National Geographic : 1965 Jan
possible accidents and how to avoid them. Such exacting preparations have made American astronauts the world's most active commuters. Flying sleek, white-bellied super sonic trainers, they race the sun from coast to coast, squeezing extra hours out of the day and dragging white contrails in a crazy-quilt pattern across the heavens from Florida to California, Long Island to Oregon, St. Louis to the Nation's Capital. And, finally, home. Home is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Manned Spacecraft Center near Houston, Texas, 1,620 acres of laboratories, test chambers, and offices. Across its geometrical landscape, the great adventure of our time unfolds: a trip to the moon.* To understand the magnitude of these events, look at the recent history of space. Less than two years ago, I stood in the Mercu ry Control Center as Maj. L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., hurtled into orbit in his 4,000-pound, one man capsule on this Nation's longest space flight: 341/3 hours. Now the 7,000-pound Gemini awaits her two-man crew and much longer orbital journeys. Rendezvous in Space Comes First Gemini flights are an intermediate step in our moon-flight program. They will permit us to study the effects of weightlessness for up to two weeks and teach us the technology required to bring two vehicles together in space. We must master space rendezvous if we are to reach for the moon later. In our Gemini program, managed by Charles W. Mathews, astronauts will practice this com plex maneuver with the unmanned Agena ve hicle, separately launched on an Atlas missile. 124 Before the end of this decade, the 34-story Apollo-Saturn V vehicle will carry men to the moon. Apollo consists of two spacecraft: the 57,000-pound Command and Service Mod ules in which three men will travel to and from the moon, and the 29,000-pound Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) in which two of the crew will land on the lunar surface while the third orbits the moon in the Command Module, awaiting their return. If the Mercury vehicle is the Wright Flyer of the Space Age, certainly the Apollo ranks as the jet transport of space flight. Moreover, space progress is accelerating. More than half a century passed between the Wright Flyer and commercial jets. Less than a decade will Blinking light from the hand mirror of a stranded astronaut attracts the attention of a high-flying airplane over the desert, another survival training ground, near Stead Air Force Base, Nevada. Spaceman emer gency kits also include flares for night use. Sunup signals the end of a nightlong moon watch at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. Astronauts and instructors used the facility's 60-inch mirror, world's largest solar telescope, to study lunar craters. Here they see the rising sun on a viewing table linked to the telescope's optics; pane of glass above also reflects the sun's image. For solar study, they would need dark glasses. separate earth-girdling Mercury from the lunar touchdown of Apollo. And who knows what lies beyond? As Director of the NASA Manned Space craft Center, I have watched the growth of our Nation's space technology. I remember the makeshift quarters in which a few of us gathered in 1958 to begin Project Mercury. Today, from my ninth-story window in our Project Management Building, I look out on some of the world's finest specialized facil ities for manned space flight, now rapidly approaching completion (page 139). For example, the nine-story building to my left contains a 120-foot-high chamber in which a full-size spacecraft and its crew will experience a simulation of the moon's hostile environment. Chamber walls filled with liquid nitrogen expose Apollo's skin to the -280° F. of the nighttime lunar surface. Through port holes on one side and above, racks of glaring searchlights bake the craft at 260° F., the daytime maximum (page 135). *See "Footprints on the Moon," by Hugh L. Dryden, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, March, 1964.