Apollo 14: back in business

Apollo 14After nearly a year of examining the problems that nearly doomed the crew of Apollo 13, the third lunar landing is achieved by the crew of Apollo 14, commanded by Alan Shepard, the only one of the seven original Mercury astronauts to walk on the moon; lunar module pilot Edgar Mitchell joins him on the surface while Stu Roosa orbits in the command module Kitty Hawk. The Apollo 14 lunar module, Antares, makes the most accurate landing of the Apollo program in the Fra Mauro highlands (the landing site originally assigned to Apollo 13), where soil samples are collected, instruments are deployed, and Shepard becomes the first human being to hit a golf ball on the moon.

The national emergency that wasn’t

Emergency Broadcast SystemsA simple accidental tape swap at the Emergency Broadcast System‘s point of origination at NORAD replaces a routine Saturday morning EBS test with an actual emergency message involving a national emergency and an imminent message from the White House. In accordance with FCC rules, numerous radio and television stations across the country interrupt their programming in anticipation of news of a national emergency that isn’t actually happening. The situation is corrected within an hour, though questions about the effectiveness of the EBS linger at the local and national levels.

Shuttle thermal protection system chosen

Space Shuttle concept artPotential contractors for NASA’s upcoming Space Shuttle offer specs based on their final design studies, which still assume that the shuttle’s giant booster will be a manned, winged vehicle in its own right that will return to a runway on Earth after its fuel is used up. One thing that both studies suggest, however, is an aluminum airframe which requires a shift away from the ablative metallic heat shields of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. A system of carbon-reinforced “shingles” is suggested as an alternative, and is approved by NASA, though developing the technology to create, install and maintain these tiles delays the first Shuttle launch into the 1980s, and the tiles are still prone to damage during both launch and re-entry – a weakness that will eventually seal the end of the Space Shuttle era.

Soyuz 10: technical difficulties

Soyuz 10The Soviet Union launches the Soyuz 10 mission, intended to become the first crew to occupy an Earth-orbiting space station. Flying a new modification of the Soyuz vehicle, fitted with a new system for docking to the Salyut 1 space station, are Vladimir Shatalov, Alexei Yeliseyev and Nikolai Rukavishnikov, but they won’t be the first space station crew in history: the Soyuz capsule fails to hard-dock to the station, making it impossible for them to enter. Soyuz 10 returns to Earth after two days, and even on the return journey the cosmonauts are sickened by toxic fumes in their environmental system. Salyut 1 remains in orbit, still unmanned.

Mariner 8 launched… and lost

Mariner 8NASA and JPL launch Mariner 8, the first of two identical “Mars ’71” orbiters designed to visit Mars. Where previous missions have simply flown past the red planet, Mariners 8 and 9 are intended to put themselves in orbit and remain there to map the majority of the Martian surface. The second stage of the Atlas-Centaur booster used to launch Mariner 8 fails, however, and the robotic Mars explorer crashes into the Atlantic Ocean. Some of its mission objectives are transferred to the identical Mariner 9, due for launch at the end of the month.

Soyuz 11

Soyuz 11After a tuberculosis scare forces Soviet space officials to ground the mission’s original crew, the backup crew of Soyuz 11 lifts off to become the first occupants of a manned space station. Experiencing none of the difficulties that plagued the earlier Soyuz 10 attempt to dock with Salyut 1, the Soyuz 11 crew stays aboard Salyut for 22 days, a new record for a manned space mission.

The dawn of Doppler radar

NSSL Doppler RadarThe National Severe Storms Laboratory‘s 10cm Doppler weather radar begins full-time experimental operation in Norman, Oklahoma, just in time for the region’s active severe weather season. A surplus Air Force radar left over from the Distant Early Warning radar network (also known as the DEW Line) is installed and housed in a facility that’s also made of military surplus parts. There is no real-time display at first: researchers and meteorologists store the Doppler radar’s observations on computer tape that has to be processed and printed months after the fact, and compared to archived records from the existing WSR-57 radar at Norman.