The 40th Anniversary of the Apollo program
This series of commemorative rocket launch flights are staged by FLARE, the Fellowship of Las Cruces Area Rocketry Enthusiasts. We will launch scale models of both Historic White Sands rocketships, and Apollo era spacecraft.
Apollo 8 commemoration, Dec. 21, 2008
It was a bright, still morning, overlooking the Tularosa basin from our perch at the New Mexico Museum of Space History, in Alamogordo.
The word “awesome” aptly sums up the Apollo 8 Commemoration Event held December 20-21, 2008 at the New Mexico Museum of Space History, in Alamogordo, NM.
Cathy Harper, the museum’s special events director, turned over the second floor of the museum for the Fellowship of Las Cruces Area Rocketry Enthusiasts (FLARE) static exhibit. A one-quarter-scale Patriot missile complete with launcher, built by FLARE member Lee Powell, was in the center of the gallery. There was also an Apollo 8 display that included a working 1:100 scale Saturn V launch pad, a framed and autographed Apollo 8 crew photo, a launch photo, a cut-away plastic model of the Apollo Capsule/Service Module, and a framed poster listing all of the Apollo missions. Along the glass windows to the west was the Sport Model display
The Commemoration Event on Sunday was the weekend’s highlight. Cape Canaveral would have envied the launch-perfect weather. New Mexico’s skies were clear, the wind was minimal, and the temperature was in the low 50s. Approximately 40 people, mostly tourists visiting from around New Mexico as well as at least one foreign tourist from Germany, watched the commemorative launches.
The “Rockets of White Sands” scale model demonstration opened the event. The first in the series was an Aerospace Specialty Products Mid Power 1:6 scale Wac Corporal powered by an Aerotech F40 reloadable motor. This was followed by an Estes 1984-1987 1:25 scale V-2 and an Estes 1991-1992 1:100 scale Little Joe II.
A very impressive “NASA Historic Manned Vehicle Launch” demonstration followed. This was the first time for many rocket enthusiasts to see all of the NASA manned vehicles on the same launch rack. The Estes 2001-2005 1:34 scale Mercury Redstone, the Estes 1995-1008 1:34 scale Mercury Atlas, the vintage 1965-1973 1:53 scale Estes dual engine cluster Gemini Titan, and the 1991-1993 1:100 scale Estes Saturn IB launches were all spectacular. There was no lack of enthusiasm from the crowd.
The reenactment culminated with the Apollo 8 launch. This was the first full-up launch ever from FLARE member Dave Kovar’s scale model Saturn V launch pad. Dave started construction in 1993 while living in Huntsville, Ala., where Wernher Von Braun achieved his successes during the glory years of the Saturn program. It seemed appropriate the first launch was fired overlooking the white sands of the Tularosa Basin, in sight of where Von Braun launched his V-2 rockets. The German scientist came to southern New Mexico at the end of World War II.
Prior to all launches, museum Educational Specialist Michael Shinabery provided a historical perspective of each rocket, as well as a more in-depth narrative of Apollo 8. Just before countdown, the motorized crane of the Saturn V Launch Utility Tower swung into launch position. At t-minus 60 seconds, the museum began replaying the actual audio from the Apollo 8 countdown. At t-minus 50, the White Room Swing arm retracted from the Apollo capsule. At t-minus 10 seconds, the Saturn V swing arms snapped into launch position.
With the pad controller’s job now complete, the responsibility was turned over to the launch controller, FLARE member Jim W. Basler.
At t-minus 8 seconds, the audio barked out "ignition sequence starts." Basler pressed the button for the pre-ignition motors at t-minus 6 seconds, as the historical audio announced "all engines running." A black puff of smoke rolled from beneath the pad. The 29mm pre-ignition motors anchored in the Flame Trench of the launch pad base came to life, slowly at first, then with full force. Exhaust streamed out from both ends of the flame trench. At the front end, the exhaust ricocheted against the deflector plate and billowed 10 feet into the air. The only aspect missing in the very realistic moment was the thunderous vibration produced by the actual Saturn F-1 engines. Basler pressed the launch commit button at two seconds, and at zero the Saturn V came to life and roared off the pad on an E18-4 Aerotech engine.
The flight was very short due to an engine malfunction. At approximately 2 seconds into the flight and max speed for the Saturn V model, the ejection charge prematurely detonated and the parachutes deployed. Unfortunately, the recovery system was not designed to deploy at such a speed. The shrouds were torn off of one chute and the shock cord snapped on the other. Fortunately, the Saturn V came down in a flat spin and sustained minimal damage. The model will be ready to fly again in March for the Apollo 9 Commemoration.
Enhancing the event were two attendees, Don McMorris and John Murphy, who played a part in the history-making of Apollo 8.
McMorris worked on the SIV-B stage and spent quite a bit of time on pad 39A crawling around the inside of the SIV-B. He also worked on Apollo 9. McMorris said one of the most fascinating areas he remembers was the inside of the Apollo 9 SIV-B as he looked up to see the Lunar Excursion Module tucked away inside the third stage shroud. He reminisced about spending lunches on the White Room gantry 300 feet up from the base of the pad and throwing paper airplanes of the side with his workmates. What a view that had to have been, and what a thrill to have worked on the stage that sent the first humans on their way to visit another celestial body.
Murphy worked on the Little Joe II program at White Sands Missile Range. When all the testing was completed on the Apollo escape system, he headed for Cape Kennedy to be a part of the White Room crew. He was there on the day astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders showed up to enter the Apollo spacecraft for their journey to the Moon. John himself helped them into the capsule.
The museum management was appreciative and scheduled a free showing of the IMAX film “Magnificent Desolation” just for the FLARE volunteers.