Tag Archives: Space

Virgin Orbit

Everyone seems to have a plan for getting into space these days.  Some companies have more than one!  Virgin already has their Galactic operation that is based on the Spaceship Two design evolved (a lot) from the original Scaled Composites design.  However, they have a second approach that is a small satellite launcher rather than a passenger craft.  This one is going to be launched from a Boeing 747-400.  They have provided one of the old Virgin Atlantic aircraft for this purpose.

I was down in Long Beach recently and saw the plane sitting on the north side of the field.  Sadly, the light from the south side was very nice but it was too far away.  A trip around the field did get me closer to it although now backlit.  Not far away are the offices of Virgin Orbit.  The launcher will be mounted on a pylon under the port wing making use of the hard point that was included to allow the ferrying of a spare engine.

How things develop we shall see in a reasonably short time I imagine.  The operation seems to be pretty significant and will need to deliver something before too long.  In the mean time, here are a couple of shots of Cosmic Girl when she was in passenger operation.

Command Module

A day for compiling things from different locations.  The Apollo command modules in this post are a combination of shots from museums across the country.  Since the command module was the only part that made it back from the Apollo missions, it was the part that made it to display.  Even so, there are not too many Apollo missions so not too many command modules.  They do get supplemented though.  There were ground test articles and mockups that were used during the program and have also been preserved.

The thing that is most striking about the early NASA spaceships is the size.  (The current Russian Soyuz capsule is still pretty compact but you aren’t aiming to be in it for too long.) The Mercury capsule was tiny.  Gemini was so-called up but had two people so was still pretty bloody tight.  Apollo was home for three crew for a number of days so had to have a bit more room to play with.  The seating area was not big but there was space behind there to get to and moving around once weightless was a bit easier.

Even so, they are really tiny things in which to spend a lot of time with two other guys.  You were also in space so this little thing was the only hope you had of getting back alive.  You also had to deal with your fellow astronauts, some of whom got a bit ill on journeys.  Read the book on the Apollo 8 mission to learn the unpleasant details.  Those guys were really ready to take on the challenge head on.

Return to Evergreen

I have made one previous visit to the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville Oregon.  That was probably ten years ago.  I was in Portland for the morning Open House at the ANG unit so, having gone that far, I decided to go to the museum to see what had changed.  I underestimated a couple of things.  One, McMinnville is a bit further from Portland than I thought it was so it took about an hour to get there and that hour was also going to be added to my return journey.  Also, a lot of things have changed so I was going to spend more time there than I thought.  I was not getting home early that evening!

When I last went, one building housed the exhibits and a second was being built.  It was close to completion and they were talking of space exhibits and, hopefully, a Space Shuttle.  That didn’t work out but now there is certainly a lot more to see.  There are two main exhibition buildings – pre-Vietnam and post-Vietnam eras – housing civilian and military exhibits.  There is also a theater building.  None of this includes the water park that is close by.

The amount of space means that the exhibits are not crammed upon each other although some areas are a little more cramped than others.  Some helicopters that I rather liked were jammed together.  There is a shortage of space I guess, though, because lots of exhibits are outside and there are a few still scattered around the parking lot awaiting restoration.  That is not a criticism though.  The museum has plenty of great stuff to see (although the Beech Starship was in the parking lot last time I was there and still is, looking a little more forlorn now than it did then).

If I were to try and pick out highlights, it would be tricky.  The Spruce Goose is the main feature of the original building and it still dominates things there.  Indeed, it is so large that, at times, you actually forget it is there because it either is way above you or it fills the view becoming invisible in the process.  The SR-71 is a delight to see at any time and the way that one engine pod is opened up is a nice touch and gives a good idea of the installation for a unique engine.

The rockets and missiles are well displayed and I shall come back to them in another post.  Some of the aircraft are painted up in unusual schemes although these are not always original to the airframe on display.  Even so, they are a change from what you might normally see.  Having a 747-100 parked outside the front of the museum is a nice touch too – a reminder of Evergreen’s operations before the airline went bust.

I only had a couple of hours so I was in a bit of a hurry working my way around but this is definitely a place that you could spend a lot of time.  The journey there is long enough to make doing so something that you should really plan for.  I saw plenty that I had seen before but plenty that was either not there or was not displayed in the same way.  If you are in the vicinity, make a trip to McMinnville.

Observing the Observatories

Driving back to our hotel from Hilo took us across the center of Big Island.  This is a pretty high drive as you pass between the two big mountains of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.  Mauna Kea is the home to a number of observatories.  We did drive some way up the mountain to the visitor’s center.  You are already at quite some altitude at this point and you could feel the lack of air when you moved too quickly.  There was an option to drive all the way to the top but we had other things scheduled and didn’t make the trek up.

From the visitor center, you couldn’t actually see the observatories.  However, as we drove towards the turn for the mountain, we did come to a pull off where you could see them up on the summit with the sun glinting off the domes of the larger installations.  Another time I would certainly like to go all the way to the top.  However, I think I shall be alone on that trip as Nancy was already feeling the effects of the altitude.

Shuttle Memories

A New Year often gives you a moment to reflect on things from the previous year.  One of the things I wished to see this year but didn’t was the delivery of the shuttles to their final homes in museums.  It didn’t work out and that is done.  However, I did get to see a shuttle launch once during the program and that happened before I started blogging so I decided to have a post that maybe gets counted as an archive outing (or is that lack of recent shots means I have to go back and get old stuff?).

Anyway, here are some shots from the launch of Atlantis on STS-129 in November 2009.  This was a trip that could have ended up going sadly wrong but in the end it was a great success.  We had planned to make a trip to see a launch for a while and this one was one we had picked out for various reasons.  However, we failed in our first effort to get tickets for the causeway which was where I wanted to be to be as close as possible.  When we couldn’t get that, we decided instead to get tickets for the visitor center since it would still be a good place to see things.

We planned a few days in Florida with the launch on the first full day there.  The idea was that we would have some margin if the launch got delayed (as they often did).  Unfortunately, NASA were one step ahead of us and moved the launch after we had made out travel arrangements.  They moved the launch to the last day we were due to be there.  This made it a one shot deal.  Once we were down there, we had a few days to look around.  While out wandering around Celebration, I got a call from a good friend of mine.  He didn’t know where we were but, when I told him, he said he knew a retired astronaut who might be able to help us out.

I have to admit I thought this was a long shot.  An hour later, he calls back and tells us we are on a VIP bus.  We have to go to KSC the next day and they will have our information and sort us out.  I was stunned.  Needless to say, we went to KSC the next day.   Initially, they didn’t know who we were but they did eventually sort it all out and we were now on a better plan than we could have envisioned.  We even got premium parking!  Come the day of the launch we headed out early – no point in being late for something like this.

The atmosphere at the visitors center where we had to go first was excellent.  There were loads of people there and everyone was excited.  It was like being at a fair.  When the time came, we loaded up on the buses and went to Banana Creek.  This is just past the Vehicle Assembly Building.  Moreover, you are looking across water the whole way so, while you are slightly further away than the press area at the VAB, you don’t have much heat haze – a big deal when shooting over three miles in Florida!  This area was really busy as well and this group was probably even more excited than the crowd at the visitor center.  There were a really nice bunch of people around us and the time zipped by.

Finally it was time for the launch.  It all happened very quickly.  Suddenly the countdown was approaching zero and then it happened.  A spectacular sight.  I shot a ton of shots but I did remember to just look and be impressed by it all.  My abiding memory was how orange the flame was.  It is so bright that it blows out in all images but when you see it you realize it is very orange.  Look at the color of the clouds around and you will get an idea of the true color since they reflect it in a very toned down way.

Within a couple of minutes the boosters had separated and it was gone.  We were all hurried back onto the buses since the exhaust plume apparently contains some quite unpleasant chemicals.  Then it was all over.  It was so sudden and no instant replay!  Then it was time to hang around since the traffic out was going to be horrendous (it was even much later).  A great experience and one I am always glad I did.

Virginia Air and Space Museum

Located in Hampton Virginia is the Virginia Air and Space Museum.  Hayman and I checked it out as part of our tour of local museums.  I had been warned by Liza that everything inside was pretty crowded and she certainly wasn’t wrong about that but more of that later.  The museum is a very modern looking facility with glazing at both end walls allowing lots of light inside.  That also makes for a few problems with the levels of contrast between parts of the building but I doubt they planned it based on the needs of photographers!

In fact, they really didn’t.  The building has a great collection of aircraft.  The close proximity to NASA facilities has obviously been helpful in getting access to some pretty unusual exhibits.  The Apollo 14 Command Module is on display as is the HARV F/A-18 Hornet, a research F-106 and an XV-6 Kestrel among many other interesting airframes.  They even have an MMU from the Space Shuttle program (although getting a shot of it from the moving elevator was tricky).  The result of all of these exhibits is that they have to be squeezed in.  They are usually suspended from the ceiling which makes them look more dynamic.  However, they do tend to overlap a lot.

This isn’t a problem if you are visiting to see everything which is, after all, the purpose of the museum.  It does, however, make getting photos a bit more tricky.  I ended up using a combination of lenses.  A wide angle zoom and a fisheye zoom were the two I chose.  The fish is a lens that viewers can tire of quickly but, in this case, it was a case of trying to get unobstructed shots where possible.  It also let me try a few odd angles for fun too!

While not a museum I would go back to repeatedly, this was certainly a good place to visit.  I might go back one more time with some new ideas about how to shoot certain things but even that might require the cooperation of the management!  If you are passing and have a couple of hours, do pay it a visit.