National Geographic : 1960 Jul
terminated his flight with the retro-rocket. Ever since their appointments, the astro nauts have undergone rigorous training. They ride centrifuges, duplicating the crushing ac celerative force they will endure; practice many hours with devices that simulate cap sule control problems; and, in jet planes, experience that most unusual of sensations, weightlessness. While in orbit, centrifugal force evenly balances the tug of gravity, ren dering the astronaut feather light. This effect can be duplicated for as long as 60 seconds in a jet flying up and over in a roller-coaster arc. Some years ago I experienced the weird sen sation above Edwards Air Force Base, Cali fornia. The astronauts have trained at the same site. While floating in a North Ameri can F-100 cockpit, they practiced feeding themselves with soups and juices squeezed into their mouths from plastic bottles. I thought weightlessness extremely pleas ant. Some of the seven agree; others are merely indifferent toward it. One important fact seems established: At least for short periods, it does not interfere with bodily func tions. "That's a nice thing about the human body," John Glenn said. "It seems to work independently of gravity." First Spaceman May Be Picked by Lot Which man will be first into space? If officials know, they won't say. They claim the decision may be made by lot. Air Force Lt. Col. John A. Powers, spokesman for the astronauts, and their "mother superior," says: "If they maintain their present level of capability, it will not matter which one we pick or how we pick him; we will have six just as good behind him." In the idiom of missilemen, the Space Task Group's "honcho," or boss, is Robert R. Gil ruth, a brilliant, harried engineer. He told me something about the problems NASA faces in getting its first astronaut safely back to earth. "On the first mission, the capsule will start to get out of the recovery zone after circling the earth three times." The planet's rotation, he explained, will constantly swing new ter- rain beneath the capsule. Not until passes 15 to 17, nearly 24 hours after take-off, will the astronaut again be in position for a landing in the Atlantic Missile Range recovery area. "As we graduate to more ambitious space flights," Gilruth continued, "we shall have to add more recovery teams, each consisting of planes and ships linked by radio networks." I asked him what he meant by "more am bitious" projects. He was naturally unwilling to make too many predictions. "I can tell you this much," he said. "Research is in prog ress on the problems of orbiting a two- or three-man space station." Imperturbable Alan Shepard permitted me to hover at his side one morning while he "flew" one of the simulators in which the as tronauts train. Clad in a pressure suit inflated board tight, Shepard lay upon a contour couch and stared at instruments above his head. Needles jittered wildly as engineers fed prob lems into flight indicators. With his right hand Shepard operated a small control stick, correcting deviations shown by the needles. Other instruments recorded his score. Tumbling Chair Operated by Jets After the test Shepard told me it simulated an atmospheric entry trajectory and explained that the retro-rockets will make the capsule roll, pitch, and yaw. "It's the hardest part of the flight," he added. "The rest of the time we will be pretty comfortable." Later I volunteered to ride a more elabo rate training device, a chair that spins and whirls like a bit of confetti trapped in a powerful gust. Its name: MASTIF (Mul tiple Axis Space Test Inertia Facility). NASA built it in a huge wind tunnel at Lewis Research Center in Cleveland (pages 50-51). My first look at the gadget touched off a bit of inward quaking. About 12 feet above my head a huge, thronelike chair tilted at a crazy angle within an elaborate framework of tubular metal. I glimpsed a cluster of round tanks amid the tubing, and engineer Francis J. Stenger explained that the tanks fed nitrogen gas to jets. Using the jets, he Captive Atlas Engine Spews Fire Into a Smoke-blackened Canyon Rocketdyne, builder of the powerful engines used in Atlas and other missiles, test-fires its products high in the Santa Susana Mountains of southern California. Towering test stands, erected on rocky heights above narrow canyons, tether the engines during trials. Tanks atop one stand feed liquid oxygen and a kerosenelike fuel to an engine. A water-cooled baffle plate at the base deflects raging flame into the canyon. Joaquin Murrieta, a bandit of gold-rush California, hid from posses in these rugged gorges. Film companies have used the canyons as sets for Westerns. KODACHROMEBY NATIONALGEOGRAPHICPHOTOGRAPHERDEAN CONGER© N.G .S .