Archive for the ‘America’ Category

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Images Copyright Graeme J W Smith


Conservation Assessement
Inspection of the Lunar
Module engineering test
article – yours
Cradle of Aviation Museum

For all those old enough to remember what they were doing 40 years ago – or those who want to share with their kids………

I was a “Child of Apollo” – I suddenly realized that the books I read about landing on the moon were about “how we MIGHT do it” We hadn’t actually done it yet! This was REAL exploring. This was Christopher Columbus, Scott of the Antarctic, Magellan around the World, The Wright Brothers, Pyramids, the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower and everything mankind had EVER achieved – all rolled into one. Apollo 8′s first manned orbit of the moon during Christmas 1968 was the eye opening wake up call to the environmental movement. Religious or not – the astronauts reading from Genesis had to be one of the most world embracing calls to mankind ever broadcast. And how everyone prayed in their own way that the single engine in the command module would fire and bring them home.

The skin of the Lunar Module
is thin enough to bend under
the slightest pressure.

As an avid new reader and follower of the BBC’s “Tomorrow’s World” – the lead science programme that covered the landings in the UK – I garnered every scrap of information – Apollo 11 took off 1/144th of a second late! To save weight – the skin of the lunar module was not much thicker than the aluminium foil in the kitchen drawer.

The Lunar Module Ascent
Engine. Just 36in tall
(1m) One small engine to
start your journey home
from 230,000 miles
away ….

Apollo 9′s crucial lunar module test in Earth orbit seemed tame after 8. Apollo 10 – heck they let them start down! Why didn’t they just let them land? Because the gravity maps of the moon were not yet perfected and they couldn’t predict the orbits well enough, and the software was not complete yet, and the Lunar Module design was still too heavy to get back off and… and… and… This was cutting edge exploring.

But with Apollo 11 – we were ready to try – this was it – it was PHENOMENALLY exciting. We were really going to try. REALLY!

The JFK library has laid on this real time Internet event 40 years after it happened. If you follow along and show it to your kids – maybe they will be inspired to take up where mankind so disappointingly left off after the Apollo missions were cancelled in the early 1970′s

Countdown for the moon has just started – watch the moon mission in real time PLUS 40 years – starting now – 35 hours to lift off and counting (as I type) at:Overall Mission with soundtrackFlash Player Required. Internet Explorer 7/8 run in compatibility modeMission Control Capsule Communicator transcription in real timeApollo 11 Command Module transcription in real timeLunar Module Eagle transcription in real time
Neil Armstrong
at the foot of the
ladder – earth a
distant speck in
the sky.

In this modern day and age when airplanes have three computers to guide them, when everything we build has a backup or some sort of redudancy built in – it is hard to recognize that the Apollo program had none. The cost in fuel of hauling weight into space meant there was exactly ONE of everything and it HAD to work because there were no spares. Statisically it should have been impossible to get everything to work all the time for the whole length of a mission. But somehow – time and again everything worked, every time and on the occassions when it went wrong (Apollo 12 lightning strike at lift off, and the fuel tank explosion on Apollo 13) if the mission was not completed (13) – everyone through training and practice for “what if” got home. There is a lesson there that has been lost in this day and age.

To watch the mission in real time – check in at least 30 mins before each of these key events for the full drama. Suggest 60 minutes for the landing sequence. Click on each time below to download an appointment file that you can save to Outlook or iCalendar so you don’t miss the event. The file is in UTC and should correct to the local time on your computer so you catch things at the correct time.

Lift off of the first mission to the moon that will attempt to land on the surface…..
09:32 EDT on Thursday 16th (14:32 in the UK)Can they land? What is that persistent computer alarm about? Please don’t call an abort – they are SO CLOSE…. Armstrong takes over and flies it down by hand……. Can he do it?…Mon 20th July at 16:17 EDT (21:17 in the UK)Will Neil Armstrong be able to climb down the ladder and what will he say as he steps onto the moon?Mon 20th July 22:56 EDT (Tue 21st July 03:56 in the UK)Will the Ascent Engine Fire? They only have one and it HAS to work if they are going to get off the surface and get home…….

Tuesday 21st July 13:54 EDT (18:54 in the UK)

Will the parachutes open? Did they bring any bugs back from the moon?

Fri 24th July 12:50 EDT (17:50 in the UK)

2. If you want to buy something that has been to the moon – check out this auction at Bonhams:

Bonhams Auction

A spare $250,000 for the good pieces that actually made it to the lunar surface would not be a bad thing to have!

One Small Step.

3. Where are they now? The movie “In the Shadow of the Moon” – which was opening night at the Newport Film Festival a couple of years ago shows all the surviving astronauts who made it – or nearly made it – to the surface (except Armstrong – who is there vicariously through the others’ tales about him) telling some pretty hair raising stories and at the very end they tell you about how “they faked the whole thing”.

Show this movie to your children. Watch these retired astronauts reflect on what inspired them in childhood; what inspired them to get involved with the space program; the incredible risks involved and what they can now – after all these years – tell you about how it affected themselves and the world. These guys are VERY human.

Space buffs – there is never before seen footage from the NASA archive that was brought out of cold storage and developed for this movie.

In the Shadow of the Moon at Amazon

You want to fly a Lunar Module – memorize all this……

We stayed in Newport this year to celebrate 4th July. Newport was the first state to declare independence from the British – on 4th May 1776 – two MONTHS before the other states.

We watched the artillery company honor William Ellery – Newport’s Founding Father as well as listened to the Declaration of Independence in Washington Square and saw the artillery company fire a 21 gun salute. Below are our videos of the day.

Sharp eyed observers will see the change in personnel on some of the cannon! Let you in on a secret – it has taken 4 years to get enough material to put these videos together.

If you want to hear what the Declaration of Independence actually says watch this video….

Arlington in Virginia, next to the Pentagon, at the end of the Mall by the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, rebel General Robert E. Lee’s confiscated estate turned National Cemetery for those who have served.

You have probably seen the service in a movie. The family seated graveside, the reading, volley fire, taps played on a bugle and the flag, reverentially folded and handed to a surviving relative. It is really like that – well not quite….

Wednesday I attended a good friend’s service. Everything I described above happened. There was even a “Sister of Arlington” in attendance with a member of the service the deceased served in – just to make sure no one goes alone. I learned the flag is folded in a triangle to represent a Revolutionary War hat and that “the number of burials a week depends on whether the country is at war or not” (Visitor Center Information Panel). But I also discovered a sad side that has been exercised in the press of late…

It is hard to be reverential and quiet when a plane hurtles overhead every three minutes from Ronald Reagan airport, the sounds of volley fire from OTHER funerals rather reminds one the it is not just WWII veterans dying off that is keeping Arlington busy these days but also the present conflict in Iraq……and busy and well spaced though the funerals try to be in terms of timing and proximity in the cemetery – the roar of the backhoes and dump trucks digging the graves, dropping in liners and flipping the coffis into the ground is rather disturbing for those trying to come to terms with the loss of a loved one. I’m not suggesting that holes get dug by hand – but perhaps at night before or at a less obtrusive moment for the relatives.

However the REAL problem is trying to handle in a fair and respectful way the tourists. Not those visiting the graves of loved ones – but the people who want to see JFK’s grave or the tomb of the Unknown Soldier or to wander round and be respectful of those who served. That is the real problem – what constitutes respect?

It is certainly NOT:

  • Raggy Shorts and T-Shirts

  • Video cameras and cameras jammed in people’s faces
  • Running and whooping
  • The kid playing Wiffle ball at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (really!)
  • Eating and drinking graveside

Certainly the serving members of the armed forces buried at Arlington seved so we could enjoy freedom – but they deserve better in return. Most of us were silently willing the sentry at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to unsling his weapon and shoot the wiffle bat out of the hands of the kid – while wondering where his parents were?

If a museum can ask you to check coats and bags, not allow you to take photographs of their exhibits and require you to dress to a tolerable standard before admitting you – then it seems that the Arlington Visitors’ Center could do the same and MORE. A museum is trying to preserve their artifacts from being touched, damaged by spills and aggressive flash light that damages objects. Arlington should require that the same standard is set before admission to the Cemetery – and a short few words of orientation about respectful behaviour would not go amiss either.

When the wind is in the wrong direction the planes will – unfortunately – roar overhead. But so much more could be done to reduce the roar of the backhoes and the uneducated intrusion of visitors who simply don’t know better because no one has explained it to them.

Reducing the casualties of the present war in Iraq however – is beyond the control of the staff at Arlington.

The irony of illustrating this with a picture is not lost on me. I used a generic one from the Arlington Web Site.

The War in Iraq is pretty far from Newport, Rhode Island. It is an abstract debate on Sunday morning “Meet the Press”; the empty parking lot at the Rhode Island National Guard depot; a little more security at the local Navy Base; a rare in state funeral for a fallen soldier – but truly – Rhode Island is hardly on a war footing. Sure we voted against anything Republican earlier this month to send the President a message that we were not happy with the way things were going – but really it is pretty distant.

Today I was in a store looking for some token Christmas presents. It seems ridiculous to be Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving – but I have to send some stuff abroad. A small child was exploring the lower shelf of the aisle. Aged two – maybe three. He could hardly maneuver from underneath the large Desert camouflage Tactical “Boonie” hat he was wearing.

I met him again at the checkout in his mother’s arms.

“Cool Hat” I commented. He smiled.

“It’s his Dad’s” offered his Mum.

“Dad’s home right now?” I asked.

“No” his Mum said “He’s in Falluja……………I hope.”

“Good Luck” was all I could say. Mum smiled and said “Thanks”.

As I turned away I felt a wave of incredible anger at those who have put that mother in that situation of hoping for the best. I am quite sure in this volunteer army – Dad is serving loyally at a profession he has chosen. But the situation that father, and all the other serving parents have been put in by a leadership that declared a war on the flimsiest of excuses is unconscionable.

I hope that Dad makes it home, I wish all the parents serving in Iraq make it. The sad thing is – before this war and holiday season is over – I am afraid we can assume – if the present situation is anything to go by – some parents will not make it home.

It is one month since the phone rang and I picked it up while working at my desk. It was 09.30 and the caller said – “turn on the TV – something is happening in New York”. I turned on the TV and listened to the commentators saying it appeared that a plane had hit the WTC. The picture was of smoke pouring out of a tower. A few moments later a second plane flew into the second building live and we were left in no doubt. A cut to the Pentagon for comment and the commentator ducked as there was a distinct explosion behind him.

It took me two hours to get through to a student friend in Washington. All lines were busy and when I finally got her on a cell phone. I had clearly woken her up (student life!). I suggested she look out the window (Georgetown on the north bank of the Potomac more or less overlooks the Pentagon on the south side).

America went flag crazy. As businesses laid folk off in uncertain times the flag makers were out of stock in just a couple of days and were hiring.

Americans don’t understand why anyone could not like America. It is hard to explain that many in the world see the US differently. THIS IS NOT TO CONDONE WHAT HAPPENED – but being a foreigner in the US is a little more difficult than usual and having another view has strained a few discussions with folks you otherwise consider rational and outward looking. It doesn’t matter that you lead with – “it doesn’t condone what happened…” People just don’t understand how invasive US culture is. It certainly drives home how invasive the British Empire was at it’s peak in the 1910′s.

It must be hell if you wear a turban. It is hell. A sheik was arrested on the train on the 12th September while apparently fleeing a police raid in Boston. The Providence Police acting on a tip off from Boston stopped the train and arrested him. Holding charge – possession of a concealed weapon – a religious ceremonial knife. The next day the Providence Police released the man – clearly embarassed that they had held him at all. The mayor issued a carefully worded statement praising the police for acting promptly and rather pointedly reminding folks they were acting on information received and had not made the decision themselves.

It is now – October 11th – and I am in Washington visiting my friend. Driving across the top of Manhattan Island and down the New Jersey shore the New York skyline has been altered forever. The eye jars as it sweeps across the horizon and something is missing.

There are F15′s lazily leaving contrails at 30,000ft plus over Washington, waiting to pounce on anything flying over that should not be. They are cleared to shoot first and ask later. There have been two close calls. A pilot who punched the wrong radar transponder code into his aircraft and failed to answer air traffic control and a private plane that missed the Notice to Airmen saying “no flying over cities”. The town is trying to keep going but the Capitol is shut (the anthrax thing is just starting).

There are flags EVERYWHERE in America.

In Washington I can get into any show or museum I want to visit. The Holocaust Museum – normally a three month waiting list for a 90 minute timed slot – is wide open. “How many tickets do you want?”. The Metro is heavily policed – the day before a deranged person shot a pistol in the air and sprayed a liquid in a station (carpet cleaner and mentally ill). I visit the National Air and Space Museum where there are artifacts of every major flight and space achievement from the Wright Brothers original “Flyer” to a German V2 rocket to Skylab to an Apollo – Soyuz module linked in eternal friendship between America and Russia. The full size Lunar Module sitting on a piece of simulated moonscape looks dusty, tired and irrelevant. There is almost no one here and fewer care.

We attend University discussions about choosing your major to try and help my friend decide. The Georgetown School of Foreign Studies is charged with energy. Every Arab speaking professor and most of the students have been hired by the government and are not in classes. My friend’s intern job with Chemonics has been to review and formulate policy towards dealing with Yemen. Suddenly Afghanistan is also included.

We go watch polo. My friend is the Vice-President of the Georgetown Club and captain of the women’s team. They have 12 donated horses – some of whom are a handful. We ride and exercise them in an open arena in Poolesville to the west of Washington. All very normal here.

After Washington and on the way home I take a few days to see another bit of America. I visit Gettysburg to view the scene of the US Civil War’s pivotal battle when the North won a major victory and stopped the Confederate Army advance. I though it would be a quiet weekend, the residents of Gettysburg thought so too. Rooms were not prepared, there was hardly any food in town. Everyone in a major city around the town thought they would drive to Gettysburg for the weekend as it “would be quiet – you don’t need to fly”. I finally found a room 10 miles from town in a plastic hotel and visited the battlefield the next day. Amazing monuments on the northern lines – the south had no money to put any up – all that are ther are modern – put up over a hundred years after the battle. The pivotal point at Little Roundtop – held by a few men who ran out of ammunition and made a last desperate charge with bayonets. They had nothing else left and were being overwhelmed by the Southern Army. Amazingly they broke the rebel charge and held the flank. It is just like in any of the modern movies about it. The hurridly built walls for shelter are still there. It is unbelievable – especially this weekend.

The place is full of re-enactors. Dinner in a tavern – next to a major and his wife in 1860′s garb. Normal folks till you get them talking about the civil war. He plays the part (hell he has played real parts in three movies!). All the stores are full of fake uniforms and swords and guns. In one store it is clearly the real stuff from the real war. People in here are fanatics. They are carefully comparing notes and making sure they get the right item to go with the part they play. The conversation is funny: – “Do you KNOW how many f*&king General Meade’s there are in town this weekend?!! It’s not right you know – who appointed them??”. I leave amused.

Next day I drove to Amish country and looked around. They really do still dress in black and drive horses and buggies on the roads. The food is good and the Amish are very private. There is a whole layer of non-Amish people who actually interface with the public who come to look. The Amish don’t like being a tourist attaction but accept it. The stores are full of booklets explaining their point of view.

I love the drive-up bank window which is set at a height for horse and buggies. There is water for the horse! If you hitch your horse on the rail and go inside their is a shovel for the poop for when you come out.

America – in all its shades and flavors – endures…..

This post is 650 years after the actual event!  (Blogging software can’t cope with these older dates!)

The Declaration of Arbroath was written in Latin and promulgated on April 6th, 1320, at Arbroath Abbey (on the east coast of Scotland, just north of St. Andrews, the home of golf). Its purpose was to convince Pope John XXII, resident in Avignon, France, that Scotland was an independent country.

US Senate Resolution Number 155 of March 20th 1998, recognises April 6th in the USA as “Tartan Day”