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John Glenn’s Launch Vaulted America Back Into the Space Race February 20, 2012

Posted by skywalking1 in History, Space.

USMC Col. John H. Glenn, Jr. lifts off from Pad 14, Cape Canaveral, on Feb. 20, 1962. His spacecraft, Friendship 7, circled the Earth three times on the Mercury Atlas 6 mission. (NASA)

Today’s 50th anniversary of the launch of John Glenn aboard Friendship 7 takes me back to my 2nd grade classroom in Baltimore, MD. All classroom activity ceased as our teacher plugged in a black and white TV set at the front of the class (brought in by a parent), so we 7-year-olds could watch Glenn’s mission unfold. We were glued to the set for all five hours of the flight. And attending Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Elementary School, we were sure that our prayers helped bring him home safely.

Here are some photos I took on Feb. 3, 2012, at Glenn’s Launch Pad 14 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Glenn's Launch Pad 14. Dusk, Feb. 3, 2012. (copyright T. Jones)

View north up the ramp to the Atlas pad, Complex 14. Note Mercury monument. The Atlantic is 100 yards to the right. (T. Jones, copyright)

Welcome sign on Complex 14 entrance gate. Feb. 3, 2012 (T. Jones)

Over blockhouse door at Pad 14, the tally of historic launches. Note that the Mercury Atlas flights mistakenly use a Mercury Redstone silhouette. Feb. 3, 2012. (T. Jones)

Beneath the welcome sign, four parking spaces are reserved for Glenn, Carpenter, Schirra, and Cooper. Feb. 3, 2012. (T. Jones)

Out at Glenn’s (and Carpenter’s, Schirra’s, and Cooper’s) pad, most of the rusting metal and wiring has been cut away. A few years ago, the rusting flame bucket was still bolted to the concrete structure. Now only the concrete remains. Our human spaceflight program is on a similar trajectory: unless budgets are increased to enable NASA to aggressively restore a domestic launch capacity (most likely via a hybrid government-commercial system, just like Glenn’s Mercury Atlas), all that we’ll find at Cape Canaveral are the rusting and crumbling concrete monuments to what was once the world’s leading space program.



Searching for NASA’s Future February 7, 2012

Posted by skywalking1 in History, Space.
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Atlantis in the Vehicle Assembly Building's transfer aisle, Jan. 30, 2012.

I just finished a week of speaking at the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex, sharing with audiences my orbital experiences and hopes for a new generation of discoveries and human advances in space. As always, visitors from all over the world were fascinated to see and touch real artifacts from our half-century of space achievements, to visit the monumental facilities from which the first Moon explorers left Earth, and to imagine where we might go next in space. I share that same eagerness to explore the past, and to take part in the exciting future of space exploration.

At the Kennedy Space Center, we have no lack of evidence of our past space successes: a Saturn V moon rocket, the mammoth Vehicle Assembly Building, the twin Apollo and shuttle launch pads, and a rocket park “forest” exhibiting the pioneering vehicles of the early space age. The Visitor Complex’s museums, IMAX theaters, Shuttle Launch Experience, and interactive shows and exhibits take thousands daily on a fact-filled voyage to the space frontier.

Yet a visitor to the Kennedy Space Center today has a harder time discerning our nation’s future in space. We can see a retired space shuttle orbiter up close, but on this visit my ship Atlantis looked forlorn, missing engines and thruster pods. (That will change when she’s put on display at the Visitor Complex in 2013.) Its once-busy launch pads are now silent; Pad B, where I left for orbit on shuttle Columbia, has been stripped down to its massive foundation. The VAB still looms like a cathedral to exploration, but its empty assembly bays echo with inactivity. A few miles away on Cape Canaveral, the steel and concrete pads of the pioneering Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs are slowly losing their battle with the corrosive seaside atmosphere. More lamentable than rust and crumbling concrete are the missing workers: those who sent the shuttle aloft for three decades no longer work here – our space future did not arrive quickly enough.

Behind the scenes at the Space Center, though, there are stirrings. One shuttle hangar already houses test versions of a new astronaut transport craft. Private booster companies are building rockets to carry cargo—and eventually astronauts—to the International Space Station. They will fly this year. An old Apollo test and checkout building has been renovated into the factory for the deep-space Orion capsule. And the remaining cadre of engineers and scientists are still determined to pioneer space. Best of all, the nation’s future explorers and their families — by the thousands – still come here to learn and to dream. It all started here, and they want to experience the Cape’s history and excitement. Most of all, they want to know where and when we will launch, and explore, again.


Atlantis Awaits Display at KSC February 7, 2012

Posted by skywalking1 in History, Space.
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atlantis_hb4_smith 2-5-12

Orbiter Atlantis in High Bay 4 of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Feb. 2011. (Stephen Smith)