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The Final Space Shuttle on Pad 39A before Launch

The final mission in July 2011 the Space Shuttle program was STS-135, an add-on mission necessary to re-supply the International Space Station through the end of 2012.  This photograph is pre-dawn morning at Kennedy Space Center a day before the final flight.

Pete Crow at Launch Pad 39A, Kennedy Space Center, with STS-135, final mission in the shuttle program on pad behind him awaiting launch. (Carol Anne Swagler photograph, © 2011 Seine/Harbour Productions)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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And so the Launch Day (L-0) day begins. I have skipped coming to the Cape on L-1, Thursday, July 7, 2011, because of the rain and because what we wanted to see — the press conferences — were on NASA-TV. We could sit in our kitchen, eat with feet propped. Another reason to skip L-1 was because I had been over to the Cape for three straight days — and this was coming off of two days in Houston at Johnson Space Center last week.

Two Canadian journalists walk in front of the countdown clock about 2:30 am, Friday, July 8, 2011. Like many journalists they paid their way, and drove more than a day to get to the Cape. If the shuttle failed to launch on Friday, they might be able to stay Saturday, but by Sunday they would have to begin their long trek home. The space program is a beacon to young journalists like these kids, and to youth in general. The tiny dot on the far right is Pad 39A and the Shuttle Atlantis..

I was tired. Carol Anne was exhausted, and even skipped L-2 (Wednesday).

By skipping L-1 we did miss the restraction of the Rotating Service Structure, but early in the afternoon we got a call from a friend at the Cape asking us if we planned to miss the driving rain and mud out at Pad 39-A. Unn, the answer was Yes.

I noticed, in going through my notes for the recent launches, that I had also skipped L-1 during the STS-134 launch in May. Must have been tired for that one, too.

11 pm, July 7, 2011 — To the Cape. Carol Anne and I had decided to coast over to the Cape starting at 11 pm. That should put us inside the security bubble by 12:15 am if traffic was minimal as we expected it would be. The unknown factor was how many people would be streaming over hoping to find spots to view the launch outside of KSC. We were betting that in the rain the 1-million expected people would be in no hurry — and we were right.

Traffic on the Beachline, Highway 528, was moving at its accustomed 75-80 miles an hour, complete with the usual tailgaters.

The JSC press crew doesn't always love the Tweeters like I do. For the second attempt to launch on STS-134 the Tweet tent vanished. This time Tweeters autos have been banished to a far away parking lot. No matter -- the Tweeters are also enthusiastic and are one-timers (they do not get to come back a second time). There are only 150 of them and I'm looking for them. It's 3 o'clock in the morning and none are anywhere to be seen. Do you know where your Tweeter is? I don't.

Inside the security bubble, 12:15 am, Friday, July 8, 2011. We wanted to be at the media site by the time the decision was made on tanking. This was the crucial decision — unless they tanked, the mission was scrubbed, but I was sure they would tank and, right on, at 2:01 am they began tanking.

The Tweeters had been banned from the media parking lot and must trudge better part of a half mile to their tent. Good for us, and great for finding a parking spot in the media parking lot. Not so good for the Tweeters, especially if it rains.

By the time we were at the Cape the rain, driving at times throughout Thursday, had abated to a sprinkle. At the media parking lot we were waved through and found a spot in the front row. Carol Anne objected because she planned to sleep, but then re-thought it and decided front row, closest to the media center, was all good especially if it rained. The car stayed in the front row.

The media center, 12:45 am. The media center is deserted with only a skeleton public relations crew. Carol Anne and I walk across the street to the cafeteria taking advantage of a break in the rain. The selection is thin, but we get coffee — something which, inexplicably, the canteen wagon which will show up about 3 am never has.

As we walk back rain begins again. Carol Anne vanishes to sleep in the car and asks me to tell her if the tanking and the mission are scrubbed. “If the mission is scrubbed,” I grumble, “we’re going home. You can figure it out if the car starts moving.”

Clearly more sleep and less coffee is in order. I apologize.

Carol Anne sleeps and the mission is not scrubbed.

3:20 am, the press site.I drift the press site out to the Tweetup tent looking for Tweeters. No luck. I find three young kids from Canada covering their first shuttle launch. They’re pumped. I love their enthusiasm. We swap stories about Los Angeles where one of them lived.

The only action at the Tweetup Tent at 3 am was the Spacevidcast. I think I should know who they are and what they do, but fact is I don't and they were busy broadcasting to godknowswho and taking phone calls. So I waded on through the wet grass and occasional mud, stepping over cables and watching out for nearly invisible ropes.

The Tweetup tent is empty but there’s a broadcast going on just outside the front door. I cannot figure out who they are, and no one seems interested in telling me. I drift on.

It is dark and muddy out here. Cables snake everywhere. Normally I cut across areas, but now I find there are even ropes tied to nearly invisible posts. Dangerous. I decide for one of the few times in my life to obey the rules. I follow the road and the signs and while it takes longer to get back to the media center, I arrive alive.

Androlly. We may be inside the bubble, but son Andrew and his son-to-be wife, Molly,are not going to be. I call them Androlly because they are, in their words, “inside the love bubble” and can be considered, for now, a single entity. However, Carol Anne does not entirely approve. I also have taken to calling our two granddaughters, age 6 and 8, whose last name is “Dagner”, “The Dagnets”. Again, there is not rousing approval.

Andrew and Molly earlier had planned to drive overnight from northern Florida where they both work, and then to bunk at our home in Celebration for the weekend.

But, of course, the Friday launch is so iffy that an all night drive after working all week long.

It is now almost 3:30 am and while they are not exactly missing in action, they are out there somewhere in the dark and we’re not quite sure where.

All sorts of memorabilia are for sale in a small wagon that is always parked in the parking lot, but is rarely open. Long before dawn members of the press were lining up. Another shop selling STS-135 merchandise was located adjacent to the cafeteria. Also, companies like Boeing handed out pins, stickers and notebooks at their desk in the media center. Just drift by and ask.

Wait — here’s an idea! Maybe someone should just call them.

They have stayed in Tallahassee — worked late, read the weather reports and figured it would be a no-go. They’ll be here Sunday if they are right.

4:30 am, Media Press Site. I grow weary of working on revisions in a screenplay, and decide to stretch. In a few moments I am outside gazing at the huge assembly of media trucks in the parking lot and now covering the old site of the Grandstand which was destroyed in a hurricane in 2004.

I grow nostalgic realizing that my time at the Cape and at this media site are coming to an end. I have been covering events here since the final Apollo flight, Apollo 17, in December 1972 — before most people covering STS-135 were born.

I will be here only once more — for the landing of the Atlantis in a couple of weeks. And then, in all likelihood, my visits to the press site, and indeed the use of the press site itself, are likely to be rare.

What really will not happen again is the assemblage of media here this morning. It rivals that first launch I covered, Apollo 17, when 2,200 were accredited. For STS-135 there are probably 3,000, plus another 150 Tweeters.

Nothing that NASA has in the pipeline will be-stir media interest like this again for at least a decade — and perhaps, going the way NASA is going, never again.

4:55 am The Annex. I was exiled to the dreaded Annex during STS-134, the previous launch.

When too many media request workspace, NASA/KSC has a backup building called The Annex. During STS-134 I was exiled to the Annex which has great air conditioning, but feels remote.

I always have work space in the main media center and until STS-134 I had never heard of “The Annex.” Then arriving to cover STS-134 in April 2011, I found myself in it, facing some nice German guy and sitting beside other well-meaning foreign journalists who spoke no English but smiled a lot.

It was not that the Annex was bad workspace — it was actually very good workspace.

But reporting from the Annex was like trying to cover the launch from Bulgaria.

The main media center is alive, throbbing with activitiy and I could learn things there by eavesdropping, something that I, like most journalists, excel at and take pride in.

A woman primps before going on the air in one of the many setups for TV lining the edge of the press site.

Well. There was no one and nothing to eavesdrop on in the Annex unless you spoke Farci. The best thing about that well-turned out dump was it had great air conditioning.

I was curious to see how the Annex was faring during STS-135, and wanted to know who’d managed to get themselves shipped out there — so I stopped by.

The Annex was, as expected, rumpled at 5 am with a guy sleeping on four chairs.

I drifted around and was stunned to find such organizations as UPI stuck in the back row. The rest was to be expected — the usual gaggle of TV stations from places like Honolulu and foreign media from countries I’d never heard of.

5:10 am The canteen wagon. Buried in the parking I see a glow that doesn’t quite look like other satellite trucks. The canteen wagon was supposed to arrive about 3 pm, but it is usually parked behind the media center, and this morning it is no where to be seen.

The Snack Mobile actually had coffeee. it never does. But the Snack Mobile got a new, hard to find spot out in the parking lot instead of just behind the media center. Nonetheless, enough people found it fast enough to drink all the coffee. So, then, the Snack Mobile didn't have coffee. Situation Normal.

I decide to investigate since I’m roaming around aimlessly anyway. Lo and behold, it is the canteen, but since they never have coffee I figure I won’t be interested.

Entry to the wagon is from the back, exiting past the driver who is the cashier. I lean into the front door and ask if she has coffee.

“Yes.”

“Really?” They never have coffee.

“Yes.”

I go inside and find I am standing behind two foreign journalists who are having trouble filling the coffee cups, finding lids, finding the sugar — hell, maybe finding their zippers. Time passes. They continue to dither about one thing and another. They decide to allow me to pass and to get my coffee, so I do. But now they are in front of where the coffee lids are, and they are dithering again.

I smile. They smile. The woman running the canteen smiles.

Eventually I escape with my coffee which, remarkably, is still hot.
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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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Atlantis covered by the RSS at Pad 39-A, dawn, July 6, 2011.

Wednesday was briefing day. From 8:15 am to 7 pm the media was offered briefings on everything from how NASA is studying air traffic control, running high tech medical experiments on the International Space Station, planning to place an innovative device on the ISS to re-fuel satellites and much more.

The day concluded with visits to SpaceX’s launch pad, hangar and firing room. SpaceX hopes to be allowed to re-supply the ISS beginning later in 2011, and by 2014 hopes to be running a manned space program. NASA is helping with contracts, by making available an old Titan launch pad and finding buildings near the entrance to Patrick Air Force Base for its firing room.

The media has arrived. By Wednesday the media site was jammed, straining its air conditioning. Outside, displays from companies were scattered in tents.

Tweeters will be back (Thursday, July 7), and so will their tent, grandstand and even that faux spacesuit that they can stand inside and have their pictures taken. All had vanished after the first attempt to launch STS-134 failed on April 29, 2011.

Everything was in place to go — except questions about the weather.

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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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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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The STS-134 astronauts flew over to KSC on April 27, two days before the aborted launch. They were scheduled to return on May 12 to the Cape in hopes that the launch, now rescheduled for May 16, would go on time.

The April 29 launch of the Shuttle Endeavour has been scheduled, and re-scheduled several times, now to launch of the morning of Monday, May 16.

The pre-flight activities are beginning.

On Thursday, May 12, the Astronauts and their families will again fly from Houston to Kennedy Space Center.

On Friday, the Countdown will officially begin.

Start picking out your viewing sites.

photograph, Carol Anne Swagler for Seine/Harbour® Productions, © 2011

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