A Space Shuttle flight at the Kennedy Space Center by Phil Konstantin
For most of my life, I have been a space travel enthusiast. As a youngster, I kept
of all of the spaceflights. Even though I was fairly young, I remember
the Mercury flights. My interest increased as I got older. Like most people alive
at the time, I know exactly where I was when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. My
interest in the space program eventually led to me working at NASA in Houston.
Needless to say, the job wasn't just for the paycheck or the
income tax return, it was something that I was truly passionate about and I was
proud to be a part of it.
For most of that time, I helped to run the computers in the Real Time Computer Complex
(RTCC) (during Apollo 16, 17 & all of the Skylab missions). These were the computers
that ran the flights. I was 19 when I started working there. In fact, I was one of
the youngest people there for a while. I was just a lowly
computer operator, but I
would occasionally get to rub elbows with some of the bigwigs because I had to go
into different parts of the operation center to do some minor activities with remote
Real Time Computer Complex. IBM photo
My ID when I worked at NASA. This was taken in 1972.
The RTCC was directly below the Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR) which you have seen
on TV & in the movies. The computers I helped to run were 5 IBM 360, model 75J. These
computers had a total storage capacity of about 1 megabyte. According to an IBM website:
"the Model 75 had a monthly rental range of $50,000 to $80,000, and a purchase price
range of $2.2 million to $3.5 million."
I often worked the overnight shift. Whenever there was a mission on,
I would spend my lunch time in the MOCR's visitor viewing room. So, I saw lots of engineers,
flight directors, and the occasional astronaut. Technically, I had clearance to be in the
viewing room, but I really did not have permission to be there. So, whenever a splashdown
would come up, I'd go in early and sit in the back. I'd stay there until someone asked me
to leave. I cannot remember which mission it was, but Alan Shepard sat next to me for one
splashdown. It was probably for one of the Skylab missions. I got there early for another
splashdown. There were only a couple of people
on the MOCR floor because it was the last break before splashdown. Chris Kraft (the head
guy at the Johnson Space Center) was one of the few people on the MOCR floor. He kept
staring at me. He was not the kind of guy you wanted mad at you. I didn't want to leave,
because that might attract some attention. After watching me for about 10 minutes, he
got on the phone. Another 10 minutes later, a NASA PR guy came in and said he was happy
I decided to watch the splashdown & that they did not think I would be coming. I was
confused. But, I smiled and said I was happy to be there. Another PR guy came in a few
minutes later & asked me who I was. I told him, and he smiled. They all thought I was
Chris Kraft's son who was in college in the northern US. Chris could not figure out why
his son had not come down on the floor to say hello. After my identity was established,
they nicely told me that all of the seats were taken, and I left.
View of the MOCR from the viewing room where I spent many a lunch hour.
That is Flight Director Gene Kranz in the bottom center of this NASA photo
Over the years after leaving NASA, I have met several astronauts,
interviewed them, and wrote magazine and newspaper articles about space flights. A
few years ago, I saw one of the shuttle flights land at Edwards Air Force base in
California. See the shaky video below.
The one thing missing in all of this was that I had never seen a space
mission take off. Finally, this was to change.
I took all of the pictures on
this page except for the ones with me in them, or if noted otherwise.
Space Shuttle mission STS-100 was scheduled to liftoff around 2:40pm (1440) on April 19, 2001. I arrived at the Kennedy Space Center a little after 8am and went to the Press Center. The Press Center is near the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). This is where the shuttle is assembled. At one time, the VAB was the largest, air conditioned, open building in the world.
Vehicle Assembly Building
When the shuttle has been assembled it is transported to the appropriate launch pad. In this case, it was Pad 39A.
Pad 39A. The large white pole on the top is a lightning rod. This picture was taken after the shuttle took off.
The shuttle was moved to Pad 39A by means of the "crawler." At full speed, it moves at about 1 mile per hour when it is carrying the shuttle. It zips along at a speedy 2 mph without any cargo.
The empty crawler approaching Pad 39A.
Detailed look at the crawler. Looking at the car on the left gives you an idea of its size.
Another detailed look at the crawler.
The shuttle as it approaches the launch pad. NASA photo
A night look at the shuttle at the pad. NASA photo
Detailed look at some of the wiring which connects the shuttle to the tower. NASA photo
The shuttle on the pad (taken from the Press area).
At approximately 10:55am, the shuttle astronauts left their training facility to be driven over to the shuttle.
These are the various patches which the astronauts wore for this mission.
Astronauts entering their ground transportation van. The man with the goatee is Umberto Guidoni. Immediately behind him is Kent Rominger. Facing you with his arm up waving is Scott Parazynski. The head next to Scott's is John L. Phillips. Next to him is Chris Hadfield. Entering the van are Yuri Lonchakov and Jeffrey Ashby
After the astronauts got in their van, I went back to the Press Center. Often on TV, and even in some movies such as Armageddon, you have seen a big countdown clock with the space craft in the distance. This clock is in front of the Press Center viewing area. It is approximately three miles from the launch pad.
Me next to the countdown clock. The Shuttle is in the distance just above and to the right of the 8 on the clock.
Right on time, the Shuttle took off. NASA pumps thousands of gallons of water into the area under the launch pad. This keeps the area cooler and it helps to dampen the roar of the rockets. When the flames of the rockets hit this water, it generates steam. This steam forms much of the clouds you see at a launch.
I was surprised by how fast the shuttle lifted off. Once it cleared the tower, it rapidly picked up speed. The flames were very bright. I had to squint to look at them directly. The roar of the engines was very loud, and you could feel the vibration and heat at the press viewing area. We quickly lost sight of the shuttle because of some clouds overhead.
The smoke trail from the shuttle lasted for some time.
A few days after the shuttle took off, I toured much of the rest of the KSC. This completed my pilgrimage to one of the homes of the United States' space program.
Before the Mercury Program, the military launched missles from Cape Canaveral.
This is the control panel which was used to launch those early flights.
Before humans went into space, chimps were sent up. There were quite a few of them. They were trained to perform some basic tasks while in the capsules.
This is the capsule the chimps used.
The Mercury flights lifted off from the same area. By this time there were more complex equipment being used.
This is the Mercury Control Room. Note the red arrow. It points to the button which was pushed to launch the rocket.
The gantry used to support the rockets.
This is a special monument dedicated to the "Original 7" Mercury astronauts.
After the Mercury missions came the Gemini flights. Gemini was designed to practice manuvering in Earth orbit, and docking two space craft. These flights carried two astronauts. Wally Schirra once told me the Gemini spacecraft was his favorite. It reminded him of a sports car.
A sign listing the different Gemini flights.
Then after Gemini, came Apollo. The goal of Apollo was to land people on the moon, and to safely return them. Apollo 1 was to be the first test of the new three person capsule. As with all of the other missions, thousands of hours of testing and training took place before a flight. Unfortunately, some sort of spark ignited the oxygen atmosphere inside of the Apollo 1 capsule during one of these tests. NASA investigated what happened and made hundreds of changes to the space craft.
The Apollo 1 launch pad. It is labled "Abandoned In Place."
The plaque commemorating the Apollo 1 astronauts. One of the Delta rockets on a nearby launch pad (LC 17).
I have met four of the "Original 7" astronauts. I first met Wally Schirra in San Diego at the Aerospace Museum. I sat next to Alan Shepard in the Mission Control Viewing Roon during the splashdown of one of the space missions. I passed Deke Slayton once in the hallway. I met Scott Carpenter at the Rueben Fleet Science Center in San Diego in 2003. I have also met several Gemini, Apollo, and Shuttle astronauts. See their photos on my Close Encounters With American Astronauts page. The link is below.
News report I produced about interviews I had with several astronauts in 2009.