uniqueness.

(fae forest), July 2019

This uniqueness is further increased by the oddities scattered across the region: an aero engine here, offshore ring of standing stones there, sculptures rising in unexpected places, high and low, and more – there’s even a troll hiding within the arms of denuded trees.

Atmospheric, slightly haunting, but definitely photogenic, this version of (fae forest) perhaps offers a slightly different face to the world than previous builds, but it remains evocative and utterly worthwhile in visiting.

SLurl Details

Kultivate 4th Anniversary art show

Kultivate 4th Anniversary Art Show

Sunday, July 14th marked the opening of the Kultivate Magazine 4th anniversary art show in Second Life.

Since its inception, the brand has grown to encompass the website, the side-by-side Kultivate AIR and the Windlight galleries, The Edge gallery, specialising in black and white images, and the arts community as a whole through the provisioning of personal art spaces on the Kultiate home region of Water Haven. In addition, Kultivate has provided fund-raising support for Team Diabetes of SL, Rock Your Rack (supporting the National Breast Cancer Foundation – NBCF), and Feed a Smile.

Kultivate 4th Anniversary Art Show: Vee Tamas

For their fourth anniversary, Kultivate presents a 2D and 3D art exhibition in a steampunk-themed setting. Some 27 artists are participating in the event, which also features a week of entertainment as well.

Obviously, with so many artists participating, the range of art on display is broad, with avatar studies, landscapes, colour images, monochrome, physical world paintings, mixed media, and more. All of the art is displayed in the open air, with the region’s default windlight providing a strong neutral background light to fully appreciate the pieces on display.

Kultivate 4th Anniversary Art Show: VictorSavior

I admit to inevitably being drawn to some of my favourite artists – Cybele Moon with her fabulous fable-like images; VictorSavior, who again offers a wonderful mix of art: hand-drawn avatar studies, paintings of historical figures, landscape paintings and the most engaging series of oriental-style wall hanging featuring ink-drawn images and words; Jamee Sandalwood’s wonderful landscape and region studies; and so on. However, all of the art makes this a more than engaging visit.

Entertainment for the week through to July 20th comprises (all times SLT):

  • Monday, July 15, 2019 16:00-17:00: Dimivan Ludwig.
  • Tuesday, July 16, 2019 16:00-17:00: Mavenn.
  • Wednesday, July 17, 2019 16:00-17:00: Wolfie Starfire.
  • Thursday, July 18, 2019 16:00-17:00: TBD.
  • Friday, July 19, 2019 16:00-17:00: Erika Ordinary.
  • Saturday, July 20, 2019 13:00-14:00: Closing parting.
Kultivate 4th Anniversary Art Show: Elle Thorkveld

There are also special raffle giveaways for those attending the entertainment events with prizes including two LumiPro lighting systems, a Serenade Photo Studio Pro, Tillie’s Pose Stand, Fotoscope FotoFrame Publisher, the Beachyhead House from DAD Designs and the Camden Photo Studio from Maven Homes.

SLurl Details

2019 viewer release summaries week #28

Logos representative only and should not be seen as an endorsement / preference / recommendation

Updates for the week ending Sunday, July 14th

This summary is generally published every Monday, and is a list of SL viewer / client releases (official and TPV) made during the previous week. When reading it, please note:

  • It is based on my Current Viewer Releases Page, a list of all Second Life viewers and clients that are in popular use (and of which I am aware), and which are recognised as adhering to the TPV Policy. This page includes comprehensive links to download pages, blog notes, release notes, etc., as well as links to any / all reviews of specific viewers / clients made within this blog.
  • By its nature, this summary presented here will always be in arrears, please refer to the Current Viewer Release Page for more up-to-date information.
  • Note that for purposes of length, TPV test viewers, preview / beta viewers / nightly builds are generally not recorded in these summaries.

Official LL Viewers

  • Current Release version 6.2.3.527758, formerly the Rainbow RC viewer dated June 5, promoted June 18 – No change.
  • Release channel cohorts:
    • Bakes on Mesh RC viewer updated to version 6.3.0.529185 on July 11th.
    • Love Me Render viewer updated to version 6.2.4.529065 on July 9th.
  • Project viewers:
    • No updates.

LL Viewer Resources

Third-party Viewers

V5/V6-style

  • Kokua updated to version 6.2.3.45800 (non-RLV) and 6.2.3.45801 (RLV variants) on July 12th (release notes).

V1-style

  • No updates.

Mobile / Other Clients

Additional TPV Resources

Related Links

Space Sunday: Apollo 11 at 50

NASA’s official Apollo 11 50th anniversary logo. Credit: NASA

This week sees the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. To mark the event, this Space Sunday article and the next will look at that mission, and the three men who flew it. 

On Wednesday, July 16th, 1969, at 13:31:51 UTC (9:31:51 EDT) five Rocketdyne F-1 at the base of Saturn V SA-506 came to life. Starting with the centre motor, then the opposing outboard pairs, the entire ignition sequence took 600 milliseconds. Held on the pad by four massive clamps, called hold-down arms, the five engines gradually built up thrust to 35,100 kN (7,891,000 lbf).

At precisely 13:32:00 UTC) (9:32:00 EDT) the huge hold-down-arms rocked back in a “soft release”, allowing the rocket, weighing almost 3,274 tons, to start its ascent, its acceleration slowed for the first half-second by a series of 8 pins connecting it to the pad to “reduce transient stresses resulting from abrupt disengagement of a vehicle from its launch stand”. When these pins dropped free from the base of the rocket, Apollo 11 was on its in a historic mission that would seen humans land on the Moon for the first time.

Apollo 11, May 20, 1969, on Flickr
Saturn V SA-506, the Apollo 11 launch vehicle, is rolled out to Pad A at Launch Complex 39 at Kennedy Space Centre, May 20th, 1969

The two men destined to be the first to set foot on Earth’s natural satellite were Neil Alden Armstrong, just shy of his 39th birthday, and  Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin Jr., who had turned 39 in January 1969, sat atop of the massive Saturn V rocket along with Command Module Pilot, Michael Collins, the youngest of the three (if only by a couple of months). Together, they formed only the second Apollo flight crew where all three men had previously flown in space (the first having been Apollo 10, the “dress rehearsal” mission for the Moon landing).

Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were also perhaps the most technically competent trio on NASA’s astronaut roster at the time. All had served in the military – Armstrong in the US Navy, Aldrin and Collins in the US Air Force. Both Armstrong and Collins had also built up impressive résumés as test pilots, Armstrong as a civilian and Collins in the US Air Force.

In particular, Armstrong flew with the National Advisory Council for Aeronautics (NACA), NASA’s forebear, prior to being selected for the USAF/ NASA high-altitude X-15 research programme, (he flew the X-15 seven times between late 1960 and mid-1962) whilst simultaneously engaged by the USAF in their X-20 Dyna-Soar space plane project. Collins, meanwhile, took part in high-altitude flights, taking F-104 Starfighter jets to 27.7 km (90,000 ft) in order to experience the “weightless” environment of free-fall at the top of their parabolic flight arcs, helping him to achieve 3,000 hours in the cockpit.

Collins, Aldrin and Armstrong, on Flickr
An unusual portrait in black and white of Michael Collins, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. Credit: NASA (this image was later colourised on numerous occasions by various artists)

As well as being aviators, Armstrong and Aldrin were also academics. Armstrong held a BSc in aeronautical engineering and an MSc in aerospace engineering, and Aldrin has a doctorate in astronautics. Aldrin particularly specialised in on-orbit rendezvous, which allowed him to work on Project Gemini as an engineer (and also earned him the nickname “Dr. Rendezvous” , not always meant kindly, by other astronauts).

Despite their qualifications, both Armstrong and Aldrin almost didn’t get selected for NASA’s astronaut programme: neither had the requisite military test pilot qualifications that were initially required. However, in 1962, NASA dropped the “military” element from the test pilot requirement, enabling Armstrong to apply for the Group 2 intake – although he almost missed the cut. his application arrived after the closing date, but fortunately Dick Day, a simulations engineer at NASA who have previously worked with Armstrong saw the application and made sure it was included.

Aldrin’s break came in 1963, when NASA further revised the requirements to test pilot OR 1,000 hours flying jets. This allowed he to re-apply (his first application having been turned-down due to his lack of test pilot experience), and he was invited to join the Group 3 intake alongside Michael Collins.

At 2 minutes 41 seconds into its flight, the S-IC first stage of Apollo 11 separates, four small separation motors pushing the upper stages way from it, prior to the S-II second stage main engines to ignite

A Saturn V launch is perhaps one of the most stunning sights to witness – and Apollo 11 was witnessed by around 1 million people in and around the Kennedy Space Centre. However, for the first part of their flight, the three men were pretty much passengers as the Saturn V rose into the sky.

For all their power, the five F-1 engines took 12 seconds to overcome the 100.6 m tall rocket’s mass and inertia and push it clear of the 120m tall Launch Umbilical Tower (LUT), angling it very slightly away from the tower in the process so to avoid the risk of any wind-driven contact between the two.

Immediately after clearing the tower, the rocket commenced its “roll”, a necessary manoeuvre in which the vehicle rolls around its vertical axis, allowing it to point itself along the line of flight it needs to achieve the required orbit. After that, things started to move quickly.

A minute after launch, the Saturn V was around 6.5 km (3.5 nautical miles) altitude and passing through the sound barrier. Twenty seconds later, it entered “Max Q”, the period of maximum dynamic pressure, placed on this frame as a result of it literally punching its way through the atmosphere.

At this point, the F-1 engines throttled back a little to prevent the vehicle shaking itself apart, but once through “Max Q” – a period of only a handful of seconds, they returned to full thrust, pushing the vehicle up to 62 km (42 mi) above the Earth, and taking only 2 minutes 41 second from launch to do so. At this point, and travelling at 9,960 km/h (6,164 mph), the huge first stage separated, the upper stages of the Saturn 5 pushed clear by a set of four separation motors.

From here, the four motors of the second stage took over. While the massive first stage coasted upwards behind it and then fell back to crash into the Atlantic ocean, the Second stage ran for 6 minutes, accelerating the rocket to 25,000 km/h (15,647 mph) and lifting it to an altitude of 175 km (109 mi).

With its fuel spent, the second stage separated, also to fall back to the Atlantic, while the single, re-usable engines of the all-important S-IVB stage took over. This stage initially ran for about 2.5 minutes, during which time it pushed Apollo 11 to a velocity of 27,900 km/h (17,432 mph), allowing it to assuming a near-circular orbit around the Earth averaging 184 km 98.9 na mi) before shutting down for the first time.

It was at this point that the three crew took a more pro-active role in the flight. For the next  couple of hours, as they completed 1.5 orbits of the Earth, and in tandem with mission control, they confirmed their vehicles were ready to be committed for the flight to the Moon.

Apollo 11, May 20, 1969, on Flickr
A diagram of the Saturn V Apollo launch vehicle.Credit: NASA

Interestingly, while mission commander, Armstrong had actually clocked less time in space than either Collins or Aldrin. However, he had the greatest experience in handling in-flight emergencies, having dealt with the first in-flight failure of a critical system during a US space mission.

Neil Armstrong photographed by Buzz Aldrin as the crew prepare for TLI – trans-lunar injection. Credit: NASA / E.E. Aldrin

This occurred during his flight flight into space on the Gemini 8 mission, alongside David R. Scott. This mission was intended to be the first test of an orbital docking between two vehicles – Gemini 8 and an automated Agena target vehicle. In all, Armstrong and Scott were expected to complete four such docking as a part of the mission objectives.

However, shortly after docking, the Gemini’s Orbit Attitude and Manoeuvring System (OAMS) has suffered a serious failure, and Armstrong ordered Scott to release the docking mechanism before before vehicle broke up. Once free of the Agena (which was later stabilised by ground control allowing it to be used by Gemini 10 with Michael Collins), Armstrong took the took the unorthodox step of shutting down the OAMS and using the Re-entry Control System (RCS) to regain control. While this worked, undoubtedly saving his and Scott’s lives, under mission regulations, they no option but to immediately perform and emergency return to Earth, curtailing the mission.

Back aboard Apollo 11, their checks complete, the crew received the all clear for the critical trans-lunar injection (TLI) burn. This started mid-way through the second orbit of Earth, as the S-IVB motor was restarted and fired for 5 minutes and 47 seconds, accelerating the vehicle to around 40,085 km/h (25,053 mph), and pushing it away from Earth and into an energy-efficient trajectory towards the Moon.

The Apollo 11 LEM, call sign Eagle, on FlickrAs Michael Collins carried out the transposition, docking and extraction manoeuvre, either Aldrin or Armstrong took this image of the Lunar Module (LM) sitting in the top of the Saturn V S-IVB stage, awaiting the Command and Service Module (CSM) to dock with it and gently pull it free of the upper stage. Credit: NASA

Continue reading “Space Sunday: Apollo 11 at 50”