The Amaz!ng Meeting 2003

Electric Monk - Kennedy Space Center - Launch Complex 39

The "Up Close" tour is worth the money. We started by touring the industrial area where parts are fabricated, Shuttle payloads are delivered and prepared, and where a great deal of testing is done.

Launch pad testing facility
Launch Pad Testing Facility

The towers and platforms in the picture above are test facilities for all launch pad equipment. I had not previously considered that the pieces of the launch pad needed to be tested in addition to testing the vehicles. I thought of the launch pad as mostly something that the rocket stood on, and got out of the way once the engines fired, but thinking about the things that the launch pad had to do, including housing all of the umbilicals for fueling, powering and controlling the vehicle, the elevator to the top, the hold-down clamps with the split-second release timing, the spark throwers to prevent build-up of explosive gasses, and the water spray to dampen the sound, gave me a new appreciation for these platforms.

Sections of Apollo launch tower
Sections of the Apollo Launch Tower

The launch tower used for the Apollo mission is stored in this area in 20-foot sections. The high-speed elevator ran up the middle of these. I'm not sure what they might be keeping them for, except historical reasons.

Also in this area is a building with a 38,000 gallon washing machine, and a dryer to match. What are they used for? Cleaning and drying the Solid Rocket Booster parachutes!

Our tour guide mentioned that the Space Center was a fully self-contained operation in case of nuclear attack, with its own gas station, power generators, and zip code. I was greatly relieved for the last of these so that the mail could still get through following Armageddon.

Shuttle external tank barge
Barge That Carries the Shuttle's External Tank from Louisiana

I did not know how the Shuttle's external tank got to KSC, but I did not expect it to be by specially-designed barge from Louisiana. But then,

<Monty Python>
Nobody Expects the Specially-Designed Barge from Louisiana!
</Monty Python>

Shuttle's Crawler/Transporter - One of Two

The Crawler/Transporter has always been a facinating vehicle to me, and from the number of pictures we all took of it, I am not alone. Despite the rusty tracks, it is an impressive sight. It is 131'4" long, 114' wide, weighs 3000 tons, and can carry 6000 tons, keeping it perfectly level even while climbing the slope to the launch-pads themselves.

Crawler-Transporter cleat
Single Cleat (One of 456) for Crawler/Transporter - Weighs 2000 Pounds

This picture is out of sequence, from the Saturn V center, but the size of a single cleat from the monster machine is pretty impressive. The bench next to it will give an idea of the scale.

Launch pad 39/A
Launch Pad 39/A - Front View

Passing the Crawler/Transporter, we started up the Crawlerway toward the launch pads. Our tour guide explained that the bed of the Crawlerway was made of river rock, because other materials could not take the punishment, and because the type of rock would not spark when crushed. The bed of the Crawlerway is about seven feet deep.

We passed the observation gantry which was as close as the regular tour gets to the launch pads, waved at the poor saps stuck way back here, and kept going. We drove right along the fence surrounding the pad itself. First up was pad 39A, which had been used for the current Shuttle mission. We saw the escape lines leading from the top of the launch tower to the bunker, that were to be used in case of a launch-pad emergency.

Launch pad 39/A and hydrogen tank
Launch Pad 39/A - Opposite Angle, with Hydrogen Tank and Water Tower

We also saw the Hydrogen and Oxygen tanks used in fueling the Shuttle just before launch, and the water tower that sprays an enormous amount of water under the Shuttle to prevent the sound of the engines and booster rockets reflecting updard and damaging the Shuttle. The Hydrogen and Oxygen tanks are on opposite sides of the pad, presumably to prevent both from rupturing simultaneously. Our tour guide said that if the Shuttle blew up on the launch pad, there would be very little left for about a mile around. This put the usefulness of the escape wires in a different perspective.

Launch pad 39/B
Launch Pad 39/B and Crawler Path Leading to It

We then stopped at a viewing area mid way between launch pads 39A and 39B. My camera could not get any useful pictures from this distance, so I looked through the binoculars that Scott brought with him.

Pad 39B was much the same as 39A, but my side of the bus got a better look at the lower portions of the pad and the Crawlerway leading up to it than we did for 39A.

Our tour guide mentioned that all of the animals in the area had learned to leave the area and hide during a launch. They once found a group of 40 animals of several normally incompatible varieties (rabbits, snakes, etc.) huddled together in one den.

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