Long before computer operated mills (CNC) all of this was done using "a meat computer"; the guy turning the handle, knew how far to turn it.
As a kid, I hung around my dads aerospace machine shop, and watched guys on old Bridgeport mills, turn blocks of metal into amazing mechanical shapes.
The main hatch of the Apollo Command module, that took men to the moon, was a beautiful piece of mechanical art. Fabricated by guys like the ones who worked for my dad. These unassuming guys, in their plaid shirts, oil stained leather aprons, cigarette in their mouth and a cup of coffee on a nearby bench, created the millions of parts to America's Apollo Spacecraft, with no computer operated machines, just their skill and experience.
Know as the "The Unified Hatch", this was a 350 pound, quick opening "vault door".
It was called the unified hatch, because the original design, was actually 3 separate hatches, all of which had to be opened by the astronaut, in order to exit the spacecraft. After the tragic accident of Apollo One, in which a fire developed so quickly, that opening these hatches was impossible, NASA required a new design that could be opened quicker.
The redesigned hatch could be opened in around 3 seconds, and get out of the spacecraft in less than 30 seconds. A great improvement over the 60-90 seconds for the original design.
Utilizing 15 latches, a mechanical gearbox, a counterbalance system and a gaseous nitrogen operated piston, this was an incredible piece of engineering and machining.
|This is the hatch from Apollo 11, which is now on display in the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum.|
In early 2019, I was talking with one of my clients, who had purchased one of my replica Apollo spacesuits, about the amazing accomplishments of America's industry, in designing and creating the massive amount of technology and hardware for Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft, in only 9 years. We both were fascinated by the spacesuits the astronauts wore, but at some point in the conversation I brought upon the Command Module hatch as one of my favorite pieces from the spacecraft. He agreed and I mention how I had wanted one, just to hang on my wall, to showoff the skill of the 1960's machinists I admired as a kid. He said it was one of his dreams as well, them paused, and asked, "do you think you could build one?" At first I thought, no way. Those guys were far more skilled at machining than I'll ever be, but then realized that much of their skill and experience is sort of "captured" in the computers that run CNC mills and lathes today. For 40 years, I have been building things for film, museums and some for aerospace clients, and I thought well you have figured out complex projects in the past, why not this.
I told my client, that I thought I could....but it would be very expensive. He asked how much. I gave him a ballpark, thinking I could wriggle out of telling him I could build this, and he said, OK, think about it and give me a formal quote.
Once I had the check in my hand, I realized there was no way of getting out of it. So, like with any project, you start by gathering images and information. Having spent 30 years building replica space hardware, I have become friends with a number of retired aerospace people, and collectors. I have built full size Lunar Modules, both interior and exterior, along with replica's of just about every spacesuit that has gone into space. But, I hadn't done anything from the Command Module before. Well I had to start somewhere, so I reached out to my usual sources. Information was slim, but I did manage to acquire some original drawings and spec sheets on the hatch, alone with some high quality images of the individual hardware elements. There was also an Apollo hatch near me in the California Science Center, which I have done work for.
One big advantage I had (which had not occurred to me initially) was having grown up around the type of shop that built parts like this, I was recognizing machining details, edge treatments and surface finishes as I was looking at the photos.
|Real Apollo hatch in |
the California Science Center
|Gearbox detail of the Apollo hatch in|
the California Science Center
|My replica of the Apollo "Unified" hatch.|
|Exterior of the replica hatch, mounted on the wall stand, with the ablated aluminized Kapton film.|
The wall mount allows the replica hatch to be swung so either the inside or outside surface can be displayed.