On the last day of spring break we took our bi-annual Kennedy Space Center (KSC) trip for the Society of Physics Students (SPS) and the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS). Just like last spring, we were able to get a VIP tour, thanks to Dr. Durrance. It is just one of the many benefits of having an astronaut for a professor! The tour started at 12:30 p.m. and ended a little after 4 p.m. During that time, we were able to go places where most people are not allowed: the International Space Station (ISS) processing unit, the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the Launch Control Center(LCC) and Launch Pad A.
The ISS processing unit is where the U.S. sections of the ISS were built and stored before being sent up to orbit the Earth. It is also where experiments are tested before being sent to space, so there is a good chance that is where our ISS payload will end up when we turn it in to NASA (the newly scheduled date for that delivery is April 1 and the actual launch date is this September). We were shown where materials such as food, water, medical supplies, etc., are stored for travel to the ISS. The materials are sent up and then the storage unit is sent back with the waste collected from the ISS. Since no one really wants to clean it out, the job usually falls to the interns, or so explained one of the workers we ran into while there. We all had a good laugh at how we’re all going to school to get fancy degrees only to end up processing crap at KSC!
(Picture: Inside the ISS processing facility at the KSC.)
Next, we were off to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Like I said in my previous blog, “Kennedy Space Center Here We Come,” this is one of my favorite buildings. Just the sheer size of it is enough to create awe. When I think about how the VAB housed the Saturn V rockets during the Apollo program and the shuttles and rocket boosters during the Shuttle program – it just makes me so happy! What’s even cooler is that right now an even bigger, better and more powerful rocket than the Saturn V is in the design process. A life-size model of what the top of it will probably look like was in the VAB. I was able to get an idea of what the human passenger compartment looked like, with room for six instead of just the three like the Apollo missions. The space program is working toward more deep space travels with human passengers.
After checking out the VAB, we went next door to the Launch Control Center (LCC), a place we didn’t get to go on our last VIP tour. In fact, our tour guide was testing his new key code to see if he could get in because most tour groups do not get to go inside. How cool is that? The LCC is where the commands were sent through the chain of command to prepare for a launch – the final say on the matter being “Go for launch.” One of the coolest parts was walking past the red sign, “Authorized Personnel Only.” It was really cool to have special visitors’ passes that designated us as “authorized personnel.” Anyway, we got to see some of the old technology and, after cramming 26 people into a tiny elevator, we even got to ride up to the room where it all used to be set up. The room is fairly empty now and a new lab is being set up for future missions, with a lot of updated technology. In fact, Kennedy Space Center has several much-needed renovations underway. This is interesting, considering its technology hasn’t been updated since the beginning of the space program.
Our final stop was a place we hadn’t been to before: Launch Pad A, from where many rockets and shuttles took off. The visitor’s center has an observation deck where the pad can be seen, but our bus was permitted to go past the security clearance and drive right up to the fence surrounding the pad, as you can see in the picture of Dr. Durrance and me above. The trip was fantastic and had a wonderful mix of the old space program and the new designs that are underway. Who knows? Maybe some of us will be the people to take an active role in leading the human race back out to the stars.