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  Apollo boilerplate BP-1227 and the Soviet Union (Page 2)

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Author Topic:   Apollo boilerplate BP-1227 and the Soviet Union
moorouge
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posted 02-22-2012 05:07 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Apollo boilerplate BP-1227 was a Block 2 capsule and allocated to the Atlantic Recovery Force CTF-140 in 1967 at the Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Virginia. Here it joined possibly another six boilerplates with CTF-140. These were –
  • BP-1204 which was used for sea retrieval tests and based at Rota, Spain
  • BP-1206 based at RAF Woodbridge in the UK [now refurbished and located at Patrick AFB, Florida]
  • BP-1207 based at Patrick AFB in Florida
  • BP-1220 based at Norfolk, Virginia
  • BP-1223 based at Lajes in the Azores
  • BP-1233 based in Bermuda.
This capsule might be the one used for the only exercise listed in the official NASA Chronology, it taking place January 26-29th 1969. [1]

Once allocated, the capsules came under the direct control of CTF-140 and it was they who would organise exercises and collaborate with other units needing a capsule to practice recovery techniques for a returning Apollo mission.

A recovery exercise would need a ship to place the boilerplate in the selected location and then stand-off at about twenty miles distance whilst an ARRS unit homed in on the capsule using a SARAH unit. There was also an optical system to aid visibility. If it was an "all-up" exercise to fully simulate an actual recovery the Pararescuemen would be riding in the ARRS search airplane and parachute to the BP. This was a complicated procedure taking into consideration the rapidly drifting BP and dropping men and equipment (smoke pots, rafts, collar etc) to the target.

Most of the support personnel - air crews and PJs - would have gone through this training once or several times. With that level of training behind them they probably could have gone through a less full exercise jumping to the located BP from a helicopter rather than parachuting from a fixed wing aircraft. Once found, the helicopter would drop divers to attach a floatation collar on the capsule and then wait for the ship to return and pick up the capsule. The boilerplates had a high drift rate because of their shape and this could cause difficulties when the divers were deployed. For periodic training they sometimes practiced in a local body of water placing a collar around a BP.

At some point BP-1227 was assigned by CTF-140 to an ARRS unit for such an exercise when, according to a 1976 letter from the Department of the Navy, it was lost off “.. the coast of England”. Dates for this mishap in other sources range from February 1969 off the Azores [2] to January 1970 in the North Sea [3] and January/April in the Bay of Biscay. The most quoted location for the loss is the Bay of Biscay in both American and Russian references. It is interesting to note a couple of coincidences that may or may not have a bearing on the loss. The January 1970 date is roughly the same as when the 67th ARRS moved from Moron, Spain to RAF Woodbridge in the UK and April 1970 coincides with an incident involving a Soviet nuclear submarine in this area.

During or after the exercise when the capsule was lost, whenever it took place, BP-1227 was picked up by a Soviet vessel described as a fishing vessel (trawler or spy ship?). The next firm information we have about this particular boilerplate is on 7/8th September 1970 when it was handed to the USCG cutter ‘Southwind’ whilst this ship was on a visit to Murmansk, having been in the care of officials from the US Embassy for up to three weeks prior to the handover. [4] A Soviet report by the says that the capsule showed little signs of corrosion but that according to experts from the CDBMB (the Soviet Central Design Bureau of Machine Building) who examined BP-1227 after its recovery, it had pieces missing, notably an optical glass lantern and its associated search light beacon. [5] The Apollo 7 Press Kit lists the recovery aids as including “… the uprighting system, swimmer interphone connections, flashing beacon, VHF recovery beacon and VHF transceiver.”

On 24th September the 'Southwind' docked at Portsmouth, UK, arriving three days early on what was originally scheduled for a three day visit. She departed 30th and after visiting Thule, Greenland took part in naval exercises in the area. At some point BP-1227 began to break loose from the tie-downs during a storm and a photo of crew chipping ice from the deck was taken as they prepared to make the capsule more secure. [6] The ship docked at New London CT on 13th November and the 'Southwind's Arctic cruise ended at her home port of Baltimore on 17th November. Though it is quite likely that the capsule was left at New London, it is not certain as one contact thinks that a photo with the boilerplate still in place was taken in Curtis Bay, Baltimore. It is likely that BP-1227 was returned to Norfolk using the regular supply chain between naval establishments.

The Port Services Department at Norfolk was responsible for the maintenance of the boilerplates assigned to CTF-140. They would have been the unit that carried out any repairs necessary to BP-1227 before it was returned to service with the recovery force. These are likely to have been replacement of the location aids and possibly repairing the hatch. It is highly likely that the Russians opened it just to see if anything was hidden inside. [7]

Following the end of the Apollo flights (ASTP in July 1975), BP-1227 was returned to the Port Services Department where it was stored at the Naval Air Station. On 4th November 1976 title to the capsule was transferred from NASA to the National Air and Space Museum. The NASM almost immediately loaned the boilerplate to Grand Rapids, Michigan to serve as a time capsule. The boilerplate went straight from Norfolk, Virginia to its new home. Ownership of the capsule was transferred from NASM to the Grand Rapids Public Museum on 28th March 1986.

Much is known about the history of Apollo boilerplate capsule BP-1227 except the important bit. To date repeated FOIA requests to the Royal Navy, NASA, NARA, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defence and the Department of State have failed to provide any answers. So for the moment, who, when, where and how it was lost remain a mystery.

  1. 1978 NASA disposition of spacecraft document. Unfortunately, for purposes of solving the loss of BP-1227, it places this capsule at Grand Rapids, Michigan.

  2. Also, the Soviets returned an Apollo training capsule (BP-1227) that they had recovered at sea. Apparently the U.S. Air Force Aerospace Rescue and Recovery personnel who were using the 9,500 pound capsule for training but lost it at sea near the Azores in February, 1969. It was recovered by a Soviet fishing trawler. [From USCG history site – note use of the word “Apparently”]

  3. In early 1970, UK-based naval units were training in recovery of an Apollo boilerplate capsule (BP-1227) as part of their assigned mission of rescuing Apollo spacecraft in the case of an emergency abort or return to earth. The capsule disappeared at sea. The circumstances of the loss of the capsule are still not clear. It is not known whether a Soviet 'fishing vessel' nearby was in fact a spy trawler and if the capsule was taken as part of an intelligence operation. [From Encyclopaedia Astronautix]

    The boilerplate CM lost by the Royal Navy and recovered by the Soviet Union was SN BP-1227. [This bit, listed as being ‘final confirmation’ by Dwayne Day appears to have been edited out of the latest version of the entry in Encyclopaedia Astronautix. A FOIA request to the Royal Navy Archives failed to find any involvement with this episode. The only reference to the Apollo programme was an offer of help at the time of the Apollo 13 flight. Also, a link that was claimed to give more details no longer functions.]

  4. Curiously, both the Encyclopaedia Astronautix site and, perhaps more surprising, the ‘Southwind’ web site run by Edward Clancy have quotes from crew members about this visit but there is no mention anywhere of either the handover or the loss. Even odder is that whilst the ‘Southwind’ site has a map showing the route of the 1970 Arctic voyage, the October/November 1970 newspaper cuttings posted from ‘Naval News’ and ‘The Sun’ make no mention at all of the boilerplate. However, there is one entry that seems to contradict the generally accepted date of the handover. This is from the personal log of one of the ‘Southwind’s’ helicopter pilots and dated 6th September - “We took on board a practice NASA capsule that the Russians had found somewhere. It looked like a dummy Gemini capsule. The Russian TV news said that one of the reasons for coming here was to pick up the capsule.”

    One can compare this with the loss of another boilerplate, this time in the Pacific. The USS Phillip sank a loose capsule that broke a tow with two rounds from the ship's 5 inch gun. In this incident crew members talk quite freely about it.

    Further, there is this (with apologies for a Google translation from the original Finnish) - "All information related to the capsule was declared to be secret, and information on extreme case of Hungary, were leaking through the archives until twenty years later. NASA tried to put the humor (archive claimed capsules for children, which opened in 100 years to get), but the capsule itself, and all information is destroyed / hidden." This is taken from www.tiede.fi where one can find more posts about BP-1227.

  5. This is at odds with a comment made by A.V. Blagov, a senior designer at the CDBMB, in Novosti Kosmonavtiki who wrote “Specialists from TsKBM traveled to Murmansk to look at this 'gift of fate'... In general, it was metal, very well made of thick galvanized iron, with no signs of corrosion, a mass-dimension mockup of the Apollo Command Module. Apparently, the production technology was designed for a small series. Unfortunately, we only got a set of search light beacons with an original optical layout of cockpit glass. Everything [else] was very simple ... Even the simulated thermal protection was not worth copying ... We ourselves would not allow ourselves to [build a special series of vehicles for sea trials]..”.

  6. An email to the crew member of the ‘Southwind’ credited with taking the photo failed to produce a response, so whether the photo was taken in the Kara Sea (Encyclopaedia Astronautix) or Baffin Bay (USCG) remains unresolved.

  7. Things did get left inside boilerplate capsules that weren’t supposed to be there. Boilerplate CM009 was used in a sub-orbital test in February 1966. When opened, rolling around on the floor was a 12” clinical thermometer. Somehow it had survived unbroken for the duration of the flight.

nickbulatov
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posted 03-06-2013 05:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for nickbulatov     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Kingsport News from Saturday, Sept. 5, 1970 included a UPI article, "Russians Returning U.S. Moonship"
The Russians said Friday they were returning an "experimental U.S space capsule" they had found, but the U.S. space agency said it probably is an old dummy Apollo moonship that blew off a Navy ship two years ago.

Tass, the official Soviet news agency, said the capsule that was discovered by Russian fishermen in the Bay of Biscayne off the coasts of Spain and France would be transferred to a U.S. icebreaker Saturday.

While the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said it was glad to get the thing back, a spokesman said as far as NASA could determine, the object was a dummy Apollo capsule that the Navy lost two years ago while practicing the pickup of astronauts returning from the moon.

"It was later reported by several ships off the coast of Spain as a hazard to navigation, but we never could find it," the spokesman said.

He added that Russians recently asked in a telegram if the United States wanted the capsule back, and information was sent to the U.S embassy in Moscow to help positively identify it.

"We haven't heard from the embassy yet, but we're sure that is what it was," the spokesman said.

Tass said the capsule had been launched into space and would be picked up by the icebreaker Southwind, but the space agency if it was the dummy capsule as it believed, it was never launched anywhere.

"The experimental space capsule which was launched under the Apollo program and was found in the Bay of Biscay by Soviet fishermen will be transferred to U.S. representatives," Tass said. "The U.S. icebreaker Southwind will come to Murmansk to take the capsule on Saturday."

The report did not say when the fishermen found the capsule in the Atlantic Ocean bay, which is cradled by the coasts of Spain and France. It did not describe the capsule.

Tass said William Harben, a U.S. embassy official; Franklin Babbit (Babbitt), a naval attache, and Richard M. Rodnia, a deputy military attache, had arrived at Murmansk Friday.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Moscow had announced earlier that the Southwind, a 268-foot icebreaker sailing northern waters, would call at Murmansk Saturday through Monday to give its crew shore leave. He did not mention the capsule.

"The purpose of the first American icebreaker to call at Murmansk is to provide an opportunity for rest and relaxation for the crew," the embassy said. Capt. Edward D. Cassidy, commander of the Southwind, will be received by a deputy commander of the Soviet northern fleet.

Intourist, the Soviet travel organization, has arranged a sightseeing tour for the ship's 23 officers, 172 men, and 7 oceanographers, which includes visits to a fish-factory ship and a reindeer herd.

nickbulatov
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posted 03-06-2013 05:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for nickbulatov     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
And from the European Stars and Stripes, another UPI article (page 19) from September 06, 1970, "Russia Says Apollo Capsule Is Found, Will Be Returned"
The Soviets have plucked from the ocean a U.S. space capsule they describe as part of the Apollo moonshot program and plan to return it to American officials this weekend, the official Tass news agency said.

Checks with U.S. Embassy officials indicated the Soviets have had at least two weeks to examine the space hardware and U.S. officials knew it, but their decision to return it at this time came as a surprise.

One embassy spokesman said U.S. officials had viewed the object Friday and could not confirm it was an Apollo program item. But he added "it was my impression from their report it is a whole piece of equipment" and not a fragment.

The Soviets said bluntly they intended to put the capsule aboard the U.S. icebreaker Southwind, which was putting into the Bering Sea port of Murmansk Saturday for three days. U.S. officials said subsequently they had asked Washington for permission to make the transfer.

A three-paragraph announcement by Tass Friday afternoon gave the first inkling the Russians had any U.S. space gear.

An "experimental space capsule which was launched under the Apollo program and was found in the Bay of Biscay by Soviet fishermen will be transferred to U.S. representatives," it said.

"The U.S. icebreaker Southwind will come to Murmansk to take the capsule on Saturday."


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