Space and Beyond

dsc_7840The photo on the left was STS-127 Endeavor on launch pad 39A on June 8, 2009. Scheduled to launch on June 13th, it was scrubbed five times because of leaks, weather or scheduling conflicts and finally launched on July 15th, long after we had left.

It’s hard to get a sense of the scale but the Space Shuttle (orbiter, solid rockets and external fuel tank) is 153 ft high and the tower is 347 ft from the base of the pad to the tip of the lighting mast. This photo was taken from 0.95 miles.

Endeavor, the orbiter itself, is on the opposite side of the orange external fuel tank and surrounded by the Rotating Service Structure. The heavy line running from the tower off screen to the right is actually seven, 1200 ft slide lines for the astronauts’ escape baskets in case something goes wrong before T-minus 30 sec. The lines end behind a bunker where 2 Armored Personnel Carriers are waiting with the engines running. IMHO, not far enough, not fast enough!

Capt. Wally Schirra was asked what he was thinking while sitting atop a highly explosive mass of rocket fuel when Gemini 6’s Titan II rocket engines had a premature ignition and then flame out while on the launchpad. He said his main thought was that, “This was all put together by the lowest bidder.”

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In April of 1967, I was a nuclear reactor operator on a missile submarine moored for several weeks to a pier at the Cape Canaveral (then) Space Center. Our missile system had been recently upgraded and we were there to test fire one of our new A3 Polaris missiles down the Atlantic Missile Range. On the appointed day, we stood out to sea a couple of miles, submerged and fired one our missiles (dummy warhead), 2500 miles over the Range to splash down off the coast of French Guiana.

While there, we were given ‘professional courtesy’ and pretty much had the run of the space center. We saw several rocket launches but we were back at sea on patrol before the first unmanned test flight of the Saturn V launched in November of that year. But we got a great look at it inside the Vertical Assembly Building. It was 363 ft high and 33 ft across and there were “clouds” around the nose cone because of the enclosed atmosphere of the huge building.

The full size exhibit (longer than a football field) in this photo is made up of unused spare parts. On my visit before this one, it was still setting outside rusting. But now they’ve built this huge exhibition hall for it, a lunar Rover, a Mercury capsule, etc.

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