Air Conditioning, Missiles, and Space Travel

April 25, 2001
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The U.S.-Soviet Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and NASA Project Mercury and the Apollo space missions all relied upon air conditioning. It was mission critical.

At first, however, a shortage of skilled construction workers seemed to threaten missile projects that were deemed necessary to U.S. national security at the time.

“In one of several moves aimed at speeding installation of intercontinental missiles in combat sites, the Pentagon reportedly is working with the Labor Dept. on guides for settling jurisdictional disputes between construction craft and industrial unions, which allegedly have slowed down work.

“In addition to labor unions, the overall ‘speed-up’ program is directed at contractors and the military itself, all of which, top defense officials say, have contributed to delays in missile installations,” reported The News.

“One military source said many of the workers ‘just weren’t sufficiently skilled because many places where we build sites aren’t good labor areas.’”

Air conditioning was vital to missile launches. “The air conditioning industry can be proud of the part that it plays in the U.S. missile program,” reported The News.

“There are some missilemen who will venture the opinion that without air conditioning, it might be impossible to launch certain missiles now vital to our national defense.”

It was also vital to U.S. space travel.



Mercury and Apollo

“A 1-cu-ft thermoelectric refrigerator, designed and built by the Westinghouse new products laboratory, was one of the key components of a manned capsule that housed an Air Force scientist on a simulated week-long mission into space,” reported The News on May 23, 1960.

“Designed to operate in the weightless environment of orbital flight, the refrigerator is a complete food storage system.

“‘Thermoelectric refrigeration is achieved simply by passing an electric current through the proper kinds of semiconductor materials,’ pointed out Chris J. Witting, Westinghouse vice president-consumer products. ‘To achieve warming instead of cooling, it is only necessary to reverse the flow of electric current by flipping a switch.’”

It was later reported that “Twelve of the tracking stations that will monitor the course of the first United States astronaut in space are being equipped with air conditioning systems manufactured by Westinghouse Electric Corp.

“The installations, strung out in a pattern that encircles the globe, are being built for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) ‘Project Mercury.’”

The expansion of the U.S. space mission and a new design of spacesuits for astronauts raised still more air conditioning challenges.

“To keep the spacesuits of three astronauts pressurized, ventilated, and air conditioned during flight simulation testing calls for some tricky design solutions, according to A.J. Sawyer, president of A.J. Sawyer Co. Inc. here, who is currently designing a unit to do just that,” reported The News on Jan. 20, 1964.

“The Sawyer firm put together the battery-run fan and ice cube unit that kept Alan Shepard and [Virgil ‘Gus’] Grissom cool while in transit to their Mercury launching sites.

“‘Each man,’ Sawyer said, ‘has his own preferences when it comes to setting the temperature of his spacesuit. Shepard likes his a little warmer, John Glenn a little cooler. This can now be accomplished with the thermostatic control and the bypass valve.”

And in 1967, “Protecting delicate equipment and instrumentation within the launcher from the vibration, noise, and temperatures created by the 7.5 million lbs of thrust exerted by the Saturn V launch vehicle called for extensive application work by Johns-Manville insulating systems.

“The insulation also has the less strenuous job of protecting personnel working within the air conditioned launchers prior to launch from ambient temperatures and noise.

“The three mobile launchers in the Apollo/Saturn V space project are two-story platforms 25 ft high by 135 ft wide by 160 ft long and weighing 10,600,000 lb.”

Publication date: 04/30/2001

Sidebar: Just Duck and Cover

When the nation’s fears of a nuclear attack were at an all-time high, and school children were taught how to hide under their desks in case of such an attack, environmental conditions in fallout shelters were being examined.

“Lack of fresh air and high humidities were the greatest problems encountered by a Boston newspaper reporter and his family who spent seven days in a fallout shelter in a test sponsored by the Massachusetts Civil Defense Agency and his newspaper,” reported The News in the Aug. 8, 1960 issue.

“The family’s clothing was mildewed, their shoes were coming apart, labels peeled off of the canned goods supply so the food could not be identified, and the dampness silenced their transistor radio.”

Publication date: 04/30/2001

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