Friday, November 25, 2011

Marking Time in an Astronaut's Playground

On today's tour we got the briefest glimpse from the coach of MSL sitting across the bay on pad 41. We're all suited up and ready to go!

I knew that I would only be able to stay in Florida for two days, so I picked the 25th and 26th in the hopes that the launch would occur within one of the first two windows. However, with the battery failure in the Atlas-541 abort system, the launch was pushed back one day to the 26th. This opened up a hole which SMD graciously filled by adding a Kennedy Space Centre tour to our schedule. We got to go to some interesting places that the public doesn't always get to see and we were pre-cleared for the launch and issued special MSL VIP badges. You can take a look at some of the pictures I took (now updated with images from launch day!) along the way today.
Much of the tour focused on Apollo and Space Shuttle Heritage and you definitely get the feeling that this is a place that is in flux. Compared to the gantries and the VAB, the actual hardware being used today seems small. Many of the buildings are of a 1960s vintage and the launch control centre looks like it might have been the inspiration for Disney's Contemporary Resort Hotel. But one look at the crawler tracks etched in the beach cobbles out towards the pads will reveal that even though this is a place whose grounds are seeped in history, it is not a remote history. Nor is this centre a museum. The VAB, a cathedral to science and technology if ever there was one with a 525-foot interior clearance that could accommodate a skyscraper, the crawlers themselves and countless other pieces are still in use today and are available to be modified for whatever use NASA sees fit to put them too. The era of the Shuttle might be over, as evinced by the presence of Endeavour in its decommissioning bay, but with the right project this place could quickly return to life.

I'm thankful I got the chance to go on this tour. The guides were helpful and professional and everyone had a great experience. If I'm lucky enough that MSL goes tomorrow, it will have been the best possible outcome. I would have gotten to see a great deal of the centre in addition to a successful launch. Oh and about that - the latest I've heard is that the weather has a 70% chance of cooperating. 30% chance of scrubbing sounds significant, however, I'm told that here on the Florida barrier islands, 70% is about the best one can hope for. I know my fingers are crossed.

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