Posts Tagged ‘vehicle assembly building’

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 Additionally, she shot an extensive amount of video which has not yet been archived and timed.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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The Lift to Mate Sequence === The next step in the process of preparing a shuttle for launch, following rollover from the OPF (hangar), is lifting the shuttle and mating it to the Crawler which will take the shuttle to the launching pad.

The “Lift to Mate” of the Shuttle Atlantis took place on Wednesday, May 18, 2011, the day following rollover. The photographs here were posted serially through the day as the Lift to Mate procedure progressed in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

After being rolled in through the doors shown straight ahead in this picture, apparatus was attached to lift the shuttle. This is about 9:20 am. The entire process has taken only a few hours to as many as 18-hours veteran reporters say. The mating of the Atlantis to the Crawler was to have taken place overnight, May 17-18, but was delayed until the morning of May 18. Here the shuttle has been placed in the strap aparatus that will be used to lift her and turn her 90-degrees. On the Crawler she will stand on end with her nose pointing skyward.

Reporters and photographers were divided into three groups, "A", "B" and "C", and escorted to the VAB for thirty minutes on three different occasions on Wednesday, May 18, 2011. Because of confusion, some media came as early as 3 am; the event started at 8 am. In all more than 100 of 1,500 accredited signed up to come, but less than half probably attended because of the confusion.

Beginning about 1 pm, the shuttle was lifted over the next hour and a half until it was upright. This photograph, and the three following were taken by Carol Anne Swagler on the 16th floor of the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Carol Anne Swagler / photograph 2

Carol Anne Swagler photograph 3

Carol Anne Swagler photograph 4

What happens after the shuttle is lifted upright?
The shuttle is allowed to hang just off the floor for awhile to be sure it is not swinging. Then the shuttle is turned 45-degrees, lifted up 500-feet to the ceiling of the Vehicle Assembly Building, and — clearing the 16th floor level — moved into the bay where the Crawler is waiting below. Once over the Crawler, the shuttle is turned an additional 45-degress to line it up with the 5-story Crawler waiting below. Then the shuttle is lowered onto and mated with the Crawler and attached to fuel tanks.

The final Mate-to-Lift in the shuttle program, shown in these series of photographs, began about 8 am on Wednesday, May 18, 2011, and was not completed until late evening Wednesday, May 18, 2011. It is a slow laborious and potentially dangerous process which has, with this final lift-to-mate, been successfully accomplished 135 times in this building.

The next major step in the STS-135 mission of the Atlantis will come in about two weeks. On May 31 or June 1, 2011, the Atlantis will be moved to launch pad 39A for the final launch in the American space shuttle program. The program began more than 30 years ago.

5:43 pm. After hanging uright for about four hours, the shuttle is ready to be lifted, moved across the top of the VAB building and into the bay and lowered onto a 5-story Crawler which is waiting.


6:10 pm


6:49 pm


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


7:53 pm The shuttle has been moved across the ceiling of the VAB into the bay where the Crawler waits 52-stories (500-feet) below. It has been turned an aditional 45-degress to align it with the Crawler. The final steps are to lower the shuttle 500-feet onto the 5-story Crawler and secure it.


8:15 pm The NASA crew worked for at least another hour aligning the pins that secured the shuttle and crawler before lowering the shuttle. The orange tank in the lower center of the photograph is the main fuel tank.


Reporting from KSC is rarely easy unless you are a wire service reporter or major newspaper reporter, or have convinced NASA to favor you. Although 1,500 media were given credentials, that does not assure that you will be allowed into the VAB or onto other KSC sites to report. Nor can the media count on the schedule they are given. In the lift to mate photo opportunity, photographers were divided into three groups, and given three different time slots. But in the end the three groups were combined into two groups, and the three time slots were reduced to two -- and those times were changed without informing all photographers. Some photographers arrived at 3 am to find the event had been moved to 8 am, and others went to lunch as told they could, only to return to discover the final photo opportunity of the day had gone forward without them. It's not entirely KSC's press relations' office's fault. Security, the vagaries of the VAB operations and the lack of staff all contribute.

.”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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At the NASA press briefing, one hour following successful launch of the Shutte Endeavour, on Monday, May 16, 2011, at the press ste, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, the following dates on the final shuttle mission, STS-135 were discussed:

Atlantis rollover — OPF (hangar) to VAB
scheduled for May 17, 2011, 8 am

Atlantis rollout — VAB (vehicle assembly building) to Pad 39A
scheduled for May 31/June 1, 2011

Atlantis launch — from Pad 39A
expected for mid-July (change from earliest launch date of June 28)
expected earliest launch date to be set by about May 20, 2011

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UPDATE == March 28, 2011 … NASA now says, whether Congress funds the flight or not, that NASA will find the money to fly one additional shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS) after STS-134’s scheduled launch in April 2011..

What may be the final launch in the American shuttle program moved a step closer overnight, March 10-11, 2011, when Endeavour was moved from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad. About sixty reporters and photographers covered the event from the 5th and 16th floors of the VAB, and from the press site across the street.

Endeavour departed from the bay on the far right of the VAB about 8 pm; Discovery departed in January for its final flight from the VAB other bay. This photo was taken at 10:18 pm, March 10, 2011. Endeavour is out of frame to the right, slowly progressing toward Pad 39-A where it was scheduled to arrive about 6 hours after leaving the VAB, or roughly about 2 am.

photograph by Carol Anne Swagler on behalf of The Grove Sun Daily / photo © 2011 Seine/Harbour® Productions, Studio City, California.

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NASA invited selected members of the press to record the Roll Out of the Shuttle Discovery from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39A on the night of January 31, 2011. This is a series of photos taken that evening, to include a small selection of a series taken on the 5th and 16th floors inside the VAB.

The Media Center at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. This is workspace and a general clearing house of data and information for the media. The Media Center is adjacent to a briefing room where commonly joint news conferences are held linking other NASA facilities, such as Johnson Space Center in Houston. Once a vehicle is launched from Kennedy, control passes during the mission to Houston.

Photographers and reporters are bused by NASA to events at KSC and are only allowed unescorted to a lunch room a short walking distance from the Media Site. The 25-35 photographers covering the Roll Out of Discovery on January 31, 2011, gathered at dusk and waited for security to inspect their equipment before being allowed to board the bus which shuttled them across the street to the VAB.

Yes, at the top center of this picture, you can see the bottom of the shuttle. Everything else is the crawler. On the ground floor of the VAB the photographers walked past the Crawler with Discovery on top on their way to elevators which carried them to higher floors and better vantage points. Photographers had to surrender their cellphones and car keys -- anything which sends an electronic signal -- and, if they wore glasses, had to secure their glasses with bands to the backs of their heads before boarding the elevators.

On the VAB's fifth floor, shown here, photographers were even with the top of the Crawler and the bottom of the shuttle Discovery. On the 16th floor they were even with the top of the main fuel tank. Photographers were free to move between these two floors as long as they were escorted and could walk within a few feet of the Crawler itself by going on walkways that led out over the VAB shuttle bay.

The tip of the main fuel tank is even with the 16th floor of the VAB. The VAB was built in 1966 for the Apollo Moon program which used much larger rockets. Although the shuttle and launcher only reach the 16th floor, the VAB itself continues on to the 37th floor, space that was needed in the 1960s and 1970s when NASA was sending missions to the Moon. The final mission to the Moon was in December 1972 and men have not returned there since, although it is thought that the Chinese will be establishing a permanent base on the Moon within the next decade.

Gone! The well lit Crawler and shuttle are in the distance viewed from the now empty shuttle bay which a half hour before the Crawler and shuttle had filled. The Crawler does not move fast (1 mile per hour), but it is steady. If you wanted to drive the Crawler to California, it would take 125 days driving day and night. NASA varies the events it offers the press. Besides periodic visits to the VAB, the Clean Room where shuttle missions are assembled, the astronaut dormitory and the launch pads, 39A and 39B, NASA also occasionally invites the media to walk the shuttle from the VAB to the launch pad or from the shuttle hangars to the VAB. Only one more shuttle mission is scheduled before the program ends and the shuttles are sent to museums.

photographs © 2011 by petecrow and by seine/harbour®productions, studio city, california

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(<<< CLICK to ENLARGE — the thumbnail at left is a former blog header) Discovery, bathed in lights, is seen near center in long view against clear, black Florida night as she headed toward Launch Pad 39A at 9:10pm Monday, January 31, 2011. The Crawler, on which the shuttle rides, moves about a mile an hour on its best days. And the Crawler's mileage? If you have to ask, you can't afford one.

STS-133 Roll-Out to Launch Pad & Launch Update
Roll-Out from the Vehicle Assembly Building to 39A was completed overnight, January 31/February 1
Launch: No earlier than, Thursday, February 24, 2011.

Orbiter Discovery is shown exiting the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center on Monday night, January 31, 2011. Discovery, photographed from the 5th floor of the VAB, sits atop a massive Crawler. Barring a return to the VAB, as has already happened once in this second-to-last Shuttle mission, this was Discovery's final exit from the building. Discovery's mission is designated STS-133; the mission is scheduled for launch no earlier than February 24. == photo by petecrow

UPDATE / January 27, 2011 Thursday
Orbiter Discovery Roll-Out from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the Launch Pad overnight January 31-February 1 began about 8 pm and in the early hours of February 1. Generally Roll-Out takes about 6 hours.

Discovery has been to the pad for this launch before, but when cracks in the fuel tanks caused concerns, she was returned to the VAB.

The STS-133, Orbiter Discovery, launch was further re-scheduled on January 7, 2011, to no earlier than February 24 2011. No launch time has been designated for that date.

This is a further delay in this much delayed mission, and now moves this mission to 2011.

This is the second to last of the scheduled Shuttle launches. The original launch date for STS-133 was last summer; the most recent was February 3, 2011. The final mission, STS-134 has been scheduled for launch in March 2011. However, there may be one additional mission following STS-134 to provision the International Space Station — sometimes it is on; sometimes it is off.

Latest NASA launch schedules can be found HERE.

photo, peter michael crow for seine/harbour® productions, studio city, california, and for the grove sun daily, grove, oklahoma // © 2011 seine/harbour® productions and peter m crow

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