As the space shuttle program draws to a close, NASA is working to highlight the historic nature of each of the events. On Tuesday, Sept. 28th, the last External Tank of the shuttle program wheeled out of the Pegasus Barge – early. Storm clouds had been swirling around the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in the early morning hours, pushing the rollout time up.
Weather also conspired to delay the departure of the final Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) segment from the Assembly Refurbishment Facility (ARF). After a brief ceremony that included Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana and Astronauts Chris Hadfield and Gregory C. Johnson it was announced that the final SRB segment would wait in the ARF for a couple more days until the weather system passed. The moment seemed to highlight some of the emotions that those that have worked on the SRBs are currently feeling.
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“It’s bittersweet; you know I’ve worked with the people here for the last twenty-years,” said David Beaman the manager for the Reusable Solid Rocket Booster Project, Shuttle Office. “It’s exciting to know that we’ve almost completed the mission, to know that we’re getting ready for the last couple shuttle flights.”
The External Tank traveled from NASA’s Michoud Facility located in Louisiana to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center across the Gulf of Mexico. The trip takes about 5 days and some 900 miles. The Pegasus reached the turn basin near the massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) the day prior. The day was viewed as one of reflection for those that have worked to see that the tanks arrive safely at KSC.
“It’s a sentimental day, almost nostalgic, who knows what the future brings, but at least for the shuttle program this is the last,” said KSC’s External Tank and Solid Rocket Booster Manager, Alicia Mendoza. “We are excited to have the tank, we all had our adrenaline flowing, but at the same time it is sad because it is the last tank.”
While a final determination as to whether or not there will be a third mission added to the two currently scheduled, all signs indicated that this mission will be added. Currently this mission is designated STS-335 and would be a “Launch On Need” (LON) rescue mission for the final scheduled flight of space shuttle Endeavour, STS-134. If and when this mission is given the go-ahead the crew would consist of Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Rex Walheim and Sandra Magnus. The crew would convert from training as a rescue mission to a resupply mission for the space station.
It was Robert Cabana, Kennedy Space Center’s Director that highlighted the importance of the work that was done on both the SRBs and ETs over the past three decades.
“I just want to say thank you for your hard work and dedication, thank you for thirty years supporting space shuttle operations,” said Cabana, a four-time shuttle astronaut, speaking at Tuesday’s ceremonies. “Thank you for supporting an amazing vehicle that made the assembly of the space station that’s on orbit possible, that put the Hubble Space Telescope up there; that put all the probes out there in space that has done all the things that would not have been possible without the space shuttle.”