Posts Tagged ‘slf’

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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Shuttle mating and un-mating to the 747 which carried it back to KSC took place in this device. - NASA Photo

When the weather or other conditions forced the shuttles to land in California or New Mexico, the shuttles had to be returned to Florida for servicing and to be prepared for another launch. Accomplishing the return of a shuttle from an alternative landing site was time-consuming and expensive.

The first landings of the shuttles were planned for Edwards Air Force Base, north of Los Angeles, because of the size of the landing area. Edwards is a large dry lake bed in the high desert. But once landing was mastered which happened soon enough, the shuttles landed in Florida. With a few exceptions through the 135 shuttle missions, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, is where they returned from space and landed.

Atlantis on her way back to Florida. She will launch on July 8, 2011, the final shuttle launch ever. -NASA Photo

When a shuttle landed elsewhere, it was returned to Florida on top of a Boeing 747 specially rigged to carry it. Carrying the shuttle on top of a 747 was also used in flight tests before the actual shuttle missions in space began in 1981.

When a shuttle landed on its own in Florida, it was relatively easy (nothing was ever really easy in the shuttle program); the shuttle was simply towed back to one of three OPFs (“orbiter processing facility” or hangar).

When the shuttle returned to KSC and landed atop a 747, the 747 would taxi to the south end of the SLF (“shuttle landing facility” or runway) and using the device shown in the large photograph below, the shuttle would be removed from the 747, and then towed back to one of the OPFs.

Returning the shuttle after landing at an alternative landing site was expensive and time-consuming. To return to Florida after a landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California, took two flying days and, reportedly, cost more than a million dollars. I took this photographs, and the one below, on one of my visits to the southern end of the SLF on May 17, 2011.


When shuttles were returned to KSC atop a 747, they taxied to the south end of the runway (SLF) to this device where the shuttle was removed.

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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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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"


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.


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



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.


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.


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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


NASA photograph of Endeavour landing, 2

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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This former Header is the VAB from the Media Site on the afternoon of April 27. Not merely a cloud-filled afternoon, KSC was fighting ferocious fire just to the southwest of the media site which grayed things up for awhile quite nicely. To the left of the VAB and right of the water tower are two low buildings. They are the OPFs (hangars) for the shuttles — and while they may look small along side the VAB (which is 37 stories), they are not. The Orbiter Processing Facilities are huge buildings, like everything else at Kennedy Space Center. Scroll down and we’ll have a look at the shuttle Discovery inside one of these buildings.

April 27, 2011, Wednesday
Kennedy Space Center

There’s a lot going on today — a tour of the old launch pad, 39-B, now being torn down; a walk along the SLF, the shuttle landing facility (to you and me: The Runway), and a walk around the shuttle Discovery, now residing in a hangar (the OPF: Orbiter Processing Facility), Bay 2. There are also interviews with several astronuats.

Things are humming.

KSC has re-named me. I have read the name on my credentials, although apparently no one else has. My name is now Michael Crow and I work for the TV station somewhere in the west. I know this because the first call letter of my station is a “K”. Stations west of the Mississippi, with a couple of exceptions in the early days of radio, got call letters starting with “K”. Those east of the Mississippi start with “W”. So why is there a station KDKA in Pittsburgh and a station WEW in St. Louis? They were among the first stations.

petecrow slounging again the daily countdown sign and, yes, that is the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on the right.


I do not work for a TV station, and my middle name may be Michael, but NASA knows me as “Peter”.

I return to the badging station on State Road 3 to see if I can straighten it out. Happily they are open. They are not always open.

It developes that this is well worth the trip. The women running the badging station are of good cheer — “this happens an average of once every launch” one tells me as she digs for my credentials and, ultimately not finding anything, asks me to fill out the paperwork and show me two forms of ID (my driver’s license and passport suffice). Soon she is holding a credential with my proper name, and proper media affiliation attached.

She produces a punch and SNAP! punches a hole in the top of the credential so it can be pinned on whatever part of my body I wish with the exception that “it should be visible.” Fair enough, and I had not been intending to attach it to my underpants anyway.

“I punched some guys driver’s license instead of his badge one day,” a woman says.

What? What was that?

“He was pretty upset.” Apparently in some states a punched hole in your drivers license voids it.

The Tweeters.

Next door, the Tweeter badging station is now open. NASA has again invited 150 bloggers to come Tweet. Getting invited is straight-forward. For 24 hours anyone can apply (4,000 did this time) and then NASA randomly plucks out 150 names. Voila! You’re in …. and 3,850 of you are not.

This is the fourth time NASA has invited the Tweeters in. The first time was STS-129, and then NASA decided to think about it for awhile and tweak the tweeters. The Tweeters were invited back for STS-132, STS-133 and now for STS-134. Tweeters are allowed to come only once — if you got picked earlier, you don’t get to come back.

Welcome to TweetUp credentialing.Tweeters can get their credentials on T-2, but have to wait until T-1 to gain access. A big fire on T-2 looked like it was near the TweetUp Tent and might burn it down. The fire raged much of the afternoon of T-2 but never got too close to the Media Site.

The Tweeters are packed off to the far end of the Media site and put in a large tent. They are not welcome in the main media center and perhaps that is just as well. For STS-134 there will be 1,500 media and NASA has opened the overflow annex for additional workspace. We oursevles were packed off to the annex and put next to Scientific American, the BBC and some newspaper I could never pronounce in a thousand years.

I love the Tweeters. It is a zany idea to invite a random bunch of people in, and these days a bit of a security risk. Tweeters, like everyone else, get a thorough security frisk before being approved, but still … That’s way Tweeters find themselves at the far end of the media site surrounded by water and boxed in by jungle. If one of them makes a run for it, security can see them coming. If they decide to swim, the alligators will eat them.

The other reason they are where they are? Bathrooms.

KSC actually has two badging stations and it can get confusing. When events cause a heavy influx of media, media badging is moved to State Road 3. Media attendance will get heavier for STS-135, the final launch, but at 1,500 on STS-134 it is lenty heavy. The heaviest media coverage was probably the final Moon launch, Apollo 17. The heaviest I remember was 2,200 but I forget which mission that was. I think it was a Shuttle landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Wait. Do they let the Tweeters use the bathrooms as the Media? Yes and No. Tweeters are free to pee in the large restrooms near the Tweet-Up grandstands. No peeing in the Media Center’s bathrooms.

Tweeters, unlike the Media, get a backpack full of free stuff. Pictures, and pins and — lots of stuff, including that backpack with the NASA logo on it. It is a handsome backpack.

“Where did all of this stuff come from?” I ask. A woman manning the Tweeter desk tells me “we scounged it”. You didn’t loot it? “No, we didn’t have to.” Looting is when something is sitting on a counter, say like the Boeing counter in the Media Cernter and they are like really busy talking to someone else so you take something off the pile without asking. Scounging is when you ask. The Tweet women have a fine job of scounging as far as I can tell.

I ask how long the Tweeters will be around and am surprised how brief their lifespan is. The Tweeters can begins picking up their credentials on T-2 (Wednesday, today) but are not allowed onto Kennedy Space Center or into the Tweeter tent until Thursday, T-1. And: “They are allow one delay.”

The TweetUp Tent is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. If a Tweeter decides to make a run for it, it's a long run to the road. If she decides to swim for it, the alligators will eat her. If a Tweeter decides to escape through the surrounding jungle, it's a pretty good bet he'll never be seen again.

If the Shuttle launches on Friday afternoon, April 29 as now expected, the Tweeters go home. They have been there T-1 and T-0, two days — tat’s it. But if, as often happens, the shuttle launch is delayed? “They get come back once but if it doesn’t launch the second time, that’s it.” Whoa — NASA is a tough crowd.

Tweeters pay their own way and while officially none are allowed to come back a second time, several Tweeters will be back for STS-134 from STS-133. When some of those whose name was drawn couldn’t come for STS-134, NASA didn’t have time to accredit anyone from the wait list so they invited several from STS-133 to return and see a launch bcause they’d already cleared security.

Have there been any problems with the Tweet-Up in the first three Tweet-Ups? STS-133 was delayed and delayed — “that was a problem.” But what about the Tweeters themselves? The Media is totally cowered; does NASA have their bluff in on the Tweeters? “We’ve had to take a couple out in the hall and threaten to send them to the principal’s office” but that was about it. No one has been paddled or had their Tweeter credentials cut in half — “and WE haven’t punched a hole in anybody’s driver’s license.”

The afternoon tours / Launch Pad 39-B

Today is a juicy day at the Cape for the Media. NASA is going to do briefings for the press at some places they rarely, if ever, have taken the press. Three buses will rotate through three separate sites.

Launch Pad 39-B. My bus first heads for Launch Pad 39-B which I learned a month or so ago is being torn down. That is true — but then again, it isn’t. Pad 39-B really is being re-purposed for a different use. In its first iteration it was on of the launch pads for the Apollo Moon program. Apollo 10 lifted off from here; this was the mission that circled the Moon, but did not land at Christmas 1968. The next mission, Apollo 11 actually landed.

Launch Pad 39-B on April 27, 2011. The structure is almost entirely gone and the demolition of the pad, on hold until after STS-134 launches, will resume after the launch. Pad 39-B is 8,000 feet -- roughly a mile and a half -- from Pad 39-A where STS-134 will launch.

Then 39-B was rebuilt as one of two launch pads for the shuttle, rotating with Pad 39-A. In the first 25 shuttle flights, when NASA was aggressively launching, both pad 39-A and 39-B were busy. Then in 1986, the Challenger was launched from 39-B; this pad was rarely used thereafter, if ever.

A photo of Pad 39-B in better days was leaning against the fence surrounding the launch complex on April 27, 2011.

With the shuttle program ending, NASA expected to develope Constellation, a new vehicle. So NASA began re-purposing Pad 39-B. But then Constellation was cancelled, and then it was re-instated. Then it was cancelled again. Now NASA is unclear how 39-B will be used, but the pad is being razed so it will be ready if Congress greenlights a new program.

The shuttles are moved along twin lanes of a high paved with loose river rock atop the five story crawlers. The crawlers literally crawl — roughly one mile per hour. In other times NASA has invited the press to walk with the crawler as it goes to the launch pad. In recent missions NASA has not offered the press that opportunity, although they have become more liberal about allowing the press to view the rollout of the shuttle from the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building).

Discovery in Bay 2 of the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF). The OPF is the hanger. Each shuttle when it returns to Kennedy is dragged from the landing strip, known as the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) back to one of three hangars. The hangars are inter-changeable although there are slight differences in the designs of their doors and possible other minor differences.

Right wing, Shuttle Discovery, Hi-Bay 2, Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF), Kennedy Space Center, April 27, 2011. Discovery is headed to the Smithsonian outside Washington, DC early in 2012.

In the OPF, a shuttle is essentially surrounded by a cocoon of wires and tubes and mteal stairs and walkways. When the shuttle returns it must be re-processed for the next flight. Tiles had to be replaced. The entire vehicle was inspected. A ton of work was needed to ready it for the next flight.

Now, however, the shuttle Discovery, the oldest surviving member of the shuttle fleet, has completed its final mission.

Today it is being readied for turnover to the Smithsonian. Sometime early next year, probably in February, Discovery will be flown a final time atop a Boeing 747 to Dulles Airport at Chantilly, Virginia (west of Washington, DC) and come to rest in the air and space museum at Dulles.

One of two rear landing wheels on Discovery.

The other shuttles will head to Los Angeles and New York. And one will remain in Florida at KSC.

The shuttle currently displayed at the Smithsonian was a test vehicle and never flew in space. This vehicle is the vehicle that will be moved to New York.

Visiting the OPF is interesting if confusing. Somewhere inside the jumble of cables and steel is the Discovery, but only glimpses are possible. Over there is the part of the sign that reads “United States”. At the very front, the nose cone and front wheel well, and wheel are visible. To know what you are seeing, largely you have to know what to look for.

But in coming years if anyone asks if I ever visited the shuttle hangars, the answer will be Yes, although I probably won’t bother to add that I wasn’t quite sure what, besides the underbelly, the tires and the tiles I saw when I was there.

The Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF). The SLF is the huge long runway where the shuttles land when returning to Kennedy Space Center.

Closeup of the grooves on the SLF that run from side-to-side across the runway. No, I did not step on the SLF to take this picture. Geech. Grooves deflect water and give greater traction. Commercial airport runway now are grooved, as are an increasing number of highways.

This was the third and final stop on our afternoon tour, and the purpose was largely to talk about what will happen to KSC now that thye shuttle program is ending. Clearly, there’s much concern that nothing much will happen here — and that is not a new event. Following the Moon program, Apollo, there was little else in the pipeline. Jobs vanished. The wider area struggled financially.

During the 1970s during this relatively dark period, NASA flew the joint program with the Russians, and Skylab which burned up in the atmosphere before the shuttle became operational. Yes, we have had an international space station in orbit before.

Pete stands on shoulder of the Shuttle Landing Facility halfway down the runway. The actual runway is on the right. The VAB in the distance is on the left. Out of frame on the left is a sign that reads "7". It one of the distance markers allowing pilots when landing or taking off to know where they are in relation to the end of the runway.

The peak of employment at Kennedy was during the Apollo program with about 24,000. The shuttle program and related activities employed about 14,000. With the end of the program employment here is expected to drop by 50-percent or more to 7,000.

Mid-stride of the SLF are the grandstands and the tower. Here the press and VIPs watch the shuttle land — although NASA on STS-133 and perhaps other missions allowed the press to photograph the landing from the end of the runway.

NASA is anal about people walking on the SLF. The media was warned repeatedly that if they stepped onto the runway, they risked have their credentials pulled. The reason? Anything on a runway risks being sucked into aircraft engines. That’s what happened to the Concorde causing it to crash in Europe.

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The literary content, and the photographs, are © 2011 by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC and by Peter Michael Crow. Happily, we have proven to be ominously successful in discovering abridgements of our copyrights and in winning financial settlements against you and you and … You.

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