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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 10. 1965.

Science — Six Months In Space — Or, Rockets Galore

page 9


Six Months In Space

Or, Rockets Galore

A Photograph of the moon's surface, taken by Ranger IX from 775 miles up, 9min 18sec before impact.

A Photograph of the moon's surface, taken by Ranger IX from 775 miles up, 9min 18sec before impact.

At The End of March this year the world had four new heroes to join the growing list of space age explorers. They were Pavel, Belyaev and Aleksel Leonov of the Soviet Union and Virgil Grissom and John Young of the United States. The two pairs of spacemen had circled the earth and had measurably contributed in their various ways to solving the problems of future space travel.

At 10am Moscow time on March 18 a Soviet booster rocket orbited the spaceship Voskhod 2 manned by Belyaev and Leonov. The ship travelled the customary route of Soviet space vehicles: northeasterly across Siberia, then southeast along the central axis of the Pacific Ocean, crossing the Atlantic at an angle of 65 degrees.

As the Voskhod 2 completed its first orbit, Leonov entered a special compartment, or air lock, sealed off from the main cabin in which Belyaev continued to check the craft's controls. Oxygen in the air lock was then slowly drained by allowing it to escape into the void of space. With the air lock drained (had this not been done the cosmonaut would have been blown out like a pea from a peashooter), the hatch was opened. Colonel Leonov then stuck his head and shoulders out. He grasped a handrail, lifted his feet out of the airlock and extended them sideways.

With a shove he then sailed off about 15ft from the spacecraft, linked to it only by a tether line. This line carried his communication link with his fellow cosmonaut, and oxygen that he breathed. Colonel Belyaev drifted along with the spaceship. He did not fall behind it or drop towards Earth (Newton's first law of motion: A body in motion will remain in a state of uniform motion unless acted upon by some outside force). Since he had gone through the same acceleration as his ship, he was in orbit just as it was. Since both were speeding through a virtual vacuum, there was no air drag.

Twenty-six hours and two minutes after launching the cosmonauts landed the Voskhod 2 near Perm, a town west of the Ural Mountains and 700 miles north-east of Moscow, thus completing the first "space walk" accomplished by man. The scientific importance of the feat lies in the fact that it proves the feasibility of some of the space planners' ideas. It has been assumed that astronauts eventually would be able to float in space to make repairs and perform other tasks, including even the assembly of platforms and other craft in space.

Phase Two

On March 24, the next round of space exploits began. The space ship Molly Brown headed for the sky aboard a Titan booster rocket carrying astronauts Major Virgil Grissom and Major John Young. After launching from Cape Kennedy, the Gemini spacecraft went into an elliptical orbit 139.2 miles at apogee and 100.1 miles at perigee.

First two biological experiments were undertaken. The fertility and growth of sea-urchin eggs were checked for the effects of weightlessness, and human blood cells were exposed to the stress of radiation plus weightlessness. Then as Molly Brown curved round the bottom of the globe and came up across the Pacific towards the United States coast, the pilot, Major Grissom, prepared for the first orbital changeover ever undertaken by a spacecraft.

Steering his ship with brief bursts of energy from the appropriate rockets, Major Grissom brought it absolutely level. Then he fired two forward-pointing rockets for precisely 73 seconds. The craft slowed down: the apogee of the orbit dropped by 34 miles. The spacecraft was now in almost circular orbit.

On the second orbit, high over the Indian Ocean Grissom turned his ship 90 degrees to the right. In its new attitude it was circling through the same orbit, but a burst of his rockets moved the space ship about a mile to the south, shifting the orbital plane. After that the pilot turned his ship until it pointed down the track again. While the earth turned below him, he had, in effect, made a right turn, driven a mile, then turned left.

The planned rendezvous with the booster section failed due to lack of fuel in the capsule. The flight gave aeromedical teams much valuable information on reactions of astronauts to long periods of weightlessness.

Meanwhile …

All the time that the Voskhod 2, Gemini and Ranger IX programmes were being carried out, Mariner 4, launched at Cape Kennedy on November 28, 1964, was speeding on its way to Mars. During its 228-day journey the 575lb spacecraft had to transfer from the inside track of earth's orbit to the outer track of Mars's orbit, and finally overhauled the planet, covering 325.1 million miles in all. Then, on July 14, Mariner started transmitting pictures of the Martian surface back across 134 million miles of space.

These increasing miraculous space achievements are stunning compliments to mankind's scientific and technological prowess. While they do not warrant a diminishing concern for finding solutions to the problems besetting people and countries on earth itself, they nevertheless point out the growing ability of human beings to utilize the marvels and power of science for peaceful purposes in the pursuit of a broader and more promising future for all men.


During the same month that Voskhod 2 and the Molly Brown were launched—March, 1965—the Americans launched Ranger IX Moon probe which crashed on the surface of the moon. But before its demise it televised back to earth man's closest and sharpest look at his lunar neighbour.

The series of pictures that Ranger transmitted home began with a view of the Crater Alphonsus, a site which many scientists had picked as one of the most likely spots for a manned landing on the moon. The cameras aboard Ranger never faltered. The field of view rapidly narrowed, and details emerged that had never before been seen by human eyes. The last pictures were transmitted some 0.45 seconds before impact from three-quarters of a mile above the moon. They showed objects as small as 10 inches.

In early June the American Gemini programme advanced another step. Gemini 4, carrying two astronauts. Ed White and Jim McDivitt, accomplished a 98-hour 1,700,000-mile flight. They, like the Russians, achieved a walk in space. The duration was 20 minutes, twice that of the Russians, with corresponding increase of information.

The flight achieved one of two main aims, that of the space walk.