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Archive for April, 2011

Halfway between the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and Pads 39-A and 39-B one of the crawlers once used to carry shuttle from the VAB to the launch pads, sits in what appears to be a scrap yard on April 27, 2011.


After scrubbing the STS-134 Endeavour launch Friday afternoon, April 29, 2011, NASA first re-scheduled for Sunday (48 hours) but on Friday night re-scheduled the launch for no earlier than 72 hours, Monday afternoon, May 2, 2011. Roughly a third of the 133 shuttle missions to date were launched on the first attempt. It got a little better on the second attempt, but not much. Only half of the second attempts to launch the shuttles succeeded.

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Update: At about 12:15 pm, April 29, 2011, about three hours before scheduled launch the launch was scrubbed for mechanical reasons. Initially it was delayed for 48 hours, but by the evening of April 29, it was officially delayed for a minimum of 72 hours — and on Monday, it was re-scheduled to launch no early than the following Sunday afternoon, May 8, 2011. Still later it was pushed back still further.
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Launch Day, Friday April 29, 2011
5:30 am / celebration, fl — We have decided to get up early and head out to the cape in an attempt to beat the traffic. We have houseguests who arrived overnight — Andrew and Molly — who will be seeing their first launch. We have printed maps of Titusville, but since we have viewed launches only once from outside the press site, we are of little real help to them.

7 am, Friday April 29,2011. Although today's launch would eventually be scrubbed and re-scheduled, for most of the day it appeared to be going smoothly. Carol Anne who is photographing the launch is shown with the VAB is over her shoulder. The April 29 launch was scrubbed because of mechanical problems. High winds and other weather issues which had threatened the launch Thursday night and early Friday were no longer launch concerns by late Friday morning when the launch was scrubbed.

6:00 am / celebration, fl — We pile into Carol Anne’s car with food, tripods and computers and head across Highway 192 to Dunkin’ Donuts to provision. There are no lines. We both order a bagel and coffee and in moments we are on Highway 417. If all goes well and there is minimal traffic, we should make the cape in 40 minutes and then wait in a long line at the security gate on the 407. I’d like to be inside the media site and be set up at my workspace by 7:30 am.

6:15 am / route 417. I had figured we would monitor the NASA broadcast which began at 6:15 am. I have figured wrong. Instead we monitor the Royal Wedding on the BBC which is underway in London. Remarkably the happy couple is taking their vows at the moment we tune in. It’s not nearly as awful I expect and the music is okay.

6:25 am / Highway 528, the Beachline — Orlando toward Cocoa Beach. Scattered cars and traffic moving at its normal 75-80 mph. This road is virtually a chute with almost no exits. Traffic rockets unimpeded down this road for 30 or so miles. Piece of cake. No cops. Rain smatters as we approach the coast, but it is only a squawl and quickly gone. One construction zone. Uh-oh. They seem to be building another exit on the Beachline.

The Tweet Tent is now filled with Tweeters.

7:05 am / The causeway. Have seen only one cop since leaving the Beachline and heading north; traffic remains light. We pull into security behind only two cars and are quickly waved through. Security guys are of good cheer. We banter with them briefly.

7:15 am / arriving at media site 39-A / I follow signs into the media site overflow parking before I realize that[s nuts. At this hour I should be able to park in the main lot just below the media center. This matters. In the main parking lot we can use the car as a storage bin. In the overflow, it will be too far to go back and forth so we’ll have to haul everything in at once. Carol Anne waits at the security gate entrance to the media site and I sprint back to the overflow lot to get the car. Returning, I ask the guard at the main parking lot gate how long he has been on duty — 16 hours. He gets off at 10 — 10 am or 10 pm? I don’t ask. He’s dour. He is definitely not of good cheer.

In other missions with heavy media coverage, NASA has made the media park at some state park miles south on State Road 3 and then be bussed in, or carpool in with at least three others accredited to cover the event. This is a nightmare because everyone wants you to carpool with them, and you want others to carpool with you so you have your car as a storage bin. I am relieved that on this mission they are letting us drive in — life is much easier that way. I have been asking all week if this was how it would be and assured that it was.

Until I was waved through security, I didn’t really believe it. NASA security often changes its mind minute by minute.

7:20 am / media center main parking lot. I park the car in the far end of the media lot facing Pad 39-A. Now if we want, we can watch the launch from the car, although in this location getting out of the lot will be murder: we will be the last out if everyone leaves at the same time. But we don’t intend to leave with everyone else.

Tonight we’ll stay at the cape for three or four hours after the launch. That million or so people should be gone by then and we should be able to coast back to Orlando smoothly with little traffic. It really doesn’t occur to me that this mission will not go through through and launch on the first available window. It’s proceeding as smoothly as I have ever seen all week.

As for where to park in the media lot, it helps to have been here before and know where launch pad 39-A is in relation to the media site. Most others, I’m happy to see, are piling into all the wrong spots leaving the best parking spots (which look like the worst spots) to the veterans.

7:25 am / media center. I review the VIP list which lists everyone who is coming along with Obama. Huge list. Cynically I scan it for big donars figuring the launch offers Obama a big chance to fatten his campaign coffers and continue toward his goal of raising a billion dollars for his 2012 re-election campaign, but I can’t tell after studying the list. Obviously I do not know a lot of really rich people.

7:30 am / media center. I immediately run into Jim Seigel, Celebration Independent, Celebration’s newspaper reporter in the parking lot. He seems like he wants to talk, but I need to get inside and check out the signup sheets to see what special events might be in the offering (nothing interesting, it turns out, is). Seigel is always everywhere and I figure we’ll talk later. But I never see him for the rest of the day, although he says his work space, like mine, is in the Annex.

Seigel is blue, and for good reason. “They gave my regular workspace in the main media center away,” Seigel says forlornly, “and sent me to the
Annex.” Welcome to the big dance Jim — they did the same to me.

The Annex is strictly third world: To communicate my new workmates in the Annex I need to be fluent in German and Japanese and godknowswhatelese. Later in the day, I decide to converse in Mumble to someone speaking a language I do not recognize. Hand gestures and Mumble doesn’t work as badly as people might think.

7:32 am / media center. I sign Carol Anne and I up for the “walkout” at 10 am — this is not much of an event and even if I get off the wait list (unlikely) I’ll skip it. What happens is that the media stands outside the astronaut dormitory forever in a sort of alley and eventually the crew walks by, waves and gets into a van. That’s it. Never speeded up my heart any of the times I’ve soldiered over and seen it.

I long ago decided that this, like the arrival of the astronauts flying in and getting out of their planes on the tarmac at the SLF (shuttle landing facility: the runway), is a made-up event. NASA feels they have to feed the press something, even if it is nothing, every once in awhile.

I check the weather — we’re holding at a 70-percent chance of launch, same as yesterday. I’m 110-percent sure they’ll go, and go on time. The President is, after all, in town.

Tweeter Ryan Tombleson wore a shirt honoring Carl Sagan. Mr. Tombleson was one of the 150 successful TweetUp applicants. About 4,000 applied in the short 24-hour open period and 150 were randomly selected. Tweeters then went through security checks before being approved and invited officially to come. Like the media, they had to pay all their expenses.

7:35 am / media center. Carol Anne and I walk over to the Annex, and I move stuff off my work space (Scientific American had dumped some of his stuff on my workspace). I plug in my computer. I’m usually given two workspaces, even though Carol Anne is the photographer, but this time we only have one workspace. Carol Anne and I eat our bagels and then she heads back to the car to go to sleep.

I begin writing.

8:10 am / the media annex. I take a real look at the Annex and analyze. Air conditioning: good. Chairs: good. TV monitors keeping eye on lots of different stuff: good, including good sound. My workspace: small, but fine. Internet: good. Enough plugs for power: good. Having nothing to complaint about: not good. Journalists prefer to be in a perpetual grumble. I’m too busy. Something will piss me off later when I have more time than I do just now.

I look around one last time waiting for my computer to log in. I am in the second row at the front of the annex. I can easily monitor NASA updates which are being broadcast on monitors against the front wall. There are, like, 20 rows of work tables behind me with people who don’t have my access and view.

Cannot grump about location of my workspace either.

I’ll find something.

8:15 am / media annex. Launch clock shows 4 hours 6 minutes and 48 second to launch. That’s NASA speak, and only for pilgrims:

Based on this the shuttle would go at 12:20 pm or so. It won’t. In reality NASA builds lots of holds into a shuttle launch.

A 2.5 hour hold is planned to start at 9:22 am EDT which will be T-3 hours to launch.

The real world launch is still scheduled for 3:47 pm EDT.

The three hour hold is scheduled to resume at 11:52 am and countdown to T-20 minutes, then there will be another hold at 2:32 pm for ten minutes.

A final hold comes at T-9 minutes for 45 minutes which is scheduled for 2:53 pm EDT. This hold ends, and the countdown will resume, at 3:38:52 pm EDT if all is still on schedule.

Finally, the Endeavour will launch, if it makes its first available window, at 3:47:42 EDT.

I think. I check: At that very moment the International Space Station, the shuttle’s destination, will be 220 miles up, southeast of New Zealand.

That’s the roadmap for the day.

We’ll see how it goes.

Official Tweeter picture beside the giant clock. I considered joining the picture and drifted myself in the back row. But then the photographer didn't show up and I got bored. So I'm not in not in the Tweeter picture after all.

8:20 am / media annex. My workspace is a table with room for four on each side — eight per table, four people facing four people. A couple shows up to my right and sets up. She isn’t particularly friendly.

On my left is Asahi Shimbun which is, what? A Japanese newspaper. I’ll google them later. The Asahi reporter has been here because they have somethingorother plugged in that looks like a router — but why would they need a router? It must be something else.

The woman on my right has now plugged in her Macbook Pro, as has the guy on her right. A Mac babe? She cannot be all bad. She’s also plugged in her Flip Video Camera, which reminds me I have left mine in the car.

Space with her arrival has become tighter. I decide to visit the Tweeter tent, and pee. I also decide its time to finish Wednesday’s T-2 blog which is in a shambles and what is worse, it is taking lots of hits.

I consider adding a note to Wednesday’s blog that reads something like “I’m going to fix this — please come back later when this is not in shambles.”

I decide that’s pathetic.

9:15 am media annex. I’m back after my field trip. This place is really filling up.

I have first gone to the car where Carol Anne is napping where I got my Flip.

Then I headed for the TweetUp tent and along the way visited with several Tweeters. One woman from New Hampshire is a teacher and is tweeting for her students. She says her boyfriend entered her name in the lottery and when she got the email she thought it was a joke. He, of course, is no where to be seen. He didn’t get picked.

The snack mobile has shown up. If the snack mobile is here, it must be 9 am. Prices in the snack mobile are cheap. NASA must recognize that reporters are poor.

The TweetUp tent was abuzz. I had taken Flip video, and pictures from the identical places I took photos and video a couple of days ago so I can cut them together later (no people, lots of people, kind of thing).

Then I had looked over my shoulder and discovered cases of water. Never ever pass up water at a launch. I stuff two waters in my pants pockets. Uh-oh. My pants immediately southward. I stop. I set everything down and thighten my belt. Pants stabilize.

I drifted outside and followed the Tweeters over to the clock and realized this was going to be the official TweetUp picture. I pondered this and decided to be in the picture and position myself along the back. I have images of NASA people poring over the picture weeks from now identifying every Tweeter and countingt 151 Tweeters, not 150. I have imagines of panic! “Did we accredit one more than we thought?” I envision finger-pointing and shouting.”I didn’t do it!” “I’m not the one who mis-counted!” yaddadadda. And, of course, “who is THAT guy? Where did he COME from?

A NASA employee was addressing the Tweeters sternly. The tone of voice gets my attention, but it is not cause for concern. “Remember,” the voice is saying, “if you can’t see the camera, the camera can’t see you.”

I repositioned myself so I could see the camera if it ever would show up.

But then time passed — I got tired of waiting and headed around to the front to take a few pictures myself. Here, I ran into the same woman I spoke to at the Tweeter credential center on Wednesday. She doesn’t remember me at first (my animal magnetism is decades gone), but then decided she does remember me. We talk. She wears a neat pin and gives me one. I am a moocher. I play the “little children I know card” and she melts and hands me another pin.

My guess is she has a two pin mooch-limit.

Back at the main media center the snack truck has arrived. I decide I cannot stop because with the pins and the water and the cameras and other stuff I am packing like a Grand Canyon donkey, I simply have too much stuff to add a cup of coffee. Plus I’m heading into the media center to grab more loot. At the Boeing Desk I need to get Carol Anne a media notebook and some stickers, and pins.

Back finally in the media annex, I dump all the loot under my desk and decide I’d better update this launch day blog.

In one corner of the TweetUp Tent the tweeters can climb up a couple of stairs and have their picture taken as an Astronaut. There are instructions ...


... here are the instructions ...


... follow the instructions and here is your view.

I google my neighbor and discover that the Asahi Shimbun is widely regarded for its journalism as the most respected daily newspaper in Japan. So far their reporter hasn’t shown up but that is who he/she is. Heavy. If they speak English, I am going to find out a lot about the rent tsunami and the nuclear problems when he/she shows up.

11:36 am EDT / media annex. Whew. Finally finished Wednesday’s T-2 blog, although it has a ton of typos and lots has been left out that can included later, including great pictures inside the Discovery hangar (I later decide to include them toward the end of this post since there’s not enough room on the T-2 blog — so to see these pictures, scroll down).

NASA now has STS-134 on their planned 3 hour hold.

Carol Anne has returned from being at the car, saying she is wiped out. She has very little room to work because of our having having that a single work space.

This is the long straight — flat, little happening.

Carol Anne and I decide to fill the time by eating again. We buy a breakfast sandwich at the mobile van for $2.25 — at that price it is a bargain. But they have no coffee, only cold drinks. We decide to drink the iced water Boeing is giving away in the main press center. Nice bottles printed with the Boeing logo — bottles are made for runners.

I give her the reporter’s notebook I got for her courtesy of Boeing. It is, as always, packed with information and with each launch it gets fatter and more useful.

Pins & Earrings. I show Carol Anne a pin which the woman who helps manage the Tweeters has given me. I also show her another pin which commemorates the International Space Station which a different contractor is handing out. She asks, did I remember to get pins for the grandchildren, Cecelia and Calle? Yes — that’s what the two pins are meant for.

This seems fine.

But then she remembers that Calle ate one of her gold earrings awhile back, an earring that Carol Anne chose, ahem, not to recover.

Calle will not be seeing her STS-134 pins until she changes her dining habits, probably about the time she enters high school.

Now I confess to her about my nearly winding up in the Tweeter photo. Carol Anne says “you know, you really do have to stop doing things like that.”

“At least I don’t eat your earrings.”

Tweeter Jules Quesnell's boyfriend entered her in the lottery without her knowledge and she won. Her boyfriend did not. Ms. Quesnell runs the media center in an elementary school in New Hampshire. The excitement and enthusiasm of the tweeters was catching -- they were a great group to hang with.

Molly and Andrew and Polly and Wally — and Androlly. Andrew, Carol Anne’s son, and Molly, his soon wife-to-be, have been in touch. They left our home in Celebration, FL, about 8 am and because we have given them one of our turnpike passes have been able to whiz over to Titusville and the coast, avoiding the long lines at the toll booths. An hour or so ago they were arriving in Titusville and about to start searching for a place to watch the launch. Since then he has gone silent so we do not know where, if anywhere, he and Molly have managed to settle.

Since they have announced they were getting married, I have been busy working on names for the hoped for grandchildren. One generation-nexter we know is named Kim — and Kim married Jim, and they had children named Tim and a dog named Rin Tin Tin.

You see possibilities here?

I sure do.

Molly and Andrew could name their children Dolly or Holly or Polly or Wally or even Pollywolly — and if they were to have a surprise child, they could name her Golly.

Carol Anne sternly disapproves and is not amused.

I have had to hush up about this.

I have even had to stop referring to Andrew and Molly as a single entity, which currently they absolutely are: “Androlly.”

The secret about shuttle launches is it really doesn’t matter where you are.

We are able to watch them from our porch in Celebration, 40 miles away. In central they are hard to miss — they often come right over our house when landing. At the time of the Columbia tragedy in January 2007, I didn’t even bother to go to the cape, although I had credentials. I photographed the final Columbia liftoff from our second story porch in Celebration, Florida.

Nonetheless, everyone wants to get as close as they can and by being closer you will see the huge clouds of water vapor and the plums of smoke as the shuttle struggles off the pad.

Ya gotta see this thing closeup at least once in your lifetime.

11:40 am media annex. Carol Anne has gone outside to watch the astronauts pass in the van carrying them to launch pad 39-A. The van will pass within feet of the media site along the road. I had put her on the stand-by list to go out to the astronaut dorm and watch them pile into the van, but she had elected not to go. Covering something like that is a huge waste of time, but Carol Anne could have probably gone had she wished — she did not wish.

11:55 am / media annex. The table around me has filled up with the exception of the Japanese newspaper. Finding work space is confusing and more and more journalists are wandering around trying to figure it out. There are rows of tables with eight work spaces at each table, with blocks of plugs and ethernet cables in the middle. Four work spaces on one side face four work spaces on the other.

But the work space numbers are confusing. I have work space 15 in the Annex. The work space numbers are 12-16 on my side of the table, but just across from me, on the other side of the table, the numbers of the work spaces are in the 40s. No one can figure this out, and it has gotten worse because now most numbers on the work spaces are covered up by computers and occasionally by people sitting in the wrong space or slopping over onto adjoining work spaces. Reporters are wandering everywhere lost.

Across from me the Scientific American guy was arrived. A German newspaper reporter is diagonically across from me, screaming at someone giving them instructions to the Lansing, Michigan airport. He seems mental and vaguely dangerous.

Two days before the scheduled launch NASA invited the media to several sites rarely visited by the general media, including Pad 39-B which is being re-purposed to other uses. Among the spacecraft that have lifted off this pad were Apollo 10, the final mission before the United States landed on the Moon, and the ill-fated Shuttle Challenger mission in 1986 in which all astronauts aboard died when the shuttle exploded less than two minutes after launch.

The Columbia and the reporter who saw it break up. To my right, the other woman from a scientific magazine has returned and is in a chatty mood now that she has completed her filings.

She lives in Boulder, Colorado. So did I years ago. We talk about Boulder.

She free lances, but before that was a reporter for the Dallas Morning News. One of my reporters, who I hired right out of journalism school in Oklahoma for one of my newspapers, eventually became an editor there. She’s never heard of him.

We drift into talking about the Columbia disaster. She had been in Dallas and had gone outside to watch the Columbia pass overhead. It was a Saturday morning. I ask her if she knew what she was seeing.

“I knew,” she says.

We pause.

We speak no more of it.

Cynics all, but among our own kind. One of the best things about covering major events is that journalists are among their own people — cynical, curious and in possession of lots of information that can never show up in print or on TV because it cannot be vetted sufficiently to present as truth.

When a shuttle returned from space, it was towed back to its hangar. But a shuttle hangar was unlike any you've seen before. In fact, the hangars weren't even called hangars -- they were called Oribiter Processing Facilities or OPF. Inside all this steelwork is the shuttle Discovery on April 27, 2011, after her final mission to space. Discovery was to fly only once more in February 2012. She was to fly on top of a 747 to Dulles Airport where, outside of Washington, she was to be displayed at the Smithsonian museum at Dulles Airport.

Earlier in the week I had been visiting with an Arizona reporter and had asked about the Congresswoman who was shot by a constituent in Tucson. “How’s she really doing?” I had asked him. He had told his newspaper’s take.

I have discovered that at our work table in the annex almost everyone else is covering their first launch. I always used to hate it when old-timers (like I am becoming) used to start blabbering about the good old days and about how far they go back in covering NASA and how much they knew. Geech. Well, now almost nobody goes back anywhere as far as I do, and I keep quiet about it. But surprisingly, I am being drawn about about those earlier days today and being asked questions about it. No problem if you want to know.

Then a woman decides she needs to find a bathroom and a guy wants to go to the cafeteria across the street. Do I know any bathrooms where a woman might not have to stand in a long lines forever? It happens that I do. I know where the secret bathrooms are — and I tell her. She vanishes.

And the cafeteria, the guy asks? You bet — I tell him where to find it, but after rising, he pauses, wondering, “do they have tofu at the cafeteria?”

Tofu? TOFU??

Who is NASA letting in the press site these days?

This is the front of Discovery, viewed from below, with the front wheelwell open and the front wheel just out of view in the bottom center of the picture. The black in the middle is Discovery's very front, the nose cone.

12:15 pm / media annex. I watch on the monitors as the van of astronauts is passing just outside. A reporter across the desk from me puts down his headphones. “It’s off,” he said. “It’s scrubbed. It’s over for the day.”

The news is electric. Was it weather? The winds have been high all morning. “I think so,” the guy says. “I don’t know.”

12:20 pm / media site.I go outside to find Carol Anne who is watching the astronaut van. She tells me the van was passing and then abruptly pulled off into he VAB parking lot. “What’s up?” she asks.

12:21 pm / media site. Standing outside still we call Andrew and Molly. They have just paid $15 moments earlier at a recreation site in Titusville and will have a great view of the launch. “There’s not going to be a launch today — it’s scrubbed.”

12:50 pm / media center. A press conferecne on what happened is scheduled for 1 pm but we can listen to it on satellite radio in the car. Thank god that wedding is over. I check the next open launch dates — as of now they will launch no earlier than 3 pm Sunday afternoon.

I ask what happened and get a detailed explanation of the innards of how they keep the hydaulic lines heated in space and why they have triple redundancy. Without these lines landing would be in jeopardy.

The future is America's spaceport is uncertain. Replacements for the shuttle have been funded, and then defunded several times and now the United States will have no way back to the International Space Station, largely built with American taxpayer money, without catching a ride on the Russian knockoff of the shuttle. Carol Anne looks out at the marshlands adjacent to the shuttle landing strip on Wednesday afternoon, April 29, 2011.

We decide to leave. I’m betting we can get fairly far down the road before the 700,000 to a million people on the highways figure out it is over. NASA just now is hinting that the mission is scrubbed publicly. If we don’t get ahead of the crowds, the 40-minute ride back to Orlando will table about 4 hours.

12:55 pm / leaving media site. We’re on the road and the roads are empty. Sirius radio is not broadcasting the NASA press feed, or at least I cannot find it. The press conference on what happened is — surprise of surprises — delayed until later in the afternoon anyway.

1:04 pm / the causeway, drawbridge. We hit the crowd, slow and finally stop. I put the car in park and begin to wait.

4:10 pm / celebration, fl. Carol Anne, now driving, pulls off the 417 into Celebration and we’re home. Andrew and Molly are about a half hour behind us.

7 pm / celebration, fl. We learn NASA has re-scheduled the launch for no earlier than 3 pm Monday. Andrew and Molly will have to head north on Sunday and will miss it. Carol Anne and I will have to re-scramble and re-schecdule, if possible, the obligations and travel which were planned beginning Monday for all of next week. We will stay until the shuttle is launched — that is a given. And we will be here when STS-134 returns from space about 16 days after launch.

We expect about 1/3 to 1/2 of the 1,500 reporters at Kennedy Space Center on Friday will be unable to return. Most were aying their own way and stringing for the publications for which they were accredited.

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Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, and Peter Michael Crow hold the copyrights © 2011 to all content of this blog.

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This former Header is the VAB from the Media Site on the afternoon of April 27. Not merely a cloud-filled afternoon, KSC was fighting ferocious fire just to the southwest of the media site which grayed things up for awhile quite nicely. To the left of the VAB and right of the water tower are two low buildings. They are the OPFs (hangars) for the shuttles — and while they may look small along side the VAB (which is 37 stories), they are not. The Orbiter Processing Facilities are huge buildings, like everything else at Kennedy Space Center. Scroll down and we’ll have a look at the shuttle Discovery inside one of these buildings.

April 27, 2011, Wednesday
Kennedy Space Center

There’s a lot going on today — a tour of the old launch pad, 39-B, now being torn down; a walk along the SLF, the shuttle landing facility (to you and me: The Runway), and a walk around the shuttle Discovery, now residing in a hangar (the OPF: Orbiter Processing Facility), Bay 2. There are also interviews with several astronuats.

Things are humming.

KSC has re-named me. I have read the name on my credentials, although apparently no one else has. My name is now Michael Crow and I work for the TV station somewhere in the west. I know this because the first call letter of my station is a “K”. Stations west of the Mississippi, with a couple of exceptions in the early days of radio, got call letters starting with “K”. Those east of the Mississippi start with “W”. So why is there a station KDKA in Pittsburgh and a station WEW in St. Louis? They were among the first stations.

petecrow slounging again the daily countdown sign and, yes, that is the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on the right.

Anyway.

I do not work for a TV station, and my middle name may be Michael, but NASA knows me as “Peter”.

I return to the badging station on State Road 3 to see if I can straighten it out. Happily they are open. They are not always open.

It developes that this is well worth the trip. The women running the badging station are of good cheer — “this happens an average of once every launch” one tells me as she digs for my credentials and, ultimately not finding anything, asks me to fill out the paperwork and show me two forms of ID (my driver’s license and passport suffice). Soon she is holding a credential with my proper name, and proper media affiliation attached.

She produces a punch and SNAP! punches a hole in the top of the credential so it can be pinned on whatever part of my body I wish with the exception that “it should be visible.” Fair enough, and I had not been intending to attach it to my underpants anyway.

“I punched some guys driver’s license instead of his badge one day,” a woman says.

What? What was that?

“He was pretty upset.” Apparently in some states a punched hole in your drivers license voids it.

The Tweeters.

Next door, the Tweeter badging station is now open. NASA has again invited 150 bloggers to come Tweet. Getting invited is straight-forward. For 24 hours anyone can apply (4,000 did this time) and then NASA randomly plucks out 150 names. Voila! You’re in …. and 3,850 of you are not.

This is the fourth time NASA has invited the Tweeters in. The first time was STS-129, and then NASA decided to think about it for awhile and tweak the tweeters. The Tweeters were invited back for STS-132, STS-133 and now for STS-134. Tweeters are allowed to come only once — if you got picked earlier, you don’t get to come back.

Welcome to TweetUp credentialing.Tweeters can get their credentials on T-2, but have to wait until T-1 to gain access. A big fire on T-2 looked like it was near the TweetUp Tent and might burn it down. The fire raged much of the afternoon of T-2 but never got too close to the Media Site.

The Tweeters are packed off to the far end of the Media site and put in a large tent. They are not welcome in the main media center and perhaps that is just as well. For STS-134 there will be 1,500 media and NASA has opened the overflow annex for additional workspace. We oursevles were packed off to the annex and put next to Scientific American, the BBC and some newspaper I could never pronounce in a thousand years.

I love the Tweeters. It is a zany idea to invite a random bunch of people in, and these days a bit of a security risk. Tweeters, like everyone else, get a thorough security frisk before being approved, but still … That’s way Tweeters find themselves at the far end of the media site surrounded by water and boxed in by jungle. If one of them makes a run for it, security can see them coming. If they decide to swim, the alligators will eat them.

The other reason they are where they are? Bathrooms.

KSC actually has two badging stations and it can get confusing. When events cause a heavy influx of media, media badging is moved to State Road 3. Media attendance will get heavier for STS-135, the final launch, but at 1,500 on STS-134 it is lenty heavy. The heaviest media coverage was probably the final Moon launch, Apollo 17. The heaviest I remember was 2,200 but I forget which mission that was. I think it was a Shuttle landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Wait. Do they let the Tweeters use the bathrooms as the Media? Yes and No. Tweeters are free to pee in the large restrooms near the Tweet-Up grandstands. No peeing in the Media Center’s bathrooms.

Tweeters, unlike the Media, get a backpack full of free stuff. Pictures, and pins and — lots of stuff, including that backpack with the NASA logo on it. It is a handsome backpack.

“Where did all of this stuff come from?” I ask. A woman manning the Tweeter desk tells me “we scounged it”. You didn’t loot it? “No, we didn’t have to.” Looting is when something is sitting on a counter, say like the Boeing counter in the Media Cernter and they are like really busy talking to someone else so you take something off the pile without asking. Scounging is when you ask. The Tweet women have a fine job of scounging as far as I can tell.

I ask how long the Tweeters will be around and am surprised how brief their lifespan is. The Tweeters can begins picking up their credentials on T-2 (Wednesday, today) but are not allowed onto Kennedy Space Center or into the Tweeter tent until Thursday, T-1. And: “They are allow one delay.”

The TweetUp Tent is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. If a Tweeter decides to make a run for it, it's a long run to the road. If she decides to swim for it, the alligators will eat her. If a Tweeter decides to escape through the surrounding jungle, it's a pretty good bet he'll never be seen again.

If the Shuttle launches on Friday afternoon, April 29 as now expected, the Tweeters go home. They have been there T-1 and T-0, two days — tat’s it. But if, as often happens, the shuttle launch is delayed? “They get come back once but if it doesn’t launch the second time, that’s it.” Whoa — NASA is a tough crowd.

Tweeters pay their own way and while officially none are allowed to come back a second time, several Tweeters will be back for STS-134 from STS-133. When some of those whose name was drawn couldn’t come for STS-134, NASA didn’t have time to accredit anyone from the wait list so they invited several from STS-133 to return and see a launch bcause they’d already cleared security.

Have there been any problems with the Tweet-Up in the first three Tweet-Ups? STS-133 was delayed and delayed — “that was a problem.” But what about the Tweeters themselves? The Media is totally cowered; does NASA have their bluff in on the Tweeters? “We’ve had to take a couple out in the hall and threaten to send them to the principal’s office” but that was about it. No one has been paddled or had their Tweeter credentials cut in half — “and WE haven’t punched a hole in anybody’s driver’s license.”

The afternoon tours / Launch Pad 39-B

Today is a juicy day at the Cape for the Media. NASA is going to do briefings for the press at some places they rarely, if ever, have taken the press. Three buses will rotate through three separate sites.

Launch Pad 39-B. My bus first heads for Launch Pad 39-B which I learned a month or so ago is being torn down. That is true — but then again, it isn’t. Pad 39-B really is being re-purposed for a different use. In its first iteration it was on of the launch pads for the Apollo Moon program. Apollo 10 lifted off from here; this was the mission that circled the Moon, but did not land at Christmas 1968. The next mission, Apollo 11 actually landed.

Launch Pad 39-B on April 27, 2011. The structure is almost entirely gone and the demolition of the pad, on hold until after STS-134 launches, will resume after the launch. Pad 39-B is 8,000 feet -- roughly a mile and a half -- from Pad 39-A where STS-134 will launch.

Then 39-B was rebuilt as one of two launch pads for the shuttle, rotating with Pad 39-A. In the first 25 shuttle flights, when NASA was aggressively launching, both pad 39-A and 39-B were busy. Then in 1986, the Challenger was launched from 39-B; this pad was rarely used thereafter, if ever.

A photo of Pad 39-B in better days was leaning against the fence surrounding the launch complex on April 27, 2011.

With the shuttle program ending, NASA expected to develope Constellation, a new vehicle. So NASA began re-purposing Pad 39-B. But then Constellation was cancelled, and then it was re-instated. Then it was cancelled again. Now NASA is unclear how 39-B will be used, but the pad is being razed so it will be ready if Congress greenlights a new program.

The shuttles are moved along twin lanes of a high paved with loose river rock atop the five story crawlers. The crawlers literally crawl — roughly one mile per hour. In other times NASA has invited the press to walk with the crawler as it goes to the launch pad. In recent missions NASA has not offered the press that opportunity, although they have become more liberal about allowing the press to view the rollout of the shuttle from the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building).

Discovery in Bay 2 of the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF). The OPF is the hanger. Each shuttle when it returns to Kennedy is dragged from the landing strip, known as the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) back to one of three hangars. The hangars are inter-changeable although there are slight differences in the designs of their doors and possible other minor differences.

Right wing, Shuttle Discovery, Hi-Bay 2, Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF), Kennedy Space Center, April 27, 2011. Discovery is headed to the Smithsonian outside Washington, DC early in 2012.

In the OPF, a shuttle is essentially surrounded by a cocoon of wires and tubes and mteal stairs and walkways. When the shuttle returns it must be re-processed for the next flight. Tiles had to be replaced. The entire vehicle was inspected. A ton of work was needed to ready it for the next flight.

Now, however, the shuttle Discovery, the oldest surviving member of the shuttle fleet, has completed its final mission.

Today it is being readied for turnover to the Smithsonian. Sometime early next year, probably in February, Discovery will be flown a final time atop a Boeing 747 to Dulles Airport at Chantilly, Virginia (west of Washington, DC) and come to rest in the air and space museum at Dulles.

One of two rear landing wheels on Discovery.


The other shuttles will head to Los Angeles and New York. And one will remain in Florida at KSC.

The shuttle currently displayed at the Smithsonian was a test vehicle and never flew in space. This vehicle is the vehicle that will be moved to New York.

Visiting the OPF is interesting if confusing. Somewhere inside the jumble of cables and steel is the Discovery, but only glimpses are possible. Over there is the part of the sign that reads “United States”. At the very front, the nose cone and front wheel well, and wheel are visible. To know what you are seeing, largely you have to know what to look for.

But in coming years if anyone asks if I ever visited the shuttle hangars, the answer will be Yes, although I probably won’t bother to add that I wasn’t quite sure what, besides the underbelly, the tires and the tiles I saw when I was there.

The Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF). The SLF is the huge long runway where the shuttles land when returning to Kennedy Space Center.

Closeup of the grooves on the SLF that run from side-to-side across the runway. No, I did not step on the SLF to take this picture. Geech. Grooves deflect water and give greater traction. Commercial airport runway now are grooved, as are an increasing number of highways.

This was the third and final stop on our afternoon tour, and the purpose was largely to talk about what will happen to KSC now that thye shuttle program is ending. Clearly, there’s much concern that nothing much will happen here — and that is not a new event. Following the Moon program, Apollo, there was little else in the pipeline. Jobs vanished. The wider area struggled financially.

During the 1970s during this relatively dark period, NASA flew the joint program with the Russians, and Skylab which burned up in the atmosphere before the shuttle became operational. Yes, we have had an international space station in orbit before.

Pete stands on shoulder of the Shuttle Landing Facility halfway down the runway. The actual runway is on the right. The VAB in the distance is on the left. Out of frame on the left is a sign that reads "7". It one of the distance markers allowing pilots when landing or taking off to know where they are in relation to the end of the runway.

The peak of employment at Kennedy was during the Apollo program with about 24,000. The shuttle program and related activities employed about 14,000. With the end of the program employment here is expected to drop by 50-percent or more to 7,000.

Mid-stride of the SLF are the grandstands and the tower. Here the press and VIPs watch the shuttle land — although NASA on STS-133 and perhaps other missions allowed the press to photograph the landing from the end of the runway.

NASA is anal about people walking on the SLF. The media was warned repeatedly that if they stepped onto the runway, they risked have their credentials pulled. The reason? Anything on a runway risks being sucked into aircraft engines. That’s what happened to the Concorde causing it to crash in Europe.

. . . . . . .

copyright blahblahblah legalese // Readers are reminded that “petecrow/NASA” blog is legal property of Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

The literary content, and the photographs, are © 2011 by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC and by Peter Michael Crow. Happily, we have proven to be ominously successful in discovering abridgements of our copyrights and in winning financial settlements against you and you and … You.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Three Days to Launch.

The countdown sign greets visitors on several highways on NASA's John F Kennedy Space Cener

And now it begins — the media starts to grow in numbers. An estimated 1-million people will line the Banana River on Friday afternoon. More than 1,500 press from around the world have requested crednetials and this time, unlike most missions, almost every one of them are expected to show up.

It’s time to pick up my credentials and head out to the Space Center to get the lay of the land.

Media picks up credentials at two places, and it tends to change. I called NASA Media a few days ago and was tokd to go to the badging station on State Road 3, but I’ve driven there before only to find it locked. I decide to try the other badging station first because it is closer and because things tend to change. I find a long line at the first badging station and call NASA Media again. Badging is on State Road 3 — I trek over there and pick up my badge. I also could have been badged at the end of STS-133, but could never get by to get my new badge. No matter.

It is day T-3, Tuesday, the weather looks awful on Thursday night, the night before the launch, but is expected to clear.

NASA rates the chance of go on time Friday afternoon at 95-percent. The could also change in the snap of a finger, and often does, but for now things are looking good. Unlike other d=launches, if this one is delayed, I’ll stay with it. I’m supposed to be somewhere else next week, but if the shuttle isn’t launched, I’ll remain in central Florida until it goes. There’s always an asterisk by that — if it is delayed weeks or months, as it has been, obviously I will go, and later return.

In recent missions NASA has invited Tweeter to Tweet the missions. The Tweeters will be back for STS-134 but at T-3 they were not here yet, although their tent was, and the tables where they would work were all ready for their arrival. NASA keeps the Tweeters and the regular media separate with separate staff and facilities. Tweeters, more or less, get the cheap seats with bad air conditioning.

Today the media was invited to visit with several astronauts and to photograph the arrival of the STS=134 crew and family. The crew and families flew from Houston to Kennedy Space Center in Florida arriving about 1 p.m. ET.

Pad 39-A across the basin from the media site. Pad 39-B, where shuttles were also launched, is already being torn down. About 1,500 media requested credentials from around the world, an unusually large number. If there are delays, NASA has a number of windows in the following days to launch.

Literary and photographic content of this blog, “petecrow / NASA”, is © 2011 by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California, and by Peter Michael Crow.

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