On Monday, June 27, we had the opportunity to meet with Greg Hale at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Greg Hale had worked at Kennedy for a number of years as a Quality Engineer and focused much of his work on bio-systems, where he jokingly got to know about 80% of the once 27,000 people that worked there. Recently he retired from this position, allowing him to focus on giving several tours to students like those in the Glenn Space Academy. I think it is fair to say that we began the day impressed with Greg Hale and left the day astonished due to how knowledgeable and personable he was.
The day started with meeting Mr. Hale at the KSC Visitor’s Center parking lot, we talked for a brief moment and then hopped in his van and began the tour. We started by driving by some buildings that “used to be for” this or “used to be for” that, bringing a solemn air to the current state of affairs affecting many people at the Kennedy site. However, any depressing deposition that we had felt quickly dissipated when we first became enamored with the immensity of the shuttle crawler and then finally as we stood in awe in the building that has housed over 90% of the International Space Station. After reiterating the importance of cleanliness and carefulness, he took us over to a marker placed on the floor. He then told us to look at the far wall standing just over a football field’s length (361 feet) away and proceeded to inform us that was the size of the ISS. Needless to say, words do not do justice to the feeling you have standing in that large, white, brightly lit room, staring off into the distance, attempting to fathom the size of such an impressive structure that once sat where you are currently standing and is now presently orbiting our earth 200 miles above us.
Though most of the space station is currently in orbit, some parts that were once intended to become additions to the space station still resided in the room. We were able to witness what Mr. Hale described as the “hubs” of the space station, which acted like the hubs of a child’s favorite – and sometimes a grown up engineer’s as well – tinker toy set. These hubs had been stripped down, meaning they no longer bore the thermal blankets or much of what would have been added had it actually reached orbit. Rather than only show us different parts and the room though, which would have made our day in and of itself, he also began telling countless stories so vivid you felt as if you had experienced them yourself. These stories not only left us intrigued, but often times also laughing or in sheer disbelief.
From there we continued on to our first up-close view of a space shuttle, which was currently being refurbished and readied for display in the Orbiter Processing Facility. While we were mere inches away from the Shuttle Discovery itself, it was imperative and extremely difficult not to reach out and touch it. Not only were we able to view the shuttle up close and personally, we were also able to hold several tiles, heat blankets, and more, to gain a better understanding of the shuttle, its intricacies, and how much effort is truly put in to designing such a wonderful and complex machine. Each of us attempted to peer up into every crevice of the shuttle being held up and encapsulated by a structure just as impressive as the shuttle itself. Every inquiry we made, Mr. Hale attempted to answer. His knowledge and passion for teaching us was unmatched. Topping it off, we were able to take pictures from below the shuttle, making for photographic proof that the memories that we will forever hold on to are, in fact, real.
Attempting to regain our breath, we then ventured in to the now empty Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Peering up approximately 500 feet, or the equivalent of about a 46 story building, we once again were breathless. Mr. Hale riddled us with fact upon fact and story upon story, making the experience even that much more meaningful. From cranes to doors, and stairways to elevator, Mr. Hale had stories and facts about everything. He made it feel as if we were a part of the action that took place during the day by day operations within the VAB along with some instances that were more unique.
As if we hadn’t seen enough that day, we were able to drive up close to the highlight of our day: the space shuttle Atlantis resting on Launch Pad 39A in preparation for STS-135. Crawling over each other in a van that seemed all too small for a group of frantically enthused engineers, we circled the stoic shuttle, snapping picture after picture in a hardly veiled stupor. At this time there may have been words, there may have been information out there for us to capture, but the absolute amazement of seeing such a sight so close left us oblivious of such tasks. In a nearly vain attempt to slip some knowledge between the cracks of our mesmerized state, Mr. Hale continued to answer any questions any of us had. Just the previous day we had witnessed the beginning of American rocketry, on this day we witness its greatest culmination to date. It is an impossible feeling to describe, but as individuals we can say we actually saw it, as a society we can say we actually did it, and as a group of people, from us as young aspiring engineers to those that have gotten us to space and those that still dream of it continuing, we can say that we hold a bond to do in our power what we can to see that this is not the end, that this is not just history, but our future as well.
If it sounds as if more could not be handled on such a day, we tested that limit by continuing on to the Kennedy Visitor Center which housed, among other things, a Saturn V rocket. Now to say that this rocket stands 344 feet high when standing vertical sounds impressive, but to view the rocket from end to end is entirely humbling. We were also able to sit down for lunch and continue to shower Mr. Hale with questions as far reaching as his advice to us for the future to some of his greatest past memories.
This tour would have been amazing with anyone at the helm, but it is hard to imagine that there is anyone as conversant, vivid, friendly, and interesting as Mr. Hale. Just being able to witness what we witnessed is an opportunity that most only dream of, and the facts that we were told are difficult facts to come by, but the stories and personality personified by Mr. Hale made for an experience that cannot be compared. To describe the magnitude and totality of the tour is impossible, but what has been forwarded into our lap by Mr. Hale is perhaps even more important than anything else. What we saw, while completely awe-inspiring, cannot only be viewed as a tremendous history, it also must also be seen as a gateway to our future. Without words, Mr. Hale showed us that the passion to move forward still exists, and with his enthusiastic presentation of what has come before, he has only fueled our fervor to continue that passion into tomorrow.