ALAMEDA, Calif.--Parked at a dock in the San Francisco Bay sits a floating museum of military history and space exploration that many Bay Area residents have no idea is right in their backyard. The USS Hornet has achieved momentous military distinction, and played a vital role in the history of the American space program.
Destroying 1,410 enemy aircraft and more than a million tons of enemy shipping, the Essex-class aircraft carrier, known ominously as the "Grey Ghost," played a pivotal role in virtually all of the assault landings in the Pacific from March 1944 until the end of World War II.
Its planes stopped the Japanese super-battleship Yamato and played a major part in sinking that vessel. It launched the first strikes in the liberation of the Philippines, and, in February 1945, made the first strikes on Japan since the Doolittle Raid in 1942.
For 16 continuous months during WWII, the USS Hornet was in action in the forward areas of the Pacific combat zone, sometimes within 40 miles of the Japanese home islands.
Following World War II, the Hornet served in the Korean War, Vietnam War, and then played a part in the Apollo space program, recovering the astronauts from the first moon landing mission, Apollo 11, in 1969.
The ship was eventually restored and designated a National Historic Landmark, and in 1998 the USS Hornet opened to the public as the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda, Calif.
All combat operations for the ship were run from central command inside the Combat Information Center. The CIC, shown here, was essentially the operational "brain" of the ship, where enemy contacts were tracked on plotting boards, tables, radar, and other instruments.
Inside the CIC, as seen from the ranking officer's platform, are the illuminated panels used to keep track of weather conditions, friendly contacts, and dispatched aircraft, as well as their assignments and the status of the vehicles.
All contacts (surface, submerged, and air) are identified and tracked from the CIC. The boards in this photo give their contact type, distance, and bearing. The small circular screens (orange-colored at bottom center and bottom right) are radar displays.
This display in the Combat Information Center plots the type, distance, bearing, and heading of all known contacts.
Airborne contacts shown as triangles in the upper right corner, designated B13 and B14, are at bearings 21 and 38 degrees, respectively, from the Hornet.
The linked arrows protruding from the triangles indicate the contact's heading, and the numbers beside each arrowhead indicate the time the contact heading was recorded.
The radarscope operators gave range and bearing data from the radar contacts on the radarscopes, which were then plotted on the board backwards and in grease pen so the planners on the opposite side of the transparent master display could read it.
Along with performing general security duties aboard the ship and protecting the officers while at port, the 50 Marines stationed on board the USS Hornet had another vital duty--securing the cache of nuclear weapons the Hornet was carrying.
During the Vietnam War, the Marines aboard the Hornet were responsible for keeping watch over the potentially devastating weapons, which thankfully never had to be used.
Sealed below in the door on the left, Marines stationed at the gatehouse on the right kept a 24-hour watch.
An alarm rigged to sound if the Marine moved from his secure watch position platform ensured the weapons would never be left unattended.
Known as one of the most successful and reliable models of helicopter ever built, the all-weather Sikorsky SH-3H Sea King has been assigned to some prestigious missions through the years.
Sikorsky No. 66 of Helicopter Squadron 4, operating from the USS Hornet, recovered five manned space missions, including Apollo 11 and 12 in 1969.
The Sea King has been used for presidential transport, torpedo and drone recovery missions, search and rescue missions, and combat support roles. It was also the first helicopter to fly non-stop across the United States, when on March 6, 1965, a Sea King took off from the USS Hornet in San Diego and landed aboard the USS Roosevelt near Jacksonville, Fla., 15 hours, 52 minutes, and 2,2116 miles later.
Sikorsky Sea Kings have participated in nearly every American space program, and have recovered Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab mission crews.
The Sikorsky seen here, currently on display aboard the USS Hornet, was used as the lead helicopter in the film "Apollo 13."
When the USS Hornet recovered the Apollo astronauts from the Pacific following the first moon landing mission, Apollo 11, on July 24, 1969, the astronauts were plucked from the Apollo module by a Sikorsky helicopter, and the Hornet's crane lifted the Apollo Capsule CM-011A into the ship through the cargo bay door.
Capsule CM-011A, seen here aboard the USS Hornet, was used on the unmanned suborbital Apollo-Saturn 202 (AS-202) mission, which was designed to test the flight systems of the capsule prior to the manned space missions.
Built to the specification of the actual module to be used in the manned mission, the module was used for NASA research in parachute development and water drop tests, stability and vibration characteristics testing, and recovery simulations.
A view inside the CM-011A module, which is on display aboard the USS Hornet. Here, you can see the three seats inside the capsule, which is identical in design to the capsules the Hornet recovered after splashdown of the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 manned moon missions.
The first steps Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins took on Earth--from the helicopter to the quarantine trailer--are marked on the hangar deck of the USS Hornet as part of the Apollo program exhibit.
Immediately after returning to Earth and being hauled aboard the USS Hornet, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were quarantined inside the Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) aboard the USS Hornet.
NASA speculated that travelers to space might return with exotic viruses, and decided to quarantine the astronauts, equipment, and lunar samples returning from the moon for 21 days.
Before being moved to the more permanent quarantine facility, the Lunar Recovery Laboratory at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, NASA used this pressurized mobile facility, the MQF.
All waste was stored inside the facility with the astronauts and kept for the duration of the 21-day period.
Once locked inside the MQF, the Hornet continued on to port in Hawaii, where the MQF was put aboard an airplane and flown to Houston, Texas, to the more permanent Lunar Recovery Laboratory.
A look inside the Mobile Quarantine Facility where astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins were quarantined following their time in space.
The MQF is a specially designed facility based on a standard 1969 Airstream trailer. The trailer has no wheels and instead is welded to a 35-foot pallet with special tie-downs.
In addition to portability aboard the USS Hornet, the MQF was made to be attached to larger Air Force transport planes while the inhabitants under quarantine are moved to a more permanent facility.
Comfortably housing six people for up to 10 days, the mobile building has bunks, toilets, a kitchen, table, chairs, and medical diagnostic equipment.
Along with a flight surgeon and an MQF technician, the astronauts were moved immediately into the facility via a plastic corridor, along with the moon rocks and other equipment used on the moon.
The rock samples were packaged into airtight containers and sent back to Texas, and the astronauts remained inside the MQF until they, too, were airlifted from Hawaii back to Texas and placed inside the Lunar Recovery Laboratory for the remainder of the 21-day quarantine period.
The Hornet's wartime accolades didn't come without a cost. The operating room aboard the Hornet had everything needed to treat sailors during battle.
All told, in its 27 years of active service, more than 300 people lost their lives aboard the USS Hornet.
Sailors have walked into aircraft's spinning props, been sucked into air intakes, and blown off deck by aircraft exhaust.
Dropped ordinance has exploded, burning and maiming sailors. Snapping flight arrest cables are known to have decapitated at least three men on the USS Hornet.
The medical department spaces are located amidships on the second deck. Hornet is equipped with a variety of specialized medical facilities, including an audiometry chamber, X-ray equipment, and a full-size operating room.
Hornet had a number of aid stations scattered throughout its hull, used as triage stations for the wounded, although all were not as lavishly equipped as the medical department's own. Serious cases were sent to the sick bay.
The beds in the sick bay, seen here, had thick mattresses that were much nicer than the standard canvas cots that were crammed into the regular sleeping quarters.
The USS Hornet typically had one or two squadrons of planes onboard, for a total of about 40 planes.
Inside the mission briefing room, teams reviewed intelligence and mission details before embarking from the ship.
One former Navy crew member described to me the thick clouds of smoke that would hang in these briefing rooms as the fighter pilots received their orders.
Originally, the ready rooms were located below the flight deck but above the hangar deck, on the "O" levels. However, wartime experience convinced the Navy to relocate their aircrew spaces to a less vulnerable location, beneath the armored hangar deck.
Climbing multiple ladders to reach the flight deck became a problem for heavily laden aircrews, however. This issue was later solved with the installation of an escalator directly to the flight deck.
Torpedo Squadron 17, VT-17, a fleet of General Motors TBM-3 Avenger Torpedo Bombers, was stationed aboard the USS Hornet on April 7, 1945, when the squadron took part in an attack on Japanese naval forces including the "unsinkable" super battle ship the Yamato.
Immediately sinking one of the battleship's escorts, the Hornet's Avenger Bombers scored the first torpedo hits on the Yamato.
The Essex class carrier USS Hornet was attacked 59 times during its career, but remarkably was never hit. This chart hanging in the flight deck commemorates the hundreds of planes shot down and ships sunk during the Hornet's wartime operations.
The Hornet also has the distinction of once being hit by a torpedo, which bounced off of the Hornet's hull and failed to detonate.
During its career, planes launched from the Hornet destroyed 1,410 Japanese aircraft and destroyed or damaged 1,269,710 tons of enemy shipping.
Earning service awards for excellence in battle, the Hornet earned nine battle stars for its service in WWII and was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its WWII operations, a distinction only nine carriers have achieved.
Supporting nearly every Pacific amphibious landing after March 1944, the Hornet famously shot down 255 aircraft in a month, and shot down 72 enemy aircraft in one day during WWII.
Its reputation as a warrior in the history of the U.S. Navy is punctuated by the distinction of scoring the critical first hits in the sinking of the super battleship Yamato, which had been declared by the Japanese as unsinkable.
These SSQ-77A Sonobuoy are examples of the different types of anti-submarine sonar technology, which was dropped by the Hornet's aircraft.
The one-time use devices, which when activated are live for 1, 4, or 8 hours, use hydrophones and omnidirectional arrays that descend to depths of 1,000 feet. The detected sounds are transmitted back to the aircraft, enabling the planes to locate and attack the submarines.
Oil vessels, which powered the massive piston operating the cable launching system, were playfully painted with "Beer," "Gin," and "Rum" labels by those who no doubt longed for more carefree home life while sailing the seas.
The USS Hornet is equipped with four redundant navigation systems, to ensure the crew always has control of the ship even when the primary ship controls might be heavily damaged in an attack.
The third electrical control system is located deep within the ship. Situated four levels down and in the center of the ship where the crew is well protected from attack, these controls are quickly accessible to sleeping soldiers.
A radar display, power, and rudder controls allow the crew to safely navigate from here in an emergency that might disable the primary controls.
The Forward Emergency Generator Room housed an emergency generator, which was coupled with a second identical generator aft.
Both generators could supply all critical electrical power needs in case of failure or shutdown.
A small staff was assigned to maintain the emergency generator, periodically turning it on and ensuring the generator was always in working order. The room even housed a set of bunks so the emergency power was constantly kept at a state of readiness.
In the event of a major fuel fire aboard the ship, a protein-based foam made of animal byproducts and salt water pumped from the sea was sprayed over the fire.
The foam settled over the fire, forming a suffocating blanket. The foam was used in place of water because, as with grease fires, water can spread a fuel fire. The racks held 5-gallon cans of foam concentrate, and the foam-producing stations were placed throughout the ship.