39A +Solar Halo! (All photos by Author).
New and exciting things are afoot along the U.S. Space Coast. This past week, we had the chance to witness the transition of history up close as the age of the space shuttle comes to an end and we move into an era where NASA gets back to what it knows best; exploration. It’s been a bitter-sweet year, watching the four remaining orbiters (Enterprise, Endeavour, Discovery & Atlantis) get dispersed throughout the country.
We were thrilled to be able to witness the very last orbiter to occupy the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) before its transfer to the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex on November 2nd of this year;
We always seem to be “drawn”¯ to Atlantis. The two launches that we had the privilege to witness up close where both Atlantis; STS-125 and the final repair mission to the Hubble from the visitor center, and STS-132 from the press site during the #NASATweetup. With the arrival of Endeavour to Los Angeles, an orbiter will never take to the skies again. It seems strange to watch the shuttle fleet go into retirement. I remember watching the very first drop tests of Enterprise carried out at Edwards as a kid in the late 70′s. It was always assumed that the shuttle fleet would grow and become a mainstay of the space program as we pressed outward from low Earth orbit as a dedicated work horse. It’s a strange sort of space policy we’ve ended up with, one that goes in fits and starts from one administration to the next.
Atlantis in the VAB.
But new beginnings are afoot, both in the space program and at the KSC visitor complex. Atlantis is scheduled to go on permanent display in July 2013, and will feature a thrilling exhibit showcasing the orbiter as if suspended in space with its payload bay doors open. A Rocket Garden Cafe is now open for business, with food that’s out of this world. Tours are also currently allowing folks to get up close to previously off-limits areas, such as launch pad 39A & the VAB. Signs of a brave new era are evident, as SpaceX has begun routine missions to the ISS and NASA’s Orion/MPCV is slated to once again take U.S. astronauts spaceward in the coming years. It was thrilling, just weeks ago, to watch the Falcon 9 rocket headed northeastward after the ISS; hopefully, that’ll once again become a frequent sight for U.S. Space Coast residents and visitors.
Historic Launch Pad 39A.
Do make an effort to visit the KSC as these “times of transition”¯ are often the best to gain unprecedented access to some fascinating locales in space history. A big shout out and thanks to Andrea Farmer and @ExploreKSC for making it all possible!