Friday June 20, 2008 – Cape Canaveral, Florida
We arrived at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Merritt Island, FL for our tour at 8:00 am sharp. The NASA Glenn Academy was supposed to have breakfast with KSC’s Center Director, Bill Parsons. But this event was cancelled due to complications with his schedule. After finding a frog inside Mehran’s rental car in the parking lot of KSC, we loaded into a van and headed to the Kennedy Center for Education. This center began when the Challenger accident occurred to enable space history and education.
Our tour guide, Lori DeSouza, took us to see the Operations and Checkout Building first. The O & C, as this building is called, is where the astronauts prepare for launch. We visited the Space Station Processing Facility. The Academy was able to view the clean room facility where parts of the space station are engineered and manufactured like the Canadian robotic arm, Dextre. Flash photography was not allowed in this building and would be a trend throughout the day. We moved to the Station Module Exhibit within this facility to see a replica of the ISS with the various international contributors showing experiments and space furniture.
Our next stop was the Vehicle Assembly Building, otherwise known as the VAB. This structure was built in the 1960s for the Apollo missions. It was remodeled for the shuttle missions and will be remodeled for the Constellation project. This building is quite large, covering over eight acres in land mass and standing over 500 feet tall. The space shuttle is put together in this huge structure. The solid rocket boosters are attached to the external fuel tank with the orbiter being the last element placed on the space shuttle. The space shuttle is put together on a mobile launch platform, which is taken to either PAD A or PAD B for launch via the crawler.
The crawler itself weighs six million pounds and can hold the mobile launch platform straight up in the air, but cannot turn around. The crawler’s paths to the launch pads are made of river rocks imported from Tennessee to enable more surface area for the crawler’s weight to be supported. When the crawler is loaded its max speed is 1 mph and 2 mph when it’s not supporting the shuttle’s weight. We then headed to PAD B, which is farther away from the VAB, and will be used for Ares. The fuel (liquid H2 and liquid O2) for the space shuttle is located on opposite sides of the launch pad to prevent any mix before take off. The pad consists of a cooling tower, a rotating protector scaffold and an emergency escape system for the astronauts, just in case. KSC processes the space shuttle from landing to launch, and Johnson Space Center operates from launch to landing.
We then got a chance to actually enter the VAB and see the vastness of where the space shuttle is born from the different pieces. Next, the RAs went to the press site and the countdown clock where photographers and the public are able to view the launch. At the press site we saw the massive barge, Pegasus, which carries the external tank from the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, LA to the wharf outside the VAB.
Our next stop was the Apollo/Saturn V facility where we watched a video describing the history of America’s space program and saw the exact mission control from the Apollo missions. The Apollo missions used Saturn V rockets to reach space. Among a non-used Saturn V rocket, models of the lunar rover and lander were present. We had the chance to touch moon rocks, as well.
We returned to the VAB area to tour the Orbital Processing Facility (OPF). On the outside of the building we saw an extra door atop the hangar for the tail of the orbiter. Inside OPF #1, where Endeavour is usually housed, was obiter #104 – Atlantis. Our tour guide, Maggie, showed us the belly of the shuttle, landing gear and hatches being tested. It was difficult to see the body of the bird but we did see the intricacies of the tiles and how each tile needs to be inspected individually upon return. We were given a tile presentation by Terry who explained how the reinforced carbon carbon tiles need to be a certain distance apart to allow for expansion and contraction during exit and re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere.
The Academy’s tour ended with a trip to the landing strip where the Mater-Demater is located. If the space shuttle cannot land at KSC, it will land at Edwards Air Force Base in California. This giant box looking crane will remove the orbiter from the top of NASA’s 747 when it returns to Florida. Our tour concluded with a viewing of the giant eagle’s nest in a tree on the way back to the visitor’s complex. Kennedy Space Center is a nature preserve so many other animals like herons and alligators were present during our tour.