A while back I was asked by some of our members to post a trip report of the ATX which I did way back in 2005.
I thought that it had been lost forever but it was "hidden" in the depths of my pc so here it is!
This is an amazing experience and is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in space exploration.
The day started with a 50 or so minute drive from the GF to Cape Canaveral. I had received an email with a confirmation of the booking asking me to report at the Astronaut Hall of Fame at 9.30 am, and to take a photo ID with me.
I arrived early [at around 9.00am] and met a couple of fellow “ATX`ers” who had been there for 5 minutes or so.
A couple of the staff introduced themselves to us and asked us to sign in while we waited for the others to arrive. It was all very informal and we were immediately on first name terms with them.
One by one the other visitors arrived [around 20 in all], and we were then taken into a small lecture room. En –route, we went through a large building with a mock up of the front of Space Shuttle Discovery, [along with some other apparatus which we would “play with” later]. In the lecture room we could help ourselves to tea, coffee, water or orange juice and we were all given a black polo shirt with an ATX logo and encouraged to go to the restrooms to change into them. We were also asked to put on our security passes [on a lanyard] and we were all given a small slip of paper with each of our names written on it.
There were lockers in the lecture room where we could safely leave anything we did not need for the visit as we were told that no-one else would be going into the room after we had left for our Experience.
One of the NASA guys then set up a slide show of the various aspects of the Space Shuttle Programme, projecting them onto a large screen in front of the seating area while we waited for his colleagues to arrive.
Some of these shots were truly amazing. I particularly envied the photos taken by the astronauts themselves as they flew over KSC as they were coming in to land in their small military jets. [Apparently all the astronauts are “given” one of these jets while they are in training to travel between Houston and KSC, and they are not equipped with an auto-pilot so that they keep the crew “on the ball” so to speak.]
We were then given an introduction by one of the NASA guys who explained in detail to us all aspects of the Shuttle Programme, inviting questions from anyone in the room. I can’t remember too much about the technical side of things and I wished that I had remembered to take a notepad and pen with me to take notes. I found this part of the day to be very interesting and informative, giving a detailed “behind the scenes” perspective of what is involved with the preparation and launch of the Shuttle missions.
At the end of this, we were then split into two groups “Discovery” and “Atlantis” [I was in “Discovery”.]
We were then told that we had to sort out the crew members for “our mission” later in the day, and a detailed description of each crew member task was given to us.
Each “job” was then announced and those who fancied that role placed their names into a box and the “winner” was drawn out. [I asked one of the guys if this was the method employed by NASA on every mission, which raised quite a titter!]
Despite all my efforts, I was not lucky enough to be selected as Commander, or even the Pilot, instead I had to settle for a role in Mission Control. [Maybe bribery will work the next time !]
We were then told to gather our belongings before going outside to board a bus that was to be our “VIP” means of transport for the day. Before leaving the building we had to pass through a security check [adjacent to “Discovery”] that was far more stringent than any I had encountered at any airport…I was relieved to see that the security guard was not wearing any rubber gloves though !
As we were waiting for everyone to be cleared, one of the NASA team brought out a used tyre from one of the Shuttles for us to examine. Being able to actually mess around with something that had been on a mission in the heavens was quite an experience in itself.
We all boarded the bus [under the watchful glare of the security guard] and set off for KSC where we entered a private dining area for lunch. The lunch was excellent, with salad and a choice of two hot dishes followed by dessert…no wine was on show though !
Part way through lunch, a retired astronaut joined us to talk about his experiences. His name was Gerald [Jerry] P. Carr [Colonel USMC.Retired] who was one of the 19 astronauts selected by NASA in 1966 and acted as CAPCOM for the Apollo 8 and 12 missions.
He was later the Commander of Skylab-4 and still holds the record of being on the longest manned flight [84 days, 1 hour and 15 minutes to be exact !] and logged a total of 15 hours and 48 minutes in three EVA`s outside the Orbital Workshop. [All of this info. was given to us later on the back of a photo…my memory ain`t that good! ]
Listening to this guy was amazing as he recalled his experiences during the time he was orbiting the Earth.
After a short question and answer session, the “Discovery” and “Atlantis” crews all had their group photographs taken with him in the corridor outside, after which he gave each of us a small gold Shuttle pin which we all wore with pride on our polo shirts for the rest of the day.
It was then back on the bus for our tour to begin.
I’ve been on the bus tour of KSC several times, however this time we were taken to several of the “no go” areas in our own VIP bus, along with a guide who kept feeding us information along the way regarding not only the complex itself, but also about the abundance of the wildlife surrounding us, even pointing out a huge alligator which the driver had spotted in one of the ditches. The bus slowed down at one stage so that we could all take a peek at a bald eagles nest high up in one of the trees which is occupied by the same breeding pair year on year, rearing their chicks before they fly away only to return the following year.
Our first stop was at a spectator viewing area with terraced seating overlooking the entire complex. We all sat on the terraces while our guide gave us the run down of all of the various launch pads we could see, telling us which missions went from which area from the beginning up to the present day.
It was then back on the bus for a drive to Pad 39B, which, along with 39A is where the Space Shuttles are launched. These were also the pads from where the Apollo moon missions started on their journey.
Along the way, we paused by the huge VAB [vehicle assembly building], again from where the Shuttles, and earlier the Apollo Saturn V rockets were assembled before being transported to their launch pads. We were shown the huge tracked vehicles that act at transporters and also the steel gantry used to remove the Shuttle Orbitor from the purpose built Boeing 747 which is employed to carry the orbitor back to KSC should it have to land elsewhere.
In the past, the closest I had been to the actual launch pad was around ˝ mile away, however this time we went right to the end of the crawler road at which point we were allowed off the bus very near to Pad 39B itself. Anyone who remembers the Apollo missions in the 60`s, and more recently the Space Shuttle Programme can appreciate what it felt like being so close to where it all took place…truly amazing and awe inspiring.
After taking loads of photographs, we got back onto the bus. As we were driving alongside the crawler lane we were told that this road was where the Apollo astronauts used to race their Chevrolet Corvettes which they were loaned for a nominal fee [$1 per year ! ] from a dealer in Cocoa Beach.
We were also told an amusing story regarding the food the astronauts ate on the Apollo missions. Apparently it was horrible, and they ate it from a toothpaste tube type of device.
Anyhow on one of the missions, one of the astronaut commanders managed to smuggle a corned beef sandwich on board, which he and his co pilot ate with relish on their return journey following their moon landing. Unfortunately, due to the zero gravity they were unable to stop all of the crumbs from flying around in their capsule and they were caught out when the capsule was closely inspected after the mission. At the time, this almost led to them being court marshalled for the offence, despite the fact that they had just risked their lives for their country!
Our next stop was at a building where we could see technicians at work preparing some huge components that formed the cargo for a forthcoming Shuttle mission. From the viewing area, behind huge windows, I noticed how incredibly clean everything was, almost like an operating theatre, and all the workers were wearing plastic suits and hats. Photography was allowed, however there were huge signs prohibiting the use of flash. This was not really a problem as it was very light and airy in the building anyhow.
From here we were taken to see the runway where the Shuttles land. Nearby is a huge building where they reassembled as much as they could from the Columbia disaster which was a poignant moment of our tour.
It was then back to the Astronaut Hall of Fame for our mission!
My group [“Discovery”] were the first to “do” their mission, while the “Atlantis” crew remained in the main building.
We all took our places according to the roles we had been given earlier, with the flight crew entering the orbitor and us in Mission Control being taken into an adjoining room. Here we sat in front of a bank of computer screens and we donned our headsets and microphones.
Above the consoles was a huge TV screen with a video link so that we could see the flight crew settling into their places on the orbitor.
What followed was a simulated Shuttle mission. We were each given a script to read, and we had to carry out various operations with the touch screen computers as and when required.
Throughout the mission, we could see the progress of our efforts as the Shuttle docked with the Space Station and unloaded its cargo. Mission completed, we “headed home”, it was now mainly up to the flight crew to make a perfect landing after we had guided them back to KSC.
As the Shuttle was on its approach to the runway we could hear the Flight Controller over the radio telling the Commander to “lift the nose up a bit”, at which stage the Commander replied “You mean that I am really in control of this?”, which resulted in unprecedented raucous laughter from all of us in Mission Control!
Apart from burying the nose wheel of the Shuttle on landing, the mission was a success and no-one was injured [apart from the Commanders` pride! ].
It was then the “Atlantis” crew to go on their mission while the “Discovery” crew returned to the main building.
There were two pieces of apparatus for us to try out. One was like a huge “baby bouncer” where you were strapped into a harness suspended from an overhead gantry with heavy-duty springs. You sort of bounced along with one of the NASA guys holding onto a lead, and this apparently gave you the sensation of what you would experience when walking on the moon.
The other apparatus was a motorised gyroscope where again you were securely strapped in and sent spinning around in every direction imaginable. We were told that no-one should feel dizzy or sick because throughout the time, your stomach remained in the centre of the device. Some of the participants did however appear to be a bit erm…”delicate” at the end of it though!
We were then shown several experiments that had been performed by the astronauts before we were each given a tub of freeze dried ice cream. The modern day astronauts do in fact eat rather well and they select their menus a couple of weeks before their mission. They can have almost anything they want, gone are the days of “toothpaste rations”! The ice cream looked like small balls of polystyrene, but as soon as it became moist in your mouth it was delicious. I would have loved to sample the steak also, but alas this was “not an option”!
Finally we all assembled back in the lecture room where we were each given a personally signed photo from “our” astronaut [Jerry Carr], along with a certificate which he had also signed, to verify that we had successfully completed the course.
We were also given a “goodie bag” containing several photographs of the Shuttle missions, a copy of our group photo taken with Jerry Carr earlier, a NASA booklet and also a 12 month pass to KSC!
All in all it was a memorable day, and I would highly recommend this to anyone who is only slightly interested in what goes on at KSC.
I may even do another one in the future….with luck, the next time I may even be given the coveted role of Commander!