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Christmas Gift Guide

Welcome to DFJ. Have a rocket.

Behind the desk

Gimbal lock

Not exactly user-friendly

The flight computer

Engineering, get me more power!

Fuel cell

Don't fail me now

We have no holodeck

Back from the moon

Before fly-by-wire

Open the hatch


For big thumbs

Not a standard

Nuclear Saturn V?

The command module, as re-envisioned

Lovely piping

Build log

"They had no GPS."

You can't own a piece of the moon. Or can you?

Venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, has a thing for space. When he's not investing in startups like SpaceX and Tesla, he indulges this hobby. About two years ago, he began acquiring artifacts from the Apollo program.

This is a Lunar Module Descent Engine. This unit, which Jurvetson believes may be the only complete one still in existence, obviously did not go space. Those that did, stayed there.

The LMDE used hypergolic fuels: Two chemicals that combust spontaneously when mixed. On Apollo 13, the LMDE was used to push the docked Lunar Module plus Command Module back to Earth when disaster struck that mission on the way to the moon.

Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
Jurvetson keeps a collection of Apollo gear behind his desk. But the rest of his Palo Alto, Calif., office is pretty crammed with old gear, too. Keep going through the slideshow to see details.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
A three-axis intertial measurement unit from the Apollo program that shows the orientation of the spacecraft.

On the Apollo 11 mission, two of the three axes ended up nearly parallel to each other, a situation known as "gimbal lock." The flight computer locked the display in a fault configuration, and the astronauts had to recalibrate the system by coordinating it with star sightings.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
This is an Apollo-era computer interface. Called the DSKY (Display and Keyboard), it was operated by entering in code numbers for "nouns" and "verbs."

Jurvetson believes NASA built about 75 DSKYs. He also says that during their construction, NASA absorbed "the majority" of semiconductors that were being manufactured at the time.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
A Launch Vehicle Digital Computer from Apollo. Buried inside are magnetic core memory boards. This module holds 114k bits (14 planes with a 128 x 64 fabric of ferrite donuts), Jurvetson says.

He adds: "More interesting still is the ghost in the machine. The magnetic cores within still hold whatever program they had when powered down. Since there are no tapes or archives of the code, it is possible that the only remaining copy of the Saturn V flight program is in cores like this. I have the load/write boards, and they look very wonky. If you know of any living domain expert on this system, please point them my way." (from his Flickr archive)

"Furby had more compute power," Jurvetson says. For more about the LVDC, see Spaceaholic.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
A power control and monitoring panel from the Apollo 1 design. Jurvetson says that it's on a panel like this that the Apollo 13 drama likely played out for the astronauts, as they tried to make sense of their dwindling power situation on their readouts.

Geek alert: Jurvetson has annotated this panel with mouse rollovers (awesome).
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
This Apollo-era fuel cell combined hydrogen and oxygen to make electricity, with a byproduct of water. It made about 1,400 watts continuously, but Jurvetson said it could not easily be turned down if the spacecraft needed less power from time to time.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
A prototype for the Valve Package Assembly, which mixed the propellants that fueled the Lunar Module ascent engines. If this unit didn't work, the Lunar Module stayed on the moon.

Jurvetson says that Neil Armstrong called this complex and electrical assembly a "hairball." It's reportedly the only piece of equipment that gave him nightmares.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
To practice docking and landing maneuvers, NASA created models of spacecraft and landscapes and elaborate semi-mechanical simulators. Here, Jurvetson holds up a Lunar Module scale model over a portion of an accurate 3D model of the lunar landscape. These props were used to train astronauts.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
Everything that NASA sent to land on the moon stayed there, except for the astronauts, a few kilograms of moon rocks, and the very rare piece of equipment, like this Crew Optical Alignment Sight.

The COAS was a periscope-like optical device that Apollo pilots used to sight their targets on spacecraft they were docking with (Lunar Module to Command Module).

Apollo 16 commander John Young secreted this COAS back from his Lunar Module, the Orion. He held on to it for 38 years. Jurvetson bought it at an auction; it was the first major acquisition of his collection.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
A 1962-era prototype for a Gemini capsule three-axis attitude controller. It was all mechanical, and the handle is carved wood. By the time the Apollo missions came around, attitude control was electronic.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
This is a prototype Lunar Module nose hatch. When docked to the Command Module, astronauts would go through this open hatch to move between the ships.

Jurvetson says the final hatches were completely round, with no flat spots. He says that in early tests, NASA found that astronauts' big life-support backpacks could get hung up on the indent.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
When a space capsule splash-landed in the ocean, frogmen needed a way to communicate with the astronauts inside. This was the phone the divers carried to plug into a port in the capsule to do that. Later, NASA used radios. But in the early days, it was with bright orange handsets.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
This is the "cobrahead" microphone controller that astronauts had on the outside of the space suits. The switch has two positions, one for talking on the radio to Earth, and the other for communicating over intercom to the mission's other crew members. The switch is giant-sized, so it could be used by space-suited hands.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
The odd connector at the end of the cobrahead.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
During the Apollo era, Lockheed proposed a new propulsion technology for moon missions: Nuclear power. This model of the Saturn V was made to pitch the concept.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
In Lockheed's concept, the main launch vehicle would be conventionally fueled, but the upper stage engines would be powered by reactors. This turned aluminum model shows was a stage would look like.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
Detail of the valves on top of the LMDE (see slide 1). Jurvetson says the simplicity of the system is beautiful. The rocket is almost entirely mechanical and chemical. Mix the fuels, and you have lift-off.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
A Lunar Module construction log. As the vehicles were built, engineers did trouble-shooting along the way. Jurvetson is still scanning and converting the logs he has.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
A map printed to go in the Gemini 3 capsule, signed by pilot John Young. The astronauts could tell what part of the Earth they were over by correlating their time since launch with the plot lines on the map.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
It is illegal for private individuals to own moon rocks brought back by the Apollo missions. This piece of the moon came from a meteorite, which, upon analysis, was determined to be identical in composition to the rocks from one area where an Apollo mission landed. A meteorite must have struck the moon, and fragments from that collision eventually found their way down our gravity well.

Jurvetson says it, like the Earth, is 4.6 billion years old.
Caption by / Photo by Rafe Needleman/CNET
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