Archive for May, 2011

The Orbiter Atlantis is scheduled to be rolled out to Pad 39A from the Vehicle Assembly Building beginning at 8 pm, Tuesday night, May 31, 2011. This STS-135 mission will be the final in the 30-year American Space Shuttle program. Atlantis is scheduled to be launched no earlier than July 8, 2011 — this will be the final launch of a shuttle.

.The Orbiter Endeavour is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF = runway) at 2 am Wednesday morning, June 1, 2011. This will be the end of the STS-134 mission, the second to last in the shuttle program. Endeavour, the newest of the five shuttles, will be retired at the end of this mission.


here’s some help to begin planning from NASA and the Kennedy Space Center
NASA list of best viewing sites to watch shuttle launches HERE

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Launch Control Center, VAB and shuttle hangar -- Current header Photograph

Launch control at Kennedy Space Center has four firing rooms in a building adjacent to the Vehicle Assembly Building, and across the street from Press Complex 39.

Firing Room #4 is the most modern and is where the last 20 space shuttle missions were launched from. Just next door is Firing Room #3 which is very 1960s and retro. This is where some of the Apollo moon missions were launched from.

The Firing rooms all have an expansive window giving superb views of Launch Pads 39A and 39B where both the shuttles and the Apollo moon fights lifted off. The problem? If you’re working to get the shuttles off the launch pads, you’re looking at monitors, not out the window. After launch, however, if you have time, it’s a great view.

Launch Control Center where all major missions have been launched since the Apollo landings on the Moon. LCC is on the left, and the Vehicle Assembly Building is on the right. The set of windows on the furthest left on the LCC is Firing Room #4, the most modern firing room where all recent shuttle missions were launched from. The large second set of windows from the left (ignore the small square set of windows which are a small VIP viewing room) is Firing Room #3 where some of the Apollo missions were launched. Barely visible behind the LCC is one of the shuttle hangars which are called Orbiter Processing Facilities or OPFs. The picture is taken from the Crawlerway that leads to launch Pads 39A and 39B on the east virtually on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. This photograph looks to the west.


Foyer of the Launch Control Center (LCC) stands in the middle of the LCC with two firing rooms on each side of the LCC on upper stories


Firing Room #3 is very 1960s and retro, almost Buck Rogers today. But it still is fully operational and should backup be needed during a launch, this room would be ready. Along the back wall are plaques for every mission launched from this room, including the date of the launch and of the landing.


When Firing Room #4 was modernized, this room was no longer the firing room of choice and was not used during the final twenty shuttle launches. During countdowns, the number of people in the Firing Rooms gradually increases until at launch there were about 300 people in the firing room. After launch, control of a mission is instantly handed to the Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas, and the number of people working here drops quickly.

.”petecrow/NASA” © 2011 by / Peter M. Crow and the Peter Michael Crow Trust and by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

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NASA has announced following …

Scheduled to land at 2am, June 1, 2011, at SLF, KSC.
VAB rollout to Pad 39A, begin 8pm, May 31, 2011
Launch, 11:40am, July 8, 2011

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Looking at ceiling, up Tower A of the VAB. Note that the tower goes all the way up, but that an area is open between Tower A (left) and Tower B (lower portion of photograph). This is obviously not a great picture.

How the VAB is constructed. The Vehicle Assembly Buiding at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, is the largest building, in terms of volume, in the world.

The VAB was constructed in the mid-1960s to assemble the rockets and capsule in the Apollo program. The Apollo program landed men on the Moon six times between 1969 and 1972. It also served in the Skylab program and for the past 30 years has been the place where the shuttles have been mated with their rockets prior to being taken, as a single unit, to the launching pads.

The VAB, at 500 feet, is an iconic building of the American space program and is visible for miles. It is adjacent and mere steps from the Launch Control Center and its four firing rooms where the Apollo, Skylab and Shuttles have been launched. The VAB is also directly across the street from the Complex 39 Media Site where all media coverage of the launches of the shuttle originates. The VAB is adjacent to the three Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPF), the shuttle hangars. To the northwest of the VAB, several miles away, is the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF), the runway where shuttles land in Florida. Shuttles also land in California and New Mexico when weather conditions do not permit a Florida landing.

The VAB is constructed of six supporting towers designated A, B, C, D, E and F. Three of these towers each inter-connect up to the 16th floor on opposite sides of the main open bay. The bays between the towers are open above the 16th floor.

The shuttle bays themselves are in between the D and E, and the E and F towers. Therefore, to place a shuttle in one of the shuttle bays, a shuttle must first be lifted from the main central bay, above the 16th floor, and then moved laterally into the shuttle bay, before being lowered and secured to the five-story high Crawler which will carry the shuttle to the launching pad.

Floor plan of the Vehicle Assembly Building. On May 18, 2011, the shuttle Atlantis was moved from the Transfer Aisle into High Bay 1 between Towers D and E.

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.”petecrow/NASA” © 2011 by / Peter M. Crow and the Peter Michael Crow Trust and by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

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Scroll down for the Lift-to-Mate sequence of pictures taken by Carol Anne, and separately by me. This post tells more about the pictures in that post, and more about that day which was the final lift-to-mate in the shuttle program.

Carol Anne Swagler's photograph of the shuttle Atlantis suspended high above the floor of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on the afternoon of May 18, 2011. Ms. Swagler took this photograph and a series of others that appear in the Lift-to-Mate post below from the 16th floor while leaning out over the main bay of the VAB. The Atlantis would be lifted 500 feet to the ceiling of the VAB, then brought back down atop a 5-story Crawler and secured. This was the 135th and final lift-to-mate procedure in the shuttle program. The program will end when this shuttle lands after its scheduled mission in July 2011. Atlantis will then be retired and sent to a museum.

About this Post. This is largely an inside baseball post in response to those wanting to know more about our VAB photographs in the post below, about how we took them, when we took them, and where we were in the VAB when we took them.

All of the photographs in the VAB lift-to-mate posts were taken by Carol Anne or me. None are NASA photographs, but you can access the NASA photographs HERE and they are excellent. Although, as noted below, we did exchange photographs with two other photography/video teams, we acquired their pictures — and they acquired ours — without any of us granting usage rights.

The sole purpose of exchanging was to round each of our three film libraries which, because of the NASA restrictions on the access provided to different film teams, resulted in no one having the complete sets of photographs from the three locations (floor, 5th floor and 16th floor) they wished.

The Carol Anne Swagler Photographs. In all, Carol Anne took 161 photographs from the 5th and the 16th floors of the Vehicle Assembly building on May 18, 2011. Additionally, she shot an extensive amount of video which has not yet been archived and timed.

Carol Anne returned to the VAB in two different visits — one in the mid-morning photographing from the VAB floor, and a second shortly after noon photographing from the 16th floor. Her shots from the 16th floor were vastly superior to mine, and among the best taken because she had positioned herself at the end of the main VAB bay affording her a unique angle on the turning of the shuttle Atlantis upward to a 90-degree angle.

Her shots are used exclusively in the lift-to-mate post below during the afternoon. My photos are not credited and are generally the morning and evening photographs.

Pete Crow and the shuttle Atlantis on the main floor of the VAB on May 18, 2011.

The Peter M. Crow Photographs. I would visit the VAB three times during the lift-to-mate. First I went over mid-morning (floor), and a second time after noon (16th floor). About 5 pm I returned for the evening and photographed from the floor, 5th floor and 16th floor until 9 pm when NASA Media ended the photo opportunity.

In all I took 366 still photographs and shot 14 video takes totaling 10 minutes 13 seconds.

In the morning we were both together on the main floor, and were again together during the afternoon, when the Atlantis was lifted and stood on end, when both of us were sent with the group that was on the 16th floor. The inability of the media to go between floors quickly, which often had been the case in the past, meant that we got no pictures of the shuttle from the 5th floor. On the other hand, depending on the lenses those on the 5th floor were using, they often never got complete shots of the entire shuttle as it was raised. The 16th floor by being parallel to the top of the main orange booster rocket afforded easy shots of the entire shuttle.

Peter M. Crow and Carol Anne Swagler on the main floor of the VAB on the morning of May 18, 2011.

Photographers exchanged their photographs. In early evening, May 18, 2011, before returning to the VAB a final time, I exchanged all of my photographs from the day, and all of Carol Anne’s, with a film crew from Palm Beach, FL, and Bridgeport, CT. In return they gave us all of their video and photographs for the entire day, including their photographs from the 5th floor. As a result both they, and we, were able to round out our film libraries and make them complete.

The 11 story evening climb.Many photographers who were working on the main/first floor decided to move to the 16th floor as the shuttle was lifted in the evening to the ceiling. Unfortunately, the elevator in the B Tower did not work.

As a result about 20 photographers and their equipment, including me, were trapped at the 5th floor while the shuttle passed upwards and past the 16th floor where we had planned to shoot the lift.

In the end, lacking any other way to get to the 16th floor, the trapped photographers climbed 11 stories from the 5th to the 16th floor. Most made it — I did — but the group of 20 quickly sorted out in the first several flights between floors 5 and 8 or 9 and many arrived too late to get photographs on the lift. By then the shuttle was hanging over the main bay nearly 500-feet up at the ceiling.

Floor plan of the Vehicle Assembly Building. On May 18, 2011, the shuttle Atlantis was moved from the Transfer Aisle into High Bay 1 between Towers D and E.

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.”petecrow/NASA” © 2011 by / Peter M. Crow and the Peter Michael Crow Trust and by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

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Dawn, Wednesday, May 18, 2011, Kennedy Space Center. In the distance is Pad 39A where the Endeavour was launched nearly two days previously and in the foreground is the press site. The shot was taken by Carol Anne Swagler.

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The Lift to Mate Sequence === The next step in the process of preparing a shuttle for launch, following rollover from the OPF (hangar), is lifting the shuttle and mating it to the Crawler which will take the shuttle to the launching pad.

The “Lift to Mate” of the Shuttle Atlantis took place on Wednesday, May 18, 2011, the day following rollover. The photographs here were posted serially through the day as the Lift to Mate procedure progressed in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

After being rolled in through the doors shown straight ahead in this picture, apparatus was attached to lift the shuttle. This is about 9:20 am. The entire process has taken only a few hours to as many as 18-hours veteran reporters say. The mating of the Atlantis to the Crawler was to have taken place overnight, May 17-18, but was delayed until the morning of May 18. Here the shuttle has been placed in the strap aparatus that will be used to lift her and turn her 90-degrees. On the Crawler she will stand on end with her nose pointing skyward.

Reporters and photographers were divided into three groups, "A", "B" and "C", and escorted to the VAB for thirty minutes on three different occasions on Wednesday, May 18, 2011. Because of confusion, some media came as early as 3 am; the event started at 8 am. In all more than 100 of 1,500 accredited signed up to come, but less than half probably attended because of the confusion.

Beginning about 1 pm, the shuttle was lifted over the next hour and a half until it was upright. This photograph, and the three following were taken by Carol Anne Swagler on the 16th floor of the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Carol Anne Swagler / photograph 2

Carol Anne Swagler photograph 3

Carol Anne Swagler photograph 4

What happens after the shuttle is lifted upright?
The shuttle is allowed to hang just off the floor for awhile to be sure it is not swinging. Then the shuttle is turned 45-degrees, lifted up 500-feet to the ceiling of the Vehicle Assembly Building, and — clearing the 16th floor level — moved into the bay where the Crawler is waiting below. Once over the Crawler, the shuttle is turned an additional 45-degress to line it up with the 5-story Crawler waiting below. Then the shuttle is lowered onto and mated with the Crawler and attached to fuel tanks.

The final Mate-to-Lift in the shuttle program, shown in these series of photographs, began about 8 am on Wednesday, May 18, 2011, and was not completed until late evening Wednesday, May 18, 2011. It is a slow laborious and potentially dangerous process which has, with this final lift-to-mate, been successfully accomplished 135 times in this building.

The next major step in the STS-135 mission of the Atlantis will come in about two weeks. On May 31 or June 1, 2011, the Atlantis will be moved to launch pad 39A for the final launch in the American space shuttle program. The program began more than 30 years ago.

5:43 pm. After hanging uright for about four hours, the shuttle is ready to be lifted, moved across the top of the VAB building and into the bay and lowered onto a 5-story Crawler which is waiting.


6:10 pm


6:49 pm


7:28 pm The remaining series of photographs were taken from the 16th floor of the VAB.


7:53 pm The shuttle has been moved across the ceiling of the VAB into the bay where the Crawler waits 52-stories (500-feet) below. It has been turned an aditional 45-degress to align it with the Crawler. The final steps are to lower the shuttle 500-feet onto the 5-story Crawler and secure it.


8:15 pm The NASA crew worked for at least another hour aligning the pins that secured the shuttle and crawler before lowering the shuttle. The orange tank in the lower center of the photograph is the main fuel tank.


Reporting from KSC is rarely easy unless you are a wire service reporter or major newspaper reporter, or have convinced NASA to favor you. Although 1,500 media were given credentials, that does not assure that you will be allowed into the VAB or onto other KSC sites to report. Nor can the media count on the schedule they are given. In the lift to mate photo opportunity, photographers were divided into three groups, and given three different time slots. But in the end the three groups were combined into two groups, and the three time slots were reduced to two -- and those times were changed without informing all photographers. Some photographers arrived at 3 am to find the event had been moved to 8 am, and others went to lunch as told they could, only to return to discover the final photo opportunity of the day had gone forward without them. It's not entirely KSC's press relations' office's fault. Security, the vagaries of the VAB operations and the lack of staff all contribute.

.”petecrow/NASA” © 2011 by / Peter M. Crow and the Peter Michael Crow Trust and by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

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STS-135 Mission begins. An unexpectedly large number of the media showed up long before dawn for the rollover of the Atlantis on Tuesday, May 17, 2011, catching the NASA media center personnel off guard.

Here are the primary steps in preparing a shuttle from its landing at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at Kennedy Space Center to launch. When a shuttle mission ends in California or another alternate landing site such as White Sands, New Mexico, an additional step is required — flying the shuttle back to Kennedy Space Center riding on top of a Boeing 747. Alternate landing sites are used when weather at KSC remains unsatisfactory on repeated days and the shuttle is running out of expendables and must land. The shuttle has a limited number of landing windows each day, just as it has limited launch windows.

This is the Rollover of the Atlantis and beginning of STS-135, final mission in the American Space Shuttle program. It is 8:37 am. Atlantis has been backed out of Bay #2, its hangar, on left side of photograph. Then it will be driven to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) just to the left of where this picture was taken.

Return to OPF. After a shuttle returns from space, it is towed back to one of three Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPF) where it is prepared for another flight. It is towed along a blue line painted on the highway. The three OPFs are hangars, but also maintenance facilities.

The shuttle Atlantis has been in OPF Bay #2 since its last mission.

The Rollover. A new mission begins when a shuttle is “rolled over” from its Orbiter Processing Facility to the Vehicle Assembly (VAB) building several hundred yards away. The rollover of the Atlantis took place beginning at 8 am from Bay #2, on Tuesday morning, May 17, 2011, to the Vehicle Assembly Building and was completed about 3 pm.

Normally rollover takes a few hours, but because this is the last mission in the program, and the last mission for Atlantis, the shuttle was parked outside of the VAB. This interrupted the rollover allowing KSC employees and others to walk around and visit.

Atlantis nears the door of the VAB in background. She was stopped and parked here for six hours so that NASA employees, many who will be laid off by the time she flies, could say good-bye.

Lift to Mate. The next step in the process takes place inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) where the shuttle is lifted on end, and mated to the Crawler which will carry the shuttle out to the launch pad. This was scheduled to be a media event inside the VAB overnight May 17-18, 2011, but re-scheduled to Wednesday morning, May 18, 2011, possibly to accomodate the unexpectedly large number of media wishing to cover the final Lift to Mate.

The Rollout. The final step in moving the shuttle from the OPF to the launch pad is to roll out the Crawler from the VAB to the launch pad with the shuttle riding on top. This takes about 6 hours and occurs a week or two after Lift to Mate.

A launch date has yet to be set for STS-135 but will likely the launch will be in mid-July. This will be mission STS-135, the final flight in the American space shuttle program.

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Brief Atlantis History The Atlantis was the fourth of five shuttles. All were built in Palmdale, California. The first two, Columbia and Challenger, were lost. The third, Discovery, has flown her last flight and is in Bay #1 of the OPF being readied for the Smithsonian Museum at Dulles Airport outside Washington, DC. Discovery is expected to be handed over to the museum early in 2012. The newest, and fifth shuttle in the fleet, Endeavour, is currently in space. She was launched at 8:56 am, May 16, 2011, and is expected to return to Earth on May 31, 2011, after her final sixteen day mission.

The Current Header Photograph was taken at 9:30 a.m. The Atlantis was parked outside the VAB for six hours allowing staff to visit and be photographed with her. Astronauts who flew on her walked her from the ORF toward the VAB. The four Astronauts who will fly the final shuttle flight also walked along with the Atlantis.

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STS-135 Updates.
NASA updates on the Atlantis and on STS-135 as of May 17, 2011, appear to be being posted HERE.

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photographs by petecrow for Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio, City, California, “petecrow/NASA” © 2011 by Peter M. Crow and the Peter Michael Crow Trust and by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

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At the NASA press briefing, one hour following successful launch of the Shutte Endeavour, on Monday, May 16, 2011, at the press ste, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, the following dates on the final shuttle mission, STS-135 were discussed:

Atlantis rollover — OPF (hangar) to VAB
scheduled for May 17, 2011, 8 am

Atlantis rollout — VAB (vehicle assembly building) to Pad 39A
scheduled for May 31/June 1, 2011

Atlantis launch — from Pad 39A
expected for mid-July (change from earliest launch date of June 28)
expected earliest launch date to be set by about May 20, 2011

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NASA’s stunning photographs of the launch of STS-134 are HERE.

Pictures here are from 2 seconds after ignition through disappearance of the Shuttle Endeavour into clouds at 5,000 feet at about 8:57 EDT, Monday, May 16, 2011 at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The launch is from the only remaining operational shuttle launch pad, Pad 39-A.

2 Seconds into Launch

4 Seconds into Launch

10 Seconds into Launch

15 Seconds into Launch

22 Seconds into Launch

Gone! -- 26 Seconds into Launch. This was one of the quickest disappearance of the shuttle into clouds in the history of the program, a NASA spokesman said at a press conference later in the morning.

.”petecrow/NASA” © 2011 by / Peter M. Crow and the Peter Michael Crow Trust and by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

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