Two yrs back, on the 48th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, a cloth bag that Neil Armstrong used to return the very first lunar samples to Earth was marketed at a Sotheby’s auction for US $1.8 million. The seller had ordered it on the internet two years previously for a mere $995—a fantastically fantastic offer for what turned out to be a cherished artifact of the Apollo period.
While I was not nearly so lucky, I, also, got a superior offer on-line for some components that likely contributed in some way to the Apollo method, however I do not know how exactly. I acquired a few classic analog panel voltmeters for $15 each from an eBay vendor who experienced purchased them from NASA’s Marshall Place Flight Center, in Huntsville, Ala.
I could tell from their artwork deco–inspired faces that the three Weston voltage meters were being aged when I initial observed them on the net, but I did not know how outdated. To my delight, I uncovered production dates created on the back again of the faceplates. These meters, it turns out, were being made among Might and December of 1955—and presumably shipped to Huntsville soon afterward.
At the time, NASA did not but exist. Huntsville was, nevertheless, residence to an Military set up, recognised as Redstone Arsenal, the place missiles had been becoming made. In 1955, Wernher von Braun and many other German rocket scientists have been tough at do the job there constructing rockets as section of the United States’ ballistic missile application. This group would construct the to start with U.S. satellite launcher, and later on, soon after the site experienced become the Marshall House Flight Heart, von Braun and other people in Huntsville helped to build the huge Saturn boosters, which sooner or later sent the Apollo astronauts to the moon.
Getting scored three stylish panel meters of some imprecise historical importance (I can consider von Braun obtaining peered at their twitching needles), I desired to do anything fun with them. Influenced by a undertaking I experienced noticed on Hackaday, I resolved to make a clock that would indicate the hours, minutes, and seconds by deflecting the needle on the analog voltmeters. But I would go a stage further more than the Hackaday venture and mix the modern room age with the previous. My clock would be synchronized with the atomic clocks carried on GPS satellites, even though however wanting like a little something that would be at household on a rack of instrumentation at some NASA facility for the duration of the Apollo program.
I had in my junk box a now-outdated GPS module, so I hooked that to an Arduino Nano, which I programmed to extract the time from the GPS signal. Then I opened up the meters and replaced the latest-restricting resistors inside of with types of my individual choosing so as to make the comprehensive-scale reading on every single meter (at first 10 and 50 volts), to be to some degree fewer than 5 V. That allowed me to regulate the needle place on each individual meter using pulse-width modulation, which is quickly output applying selected focused pins on the Arduino.
The major challenge was to make it look like a time period piece of products. For that, I 1st obtained a regular rack-mount “blanking” panel, just one painted in a putty coloration, which contrasts nicely with the black Bakelite housings of the meters. I also obtained 5 classic panel-lamp housings, into which I inserted LEDs for use as indicator lights.
Images: David Schneider
The Sweep of Time: I mounted three voltmeters on a rack panel [top]. A GPS module [affixed to the rightmost voltmeter] gets time transmissions and sends them to an Arduino. The Arduino converts the time to electrical alerts symbolizing hrs, minutes, and seconds. I added resistors to the voltmeters so that they run involving and a small significantly less than 5 volts [second from top]. And I printed new faceplates [second from bottom], which I inserted into the meters [bottom].
Subsequent came the trickiest element: shifting the faces of the meters so that they could suggest time. The very first move in that method was to take out the faceplate from one meter and scan it. Employing that as a template, I designed new faceplates with Adobe Illustrator, kinds that exhibit several hours, minutes, and seconds nevertheless preserve the model of the primary faces. I printed the new faces on ivory-colored inventory reduce from a manila folder, which served to give them a vintage look.
A fiddly bit was reducing out arc-shaped openings for the meters’ mirrors. More youthful audience might not be knowledgeable that far better analog meters, specifically individuals made use of in volt-ohm meters (“VOMs,” the predecessor to today’s digital multimeters), integrated mirrors guiding the faceplate, which assisted you to decide irrespective of whether you were viewing the needle square on. With out that, you could effortlessly misinterpret the indicated worth mainly because of parallax. My Marshall House Flight Heart meters provided these kinds of mirrors, and I didn’t want to address them with my new faces. An X-Acto knife worked passably very well for this task, while if you glance hard, you can see the flaws.
The final flourish was to affix a black plastic nameplate with the phrases “Satellite Time” in white lettering. That price just a number of pounds to have created and helps my clock search the part.
The 3 meters now demonstrate GPS time in my regional time zone. The five panel lights indicate the selection of GPS satellites in the sky. In theory, there can be as lots of as 16 overhead at any one particular time, so I display screen the selection in binary working with the 5 lights arrayed across the base of the clock.
Due to the fact my residing place does not involve a rack for my rack-mount panel, I reduce a few of supports out of 50 percent-inch (1.27-centimeter) thick gray PVC, making it possible for the clock to stand upright on any horizontal floor. Electricity is supplied to the Arduino by means of a common wall wart.
Despite its unconventional overall look, this panel-meter-centered clock is simple adequate to read through. And with its ear to the GPS constellation, it usually tells the accurate time. More significant, I get a chuckle looking at it, realizing that it’s created from components that most likely contributed in some smaller way to placing astronauts on the moon a fifty percent century in the past.