L–1 (launch minus 1)...A very full day.
I thought we'd be attending the launch briefing, but I was wrong. The link goes to a web summary. Weather is the big concern... keep your fingers crossed for clear evening skies!
Today was spent touring Kennedy Space Center. Earrrrly this morning we loaded buses and went to the KSC Visitor's Center and saw the IMAX 3D film of the International Space Station.
If you ever ever get a chance to see this film, DO IT! Wearing 3D glasses and looking at a shot looking down on the space station looking over this planet of ours is completely amazing. Many other great things, too... shot in 3D with a you-are-there effect. At yesterday's award luncheon with astronaut Mark Kelly, he said (after last December's delivery of the crew to the space station that will be coming back down on this shuttle mission) that the IMAX film is as close to being in space—except the weightlessness.
After that we got back on buses and went around to see different parts of the Kennedy Space Center.
This stucture is near the runway where the shuttle lands. It is the structure to unmount or mount the shuttle (aka 'orbiter') from the 747 if the orbiter needs to be flown to or from California.
The most imposing building at KSC is the VAB— currently called the vehicle assembly building, formerly called the vertical assembly building. It *used* to be the largest building in the world (in terms of cubic feet of space); the Saturn rockets of the Apollo missions stood straight up inside of the building.
Each star in the flag is 6 feet across; each stripe is 8 feet wide. I forget all the other stats about the place, but it is immense!
The VAB is where the shuttle is brought after processing (which takes place in one of three other buildings nearby), and it's hoisted on a crane to an upright position and payloads are placed in the cargo bay. Then it's attached to the orange fuel tank and the solid rocket boosters are attached. When assembled, the complete Orbiter assembly is mounted on a huge crawler and transported to the appointed launch pad.
In the days of the Apollo missions, the doors would be opened the entire way to move the rocket (time to open completely: 45 minutes); for the shuttle, the doors open partially (1/3? I forgot exactly).
We were fortunate to be able to get out and see the crawler (note: if you're coming into this story part way through; this is not on the standard tour. This is part of a NASA event awarding those who've made exceptional contributions in some way to the Space Shuttle program; I am here at the invitation of an award winner).
The crawler is big. Very big. When loaded, it careens down the crawlerway at a whopping one mile an hour; when it returns empty, it speeds along at two miles an hour.
Crawler from the side
Crawler from the back...or is it the front? Does this thing even turn around? Probably not.
We saw both of the shuttle launch pads; here the empty one is launch pad 39B.
Launch pad 39A is where this shuttle will take off from. It's the same launch pad as Apollo 11 used. We got to see it from fairly close up; there were a few photographers setting up remote cameras at the time we drove up.
You cannot see the orbiter itself; it is enclosed in gray scaffolding for protection. The protective frame will, of course, be removed in time for liftoff.
I couldn't resist:
Back at the Visitor's Center, a couple of shots...
The rocket garden, of rockets used in earlier eras (the one on its side is an earlier Saturn rocket; add another long rocket stage at the bottom and you get one the size of Saturn V).
The astronaut memorial. There is a set of mirrors on the back; the entire memorial and the mirrors rotate to shine sunlight through to illuminate the names of those who've died in the course of duty as an astronaut.
I'd like to post more from the reception last night, but it's late and tomorrow —launch day—is a full day. Launch time is 7:44 pm local time. Weather is iffy, so we're all thinking sunny, droughtish thoughts. :D