Saturday, February 4, 2012

Announcing the Helios 1 crew

Helios 1 Commander Paul J. Weitz

Commander Paul J. Weitz (1966 astronaut class) (5th spaceflight)
Pilot Edward G. Givens, Jr. (1966 astronaut class) (3rd spaceflight)
Flight engineer Carlton H. Webb (1973 astronaut class) (3rd spaceflight)
Science engineer 1 Richard K. Fountain (1971 astronaut class) (2rd spaceflight)
Science engineer 2 Shannon M. Lucid (1975 astronaut class) (2nd spaceflight)

Weitz was Pilot on the Hyperion B-1R1 mission in April-June 1971, during which he spent 42 days in space, then was Pilot of the Hyperion 1-2V1 mission in (February-March 1972, 14 days in space). He commanded the Hyperion 1-7V5 mission in April-May 1973 (15 days in space) and Hyperion 2-7V6 (January 1976, 16 days in space).

Givens was Pilot on the Hyperion C-1R1 mission in August-November 1971 (84 days in space), the Hyperion 1-7V5 mission in April-May 1973 (15 days in space), and Commander of the July 1976 Destination Mankind mission to GEO (14 days).

Webb was Pilot on the Hyperion 2-4V3 mission (October 1974, 5 days in space) and on the July 1976 Destination Mankind mission (14 days in space).

Fountain was Science Engineer on the Hyperion 1-4R2 mission (August 1972-August 1973) (366 days in space).

Lucid was Science Engineer on the July 1976 Destination Mankind mission (14 days in space).

Anyone want to design a mission patch? I'll post all proposed patch designs on this blog.

Friday, February 3, 2012

After Helios 2 (part 2)

Reader Kerry Foster's comment on yesterday's post got me thinking. I had assumed a relatively painless transition from Robert Kennedy to his successor, with some belt-tightening for NASA but a continuation of the programs RFK put in place. What if his successor pulled a Nixon and sought to change NASA's direction in a big way?

The RFK years would be about preparing to leave LEO and then taking incremental steps out of LEO. There would be no talk of one final destination because the Hyperion and Helios programs would be about getting ready to go anywhere. Stations in Earth orbit would trial astronauts and technologies; then, at the end of the second RFK Administration, the first planetary mission, a Venus-Mars-Venus manned flyby, would leave Earth orbit.

What if Mathias let Helios 2 fly but canceled Helios 3, as I've already suggested, then called for a 33-foot space station for exploring the industrial potential of space, Solar Power Satellites (SPSs), and lunar missions to seek out resources for building SPSs and set up a lunar base? What if he also proposed a gradual phase-out of Apollo-based transportation systems in favor of a reusable winged spacecraft and reusable lunar shuttles? In other words, a complete redirection of the NASA program from open-ended exploration to industrialization on a massive scale.

All of this would involve massive expenditures, yet Mathias would trim NASA's budget, not raise it. This would be much like Richard Nixon. He might even let NASA's future direction remain an open question until January of 1980, the year he would seek reelection. Nixon did this (he announced the Shuttle in January 1972, trumpeting the many jobs it would create), as did Reagan (he announced the Space Station in January 1984) and Bush II (he announced his "Vision" for space exploration in January 2004).

This would be an exploration of what happens to long-term space plans in a democracy. It would make depressing reading, but it would be realistic.

Let's assume that Mathias is reelected in 1980. NASA puts Helios 3 in mothballs, starts work on the 33-foot station, and begins designing a reusable space plane. It dusts off its old Apollo lunar landing plans (the ones preempted by the program to deflect the asteroid Icarus in 1967-1968). The effort would be ridiculously underfunded for its scale, with target dates so far in the future as to be meaningless. NASA, spoiled by two decades of inspired leadership, would grow demoralized.

Then, in 1984, Mathias's Vice President, Howard Baker, is elected with George H. W. Bush as his running mate. Baker, who had been in charge of Mathias's National Space Council, had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the direction Mathias had laid out. For one thing, Mathias's initiatives had led to very little in the way of hardware or missions in his second term. The 33-foot station had been delayed, as had the lunar and reusable Shuttle efforts. NASA had launched Apollo-derived CSM/OM combinations to GEO to conduct SPS experiments, but that was about it. The bipartisan support RFK's program had enjoyed was gone; Democrats trimmed NASA's budget further to rein in Mathias's program, further slowing progress.

Baker would order Bush, his National Space Council chair, to assemble a blue-ribbon panel to reexamine NASA's future course. They would point to the enormous cost of the Mathias program and propose a return to an evolutionary manned planetary program as a cheaper alternative.

Baker would receive their recommendations in 1987, but would not respond to them immediately. NASA would, meanwhile, finally launch the 33-foot station into LEO, launch an unmanned lunar orbiter to seek out mineral-rich landing sites, and commence unmanned lifting-body hypersonic reentry tests. Then, in January of the 1988 Presidential election year, Baker would announce a cheaper goal for NASA: land a man on Mars by the end of the 1990s. Specifically, he would call for a manned Mars flyby in 1992, a manned Mars orbiter in 1995, and a manned Mars landing in 1998.

Baker would not, however, be reelected in 1988. The new President, Democrat Paul Simon of Illinois, would, however, favor the course Baker and Bush had set. In his inaugural address on January 20, 1989 - 20 years to the day after RFK called for Solar System exploration as NASA's post-Icarus goal - Simon would endorse the Baker plan. Many in NASA would heave a big sigh of relief. It was time to pick up where they had left off nearly a decade before.

In the months that followed, Simon and his Vice President, Al Gore, sought to make the new space program a vehicle for international cooperation with the Soviets. The advent of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1984 had led to wide-ranging reforms in the USSR, which had in turn led to virtual economic collapse as the Soviet system sought to move from communism to capitalism. Its aerospace sector strapped for funds, there was talk of Soviet engineers selling their expertise to countries that opposed Western interests.

A hardline coup in late 1989 led to the collapse of the USSR. President Simon and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed an agreement in June 1990 calling for cooperation between the U.S. and the Russian Federation in space. Russian brought ot the table its Pobedya space station, N1-A rocket, and advanced automated Marsokhod rovers. By the terms of the agreement, N1-A rockets would launch propellants for Mars missions and joint U.S.-Russian crews would teleoperate Russian rovers with U.S. instruments on Mars. Russian cosmonauts would, in return, join the Ares 1, Ares 2, and Ares 3 crews.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

After Helios 2

Helios 2, the second five-person piloted Venus-Mars-Venus flyby mission, would depart Earth in November 1978, fly past Venus in May 1979, fly past Mars in November 1979, fly past Venus again in January 1980, and return to Earth on January 31, 1981. When it returned to Earth, the 24-man Spacelab "industrial park in space" would have been in orbit for 2.5 years. Spacelab would not have been meant to be the follow-on to the Helios missions; in fact, until U.S. President Charles Mathias cancelled it in May 1977, it would have been followed by a third Venus-Mars-Venus flyby which would have left Earth in May 1981.

Mathias would not be anti-space. The main justification for the Hyperion stations and the Helios missions - to explore the Solar system in search of new threats and new opportunities - would still resonate, especially considering that the 10th anniversary of the successful Icarus deflection would occur during the second year of the Mathias Administration. He would, however, have other priorities than had Robert Kennedy during his eight years in office. No doubt NASA's budget would take a hit.

I expect that Spacelab would appeal to Mathias's sensibilities, so would carry on without interruption. Mathias would, however, delay the manned planetary program. In addition to cancelling Helios 3, he would redirect Helios 4, planned originally as a 1983 Venus Orbiter. Re-named Ares 1, it would become a 1984 mission to orbit Mars.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Naming the 33-foot station

On July 4, 1978, NASA would launch its first 33-foot space station on an uprated two-stage Saturn V rocket. The station's diameter, 11 feet greater than any previous NASA station, would match the diameter of the Saturn V S-ID and S-IIB stages. The station would have a mass of 150 tons and a height of 100 feet. It would be designed to operate in low-Earth orbit for a decade.

Although it would borrow Helios/Hyperion technology and techniques, the 33-foot-diameter station would not be part of NASA's manned planetary program. Instead, it would be designed to serve as an "industrial park in space." Universities and companies would be provided with space on board to conduct experiments. Some, such as the research centrifuge ringing the station's inner wall and the station's comfortable living quarters, would be used in common by all tenants. Others would be off-limits to potential competitors.

In our timeline, research has revealed little that can be manufactured in space cheaply enough to generate a profit. In the Icarus timeline, on the other hand, NASA would put in place an infrastructure where intensive research could be conducted at a relatively low cost. NASA and its tenants would know full well that the likelihood of creating wildly profitable products in space would be small. The 33-foot station would be a gamble for all concerned, but that is in the nature of applied research.

Crews would reach the station in six-person Apollo CSM-derived spacecraft based on the Helios HERV design. A NASA crew of six would live on board at all times, and up to 18 tenant researchers could live on board. The six NASA crewmembers would maintain the station and fly the crew transport spacecraft. Resupply and experiment equipment delivery would be by Freighter (read). Manufactured products would reach Earth inside an annual or semi-annual CSM with two NASA pilots.

What to call the 33-foot station?

Bad things happen (part 1)

So far my alternate timeline has ticked along like clockwork, but we all know that the Real World doesn't work that way. So, what can go wrong in the Project Icarus alternate timeline?

In our own timeline, astronauts and cosmonauts experienced many life-threatening (and life-ending) accidents. Gemini VIII's emergency return to Earth. The Apollo 1 fire. The Apollo 13 oxygen tank explosion. The Soyuz 1 crash. The Soyuz 11 depressurization. The Challenger and Columbia accidents. The Apollo 16 SPS problem. The "April 5 Event" Soyuz booster malfunction. The Soyuz T-10-1 launch pad explosion. The Progress collision with Mir's Spektr module. And the list goes on.

Beginning in early 1969, NASA would aim for the Venus-Mars-Venus flyby launch opportunity set to occur on January 23, 1977 (for a description of this mission, please see here). NASA's extended build-up to the January 23, 1977 Earth-orbital launch of the Helios 1 Venus-Mars-Venus piloted flyby spacecraft would be designed to anticipate and avoid problems, but problems would almost certainly occur, nonetheless. Crew illness during one of the Hyperion 2 extended-duration flights might, for example, force a long-duration crew to return to Earth early, thus delaying acquisition of biomedical data essential for certifying the Helios 1 mission plan.

Although NASA would work hard to launch Helios 1 on January 23, 1977, just three days after the end of President Robert Kennedy's second term, it could fall back to the November 1978 Venus-Mars-Venus flyby opportunity if some technical hitch (or major calamity) prevented the January 23, 1977 launch.

Alternately, the Helios Program might elect to use the October 1977 Mars flyby launch opportunity or the August 1978 Venus flyby opportunity. The former would take it as far from the Sun as the inner edge of the Main Asteroid Belt, 2.2 times Earth's distance from the Sun, so if Helios 1 were solar powered, it would need solar panel augmentation ahead of its October 1977 launch. In general, though, the Helios spacecraft design could accommodate either a Venus flyby or a Mars flyby alone without significant modifications because it would be designed for a mission taking in both Venus and Mars flybys.

The Venus flyby mission launched in August 1978 would last just one year, so could be of interest if data from the long-duration stays on the Hyperion stations in Earth orbit showed that the triple-planet flyby missions were simply too long to be carried out safely (but that a one-year flight was acceptable). NASA could fly the Helios 1 spacecraft past Venus without modification, thus making incremental progress toward eventual planetary orbiters and landings while it sought to meet the challenges of missions longer than one year.

One interesting fact to close off this post. Imagine that Helios 1 suffered a major malfunction at the end of its mission. Screams from the crew, thumps and bangs, and the Helios 1 Earth-Return Vehicle (HERV) descends to Earth as a swarm of high-speed meteors. The Helios Program could not be grounded even in such an extreme case because Helios 2 would already be under way. That's right - the missions would overlap. Helios 2 would leave Earth orbit in November 1978 and the Helios 1 crew would reenter Earth's atmosphere on January 9, 1979.

Such a malfunction would be unlikely - the HERV would have been exhaustively tested before Helios 1 left Earth orbit - but unlikely hardly means impossible. In the aftermath of such a shocking accident, NASA would do everything it could to understand the malfunction and relay any necessary and possible remedies to the Helios 2 crew so that they could avoid a similar fate when they returned to Earth.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Weekend Weirdness 1

I like to imagine that the events portrayed in the classic 1951 Robert Wise film The Day the Earth Stood Still were real historical events: that is, that a spaceship bearing a lone humanoid alien ambassador named Klaatu and an implacably destructive robot called Gort arrived on the National Mall in 1951 and issued an ultimatum to humankind. It went something like this:
A long time ago, we worked out that we could not have peace unless we gave absolute power to enforce peace to a race of Gort robots. The Gorts don't mind about your petty squabbles as long as you keep them on Earth. Now, however, you have atomic weapons and rockets. If you choose to spread your madness beyond Earth, then the Gorts will reduce your world to a burnt-out cinder. If, on the other hand, you decide to venture into the universe in peace, then you will be welcomed into a community of planets. You choose. We'll be waiting.
I further like to imagine that the alternate 1951 of The Day the Earth Stood Still is part of the back-story of the 1956 classic Forbidden Planet. Inspired by Klaatu's technology, humans figure out how to imitate it, more or less. They join the community of planets. Then a couple of hundred years go by and a lot of clues about the nature of the galactic political scene emerge (it's a lot more complicated than Klaatu let on). The Krell are still around, there are space pirates, and there's a civil war under way.

Every time astronomers in our reality find a new extrasolar planet, I imagine the C-57D, Captain J. J. Adams commanding, having a bit of a visit. I have done this for years. I pretended my hand was the C-57D at a Geoff Marcy lecture (one can get away with a lot if it appears that one is trying to entertain one's young child).

So, there you have it, an utterly implausible alternate history thing I've played around with off and on for, oh, 15 years. More "serious" stuff soon.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Some possible (?) Hyperion 1 & 2 crews


I don't know as much about the personalities and interests of the astronauts as I should, so when it comes to choosing crews for the missions in my alternate history of the space age, I'm at a disadvantage. If you have opinions about the crews I've selected, please feel free to share them.

A bit of background: after the U.S. decided to attempt to deflect Icarus in November 1966, NASA cancelled all planned piloted space missions. The astronaut corps, primed for moon missions, was suddenly in limbo. It remained in that uncomfortably uncertain state until Robert Kennedy's inaugural speech on January 20, 1969.

No new astronauts were selected until April 1971, when six "pilot-astronauts" and six "scientist-astronauts" were selected. Some of these would be astronauts who were selected and flew in our timeline, while others would be fictional. Soon after the last of the flights listed below, NASA would select its first female astronauts.

February 19 - March 12, 1971 (21 days aloft)
Station: Hyperion A (Orbital Module-1)
Transport: CSM Liberty/Orbital Module (OM)-1
Mission/Crew: Hyperion A-1/Virgil Grissom, Donn Eisele, Roger Chaffee

April 25-June 6, 1971 (42 days aloft)
Station: Hyperion B (OM-2)
Transport: CSM Horizon/OM-2
Mission/Crew: Hyperion B-1 Resident (R) 1/Frank Borman, James Lovell, Michael Collins

May 8-20, 1971 (12 days aloft)
Station: Hyperion B (OM-2)
Transport: CSM Aurora
Mission/Crew: Hyperion B-2 Visitor (V) 1/Charles Conrad, Alan Bean, Richard Gordon

August 10-November 3, 1971 (84 days aloft)
Station: Hyperion C (OM-3)
Transport: CSM Shenandoah/OM-3 (up); CSM Shenandoah/OM-3/OM-4 (down)
Mission/Crew: Hyperion C-1R1/Russell Schweickart, Bruce McCandless, Joseph Kerwin

September 2-11, 1971 (9 days aloft)
Station: Hyperion C (OM-3)
Transport: CSM Eagle/OM-4 (up); CSM Eagle (down)
Mission/Crew: Hyperion C-2V1/Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, Story Musgrave

October 3-11, 1971 (8 days aloft)
Station: Hyperion C (OM-3/OM-4)
Transport: CSM Electra
Mission/Crew: Hyperion C-3V2/James Lovell, Don Lind, Jack Lousma

December 4, 1971 - July 21, 1972 (168 days aloft)
Station: Hyperion 1
Transport: CSM Ocean (up); CSM Yosemite/OSM-1 (down)
Mission/Crew: Hyperion 1-1R1/Alan Bean, Gerald Carr, Owen Garriott

February 25-March 11, 1972 (14 days aloft)
Station: Hyperion 1
Transport: CSM Yosemite/OSM-1 (up); CSM Ocean (down)
Mission/crew: Hyperion 1-2V1/Walter Cunningham, Paul Weitz, Roger Chaffee

May 25-June 8, 1972 (14 days aloft)
Station: Hyperion 1
Transport: CSM Arcturus
Mission/crew: Hyperion 1-3V2/Vance Brand, Don Eisele, Joseph Kerwin

August 10, 1972 - August 11, 1973 (366 days aloft)
Station: Hyperion 1
Transport: CSM Polaris/OSM-2 (up); CSM Olympia/OSM-2 (down)
Mission/crew: Hyperion 1-4R2/Michael Collins, William Gibson, William Pogue

November 1-15, 1972 (14 days aloft)
Station: Hyperion 1
Transport: CSM Yellowstone (up); CSM Polaris (down)
Mission/crew: Hyperion 1-5V3/John Young, Charles Duke, Bruce McCandless

January 23-February 6, 1973 (14 days aloft)
Station: Hyperion 1
Transport: CSM Artemis/OSM-3 (up); CSM Yellowstone (down)
Mission/crew: Hyperion 1-6V4/Richard Gordon, Edwin Aldrin, Don Lind

April 18-May 3, 1973 (15 days aloft)
Station: Hyperion 1
Transport: CSM Olympia (up); CSM Artemis/OSM-3 (down)
Mission/crew: Hyperion 1-7V5/Paul Weitz, Story Musgrave, Owen Garriott

December 1-21, 1973 (21 days aloft)
Station: Hyperion 1
Transport: CSM Friendship
Mission/crew: Hyperion 1-8R3/Russell Schweickart, Donald Slayton, Joseph Kerwin

January 23, 1974 - January 23, 1976 (730 days aloft)
Station: Hyperion 2
Transport: CSM Prometheus (up); CSM Argo (down)
Mission/crew: Hyperion 2-1R1/Vance Brand, Jack Lousma, Don Lind