Thirty years ago today, at 11:38 a.m. EST, January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Christa McAuliffe, teacher from New Hampshire, was to be the first ordinary U.S. civilian to travel into space. Challenger‘s launch countdown was repeatedly delayed because of weather and technical problems. Finally, on January 28, the shuttle lifted off.

73 seconds later, hundreds on the ground, including Christa’s family, stared in disbelief as the shuttle exploded in a forking plume of smoke and fire, killing all seven crew members. Millions more watched the heart-wrenching tragedy unfold on live television.

“The future doesn’t belong to the faint-hearted. It belongs to the brave.” President Reagan said. “The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.”

(July 1970) — Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr., commander of the Apollo 14 lunar landing mission, participates in lunar surface training at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Shepard is adjusting a camera mounted to the modular equipment transporter (MET). The MET, nicknamed the “Rickshaw”, will serve as a portable work bench with a place for the Apollo lunar hand tools and their carrier, three cameras, two sample container bags, a special environment sample container, spare magazines, and a lunar surface Penetrometer. Shepard is wearing an Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU).


Super Guppy delivers Orion EM-1 to Kennedy Space Center

The countdown to Exploration Mission-1 reached a crucial milestone yesterday (February 1, 2016) when Orion’s pressure vessel was delivered to Kennedy Space Center.

For the last four months, since September 5, the capsule has been under fabrication and welding at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

Fabrication times of the EM-1 pressure vessel were significantly shorter than those from EFT-1’s. That capsule took over 8 months to fabricate and consisted of over 33 welds in the structure. EM-1 has only seven welds, increasing the hull’s strength and reducing over 700 pounds of weight.

Once welding was completed January 13, the capsule was readied for its flight to Florida. With the Super Guppy arriving in New Orleans yesterday afternoon, the spacecraft completed a short overland journey to Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, where the plane landed.

Takeoff occurred at 1:31 pm EST. Approaching Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility from the North, the Guppy landed at runway 15 at 3:45 pm. From our vantage point midfield, the Guppy was almost completely silent as it landed.

Taxing to the former location of the Mate/Demate device, the Super Guppy offloaded its cargo about an hour and a half after landing. EM-1 was taken to the Operations and Checkout building in Kennedy’s Industrial area, where it will be unloaded and inspected. Tomorrow (Wednesday, February 3) EM-1 will be displayed to the media unwrapped and ready for final assembly.

Unlike Orion EFT-1, which never left Kennedy once it arrived, EM-1 will fly to NASA’s Plum Brook station in Ohio sometime in 2017, where it will undergo acoustic and vacuum testing. It will then return to Florida for final prelaunch processing.

EM-1 is slated to launch on a three week mission to the Moon in early 2018. It will mark the first time a crew-capable spacecraft has left Low Earth Orbit since 1972, as well as the first flight of the Space Launch System.


     Launch Complex 39 at Kennedy Space Center, on Northern Merritt Island, Florida, was built in the mid-1960s, to launch the Saturn V moon rocket for peaceful exploration of space. Over the years, this complex launched every Saturn V, Saturn IB, all the Space Shuttle missions, and an Ares I rocket. Needless to say, this is the most iconic launch facility in history. The complex is split into two launch pads; 39A and 39B. Both pads launched Saturn rockets and shuttles, but the future of these pads will tell very different stories.

     The first photo in the set shows the crawlerway leading out to Launch Pad 39A. This path holds the weight of the crawler transporter as it moves the launch vehicles from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the pad. The second and third photos display the pad itself, which is now owned by SpaceX. As you can see, the shuttle launch tower is still in place, but this will eventually be scrapped, and SpaceX will convert the area for use with the Falcon 9 Heavy rocket. When this vehicle launches, it will be the most powerful rocket currently flying. The fourth photo shows a Liquid Hydrogen tank, which stored propellant for the space shuttle.

     Photo number five shows Launch Pad 39B, photographed from Launch Control Center, 3.5 miles away. The sixth photo shows the pad up close. NASA removed the shuttle launch tower from this facility, and constructed three large towers, used for lightning suppression, shown up close in the seventh photo. This pad configuration allows multiple types of launch vehicles to operate here, and will allow commercial companies to rent the facility when NASA doesn’t need it. NASA’s primary use for 39B will focus around the enormous Space Launch System (SLS), which is the most powerful rocket in history, edging out the Saturn V boosters that previously launched here. 

     The SLS mobile launch platform and tower, stored next to the Vehicle Assembly Building, can be seen in in the eighth photo. Our final photo shows a shuttle mobile launch platform next to the new SLS launch platform and tower. 


One of my favorite parts of any space center, a rocket garden provides a peaceful setting to observe and inspect the flight hardware that mankind has used in its quest to conquer the stars. Kennedy Space Center’s rocket garden was the best I have ever seen it when I visited yesterday, 23 July, 2014.

Since I last visited, every rocket has been repainted. The bright red colors of the vehicle markings on the Saturn IB stood out to the most to me. One of my favorite rockets, I remember the IB at Kennedy Space Center severely deteriorated, paint faded and metal rusted. Not the case anymore.

The relatively recently refurbished Gemini Titan II has as it’s most defining feature it’s single LR-87 engine. Since the engine compartment faring was omitted on the Titan missile, the engines and nozzles are exposed more than on other rockets. This allows for great inspection of its complicated system of tubes, pipes, and wires.

One element of the garden I was not able to capture recently are the rockets illuminated at night. The Saturn IB is draped in a dark blue, with each vertical rocket different illuminations of white. Ground lighting adds another level of beautiful ambiance to the garden, which takes on a totally different atmosphere after dark.


Of the hundreds of times I have seen the Saturn V rocket, at all the locations it is on display in the world, never has it ever been as beautiful or commanding as it was this time.

The five J-2 engines on the second stage attracted my eye the most. The countless wires, chambers, and fuel pumps of the engines contrasted with lack of aerodynamic protection gave the business end of the S-II a mechanical sense that I have never really appreciated before. Sure, the five F-1 engines on the S-IC or the single J-2 on the S-IVB are equally as complex and exposed, but for some reason, the cluster of them on the second stage is appealing.

A surprising lack of people in the building gave me great opportunities for pictures I normally avoid taking due to crowds, and I was able to see the rocket in a totally different perspective.

The first Space Shuttle vehicle destined to fly in space inches out of the Vehicle Asembly Building on its way to Pad A at Complex 39, where it will be launched. The STS-1 vehicle - consisting of America’s first reusable spaceship, Columbia, the external propellant tank and twin solid rocket boosters - was assembled on a Mobile Launcher Platform in the Vehicle Assembly Building. A six-million-pound tractor, called the Crawler-Transporter, is used to carry the Space Shuttle from the VAB to the launch pad, about 3.5 miles away.


     The above photos show Launch Complex 34 (LC-34) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This is the site that the Apollo 1 astronauts, Grissom, White and Chaffee lost their lives in a fire during a routine launch simulation test on January 27, 1967. You can find endless accounts and details about what happened to the astronauts on that day, why the fire started, and what it did to the Apollo Program. I want to focus on a more untold story, what if feels like to stand there today, and LC-34’s former glory.

     Launch Complex 34 was the first pad constructed for the peaceful exploration of space. Over the years, even as a child, I saw LC-34 in photography and documentaries, and heard astronauts reflect on the failure and successes associated with this place. When it was built, LC-34 was the largest launch facility in the world, with a 300+ foot service tower looming over the pad. Seven enormous Saturn I and Saturn IB rockets began their journey into space here, including the manned Apollo 7 mission, which flight tested the newly re-designed Apollo Command Module. Today, the three story launch platform still stands, with an exhaust opening in the top, rimmed with some remnants of the water deluge system. 

     After all these years of study, I never thought I’d be standing on this pad, and I surely wasn’t prepared for the emotions I’d experience while visiting. I visited the complex on Memorial Day, May 26, 2014. I can’t think of a better place or time to reflect on heroes lost, what’s important to me, or why I have so much pride in this country and NASA. As soon as I approached the pad, I delved into my photography. As a photographer, I am happiest while hiding behind this magical little box we call a camera. For about ten minutes, I focused on making the shots displayed in this photoset. But I could only hide for so long.

     Once put my camera away, I took a step back from the pad, looked over the structure and was overcome by emotion. Many different feelings hit me like a ton of bricks, the strongest of which was an overwhelming sense of pride. I’m proud of being part of a country that is willing to sail on the ocean of space, even at great cost. Proud of these three men, and any astronaut who takes risks for their country, scientific progress, and the betterment of the human race. Personally, I’m proud to follow in the footsteps of these men as an aviator. Every astronaut that flies in space is very intelligent about the risks, but they fly anyway. Weeks before his fatal accident on this launch pad, Gus Grissom was interviewed by Time Magazine and said, “If we die, we want people to accept it. We’re in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.” Before I turned to leave Launch Complex 34, I looked up toward the sky above the launch pedestal and said a silent, simple thank-you to Gus, Ed and Roger.


Crawler Transporter celebrates 50th anniversary with test drive.

After more than three years of refurbishment, Crawler Transporter 2 was taken on a test drive starting February 19. CT-2 was completed its 4.2 mile outbound trek and reached the perimeter fence of LC-39B on February 23.

NASA’s Ground Systems and Development Operations office has been upgrading CT-2 since December, 2011, to prepare it for the increased weight of the Space Launch System rocket. The modifications will increase the lifting capacity of the crawlers from 12 million pounds to over 18 million.

The $50 million dollar upgrade modernizes computers and includes 88 new traction roller bearings (as can be seen in the second image above), a modified lubrication delivery system, and a reinforced internal structure to accommodate the increased loads CT-2 will carry. All replaced or upgraded parts on CT-2 are custom made, as the vehicle is so unique that there are no off-the-shelf parts that exist for it. However, the two ALCO 51C 1006 horsepower engines and the two 1065 horsepower generators original to the vehicles were not replaced.

During the two hours of yesterday’s test, CT-2 did not exceed more than 0.7 miles per hour. It took us just under two hours to travel about 1.3 miles. 

While February’s tests will help engineers determine the upgraded crawler’s performance, it still has a year to go before all of its modifications will be complete. Then, CT-2 will drive to the SLS Mobile Launch Tower and carry it to LC-39B for integrated testing.

Crawler Transporter 1, the other twin crawler, will not undergo the same improvements its sister will for SLS. This is due in part to funding as well as scheduling - the operations manifest of SLS will not need to rely on the availability of two crawlers. Therefore, CT-1 is undergoing standard maintenance improvements. According to Mary Hanna, project lead for crawler improvements, it will most likely be available for commercial companies to use as part of Kennedy’s plan to become a multi-user spaceport.

Video on yesterday’s portion of the test here

A NASA infographic on the crawler can be found here: