austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Now Andy did you hear about this one?

There are many things I love about the world whether or not it has malfunctioning cars. The Aerospace Legacy Foundation has been, according to a blog I found through Aviation Week which I found in turn through Reuters without which I'd have no personality, preparing exhibits for the Columbia Memorial Space Science Learning Center, being built in Downey, California. This is the area where, decades ago, North American Aviation actually physically built the Apollo command modules. To be included in the exhibit were Apollo Boilerplate Number Six, which had been sitting on display in the area on a concrete ring there since the 1970s, and Boilerplate Number 19, which was used in parachute testing.

Well. Last week the Aerospace Legacy Foundation drilled open the hatch of Boilerplate Number Six, since the first step in restoration is doing irreversible damage (I'm being more facetious than usual and don't begrudge them stuck ancient bolts), and president Gerald Blackburn climbed through the frame and stepped inside where he saw the interior was in good shape, but was completely wrong from the historical drawings, and that according to the identification plate inside this was, in fact, Boilerplate Number Twelve. (This was the boilerplate which first flew aboard the Little Joe II rocket, as part of qualification and testing for the Launch Escape System under flight conditions.) It was later used for testing of water impact configurations (making sure that if the capsule landed pointy-edge down, it would right itself soon enough).

But then ... where is Boilerplate Number Six, which for decades had been thought to be right here? Nobody's got an answer for that.

I love it. The Apollo program is perhaps the best-documented thing humanity has ever done, and when it comes to the fate of a couple of production-line capsules, each of them trailed by a small mountain of paperwork, we can get it wrong with ease. Generally when it comes to views of history I fall in with the ``vast unstoppable forces'' theory, but I do leaven that with ``great individuals'' and the critical ``vast cock-up''. For example, while newly unified Germany was probably unavoidably going to rival Great Britain, that the rivalry should end up in two World Wars instead of an Anglo-American style round of little squabbles and peace through fear the other is up to something was to a good extent because Germany happened to have as Kaiser William E Coyote, Grand Strategy Soooooper-Genius. The boilerplates are a modest but cute example: sometime, forty years ago, somebody wasn't sure which Apollo capsule boilerplate was sitting in the yard, and took a fifty-fifty chance on it. The world's wonderful.

Trivia: Chemist Russel Marker in the 1940s developed a process for synthesizing progesterone from an obscure species of yams grown in Veracruz, Mexico which had no use other than as a mild fish poison for local farmers. Source: Napoleon's Buttons, Penny Le Couteur, Jay Burreson.

Currently Reading: King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three Royal Cousins Who Led The World To War, Catrine Clay.


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