back to article America's forgotten space station and a mission tinged with urine, we salute you

Two NASA anniversaries rolled around this week, but you would be forgiven for missing them. The first was the 45th anniversary of the launch of the United States' only solo Space Station, Skylab, designed to host astronauts for months at a time. The second big day, yesterday, marked 55 years since the space agency launched the …

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How come poor old Wally Schirra and Deke Slayton never got to work for International Rescue, unlike the other five Mercury Astronauts? I guess Gerry Anderson didn't think that Wally and Deke were 'TV' names. Anyway, brave men, one and all.

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Re: 5...4...3...2...1...>

Walter and Donald (Deke => D K) Tracy, the forgotten brothers.

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Re: 5...4...3...2...1...>

Jeff ... never talks about Walter and Deke.

Let's just say they were a big disappointment when it came to that fateful "Time to decide, boys: Join The Hood's Gang or go it alone with this crazy rescue thing I've been talking about with Brains over beers" conversation.

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Lessons learned in the importance of sealing circuits from moisture would later prove invaluable

50 years later, mobile phone manufacturers are still learning that lesson

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Heads they win, tails you lose

In fairness to mobile phone manufacturers, there's no real incentive for them to do so. Every soggy mobile phone is another sale of a new one for them.

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No problems with my phone IP68 rated will take pictures under water up to 2 metres down, also dust proof and drop proof from 2 metres up.

Those properties are very useful to me but essential for an astronaut, those guys had grit.

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does your phone still work after being pissed on? Have you tried?

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"Those properties are very useful to me but essential for an astronaut, those guys had grit."

So it's grit proof as well?

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Headmaster

the final crewed mission of the Mercury programme

Crewed? What's wrong with manned? Oh yes, that can be plural too. Hmm. Piloted? Yes, seeing as they did use pilots to fly the craft.

Fly? Oh this is getting silly.

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Trollface

Re: the final crewed mission of the Mercury programme

From the accounts, the whole setup was pretty crude.

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Pint

Re: the whole setup was pretty crude

Almost unbelievably so. Some time ago I read the transcript of Apollo 8 online, which shows just how experimental the spacecraft were. And how brave were the men inside them.

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Re: the whole setup was pretty crude

Each spacecraft was hand made and unique. The men inside them were seasoned test pilots who flew 'experimental, hand made, and unique' for a living. They were highly intelligent and understood the risks. Brave is not an adequate word to describe them.

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Re: the whole setup was pretty crude

"By the skin of their teeth" essentially describes the space race from start to finish. Early on this was by necessity, but by the time of the Space Shuttle there were unfortunately other factors at play.

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Re: the whole setup was pretty crude

The Mercury astronauts repeatedly watched failures of the Atlas rockets that were going to carry them to orbit. Gus Grissom is on record as saying: "Are we really going to get on top of one of *THOSE* things?

And then they climbed on top of a tin balloon filled with explosives. There's not enough beer in the universe for people like that.

Footage of some early (unmanned) Atlas flights here:

https://youtu.be/_WP0wbeSce8

And maximum Michael Bayness of a Atlas Centaur not quite getting off the pad here:

https://youtu.be/HAPHhK654Ow

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Happy

Re: the whole setup was pretty crude

"Remember, everything you see around you was made by the lowest bidder"

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Headmaster

Re: the whole setup was pretty crude

As part of our work training we do a Kepner Tregoe Analysis course (problem solving, situation appraisal, that sort of thing) and one thing I learned was they used it during Apollo 13.

Went into quite some detail, and to understand quite how ingenious they had to be (and unfortunately how many self-created issues of incompatible hardware they had to overcome - square filters in round holes and suchlike) is fascinating to read. Those men truly earned their "steely-eyed missilemen" status.

Can't find the full one they shared with us, but the link below has an abbreviated version:

http://www.kepner-tregoe.com/case-studies/client-success-stories/aerospace-industry/an-abbreviated-use-of-problem-analysis/

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Devil

Re: the final crewed mission of the Mercury programme

I'll say 'manned' because

a) it's politically incorrect

b) it's true (there WAS 'a man' aboard)

c) Proper grammar defaults to male pronouns, etc. when sex is indeterminate or unimportant. See 'a'

/me wonders why the 'pee' problem in Gordo's flight was never mentioned in "The Right Stuff".

(my 'mailman' is a woman)

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Pint

Re: the whole setup was pretty crude

One of the things to remember about the Atlas is that it was constructed from a stainless steel envelope so thin that, if pressurization was lost, it would collapse. Would anyone in their right mind want to climb on top of one of those?

Dave

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Re: the final crewed mission of the Mercury programme

> Crewed? What's wrong with manned?

Or it doesn't have to mention it at all, since it was simply the last Mercury flight.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: the whole setup was pretty crude

" so thin that, if pressurization was lost, it would collapse. Would anyone in their right mind want to climb on top of one of those?"

Ah shucks, don't worry about the rocket collapsing, if the Atlas loses internal pressure it's because the fuel and or LOX is rapidly leaking out. The explosion will kill you way before the collapse will!

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Re: the final crewed mission of the Mercury programme

As I recall, in the first Mercury flight, Shepherd was delayed on the launchpad (not uncommon in the early days) and it was found no provision had been made for a full bladder. The ultimate 'solution' (no pun intended was for Shepherd to basically relieve himself in the spacesuit. I presume the leaking urine bottle was a later addition to the capsule, and by the sounds of it one that was perhaps a little gerry-rigged.

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Headmaster

Re: the final crewed mission of the Mercury programme

Maybe he should have honoured the tradition started by Gagarin of pissing on the tyre of the bus taking him to the Launchpad? Apparently it's now so ingrained as a lucky ritual that they all do it.

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/why-russian-astronauts-pee-on-a-bus-tire-before-launching-into-space-and-other-preflight-rituals

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Further reading

A house in space by Henry S. F Cooper I highly recommend for anybody interested in day to day practical side and problems of living aboard Skylab. The grit beneath the public relations gloss featuring such classic quotes as...

Why did I choose corned beef hash every day for breakfast?

Whoever designed this toilet has clearly never taken a dump in their life!

Don't tell mission control...

Skylabs unique floor system also gets several mentions with hilarious descriptions of the cleat quick step. (The official technical report was said to contain so many swear words it was redacted to just read: use velcro next time)

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Re: Further reading

> Whoever designed this toilet has clearly never taken a dump in their life!

Which is sad, because apparently the Skylab toilet turned out to be the best design so far, and the Shuttle one in particular was the absolute worst.

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Re: Further reading

I have that book on my bookshelf....

Goes into details behind the strike and what really happened.

Mission control sending 16 hrs of work up on a list to be done at a rate of knots because that was how the apollo and previous missions were worked......... but the guys were trying to cope with finding stuff and getting stuff setup for the day while ground control bitched at them for being slower than the previous crew.

Does this remind you of anything?

No wonder they stuck 2 fingers up at ground control and went off and did their own thing....

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Anonymous Coward

"Whoever designed this toilet has clearly never taken a dump in their life!"

I'm quite sure he never took a dump in zero G....

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"Who's the best pilot you ever saw?"

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You're lookin' at him!

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Re: "Who's the best pilot you ever saw?"

Hell of a book/film.

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Re: "Who's the best pilot you ever saw?"

It was a great book/film. And Tom Wolfe died two days ago so a double whammy.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Who's the best pilot you ever saw?"

"It was a great book/film. And Tom Wolfe died two days ago so a double whammy."

Truly marvellous. I showed the film to my daughter when she was 10, and she loved it. We've watched it together several times since. She's now 16 and going on to do Maths, Chemistry and Biology A levels. She's flown gliders, shoots .22 rifles and shotguns, and is an enthusiastic member of her school's Combined Cadet Force. The film worked.

My generation had Douglas Bader to venerate. Remembering that, I made sure my daughter had some proper role models to look up to.

Contemporary role models? They mostly appear to me to be variants of Kim Kardashian. Or some whiner with pink hair. Elon Musk? Sure, but he's not really in the calculated personal risk game, now is he?

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Re: "Who's the best pilot you ever saw?"

Tim Peake?

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Pint

I hope..

..that current generations end up with heroes like this and the inspiration of routinely exploring new frontiers. Very different times. While many may argue that the money and resources spent on Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, etc. could have been used to feed hungry people, etc. (it would not have been anyway), it makes me sad that we haven't been back to the moon yet, and Mars is still a distant dream. All we have in manned (crewed) space flight is an aging space station and a few private companies that have tried to somewhat pick up the torch.

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Re: I hope..

could have been used to feed hungry people

could have been used to bomb hungry people - and it later was.

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Unhappy

Re: I hope..

Help required!!

"could have been used to feed hungry people"

I remember the scene in a film where a group of protesters are stopped at one of the security gates just before the launch of (I think) Apollo 11. The gist of the scene is that they'd rather the government spent money on the poor instead of blasting it into space. I think the NASA official defuses the situation by asking the protesters if they really think that cancelling the space programme would really help the poor.

For the life of me I can't recall what the film is.

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Headmaster

Re: I hope..

@Unicornpiss - there's some argument that people like Tim Peake, Chris Hadfield, Peggy Whitson, Luca Parmitano, Helen Sharman, Michael Foale and Sunita Williams would all class as such heroes. Or at least deserve to, as probably do anyone with the balls to sit on a large firework built by the lowest bidder and pork-barrel scraper.

Maybe not the pioneers that the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo guys were, but still risk takers (such as Parmitano almost drowning in space) and great ambassadors for space and science in general to the public.

And as the shuttle sadly showed twice, even with "mature" technology, they could still kill if things went wrong.

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"Could have been used to feed hungry people"

Reminded me of R.A. Heinlein's testimony before congress in 79, when they were looking for an excuse to do away with the space program. He gave them a list of subsidiary technologies primarily created while working on the space program. Since it had never been done before, an enormous amount of effort went into solving all the problems involved. The list of tech that owes it's existence to the early program is a real eye opener:

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

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Re: "Could have been used to feed hungry people"

WWII = Computers, Radar, Jet engine, etc - but that doesn't mean invading Poland is the only way to invent things

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Devil

Re: I hope..

"could have been used to feed hungry people"

WAS used to HIRE hungry people (to build rockets, etc.). then they can FEED THEMSELVES instead of requiring some form of charity [whether voluntarily given or FORCIBLY TAKEN from taxPAYERS].

there. I said it.

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Re: "Could have been used to feed hungry people"

"The list of tech that owes it's existence to the early program is a real eye opener"

I can't give you enough thumbs up for saying this! And yes, the "collateral benefits" of NASA and the space program in general is hard to 'dollarize' but I would expect it to be a NET BENEFIT. It "gave back".

After all - with all of that money we bought rockets and blasted them into space. We got what we paid for. Imagine what we'd have got if we'd paid for something that DOES NOT GIVE BACK...

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Re: I hope..

@TheProf

I think the film/documentry was "For All Mankind" ??

Phil.

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Re: I hope..

could have been used to feed hungry people

Today we have more "hungry people" than back then. Generally due to war and planned elimination, c.f. Yemen. Remember the Live Aid concerts from the 80s for aiding Ethiopian "famine"? Engineered famine.

We also have economic refugees and an infinite supply of more where these come from. The World's Most Important Graph says something about Whitey's destiny.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I hope..

No we don't have more hungry people than back then. It's been falling steadily. e.g. in 1970 share of people under-nourished 28%, in 2015 11%. source : https://www.gapminder.org/

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Re: I hope..

Thanks @PhilBuk.

I don't recall seeing the film you suggest but it's on YouTube and I'll watch it this weekend.

I'm sure the film I can't recall it was a fictional account of something significant being launched. Oh God! I hope I haven't imagined it! (No it wasn't When Worlds Collide.)

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Re: I hope..

@AC

In 1970 the world population was circa 3.7B, hence 28% is circa 1B.

In 2015 the world population was circa 7.2B (it is now circa 7.6B), hence 11% is circa 836M

So in practical terms, the real number of "under-nourished" people has hardly changed, just that we seem to have been successful (so far) in not creating more under-nourished people.

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LDS
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"Remember the Live Aid concerts"

Yes, they were a far greater waste of resources by narcissistic millionaires who needed to deceive people into thinking they were good people aiding the world while eluding taxes because of course it's *the others" who have to pay for aids, you're too busy to stash your money in some tax haven...

And far less useful returns than the space programs.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Was used to hire hungry people.. instead of.. forcibly taken from taxpayers"

Ummm, and where do you think think NASA got the money from to hire the hungry people?

Yes, that would have been the taxpayers.

(I agree that it is better to use taxes to invest in the economy/people, rather than give freebies with no expectation of useful return, but since the whole concept of money is a smoke-and-mirrors affair that only works because we (all?) believe in it, it's an interesting question. Roll on the United Federation of Planets!)

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Trollface

Pedant's corner

Derring-do

not "daring-do"

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Re: Pedant's corner

The little wascal has spiwit.

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Re: Pedant's corner

Chocks away old chap!

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