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Here was the complete 3-part package: The Crawler, on bottom, was two stories. The Transporter was on top of the Crawler and was three more stories. On the top of the Transporter the Shuttle was attached. This photo is of the Atlantis on the Crawlerway.


NASA has two Crawlers. They are usually parked at the yard adjacent to the Orbiter Process Facilities and across the street from the VAB. Sometimes one is parked at a yard on the roadway to Pads 39-A and 39-B where those visiting the Visitor's Center can see them on their way to a viewing stand.

The Crawler/Transporter is a behemoth. This is the carrier which took the fully assembled Shuttle with its fuel tanks attached to the launch pad.

Consider these basics —

Weight: 2,721 metric tons (6 million pounds)
Length: 40 meters (131 ft) wide, 35 meters (114ft) long
Miles: 2,526 miles (1,243 miles since 1977)

The Crawler has her own special road known as the Crawlerway.

She only runs on this specially built dual highway of Mississippi rock between the VAB, her storaage yards and Pads 39-A and 39-B. Each time she heads out for a cruise on her highway, she so completely flattens the rocks on the roadbed that the rocks must be “fluffed” after each trip, and replaced, on average after she’s been over them ten times.

Each cleats on each of her eight tracks weighs one ton.

Getting a Shuttle to the Launching Pad was a two step process.

Terry Berman is manager of Crawler Operations. Previously he was in charge of Pad 39-B which has been torn down and will be re-purposed for still-to-be-determined later space missions.

First the Shuttle was towed to the Vehicle Assembly building from its hangar (known as an OFP — or Orbiting Processing Facility). In the VAB the shuttle was harnessed in the Transit Aisle and then hoisted 500 feet to the top of the VAB, and then moved laterally into one of two “High Bays”. The shuttle was then lowered and secured to the Crawler/Transporter.

The Crawler and Transporter are two separate pieces. The system, in use since the Apollo Moon program in the 1960s, will survive to serve the next generation of space vehicle. The vehicle with its tracks is the base. The Transporter is secured on top of the Crawler, and then a vehicle is secured to the Transporter.

Once a vehicle is safely secured, the Transporter sets out for the launch pad at eight-tenths of a mile per hour. Unloaded it can do about 2 mph.

The Crawler tilts.

As the Crawler climbs the final yards to the launching pad, it climbs a hill. As it climbs the Crawler has internal devices which tilt the Transporter keeping the Shuttle level (otherwise there is a risk that it would fall off). Once the Crawler has delivered the Transporter and the vehicle to the launch pad, it drives away. The vehicle is then launched a few weeks later.
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Entry to the Crawler yard is through a tightly controlled fence, inside a tightly controlled area. The last use of a Crawler was to move a launching device built for the now-cancelled Constellation program to and from Pad 39-B in November 2011. The Crawler, while they will be carefully preserved and maintained, may not be used again until 2017. NASA appears to have little, if any, support from President Obama and his administration.


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The control room. Surprisingly the Crawler has only one floor and inside it is almost all engines. It can be driven from either end in small cabs where drivers switch off every two hours. Systems are monitored here when the Crawler is moving. A team also walks with the Crawler on the ground and visually observes it when the Crawler is in motion.


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The inside of the Crawler which is accessed by climbing a rickety stairway is almost all engines except for the control room. The Shuttle is not driven from the control room, but systems are monitored there.


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A catwalk circles the entire second floor of the Crawler. There is no first floor, and the third floor is a flat surface where the Transporter is attached. This photograph is from on end of the Crawler looking back toward the other end.,


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Cockpit of the Crawler. There are two cockpits, one on opposite ends allowing the Crawling to be driven in both directions. It takes about 18 months of training to become a driver. When driving, drivers generally drive about two hours, then switch off. The drive from the VAB to the launch pads generally took 6+ hours at less than 1 mph.


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Portapottie. A temporary bathroom is discretely tucked on one end of the Crawler. This is the only restroom on the Crawler.


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The Crawler's eight tracks are massive. Each clete, specially made by only one factory, weighs 2,000 pounds and yes, they do wear out and have to be replaced.


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This is the second of the two cockpits on the opposite end of the Crawler from the cockpit picture above. The cockpits and the driving controls (just below) appear identical.


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Have a seat and let's go. There are no speed limits on the Crawlerway, but then again top speed of the Crawler is less than 2 mph. The driver has no seatbelt.


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The cockpit is small, but has room comfortably for the driver and a second person. This photograph was taken from the middle of the Crawler on the "second' floor. There is no first or third floor.


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The Crawler stands tall enough that autos and trucks can easily drive underneath. Fully loaded with a transporter, the Crawler stands five stories high. When photographing the Crawler and Transporter with a shuttle secured to it, the media was taken to the fifth floor of the VAB where they were level with the top of the Transporter and where their photographs appears to be at ground level, but were actually more than 50' or five stories above the ground..


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Pete Crow, who is 6'0", stands under exactly in the center underneath the Crawler to get perspective to the Crawler's massive size.


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This photograph is taken standing on the ground and looking up at the Crawler.


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This is the exact 180-degree view from the photograph just above.


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Carol Anne Swagler stands on one of the two pebble covered tracks which serve as the Crawler's highway to the two launch pads. Ms. Swagler, a veteran newspaper woman, was working as a photographer for an Oklahoma newsapaper, The Grove Sun Daily. In the waning days of the shuttle program, Ms. Swagler was frequently accredited to photograph the shuttle and other NASA launches at the Cape. The Grove Sun Daily, unusual for a small daily, sent reporters and photographers to cover the space program frequently, all the way back to the Apollo 17 moon launch in 1972; its community had a NASA sub-contractor. In the background over Ms. Swagler's shoulder is the Vehicle Assembly Building. The Crawler and shuttle are heading toward Ms. Swagler -- she had walked on ahead. If she had not moved -- which she did -- the Crawler would have flattened her and there would have been no more trips to the Cape for Ms. Swagler.

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tell me MORE — read more about the Crawler/Transporter on the NASA site HERE

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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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These 20 photographs were taken by either Pete Crow or Carol Anne Swagler on June 17, 2011 between 5:30 am and 3:30 pm at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

DAWN, June 17, 2011 === A camera bank on the south side of Pad 39-A tracks the launches. Shuttles were launched from either Pad 39-A or, five-eighths of a mile north, Pad 39-B. By the time of the STS-135 launch, the final launch in the shuttle program, Pad 39-B had been torn torn in order to be re-purposed for the Constellation program which was eventually canceled.


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The shuttles are brought to the launch pad from the vehicle assembly building (the VAB) on a highway made of river rock from Alabama and Mississippi. The final highway up and onto the launch pad itself is a grate encased in concrete. In this photo the rotating service structure is open, but in order to place the payload into the shuttle, the RSS would be closed and would remain closed with the shuttle until about 18 hours before launch.


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This is a closeup of the concreted grated roadway on the launch pad.


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The Rotating Service Structure pivots to cover the shuttle, and away to allow delivery of the payload (white box midway up the RSS, and for launch. This photo was after the payload had been delivered to the pad, but prior to placement of the payload into the bay of the shuttle.


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Two elevators go from the floor of the pad to Level 255. The RSS continues on to level 295, but to get there you walk up stairs. The RSS' floors are not called "floors" -- they are called "levels" and are designated in how many feet a level is above the pad floor. The elevator panel shows this elevator is at Level 255 or, 255 feet above the pad's floor.


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The views from Level 255 at the top of the RSS are spectacular, especially if it is a clear day. This photograph looks toward the northwest, to the now demolished Pad 39-B where shuttles were also launched, and to the Atlantic Ocean beyond. The launch pads at Kennedy Space Center are all only short distances from the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The idea was to launch over the ocean and should mishaps occur, not to endanger anyone.


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Flooring on the RSS is all open metal grate which means by looking up or down you can see either sky or the base of the pad. This photograph, taken at Level 235 looks up at people walking on Level 255. If heights bother you, walking the open grates on the top of the RSS will terrify you Oddly, Pete -- no lover of heights -- loved this place. Carol Anne, always fearless, tended to hang by the elevators at first before testing how sturdy the metal grating was with her foot..


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This is another view from Level 255. This is toward the northeast. The Atlantic Ocean is about midway up the photograph. Note the balloon with the picture of the bird hanging. It is just to the left of the water tower.


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Birds, and specifically woodpeckers, are a serious threat to the shuttle because they attack the covering of the main booster rocket. Two people are stationed on the pad, one on the top of the pad, and one person on the bottom. When they see a bird that might threaten the shuttle, they blow horns to scare them away. Balloons with pictures of scary birds are also attached in different places to scare off the woodpeckers.


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Birds are not only a probably at the launch pad, they are also a concern when the shuttle is landing on the Shuttle Landing Facility (runway). Sometimes, prior to landing, canons will be set off to scare the birds off. The woman, center of picture, is sitting beside, and looking at, the bottom of the booster rockets which are out of frame on the left. She is one of two bird guards. She is armed with a small air horn which she blows when she sees a threatening bird. She works 12 hour shifts. Bird guarding the shuttle is a cat-and-mouse game. Note the bird on the railing in the far right of the picture watching the woman who is watching the rockets (out of view to her left). Not all birds get the horn, mostly its the woodpeckers.


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On the right is a walkway leading into the shuttle. This is where the crew enters the flight deck. The rockets that power the shuttle into space are in the middle and left of the picture. This was taken, looking down, from Level 255. During the day, we would eventually visit all elevator levels, starting at the top of the RSS and gradually working our way down.


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This view is roughly equivalent in height to the 16th floor of the Vehicle Assembly Building. To take this picture, Pete moved far out to the end of the RSS, then climbed a narrow walkway and stood on a catwalk on Level 235. He would have never found it himself. The NASA escort, Pat, showed him in detail how to get there; she didn't go with him, but eventually Carol Anne did.


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Another Level 235 view, showing move of the RSS in relation to the shuttle.


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Carol Anne at Level 235. NASA took journalists onto the RSS in groups of five and allowed them lots of time to roam and explore. With the shuttle program ending, many facilities hitherto highly restricted to only a few members of the media are now being made accessible.


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Level 195 is the crew access level and can be a busy place. It is the only level that we saw that has a detailed map of what is where.


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This walkway leads from the RSS, and the elevators, to middeck of the shuttle. Directly behind us is the RSS. Directly ahead of us, through those two doors, is the middeck of the Shuttle Atlantis. Why are there yellow arrows on the floor? Because once suited up the astronauts can see very little, except the floor. Why do the arrows lead away from, instead of to the shuttle? Because the arrows lead to escape baskets. If a mishap should occur and the astronauts had to escape from the shuttle while still on the pad, they would follow these arrows to the baskets..


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The arrows lead here. Astronauts would individually get into one of seven baskets, release a lever and be ziplined to safety below. Their landing site at the end of the zipline is the white space visible in distance. The device was never used, and astronauts, while knowing how to use the devices, never practiced. Years ago press conferences with the astronauts were held at the bottom of the zipline with the RSS and shuttle in the background. This is a view to the north.


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This is not the base of the pad, but it is the bottom of the shuttle and the rockets. This is an industrial place. This is a south view. The woman with the air horn is to our left. The highway leading to the Pad is on our right. The rockets are in the left of the picture extending upward, and the shuttle, attached to the rockets, is on the mid-right of the photograph. Media were allowed to walk right up to the shuttle and rockets, but not under the shuttle's wings.


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The shuttle is on the right, and the rockets on the left. Pete has covered dozens of missions all the way back to Apollo in 1972, but as he said to his escort the day he visited the RSS and Pad 39-A, "this gets me every time." The escort, who has worked at KSC for many years was similarly moved and replied simply, "me too." The end of the shuttle program is doubly hard because the United States has no further manned space mission plans in its pipeline. From now on to get to the International Space Station that the United States largely built, the United States will be paying the Russians and riding on their vehicles.


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NASA took the media to the RSS in groups of five. As we left the Pad Pete asked the escort to stop for a last look. Exiting the van Pete stepped back against the fence and took this picture. The man in the photo is another journalist who toured the RSS with Pete and Carol Anne. The location appears to be in the middle of no where, but actually is steps from the guard gate, the crawler way and the pad exit.

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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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The Crawler transports the shuttle to the launch pad after being mated with the shuttle in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Mating takes about ten days. This Crawler, one of several, is parked in a storage facility on the Crawlway that leads to Pads 39-A and 39-B.

The Crawler is about five stories high and is driven by one person with a whole lot of help. Spotters walk ahead of the Crawler when a Shuttle is mated to the Crawler and the Crawler is transporting the shuttle to the launch pad. A second parking facility for Crawler parking is adjacent to the three Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPF = hangar) and the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

The final trip for the Crawler transporting a shuttle, the Atlantis, from the VAB to Launch Pad 39-A was on the night of May 31-June 1, 2011. Unless weather forces a return of the Atlantis back to the VAB for safety, the Crawler will never be used again to transport a shuttle, but just as the Crawlers found life after the Apollo Moon capsules and rockets, so too they will likely soldier on.

In case you’d like to buy one to drive around your neighborhood, you will want to kick the tires wearing steel boots. Those aren’t tires; the Crawler is driven, like tanks, by tracks.

This photograph was taken by Carol Anne Swagler on May 17, 2011.
© 2011, Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC and Carol Anne Swagler.

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Arguably the night of May 31 / June 1, 2011, will go down as one of the greatest nights in the shuttle program. In the evening the final shuttle mission continued toward launch with the rollout of the shuttle Atlantis from the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Game on! The sign tells it all -- behind Pete to the left is the landing field. Endeavour is coming home tonight, but that's not all that will happen tonight at the Cape.

Before the Atlantis arrived at Pad 39-A, hours later, Endeavour slipped out of orbit 200 miles above the Earth between the Indian Ocean and Ausralia and glided back to Earth for more than sixty minutes, landing at Kennedy at 2:32 am ending the second to last mission in the 30-year shuttle program.

Along the way there were interviews with the crew that will fly the last mission ever, and opportunities to photograph the Atlantis at 39-A as the sun rose over her, and as the sun was setting on the American shuttle program itself.

By dawn, June 1, 2011, the second to last shuttle mission was over, and the final mission, STS-135, was on the launch pad, poised ready to begin. Lift-off is scheduled no earlier than July 8, 2011 — but there is talk of bumping the launch up to July 4.

The following 25 photographs, taken between 4 pm and 4 am, document only a part of this remarkable evening and morning at the Cape.
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The Vehicle Assembly Building, diagram. Let's get oriented -- where are we going? Here's your floor plan of the Vehicle Assembly Building. First we'll enter the Transfer Aisle from the "you are here" at bottom of the diagram walking first forward through Areas K, L, M and N, largely storage areas, albeit it huge ones. Straight ahead is the door through which the shuttles entered when being brought over from their hangars. Inbetween us, and the Transfer Aisle are Areas K,L,M and N, the ceiling of the VAB, while high, is much lower. and then we'll turn into High Bay 1 between Towers D and E. Here our photographs will be on the ground floor, 4th floor, 5th floor and 16th floor. All locations in the photographs will be identified. The VAB is 37 floors, roughly 500 feet, but the shuttle only reaches to about th 16th floor. During the Apollo Moon program in the 1960s and early 1970s, all of the height of the VAB was required to assemble the Apollo rockets.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, main floor. The main hallway of the Vehicle Assembly Building where only 10 days before the Atlantis was wheeled in, turned upright and lifted 500 feet up, and then back down, and placed on the crawler that tonight and tomorrow morning will carry her to Pad 39-A, and on to space.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, main floor. This is the Crawler -- slow but steady. Once it begins moving it is about 6 hours from VAB to Pad 39-A, a distance of a few miles that is transversed on a roadway of small river rock.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, 5th floor. The Crawler upper deck. The media herded between the main level, and floors 4, 5 and 16. A lack of personnel, and a growing disdain for the media by all but a few of the Kennedy Space Center personnel has created problems, perhaps compounded by the difficulty of sorting out legitimate media in an era of bloggers and decreased resources of traditional media such as daily newspapers and television networks.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, 5th floor. Isn't she beautiful. The Atlantis perched and secured atop the Crawler. The shuttles are breathtaking, the closer you are to them, and the more you learn about these remarkably engineering machines, the more in awe are you of the men and women who built them, serviced and protected them, and flew them.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, 16th floor. , and through the window is the crawlway. That is not a two-lane divided highway you are looking at. The crawler's giant paws run are on each of that grassy divider and, by the way, they need the room. In a few moments, the crawler and Atlantis will head out onto what appears to be a four lane divided interstate. It's no interstate. This road is a one way crawlway for the shuttle.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, 16th floor. In the distance is Launch Pad 39-A lighted, and beyond is the Atlantic Ocean. The launch pads are on the shore.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, 16th floor. Another view of the bay, looking downward from the 16th floor.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, 16th floor. Photographers lean forward over yawning openings in the assembly bays, often pointing their cameras straight down. On some levels they are allowed out onto even narrower catwalks on each side of the bay. Note the reenforcing of the walkway. The other side of this catwalk overlooks the Transfer Aisle.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, 16th floor. There is nothing clean, nor safe, about the VAB. The catwalks are narrow and the open spaces are, of necessity, huge. It is often dirty, as with this piece of electrical equipment from which the paint is chipping off. As someone said, "nobody's cleaned anything up in decades up here"


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, 16th floor. Elevator shafts are guarded only by metal mesh. The VAB is an industrial facility, utilitarian, not meant to be pretty.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, 16th floor. Warning signs are everywhere in the VAB, in elevators, on catwalks, in the hallways.


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Vehicle Assembly Building, 4th floor. Going .... When the crawler begins to move, the shuttle exits the VAB fairly quickly. The crawler is slow but steady and in minutes it is gone, the bay cleaned up and gates and fences re-erected.


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Vehicle Assembly Building, 4th floor. Going ... Once out of the VAB, the shuttle is bathed in light. Earlier in the program the shuttles were moved from the VAB to the Pad in the morning, but during the final launches, the shuttles were only moved at night. The press, often invited to walk along during the day to the pad, was barred during the final missions.


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Vehicle Assembly Building, main floor. Gone! ... gates have been closed and the shuttle Atlantis has left the VAB for the final time, barring weather conditions that would require her to return for safety. The future of the VAB, the largest building in the world in terms of volume, is uncertain, but government officials are profiling the building for several companies that have expressed interest in acquiring the building. Who are they? No one will say, but word is three companies are interested.


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The landing of the Endeavour, and the end of the second to last mission, STS-134.
With the final shuttle out of the VAB and another major step of the final shuttle mission, STS-135, accomplished, attention turned to the Shuttle Endeavour which had been at the International Space Station until two days before, and which was now preparing to land at Kennedy Space Center’s shuttle landing facility.

NASA began running the press buses the short distance to the SLF (shuttle landing facility) at 11:30 pm. Carol Anne caught the first bus.

Unlike the landing of Discovery in February, which was a daylight landing, this landing would be at 2:32 am — and, given the excellent weather conditions, it seemed likely that Endeavour would land on the first of its two landing opportunities. If it could not land, the Eneadavour would remain in orbit another day and would have two additional landing opportunities the fiollowing night. The landing opportunities have to do with the orbit tracks. Each time the shuttle orbits it tracks a slightly different course. Only a couple of those tracks are suitable for landing in Florida while other tracks are suitable for other landing sites such as White Sands, New Mexico and Edwards Air Force Base, California.

In February, we had photographed the landing from the north end of the SLF (shuttle landing facility = runway). Tonight we would photograph from mid-stride of the landing field at “The Tower” where there are grandstands and other facilities.

But reality was, on a largely moonless night, we would suspected that we would witness the landing of the Endeavour, but get nothing in terms of photographs. That proved to be true.

At 12:30 am I climbed in the second of two media buses and joined Carol Anne at the SLF. The weather was so favorable, the Endeavour was cleared to do its landing burn well in advance. She was coming home. The burn slows the speed of the shuttle from nearly 18,000 miles an hour causing it to slip out of orbit. By the time the shuttle lands sixty minutes following the de-orbit burn, she is flying at only 200 miles an hour.

The de-orbit burn is about 60 minutes before landing and takes place almost exactly on the other side of the world. This morning it was off India over the Indian Ocean near Australia. Once the de-orbit burn begins, the shuttle has no where to go except to the SLF in Florida. Her speed no longer sustains orbit.

After that burn for 60 minutes everyone waits knowing she is coming.
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Shuttle Landing Field Tower at Kennedy Space Center. Grandstands for the media and VIPs are just below the tower. The tower is halfway down the runway known as the SLF, shuttle landing facility. The shuttle takes about 2/3s of the runway to land. The shuttle leaves orbit at 18,000 miles an hour about 220 miles up and touches down 60 minutes later at 200 mph at sea level.


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Runway, shuttle landing field, Kennedy Space Center. TV and electronic media set up on the south side of the grandstand at the SLF. Nobody got much in the way of pictures when Endeavour landed because it was so dark.


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Runway, shuttle landing field, Kennedy Space Center. The convoy which will service the shuttle after landing, tow her back to the hangars and pick up the astronauts, arrives about 30 minutes before landing and waits just off the runway midway down the field. The convoy uses the same road the media uses to get to the grandstand. Because of the size of the convoy, the media must, therefore, go to the grandstand area first. The convoy fills the road making further passage difficult. That's why, in spite of the grumbling, the final media buses to the SLF must leave the press site so early.


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Runway, shuttle landing field, Kennedy Space Center. The media arrives as much as 3 hours before landing with little to do except lounge against walls or make phone calls. Internet and cellphone coverage is now excellent at the landing field unlike earlier days. With desks the media are able to work. Well, unless you are eaten by bugs. Bring bug spray when you come.


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Runway, shuttle landing field, Kennedy Space Center. Work areas in the grandstand are surprisingly good, clean and well lighted. Views of the runway are also excellent in daylight or on nights with full moons.


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Runway, shuttle landing field, Kennedy Space Center. The northern end of runway 15 where the shuttle was scheduled to land was well lit.


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Runway, shuttle landing field, Kennedy Space Center. Tracking the shuttle and monitoring mission control in Houston was easy. Here I have the tracking on my iPhone which is logged onto http://www.nasa.gov, a superb web site. At this time the shuttle was approaching central America 42 miles above the earth.


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Runway, shuttle landing field, Kennedy Space Center. The landing. You don't see anything? If you had been there you would have. The shuttle appears suddenly emerging out of the night fog and WHOOSHES by. It is breathtaking, but photography was impossible more sophisticated equipment and a much better vantage point. I have covered dozens of launches and landings in California and Florida. Itt never gets old. It gets me every time.

Here are some NASA photographs of the landing from better angles and better equipment.

NASA photograph of Endeavour landing, 1


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NASA photograph of Endeavour landing, 2

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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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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.


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6:10 pm


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6:49 pm


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


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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.


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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.


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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.

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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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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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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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