The code that put people onto the moon…

… was just recently published by NASA and is now available via Google code. Google has a nice blog post on it.

Of course, reading the “old” assembly code is a probably a bit hard even for today’s programmers used to high-level languages, and even more so for non-programmers. I still think these are excellent documents and at least the comments speak to folks with technical interest (and some are really explicit ;)).

While digging through this material, I found a very interesting and insightful article on the Lunar Module Guidance Computer by Don Eyles, who was deeply involved with its programming. This is a long article, but it is a rewarding read. It not only offers a lot of insight into how challenging it was to fly with these day’s hardware (every cell phone has *far* more capability today, maybe even washing machines…). The article also explains, in plain word, some concepts that were created for Apollo and influence today’s programs as well.

Most importantly, I think that the Apollo program not only showed that mankind can leave earth. It also is probably the first instant where computing machinery was absolutely vital to achieve a goal. In the Apollo days, there were some overrides possible, and obviously needed. Today, we are betting our life more and more on technology, and often without a real alternative. Having overrides would sometimes be useful, too, but we seem to partially forget that ;)

But enough said: enjoy these documents!

India is going to the moon…

Everybody seems to want to go the moon these days. Russia does, China does, Europe, as usual, “says” it does (if someone else provides the ferry ship ;)) and the US, of course, will, too.

Today, India has launched a moon mission, just to tell us they, too, are serious about this topic. A rocket carrying the Chandrayaan-1 probe rocketed into the skies at India’s spaceport Sriharikota. Chandrayaan-1’s mission will last two years. It is tasked to create a detailed map of minerals and chemical properties of the moon surfaces, as well as general surface structures.

The moon seems to promise big business. It is also politically quite important. With the US right in front of a very important election, it will be very interesting to see which direction the new administration will take. NASA’s constellation program is underfunded and has unrealistic goals if being worked on at the current (finance-dictated) pace.

Will the US be among the last folks to go back to the moon? The Russians are on a good path already and seem to have funding and a commercial vision. Or will a new moon race start, where the US demonstrates technical leadership? Interesting question, time will tell. At least we have a new player who seems to be serious inside this game…

How large is an Orion Capsule?

Have you ever wondered how much space there is inside an Orion capsule? NASA tells us more than in Apollo was, and it will carry up to a crew of six. Damaris B. Sarria, who wants to become an astronaut, has found some really nice picture. Here is one of them, for the other – and some great reading – please visit Damaris’ blog.

A mockup Orion crew module.

It looks really tiny, doesn’t it? Compare it to the man in front of it. I wonder how it will be to stay in there to reach the moon. Obviously, the comfortable days of the space shuttle will not be seen again any time soon…

Ares, Constellation, Orion, …

Sounds like pretty new terms? They are all about NASA’s next space program. The Constellation program is simply what is also called the “Vision for Space Exploration“.

In short, it means that new launchers and crew vehicles will be developed to ferry people to the international space station ISS, later on to the moon and even later to Mars. Ares is what the launchers are being called. Ares I will be the rocket that launches humans into space while Ares V is a heavy-lift rocket used to launch the heavy equipment. Finally, Orion is the name of the new crew capsules, also known as “Crew Exploration Vehicle”.

It looks quite doable to return to the moon, but sending humans to Mars is much more challenging. A lot of work needs to be done to solve the issues. I am sure they can be solved if we try hard enough, but the question is if there will be budget allocated to do so.

The Constellation program borrows heavily both from the Apollo as well as the Space Shuttle programs. For example, the overall launcher and capsule design is based on Apollo. The shuttle program contributes its boosters. Some folks tend to say that Constellation becomes more and more an Apollo V2, especially as the budget is quite constrained. It is not yet clear how far resuable the Orion capsules will be.

In my blog, I write about Constellation, Ares and Orion. While it is quite early to know any specifics, it is an interesting time to watch development. If you are interested in a specific topic, just follow the relevant labels.

John Glenn on the NASA Budget

I had the pleasure to be able to listen to great American hero and former Senator John Glenn at World Space Expo 2007. The event was held in November this year in Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Both John Glenn and Scott Carpenter were honored guest on the evening event. Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden discussed with them over their experiences as well as their visions for the future. I take some videos of that event. Thankfully, I also captures John Glenn’s speech on the future NASA budget. He very rightfully stressed that fact that Constellation, NASA’s new moon program, has taken a lot of money from science missions. He explains that there is no special funding for the whole constellation program. But listen yourself:

This speech couldn’t be more on-time
: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is thinking about taking that Constellation money from NASA to fund education. So I think it is good to know the fact that NASA has not received any special funding and is already starving in its science activities.

If you listen closely, however, you will notice that John Glenn assigns science priority over the moon program. But that doesn’t mean that money taken away from science should now be removed from the budget at all…

Spaceports: Obama Would Delay Moon Return

I have some time to review other space blogs right now (an advantage of doing business with the US – if it is a holiday over there, I’ve some spare time, too ;)). I read this interesting report on potential cuts into NASA’s budget:

Spaceports: Obama Would Delay Moon Return

I do not like the idea at all. What needs to be known is that the money that fuels NASA’s Constellation moon program already is taken from the regular budget. There was no budget increase that came together with the plan to go to the moon again. NASA’s science program is already suffering very badly.

If now additional funds are taken from NASA’s budget, that would IMHO severely compromise NASA’s ability to do useful missions. Not to mention that fact that it would be depending on Russia for all its manned space flight activities for at least a decade.

Even though I am German, I do not at all like this idea. But, granted, it’s the same problem everywhere: Germany cut the space budget that much that even though we have a number of slot in current ESA and NASA missions, we do not have any funding left to use them :( …

Apollo Mission in Pictures…

I just found a nice link I’d like to share – it is a nice, quick look at NASA’s Apollo mission in pictures. I personally think that the new “moon race” carried out now is at least as interesting as the Apollo missions. And I find it very interesting that the NASA’s Constellation program is building on so many Apollo concepts.

Give the link a try, the pictures are really inspiring. BTW: does anybody have a recording of the old moon TV coverage? Having a few samples online would be really great…

NASA goes to the Moon again …

Cresent Earth rises above lunar horizon (taken by Apollo 17)
On December, 19th 1972 Apollo 17 splashed down into the Pacific. This ended the last and very successful Apollo program. Since then, mankind has reached no farther out than to low earth orbit. Think about it: the international space station ISS is roughly a thousand times closer to earth then the moon is!

Reaching the moon is complicated and it also is very risky compared to the ISS. The ISS is inside earth geomagnetic field, relieving NASA of most worries about cosmic radiation. It can quickly be evacuated in case of emergency. And, and, and …

But NASA is now up to this challenge. As announced by president Bush on January, 14th, 2004, the “Vision for Space Exploration” calls for returning humans to the moon by 2020. Unfortunately, the president’s announcement was not coupled with a major NASA budget increase, so the effort is even more challenging (and unfortunately eating up on the scientific budget, which is under much criticism).

While the 2020 deadline will probably not be met, NASA is very serious about going to the moon. Under the so-called “Constellation” program, new rocket boosters (Ares I and Ares V) as well as a new crew vehicle (Orion) will be developed. Initially, they will be used to ferry humans to the international space station (read my article “Orion as a Space Shuttle Successor“). For that, the Orion capsule as well as the Ares I rocket needs to be ready. Work on both of them is under way with an Ares I test flight being planned for 2009 (the 2009 date is already a departure from the schedule).

Early NASA concept of a moon base.The ultimate goal of the moon flights is to set up a permanent moon base – an undertaking that sound complicated, but doable with current and upcoming technology.

After that, NASA shall go and send humans to Mars. This is extra-challenging and requires a number of very good solutions to extremely hard to solve problems. In the very long term, mankind will probably be smart enough to overcome them, but I personally do not expect any immediate results.

I think it is also safe to assume that the new challenges NASA faces will bring up great technology that in the long term also serves all of us down on Earth very well. That new technology will make our everyday life easier and medicine will definitely benefit from research on space radiation. Maybe this technology is the biggest plus of the Constellation program (except, of course, for the inspiration it offers).

So whatever it is – the next years are extremely interesting in astronautics. And, if at all possible, I’ll try to stay on top of the news with my blog!

NASA Tests Lunar Habitat in Extreme Aantartic Environment

After I had started to pull over NASA’s HSFNEWS mission status reports to my blog, I thought it is a good idea to do this in the future, too. After all, NASA doesn’t even archive HSFNEWS, even though it is highly interesting. So here we go with the first non-shuttle issue ;) I hope you enjoy reading them.

Report #H07-251


WASHINGTON – NASA will use the cold, harsh, isolated landscape of Antarctica to test one of its concepts for astronaut housing on the moon. The agency is sending a prototype inflatable habitat to Antarctica to see how it stands up during a year of use.

Agency officials viewed the habitat Wednesday at ILC Dover in Frederica, Del., as it was inflated one last time before being packed and shipped to Antarctica’s McMurdo Station. NASA is partnering on the project with the National Science Foundation, Arlington, Va., which manages McMurdo Station, and ILC Dover, the company that manufactured the prototype structure. All three organizations will share data from the 13-month test, which runs from January 2008 to February 2009. An inflatable habitat is one of several concepts being considered for astronaut housing on the moon.

"Testing the inflatable habitat in one of the harshest, most remote sites on Earth gives us the opportunity to see what it would be like to use for lunar exploration," said Paul Lockhart, director of Constellation Systems for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, Headquarters, Washington.

NASA’s Constellation Program is working to send humans back to the moon by 2020. After initial sorties, the astronauts will set up a lunar outpost for long-duration stays, and they will need a place to live. The agency is developing concepts for habitation modules that provide protection for the astronauts and are easy to transport to the lunar surface.

"To land one pound of supplies on the lunar surface, it’ll require us to launch 125 pounds of hardware and fuel to get it there," Lockhart said. "So our habitation concepts have to be lightweight as well as durable. This prototype inflatable habitat can be taken down and redeployed multiple times, and it only takes four crew members a few hours to set up, permitting exploration beyond the initial landing area."

The structure looks something like an inflatable backyard bounce house for children, but it is far more sophisticated. It is insulated and heated, has power and is pressurized. It offers 384 square feet of living space and has, at its highest point, an 8-foot ceiling. During the test period, sensors will allow engineers to monitor the habitat’s performance.

The National Science Foundation also is interested in lighter, easier-to-assemble habitats. It currently uses a 50-year-old design known as a Jamesway hut, which is bulky and complex in comparison to the habitat being tested. Modern variations on the Jamesway, although lighter, are still rigid and difficult to ship, with limited insulation. During the test of the new inflatable habitat, the foundation will study improvements in packing, transportation and set up, as well as power consumption and damage tolerance for this newest variation of the concept.

To enable lunar exploration, the Constellation Program is developing a new fleet of spacecraft and rockets, as well as transportation and power systems for use on the surface of the moon. More information about NASA’s space exploration plans is available at:

The inflatable habitat is being developed under NASA’s Innovative Partnerships Program. For more information, visit:

Video of the send-off event is expected to be available Thursday on the NASA Television Video File. For NASA TV downlink, schedule and streaming video information, visit: