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Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Falcon or XCraft Returns. History in the Making! Space and Science News. The Imaginarium

Hello Troops!
     Today's post will be real treat for the oldest Space Center fans out there.  What would you say if I told you that James Porter, CMSEC Director, brought back the old XCraft from the 1990's for a one day engagement at the Provo Rec Center?  I believe your response was "Unbelievable", but he did it.
     The XCraft was this crazy idea I had back in the mid 1990's.  It was a simulator inside an old StarLab bubble.  My reasoning was good.  We had the Voyager and Odyssey, but needed another ship to even out the numbers on our overnight missions.  I wanted the campers to rotate once so we could use our 2.5 hour missions instead of writing the longer 7 hour missions of the day.
     The Odyssey held 8.  The Voyager took 12 or 13.  I needed another ship to pair up with the Odyssey to equal the Voyager's numbers.  I had a bubble, a sound system, and a large TV.  What else did you need; well, computers come to mind.  I didn't have computers to put in the bubble so I came up with this idea of an alien ship found adrift in space.  The campers boarded the ship. Inside they found a main viewer, cushioned chairs and speakers - that's it. There were no visible controls of any kind.  The campers soon figured out the ship was entirely voice activated and operated.  There was one hitch, the XCraft's computer spoke an alien language - one they had to learn to decipher.  Steve and Dave Wall ran the original XCraft.  It was a lot of fun.

     Fast forward a few decades and there's James Porter putting the XCraft back together for the Provo Rec Center's Science Palooza.  James called it the Falcon, after the Starlab simulator Falcon we ran in the early 2000's.  I took issue with the name.  The Falcon was a fully decked out ship complete with computers.  What James took to the Provo Rec Center was the XCraft because it didn't have computers.

The Rec Center was packed with a few thousand people for the Science Palooza.  Many local and national companies were there teaching science. It was like a huge one day hands on science museum.  The Space Center's XCraft was down this hall. Notice the sign says Science and Sci-Fi.

Right through those double doors.

And there it was - the Falcon "XCraft".  Farpoint Voyager Mackenzie guarded the entrance during the short 15 minute mini-missions.

James Porter manned the front table.  The waiting list for a mission got bigger by the minute.


I took a quick look behind the bubble and found the magic. 

 Farpoint Cadets Lindsey, Scott, and Lissa were there assisting Flight Director Christine.  Lissa was about to make an appearance as a Paklid in purple.

 The mission involved a trip to a nebula.  It just so happened that the voice activated ship encountered Paklids along the way.

The bubble was a kid magnet.  Parents were having trouble keeping the little ones from running up and slapping the bubble.  They thought it was one of those jumpy houses.  Scott was posted to keep guard.

It was good seeing the old bubble ship up and running again.  Maybe the Space Center should bring the XCraft back permanently. 

Mr. Williamson

Space and Science News from

By Mark Daymont

50 Years Ago: Soviet Cosmonaut Walks in Space

Hero of the Soviet Union Alexei Leonov.

Fifty years ago on March 18, 1965 the Soviet Union again pulled ahead of the United States in the Great Space Race. From Baikonur in the province of Kazakhstan, a forerunner of the Soyuz rocket lifted off carrying the two-man Voskhod 2 capsule. Aboard the spacecraft were cosmonauts Alexei Leonov and Commander Pavel Belyayev. The Voskhod 2 had been modified for this flight with the addition of a special airlock in preparation for the first EVA, or Extra-Vehicular-Activity (spacewalk).

Comparison of the Voskhod 1 and version 2 with undeployed airlock.

Once the spacecraft reached orbit, the special airlock was inflated so that the outer hatch was moved a distance from the descent module. In the EVA plan, a cosmonaut would pressurize the extended airlock, then enter the airlock, named Volga. The hatch to the cabin would then be closed, and the airlock depressurized. This was necessary because the Voskhod controls and avionics were air-cooled, and would not function properly if the cabin were depressurized.

Illustration of the EVA elements.

In the actual event, post-flight statements from the Soviet government that the EVA went perfectly turned out not to be true. After leaving the airlock, Leonov floated to the end of his umbilical hose, and his pressure suit began to "balloon" and stiffen due to over pressurization. Finding it very difficult to move freely, he was unable to activate a switch on his suit that would allow him to take pictures from a chest-mounted camera. He was also unable to control his movements enough to retrieve an exterior-mounted camera recording his EVA. After 12 minutes he finally managed to re-enter the airlock, but had entered head-first, not according to procedure. He became stuck trying to turn around, and finally solved the problem by risking "the bends" by lowering his suit pressure so that he could bend. Supposedly, Leonov could have been ejected with the airlock if he could not recover and the commander would return alone. The EVA was so difficult that doctors later reported that Leonov could have suffered from heatstroke, and he admitted later that he was sweating profusely so much that water "sloshed" in his spacesuit. Fortunately, he did manage to return, repressurize the airlock, and then re-enter the cabin.

Leonov outside the airlock entrance.

Before re-entry, the airlock was jettisoned. Unlike the earlier Vostok capsules, the Voskhod had no escape method and so instead of parachuting to ground after re-entry, the crew would ride the descent module to a harder landing with retro-rockets just before touchdown. The crew did land safely despite a problem with the descent module not separating cleanly from the service and instrument sections. They landed in the Ural mountains area so far from their rescue teams that they had to spend the night in their capsule, while wolves were heard outside.

Leonov, second from right, in Salt Lake City in 2005.

These days, Alexei Leonov is a great promoter of space exploration, a businessman, and is an artist as well. In 2005 he attended the XIX COngress of the Association of Space Explorers held in Salt Lake CIty, UT. As part of the ceremonies, our Space Center staff was able to participate and later meet with the astronauts from around the world. I took the picture above of Leonov standing with cosmonauts from the former Soviet Union, and of course I got his autograph.

50 Years Ago: Asset Lost at Sea and an Atlas Rocket Explodes

Back on February 23, 1965 the United States Air Force lost one of its Assets. Literally. As part of Project Asset, the US Air Force was testing the heat shield part of the cancelled DynaSoar X-20 program. Realizing that the data on glider re-entry would still be valuable, the ASSET program continued and the information would later be used to help design the Space Shuttle.

The Asset launches used pad 17B on Cape Canaveral, and were planned to arc out over the Atlantic and have the glider test craft recovered for analysis. ASV-1, launched on a Thor rocket, succeeded in re-entry and landing in the ocean, but it's recovery system malfunctioned and it sank and was lost. Remaining missions used a Thor-Delta rocket configuration using a second stage to propel the craft on a steeper re-entry path. The second launch was also a disaster, the second stage malfunctioned and the craft was self-destructed in flight. ASSET 3 was a success, and the craft recovered and is preserved in the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH. The other flights were also lost at sea after successful flights but failures in recovery. ASV-6, occurring 50 years ago, was the end of the program.

Pictures by Ed Hengeveld.

Within a few weeks of the ASV-6 failure, there was another disaster at the Cape. Two seconds after ignition on Pad 36B, an Atlas-Centaur rocket carrying a dummy test Surveyor spacecraft, exploded into a fireball. A fuel valve shut off at ignition, causing 2 of 3 engines to fail. The rocket collapsed back onto the launchpad, having only risen three feet. It then tipped over and exploded onto the ground. No one was hurt and the damage was estimate at $5 million.

Atlas-Centaur 5 on Pad 36B.

Flames surround the rocket as it settles back onto the pad.

The explosion engulfs the tower as well.

More distant view of the explosion.

Wreckage at the site.

One version of the GT-3 mission patch design.

With less than a week to go before launch, astronauts Gus Grissom and John Young officially designated their upcoming flight spacecraft as "Gemini 3" and "Molly Brown." During Grissom's last flight, a sub-orbital mission launched on a Redstone rocket, disaster struck as the crew hatch explosive bolts accidentally ignited, blowing the hatch off the spacecraft and allowing seawater to flood the spacecraft. Despite heroic efforts, the recovery team could not save the ship and it sank to the Atlantic seafloor. Just barely escaping the capsule, Grissom's suit began to fill with water as well but he was successfully hoisted into the hovering helicopter. At first blamed for a possible pilot error by some in the press, Grissom was cleared by an investigation. As commander of the first manned flight of the Gemini program, Grissom and Young decided to name the craft after the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown, a flamboyant and popular rich American woman who was one of the survivors of the Titanic sinking in 1912. 

Molly Brown.

Evidently the name was intended to be "good luck" and an assurance that THIS spacecraft was not about to be lost under Grissom's command.

Commemorative medallion, front and back, and carried aboard the flight.

Interestingly, the design was not made as a patch at first. No mission patch was worn by the crew, as would be made popular in later flights. The design was made into several medallions that were taken on the flight and later given to family members of the astronauts. After the flight, a patch design was created to go along with other Gemini mission patches.

   The Imaginarium

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