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Home / Science / The Biggest Leap, Part 6: After Apollo, NASA is still looking for an encore

The Biggest Leap, Part 6: After Apollo, NASA is still looking for an encore



Video by Joshua Ballinger, edited and produced by Jing Niu and David Minick. Click here for the log.

And then it was over.

After the drama of Apollo 13, the last four human missions to the Moon in 1971 and 1972 ran smoothly. With each successive, increasingly routine landing, astronauts made long forays on the dusty moon terrain and dived deeper into the hidden scientific secrets.

When the crew of Apollo 1

7 returned to Earth in the command module America much of the country had stopped noticing it. During a CBS news program about the last human mission to the moon, Walter Cronkite asked the rocket scientist who led the development of the Saturn V rocket, Wernher von Braun, why the public was just so blasey about space travel a few years after the first one human landing.

"I think it's the excitement of the new," Von Braun replied. The love is still there, the excitement is still there, but it's not the honeymoon any more. "

In retrospect, mankind's invasion of space was astonishingly short. The astronauts sent around the moon, Apollo 8, launched on December 21, 1968. The last lunar spaceship rippled in the Pacific on December 20, 1972. It had taken 200,000 years for modern man to have developed the technology of the moon, and then For exactly four years, we exercised this ability before returning to a single species.

  Apollo 17 was the first and only night launch of the Saturn V rocket.

Apollo 17 was the first and only night launch of the Saturn V rocket

NASA

For von Braun and many others working on the Apollo program, NASA's honeymoon passed way too fast – decades of discouragement fo When all the energy spent on space exploration and the momentum of Apollo slowly faded away. Although it was perhaps not obvious to most, this process actually began before the Eagle landed in 1969, when the space agency began its long struggle to find an appropriate addition to the Moon.

Still 2018, it still has to find one.

A Navy Man

After undergoing all of this, the steep ascent of NASA and its gradual disappearance, Bob Thompson is still angry today. At the beginning of NASA, Thompson was commissioned with the "Restoration" – the long list of complex tasks and even more complex logistics required to bring spacecraft and people out of the water after spraying. When Ham, the chimpanzee, flew into space in 1961, Thompson pulled him out of the capsule after landing in the ocean. A few months later, when Gus Grissom nearly drowned after his space flight, Thompson struck the astronaut as he took off his boots and released seawater. Later, NASA asked Thompson for help in finding an encore for Apollo, and this has taken the second half of his long life.

Thompson is now in the 90s. He grew up during the Great Depression in a small town in southwest Virginia. This village called Bluefield was actually surrounded by black coal fields. Thompson escaped a difficult future as he worked in them with keen brains. In the 1930s, planes occasionally flew over the rolling hills where Thompson lived and played to capture his imagination. Without really knowing what aeronautical engineers did or how they designed planes, Thompson decided he wanted to become one.

He graduated from high school early and enrolled in the Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1941, now known as Virginia Tech. While studying engineering and playing with future flight director Chris Kraft on the baseball team, Thompson got his call from the draft board. After completing his undergraduate degree in 1944, Thompson joined the US Navy. As a line officer aboard destroyers, especially in the Atlantic, he saw only limited measures during the Second World War.

Like Kraft and some of the other bright and talented post-war engineers, Thompson worked for his predecessor at NASA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, Langley Field, Virginia. More than a decade later, he still worked there when Sputnik's launch forced the US to seriously engage with space.

In 1958, several dozen Langley engineers were transformed into the nucleus of a new agency, NASA, with an American response to Sputnik. Thompson was soon invited to join them. He remembers his first meeting with Chuck Matthews weeks after the working group had formed. Matthews was responsible for operations ranging from launching to flying and landing spacecraft. Matthews said Thompson's name as a Navy man had been proposed to carry out the capsule recovery program from the ocean.

Thompson asked Matthews what this would entail. "Chuck had a pretty open answer," Thompson recalled with a laugh. "He said," Well, if we knew, we probably would not need you.

Soon Thompson met with his former baseball teammate Kraft and other young engineers to plan the flight and landing of a one-person mercury capsule – Explain where to launch, where they land relative to the Earth's surface 1965, Rear Admiral WC Abhau (left) is shown in the Mission Control Center with Bob Thompson (center) and Chris Kraft, Flight Director for Gemini-5. ” src=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/kraftthompsongemini6.jpg” width=”1920″ height=”1258″/>

In 1965, Rear Admiral WC Abhau (left) is shown in the Mission Control Center with Bob Thompson (center) and Chris Kraft, Flight Director for Gemini-5.

When I look at the ground traces and the Probabilities and what we did look like, this guy could be anywhere, from the palms around the launch pad, across the middle of Africa to the Indian Ocean, wherever, "said Thompson." Recovery should be a global activity be t, which was mainly run by the Ministry of Defense. "

Thompson understood how the US Navy worked and how to play well with US defense ships and their commanders. He asked for their help, did not ask for it, and he got it in general. Soon he led salvage operations for the first launches of animals like Sam and Ham. Finally, Thompson would manage NASA's recovery operations through the Mercury and most of the Gemini program. He has also done a great deal of planning for Apollo Lake operations.

Listing Image by NASA / Aurich Lawson


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