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Space Shuttle Discovery

In front of the Headquarters Building at Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

The Orbiter Processing Facility

We visited the Space Shuttle Discovery before our flight hardware was installed into it. After the shuttle lands at KSC, it is towed to the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF). This is essentially a 'garage' for the orbiter, where it is stored and refurbished. After it is rolled into the building, custom built scaffolding is wheeled around it. This allows access by technicians to nearly every part of the shuttle. As a result of this equipment you don't see the whole orbiter at one time, but it does allow extremely close access.

My impression of the vehicle in the OPF were reminiscent of my first visit to a shuttle in 1990:

  • The shuttle is smaller than the impression you get from watching it on TV. Similar to seeing the Concorde the first time, you feel that the spacecraft should be bigger. Nevertheless it is very exciting and interesting to see the shuttle up close.
  • I am struck by its ugliness and beauty. The thermal protection system's tiles are different colors because they break and are constantly being replaced. The white surface everywhere else is really thermal blanketing material. Since it is contamination sensitive, it shows black streaks and smudges. It is not the sleak shiny spacecraft from sci-fi movies. On the other hand, I am awe struck by its beauty. This is a real working spacecraft that nobly and unfailingly hauls its cargo and passengers into space and back. It is no 'garage queen'. It is not similar to a prized antique vehicle that is waxed meticulously but never driven. There are marks and nicks to show every micro meteorite impact and mission scar. It is a truly an awesome and wonderful sight to behold. Click here for a closeup of the tail.
  • It is a priviledge to be allowed to get so close to a national space asset that you can touch it.

Relevant dates of STS-95
Relevant dates of STS-95.
Note that each orbiter is known by its 'OV' number.
Discovery is referred to as 'OV-103'.
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Aft of shuttle
View of the aft section.
Note the engine nozzle in the upper background.
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Main engine
Standing between the shuttle main engines.
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Nose of the shuttle
Standing next to the nose of Discovery.
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Nosewheel of the shuttle
Below the nosewheel of Discovery.
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Port side (left side) of the shuttle.
Note the yellow support beam holding the cargo bay door.
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Starboard side (right side) of the shuttle.
Note the cargo bay door in the lower background
and the partially obscured name of the orbiter.
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The Vehicle Assembly Building

After processing in the OPF, the shuttle is rolled on a carrier into the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). This building is one of the world's largest, and is often seen in space movies. Here the shuttle is picked up on a crane, rotated until its nose points up, and then bolted onto the External Tank. Since the shuttle then stands completely assembled and unobscured by scaffolding, you really get the full view of the spacecraft. As one can imagine, this is an unbelievably grand sight.

The Vehicle Assembly Building.
Each stripe on the painted American Flag
is about as wide as a single lane road.

The top of one of the two Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters.
The boosters arrive in sections and are assembled here. This
section is about 20 feet tall and contains the parachute and computer.
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View from the top of the VAB
View from the top of the VAB, 520 feet above the ground.
Note the External Tank (yellow), the two rocket boosters (pointy tips),
and the shuttle itself (black nose in the middle).
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103 in VAB
Standing next to Discovery after it is assembled.
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103 in VAB
Aft Section of the Shuttle in the background.
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103 in VAB
Fully assembled orbiter. External Tank is yellow,
Solid rocket is bottom right, and Discovery on left.
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103 in VAB
Standing next to the exhaust nozzle of the Solid Rocket Boosters.
When this engine is started, millions of pounds of thrust are produced.
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Aruban flag
With the shuttle engines in the background
and holding the Aruban flag. Full Size

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