Little Puffles and Honey are reminiscing about their visit to Kennedy Space Centre and Space Centre Houston.
They went straight to Independence Plaza presented by Boeing. The exhibit consists of a full-size shuttle replica mounted on an actual shuttle carrier aircraft, and they visited both vehicles, after promising that they were not going to attempt to take off in them 🙂
Both the shuttle and carrier feature interior exhibits featuring the flight deck and cockpit of the shuttle, astronaut living quarters mid-deck, history on the development of the shuttle program, and how the carrier aircraft docks with shuttles.
NASA 905 is the iconic Shuttle Carrier Aircraft that ferried NASA’s space shuttles to and from launch and landing sites for 35 years.
Built in 1970 and acquired by NASA from American Airlines in 1974, the 747 was flown in wake vortex research studies by NASA’s Flight Research Center, now the Dryden Flight Research Center, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, before being modified by Boeing for its new role as a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA). It carried the prototype shuttle Enterprise aloft in 1977 and launched it five times during the space shuttle Approach and Landing Tests at NASA Dryden.
NASA 905 then underwent further modifications for the ferry flight role it would have over more than three decades. It flew 70 of the 87 ferry flights during the shuttle program’s operational phase, including 46 of the 54 post-mission ferry flights from NASA Dryden to the Kennedy Space Center.
NASA 905 last service for the Space Shuttle Program was to ferry the Enterprise and the operational shuttles Discovery and Endeavour to their new homes: Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Washington DC and California Science Centre in Los Angeles respectively, in 2012.
Mounted atop NASA 905 is “Independence” a high-fidelity, full-size shuttle mockup outfitted with a detailed interior of the cockpit, crew cabin and payload bay.
Chronologically organised, the Starship Gallery provides a general sense of the history of rocketry, the space race and the US human spaceflight. The timeline starts in 1926 with a replica of Robert Goddard’s first liquid-fuelled rocket and ends with a mock-up of the Space Shuttle. Exhibits emphasise human spaceflight programs beginning with Project Mercury and ending with Apollo 17, by summarising the goals of each program while highlighting other events occurring in the US at the same time. Included are newspaper headlines that show the tensions of the 1960s and early 1970s: the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam and the death of a popular young president.
The main attractions are actual capsules from the various spaceflight programs.
Faith 7 was the final Mercury spacecraft to go into orbit. Piloted by Gordon Cooper, Faith 7 flew May 15-16, 1963, and was in orbit for 34 hours, 19 minutes and 49 seconds, orbiting the Earth 22.5 times. With that flight, Cooper set the record at the time for spaceflight by an American. Cooper selected the name “Faith 7” for his spacecraft to express his faith in his fellow workers, his faith in the spaceflight hardware that had been so carefully tested, his faith in himself and his faith in God. All the Mercury missions bore the number 7 to honor the teamwork and collaboration of the first seven astronauts in American history.
Early spacecraft were called “capsules” because they were so small. “You don’t climb into the Mercury spacecraft, you put it on,” John Glenn once said. The size and shape of the capsule was dictated by reentry requirements and the launching capability of the rockets available at the time. Scientists and engineers determined the capsule should have a rounded bottom to safely ablate heat when traveling through the atmosphere and to safely splashdown during ocean landings.
Both the Gemini and Apollo programs followed the basic design of Mercury. On August 21, 1965, the third crewed Gemini flight went up with Charles “Pete” Conrad and Gordon Cooper on a mission that lasted just shy of eight days, setting a new record for longest human space flight that was three days longer than the previous Soviet Union record. Conrad and Cooper circled the Earth 120 times on that trip.
Designed to take two astronauts at a time, the Gemini Program was aptly named after the constellation, whose name in Greek means “Twins”. Gemini V was significant because of its duration. To get to the moon would take eight days, so this groundbreaking mission helped NASA engineers determine how well fuel cells would hold up to that journey.
Conrad dubbed the mission “eight days in a garbage can”, thanks to the cramped quarters of the Gemini cabin and later wished for a book to pass the time. Gemini capsules look like enlarged versions of the Mercury capsules. Although the Gemini capsules weighed twice as much as their Mercury counterparts, they offered only slightly more cabin space.
Apollo 17 was the last Apollo mission to the moon. Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt, the first scientist to travel into space, brought back 110 kilograms of lunar samples and spent 75 hours on the surface of the moon. While there, Schmitt and Cernan traveled 30.5 kilometers in the lunar rover and set up a sixth automated research station.
Eugene Cernan, who was the last person to stand on the moon, left Earth’s lunar satellite with these words, “I believe history will record that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the moon at Taurus Littrow, we leave as we come and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.”
Though humans can theoretically walk or run nearly as fast on the moon as on Earth, bulky space suits made movement awkward for the Apollo astronauts on the lunar surface. Enter the Lunar Roving Vehicle. Rovers were taken to the moon’s surface (and left there) on the last three Apollo missions. Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt practiced on the actual Lunar Rover trainer displayed in the Starship Gallery.
Other astronauts that practiced on this Lunar Rover were Dave Scott and Jim Irwin (Apollo 15), John Young and Charlie Duke (Apollo 16).
The rover has no steering wheel or brakes, since neither are needed on the airless lunar surface. It was started, steered and stopped by a single control located between the seats. The electric-powered rover could travel at almost 15 kph and had a range of about 89 kilometers. It was equipped with a TV camera, which recorded the astronauts’ exploration of the moon and liftoff of the top half of the Lunar Module when the astronauts left the moon.
Echoes of this lunar rover design can be seen in the Mars rovers such as Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity.
The the largest artifact inside Space Center Houston is the Skylab 1-G Trainer, a training facility for the Skylab space station that orbited earth throughout the 1970s. Skylab 1-G Trainer is so large that the designers could not hope to fit it through any doors. The building was constructed around it.
This is the actual trainer used by astronauts to train for life aboard Skylab, the first American space station. After Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, Skylab was designed to develop methods of living and working in space for long periods of time. It also functioned as the first telescope in space and served as a laboratory to study how the human body adapts to long duration exposure to a microgravity environment. The space station was created by converting the final stage of a Saturn V moon rocket into a habitable spacecraft and lining it with experiments and equipment. The Skylab crews had plenty of room. The space inside was about 355 cubic meters, about the same size as a three bedroom house and almost as comfortable. Crews had individual bunks, a ward room, personal libraries and even a shower. Three crews spent a total of 171 days on-board Skylab and conducted a wide array of research.
The Astronaut Gallery exhibit features spacesuits dating back to the first American trip to space. It is the world’s best and most comprehensive collection of spacesuits.
Inside the Astronaut Gallery, the Gallery Wall is adorned with the portraits and crew photos of every United States Astronaut who has flown in space.
Another replica shuttle flight deck offerred the opportunity to try out the Commander and Pilot seats again 🙂
The Orion capsule gives visitors a special glimpse at deep space exploration and how NASA will transport astronauts to the moon, asteroids and eventually Mars. This full-scale engineering model of the flown Orion capsule, on loan from Lockheed Martin, was used to train astronauts to enter and exit the spacecraft.
Orion may resemble its Apollo-era predecessors, but its technology and capabilities are much more advanced. The Orion spacecraft features dozens of technology advancements and innovations that have been incorporated into its subsystem and component design. To support long-duration deep space missions of up to six months, Orion engineers developed a state-of-the-art spacecraft with unique life support, propulsion, avionics and thermal protection systems.
Building upon the best of both the Apollo and shuttle-era designs, the Orion spacecraft includes both crew and service modules, a spacecraft adaptor and a revolutionary launch abort system that will significantly increase crew safety. Orion’s crew module is much larger than Apollo’s and can support more crew members for short or long duration spaceflight missions. The service module is the powerhouse that fuels and propels the spacecraft as well as the storehouse for the life-sustaining air and water astronauts need during their space travels. The service module’s structure also will provide places to mount scientific experiments and cargo.
Orion is capable of supporting low Earth orbit missions or transporting astronauts on a variety of expeditions into deep space – ushering in a new era of space exploration. Orion can carry astronauts to the International Space Station, deliver cargo for resupply and remain on orbit under its own power supply to serve as an emergency escape vehicle for the crew onboard.
Orion successfully completed its first trip to space in December 2014 without humans aboard, testing many of the riskiest events it will endure when it takes astronauts to deep space destinations. Orion’s next Exploration Mission 1 will launch atop the world’s most powerful rocket, NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS). Orion’s Exploration Mission 1 will be flown without a crew and will be controlled remotely as it flies 70,000 km beyond the moon. The capsule will be attached to a European-made ‘service module’. Everything is expected to be ready for the flight and the first test of the biggest rocket ever built in November 2018. The launch is expected to take place from pad 39B at Kennedy Space Centre, Florida.
Puffles and Honey could not finish their adventure at Space Centre Houston without a ride in the Morphis simulator.
That was a bit wobbly!