Friday, May 02, 2014

Space Exploration, 1960's Style

Somehow I tripped over these mission summaries for NASA's Project Mercury. They are truly amazing. Mercury was the US's entry into manned space flight. The most obvious of questions needed to be answered: could you put a man in space and get him back in one piece? Sounds like a no-brainer now, but at the time, this and many related questions were simply unknowns. And this was back in the early 60's, when the technology of the day was essentially pre-historic compared to what we are used to.

Here are some specific logs: Mercury Redstone 3 (the first Mercury flight), Murcury Redstone 4 (the second flight, which includes a few close calls) and Mercury Atlas 6 (the first time the US orbited a person).

The above is all well and good, but thanks to archive.org, you can listen to the actual voice communications between ground control and the astronauts. Check out: Mercury 3, Mercury 4 and Mercury 6. It's remarkable to consider that by listening to these tapes you're listening to history being made.

In some cases quite a bit of audio is included. To skip to lift off, use the following files and positions:

MissionAudio File NamePositionLink
Mercury 3329513:16Link
Mercury 4371-AAI3:00Link
Mercury 6691-AAE25:13Link

I found the Mercury 6 audio files to be especially interesting. For one thing, you're hearing in real time what the first American felt when he went weightless in space. Ignoring for a second that these astronauts had to deal with known dangers (like being in a tiny tin can strapped to a massive rocket), they also had to deal with complete mysteries. Would weightlessness in space mean that the astronaut wouldn't be able to breath or see? Nobody really knew.

I also like the Mercury 6 audio feed because it appears to be a combination of all chatter that was going on at the time. You get a sense of the urgency and large number of people involved, all trying to figure out moment by moment if this mission is going to be a success.

If you're more of a reader, you'll enjoy the follow up report provided after the mission. The diagrams alone make this worth checking out. You get at least some appreciation for the sardine-can like surroundings John Glenn was flying in. The stress these astronauts were under must have been unbelievable, and yet they pulled off these missions with amazing success.

These are a treasure. Navigate away from Buzzfeed.com for a moment and listen up. These are some gritty, old school, technology masterpieces.

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