My Space Shuttle launch story.

Once upon a time I started a travel blog as I was trying to win a trip to Antarctica. I didn’t win the trip, and the barely updated blog petered out. I never had all the great adventures I was hoping for, but there was one pretty cool one. I went to a space shuttle launch! Because it was such a cool experience I’m going to repost the shuttle posts here. Originally posted Saturday, June 5, 2010: NASA Tweetup, part 2

Now we’re on to the second half of day 1.

After lunch we boarded buses for a tour of KSC.

We stopped & spent about an hour & a half at the Apollo Saturn V Center. It was really cool. They showed a short movie on the history of the Apollo program, and then moved us into the control room. It wasn’t a reproduction either. They had taken the entire control room that was actually used for the launches and reassembled it at the Apollo Saturn V Center. Then, as part of the tour, they went through a simulation of the launch from there, with details right down to rattling the windows.

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When you left the theater from that simulation the very first thing you saw was the rocket end of a Saturn V rocket. It’s a real full size one that was built, but then was never used. It is MASSIVE. They have all the parts of it hanging from the ceiling end to end and it goes the entire length of the building. All that rocket power just to get a little capsule that 3 men barely fit into up to the moon.

Saturn V Rocket

And here’s a picture with me in it to give an idea of the scale:

Saturn V Rocket

They had some other cool stuff at the center too. They have a piece of moon rock that you can reach in and actually touch. There is an “Apollo Hall of Treasures” where they have things like the Apollo 14 capsule and Alan Shepherd’s spacesuit that he wore on the moon’s surface.

Moon rock Apollo 14

After the Apollo Saturn V Center we went to the International Space Station Center. This is the building where they assemble and load the modules used to take stuff to the ISS. Not as much stuff to look at as at the Apollo Saturn V Center, but it is an actual working facility. You look down through glass windows at the people working in the clean room environments. While we were there one of the modules they were working on was being reinforced because it’s going to become a permanent part of the ISS.

International Space Station Center International Space Station Center

As we drove to the different stops we also got to see a lot of parts of the base. We drove by the Orbiter Processing Facility, Mobile Launcher Platforms, the Crawler-Transporter, and, of course, the Vehicle Assembly Building. You can’t go anywhere at Kennedy without seeing the VAB!

This is the Crawler-Transporter which moves the shuttle around.

Shuttle Crawler

The gravel to the right of the road is the Crawler’s track.

Crawler Track

And the track leads, of course, to the Vehicle Assembly Building.

VAB

One of the buildings we drove past on our tour was the hangar used for the Columbia Reconstruction Project after she was lost on re-entry.

Columbia

After the tour we took a short break and then boarded the buses again for the highlight of Thursday – the retraction of the Rotating Service Structure!

We were out by Launch Pad 39A just a few hundred yards & one fence away from the shuttle! The RSS is the structure surrounding the shuttle during the time she’s on the pad up until just less than a day from the scheduled launch time. It is how the crews access the shuttle to check systems, load it, etc.

Of course, we couldn’t actually see the shuttle herself yet, just the tops of the big orange external tank and the solid rocket boosters. This was the first place I hauled out The Monster, my 400 mm 2.8 lens. We were TOO CLOSE for me to really use it! I could get some super close-ups, but it was too close to get any kind of good composition. This is a problem I can live with!

RSS retraction

Taken with the big lens:

At Launchpad 39a

OK, so the RSS retraction? Happens slow enough that you really don’t see the structure move. We were taking pictures & talking and then all of a sudden, “Hey! I can see Atlantis!”

At Launchpad 39a At Launchpad 39a At Launchpad 39a

Once the structure was fully retracted we were all getting pictures of ourselves in front of it.

At Launchpad 39a

We got a picture of all 4 of us Minnesotans in front of it too. The girls from Minneapolis: me, Liz (@LizStrand), Melissa (@melissagerman) & Mauria (@MoBea) At Launchpad 39a

Then we did a big group shot of the entire Tweetup group in front of Atlantis.

GroupAtLaunchpad Photo Credit: (NASA/Paul E. Alers) Licensed Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 We were herded back onto the buses after that. Our view of the launchpad from our little area was a side view of the shuttle. As our buses drove off we pulled around her and got a beautiful full on view. These pictures are taken through the bus windows.

At Launchpad 39a At Launchpad 39a

After getting dropped off at the press site, we were done with scheduled events for the day. Melissa, Matthew & I took advantage of that time to get our required “I’m by the countdown clock!” pictures.

Cheesy self portrait.

Cheesy self portrait Countdown clock

After hanging out for a little while longer I was going to meet up with my friends Mark & Sarah for dinner but decided I was just too wiped out. I went back to my resort with the intention of napping, but I learned that the pool & hot tub were open until 11:00. Since the flight my husband Rick & my dad were on was landing at 11:12 I figured it was a sign. A nice relaxing soak in the hot tub felt so good. After running to the airport to get Rick & Dad, it was the end of a wonderful day.

Hot tub (This picture’s not blurry because of the water, it’s because the phone is in a nice watertight plastic bag!)

Next: Launch day!

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