Antares with OA-9 Cygnus at Wallops:

In this photosphere, see Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket loaded with the OA-9 Cygnus spacecraft on Launchpad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.  It launched to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) at 4:44am on May 21st, 2018.


Atlas V with InSight on the Launchpad:

On November 26th, 2018, NASA’s InSight lander will touch down on the Elysium Planitia of Mars.  Short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, InSight will deploy a seismometer instrument to measure marsquakes, data used for exploring the planet’s interior structure.  This will allow scientists to better understand the geological evolution of Mars and answer key questions about the formation of all four rocky planets in our inner solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.

In this photosphere, see the Mobile Service Structure Rollback from the ULA Atlas V 401 rocket at Space Launch Complex 3 about 5 hours before launch on May 5th, 2018.


InSight in Vandenberg Cleanroom:

In these photospheres from the Astrotech cleanroom at Vandenberg Air Force Base, the lander is visible inside of the aeroshell capsule that will protect it on the 6-month journey to Mars and during entry, decent, and landing (EDL) on the planet.  The capsule’s heat shield is positioned nearby ready for installation.

Learn more about InSight here in my blog for The Franklin Institute.


Backup MSL Rover at JPL Mars Yard:

The backup Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Rover is seen here parked in its garage adjacent to the Mars Yard at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), an area designed with rock and terrain to mimic the surface of Mars.  Before operation commands are sent to the primary MSL Curiosity Rover on Mars, they are often tested on this identical robot.

A flight spare of the much smaller Sojourner Rover that landed on Mars in 1997 is visible nearby.


MAVEN in KSC Cleanroom:

MAVEN (Mars Atmospheric and Volatile EvolutioN) is a satellite designed to investigate the dramatic climatic change the planet has experienced.  Though Mars once held liquid surface water, the dense atmosphere that supported it was lost to space long ago.  MAVEN will look at the area around the planet to observe how quickly the atmosphere is currently being lost to help infer what might have happened in the past.

Built by Lockheed Martin with science operations under the direction of Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado, MAVEN arrived in Martian orbit on September 21st, 2014.  Its mission will involve a series of elliptical orbits dipping into the upper atmosphere of Mars to directly sample the gas and ion composition there.  The outer solar array panels are angled slightly inward to make the satellite more stable during these operations.

Learn more about MAVEN and see pictures from its launch in my post here on National Geographic’s StarStruck blog.


Launch Pad 39A:

Built in 1965, Launch Pad 39A has hosted 92 launches to space from the Apollo and Shuttle Programs.  Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins departed from there for the Moon on Apollo 11.   STS-1, the first ever space shuttle flight, launched from 39A, as did the next 23 missions before 39B came online just to the north.  At the end of the program, the last 18 shuttle missions launched from there while 39B transitioned for use with the Ares I rocket and its Constellation Program.

During the Apollo era, 39A and B were “clean pads” meaning that there was very little in the way of permanent structures built above the pad’s surface.  All necessary service structures arrived with the Saturn rockets built into the Mobile Launch Platform.  This shuttle specific pad has a Fixed Service Structure (FSS) and a Rotating Service Structure (RSS) remaining on site that provided all services and protected the shuttle stack before launch.

The above tour includes panoramas from 39A’s surface, it’s highest level (295′), the level where the Astronauts boarded the orbiter and used their last telephone and gravity assisted toilet (195′), the bottom of the SRB Flame Trench and the inside of the “Rubber Room”, a blast room still remaining deep in the pad and accessed from a tunneled slide during the Apollo program in case of a Saturn V’s catastrophic failure.


Astronaut Crew Quarters:

Located on the top floor of the Operations and Checkout building at Kennedy Space Center, these Astronaut Crew Quarters were first used for Gus Grissom and John Young before the launch of Gemini 3 in 1965.  The facility contains bedrooms for the astronauts and their support crew, a kitchen to feed them all, conference rooms, a medical clinic, gym and office space, all used in the days leading up to a launch.  The most recognizable areas are the Suit-Up Room where astronauts were dressed for launch and the Dining Room where they did pre-flight press conferences.

Follow internal links and/or use the provided map to explore these 11 connected panoramas, most showing facilities rarely seen before and totally off-limits to visitors during the active Shuttle Program.


Crawler Transporter:

The Crawler Transporters carried the 8.2 million pound Mobile Launch Platform and the 2.7 million pound Space Shuttle stack at a speed of 1 mph on the 3.5 mile journey to the launch pads.  Two Crawlers were delivered to Kennedy Space Center in 1965 and have driven a total of 3,400 miles in the years since as part of both the Apollo and Shuttle programs.  They remain the world’s largest self-powered vehicles.  Current upgrades will allow this Crawler, CT-2, to carry NASA’s new SLS rocket to Launch Pad 39B.

Explore 4 panoramas in this tour: external views from in front and underneath and internal views of the engine room and the driver’s cab, all taken while parked in the VAB during upgrades.

(Photo above courtesy of NASA from the roll-out of STS-114.)


Launch Control Center (LCC) Firing Room 4:

Explore these three views of Firing Room 4 in the Kennedy Space Center Launch Control Center (LCC).  All launch operations for the Space Shuttle Program were coordinated from this room until the boosters cleared the tower during launch, at which time control shifted to Mission Control at Johnson Space Center for the remainder of the mission.


Mate-Demate Devices:

When the space shuttle was unable to land back at Kennedy Space Center, it landed instead at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center within Edwards Air Force Base in California. This necessitated a ferry flight back to Florida and the Mate-Demate (MDD) hoisted the shuttle into place for its piggyback ride to get there. Of the 135 shuttle missions, 54 of them ended at Edwards, all of them using the MDD. Built in 1976, the MDD was also utilized for the Approach and Landing Tests performed by the prototype Shuttle Enterprise in 1977.

All post-mission shuttle processing happened outside at the MDD and never inside of the Shuttle Hanger constructed directly adjacent. Hazardous chemicals were removed, the tail cone installed and time sensitive cargo removed from the Crew Module. This process, in addition to the mating with the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), took about a week depending on weather.

The Kennedy Space Center MDD was used mostly for demating, but occasionally an orbiter would need to fly back to California for upgrades.

(Photo Credit: NASA)

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