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One Giant Leap | An Alternate History of Space Exploration


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Same Saturn, Different Shuttle

As was becoming a tradition, Columbia rolled out of the VAB at midnight to head to 39B for her inaugural flight, STS-5. Despite the very late time, thousands gathered to see the new Shuttle as she made her way to the launchpad for the very first time. It was a great moment for NASA, multiple shuttles would be necessary in order to accomplish a high flight rate. Although physically similar to Enterprise, Columbia looked strikingly different. The black wing strakes and the lack of the "black mask" of Enterprise set her apart from her predecessor. Columbia also had a few key TPS differences besides these, mainly on the nose and vertical stabilizer. Columbia also has less overall TPS tiles than Enterprise, with lessons learned really coming into play in that category. Columbia's aluminum frame was also different in some ways from Enterprise. More structural rigidity had been added to certain areas, and steel plates had also been added behind some tiles to cover important hardware. Internally there were improvements as well, some important switches in the cockpit were moved to places of easier and more direct access. Columbia also featured Heads-Up Displays (HUDs) which provided the Commander and Pilot with information right in front of them instead of having to look down at instruments. This was a relatively new technology so it wasn't to be relied on entirely. On top of this there were improvements to the lower deck access and ECLSS compartments. As well as some storage improvements on the mid-deck to provide better securing of cargo. Among engineers Enterprise was infamous for her sub-optimal hydraulics, they were difficult to deal with and difficult to repair or replace. A better accumulator and pump system was put on Columbia, and it will be used on all future Orbiters if it performs well.

Although to many the new Shuttle was just a footnote for STS-5, for NASA it was truly like a second test flight. Columbia benefitted from many lessons learned during the construction, assembly, and initial flights of Enterprise, and it was time to put those lessons to the test. Columbia's initial mission had proper payloads to deploy, primarily the Joint Ultraviolet Observatory. This is an Ultraviolet Telescope developed by NASA in cooperation with the European Space Agency. Onboard as well is the Shuttle Multispectral Scanner, which will study the composition of celestial objects. Let's go over the full mission plan.

MISSION OVERVIEW: STS-5 |

Commander | Donald Peterson

Pilot | William Lenoir

Mission Specialist 1 | Brian O'Leary

Mission Specialist 2 | Anthony England

OV-102 "Columbia"

Objectives: Verify systems of OV-102, deploy Joint Ultraviolet Observatory, utilize Shuttle Multispectral Scanner.

After a few delays to repair some systems on the Mobile Launcher, STS-5 is go for launch on the morning of April 26th, 1978.

"Liftoff of the new Shuttle Columbia and the Joint Ultraviolet Observatory!"

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Columbia's first mission will be a short one, only 3 days in length. This first day will give the crew time to verify systems after launch, and do some experiments carried along to orbit. As far as the upgrades go, Donald Peterson, who previously flew aboard Enterprise on STS-3, was happy to note the changes to switch positions. Stating "much easier to reach this" at several points during the countdown. Most of the other changes would only benefit ground crews working on processing Columbia for her next flight, but they were still there.

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Columbia would also be demonstrating some changes to the Canadarm, as it would be used for the deployment of JUO. The Canadarm is one of the Shuttle's most incredible features, allowing it to deploy or capture objects in orbit, provided they already have the Power/Data Fixture for connecting to it.

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Now safely latched onto JUO, the crew perform checkouts of the satellite, and prepare for deployment on the next orbit.

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It is oddly surreal for the astronauts of Columbia. Here they are, aboard a plane, in space, with a 4+ ton space telescope hanging from a robotic arm that they themselves are controlling, it is a true testament to the amazing engineering of the Space Shuttle, and a magnificent sight to see.

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A few minutes later, JUO is successfully deployed, and sailing away from the Shuttle.

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Day 2 is wrapped up with some more experiment work, and then settling in for some rest.

Day 3 is focused on the use of the Shuttle Multispectral Scanner. Objects studied include Andromeda, Saturn, the Crab Nebula, and several stars including Rigel, Canopus, and the Sun itself. The crew also take part in several conferences, including one where they answer questions from schoolchildren about the Shuttle, JUO, and about being an astronaut.

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At the end of Day 3, Columbia de-orbits, and heads for a landing at the Kennedy Space Center.

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"Gear down on the Space Shuttle. Coming over the runway now..."

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"Alright, 100 feet, Columbia..."

"Shuttle at 50 feet..."

"20..."

"10..."

"Main Gear Touchdown!"

"Nose Gear coming down now..."

"COLUMBIA HARD RIGHT."

"Wheel Stop..."

"Phew, Columbia you had us nervous there for a second."

"We were nervous too, Houston! Kept her on the runway though."

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Columbia has a bit of a scary moment in which, after main gear touchdown, because she came down at a bit of an angle, the Shuttle starts to drift towards the left side of the runway, nearly off the runway in fact. Thankfully it is corrected and Columbia comes to a stop well within the runway's limits. Besides this little Shuttle drift moment, Columbia's first mission is an outstanding success. 3 months later, in July, she flies again on STS-6, which carries the Freedom module to Skylab with a crew of 4.

In terms of the post-flight processing flow, Columbia's upgrades and changes seem to have made a massive impact. Ground crews noted the hydraulic improvements, as well as it being easier to access key systems. There are also upgrades to the Mobile Launcher in between these 2 flights, as a LOX vent arm is added to collect venting Liquid Oxygen from the External Tank in a new nose cap vent system.

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This view, and eventual image from Skylab of Columbia approaching is the cover on almost every major American newspaper the next day. The camera which took the photo sits on an arm attached to the Tranquility module. It was installed on an EVA a few weeks prior and carries the official name of "Shuttle Approach Inspection and Observation Camera," or SAIOC. I know, it's quite the acronym. It was installed for this specific purpose of observing Shuttles as they approach the station to dock.

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In terms of Columbia's payload on this mission, she carries the Freedom Module itself, and the second Shuttle Station Logistics Module, or SSLM-02. It is nicknamed "Jefferson" after Thomas Jefferson. You know him, writer of the Declaration of Independence, and third president of the United States. This continues the traditions started with SSLM-01, which was nicknamed "Washington" after George Washington.

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The crews of Columbia and Skylab greet each other in the Destiny module, as is becoming a tradition. Followed with a press conference in which they chat with President Jimmy Carter. They will work together for the next week, and perform multiple spacewalks.

On Day 2, the astronauts begin the installation of the Freedom module. This will be the biggest test for the Canadarm thus far. It is an incredibly difficult maneuver to place Freedom on the zenith port of Union, but it is a doable operation. It will require patience and precision from the Canadarm operator.

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Now locked onto the P/D fixture of Freedom, it is go-time. Until it isn't.

It is discovered that the Canadarm isn't fully latched onto the P/D Fixture, and it is barely hanging on. An EVA confirms this, and there are several unsuccessful attempts to reseat the fixture and latch it fully.

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However, it's nothing a little brute force can't solve! The Canadarm is moved back, and with some astronaut help, it finally latches onto the P/D Fixture properly. Now it's go-time. The Canadarm begins to gently lift the Freedom module out of Columbia's payload bay.

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If deploying JUO was a surreal experience for the astronauts, I don't know what this is. It's just purely magnificent. Humanity has come so far in space exploration in such a short time.

2 hours later the Freedom module is securely docked to the zenith port of Union, and operations begin to ensure the connection before the hatch opens for the first time.

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The hatch is opened for the first time on Day 3, and the crews begin setting up the interior of the module. Day 4 sees a spacewalk to install hardware on the outside of the module.

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Skylab's assembly is now roughly 50-60% complete, assembly will soon speed up, the S1 truss is expected to be delivered in August, and the S2 Truss, which carries the double solar array, being launched aboard a Saturn III (necessary due to the sheer size of the S2) sometime in December-January.

On Day 6, Columbia performs a reboost of Skylab to help it maintain its orbit. This is a helpful capability the Shuttle has. Although the CSM can also technically do it without over-stressing the station's structure because CSMs going to Skylab use the lower thrust LMAE engine.

On Day 7, Columbia departs Skylab, a highly successful visit by the Shuttle has concluded.

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Columbia de-orbits once more, targeting another landing at the Cape.

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"Gear down..."

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"Main Gear Touchdown! Nose gear coming down..."

"We have nose gear touchdown! Columbia applying the brakes now to come to a full stop."

"Wheel stop, fantastic flight Columbia."

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Columbia comes to a stop on a beautiful summer morning, as her second voyage to space is concluded. She has really shown the value of the changes made. Costs for Columbia's first 2 launches were less than the last to launches of Enterprise by 10%. Although the Saturn-Shuttle still takes immense criticism for its high costs overall. That continues to be the leading factor in its early retirement and the transition to the new SRB-based launch system for the Shuttle.

Columbia will fly again in the fall on STS-7, before Enterprise returns to space on STS-8. Overall the Shuttle continues to fly well, but the critics won't stop talking, and they probably never will. It will take much more time for the Shuttle to truly prove itself and deliver on its promises, if it ever can. NASA is hoping the launch system switch will be the key to that. For now, Columbia returns to the OPF, and stacking for STS-7 is already underway.

A note for between STS-5 and 6, the last Atlas-Agena launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, carrying Seasat, which is itself built upon the Agena upper stage that serves for the mission. Vandenberg is a place the DoD hopes the Shuttle can eventually launch from, to carry it's most classified payloads to orbit. But that isn't expected to be a reality for many years. Seasat is demonstrating a very exciting technology: Synthetic Aperture Radar.

Seasat will use this for remote sensing of the Earth's oceans, and give us great insights into the most unexplored place on Earth.

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Revolutionary technologies are pushing humanity's capabilities in space ever further. What was once seen as science fiction has become a reality. NASA's public support base, while at times this decade has been shaky. Has been revived by the magic of the Space Shuttle, and even minor things such as Seasat have gotten a solid amount of public attention. It is a world in which people are becoming more and more aware of spaceflight and space exploration. With our eyes turned skyward, we hope to continue to do great things on Earth and above it.

 

Начато производство конструкционных экспериментальных изделий для ВКК.

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Shuttles, Shuttles, and Wait... The Saturn IG??

It wouldn't be long after STS-6 that Columbia would fly again. In early October she would roll out once more for the launch of STS-7. This is the second classified Shuttle mission. For STS-3 there was much speculation on what the Shuttle was carrying, and it turned out to be some standard reconnaissance satellites. But this time there is definitely reason to speculate. Security was extra tight,  Instead of after S-IC separation, tracking shots from everyone but the military was to end 30 seconds after liftoff. The crew is also entirely a group of Air Force astronauts which NASA trained. In fact it's so classified no images were ever taken of it. And any audio has been stuffed on tapes stuffed in boxes stuffed on a shelf stuffed in a room stuffed in the Pentagon, or some other Department of Defense location.

In terms of launch activities, this was a more... chaotic adventure for America's Space Shuttle. Originally intended to launch in mid-September, until it was discovered a bird had made one of the Gaseous Oxygen Vent Arm's vent pipes it's new humble abode. Which was a rather funny, and slightly embarrassing turn of events for NASA. The Shuttle had to be rolled back as the location couldn't be accessed on the pad. The bird was almost certainly not happy about its home being taken 4.2 miles back to the VAB. But that's what happens when you don't pay your rent on time. The nest was removed but the bird itself never found. While in the VAB there was also some work done to fix a very loose LOX fill/drain valve seal on an S-IC swing arm. Once these issues were fixed, another rollout back to 39B was underway.

After this chaotic series of events which the press had a field day with, STS-7 was finally ready for launch.

MISSION OVERVIEW: STS-7 |

Commander | Carl Jenkins

Pilot | Ronny Lenwood

Mission Specialist 1| Mark Harson

Mission Specialist 2 | Joey Ingle

OV-102 "Columbia"

Objectives: Perform Classified Mission for the Department of Defense

October 9th, 1978: The Launch of STS-7

"LIFTOFF! Liftoff of the Space Shuttle Columbia on a mission in partnership with the Department of Defense!"

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With some standard updates through the rest of ascent, Columbia powered her way to orbit. Beginning what is considered the most secretive Shuttle mission ever. What did it deploy? Nobody really knows. There are only guesses.

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But what is known is what it has cost NASA in dollars to get Columbia ready for flight. An eye-watering 219 million dollars (equivalent to about 1 billion today,) which is a scary total for a launch system that is supposedly cheap. This is the problem NASA is facing, and it's why the switch to the SRBs is happening so soon. The Saturn-Shuttle could drain NASA's funding for decades if it continues. While it has given a head start to the program, it might have not been worth it. While it is an incredible feat of engineering, it just isn't sustainable. With Advanced Apollo costing so much money as well, it has squeezed every other program to the bare minimum. Skylab is going to start a "skeleton rotation" once its assembly is complete, and any additional modules past the Aft Module Block have to be canned.

There is some painful irony in this whole situation. NASA's excessive and extraordinary spending has resulted in it backing itself into a corner. While the Shuttle is still seen generally favorable, with these cost reports getting out, the mood is beginning to swing. What is NASA really contributing to the American public?

What is NASA really contributing to the American public?

With this daunting question on the minds of the nation, and NASA itself, all they can do is press forward with Shuttle launches. Columbia's inaugural 3 launch streak has concluded, and it's time for the troublemaker to return to Space. Enterprise is preparing for the launch of STS-8.

But first! There were some earlier events to cover.

First off, in late July, the first Europa III launches Magnetic Fields Explorer, a spacecraft whose purpose is in its name, to explore the Magnetic Fields around Earth and its interaction with the Sun's magnetic field.

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And secondly, our old friend the Saturn IG has gotten a refresh! NASA has now introduced the Block II upgrade of the Saturn IG. Which includes quite a few upgrades. Most notably the replacement of the J-2S with the RL-20 P3, which is a new engine that was technically funded by Advanced Apollo, but the Saturn IG and Skylab can conveniently borrow it, right? This engine is without a doubt the most advanced upper stage engine built to date, and it leans on experience gained in the development of the SSME. It is a staged combustion cycle engine, which gives it an incredible isp, around the RL10, while having similar thrust to the J-2S. It is truly a wonder engine. The manufacturer, Pratt & Whitney, is incredibly proud of this engine, and they should be. For the rest of the rocket, the copper coating was removed from the first stage, and replaced with a stylish Saturn V-esque tracking pattern. Spray-On Foam Insulation (SOFI) was also added to the second stage, as a cheaper insulation for the cryogenic Liquid Hydrogen. This not only slightly improves the rockets capabilities, but also reduces the cost. This first launch of the new Saturn IG Block II will carry the S1 Truss to Skylab, which is the central truss of the total 3 on the station. Due to this truss being launched in the middle, and being in the middle, Skylab will be in an unusual configuration until the final truss, the S2 Truss, launches in December.

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(hey this is when I finally got the updated BDB parts!)

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Like I said, unusual configuration.

Well now it's time for the launch of STS-8, every single engineer at the KSC is praying to God something important isn't in need of replacement when Enterprise returns. 

STS-8 is similar to the last flight of Enterprise, except, half?  This is the first Spacelab mission, which is just one of the Spacelab modules, for this it's the Big Module. This was originally supposed to be the last Saturn-Shuttle mission, but it's been pushed to STS-9 due to delays with setting up 39A.

MISSION OVERVIEW: STS-8/Spacelab-1 |

Commander | Robert Crippen

Pilot | Gordon Fullerton

Mission Specialist 1 | Robert Overmeyer

Mission Specialist 2| Richard Truly

OV-101 "Enterprise"

Objectives: Perform research in orbit on the Spacelab-1 Mission.

November 10th, 1978: The Launch of STS-8

"WE HAVE A LIFTOFF OF THE SPACE SHUTTLE ENTERPRISE, ON A MISSION TO CONDUCT SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH IN ORBIT!"

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Some might miss the spectacle of the Saturn-Shuttle. There is no doubting how magnificent it is to watch ascent into orbit. Truly a marvel of engineering, but a costly one nonetheless. 

STS-8 was somehow even more boring than STS-4, which is very hard to do considering they're very similar missions. But in a way isn't a mundane spaceflight a good thing? It shows how its becoming regular, how casually we're now doing science in orbit of the Earth.

Enterprise de-orbits 4 days later, after a successful mission of research.

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As we head towards the end of 1978, there is but one more Saturn-Shuttle mission left. Oh how quickly it rose, so soon it fell. It is a cautionary tale that NASA must learn from if it wants to survive the continuing budget slide. Low cost and sustainable operations are necessary. But once Saturn-Shuttle is out the door, who would be next in jeopardy?

Advanced Apollo.

Отчеты о финансировании орбитального аппарата VKK оптимальны.

 

Edited by track
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  • 2 weeks later...

The (Last) Last Dance

Rolling out at 12:04 AM, Columbia heads to Launch Complex 39B for the final flight of the Saturn-Shuttle. In its short career, it captured the hearts and minds of the American public. An awe-inspiring vehicle of peculiar design. Unfortunately it was never meant to last. The high costs of the S-IC boost stage and legacy Saturn support hardware drove launch costs higher and higher with each mission. NASA hopes to end this uncontrollable increase with the switch to the new Thiokol Solid Rocket Boosters, and fixed pad infrastructure. There will be a break in between STS-9 and 10 as final preparations and testing is completed.

Upon arriving at 39B on December 5th, there was a pleasant surprise as a Saturn IG rolled out to Launch Complex 39C for the launch of Skylab 9. This will be the first launch from 39C, and will occur 2 days before the launch of STS-9. Although the whole Launch Complex isn't fully completed, the pad itself and the necessary launch infrastructure is ready to support a flight. Which saves Skylab 9 some time from waiting on STS-9 to clear 39B, which is the only active launchpad at the KSC.

Before all of this however, the final component of Skylab's truss was launched. The S2 truss, carrying the double solar array, was launched aboard a Saturn III. This massive component will over double Skylab's power production abilities, and give it the signature "asymmetrical" look seen in the Skylab 80 design.

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A picture perfect launch from the Saturn III, and 26 hours later, the S2 truss is ready for docking to Skylab.

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It will take over 2 hours for the S2 truss to fully deployed, but it will be well worth it.

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A monumental step in the assembly of the world's first modular space station. The Skylab 80 plan is truly taking its final form. With the addition of the S2 truss, a spacewalk is performed to close and retract Prosperity's solar arrays, as they are no longer needed. It is a sign of how Skylab has grown to become so much more than just the Orbital Workshop itself. This is truly a station for the future. A station which NASA predicts could serve into the 1990s. But there is still more to be added to the station. The Rear Module Block is all that remains in the assembly of Skylab, it will provide more habitation, laboratory and logistics space, and a new place for the Shuttle to dock.

Just over 2 weeks later, Skylab 9 is launched to Skylab. The station's new look captured by footage the astronauts recorded during the docking approach.

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Now, for the main event.

Pre-launch activities were unusually mundane, but I mean how can you top a bird nest causing rollback? The usually troublesome Mobile Launcher behaved itself during fueling rehearsals, and a pre-launch press conference laid out the mission plan.

MISSION OVERVIEW: STS-9 |

Commander | Phillip Chapman

Pilot | Karl Henize

Mission Specialist 1 | Joseph Allen IV

Mission Specialist 2 | Robert Parker

OV-102 "Columbia"

Objectives: Deploy the Skystar G Communications Satellite

Although notable as the last Saturn-Shuttle flight, STS-9 is also notable as the first commercial Shuttle mission. Now who would put their communications satellite on Saturn-Shuttle? Skystar Communications would! Based out of Pasadena, California, Skystar could've launched this on Titan, or Atlas, or Europa. But they wanted some marketing, and what's a better marketing opportunity than the final flight of the Saturn-Shuttle? Did they overpay for this flight? Absolutely! But never underestimate some good PR. Skystar G itself is a very top-of-the-line communications satellite, and is an example of the great leaps forward commsats are taking in this day and age. 

On an absolutely beautiful early December morning, the mighty S-IC stage prepares for its final ride.

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"T-15, Guidance is internal."

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"T-12, 11, 10, 9... IGNITION SEQUENCE START."

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"SEVEN."

"SIX."

"FIVE."

"FOUR."

"THREE."

"TWO."

"ONE."

"ZERO."

"ALL ENGINES RUNNING."

One last ride.

"LIFTOFF! LIFTOFF OF THE SHUTTLE COLUMBIA! ONE LAST TIME ATOP THE SATURN ROCKET!"

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"Roger Roll, Columbia!"

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"We have staging."

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"Good ET sep."

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That's the final ascent of Saturn-Shuttle. Just as awe-inspiring as the first on STS-1. But NASA must move on to a better era for the Space Shuttle. One in which there is hope it can actually meet some of the lofty promises they sold it on. The third Space Shuttle, now officially named Challenger, is nearly complete. Converted from a structural test article, STA-099. It is now known as OV-099, keeping its test article number but officially getting the Orbiter Vehicle designation.

Back to STS-9, it is a 3 day mission, so the crew will get home just in time to spend Christmas with their families. Day 1 is spent on 2 instruments in the back of the payload bay, these are the 2 external science experiments for STS-9, one is a magnetometer, which will be used to study the magnetic field environment in Low Earth Orbit, and the other is a Gamma Ray Spectrometer. These devices are onboard for the Low Earth Orbit Environment Study, a joint collaborative project between NASA, ESA, and several science organizations around the world to study the environment of Low Earth Orbit. Many LEOES instruments are onboard Skylab, and the data from the Shuttle can be cross-referenced with that from Skylab.

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On Day 2, Skystar G is deployed.

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Day 3 is spent on research activities, and Return to Earth.

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In a moment of slight panic, Columbia's glide comes up short due to a small error during the high altitude descent, but thankfully she can easily divert to the Cape Canaveral Skid Strip for a safe landing.

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"Gear down."

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"100 feet."

"50."

"25."

"10."

"5."

"Main Gear touchdown!"

"Columbia rotating downwards."

"Nose gear touchdown!"

"The Shuttle getting on the brakes now."

"WHEEL STOP!"

"Welcome home Space Shuttle Columbia, and the crew of STS-9!"

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Stopped.

The Saturn-Shuttle program is at an end. After 9 incredible flights which have kicked off NASA's new era with the Space Shuttle, it is time to move on. It leaves many with mixed emotions. The Saturn-Shuttle is an incredible vehicle, but there is newfound hope and optimism with the coming changes to the STS program. There will be a break in flights until the spring of next year, when Enterprise will kick off the new era of the Space Shuttle on STS-10.

Some notes to end 1978:

On December 9th, Grumman's SSV launches the Magnetic Boundary Explorer spacecraft.

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On December 15th, Proton launches... something.

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And earlier in the year, NASA and JPL established the Jupiter Follow-On Program. Which will build a successor spacecraft to Perdix as the next Jupiter orbiter. NASA is mainly focused on preparing the Iapyx Saturn Orbiter for its launch in 1980, but this program hopes to launch in 1984.

1978 has been an incredible year for spaceflight. Although it didn't see a launch to the Moon, it has seen a lot of important steps for the future be taken. While NASA may find itself in a precarious situation, the Shuttle serves as some great PR, and establishing more scientific programs helps to boost the public's awareness of spaceflight and science.

WFUO успешно стартовал на борту ракеты "Протон".

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New Year, New NASA!

1979 is the final year of the 70s, and what a decade it has been. So much has changed in culture, politics, and space exploration. This final year of the decade will be pivotal in determining NASA's future. Advanced Apollo is set to debut this year, with its first mission: Apollo 26. NASA decided to continue the Apollo naming scheme for the foreseeable future, with the program's future in doubt. The big news at the start of the year is the switch from Saturn-Shuttle, to the new Thiokol Solid Rocket Boosters. Shuttle launches will look much different from now on, these powerful boosters will help propel the Shuttle into a new age of sustainability and a higher launch cadence. Upwards of 6 launches are planned for this year, despite the planned late start. Despite this, In January, NASA makes a shocking announcement. STS-10 and 11 are cancelled. STS-11 was a mission to Skylab, and has been bumped to STS-12. NASA needs more time to prepare and certify the new infrastructure at 39A, which has caused some delays. Simply a minor setback however, this will not deter NASA from moving forward with STS-12, slated for April/May. The final SRB certification test took place last summer, and the 8 individual segments have all been delivered to KSC.

There was more than just work at 39A to prepare for the new Shuttle. The VAB has been incredibly busy the past 2 years. High Bay 4 has been activated from its storage purpose to a proper assembly High Bay. Set up currently for handling ASLV rockets. High Bays 1 and 3 were kept for Saturn-Shuttle, and are now undergoing conversion. High Bay 2 was completed in its conversion to the new Shuttle VAB infrastructure last autumn. Now the stacking of these SRBs commences in that High Bay. NASA is also taking this time to perform less... exciting... activities.

Crawler Transporter-2 is loaded with some heavy weights, and over the course of 3 days re-conditions the entire crawlerway to handle heavy loads. The main importance here is conditioning the crawlerway between the main straight, the 39B turn, and then the turn to 39C. Where the mighty Saturn A07 will take its path to 39C later in the year. The Saturn A07 is an absolute beast of a rocket. In excess of 20 million pounds of thrust, and by far the heaviest rocket ever. 39C and 39D have been built much beefier than A and B specifically to handle this massive rocket. More reinforcement, a better flame trench to spread the exhaust plume better, and a wide spread Sound Suppression Water System. The Saturn IG which solely uses 39C at the moment may not utilize this facility to its fullest extent, but you can be sure it can't leave a scratch on this monolith.

NASA survived a rather... politically tumultuous 1978. The agency enters the new year with a positive outlook, but lingering concerns that can't be ignored. They simply cannot deny the ever-increasing costs of Advanced Apollo, which is weakness in the otherwise strong armor of America's space agency. Every outside interview given can't help but pounce on such an... in all honesty good question. But a very tough one for the unfortunate employee sent to answer these questions. The best answer that NASA has given was the following:

"We understand the concern's presented by the public over the high cost of Advanced Apollo. It is something we at NASA aren't exactly happy about either. We've often discussed this in meetings and conferences and its something that we're actively attempting to find a solution to. For now though we continue to push forward with the program."

That was given by NASA Administrator Robert Frosch. Frosch was chosen to replace James C. Fletcher after his departure from the agency in 1977 to pursue other opportunities. Frosch has done what he can to ease the agency into this new era in a very uneasy time for everyone involved. It is simply the position NASA is in. Externally things look great, but internally they're stuck between a rock and a hard place. Cancelling Advanced Apollo would be messy, a PR nightmare, and only halt lunar exploration for a solid half-decade at the least. Continuing doesn't fix the problem, but at least it gives NASA time to (as comfortably as it can) evaluate the situation and make a path forward.

Fresh criticism of NASA hasn't been very pleasing. Critics of the agency have (fairly) pointed out that NASA allowed itself to get into this position. Nobody recognizes this more than the agency itself. The "Budget Squeeze" as it has been termed basically forced them to recognize it. This battle between Congress and NASA had to an extent always been there. Avoiding a messy and expensive adventure in Vietnam simply kicked the can down the road. The 1973 Oil Crisis, and the ensuing "stagflation" made the can unable to go any further. This budget shrink was the best way Congress could curb NASA's expensive tastes. But it had an unintentional side effect. Putting the clamps on NASA's budget did slow them down and make them carefully consider what they funded and approved. It also made NASA realize the grim future ahead if it didn't make changes eventually. How long would it be before the budget was so small they could no longer afford to send astronauts to the Moon? How long before it was limited to Low Earth Orbit, unable to truly reach its highest capabilities. Eventually killing the real dream. Landing humans on Mars.

You might call it a "wake-up call" of sorts, but NASA has realized the future ahead needs to be one where NASA alone is determining its future. The Shuttle is simply one key to the puzzle. Aris, and a replacement for Advanced Apollo, are the other necessary keys. Aris, in its new, somewhat unintended form, will be a foundation upon which the eventual Mars program can be laid, as I've said before. Advanced Apollo will continue with its planned "Exploration Phase" to start. But after that is incredibly uncertain. NASA will use Advanced Apollo to its fullest extent regardless. A big budget program has its perks. NASA can adequately test things that would otherwise be difficult to. The Lunar Transfer Vehicle is one, not only will Aris benefit from this, but a future Moon program will as well. The LTV is problematic in a lot of ways but it is also a necessary rough start to refine and improve nuclear transfer vehicle design. The ALSM is about the only part that NASA intends to keep 100%. It is a marvelous lander. The only problem though is reusability. It can't be reused. That will have to be worked around, as each ALSM unit is by no means cheap. But it's a fantastic lander with incredible capabilities.

The ASLVs find themselves in an awkward position as well, their fates not decided upon yet. The A02 itself isn't all that expensive, but it has very limited use cases. What it was once envisioned for is now just a footnote in space exploration history, so it will likely only see limited use. The A07 will be a critical part of Advanced Apollo, but each unit of this mega rocket comes at a hefty price. About 365 million dollars per launch (1.5 billion today). Thankfully the LTV is reusable, so regardless only one A07 will be needed for each Advanced Apollo mission, either to launch a new LTV or refuel a previous mission's. But adding in the cost of the Space Shuttle launching the crew and habitat, a Saturn III launching the ALSM. You end up at about 609 million dollars per Advanced Apollo mission (2.5 billion today.) That's not a cheap mission, but some might say it's justified for a several week "Lunar Expedition" which returns so much of scientific value.

This all piles up, which is why NASA is taking a new direction for the future, one that will hopefully lead to lower mission costs, and more missions overall. The robotic exploration programs have really taken a hit in recent years, the Iapyx Saturn orbiter having barely survived until now where it's guaranteed to launch. This is a major priority for NASA to undo and keep robotic exploration going and at a frequent rate. Without those brave little robots, we wouldn't have gone anywhere near as far in the Solar System as we have.

In terms of events beginning 1979. Good old Shuttle Pathfinder, everyone's favorite Structural Test Article, has appeared on the launchpad for the very first time. Not to go to space or anything, but to simply perform checkouts of the new infrastructure at 39A and ensure everything is certified for the upcoming STS-12 mission. 3 days were spent at 39A. A mock countdown, crew boarding test, and tests of the Rotating Service Structure (which will be used to load payloads into the orbiter) was conducted.

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On February 9th, a massive development occurs. An operational testbed for Navstar GPS is launched aboard a Delta 3000 Rocket. Navstar GPS is an initiative from the US military to provide accurate location data for the armed forces wherever they may be on Earth. It is restricted to military use, but nevertheless an impressive development in technology.

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Ah the US military, you and your extraordinary technological developments that you keep for yourself.

Never change.

Just a week later, on the 16th. Martin Marietta's Hercules rocket carries an Automated Resupply Vehicle to Skylab. Why not the Saturn IG? Well primarily because NASA needs to bridge the production gap between Block I and Block II, which is taking some time. Nevertheless this is a good way of showing how NASA cooperates with the American aerospace industry.

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1979 begins on some small but important launches and events. While conditioning the crawlerway may not be the most exciting of events, small steps like these are essential to the aerospace industry. 

 

.-- . / .. -. - . -. -.. / - --- / ... - ..- -.. -.-- / . ...- --- .-.. ..- - .. --- -. ... / --- ..-. / - .... . / -- .--. -.-. ... / ...- . .... .. -.-. .-.. . / .- ... / .- -. / .. -. -.. . .--. . -. -.. . -. - / -.-. .-. . .-- / ... -.-- ... - . -- .-.-.-

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New Rockets, Boosters, and Naming Schemes

A slow first few months of the year hasn't stopped anyone from continuing their paths of development. Most notably the people below.

The US Air Force. We all know 'em. They're a lovely bunch of high-flying jet piloting people. Despite conjecture and appended derogatory nicknames such as "Chair Force" they play a vital role not only in the atmosphere but outside of it as well. So important is this duty that the Air Force (and it's bosses at the Department of Defense) must select a fine group of launch vehicles to carry out classified launches of very classified spacecraft every so often. Keeping with the times is important to any government agency, but especially to the DoD. Fancy new military spysats aren't going to be very useful unless they have a reliable way to get into space.

So this year, the Air Force (and a totally non-existent agency known as the National Reconnaissance Office) has decided to update its existing contractual agreements to suit the upcoming "Next Generation" of military spacecraft. Future Launchers undergoes a major update into the adequately named "Next Generation Launch Services" program, or NGLS. Hercules and Valkyrie remain in the program, but the never ending problems of Atlas-Centaur Heavy have resulted in it being kicked out of the program, and replaced with something new.

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The unusual fully-hydrolox Polaris rocket from the coalition of North American Aviation, Rocketdyne, and Pratt & Whitney provides a fresh take on expendable rocketry. The XLR-129, once suspected to be a frontrunner for the Space Shuttle's main engines, has been given a new lease on life by this unconventional rocket. The engine is notable for it's "dual-mode" system, where the nozzle can extend once the rocket reaches higher altitudes, providing better performance in the later parts of ascent. Currently, the second stage uses a surplus J-2S engine provided by Rocketdyne, but there are discussions to replace it with the XLR-129 itself. 

This rocket, with the existing Hercules and Valkyrie rockets, will provide a plethora of options for the Department of Defense. Especially considering their disgruntlement with NASA and the Space Shuttle's flight schedule.

The DoD was a big supporter of the Space Shuttle during its early days. They saw extensive potential in a reusable spaceplane. Many times before they had tried their own schemes to get manned military missions, and the Space Shuttle with its civilian uses would be an excellent way to sneak in some special DoD missions. But NASA hasn't taken to this plan the way they would've hoped. The Shuttle has very clearly become a vehicle for non-military use. Although NASA is honoring its agreements with the DoD to launch some classified payloads, such as on STS-3 and STS-7. But to be fair, it is early in the program, and the DoD has recognized this and at the very least been patient so far. But they cannot rely on the Shuttle, at least for now. Which is why NGLS exists.

Speaking of the Space Shuttle, it is finally time to see the Orbiter and its new launch system take flight!

The SRBs were both fully stacked on the Mobile Launcher by late February, with the ET being joined between them on March 10th. Enterprise herself was then rolled over to the VAB on March 30th, and subsequently joined to the side of the stack. Rollout occurred on April 10th, with extensive time at the pad being allowed for tests and checkouts. This much simpler looking stack appeared from the back of the VAB out of High Bay 2 to much fanfare. With a crowd of several thousand people showing up to witness this roll to 39A.

The birds attempted yet another forced rollback, but thankfully the new infrastructure at 39A allows practically everything to be pad accessible, most notably the Orbiter. NASA can even replace SSMEs at the launchpad now. But that will likely never be needed. Their attempts foiled, the birds settled with watching the launch peacefully. A full tanking and de-tanking with the official countdown was conducted on April 18th. The crew had their first go with the "Dry" rehearsal on April 25th, a week before launch.

A pre-launch press conference was held on May 1st, the crew answered some question from the media. This is a very important mission in terms of astronauts, as this is the first flight of astronauts from Astronaut Group 8, which was announced in January of last year. They've been hard at work training to be ready for flight. STS-12 is a mission to Skylab, delivering the Skylab Airlock Module (SAM) and will fly with a crew of 5.

MISSION OVERVIEW: STS-12 |

Commander | John Young

Pilot | Robert Gibson

Mission Specialist 1 | Frederick Gregory

Mission Specialist 2 | Stanley Griggs

Mission Specialist 3| Rick Hauck

OV-101 "Enterprise"

Objectives: Visit Skylab station. Deliver supplies, and Skylab Airlock Module.

This will be John Young's second flight aboard the Space Shuttle. He has been serving as Chief of the Astronaut Office since 1974, but continues to be on flight status, because he's John Young.

STS-12 is notable as the first night launch of the Shuttle, so it will be double the spectacle for this inaugural SRB-boosted Shuttle launch.

Without further ado, the launch of STS-12.

May 2nd, 1979: A New Era Begins

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"This is Shuttle Launch Control at T-9 minutes and holding, we are preparing to release this final built-in hold, and proceed with the launch of Shuttle Enterprise tonight."

"3, 2, 1, mark. T-9 minutes and counting."

New countdown procedures were created with the changes to Shuttle launches, no longer relying on legacy Saturn countdown procedures.

"T-3 minutes and counting, final aero surfaces check now being performed."

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"The Gaseous Oxygen Vent Hood, or Beanie Cap, now retracting away to its launch position."

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"T-31 seconds."

"GLS is go for Auto Sequence Start."

"We have a go for Auto Sequence Start, the onboard computers of Enterprise are now in control of the countdown."

"T-12, 11, 10, we have a go for Main Engine Start, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, All Engines Up and Running!"

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"1, ZERO, BOOSTER IGNITION AND LIFTOFF OF THE SHUTTLE ENTERPRISE! ON A VISIT TO AMERICA'S ORBITING OUTPOST ON A NEW RIDE TO ORBIT!"

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"Roger Roll, Enterprise!"

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Well I wouldn't say that launch was disappointing. Not much can top a Saturn V launch but this certainly established an unusual but interesting launch and ascent to orbit.

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Enterprise spends Flight Day 1 catching up with Skylab, and approaches to dock on Flight Day 2.

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Enterprise's last visit to Skylab was nearly 2 years ago, and the station has changed quite a bit since then.

As a developing tradition, the crews meet in the Destiny module, and they speak with President Carter for about a half hour. On Flight Day 3 NASA holds a press conference with the crew of Skylab, which has grown to 9 with the arrival of the Shuttle. This will be the longest stay at Skylab yet, totaling 8 days.

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On Flight Day 5, the airlock is installed, with the docked ARV having to back up and stationkeep from the port while the installation takes place. The ARV is then re-docked to the airlock once the installation is completed.

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The Airlock is the final component left on Skylab before the Rear Module Block. The end of Skylab's assembly is finally in sight. With that in mind, NASA puts pen to paper, and officially makes its last order of Saturn IG launch vehicles. The final flight slated for 1980. NASA also makes its last order of Apollo CSMs and their accompanying Mission Modules to go along with this. The era of the Space Shuttle has truly begun, but what a sweet time it is to see these 2 major generations of American crewed spacecraft docked to the same station.

3 days later, Enterprise departs the station, concluding a successful second stay at America's space station.

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Space Shuttle Enterprise comes to a stop at the Shuttle Landing Facility, her 6th mission, STS-12, is concluded. This mission marked the beginning of the new STS, one that would push the boundaries of what was possible, a rapidly reusable and cost effective spaceplane, delivering satellites and servicing space stations. Despite the criticisms of Saturn-Shuttle and Advanced Apollo, the Space Shuttle has quickly become an American icon. A symbol of national pride in a time where people are re-thinking what it means to be American.  The Shuttle is a centerpiece of an evolving American culture. Now that... is good PR.

Columbia was originally slated to fly the next mission in June, but due to more damage than expected at 39A from the launch of Enterprise, and an issue with one of the Flight Data Recorders on Columbia's SRBs, that flight has been pushed to mid-July. NASA has also taken this time to begin the implementation of its new mission naming system? But what do I mean by that? Well let me explain.

NASA sees the upcoming manifest, so many launches, and plans for West Coast Shuttles eventually. They see a problem. Mission names being numbers is going to get very confusing. Thus they've come up with an ingenious, perfectly overbuilt system. This new system gives real information about each mission, providing a key of sorts to identifying each mission. The identification goes as follows.

STS-21-C

The first digit indicates the fiscal year of launch, offset since the beginning of the Shuttle program. So 1979 being 2 fiscal years into the program gives missions within it a first digit of 2.

The second digit is launch location, currently 1 just means Cape Canaveral, but eventually there could be 2 or 3 for other locations like the West Coast.

The letter indicates the launch of the year based on that letter's position in the alphabet. So C being the third letter of the alphabet means this is the third launch of the year. Of course with NASA being NASA, this is never adjusted for delays or mission cancellations.

STS-21-C is the designation STS-12 carries, and NASA used this mission to test the waters of the new designation. NASA has referred to it as "mission 21-C" instead of "STS-12" to subtly begin introducing this new naming scheme.

With this new system NASA is set up for perfectly understandable mission designations, which totally won't confuse the press. 

Mildly unnecessary naming schemes aside, STS-12 STS-21-C is a massive step for NASA and the Space Shuttle program. Internal reports noted the much lower cost of the mission, a nearly 45% cost reduction compared to STS-9. Which is a great improvement off the bat, but NASA knows they can keep getting the price lower and lower. That is why NASA has officially set up the Saturn IG for retirement. Whether this turns out as planned is to be foreseen, but NASA's optimism has to mean something.

But NASA isn't the only one making changes.

 

В настоящее время мы считаем идеальным реструктурирование программы.

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A Lunar Return

As May turns to June, NASA is very focused on Apollo 26. Preparations began with the delivery of the major components to the KSC. The Habitat Module arrived first from Johnson Space Center, it would be stored until being integrated with the Shuttle once it arrived at the launchpad. Next up was the Lunar Transfer Vehicle, which came from Michoud in Louisiana. The nuclear engine it would use for propulsion was delivered to the facility from Los Alamos in January, and was integrated in March. The whole assembly was then loaded into the transport barge on March 30th, not without the presence of anti-nuclear protestors of course, and delivered to the KSC a week later. The Saturn A07 was already in stacking inside High Bay 4, with the boosters and core stage stacked as of April 15th. The LTV was moved to the new "Large Payload Processing Facility" and integrated with the massive fairing that would protect it during early ascent to orbit.

This was a delicate process, as several umbilical connections into the LTV were necessary in order to fuel it with Liquid Hydrogen while inside the fairing. The fairing therefore had to be heavily modified in order to accommodate this unusual payload. These modifications were first tested on their own with the launch of the NERVA Orbital Testbed, but the A07 fairing is a bit different to the one used for that mission. The main additions needed were a service access "door" of sorts that would allow technicians to get in the fairing and ensure connections were proper and in place. Proto-ladders were added to the insides of the fairing, and a harness rail as well. There would then be removable access platforms that would allow technicians to stand and ensure solid connections. On top of this there were the umbilicals themselves, primarily fuel lines, but also purge lines which would connect into the fairing swing arm which would route the hydrogen to the flare stack at the Launch Complex. Inspections of the umbilicals would be primarily done in the VAB, as it was considered too risky to be done at the pad with the lumbering MSS.

Speaking of the VAB, it too had to be modified to accommodate Advanced Apollo. The sheer height of the Saturn A07 meant a much taller Launch Umbilical Tower, which well exceeded the current maximum high bay height, even with the folding lightning mast. Thankfully, the VAB roof isn't exactly locked into place, and NASA had built it with the potential of raising the height being necessary. Therefore, while High Bays 2 and 4 were being converted for the new Shuttle work platforms and the ASLV infrastructure respectively, NASA had their side of the roof raised. This was completed last December, and only recently was a slanted structure added to go back down to the original height of High Bays 1 and 3. The VAB has this unusual "big forehead" look as some people have called it due to the modifications, but it was necessary for Advanced Apollo operations.

For High Bays 1 and 3, the latter would be preserved in its current state to accommodate the Saturn III. Otherwise there would be a massive scheduling chokepoint in Advanced Apollo missions. With all 3 necessary vehicles able to be stacked and prepared at the same time, this would be an incredible time saver. High Bay 1 would continue to be converted into a second High Bay for the Shuttle, allowing 2 simultaneous stacks, and technically 3 with one on the launchpad.

As NASA gears up for Apollo 26, the Shuttle Columbia takes flight on STS-21-D, carrying 2 SBCS satellites to orbit. These are very important satellites. They are pathfinders designed to test a new concept NASA has been working on. The agency likes to call it the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, or TDRS (pronounced tee-driss.) NASA is very excited about this new program, as it will set up a group of satellites in Geostationary Orbit that will allow faster and better communication with missions in Earth orbit. The Space Shuttle is intended to launch these satellites, and will itself benefit greatly from them.

MISSION OVERVIEW: STS-21-D |

Commander | Richard Truly

Pilot | Anthony England

Mission Specialist 1 | James Van Hoften

Mission Specialist 2 | Robert Stewart

OV-102 "Columbia"

Objectives: Deploy pair of SBCS satellites, pathfinders of TDRS.

The Shuttle launches into the beautiful morning skies of Cape Canaveral on July 19th, 1979.

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With this mission out of the way, the road is clear to prepare Apollo 26 for launch.

This will be the most complex mission NASA has ever undertaken. Requiring 3 separate launches of 3 very different vehicles, each carrying a crucial component of the mission. The new Shuttle, Challenger, will make her debut flight carrying the Habitat Module as the first launch. This will be followed by the Saturn III carrying the ALSM lander, and finally the LTV aboard the mighty Saturn A07. For just one day, all 3 rockets will occupy their launchpads at the same time, before the Shuttle launches the next day. This will require not only LC-39A and LC-39C, but also the new LC-39D, which is finally ready to support flights.

The Space Shuttle rolls out on July 31st, a full 20 days from launch, as time is needed to integrate the Habitat Module, and perform Challenger's Flight Readiness Firing, the first of its kind short duration SSME test to verify new Space Shuttles.

On August 15th, the Saturn III rolls out to LC-39C, with the ALSM lander enclosed within its fairing.

Finally, the mighty Saturn A07 rolls out of High Bay 4, thousands of people gather to see the largest rocket ever make its way to the launchpad for the first time.

In a lineup reminiscent of the old Missile Row, all 3 sit on the launchpad at the same time. A late night talk show host quips that night:

"NASA's dubbed this the new Missile Row, which if you don't know is what all of those small rocket launchpads down at the Cape are called, cause they were for missiles and they're in a row. Pretty self-explanatory right? But I feel like they should call this the Financial Mistake Row. Much more fitting don't you think."

The audience loves it, but NASA doesn't enjoy humor at its own expense. Shocking, I know.

Nevertheless, "Financial Mistake Row" or whatever you want to call it is short-lived, as the next day Challenger takes to the skies with the Apollo 26 crew and the Habitat Module.

MISSION OVERVIEW: STS-21-E |

Shuttle Commander | Philip Chapman

Shuttle Pilot | Joseph Allen IV

Apollo 26 Commander | Story Musgrave

ALSM Pilot | Robert Crippen

Mission Engineer | James Buchli

Mission Scientist 1 | Sally Ride

Mission Scientists 2 | Shannon Lucid

OV-099 "Challenger"

Objectives: Oversee assembly of Apollo 26 Lunar Operations Vehicle in orbit, deliver crew and supplies.

August 20th, 1979: A New Era of Lunar Exploration Begins

"Booster Ignition and liftoff of Challenger, beginning a new era of Apollo, and America's exploration of the Moon!"

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This is one of the new additions to the Shuttle first flying on this mission. Dubbed the "External Tank Engineering Camera" or ETEC, it is a small set of 2 cameras which monitor the Shuttle's ascent from a very interesting perspective. It can look downwards, as seen in this image, and upwards. Although downwards is generally considered the more useful view.

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Pro-tip: Don't point the ETEC at the Sun.

In order to dock the Habitat Module, it has to be deployed, and the Shuttle has to dock with it manually, using the same docking adapter used for docking to Skylab. This will position the module well for the arrival of the remaining components.

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If you're going to the Moon during Advanced Apollo, you're sure going to have to be patient. It will take over a week until the crew can depart for the Moon. This has led to STS-21-E being considered "the most boring" Shuttle mission to date.

5 days later, on the 25th, the Saturn III takes off from 39C, carrying the ALSM. 

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2 components down, 1 remaining. The most crucial.

Time to take back the throne.

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Since the inaugural launch of the N1, the Soviets have been able to brag about having "the world's most powerful rocket" with more thrust than the Saturn V. Not even the Block II upgrade could take back the title. But the Saturn A07 will over double the N1's total thrust. Finally taking back the throne of the world's most powerful rocket for the Saturn rocket family.

Time to break some records.

"T-15, Guidance is internal."

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"T-12, 11, 10, 9, Ignition Sequence Start, 7..."

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"Booster Ignition and liftoff of the Saturn A07, carrying the final piece of Apollo 26, to propel the mission towards the Moon!"

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The roar...

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The crackle of the SRBs...

The window-rattling power...

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To a low rumble...

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To silence.

Take that, N1.

In preparation for the arrival of the LTV, the Shuttle undocks and stationkeeps to observe docking, and be ready to dock again in case of an emergency. Thankfully the LTV docks without issue, and Apollo 26 is finally ready to go to the Moon.

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Challenger then de-orbits, and returns for a landing at the Cape.

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Safely back at home base, Challenger will head back to the OPF and prepare for her 2nd flight, later in the year.

NASA's focus now shifts to Apollo 26, and the incoming TLI maneuver.

Tension is in the air, but while everyone is incredibly nervous, all they can do is keep calm and do their jobs.

"3."

"2."

"1."

"Ignition."

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A nervous handful of minutes follow, until the NTR motor finally shuts down.

A good trajectory, but a small correction maneuver is necessary.

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After the mid-course correction, and a few days of coasting, Apollo 26 arrives at the Moon. Now under the callsign Adventurer. The naming convention for Advanced Apollo is much different, as in the early Apollo the CSM and LM would be individually named, but for Advanced Apollo, the crew will give their mission a callsign, which follows the lander as it is the crewed vehicle on the surface.

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The excessive heat problem of the NTR isn't fully worked around yet, but peak temperatures were lower this time.

It will take a total of 3 maneuvers to enter Low Lunar Orbit.

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Once in the final orbit, the crew transfer into the ALSM, and prepare for the descent to the lunar surface.

Upon undocking from the LTV, the crew prepare for the initial de-orbit maneuver, which will place them on target at the intended landing side on the interior border of Mare Crisium. This site was mainly chosen due to it having a lunar masscon, or mass concentration. This has been an interesting field of study for Apollo missions since the start of Phase 2, so any chance to study a location with one is a top priority.

The Initial Descent Maneuver, or IDM as it is called, begins exactly on time. This begins a truly tense time at mission control, but everyone must remain calm, and do their jobs. 

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(Note: The reason the ALSM looks different than what I've previously posted it as is because I re-designed it twice after this for both Apollo 27 and 28 until I settled on the design I've previously shown, which was used on Apollo 28. But just one more changed design before the final one after this!)

"Alrighty Houston, 20,000 feet passed."

"Copy that, Story."

"Throttle is good."

"Velocity nominal."

"IDM shutoff."

A tense few minutes pass, before the Landing Maneuver begins.

"LM startup! Not the lander!"

[chuckles] "Roger Adventurer, LM startup."

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"2,000 feet."

"Throttle curve is good."

"Keepin' her steady."

"1,500 feet."

"Smooth and steady."

"1,000."

...

"750."

...

"500."

...

"250."

...

"100."

"50."

"30."

"15."

"10."

"5."

"CONTACT. SHUTOFF."

"Houston..."

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"Adventurer is on the surface."

Mission Control erupts in cheers and applause. They'd done it. America was back on the Moon, after nearly 2 years away. Despite all of the criticisms of Advanced Apollo, it was a true necessary step to long-term and sustained lunar exploration.

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The crew spend a week on the surface. They are truly spoiled with all of the new fancy gadgets and gizmos that come with the enhanced abilities of Advanced Apollo. They attain samples from a much lower depth than previous missions were able to. This was done by utilizing the new "Deep Core Sampler" device, which burrows 15 feet down into the surface before collecting material.

Once this week of fruitful week of exploration is over, the ALSM ascends back to orbit to dock with the LTV, still in orbit of the Moon.

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The crew return, and transfer all of their samples into the Habitat Module. After a few hours have passed since docking, the LTV begins the Trans-Earth Injection, or TEI, maneuver.

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The thermal characteristics of the NTR are slightly better during the TEI maneuver, but they're still concerningly high. But it has several days to chill out before LEO insertion.

4 days later, the LTV performs 2 braking maneuvers. The first inserts the crew into a lower elliptical orbit, and the second into a proper Low Earth Orbit.

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Upon entering LEO, the ALSM undocks to free up space for the return vehicle, and is commanded to de-orbit.

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The next morning, a Saturn IG launches on a quick rendezvous with an unmanned Apollo CSM to retrieve the crew.

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4 hours later, the crew are transferring their samples and equipment into the CSM, as well as themselves.

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The CSM then undocks, and de-orbits.

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This usage of the CSM is a one-time thing, as future Advanced Apollo missions will use the [REDACTED] provided by [REDACTED] to return the crew.

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Now safely back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 26 are recovered by Navy vessels, and make their way back to the Cape upon returning to port and boarding a NASA charter plane. They are given a heroes welcome, with a parade held in New York City a week later.

Apollo 26 is concluded as a great success, boosting NASA's public relationship immensely. Apollo 27 is slated for late next year, which is one of the current downsides to Advanced Apollo. It cannot support a high flight rate of lunar missions. A successor program would hope to fix this, but nothing on that is certain at the moment.

What is certain right now, is that Advanced Apollo, despite its flaws, has given a new light of hope for the American people. With elections coming next year, and President Carter's popularity decreasing every month, the future of the nation is uncertain. But NASA remains a steady constant, giving the American people something to be proud of. They are first in space.

But will they be forever?

 

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Cryogenics, Lifting Bodies, and Christmas

The European Space Agency, or ESA as the acronym calls it. They are Europe's premier agency for space exploration (sorry UK) and have made impressive progress in their short existence. NASA has taken note of this, and with the push to cooperate with other Western nations, they have made a deal.

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Enter the Multi-Purpose Crew System, or MPCS. This funny little fella will serve 2 main purposes. The first is to be an "Emergency Crew Return Vehicle" or ECRV at Skylab. When the Shuttle takes over crew rotations at Skylab upon the retirement of the Saturn IG and Apollo CSM, there will be no way to return the crew in the event of an emergency. This is because the Shuttle can only stay docked to Skylab at maximum for 16 days, not the 200 of a standard mission at the station. This could be overcome with a "shelter" of sorts for minor emergencies for the crew to await the arrival of a Shuttle. But major emergencies may make this shelter useless. Therefore, the crew need a way to evacuate the station a moments notice, and this is where the MPCS will come it. The little lifting body will launch from Kourou, and dock at the station. Each MPCS is capable of staying in orbit long enough for 2 missions (400 days) and thus won't need to be replaced every mission, just every two. This will be especially helpful, and add a safety blanket for crews staying at America's orbiting outpost.

The second purpose is returning crews of Advanced Apollo missions. Apollo 26 was able to have a CSM return the crew, but with that spacecrafts retirement upcoming, all future Advanced Apollo missions need another method. The Space Shuttle could be used, but NASA thinks it has better things to do than just return a crew. Therefore the little MPCS, with its crew capacity of 6, is perfect for returning the 5 crew of Advanced Apollo missions.

The initial version of the MPCS is very much what you would call a "lifting body" with no wings of any sort. This initial version also only has a crew capacity of 4. But this "Block I" as it is called will be short lived, by the time of Apollo 27 ESA intends to have the upgraded "Block II" ready for flight, it has a slightly enlarged fuselage, an enhanced crew capacity of 6, and some stubby little wings, if you can even call them that. The MPCS is truly unique because of another component.

The paraglider.

Yes, the MPCS has a paraglider rather than a traditional parachute. Because it's a lifting body, with "lifting" being quite generous, the MPCS needs a paraglider to safely land on solid ground, which is an eventual goal for the spacecraft. ESA has its own ambitions with this spacecraft, it's not just a service to provide to NASA. They want independent manned spaceflight. This is what ESA has been working towards since its inception. While they are happy to work with NASA and continue to be valuable partners, ESA has ambition to do its own things as well. They want their own space stations, their own robotic exploration programs, maybe even their own lunar program. Like I said, ambition.

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That major announcement aside, following Apollo 26 there is a plethora of activity.

On October 10th, Shuttle Enterprise takes flight on a classified mission, STS-21-F. The crew consists of 5 astronauts, on a 6 day mission of unknown purpose.

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What the public doesn't know, is that Enterprise is carrying the most advanced Signals Intelligence Satellite to date. Also the most expensive one.

Enterprise is also carrying another payload, codenamed Waterfall.

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On the 5th day of the mission, this super SIGINT satellite, known as Perseus B, is deployed.

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Enterprise de-orbits the next day for a landing at Cape Canaveral.

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Enterprise is expected to flight 2 more times before being taken to Palmdale for her first Orbiter Maintenance Down Period. But that won't cause much problem for the manifest...

Hello, OV-103.

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OV-103, named Discovery (after HMS Discovery) is the fourth Orbiter to be built, and her first flight is about 3 months away. Originally intended for delivery in August, some issues had to be worked out and thus she was kept at Plant 42 until now in mid-October. Her first flight will be at the start of next year, launching the Iapyx spacecraft and its transfer stage that will boost it on a trajectory to Saturn. That will be the heaviest payload the Shuttle has launched thus far, nearly maxing out the possible payload capacity.

The next 2 months will be spent preparing her for spaceflight before being rolled over to the VAB for stacking.

In November, the Perdix spacecraft takes some time to fly by the largest Moon in the Solar System, Ganymede.

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The first attempt at a flyby was called off due to a propulsion issue, but the next attempt is a bit more than a week later, and all goes well setting up the spacecraft on a low flyby trajectory.

As Perdix closes in, fascinating readings come from the magnetometers of Perdix.

Ganymede has a magnetic field.

But how? This puzzles scientists, and potentially indicates that the core of Ganymede isn't solid.

But that's only the start.

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Readings from other instruments and more depth to the story. Some data hints at cryovolcanism and the potential of a subsurface ocean.

Looks like Europa isn't alone.

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Jupiter rises back above Ganymede, as a very fruitful flyby comes to a close.

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A few weeks pass, and scientists are given some time to fully process the discoveries. Ganymede is certainly a very interesting Moon, and is seen as a primary objective for future missions.

On December 2nd, MPCS takes its first flight. This is a test flight which will dock with Skylab, and bring around 800kg of supplies.

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The MPCS has to use the Shuttle's docking adapter for this flight. But the next module of Skylab is launching very soon, and is where the MPCS is intended to dock normally.

But this module isn't being brought by the Shuttle.

Polaris will be the first commercial rocket to launch a Skylab module.

Due to scheduling conflicts, NASA chose the Polaris rocket to launch the next Skylab module: the Primary Logistics Module. The PLM is small enough for POlaris to launch it with an Apollo SM tug, and can do it on time, so NASA put pen to paper and made a deal.

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Although the SM tug did have to use some of its propellant margin to finish out orbital insertion. So uhh, maybe a risky decision?

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Following the installation of the module, the MPCS relocates to the docking port on top of the PLM.

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Now, to close out the year, NASA has a very important mission lined up.

After a minor schedule kerfuffle, STS-21-H is bumped into STS-31-A, and the original 31-A mission is canned, Enterprise is also send to Palmdale early to begin OMDP 1. This leaves Challenger to fly STS-21-G and finish the Shuttle manifest off for the year.

STS-21-G is incredibly important, as it is the second Spacelab mission with a very unique goal. In the back of Challenger's payload bay are some spheres. Rather unsuspecting, but they're carrying liquid hydrogen, To fuel these required a minor modification of the umbilicals already placed on Challenger's payload bay for fueling cryogenic stages, such as Centaur, which are planned to eventually fly on the Shuttle. Those will have their own umbilical arm however, these are just fueled through some modified hoses attached to the TSMs. Regardless they are going to be demonstrating cryogenic fluid transfer in space, which is essential for reusing the LTV on Advanced Apollo, and fueling larger nuclear transfer vehicles that are too heavy when fully fueled to be launched with all of that fuel. This is a massive technological leap that is necessary to deep space operations, and also Earth orbit operations in some cases. Therefore, this mission means more than just refueling lunar tugs.

MISSION OVERVIEW: STS-21-G/SPACELAB-2 |

Commander | Gordon Fullerton

Pilot | Donald Peterson

Mission Specialist 1 | Guion Bluford Jr.

Mission Specialist 2| Kathryn Sullivan

OV-099 "Challenger"

Objectives: Demonstrate Cryogenic Fluid Transfer, study the viability of Hydroponics in space.

As the objectives state, this mission also has another very important focus. Hydroponics is a type of horticulture which grows plants without soil by using water-based mineral nutrient solutions in an aqueous solvent. This would be very useful for spaceflight, as bringing up a bunch of soil is kind of annoying. If hydroponics is a viable method of growing plants in space, then it would majorly improve the lives of deep space mission crews, by allowing them to eat freshly grown crops.

With a load of science to be done, STS-21-G takes to the skies on December 10th, 1979. Hoping to be home by Christmas.

"Booster Ignition and LIFTOFF of the Shuttle Challenger on Mission 21-G, carrying Spacelab and the Cryogenic Transfer Experiment!"

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Due to hydrogen not liking to stay a liquid, the Cryogenic Transfer Experiment is the first priority upon reaching orbit. The crew are going to study 3 methods to transfer LH2 between the spheres. The first is using ullage to shift the liquid physically between spheres. The Shuttle can't do this the best but a refueling module docked in front of a nuclear transfer vehicle could do this much easier. The second is using pressure differentiation. Since pressure loves to flow from high to low, by lowering the pressure in an empty sphere and opening it up to a higher pressure full sphere, this could transfer propellant between the spheres with no fuel expenditure, all you would need is a way to re-pressurize the tank. The third method is using a pump to... pump the liquid into an empty sphere. These 3 methods are studied over the course of a day.

The pump system quickly proves to be tricky and unreliable, so it is written off after a few tries. Despite the Shuttle's difficulty with the ullage, the method itself remains very promising and the crew see results after several attempts. The same goes for pressure differentiation, which seems to consistently transfer the fluid between spheres.

With promising results recorded, NASA will decide on what to do when attempting a refueling demo on the Apollo 26 LTV. This is a new decision made, and the LTV will be de-orbited afterwards. So Apollo 27 will still need a new LTV. NASA sees this as a better plan to not risk an entire Moon mission on the success of undemonstrated refueling.

With that out of the way, the crew dedicate the next 11 days of the mission to being space farmers. Although it is on a very small scale and over a short amount of time. Hydroponics proves to at least work in space. The tested plants are cabbage, peas, and onions, and they show a solid amount of growth for the time given. The crew carefully monitor their growth, as the plants will continue to be grown back on Earth once the Shuttle returns. This will allow for comparisons between their growth in space and growth on Earth. Giving further insight into potential difficulties with growing crops in space.

On the 24th, the crew share a teleconference with their families before re-entry. NASA specifically made the mission 14 days to get the astronauts home for the last Christmas of the 70s. So on this final day of the mission, Challenger de-orbits, to return for a landing at Cape Canaveral.

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Re-entry goes smoothly, and visual contact is acquired shortly after communications resume.

"Houston Challenger! Hope you didn't exchange gifts without us,"

"Wouldn't do that to you. Although some of 'em are getting a bit impatient."

"We'll try and sit 'er down as quick as we can, Houston."

"Roger that."

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Just in time for Christmas, Challenger comes to a stop on the Shuttle Landing Facility on Christmas Eve morning. The Shuttle once again had the issue of drifting to the left side of the runway, although this happened at a much slower speed and closer to wheel stop compared to last time. NASA is studying ways to get around this, but not much has been figured out yet. 

Regardless of that, the 70s have come to a close for spaceflight, and what a decade it has been. So much change, so much advancement. From watching the Soviets land on the Moon as Apollo was grounded following Apollo 13, to watching a nuclear powered spacecraft send Americans to the Moon. NASA has remained at the forefront of space exploration, and looks forward to a decade of collaboration with its newfound ally in the European Space Agency. Skylab is set to be completed, lunar exploration is entering a new era, and at the center of it all: America's Space Shuttle.

The Space Shuttle has awed people across the world. An engineering marvel that is truly the crowning achievement of NASA. The new decade holds much optimism for the Shuttle, with new payloads, mission profiles, and upgrades set to be implemented.

But NASA has issues, issues that like any other government agency, it must work out. A new president may hold a new space policy, and a new Administrator may shake things up, who knows.

What is certain, is that the wild ride of space exploration is just getting started.

 

A New Decade Awaits.

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Posted (edited)

A New Decade

As the ball drops at Times Square, and the celebrations begin. The new decade is brought upon the world to much fanfare. NASA looks upon this new decade with cautious enthusiasm. Many within the agency are looking forward to the 80s, and all that NASA has planned. But there are many who enter this great unknown with unease, and a certain anxiety about the future. The 1970s shaped NASA's future heavily, and forced it into some stark realizations about what needs to be done in order to continue the aspirational pace of exploration. Cost is the name of the game going forward, and NASA has to make some difficult decisions. Advanced Apollo will be yet another transitional phase, into the planned "Apollo Follow-On Program" which will eventually get a catchier name.

On top of this, NASA begins looking into concepts that will result in a sort of... "revival" of the Apollo CSM, into a crew vehicle for this AFOP program as its wonderful acronym calls it. In the most unusual crossover of all time, these concepts suggest a launch on the Space Shuttle, boost to the Moon by Centaur, refueling in lunar orbit, and a return similar to the CSM. This oddly complex architecture was pulled straight from the mind of North American Rockwell engineers. The service module would be shrunk, and a ring of external fuel tanks added around an upgraded Lunar Module Descent Engine (LMDE) for primary propulsion. The SN would otherwise share the Block V solar arrays and communications dish. The Command Module would see a massive overhaul, however. All of the systems upgraded to Shuttle-derived guidance and software systems, new MFDs brought over from the Shuttle added. The docking tunnel was also widened and lengthened to allow for the swap to the APAS docking system.  This would give the capsule a slightly different appearance than the original CSM, with a longer "snout" of sorts. The exterior would also be covered in thermal blankets similar to the Shuttle. All of these upgrades and additions would make the capsules reusable, bringing down the cost of each "ACOV" spacecraft, as they are dubbed by Rockwell. (ACOV stands for Apollo Crew Operations Vehicle.)

Spacecraft aside, America itself faces a massive year. Elections are coming this year, and the political landscape has changed. Jimmy Carter's presidency hasn't gone, shall we say, exactly as he probably would've hoped. Economic turmoil has only continued, and a revolution in Iran and general instability has fed a resurging Republican party. Candidates for the election are set to be chosen this summer, and the election of course set to be held in November. Whoever wins will have space policy, and a new President could bring radical changes to NASA and its future.

Rockets are quick to establish themselves in the new decade, as a Titan IIIE launches on January 3rd, carrying the Near-Earth Observer (NEO) spacecraft. This spacecraft is designed (totally not from spare parts) to observe Near-Earth objects, which are becoming a new field of interest for astronomers.

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16 days later, Shuttle Columbia prepares to launch on STS-31-A. Her 6th flight, which is intended to repair the SPECTER space telescope, which launched way back in November 1974, but has suffered from several issues over the past few years. Columbia will rendezvous, capture, and repair/upgrade the telescope, allowing it to continue operations for several more years.

MISSION OVERVIEW: STS-31-A |

Commander | Anthony England

Pilot | Daniel Brandenstein

Mission Specialist 1 | Dale Gardner

Mission Specialist 2 | Jeffrey Hoffman

OV-102 "Columbia"

Objectives: Repair SPECTER Space Telescope.

"Solid Rocket Booster Ignition and LIFTOFF of the Shuttle Columbia, on a mission to redeem the SPECTER telescope!"

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On Flight Day 3, Columbia gets a visual on SPECTER, and moves in.

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From here, the crew of Columbia can see the telescope in its problematic state. The telescope has been unable to communicate with the ground for a few weeks at this point, and one of the solar arrays never deployed after launch. On top of this there have been several computer issues that the crew will thankfully be able to work out. This is because while SPECTER predates Shuttle missions, it was designed for future servicing, so many of its components are easily accessible while spacewalking.

However... shenanigans ensue as Columbia attempts to grapple SPECTER, the clamp seems to be unable to well... clamp.

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Eventually after sunset, the Canadarm gets a grapple on SPECTER, so the mission will be carried out like this.

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Opening the service bay, Dale Gardner manually pulls a series of electrical breakers to cut off power to several systems, including the guidance/alignment systems, which were wrestling with the Shuttle.

In this rather awkward position, the crew prepare for the first spacewalk. This will install a new antenna to re-establish communications with SPECTER, a faulty gyroscope will also be replaced.

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The second and final spacewalk will get the second solar array un-stuck. This will be done by pulling a stuck latch pin which was discovered on the first spacewalk as the likely cause of the failed deployment.

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After Spacewalk 2 is completed, the crew of Columbia hold on to SPECTER for one more day, as checkouts are performed from the ground. After this though, on Flight Day 6, SPECTER is released, ready to begin observations once more.

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Columbia deploys a few Canadian topology cubesats a few hours later, from the payload container situated in the back of the payload bay.

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Columbia de-orbits the next day then, targeting a landing at the cape.

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"Gear down."

"300 feet, Shuttle on a good approach."

"250."

"200."

"150."

"100."

"Keeping that nose high."

"50."

"25."

"10."

"5."

"Main Gear Down!"

"Rotating the nose..."

"Nose Gear down!"

"Columbia putting on the brakes now."

"Wheel stop! Welcome home Shuttle Columbia and the crew of mission 31-A."

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Columbia comes to a stop following a triumphant mission. STS-31-A has truly demonstrated the Shuttle at the peak of its capabilities. No other vehicle could've done what OV-102 did on this mission. This is a great accomplishment for the Shuttle program, and has only fed into the PR bonanza. Some of the footage capture by the astronauts was absolutely awe-inspiring. Newspapers were practically rolling in cash as these front page cover photos practically took themselves. It's a great way to start the new decade.

But as Columbia comes to a stop, a legend starts rolling for the end of an era.

The final crewed Saturn IG is heading to the launchpad.

Skylab 11 rolls out to 39C on January 28th, to great fanfare from NASA and contractor employees. This is not only the last crewed Saturn IG, but it will be the last flight of the Apollo CSM. This transitional period from Apollo to Shuttle has been very interesting, as both spacecraft flew together and were even docked at Skylab together. Although the CSM may find a new lease on life, depending on where the whole "ACOV" concept goes. The future holds much promise, but the Saturn IG, and the Apollo CSM, have been cemented as icons of spaceflight.

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The rollout fanfare is followed by a picture-perfect launch on February 9th. 

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There's not much time to take this in however, as on February 25th, the legend takes to the skies for the final time.

The Saturn IG launches from LC-39D, carrying the first Inflatable Accommodations Module, these modules are primarily technology demonstration of inflatable modules, but will also be used for scientific experimentation, as one (this one specifically) carries a large centrifuge, which can generate gravity for many experiments. This is a breakthrough technology, and will allow for many more interesting research projects aboard Skylab.

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Just like its entire career, the Saturn IG concludes its service with a picture-perfect launch. A true legend, that was the backbone of Skylab's early years. The rocket will forever be remembered, as a final unneeded vehicle will go on display at the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

But the Saturn IG's retirement comes during a flurry of activity, as NASA prepares to go to Saturn.

The Iapyx Spacecraft is ready for launch.

 

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This bold little spacecraft will be launching on the maiden flight of the new Shuttle, Discovery. The Shuttle will also carry the massive High Energy Stage needed to boost Iapyx to Saturn for a transit that will be just over 3 years in total length, this is incredibly short for such a long distance, and will maximize mission time at Saturn.

MISSION OVERVIEW: STS-31-B |

Commander | Gordon Fullerton

Pilot | Frederick Gregory

Mission Specialist 1 | Steven Hawley

Mission Specialist 2 | Shannon Lucid

OV-103 "Discovery"

Objectives: Deploy the Iapyx Spacecraft and its High Energy Stage

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"Solid Rocket Booster Ignition and LIFTOFF of the Shuttle Discovery on her maiden flight, carrying the Iapyx spacecraft bound for Saturn!"

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On Flight Day 2, NASA controllers wait anxiously, as Iapyx and HES gently float out of Discovery's payload bay.

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Iapyx will now spend ~3 months in LEO, testing its systems and waiting for the optimal transfer window. Another reason for the long stay in LEO is that NASA still has some PTSD from the Pioneer 10 failure, and does not want to lose Iapyx when it cannot be saved.

With that objective complete, Discovery only spends another day in orbit on her maiden mission, before returning for a landing at the Cape.

"Houston, Discovery!"

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Discovery comes to a stop, after a highly successful maiden flight. As the new decade begins there has been a flurry of activity. The Saturn IG has retired, NASA's newest interplanetary mission has launched, and the nation looks towards the elections this fall. 1980 will be an incredibly busy year for NASA, and the Shuttle will remain at the center of attention.

 

But nobody is content to be left behind.

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Routine Missions and Primary Elections

As spring sets in, NASA is getting geared up for a run of Shuttle missions lasting until the end of the year. With so many launches to be prepared for this year and in the future, NASA has begun designing a new large facility to sit behind the VAB, which will allow for stacking of SRBs and External Tanks before they are sent to the VAB for Shuttle stacking. This building, now dubbed the "Stacking and Assembly Building" or SAB, will begin construction later this year, and is expected to be completed by late 1981/early 1982. The building will have a door similar to the VAB door on its front, and will be split into multiple areas. From the door back will be the stacking area, External Tanks and SRB segments will be brought in, and then stacked. To the side will then be storage areas where up to 8 Shuttle stacks can be stored at once. From there, once they are ready, the crawler will enter the building with an MLP, and the stack will be mounted onto the MLP, and then carried to the VAB for the Shuttle to be stacked. For the most part, this facility will be used for stacking SRBs, as the ET and Shuttle stacking usually aren't separated by very long. The SRBs are by far the most time consuming process of stacking, so having that done in a separate building will free up space in the VAB.

With hopes of a less cluttered VAB in the future, NASA rolls out Challenger for the first "Routine Operational Mission" to Skylab. These missions will perform crew rotations and supply delivery. For now though they are primarily dedicated to supply and delivery of the remaining components to complete the station.

This mission, STS-31-C, will deliver supplies with the new Mini Logistics Module (nicknamed "Quincy" after John Quincy Adams) and 2 components of the station. The first is the second Inflatable Accommodations Module, and the other component is a robotic manipulator based on the Shuttle's Canadarm for the station.

With these components to be delivered, the station is nearly complete.

Challenger lifts off into morning spring skies on May 7th, 1980.

"SRB Ignition and Liftoff of the Shuttle Challenger on Mission 31-C to America's Orbiting Outpost!"

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Now in orbit, Challenger will spend the day catching up with Skylab for a rendezvous and docking on Flight Day 2.

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Now docked on Flight Day 2, the crews of 31-C and Skylab 11 meet in the Destiny Module like always, beginning a 10 day stay for the Shuttle at America's space station. This will make the mission the longest Shuttle mission to date.

First, the modified Canadarm is installed onto Skylab. This was done with a rather simple modification:

The Canadarm usually has one fixture on the end to latch onto Power/Data fixtures on spacecraft, station modules, really anything. But on Skylab, it will be able to "walk" across the station by going from P/D fixture to P/D fixture, and thus it has a grappling fixture on both ends. This is how it will be added onto Skylab and then released from the Shuttle.

The operation is slightly chaotic, but eventually successful, and the focus shift to getting the Quincy module out of the Shuttle and onto the Serenity module's available docking port.

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IAM-2 would be successfully installed as well, with the rest of the stay being focused on setting up that module and other research aboard the station.

Challenger would depart early on Flight Day 12, and de-orbit later in the day for an afternoon landing at Edwards AFB, concluding STS-31-C.

The next Shuttle mission, STS-31-D, was slated for June, and rolled out to the launchpad on May 28th. However, during the countdown, a major hydrogen leak was detected in the umbilicals between the Shuttle and the ET, and forced a rollback on June 10th to the VAB for repairs. This delayed the mission several weeks, but it eventually rolled back out on June 26th, with a launch date set for July 1st. However that was scrubbed as well due to poor weather. But clear skies were forecasted for the next day, so a simple 24 hour recycle it was.

STS-31-D is being flown by Columbia, and is carrying 2 payloads, Magnetic Fields Explorer 3, and Shuttle Pallet Satellite 1, or SPAS-1.  Magnetic Fields Explorer 3 is one of the US-built spacecraft for the joint Magnetic Fields research program with ESA and the UK Space Agency. SPAS-1 carries multiple instruments provided by foreign space agencies and a few universities. It is a pallet, as the name implies, which can hold these instruments and allow them to be used in space. In some of its forms it can be deployed from the Shuttle and retrieved at the end of the mission.

Weather and hydrogen permitting, the launch is GO on July 2nd, 1980.

"Booster Ignition and LIFTOFF of Columbia, furthering our knowledge, and advancing our understanding of the universe!"

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SPAS-1 is deployed on Flight Day 2. The primary experiments onboard SPAS-1 are the Gamma Ray Annihilation Observer (GRAO), which is intended to study gamma rays to trace annihilation events and thus antimatter, and the SP-1 (Spectral Pathfinder-1) is testing a prototype spectral scanning system. There are several other smaller experiments as well.

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SPAS-1 will be kept at a distance of around 500m until it is retrieved towards the end of the mission. The focus now shifts to another experiment onboard...

Columbia is carrying a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) experiment, which is testing an upgraded SAR system from the lessons learned with the Seasat spacecraft. This could greatly enhance the capabilities of SAR, and open up a whole new world of possibilities.

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MFE 3 is then deployed on Flight Day 4.

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The next day, on Flight Day 5, the crew move to retrieve SPAS-1 as they prepare to return on Flight Day 6.

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Gently maneuvering so that the Canadarm can lock onto the P/D Fixture, the crew of Columbia perform precise movements of the Orbiter, with small RCS pulses bringing the Shuttle closer and into alignment.

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A slow and tedious operation which takes over 6 hours, SPAS-1 is finally locked back into place in the payload bay of Columbia.

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The rest of the mission's stay in space could be considered quite boring after that operation, but nevertheless Columbia de-orbits on Flight Day 6 for a landing at the Cape.

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As Columbia lands, a bold little spacecraft has begun a long journey to a far away world.

Iapyx is Saturn bound.

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Back in June, the High Energy Stage gave Iapyx the monumental boost needed to reach Saturn, and after a tense half an hour as Iapyx's various instruments and systems deployed, the spacecraft was healthy, and finally on its way to Saturn.

15 years since Iapyx originated as a failed Saturn orbiter proposal. The hundreds of people who had spent so much of their lives working to prepare this spacecraft could celebrate.

Orbital insertion at Saturn is expected in the summer of 1983.

But now, later in the summer, America's political parties are ready for their big shows before the election. The Republicans and Democrats hold their national conventions, in Detroit and New York respectively, as the votes are cast...

REAGAN/BUSH

CARTER/MONDALE

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The new hotshot of the Republican Party, former actor and Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, will go up against President Jimmy Carter in the elections this November.

But we don't care about all of their boring politics do we? What's their space policy?

Jimmy Carter's presidency has not been kind to NASA. Some might say they've been forced to face harsh realities, some might say they've been neglected. But the point is that Carter has overseen an underwhelming Golden Age of NASA, that he failed to act upon.

Reagan however, has stated his clear support for NASA, and intends to stabilize their budget, support their programs, and give them the correct management for the new decade.

This election will be pivotal for NASA's future. One can hope the agency can act upon the potential of the new decade.

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The Flying Pizza Roll and the Completion of Skylab

As July rolls into August, ESA is preparing the first operational MPCS Block I for its flight to Skylab. It will  dock on the zenith port of the Primary Logistics Module, and deliver 1,200kg of cargo. The MPCS, now nicknamed the "Flying Pizza Roll" by NASA employees due to its shape, has a very important role to play with the upcoming retirement of the Apollo CSM. In the Shuttle's absence and the CSM's retirement, the MPCS will now serve its primary intended purpose as an emergency escape vehicle for the crew. Should another incident like the CO2 event happen again, the crew can safely evacuate the station and return to Earth. This important contribution to the station has earned ESA seats on long-duration missions, space for science experiments, and data from some of the station's instruments. The MPCS will also be used to return Advanced Apollo crews, which has gained ESA something they have been dreaming of for years.

Seats on a moon mission.

NASA has given ESA seats on Apollo 27 and 28 for their contributions to the missions, with an option for future seats being available. They will get 1 astronaut on Apollo 27, and potentially 2 on Apollo 28. This will, therefore, be the first time non-Americans/Soviets land on the Moon. While technically an Australian-American Philip Chapman, who orbited the Moon as Command Module Pilot on Apollo 25, is the only other person not born in America or the Soviet Union to visit the Moon.

With these developments, the Flying Pizza Roll lifts off on its first operational mission to Skylab.

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A successful launch, rendezvous, and docking with Skylab. Each MPCS can serve for up to 8 months on orbit, which will allow them to stay between missions until a new one can arrive.

As August now rolls into September, NASA is preparing for STS-31-E. This mission is notable because it will carry the last module of Skylab. After 6 years, Skylab is one launch away from being complete, one.

Discovery will perform the first crew rotation by a Shuttle, and deliver the Multi-Purpose Laboratory, the final component of Skylab. With this flight, Skylab will be complete, after over 6 years of assembly on-orbit.

But there is some controversy to this mission, not public, but within the government. 31-E was originally a DoD mission by Challenger, but due to a changing schedule and NASA not wanting to leave Skylab empty for several months, the DoD mission was swapped with a Skylab mission, and the orbiter changed to Discovery. The DoD is simply put, very mad, but NASA's priorities come first for the Shuttle. This backseating of DoD missions has only fueled the squabbles between them and NASA. But ultimately it is NASA's program to schedule and operate. The DoD is, for once, at the mercy of another government agency.

MISSION OVERVIEW: STS-31-E |

Commander | Karol Bobko

Pilot | Michael Coats

Skylab Commander | Richard Covey

Scientist 1 | Anna Fisher

Scientist 2 | George Nelson

Specialist 1 | Michael Mullane

OV-103 "Discovery"

Objectives: Deliver Multi-Purpose Laboratory, the final component of Skylab. Deliver the Skylab 12 crew for their 200 day stay.

The 4 crew intended to stay aboard the station, serving as the crew of rotation 12 (named Skylab 12), will perform the standard 200 day stay aboard the station. 

With all of that out of the way, Discovery lifts off from 39A on August 20th, 1980.

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In a slightly worrisome moment, ET separation induces a roll on both the Shuttle and the ET. The Shuttle is in good health, but many suggest for the Shuttle's TPS to be inspected at Skylab.

A procedure is cooked up for the Shuttle to do a "barrel roll" before docking to give a full view of the TPS for the crew to photograph.

A few hours before rendezvous, the MPL is deployed from the Shuttle's payload bay, and docked directly to the Shuttle's docking port, which will allow for a direct installation onto the station.

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As the Shuttle approaches the station on Flight Day 2, it performs the barrel roll which allows the crew onboard Skylab to photograph Discovery's TPS.

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No damage was observed, so docking proceeds as planned.

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"30."

"20."

"10."

"5."

"3."

"2."

"1."

"CONTACT."

"CAPTURE."

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Skylab now finally complete. The largest object to ever orbit the Earth, the worlds first modular space station, and a testament to the might of America's space program, and what NASA is truly capable of.  The station's completion comes at a turbulent time for NASA, but whatever the future may hold. They can look to Skylab as proof of their capabilities.

Nevertheless there is work to be done, Discovery is also intended to retrieve the Mini Logistics Module which is currently attached to the Serenity Module, Discovery will have to relocate to the original SDA for this.

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Discovery relocates to the original SDA on Flight Day 4.

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Skylab's Canadarm then sees its first major use on Flight Day 6, loading the MLM back into Discovery's payload bay.

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With the MPL docked and mostly outfitted, and the MLM retrieved, Discovery undocks on Flight Day 10 after 9 days at the station, to return home.

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Discovery successfully de-orbits and lands at Cape Canaveral.

A monumental goal for NASA has been completed. It has taken the agency's efforts of over half a decade to complete the monumental station. It has seen 2 generations of crewed spacecraft, new lunar missions, and new astronauts. The station has orbited overhead during a period of change for NASA, and that change is far from over. The agency could be in for another stirrup with a new presidential administration, and new Administrator.

Regardless, while NASA celebrates the station's completion, and looks forward to a potential decade of further operations. There is even more fanfare to be had.

May I introduce, the last Shuttle on order.

OV-104...

Atlantis.

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Atlantis completes NASA's vision of a 5 Orbiter Fleet. The agency originally envisioned far more Shuttles, but 5 has been a good compromise considering the budget situation. Atlantis is the most advanced orbiter to date, learning from the experiences and issues with the past orbiters. Therefore being the lightest and most capable as well. She is expected to first fly on STS-41-A, the first flight of 1981, carrying the first TDRS satellite. It will be a flight of many firsts.

With this great few weeks of fanfare, NASA's attitude would shift greatly over the coming weeks...

LPFTP

Challenger rolled out to 39A for STS-31-F in mid-September. The mission's primary objective would be to deploy the Long Duration Exposure Facility, a large 12 sided satellite about the size of a school bus. This satellite wasn't really a satellite, it was just a can packed with long duration experiments. The essence of the craft was to deploy it in orbit, and then retrieve it a year or 2 later, where the experiments would then be studied to see how long duration exposure to the vacuum of space effected them. The LDEF was the perfect supplement to research on Skylab, and could carry many larger experiments.

The LDEF was loaded into Challenger's payload bay, and the Shuttle stood poised for a beautiful sunrise launch on September 30th, 1980. 

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A normal countdown, and a liftoff that exceeded all expectations of beauty.

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However...

While the announcer speaks, the propulsion engineers in mission control are reading incredibly unusual telemetry from the No. 2 engine. The C/W system sounds a Level 2 alarm, which is connecting to reading data from the main propulsion monitor system. Houston informs the crew to ignore the alarm and cut it off, the propulsion engineers assume it is a sensor issue, and ignore the unusual readings.

Whatever the issue was, NASA doesn't seem to care, and they don't want the crew to care either.

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C/W goes off again. And the ground telemetry is reading that No.2 engine's Low Pressure Fuel Turbopump is loosing pressure. This could lead to the High Pressure Fuel Turbopump cavitating.

Once again, C/W is shut off without a second thought. This is because the SSME has a history of sensor issues.

 

No.2 engine is now loosing performance, dropping to 100.5% of rated thrust. This is when it becomes too much to ignore, the propulsion engineers start making callouts.

"I've got No.2 with dropping LP-FTP pressure and at 100.5%"

ATO is not ideal on this mission as the LDEF has to stay in orbit without any boosting, so leaving it in a lower orbit risks re-entry before its back in the payload bay of a Shuttle. NASA is hesistant and doesn't even relay this to the crew.

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NASA has cut off the countdown net to the live broadcast, so the public isn't aware either.

"Challenger, press for MECO."

"Roger, press for MECO."

C/W has been forced off at this point, the only indication that No.2 engine is failing is on the ground. Ironically, due to an actual sensor issue coming from a faulty fuel cell reading that made no sense.

...

3 Engines Shutdown, MECO.

The External Tank Jettisons, and Challenger gently pushes herself away using the onboard RCS. Somehow, they managed to get to orbit, by violating every single constraint along the way.

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The cover-up of the issues with the No.2 SSME is just the tip of the iceberg of current issues with NASA. The agency has developed an infectious overconfidence in itself, one that has lead to many of the messes NASA finds itself in at the moment. A willingness to violate safety constraints if it risks mission success and a good newspaper headline is just the beginning. NASA's management has never been perfect, but it is at a tipping point. A new Administrator, if there will be one, must right the ship.

While the crew of 31-F get to work on orbit. A screaming match ensues in Houston. The Launch Director trying to defend the decisions made, and the engineers who had just learned of the situation tearing him a new one for said decisions.

This rift between managers and engineers has been growing for years, and the Shuttle has only worsened it.

While NASA keeps the launch situation quiet, the crew on orbit utilize the new and improved Canadarm to deploy the LDEF.

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A rather straight forward and simple mission, with so much drama around it. Challenger spends a few days on orbit afterwards as the crew perform research, with de-orbit coming on Flight Day 6.

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As Challenger comes to a stop on October 6th, NASA can only be relieved after what happened during launch. But management has missed the point of what happened. The crew never knew about what happened, and both they and the public were left in the dark. How long can NASA cover up its failures before it comes back to bite them? Only time will tell, but as I said.

Someone must right the ship.

The DoD, A Refueled LTV, and A Pizza Roll With Wings

To close out the year, NASA has a few more things to handle. Most notably, the Orbital Refueling Demonstration, which will attempt to refuel the Apollo 26 LTV with a Liquid Hydrogen Tanker, before it de-orbits. The Saturn A07 that will launch this mission has been stacked, and will be rolled out to 39C in late November.

But before that, the DoD finally gets a Shuttle launch, carrying a rather boring not exactly super secret military communications satellite. However this mission is notable for one reason. It is the first flight of the Interim Upper Stage, or IUS, a 2 stage solid-fueled system for boosting spacecrafts to their intended orbits. IUS is one of the stages chosen by the Air Force, alongside Centaur G. Centaur G has been facing major delays and likely won't be ready until 1983, so IUS will have to be the workhorse upper stage for now. IUS is also intended to boost NASA's TDRS satellites to GEO as well.

The mission is rather uneventful, unlike the last Shuttle mission, and Columbia successfully flies the 4 day mission from November 19th to November 23rd.

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On that unchaotic note, the Shuttle's year for 1980 is wrapped up. The Shuttle has made major progress this year, deploying its first interplanetary mission, completing Skylab, and having the final ordered Shuttle delivered.

Truly, they're growing up so fast.

As we move into December, JPL begins testing the Enhanced Exploration Roving Module, or EERM. It is a neat little rover that will be used on Apollo 27 onwards. It is a major step up from the LRV, providing crews with pressurized cabin space, and a much more comfortable method of exploring the lunar surface.

As the EERM roves around JPL, NASA rolls out the much larger Saturn A07 rocket to launch the Orbital Refueling Demonstration. The ORD is practically an LTV but with the nuclear engine, much of the solar array, and radiators removed, and now acting as a tanker. The ORD will rendezvous with the Apollo 26 LTV which is still in orbit of the Earth, and refuel the tanks, not for reuse, but to demonstrate the capability.

The mighty Saturn A07 roars to life for the second time, on a mission of the utmost importance for the future of space exploration.

"Booster Ignition and LIFTOFF of the Saturn A07 on a mission to demonstrate the ability to refuel spacecraft on orbit!"

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Upon reaching orbit, the ORD Tanker successfully performs a rendezvous with the LTV, and docks.

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Docking is completed and the whole assembly is slowly moved to a more stable position. The fueling lines successfully connected, and preparations are underway to begin fueling.

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After the depress vent releases the LTV's tank pressures to a safe but lower level, the fuel valves open, and the RCS starts up. The fueling operation has begun.

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After about 30 seconds, the RCS is cutoff and the pressure differentiation is allowed to take over. For the next 5 minutes, the fuel levels in the LTV steadily increase. Once all is said and done, about 7,533kg of Liquid Hydrogen are transferred into the LTV.

This... is monumental.

Although the process is rather slow, ORD has demonstrated that Liquid Hydrogen fueled tugs can be refueled and reused over the course of multiple missions. This will be critical for reducing the costs of Advanced Apollo and the Apollo Follow-On Program, as well as other applications.

This is the perfect mission to round out the year for NASA. What was once just a studied concept is now demonstrated as feasible and applicable now. Not in 5 or 10 years, now.

The implications of this feat are far-reaching, and it provides hope for reusable nuclear tugs for Mars missions and beyond.

But the Flying Pizza Roll sneaks into the end of the year to do some testing for the future. On December 20th, an MPCS Block I is flown on a high altitude landing test to demonstrate upgrades planned for MPCS Block II, which flies 9 days later on December 29th.

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The main upgrade demonstrated is the paraglider, which will allow for eventual land recovery of the MPCS.

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9 days later, this is demonstrated on MPCS Block II, as it flies for the first time.

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With the Flying Pizza Roll getting its stubby little wings, the first year of the 1980s is brought to a close.

But wait... the elections.

What happened there?

Well let's just say...

America has a new President.

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I'd like to thank everyone who has supported me through all of these posts. We're over 7k views on this now! I truly cannot believe that it's gotten to this point, and I appreciate all of you who have commented and liked the posts.

I also wanted to mention the newest post and some changes I made. I'm trying out a new system where each part is split into multiple chapters. I felt like this works better to divide the story more evenly and give major events the focus they need. Let me know what you think of it!

Thank you all!

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Under New Management

"We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow."

These words from Reagan's inaugural address ring true for more than just the United States itself, but for NASA alone. 1980 was, on its surface, another successful year for NASA. But as a new President is inaugurated, and Reagan begins his search for a new NASA Administrator, there is an unease within the agency. Many are hopeful for a change in philosophy and doctrine with a new Administrator and upper management. But before Reagan is even inaugurated, NASA distracts the public once more with a new spectacle.

2 Shuttles on the launchpad at the same time.

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Due to some schedule shenanigans caused by more work needed on Atlantis upon her arrival at the Cape, Discovery and Atlantis swapped launches for the start of 1981. Therefore, Discovery will launch the first TDRS satellite, and Atlantis will perform a supply run and crew rotation for Skylab.

Atlantis sits on 39B, targeting a late January launch, while Discovery is slated for a launch no earlier than January 16th.

To keep things moving, one of NASA's biggest pushes for the new decade has been approved by Congress.

The Shuttle Derived Launch System (SDLS)

While plans aren't concrete just yet, SDLS is a massive breakthrough to replace the ASLVs and be a much lower cost solution for heavy lift rockets. Derived from Space Shuttle hardware, it is designed to be highly modular, fulfilling a wide range of payload capabilities. SDLS is expected to first fly in 1984, and will be the backbone of the Apollo Follow-On Program. This puts the still relatively new ASLV rockets on a path towards an early retirement. But these are the necessary steps that must be taken for a cost-effective and efficient NASA in the new decade.

2 days before Reagan's inauguration, Discovery takes off on her 3rd flight to begin the deployment of NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite constellation.

"Solid Rocket Booster Ignition and LIFTOFF of Discovery, carrying the first Tracking & Data Relay Satellite to orbit!"

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A nominal liftoff and ascent, and Discovery reaches orbit to begin the 3 day mission.

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TDRS-A is successfully deployed 9 hours after launch, and is boosted to geostationary orbit by the Interim Upper Stage.

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With the mission's main objective complete, the crew focus on experiments for the next 2 days, before Discovery returns to Earth on the 21st.

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A successful landing of Discovery, concluding her 3rd mission.

While post-landing operations seem to be going normally, a concerning situation is revealed during the initial heat shield inspection. 10 tiles on Discovery are broken, and 9 more are somewhat damaged. Analysis reveals that the SOFI on the External Tank may have shed off, and damaged the tiles.

This is concerning, but NASA can't do much about it. SOFI is critical to insulating the cryogenic propellants, but nonetheless NASA suggests that Martin Marietta, the manufacturer of the External Tank, to look into ways of preventing foam shedding.

Atlantis continues to prepare on 39B for her maiden flight, which is less than 10 days away.

Ronald Reagan is inaugurated as the 40th President of the United States of America on January 20th, 1981. His administration is promising to lower taxes, reduce inflation, improve the economy, and build a better America for the coming decades. Whether his campaign promises will be met is to be foreseen. But the economy is coming out of its 70s spiral, and Reagan has committed to stabilizing NASA's budget. The FY 1982 Budget will be the chance to prove that.

Soon into his presidency, Reagan begins his search for the new NASA Administrator. His advisors have a list of potential options that have been presented. But one advisor speaks up during a meeting, and hands Reagan a document.

A new suggestion...

Reagan stares at the document, reading every line, until he looks up, and says to the meeting.

"Gentleman, I believe I have the right man for the job."

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John W. Young.

Young's reputation precedes him. Having flown twice on both Gemini, Apollo, and the Space Shuttle. He is currently the Chief of the Astronaut Office, and has done well in that position. He is, quite possibly, the perfect choice for NASA in its current situation. As a (technically still active) astronaut, he has a high regard for crew safety, and his opinions on the Shuttle are different from others.

Young regards the Shuttle as an experimental vehicle, not "operational" as many within NASA like to call it at this stage. He is more cautious in his attitude towards it, but he is not anti-Shuttle by any means.

His management could be a breath of fresh air for the agency, and be the exact leadership that NASA needs in this new decade.

The meeting is stunned by the President's decision, but they're not necessarily against it. Young came out of nowhere to win this position.

Reagan announces to the nation, during one of his televised speeches on February 1st, his selection.

"For many years our nation's space agency has fascinated me. It is the world's premier space exploration agency, producing marvels of science and engineering the likes of which the world has never seen. The Space Shuttle has captured our hearts and souls with its almost science fiction capabilities. But now, as President of the United States, I have a duty to select the right person to lead this agency. The right person to give NASA the leadership and management it needs to succeed in this new decade and beyond. My fellow Americans, I believe I have found the right man for the job."

"His reputation precedes him, a veteran of six spaceflights, the 9th man to walk on the Moon, and the Chief of the Astronaut Office."

"I have nominated Mr. John Young to serve as NASA Administrator."

Young is surprised, but nevertheless takes on the challenge bestowed upon him by the new President. He is to take office at the end of February. 

But will he be able to lead the agency in the right direction? Many think so. This is an extremely popular nomination within NASA, and they are clearly in support of Young as Administrator. Therefore, Young is set up in the right position to steer NASA towards greater exploration in the coming years.

Whether it was just a selection for the sake of PR, many believe it's the right selection. Richard Truly is expected to take Young's place as Chief of the Astronaut Office.

The Flight of Atlantis, A Moonshot, and Space Fruit

While the new Administrator of NASA is being selected, NASA itself is preparing a new Shuttle for launch. Atlantis arrived at the KSC back in September 1980, and spent a few months in the Orbiter Processing Facility getting fitted and prepared for her first flight, which was bumped to STS-41-B after Atlantis ended up needing more work than expected:

  • 973 tiles needed to be replaced.
  • After the startup tests on October 15th, it was discovered that some wiring in the cockpit needed to be re-done.
  • The nose gear had to be replaced after it didn't deploy during a gear deploy test.
  • The forward RCS had to be taken off and repaired after a few valves were discovered to be... inoperable.

This wasn't exactly the best first impression on NASA's engineers and technicians from the new Shuttle. So much so that a couple of engineers jokingly sent a letter to Rockwell asking about their "return policy on new Shuttle Orbiters," Rockwell responded back saying that they "did not have an active return policy, but to look for a trade-in opportunity," this got out to the news who ran with the story as if Atlantis was a broken and malfunctioning spacecraft, which it kind of was. But all of the Shuttles had issues during their first stint in the OPF, and Enterprise continues to be problematic between flights.

Despite this little news story, Atlantis was in proper condition for flight by mid December, Rolled over to the VAB on December 18th, and stacked on the 19th. Rollout occurred on January 4th, and on the 5th as the sun rose was when the photographers got into a frenzy, as Discovery sat on 39A, and Atlantis sat on 39B.

Atlantis then spent the rest of the month doing lots of testing. Her Flight Readiness Firing (FRF) was conducted on January 10th, and was successful. Followed by a full Wet Dress Rehearsal on the 18th, and then a Dry Rehearsal on January 26th with the crew.

After all of these tests, Atlantis was finally GO for her first launch, slated for January 30th. But that was then pushed back to the 31st... and then February 1st... and then the 2nd.

So a few delays, but the 2nd was finally launch day.

MISSION OVERVIEW: STS-41-B |

Commander | Story Musgrave

Pilot | Karl Henize

Skylab Commander | William Lenoir

Scientist 1 | Guion Bluford Jr.

Scientist 2 | Terry Hart

Specialist 1 | Margaret Seddon

Specialist 2 | Dale Gardner

OV-104 "Atlantis"

Objectives: Deliver supplies and new Skylab crew to the station.

On the 29th, a new MPCS is launched to Skylab ahead of the new crew's arrival. This is the first Block II MPCS, which can carry 6 crew and will allow for 5-member Skylab crews once again.

But nevertheless, Atlantis is GO for launch on February 2nd, 1981.

"BOOSTER IGNITION AND LIFTOFF! The maiden liftoff of Space Shuttle Atlantis on Mission 41-B to America's Space Station Skylab!"

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The payloads for the mission, MPLM "Washington" in the aft, it has not flown since STS-2, the first Shuttle visit to Skylab and when Saturn-Shuttle was still in operation. In the forward area is the Pressurized Logistics Pallet, a logistics module mounted inside a structural rack-type system that can carry pressurized cargo, accessed by the same adapter for Spacelab. The main cargo being carried is hardware to outfit the Multi-Purpose Laboratory.

On Flight Day 2, Atlantis reaches Skylab, and prepares to dock.

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Outfitting of the Multi-Purpose Laboratory begins on Flight Day 7, mainly undertaken by the Skylab crew, the rest work on a new capability to be tested. Atlantis, being the last and therefore the most well equipped Shuttle, due to lessons learned from the previous orbiters and new capabilities having been developed, has the ability to draw power from Skylab. This can extend a mission to up to 16 days, and as the technology matures, Orbiters could stay at Skylab for up to 21 days.

Atlantis begins drawing from the station's reserve power systems, and all seems to function as intended.

On Flight Day 12, the MPLM is returned to the payload bay of Atlantis.

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On Flight Day 14, Atlantis performs a reboost of Skylab, one of the last things to be done before the Shuttle departs.

A few hours later, Atlantis undocks from the station.

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Once a decent distance away from the station is reached, Atlantis enters the "backlip" maneuver so that the Skylab crew can inspect and photograph the Shuttle's TPS system, it was decided this maneuver would be moved to an undocking and departure procedure as it gives a better idea of the TPS condition close to re-entry.

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Atlantis de-orbits on Flight Day 15, targeting a landing at the Cape.

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Atlantis comes to a stop, her maiden flight successfully concluded. This was the first time the Shuttle landed at the SLF from the other direction.

Early in March, the Soviets begin executing a plan for an interim space station. With Mir facing delays meaning it likely won't begin construction until 1986, the Soviets need an orbiting laboratory now that Salyut 6 is retired. The solution is Salyut 7A, which will compose of not only the core DOS, but 2 other modules forming a small station for the USSR until the time comes for Mir.

The first module is launched on March 9th by Sokol B (a version of Sokol without the upper stage) destined for Low Earth Orbit.

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Fully deployed after inserting itself into orbit (for proper disposal of the Sokol core stage) the Salyut 7A core module will await the other 2 modules, scheduled to launch later in autumn. The first Soyuz crew is then expected to arrive in winter.

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But the Soviets have more to attend to at the start of '81. You see, when the N1 was cancelled, the Soviet space program did not give up on their Lunar program, instead, they envisioned a restructuring of it. Architecturally and internally. To hopefully keep it alive and stay somewhat on par with the US. What they came up with was a new system utilizing Sokol, and the now fully developed LK-700 lunar lander. 

The mission architecture was a little complicated, but these smaller launches provided for a lower cost mission, with respectable capabilities. 

Sokol would launch the LK-700 (with crew already aboard, as it was now a lander/crew spacecraft hybrid of sorts) and it would be sent to the Moon where it would land and perform a surface stay no longer than 5 days. Compared to the small LK, the LK-700 could carry 3 crew to the surface, which although is 2 less than the ALSM at max capacity, it is still more than the original LM. Right after the LK-700 launches, though, Sokol would launch a big tug of sorts that would rendezvous with the LK-700 after it returned to orbit from the moon's surface. The tug would then boost the LK-700 back to Earth, where the capsule atop the lander would safely land the crew back on Earth in Kazakhstan.

This rather unusual mission profile did have some risks, but the cost was acceptable to the Soviet government, and Sokol had proven itself to be much more reliable than the N1.

The Soviets launch a crucial uncrewed "moonshot" test mission on April 2nd, where the LK-700 will land on the lunar surface, but not ascend.

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Sokol's second stage does most of TLI, with the LK-700's transfer stage doing the rest.

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Luna 9 is slated for June, around the time of Apollo 27, but it is unlikely to meet that date.

Shifting back to NASA, Challenger launches to begin the STS-41-C mission on April 16th, 1981. This is the first Shuttle launch for NASA under new Administrator John Young, who is in attendance. This is the 3rd Spacelab mission, and it is primarily dedicated to the study of fruit and vegetable growth in space. Some specimens have been growing on Earth, and they are nearly about to bear fruit, how zero gravity changes this late stage of growth is a particular focus of the mission.

"BOOSTER IGNITION AND LIFTOFF! LIFTOFF of Space Shuttle Challenger and Spacelab 3! Furthering our knowledge of the zero g environment of space!"

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The experiments on fruit and vegetable growth yield some... interesting results.

The plants still do bear fruit towards the end of the mission, but the stems start to grow rather wildly in all sorts of directions, leading to some unusual arrangements and sometimes making it difficult for some fruit to bear.

The mission has a massive impact on current knowledge of plant growth in space, and future longer duration experiments on Skylab are in formulation. Skylab is also expected to get a set of hydroponics bays based on the positive results from STS-21-G's experiments.

Challenger de-orbits on Flight Day 15, the mission has stretched the Shuttle's orbital endurance to the maximum, requiring extra fuel for the fuel cells to complete the whole mission.

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With this successful flight, Challenger has tied Enterprise in total flights at 7, while Columbia leads the way with 8. Enterprise has spent the past year and change in Palmdale undergoing her first Orbiter Maintenance Down Period, intended to fix a lot of the existing issues with Enterprise. Challenger is also heading to Palmdale after this flight for some maintenance and a small refit of a few systems.

As May begins, Columbia rolls out to 39A. Apollo 27's preparation phase is due to begin soon, while the Soviets look eagerly towards returning to the Moon in the next few months.

If the Soviets can succeed with Luna 9 and future missions, a revitalized Moon Race looks to be a possibility.

График разработки ракеты-носителя "Энергия" оптимален с расчетом на статические испытания единиц к началу 1983 года.

 

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I've read it as well, and its very insightful to the Challenger disaster because of the failure of NASA to comprehend the SRB cold sealing issue.

 

Its interesting, because in the book, Mike was coming close to losing his job over the deal with burning the OMS engines on the ascent to "put another zero behind the already conservative figures of the safety of africans" or something close to that effect. However, Young really did care about the astronauts, and was very involved in the safety of the shuttle. As in this alternate timeline, i feel as if the challenger disaster wont happen because instead of having a bureaucrat in power, we have an astronaut. Someone who knew the risks of spaceflight. This is pretty smart way of avoiding having to (maybe) kill of 7 kerbals. Very creative.

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