1989 Florida, Part 2

Sunday, June 4, 1989

We were up bright and early in the morning and had breakfast in the hotel dining room. I had scrambled eggs and two biscuits, but one biscuit was moldy. They took it back, replaced it with toast, and gave me breakfast for free. We stopped at the front desk for directions to the Kennedy Space Center. On the way, we had to stop and wait for a drawbridge to close. We met a man from Pittsburgh sitting in the car next to us. That was funny. Anyway, it only took us about 90 minutes to get there since it is only 47 miles from Kissimmee.

As soon as we arrived, we signed up for the bus tour and a movie in a combination ticket. We walked around a bit and checked out some exhibits while we were waiting for our tour to begin. The tour itself took two hours and covered all of the main buildings and the launch pads. There were a lot of stops along the way with no camera restrictions. We sure had a gorgeous, sunny day to take some great pictures.

Our tour began on bus number 10, the red tour. The driver started with some basic information about the area. Kennedy Space Center is the world's primary launch base for the space shuttle and the area where most United States rockets and spacecraft are also launched. It is operated by NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, a civilian organization involved in exploration and useful activities in space. It was created in 1958. Then we saw the main buildings of the facility. The Communications, Distribution, and Switching Center has a satellite dish for communication with mission control in Houston, Texas and NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. The three-story Central Instrumentation Facility houses laboratories and workshops where 24,000 sensitive measuring instruments are calibrated and maintained. The Headquarters Building is four stories tall and is the administrative hub for all Spaceport activities. The Spaceport's director, most of the management team, and several hundred contractor personnel work there. It is called the industrial area. It includes a barber shop, cafeteria, credit union, gas station, and a health club in this city-like suburb. It also includes warehouses for maintenance and other storage, and service facilities. The Operations and Check-Out Building is the largest structure in the industrial area. Spacecraft such as moon mission or sky lab are prepared for launch there. It also has living quarters on the third floor for astronauts training or working at the center. The Parachute Facility is where the solid rocket boosters' parachutes are cleansed and packed into their flight casings. The parachutes unfurl after the solid boosters have expended their fuel and are jettisoned away from the orbiter for a splash-down in the Atlantic Ocean, about 150 miles east of the space center.

The driver dropped us off at the Flight Crew Training Building. In the first room, we saw the lunar module and the service and command module of the Saturn V moon rocket which were flight operational and could have been used in the Apollo program. The building used to house all of the simulators that astronauts used for training. In the second room, we saw a movie about the launch of the Saturn V moon rocket in the Apollo 11 program, the first moon landing. The three-man crew on the mission traveled one-half million miles round trip. The landing took place on
July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong was the first to use the ladder and set foot on the moon with those famous words, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

The landing took place on July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong was the first to use the ladder and set foot on the moon with those famous words, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Each astronaut wore a heavy spacesuit with life support systems in his backpack. Otherwise, they could not have survived the vacuum of space, the deadly solar radiation, and temperatures in the hundreds of degrees. They collected rock and soil samples for study on earth. Following the movie, there was a simulated launch.

Outside, we boarded bus number 7 for the rest of the tour. The tours have been in continuous operation since 1966. Sometimes they are changed, usually in conjunction with a launch. The launch becomes part of the tour. On our way to Complex 39, the launch facility for the space shuttle program, we received more information about the center. The government industry team consists of 2,000 federal employees and 11,000 contractor employees. They represent
companies such as Boeing, Lockheed, McDonnell-Douglas, Rockwell, and United Technologies. They also have a variety of backgrounds - engineers, construction, maintenance, clerks, drivers, and secretaries.

All non-operational areas are incorporated within the National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore. Wildlife is protected, especially members of endangered and threatened species. There are more here than anywhere else in the continental United States. There are more than 300 species of birds, including several families of the American Bald Eagle, our national bird. There are also more than three hundred families of wood stork, the only true North American stork, and more than twenty species of ducks. Other wildlife living in the refuge includes raccoons, Florida armadillos, deer, otters, snakes, sea turtles, and more than 4,000 alligators. Also, more than 10% of the country's manatee, or sea cow, population lives in the water surrounding the space center.

Complex 39 is where the launch team assembles flight hardware, components of the space shuttle, checks them out, and launches the shuttle. The dominant structure is the Vehicle Assembly Building or VAB. It is 525 feet tall, equal to a 52-story building. The VAB covers 8 acres of ground with a volume of 129 million cubic feet. It's one of the largest enclosed areas
in the world. In 1976, the American flag and the Bicentennial emblem were painted on the side of the building. Five hundred gallons of paint were required for the job. The flag is 110 feet wide, 209 feet long, and each star is 6 feet from point to point. The VAB is not open to the public since the solid rocket boosters and hazardous fuels are stored inside. The Logistics Facility is the place where 190,000 shuttle spare parts are categorized and stored by one of the world's largest automated robotics systems. The Orbiter Processing Facility, 96 feet tall, contains two identical bays. After a flight, the shuttle is transported to one of the bays and readied for the next mission. Any remaining fuel is drained then the lines, pumps, and engines are all cleaned and checked. When the shuttle is ready, it is towed to the VAB where it is attached to the booster set and external tank. The shuttles Atlantis, Columbia, and Discovery are located in the building, but, because of security regulations, they are not included on the tour.

We saw a crawler transporter, which is used to move the space shuttle and the mobile launch platform to the launch pad. The shuttle and platform combined weigh eleven million pounds. The transporter is about half the size of a football field and weighs six million pounds. There are 8 moving tracks, 57 cleats on each. Each cleat weighs one ton. Propulsion is provided by two diesel engines which power electric motors which turn the treads. Maximum speed is 1 mile per hour with the space shuttle and 2 miles per hour unloaded. The operating crew consists of 20 engineers and technicians. We made a brief stop at this point for pictures.

Next, we saw the processing facilities for solid fuel segments. The segments are transported on specially designed railroad cars from a manufacturing plant in Brigham City, Utah. Then we saw the mobile launch platforms where the shuttle begins its journey into space. Three openings in the center of the structure serve as flame chutes for the shuttle at lift-off. Two rectangular-shaped openings are for the flames from the solid rocket boosters. The square one is for the shuttle's three main engines.

Then the driver headed to the two launch pads. Adjacent to the VAB is the Launch Control Center, the nerve center of the entire Launch Complex 39. In the firing rooms, launch preparation is monitored and controlled by a network of computers. The barge terminal is where the external tank for the shuttle arrives from a manufacturing plant in New Orleans, Louisiana. Crawler Way is the stone path to the launch pad on which the crawler transporter moves the mobile launch platform and the space shuttle. The path is as wide as an eight-lane highway. In order to support the incredible amount of weight, six feet of earth was removed and replaced with layers of limestone and hydraulic fill. Asphalt was poured and a road bed of river rock was added to minimize friction. The shuttle is transported upright and it takes 6 hours to make the three-and-a-half-mile trip from the VAB to the pad.

Launch pad A is the primary site for the shuttle, beginning with the first launch of the Columbia in April, 1981. Launch pad B was used for Apollo and Skylab. It was also used for the shuttle Atlantis when five astronauts went on their mission to send the Magellen spacecraft into orbit, on its way to Venus. Pad B was the site of the ill-fated Challenger launch when all seven crew members were killed in an explosion just after lift-off on January 28, 1986.

Each space shuttle has four main parts. The orbiter is the airplane-like portion. It's the size of a DC-9. The orange-colored tank is the fuel tank. It is 154 feet long and the diameter is 28 feet. It's used to supply liquid hydrogen and oxygen to the main engines until the shuttle reaches orbital altitude, about 150 miles above the earth's surface. The two rocket boosters contain a solid fuel, supplying a major portion of the thrust for lift-off. Each one is 149 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter. They provide two and one half million pounds of thrust at lift-off. The orbiter can remain in space for up to thirty days, but most missions last only a week. The Space Center has been used for five landings of the shuttle. The runway, 15,000 feet long and 300 feet wide, is located two miles northwest of the VAB. The orbiter actually travels backward in order to reduce speed, sometimes from 17,000 miles per hour, before landing at 200 miles per hour. The runway is also used for the landing of the special 747 jumbo jet when necessary for transporting the orbiter back from any of the alternate landing sites such as Edwards Air Force Base in California.

There was a ten-minute picture stop to see the Apollo Saturn V, near the VAB before we headed back. Then we were given a brief history of the space program. On January 31, 1958, Explorer I, America's first artificial satellite, was launched. Allen Shepherd became the first American in space on a sub-orbital flight on May 5, 1961. Ventures into space have resulted in the creation of a system of communication satellites, making
worldwide communication reliable and much less expensive. We can nowsee events around the world as they occur. Telephone calls across the continent or across the ocean are as simple and as clear as a call across town. Weather forecasting is more exact. Early storm warnings can reduce the loss of life and property. Satellites have led to the discovery of new energy sources. They also monitor food crops and help to predict surpluses and shortages. In oceanography, they can be used to measure the movement of the continental plates and, one day, may be able to predict or prevent earthquakes. Technology has led to the development of miniature electronic circuits which led to other miniaturization for transistor radios, pocket calculators, personal computers, and video games. Solar cells convert energy into electricity to power satellites. It has generated expanded interest in ways to utilize solar energy on earth.

When the tour ended, we had about a half hour free before the movie. We each bought a soda and walked around the souvenir shop, buying some postcards and books. Then we went to the Galaxy Center and the IMAX Theater to see the movie, "The Dream is Alive." It was 37 minutes long, narrated by Walter Cronkite, and shown on a 5 1/2-story screen. It began with the landing of the space shuttle and a tour of Kennedy Space Center, America's Spaceport. Then it showed the preparations for a mission, two weeks before launch. The astronauts were training and practicing emergency escapes right until lift-off and a flight 280 miles into space. Much of the
footage was taken from space by astronauts as they circled the earth, every ninety minutes at 17,000 miles per hour. The astronauts featured were Ron MacNair, Judy Resnick, and Dick Scobie, three of the seven crew members on the Challenger, the 25th space shuttle mission.

After the movie, we walked around for a while, then left the center. We stopped on International Drive on the way to the hotel. That's where the Quality Inn that we stayed at last year is located. We ate dinner at the Olive Garden restaurant. Margaret had spaghetti and meatballs and I had lasagna. We also ordered some garlic bread sticks and salad, served in a huge bowl. The meal was very good. Then it was back to the Ramada where we sorted souvenirs and called it a night.