October 14 was a starry night at Symphony Center. Photo: Bob Benenson

Usually, when I go to a concert, nothing can distract from the delight of live music. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s multi-media performance on October 14 at Symphony Center — titled “The Galaxy’s Greatest Hits” as a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar mission and the breadth of the U.S. manned space program — was an exception. This was only because the musicians were upstaged by Charlie Duke, who in 1972 became the youngest man ever to walk on the moon.

Charlie Duke in 1972 became the youngest man to walk on the moon. Photo: Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Only 12 humans have ever walked on the moon, and now I’ve been in the same room with one of them. Scratch that off the bucket list.

Duke, now an 84-year-old retired U.S. Air Force Reserves brigadier general and businessman, was in graduate school at MIT, after serving as an Air Force fighter pilot, when he was accepted into NASA’s astronaut program. He went on to serve on five Apollo missions, and his moonwalk during the Apollo 16 mission came when he was 37 years old. He said he had so much fun on the moon that he didn’t want to come back.

The master of ceremonies who interviewed Duke onstage was a fictional astronaut of note: George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu, the helmsman of the USS Enterprise on the original TV show version of Star Trek.

NASA is developing new spacesuits for their Artemis program. The new suits will give the astronauts greater mobility, will be safer, and will be designed from the ground up to fit women.

The roots of modern spacesuits, or Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMUs) go back to the Apollo missions. In fact, the spacesuits that NASA astronauts wear during spacewalks are 40 years old. Those spacesuits were never designed to fit women astronauts, and NASA intends for Artemis to get the first women to the Moon. For that and many other reasons, NASA is updating the design.

The new design is called Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or xEMU.

The first NASA spacesuits were just upgraded high-altitude flight suits used by the US Navy. The Gemini astronauts used them, but never left low-Earth orbit, though they did perform spacewalks. When the Apollo mission was announced, NASA designed new spacesuits. Astronauts needed greater protection while on the lunar surface, and they needed mobility to complete their tasks. The spacesuits were upgraded for later Apollo missions, but over the years since then the design has remained essentially the same.

Astronauts White and McDivitt inside the Gemini 4 spacecraft. Those first spacesuits were just modified high-altitude flight suits. Image Credit: By NASA - Great Images in NASA Description, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6458643
Astronauts White and McDivitt inside the Gemini 4 spacecraft. Those first spacesuits were just modified high-altitude flight suits. Image Credit: By NASA – Great Images in NASA Description, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6458643

Spacesuits are robust units that provide all of the protection that a spacecraft does. In a press release, NASA calls them “a personalized spaceship that mimics all of the protections from the harsh environment of space and the basic resources that Earth and its atmosphere provide.

“Boeing has implemented advanced manufacturing technologies for design, test, and production of the core stages, which will make both core stage production and upper stage development faster, more efficient, and safer,” said John Shannon, Boeing vice president and Space Launch System program manager. “The evolvable nature of the rocket will allow us to onboard new advances in materials and production technologies as we move forward to the moon and on to Mars.”

  • Mission Control at the NASA Johnson Space Center on May 15, 2014, in Houston. Photo: Smiley N. Pool, Staff / Staff Photographer / © 2014 Houston Chronicle

    Mission Control at the NASA Johnson Space Center on May 15, 2014, in Houston.

    Mission Control at the NASA Johnson Space Center on May 15, 2014, in Houston.

    Photo: Smiley N. Pool, Staff / Staff Photographer
Photo: Smiley N. Pool, Staff / Staff Photographer
Image 1of/7

Caption

Close

Image 1 of 7

Mission Control at the NASA Johnson Space Center on May 15, 2014, in Houston.

Mission Control at the NASA Johnson Space Center on May 15, 2014, in Houston.

Photo: Smiley N. Pool, Staff / Staff Photographer
Mission Control restoration wins award
1 / 7
Back to Gallery

This year was already a big one for the Mission Control Center at Johnson Space Center with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. Renovation of the Mission Control room was completed in time for the anniversary, and was the cornerstone of NASA's celebration of that anniversary. Now the National Trust for Historic Preservation has selected the Mission Control project as an award winner in this year’s President’s Award for National Leadership in Historic Preservation.

The award "recognizes a place of national importance and pride to the American people."

The laborious process required all manner of experts to restore and replace a room that had fallen into disrepair. Carpet and wallpaper samples had to be matched, and chairs reupholstered. All the tech equipment in the room had to be returned to its original Apollo-era configurations.

“Houston, Columbia. Wheels down,” said Col. Eileen Collins, 20 years ago, just as the space-shuttle mission she’d commanded landed smoothly at the Kennedy Space Center. Over the crackly radio, a NASA colleague congratulated her and the team for its “outstanding” five-day mission. They’d successfully launched Chandra, the world’s most powerful X-ray telescope (a title it holds to this day) and the largest satellite the shuttle had released. Collins’ role in STS-93 was historic too—she’d become the first woman to command a space shuttle mission.

The distinction was another first in a career full of them. Collins, who grew up in Elmira, New York, was among the vanguard of female pilots who joined the Air Force in the years after it opened pilot training to women. In 1995, she became the first woman to pilot a space shuttle, and later, in 2005, she led the “Return to Flight,” as the first mission after the fatal Columbia disaster was known. Today, artifacts from her career are held in the collections of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. As Chandra celebrates 20 years of monitoring the universe, we caught up with Collins, who retired from NASA in 2006, about her experiences in NASA and the Air Force, the Space Race anniversaries being celebrated this year and more.

Smithsonian Magazine:
You recently wrote the foreward to
TheSpace Race: The Journey to the Moon and Beyond, a book about the history of American space exploration. This year, we've seen the Apollo anniversary and the 20th anniversary of a space shuttle mission that you were involved with, STS-93, that launched the Chandra X-ray Observatory. What do these anniversaries make you think about?

Eileen Collins:
On the day of the first moon landing, July 20th, 1969, I was just a child, and I remember how inspiring the space program was to me.