Ich bin Hoopy Frood
May 25, 2012 6:21 AM   Subscribe

Fifty-one years ago today, our president proposed to put Man and his towel on the moon and return it safely to the earth by the end of the decade.

While the final designs of the PLSS units didn't include built-in towels to be left behind on the moon, history does not provide the answer to the other question: Was the Utility Towel Assy for the LM (page 40) left on the moon, or brought home? While a statement was prepared in the event the first astronauts did not return from the moon, a contingency plan for the froody towels has not yet been declassified.

Today, the space exploration of the United States and the world will celebrate towel day by the historic capture/docking of the SpaceX Dragon capsule by the International Space Station. While a full list of the cargo is not available to the general public online, I think it's safe to assume it is carrying towels to the ISS, continuing the tradition of keeping your towel handy in space.
posted by tilde (40 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I get those references.
posted by Plutor at 6:24 AM on May 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Very clever post. Nicely done.
posted by jbickers at 6:27 AM on May 25, 2012


Live feed of Dragon docking, should be occuring in the next 15 minutes or so.

It should be noted that US put not one, but two crews on the moon by the end of the '60s. It is not currently known how many towels landed on the moon.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:31 AM on May 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I look forward to the day I can stop posting this.
posted by punkfloyd at 6:36 AM on May 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Cue the non-Americans' objection to the phrase "our president"....
posted by dfriedman at 6:37 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


If this space exploration lark really was about putting a man with a towel in space, I'm 99% sure the first man on the moon would have been a middle aged German package tourist.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:43 AM on May 25, 2012


Watching the live feed! It says on their twitter that the new scheduled grapple time is 10:02 EDT.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:44 AM on May 25, 2012


Cue the non-Americans' objection to the phrase "our president"..

He's just this guy, you know?
posted by Segundus at 6:45 AM on May 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


omg on the feed they just showed a sharp looking scientist lady with a purple dragon on her desk. I think i'm in love.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:45 AM on May 25, 2012


Ah, crap, I meant to change it to JFK. I was also trying to work in Laika but she didn't appear to have taken a towel with her. Dang, I used the word while a lot, sorry!
posted by tilde at 6:49 AM on May 25, 2012


If you're on a slower connection like me, the mobile version of the stream is lower-quality and optimized.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:52 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, I don't have any objection to the phrase "our president". I'm more amused by others' outrage at the temerity of we Americans assuming that we own the place.
posted by dfriedman at 6:53 AM on May 25, 2012


Capture confirmed on Dragon capsule.
posted by curious nu at 6:56 AM on May 25, 2012


They captured it! Success!

"Looks like we got a Dragon by the tail...."

AWESOME
posted by lazaruslong at 6:57 AM on May 25, 2012


Caught a dragon by the tail. Well done!
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:57 AM on May 25, 2012


omg on the feed they just showed a sharp looking scientist lady with a purple dragon on her desk. I think i'm in love.

Puff the Magic Dragon is how the capsule got its name.

So cool to be able to watch this live.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:58 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Question: I assume they have to match the velocities of both the Dragon and the ISS. Purely theoretical, but what would happen if there was somehow like a 1% difference in relative velocities? Once the arm made contact would they be ripped apart?
posted by lazaruslong at 6:59 AM on May 25, 2012


The juxtaposition between the NASA mission control and SpaceX's mission control is pretty funny. SpaceX looks like some temporary boiler room, set-up to quickly "disappear" if the authorities ever showed-up.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:01 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Simple advice to the good folks at SpaceX today: Don't panic.
posted by dry white toast at 7:17 AM on May 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


The live ustream video is beautiful. This is great stuff, y'all.
posted by jquinby at 7:30 AM on May 25, 2012


He's just this guy, you know?

He really knows where his towel is.
posted by thecaddy at 7:37 AM on May 25, 2012


I am dissatisfied with the answer of how the astronauts jettisoned their PLSS while the cabin was depressurized. What, did they hold their breath? I presume the astronauts hooked their space suits up to the LEM's ECLSS somehow.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:40 AM on May 25, 2012


Oh no, not again.
posted by roboton666 at 7:41 AM on May 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


What is it about May 25th that it seems EVERYTHING space-related (fictional or not) happened on this date? And tomorrow is the birthday of the perfectly-named Sally Ride. And considering May is the month that TV network fall schedules are set, there must be at least one version of Star Trek or BS:G or Stargate that was greenlighted on this date.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:47 AM on May 25, 2012


I presume the astronauts hooked their space suits up to the LEM's ECLSS somehow.

Yeah. Astronauts could hook their suits to the system, using the same interface as for the PLSS.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:50 AM on May 25, 2012


And tomorrow Matt "11th Doctor" Smith is going to run the Olympic Torch through Cardiff (home of BBC/Doctor Who Studios).

And then we can safely resume our run backwards to the 19th Century...
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:53 AM on May 25, 2012


He's a really hoopy frood.
posted by Justinian at 9:41 AM on May 25, 2012


CURSE YOU PREVIOUSLY UNSEEN TITLE.
posted by Justinian at 10:26 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


lazaruslong, orbital speed in low Earth orbit is about 8 km/s, so a 1% difference in speeds would correspond to 0.08 km/s = 80 m/s, which is about 180 mph (assuming they've matched velocity vectors. If they were approaching at the wrong angle, it can get MUCH worse). The Dragon weighs about 10,000 kg fully loaded according to wikipedia. I'm going to guess that coming in that hot would be bad.

The high speed of the ISS (and Dragon) tells you why space-flight is so hard. Just getting up 200 km to low Earth orbit is non-trivial: you have to input about 2 million joules per kilogram to get that far up the potential well (ignoring frictional losses). If you did this just by pointing a rocket straight up and accelerating to maximum speed instantaneously, you'd have to be moving at 2 km/s when you started (again, ignoring friction). Escape velocity, the speed that will take you out of Earth orbit, is 11 km/s.

However, that's only step 1. If you don't also increase your speed so that you can get into orbit around the Earth, you'd just fall straight back down again. To get up to 8 km/s (sideways now, not up), you need to add about 30 million joules per kilogram - you can reduce this a bit if you launch from the equator while pointing East. This also means de-orbiting isn't trivial; you're now moving at 8 km/s, and you need to slow down to get out of orbit. Fortunately, if you just slow a little, the atmospheric friction will take care of the rest. You will get warm during this process though.

Though this sounds like a lot of energy, it isn't that bad. Gasoline has about 45 MJ/kg of energy density. The first problem for a rocket (as I understand it) is how to get all that juice out of your power source QUICKLY before you fall back down (also, since you'll die if anything fails, you need this to work perfectly). The second problem is that every bit of fuel you carry to get into orbit has to be carried along for at least some of ride, meaning more fuel to carry the extra weight, then more fuel to carry the extra fuel to carry the extra fuel, and so on. As an aside, SpaceX burns kerosene and oxygen I believe, so fuel costs are actually pretty low for them. The rockets themselves, on the other hand...

So: getting up out of the atmosphere is the easy bit. Staying up there is the trick. Virgin Galactic's flights are only sub-orbital for this reason, though I gather they are trying to move getting things into orbit. However, as the numbers show, taking that step means adding a significant amount of energy and engineering to your spaceship.
posted by physicsmatt at 11:00 AM on May 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Update: I just re-read the partial manifest X-D and noticed the X-D. Candidates for toweling include official flight kit items (nope), pantry items, and crew preference items.

Dragon is now berthed / attached to the ISS.
posted by tilde at 12:48 PM on May 25, 2012


I like the way the ISS hangs in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't.
posted by Decani at 1:24 PM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dragon is now berthed / attached to the ISS.

It looks like a dwarf tapeworm, sucking the life out of the ISS.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:39 PM on May 25, 2012


Here's a good wrap up of all the steps and the small problems that occurred in during those last few hundred foot.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:37 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


It looks like a dwarf tapeworm, sucking the life out of the ISS.

Been done. (although in this case the "parasite" is actually serving a purpose, as the capsule is, so it's probably an even more apt metaphor)
posted by curious nu at 4:12 PM on May 25, 2012


The ISS crew has opened the hatch to Dragon and investigated for any hidden aliens.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:15 AM on May 26, 2012


Why are they wearing filter masks and eye protection? What's the potential danger?
posted by curious nu at 7:05 AM on May 26, 2012


Just guessing: The filter masks are in case of fuel leaks or other air problems from a new craft doing its first docking. Note that one of the astronauts even had a device to checking the air, just to see if any anomalies were coming up. They also gave the air in Dragon time to circulate with the station air, to dilute any problems.

The eyewear is for any debris that might be floating about in said new craft.

You can imagine how a washer or few large bits of dust, dirt or mechanical bits might fall to the floor of the craft while its on Earth. But once in space, that stuff will start floating around and be a potential hazard.

For the Lunar Modules, as they neared completion on Earth, they'd put them on a special device that would rotate the ship 360 degrees, just shake loose any loose bits that might have fallen somewhere.

Going into space is hard, as is remaining there.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:57 AM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Amazingly beautiful and frustratingly silent video of Dragon from the ISS.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:25 AM on May 27, 2012


Dragon comes home today!
posted by tilde at 5:34 AM on May 31, 2012


NASA tweeting that Dragon has successfully splashed down in the Pacific.
posted by jquinby at 8:49 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


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