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  Apollo command module EVA handles post-reentry

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Author Topic:   Apollo command module EVA handles post-reentry
Paul78zephyr
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Posts: 627
From: Hudson, MA
Registered: Jul 2005

posted 09-05-2017 11:44 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul78zephyr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Did the EVA handles on the Apollo command module get damaged during reentry? Have the ones on the command module on display been refinished or replaced (as they look pristine; for example Apollo 14 CM)?

Are those handles aluminum or stainless steel?

Interestingly it seems that the Apollo 7 and Apollo 8 command modules did not have these handles. But on this picture of the Apollo 8 command module you can see the fasteners where the handles would mount.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 38101
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 09-05-2017 01:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The handles were primarily intended to ease the emergency transfer of astronauts from the lunar module to the command module and so were unneeded on Apollo 7 and Apollo 8 (though Apollo 8 was originally slated to fly with a lunar module, hence possibly the reason the attach points are there, but that is just a guess).

I don't know for certain about all of the command modules, but on Apollo 11, the handles were removed post flight due to their inclusion of radioactive "glow-in-the-dark" discs that were meant to help the astronauts find the handles. The discs were unsafe for public display.

NASA partnered with the non-profit International Vet Medical Foundation (IVMF) to "study the effectiveness of the sealant barriers confining the radioisotopes" for a period of over 10 years. As a result of the length of the study, NASA transferred ownership of one of the handles to IVMF, which subsequently auctioned it in 2000.

That handle is now part of Steve Jurvetson's collection. According to Steve:

The concern, post-flight, was that the radioactive material could pose a risk to the public... if the discs cracked... and a visitor ingested the radioactive leakage somehow. So the handles on Columbia in the Smithsonian are replicas, minus the radioactive discs.
According to Steve's research, all the other flown handles went to a nuclear waste dump supervised by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

space1
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Posts: 752
From: Danville, Ohio
Registered: Dec 2002

posted 09-06-2017 07:06 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for space1   Click Here to Email space1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The handles were made from 2024-T3510 aluminum. You can see in photos that they were also covered in the same thermal tape as the rest of the Command Module exterior.

It's disappointing to hear that most of the flown handles were consigned to a waste dump.

SpaceAholic
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Posts: 4010
From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 09-06-2017 07:41 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If not that, then some other form of safe sequestration pending decay of the Promethium-147 doped discs.

space1
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Posts: 752
From: Danville, Ohio
Registered: Dec 2002

posted 09-06-2017 08:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for space1   Click Here to Email space1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I understand the reason. Just shedding a tear for their fate.

Robert Pearlman
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Posts: 38101
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 09-06-2017 09:10 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Apparently, the light switch(es) inside the command module also incorporated Promethium-147 to ease in their location.

I suppose those switch panels met a similar fate to the handles, though being inside the command module — where the public would not have access — might have spared their removal.

space1
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Posts: 752
From: Danville, Ohio
Registered: Dec 2002

posted 09-06-2017 11:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for space1   Click Here to Email space1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Robert, you might be thinking of the LM. All of the LM toggle switches had plastic tips with radioactive material inserted. The tips were installed late in the pre-launch timeline to minimize exposure to crews.

There's a NASA publication regarding Apollo radiation hazards which mentions the switch tips and the handle discs. I'm not able to search for it at the moment to see if we are missing anything else.

SpaceAholic
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Posts: 4010
From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 09-06-2017 11:09 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
LM docking target as well.

Paul78zephyr
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Posts: 627
From: Hudson, MA
Registered: Jul 2005

posted 09-06-2017 12:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul78zephyr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you for those replies. Instead of disposal of the handles why didn't they just remove the buttons as it appears they did on the Apollo 14 command module. Or are those handles non-original?

Any thoughts on my original question concerning reentry damage?

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 38101
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 09-06-2017 12:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As John (space1) mentions above, the handles were covered in the same thermal tape (commonly, but often mistakenly, referred to as Kapton) as the rest of the command module, which should have protected them from any reentry damage.

If I am understanding correctly, all of the handles on display today are ground spare replacements, but I don't know that for certain.

space1
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Posts: 752
From: Danville, Ohio
Registered: Dec 2002

posted 09-13-2017 11:24 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for space1   Click Here to Email space1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I found the NASA report to which I was referring regarding radiation hazards. It is Apollo Experience Report: Protection Against Radiation.

Starting on report page 9, it mentions the LM switch tips, the Lunar Roving Vehicle control panel, and the Remote Control Unit of the EVA suit. No mention here of the discs on the CM handles or LM docking target.

moorouge
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Posts: 2334
From: U.K.
Registered: Jul 2009

posted 09-25-2017 01:32 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It's curious that the Apollo Recovery Operations Manual makes no mention of radioactive material being a hazard. The manual is very specific about pyrotecnic devices and RCS fuel and how to deal with them and what areas to avoid. But no mention of Promethium-147?

SpaceAholic
Member

Posts: 4010
From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 09-25-2017 07:10 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There is a generic warning for recovery crews to avoid radioactive material, however with respect to the EVA handles, the dosage/exposure risk was so insubstantial that it would not have merited specific handling procedures during the short period of interaction between the (recovery) crew and he handles.

Risk escalates for those who remained in sustained close proximity early in the handles' life (within a foot or two) for longer then a few days.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 38101
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 10-07-2017 09:26 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
While browsing images for something else, I came across this image of Apollo 11's Columbia post-flight, still aboard the USS Hornet, showing the radiation caution labels applied to the EVA handles and hatch.

All times are CT (US)

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