Saturday, July 20, 2019

Breathing Where There Is No Air

Today is July 20th, 2019.

Fifty years ago this day, man first landed on the Moon.

Hours later, at 02:56 UTC, July 21st, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the lunar surface.

The Project Apollo Archive

Hundreds of thousands of people in the USA and from around the world helped make it happen.

My Dad was one of them.

In June of 1966, Norbert G. Donacik graduated from Erie County Technical Institute and went to work for an aerospace company called Carleton Controls Corporation in East Aurora, NY. At the time, Carleton was working on a contract for Hamilton Standard in Windsor Locks, CT, developing life support equipment for Project Apollo. Although it was not his first assignment at Carleton, he was switched to the Hamilton Standard job within a short time, doing A&T (Assembly and Test) work primarily on components for the OPS (Oxygen Purge System), as well as other components for the PLSS (Portable Life Support System) and the life support systems on the Apollo spacecraft, though I regret to say that I don't know any particulars beyond his work on the OPS.

This photo shows my Dad, Norb 'Bruno' Donacik, at Carleton maybe a year or three after the end of Project Apollo, judging by the 'Shuttle Is Our Future' pin on his work shirt.

Project 914 Archives (S.Donacik collection)

While the PLSS was the main means of keeping the Apollo astronauts alive during an EVA (Extravehicular Activity - any crew activity that takes place outside of a spacecraft in space or, in this case, on the Moon), the OPS was the emergency backup system for the PLSS, and supplied about half an hour of  breathing oxygen if used on its own, or roughly 90 minutes if used with the BSLSS (Buddy Secondary Life Support System). There were actually two earlier backup systems developed by Carleton, each referred to as the EOS (Emergency Oxygen System).

The first EOS...

From: Apollo PLSS - Environmental Control of the "Smallest Manned Space Vehicle"

...and the second EOS.

From: Apollo PLSS - Environmental Control of the "Smallest Manned Space Vehicle"

Both of these met the specifications under which they were developed, but, as is often the case, the specs changed. Each EOS shown here would have provided just five minutes of breathing oxygen, which was clearly not much. So, under the revised specs issued by NASA in mid-1967, the greater-capacity OPS was developed and adopted for use during all of the manned Apollo missions. Thankfully, the OPS was never actually utilized in its primary role as an emergency backup.

Here's an OPS, held inverted, while being inserted into its fiberglass shell.

Project 914 Archives (S.Donacik collection)

And here's a look at the PLSS and OPS together in the Lunar EVA configuration, both housed in cutaway shells without thermal covering. In addition to the OPS, I believe that my Dad also did work on the primary oxygen supply and oxygen regulator, both located in the lower half of the main PLSS housing, but I don't know the extent of his involvement with those particular components.


In this photo taken on the Moon by Neil Armstrong, 'Buzz' Aldrin is shown carrying two experiment packages, one of which was the Seismic Experiment. (More on that below.) The PLSS is housed in the large 'backpack', while the OPS is inside the smaller pack on top.

The Project Apollo Archive

A series of three photos taken by yours truly at the National Air and Space Museum showing the cutaway PLSS/OPS they have on display. This first shot shows the same side that's facing the camera in the previous photo of 'Buzz' Aldrin on the Moon.

 S.Donacik photo

The opposite side...

S.Donacik photo

This last shot shows the OPS regulator and O2 bottles in gold. These are the components that my Dad did A&T on... it was so cool to go to a place such as the NASM and see something that my Dad held in his hands... something of such historic import and significance.

S.Donacik photo

Upon departing the Moon, the crews of each mission left behind many objects, including their PLSS packs, though I am not sure exactly what happened with all of the OPS units. I know that in some of the later missions the crews brought them back, at least as far as lunar orbit, in case there was a problem while docking the LM (Lunar Module - the craft that landed on the Moon) with the CSM (combined CM - Command Module and SM - Service Module, 'home' for the entire crew during most of the mission) and an EVA was required in order to enter the CSM. Once a successful docking and transfer of crew took place in lunar orbit, the LM was set to crash into the lunar surface, and I'm guessing that some of the OPS units were left in the LMs... but simply do not know for sure, because I have read that there was at least one instance of an OPS being used during an EVA on the way back to Earth, and also that a few other OPS units were actually brought all the way back to Earth. I don't know how much of these latter two points is true... haven't been able to confirm any of it through an official source, so, again, I don't know what happened with all of the OPS units.

Here's a photo taken from Antares (LM-8) before Apollo 14 left the Moon. Visible are both discarded PLSS packs, one of which clearly shows that the OPS has been removed.

The Project Apollo Archive

Funny little story here... remember the seismic experiment from Apollo 11 that was mentioned earlier? (Read about it HERE.) When Armstrong and Aldrin tossed their PLSS packs out of the Eagle (LM-5), the boys back on the ground at Houston not only saw it through the TV camera, but each 'thud' also registered on the seismometer Aldrin had set up earlier. Upon notification of this, Neil Armstrong apparently said something to the effect of, "Geez, you can't get away with anything anymore, can you?"

Anyhoo, it's probable that at least some of the OPS units remain on the Moon. And I gotta say, even more cool... WAY more cool than the experience of seeing my Dad's handiwork at the NASM... is the idea that some of his handiwork is still up there, and will be for all time... even if it's in pieces and spread across the lunar surface.

I mean, how frakkin' awesome is that?!?


My interest in this subject far outweighs my knowledge, and what I've presented here is obviously a very simple, basic explanation of the Apollo OPS. If you're looking for more detailed information, here's a couple'a links...

Apollo PLSS - Environmental Control of the "Smallest Manned Space Vehicle"

Apollo Oxygen Purge System

This link is to a video... 'tis a neat look at one of the OPS coverings that was brought back to Earth:

Looking at Moon Dust: An Apollo Artifact Comes Out of Storage

One last link, to The Project Apollo Archive, where you will find TONS of photos taken throughout the entire Apollo program, including these three, which are among my very favorites of those taken by the Apollo 11 crew.

The Project Apollo Archive

The Project Apollo Archive

The Project Apollo Archive

And we'll finish off with this... just 'cuz...

S.Donacik photo

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Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Barn Owl From Buffalo

Of all the types produced by Curtiss in Buffalo during the 1930s and 40s, the O-52 Owl is probably in the top five on many a wing-nut's 'obscure' list. Whenever I see a photo of an O-52, it's almost always accompanied by a chorus of enthusiasts singing the same refrain, 'Hmmm... that's a new one on me'.

The O-52 is interesting in that it was not only ordered by the Army Air Corps without having tested a prototype (which in and of itself was not so awfully unusual), but more so because no prototype was ever built to test. Your blogmeister has found precious little information about the development of this wonderful, tubby little O-bird (that's wing-nut parlance for 'observation aircraft'), and no specific details as to why the type flew straight off'a the proverbial drawing board and into production. We here at BuffaloWingz are sure that the straight-dope is out there, hidden, camouflaged, waiting to be found... just haven't spied it yet.

What we do know is that, like so  many military aircraft produced in the USA during the mid to late 1930s, the Curtiss O-52 Owl was dang-near obsolete right from the get-go. Production began in early 1941 and the type was tested under operational conditions for the first time during the well-known US Army GHQ Maneuvers later in the year. The airplane was found... wanting. Actually, to be fair, it wasn't only the O-52 that was found wanting. In light of the then-modern battlefield conditions observed during the war in Europe up to that time (see what we did there?), the whole idea of the so-called 'heavy observation aircraft' was called into doubt.

Now, your blogmeister could keep rollin' down the tracks on this train of thought and wind up wandering far outside the scope of this-here cyber-rag. But he ain't gonna... and this bit is getting too long anyway, so... lemme backtrack a bit in order to wrap it up.

The Curtiss O-52 Owl first flew in February of 1941. As has been mentioned, the type went straight into production... no traditional prototype was produced... the early production ships were used as service test models, similar to the first few early production examples of a much more well-known Curtiss product; the P-40.

Anyhoo, the photo we present here today for the enjoyment of our readership of less-than-half-a-dozen or so shows one of these early production O-52s at the Buffalo Airport on Genesee St. in Cheektowaga, NY.

The date, May 30th, 1941.

The guy with the pikshur-maker... the legendary Rudy Arnold.


NASM (Rudy Arnold photo)

Oh, as we may have mentioned in the past, your blogmeister is also a webmaster. If you wanna see a few more photos of the O-52, take a looksee at THIS PAGE from a little 'ole website known as the 'Hawk's Nest'.

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