Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Boilerplate Apollo With a Sounding Rocket on the Side

I've posted about the Cernan Earth and Space Center before, but that was some years ago. The planetarium still has its modest collection of space artifacts, many of them associated with Gene Cernan, including the spacesuit he wore on the Apollo 10 mission, but also some spare hardware. Inside the building is a never-used lunar module ascent engine and a Gemini retro motor (Cernan flew on Gemini IX-A), among other things.

Outside the building is an Apollo test capsule, which is the white cone-shaped object in the photo.

"Having the same size, weight and weight distribution of an operational Apollo capsule, test capsule like this one were used by NASA and the U.S. Navy to practice ocean recoveries during the 1960s," notes a nearby sign. The space program argot for such a capsule is a "boilerplate," a term I learned reading about the Apollo program as a kid. It wasn't until later that I heard other uses for the word, including the paragraphs near the end of a press release that describe the company for whom the release was issued, and which are reused many times.

According to A Field Guide to American Spacecraft, this particular boilerplate Apollo is BP-213, one of a number scattered around the country. Most are at museums, as you'd expect. But one is (fittingly) at the Apollo Middle School in Hollywood, Fla., while another is (strangely) at a Dairy Queen in Franklin, Pa. At least it was as of 2007, says Roadside America.

Next to the test capsule is a Nike Tomahawk sounding rocket -- first stage Nike, second stage Tomahawk. The Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles says that "the first Nike-Tomahawk flew on 25 July 1963. The rocket could lift a payload of 45 kg (100 lb) to 370 km (230 miles) or 115 kg (255 lb) to 215 km (134 miles) altitude. The USAF launched 38 Nike-Tomahawks between April 1967 and November 1983, mainly on aeronomy and plasma physics missions. The last of almost 400 Nike-Tomahawk launches by any user was a NASA flight in November 1995."

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