NASA + Space Shuttle

After the final space shuttle mission in July of 2011, I had the opportunity to shoot gigapixel panoramas for National Geographic of all three orbiters during their decommissioning at the Kennedy Space Center. This two-year project also allowed me to follow each orbiter to their new homes in Los Angeles, Washington DC, and at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.


Inside of the Space Shuttle:

(click on the picture below for a tour of 9 panoramas)

Use the red directional links to navigate between all interior areas of a space shuttle orbiter’s Crew Module and out into the Payload Bay.  Green links provide additional information throughout.  The tour is best experienced full-screen with the button on the menu.

Panoramas captured on multiple occasions from December 2011 until November 2012 at the Kennedy Space Center and in March of 2014 at the California Science Center.

As featured on National Geographic’s website and here on their NewsWatch blog.


Shuttle Carrier Aircraft 747:

Explore two interior areas of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA-905), a vintage 1970 747-100 used to transport space shuttle orbiters between NASA facilities.

Find more information about the SCA here in my post on National Geographic’s StarStruck blog.


Discovery at the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum:

Discovery was the first of the three orbiters to be transitioned to its new museum home.  Arriving in April of 2012 at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia, Discovery is now surrounded with relics of human achievement as she becomes a relic herself, inspiring over a million annual visitors with the achievements of the 30+ year Shuttle Program.

Learn more about Discovery’s arrival at the Smithsonian here in my post on National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog.


Atlantis in the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex:

These panoramas of Space Shuttle Atlantis capture three key moments in the construction of her new display: while wrapped in protective plastic during the dirtiest period of construction, after that plastic had been removed but before both Payload Bay doors were opened, and in the completed exhibit just days before opening to the public.  Each pair of panoramas, one from above and one below, were taken from nearly the same location in January, May and June of 2013.

Learn more about Atlantis’ move to the Visitor Center here in my post on National Geographic’s StarStruck blog.


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 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.


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.


Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA):

NASA modified four Gulfstream II aircraft to mimic the landing profile of a Space Shuttle orbiter and provide a simulating platform for astronauts.  Inside, the bipolar cockpit of the STA is half orbiter, half airplane, complete with the same glass cockpit screens and control surfaces that a Shuttle Commander would later use to glide their spacecraft to a smooth landing.  Outside, the Gulfstream’s main landing gear were left down and the engines powered in reverse, making the airplane fall out of the sky at the intended 20-degree angle with similar handling characteristics to an orbiter.  Shuttle Commanders and Pilots flew 1000 practice landings each in these airplanes before their missions.

STA N944NA is currently located at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

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