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On Sunday, December 11, 2011, the high fidelity Space Shuttle mockup that has been at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Center was moved 5.6 miles from the Visitor’s Center to the Media Press Site 39 parking lot adjacent to the turning basin. In March this shuttle, known as “Explorer” while at the Kennedy Space Center, will be placed on a barge and sent to Galveston, Texas, and then on to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for permanent display.

The move took about three hours, starting about 7:30 am and ending about 11 am.

The Shuttle mockup leaving the Visitor Center. This mockup never flew in space. With it gone, the Visitor Center will build a special building to house a real Shuttle which is expected to be on display in late 2012 or early 2013.


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This photograph was taken at Location 4. This is the intersection of Schwartz Road and Contractor Road. The Shuttle has turned north and is headed up Contractor Road past the Railroad Engines. Movement of the Explorer, as it was known while at the Visitor's Center, went much quicker than expected. Originally the media was told movement would begin at 7:30 am and taken until 3 pm. In actuality movement began at 8:30am and ended at 11 am.


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This photograph was taken at Location 7 (see map of route below). Nearing the end of its 5.6 mile journey to the Pad 39 Media site parking lot, adjacent to the turning basin, the movers stopped the shuttle move for awhile to allow photographs in front of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Then they gathered and photographed themselves in a group shot.


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(Location 7) A few hundred yards from the Pad 39 Media site parking lot, and the Turning Basin, the mover-guys pulled over, piled out and allowed the media to takes pictures of the shuttle, and of themselves, in front of the VAB. Then, with the media done, they piled in front of the shuttle and their truck, for pictures of their own. These guys finished what was expected to be a 7.5 hour journey of 5.6 miles in a tidy 2.5 hours. They were so good that everybody was home in time for Sunday lunch and the afternoon football games.


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Carol Anne Swagler, self portrait. Ms. Swagler is accredited as a photographer and, you will note, she got herself entirely in the photograph but only half of the Shuttle. She would argue, and we would agree, she got most of what she was going for in this picture. Ms. Swagler took 267 photographs of the move on Sunday, December 11, 2011. Patricia Christian (in red behind Ms. Swagler), NASA public relations, was one of several escorts on Sunday. (Location 7).


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(CLICK to ENLARGE) This is the route from Visitor's Center to the parking lot at the press site. The media photographed the movement from 8 sites marked on this map.

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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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Hangar to VAB to Launch to Space & back

Shuttles always returned on landing to one of four hangars which were offically known as Orbiter Processing Facility 1, 2, 3 and 4. In the OPF the shuttle was serviced, repaired as necessary and readied again to fly in space.


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Movement of the shuttle first was from the OPF to the Vehicle Assembly building several hundred yards away. This movement was called "the rollover" and took several hours.


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The shuttle was transported on a carrier that was driven by a driver. Entering the VAB the shuttle was in the Transit Aisle, a room which extends to the top of the VAB more than 500 feet and 40 stories high.


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Carol Anne Swagler's Shuttle photograph from a 16th floor catwalk in the VAB. As lifting of the shuttle begins, the shuttle seems to takes flight. Once she is upright, she hangs above the Transit Aisle for hours.


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On the Transit Aisle, the shuttle is harnessed and then turned on end. It is allowed to hang there for hours until it completely settles and stops swaying. Then it is slowly lifted 500-feet to the ceiling on the VAB.


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Pete Crow's Shuttle photograph showing the Atlantis after being moved directly over the 5-story high Crawler/Transporter in VAB High Bay 1. This photo was taken from a catwalk on the 16th floor of the VAB.


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The most difficult and occasionally time-consuming step in the "Lift (the shuttle) to Mate (the shuttle with the Transporter/Crawler) is lowering the shuttle precisely onto the Crawler to enable its being secured onto the Crawler/Transporter. Once the shuttle is secure, the Crawler begins moving out of the VAB, as shown here, toward the Launch Pad at the rate of 1 mile and hour.


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Once outside the VAB, the Crawler turns onto the Crawler way, two strips on Alabama river rock separated by a green center median. The Crawler way leads to both Pad 39-A and Pad 39-B, branching several miles down the Crawlerway. In the final missions only Pad 39-A was used. Pad 39-B was torn down and demolished in May and June 2011 to begin to prepare it for Constellation, the next US manned space program. President Obama canceled Constellation after millions had been spent, but the outcry was so great he reinstated it. More money was spent and then Mr. Obama canceled it again. All that remains is a 1960s-esq capsule that resembles Apollo called Orion. Orion is a capsule without a rocket to get it into space and no one will say when a rocket for it will be announced.


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The Crawler is five stories high. To gauge the size of it look for the man in this picture besides the track (bottom center). For many years NASA invited selected members of the press to walk with the Crawler from the VAB to the Pad. As the program neared an end, the shuttles were commonly moved at night and it was deemed too dangerous to allow the media to walk with the shuttle any longer.


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Carol Anne Swagler, Grove Sun Daily, walks far ahead of the shuttle and stands on one of the twin rock highways on which the shuttle traveled. The Crawler and shuttle were so heavy the rocks on the highway were crushed each time and had to be replaced. Nothing about the shuttle program was easy or inexpensive.


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Pete Crow and the Shuttle Atlantis days before her final July 8, 2011 launch. Once at the Pad, the payload for the shuttle is brought to the pad and lifted up onto the Rotating Service Structure, directly behind Pete Crow. The payload for STS-135 is in the white rectangular box over his left shoulder. When ready, the shuttle's payload doors are opened and the RSS is rotated until it covers the shuttle. The payload is then secured in the shuttle's bay.


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The RSS remains mated with the shuttle until about 18 hours before launch. Then it is retracted -- rotated more than 90-degrees leaving the shuttle alone on the pad, and ready to be fueled about 9 hours before launch.


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The RSS has been fully retracted and the shuttle is ready to be launched. This is Endeavour awaiting launch on STS-134, the second to last shuttle mission. Retraction is a popular press event unless it rains. Few photographed the retraction of the final shuttle mission, STS-135, on the afternoon of July 7, 2011 because the time for retraction was repeatedly shifted due to weather, and because weather at the Pad was often a driving rain and it was muddy. Retraction was more easily enjoyed by watching it on NASA-TV from the comfort of the Pad 39 Press site.


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Kennedy Space Center adjoins a wildlife sanctuary, Merritt Island, on the eastern shore of the Atlantic Ocean. Dawn here is often beautiful as it was on the blustery morning of July 8, 2011, when Pete took this photograph of the Atlantis on Pad 39-A.


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Pete Crow shuttle Atlantis photograph from the roff of the Vehicle Assembly Building seconds after lift-off. There are only a handful of photographers allowed on the VAB roof for safety reasons, but Seine/Harbour® and The Grove Sun, Grove, Oklahoma, were granted two of the less than 40 spaces on July 8, 2011.


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This is Endeavour being launched on STS-134 on May 16, 2011. The view is 22 seconds into the launch and was taken at the Media Press site. It shows a strikingly different perspective than the picture directly above taken from the VAB roof. Once launched the astronauts are in subjected to three+ G's (three times the weight of gravity). It doesn't last long. Eight minutes after launch the shuttle is over Africa and in space. And the astronauts are weightless.


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Later shuttle missions lasted 12 to 14 days. The shuttle has to watch its energy reserves which drive the electrical which drives its computers. Generally, the shuttle undocks two days before landing from the International Space Station (ISS) then re-configures its orbits for landing in Florida. Landing begins with a de-orbit burn on the other side of the world, commonly over the Indian Ocean. Once the de-orbit burn is exectued about 60 minutes from landing, the shuttle has no where else to go except to the tiny Shuttle Landing Facility (runway) at Kennedy Space Center. This photo, taken by Pete, is of the final landing of Discovery and was taken on the northern end of the runway.


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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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If you can successfully land the shuttle using the simulator, NASA/JSC will award you a certificate -- fill in your own name.

Astronauts train both at Johnson Space Center, and in Russia. Language on the International Space Station is both in English and Russian. Astronauts must be fluent in both.

After the STS-135 NASA Mission, the United States will have no way back to the ISS except on the Russian Soyuz. The tab will be $55-million per ride, tips for the driver are included.

American Astronauts during the American shuttle program trained in Houston where extensive mockups of the shuttle, ISS, the space shuttle OV-95, flight simulators, and a visual reality lab, were located.

Come fly the shuttle. On Friday afternoon, July 1, 2011, NASA invited any accredited media who were interested to their facilities and offered opportunities to fly the simulators. Few took the opportunity — in our group there was only one other person, wife of a NASA employee, who trooped along.

Pete Crow docking Space Shuttle OV-95 to the International Space Station 230 miles above the Red Sea in a NASA avionics simulator at Johnson Space Center, Houston, on Friday, July 1, 2011. The joystick on the right of the picture, and a button out of view under his left hand are the only docking controls. Docking takes place on the flight deck with the Commander facing towards the bay and the back of the shuttle while looking into the bay, and down at the docking hatch which is located in the bay. Shuttle commanders dock; shuttle pilots (second in command) undock.

In all Carol Anne landed the shuttle twice from 10,000 feet successfully landing on the SLF in Florida.

Pete landed the shuttle once, and docked the shuttle with the International Space station.

After docking Pete remarked how easy it was, and the flight instructor agreed, adding, “the tough part is catching up with the ISS, modulating the shuttle’s speed so that the shuttle and ISS are flying exactly the same speed. Once the shuttle and the ISS are flying together, easing the shuttle closer to the ISS and docking is fairly easy.”

My career ended today. July 1, 2011, ended use of space shuttle simulators at Johnson Space Center. On Friday morning the crew of the Atlantis, STS-135, spent four hours on the simulators. In the afternoon we were invited in to fly the simulators.

Shortly before 7 pm, in the control room of the simulators at Johnson Space Center, Pete ran out of questions for the man who ran the simulator control room.

Pete offered his hand and shook hands. “Okay. That’s it,” the man said, “my career has ended.”

The simluators will be broken up and sent to scrap or to universities before the end of July.

The personnel who ran the simulators and maintained them will leave NASA when the STS-135 misson lands and ends in Florida. They keep their jobs, with nothing to do, through the landing of the shuttle in case something goes wrong and they need to assist Atlantis and its crew.
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When you fly the space shuttle simulators, the control room monitors everything you do by video camera, and computers compile a huge amount of data on each action you take. A flight instructor sits in the right hand seat beside you in the pilot seat giving gentle encouragement from the start of the simulation at 10,000 feet to wheels stop on the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF=runway). On the day Pete flew the simulator the approach was from the north and landing was on Runway 15.


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In landing, the flight instructor encourages flying by the heads up display from 10,000 feet the final seconds of the landing. The runway is in view once the shuttle completes its final bank. In the final seconds, the flight instructor encourages flying both the runway and the headsup display. The pilot (flight instructor) drops the landing gear and deploys the parachute once on the ground. In all four astronauts fly on the shuttle flight deck and all four are monitoring and assisting the commander in the approach and landing. This is the report on Carol Anne's second of two landings of the shuttle. A trained eye, comparing it with Pete's landing just above, will find Carol Anne's landing was vastly superior to Pete's.


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In all about 20 members of the media flew the simulators on Friday afternoon, July 1, 2011, and no one dumped the shuttle into the Atlantic Ocean. A flight instructor was sitting in the right hand seat offering advice and encouragement, and was responsible for the 100% success rate.


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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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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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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.
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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.


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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


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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.


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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.

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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.


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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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3 am, media center parking lot. The parking lot has filled again. We are parked in the front row and four buses have arrived to take those who wish to go out to the astronaut dormitory. The Astronauts will walk out and onto the van to carry them to the pad at a scheduled 5:11 am.

Main Media Center, Kennedy Space Center, 4:29 am, Monday, May 16, 2011. Most think, me too, that a lot fewer media have returned for the second attempt to launch the Endeavour. The first attempt on April 29, was scrubbed about three hours before launch because of a faulty switchbox.

The arrival of the buses awakes me. It is good news. It means the mission is still on, and that the shuttle has been fueled while I slept. It means the Astronauts are still scheduled to launch this morning. We are on a three hour built-in hold. Actual launch is slightly less than six hours from now.

3:15 am media center. Filling up, but nothing like the April 29 launch. In the parking lot we have met friend and fellow journalist Jim Siegel who reports for the Celebration Independent. He took his chances and left after the RSS yesterday. He had no trouble returning to the Cape — little traffic and no line at the security gate.

Carol Anne has dithered, but has now decided to go to the Astronaut walkout. Security check is 3:45 am and the buses head out at 4 am. The coffee truck has arrived — we go over to get some coffee. The coffee again has no coffee.

NBC and CBS have their own buildings on "the mound" which is the high ground at the back of the media site. ABC these days has a rented mobile home type facility parked in the parking lot at the base of the mound. Local TV stations are allowed to park their vans in a reserved part of the parking lot where power and feeds from NASA are piped directly to them. This parking lot was almost full on April 29. When this photograph was taken about 8:30 pm pm May 15, 2011, not so much. ... and yes!, between the trucks the Countdown clock is visible. Beyond the clock, not visible, is Pad 39A where the Endeavour was waiting to be launched.

3:30 am media center. I check on the weather. Candrea K. Thomas, public affairs officer, tells me — still a 30-percent chance of weather problems. Only challenges appear to be some crosswinds. I ask her about chances of an aditional tour of several NASA facilities. Cheerfully, she says she’ll start a list “send me an email” and if I’m around on Tuesday, she’ll see what she can do. I immediately send her an email, then walk back over and tell her it has been sent.

3:45 am. The cafeteria. I have debated whether it is worth the five-minute walk across the street to the cafeteria for coffee. I finally give in and head over. This place, too, is empty. Where is everybody? The cafeteria opened at 1 am “but business has been very light” the cashier tells me. We both agree that many fewer people are returning for the second attempt to launch the Endeavor.

Good news — the cafeteria brews Starbucks. I mainline a couple of swigs of coffee as I walk back and, whoa, finally my headlights come fully on and I am awake.

The media are all here. The Astronauts are at the launch site, Pad 39A. It is a chillier than expected dawn. It is 5:45 am at the Cape.

5:45 am media center. Carol Anne has returned from shooting the Astronauts loading onto the van. She has emailed me using her iPhone a half hour earlier that it is freezing out there. She checks through the media cventer and then heads for the car to go back to sleep. She will re-surface in another hour.

6:30 am Tweetup area. I go looking again for the Tweeters and have finally found them scattered in several bleachers and in chairs. They were allowed in to watch the RSS Sunday morning, and then allowed back into the media center Sunday evening. I find one of the several Tweeters who actually was here before. Supposedly, once you have been here, you are now allowed back, but because Tweeters sometimes cancel too late for NASA to replace them, they invite other Tweeters who have already cleared security. The rules that I have been told, and the experience of this second-time Tweeter don’t quite match, but no matter.

The enthusiasm of the Tweeters is impossible to undermine.

No tent? Who cares!

Long before 5am about eighty Tweeters have settled into two sets of bleachers from all over the world. They are of good cheer. Even returning to find their tent, tables, air conditioning and that neat astronaut suit they could climb up into and have their picture taken is gone doesn't seem to phase them.

Their tables are gone? Who needs tables?

No air conditioning? Who needs it with this kind of weather.

Eighty of the original 150 Tweeters here on the scrubbed April 29 launch are back and their good spirits and elan are undiminished. Allowing them to see the RSS Sunday morning was a major hit, and for them an unexpected surprise.

7:40 am media center. Carol Anne has moved to our workspace in the annex after a large round table I staked out earlier in the morning has filled up. Internet in the main media center is sagging, probably due to everybody being on it.

She asks me where I’m going to watch the launch. “The mound.”

Where you watch the launch really doesn’t much matter — it’s hard to miss when the shuttle launches. We’ve even photographed it from our second story porch in Celebration, FL, forty miles away.

7:44 am media center. The launch clock reads 21 minutes 39 seconds. To actual launch, with the upcoming built-in holds, launch is now 74 minutes away. Here we go.

Following launch, one hour later, is the post-launch press conference, about the time the shuttle will be passing overhead on its first orbit.

If Endeavour launches this morning, we’ll be back at the Cape before 7 am Tuesday morning for the rollover of the shuttle Atlantis (STS-135) from the orbiter processing facility (OPF = the hangar) to the vehicle assembly building (VAB). This will be the final rollover ever, and the beginning of the final launch in the shuttle program.

…. post launch preconferences on gabby giffords and on launch, block house jack king …. coming 1250pm

“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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