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Minutes of October Activity

         Oklahoma Space Alliance didn’t have a meeting in October. Instead, on October 17, we went to the Stafford Air and Space Museum. Making the trip were Claire and Clifford McMurray, Tom Koszoru and Syd Henderson. Afterward, Claire, Clifford and Syd went to a viewing night at the Cheddar Ranch Observatory.
         The Stafford Museum is located in Weatherford about an hour’s drive west of Oklahoma City. It is, of course, devoted to the history of both aviation and space.
         The first room you enter is devoted to Tom Stafford himself, giving biographical information and the space flights he went on. Stafford was the pilot of Gemini VI, which made the first rendezvous in space. He commanded Gemini IX and Apollo 10. The latter was the second manned flight around the Moon, and he flew in the lunar module to within a few miles of the lunar surface. On this flight, the astronauts achieved the highest speed ever attained by man. Finally, he was commander of the American half of the Apollo-Soyuz Mission in July of 1975.
         The aviation portion of the Museum gives a broad overview of the early history of flight, and includes replicas of early planes, including the Wright Flyer (complete with a mannequin of Orville Wright lying on the wing), the Curtis D Pusher from 1911 (which was the first airplane with ailerons as well as the first to be mass-produced), the Sopwith Pup and the Spirit of St. Louis. The Flyer and Pusher look odd to us today because the propellers are in back of the wings. Since the Flyer also has a flight elevator in front that looks a lot like a tail, it gives the impression that Orville was flying the plane backward. You can also see the wing-warping technique the Wrights used to control flight. Curtis couldn’t use this technique since it was patented, which is why he invented ailerons. He eventually eliminated the front elevator, which, it turned out, made the plane more stable rather than less.
         The museum also includes later aircraft such as a MiG 21, an F-86 Sabre and an F-16, and models of the Hindenburg and SR-71 Blackbird. There is also a glass display case containing hundreds of small models of historical aircraft.
         The space portion includes a Titan II, Gemini and Apollo spacecrafts, memorabilia from Stafford’s missions, historical timelines of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, and an F-1 rocket engine. Some of the memorabilia was donated by Alexei Leonov, the commander of the Russian half of Apollo-Soyuz. Leonov was also the first person to walk in space, and would have been the first Russian to fly around the Moon and to walk on the Moon if the Russian Moon program had been successful. He would also have been on the first mission to a Russian space station, Salyut 1, but the Russians went with the backup crew after one of Leonov’s crew members fell ill. This backup crew was even less fortunate, since they died on re-entry.
         One section that I especially appreciated was a series of glass cases full of 1/72 scale models of major rockets in the history of space. Since they are all to the same scale, you can appreciate how tiny Goddard’s first rocket was compared with the behemoths we use nowadays, and how huge the Saturn V is in comparison with the other rockets. One model shows the Russian N1 rocket, which would have carried the Russians to the Moon. It was fully as big as the Saturn V. The Saturn V carried bigger payloads while the N1 had more thrust. This is a moot point, since none of the four N1 launches were successful. Indeed, none lasted more than two minutes. The history of the N1 and the Soviet plan for manned Moon missions wasn’t revealed until just before the fall of the Soviet Union.
         The documentation on some of the rockets had quite a few errors in thrust and payload capacity, which makes me suspect that they came from a spreadsheet with information entered in the wrong cells. I hope the Museum finds a way to correct this. I didn’t notice any errors in the documentation in other places.
         Admission to the Museum is $5.00. There are also children’s rooms, flight simulators and a gift shop. Guided tours are available on weekdays. Since we were there on Saturday, we guided ourselves and certainly missed quite a bit. Our tour lasted three hours and we could easily have spent several more. The Museum offers quite a few educational programs. For more detail on what the Museum has to offer, you can go to their web site, http://staffordmuseum.com/.

         Saturday, October 17 was also a viewing night for the Oklahoma City Astronomy Club, which has an observatory at Cheddar Ranch, which is far enough west of Oklahoma City to have really dark skies. Central Oklahoma had had rain for several weeks beforehand, but that let up on Thursday and by Saturday the sky was crystal clear.
         Claire and Clifford McMurray are members of the Club and I went along as a guest. We got there early enough for a couple of lectures while we waited for the sky to darken. Exactly how dark it would get I didn’t realize until I went outside and immediately saw the Milky Way in all its splendor, even before my eyes had entirely adjusted. It was easily the darkest sky I’d ever seen. In fact, the Milky Way was so bright that I had trouble making out some of the constellations against it. As a test, I checked out the Little Dipper, in which I can normally only see two or three stars, but this time could easily see the entire asterism. I may also have been able to make out the Andromeda Galaxy by naked eye, but that may have been my imagination.
         Several of the Astronomy Club members had out their binoculars and telescopes, through which they let us look. Thus I actually got to see the Andromeda Galaxy for certain (it was a fuzzy patch of light), and managed to see all four moons of Jupiter at the same time. I couldn’t make out the Red Spot on Jupiter, because, paradoxically, Jupiter was too bright. I would have liked a chance to try to find Uranus, which is in the same constellation as Jupiter for the next couple of months, but there were too many other things to look at.
         One of the things I like to do at these observing nights— this was my second, the first being at the Observatory’s dedication—is see how many constellations I could find. Some, like Ursa Major, Cassiopeia and Cygnus, are easy, but I was surprised to easily make out the small constellation Delphinus, which doesn’t have any bright stars at all—alpha Delphini is magnitude 3.63—but is very distinctive, sort of shaped like a small tadpole. The four brightest stars form a diamond shape called Job’s Coffin. Since I found this, I was able to find Equuleus (the Colt), which is the second smallest constellation in the sky, is even dimmer than Delphinus, and is the least interesting constellation in the sky since it doesn’t contain any interesting stars, nebulae or galaxies. But now I can find it. (The smallest constellation is Crux, the Southern Cross, which is very interesting but which isn’t visible in Oklahoma. The dimmest, Mensa, the Table, is named for Table Mountain in South Africa, and has no stars brighter than magnitude 5,  but at least it has part of the Large Magellanic Cloud. That’s not visible here either.)
         The Oklahoma City Astronomy Club web site, www.okcastroclub.com, has directions to the Observatory, and information on their meetings, their upcoming event at Greenleaf State Park, and upcoming public viewing nights.

--Minutes by Oklahoma Space Alliance Secretary Syd Henderson

To contact Oklahoma Space Alliance, e-mail Syd Henderson.
PO Box 1003
Norman, OK 73070
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