Category Archives: History

LEGO releases Apollo 11 Lunar Lander + An ISS model wins fan vote to become official LEGO kit

LEGO now offers an NASA Apollo 11 Lunar Lander kit in tribute to the 50th anniversary of the first landing on the Moon:

Celebrate man’s first moon landing with this LEGO® Creator Expert 10266 NASA Apollo 11 Lunar Lander building set—developed in cooperation with NASA to mark the 50th anniversary of a historical event that captivated the world. This collectible model features a highly detailed replica of Apollo 11’s Eagle lunar module, plus a depiction of the lunar surface, complete with crater, footprints and a U.S. flag. The descent stage comes with gold-colored landing pads and panels, opening camera and laser hatches, and a ladder, while the ascent stage has a detailed interior with room for 2 astronauts. Finished with an Apollo 11 Lunar Lander nameplate, this display model makes a great centerpiece for the home or office and provides a challenging and rewarding building experience full of nostalgia. Includes 2 astronaut minifigures with NASA decoration and golden helmets.

The 1000+ piece kit is aimed at advanced builders who want a display quality model and collectible. Here are some reviews:

A hobbyist-designed LEGO model of the International Space Station has also won a popular vote at LEGO IDEAS to become an official LEGO kit:

LEGO ISS Model
LEGO ISS model designed by Christoph Ruge. Credits: LEGO Ideas/Christoph Ruge

From collectSPACE:

The International Space Station has won the honor of becoming an official toy in the LEGO universe.

The orbiting outpost topped a fan vote of more than 22,000 LEGO enthusiasts to be the Danish toy company’s next real-life spacecraft to be made into a toy brick model. The space station received more than 45 percent of the votes cast — 10,438 votes to be exact — in the LEGO Ideas 10 Year Anniversary poll held May 20 through June 4 on the company’s website.

“An incredible achievement in [the] short fan vote period. It continues to show the huge desire for space and space exploration among the LEGO Ideas community,” wrote Hasan Jensen, a LEGO Ideas team member, in a blog post announcing the winner on Tuesday (June 4).

The International Space Station (ISS) model, as designed by Christoph Ruge of Germany, was up against three other set ideas that had qualified and then been passed over by the LEGO production review process. LEGO held the fan vote to mark the 10th anniversary of its LEGO Ideas website, which invites enthusiasts to propose new sets. Projects that reach 10,000 supporters are reviewed by LEGO for possible production and sale.

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LEGO Ideas NASA Apollo Saturn V 21309 Outer Space Model Rocket
for Kids and Adults, Science Building Kit (1900 pieces)

Videos: Restoring an Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC)

The Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) seems quite primitive today but it was a great advance in real time computing for the 1960s. Even with just 2k of RAM and 37k of ROM, the AGC was crucial to the successful operation of the Apollo command modules (CM) and Apollo Lunar Modules (LM).

A team organized by Marc Verdiell (CuriousMarc), who specializes in restoration of vintage electronic devices, is restoring an AGC to working condition. They have recorded their efforts in videos posted on the CuriousMarc channel.

** Apollo AGC Part 1: Restoring the computer that put man on the Moon:

We embark on the restoration of a very rare and historically significant machine: the Apollo Guidance Computer, or AGC. It was the revolutionary MIT-designed computer aboard Apollo that brought man on the Moon (and back!). Mike Stewart, space engineer extraordinaire and living AGC encyclopedia, spearheads this restoration effort. In this first episode, we setup a makeshift lab in his hotel room, somewhere in Houston. The computer belongs to a delightful private collector, Jimmie Loocke, who has generously allowed us to dive in the guts of his precious machine, with the hope of restoring it to full functionality by July 2019, the anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing.

** Apollo AGC Part 2: Power supplies test

Mike Stewart gives an overview of the hardware. Enamored by the success at checking the IC gates, we proceed to check out and power up the supplies. Once again a long-ish video, but I hesitate to chop it up too much for fear of losing details that might be important to some. Let me know how I am doing.

Apollo AGC Part 3: Main Bus B Undervolt

In preparation for the AGC power up, we test the alarm module B8, simulate the Apollo 13 main bus undervolt, and discover that our memory is faulty. And we find out how much our AGC did originally cost.

Apollo AGC Part 4: We are “go” for power up

The last module has checked out OK. It’s time to attempt powering up the AGC – and see if it awakens from its 43+ years of slumber, even without proper working memory.

Apollo AGC Part 4 ½: Bonus material, full Logic Analyzer trace explanation uncut

Some inquisitive minds requested a non-edited version of the hard core read-back of the LA trace we obtained in episode 4. Your wish is hereby granted. It’s actually quite interesting, provided you are a curious minded enginerd and dedicated follower of this restoration. Normal folks, move right along. Oh, wait, are there any of these left on my channel? Anyhow, I am curious (it’s in my name) to see how popular this video is going to be.

Apollo AGC Part 5: We run a chunk of original Apollo code!

We are out of time for our first visit, and memory is not working. But our whiz kid Mike manages to whip up an FPGA memory emulator for the AGC just before we have to leave. The AGC gets to run a chunk of an original Apollo program!

Apollo AGC Part 6: Restoration update, a new sponsor, and a satellite launch

An update on the work with the DKSY, the rope memory simulator, the core memory, and Mike’s satellite launch!

You can also try out a simulation of the AGC at Online Apollo Guidance Computer Simulator.

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Reality TV program “Space Dealers” explores the space memorabilia market

Netflix is now streaming the program Space Dealers, which follows three people who buy and sell space memorabilia and collectibles full time: ‘Space Dealers’ brings the space memorabilia market to reality TV | collectSPACE

Two years after it launched into a broadcast orbit around the world, “Space Dealers” has landed in the United States.

The reality TV show, which follows the exploits of three NASA-obsessed space memorabilia sellers, began streaming on Netflix in the U.S. and UK on Friday (Feb. 1). The six-part series, produced by WAGTV, first aired in 2017 in Australia and has in the interim been seen across Europe and Russia.

“For the right price, America’s leading space dealers will sell you anything and everything that the men and women with the ‘right stuff’ have used on their brave adventures in space,” writes the producers.

“Space Dealers” lightly parodies the real-life trade in NASA artifacts and Soviet-era space hardware. The rivalry between bowtie-sporting Larry, former NASA employee Torie and well-connected Cole sets up the drama, but it is the objects that they handle and the astronauts who they visit who are the stars of the show.

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On its 50th anniversary, Apollo 8 gets the appreciation it deserves

The Apollo 8 mission launched on Dec. 21, 1968 with astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell Jr. and William Anders on board. About two and half hours after liftoff, the S-IV third stage fired for a second time and put their spacecraft on a trajectory to the Moon. The crew members became the first humans to fly beyond low earth orbit.

The S-IV soon separated from the Apollo command service module and the spacecraft reached the Moon on Dec. 24th, going into orbit after the firing of the service module engine while on the far side. The crew orbited the Moon for 10 hours and would have been stuck there forever if the engine had not re-fired as planned. It did fire and the crew made it back to earth for a safe splashdown in the Pacific on Dec. 27th. The extremely risky mission was a tremendous success and its accomplishments made it possible for the US to achieve the goal set by John F. Kennedy of putting a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s.

I recently wrote about the audiobook version of Bob Zimmerman’s 1998 book, Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8: The First Manned Mission to Another World.  Today Bob reflects on the mission, his book, and the growing appreciation of the significance of the Apollo 8 mission, which had nearly been lost in the glow of Apollo 11: Apollo 8: Fifty years ago | Behind The Black.

What I find gratifying is that it appears my goal in writing the book in 1998 has been an unparalleled success. Today alone there have been three major stories celebrating Apollo 8 and its legacy, from the Washington Post, Scientific American, and New Atlas. In the past week there have another half dozen. I expect dozens more in the coming week. All so far have gotten their facts right, and have been able to tell the story correctly of this nerve-racking mission given 50-50 odds of success. More important, all have understood thoroughly the political and historical context of the mission, and the long term impact that it had.

Fifty years ago on Dec. 21, 1968, Apollo 8 launched from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center at 7:51 a.m. EST). NASA Image of the Day.

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Listening to “Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8”

December 21st will mark the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 8, the first time humans left earth orbit to reach another celestial object. While the landing on the surface of the Moon by Apollo 11 dominates the public’s view of America’s lunar program, it was the orbiting of the Moon by the terrifically dangerous and milestone-making Apollo 8 mission that actually marked the triumph of the USA in the 1960’s “Space Race” with the Soviet Union.

I recently listened to Bob Zimmerman’s book, Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8: The First Manned Mission to Another World. An audiobook version was released this year with a excellent reading by Grover Gardner. Bob nicely weaves a narrative of the Apollo 8 mission, from its conception to capsule splashdown, with captivating portraits of the three astronauts and vivid descriptions of the political and social upheavals of the time, especially the many dreadful events of the tumultuous year of 1968. (The book should disabuse young people of the notion that political polarization in the US today is something new or reaches the levels of other angry periods in the country’s history.)

The three astronauts – Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders – were the first to see earth from beyond low earth orbit. How the famous EarthRise photo came about is described in the book and answers the question of who actually took the picture.

The astronauts made a surprising but very appropriate reading during a widely viewed broadcast from lunar orbit on Christmas Eve. The book tells the background story of how this came about.

The three space pioneers are still alive for the half century remembrances of Apollo 8 and Bob attended an event held in their honor last October at the Museum of Science and Technology in Chicago: Honoring the Apollo 8 astronauts | Behind The Black

We are blessed to still have them. Once again during the dinner presentation they talked of their mission, kidding each other repeatedly about what had happened, and talking about why they went and what they thought the future might hold. Borman was pessimistic about the future of space, but then he remains fixated on the concept of a government program for space. Anders meanwhile was in touch with the rise of private commercial space, and advocated that it is where the future lies.

Lovell was Lovell, as always a space cadet, enthused for the future exploration of space, no matter how we do it.

This event is likely only the beginning. Over the next year there are going to many similar events, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary the 1960s Apollo triumph, right through to the landing in July. To me, however, it will always be Apollo 8 that had the most historical impact. Everything that happened afterward merely reinforced what that flight taught us.

BTW: I had thought that George Mueller, head of the Office of Manned Space Flight during the Apollo era, played the key role in the decision to go to the Moon with Apollo 8. Mueller did successfully push the “all-up testing” approach in which the entire Saturn V would be tested altogether rather than incrementally, starting with dummy upper stages. This greatly reduced the number of test flights needed before the lunar missions could begin and was crucial in achieving JFK’s goal of reaching the Moon “before this decade is out“. However, as made clear in the book, it was in fact George Low, chief of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office (ASPO), who proposed and championed the radical idea of going all the way to the Moon on just the third flight of the Saturn V, the first flight with a command module, and the first flight with a crew. For more about Low and his role in Apollo 8, see The Man Who Won the Moon Race – Air & Space Magazine.

Today NASA has little of its 1960’s daring and risk-taking culture demonstrated by Apollo 8. The agency, for example, indicated recently after another Russian Soyuz failure, that it would rather let the 100 billion dollar International Space Station fall into the atmosphere for destruction rather than permit astronauts to travel to the station in new American vehicles whose builders have not yet checked every last box in the mountains of certification requirements created by the agency’s vast multi-center bureaucracy.

Space exploration, development, and settlement will require endless risk-taking in the coming years but it appears the risks will be taken by participants in the private space sector, not by NASA.

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