Saturday, April 25, 2009

Baby Jessica McClure

Born on March 26th, 1986, Jessica Morales née McClure became a media sensation at the mere age of 18 months after she fell into a well in Midland, Texas on October 14th, 1987.

She was rescued on October 16th, 1987 after rescue workers worked for 58 hours straight to free "Baby Jessica" from the eight-inch-wide hole that she had fell into. The story gained worldwide media attention (leading many to label it a media circus), and later became the story of an ABC TV movie aired in 1989. As the movie demonstrated, a vital part of the rescue was the use of the then relatively new technology of waterjet cutting.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Waco Siege

The Waco Siege, often referred to as the Waco Massacre, started on February 28th, 1993 when the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) attempted to execute a search warrant at the Branch Davidian ranch at Mount Carmel, a property located about nine miles east-northeast of Waco, Texas. An exchange of gunfire resulted in the deaths of four agents and five Branch Davidians. A subsequent 51-day siege by the Federal Bureau of Investigation ended on April 19th, 2003 when fire destroyed the compound. Eighty-one people eventually died, including more than 20 children and two pregnant women, along with Davidian leader David Koresh.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Maersk Alabama Hijacking & Rescue

On April 8th, 2009, with a crew of 21 Americans, the Maersk Alabama was en route to Mombasa, Kenya. The Moller-Maersk Group, the largest container shipping company in the world, is one of the United States Department of Defense's primary shipping contractors. The ship was reported to be carrying 17,000 metric tons of cargo, of which 5,000 metric tons were relief supplies bound for Somalia, Uganda, and Kenya. According to second mate Ken Quinn, the pirates sank their speedboat shortly after boarding the Alabama early on Wednesday, April 8th. As the pirates were boarding the ship, the crew members locked themselves in a room.

The crew soon used "brute force" to retake control of the ship, and overpowered one of the pirates. The ship's captain, Richard Phillips, 53, surrendered himself to ensure his crew's safety. The crew attempted to trade the pirate they had captured and tied up for twelve hours for the captain, but after the crew released their captive, the pirates refused to honor the agreement. They fled in one of the ship's covered lifeboats with nine days of food rations and took Phillips with them

On Sunday, April 12th, 2009, Capt. Richard Phillips was rescued, reportedly in good condition, from his pirate captors. The commander of United States Fifth Fleet Vice Admiral William E. Gortney reported the rescue began when Commander Frank Castellano, captain of the Bainbridge, determined that Phillips' life was in imminent danger and ordered the action. President Barack Obama had previously given standing orders to take action if it was determined Phillips' life was in immediate danger. The Vice Admiral reported that U.S. Navy SEAL snipers on the Bainbridge's fantail opened fire and killed the three pirates remaining in the lifeboat with a simultaneous volley of three shots. At the time, the Bainbridge had the lifeboat under tow, approximately 25 to 30 yards astern. A fourth pirate was aboard the USS Bainbridge negotiating a ransom and was taken into custody. The U.S. Navy evacuated Captain Phillips via RHIB boat to the USS Bainbridge and then flew him by helicopter to the USS Boxer for medical evaluation.

Monday, April 13, 2009

US Airways Flight 1549

US Airways Flight 1549, flown by Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger was a scheduled commercial passenger flight from New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina, that, on January 15th, 2009, ditched in the Hudson River adjacent to Manhattan six minutes after departing from LaGuardia Airport.

On it's initial climb the Airbus A320 struck a flock of Canada Geese which resulted in an immediate almost complete loss of thrust from both engines. When the aircrew determined that the plane would be unable to safely reach any airfield from its location just northeast of the George Washington Bridge, they turned it southbound and glided over the river, then ditched the airliner virtually intact near the USS Intrepid Museum in midtown Manhattan. After the 155 occupants safely evacuated the partially submerged and sinking plane they were all rescued by nearby watercraft.

The entire crew of Flight 1549 was later awarded the Master's Medal of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators. The award citation read, "This emergency ditching and evacuation, with the loss of no lives, is a heroic and unique aviation achievement."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Tear Down This Wall

Built in 1961, the Berlin Wall became known as a symbol of communism. Arriving in Berlin on June 12th, 1987, U.S President Ronald Reagan was taken to the Reichstag, where he viewed the wall from a balcony. Reagan then made his speech at the Brandenburg Gate at 2 PM, in front of two panes of bulletproof glass protecting him from potential snipers in East Berlin. About 45,000 people were in attendance; among the spectators were German president Richard von Weizsäcker, Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and Berlin mayor Eberhard Diepgen. That afternoon, Reagan issued challenge to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, saying:

We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

Apollo 7

Apollo 7 was the first manned mission in the Apollo program to be launched. It was an eleven-day Earth-orbital mission, the first manned launch of the Saturn IB launch vehicle, and the first three-man American space mission. The flight was an open-ended flight which meant that the mission would continue as long as it was safe and there were enough consumables on board, including oxygen. It flew low around the earth so it could track life-support systems, the propulsion systems and the control systems.

Mission highlights
Apollo 7 was a test flight, and confidence-builder. After the January 1967 Apollo launch pad fire, the Apollo command module had been extensively redesigned. Schirra, who would be the only astronaut to fly Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, commanded this Earth-orbital shakedown of the command and service modules. Since it was not carrying a lunar module, Apollo 7 could be launched with the Saturn IB booster rather than the much larger and more powerful Saturn V. Schirra wanted to give Apollo 7 the callsign "Phoenix" (the mythical bird rising from its own ashes) in memory of the loss of the Apollo 1 crew, but NASA management was against the idea.

The Apollo hardware and all mission operations worked without any significant problems, and the Service Propulsion System (SPS), the all-important engine that would place Apollo in and out of lunar orbit, made eight nearly perfect firings.

Even though Apollo's larger cabin was more comfortable than Gemini's, eleven days in orbit took its toll on the astronauts. Tension with Commander Schirra began with the launch decision, when flight managers decided to launch with a less than ideal abort option for the early part of the ascent. Once in orbit, the spacious cabin may have induced some crew motion sickness, which had not been an issue in the earlier, smaller spacecraft. The crew also found the food to be bad. But the worst problem occurred when Schirra developed a bad head cold. As a result, he became irritable with requests from Mission Control and all three began "talking back" to the Capcom. An early example was this exchange after Mission Control requested that a TV camera be turned on in the capsule:

Walter Schirra looks out the rendezvous window in front of the commander's station on the ninth day of the mission.SCHIRRA: You've added two burns to this flight schedule, and you've added a urine water dump; and we have a new vehicle up here, and I can tell you this point TV will be delayed without any further discussion until after the rendezvous.

CAPCOM: Roger. Copy.
CAPCOM: Apollo 7 This is CAP COM number 1.
CAPCOM: All we've agreed to do on this is flip it.
SCHIRRA: ... with two commanders, Apollo 7
CAPCOM: All we have agreed to on this particular pass is to flip the switch on. No other activity is associated with TV; I think we are still obligated to do that.
SCHIRRA: We do not have the equipment out; we have not had an opportunity to follow setting; we have not eaten at this point. At this point, I have a cold. I refuse to foul up our time lines this way.

Exchanges such as this would lead to the crew members being passed over for future missions. But the mission successfully proved the space-worthiness of the basic Apollo vehicle, and led directly to the bold decision to launch Apollo 8 to the moon two months later.

Beyond a shakedown of the spacecraft, goals for the mission included the first live television broadcast from an American spacecraft (Gordon Cooper had broadcast slow scan television pictures from Faith 7 in 1963) and testing the lunar module docking maneuver with the launch vehicle's discarded upper stage.

First orbit: perigee 231 km, apogee 297 km, period 89.78 min, inclination 31.63 deg., weight: CSM 14,781 kg.

The splashdown point was 27 deg 32 min N, 64 deg 04 min W, 200 nautical miles (370 km) SSW of Bermuda and 13 km (8 mi) north of the recovery ship USS Essex.

Apollo 7 was the only manned Apollo launch to take place from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 34, as all subsequent Apollo (including Apollo-Soyuz) and Skylab missions were launched from Launch Complex 39 at the nearby Kennedy Space Center.

As of 2009, Cunningham is the only surviving member of the crew. Eisele died in 1987 and Schirra in 2007.