Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Grand Tour

Yesterday was the reason I came down early: an opportunity to see Space Shuttle Discovery up close. Discovery landed March 9, and her next flight will be on the back of the 747 to the Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport. During her 28 year career she made over 30 flights and was the most flown orbiter in the fleet.

Of course, the three of us were first in line...

And waited patiently for our safety and background briefings. (I know you're not reading this and are looking at the photos. Bananas. See??) The lady on the left (Apologies, but I was task saturated and did not catch her name.)  had been with Discovery since she was delivered, and spoke movingly about their history together. Being a pilot I've always treated/felt my aircraft were living things, and it was heartwarming to hear her do the same to Discovery. When someone asked what it felt like to be "safing" the orbiter for delivery to the NASM she said it felt like she was getting ready to send her child off to college, and knowing it would never come home again.

I was also surprised (though I should not have been) when someone asked her background and she started listing her many degrees in engineering. As a college dropout I just went "Dayum.... I'm such a lazy bum."

Enough about that. Here you go.

We had been given VERY strict safety rules to follow. No cell phones, keys, etc. All cameras had to be on straps and could not be removed. Stay inside the lines, period. Yes Ma'am, Yes Sir, will do. Shortly after I took the photo above I told one of the escorts I wanted to try to get an image of the name on the side of the orbiter, but would stay inside the line and was given a quiet nod. As I was doing so another escort came from all the way on the other side and gave me a polite but firm butt chewing about staying inside the lines. I apologized, and as I was moving away the escort quietly said "Give me your camera.".

I don't want to get the person in trouble, but I really appreciate them taking the time to take following two images for me.

The business end of the orbiter is hidden inside all the scaffolding. The engines and OMS pods have already been removed for safeing at the fuel facility.

 From there we went to the Landing Strip. These were shot at the midfield point of the 14,000' runway.

From there it was off to see Pad 39B, which is having the gantry demolished. But first, here's a crawler-transporter getting some TLC.

The last rocket to launch from here was the Ares I-X, the first Shuttle was 51-L, Challenger's last flight.

Uhhh... I'm not sure we were suppose to see  this. So much for thoughts abut sneaking closer, I would not fare very well against a mini-gun.

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