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See also 10-15 July 1969 (prelaunch countdown), 16-19 July 1969 (launch), 20-22 July 1969 (Lunar landing) and 23-27 July 1969 (triumphant return).


19 July 2009, Sunday

Earth seen from TLI

Earth as seen from Apollo XI. bigger. (photo: NASA.)

This snap was made in the middle of Apollo XI's three-day translunar coast on 17 July 1969. They were already 113,000 miles away.

As of this morning, our astronauts are coming to the end of their translunar coast. They've been hurtling at about 3,600 MPH, or about 1 mile per second, for the past three days towards the moon.

They also made some color TV transmissions we all watched. I got to watch them with my dad on the Heathkit color TV we built together; most people who didn't have engineers as dads were still watching TV in B&W into the 1970s. In the 1960s, if you bought a pre-made color TV, it cost about one-third the price of a new car!

Back to the translunar injection made three days ago. This is what set this flight apart from simply orbiting the earth. Earth orbits are good for show, but don't get you anywhere.

The 5-1/2 minute translunar injection (TLI) burn is what took these guys out of Earth orbit and onto their flight towards the moon. This TLI burn is what sets manned space flight apart from shuttle missions that don't go anywhere. A shuttle mission is like the shuttle that gets you from your car to the airport terminal. It's important, but it's not flight. You have to leave Earth's orbit to get anywhere, which is what makes the TLI burn that blew them out of Earth's orbit and on to the Moon three days ago so important.

The TLI burn forced them into their seats at about 1.3 Gs, or about 30% stronger than a hot rod can accelerate. A Camry or Taurus only does half of a G of acceleration. Even if a Hemi 'Cuda (or E55 AMG) can pull a full G (limited by tire adhesion), cars only pull their maximum acceleration in 1st gear, or only for a couple of seconds to up to about 40 MPH. To go 0-60 MPH (0-100 kph), you're pulling a lot less Gs at 60 MPH or at the end of the quarter.

When Apollo XI fired its TLI burn, these guys got slammed into their seats at 1.3Gs for over five continuous minutes! That's what pulled them to 3,600 MPH.

Anyway, after the past three days coasting at 3,600 MPH, today at 10:21:50 AM PDT (1:21PM EDT or 17:21:50 UT), Apollo XI turned around and fired its main engine for just over 6 continuous minutes (357.5 seconds) while pointing away from the moon so that they could slow down and enter lunar orbit. How powerful is this braking effect? About 1.2 Gs, or about 30% stronger than the brakes on your car, and they put up with this for six minutes to slow down. Imagine going so fast you had to lay on your brakes as hard as you can for six minutes to haul it down! They were flying! (they pulled a lot more Gs as they blasted from the ground into orbit.)

After they slowed down, they made another 17 second burn to perfect and circularize their lunar orbit.

It is hilarious to read all of the in-cabin conversations that are part of the mission transcript, which are copied down from the in-cabin voice recorders. Much to my surprise, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins had little to no training in the photography they needed to do, and pretty much are guessing about everything other than flying. Ditto for running the video and radios: these guys are not engineers or scientists who do shuttle service; the men of Apollo are military pilots.

The transcripts are loaded with these guys losing the Hasselblad (it floats around on its own in the tiny cabin) and them guessing about magazines, dark slides, f/stops and even the zoom settings on their movie camera. We have to give them credit on the photos: they had no light meters and no viewfinders: they just guessed at exposure and pointed it in the general direction and hoped their best.

Back to being pilots. The transcripts are loaded with confusions about everything not directly related to flying the ship, even confused at times with navigation or whining about navigation equipment.

You'll see no confusion when it came to how to fly, with little to no discussion or mention of it. They just flew.

These guys know how to fly. That's why they were chosen. Since they know how to fly, they didn't need to talk about it; they just did it.

After coasting at one mile per second for the past three days, and then slowing themselves and putting themselves into orbit around the moon while also shooting movies, setting up TV, broadcast remotes, taking still photos, talking on the radio (which required constant fiddling to get the right antennas, frequencies and ground stations), without any discussion amongst themselves after they got themselves in orbit, they discovered that they arrived exactly where they intended — to within about 0.2 miles after coasting 250,000 miles.

That's incredibly precise flying.

As we'll see tomorrow, it is Armstrong's incredible piloting abilities which made this mission a success, and without which we wouldn't have landed and would have had to go around and come back on the next mission instead.

Back to photography. What sets those who know from those who don't is how much they talk about it. It's the Two Kinds of Photographers: there are those who know, and those who just talk about it.

The pilots flying to the moon didn't need to talk about flying; they just did it. It is such second nature to them that it doesn't warrant discussion, just as adults don't talk much about their own potty training

The best way to spot a guy who doesn't know his stuff is that he'll be going off all day long about pixels, HDR, BSP, ISOs, pan-focus, stitching, millimeters and f/stops, while the gal or guy who knows his stuff just shoots. People who know how to shoot spend their time talking about how they got someplace, what they did, or what went on, but not about gear or technique. Technique has to be easy; if you get caught up in it, you'll never really be able to crank out good photos on a regular basis.

The way you learn your stuff, as pilots say, is stick-time. You can spend all the time you want talking about something, but you need to get out there behind the stick and fly. The more you shoot and see what you get, the more you'll learn what to adjust when, and soon you'll be shooting while paying all of your attention to your pictures where it counts, and not wasting attention on equipment or technique.

This is where digital is a huge help. If you can keep your hands off the menus (which makes digital far worse than film when you're learning), you can see what you got as you get it and learn fast, if you realize that the only controls you should be learning are how to lighten or darken a picture (the +/- button) and color, which is the WB button.

Master these two buttons, and you've mastered 90% of your technique. Don't let yourself get distracted by all the other BS and menus and settings until you can nail the basics. If you get side tracked by HDR and pixels you'll never master photography, which is the color and exposure I mentioned, along with lighting and composition.

All day you should dream about SEX to become a better photographer. Forget pixels and ISOs.



Ritz Camera

I personally buy from Adorama, Amazon, Ritz, B&H, Calumet and J&R. I can't vouch for ads below.


18 July 2009, Saturday

Canon T1i

Canon Digital Rebel T1i and 18-55mm IS.

NEW: Canon Digital Rebel T1i Review.


Canon 18-200mm IS

Canon 18-200mm IS.

NEW: Canon 18-200mm IS Review.


Canon 18-55 IS

Canon 18-55mm IS.

NEW: Canon 18-55mm IS Review.


17 July 2009, Friday: Translunar Coast

Today Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin are in translunar coast aboard Apollo 11.

This means that they are hurtling towards the moon under inertia without any need for additional power.

Today, after a day of coasting since yesterday's launch, transposition and translunar injection, Apollo XI made a 3-second burn as a mid-course trajectory correction.

They'll keep coasting all weekend until it's time to fire rockets again to slow down and enter lunar orbit on 19 July 1969.


Lens Reviews

One cranky reader said space exploration was nice, but how about some lens reviews?

In case you forgot, the USA's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was tasked in 1969 to invent a data networking system that would be resistant to atomic attack. It could automatically re-route data around any points that got hit. The automatic re-routing was critical, since this network was being designed to carry data critical to the world's freedom in case the USA came under atomic attack.

This was done concurrent to the Apollo project.

What was this 1969 data network called? ARPAnet, of course. It was only used by the military in the beginning, and then scholars in the 1970s and 1980s who had the gear to address it. With the creation of the 'net browser so that ordinary folks could navigate it, the world was finally able to navigate this network and find what they needed via HTML links.

ARPAnet was later called DARPAnet, and today it most commonly is referred to as the Internet. It's the same thing.

If it wasn't for Apollo era this research, we'd have no free lens reviews every day over the Internet, and we all would have to go buy magazines each month and hope something of interest got reviewed.

Our conquest of the Moon showed us that anything is possible. It is what inspires all people to the curiosity which results in new cameras, and new lens reviews.

That said, I have three new reviews on my launch pad I expect to finish for you today, and thank the Apollo project and America's unbounded curiosity for bringing us the Internet.


Moon Launch


Forty years ago this morning, men left this earth to walk on the Moon. NASA has a live audio feed of the entire Apollo 11 Mission starting with the launch this morning and running all week until they return. Here is a written transcript of all voice communication, and here's the formerly confidential transcript of everything they said onboard, including a ton about shooting the Hasselblads and other cameras. Take the time to read the onboard transcript; it's hilarious since these guys are pilots first and foremost, not photo enthusiasts like us.

I covered the basics of the rockets, technology, terminology and logistics over the past few days, so now let's recall just what went on forty years ago today.

Crew of Apollo XI

The Crew of Apollo XI as selected by NASA in May 1969: Left to right: Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. enlarge RealRaw. Is your digital camera as sharp as film was, 40 years ago? Sorry.

Here is the Apollo 11 Countdown, from 40 years ago. As I write this, we are at T-13 hours. Apollo XI liftoff is at 6:32AM PDT (9:32 A.M. EDT, 13:32 UT) this morning.





At T-5 hours, 17 minutes (1:15AM PDT, 4:15 A.M. EDT or 08:15 UT), the flight crew woke up. Florida is on EDT; they got up at quarter after four. These guys love O dark 30.

Breakfast was at 5:00 A.M. EDT (local time) or 2AM PDT, 09:00 UT.


At T-3 hours, 07 minutes (3:25 AM PDT, 6:25 A.M. EDT or 10:25 UT) astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot, ride the special transport van over to Launch Complex 39A where their spacecraft awaits.



At T-2 hours, 45 minutes (3:47AM PDT, 6:47 A.M. EDT or 10:47 UT), the crew of Apollo 11 arrives atop Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, during the Apollo 11 prelaunch countdown. Leading is astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, commander. He was followed by astronauts Michael Collins, command module pilot. (a techni (3:47AM PDT, 6:47 A.M. EDT or 10:47 UT)cian follows behind Armstrong and Collins.)

At 3:54AM PDT (6:54 A.M. EDT or 10:54 UT), Neil Armstrong was the first astronaut to enter the capsule.


Apollo XI liftoff at 6:32AM PDT (9:32 A.M. EDT, 13:32 UT), pad 39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA, 16 July 1969. It was only 724 milliseconds behind schedule.

Even though it's 9:30 in the morning in Florida, this photo looks dark because the flames from the one-billion horsepower of the five Rocketdyne F-1 engines are so bright that they are brighter than the Florida sunshine. The camera had to be set to an exposure much less than that for daylight.

Here is a progressive series of photos as Apollo XI lights up, the explosive bolts fire to release the craft from the scaffolding, and all 6,484,289 pounds of Apollo XI, the heaviest thing ever to fly, passes the top of the tower as the scaffolding folds away:

launch a

launch b

launch c

launch d

Apollo 11 Launch


A few moments later, it was gone.


Here is slow-motion 500FPS film of the launch from the pad:

Apollo 11 Saturn V Launch (HD) Camera E-8.


These next two shots come from a 70mm Airborne Lightweight Optical Tracking System (ALOTS) tracking camera mounted on an Air Force EC-135 aircraft flying at about 40,000 feet. The pod in which this is mounted is 20 feet long and 5 feet in diameter.


In just 2 minutes and 40.8 seconds, the 7.6 million-pound thrust of the Saturn V (S-1C) first stage boosted Apollo XI to an altitude of 36.3 nautical miles at 50.6 nautical miles downrange.

The first S-1C stage separates at 2 minutes 41.6 seconds after liftoff:


As the spent first stage (S-1C) falls away, the mated Apollo spacecraft and Saturn V second (S-II) and third (S-IVB) stages pull ahead under new power from the second stage. This separation occurred at an altitude of about 38 miles, some 55 miles downrange from Cape Kennedy.

In less than three minutes, they just burned through over a million gallons of propellant and are already 60 miles away. They've dropped the biggest part of their ship, the huge first stage of the Saturn V, into the ocean.

I remember watching this on TV. It was crazy enough that this all was happening at all, but as the tiny dot on the screen continued to get smaller, all I could think was "holy crap, there are men in that thing, and they really are going to the moon. This is for real!"

For you who like video, here is the film of the blast-off, and here is the film of the first stage being blown away and the second stage lighting up to send our men into orbit.

When the second stage was spent and the third stage fired up, they were too far away for anyone else to see it.

At T=00h 09m 01s (nine minutes after launch) they dropped the second stage, and at T=00:09:16 lit off the third stage.

At T=00h 11m 42s (almost 12 minutes after launch) they shut down the engine of the third stage at while flying at 17,000 MPH (five miles per second, or twelve times the speed of a rifle bulet). They then coasted for one and a half orbits around the Earth to pick up speed.

This takes a couple of hours.

At T=02h 44m 19s, (almost three hours after launch at 9:16:16 AM PDT (12:16 PM EDT, 16:16:16 UT)), the third stage engine was fired again for 5 minutes and 48 seconds, pushing Apollo XI out of Earth's orbit at 24,245 mph, or 7 miles per second, on its way towards the moon. Holy cow.

This is called "translunar injection" or TLI.

TLI is the difference between a space flight that goes someplace, and just running around in circles orbiting the earth. Orbits are fun, but the TLI burn is what makes Apollo worthwhile and unequalled.

earth from Apollo XI

A Hasselblad shot out the window, just after TLI. enlarge RealRaw.
(about 9:30AM PDT (12:30PM EDT, 16:30UT).

Can your digital camera do what Hasselblad did 40 years ago? Sorry. The astronauts shot this hand-held on film while flying at thousands of mile per hour!

Here's an audio clip from the onboard recorder where they're talking about camera settings, possibly the settings for this shot.

Worse, if this had been shot on digital, NASA would most likely have erased the cards, tapes or hard drives on which this was recorded to record something else that seemed more important later. Think this is unlikely? NASA erased the original tapes of video from the moon of the actual landing back in the 1980s so they could record newer data that seemed more important at the time!

If NASA saw fit to erase the original telemetry tapes on which the moon walk video was recorded, you know all the less important photos above would have been trashed decades ago if they had been shot on erasable digital media as we use today.

The LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) rides in the third stage. It can't ride on top of the rocket at launch because that's where the spindly white Launch Escape System (LES) tower rides. The LES has rocket motors and parachutes to attempt to save the men in the capsule if anything goes haywire during the launch. It's jettisoned after launch.

Here's how the third stage, LEM, Service and Command Modules are now configured. The LEM is inside the third stage:

3rd stage

33 minutes after the translunar injection burn, or at T=03h 17m 19s, Neil Armstrong fired the pyro (exploded) the bolts that held three peices of the ship together (Command and Service Module, Lunar Module and the third stage), and had separation between the three peices. The covers blow off and expose the LEM.

The LEM starts coming slowly out of the third (S-IVB) stage while the Command Module turns around to point back at the LEM and docks with it at T=03h 29m 35s (9:56:03 AM PDT, 2:56:03 PM EDT or 16:56:03 UT).

Here's NASA's diagram of how they do this. TLI is the translunar insertion blast that happened half an hour ago. On this diagram, "FPS" is speed in Feet per Second:


75 minutes after that (T=4h 50m or 11:12 AM PDT, 2:12PM EDT or 18:12 UT), the shell of the spent third stage is shot into orbit around the sun (heliocentric orbit).

Our men were now safely hurtling towards the Moon at an average speed of about 3,500 miles per hour for the next three days. They started at 24,245 mph as they glided away from Earth, slowing from Earth's gravity, and then at 43,495 miles from the moon they started speeding up again as the Moon's gravity pulled them in.

They will arrive in Lunar orbit in about three days, a quarter million miles away.

Is anything else important today? I think not. Maybe it's better to spend the day reflecting how we can do anything to which we set our minds. If you're not getting this, you lack imagination. Dream.

If you're at work, go home and dream. Tell your boss I gave you permission. This is what has fueled my ambition for the past forty years. If what we could pull this off forty years ago, we can do anything today.

More information: Live Mission Recreation, Boston Globe, NASA's latest on Apollo 11, NASA Apollo 11 history, NASA's original Apollo 11 press information (9MB PDF), audio voice recordings from the capsule.

(Photos: NASA.)


Stuff that was new in:

Apollo background and 1st half of July 2009

June 2009

May 2009

April 2009

March 2009

February 2009

January 2009

December 2008

November 2008

October 2008

The end of September, 2008 (Photokina)

The beginning of September, 2008

August 2008

July 2008

June 2008

May 2008

April 2008

March 2008

February 2008

January 2008

December 2007: Loads of details about the Nikon D3, D300, 14-24mm and 24-70mm, much of which still isn't on the individual review pages.   

November 2007: First hands-on details about the Nikon D3, D300, 14-24mm and 24-70mm, much of which still isn't on the individual review pages.   

October 2007

September 2007

August 2007 (Loads of new Nikons and Canons)

July 2007

June 2007

May 2007

April 2007

March 2007

January and February 2007

2006 November - December (includes birth of Ryan Rockwell)

2006 October - November (includes photos from a trip to NY)

2006 June - September

2006 Jan - May


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