Learning From Failure

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I have a fascination with watching launch failures. When The Professor sent me a link to this video on Universe Today I watched all 32 minutes. It’s fascinating in that “watching a train wreck” way that us humans are so enamored with, but also in a professional way. You see, I […]

Airborne Awesomosity

H Comes Before M


Before the Me 163 was the He 176. Ernst Heinkel was fascinated with speed. He wanted to increase the performance of aircraft and that meant looking at alternative propulsion methods. To Herr Heinkel, the piston engine and propeller had run their course.

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Airborne Awesomosity

Messerschmitt’s Rocket Plane

One of WW2’s most impressive technological leaps, the Me 163 Komet, actually proved to be one of its least effective. The Me 163, with its Walter HWK 109-509A-2 liquid-fuel rocket, had a top speed of nearly 1,000 km/h and a range of only 40 km. The two Mk 108 30mm cannons on the […]


Testing History

That right there is a rocket being tested. If you work at Marshall Space Flight Center or Stennis Space Center, you may not care too much. Rocket test fires are old hat. Until you realize what is being tested.

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Saturn I-C Pumpkin

Tonight we celebrate that most sacred of holidays. Tonight little kids will be begging for candy, adults will be getting drunk while deciding which costume in the bar is the best/sexiest/funniest, and nerds will be showcasing their nerdery.

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We Aren’t Always Perfect

Yesterday I mentioned Little Joe had 8 launches, and 6 of those were successful. You are good with the maths, you realize that means 2 were not. Well, in the early days of rocketry, all the way into the 1950s, launching rockets was almost a crap shoot. We were learning, and that means we were making lots of mistakes. That was the reason for Little Joe and for all the testing that went on — and goes on today — for each rocket program. The more you test the more weak links you find and eventually you should have a robust rocket system. This is why today’s rockets, many of which were designed decades ago, are regarded as reliable. This is why new rocket programs, like the Falcon 9 from SpaceX, are exciting.

Engineers, despite what the movies say, invite failure. Failure is a learning experience. Figuring out why something failed and fixing it is one of the few ways to make something better. Failure is an option.

Hit the jump for some spectacular early rocket failures.
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Not Stock: Orbital Sciences L-1011

In the 1960s, American Airlines was looking for a jet smaller than a 747 that could still fly long distances and carry 400 passengers. They approached Lockheed, who was reeling from the loss of some military contracts. Lockheed decided to give it a go, and wound up with a tri-jet configuration that would go by the name Lockheed L-1011 “Tristar”. Only 250 were produced, meaning Lockheed took a major loss on each one. Problems with engine supplier Rolls Royce hampered production. Meanwhile, the very similar Douglas DC-10 was stealing the show…and customers.
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The Greatest Photo of the Week…Or the Year

Photos of aurorae are cool. Photos of rockets are cool. Photos of lasers are cool. This photo has all three! All that you need are some zombies and bacon and this would be legendary.
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Genius Innovators, Spaceheads

Robert’s Rules to Rocketry

Dr. Robert H. Goddard and a liquid oxygen-gasoline rocket in the frame from which it was fired on March 16, 1926, at Auburn, Massachusetts.

The Russians may have been the first to launch a satellite into orbit, but it was an American who figured out how to get it there.

Robert Goddard was born 129 years ago today. While we consider him the father of modern rocketry, his contemporaries thought he was a bit of a loon. The process by which he designed and built the first liquid-fueled rocket is well documented because he was a fastidious note taker. His book A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes is the basis of modern rocketry. While the systems and components have become more high tech over the last 100 years, the basics are still the same as they were when Mr. Goddard first shot a rocket into the sky.
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The Transformation of LC-39B


This is what Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center looks like today. Those of you who are spaceheads will see something missing, and three big pointy things that didn’t used to be there.
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