So today was my birthday. We went to the Kennedy Space Center and did the “Up Close Tour”. We saw the shuttle on the pad (but the orbiter itself was hidden beneath the rotating service structure), the assembly buildings, Saturn V exhibit, etc. We experienced the Shuttle Launch Simulator. On the nature side, we saw 2 bald eagle nests (no eagles), a few alligators, and lots of birds. I learned some things I didn’t know before. For example:
The sparks you see beneath the shuttle main engines are not to ignite the engines, they are to burn off any hydrogen that might pool down there.
The water that you see pouring down over the launch tower (and in the fire trenches) is 400,000 gallons of water pumped onto the launch pad in less than 30 seconds. It’s purpose: To absorb the sound that would otherwise damage the structures. As a bonus it sucks up heat — thus the plumes of steam at liftoff.
Speaking of heat vs. sound. The heat is lethal as you would expect but only to about 400 feet. The sound pressure is surprisingly lethal to 800 feet!
The closest humans to the shuttle at liftoff, besides the astronauts, are the advance fire fighter team at about 1 mile. They wear fireproof suits and sit in armored personnel carriers. In rare cases a VIP has been able to get a seat with them — typically a politically connected decorated firefighter.
Before launch they set off pyrotechnics to scare wildlife away to minimize the impact — see heat and sound above.
We also saw where they are assembling the International Space Station Modules like Canada’s manipulator arm (thanks for the hand, eh.)
We will be in Titusville on the 7th for launch — it’s the best place to view if you don’t have a ticket for the NASA causeway, which sell out minutes after going on sale 6 months before launch.
There is a night launch on March 11th and we’ll probably catch that one too.
The Shuttle Program is scheduled to end in 2010, BTW. So if you haven’t been there, done that, consider it.