Kennedy Space Center

In a few short months, the space shuttles will begin their final treks to their new homes.  Until then, the three shuttles–Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavor–are all still at Kennedy Space Center, being worked on by the same crews who have worked on them for years.  Workers at Kennedy Space Center have known that their time working on the shuttles was limited, but most decided to stay until the end even at the risk of not finding another job anytime soon.  They love their jobs.  They love NASA.  And they love the shuttles.

Last week I had the chance to tour Kennedy Space Center–a tour that included the Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, launch pad 39A where most shuttles launched, and the Orbiter Processing Facility, or OPF.  Best of all, I was able to see two of the shuttles, Atlantis and Discovery, right at Kennedy Space Center, their home.

First of all, the VAB is an absolutely immense structure.  Once the largest square-foot building in the world, it is now in 4th place (I can’t even imagine the other buildings).  Inside, the roof hovers over 500 feet.  Two giant cranes traverse the support beams, able to lift space shuttles, rocket boosters, and before the shuttle, the Saturn V. Pictures can’t do it justice, but here’s a feeble attempt.Inside the VAB sat space shuttle Atlantis.  The shuttles have had their engines, fuel lines, and other components removed–some are planned for future use on vehicles such as the new Space Launch System which is under development.  It was an amazing sight, to see Atlantis.  Perhaps even more exciting than just seeing it, however, was that the shuttles remain as they were upon final re-entry to Earth.  Since they are not being prepped for a new flight, their tiles, etc. still contain all of the scorches and damage from a flight in space.

The Orbiter Processing Facility contained the second shuttle I saw, Discovery.  You couldn’t see the entire vehicle because it was surrounded by retractable scaffolding that workers use to take care of the shuttles.  Since they weren’t worried about getting Discovery space-rated, we were also able to stand under the shuttle.  I couldn’t believe it!  I don’t know how to describe the experience for me…standing there, beneath the shuttle, looking up at space-scorched tiles from a program that I’ve been focused on for so long.  And there I was, watching it be readied for it’s final journey.

And finally, we drove past the launch pad.  We weren’t allowed to get off the bus (some kind of safety reasons, because they were working on the launch pad), but we stopped right in front of the channel where the exhaust plume funneled out from under the pad.

It was an amazing day, filled with sights and experiences unlike any I’ve had before.  There are too many pictures to post, and enough tidbits to bore even the most die-hard space fan, but just know that Kennedy is truly an inspirational place–one full of dreams, and memories, and excitement.

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~ by alanotte on February 15, 2012.

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