Shuttle Replica Departs Kennedy for Ocean Voyage to Houston on a Barge – Enterprise is Next

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A high fidelity replica of a NASA Space Shuttle orbiter has set off today, May 24, on an ocean going voyage by barge for NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. This trip by the Shuttle replica gives a taste of what’s to come for the upcoming barge journey by Space Shuttle Enterprise around the southern tip of Manhattan in early June.

The replica model formerly named “Explorer” departed early this morning from the turn basin at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the shadow of the iconic vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) where the real Space Shuttles and Apollo Moon rockets were assembled for launch.

The space shuttle replica first moved through the inter-costal waterway and then set sail out from Port Canaveral and into the Atlantic Ocean this afternoon for about a week’s voyage that will take her southwards around the coastline of the Florida peninsula and then into the Gulf of Mexico on a heading for Houston, Texas.

Space Shuttle replica “Explorer” floats on a barge through Port Canaveral and past cruise ships and pleasure boats on the way from KSC to JSC in Houston. Credit: Kirby Corporation

The shuttle model was towed onto the barge at KSC Tuesday afternoon (May 23) by Beyel Bros. Crane and Rigging who are responsible for loading it. Beyel workers then welded the shuttle model to the deck of the barge.

None of the real space shuttles had ever been located at this position at KSC before near the VAB and waterways and provided truly amazing and unique photographic opportunities.

Space Shuttle replica “Explorer” towed onto a barge at the Kennedy Space Center has set sail for her permanent new museum display home at the visitor complex at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The full scale replica – with the moniker Explorer removed – is being transported to her permanent new home at Space Center Houston, the visitor complex at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas.

It will arrive in Houston around June 1, depending on the weather, where a free three day public arrival welcome “Shuttlebration Weekend” is planned.

Space Shuttle replica “Explorer” on a barge at the Kennedy Space Center near the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (left) where the real shuttles were processed for space missions. Explorer is sailing to her new home at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Credit: Ken Kremer

The Explorer had been on display alongside a gantry like tower at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC) since 1993 and was enjoyed by millions of tourists since then along with full scale replica versions of the shuttle’s twin solid rocket boosters and huge external fuel tank.

The Explorer model was built was built in Apopka, Fla., by Guard Lee using schematics and blueprints provided by NASA. It’s the next best thing to having a real space shuttle. The model’s length is 122.7 feet, its height is 54 feet, and its wingspan is 78 feet.

Having been up close and inside all three of NASA’s real space shuttles, I can say that the Explorer mockup is an excellent representation of the genuine shuttle orbiters and gives a realistic sense of the airframe, heat shield tiles, cockpit and cavernous cargo bay. At KSCVC, visitors could see directly into the cargo bay housing a satellite. The Michelin wheels were genuine and had actually flown in space.

The Explorer was moved out from Kennedy’s Visitor Center on a 144 wheeled trailer in December 2011 by Beyel Bros to make way for Space Shuttle Atlantis. Atlantis will be towed to the KSC Visitor Complex in November 2012. The Visitor Complex is constructing a humongous permanent new display hall for Atlantis which is slated to open in 2013.

The Space Shuttle program was forcibly shutdown for lack of money at the direction of politicians in Washington DC after the final flight, STS-135, lifted off in July 2011, leaving the US with no capability to transport astronauts or cargo to the International Space Station since then.

The two other remaining space flown shuttles were assigned to museum locations near Washington, DC and Los Angeles. Discovery has already departed in April 2012, flying atop a 747 Jumbo Jet to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s Annex outside Washington, DC.

The Endeavour will take the last cross country airplane trip of the shuttle program in September to her permanent new resting place at the California Science Museum. The Shuttle prototype orbiter Enterprise will be displayed at the Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum in New York City starting in mid-July 2012.

The Explorer is a consolation prize of sorts for the Johnson Space Center (JSC), which lost out on the nationwide bidding to display the three now retired NASA Space Shuttles.

JSC was home to the training facilities for the Space Shuttle crews and home to the NASA astronauts who flew aboard the five shuttle orbiters for the 30 year life of the Space Shuttle program. Many folks feel JSC was shortchanged in the shuttle museum home selections process.

On Sunday, June 3, the replica shuttle will arrive at Space Center Houston where it eventually will become part of a unique display telling the story of the Space Shuttle’s achievements and the nationwide team that made them possible. Further details about Space Center Houston – here

Ken Kremer

Discovery Does Dulles & DC

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Space Shuttle Discovery took off from Florida on her final mission today atop a modified Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, headed north and ultimately did a well earned victory lap over the US capitol before closing out her flying career and landing at nearby Dulles Airport and her permanent new museum home at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia – where untold thousands and thousands gathered to witness together.

Throngs of onlookers lined the Florida Space Coast at the Kennedy Space Center to bid Discovery a tearful farewell from her home of nearly 30 highly productive years as she took off at the appointed hour of 7.a.m. EDT

Discovery flew 39 missions and delivered the incomparable and iconic Hubble Space Telescope into orbit.

Piggybacked Discovery approaches Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center on April 17, 2012. Credit: Ken Kremer

Many here and there were overwhelmingly sad that NASA’s shuttle program was prematurely cut short – barely a third of the way into the design lifetime and at the peak of performance for lack of political willpower and a small amount of federal funding, ceding US Leadership in Space.

Space Shuttle Discovery and 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft fly over the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on April 17, 2012. The duo buzzed the US capitol region before finally landing at Dulles Airport. Credit: Ken Kremer

Barely two hours later – and ahead of schedule – NASA’s Fleet leading orbiter arrived in the skies over Washington, DC greeted by cheering crowds numbering in the tens to hundreds of thousands who had gathered all across the Capitol region to celebrate the stunning sight of a Space Shuttle Orbiter flying piggyback on a Jumbo Jet just a few hundred feet overhead.

The flight crew put on a dazzling and extended display of impressive flying ability buzzing over historic sites like the Washington Monument and the US Capitol, the National Harbor and everyday abodes. They circled around and around far more than advertised – to everyone’s delight.

Discovery set to fly over the giant crowd of many thousands gathered to welcome her to the Udvar-Havy Center on April 17, 2012. Credit: Ken Kremer

I was thrilled to watch the glorious sky show from the grounds of the Smithsonian’s Undar Hazy Center along with thousands of enthusiastic and cheering gawkers. Luckily I arrived early. Because within an hour, the parking lot was completely full and well beyond capacity several hours before the Museum’s official opening time.

Just a smidgen of the massive crowd at the Udvar-Havy Center on hand to cheer Discovery’s arrival. Credit: Ken Kremer

We witnessed four ultra close flyovers, including one directly overhead. Everyone was whooping and hollering. It was like a fun family fair, kids playing and jumping all over the place. And it sure seemed like some parents kept their kids home from school a few hours to witness one in a lifetime history

Finally the wheels and landing gear of the NASA 905 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) were extended for final touchdown shortly after 11 a.m. – and a boisterous round of spontaneous applause erupted from the masses.

What a day of conflicting emotions – happy and sad, and absolutely not to be missed.

Discovery will next be hoisted off the SCA on Wednesday and then towed into her new abode on Thursday, April 19.

Stay tuned to Universe Today for continuing on-site coverage

Send Ken your flyover photos to post here at Universe Today.

Shuttle Discovery Mated to 747 Carrier for her Final Flight to Smithsonian Home

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Following a busy weekend of work, Space Shuttle Discovery is now attached piggyback style to the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and all set for the final flight to her ultimate resting place at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia on Tuesday April 17. There she will reside on permanent display for the public just a short distance outside Washington D.C.

In the predawn hours on Saturday (April 14), Discovery was towed for the last time to the Mate- Demate Device (MDD) at the Shuttle Landing Facility and NASA’s specially outfitted Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet awaiting her in Florida. But howling winds in the subsequent hours delayed the hoist and mate on the back of the huge carrier plane.

Today (Sunday, April 15), the winds calmed and technicians raised Discovery and mechanically bolted her atop the SCA jet, designated NASA 905.

“It may have taken two days because of weather, but Discovery was attached to the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft today (April 15),” NASA KSC spokesman Allard Beutel told Universe Today after the mating operation was finished.

“And we’re on track to give Discovery a proper send off to its new home on Tuesday morning.”

NASA 905 will carry out all the remaining flights to ferry Space Shuttles Discovery, Enterprise and Endeavour to their permanent museum sites in Virginia, New York and California. The last remaining shuttle – Atlantis – will be towed later this year to her new home a few miles down the road at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Towing Discovery into the mate/demate device at the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The initial mating of Discovery and the SCA in the mate/demate device was completed at about 11:15 a.m. EDT. The shuttle was finally secured to the carrier jet a few hours later on Sunday afternoon and will be backed out of the MDD on Monday, April 16.

NASA 905 will lift off at about 7 a.m. to ferry Discovery to the Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia on April 17 with a planned arrival between 10 to 11 a.m. depending on weather.

If you spot the shuttle along the way, send Ken your photos to post here at Universe Today.

The SCA will fly over multiple locations from Washington, DC to the Udvar-Hazy Center as low as 1500 feet for the public to enjoy before finally landing at Dulles Airport.

Ken hopes to be on hand at the Udvar-Hazy Center for Universe Today

Discovery’s final departure from the Kennedy Space Center marks a bittersweet time for all who worked on the shuttle program as well as fans and advocates of space exploration across the globe.

3 Generations of NASA’s Mars Rovers

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NASA Mars rovers have come a long way in terms of size and capability since the rebirth of Red Planet surface exploration just 15 years ago – spanning from 1997 to 2012.

To get a really excellent sense of just how far America’s scientists and engineers have pushed the state of the art in such a short time – when the willpower and funding existed and coincided to explore another world – take a good look at the new pictures here showing 3 generations of NASA’s Mars rovers; namely Mars Pathfinder (MPF), the 1st generation Mars rover, Mars Exploration Rover (MER), the 2nd generation, and Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), the 3rd and newest generation Mars rover.

The newly released pictures graphically display a side by side comparison of the flight spare for Mars Pathfinder (1997 landing) and full scale test rovers of the Mars Exploration Rover (2004 landing) and Mars Science Laboratory (in transit for a 2012 planned landing). The setting is inside the “Mars Yard” at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. where the teams conduct mission simulations.

It’s been nothing less than a quantum leap in advancement of the scientific and technological capability from one generation to the next.

Sojourner - NASA’s 1st Mars Rover
Sojourner takes an Alpha Proton X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) measurement of Yogi rock after Red Planet landing on July 4, 1997 landing. Sojourner was only 2 feet long, the size of a microwave oven.
Credit: NASA

Just consider the big increase in size – growing from a microwave oven to a car !

The “Marie Curie” flight spare and the actual “Sojourner” rover on Mars are 2 feet (65 centimeters) long – about the size of a microwave oven. The MER rovers “Spirit and Opportunity” and the “Surface System Test Bed” rover are 5.2 feet (1.6 meters) long – about the size of a golf cart. The MSL “Curiosity” and the “Vehicle System Test Bed” rover are 10 feet (3 meters) long – about the size of a car.

Side view of Three Generations of Mars Rovers
Front; flight spare for the first Mars rover, Sojourner. Left; Mars Exploration Rover Project test rover. Right; Mars Science Laboratory test rover Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

With your own eyes you can see the rapid and huge generational change in Mars rovers if you have the opportunity to visit the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and stroll by the Mars exhibit with full scale models of all three of NASA’s Red Planet rovers.

At the KSC Visitor Complex in Florida you can get within touching distance of the Martian Family of Rovers and the generational differences in size and complexity becomes personally obvious and impressive.

NASA’s Family of Mars rovers at the Kennedy Space Center
Full scale models on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Curiosity and Spirit/Opportunity are pictured here. Sojourner out of view. Credit: Ken Kremer

All of the Mars rovers blasted off from launch pads on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity launched atop Delta II rockets at Space Launch Complex 17 in 1996 and 2003. Curiosity launched atop an Atlas V at Space Launch Complex 41 in 2011.

Three Generations of Mars Rovers with Standing Mars Engineers
The rovers are pictured here with real Mars Engineers to get a sense of size and perspective. Front rover is the flight spare for the first Mars rover, Sojourner. At left is a Mars Exploration Rover Project test rover, working sibling to Spirit and Opportunity. At right is a Mars Science Laboratory test rover the size of Curiosity which is targeting a August 2012 Mars landing. The Mars engineers are JPL's Matt Robinson, left, and Wesley Kuykendall. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Opportunity is still exploring Mars to this day – 8 years after landing on the Red Planet, with a warranty of merely 90 Martian days.

Curiosity is scheduled to touch down inside Gale crater on 6 August 2012.

So, what comes next ? Will there be a 4th Generation Mars rover ?

Stay tuned – only time and budgets will tell.

ASF 2011 Autograph Show: To Be the Shoulders of Tomorrow’s Titans

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla – Every year the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) hosts its “Astronaut Autograph Show” at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This year it was held on Nov. 5-6 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Debus Center. The ASF coordinated with the operators of the Cocoa Beach Air Show to ensure that the show had a very dramatic ending. Continue reading “ASF 2011 Autograph Show: To Be the Shoulders of Tomorrow’s Titans”

NASA Up Close Tour: VAB and Space Shuttle Endeavour On Display

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – When guests visited the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in the past, they never knew if they would have the opportunity to see an actual space shuttle in some stage of being processed for a mission. The operators of the Visitor Complex have changed that – guests will now not only get the chance to see space shuttle Endeavour (as well as potentially Atlantis and Discovery in the future) – but to also tour the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building.

The opportunity to tour the VAB is currently being offered for a limited time and only to a limited number of Visitor Complex guests per day as part of KSC Up-Close, a new two-hour, guided special interest tour that began on Nov. 1. While touring inside the VAB itself is considered a treat, to actually be just a short distance away from one of the three remaining orbiters to conduct missions to and from orbit – is a rare thing indeed.

One, almost universal, reaction that guests displayed was craning their necks to see all the way to the ceiling of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/awaltersphoto.com

“We are very pleased to have the ability to offer to our guests the opportunity to see not just the inside of the Vehicle Assembly Building – but one of the orbiters as well,” said the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Public Relations Manager Andrea Farmer. “While we don’t know the exact time frame – but this tour should be offered throughout 2012 and possibly into 2013.”

While undoubtedly one of the most memorable stops on the tour, the VAB tour stop is just one stop on this tour. Other stops include; NASA’s KSC Headquarters, the Operations & Checkout building (O&C), as well as the NASA Causeway providing a view of the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Guests who choose to go on the KSC Up-Close tour should call ahead as seats on this tour are limited and the tour might not be available every day. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

From here, guests can see launch pads 17, 37, 40, and 41, which are currently used for commercial and government launches.

After their stop at the VAB, guests will get to see the massive Crawler Transporters and “Crawlerway”. Guests will also get to see the Pegasus barge used to haul the shuttle’s large External Fuel Tanks (ETs) from Louisiana; the famous blue countdown clock and the Shuttle Landing Facility.

Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour all will be in and out of the Vehicle Assembly Building in the future, allowing guests the opportunity to see these spacecraft first hand. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

The last place that guests will visit is two hills where NASA remotely shoots launch photography and videography. On one side guests can see Launch Complexes 39A and B and on the other side is the Atlantic. This will provide guests to see the renovations that are currently being done to LC-39B in preparation for commercial launches or for the use for the Space Launch System (SLS).

Guests who had the opportunity to take the tour were amazed at what they were seeing, the sheer scale of the facilities and vehicles – as well as the history that they were walking through.

Three-time shuttle veteran Sam Gemar thinks that this new tour is important in allowing the public to gain a greater appreciation for U.S. human space flight efforts.

“Having flown to space myself, I cannot express strongly enough how much of a tremendous opportunity it is for the public to see the actual vehicles that have sent astronauts into space for the past three decades,” Gemar said. “Kennedy Space Center is where America goes to space and the KSC Up – Close tour allows us to share the history of the Vehicle Assembly Building with the world.”

Although the Visitor Complex cannot guarantee that whenever a guest arrives that they will be able to see a space shuttle inside the VAB (each of the orbiters are being processed for display in their new homes in Los Angeles, CA, Washington, D.C. and Florida. Eventually shuttle Atlantis, which will placed be display in a new facility at the Visitor Complex in 2013.