Friday, January 27, 2017

50th Anniversary: NASA's 1st Tragedy of the Space Era


This photograph shows the charred remains of the cabin interior of the Apollo 1 space capsule, where a flash-fire killed three astronauts 50 years ago today (1967 January 27), in NASA's first tragedy of the Space Era.
(Image Sources: Wikipedia.org , By NASA - Great Images in NASA Description, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=203101 )

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

Fifty years ago today (on 1967 January 27), NASA experienced the first tragedy of the Space Era when three astronauts were killed in a cabin fire during a launch rehearsal test of their Apollo 1 space capsule. After nearly six years of crewed Mercury and Gemini space missions, this was to be the first Apollo mission, a rehearsal in low-Earth orbit, which would lead to landing men on the Moon before the end of the decade. The launch of Apollo 1 had been scheduled for 1967 February 21 at Cape Kennedy Air Force Station in Florida (now known as the Kennedy Space Center at the Cape's original name, Cape Canaveral).

On 1961 May 25, before a joint session of the U.S. Congress, President John F. Kennedy stated, "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." The previous month, the Russians had launched the first human into space, Yuri Gagarin, who was also the first to orbit the Earth. On 1961 May 5, Alan Shepard had been the first American launched into space, during a short sub-orbital flight.

The launch by Russia of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 on 1957 October 4, ahead of America's first planned launch of a satellite, had shocked the American public. And, now the Russians had succeeded in launching the first person into Earth orbit, further leading to fears that America was scientifically behind during these troubled times of the Cold War.

After consulting with scientific experts, President Kennedy determined that a manned landing on the Moon would be a very challenging technological feat, but a feat American technology and scientific expertise could achieve. So, President Kennedy announced the challenge of sending men to the Moon. And, after the tragedy of President Kennedy's assassination in Dallas on 1963 November 22, the successful completion of this challenge would become his major legacy.

It took several years to reach the point where a mission to the Moon could be attempted. Between 1961 and 1963, six astronauts were launched into space on six rockets during Project Mercury. In 1965 and 1966 ten missions, each with a crew of two, were launched into space during Project Gemini. After Gemini 12, the final Gemini mission, splashed-down on 1966 November 15, the ambitious schedule of pre-lunar flights would begin the next February with the launch of Apollo 1 (the name Apollo 1 was chosen by the crew, but it was originally designated Apollo 204 or AS-204).

Apollo 1 Prime Crew
Apollo 1 astronauts Ed White, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chaffee.
(Image Sources: Wikipedia.org , By NASA - Great Images in NASA Description, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6449869 )

Apollo 1, as with all Apollo missions, would have a crew of three. The crew included Command Pilot Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward H. White II, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee.

Gus Grissom had been one of the original “Mercury 7” astronauts, and he was the second American to fly in space on 1961 July 21. Gus Grissom also became the first American to fly in space twice when he became the Command Pilot for Gemini 3, the first manned Gemini mission; he replaced Alan Shepard, who had been grounded after being diagnosed with Meniere's Disease.

Ed White was pilot of Gemini 4 and became the first American to walk in space (known as Extra-Vehicular Activity or EVA) on 1965 June 3. However, even at this point in the “Space Race” the Russians seemed to be ahead of the Americans, as Russian Cosmonaut Alexey Leonov became the first human to walk in space on 1965 March 18.

Roger Chaffee was a newcomer, as Apollo 1 would be his first excursion into Outer Space. He had served as the “CAPCOM” (“Capsule Communicator” - Flight Controller at NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston) for both Gemini 3 and Gemini 4. He received his first spaceflight assignment, for Apollo 1, in 1966.

Apollo 1 was to be the first low-Earth orbital test of the Command and Service Modules of the Apollo spacecraft. The launch test on 1967 January 27 was considered quite important, as it would determine whether the spacecraft could operate on internal power, completely separated from ground systems. This test was not considered hazardous, since neither the spacecraft nor the rocket was fueled.

The astronauts entered the space capsule at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST) / 18:00 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), and the simulated countdown was held at 1:20 p.m. EST / 18:20 UTC when Lieutenant Colonel (USAF) Grissom noticed a strange odor (“sour buttermilk”) in the air circulating in his space suit. When no cause for the odor could be found, the simulated countdown resumed at 2:42 p.m. EST / 19:42 UTC; the accident investigation later determined that this odor had nothing to do with the fire.

Later on, a communication problem led to another hold in the simulated countdown at 5:40 p.m. EST / 22:40 UTC. Then, Lieutenant Colonel Grissom commented, “How are we going to get to the Moon if we can't talk between two or three buildings?”

The simulated internal power transfer had been completed by 6:20 p.m. EST / 23:20 UTC. However, even ten minutes later the countdown hold had continued at T-minus ten minutes.

Then, the astronauts noticed a momentary voltage increase. Nine seconds later, at 6:31:04.7 p.m. EST / 23:31:04.7 UTC, one of the astronauts exclaimed, over the Apollo 1 radio link, “Hey!” or “Fire!” Immediately afterward, another astronaut was heard to say, “(I've or We've) got a fire in the cockpit.” Another garbled transmission was then heard, quickly followed by a cry of pain.

It took five minutes for NASA workers to open the Apollo 1 hatch. By then, all three astronauts were dead. Once the hatch was opened, the dense smoke made it difficult, at first, to even find the astronauts. The astronauts' nylon space suits had been partially melted. Lieutenant Colonel (USAF) White had tried to open the space capsule hatch, per emergency procedures, but was unsuccessful due to the cabin's internal pressure.

At the direction of NASA Administrator James E. Webb, and with the approval of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, NASA Deputy Administrator Robert Seamans (who had written and implemented a new mission failure investigation procedure following an in-flight failure, which included no deaths, during the mission of Gemini 8) established the Apollo 204 Review Board. This committee with nine members was chaired by NASA Langley Research Center Director Floyd L. Thompson and included Astronaut Frank Borman and spacecraft designer Maxime Faget.

Although all three astronauts had received third-degree burns in the fire, the investigation concluded that death had come by cardiac arrest caused by high concentrations of carbon monoxide (CO). It is believed the burns came after death. Asphyxiation occurred as soon as the fire melted the space suits and oxygen tubes; the atmosphere of the cabin was then lethal.

The investigation found five major causes of this accident:

  1. Ignition source, probably related to vulnerable electrical wiring, as well as the plumbing which carried a combustible and corrosive coolant.
  2. Pure oxygen (O-2) atmosphere, at higher than atmospheric pressure.
  3. Space capsule hatch which could not be quickly opened at high pressure.
  4. Many combustible materials in the cabin.
  5. Inadequate emergency preparedness.

When designing the Mercury spacecraft, NASA had rejected an Oxygen – Nitrogen mixed atmosphere, due to the risk of decompression sickness (“the bends”) and due to a 1960 accident when a test pilot was injured during a test of the Mercury capsule / space suit atmosphere system where a nitrogen-rich (and oxygen-poor) atmosphere was leaking into the space suit.

For Project Apollo, NASA decided that a pure oxygen atmosphere was safer, less complicated, and lighter in weight. In the publication, “Project Apollo: The Tough Decisions,” NASA Deputy Administrator Seamans wrote that NASA's single biggest error in judgment in engineering for the Apollo spacecraft was not to run a fire test, early-on, for the Command Module.

Following the accident, the Apollo Command Module was redesigned:

  1. The cabin atmosphere at launch was calibrated to 60 per-cent oxygen and 40 per-cent nitrogen, at sea-level pressure.
  2. However, to avoid astronauts getting decompression sickness, the atmosphere in the space suits were maintained at 100 per-cent oxygen.
  3. Beta cloth, a non-flammable and highly melt-resistant fabric, replaced nylon in the space suits.
  4. A completely redesigned hatch (which already had been contemplated for Project Apollo) was used that opened outward (the Apollo 1 hatch opened inward, which made it even more difficult to open), and it was designed to open in five seconds.
  5. Flammable materials in the cabin were replaced with materials which would self-extinguish.
  6. Electrical wiring and plumbing were insulated, and aluminum tubing was replaced with stainless steel.

Today (2017 January 27), the families of the crew members of Apollo 1 will help dedicate a new exhibit, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to the memory of the three astronauts who lost their lives in 1967. Although, the burned-out Apollo 1 space capsule is still maintained in storage, this new exhibit will display the spacecraft's hatch which prevented the astronauts from exiting the spacecraft after the fire began.

The new exhibit shows the three layers of the Apollo 1 hatch, as they appeared after the fire. Next to the original hatch is a display of the completely redesigned hatch, used on subsequent Apollo missions.

Apollo 1 was the first of three major tragedies which took the lives of NASA astronauts. On 1986 January 28, the Space Shuttle Challenger was lost after it exploded 73 seconds after launch. This flight had a crew of seven, including Christa McAuliffe, who had been designated as the first Teacher-in-Space. Upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, the Space Shuttle Columbia, also with a crew of seven, was lost when it disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana on 2003 February 1.

A near-tragedy was averted during the mission of Apollo 13. The explosion of an oxygen tank in the Service Module of Apollo 13 on 1970 April 13 crippled the spacecraft, while on its way to the Moon. The Moon landing was aborted, but the crew was able to return safely to Earth after flying around the Moon.

Three months after the Apollo 1 tragedy, the Russians experienced a space tragedy of their own. Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was killed, after re-entry from Earth orbit, when the parachute on his Soyuz 1 space capsule (which, at that time, was designed to be the Russian spacecraft to reach the Moon before the Americans) failed and he, in the space capsule, plunged to the ground on 1967 April 24. Unlike early American space missions which would land in the ocean, the Russian space missions always landed on solid ground.

Colonel Komarov was the Space Era's first human in-flight fatality, although he is not considered the first fatality in Outer Space. The three-man crew of Soyuz 11 are the only humans who have actually died in Outer Space, on 1971 June 30. Their space capsule depressurized during preparations for re-entry killing the crew, after a 23-day stay (at that time, a new record for human occupation in Outer Space) on the world's first space station, Salyut 1.

After losing the race to the Moon, the Russians began concentrating on occupying space stations in Earth orbit. The crew of Soyuz 11 were the only cosmonauts to board Salyut 1; a little earlier, the crew of Soyuz 10 rendezvoused with the space station, but had problems docking with it. No other cosmonauts ever visited Salyut 1, as the Soyuz spacecraft had to be redesigned after the Soyuz 11 accident. Salyut 1 ran out of fuel and was de-orbited and destroyed after being in orbit for six months.

As the Apollo 1 fire occurred in early evening on 1967 January 27, news of the tragedy did not reach the general public until mid-evening. Some Americans interested in the Space Program, in the Eastern and Central time zones, learned of the tragedy while watching a science-fiction television series on ABC-TV titled The Time Tunnel, which depicted two American scientists of 1968 teleported each week through time to a different time period, often encountering a historic event. That Friday evening, The Time Tunnel was interrupted by an ABC-TV News Bulletin announcing the accident and the death of three astronauts.

It was not until the launch of Apollo 7 on 1968 October 11, for an 11-day mission in low-Earth orbit, that NASA returned to crewed space flights, after the Apollo 1 accident. Two unmanned test flights in 1968 preceded Apollo 7: Apollo 5 on January 22 and Apollo 6 on April 4.

At the end of 1968, Apollo 8 became the first NASA mission where a crewed spacecraft left Earth orbit and entered orbit of another planetary body, the Earth's Moon. This mission included a memorable television broadcast by the astronauts, on Christmas Eve, when they read sections of the creation story from the Book of Genesis of the Christian Bible; at that time, this was the most-watched television program ever.

Two more crewed flights, in preparation for a landing on the Moon, occurred in 1969: Apollo 9 in low-Earth orbit, launched on March 3, and Apollo 10 in lunar orbit, launched on May 18. This culminated with the first landing on the Moon with the “Eagle” Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) during the Apollo 11 mission, and the first footprints of two astronauts on the Moon, on 1969 July 20.

Six more Apollo missions to the Moon were launched, although only five were able to land on the Moon. The mission of Apollo 13 to land on the Moon was aborted after an oxygen tank explosion, as described above.

Internet Links to Additional Information ---

Astronaut Gus Grissom: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gus_Grissom

Astronaut Ed White: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Higgins_White

Astronaut Roger Chaffee: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_B._Chaffee

Photograph of Apollo 1 astronauts, in their space suits, in front of the rocket launch gantry for Apollo 1:
Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2017/01/astronomical-calendar-2017-january.html

Apollo 1 --
Link 1 >>> https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/missions/apollo1.html
Link 2 >>> https://history.nasa.gov/Apollo204/
Link 3 >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_1

Project Apollo --
Link 1 >>> https://www.history.nasa.gov/Apollomon/Apollo.html
Link 2 >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_program

Related Blog Posts ---

"30th Anniversary: Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster." 2016 Jan. 28.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2016/01/30th-anniversary-challenger-space.html

 

"JFK: Loss of the Man Who Sent Us to the Moon." 2013 Nov. 22.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/11/jfk-loss-of-man-who-sent-us-to-moon.html

 

"Space Shuttle Columbia Teaches After 2003 Tragedy." 2013 Feb. 1.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/02/space-shuttle-columbia-teaches-after.html

 

U.S. Flag That Survived Challenger Disaster: Romney Displays." 2012 Nov. 4.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2012/11/us-flag-that-survived-challenger.html

 

"Apollo 1 Fire - 45th Anniversary: Jan. 27." 2012 Jan. 28.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2012/01/apollo-1-fire-45th-anniversary-jan-27.html


Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.
             2017 January 27.

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Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director, Friends of the Zeiss: < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/fotz/ >
& SpaceWatchtower Editor / Author: < http://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com/weblog/spacewatchtower/gaw/ >
Electronic Mail - < gawalsh@planetarium.cc >
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LibraryWatchtower Blog: < http://librarywatchtower.blogspot.com >
South Hills Backyard Astronomers Blog: < http://shbastronomers.blogspot.com/ >
Barnestormin Blog: Writing, Essays, Pgh. News, etc.: < http://www.barnestormin.blogspot.com/ >
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
  < http://www.planetarium.cc >
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < http://adlerplanetarium.tripod.com >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < http://johnbrashear.tripod.com >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
  < http://www.andrewcarnegie.cc >
* Civil War Museum of Andrew Carnegie Free Library:
  < http://garespypost.tripod.com >
Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
  < http://inclinedplane.tripod.com >
* Public Transit:
  < http://andrewcarnegie2.tripod.com/transit >

Monday, January 23, 2017

NASA & the Trump Administration

https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/journey_to_mars.jpg
(Graphic Source: NASA)

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

Unlike several other issues in the U.S. Presidential Election Campaign of last year, not much was discussed regarding Science, and more specifically, NASA and Space Exploration. However, the newly-inaugurated Presidential Administration of Donald J. Trump has made a few moves regarding NASA.

Although President Trump's Inaugural Address was rather short, it did include a few sentences referencing Science and Technology and the exploration of Outer Space:

Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger. In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving...
We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the earth from the miseries of disease and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.”

Last week, NASA confirmed that NASA Associate Administrator David Lightfoot, the agency's top civil servant, will serve as the NASA Acting Administrator, beginning on January 20, when the Trump Administration officially takes the reigns of government. At that time, the previous NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman officially leave the agency.

NASA Chief Financial Officer David Radzanowski, who earned his Master's Degree in Public Policy and Management at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University, had been asked to stay-on, at least temporarily, by the Trump Administration's transition team, to provide continuity for the agency, until the Trump Administration appoints new NASA leadership. However, at the last minute it seems the Trump transition staff changed their minds. According to his biography on the NASA Internet web site, Mr. Radzanowski resigned from NASA on January 20, the day President Trump was inaugurated.

In an internal NASA memorandum dated January 20, Mr. Lightfoot announced two new NASA staff members, appointed by the Trump Administration. Greg Autry was appointed to be the White House Liaison to NASA, while Erik Noble will be the White House Senior Advisor to NASA.

Mr. Autry, who has a great interest in commercial space activities, is an Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California. Mr. Noble, who worked as a political data analyst for the Trump Campaign, has a Ph.D. In Environmental Studies from the University of Colorado and worked for seven years on Weather and Climate models for the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York.

It is unknown how long Mr. Lightfoot will serve as NASA Acting Administrator. Thus far, there has been no word on a nominee for the permanent Administrator position, although there is speculation regarding who President Trump may nominate.

Representative Jim Bridenstein (R-OK) is rumored to be President Trump's top choice for the job of NASA Administrator, although no announcement has yet been made regarding this position. Congressman Bridenstein has just started his third term representing Oklahoma in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Congressman Bridenstein favors expanding the responsibilities of the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), beyond its current regulation of launch and re-entry of spacecraft. He believes the agency should also regulate in-space activities, including possible future mining of planets and asteroids.

It is speculated that commercial space-related activities will receive primary attention during the Trump Administration. In this, there may not be much difference from President Barack H. Obama's Administration, which oversaw the beginning of commercial space ventures such as SpaceX, Orbital ATK, Cygnus, and Bigelow Aerospace.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz brought up the issue of commercial space, during confirmation hearings for the upcoming Trump Administration Cabinet officers on January 11. He asked U.S. Secretary of Transportation-Designate Elaine Chao, during her Senate hearing, whether she would favor transferring the Office of Commercial Space Transportation from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) back to the Transportation Secretary's office.

In 1983, U.S. President Ronald Reagan used an Executive Order to assign the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) with the responsibility for facilitating and regulating the commercial space launch industry. Congress passed the Commercial Space Launch Act the next year, which placed the Office of Commercial Space Transportation in the Transportation Secretary's office.

The Office of Commercial Space Transportation was transferred to the FAA in November of 1995. Supporters of commercial space argue that the Office would have greater visibility and resources if it returned to the Transportation Secretary's office.

Ms. Chao, who was not prepared for this particular question, stated that she would seek “getting briefed on the current status of the issue.” Senator Cruz, who favors the proposed transfer, said he would work with her on the issue.

Ms. Chao served in various capacities during previous Republican Administrations, including as Labor Secretary during the George W. Bush Administration. During part of the George H.W. Bush Administration, Ms. Chao was Deputy Secretary of Transportation. She is married to Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader (R-KY), who, along with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, introduced her at the hearing.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who sought the Republican Presidential Nomination in 2016, is Chairman of the Senate's Space, Science and Competitiveness Sub-Committee. In the last Congress, he helped pass the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA), which proposes the move of the Office of Commercial Space Transportation from the FAA to the DOT.

Senator Cruz was the only Senator to ask any questions regarding Outer Space policy. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) did not ask any space-related questions, although he did mention that he was an author of the 1984 commercial space legislation when he served in the House of Representatives.

Another Space issue that will need attention by the new Administration will be the future of NASA's Earth Science program. Some members of Congress, including Senator Cruz, believe the functions of this program would be better in another agency, such as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the U.S. Department of Commerce. However, NASA officials continue emphasizing that Earth Science is an important part of NASA's mission.

It is reported that the Trump Administration may reinstate the National Space Council, which is an advisory body within the Executive Office, to recommend Space policies to the President. A National Space Council, which would likely be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, was last in use during the George H.W. Bush Administration from 1988 to 1993.

Some issues a future National Space Council may consider include proposed crewed missions to the Moon, Mars, and to an asteroid. As of now, NASA is committed to maintaining the International Space Station (ISS), at least, through 2024. Although, NASA officials have expressed hope that private industry may play a larger role in maintaining ISS, as well as in other low-Earth orbit activities, in the future.

Another position that has not yet been filled by the incoming Administration is that of head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. More informally known as the White House Science Advisor, this person helps set Science and Technology policy for an Administration, as well as helping to explain complex Science and Technology issues to Presidents, who often come into office with minimal knowledge of such issues. However, it is reported that there are rumors that President Trump may leave this position vacant.

Internet Links to Additional Information ---

Foust, Jeff. "Trump administration assigns first political appointees to NASA."
SpaceNews.com 2017 Jan. 22.
Link >>> http://spacenews.com/trump-administration-assigns-first-political-appointees-to-nasa/

Jeff Foust
"President Trump's Inaugural Address, Annotated." Public Address.
National Public Radio 2017 January 20.
Link >>> http://www.npr.org/2017/01/20/510629447/watch-live-president-trumps-inauguration-ceremony

Cofield, Calla. "6 Things to Know About Trump and NASA."
Space.com 2017 Jan. 20.
Link >>> http://www.space.com/35395-6-things-about-trump-and-nasa.html?utm_source=sp-newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20170120-sdc

Foust, Jeff. "NASA's top civil servant will lead the agency temporarily."
SpaceNews.com 2017 Jan. 13.
Link >>> http://spacenews.com/nasas-top-civil-servant-will-lead-the-agency-temporarily/
Jeff Foust

Smith, Marcia S."Chao Punts on Whether Commerical Space Should be Restored to DOT Secretary's Office."
SpacePolicyOnLine.com 2017 Jan. 12.
Link >>> http://www.spacepolicyonline.com/news/chao-demurs-on-whether-commercial-space-should-be-restored-to-dot-secretarys-office

Related Blog Posts ---

"U.S. Space Program: Views of Presidential Candidates." 2016 Nov. 6.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2016/11/us-space-program-views-of-presidential.html

 

"White House Science Frontiers Conference & Astronomy Night in Pittsburgh." 2016 Oct. 14.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2016/10/white-house-science-frontiers.html

 

"U.S. Presidential Candidates Answer Science Questions." 2016 Sept. 18.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2016/09/us-presidential-candidates-answer.html


Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.
             2017 January 23.

                             Like This Post? - Please Share!

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gaw

Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director, Friends of the Zeiss: < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/fotz/ >
& SpaceWatchtower Editor / Author: < http://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com/weblog/spacewatchtower/gaw/ >
Electronic Mail - < gawalsh@planetarium.cc >
Astronomy Links: < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/#astrolinks >
Science Links: < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/#sciencelinks >
SpaceWatchtower Twitter News Feed: < https://twitter.com/spacewatchtower >
SpaceWatchtower Blog: < http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/ >
LibraryWatchtower Blog: < http://librarywatchtower.blogspot.com >
South Hills Backyard Astronomers Blog: < http://shbastronomers.blogspot.com/ >
Barnestormin Blog: Writing, Essays, Pgh. News, etc.: < http://www.barnestormin.blogspot.com/ >
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
  < http://www.planetarium.cc >
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < http://adlerplanetarium.tripod.com >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < http://johnbrashear.tripod.com >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
  < http://www.andrewcarnegie.cc >
* Civil War Museum of Andrew Carnegie Free Library:
  < http://garespypost.tripod.com >
Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
  < http://inclinedplane.tripod.com >
* Public Transit:
  < http://andrewcarnegie2.tripod.com/transit >

Friday, January 13, 2017

Iconic Radio Telescope to be Moth-Balled?

Radio Group members tour the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia
A group of students, with instructor Kent C. Hoffman, from the radio program at Camp
Shaw-Mi-Del-Eca near White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, visit the National Radio
Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank, West Virginia in July of 1974.
(Image Source: The Radio Group)

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

A very large and iconic radio telescope in West Virginia could be shuttered, with the possible loss of National Science Foundation (NSF) funding in the near future. The U.S. Government agency, which funds fundamental research and education in all non-medical fields of science and engineering, wishes to free-up money for newer projects and facilities.

One of the major facilities being considered for defunding is the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia. Several other radio, solar, optical, and near-infrared telescopes in several locations such as Arizona, New Mexico, and Chile, including the huge radio telescope dish in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, are also being considered for divestment by the agency.

On October 19, the National Science Foundation announced that it would consider several alternatives regarding the future of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, as part of a Federal Environmental Impact Statement process. These alternatives range from continuing NSF funding to possibly moth-balling the telescope, or even possibly deconstructing the telescope. NSF developed the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope and owns the land where it sits. Last year, NSF sought public comment from scientists and the West Virginia community regarding the telescope's future. Thus far, no decision has been made.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), with its largest facilities located in the small village of Green Bank in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, includes the world's largest fully-steerable radio telescope, the 328-foot / 100-meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope. NRAO is also the home to several other radio telescopes, including a 140-foot / 43-meter telescope with an equatorial mount uncommon for most radio telescopes, three 85-foot / 26-meter telescopes forming the Green Bank Interferometer, a 40-foot / 12-meter telescope used for small-scale research by school students and educational organizations, and a fixed radio “horn” built to observe the Cassiopeia A radio source. At Green Bank there also is a reproduction of the original antenna, used by Karl Jansky at Bell Labs, which first detected radio interference that was determined to be radio waves from the early Universe, shortly after the Big Bang.

GBT.png
The 328-foot / 100-meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, the world's largest fully-steerable radio telescope completed in 2001.
(Image Sources: Wikipedia.org , By Geremia at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Geremia using CommonsHelper., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4207232 )

The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, which was built in 2001, is also one of the newest such telescopes. Its construction was necessitated by the collapse of a 296.7-foot / 90.44-meter radio telescope, built in 1962, on 1988 November 15. Several discoveries have been made by the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, in its short life, including the detection of three new millisecond pulsars in the globular cluster M-62 (2002), discovery of a large coil-shaped magnetic field in the Orion Molecular Cloud of the Orion Constellation (2006), and discovery of a large hydrogen-gas superbubble 23,000 light years away called the Ophiuchus Superbubble (2006). More recently, the telescope has discovered the most massive neutron star to-date and primordial and molecular clouds surrounding several galaxies. The telescope is also being used to scan the “quiet zone” radio spectrum of 1 to 10 GHz as part of the “Breakthrough Listen” project, which may someday detect radio signals from extraterrestrial civilizations.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is located within the National Radio Quiet Zone, an area where radio transmissions are severely restricted to aid scientific research and military intelligence. This 13,000 square-mile / 34,000 square-kilometer Zone includes a large part of eastern West Virginia, a smaller part of western Virginia, and a tiny part of Maryland. With a population of approximately 179, Green Bank, West Virginia is near the center of the National Radio Quiet Zone and is, by Federal law, a town without cellular telephones, wireless Internet routers, or any other types of radio transmitters.

What became a major controversy began when, in August of 2012, a National Science Foundation Astronomy Portfolio Review Committee chaired by Daniel Eisenstein of Harvard University recommended that the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope be defunded over a five-year period. The U.S. Congress did not choose to defund the NRAO in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget.

So, NSF continued funding the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, but at a lower level. While they funded 95 per-cent of the telescope's $10 million operating cost in 2012, the funding for the Fiscal Year 2017 has been reduced to 66 per-cent.

While the NSF wants to use their very limited resources to fund newer projects and telescopes, astronomers argue that the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope is still a state-of-the-art facility, which has unique capabilities other telescopes cannot match. As the world's largest steerable radio telescope, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope can cover 80 per-cent of the sky, while other large radio telescopes cannot cover half that amount of sky.

Astronomers also point-out that new research into gravitational waves and pulsars has invalidated the conclusions of the 2012 study. The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope is well-known for pulsar research and can make progress in the research now, without the need to wait for new facilities to come on-line.

The NRAO has started to find academic and private partners to help with the funding of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope. These include West Virginia University, the North American NanoHertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav), and the Breakthrough Listen project. However, these partners may not be able to fully compensate for a complete loss of NSF funding.

In addition to astronomical research, the NRAO inspires in the general public, particularly students, an interest in Astronomy and Science. More than 2,500 people tour the facility, or participate in mentorship or Summer internship programs, each year. For instance, groups of radio students from a Summer camp near White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Camp Shaw-Mi-Del-Eca, toured the facility in the 1960s and 1970s. Workshops and research training for West Virginia teachers are also provided.

The NRAO is also a major teaching and research tool of West Virginia University (WVU). Since 2006, WVU has produced 56 academic publications related to the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, with 19 of them published just this-past year!

Internet Links to Additional Information ---

Karen O’Neil
Rohan.
"A Trip to Green Bank." Blog-Post.
 Buckeyes Blog: Undergrad.osu.edu 2017 Feb. 21.
Link >>> http://undergrad.osu.edu/buckeyes_blog/?p=24682

Gardner, Jennifer. "Professor Q&A: Duncan Lorimer, Department of Physics and Astronomy."
Daily Athenaeum, West Virginia University, Morgantown 2017 Jan. 18.
Regarding research using the Green Bank Telescope.
Link >>> http://www.thedaonline.com/arts_and_entertainment/article_5dd1354a-dd40-11e6-8023-93455905fc4c.html

O'Neil, Karen and Michael J. Holstine.
"Letter: Green Bank Observatory thanks West Virginians for support." Letter-to-the-Editor.
Charleston Gazette-Mail 2017 Jan. 17.
Link >>> http://www.wvgazettemail.com/gazette-letters-to-the-editor/20170117/letter-green-bank-observatory-thanks-west-virginians-for-support-gazette

National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Green Bank WV:
Link 1 >>> https://public.nrao.edu/
Link 2 >>> http://www.nrao.edu/
Link 3 >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Radio_Astronomy_Observatory#Green_Bank.2C_West_Virginia

Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope:
Link 1 >>> https://public.nrao.edu/telescopes/affiliated/gbt
Link 2 >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Bank_Telescope

National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ): Link >>> http://johnbrashear.tripod.com/wlcr.html#nrqz

National Science Foundation:
Link 1 >>> https://www.nsf.gov/
Link 2 >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Science_Foundation

Breakthrough Listen Project:
Link 1 >>> https://breakthroughinitiatives.org/Initiative/1
Link 2 >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breakthrough_Initiatives#Breakthrough_Listen

Village of Green Bank WV: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Bank%2C_West_Virginia

Student Field Trip to National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Green Bank WV by Campers from Camp Shaw-Mi-Del-Eca, White Sulphur Springs WV:
Link >>> http://johnbrashear.tripod.com/wlcr.html#greenbank

Radio Astronomy Exhibit at Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science:
Link >>> http://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com/Buhlexhibits.htm#radioastro

Related Blog Posts ---

"World’s Largest Fully Steerable Radio Telescope Risks Shut-Down." 2013 Sept. 5.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/09/worlds-largest-fully-steerable-radio.html

 

"Petition: Save NSF Funding of Green Bank Telescope." 2012 Nov. 20.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2012/11/petition-save-nsf-funding-of-green-bank.html

 

Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.
             2017 January 13

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            More Astronomy & Science News - SpaceWatchtower Twitter Feed:
            Link >>> https://twitter.com/spacewatchtower

        Astronomy & Science Links: Link >>> http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/#sciencelinks

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                Send request to < spacewatchtower@planetarium.cc >.

gaw

Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director, Friends of the Zeiss: < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/fotz/ >
& SpaceWatchtower Editor / Author: < http://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com/weblog/spacewatchtower/gaw/ >
Electronic Mail - < gawalsh@planetarium.cc >
Astronomy Links: < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/#astrolinks >
Science Links: < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/#sciencelinks >
SpaceWatchtower Twitter News Feed: < https://twitter.com/spacewatchtower >
SpaceWatchtower Blog: < http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/ >
LibraryWatchtower Blog: < http://librarywatchtower.blogspot.com >
South Hills Backyard Astronomers Blog: < http://shbastronomers.blogspot.com/ >
Barnestormin Blog: Writing, Essays, Pgh. News, etc.: < http://www.barnestormin.blogspot.com/ >
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
  < http://www.planetarium.cc >
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < http://adlerplanetarium.tripod.com >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < http://johnbrashear.tripod.com >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
  < http://www.andrewcarnegie.cc >
* Civil War Museum of Andrew Carnegie Free Library:
  < http://garespypost.tripod.com >
Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
  < http://inclinedplane.tripod.com >
* Public Transit:
  < http://andrewcarnegie2.tripod.com/transit >

Monday, January 2, 2017

Astronomical Calendar: 2017 January

Grissom, White, and Chaffee in front of the launch pad containing their AS-204 space vehicle
Fifty years ago this month (on 1967 January 27), NASA astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were killed in a cabin fire during a launch rehearsal test of their Apollo 1 space capsule. This was the first of three major tragedies which took the lives of NASA astronauts, the other two being the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle shortly after launch and the loss of the Columbia Space Shuttle upon Earth atmospheric re-entry. A near-tragedy was averted, during the Apollo 13 mission to the Moon.
More information: Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2017/01/50th-anniversary-nasas-1st-tragedy-of.html
(Image Sources: Wikipedia.org , By NASA/photographer unknown - NASA [1] Great Images in NASA Description, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=111185 )

Astronomical Calendar for 2017 January: 
Link >>> http://buhlplanetarium4.tripod.com/astrocalendar/2017.html#jan

Source: Friends of the Zeiss.
             2017 January 2.

                             Like This Post? - Please Share!

            More Astronomy & Science News - SpaceWatchtower Twitter Feed:
            Link >>> https://twitter.com/spacewatchtower

        Astronomy & Science Links: Link >>> http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/#sciencelinks

                Want to receive SpaceWatchtower blog posts in your inbox ?
                Send request to < spacewatchtower@planetarium.cc >.

gaw

Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director, Friends of the Zeiss: < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/fotz/ >
& SpaceWatchtower Editor / Author: < http://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com/weblog/spacewatchtower/gaw/ >
Electronic Mail - < gawalsh@planetarium.cc >
Astronomy Links: < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/#astrolinks >
Science Links: < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/#sciencelinks >
SpaceWatchtower Twitter News Feed: < https://twitter.com/spacewatchtower >
SpaceWatchtower Blog: < http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/ >
LibraryWatchtower Blog: < http://librarywatchtower.blogspot.com >
South Hills Backyard Astronomers Blog: < http://shbastronomers.blogspot.com/ >
Barnestormin Blog: Writing, Essays, Pgh. News, etc.: < http://www.barnestormin.blogspot.com/ >
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh:
  < http://www.planetarium.cc >
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago:
  < http://adlerplanetarium.tripod.com >
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear:
  < http://johnbrashear.tripod.com >
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries:
  < http://www.andrewcarnegie.cc >
* Civil War Museum of Andrew Carnegie Free Library:
  < http://garespypost.tripod.com >
Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh:
  < http://inclinedplane.tripod.com >
* Public Transit:
  < http://andrewcarnegie2.tripod.com/transit >