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Ohhhhh! That's what that's for

I was watching Apollo 13 with the boys the other day, when during the launch scene Owen asked, "Dad, what's that part that fell off the front?" He was referring to the tall mast on the front of the rocket that was jettisoned after the final burn stage, when they first arrive in Earth orbit. I've often wondered about that tower, but I always figured it was some sort of communications mast, and this is what I told Owen: "It's a radio antena."

Boy, was I wrong! That thing is actually the Launch Escape System (LES). Here's a picture from Wikipedia:


In case something goes wrong on the launch pad, or during ascent, the LES can be fired to redirect the Command Module (where the crew sits) away from the rest of the rocket or back down to Earth. Here's a photo of the LEM accidentally firing on a Mercury rocket (also from Wikipedia):


Who knew?!

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Today's http://xkcd.com/ comic lets you know what parts of the spaceship do using only the 1000 most commonly used words. Brilliant.

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