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    Re: Sextants in space
    From: Paul Dolkas
    Date: 2018 May 18, 17:57 -0700

    I think one of the reasons they are repeating these experiments is that at NASA, once a program (e.g. Gemini, Apollo, or Skylab) is done with, the government typically lays off most of the workforce, and the people and all their experience get scattered to the winds. Then a few years go by, a new program starts up, and a whole new generation comes along and re-invents the wheel.


    I was amazed while I was researching the subject of space sextants that a lot of the pioneering work was done at NASA-Ames in the mid 60’s.  I can guarantee there isn’t anybody doing anything even remotely like that at Ames today. The people who had done the research had written their reports, and retired or been laid off decades ago.  So it’s a bit sad but not surprising that we are doing it again.


    As for the use of digital cameras or other such devices, I can only speculate that those approaches presume that some level of functionality in the electronics remains after (multiple) system failures. Since your life literally depends on some fairly precise navigation, it would be reassuring to know that if everything craps out you still have a manual backup that won’t. Kinda like knowing how to do a sight reduction if your calculator falls overboard. Or how to use an E-6B and compass to dead reckon a flight plan if your GPS goes down.


    Paul Dolkas


    From: NavList@fer3.com [mailto:NavList@fer3.com] On Behalf Of Frank Reed
    Sent: Friday, May 18, 2018 12:01 PM
    To: paul@dolkas.net
    Subject: [NavList] Re: Sextants in space


    Greg, you wrote:
    Wouldn't a digital camera be the better solution for backup CN on a space craft ?"

    Absolutely. This is where the "show" beats the "science". There are obviously better practical options, but this will look great in videos, and it will make NASA's astronauts look like explorers again. What next... tri-corner hats?? Eyepatches?? Arrggg. :) Plus, one or more of the astronauts may have requested a sextant for their own amusement and personal experiments. They are allowed such luxuries.

    All aspects of manual celestial navigation were thoroughly tested out fifty years ago on Gemini and Skylab missions. Most aspects of a considerably more sophisticated semi-automated form of celestial navigation using a sextant built into the hull were tested on the early Apollo missions (mostly ignored in later missions except for the then-critical role of astro-compass to realign the inertial navigation system). The idea that we need these experiments today is an excellent example of the makework craziness that we get from the ISS. It's a waste of time and money.

    Frank Reed

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