The scientific tourist #344 — “Cluster’s Last Stand”

Here you see what was once the last flight-worthy Saturn IB (“one B”) launch vehicle, now on static display at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Visitor Complex:

Cluster's Last Stand

As you may well expect, this vehicle has quite a story to tell.

While most people associate the Saturn launch vehicles with the Apollo program, the Saturns actually started development in 1956 as a productive way to occupy Werner Von Braun’s team at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (now the Marshal Space Flight Center) after the authority to develop new ballistic missiles was stripped from them.  Von Braun and the ABMA’s commander, General Medaris, decided that a worthy and worthwhile challenge was to develop a launch vehicle that could take heavy loads to low Earth orbit.

To save development cost, the first stage of the Saturn I (and subsequent Saturn IB) was built from a cluster of 8 70″ diameter tanks built with Redstone tooling surrounding a single 105″ diameter tank built with Jupiter tooling.  This arrangement was cost effective, but led to the joke nickname of “Cluster’s Last Stand” for both the Saturn I and IB.  The Saturn I only saw flight a few times, while its upgraded variant (with a more powerful second stage) the IB was folded into the Apollo program, and wound up being a workhorse from 1962 well into the 1970s.  Its S-IVB second stage was also the third stage of the Saturn V rocket — easing the use of the Saturn IB as a testbed for the Apollo spacecraft and lunar module (as they in this way had the same launch vehicle interface for both launchers).

Ultimately, twelve complete Saturn 1Bs and parts of two others were built, although only nine of them flew.  Five Saturn 1Bs supported the Apollo program, three lofted crews to the Skylab space station, and one flew the ASTP Apollo spacecraft to its international rendezvous in Earth orbit.

This vehicle on display at KSC is Saturn 1B serial number SA-209.  It was kept in readiness to launch a rescue crew for all the Skylab missions, as well as for the ASTP mission.  It also would have been used for a potential Skylab 5 mission, to re-boost the space stations orbit.  Not having seen use in any of those scenarios, it was retired to its current display spot in the KSC Rocket Garden.

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Carnivalia — 12/03 – 12/09/2014

The past week’s selection of (mostly) science-related blog carnivals:

Carnivalesque #107

Carnival of Space #383

Friday Ark #500

Morsels for the Mind 05/12/2014

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The scientific tourist #343 — Ball Court Marker, Lubaantun

Seen at the “Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed” traveling exhibition, it’s a Limestone Ball Court Marker from Late Classic (780-790 AD) Lubaantun, Belize:

Ball Court Marker, Lubaantun

The mesoamerican ball game may be surrounded by modern-day uncertainty, but in its heyday it was laden with both religious and political import.  As a result, ball courts are central to Classic era Maya sites.

This limestone marker once helped delimit one of three ball courts at the Classic Maya site of Lubaantun in southern Belize.  It’s eroded, but you can still make out two players lunging at a rubber ball; the six glyphs at the top of the marker (now eroded beyond recognition) likely once named the competitors.

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Carnivalia — 11/26 – 12/02/2014

The past week’s selection of (mostly) science-related blog carnivals for your reading pleasure:

Carnivalesque #106

Carnival of Evolution #77

Carnival of Space #382

Friday Ark #499

History Carnival #140

Math Teachers at Play #80

Morsels for the Mind — 28/11/2014

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The scientific tourist #342 — Chinese MiG-15

I’ve written at length previously about the MiG-15 — an impressively compact (and lethal!) little fighter from early in the Cold War.  But I came across this picture of another example of the type while sorting through my digital images.  This MiG is on display at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington:

Chinese MiG-15

This particular MiG-15 was purchased from China in 1990, and donated to the museum in 2003.  It’s still painted in the colors of the Chinese air forces.

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The scientific tourist #341 — the Concorde

Here, you’ve got an excellent example of the Concorde, on display with some friends at the National Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia:

Concorde and friends

The Concorde began life as parallel supersonic transport (SST) studies in the United Kingdom and France in the mid- and late-1950s, respectively. By 1960, both teams were looking for a partnership as a way to share costs, and as no U.S. company was interested in such an arrangement, they formed a joint venture (with the backing of government subsidies and an international treaty) in 1962. Continue reading

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Carnivalia — 11/12 – 11/18/2014

The past week’s selection of science-related blog carnivals for you:

Carnival of Space #380

Friday Ark #497

Morsels for the Mind — 14/11/2014

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The scientific tourist #340 — Short-Necked Plesiosaur

On display at Kansas’ Sternberg Museum of Natural History, it’s a Short-Necked Plesiosaur (a.k.a., Dolichorhynchops):

Short-Necked Plesiosaur (Dolichorhynchops)

Dolichorhynchops was a genus of plesiosaur in the Late Cretaceous (93 – 70 million years ago), back when modern-day Kansas was a bit of sea bottom. This is a reconstruction of a Dolichorhynchops osborni, one of the three species in the genus, and pair to a fossilized skeleton of the same creature on display at the museum.  In their day, they grew to about 3 meters / 10 feet in length.

D. osborni is an appropriate match for the museum, particularly since the holotype specimen of the species was discovered in Logan County, Kansas by George Sternberg as a teenager, circa 1900.

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Carnivalia — 11/05 – 11/11/2014

The past week’s selection of science-related blog carnivals for you:

Carnival of Space #379

Health Wonk Review: The Election Week Edition

Morsels for the Mind — 07/11/2014





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The scientific tourist #339 — Apollo Soyuz

On display at the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas — it’s a snapshot of a breather in the cold war (on the left, a mockup Apollo spacecraft; on the right, a Soyuz mockup):

Apollo Soyuz

Conducted in 1975, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) was an opportunity for the Soviet and American human space programs to experiment with working together.  In retrospect, it makes sense that the respective technical communities (despite fairly divergent philosophies w.r.t. engineering) worked together more easily than did the two countries’ politicians.

Still, the joint mission wasn’t possible until U.S./U.S.S.R. tensions started to ease in the early 1970s as the Vietnam War began to wind down.  The two nations committed to the mission in 1972, with the two spacecraft launching 7-1/2 hours apart on 15 July, 1975.  They docked on 17 July, spent 44 hours together, then the two spacecraft spent several days conducting separate investigations in low Earth orbit.

The ASTP mission was considered a great success by both sides, and set a number of milestones.  Along with being the first joint mission for the U.S. and U.S.S.R., ASTP was the last flight of an Apollo spacecraft.  It would also be the last time American and Russian craft would dock in space until the STS-71 mission saw the space shuttle Atlantis dock with the Mir space station in 1995.

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