All week I have been sharing emails with friends about cool Space Shuttle stuff. I suspect its all driven by the countdown to the last shuttle launch coming in the next couple months. The other night I was surfing YouTube on my family room Tivo ( Its pretty cool and apparently Google invented it last week) and found this really cool video sequence shot from cameras on the SRB's. The sequence is from launch from to splashdown of the booster which is a really unusual perspective I had never previously seen.. Very cool and worth a watch on your Computer, IPad, or soon to be on you GoogleTV (or Tivo for the last 18 months)…
Tonight my friend Tom sent me this amazing sequence taken with DSRL stills of the Shuttle from the processing facility where the shuttle is rehabbed (a huge deal), to the mate facility where it is lifted and attached to the external tank and SRB's, then rolled out to the pad and finally launched.
What is really cool about this is you see all the mechanics involved in putting all the pieces together. Between 1986 and 1992 I worked at NASA in CA. Lura and I got the opportunity to see a lot of shuttle landings at Edwards AFB. When the shuttle returned to service, after a several year hiatus, all shuttle landings were done at Edwards because they were considered lower risk for several interesting reasons (I won't go into).
Around 1990 or so I got the opportunity to go to Florida and walk through the Shuttle processing facility and the stacking facility shown in the sequence. In the processing facility I got to walk under a shuttle (which is much larger than you think) and see the connection on the belly of the shuttle where there external tank connects to the shuttle. The external tank supplies the fuel to the 3 shuttle main engines during launch. As I recall this is a 15" or 18" pipe with a flapper valve in the shuttle that shuts during the sequence of jettisoning the external tank. I remember the engineer that gave me the tour talking about how hard it was build a VERY fast high performance flapper value that's 15" (mass is your enemy when doing something fast).
After walking under the shuttle and looking into the white-room that connects to the hatch (you just don't walk into a shuttle) my host took me over to the stacking facility. This facility was built for the Apollo program to mate the sections of Saturn V Moon Rocket. In the sequence above you can see the shuttle being lifted hundreds of feet in the air and attached to the external tank and SRB's. For a point of reference when you stand in the middle of that room and look up you actually can't see the hoist mechanism at the top of the bay, it's that tall. When I was there they were in the process of lifting a shuttle like you see in time laps video. In the 30 minutes I was there the shuttle moved a matter of inches. This is NOT a fast operation.
When congress kills a new spy plane, fighter jet, or a piece of space infrastructure that has been under development for 10 years I don't think they fundamentally understand how much it costs to "start over", rather they focus on what they are saving NOW. Building this stuff is simply epic and takes huge resources that average people don't have a grasp of.
When the shuttle stops flying soon I'm not sure that most people will understand that the shuttle was likely the most complicated piece of technology every devised and built by man. The chances of a catastrophic failure of a shuttle launch is something like 1 in 75. It's simply amazing that it works that well. The shuttle was a grand engineering feat that probably, like Apollo before it, will not be appreciated until we can't do it anymore.