NASA: Rare Launch Pad and Control Center Tours

Crawler Trackway Leading to Launch Pad 39A

Crawler Trackway Leading to Launch Pad 39A

Closeup of Launch Pad 39A

Closeup of Launch Pad 39A

Flame Trench for Launch Pad 39A

Flame Trench for Launch Pad 39A

Water Sound Suppression System for Launch Pad 39A

Water Sound Suppression System for Launch Pad 39A

Launch Control Center Building Beside VAB

Launch Control Center Building Beside VAB

Launch Control Center Firing Room Floor

Launch Control Center Firing Room Floor

Launch Director's Desk Overlooking Floor

Launch Director’s Desk Overlooking Floor

Launch Control Center View.  Crawler Trackway Leads to Launch Pad 39A on Right.

Launch Control Center View. Crawler Trackway Leads to Launch Pad 39A on Right.

Space Mural in Lobby of Launch Control Center

Space Mural in Lobby of Launch Control Center

NASA is currently offering rare access tours in celebration of its 50th anniversary. 

The Launch Pad Tour takes visitors to the highly restricted area of Launch Pad 39A, where shuttles were launched into space and Apollo missions were launched to the moon.  The public has never been invited here before.  So much history!

The Launch Control Center Tour takes visitors inside Firing Room 4, which controlled all space shuttle launches since 2006.  It is where the Launch Director polls engineers for “go/no go” for launch.  The room’s iconic windows were designed by architect Martin Stein to “see mankind’s future”.   Public access has not been granted since the 1970s.

Both of these tours are only offered for a limited time.  More info is at:  http://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/launch-pad-tour.aspx

and http://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/launch-control-center-tour.aspx

Florida: Close-Up View of the Space Shuttle Atlantis

Rollout of Space Shuttle Atlantis

Side View of Space Shuttle Atlantis

Front View of Space Shuttle Atlantis

Back View of Space Shuttle Atlantis

Close-Up of Weathered Heat Shield Tiles

76-Wheel Space Shuttle Transporter

Next Generation NASA Orion Crew Module

Next Generation SpaceX Dragon Crew Spacecraft (flames come out of those nose-like holes!)

SpaceX Dragon Inside (Astronaut Seating)

Inflatable Astronaut Greeting

Last Friday was NASA’s rollout of the retired space shuttle Atlantis from the Vehicle Assembly Building to its new home at Kennedy Space Center.  The shuttle had been undergoing refurbishment as part of its transition from a working orbiter to a museum centerpiece at KSC.  Its new mission will be to inspire generations for years to come. 

The rollout ceremony was full of excitement and emotion.  As Atlantis was rolled into a special exhibit area at Exploration Park, music from Star Wars, Proud to be an American, and an original shuttle song were played.  The touching shuttle tribute song is at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7XVrhltrcU

Visitors enjoyed close-up views of Atlantis, along with displays featuring the next generation of space vehicles.

Atlantis was first delivered to KSC in 1985.  Since then she has flown 33 missions, traveled over 126 million miles, and spent 307 days in space.  Her crowning achievement was the mission that repaired the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009. 

The new building featuring Atlantis will be ready in summer 2013.  She will be displayed as-is and tipped on her side as if flying in space.  Interactive exhibits are currently being designed by engineers from Disney and Universal Studios.  KSC never fails to impress – it was awesome!

View of SpaceX Rocket Launch from Our Pond

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Launch on May 22, 2012

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Launch on May 22, 2012

The launch last night of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon spacecraft was awesome!  Like many people here on the Space Coast, I set my alarm to get up in time for the launch at 3:44 am.  The night was warm, the crickets were chirping, and an owl was hooting in the distance.  When the rockets fired, the sky lit up like a sunrise.  This long exposure image was taken at our backyard pond, which is about 40 miles south of Kennedy Space Center.  Night launches are truly the best!

UPDATE:  On March 30, 2017, SpaceX successfully reused the Falcon rocket booster that had previously been launched and landed 9 minutes afterward on the “Of Course I Still Love You” platform on an offshore drone ship near Cape Canaveral, Florida.  This achievement is a technology breakthrough and milestone in space exploration!  

NASA’s Two Crawlers

Close-Up of NASA Crawler Treads

Mobile Launch Platform on Crawler

Gravel Road to Launch Pad 39B

NASA has two massive crawlers built in 1966 that take spacecraft from the VAB to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center. The crawlers have successfully transported all of the Saturn V moon rockets and space shuttles to Launch Complex 39. NASA recently announced that one of the crawlers is being retrofitted to transport the super-size Space Launch System in 2017.  Each crawler weighs 5.5 million pounds, and travels at 1 mph over a 4 mile gravel road to the launch site.  This crawler was transporting the new Mobile Launcher Platform to Pad 39B.

Space Shuttle Landings

Space Shuttle Landing at KSC

Prior to 2001, people were allowed to view space shuttle landings at Oak Park on Kennedy Space Center property (near the end of the space shuttle runway).  Once while waiting for a landing, I particularly remember an Air Force jet flying low over us to clear the air space.  The jet was so loud that we ducked and hit the ground!  Once we heard a double sonic boom, we knew the shuttle was coming.  It was amazing to see a space shuttle fly right over our heads! 

Space Shuttle Launch Memories

Space Shuttle on Launch Pad

Shuttle Launch Pad Close-Up

Daytime Shuttle Launch Viewed from Backyard

Space Shuttle Blastoff in Evening

Space Shuttle Blastoff in Evening

Space Shuttle Blastoff at Night

Night Launch Timed Exposure

Favorite Launch Trail at Sunset/Moon Rise

Favorite Launch Trail at Sunset/Moon Rise

First Space Shuttle Launch Viewing Pass

Space Shuttle Landing

Space Shuttle Landing

Jettisoned Rocket Booster Being Towed into Port

Jettisoned Rocket Booster Being Towed into Port

Close-up of Rocket Booster

Close-up of Rocket Booster

The space shuttles are retired, but memories of shuttle launches here on the Space Coast of Florida will live on.  NASA’s night launches are the best!  First you listen to the countdown, and then watch for the glow on the horizon.  The glow is so bright, it’s like the sun rising!  Next you see the rocket rising into the air.  After a minute, you see the booster rockets fall off, glowing as they fall down to the ocean.  Finally, you hear the blastoff roar, even at a distance of 60 miles away.  Left in the sky is the contrail from liftoff (it is water vapor, not smoke).  What a spectacular sight!  Although the space shuttles are gone, there are still rocket launches to enjoy.  And a super-size rocket is in the works that will be even bigger than the shuttle!  Current space launch news is at:  http://spaceflightnow.com/  or  Florida Launch Schedule

UPDATE 2016:  Kennedy Space Center has a new memorial exhibit  dedicated to the space shuttle astronauts who lost their lives in the line of duty.  It is a very touching and heartfelt display.  After passing a wall of memorabilia shadow boxes for each astronaut, you turn a corner and see an exhibit that stops you in your tracks.  You could hear a pin drop in there.  Before you in the darkened space are the cockpit windows of the Space Shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated during reentry on February 1, 2003, and the left panel showing the American flag of  Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded on takeoff on January 28, 1986.  These events will never be forgotten.  President Ronald Reagan said, “The future doesn’t below to the fainthearted, it belongs to the brave.”  Now we are on the threshold of launching a new generation of astronauts.

Display of Space Shuttle Columbia's Cockpit Windows

Display of Space Shuttle Columbia’s Cockpit Windows

Display of Space Shuttle Challenger's Left Panel Showing the American Flag

Display of Space Shuttle Challenger’s Left Panel Showing the American Flag

President Ronald Reagen's Quote on Bravery

President Ronald Reagen’s Quote on Bravery

NASA’s VAB – Space Shuttle Inside

Space Shuttle Inside NASA's VAB

Currently the retired space shuttles are being prepared at Kennedy Space Center for museums across the country. I felt extra lucky to get this close-up view of Space Shuttle Endeavor inside the VAB on NASA’s Up-Close Tour.

%d bloggers like this: