Kennedy-Space-Center

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NASA displays Apollo 1 hatch to honor crew on 50th anniversary.

For over five decades, NASA kept the Apollo 1 spacecraft in storage at their Langley Research center in Hampton, Virginia. Memories of the fatal fire that claimed astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee on January 27, 1967 were painful for the NASA family, and the capsule remained out of public view.

However, to honor the crew of Apollo 1 on the fire’s 50th anniversary, NASA has put the spacecraft’s three hatches on display at the Apollo/Saturn V center at Kennedy Space Center.

The Block 1 Apollo spacecraft, or the Earth-orbital version of the lunar spacecraft, had three hatches when it was on the launch pad. The Boost Protective Cover covered the spacecraft while on the pad and in the early stages of flight, and was mounted to the Launch Escape System.

The outer hatch formed part of the capsule’s exterior; both of these hatches opened outward and were secured by latches. The main hatch, which was the innermost of the three, opened inwards and was held in place by air pressure and latches. Capsule designers thought that in the event of a pressure leak in the capsule, the hatch would seal itself shut.

It was this inward-opening design that made escaping the fire nearly impossible on January 27. Once the fire started, air pressure in the capsule went up, further holding the hatch in place and trapping the astronauts inside.

The Apollo 1 spacecraft immediately following the deadly fire on January 27, 1967. The white Boost Protective Cover can be seen to the left and above the charred grey portion of the spacecraft’s exterior hull. The BPC would be jettisoned with the Launch Escape System a few minutes into the flight. Three hatches were used in the Block 1 spacecraft, two for the Apollo spacecraft itself and one in the BPC.

Although the hatches are the emotional centerpiece of the new exhibit, tributes to the astronauts also include some of their personal items and video displays. Kennedy Center director Bob Cabana stated that  “We have gone too far without a memorial for Gus, Ed and Roger here.”  The center worked with the surviving family members of the crew to create the exhibit, which is the first time any portion of the capsule has gone on display.

Preservationists involved with the creation of the exhibit stated that the capsule’s three hatches are shown exactly as they were when taken out of the storage crate at Langley. Infamous char markings can still be seen on the exterior of the Boost Protective Cover hatch and outward hatch.

Following the fire, NASA and the capsule’s prime contractor, North American Aviation, spent 18 months redesigning the capsule for future crews. The hatch was also redesigned, consisting of a single, outward opening hatch on the spacecraft and the Boost Protective Cover. The upgraded Block 2 hatch is seen next to Apollo 1′s.

The other hull of the Apollo 1 spacecraft is seen during investigation into the fire, mid-1967. The outer hull had one of three hatches now on display at the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex.

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For the first time in 2,044 days, a rocket is perched atop historic Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket arrived at the pad early this morning, February 10, ahead of an upcoming static fire test.

The former Apollo and Shuttle era launch pad last saw a space vehicle in July of 2011 when the final space shuttle mission, STS-135, launched. NASA continued to operate the pad until early 2015, when SpaceX leased it for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy operations. This historic event marks the third rocket to fly from LC-39A behind the Saturn V moon rocket and space shuttle.

SpaceX will perform a static fire test sometime Saturday to test the rocket’s systems. Once complete, the rocket will return to the Horizontal Integration Facility for mating with the Dragon spacecraft.

Falcon 9 will perform its east-coast return to flight with the CRS-10 mission to the International Space Station, slated for February 18. Following liftoff, the rocket’s first stage will return to Cape Canaveral for a landing at LZ-1, the third time the company has done so.

Below, the Falcon 9 rocket is seen prior to being erected vertical at LC-39A.(Photo credit: William Harwood/CBS.)

P/C: Elon Musk/William Harwood.

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“We fought and won the race in space and listened to the cries of the Apollo 1 crew. With great resolve and personal anger, we picked up the pieces, pounded them together, and went on the attack again. We were the ones in the trenches of space and with only the tools of leadership, trust, and teamwork, we contained the risks and made conquest of space possible.” - Gene Kranz

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Skylab 4 Launch by NASA on The Commons
A sunrise view at the KSC showing in the near distance the Skylab 4/Saturn 1B Space Vehicle on Pad “B”, Launch Complex (LC)-39, on the morning of the launch. The liftoff was at 9:01:23 a.m. Image #: S73-37929 Date: November 16, 1973

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On Feb. 19, SpaceX launched almost 5,500 pounds of scientific research and other supplies on a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. The Dragon launched on top of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where Apollo and Shuttle missions flew. This was the first commercial launch from Kennedy, and highlights the center’s transition to providing support for both government and commercial aerospace activities.

Earth-imaging company Deimos Imaging took this astounding image of LC-39A February 16 showing the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket ahead of the CRS-10 mission. While the Falcon 9 was traveling from the Horizontal Integration Facility to the launch mount, the company’s Deimos-2 satellite flew overhead.

CRS-10 is scheduled to launch at 10:01am EST, February 18.

Back in March, 2016, the satellite also captured the SES-9 Falcon 9 atop SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral.

P/C: Deimos Imaging.

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STS-53 by NASA on The Commons
STS-53 Discovery, Orbiter Vehicle (OV) 103, lifts off from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Launch Complex (LC) Pad 39A at 8:24:00 am (Eastern Standard Time (EST)). An exhaust cloud frames OV-103, atop the external tank (ET) and flanked by two solid rocket boosters (SRBs), as it rises above the mobile launcher platform. Image #: sts053-s-056 Date: December 2, 1992

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January 28th 1986: Challenger Disaster

On this day in 1986, the US space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds into its tenth flight, killing all seven crew members on board. The craft had taken off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, but never reached orbit as it disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, just off the Florida coast. The crew compartment and various fragments from the vessel were recovered from the ocean floor in the following months, and several of the crew are known to have survived the initial breakup and died upon impact with the ocean surface. One of those killed in the disaster was schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, a civilian selected for the flight as part of a NASA project to send the first teacher to space and inspire ordinary people with space travel. McAuliffe’s involvement meant that the Challenger’s take-off was widely watched across the nation, and thousands watched in horror as the disaster unfolded. The cause of the craft’s break-up has been put down to technical malfunction, caused by mistakes made by NASA in the design of the vessel and the organisation of its flight. This incident damaged the illustrious administration’s reputation, and halted the Space Shuttle programme as safety measures were revised. The tragedy occurred the same day President Ronald Reagan was due to give his fifth annual State of the Union speech to Congress, but he postponed the speech and instead gave a national address on the disaster. The two-term President later called January 28th, 1986 “one of the hardest days I ever spent in the Oval Office". In was on this day that, in one of the most famous speeches of his presidency, Reagan mourned the Challenger crew and quoted the poem ‘High Flight’ by John Gillespie Magee Jr., a young American pilot killed in World War Two.

“We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of Earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’”

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Some highlights from my visit to KSC on Sunday.

There was so much to see and drink in and while I was able to see everything I wanted, I also missed a lot simply because I was so overwhelmed by seeing it all for the first time.

I chose the Atlantis building as our last stop of the day and I couldn’t think of a better way to end my first visit there. 

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     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. 

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     Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida recently saw an event that caused quite a stir. I hope said event will soon become commonplace. On April 8, 2016, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched a Cargo Dragon spacecraft on the CRS-8 resupply mission to the International Space Station. After stage separation, the first stage made a successful powered descent and landing from space. This the second time SpaceX has successfully recovered a booster in this way, but the first landed at sea. To allow for higher fuel margins for the return trip, the Falcon landed at sea on a drone ship called “Of Course I Still Love You”, named in reference to the book “The Player of Games”, in honor of the author Iain M. Banks.

     After landing atop the ship, the entire enterprise was slowly towed back inland where it arrived at Port Canaveral. The arrival was met with quite a fanfare from the general public. In the following days, the Falcon was hoisted from its ship, placed ashore, processed and rotated to the horizontal. Soon, she will undergo ten back to back static fire tests, where the idea of reliable rapid reusability will be further proven to the sometimes skeptical commercial spaceflight community.

     Among all this commotion, a less visible but very symbolic event took place; a sign on a building that read “SpaceX Launch Control” was removed and replaced with a sign that now reads “SpaceX Launch & Landing Control”.