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When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions, New series on the Discovery Channel
ilbasso
post Jun 9 2008, 03:26 AM
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Just finished watching episodes 1 and 2 of the new Discovery Channel series, "When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions."

WOW!!

Wonderful footage, beautifully restored, and it looks great in HDTV. These first two episodes covered Mercury and Gemini. Subsequent episodes will cover Apollo, Shuttle, and ISS.

Due to time limitations, they didn't cover every mission (Sigma 7, and Geminis V, X, and XI were not mentioned at all). But the missions they did cover included some footage that I have never seen before, and I have been watching these missions on TV since Shepard's flight. Seeing film of Ed White's spacewalk again brought back the sense of wonder and disorientation that I felt the first time I saw it in 1965. I don't believe I ever knew that Gemini VII had been tasked with observing a Polaris missle launch - and they had film of the launch taken from orbit. They also showed film of Gemini VI's approach and rendezvous - I had previously only seen stills from the actual station-keeping with Gemini VII. And I don't recall ever before seeing a movie of Gene Cernan's spacewalk on Gemini IX.

The film clips and narration are supplemented by commentary from many of the astronauts, most surprisingly being Neil Armstrong. He almost NEVER takes part in these kinds of documentaries, so his participation certainly added to the feeling that this was a special show. John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Jim McDivitt, Jim Lovell, Frank Borman, Buzz Aldrin, and Gene Cernan also provided commentary, as did Chris Kraft and Gene Krantz.

If you get Discovery Channel, I strongly suggest you watch this! It's also coming out on DVD and Blu-Ray, with an additional 4 hours of footage.


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nprev
post Jun 9 2008, 04:14 AM
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I'd like to see the DVDs with the extras. Just started watching it, and the pace is breakneck...not a lot of depth, and other then the really cool footage not much new to us aficianados. (oDoug could narrate this in his sleep!)

However...it's a DAMN good introduction for the uninitiated, and therefore great outreach for a mass audience! Should turn a few kids on to space, and in the end that's what really counts.


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dvandorn
post Jun 9 2008, 04:24 AM
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Well... I'd judge the first two installments as better than average.

There wasn't really much of anything on the show that I've never seen before, but there were a lot of things I haven't seen in an awfully long time. And some things were sort of "created" a bit -- a few shots of generic Gemini spacewalkers shown during the description of Cernan's EVA troubles (of which there is almost no movie film), for example. (The one actual shot of Cernan is taken from inside the cabin by Stafford, and is a short clip of film of Cernan sort of wheeling across the field of view. That and some partial-body shots as he struggled with his umbilical are really the only shots of Cernan's GT-IX EVA in existence.)

They also trimmed the story a little *too* much, in places, I thought. For example, after the discussion of Gemini IV and White's EVA, they state "The next thing for Gemini to prove was rendezvous, and they turned to Frank Borman and Jim Lovell to help do it." No discussion of the real purpose behind Borman's GT-VII (long duration flight), no discussion of GT-VI's original mission plan and the loss of its Agena... like I say, nothing inaccurate or criminal, just a touch incomplete.

But all in all, one of the better efforts. In fact, I was not only impressed that they got Armstrong out to comment on his flights, I was even more impressed that they got John Young out to do some, as well. Young is always tongue-tied in front of a microphone and has refused many prior requests for this kind of thing. I'm pleased to see he's finally getting over his shyness and is willing to add to the historical commentary.

-the other Doug


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dvandorn
post Jun 9 2008, 04:26 AM
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QUOTE (nprev @ Jun 8 2008, 11:14 PM) *
oDoug could narrate this in his sleep!

I was doing the "director's cut" monologue for the thing, filling in the juiciest little tidbits, for my roommate as we sat and watched it, yes...

rolleyes.gif

-the other Doug


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nprev
post Jun 9 2008, 04:42 AM
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Just noticed a rather absolute statement about Glenn's flight: "The straps for the retrorockets were the only thing holding the heat shield in place". Was this in fact ever confirmed in post-flight analysis? Have heard conflicting things.


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jmjawors
post Jun 9 2008, 05:04 AM
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I think they answered that within the documentary itself. They said that the heat shield ended up being fine all along, and that it was a faulty switch/sensor (I don't remember which) that ultimately was the culprit.


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nprev
post Jun 9 2008, 05:10 AM
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Yeah, I heard something in the program about a microswitch...but, I'd like some authoritative confirmation from an independent, informed source. (It's just hard to accept any statement in a pop documentary about technical issues as positive confirmation.)

For example, they also stated that a tear in a suit would cause an astronaut's blood to boil, killing him or her instantly. Say what?! blink.gif He/she might optimistically have one hell of a hematoma at the tear site and possibly survive, but even if the whole damn suit blows off of them their blood will certainly not "boil".


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jmjawors
post Jun 9 2008, 05:18 AM
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Or that microgravity would cause a person's eyes to be misshapen, and perhaps inhibit vision. rolleyes.gif

You could always check wikipedia! (I kid, I kid). wink.gif I think the source for the info on the program is pretty reliable, but it could very well have been "dumbed down" or over simplified for the sake of the show, so I see your point entirely. Not sure where to turn for an "official" answer...


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laurele
post Jun 9 2008, 05:25 AM
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"Or that microgravity would cause a person's eyes to be misshapen, and perhaps inhibit vision."

I think they reported this was one of the fears about what potentially could happen in zero gravity but that the fear proved to be unfounded.
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jmjawors
post Jun 9 2008, 05:35 AM
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Yeah, laurele, I was making a joke of it (albeit lamely). I have fallen victim to that one universal of truths about sarcasm not being conveyable through text. ph34r.gif

I thought both episodes tonight were great. I wasn't alive then and don't know much about the space program leading up to Apollo, specifically Gemini. It's amazing how violently they pushed against the boundaries of their knowledge. Definitely not safe at times, but today we benefit from the risks they took.


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dvandorn
post Jun 9 2008, 06:33 AM
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The real story of Glenn's problems wasn't told as well as it could have been. For one thing, they insinuated that Glenn was never told why they wanted him to enter with his retro-pack attached. In fact, while he was told that they had "no reason for this at this time, this is the judgment of Cape Flight" by the California CapCom, as soon as he came into contact with the Cape, Cape CapCom Al Shepard explained exactly what was happening, why they wanted to try to re-enter with the pack on, and that they thought it was the safest alternative available.

In fact, just as Cape began to lose contact with Glenn as black-out began, Shepard tried to tell Glenn he could in fact jettison his retro-pack after the point-five-gee light came on, Max Faget having decided that the shield would stay on fine with the amount of aerodynamic force present from .5G onwards. However, blackout began before Shepard could get the message through, and Glenn never actually performed the retro-pack jettison.

I suspect that had Kraft told Shepard not to inform Glenn of the technical situation, Shepard would have ignored him and done it anyway.

As for the problem, at the end of the first orbit Cape controllers saw a meter for one of the telemetry frames -- the meter for Segment 51, Landing Bag Deploy -- was reading plus-25 and not minus-10 as it should have. (Each data frame was expressed in banks of meters, back at old Mercury Control... ah, the old days...) This indicated that the switch that reported the status of the landing bag deployment latches was either malfunctioning or, in fact, reporting that the latches had opened. If that *had* been the case, then yes, the metal straps holding down the retro-pack would indeed have been the only things holding the heat shield in place.

Post-flight analysis of Friendship 7 showed that the microswitch responsible for the Segment 51 reading had indeed malfunctioned, and that the latches had always been properly in place. A normal re-entry would have been possible.

The upshot of all of this was that Chris Kraft felt like he and his team were blindsided, that they had responded awkwardly and made decisions that might have endangered Glenn. The event crystallized his thinking about mission rules, about go and no-go criteria, and about methodical, painstaking and grueling simulation sessions for the flight controllers as well as for the crews. More than anything else, this incident molded American flight control philosophy into the form it has retained ever since.

-the other Doug


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lyford
post Jun 9 2008, 04:10 PM
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Great post, dvandorn! I did not know those details.


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nprev
post Jun 9 2008, 04:40 PM
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Did I mention something about an "authoritative source?" There's one. smile.gif


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