Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Wings of Discovery

On a wonderfully bright and sunny morning with temperatures in the 90s, I and a couple of dozen other writers and photographers had the privilege to witness the first outside public appearance since retirement of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

It was the first day of my trip that skies had dawned cloudless and a perfect crystal blue, providing a beautiful backdrop to the spectacle.

As Discovery was pushed slowly out of her processing facility by a bright yellow tow truck the enormity of the changes wrested up on this craft struck home.

She emerged without any main engines, nose thrusters or aft rocket pods. Seeing the stripped down orbiter with a gaping hole in the nose was a harsh reminder that the spaceship's flying days are over.

Discovery was being moved to the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to enter storage, opening up the processing hanger to receive Atlantis after the final Space Shuttle landing next week.

Technicians are in the midst of a multi-month process of making safe Discovery's systems and readying the orbiter for the Smithsonian museum in Washington. Before she leaves Florida next year NASA will outfit the ship with mocked up engines and thrusters so that it looks ‘normal’ in the museum display.

"We're currently in the process of decommissioning Discovery," Stephanie Stilson, Discovery’s long-time process flow manager, told me. "Part of doing that means we have to go in and safe the major systems that have hazards."

A hundred or so NASA office workers gathered by the rope boundary to witness and photograph the giant spaceship, the likes of which will probably never fly in space again.

The Shuttle fleet has been the life-blood of Kennedy Space Center for three decades and many employees, a good number of whom face redundancy in the coming days and weeks, expressed their sadness at seeing the orbiter like this at the end of its flying career.

"It is like Discovery has become disfigured," one person told me, whilst others said they found it too emotional even to come out and see the orbiter in such a decimated state.

For the rest of us it was another very special moment as Discovery moved closer and towered overhead before being slowly and carefully towed from the main roadway on the final stretch towards the VAB.

At one point we were standing right under the wing of a craft that had altogether spent a full year in space during 39 missions, has orbited Earth 5,830 times and travelled 148,221,675 miles during a flight career spanning 27 years.

Picture below - a rare photo-call for the British Interplanetary Society Spaceflight team at KSC during the roll over of the decomissioned Space Shuttle Discovery. From left: Rudolf van Beest (Netherlands), Andy Green (UK), Clive Simpson (Editor - UK), Joel Powell (Canada), Ken Kremer (USA) and Gerard van de Haar (Netherlands).

1 comment:

  1. Superb photos Clive !
    Thanks for sharing...