AidSpace Blog

Remembering Henry Warren “Hank” Hartsfield, Jr.
Discovery’s First Commander (1933-2014)

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Henry W. “Hank” Hartsfield, Jr.

Henry W. “Hank” Hartsfield, Jr.: USAF Pilot, NASA Astronaut, Executive. Credit: NASA

Henry “Hank” Hartsfield served as commander of the first mission of Space Shuttle Discovery, now on display at the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. The six-day STS-41D mission began on August 30, 1984. An earlier launch attempt ended with the first on-the-pad abort just four seconds before launch. The first Discovery crew successfully deployed three communications satellites, tested a towering solar array, and used the IMAX® motion picture camera in orbit.

Crew of STS-41D

The crew of Discovery’s first mission, STS-41D, 1984.
Charles D. Walker and Judith A. Resnik behind (l to r) Richard M. (Mike) Mullane, Steven A. Hawley, Henry W. Hartsfield, Jr. and Michael L. Coats. Credit: NASA

Hartsfield loading film into the IMAX camera on the STS-41D mission

Hartsfield loading film into the IMAX camera on the STS-41D mission. Credit: NASA

Hartsfield was the first native of Alabama to become an astronaut. He graduated from the USAF Test Pilot School and served in the Air Force for 22 years. He logged more than 7,400 hours flying time, mostly in fighter jets (F-86, F-100, F-104, F-105, F-106) and in the T-33 and T-38 training jets. He was selected to be a military astronaut in the USAF Manned Orbital Laboratory program but was reassigned to NASA in 1969 when it was cancelled.

As an astronaut Hartsfield supported the Apollo 16 mission and three Skylab missions before transitioning to the orbital flight test team for the new space shuttle program. His first spaceflight occurred in 1982; with commander Thomas K. Mattingly, he piloted Columbia on its fourth and final orbital test flight, STS-4. President Ronald Reagan greeted the crew upon landing, and NASA declared the shuttle “operational” – ready for routine spaceflight.

STS-4 pilot Hartsfield (left) and commander T.K. Mattingly.

STS-4 pilot Hartsfield (left) and commander T.K. Mattingly. Credit: NASA

STS-4 Crew Greeted by President and Mrs. Reagan at Landing

President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan share a meeting with Astronauts Thomas K. Mattingly II, right, and Henry W. Hartsfield Jr., after the successful landing of the Space Shuttle Columbia at Edwards Air Force Base on July 4, 1982. Credit: NASA

The Discovery mission was his second flight. Hartsfield flew his last shuttle mission on Challenger as commander of STS-61A in 1985, the last successful flight of this vehicle. This scientific research mission carried more than 75 experiments. Designated Spacelab D-1, it was the first shuttle mission operated for Germany and the European Space Agency, and it was the first with an eight-member crew. Altogether he spent 483 hours (20 days) in space.

Crew of STS-61A

The crew of STS-61A:
(l to r, front) Reinhard Furrer, Bonnie J. Dunbar, James F. Buchli, Henry W. Hartsfield Jr
(l to r, back) Steven R. Nagel, Guion S. Bluford Jr., Ernst Messerschmid, Wubbo Ockels. Credit: NASA

After the 1986 Challenger tragedy, Hartsfield held a series of NASA management positions until 1998.  He worked on the International Space Station program and the future-oriented Human Exploration and Development of Space enterprise before moving on to become an executive with Raytheon Corp. until his retirement in 2005. He received numerous military and civilian awards during his long career.

Valerie Neal is a curator in the National Air and Space Museum’s Space History Department.


Remembering Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, 1921-2014

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The navigator and last surviving crew member of the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, passed away on July 28, 2014. On August 6, 1945, he guided the bomber to Hiroshima, Japan, the target of the first atomic bomb to be used in combat. Van Kirk’s experience during World War II illustrated the contributions of countless Americans trained to perform highly-specialized jobs, their role in the overall outcome of the war, and one man’s part in a pivotal moment in human history.

The officers of the Enola Gay

The officers of the Enola Gay: (left to right) Major Thomas W. Ferebee, Bombardier; Col. Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., Pilot; Capt. Theodore J. “Dutch” Van Kirk, Navigator; and Capt. Robert Lewis, Copilot. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM 2009-12006).

Born in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, in February 1921, Van Kirk attended Susquehanna College before entering the U.S. Army Air Forces cadet training program in October 1941. He received his officer’s commission and navigator’s wings the following April and joined the Eighth Air Force’s 97th Bombardment Group in England. Van Kirk was the navigator aboard the 97th’s lead B-17 Flying Fortress, called the Red Gremlin and commanded by pilot Paul Tibbets with Tom Ferebee serving as bombardier. They led the group on its first strategic bombing missions over Europe and North Africa. They also performed special missions including transporting generals Mark Clark and Dwight Eisenhower to their needed locations in anticipation of the critical North African campaign during the fall of 1942. After 58 missions, Van Kirk returned to the United States in June 1943 to serve as a navigation instructor.

Van Kirk reunited with Tibbets and Ferebee in late 1944 to become the lead navigator for the 509th Composite Group, the world’s first atomic bombing force. After months of intensive training at Wendover, Utah, the 509th deployed to Tinian in the Marianas chain in the western Pacific in anticipation of attacking Imperial Japan. On August 6, 1945, Enola Gay followed the 1,500-mile route planned by Van Kirk to deliver an atomic bomb, called Little Boy, to the target city, Hiroshima. Planning the mission required the skilled use of navigational techniques and equipment ranging from the use of a sextant to a LORAN oscilloscope. Another 509th B-29 called Bockscar dropped the atomic bomb, Fat Man, on Nagasaki three days later. On August 15, a recorded radio address by Japanese Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of Japan to the Allies.

Enola Gay Landing at Tinian

The Enola Gay lands safely on the airstrip at Tinian after completing the mission to drop Little Boy on Hiroshima. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM 2000-4554).

Navigator Station in the Enola Gay

Van Kirk’s navigator station in the Enola Gay. Paul Tibbet’s pilot’s position is on the other side of the bulkhead.

Van Kirk earned the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in World War II. After the war, Van Kirk and the 509th participated in the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll under Operation Crossroads. He left the Army Air Forces shortly thereafter. Van Kirk attended Bucknell University, worked as a marketing executive for the DuPont Company, and raised a family. In his later years, Van Kirk shared his perspective on his service with the 509th as a voice for the World War II generation and its views on the use of atomic weapons.

Dutch Van Kirk, Morris R. Jeppson, and Paul W. Tibbets

Dutch Van Kirk, left, joined Morris R. Jeppson, who armed Little Boy in flight, and Paul W. Tibbets in the cockpit of Enola Gay during a 2005 visit to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM 2004-57315-15).

Jeremy Kinney is a curator in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum.


More Than Just an Internship

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Walking through the tall glass doors into the National Air and Space Museum for the first day of my internship wasn’t quite what I expected. I had always pictured a noisy museum bustling with tourists and crowds, but what I encountered was just the opposite. In the morning before people arrive, the museum is a quiet and awe-inspiring place. Historic planes and spacecraft hang from the high ceilings, and rockets stand on the floor, so tall they seem to barely fit. The Apollo 11 module, the Spirit of St. Louis, the Bell X-1, and other impressive historical milestones greeted me the day I arrived.

But what truly captivated me this summer was feeling a personal connection to the history of aviation. I’ve always been interested in the topic, largely because my dad was a Marine Corps fighter pilot. Until this summer I hadn’t had a chance to truly dive into the subject, and finally learning about what my dad did as a pilot has given me a new perspective on his career.

He flew F -18s for most of his pilot days, but he also flew F-4 Phantoms, the same plane used for simulator rides here at the museum. I’m sure piloting the simulator isn’t nearly as thrilling (or difficult) as flying a real fighter jet, but it gave me a small taste of my dad’s everyday job. Just like in a real jet, for safety, I had to strap into the shoulder and lap belt harness. When the simulator started, I could perform many of the same maneuvers as a real airplane – even full barrel rolls. After taking off from an aircraft carrier, I used the control stick to chase the targets on the simulator screen, rolling side-to-side and flipping upside down. By the end of the ride, my heart was pounding. It’s hard to imagine the pressure of flying that way in real life – at least inside the simulator death isn’t a real fear. As soon as I hopped out of the ride, I emailed my dad to tell him how exciting my three minutes of pretend-jet-flying had been. He responded by telling me, not for the first time in my life, that he had the “best job in the world.” I never understood the excitement he felt until now.

Casey Tissue with F-4

Casey Tissue with the F-4S Phantom II on display at the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.

A few weeks later I had another memorable experience with an F-4 Phantom II, this time with the actual plane my dad had flown. His squadron painted it the same way it had been when they were deployed in Da Nang, Vietnam, and now the plane is housed at the Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. I felt incredibly proud of my dad and this country when I stood next to his plane. The skill it takes to fly such a complicated piece of technology is astounding, and seeing the real aircraft and knowing the person who flew it make the task even more remarkable. Taking off and landing such a huge machine at high speeds with extreme precision requires a special kind of focus and dedication. I’m amazed at the abilities of the people in the U.S. military, and this museum reminds me everyday of what they have accomplished.

My dad retired from 29 years in the Marine Corps a few years ago and has been working at a U.S. Embassy in Africa for the State Department. Last weekend he returned from his two year assignment in Sudan, and I was finally able to show him in person all the artifacts I learned about and projects I worked on this summer.  Communication was difficult while he was away, and we usually only spoke through email. Sometimes it would be weeks between conversations, but this internship has given me plenty to tell him. After riding the flight simulators and seeing his F-4 Phantom II, I met the four-star Marine General who directs the Museum (his dad has an airplane at the Museum too), and talked to a Top Gun instructor who taught while my dad was there. It’s moments like these, when I feel a deep connection between myself and the Museum, that I’ve enjoyed the most in these past few months.

Casey Tissue, 8, welcoming her dad, Lt.Col. Phillip Tissue, commanding officer of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (AW) 332 "The Moonlighters", a welcome back hug Tuesday (July 23) afternoon at the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. VMFA(AW) 332 returned to Beaufort after a six month deployment to Iwakuni, Japan.

Casey Tissue at 8 years old runing to hug her dad, Lt.Col. Phillip Tissue,  commanding officer of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (AW) 332 “The Moonlighters”, at the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort on his return from a six month deployment.

This summer experience has been much more than a simple internship. I came to D.C. expecting to learn workplace skills, but I’ve gained something better: a new appreciation for my father and aviation.

Casey Tissue is a summer intern in the Web & New Media Department at the National Air and Space Museum.


Restoration News: Heinkel He 219 Night Fighter

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Thursday, July 17, was an exciting day at the Paul E. Garber Restoration Facility, and another step towards the completion of one major aircraft currently undergoing restoration:  the wing of the Heinkel He 219 Uhu night fighter was prepared for its move to the Udvar Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA. The He 219 was Germany’s best night fighter in World War II, and possibly the best night fighter of the war. It was a piston-engine aircraft specifically designed for night fighting operation — a status it shared with only one other aircraft in the war, the American Northrop P-61 Black Widow. Notable features include the first steerable nose wheel on an operational German aircraft, the world’s first ejection seats on an operational aircraft, and cannons mounted to fire at an oblique angle (the so-called “Schräge Musik”).

The He 219 wing is rolled out of the paint booth

The easy part, using nothing but manpower: The He 219 wing is rolled out of the paint booth, standing 4 m (13 feet) high and about 19 m (63 feet) long.

The Museum’s He 219, built in 1944, has been undergoing restoration for many years. Its fuselage and engines are already exhibited at Udvar-Hazy Center. The wing — with a span of about approximately 19 meters (63 feet) — had undergone painting at the Garber paint shop, while being kept on a special-built, two-piece stand that would enable the restoration team to rotate the wing from an upright attitude to its normal horizontal position,  a necessary step to get the heavy and unwieldy object ready for transport on a flatbed truck.

The wing rotation crew.

The wing rotation crew. Seventy years after their original production, the He 219′s wing looks like new. Note the position of the Balkenkreuz on the outer wing panels. Although Luftwaffe regulations routinely specified that this insignia be placed parallel to the leading edge of the wing, Heinkel located it in a slightly different position, parallel to the spar, which was exactly reproduced by Museum experts. Clearly visible are the blue horizontal and yellow vertical stand the wing is mounted to.

On the morning of July 17, 2014, about a dozen employees from the restoration workshop and the Collections Processing Unit (CPU) were involved in flipping the wings 90 degrees, a process that took three hours and involved some heavy lifting,  with the wings weighing in at about 2,223 kilograms (4,900 pounds), and the stand at an additional 454 kilograms (1,000 pounds).

Lifting the wing.

To lift the wing from the first stand, straps are attached to the wing lifting fixtures. Here, Dave Wilson and Tony Carp check the position of these straps.

Within the weeks to come, the wing will be taken to the Udvar-Hazy Center where it will receive its final coat of green/blue Wellenmuster (wave pattern) camouflage paint, before being assembled with the fuselage later this year. Meanwhile, curatorial staff, restoration experts, and volunteers are working on the last major component toward the completion of the aircraft — the replacement of the He 219’s famous ”stag antlers” FuG 220 antenna array. The Museum’s aircraft lost its antenna at some point in its lifetime. An original FuG 220 antenna array from a European museum will be brought to the Udvar-Hazy Center later this year, where Museum staff will reverse-engineer the components, in order to complete the night fighter’s identity. Once finished, our He 219 will be the only aircraft of its kind on display worldwide.

Rotating the wing.

After removing the first stand, heavy equipment is employed in rotating the wing 90°. Patiently and precisely, all equipment is put in place, and two staff members act as true “wingmen,” closely watching the wing as it is rotated.

Measuring the stand.

Once on the ground, wing and stand are measured one more time to determine the needs for their final transport. Subsequently, the wing was rolled back into the paint shop, and is now ready to be shipped to Udvar-Hazy Center.

Evelyn Crellin is a curator in the Aeronautics Department at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Dave Wilson, museum specialist in the restoration workshop, contributed to this blog.


Apollo@45: Technological Virtuosity Remembered

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There is no question that the success of Project Apollo in the 1960s helped to create a culture of competence for NASA that translated into a level of confidence in American capability, and especially in the ability of government to perform effectively, to resolve any problem. Something that almost sounds unthinkable in the early twenty-first century but such was indeed the case in the 1960s.

President Kennedy speaks to Congress

President John F. Kennedy in his historic message to a joint session of the Congress, on May 25, 1961 declared, “…I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Shown in the background are, (left) Vice President Lyndon Johnson, and (right) Speaker of the House Sam T. Rayburn. Does the United States still have the political will to engage in bold space exploration ventures demonstrated by JFK in 1961? NASA Photo no. GPN-2000-001658.

Recollections of the Apollo program’s technology lead many to express wonder at the sophistication of the technical competence that made the Moon landings possible and the genius of those that built the rockets and spacecraft that carried Americans into space. Farouk el-Baz, a scientist who worked on the program, expressed well this sense of awe at the Moon landings: “Oh, the Apollo program! It was a unique effort all together. When I think about it some 40 years later, I still look at that time with wonder.”

This is all the more the case because of the relative lack of complexity of the technology used to go to the Moon in the 1960s. Many express wonder that there is more computing power in a pocket calculator than in the Apollo guidance computer. Others are surprised that something as simple as writing in space required the development of a new type of pen, with the ink under pressure so that it could write in a weightless environment.

American belief in the technical virtuosity of NASA, an agency that could accomplish any task assigned it, can be traced directly to the experience of Apollo and its legacy of success. The success in reaching the Moon established a popular conception that one could make virtually any demand and the space agency would deliver. This has remained a powerful image in American culture.

Despite tragedies along the way, including the near disaster of Apollo 13 and the very public Challenger and Columbia accidents that killed 14 astronauts, the vast majority of the public remains convinced that NASA has the capability to succeed at whatever it attempts. The Moon landings established that image in the American mind and it has been difficult to tarnish despite the space agency’s very public failures after Apollo.

Apollo 11 Launch

The power of the Saturn V is depicted as Apollo 11 lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969. This photograph captured the emotion and power of the launch of the mighty Moon rocket, an image that also has found myriad reproduction in a variety of settings since that time. Hundreds of thousands of Americans made it possible to reach the Moon, and this launch of Apollo 11 represents one of the most watched events in human history. It defies credulity that so many people could have perpetrated such a hoax. NASA image, No. 69PC-0421.

Of course, there has also been concern about an undefined sense of declension present in so many parts of recent American society. They have expressed a desire to recapture what may be conceived of as a can-do spirit and a genuine technological virtuosity that existed in the 1960s but has declined since. For one, Farouk el-Baz bemoaned: “This is why I believe that my generation has failed the American people in one respect. We considered Apollo as an enormous challenge and a singular goal. To us, it was the end game. We knew that nothing like it ever happened in the past and behaved as if it would have no equal in the future.”

The technology required to reach the Moon was certainly more complex than anything ever attempted before, but was firmly understood at the time that the program began. NASA engineers reasoned, first, that they needed a truly powerful rocket with a larger payload capacity than any envisioned before. As a second priority, they recognized the need for a spacecraft that could preserve the life of fragile human beings for at least two weeks; this included both a vehicle akin to a small submarine but one that could operate in space and a second spacecraft in the form of a spacesuit that allowed the astronauts to perform tasks outside the larger vehicle. Third, they needed some type of landing craft that would be able to operate in an environment at the Moon far different from anything found on or near Earth. Finally, they needed to develop the technologies necessary for guidance and control, communication, and navigation to reach the Moon.

In every case, and this proved critical, planners at NASA understood the nature of the technical challenges before them in reaching for the Moon so they could chart a reasonable and well-defined technology development course for overcoming them.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon

Aldrin at the Flag, another iconic image from Apollo 11. This image also circled the globe immediately after its release in July 1969 and has been used for all manner of purposes since that time. The flag in this image proved a powerful trope of American exceptionalism. It also has often used by Moon landing deniers as evidence that the landing was filmed on Earth, because the flag appears to be waving in the breeze, and we all know there is no breeze on the Moon. When astronauts were planting the flagpole they rotated it back and forth to better penetrate the lunar soil (anyone who’s set a blunt tent-post knows how this works). Of course the flag waved—no breeze required! NASA image, No. AS11-40-5875.

For the generation of Americans who grew up during the 1960s watching NASA astronauts fly into space, beginning with 15-minute suborbital trajectories and culminating with six landings on the Moon, Project Apollo signaled in a very public manner how well the nation could do when it set its mind to it. Television coverage of real space adventures was long and intense, the stakes high, and the risks of life enormous. There were moments of both great danger and high anxiety.

Project Apollo was a triumph of management in meeting enormously difficult systems engineering, technological, and organizational integration requirements.

Indeed, the Moon landing program came to exemplify the best Americans could bring to any challenge, and has been routinely deployed to support the nation’s sense of greatness. As one example, Actor Carroll O’Connor perhaps said it best in the midst of the Moon landing effort in an episode of All in the Family in 1971. Portraying the character of Archie Bunker, the bigoted working class American whose perspectives were more common in our society than many observers were comfortable admitting, O’Connor represented well how most Americans embraced the success of the Apollo program. Archie Bunker observed to a visitor to his house in the sitcom that he had “a genuine facsimile of the Apollo 14 insignia. That’s the thing that sets the US of A apart from…all them other losers.” In very specific terms, Archie Bunker encapsulated for many what set the United States apart from other nations: success in space flight.

More recently, another reference from popular culture points up the lasting nature of this sense of success granted the nation through its Apollo Moon landings. In the critically acclaimed television situation comedy Sports Night, about a team that produces a nightly cable sports broadcast, one episode in 2001 included a telling discussion of space exploration. The fictional sports show’s executive producer, Isaac Jaffee, played by Robert Guillaume, is recovering from a stroke and disengaged from the daily hubbub of putting together the nightly show. His producer, Dana Whitaker, played by Felicity Huffman, keeps interrupting him as he reads a magazine about space exploration. Isaac tells her, “They’re talking about bio-engineering animals and terraforming Mars.” When I started reporting Gemini missions, just watching a Titan rocket liftoff was a sight to see. In the process, the Isaac Jaffee character affirms his basic faith in NASA to carry out any task in space exploration. “You put an X anyplace in the solar system,” he says, “and the engineers at NASA can land a spacecraft on it.”

Apollo World Tour

The Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., and Michael Collins, wearing sombreros and ponchos, are swarmed by thousands in Mexico City as their motorcade is slowed by the enthusiastic crowd. The GIANTSTEP-APOLLO 11 Presidential Goodwill Tour emphasized the willingness of the United States to share its space knowledge. The tour carried the Apollo 11 astronauts and their wives to 24 countries and 27 cities in 45 days. NASA image, No. 70-H-1553.

The technological virtuosity remains to this day. It has long supported an emphasis on nation greatness and offers solace in the face of other setbacks. At a basic level the Moon landings provided the impetus for the perception of NASA as a successful organization, and the U.S. as the world leader in science and technology. Might NASA and the United States return to those thrilling days in the twenty-first century?

Roger D. Launius is associate director for collections and curatorial affairs at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.