Monday, June 22nd, 2009 – Cape Canaveral, Florida
The John F. Kennedy Space Center was a highlight of the Florida Trip. We began the day at 8 a.m., when our tour guide, Greg Hale, came and met us, and we drove to the Space Shuttle Processing Facility. Along the way, we passed a host of buildings, including the administration building. We could immediately tell that our guide was a seasoned veteran of KSC, based on his in-depth knowledge of all the buildings and the host of people that knew him by name. We were a little early, so we ate breakfast at the KSC cafeteria.
We began the tour with a visit to the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF), a 457,000 sq. ft. building. The facility houses all of the major pieces of the International Space Station (ISS) and is responsible for making them launch-ready. Hale took us right to the floor of the processing area, to give us a first-hand glimpse of the modules that are being prepared for assembly on the ISS. One of the modules we saw was a Japanese experiments module. While waiting for the next tour stop, Hale entertained us with anecdotal stories of astronaut experiences while on the ISS.
Next stop was Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) One. The facility we visited was preparing the shuttle Atlantis for its next launch. This processing facility can be viewed as a hangar where the shuttle orbiter is maintained. The tour guide let all of the Academyites get within a few inches of the shuttle. Following a walk around the shuttle, we were briefed on the manufacturing, installation, and maintenance of the orbiter heat shield materials.
Close to the OPFs is the 525 foot tall Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). It is the fourth largest building in the world by volume and largest one story building in the world. The building was originally built to house the massive Saturn V rocket for the Apollo missions. Today, it is used to attach the shuttle orbiter, solid rocket boosters, and external tanks together on the Mobile Launcher Platform. While in the VAB, we got to see the upper stage test “tuna cans,” as they are referred to, of Ares I stacked together, which were made at Glenn, and the Launch Abort System made by Langley Research Center.
We followed the crawler path from the VAB to Space Shuttle launch complex 39A, where Endeavor was stacked but enclosed by a gantry. The orbiter had been due was due to launch the week before we arrived but was sitting on the pad because of several delays. The tour bus took us around the launch site, which had liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fueling tanks to the side of the pad, large sets of barricades and fences, and an escape shoot for emergency exits from the shuttle. The highlight of the pad visit was stopping around the back to get view of the space shuttle on the pad, where we could see the solid rocket boosters and the orange external tank. On the way back from the pad, we stopped at the launch countdown clock and shuttle landing strip.
To finish off the fully packed day, we walked around the visitor’s center, rocket garden, and gift shop. It had been very exciting to see so much flight hardware, and we thanked our guide, Greg Hale, for spending the day with us, showing us the facilities at KSC.