Archive for the ‘NASA missions’ Category

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The Lego Ideas Saturn V

August 2, 2017

Oh man, I have been longing for one of these since the project was first announced on the Lego Ideas site. The set – officially the Lego 21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V – was released on June 1 this year and almost immediately sold out everywhere, with lots of the sets apparently nabbed by scalpers who turned around and started selling them for double or more the list price. A-holes. Aaanyway, I set an in-stock alert using Zoolert.com, and when the set was back in stock at the Lego.com store, I pounced. The Lego piggy bank was a limited-time promo freebie they threw in. Atop the piggy bank box you’ll see Lego Jyn Erso, who came over from London’s U-Wing set to help out by serving as a scale indicator. You’ll see her all through this post.

Here’s the scale diagram from the front of the box. The fully assembled rocket is 1 meter tall, almost to the millimeter.

The back of the box, showing the full stack, the mission steps from launch to lunar landing, and splashdown.

Inside the box: 12 numbered bags of parts, and a big fat book. The instruction manual is 200-page softcover book, with a capsule history of the Apollo program on the first few pages. Of the parts bags, 1 through 6 are for the first stage, 7 through 9 have the parts for the second stage, 10 and 11 build the third stage, and 12 has the capsules and the little moon landing and splashdown dioramas.

The completed first stage. I should have taken some in-progress shots. I was worried that this would be an unexciting build. Boy, was I wrong. The stages have fantastically complicated endoskeletons, with some of the most intricate, creative, and surprising building techniques I’ve ever seen. There are some good process shots here, and more at Late Night Astronomy, which you should be reading anyway.

Here’s the second stage in progress. The endoskeleton is the multicolored box at the upper right of the photo, ready to receive the body panels which are laid out but not yet built here. I spread out all of the bits to confirm for myself that this stage alone uses 88 curved ramp pieces to contour the exterior of the second stage.

The interstage connections at the top of the first stage (left) and second stage (right). The engines at the bottom of each stage are very realistic. I think these guts are less realistic, but those red clips do a pretty good job of grabbing onto the next stage up, so the assembled model is reassuringly solid. And the stages themselves are very sturdy. This thing begs to be played with.

Way back in August, 2009, in the very first month of this blog’s existence, I posted about the Space Toys Ultimate Saturn V Rocket, which for many years has reigned supreme as “greatest space toy ever” in my estimation. Now there’s a new sheriff in town. That’s the Space Toys Saturn V on the right, and the Lego Saturn V on the left.

This photo does highlight one niggling inaccuracy in the Lego rocket: the first stage fins are far too swept back. Seems inevitable that someone will release a DIY hack for more realistic fins, if it hasn’t happened already. If you see one, let me know in the comments.

Here’s the Lego Saturn V broken down into some of its constituent bits. I could have separated the command and service modules from the third stage, but I was lazy. The LEM will fit inside the third stage fairing so you can re-enact the whole moon mission. Note the realistic J2 engines on the bottom of the second and third stages. All of the first, second, and third stage engines have translucent orange bits up inside the engine bells to simulate fire. I dig it.

A close-up of the lunar landing and splashdown dioramas. London and I built the set by going through the bags in order, saving the capsules and astronauts as a payoff at the end of the process. That was good because it gave us something nifty to look forward to as we worked. However, in retrospect it would have been nice to have some of the astronauts and maybe one of the dioramas in the first bag, so as we built the rest of the rocket we’d have a ready scale comparison to drive home the kind of insane size of the Saturn V. Hmm, guess I’ll just have to get another one – for the office, of course – and build it in a different order.

Here’s a scale comparison of, from left to right, the Jyn Erso minifigure, a microfigure from one of the Lego board games, and one of the astronaut nanofigures from the Saturn V set. The set actually includes four of these, I guess on the assumption that one may get lost. As always, the set included a few extra bits and bobs, duplicates of the smallest and most easily lost pieces.

One more scale comparo, this time with the LEM and astronauts next to the gigantic F1 engines that powered the Saturn V’s first stage. There are F1s on display in weird places, including one here in LA that I haven’t seen (list here). The one I’ve seen the most recently is at the Science Museum Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. It’s a mind-bogglingly impressive piece of equipment.

One more comparo – up until now, the Lego Star Wars 9515 Malevolence space dreadnought was London’s and my longest Lego vessel, at something like 76 studs. As you can see here, the Saturn V makes it look downright cute.

That’s it. As far as I’m concerned, this is the apotheosis of Lego sets. If you are remotely interested in Lego, the Apollo program, rockets, or just cool things in general, set up an in-stock alert and get one. You won’t regret it.

UPDATE on 6 August 2017

Four things:

  1. Since posting this, I’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing about the set being out of stock “forever”. The Lego Group has said that the set will remain in production through the end of 2017 at least. So they will come back. Set an in-stock alert and be patient.
  2. The box that the Saturn V comes in is just big enough to store the assembled model if you separate the stages and snap the fins off the first stage. I put some bubble wrap between the stages and used a little box for the dioramas and blue pipe stands. This will come in handy – I want to take the model to the next PVAA meeting for show-and-tell, and I also want to be able to store the thing without taking it all the way apart.
  3. The same team that created the original Lego Ideas Saturn V now has a scale umbilical tower to go with it. As of this writing, the umbilical tower has accumulated 7648 of the 10,000 supporters it needs to be considered for official release as a set. Personally I’m skeptical that Lego will produce a whole set that only works with a previous set, but stranger things have happened. Anyway, it definitely won’t happen if the fan set doesn’t get to 10,000 supporters, so if you ever want to see this made, get on over to Lego Ideas and do the right thing.
  4. Finally, on the same page, go to the Updates to find photos and instructions for building a robust support stand for vertical display of the Saturn V. Looks like something worth doing. Will post when and if I get around to it.

Brick-built stand for Lego Saturn V

UPDATE again later that day

And now two more:

  1. Adam Savage and team build the Saturn V at Tested.com.
  2. Advice on taking the Saturn V apart: disconnect the third stage first. Why? Because the connection between the first and second stages is really solid, and when I pulled them apart last night, they disconnected with such a violent *POP* that the third stage/CSM/escape rocket stack popped off the second stage at the same time, executed a perfect ballistic trajectory to the dining room floor, and experienced rapid unscheduled disassembly. It only took about 10 minutes to get everything back together, and now you know the correct way to separate everything without breaking yours: third stage off first, then second stage, the reverse of the actual staging during flight. Trust me on this.
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Hell yes–wheels down on Mars again!

August 6, 2012

We all stayed up last night to watch Curiosity land on Mars. It was amazing, to be watching the live feed from Mission Control at JPL, hearing the live telemetry being relayed, and then just moments after touchdown get to see the first photo sent back by the rover (it’s grainy and blurry because the transparent lens cap is still on the camera to protect it from the dust kicked up by the landing).

As John Holdren, President Obama’s assistant for science and technology, said, “there’s a one ton automobile-sized piece of American ingenuity and it’s sitting on the surface of Mars right now.”

I was particularly engaged because I had gotten to see parts of the actual spacecraft, including the aeroshell and rocket skycrane, during a tour of JPL two and a half years ago. Strange and amazing to know that the same machinery I saw in the big white room at JPL is now on Mars.

During the landing, data were relayed  back by the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, which has been in orbit around Mars for 10 years, 9 months, and 13 days. This decade-old craft was never designed to function as a data relay, but, you know, engineers are smart. Curiosity joins the rover Opportunity, which is still going strong 3116 days into its 92.5-day mission.

Turns out, we weren’t the only ones watching the landing. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter got a photo of Curiosity on the way down, using its HiRISE camera.

This is the second time MRO has caught a Mars lander on the way down; it got a photo of Phoenix descending under its parachute back in 2008.

Happily, today’s xkcd explains why I’m blogging about space on a Monday morning:

Or, as my buddy Jarrod put it on Facebook, “We just landed a one-ton NUCLEAR ROBOT on another planet with a SUPERSONIC PARACHUTE and a FRICKIN’ ROCKET SKYCRANE.”

Good times.

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Curiosity arrives at Mars this weekend!

August 2, 2012

Our newest and largest Mars rover, Curiosity, will arrive at Mars Sunday night or Monday morning, depending on your time zone (image from Wikipedia). I say “will arrive at Mars” because we won’t know if it landed safely or just hit Mars until 7 minutes after the fact. As you can see from this nifty calculator, the distance between Earth and Mars is currently 152 million miles and growing. The landing is scheduled to occur at 10:31 PM, PDT, on August 5, or 1:31 AM EDT, or 5:31 AM UT/GMT.

This video about the landing explains something of the difficulty and complexity of landing a BIG rover on Mars, and some (but not all) of the justification for going with the never-before-attempted skycrane landing method.

Fingers firmly crossed!

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JPL tour

April 4, 2010

All right, I doubt if I fooled anyone with the last post, but I had to try right? This is a lab at JPL, and those are duplicate Mars rovers, but it’s not no secret what they’re up to. This is a shot of the famous “sandbox” where maneuvers planned for Spirit and Opportunity are tested here on Earth before they are attempted on Mars. I took this picture from the viewing gallery, which is open to everyone who takes a tour. My tour was back on January 8 of this year, and I’m finally getting around to blogging about it only three months late.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory was started up by some Caltech grad students back in the 1930s, as a place to test the jet engines they were building for their thesis work. At the time, jet propulsion was the most cutting-edge technology on the planet. I wonder how many of those interwar engineers imagined that their country would have bootprints on the moon in three decades, and probes flying past the outer planets in four?

Anyway, in the 1950s the folks at JPL teamed up with Werner von Braun to build and then orbit the first US satellite, Explorer 1, which discovered Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts. When NASA was founded in 1958, JPL became the center of US efforts to explore the solar system with robot probes, and it continues in that role to this day. The various moon and Mars mappers, Mariners and Pioneers and Voyagers and Vikings, orbiters and atmospheric probes and landers, and rendezvousers with comets and asteroids–in short, just about everything awesome that NASA has done outside of the manned space program and a few of the space telescopes–were all born at and controlled from JPL. A surprising number are still working, including some that have been out there almost as long as I’ve been alive.

JPL has an annual open house each May, and school groups can arrange tours at other times. Vicki and London and I got to go in January because someone I met doing sidewalk astronomy last fall was organizing a school trip and had some extra slots. It was quite an honor to get to go along, and just stupendously cool.

The coolest part was seeing the stuff that’s still being built. Right now, this is mostly the Mars Science Lab, set to depart for the red planet in a year and a half, and its supporting spacecraft. Here a couple of engineers work on the robotic arm for the MSL–not the actual arm or the actual rover, but an exact duplicate. They’re working out the programming bugs on the clone before they put the program in the real one.

Here’s London with a mockup of MSL. It’s big, beautiful, and kinda freaky. The gearhead in me says, “That is one sweet robot!” The Cro-Magnon says, “That is one unnervingly big robot”, and is happy not to have to see it trundling around on its own.

Here is the giant cleanroom, the size of a high school gymnasium, where the MSL mission stuff is being built and stored. That big silver dish in the corner is the MSL aeroshell, which will decelerate the crane and rover in Mars’ thin atmosphere. This is not a mockup or a duplicate; in about two and a half years, that actual thing in the corner will actually be crashing through the Martian atmosphere at several thousand miles per hour.

Here are more bits of the gumdrop-shaped probe that will carry MSL to Mars. I think the flying-saucer shaped thing in the foreground is the parachute carrier,  but I could be wrong.

And here’s the crane that will hover on its rocket engines while it lowers the MSL rover to the surface. Sounds crazy, I know, but apparently they did exhaustive design studies and this is the best way to get a rover the size of a car down to the surface. MSL is big, and the bouncy balloon thing that worked so well for Sojourner, Spirit, and Opportunity ain’t gonna cut it this time around (see a cool comparison shot of the three types of rover here; also, how cool is it that we’re on our third generation Mars rover?).

The back wall of the cleanroom is tiled with giant versions of the patches from the various JPL missions, from the early Surveyors and Rangers to Cassini, the current Mars rovers, and New Horizons. I don’t know if that gives the people who work there some anxiety of influence, or more of a “Hell yeah, we’re awesome!” feeling, but I definitely leaned toward the latter.

Our tour ended in a viewing gallery overlooking Mission Control, where busy people keep track of flybys, orbiters, landers, and rovers, from MESSENGER heading for orbital insertion around Mercury, to New Horizons streaking toward its 2015 Pluto flyby, to the Voyager probes approaching the heliopause, far beyond the orbits of the gas giants.

I wish the lighting would have been brighter so I could have gotten a crisper shot; this was my favorite thing in the whole tour. This one screen in Mission Control has data scrolling in, in real time, from many of the active probes (not all of them; MESSENGER, for example, was not up on the boards when I was there). I got to watch data coming in from the Voyager probes, which were launched when I was two years old. How cool is that?

UPDATE, two and a half years later: Curiosity landed safely on Mars last night, so some of the hardware in the photos above is there on Mars, working. Oh, and Spirit has given up the ghost, but Opportunity is still going strong, 3116 days into its 92.5-day mission.

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Mars landings faked!

April 1, 2010

Here’s a picture of the shadowy government “lab” where all of the images from the supposed Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are invented by Hollywood special effects artists under the direction of unscrupulous government “scientists”. As this remarkable image clearly shows, each rover has only a small sandbox to roll around in. The rest of each faked image is created by the holographic projector standing on the yellow tripod in the middle of the room. The technology used to bilk the unsuspecting public out of  billions of dollars has come a long way since the moon landing hoax!

How much longer are we going to let the incompetent liars at NASA keep taking our tax dollars to support this transparent fraud!!?? Just Say No to the Fake Space Show! Contact your senator or representative today!

(For those without much sense, or a sense of humor: this is a joke, obviously!)

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Get your Mars on

November 6, 2009

Victoria crater small

The Boston Globe’s The Big Picture feature covers Mars today, thanks to the HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. See craters, dunes, water-eroded gullies, dust devils, and the tracks of our rovers, courtesy of what is still the coolest non-Hubble camera in existence.

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Fly, baby, fly!

October 28, 2009

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The Ares 1-X flew, successfully. Pix and video here.

I’m extremely troubled that after pouring literally hundreds of billions of dollars into the financial bailout last year and more hundreds of billions into the stimulus package this year, some idiots still talk about how much money we’re wasting on manned spaceflight. Here’s the answer: 3-4 billion a year. Not 34, 3 to 4. With projected increases to 7 or 8 to get the Constellation program up and running.

Is 3 or 4 billion dollars a lot of money? Well, it sounds like a lot. But this is a country that spends a billion a year on chewing gum. That is coldly contemplating bailing out GMAC to the tune of 3 to 5 billion–for the third time in a year. You know what you can buy with the manned space program budget? Two stealth bombers.

So no. Just no. Manned spaceflight done the NASA way is probably a lot more expensive than it has to be. But compared to the budgets of, well, anything, on a national scale, it’s a pittance. And even that pittance has been steadily eroded by the last three administrations.

I’m not 100% on board with the Constellation program. I fear that it will keep thousands of former shuttle program people  employed at the expense of not getting us beyond low Earth orbit for another three decades. I think the competing DIRECT proposal has a lot going for it. But for now, today, Ares 1-X is what we got. And whether I agree with everything they’re doing or not, NASA needed a win.

And it got one.

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