Thursday June 19, 2008 – Cape Canaveral, Florida
The first major trip of the 2008 NASA Glenn Academy took the Research Associates and their operations/logistics officer to the state of Florida, and it began with a visit to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). An early morning start allowed the Academy to meet with William Dickerson—a former Air Force officer now working in the Public Affairs office at Patrick Air Force Base and our overall tour guide for the morning—at the CCAFS badging/ID station. We all piled into our official tour van and began the morning’s festivities.
Our first stop would be Morrell Operations Center (MOC), where the 45th Space Wing provides mission support for the Naval Ordnance Test Unit’s (NOTU’s) submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), the Space Shuttle, and the host of launch vehicles that blast off to space from launch pads all across the Cape on Merritt Island. All cell phones, cameras and most other electronic devices had to be left at the gate. As we passed beneath the sign saying “Control of the Battlefield begins HERE!”, U.S. Air Force (USAF) Lieutenant Sheena Harvey, the Range Control Officer for the MOC, greeted us as our tour guide. She introduced us to USAF Lt. Greg Strong of the 45th Weather Squadron at the weather room, who explained how his team provided weather data and forecasts for resource protection and monitoring of lightning storms, hurricanes and other weather hazards, especially during the critical time periods before and during launches. We then watched a video of an Atlas V launch and strolled through the consoles of an actual launch control room as Lt. Harvey explained the role of personnel who man the consoles during launches. Staff Sergeant Leigh Smith, the aerospace control officer, showed us the MOC’s ability to track and communicate with air and sea traffic in the area. Throughout the MOC tour, we looked at the numerous storyboards and photographs of historical NASA missions and Cape Canaveral launches that cover the walls of the MOC hallways.
Mr. Dickerson then took the RAs to the Cape Canaveral Air and Space Museum, a collection of old rockets, missiles and spacecraft from the diverse and plentiful history of U.S. space endeavors. There were multiple drive-by’s of old satellite spin test facilities, rocket launch pads, blockhouses, and the “rocket garden”, including a somber pass by Launch Complex 31, the burial vault for the Space Shuttle Challenger. We also saw Launch Complex 5 where Alan Shepard became launched to become the first American in space, the Mercury 7 Memorial, the Cape Canaveral lighthouse—the only operational lighthouse owned by the USAF—and Complex 26, where Explorer I was launched.
We were then brought United Launch Alliance’s Horizontal Integration Facility at the Cape, where Delta IV launch vehicles are assembled. USAF Tech Sgt. Lamb and Staff Sgt. Pope showed us the large bays where the first stages of the Delta rockets are connected and transported away, all sitting on the flattest floor in the world, according to Guinness World Records. The RAs were impressed by the large motor vehicle with omni-directional wheels used to carry the Deltas to the launch pad. We were then brought to Launch Complex 37B, where an actual Delta IV Heavy rocket was being put together! The massive rocket would carry the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office’s first heavy payload into space. It was truly amazing to observe firsthand the launch preparation of the largest unmanned launch vehicle in the US arsenal.
After a stop at Complex 34, the site of the Apollo 1 fire, our Cape Canaveral tour was topped off by a trip to the top of a blockhouse where photos were taken and the scenery could be enjoyed. As a final treat, on our way back to the badging/ID station, we passed by a hangar where we could just make out a Space Shuttle solid rocket booster component.