As a NASA civil servant, I make occasional business trips to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Since I'm working on the next generation heavy lift rocket (currently called SLS), I've taken a number of facility tours to improve my understanding of vehicle operations issues so that our design of new vehicles can be operated more efficiently.
But, enough tech-talk. Here are some pictures of my cool adventures:
Lucky timing had me down for a meeting during an unusual daytime rollout of the shuttle to the pad. Atlantis was being rolled out for the last Hubble repair mission. As a badged employee, I was able to drive out along the route, stop, and walk along with the shuttle. None of us had anything other than pretty bad cell phone cameras, so we got lucky and had an employee we did not know take this picture and email it to us. (I'm in the center).
NASA was nice and took this great picture of us too. (We're the tiny dots lined up on bottom right).
While Atlantis was on the pad, Hubble had an unexpected failure. Thus, its mission was delayed several months while the new issue was analyzed and addressed. Finally, in May 2009, the repair mission was launched from pad 39-A. Endeavour was positioned on pad 39-B for a potential rescue mission if Atlantis required one. We got a tour of the pad shortly after Atlantis's safe return before Endeavour was rolled back.
Here I am in front of one of the crawlers, which was waiting just outside of the pad fence.
A close up look at the base of one of the solid rocket boosters. Note the large tie-down bolts under the brown covers.
Our tour group standing behind the shuttle with the two solids in the background.
Me standing under the shuttle stack with the external tank and solid rockets above me.
Posing with the orbiter engines and body flap visible behind us.
We also got to take the elevator up the launch tower, and walk out the crew access arm to peer into the open orbiter hatch. We had to be very careful and not "break the plane of the hatch" and actually put any part of our body into the vehicle.
Another day on this trip we took at tour of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). This is a picture from near the top of the building looking down at the work platforms used when a shuttle launch stack is assembled. A little imagination with the cutouts in the platforms can give you a feel for where the shuttle sits. The external doors of the building are on the left and the "transfer aisle" where components arrive and the crane attaches prior to lifting into position is on the right.
Here's a NASA photo of a shuttle stack being assembled, shot from below. You can see the work platforms and how they line up with the shuttle.
No stacks were being processed while we were there, but we did get to see the partially assembled Ares I-X test rocket:
In 2010, I got a car pass to go watch a shuttle launch on the Kennedy Space Center causeway. It allowed me to take a car load in with me, so the whole family and my inlaws went. We all wore red because we expected it to be crowded (it was) and it helped us keep our eyes on the kids during the 4 hours of waiting between our arrival and the on time launch. We had the best angle for the launch since we could see the whole orbiter sitting on the pad.
Atlantis and the pad are in the center of the first shot behind us.
I shot about 400 pictures of the launch on my new Canon 50D, with breaks to watch without the lens as well. Here're a couple. The first is just after launch:
The second is much later at the separation of the solid rocket boosters. The shuttle is about 25 miles downrange at this point: