50 Years After One Small Step for a Man

By Dave Nordling, Secretary, Reaction Research Society


It was a half century ago today that mankind landed on the Moon. This event still has an impact on both generations present during this landmark event and the generations born afterward such as myself. The Apollo 11 moon landing was a daring extension of an aggressive program that was progressively built from the dawn of the space age with resources, acceptance of risk and political will never seen before (and never since). The herculean task set by the late President Kennedy in 1961 of landing a man on the moon and safely returning him to Earth by the end of the decade (1970) was fulfilled on July 24, 1969.

A grainy image of the American flag planted on the moon.

It was only eight years before when manned spaceflight began with the humble beginnings of riding a derivative of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) into an upper atmosphere scraping low earth orbit. The culmination of the journey being the massive 6,540,000 lbm tower of three stages of the Saturn V filled with kerosene, liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that pushed three brave men into a new sphere of influence of the Earth’s closest celestial body just three days away. The massive Saturn V rocket could throw an unprecedented 107,100 lbm to trans-lunar injection (TLI) orbit. No other operational launch vehicle has surpassed this ability to this very day.

The Saturn V leaves its pad with a thrust of over 7,500,000 lbf.

Looking back, landing a man on the lunar surface appears simple and almost certain. But to those watching from their black and white televisions across the country and to the men and women behind the launch consoles, all of the Apollo missions were truly audacious with the looming deadline, a Cold War rival busy at work to maintain their leadership in space and an ever-present risk for tragedy at every step. Lives were lost, sacrifices were made and the goal remained steadfast. Excellence was demanded from hundreds of thousands of technical professionals, suppliers, shop workers, clerks and everyday people was delivered such that three astronauts could walk on a foreign world opening the door to our species visiting a place beyond our blue Earth.

Skipping along the lunar surface getting work done. Beyond the human experience and reflection, this was an expedition filled with experiments to extend human knowledge.

At this 50th anniversary, it is interesting to reflect on what has happened since. After six more Apollo flights with five resulting in 10 more Americans walking, even driving over the lunar surface, the program came to an end under the Nixon Administration’s budget cuts. No other nation, including our own, has returned. It is probably due to this fact alone that more and more people begin to doubt whether the moon landing was ever real.

Also, it is the opinion of this author that because the Soviet Union’s then-secret moon program failed to place a cosmonaut in lunar orbit with their massive N-1 rocket, let alone a successful landing on the lunar surface, that our country saw fit to halt the progress of Apollo and turn our back on the Moon for five decades. I can only imagine how history would be different if the any of the four Soviet launches of the N-1 from February 1969 to November of 1972 had been a success.

The first Soviet N-1 rocket sits on its pad at Baikonaur in September 1968.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N1_%28rocket%29

The first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, has passed away just a little less than seven years ago. Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins remain as living historical witnesses, but in time, they too will pass on. NASA has a huge discontinuity in their historical chronology with the Apollo and Skylab program’s success followed by a long period of quiet then the Shuttle followed by eight years of paying for rides to the International Space Station (ISS) from Russia. Our unmanned program has continued with ever more impressive returns as we learn about the moon, Mars and other spots in the solar system, but our manned space program remains at a stand-still.

The legacy of Apollo has been more of historical legend and pride than any tangible progress eclipsing this feat of human achievement. The Space Shuttle program and its nearly four decades of life brought us the historical achievement of the first American woman in space, the first African-American in space, the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, the first visit to a Russian space station, Mir, the first Russian cosmonaut to fly on an American space vessel, and of course the multi-year construction of the ISS celebrating its third decade of operation even after the Shuttle’s retirement. There are many people who feel that the Shuttle program failed its basic promise of routine access to space and certainly to fulfill the loftier goals of men reaching beyond low Earth orbit.

Since the days of Apollo, there have been new discoveries about the Moon. Thanks to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) launched in 2009, the Apollo launch sites have been seen in higher detail.

https://www.space.com/14874-apollo-11-landing-site

The Apollo 11 landing site and the crew’s discarded equipment as seen from lunar orbit courtesy of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The Indian ISRO Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter, the Japanese Kaguya lunar orbiter and the American LRO have each found evidence of lunar lava tubes and “moon caves” in several places along the lunar surface which offers a tantalizing possibility of a ready-made shelter for future manned exploration.

An excellent new point of interest on the Moon’s surface, lunar lava tubes found by orbiting spacecraft.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_lava_tube

Further evidence of ancient lunar lava tubes as seen from orbit.

The discovery of water ice in the permanent shadow in craters at the Moon’s poles starting from the Soviet Luna 24 probe to the ISRO Chandrayaan-1 orbiter provided strong evidence of an important resource awaits future lunar explorers. .

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_water

Distribution of water ice at the Moon’s South and North poles

Most recently, on January 3 of this year, the Chinese with the Chang’e 4 have soft-landed a rover (Yutu-2) on the far side of the Moon, a first for any nation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chang%27e_4

Lunar tracks by the Chinese Yutu-2 rover in the soil at the von Karman crater in the South-Pole Aitken Basin region on the far side of the moon.

At this moment in time, NASA has redoubled its commitment to returning people to the surface of the moon in just five years from now, 2024. With the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, planned since the Columbia disaster of 2003, the Constellation program, later renamed the Space Launch System (SLS) was built and extended from legacy technologies with years of flight experience. It is possible this goal can be realized. To many, technology is no longer the perceived barrier. The ability of any government or administration to muster the cohesive and sustained political will and necessary funding to build and fly the SLS program to put men back on the moon is the question that remains unanswered. More so, will we have the fortitude to recover from failures should they occur and surmount them to make a permanent colony as was envisioned for after Apollo? Many in my generation have waited on the many promises from NASA to deliver something of the magnitude of Apollo in our time.

There is no shortage of passionate, intelligent people in this world. Many share a vision of mankind becoming an interplanetary species. Our art and culture have been permanently changed from seeing the whole of our world as a small blue marble against the enormous blackness of space. The true legacy of Apollo is the inspiration that was given to this nation and any nation seeking to find pride in their abilities by putting their citizens in space. Regardless of what may come in the next few years with NASA, the dream is alive with the people of the Earth to be explorers. To move beyond dreams is what will extend mankind to the Moon and beyond.


MTA launch event, 2019-07-13

by Dave Nordling, Secretary, RRS.ORG


The RRS was glad to have another launch event at our Mojave Test Area (MTA) on Saturday, July 13th. Our event this time was with Operation Progress in Watts. Thanks to our partnership with the LAPD CSP, we are able to fly nine alphas and a beta rocket at this event. It was to be a typically hot July day in the Mojave, but the winds were still through the morning picking up a little as the afternoon went on.

The RRS thrust stand structure flying Old Glory with the nine alphas (left) and the larger beta rocket (right) waiting for launch.

This was my first time as the event pyro-op. New member, Kent Schwitkis of Compton College and Waldo Stakes assisted me with the operations as we gave our young rocketeers a great view of their hard work.

Waldo Stakes in the old blockhouse as we prepare for firing of the next alpha rocket from the box rails.

As the LAPD CSP arrived at the RRS MTA, the society prepared to give a site tour to the students followed by our safety briefing.

The students of Operation Progress take some shelter and hydrate under the cover of the George Dosa building.

Our sample propellant burn demonstration gave the students a visual indication of what would be to come with the propellant driving their custom painted rockets into the blue sky. With the briefing and demonstrations complete, the students took shelter in the observation bunker.

RRS members, Kent Schwitkis and Dave Nordling loading an alpha for Operation Progress

One of the interesting features I noticed with this set of alphas was the use of modelling clay at the nozzle to hold back the micrograin propellant. This proved to be an equally effective method of holding back the propellant when the rocket is in firing position as the typical phenolic thin disks we commonly use.

The electric match lead wires emerging from a wad of modelling clay used to hold back the micrograin powdered propellant. The hole seen in this photo was smoothed over by a gentle brush of the finger. The method proved to be very effective.
A close-up view of the alpha nozzle with its plastic burst-disk and electric match resting on the interior side, the electric match wires protrude out the bottom (held back by carpenter’s tape just for convenience)
Kent holding the second to last alpha in the set. This one has a special feature added on the fin. A whistle.
An alpha streaks away almost perfectly straight in the nearly still winds.

One of the alpha rockets was outfitted with a whistle on one of its fin. Although imparting a spin during flight, the alphas tend to remain somewhat stable in flight. The results from this flight was somewhat disappointing as the whistle could not be clearly heard in either ascent or descent before impact.

Whistle attached to the fin of an RRS standard alpha to provide an audible trace of its flight

Our last rocket for Compton College was the larger RRS standard beta rocket. This two-inch diameter powerful vehicle made its impressive mark on the launch pad as it tore into the sky. After the launch, we took break for lunch. With the day growing hotter by the hour, our partners with the LAPD CSP and Operation Progress bid the MTA and the RRS farewell as they returned to the city.

Still capture of the beta flight from Frank Miuccio’s cell phone video footage from the bunker.

Following lunch, our second group at the event was a team from Compton College made up of Prof. Kent Schwitkis and Brian Johnson and their students. The Compton Comet was a standard alpha rocket outfitted with an instrumentation package and a parachute.

RRS welcomes Compton College at the MTA
The team discusses the assembly and operation of the payload in the Compton Comet.

New RRS member, Professor Kent Schwitkis got his first experience with loading the micrograin propellant in the Compton Comet at our loading area. This is a rite of passage for many of our new members. Although old and grossly inefficient, the zinc and sulfur powder propellant combination offers a simple and powerful combination to lift rockets in a yellow rushing plume.

After loading the propellant tube, the team begins their final assembly by mating the payload to the coupler.
The Compton Comet nearly complete with one more joint to connect.

The Compton Comet was loaded by the team into the alpha launch rails. All of us retreated to the concrete bunker for firing.

The team puts their hands on the rocket one last time before going to the pad.
Loading the Compton Comet into the RRS alpha launch rails. The payload arming flag flowing in the breeze.

The Compton Comet parachute somehow failed to deploy. The ballistic return of the rocket meant extraction by the time-honored method of shoveling. The Compton College team showed tremendous fortitude in the scorching 110 degree weather. The fruits of their labor was the return of the instrumented payload including the data chip inside.

Recovery of the Compton Comet by shovel.

Initial results showed that data was taken throughout the flight. The results are being reviewed by Compton College to be reported later to the society.

This was a very successful launch day at the RRS MTA and the society was glad to support the Operation Progress and Compton College student teams at our Mojave Test Area. For more information on similar rocket building programs with the RRS, contact our events coordinator, Larry Hoffing.

events@rrs.org

For all inquiries about using the RRS MTA, contact the RRS president, Osvaldo Tarditti

president@rrs.org


July 2019 meeting

Dave Nordling, RRS Secretary


The RRS held their monthly meeting on July 12, 2019, at the Ken Nakaoka Community Center in Gardena. We had a very large turnout with over 26 people coming in to see the three different presentations we had and catch up on the latest news.

After our reading of the treasury report, we had a special announcement of the induction of five new administrative members to the RRS. Our society is growing and this is in large part to the great participation we’ve been having and the dedication of the many talented people at the RRS.

Larry Hoffing gave us a short summary of the UCLA Rockets project he supervised at the RRS MTA. This Wednesday, July 10th, event was the first since the pair of earthquakes that rattled the nearby town of Ridgecrest in the Mojave. The RRS is happy to report none of our structures had any significant damage and the MTA is very much ready to operate.

We next discussed the upcoming launch event at the MTA tomorrow with Operation Progress in Watts with the LAPD CSP. We’ll have several alphas and a beta launch. We also plan to have an alpha with a parachute recovery system put together by new member, Kent Schwitkis and his friend Brian.

RRS vice president, Frank Miuccio, has started a new educational program this week with the students of Boyle Heights. There will be 10 teams launching their rockets from the MTA in September.

RRS alpha outfitted with a 36-inch parachute
Two alpha payload tubes with the nose cone and couplers installed. Reused parts from recovered alpha rockets.

Our first presenter was Kent Schwitkis who brought several of his students from Compton College to our Friday night meeting. Kent is a member of the Sierra Club and Ski Patrol and has many years of experience with wilderness survival and first aid. His presentation outlined the important of planning for many kinds of potential emergencies. One of the important results from this discussion was the need for the RRS to form a safety committee to begin preparing emergency plans and establish contact with the regional authorities in preparing to handle serious emergencies if the need would ever arise.

Kent Schwitkis and Waldo Stakes before the July 2019 meeting

The second presenter we had at the meeting was Sam Austin, a senior at MIT. Sam presented his two-stage solid rocket design to reach the von Karman line.

Sam Austin (right) presents his booster and second stage design for his solid rocket

Sam also detailed the kerosene-LOX liquid rocket design that was test-fired at FAR in January 2019. Although the test was short (3 seconds), his results were impressive and his injector survived intact..

Sam’s liquid rocket injector which was modified for 1500 lbf of thrust

The last presentation was by RRS members, Jack Oswald and Cooper Eastwood. They have been steadily improving their solid motor design and have fabricated their improved motor based on prior tests. Their goal is to reach the 50,000 foot altitude limit at the RRS MTA on July 20th. His “50 for 50” rocket is 12 feet tall and 5-inches in diameter built entirely from scratch. The launch is to be timed with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Jack and Cooper detail the progress they’ve made and their solid motor ready for flight from the RRS MTA on July 20th.

The solid rocket holds 30 lbm of APCP propellant with an estimated burn time of 3 to 4 seconds generating an impulse of 7000 lbf-sec. The rocket fully loaded is 84 lbm and should reach a peak acceleration of 30 G’s and a burnout velocity of Mach 2.5 as it reaches 50,000 feet.

A 100-foot drogue streamer will deploy from the recovery system followed by a 9-foot Apollo 11 replica parachute at 2000 feet. The flight events are driven by an upgraded classic flight computer from Eggtimer and an RRC3 dual deployment system from MissileWorks. The von Karman nosecone is 3D printed and the aluminum fin can was rolled onto the aluminum body to be painted in polished black and white pattern of the Apollo 11 vehicle.

The RRS looks forward to the successful flights of Sam and Jack’s rocket from FAR and the RRS MTA, respectively. Both will be on the 50th anniversary of mankind’s greatest achievement on July 20th.

If there are any questions or corrections, please contact the RRS secretary. The next meeting of the RRS will be August 9, 2019.