An interactive history of American space travel

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I absolutely love this. Spacelog.org is taking the radio transcripts from NASA missions, pairing them with great graphic design, and making the whole thing searchable and linkable. The result: An delightfully immersive perspective on history.

They've got transcripts finished for Apollo 13 and John Glenn's Mercury 6. But more are on the way, and Spacelog could use your help adding to and improving the site.

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  1. From Apollo 13 transcript, Joe Kerwin (CAPCOM):
    Say, Jim, as something to try, you might have Jack turn off the RING 1’s AUTO coils, which are probably on MAIN A. Rave him turn those off and take a look at the readings.

    Weird that they didn’t know the electrics of their own craft. If I understand it correctly, they just try shutting things down to see what’s connected to what!

  2. Noticed references to ‘all balls’ reading through the transcript. If anyone was wondering, that means zeroes (00:00:00). They look like balls, I guess. Expression still in use today.

  3. Ick… why does something that would be perfectly acceptable as a plain text file have to be presented with a clunky interface that requires me to keep clicking and waiting forever to load a quantity of data no larger than a medium-size JPEG?

  4. People who want to learn about history as a series of tweets should like that a lot. Positions them perfectly for later recreating these events as tweetcasts.

    I find the information density kind of low. But that’s my reaction to Twitter, too.

  5. I love the format, got tired of clicking to load more text. I made it all the way up to the explosion before I just couldn’t read it anymore.

    I liked the teasing about the astronaut’s taxes, it would be great to have the Apollo 13 videos playable off to the side (very small as a sidebar unless you wanted to maximize them.)

  6. Great stuff, some interesting ideas in terms of presentation (which, unfortunately, aren’t feasible in the long run because of the sheer volume of transcript text). Unfortunately it’s also a reinvention of the wheel – the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal and Apollo Flight Journal sites have been at it for some 15 years already, and the raw transcripts of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo have been available for everyone to peruse, be it as free downloads or more slickly prepared purchases, since roughly forever.

  7. Full disclosure: I’m part of the team responsible for Spacelog.org.

    So, a few things to bear in mind: we built the site in a week. We didn’t have any code at all until Tuesday (23nd) last week. We were almost entirely cut off from civilisation until Monday 29th.

    So.

    The transcripts of the missions we’ve surfaced (and more!) are freely available direct from NASA as PDFs (for example, Apollo 13’s air-to-ground transcript, the one we used). Problem is, very few people know about these, and they’re large and give little context (who is CMP? What’s MTVC mean?, etc.). And if you really want the data in plaintext, all our plaintext copies of the transcripts (in our data format) are on GitHub, under a CC-0 license. You can use them as you see fit, add to them (which some people already are!), or just plain read ’em (one of our design goals was a human readable/writable data store).

    As for the volume of content per page, we did a bunch of research (well, as much as we could in the week we had to build the site) and found that the page-size we use is probably the most comfortable for reading, given the content. We could have just served up one big ol’ page, sure, but that would’ve meant massive load-times and, thus, the same situation as the PDFs (ie. no-one reading it).

    It’s worth noting that this site is almost entirely based on NASA data (save the phases and key moments, which are editorially driven by whomever is transcribing the PDFs into our plaintext data format). This isn’t our take on what happened, it’s direct from the actual transcripts (modulo any typing and OCR errors) of air-to-ground comms on the missions. The photos we show are the photos the astronauts (or NASA) took, the text you read is what they said (or that’s our intent, anyway: some of the original NASA transcriptions take a few liberties).

    Also, we’re not done yet: this is just over a week’s worth of work. Granted, we all have real jobs (we made this on holiday last week), but we’re all very committed to keeping this going and getting as many NASA (and non-NASA!) space missions into the system as possible, for all to see.

    Our intent was to highlight the human moments—to show the humanity, if you like—of the astronauts, a select group who’ve done things most of us can only dream of. I’d like to think we’ve gone some way to achieving exactly that.

    1. Content – per – page and accessibility suggestion:

      Group the transcripts into one hour’s spacecraft time per page.

      Lead off with an index file that lets you jump to that hour of the flight, with a note about what’s happening “then” (for example “Hour 58 – CM powered down, LM powered up”)

      Thanks for doing this!!

      1. Glad you like it :)

        We actually considered grouping the transcripts in the way you suggested very early on, but rejected it for one very critical reason: it turns out that some hours are very empty, where others are insanely busy. That, then, might mean that we have some single-line pages, whilst others weigh in at hundreds of lines. Given that we can’t predict or control for that, we concluded that it was safer, and more predictable, to take the approach we have.

        The other thing we have, that goes some way towards your ‘index-with-summary’, is our phases (each of which has a collection of ‘key moments’, as well as an activity graph that links to each bout of activity). Here, we do something similar to your suggestion, but on a slightly less fine-grained level.

        All that said, our design team are actively working on ways to improve how we surface the data and navigate the transcripts, so will think about ways we can approach the problems you’re pointing to.

        Thanks again for your support!

  8. This is great! Of course, I can’t wait to see the Apollo 16 transcript and what John Young thought of Tang!

  9. Congratulations on your new site and welcome to the ranks of those who work to keep this stuff alive. It’s a really interesting rethink on how to present these wonderful resources and I wish all the best for the future.

    David Woods – Apollo Flight Journal

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