Thursday, July 29, 2010

Apollo +50: Mercury-Atlas I

In this blog, I have been tracking the 50th Anniversary of events leading up to the Apollo moon landings.

The reason I am tracking these events in this ethics blog are (1) because I am interested in space travel and this is my blog, and (2) it demonstrates the power of the method of knowledge that relies on experimentation, observation, and hypothesis.

At no time in the Apollo program did researchers look for supernatural explanations. If a rocket blew up, the cause of the accident was never found to be because of God's anger or the presence of supernatural entities. The engineers looked for the cause of failure in the the material rocket itself and the environment it was working in.

Fifty years ago today those engineers would make their first test flight of the rocket that was supposed to put Americans into orbit - the Mercury Atlas rocket.

In 8 years, 11 months, and 17 days they would be going to the moon. Today, they just wanted to go into orbit.

It failed.

One minute into the flight, there was a "structural failure at the forward end" of the rocket. As a result, the rocket became eratic and was destroyed.

The capsule that would have been carrying the astronaut crashed into the sea in pieces. However, information from the rocket showed that an abort signal had been given as soon as the structural failure became evident. The abort system itself had been intentionally disabled to prevent a failure in that system from destroying the test - as had happened on earlier test flights.

Armed with the data from this test failure, the engineers went back to the drawing board.

The next test flight in the Mercury program is more than 4 months away - on November 8th.

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