AidSpace Blog

Remembering Milton W. Rosen

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Milton W. Rosen
Pioneering Rocket Engineer

Portrait of Milton W. Rosen. NASM-2B23356

Milton Rosen was a pioneer of American rocketry development. He helped put America in space as a leading figure in developing the Viking sounding rocket and the Vanguard satellite launch vehicle (both can be seen in the exhibition Space Race, Gallery 114, at the Museum in Washington, DC). In 1958, Vanguard I became the second American satellite of the Earth, and the fourth ever sent into space.

Educated as an electrical engineer at the University of Pennsylvania, Rosen joined the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, D.C., in 1940. During World War II, he worked on missile guidance and control. Late in the war, the German V-2 ballistic missile demonstrated a revolutionary breakthrough in rocket technology. Rosen became an advocate for NRL exploring the upper atmosphere and near space with rockets. Supported by his boss, Ernst Krause, he went to the Army’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to get an apprenticeship in rocket development. He then led the Navy’s Viking project, which fired scientific payloads as high as 254 kilometers (158 miles) in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Milton Rosen, standing at far right in the back row, at a Project Orbiter meeting in March 1955. Sitting in the foreground is Wernher von Braun, a sometime-rival who Rosen would beat five months later in the competition for the first U.S. satellite project. NASM-2B12105

In 1955, Rosen proposed a satellite launcher based on an enlarged Viking. Surprisingly, he won a secret competition against an Army proposal headed by Wernher von Braun, who had once developed the V-2 for the Nazis. The Navy called its new project Vanguard, the first official U.S. satellite program, and Rosen became its technical director. After the Soviets launched Sputnik, von Braun’s project was revived, and it orbited the first American satellite, Explorer I. Vanguard suffered embarrassing launch failures,  notably the catastrophic accident of the TV-3 in December 1957—the tiny satellite payload was dumped onto scrub land next to the launchpad  (that object can also be seen in Space Race). But Rosen’s vehicle successfully inserted Vanguard I into orbit on March 17, 1958. It remains the oldest surviving manmade object in space. Project Vanguard later launched two more satellites.

 View of the Space Race exhibition at the Museum in Washington, DC. In this view from the second floor mezzanine, portions of the "Missile Pit," where Vanguard and Viking are on display can be seen.

View of the Space Race exhibition at the Museum in Washington, DC. In this view from the second floor mezzanine, the Vanguard and Viking are on display in the “Missile Pit.” The Viking is the short white rocket with cutaway windows in the front of the Pit, and the Vanguard launch vehicle is the pencil-thin, tall, black and silver rocket on the left.

In late 1958, Rosen transferred to the new NASA along with his NRL group. He went on to serve in senior administrative positions at the space agency and the National Academy of Sciences. He had a long, happy retirement and died at age 99 on December 30, 2014.

Michael Neufeld is a senior curator in the Space History Division at the National Air and Space Museum and the author of Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War



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Five Things I Learned While Curating Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity

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Outside the Spacecraft, located in gallery 211, will be on view through June 2015. See upcoming related events.

At the height of the summer of 2013, when I was getting ready to go on maternity leave to have my second child, I found myself as the only curator signed on to an anniversary exhibition celebrating the first spacewalks done in 1965. Now, this was unusual for a few reasons. First, I had to wait at least three to four months to start the project which left only about a year to get it done. Second, not only was I not alive when those spacewalks occurred, but I also was not alive for the last lunar extra-vehicular activity (EVA) in 1972. Feeling a bit under qualified and overcommitted, I went on to find out just what it took to make something notional only 18 months ago into a beautifully vibrant reality. Here are some of the lessons I learned and proudest moments from this experience.

1. Assemble a great team.
I knew this from the start, but assembling a good team was the first key to our success, and I could not have been more fortunate to get an outstanding set of colleagues together for this project. Each brought years of expertise, creative thinking, and a willingness to believe in a vision for something special. And when I was at my most frazzled, trying to spend time on the exhibit and finish my dissertation, they came through with moral support and helping hands to make sure everything worked out. Lisa, Richard, Vicki, Mychalene, Beatrice, Jeannie, Dave C., Alex, Linda, and all of the people who supported them proved what we all believe can come from hard work here at the Museum. Nobody has ever done an exhibit single-handedly at the Smithsonian, and despite the comments of some of my teammates, a curator is not a superhero. Every Superman has their Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. Every Han Solo has their Chewbacca and Luke Skywalker. The leader cannot succeed without amiable, honest, and talented supporters, making this exhibit as much theirs as it is mine.

2. Integrating the Museum’s digital engagement strategy into planning from day one allowed the website and physical exhibit to enrich each other almost seamlessly.
At the same time this exhibit project was in full swing during early 2014, the Museum was also preparing a digital engagement strategy, which I also happened to assist in writing. Having the overall Museum goals in mind, we kept looking for ways to insert those into our physical and virtual exhibits. Not all of our brainstorming resulted in actual products, but our real and virtual helix glove displays are prime examples of how we can develop displays and additional content for the in-person and online visitors. [photo of glove display and link]

Central to the exhibition is this display of astronaut gloves. Visitors onsite and off, can explore the gloves on this helix in more detail with our online (and mobile-friendly) interactive. Photo: Mark Avino

3. Not every idea is a good idea.
We had an idea for an online app along the way, which would have been one of the Museum’s first. It was meant to engage our younger audience, connecting them to our content in a fun way. It did not happen, but I am not heartbroken. It just was not the right fit for us at the time and we were wise to let it go and move on to better things.

4. NASA has many photographs online, and even more that are not.
I must have looked at thousands of photographs of astronauts on EVA before selecting the 20 or so seen in the exhibit, and I am sure that does not even scratch the surface of what astronauts captured over the last 50 years. To make this more mind numbing, an astronaut commented to me recently that he usually took around 10,000 photographs on each mission. And he flew six times. Wow.

5. There are hidden treasures around every corner here at the National Air and Space Museum.
Even after almost 13 years of working at this Museum, this workplace and its employees never cease to amaze me. We made some unexpected finds stored away at our facility in Suitland, MD, and were fortunate to receive a loan of recently discovered gems from the family of the first person to walk on the Moon. We also get to show, for the first time at the Museum, some beautifully engineered tools used to service the Hubble Space Telescope, deployed 25 years ago this April. The willingness of our staff to put in long hours and hard work to get our exhibit open on time was a humbling experience.

This is the oxygen purge system cover used by Gene Cernan on Apollo 17. The plastic bag encasing it was opened for the first time in decades for this exhibition.

This waist tether was used during Apollo 11 and is a promised gift of the Neil Armstrong family.

This exhibit was a treat to work on, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of accomplishments I was not alive to see, but still have a special meaning to me. Like Ed White and Jim McDivitt (the Gemini IV crew, and White performed the first U.S. spacewalk), I hail from the University of Michigan, and as a fellow Wolverine, I am so proud to commemorate their milestone mission with this exhibit. I am never shy about saying this, but I have the best job on the planet.

Jennifer Levasseur is a museum specialist in the Space History Department of the National Air and Space Museum, and is responsible curator for the Museum’s collection of space cameras and early human spaceflight astronaut equipment. 


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Horten Ho 229 V3 “Bat-Wing Ship,” January 2015 Update

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Following months of preparation, members of the Collections Processing Unit moved the center section of the Horten Ho 229 V3* from the Paul E. Garber Restoration and Storage Facility to the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center last Friday.

View from the public overlook of the Horten center section on the floor of the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center Photo: Allan Janus

Work to conserve the center section has temporarily stopped while conservation staff shifts their attentions to other artifacts such as the Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall in the Museum in Washington D. C. The Milestones gallery is undergoing a major renovation that is scheduled to be finished next year.

Horten being prepared for transit from the Paul E. Garber Facility to the Restoration Hangar. Photo: Mark Avino

Horten being prepared for transit from the Paul E. Garber Facility to the Restoration Hangar. Photo: Mark Avino

*Readers will note a change in the aircraft designation from H IX V3 in earlier blog posts to Ho 229 V3. After much thought and consultation with other curators and historians, I decided to change the nomenclature to more accurately reflect the official status of the aircraft during World War II. Reimar Horten privately used roman numerals to identify his various designs, hence H IX correctly identifies the all-wing jet project. After Hermann Göring approved building the V1 (prototype 1) glider prototype around August 1943, the project gained official status. The Reichs Luftfahrtministerium (German Air Ministry) used a numbering system to abbreviate the names of all aircraft manufacturers. Horten received the number ‘229,’ hence the RLM designated the glider prototype Ho 229 V1. The ministry designated prototype 2, which flew twice before crashing, the Ho 229 V2, and they assigned the designation Ho 229 V3 to the Museum’s artifact. Although variations in this terminology can be found in official documents from the period, I believe that Ho 229 V3 works best.

Russ Lee is a curator in the Aeronautics Department at the National Air and Space Museum.

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Opening the Best Package Ever!

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It was particularly timely that during the hustle and bustle of the 2014 holidays, I, along with curators Jennifer Levasseur and Cathleen Lewis, had a very special package to open for the very first time. We had astronaut Captain Gene Cernan and NASA to thank for the gift. Following his Apollo 17 mission, Capt. Cernan returned his Oxygen Purge System (OPS) cover to Earth in December 1972—an object that once covered his personal life support system (PLSS). The cover was examined by NASA and then sealed in plastic. This object, like most other flown hardware, was inspected post-flight, inventoried, and put on a storage shelf where it became a part of NASA’s flight collection. The National Air and Space Museum received the cover—still sealed in its plastic wrap — in the 1980s along with other Apollo-era artifacts which found a home for nearly three decades at the Museum’s Paul E. Garber Restoration and Storage Facility. During a recent survey of the collection, the object was rediscovered in storage where it laid untouched and sealed just as it was when it was returned from the lunar surface.

A label affixed to the exterior packaging by NASA indicates that the cover was sealed shortly after it returned from the Moon. The label says “NASA-MSC –NOTICE- AS RECEIVED FROM LUNAR SURFACE / DATE 1-30-73.” Photo: Lisa Young

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first American spacewalk by Gemini IV astronaut Edward White in 1965, the Museum recently opened a new exhibition, Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity, which highlights art, photography, artifacts, and personal accounts that represent Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) from Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Shuttle missions. Capt. Gene Cernan performed one near-fatal EVA during his Gemini IX-A mission and three moonwalks during Apollo 17 with astronaut-geologist Harrison “Jack” Schmitt. He was also the last man to walk on the Moon.

Capt. Gene Cernan salutes the American flag on the lunar surface. The oxygen purge system cover can be seen in use on his back. Photo: NASA

Capt. Cernan’s OPS cover was chosen for display to highlight this moonwalk and to represent part of his life support system. In order to exhibit the OPS cover, the plastic wrap would have to be opened for the first time since it was sealed in 1973. The conservation team agreed to open the object in a controlled environment in the Emil Buehler Conservation Laboratory at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The event was documented by photo and video as none of us really knew what we would find. This allowed the conservation work to be archived so that I could keep working uninterrupted and focus on this important object as each side of the cover was carefully unfolded.

Conservator Lisa Young (center) and curators Cathleen Lewis (right) and Jennifer Levasseur look at the object for the first time. Photo: Dane Penland

The most surprising thing about opening the object was the lack of loose lunar dust. The surfaces appear gray when you look at them and lunar particles are seen embedded in the fibers of the outer fabric. However, the lack of excess dust in the creases and folds of the cover indicated to me that the object may have been cleaned before it was packaged in 1973. As we examined the object more closely, carefully rearranging the fragile fabric, the cover slowly returned to its original shape. The condition of the preserved object was remarkable considering that many materials from this period are inherently unstable.
The outermost fabric of the cover is made of a tightly woven fiberglass material called Beta cloth. Inside the cover are additional layers of space-age fabrics such as Mylar, Dacron, Nylon, and Kapton. All of these materials can become brittle with age and often show signs of instability due to their exposure to the harsh environment of space. Physical damage to the object from use was also noticeable when we looked at the object. It was definitely used, and the evidence of Cernan’s activity on the lunar surface was marked by wear seen on the materials in the form of abrasions, tears, and minor loss. While this type of damage from operational use is not uncommon, what was surprising were the repairs made to the outer fabric someone performed in order to mend the cover.

Microscopic image showing the white coating to the surface of the Beta cloth. Three gray stitches are also seen holding a small tear together. Photo: Lisa Young

Upon further examination, a white opaque silicone coating was seen applied to the exterior of the fabric over these small tears. This was most likely applied to the fabric to keep the fibers from fraying any further. In one spot, several hand-stitched threads (dark grey in color) were also discovered to hold a small tear together. It is not clear when the repairs were made or by whom, but careful examination indicated initially that the repairs were most likely made after the flight.

The painted United States flag applied to the back of the cover also shows some minor abrasions due to use and wear. The red and blue ink has small areas of loss where the flag most likely rubbed against the seat in the lunar rover vehicle during use. The flag was examined more closely under magnification using a three-dimensional digital microscope to determine if the paint was continuing to flake away from the fabric surface. The goal of preserving objects such as this OPS cover is to leave as much of the original material in place while making sure the object, and in this case the painted surface, remains stable for display and long-term preservation. All the markings and abrasions are evidence of historical wear and part of the object’s history, so we do not want to remove or alter that information. Even simple steps taken to clean an object could remove evidence that links an object to its place in history, such as the lunar dust trapped in the textile fibers. Microscopic grains of Moon dust, invisible to the naked eye, are embedded in the unpainted fibers of the textile exposed to form the stars of the flag.

Microscopic image showing the gray lunar dust grains trapped between the fibers of the white Beta cloth fabric visible as a star in the flag. Photo: Lisa Young

Careful handling, display, and preservation of this object in the future are necessary so that information about its history is not lost. The responsibility of preserving objects that traveled to the Moon and back is a true honor. It is certainly a privilege to be part of a team that is entrusted with making sure that objects at the National Air and Space Museum are not only preserved today, but can be displayed and preserved for years to come.

Gene Cernan’s OPS cover from Apollo 17 is now on display for the first time at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. The exhibition Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity is open through June 8, 2015.

Lisa Young, Objects Conservator, National Air and Space Museum

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To Jupiter and Beyond: Pioneer 10 and 11

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A full-size engineering model of the Pioneer 10 /11 spacecraft normally hangs in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall at the National Air and Space Museum. However, a few weeks ago it was removed and placed in the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, while the Milestones gallery undergoes a major renovation in the coming months. The photo depicts how the Pioneer model was hung in Milestones and shows the side of the spacecraft that pointed away from Earth during its flight.

Pioneer 10/11 as it hung in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall. Photo: Eric Long

The Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft were built by TRW Inc. after being awarded a contract by NASA Headquarters in 1969. Each spacecraft included 11 science instruments and a main antenna that was 2.74 meters (9.5 feet) in diameter for communication with Earth. The spacecraft included a primitive computer with a memory that could store a maximum of five, 22-bit-long commands, which seems quite miniscule in today’s era of smartphones! Each spacecraft was powered by four radioisotope thermoelectric generators (on the two booms toward the top of the photo) that produced 140 watts of power at the time of the Jupiter encounters—25 watts of which ran all of the science experiments (compare this to the typical light bulbs used in your home).

Staff prepare to lower Pioneer 10/11. Photo: Mark Avino

Staff lower Pioneer 10/11. Photo: Mark Avino

Pioneer 10 was launched from Cape Canaveral on March 2, 1972, and it became the first spacecraft to traverse the asteroid belt between July 1972 and February 1973, which was a scientific and engineering “unknown” at the time.  Pioneer detected less debris within the asteroid belt than had been anticipated.  On December 3, 1973, Pioneer 10 became the first spacecraft to fly past Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system; it flew within 132,000 kilometers (79,000 miles) of the top of the cloud deck that comprises the visible face of the planet. Communication with Pioneer 10 continued until Jan 23, 2003, during which time the instruments were returning valuable information about the solar wind in the outer solar system. Pioneer 11 was launched on April 5, 1973, making its closest approach to Jupiter on December 2, 1974, passing only 43,000 km (26,000 miles) above the clouds of the giant planet.  Pioneer 11’s path was targeted to fly past Jupiter at precisely the right position so that it would fly on toward Saturn. On September 1, 1979, Pioneer 11 became the first spacecraft to fly past the ringed planet Saturn. It is currently headed in the direction of the constellation Scutum. While these Pioneer spacecraft were once the furthest human-made objects in space, they have since been passed by two Voyager probes.

Jim Zimbelman is a geologist in the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the National Air and Space Museum.

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