Today’s Tidbits: December 8, 2017

Today’s Tidbits: December 8, 2017

Here are our tidbits for December 8, 2017:  SpaceX’s upgrade of SLC-40;  Apollo 1 Memorial in final NDAA; 45th anniversary of the Blue Marble photo.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter for more news and live tweeting of events.

SpaceX Spent $50 Million Fixing, Upgrading SLC-40

SpaceX’s John Muratore briefed reporters via teleconference today on the repairs and upgrades made to Space Launch Complex-40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), FL following an explosion on September 1, 2016.  The pad is ready for flights to resume.  The first is an International Space Station (ISS) cargo resupply mission for NASA scheduled for December 12.

Muratore said the company spent about $50 million on the pad, which it leases from the Air Force.  He praised the Air Force 45th Space Wing, which manages CCAFS and the Eastern Test Range, as being a close partner in the launch pad’s repair and rehabilitation.

Explosion of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on SLC-40, September 1, 2016. Snip from video taken by USLaunchReport.

The pad was originally built in the 1960s for Titan rockets and used by the Air Force until 2005.  In 2007, it leased the pad to SpaceX to use for its Falcon 9 rockets.  Muratore pointed out that in 2007 SpaceX was a young company with a small workforce and little experience.  The modifications they made to the pad at that time were not thought through carefully.  They left a lot of equipment in positions exposed to the full brunt of the explosion, which took place during a test two days prior to the scheduled launch of the Amos-6 communications satellite.  The rocket and satellite were destroyed and the pad was significantly damaged.

Instead of just repairing the damage, SpaceX decided on a total redo of the site.  Among the advantages, Muratore said, is that now all three launch pads that SpaceX uses — SLC-40 at CCAFS, Launch Complex-39A at Kennedy Space Center that it leases from NASA, and SLC-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base that it leases from the Air Force — are similar now.  Personnel can easily move from one site to another to work at the pads as needed.

He noted that when SpaceX leased the pad, it agreed to conform to all specifications in Air Force Space Command Manual 91-710, which is “largely a safety document, but safety begins with the engineering of the pad.”  Adhering to the requirements resulted in a 66-page checklist.   SpaceX worked with the 45th Space Wing “literally every day” in an “incredible partnership” to ensure all the requirements were met.

The unavailabilty of SLC-40 meant shifting launches to NASA’s LC-39A and juggling launch schedules.  Muratore also expressed gratitude to NASA, the FAA (which issues licenses for commercial launches), and the patience of SpaceX customers throughout it all.

For the future, in terms of deciding whether a launch goes from SLC-40 or LC-39A, he said that LC-39A is primarily for launching astronauts on Crew Dragon and launches of the Falcon Heavy. The first Falcon Heavy is expected next month.  The first Crew Dragon is scheduled later in the year.   Other government and commercial  launches on Falcon 9 will go from SLC-40 or, where there are schedule openings, from LC-39A.

Apollo 1 Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery Gets Another Step Closer

Creating a memorial for the Apollo 1 astronauts at Arlington National Cemetery will take another step forward when President Trump signs the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The bill has cleared Congress and was presented to the President on November 30.

Apollo 1 crew (L-R): Gus Grissom, Ed White, Roger Chaffee. Credit: NASA

Section 1087 directs the Secretary of the Army, who oversees the cemetery, in consultation with NASA and others to authorize the construction of a “memorial marker honoring the three members of the crew of Apollo 1 who died during a launch rehearsal test on January 27, 1967, in Cape Canaveral, Florida.”

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire, which took the lives of Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.   During a ceremony at Kennedy Space Center in January marking the anniversary, Chaffee’s daughter Sheryl, who spent her own career at NASA, said that she had made it her mission to ensure that “we never forget the Apollo 1 crew and all our other fallen astronauts.”

Memorials already exist at Arlington for the crews lost in the 1986 space shuttle Challenger and 2003 space shuttle Columbia tragedies, but not for Apollo 1.  Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) reintroduced legislation to create an Apollo 1 memorial at Arlington on January 27.  Since it is a military cemetery, the first step is getting permission to place a memorial there.  In July, Johnson succeeded in getting an amendment adopted to the House version of the FY2018 NDAA to do so.

Her amendment was included in the final version of the NDAA, although what passed the House included an authorization of $50,000.  The final version does not provide funding.  The conference report states that the House-Senate agreement is for a “privately financed memorial.”

Blue Marble photo anniversary

This iconic photograph of the Earth set against the darkness of space was taken by the Apollo 17 crew.   Apollo 17, launched on December 7, 1972, was the final Apollo mission to the Moon.  Its crew was Gene Cernan, commander; Ron Evans, command module pilot; and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, lunar module pilot.  Schmitt was the first and, to date, only scientist (a geologist) to land on the Moon.   Cernan died earlier this year; Evans died in 1990. Schmitt is still very active in space policy matters.

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