shuttle orbiter


OTV-4 mission concludes as X-37 returns to Earth.

After nearly two years in space, the U.S. Air Force’s classified space shuttle, the Orbital Test Vehicle X-37B, returned to Earth, landing on Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility runway shortly before 8am EDT. 

Officially known as the AFSPC-5 mission, OTV-4 launched on May 20, 2015, atop an Atlas V rocket. That same rocket also lifted the Planetary Society’s solar sailing cubesat, LightSail-1 into orbit on its own groundbreaking mission. Spending over 717 days in space, the OTV-4 mission is the longest mission thus far of the program’s four flights.

Measuring 29 feet long with a wingspan of 15 feet, the X-37B is a robotic spaceplane with a payload bay ideal for small payloads. While the specific milestones for this flight were classified, at least two of the experiments included the testing of an electric engine and materials exposure pallets.

The first three flights of the OTV program landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, though OTV-4 became the first to land in Florida. By landing at the same spaceport which it left from, OTV operations are expected to streamline and potentially allow for faster times in between missions. One of Kennedy’s three Orbiter Processing Facilities is used by the Air Force to house the two X-37 spaceplanes in between missions.

As seen in the gifs above - taken from video of the vehicle’s landing - the spaceplane glides past a model of another famous space plane, the Space Shuttle. The Inspiration, which once sat outside the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, was moved to the SLF for restoration ahead of a nationwide tour promoting aerospace science and STEM fields.

See our coverage of the AFSPC-5 mission here.


The orbiter Columbia, aboard its orbiter transporter system, rolls toward the opening in the Vehicle Assembly Building where it was mated with the external tank mating in preparation for mission STS-93. The primary mission objective was the deployment of the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility, renamed the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Mission STS-93 was the first led by a woman, Commander Eileen M. Collins.  The mission launched on July 23, 1999.

The Mind of Stefan Dürr: The SHIVA Syndrome Trilogy (Volume 1)

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The Mind of Stefan Dürr: The SHIVA Syndrome Trilogy (Vol 1) by Alan Joshua

A mind research experiment studying human consciousness goes horrifyingly wrong. Thousands are killed when a Russian suburb is mysteriously destroyed, leaving a mile-deep crater in its place. At the same time, a U.S. space shuttle vaporizes in orbit, and a Canadian mountaintop is ripped away.
One thing lies behind it all: The mind of Stefan Dürr.
Existence is dreary hell for Dr. Beau Walker. An embittered loner, he sleepwalks through life until the government virtually kidnaps him, hurling him into an incredibly menacing adventure beyond his wildest imaginings.
Coerced into joining a U.S./Russian scientific team, Beau searches for the cause of the disasters. Beginning with a treacherous, life-threatening exploration of the anomalous crater, where scientific laws don’t seem to apply, he’s thrown into a world of unimaginable advanced biotechnology, biowarfare, genetics, paranormal research, and military intrigue.
The stakes are inconceivably high: Find the cause or face worldwide annihilation.

•“A thrilling read” New Consciousness Review
•“Having the right amount of adventure and romance, this crisscrossing genre tale isn’t just a good read, but may also look great on a big screen.” Portland Book Review
• “…highly recommended, indeed; especially for thriller and sci-fi readers who have become deluged with too much predictability and who seek cutting-edge action, believable protagonists, and action that is solidly intense throughout.” Midwest Book Review
•Best book ever! Needs to be a movie!!! 5.0 out of 5 stars Goodreads: Montzalee Wittmann “In the top 10 books of the best sci-fi/fantasy books I have read in over 40 years–and I read over 200 books a year!
It has everything I love in a sci-fi and fantasy in one book and makes it flow seamlessly and naturally. Very scientific, very mystic, very action packed, edge of your seat, who is who, and who is WHAT action. This is a book for any sci-fi fan! The plot is full of surprises and fast moving with lots of twists and turns. There is no putting this book in a certain category, it stands by itself.

At AMAZON and soon at other retailers.

     When people hear the phrase “most magical place on earth”, their thoughts instantly drift to The Magic Kingdom at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. I may be a sucker for “Disney magic”, but when I hear that phrase, I think of a location about an hour east of Orlando; a place where my dreams come true called NASA Kennedy Space Center. This photoset displays key infrastructure used to support iconic Apollo and Space Shuttle programs that operated from this location.      Photos One, Two & Three: The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) is the largest single story building in the world. The building consists of four “high bays”, each with its own hangar door, which are the largest doors in the world. In the first photo, High Bay Three is open. The area inside is so large that it often creates fog near the top of the high bays. If the air conditioning quits, it actually rains inside the building. The VAB was constructed in 1966 for the purpose of assembling Saturn V rockets and was later used to assemble Space Shuttle components until 2011. Now, this building will be used to assemble the new Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft, along with multiple launch vehicles for different private and commercial space companies. The first photo shows Launch Control in the foreground, attached to the VAB. You can see inside of Firing Room 4 at Launch Control in my previous article (click here to view).      Photo Four: Space shuttle orbiters are essentially a pickup truck. If you have a big pickup, it’s nice to have a big garage. This is where the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) comes in. After flight, the shuttle orbiters were transported to one of three OPF buildings. There, they would be inspected and refurbished with no nut or bolt untouched. After every mission, the Main Engines and Orbiter Maneuvering System Pods were replaced. Any hardware needed for the next mission was installed and the orbiter would be rolled to the VAB, where it would be mated to the entire shuttle stack. OPF buildings 1 and 2 now house the Air Force operated Boeing X-37B space planes. OPF 3 contains Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft, which will be used as a taxi to the International Space Station.      Photo Five: The Crawler-Transporters, a pair of 6,000,000 lb tractors, were constructed to move the Saturn V rocket from the VAB to their launch pads. These vehicles have also transported every space shuttle. To move a rocket, the crawler positions itself under a mobile launch platform on which the launch vehicle rests. The platform is lifted atop the crawler, then transported to the pad where the crawler sets it down. The crawler then moves out from under the mobile launch platform, retreating to a safe distance away from the launch. After launch, the crawler must retrieve the mobile launch platform, bringing it back to the VAB for the next launch cycle. Since 1977, these crawlers have covered over 2,500 miles back and forth on this 3.5 mile stretch of roadway.      Photos Six & Seven: Prior to the construction of the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF), the space shuttle orbiter landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. This required a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft to transport the orbiter back to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, which was expensive. On March 18, 1974, the SLF idea was announced. After a groundbreaking ceremony, construction began on one of the largest runways in the world. Shuttles could then land at Kennedy Space Center, the port from which they would launch, making the operation of a reusable spacecraft drastically more efficient. Major efforts are conducted to control local birds and reptiles. Alligators tend to bask in the sun on this landing strip. A few hours prior to a shuttle landing, a brave individual would drive the length of the runway and remove alligators by hand.