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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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On June 21, 2011, NASA invited 85 journalists to come to Florida, visit and photograph the inside and outside of the Shuttle Discovery, the oldest survivor of the Shuttle fleet. Early next year Discovery will be taken to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum at Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, and placed on display. On Tuesday, June 21, the media were allowed on both decks of the Discovery, invited to crawl to the hatch which attached the Discovery to the International Space Station, and to the cargo bay. They were free to prowl outside and around the Shuttle which is in High Bay 1, Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF).

As the media were leaving the Discovery flight deck, they were invited to sign their names on the wall using a marker.

The header photograph is a portion of the wall where media, and others, signed. At the Smithsonian it is believed the public will have no access to the decks of the Discovery and the signatures of the media, the workers and others who contributed to this remarkable program and who were invited to sign the wall will be visible only to Museum officials.

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Dawn, Friday June 17, 2011, at Kennedy Space Center Launch Pad 39-A. Atlantis is on the pad, and the RSS (rotating service structure) is open. During the night the final payload in the shuttle program arrived at the pad ready to be placed in the Atlantis cargo bay.

The media and KSC employees were invited to visit 39-A on Friday, June 17, 2011.

Shuttles were launched from either Pad 39-A or Pad 39-B during the shuttle program from 1981 to 2011. Today only Pad 39-A remains.

Pad 39-B was in the process of being repurposed for the Constellation program, when President Obama canceled the Constellation program, reinstated it, and then canceled it again.

The future of both Pad 39-A and the now demolished Pad 39-B, like the future of the American spaceport at Kennedy Space Center, is uncertain.

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CLICK to ENLARGE // Over Pete Crow's left shoulder, the white rectangular box holds the payload for the Atlantis shown here on Pad 39-A the afternoon of June 17, 2011. The payload arrived overnight June 16-17 at the pad and will be loaded into the Atlantis' bay on Monday, June 20. - photo, Carol Anne Swagler for Seine/Harbour® Productions

Atlantis edged closer to its planned July 8, 2011, launch on Friday, June 17, 2011, when the payload for its bay arrived at Pad 39-A at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Friday was employee day at the Pad. All KSC employees who wished to visit the Launch Pad were invited to do so although, unlike the press, they were not allowed to go onto the Pad itself, or up on the Rotating Service Structure (the RSS).

The RSS is currently retracted from the Shuttle, and in the photograph is behind and to the right of Pete. But beginning on Monday and until about 18 hours before launch, the RSS will be tucked around and protecting the Shuttle allowing, among other activities, the payload to be placed into the Atlantis’ cargo bay.

See video of how it works HERE.

The cargo on this final launch in the shuttle program’s 30-year history includes provisions for the International Space Shuttle for a year and an innovative new way to re-energize fading satellites in space.

When STS-135, the current mission, ends in late July, NASA will have launched its shuttle fleet 135 times with two tragic mishaps, a safety record far better than the estimates at the beginning of the program in 1981 when one estimate anticipated the loss of a shuttle every 25 missions.
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Atlantis viewed from Level 255 of the Rotating Service Structure (RSS) on June 17, 2011. The RSS does not have floors, it has "levels" measured in feet. The highest the elevators in the RSS go is level 255, or 255 feet above the pad floor. However, stairways on the RSS continue up an additional 40 feet above the highest elevator level ending at Level 295. Visitors to the RSS are escorted by people who receive extensive safety training. When exiting elevators, visitors are encouraged to "look up -- do not look down" because the RSS is built with almost entirely open grate flooring. Narrow catwalks extend from the center of the structure with only modest railings. If heights bother you, walking on open grates at the top of the RSS will terrify you. - photo, petecrow for Seine/Harbour® Productions

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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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