From Spacerubble by Mark Daymont
50 Years Ago: Preparing for MA-9
Mercury-Atlas 9 assembled on Pad 14.
After months of delays, the next scheduled flight of the Mercury space program was approaching in May of 1963. The capsule and rocket components had been stacked together on April 22 and engineers continued testing on the flight and life support systems. The launch would take place at Launch Complex 14 at Cape Canaveral in sunny Florida.
Gordon Cooper practicing entry to the capsule.
Although only one would fly, two astronauts continued training for the flight. The prime crew member was Gordon Cooper. He had been selected in November 1962, after NASA officials decided to go ahead with the mission as an all-day test flight to push the boundaries of man's endurance in space. Some engineers worried that it was pushing the Mercury-Atlas program too far. The last mission, Sigma-7 with Wally Schirra had gone very well and some felt it was better to end the program before a disaster could occur.
Raising the Atlas rocket on April 22.
The backup pilot for the flight was Alan B. Shepard, Jr. He had made the first successful flight of an American astronaut on the MA-3 flight on May 5, 1961. His was a sub-orbital flight, lasting only 15 minutes over the Atlantic Ocean. The MA-9 mission was hoped to bring the American program back into parity with the Soviets, who had been able to keep Vostok spacecraft in orbit for a day.
Cooper in the Mercury spacecraft simulator.
With the flight date coming up, Cooper and Shepard trained relentlessly in simulators and flying jet fighters and trainers. The previous 5 missions had given engineers plenty of data that could now be worked into the flight parameters, and its ambitious nature demanded that each test simulation prepare the astronauts for every emergency conceivable.
A better look at Launch Complex 14, with the MA-9 rocket stack in place.
Launch Complex 14 had been used for all of the Mercury-Atlas missions starting with John Glenn in MA-6. Later, after the conclusion of the Mercury program, it would be used again for launches of the Agena target vehicle during Project Gemini. However, the corrosion of sea salt and the environment took its toll and the pad was later scrapped for safety. Today, a Mercury program memorial stands at the entrance to the site and is a frequent stop on the Cape Canaveral bus tour.
At the LC-14 memorial with my uncle John.
Recent ISS activities
Progress Rocket on the way to the ISS.
Living in space continues to be a busy activity for the Expedition 35 crew on board the International Space Station. Let's take a look at the goings-on of Earth's premium real estate.
ATV-4 in the preparation building.
The European Space Agency has announced the upcoming launch of the next ATV supply mission to the ISS. ATV-4, named Albert Einstein after the famous physicist, is expected to lift off for the station on June 5th this year. The ATV is the 4th to be built in the series, and completed its fueling on April 16th. You can read more about it's mission at SpaceRef:
Cosmonaut Vinogradov as seen by cosmonaut Romanenko's helmet cam.
On April 19, tow cosmonauts of the Expedition 35 crew ventured outside for a chance to set up an experiment and do some maintenance on the station's exterior. Flight Engineers Roman Romanenko and Pavel Vinogradov installed an experiment that studies plasma waves and space weather, then repaired a navigation antenna that will be needed for the upcoming ATV-4 mission. They then retrieved an experiment and some experiment samples to bring inside the station. More on the spacewalk at: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition35/eva_041913.html
Astronaut Marshburn experiments with two SPHERES robots.
Experiments and daily maintenance continues on the station. At any given time on the ISS, astronauts are performing medical studies on their own bodies (Yikes!) repairing or doing regular maintenance on station life support and experiment equipment, and working on the myriad numbers of experiments aboard ship. I've been fascinated with the experiments being performed with the SPHERES little robots, to ball-shaped remotely-operated "servants" (we should just call them droids and be done with it!). The NASA experiment SCan (Space Communications and Navigation) tests have begun. This is a laboratory setup that is experimenting with new methods of controlling radio, navigation, and networking solutions by controlling software changes. You can keep up with the goings on at ISS science at NASA.gov: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html
Progress 51 (M-19M) on the pad at Baikonur.
Earlier this month, the crew undocked the older Progress cargo ship (now loaded with station trash and expendables) and Russian ground controllers de-orbited the craft, allowing it to burn up in the atmosphere. Then, on April 24th, the next Progress space rocket blasted off from Baikonur for the station. Designated M-19M or Progress 51, the spacecraft lifted off well but suffered a glitch when one of the navigational antennas malfunctioned. However, Russian mission controllers were able to work around the problem and successfully docked the supply ship on April 26th.
View from ISS of the Progress craft approaching.
Progress 51 brings 3.1 tons of cargo for the Expedition 35 crew, including equipment and life support supplies. The Progress series of supply spacecraft have been one of Russia's outstanding contributions to the ISS project, regularly contributing important cargo to the crews. However, their supply capacity seems smaller now compared to the larger craft such as Dragon which can bring almost 7 tons of supplies. Still, we could not have done the ISS program without such regular life support supply missions.
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