You have all seen the enduring image of the US astronaut using gracefully upon his NASA-built MODOK chair. That astronaut was Bruce McCandless II, Houston’s capsule communicator in the course of the moon touchdown mission, Challenger crew member, and the driving drive behind America’s skill to conduct operations exterior of the stuffy confines of area shuttles and worldwide stations. With out McCandless, there is not any assure the US would have EVA capabilities immediately. Wonders All Around, exhaustively researched and written by McCandless’s son, Bruce III, explores McCandless the elder’s trials and tribulations throughout NASA’s early life and his laser-focus on enabling astronauts to zip via area unencumbered by the mass of their ships.
Copyright @ 20201 Bruce McCandless III. Revealed by Greenleaf Ebook Group Press. Distributed by Greenleaf Ebook Group. Design and composition by Greenleaf Ebook Group and Kimberly Lance. Cowl design by Greenleaf Ebook Group, Shaun Venish, and Kimberly Lance. Cowl picture courtesy of NASA, photographed by Robert L. “Hoot” Gibson
In his lengthy leaden days of ready for a spaceflight, my dad discovered the path to redemption on the again of an getting old cartoon character. From the afternoon in December 1966 that he first tried out the Manned Maneuvering Unit in a Martin Marietta simulator, he was hooked on a imaginative and prescient of a gas-propelled jetpack that might permit astronauts to function exterior their spacecraft. This imaginative and prescient had an apparent pop-culture antecedent. Within the Nineteen Twenties a comic-strip character named Buck Rogers — a rock-jawed, All-American World Battle I veteran — succumbed to the consequences of a mysterious gasoline he encountered whereas working as a mine inspector. He fell right into a deep sleep and woke after 5 centuries of slumber to an odd new world of spaceships, ray weapons, and Asian over-lords. Although he initially traveled this new world by way of an antigravity belt, a tool that allowed him and his greatest gal, Wilma, to leap nice distances at a time, Buck finally acquired a svelte and evidently omnidirectional jetpack. He finally ventured into area in an journey known as Tiger Males from Mars, and his exploits within the cosmos modified America’s imaginative and prescient of the longer term ceaselessly. Thousands and thousands adopted Buck’s adventures within the funnies, on radio, and in film serials. Amongst Buck’s imitators and religious heirs are Flash Gordon, Brick Bradford, John Carter of Mars, and Han Solo.
A bunch of gifted women and men spent important quantities of money and time to wrestle that jetpack out of the humorous papers and into the area shuttle. None labored tougher, although, than Bruce McCandless and his chief collaborator, an Auburn-educated engineer and Air Pressure officer named Charles Edward (“Ed”) Whitsett, Jr. Whitsett was a pale, bespectacled particular person, mild-mannered however tenacious. He had a head begin on my father. He’d been pondering and writing about jetpack expertise as early as 1962. In a way, he was attempting to resolve an issue that didn’t exist but: Specifically, how might an astronaut enterprise exterior his or her spaceship and carry out constructive duties in an atmosphere with no oxygen, with excessive temperature fluctuations, and in an orbital “free fall” that would depart the spacefarer lolling within the sensible equal of zero gravity? Alexei Leonov of the Soviet Union and American Ed White had confirmed that extravehicular exercise was potential, that males might survive exterior of their area capsule, however principally all they’d completed was float. How might a person transfer from one a part of a spaceship to a different, or from one spacecraft to a different craft, or from a spacecraft to a satellite tv for pc, to be able to make inspections or repairs? None of those wants actually existed within the early sixties, when the packages of each nations had been nonetheless simply attempting to fireside tin cans into low Earth orbit and predict, roughly, the place they’d come again down. However clearly the wants would finally come up, and numerous strategies had been proposed to handle them.
Within the mid-sixties, the Air Pressure assigned Whitsett to NASA to oversee improvement of the Air Pressure’s Astronaut Maneuvering Unit. Gene Cernan’s failed take a look at flight of the AMU on Gemini 9 in 1966 — the “space-walk from hell,” as Cernan known as it — set the jetpack mission again, however it by no means went away. McCandless, Whitsett, and a NASA engineer named Dave Schultz labored quietly however assiduously to maintain the dream alive. They enlarged and improved the AMU all via the latter half of the last decade and into the seventies. Within the “Forgotten Astronauts” wire story that portrayed him as a washout in 1973, my dad talked about the rationale why he wished to remain within the manned area program regardless of not having received a crew project on both Apollo or Skylab. “McCandless,” mentioned the article, “has helped develop the M509 experimental maneuvering unit. The Skylab astronauts strap it on like a backpack and propel themselves Buck Rogers — like across the Skylab inside. [He] desires to construct a bigger operational unit to carry out area chores exterior the shuttle.” And that’s precisely what he did.
Although the Skylab M509 assessments in 1973 and 1974 had been a powerful success, ensuing within the triumph of the jetpack idea over each rocket boots and the hand-held maneuvering unit, Whitsett and McCandless didn’t relaxation on their laurels. Over the subsequent a number of years, utilizing no matter time and funding they may scrape collectively, the crew made a number of upgrades — eleven, by one depend — to what was now being known as the “manned maneuvering unit,” or MMU. The bulbous nitrogen-gas gasoline tank of the ASMU was changed with two streamlined aluminum tanks within the rear of the unit, every of which was wrapped in Kevlar. The variety of propulsion nozzles was elevated from fourteen to twenty-four, positioned across the jetpack to permit for six-degrees-of-freedom precision maneuvering. Smaller gyroscopes changed these used on the ASMU, and, as area historian Andrew Chaikin has famous, the ASMU’s “pistol-grip hand controllers, which had been tiring to function in pressurized area go well with gloves, had been changed by small T-handles that wanted only a nudge of the fingertips.” The MMU’s new arm items had been made to be adjustable, to accommodate astronauts of all sizes. Painted white for max reflectivity, the unit was constructed to outlive the 500-degree fluctuation in temperatures (from a excessive of 250 levels F to a low of minus 250 F!) that an astronaut may encounter in area.
By 1980 the machine weighed in at 326 kilos. Just like the AMU and the ASMU earlier than it, the MMU was designed to suit with or “over” the astronaut’s strain go well with. Shuttle astronauts wore a newly designed go well with known as the Extravehicular Maneuvering Unit, or EMU, a two-piece marvel of textile engineering made up of fourteen layers of Nylon ripstop, Gore-Tex, Kevlar, Mylar, and different substances. Energy for the jetpack’s electronics was provided by two 16.8-volt silver-zinc batteries. Two motion-control handles — the translational hand controller and the rotational hand controller — had been mounted on the unit’s left and proper armrests, respectively, and a button activated an “attitude-hold mode,” which used motion-sensing gyroscopes to direct the firing of the thrusters to keep up an astronaut’s place in area.
The machine had been examined in each means its designers might think about. A consultant of an area gun membership visited Martin Marietta and shot the MMU’s nitrogen gasoline tank with a .50 caliber bullet to determine whether or not the tank would explode if pierced. (It did not.) The jetpack was run via a whole bunch of hours of simulations. At my father’s urging, a gifted and intense Martin Marietta mission supervisor named Invoice Bollendonk subjected the gadget to space-like situations within the firm’s thermal vacuum facility. The MMU was now not a “far out” experiment, as Mike Collins as soon as known as it. It was now a promising area instrument. Sadly, for the second, it was nonetheless an unused area instrument. American astronauts remained on Earth, as NASA struggled to supply its next-generation orbital workhorse, the area shuttle.
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