50 Years Ago: How Simulators Saved Apollo 13

While Tele Vue Optics Inc. is CLOSED due to Covid-19 we’ll post items of interest to our readers on the blog from time-to-time.
 
A Note from Al Nagler
I’d like to thank Susan Sherwood, director of TechWorks! (www.ctandi.org) for celebrating the 50th anniversary of the safe return of the Apollo 13 crew.
I’m honored to be a part of the team she assembled to help restore the Lem simulator optics, which I designed at Farrand Optical Company, a sub-contractor to Grumman, working with GP-Link.
The simulators were used to train all the Apollo mission astronauts for moon landing — and played an important role in saving the Apollo 13 astronauts — as told in the following narratives.
 
Apollo simulators image courtesy of NASA.

The greatest untold story of the Apollo 13 mission is that of the spacecraft simulators.Gerald Griffin, Apollo Mission Control Flight Director

Apollo 13 was the third attempt to land astronauts on the Moon. The landing site chosen was north of Fra Mauro crater, on the opposite shore of Mare Cognitum from where Apollo 12 had landed five months earlier. It may be hard to believe now, but no major television network covered the launch of the 363 ft (110.6 m) tall Saturn V rocket as it slowly lifted off Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on April 11, 1970 at 2:13 p.m. EST. Trips to the Moon had quickly become blasé in the public imagination and only the Center staff, spectators, and people living on the Space Coast turned their heads to follow the crew as they began their journey into space on a tail of flame.

Apollo 13 mission patch image and description is courtesy of NASA. Apollo, the sun god of Greek mythology, was represented as the sun, with three horses driving his chariot across the surface of the Moon, symbolizing how the Apollo flights have extended the light of knowledge to all mankind. The Latin phrase “Ex Luna, Scientia” means “From the Moon, Knowledge.”

The initial part of the mission was indeed uneventful for Commander Jim Lovell, command module pilot Jack Swigert and lunar module pilot Fred Haise. But at about 55 hours, 55 minutes into the mission, Swigert calmly radioed flight control in Houston, Texas with the famous words: “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” The crew had felt a loud bang and were losing electrical power. His understated tone didn’t trigger any urgency until Commander Lovell looked out the window and told Houston the ominous news. “It looks to me, looking out the hatch, that we are venting something.” He repeated this for emphasis, stumbling over his words: “We are venting something out into the —  into space.” It was late in the evening of April 13, 1970 when the blasé faded and the news networks began to pay attention to the drama 210,000 miles (330,000 km) from Earth.

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Looking Back & Ahead with Tele Vue

Tele Vue Optics, Inc. at 20:20 hours.

This week we look back at the most popular blog posts of 2019 and give you a peek at one of the new products we’ll debut in 2020. 

2019: Blog in Review
Our blog keeps rolling along! Published continuously since January 2017, our subscribed audience continues to grow, and increased by 50% last year. Thanks, everyone! The following are highlights from some of the 49 blog posts that we published last year. All these were in the top-10 by pageviews.

Tele Vue President David Nagler grinning over the Apollo 11 eyepiece.

By far our most popular posting was “Tele Vue’s Secret Launch: Apollo 11mm Eyepiece!” that chronicled the behind-the-scenes development of the Apollo 11mm eyepiece and its last-minute introduction at the Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF) 2019. We explain what makes this eyepiece special to us, the “magic moment” reveal, and the reaction at NEAF.  There are still a few of these limited edition eyepieces available for collecting, gifting, or just viewing through. Contact your dealer if interested.

The constellation Orion over the roof by Gavin Orpin. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Taken through a night vision moncular with a smart phone using the Tele Vue / TNVC FoneMate adapter. An astounding view of Barnard’s Loop (the 10-degree wide nebula arc from above the belt of orion to the feet) — that normally requires long-exposure imaging to view. Huawei P20 Pro phone took the image. Exposure notes: 4mm lens at f/1.6, 20-sec exposure at ISO 100.

A must-read article for anyone considering night vision astronomy, “Night Vision in the UK: Seize the Night!“, by guest blogger Gavin Orpin, was high on the top-10 list. Gavin says that night vision “has given me a completely new aspect of the hobby to explore.” He explains his use of night vision gear for hand-held and telescopic observing. This includes the use of 6nm Hα (for nebulae) and 685nm infrared (for galaxies and cluster) filters and adapters for simple imaging through the night vision monocular on and off the scope. We also delve into how the PVS-14 night vision monocular got its name. The blog came about as a result of a discussion between Gavin and Tele Vue President David Nagler at the AstroFest 2019 show in London.

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Gene’s Tele Vue Baseball Cap

Dave Skitt (left) and Al Nagler (right) with Gene’s cap at September 2019 NJAA Open House in High Bridge, New Jersey. Photo provided by Dave Skitt.

Travel far among the stars, Gene. We’ve got your cap.

Dear Al Nagler:

You may recall, I met you in September 2019 at the New Jersey Astronomical Association (NJAA) Open House in High Bridge, New Jersey. There, I had you sign a Tele Vue baseball cap for me. That was a very special moment for me, and for the cap’s former owner, who would have been thrilled to meet you. You see, the cap has a particularly interesting history.

The cap belonged to my dear friend and astronomy mentor, Gene Ramsey, who had passed away just three years before. Gene loved astronomy, acquiring his first telescope as a young man. He continued the hobby through his years in the Air Force, where he served until 1962. Upon retiring in the 1990’s, Gene joined the Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton (AAAP). It is there where my wife, Jennifer, and I meet Gene in 2012.

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