The next generation of astronauts is here!
Puffles and Honey are at the Kennedy Space Centre!
Dressed for the occasion, of course 🙂
And they made an impression right from the beginning!
The Kennedy Space Centre is the home of the Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit, which opened in 2013. Atlantis, which flew in space 33 times, is on display, tilted on its side at a 43.21-degree angle, as if floating in space just after being undocked from the International Space Station, with its payload bay doors open and robotic arm extended, offering a nearly 360-degree view that only astronauts have seen before.
This is the featured attraction, but the drama starts outside the entrance, as arriving guests are greeted by a full-scale, 56m vertical replica of the space shuttle’s external tank and two solid rocket boosters, illustrating the magnitude of power needed to get it into space.
A bit more… Miss Honey made quite an impression with her practical yet stylish boots. She never lets an outfit interfere with her keen sense of fashion 🙂 Don’t be surprised if an astronaut near you starts wearing boots like these…
But the first adventure was the Kennedy Space Centre (KSC) Up-Close Explore Tour, which unlike the regular KSC bus tour, provides photo opportunities at several stops.
The first stop on the tour is the NASA Causeway alongside the scenic Banana River, where you can get a panoramic view of KSC as well as Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
This is where NASA VIBs watch the rocket launches from!
The second stop is between the KSC launch pads.
The Vehicle Assembly Building is also visible on the horizon, and it is the next stop on the itinerary.
Puffles and Honey saw the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Legoland!
Construction of the VAB began in 1963, with driving the first steel pilings on August 2. It was part of NASA’s massive effort to send astronauts to the moon for the Apollo Program. Construction of the VAB required 98,590 tons of steel!
When completed in 1965, the VAB was one of the largest buildings in the world with 3,664,993 cubic meters of interior volume. The structure covers eight acres, is 160m tall and 158m wide. The VAB with the attached Launch Control Centre were first used during the Apollo program in 1966.
To accommodate moving, processing and stacking rocket stages, 71 cranes and hoists, including two 250-ton bridge cranes were installed. On the east and west sides are four high bay doors, each designed to open 139m in height allowing rollout of the Apollo/Saturn V moon rockets mounted atop launch umbilical towers. The bay doors take 45 minutes to completely open or close.
The VAB was constructed 5.6km from Launch Pad 39A and 6.7km from Launch Pad 39B. A pair of crawler-transporters, among the largest machines ever built to move on land, carried the assembled rockets to the pads.
After the conclusion of the Apollo program in the 1970s, the building was refurbished to accommodate the space shuttle. Inside the VAB, the shuttle solid rocket boosters were stacked atop a mobile launcher platform. The external fuel tank was attached between the two boosters and the shuttle mounted to the tank. Following three decades of flight, the shuttle was retired in 2011. Space shuttles have been prepared inside the VAB for all 135 missions, from 1981 to 2011.
After serving through the Apollo and Space Shuttle Programs, the mammoth structure now is undergoing renovations to accommodate future launch vehicles and to continue as a major part of America’s efforts to explore space over the next few decades. Modifications of the VAB are underway to support the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft, which also will result in the ability to process multiple launch vehicle types. SLS will be the agency’s advanced heavy-lift launch vehicle providing a new capability for human exploration beyond Earth orbit. NASA is also partnering with private industry on launch vehicle and spacecraft development options for taking astronauts to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station.
The tour will take you up close to NASA’s crawler-transporters, two of the largest vehicles ever built, that have carried NASA rockets and spacecraft to the launch pad since the beginning. They will continue their legacy as the “workhorses” of the nation’s space program as part of the agency’s journey to Mars.
Just like the VAB, the crawlers are being modified to carry NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) with the Orion spacecraft atop it and potential commercial vehicles to their pads to begin space exploration missions. Originally constructed in 1965 to support the agency’s Apollo Program, they also supported the Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz Test Project and Space Shuttle Program, helping NASA push the boundaries of human space exploration farther into the solar system.
Using these vehicles, NASA will send astronauts farther than ever before, first to an asteroid, and onward to Mars. The modifications will enable the crawlers to continue supporting human spaceflight for another 20 years.
The first use of a crawler was in August 1967, when the first Saturn V rocket for Apollo 4, an uncrewed mission, was transported to Launch Pad 39A. To date, CT-1 has traveled 3154km, and CT-2 has traveled 3552km to and from the pads.
To celebrate its 50th year of supporting NASA missions, the upgraded and modified crawler-transporter 2, known as CT-2, rolled out of the VAB on February 18 last year and began the 6.7km trek to Launch Pad 39B. Travelling at 1.6kph, it took a little while to get there, and the guests walked there faster 🙂
The crawlers were initially manufactured by the Marion Shovel Company in Marion, Ohio. Weighing in at more than 2700 tons each, the larger parts that could be assembled and fit on a truck were shipped to Kennedy in 1964 where final assembly took place.
Each crawler is 40m long and 35m wide, with four pickup points spaced 27m apart on the upper deck that fit into four interface locations on the mobile launcher.
The unique features of the giant vehicles include 16 traction motors, two alternating current generators, two direct current generators powered by diesel engines, and two control cabs each to drive the vehicles forward and backward. The jacking, equalizing and leveling (JEL) system, among other systems, are monitored and controlled from inside the crawler’s control room. The JEL system keeps the upper deck and pick up points level at all times, even when traveling up steep inclines to the top of the pads, to prevent its rocket payload from toppling.
The crawlers’ other unique features are the giant tracks, or treads, that propel the vehicles along. There are eight treads, two per corner, with each tread containing 57 “shoes”. Each shoe is 2.3m long and 0.5m wide and weighs 950kg.
The crawlers have carried the weight of the massive Saturn V rocket and Apollo capsule attached to the mobile launcher along with the launch umbilical tower (5580 tons), and the space shuttle with solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank on top of the mobile launcher platform (4990 tons).
Back at the Visitor Centre, littles bears have a rest on the Constellations Fountain and a healthy lunch…
… before they go on the KSC Up-Close Launch Control Centre Tour.
The tour includes a visit of Firing Room 4. Launch operations are supervised and controlled from the firing room. Responsibility for the booster and spacecraft remains with the LCC until the booster has cleared the launch tower, when responsibility is handed over to the Mission Control Center at Johnson Space Center.
There is a tribute to the Space Shuttle Atlantis which hangs in Firing Room 4. In the lower-left corner, it features Atlantis soaring above Earth and threaded through the design are the mission patches for each of Atlantis’ flights. Atlantis’ accomplishments include seven missions to the Russian space station Mir and several assembly, construction and resupply missions to the International Space Station. Atlantis also flew the last Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission on STS-125. In the tribute, the planet Venus represents the Magellan probe being deployed during STS-30, and Jupiter represents the Galileo probe being deployed during STS-34. The inset photos illustrate various aspects of shuttle processing as well as significant achievements, such as the glass cockpit and the first shuttle docking with Mir during STS-71. The inset photo in the upper-left corner shows a rainbow over Atlantis on Launch Pad 39A and shuttle Endeavour on Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy. Endeavour was the assigned vehicle had Atlantis’ STS-125 mission needed rescue, and this was the last time both launch pads were occupied at the same time. The stars in the background represent the many people who have worked with Atlantis and their contributions to the vehicle’s success. Five orbiter tributes are on display in the firing room, representing Atlantis, Challenger, Columbia, Endeavour and Discovery.
Puffles and Honey admiring the five orbiter tributes 🙂
Firing Room 4 was the come-from-behind story of the Launch Control Center. It was never fully built out during the Apollo era. It was used to display massive PERT charts and schedules during the construction of Launch Complex 39 and the integration of Apollo/Saturn systems. It was used for meetings with contractors support teams.
The Firing Room continued to be primarily a support area during the early and middle years of the Shuttle program. As described in an October 1993 KSC website update, Firing Room 4 was “only a partial firing room and is primarily used as an engineering analysis and support area for launch and checkout operations.”
Firing Room 4 finally got its place in the spotlight in 2006. It underwent extensive renovations beginning in 2004. It launched the final 15 missions of the Space Shuttle beginning with STS-121 on July 4, 2006, and concluding with STS-135 on July 8, 2011.
The KSC press release for the reopening of Firing Room 4 in 2006 noted that “on launch day, a firing room is packed with upwards of 216 engineers at computer consoles.” Computerization of the launch sequence activities reduced the number of people needed in the Firing Room to support a launch from the Apollo days, when the Firing Room held over 440 people.
The KSC Public Affairs Office has an interactive site which gives a simplified overview of what it was like to be on a Space Shuttle launch team.
Next to the Firing Room is the “bubble room” where the Kennedy Space Center management viewed the activities below…
…and the launch pads.
As part of the tour, we watched a shuttle launch! On TV… but still cool.
The Launch Director is the head of the launch team, and is responsible for making the final “go” or “no go” decision for launch after polling the relevant team members.
In the foyer of the Launch Control Centre you can have a look at two of the original control consoles.
And if you are a super cute little bear you can sit on the shuttle model 🙂
The tour finishes at the Apollo/Saturn V Centre where you can experience another shuttle launch and a cool exhibit.
This is where it all began. On July 20, 1969, millions of people all over the world held their breath while a single man put his foot onto the moon’s surface. You can recapture the wonder and excitement of that day at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, where you can reach out and touch a moon rock!
Feel the space race come alive as you stand under the largest rocket ever made – the mighty Saturn V. Far too big to fit into our camera! This monumental 110m rocket was America’s lunar transportation for 27 brave astronauts who traveled to the moon and back, fulfilling the dreams and imagination of people around the world.
In the Rocket Garden you can meander through soaring spacecrafts, reaching up to 30m or more into the heavens, and imagine what it was like to sit atop one of these “flaming candles” hurtling into the unknown.
Informative signage tells you more about the earliest rockets, for example, the 23m Juno, which was used to launch NASA’s first satellites, and the 33m Titan II, which was used for 12 Gemini missions.
Puffles and Honey are walking the very same launch pad gantry used by the astronauts of Apollo 11, the men who first landed on the moon.
Hugging the side of the Apollo Command Module, the White Room was the last stop for astronauts before lift off. Here the White Room crew made a final check of the spacesuits and assisted the astronauts into their flight position. They hooked them up to essential communications and life support systems and sealed the hatch. After a final systems check, they rode the elevator down to the launch pad, leaving the rest of the Apollo mission to history.
We’ve been to the Moon!
Maybe not the moon, but little Puffles and Honey have had an out of this world experience at the Kennedy Space Centre! And made beary friends. Hello beary friends!
And got an autograph from Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden 🙂