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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

NASA’s Driven to Explore

NASA's Driven to Explore will visit the Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center in Hutchinson, Kan., on Wednesday, September 15, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday, September 16, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and September 17, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Come out with the whole family to enjoy this extraordinary exhibit!

NASA’s Driven to Explore (DTE) mobile, multi-media exhibit immerses visitors in the story of NASA. Guests will learn about the significance of human space exploration and how NASA provides critical technological advances to improve life on Earth. The walking tour includes imagery and audio and visual technology to connect visitors with the space program, highlighting advanced human research that will ensure safe and sustainable future missions, and next-generation vehicles and surface systems destined for use exploring beyond low earth orbit. The centerpiece of the DTE is a nearly 4-billion-year-old piece of moon rock brought to Earth by the astronauts of Apollo 17 in 1972, America's last human mission to the moon. The rock is one of only eight lunar samples made available for the public to touch. For more information about NASA exploration, visit http://www.nasa.gov/exploration.

Friday, August 19, 2011

This has been a hot and hopping summer, inside and out, at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center!

We are still coming back to earth from our
Free Family Fun Day celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Liberty Bell 7 and the historical last NASA shuttle landing of Atlantis on Thursday, July 21.

We got an extraordinarily early start and kicked the day off at 4 am with coffee and donuts to watch the landing of Atlantis at 4:56 am, exactly as NASA had projected! With 60 people in attendance we sat misty-eyed, yet joyful, as Atlantis took a farewell circle around Kennedy Space Center and landed safely for the last time. After the landing party the Hall of Space Museum remained open, admission free, until 9 am when we started Coffee at the Cosmo!

Chris Orwoll, President and CEO, gave an informative talk about the logistics of Liberty Bell 7’s flight, rescue efforts, and eventual retrieval from the bottom of the ocean floor. “Because of its importance to the space program’s history and our own, Liberty Bell 7 is a gem in our museum collection,” said Meredith Miller, Curatorial Collections Manager. A gem it is indeed, the Cosmosphere made the search and retrieval efforts their mission, and Liberty Bell 7 became the only flown American spacecraft not owned by NASA or the National Air and Space Museum (NASM). As part of Orwoll’s lecture he displayed artifacts from the Liberty Bell 7 that the public was invited to see up close.

The action packed day didn’t stop there! Morning and afternoon Liberty Bell 7 Restoration Q&A programs were conducted by Space Works, the group who restored the Liberty Bell 7 after its dramatic retrieval from the ocean floor! Dale Capps, Jack Graber, and Jim Franko, Space Works crew, as well as Meredith Miller and Amanda Bailey, Registrar, spoke in detail about their processes during the six months it took to clean the spacecraft after 38 years on the ocean floor.

As the film footage of the Liberty Bell 7’s rescue ran on the big screen, visitors enjoyed many different activities in the lobby. Children who visited that day were invited to craft their very own mission control patches while “The Right Stuff,” simulated astronaut physicals, was conducted in the KAOS camp area on the second floor.

It was an even more exciting day than usual at the Cosmosphere, one we will never forget!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How Slow can the SR-71 Fly?

Brian Shul, Retired SR-71 Pilot via Plane and Pilot Magazine, provides an answer.

As a former SR-71 pilot, and a professional keynote speaker, the question I'm most often asked is "How fast would that SR-71 fly?" I can be assured of hearing that question several times at any event I attend. It's an interesting question, given the aircraft's proclivity for speed, but there really isn't one number to give, as the jet would always give you a little more speed if you wanted it to. It was common to see 35 miles a minute.
Because we flew a programmed Mach number on most missions, and never wanted to harm the plane in any way, we never let it run out to any limits of temperature or speed.. Thus, each SR-71 pilot had his own individual "high" speed that he saw at some point on some mission. I saw mine over Libya when Khadafy fired two missiles my way, and max power was in order. Let's just say that the plane truly loved speed and effortlessly took us to Mach numbers we hadn't previously seen.

So it was with great surprise, when at the end of one of my presentations, someone asked, "What was the slowest you ever flew the Blackbird?" This was a first. After giving it some thought, I was reminded of a story that I had never shared before, and I relayed the following.

I was flying the SR-71 out of RAF Mildenhall, England, with my back-seater, Walt Watson; we were returning from a mission over Europe and the Iron Curtain when we received a radio transmission from home base. As we scooted across Denmark in three minutes, we learned that a small RAF base in the English countryside had requested an SR-71 fly-past. The air cadet commander there was a former Blackbird pilot, and thought it would be a motivating moment for the young lads to see the mighty SR-71 perform a low approach. No problem, we were happy to do it. After a quick aerial refuelling over the North Sea, we proceeded to find the small airfield.

Walter had a myriad of sophisticated navigation equipment in the back seat, and began to vector me toward the field. Descending to subsonic speeds, we found ourselves over a densely wooded area in a slight haze. Like most former WWII British airfields, the one we were looking for had a small tower and little surrounding infrastructure. Walter told me we were close and that I should be able to see the field, but I saw nothing. Nothing but trees as far as I could see in the haze. We got a little lower, and I pulled the throttles back from 325 knots we were at. With the gear up, anything under 275 was just uncomfortable. Walt said we were practically over the field-yet; there was nothing in my windscreen. I banked the jet and started a gentle circling maneuver in hopes of picking up anything that looked like a field. Meanwhile, below, the cadet commander had taken the cadets up on the catwalk of the tower in order to get a prime view of the fly-past. It was a quiet, still day with no wind and partial gray overcast. Walter continued to give me indications that the field should be below us but in the overcast and haze, I couldn't see it. The longer we continued to peer out the window and circle, the slower we got. With our power back, the awaiting cadets heard nothing. I must have had good instructors in my flying career, as something told me I better cross-check the gauges. As I noticed the airspeed indicator slide below 160 knots, my heart stopped and my adrenalin-filled left hand pushed two throttles full forward. At this point we weren't really flying, but were falling in a slight bank. Just at the moment that both afterburners lit with a thunderous roar of flame (and what a joyous feeling that was) the aircraft fell into full view of the shocked observers on the tower. Shattering the still quiet of that morning, they now had 107 feet of fire-breathing titanium in their face as the plane levelled and accelerated, in full burner, on the tower side of the infield, closer than expected, maintaining what could only be described as some sort of ultimate knife-edge pass.

Quickly reaching the field boundary, we proceeded back to Mildenhall without incident. We didn't say a word for those next 14 minutes. After landing, our commander greeted us, and we were both certain he was reaching for our wings. Instead, he heartily shook our hands and said the commander had told him it was the greatest SR-71 fly-past he had ever seen, especially how we had surprised them with such a precise maneuver that could only be described as breathtaking. He said that some of the cadet's hats were blown off and the sight of the plan form of the plane in full afterburner dropping right in front of them was unbelievable. Walt and I both understood the concept of "breathtaking" very well that morning and sheepishly replied that they were just excited to see our low approach.

As we retired to the equipment room to change from space suits to flight suits, we just sat there-we hadn't spoken a word since "the pass." Finally, Walter looked at me and said, "One hundred fifty-six knots. What did you see?" Trying to find my voice, I stammered, "One hundred fifty-two." We sat in silence for a moment. Then Walt said, "Don't ever do that to me again!" And I never did.

A year later, Walter and I were having lunch in the Mildenhall Officer's club, and overheard an officer talking to some cadets about an SR-71
fly-past that he had seen one day. Of course, by now the story included kids falling off the tower and screaming as the heat of the jet singed their eyebrows. Noticing our HABU patches, as we stood there with lunch trays in our hands, he asked us to verify to the cadets that such a thing had occurred. Walt just shook his head and said, "It was probably just a routine low approach; they're pretty impressive in that plane." Impressive indeed.

Little did I realize after relaying this experience to my audience that day that it would become one of the most popular and most requested stories. It's ironic that people are interested in how slow the world's fastest jet can fly. Regardless of your speed, however, it's always a good idea to keep that cross-check up. and keep your Mach up, too.