Timelapse: Clouds and Plume Amid Endeavour’s Launch

Photographers David Gonzales and Mike Deep shot this footage from the Kennedy Space Center Press Site for Universe Today of the final launch of NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour. See the launch approximately 27 times as fast, (don’t blink — you might miss it!) and watch how the smokey plume changes over time as it is tugged on by wind and casts a changing shadow on the cloud deck below. Replayed at 15 fps.

Below, see a timelapse of the RSS retract on May 15.

Continue reading “Timelapse: Clouds and Plume Amid Endeavour’s Launch”

NASA Sets May 16 for Last Launch of Endeavour; Atlantis Slips to July


KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – NASA managers set May 16 as the new launch date for the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour after technicians completed work to rewire and retest a switchbox in the orbiters aft compartment. Shuttle managers ordered the repair work following a heater malfunction that forced NASA officials to call off the planned April 29 launch.

At a briefing for reporters today (May 9) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Shuttle managers Mike Moses and Mike Leinbach announced that Endeavour’s last liftoff is now targeted for 8:56 a.m. EDT on Monday, May 16.

“Right now, we’re in good shape,” said Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach.

“Endeavour’s looking good, the team is upbeat. I went to the meeting this morning and they’re ready to go. Hopefully, this time the heaters will work and we’ll be able to launch on time next Monday morning.”

Repairs to Space Shuttle Endeavour have been completed at launch pad 39 A. Arrow shows location of access door used by technicians to swap out the faulty Aft Load Control Assembly (ALCA-2) near the main engines and install new wiring. Credit: Ken Kremer

The STS-134 mission is the penultimate flight of the space shuttle program and will deliver the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station.

Endeavour’s last launch attempt on April 29 was scrubbed about four hours prior to blastoff when critical hydrazine fuel line heaters failed to turn on inside one of the orbiters three auxiliary power units (APU’s).

Technicians have been working around the clock to resolve the problems and determined that the likely cause of the heater failure was an electrical short inside the ALCA -2 load control assembly box located in the aft section of the shuttle (see photo).

They installed about 20 feet of new wiring, a new ALCA box and then retested all related systems over the past week and a half.

“We’ve replaced everything except the heaters, and we’ve wrung those out with at least five separate checks and full functionals afterwards and now have extremely high confidence that the problem is no longer on the ship or in any of the electronics,” said Mike Moses, the Shuttle launch integration manager at the Kennedy Space Center.

At the NASA Shuttle Logistics Depot in Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Load Control Assembly-2 (LCA-2) is uncovered for testing. Located in space shuttle Endeavour's aft avionics bay 5, the LCA-2 distributes power to nine shuttle systems. LCA-2 was replaced and all systems were retested. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The APU’s control the shuttles hydraulics which power the steering of the main engines, wings, wheels and rudders during ascent and re-entry. The three units must all be fully functional before NASA can commit to any shuttle launch as part of the launch commit criteria (LCC). If the heaters fail during flight, the hydrazine can freeze and clog the fuel lines and render the hydraulics inoperative. A rupture in the lines could result in toxic hydrazine leaking into the shuttles aft engine compartment.

The potential launch window for Endeavour’s final flight extends through May 26, except for May 21.

The all veteran six man crew led by Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly is due to fly to the Cape on Thursday, May 12 from their training base in Houston. The STS-134 mission has been officially extended to 16 days from 14 days and will include 4 spacewalks.

The launch countdown will commence on Friday, May 13 from the beginning of the nominal 41 hour countdown sequence.

As a consequence of Endeavour’s delays, the launch of the very final shuttle mission of Space Shuttle Atlantis will likely be delayed to mid-July, although Moses and Leinbach did not give a specific target date.

Read my related stories about the STS-134 mission here:
Endeavour’s Final Launch further delayed another Week or more
On the Cusp of Endeavour’s Final Flight
Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown
Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight
President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Endeavour Mated to Rockets for Last Flight Photo Album
Endeavour Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building for Final Flight

NPR Radio interview including Ken here:
Shuttle Fixes Will Take At Least One Week

STS-134 crew plans to fly back to the Kennedy Space Center on May 12 in anticipation of May 16 launch. Here they posed for photographers at Shuttle Landing Facility on April 26 ahead of the scrubbed first launch attempt on April 29, 2011. Mission Specialists Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel, Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Greg H. Johnson, Mission Specialist Mike Fincke and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori.. Credit: Ken Kremer
Space Shuttle managers Mike Moses (Launch Integration) and Mike Leinbach (Launch Director) at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer
Ken Kremer and Mike Leinbach (right) discuss Endeavour at a prior news briefing at the Kennedy Space Center.
Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now

Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown


KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – A large brush fire suddenly broke out this today (April 27) less than 1 mile fom the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Press Site in the midst of the countdown to Space Shuttle Endeavour’s last launch, set for this Friday, April 29.

Huge plumes of billowing smoke were sent skyward over the spaceport starting around 1 p.m. from the fires and were spread out over more than 100 acres. The fires erupted at some distance behind the NASA Tweeters tent erected at the press site and were located just 3 miles from the shuttle launch pad. The cause of the fires is unknown but occurred after a long spell of dry weather at KSC.

Brush fire view from the countdown clock at press site at the Kennedy Space Center on April 27. Helicopters dumped water from buckets to bring the fire under control. Credit: Ken Kremer

Helicopters and NASA Firefighters were called in to put out the fires. Fire trucks careened past the countdown clock towards the nearby fire. The helicopters flew back and forth all afternoon dumping buckets of seawater onto the wildfires trying to bring it under control.

“The shuttle launch pad was never in any danger due to the Turn basin in between and it hasn’t impacted any launch operations,” KSC spokesman Allard Beutel told Universe Today.

The Universe Today team of Alan Walters and Ken Kremer witnessed the spectacular and potentially frightening scene first hand and onsite.

It looked like Armageddon all afternoon long and was finally contained tonight. Nothing like this ever occurred so close to a launch and its not clear if the fire would have caused a scrub on launch day. Check out our up close photo album.

NASA Fire truck at the Countdown clock during brushfires at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer
NASA Fire brigade responds to KSC brush fire. Credit: Ken Kremer
Firefighters at KSC brush fire. Credit: Ken Kremer
A member of the KSC fire crew assesses the fire situation. Credit: Alan Walters.
A helicopter flies through the smoke and haze at KSC on April 27 during the brushfire. Credit: Alan Walters.
Photographers set up in attempt to photograph Endeavour on the launchpad, but smoke hinders their view. Credit: Alan Walters.
Fire at Kennedy Space Center, April 27, 2011. Credit: Alan Walters.

‘In Flight’ Shuttle Orbiter retirement display planned by Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex


‘In Flight’ …. That’s the heart of the dramatic plan to showcase a Space Shuttle Orbiter being proposed by the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC) as they seek to win the heated competition to become the permanent new home to one of NASA’s three soon to be retired Orbiters.

Honoring the past, embracing the future of human spaceflight and celebrating the spirit of human determination; this is the new theme planned by the Visitor Complex at Kennedy so that guests of all ages will feel like they are embarking on an interactive space expedition. See the ‘In Flight’ graphic illustration above.

Some 21 science centers and museums across the US are bidding for the once in a lifetime chance to house NASA’s surviving shuttle orbiters; Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour.

“The Kennedy Space Center is the home of the Space Shuttle unlike all the other places,” said Bill Moore, Chief Operating Officer of KSCVC. I spoke to Moore at KSC in an exclusive interview for Universe Today.

“All of the shuttle missions have launched from here, not anywhere else. So Kennedy is their home. And they all eventually come back here at the end of each mission. So we have a compelling story to tell about their history at KSC and the future.”

Shuttle Endeavour and the White Room
Shuttle orbiter display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will include many shuttle artifacts, including the White Room - shown here attached to shuttle Endeavour. Astronauts walk
through the white room to enter the shuttle crew cabin. Credit: Ken Kremer

The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, Washington, D.C., has long been expected to be picked as the retirement home for Space Shuttle Discovery, the oldest orbiter. That leaves Atlantis and Endeavour remaining in the bidding war. Since the Smithsonian currently displays the shuttle Enterprise, that unflown orbiter would also be up for grabs by another venue.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will decide the final site selections. He is scheduled to announce the winner of the nationwide competition on April 12, which is the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle flight (STS-1) by Columbia on April, 12, 1981.

Another location that plays a pivoital role in the U.S. space program is NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, home to Mission Control. Johnson Space Center is also home base for the shuttle astronauts and houses the facilities where they train for space missions. The Johnson Visitor Center – Space Center Houston – has proposed a 53,000 square foot pavilion with interactive exhibits.

The proposed new 53,000-square-foot space shuttle exhibit located at the Visitor Center at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston will be an interactive, educational experience that encourages student interest and commitment to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. NASA’s Johnson Space Center plays a vital role in the US Space program. Johnson is home to Mission Control, the shuttle astronauts and the astronauts training base. Credit: Space Center Houston

Many of those who work on space projects feel strongly that two of the orbiters should unquestionably be awarded to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and the Johnson Space Center JSC) since these are the two locations most intimately involved with the Space Shuttle program. All the crews were trained at JSC and blasted off to space from KSC.

Among the other contenders in the running to house an orbiter are; the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City; the Adler Planetarium in Chicago; the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio; the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama; the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

The Adler envisions a dynamic exhibition of the Space Shuttle Orbiter in which visitors will have an opportunity to get up close to this national treasure. Proposed exhibition elements including a simulator will help families experience space exploration first-hand. Credit: Adler Planetarium

At the Kennedy Visitor Complex, a brand new 64,000 square-foot hall would be constructed to display the orbiter “In Flight”. The exhibit would engage viewers in an up close experience to see how the vehicle actually worked in space and also feature its major accomplishments; such as building the International Space Station (ISS) and upgrading the Hubble Space Telescope.

The orbiter home is projected to cost some $100 million and would be the marquee element of the master plan entailing a transformative overhaul of the entire visitor complex at Kennedy, according to Moore.

The KSCVC concept is outlined in a thick book with extensively detailed story boards and drawings. Clearly, a lot of hard work and thought has gone into designing KSCVC’s proposal to house an orbiter and integrate it with a complete renovation and update of the spaceport tour facilities. The goal is to satisfy the interests of the whole family- not just hard core space geeks.

“We (KSCVC) will display the orbiter tilted, like it is flying in space and at work. Because that’s the way people think about the orbiter – working in space. Not sitting on the ground on three wheels,” Moore explained to me.

“So, our job at KSC is to show the shuttle’s working time as it is flying in space. The payload bay doors will be open and the robotic arm will be extended. Some type of cargo will be inside. We will also show the Hubble and the ISS with models, giant video screens and murals, because we think that’s key to understanding the role of the shuttle.”

Tilted Endeavour 'In Flight'
This tilted view of Space Shuttle Endeavour ‘In Flight’ may give an impression of what visitors might experience in the shuttle orbiter exhibit planned by the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex if they are selected as a permanent home for the retired vehicle. I snapped this photo inside the Vehicle Assembly Building while Endeavour was vertically tilted and being hoisted by cables in mid-air. The photo has been rotated 90 degrees to look as though it were horizontal. Credit: Ken Kremer

Moore told me that this will be the largest building ever constructed at KSCVC, even bigger than the popular Shuttle Launch Experience completed a few years back.

“When people come into the exhibit, their first view will be to see the orbiter as though someone would see it by looking out from the ISS, up against a gorgeous backdrop of the Earth, the Sky and the Universe.”

“The point is to make you believe that you are actually seeing the orbiter in space. Visitors will be able to view the orbiter from many different angles,” said Moore.

The shuttle will be shown as it really looks and is flown with the heat shield tiles, with all its scorch marks, pits, scars and imperfections.

“We do not want the orbiter to be polished to a pristine state,” Moore stated firmly.

“We want to expose as many people as possible from around the world to this wonderful vehicle and to what’s happened up there in space.”

“The vehicle is just part of the story. The story is much bigger.

Historic Final Landing of Space Shuttle Discovery
Space Shuttle Discovery concluded her magnificent final journey with a safe landing on March 9, 2011 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Discovery is the first shuttle to be retired and will likely be housed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Credit: Ken Kremer

“The purpose of the display building is that we want to show the whole story of what the shuttle has done and all the major milestones. The people who processed and cared for the orbiters are also part of the story,” Moore amplified.

“We will remember and show the story of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, what we learned from the accidents and then fixed lots of issues to get to a better flight system.”

I asked Moore, when will the exhibit open ? “I would like to open the exhibit by mid to late 2013,” he replied.

The orbiter will be showcased with components from the shuttle’s history. “We have the beanie cap, the white room and a fairly large collection of many other artifacts, parts and items beyond just the orbiter that will be used to tell the story of the shuttle program.”

“The shuttle story covers 30 remarkable years,” said Moore.

Only two flights remain until the shuttles are forcibly retired for lack of many and some say willpower to continue exploring.

The final flight of Endeavour on the STS-134 mission is set for April 19. Atlantis is honored with the shuttle programs very last mission, STS-135, slated for late June 2011.

Discovery just landed on her historic final mission on March 9 – a thrilling and bittersweet experience for all who work and report on the shuttle program. Discovery is being decommissioned and now belongs to history although she has a lot of life left in her.

Stay tuned for the April 12 announcement of the Orbiter homes selected.

Space Shuttle Atlantis at Pad 39 A at the Kennedy Space Center.
Atlantis will blast off on the final mission of the shuttle era in late June 2011. Credit: Ken Kremer
Space Shuttle at Intrepid. The Intrepid states it has plenty of room at Pier 86 to house a space shuttle. The shuttle would be displayed in a dedicated building with plenty of viewing platforms to give guests an up close look into one of these orbiters. Credit: Intrepid Museum
The National Museum of the United States Air Force is in the midst of a multi-phase, long-term expansion plan. The next major program initiative is a new Space Gallery which would house the orbiter in a new climate controlled Iindoor display hanger. The Air Force is most interested in Atlantis due to it being the primary Air Force/Department of Defense shuttle. Atlantis has included more than 30 Air Force astronauts among its crews. The Air Force and DoD also play critical roles in shuttle launch and recovery operations in a continuous, decades-long partnership with NASA. Credit: USAF
The proposed Shuttle Gallery at the Seattle Museum of Flight features a glass room for the Space Shuttle with a view of the stars. Credit: Seattle Museum of Flight

Optimus Prime Defends Kennedy Space Center! Transformers 3 Filming at Spaceport


NASA’s Kennedy Space Center came under attack from the merciless Decepticons this week. However, Optimus Prime and his valiant band of Autobots fended them off, and then stood watch over the space center for the remainder of the week – along with the cast and crew of “Transformers 3, The Dark of the Moon.” Although the set was closed – there were some interesting revelations about what one can expect to see in the third installment of the highly-successful film franchise – including a very special guest star.

Journalists that were present on Oct. 7, for the delivery of STS-133’s payload were treated with the sights and sounds of Hollywood. Although these reporters and correspondents were kept on a very short leash the journalists present still managed to see the Autobots leader in truck mode, some actors in black soldier gear and some other tantalizing tidbits.

Numerous KSC employees have been selected to act as extras in the film. This serves the purpose of creating added realism to the film. Instead of training someone to “look” they know what they’re doing – more-likely-than-not those are the actual workers who do that job at America’s spaceport everyday. Outside of this film being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to appear in a big budget summer blockbuster, it also provided an opportunity to rub shoulders with real and upcoming movie stars.

Already, John Turturro, the actor that portrays Agent Simmons in the film has been spotted wheeling in and around the Vehicle Assembly Building. Shia LaBeouf (Sam Witwicky) has been seen with his character’s new love interest Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Carly) wandering the set.

Optimus Prime rests in front of the Pegasus Barge that delivered the final External Tank to Kennedy Space Center. Photo Credit: Universe Today/Alan Walters

There is however one star whose presence in the film has been kept top secret. Her identity however, is crucial to the plot of the film which is said to revolve around the space age. She is none other – than the space shuttle Discovery. That’s right, the orbiter that returned America to flight twice is revealed to actually be a transformer. That is at least what sources close to the film are saying. Michael bay, the film’s director, had his computer hacked during the filming of the first Transformers movie and has been notorious about spreading disinformation.

For NASA, having a motion picture film at KSC is a no-brainer. The Transformers series of movies is very popular with children and young people and this allows them to relay the NASA story to a whole new audience.

“This gives us the chance to open up what we do, real space exploration to audiences that we may not already have in a blockbuster film,” said NASA’s KSC News Chief Allard Beutel. “We’re talking about a worldwide audience and it’s a natural fit in the sense that it is sci-fi and real space exploration but also it allows us to get into the theatres and let kids see what we do, inspire them to look into what NASA is all about and reach an audience we may not normally reach.”

See the Sunrise Daily at Kennedy Space Center


Sunrises are beautiful almost any place in the world, but for some reason first light every morning over Central Florida is almost always breathtaking. Then, if you add into the mix a sunrise over Kennedy Space Center — America’s Spaceport — any space geek will likely melt with delight. Thanks to Jen Scheer, a shuttle technician at KSC, anyone can see the sunrise over the space center almost every day. Jen takes tons of images at KSC and shares them via Twitter (follow her @flyingjenny) and her Flickr page, but her specialty is taking a daily picture or two of the sunrise. “I’ve been taking sunrise pics since 2006,” Jen told me, “but only sporadically until early January of this year. That’s when I began stepping it up a bit, and it became a daily thing.”

Some of the images have some interesting landmarks or space-related features in them, too, such as the image above, or the one below that includes the Vertical Processing Facility which housed many parts of Hubble at one time, as well as Chandra and others. This image is especially poignant as that building was recently torn down. “In some of my sunrise pics, you can see the progression of it being dismantled,” Jen said.

'Serene' by Jen Scheer. The building on the left is the Vertical Processing Facility, which is now demolished.

But don’t wait very long to take advantage of Jen’s marvelous photography. With the shuttle program ending soon, Jen’s job will be eliminated and she likely will not be working at KSC much longer. “We all love the shuttle program and will be very sad to see it come to an end,” Jen said. (Read our previous article, “Tough Times Could Be Ahead for Kennedy Space Center.“) “There are a lot of people who have no idea what they are going to do when it is all over. I’m looking into some possibilities, but we’ll just have to see how everything turns out.”

As an avid supporter of spaceflight, Jen also started the Space Tweep Society, an organization with a mission to “promote enthusiasm for all things space and to unite those inside the space industry with those who are outside looking in.” Check out the website for how you can get involved.

A Space Shuttle Tradition that’s Full of Beans


Even though today’s space shuttle launch took place during the early morning hours (Kennedy Space Center local time) the post-launch celebration meal for the launch control team consisted of hearty helpings of beans and cornbread. But that’s nothing new. Every single successful space shuttle launch since the very beginning of the shuttle program has been followed by beans and cornbread. It’s a tradition.

Even though the the Launch Control Center at Kennedy Space Center is one of the most unique “offices” in the world, like many other places of work, people bring in food to share with their co-workers. The story goes that when the launch teams were preparing for the very first shuttle flight in 1981, people would bring in covered dishes so the teams would have food during the long hours of tests and simulations. Norm Carlson, one of the test directors brought in a crockpot of beans along with some cornbread, and after the flawless STS-1 lift-off, the hungry team members rapidly consumed the delicious beans and cornbread.

Norm Carlson serving up his beans. Credit: Kennedy Space Center

So, for the next flight, Carlson brought in two crockpots of beans and additional cornbread. Again, the beans and cornbread disappeared after STS-2.

A page on the KSC website tells the story:

“On each subsequent launch, Mr. Carlson kept bringing more crock pots filled with beans, and on each subsequent launch the beans would disappear in short order.

Finally, sensing that it was getting too difficult to bring in enough crock pots to feed everyone, Mr. Carlson switched to an 18 quart cooker, and set up shop on the fourth floor of the LCC, just above the firing rooms. The call “Beans are Go!” came to signal that the shuttle had successfully launched, and it was time to relax and unwind.”

The tradition continued, even after Carlson retired and now 60 gallons of beans are prepared for every launch as an official NASA function.

Since the phrase “full of beans” means having lots of energy and enthusiasm, it seems fitting that beans are part of the space shuttle tradition at KSC, and that tradition will undoubtedly live on along with the amazing legacy that the shuttle program encompasses. It seems almost unbelievable that perhaps only three more space shuttles will take flight.

The Inside KSC Blog provides what is thought to be the original recipe for Carlson’s beans:

Norm Carlson’s Space Beans Recipe

6 pounds Great Northern dried beans
10 pounds ham cut into cubes, plus ham bones
3 pounds chopped onions
2 stalks celery
1/2 shaker lemon pepper
1 teaspoon Liquid Smoke

Cover with water in an 18-quart electric cooker and cook 8-12 hours.

Sources: KSC website, Inside KSC blog

Podcast: Behind the Scenes at NASA TV


Listen to the audio of this podcast at this link.

You can also read the interviews below.

Hi, this is Nancy Atkinson from Universe Today. Right now I’m at Kennedy Space Center, and I’ve had the opportunity to see a couple of launches and cover other events that normally, I’d be back home watching on NASA TV. Since NASA TV is part of my daily diet of space media, I was very interested to see the newsroom, step in the auditorium where all the press conferences are held, and also talk with some of the people who work at NASA TV at Kennedy Space Center, or KSC TV as they call it, to find out about the work that they do, and also what it’s like to provide some of the most unique and exciting coverage anywhere on — and off — the planet. I chatted with producers, directors, technicians and other people who work behind the scenes, plus I also had the good fortune to talk with one of the voices of NASA TV, George Diller.

Here are some of our conversations.

Listen to the audio of this podcast at this link.

Allie Lee, Producer.

Allie Lee, Producer for KSC TV/NASA TV. Image: Nancy Atkinson

Nancy: I’m now here with Allie Lee and you are a producer for NASA TV?

Allie: I am, for Kennedy Space Center Television.

Nancy: What are some of the things you get to do. Or have to do?

Allie: I’m in charge or preparing the launch countdown show prior to launch and all the press conferences and media briefings that we do leading up to launch. But the most exciting thing that I get to do is work with the launch commentator, which a lot of times is George Diller, and work with him about what elements we’re going to put in the show, what things do we need to show on NASA TV, and I get to sit in the control room with all the fabulous employees that we have and watch the astronauts and the space shuttle get ready to launch.

Nancy: How long have you been here?

Allie: I’ve been here five years.

Nancy: Any memorable moments or times, or launches that you have been a part of?

Allie: I think the last launch was pretty special (STS-130). It happens to be the first one I got to do by myself as a producer. It was a fun launch, a beautiful launch in the evening. It was just wonderful to see the astronauts come out and get loaded up into the shuttle and wait for it and hear that countdown.
I would also say that another memorable flight would be STS-114, the return to flight. That was my first launch being here, and I happened to be pregnant with my little boy, so that was a nice launch.

Nancy: What are some of the challenges? Do you have to worry about timing and how you get everybody in and all the shots you want?

Allie: You do. There is a lot of tricks with it. As the producer you have to work very closely with the director who works closely with the field cameramen and the camera operators. You have to follow the astronauts schedule very closely and make sure that when a special milestone happens that the NASA TV commentator knows that it is happening, and that the director and the photographers all have that shot up on the TV so that everyone can see it and the commentator can talk about it.

You also have to be listening to the nets, to the loops and you get to listen all the people in the firing room discussing the launch. You have to listen for weather problems, weather issues. You have to listen for things that are going well, things that are not going well so that you can advise the NASA TV commentator so that he or she is preparing so they can give notice to the public, should they need to. So those are the things that are the challenges.

Working as a producer at Kennedy Space Center is a unique job, in that it is the only job like it in the world. So it is really special to me. It’s special to the whole team, but it is great to be part of this team.

Nancy: So, as you see the shuttle program coming to the end, does it…

Allie: It’s really sad. It’s really sad because we enjoy it so much and it is so beautiful. It’s going to be sad to see it go. I get to produce rocket launches, too, and those are wonderful. I’m excited that I get to be the producer for the last shuttle, I can tell you that.

Nancy: Thank you very much!

Dimitri Gerondidakis, Director.

Dimitri Gerondidakis in front of the Vehicle Assembly Building at KSC. Image: Nancy Atkinson

Nancy: And now I’m with Dimitri Gerondidakis. And you are one of the directors for NASA TV?

Dimitri: Yes.

Nancy: Can you me about a typical day for you, or the kinds of things you get to do?

Dimitri: Well, are you talking launch day?

Nancy: Launch day, that would be good!

Dimitri: OK, because every other day I’m just one of the troops and go out and get video and stills of different processing. But on launch day I’m lucky enough to get to direct the NASA TV launch coverage. Directing a shuttle launch is a lot different than directing news or sports or anything like that because with the shuttle launch there are actually required shots at certain times, for the paperwork for the engineers. There is a lot of timing out – at this time we need to show the engine and show the sparklers lighting the main engines. We need to stay with that shot until, what they call the mach diamonds form, coming out of the engines.

It’s not the most creative TV directing in the world, but it is no doubt exciting. The adrenaline really starts pumping.

The control room at NASA TV at Kennedy Space Center. Image: Nancy Atkinson

Nancy: So, you’re not only getting shots not only for us watching NASA TV, but for the engineers as well?

Dimitri: Right. I believe what I learned is that we were a news feed, so there are no dissolves; its straight cuts and stuff like that. And during the polls, we want to show the launch director polling his team. Whenever there are astronauts and we can see them, it is a required shot, like ingressing. If you watch the coverage you’ll notice that once we see astronauts we don’t get off of astronauts until they are no longer visible, like when they pull those cameras out of the crew cabin.

There’s room for some creativity, don’t get me wrong. I mostly rely on the awesome cameramen we have here that sometimes get to show their “artsy” side. They do a great job of it. Praise goes to them really. I just pick the shots I like!

Nancy: Well, I think it is always interesting to watch the launches for the variety of things you do get to see. You get to see behind the scenes – the astronauts going into the vehicle. That’s very interesting.

Dimitri: Oh yeah, that’s always a fun part of the show. There’s the part when we go into the Operations and Checkout building and we see them all suiting up and they are waving and this and that. And it’s anxious wait for us because we are waiting for them to pop out into that hallway. So while you’re trying to put on a decently entertaining good show/news feed, whatever you want to call it, you have your one eye on that hallway camera, because as soon as they come out…

Nancy: It’s one thing you don’t want to miss!

Dimitri: It’s an exciting part of the show. If the show were condensed down to 10 minutes you would probably start from there, the astronauts getting on, and coming out of the 9 minute hold.

Nancy: Right. For landing, is it kind of a waiting game like it is for the rest of us, you just have to wait and see when it is going to happen?

Dimitri: And there’s a little competition between the guys out there on the cameras who can see it first and get the shot. It’s funny, because typically they land from the north to the south, unless winds are… this is my opinion, I’m not sure if this is fact or not, but it seems to be the majority of the landings here. Well, we’re all rooting for a south to north because we have a camera on the VAB roof and you’ll see when it lands from south to north, we pullout with this big, beautiful shot with Titusville in the background, you got the rivers, the lagoons, and here’s the shuttle dropping in like a brick, almost. It just makes for a really cool shot. So there’s some friendly competition out there.

Nancy: So, coming up we have a night landing. I’m assuming that makes it a little bit harder?

Dimitri: Yeah, we don’t have our long range tracker, we have an infrared tracker which picks up a little heat signature. The first thing you see on the screen is this little white dot, and you’re going, is that it? Is that it? And finally it will start to take the shape of the shuttle and they’ll start tracking it and its pretty much infrared, which is not the prettiest picture in the world. Until I get that pilot’s point of view feed, and I’m not sure when I get it or why when I get it but you can see their point of view and the runway and the lights and then it becomes a little prettier, no doubt. Then it gets into the Xenon lights and it gets like daytime.

Nancy: Yeah, I bet! Any memorable moment that you’ve had in your time here? How long have you been with NASA?

Dimitri: I originally worked at NASA Headquarters and directed some shows there. I and a producer, my friend Tony, followed Sean O’Keefe around to different centers and did his NASA Update show. Came down here, I think it was five years ago. They were looking for someone to direct, and I asked the wife is she wanted to move to Florida and the kids loved it and so we did.

So the most memorable would have to be return to flight. The place was buzzing; it was my first. I kind of got thrown to the fire. I asked the bosses, can I watch someone else direct it first, because I have no idea what goes into it. “Nah, just get in there and do it!” So there was a lot of adrenalin and there were a lot of us new hires for return to flight, there were a lot of people here, the place was buzzing. It was probably the one I remember most.

Nancy: OK, thanks Dimitri!

Loren Mathre, Audio.

Loren Mathre at the audio control panel at NASA TV at Kennedy Space Center. Image: Nancy Atkinson

Nancy: And now I’m talking with…

Loren: Loren Mathre.

Nancy: And what do you do at NASA TV?

Loren: I work in the audio control room. We support NASA TV when it comes to any aspect of audio. For launches we put microphones out at the pad, we have one that’s maybe 100 feet from the orbiter itself and we pick up from the sparkler, so when you watch it on TV and you see the water dump and you hear that “whoooosh” and you hear the sparklers kick on, people just take it for granted that you hear that, but we have microphones out there. So we have one out there, we have one on the pad perimeter to pick it up as soon as it is launching. And then we put one on the beach, pointing straight up to get that low level rumbling you hear when the shuttle has launched.

Nancy: This was my first launch that I was here for, for Endeavour, and the thing that got me was the sound.

Loren: The sound is impressive!

Nancy: It engulfs you! So how do you – and I tried to record it and it just basically distorted everything, so what to you have to do to get good sound?

Loren: It is a fine mix. It is a different mix every launch depending on the weather, the temperature – sound travels at different levels, different speeds depending on what is in the atmosphere. The microphone we put out on the pad we’re only on that when the sparklers ignite on. Once the engines kick on you have to get off that immediately, or you have nothing but overdriven clipping noise. The pad perimeter mic, it overdrives immediately as well, but you have to ride that a little bit, so it’s a fine tuning of riding the fader and the trim pot until the microphone at the beach picks up the audio. Once the microphone at the beach picks up the audio, you’re pretty much good because the shuttle is so far away. That’s where you hear that low level crackling.

Nancy: How long have you worked here?

Loren: I’ve worked here in the TV department for 10 years. I used to be in the tech control, which is just systems, down in the industrial area. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that area – that’s where all the payloads are processed. But I was working down there for 10 years as well before I got laid off and re-called back up here. But when I was working 10 years up there I didn’t know of any of the operations up here. It’s funny how you get stuck in your own little world down there. So when I came up here it was a whole different aspect of the space program because we work hand in hand with the astronauts, you know, so you get to see them. And we handle all the press conferences, so you get to see the press conferences and you see the Administrator and Bill Gerstenmaier, all of them coming up, and you’re able to put a face and a personality to the people that are running the agency, and the astronauts themselves, so it’s a really good job.

Nancy: So, since it’s my first time here, it is my first time being at press conferences. So you’re always trying to get a shot at who is talking. How hard is that when you’ve got several people talking?

Loren: Press conferences are pretty easy, even when they are full houses. I don’t know if you were here when the NASA Administrator was here. That was a very big press conference. Normally we only have one mic handler out there, but we had two mic handlers just to handle questions from the media. It’s pretty easy, you just ride the levels. It’s nothing compared to a launch. Mixing launch audio is a tricky thing and when you get it just right you feel really good about it because not very often do you get it just right. There’s always something that afterwards you think, ‘oh, I could have gotten off that faster, I could have brought that other mic up faster.’ It’s just trial and error each time.

Nancy: And there is no do-overs.

Loren: There is no do-overs, right! A month later or so you get another shot at it. I have another audio control person out there. And we switch off launches. So when I mix a launch, he puts the mics out for me and send the signal back to me, and then when he mixes the launch, I do the same for him. So this is actually his launch, so I’m putting the microphones out for launch, and for landing – we put microphones on the runway for landings as well. Just things you take for granted that you see on TV – anything TV-wise, I always like to say, without audio KSC TV is just like a very expensive surveillance system. We add the extra to the launches and landings.

Nancy: I know! I watch NASA TV religiously and I know a lot of our listeners do to, so they will be very interested to hear about this kind of behind-the-scenes stuff.

Loren: Yeah, I went to my niece’s 5th grade class and talked about it, and you just take it for granted when you do it all the time. But I talked to my niece’s class earlier this year in January. Before me there was a police officer there and when I walked up the police officer was showing the kids his car. There was a karate instructor giving instructions on breaking boards. And here I am, I work at NASA TV, and I have a little boxful of astronaut pictures and other memorabilia, I thought, ‘This is going to be so bad.’ They loved it—the kids could not get enough about space! They had so many interesting questions for me – about a space elevator and living on the moon – these 5th graders were really interested and wanted to know more. They said I was the best – they had me signing autographs afterwards! I said, all I do is mix sound out there, but they just loved it. There is a lot of interest in the space program.

Maggie Persinger, Public Affairs/Multimedia

Maggie Persinger, with QinetiQ, who works at Kennedy Space Center. Image: Nancy Atkinson

Nancy: And this is Maggie Persinger. And you get to work with all the fun technological things with video – can you tell us about that?

Maggie: Still and video. When anybody in the world from motion pictures, film, movies to newspapers, wants or needs something from KSC, or NASA, they come to me and I provide the research, the product, whatever it is that they need for their story, or for Clint Eastwood’s movie “Space Cowboys,” whatever it is. So it’s a lot. I not only deal with that, I have to make sure the jobs are shot, and that I get the copies, and I have to know the entire space program, what is going on everywhere. So it’s a difficult job for one person. There used to be three NASA people that did videos and two people did stills, so now I do it all.

Nancy: What has been the most interesting thing you’ve had to send videos or stills to?

Maggie: I think the most interesting were things like “Space Cowboys,” “Armegeddon,” “Contact,” things like that. When they used to come here and film, for a year and a half before they came and did that movie, I worked with the background people. I did things like provide them blanket pieces, tile pieces so they could build their sets. I got them the color chart for the ET tank. It was very long and involved. So whenever you deal with everybody – there’s a big Discovery program coming out about Australia. So I constantly am keeping track of these people and sending them new things. So there’s a lot of stories – there’s of interest around the world that people in Iowa don’t know realize. But I do! Because I deal with them so I know there is a lot of interest in the space program.

Nancy: I know that you are very busy even after press conferences, you are quickly handing out audio for us, it’s been great!

Maggie: That’s the thing, actually launch time is my easiest time. Even though you guys are here, I’m just dedicated to launch, all of you for this. It’s when you all leave and I have to get back to my routine when it gets tough. Because I’m dealing with the entire world, get everything shot, keeping up the library, making room – I’m constantly trying to make room for things, converting all the Quicktime files, — it’s busy. So everybody thinks it’s just busy at launch time! But launch time is my easiest time. I love launch day! It’s the rest of the time that is tough!

Nancy: Well thanks Maggie – it’s been great talking to you!

Maggie : It’s been good talking to you!

George Diller, Public Affairs Officer.

George Diller, Public Affairs Officer at KSC, left, with NASA launch director Doug Lyons during a shuttle launch in 2007. Credit: AP

Nancy: The next voice you’ll hear you will probably recognize. He’s the voice of, I think almost all the launches here at Kennedy Space Center for the past several year. It’s George Diller. Hi George, thanks for talking with us today.

George: I do a lot of the launches but the shuttle launches we tend to spread out between among some of us in the office because there is a tremendous amount of preparation that goes into one of those so its hard for one person to do them all. I do do a lot more of the expendable launches, the unmanned launches and I really enjoy those particularly because the payloads are so different. They are deployable spacecraft that tend to be focused on space science, planetary exploration, astrophysics – those are the ones to me that have a certain amount of fascination, and always have way back from when I started here back in the late 70’s. In fact I cut my teeth as a newsman covering the space center for about five years and became particularly interested in the expendable vehicle launches with Viking, Voyager and Pioneer Venus. I’ve been here 29 years now and that still has the same attraction for me. We did launch those kinds of payloads on the shuttle for awhile and I got to work with those payloads in preparation for launch. But those all transitioned over to the expendable launch vehicles completely after the Challenger accident and the space shuttle was refocused on building the International Space Station.

If I look back probably at some of the missions that I have most enjoyed working on and doing the launch commentary for, probably the Hubble Space Telescope would the one that would be the highlight because I was directly involved with the telescope and the spacecraft payload testing and doing the commentary for launch, as well as for all the missions that have been done since that have gone up to service the telescope. So it really is quite a feeling to look back and say that I was a part of that for all of those Hubble Missions, both for the launch and all the flights that have followed to service it.

Probably the most memorable spacecraft that I have been directly involved with have been involved with particularly would be Cassini that went to Saturn and sent a probe down to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Also Galileo that went to Jupiter and that was such a great success and the Magellan mission to Venus. So, I think I enjoy those kinds of missions because they are leaving low Earth orbit and going so much farther out that we can only hope that one day we’ll one day go to those places ourselves.

The shuttle missions have really become focused on the space station, and it’s kind of been fun on those flights to focus on a particular piece of flight hardware that’s going up to be attached to the station, and later on when there is some kind of reference to a particular component or something particular that has been attached to it, you can remember some involvement that you’ve had with it.

But I think the space station, is, when is all finished and we look back at the science that was done over the next 10 or 15 years, I think we are going to look back at it as probably one of the wonders of the world in terms of modern accomplishments just as we have the Hubble Space Telescope, because I think so much will come out of it that is focused to us right down here on the ground. It will translate to benefits such as new metals, new pharmaceuticals, new computer substrates; new potential cures for diseases, medicines that we can get to synthesize only in the microgravity – zero gravity environment of The potential of the space station is almost mind boggling.

And I’m hoping to be around long enough to look back at the history of the space station program and say, well, I was with NASA when we were putting this together, and I may be retired eventually, but I can look back and say, look at all of the great things that now have come from the program.

Nancy: As you see the end of the space shuttle program coming, what are your personal feelings about that?

George: Well, the shuttle is something that gives us the kind of capability and flexibility that we never had before and that we do not have any plans to have again. It has the tremendous ability in terms of being able to deploy payloads, to take large payloads to space, to be able to services things in space, to be able to service things in space, to be able to construct things in space, also to be able to take things up and bring them back. And looking forward we’re going to have more capable rockets but they don’t have the same flexibility in terms of the weight that they can bring up or bring things back or be able to servicing that the shuttle has become so famous for being able to do for things already up there. So I think we’ll miss that, but it’s going to be fun to be able to look back and say the shuttle gave us the only way could have ever built the space station. I think it is a very storied program in the history of NASA. I’m proud to say I was here for the first launch and I’ll be here for the last launch and I was in some way a part of that story.
Nancy: Could you tell us about what it takes to put everything together to do a launch commentary for NASA TV?

George: The launch commentaries are, when you start planning for one, not only are there all the materials that you have to put together, but you also have to work with the TV people on all the things you want to show during the broadcast. That means scheduling all the video to be shot over a certain amount of time as the spacecraft is being prepared for launch, then all the things you want to do to tell the story, such as the animations you want to show and you have to figure out where in the broadcast its going to fit with what you are doing. Then have to schedule for it, so it’s a lot more than just writing it. Although there’s a lot of it now that, as far as the shuttle is concerned, I can work from an outline. I really don’t have to read from a script, although if I’m doing something very mission specific I might need a script for some part of it, if it is very mission specific. So, for anybody doing a launch commentary, it’s not something you can just pull together in just an afternoon. It takes a fair amount of time to pull all that together, and then work with the TV people and tell them where you want to include it and you have to work out your shot sheet of the sequence you want all these things in, so I think it’s good, in a way, that we kind of rotate the shuttle launches in particular around the office because it takes a fair amount of work to put it together. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of work!

Nancy: I’ve noticed that it seems recently you’ve had extra people come on and talk about different things going on with the mission during the launch countdown.

George: On the shuttle side, yes. On the ELV side we’ve always kind of done that. Our ELV commentary is usually divided into two parts, because the commentaries run usually between two and two and a half hours, as a rule on an unmanned launch. The first part of it picks up at a certain point in the countdown, but it is very heavy on interviews and things that are associated with the mission aspect. Usually you’re doing all that while they are fueling the vehicle. So, it gives you the chance to talk about fueling and things going on, but basically it gives you time for the color.

And then the second half of it is really focused on the launch itself and the launch operations. So it is divided into two parts that way.

On the shuttle, its more of a desire on the part of NASA to include much more activity both in terms of the mission as well as features that tell a story in the countdown and include more background that the average guy watching NASA TV can relate to. So it has meant more features, and some are related to the mission and some are related to the countdown, some are more related to the astronauts, some are more related to the people that have been involved with it, so we try to broaden it out a little bit. I think that is the reason behind that, because the count is on for such a long time. It’s one for five to five and a half hours. I think there was a feeling that we needed to do that and we had enough time to do that.

Nancy: I know I always enjoy watching as much as I can because it is fun to watch the whole process of what takes place. And now that I’ve been here and have gotten to see that, like the astronauts walking out and seeing it live and in person, its been really fun being here.

George: There have been a coupel that have almost been extravaganzas because of the nature of the mission, like the John Glenn mission. That one, there was so much you could include in the commentary because of the history of John Glenn. And he is so modest. He didn’t want us to do any more than we customarily do. But how can you not? And he is such a favorite around here. When he was here for the countdown dress rehearsal and the training, it was hard to get him through these exercises and these tests because he was just being mobbed by the NASA workers and the KSC employees. They were pulling dollar bills out of their wallets to get him to sign. And he would never be rushed. The trainers would try to keep things moving, but he would not be rushed. He took time to talk to everybody and sign their bills.

When we had the Challenger accident, he was the first person on site after the accident. He flew down here immediately and was on a briefing that afternoon over in the news center. He absolutely loves this place. He’s never forgotten it and those are the kinds of missions that have a lot of public interest. Plus the return to flight missions after Challenger and Columbia those were always big because in each case it meant a re-focusing of the program in some way. And of course the last one will just be a blowout.

Nancy: Thanks very much for talking with us today, this has been a lot of fun.
George: All right!

Nancy: I hope you enjoyed as much as I did the conversations I had with some of the people from NASA TV. NASA TV is available through many cable and satellite providers, and you can also watch it online. Go to www.nasa.gov/ntv. Reporting from Kennedy Space Center, this is Nancy Atkinson