7 Days Until Launch

It’s crunch time now. No more planning and preparing, I have got to start actually packing and getting ready to go out the door.

I don’t have a hotel room yet. How sad is that? I’ve waited until the FRR on Tueday, but that isn’t the problem, it just explains why I started so late. Hotels on the beach in July simply cost more than they do in April and my bids on Priceline have been too low so far. I started at $40 for a nice 3-star, which is what I’ve paid before. I’ve gone up in price each day, bidding $63/night yesterday. I think I’ll hit the acceptance level today. The worst case scenario, I’ll have to pay retail and that’s not so bad.

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Launch Pads By Moonlight

This picture was part of the last gallery, but it is so beautiful I wanted to post it again.

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Cape Canaveral Historical Images

This gallery contains 69 photos.

My company, Tetra Tech, has worked at Cape Canaveral and Patrick AFBs for the past several years and one co-worker was given these great photos of launches from Cape Canaveral over the years.  He shared them with me. I put them in as … Continue reading

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Out to Launch

I was going to save that post title for went I left town to head to the STS-135 liftoff, but realized I’ll still be posting here a lot. So I wouldn’t be “out” to readers of the blog.

Last night the Minotaur 1 rocket went up successfully from Virginia, and people as far away as Connecticut and New Jersey say they saw it clearly. In case you’d like to catch a launch, here are some upcoming ones in the US until the end of the year. (I’ll leave out ones from Kazakhstan or French Guiana)

  • July 8: Atlantis, KSC, Florida
  • July 14: Delta 4, Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • August 5: Atlas 5, Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • Sept. 8: Delta 2, Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • Sept. 27: Minotaur 4, Kodiak Launch Complex, Alaska
  • Oct. 8: Falcon 9, Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • Oct 25: Delta 2, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
  • Nov 17: Delta 4, Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • Nov 25: Atlas 5, Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • Dec 7: Falcon 9, Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • Dec 14: Taurus 2, Wallops Island, Virginia
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Birth of Atlantis

This gallery contains 13 photos.

Some wonderful pictures of the construction of the space shuttle orbiter Atlantis, via space.com, with a hat tip to @F1Allan. Credit for all photos to Boeing. All pictures taken at the Rockwell International facility in Palmdale, CA. except those of … Continue reading

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By All Means, Spread Rumors

NASA hasn’t yet told us who we’ll meet on our tour but rumors abound. Now, I’m not one to go around spreading rumors. No, really, I’m just not the gossipy kind. There IS a celebrity that some say will be there, but I will not divulge it.


Joining them will be a special guest, Sesame Street’s Elmo. Sesame Street will be at Kennedy to film Elmo, as he learns about space exploration at NASA.

When reached for comment, Kermit said that he was green with envy.


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Want to attend a NASA Tweetup?

Just because this is the final shuttle mission doesn’t mean this is the end of NASA, launches, space exporation, or NASA Tweetups. Although there is not an open registration at this moment, there have been two windows of opportunity just this past week.

I don’t say that to make anyone feel bad for missing those opportunities, but to highlight how often chances come up. So regularly check the NASA Tweetup homepage, or follow NASA on Twitter.

Last week, registration was open from Friday until Monday for a chance to view the launch of the Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft aboard an Atlas V-551. A shorter 24 registration window was open yesterday until 11AM EDT this morning for a chance to fly the shuttle simulator in Houston. Keep checking back.

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Minotaur 1 to launch tonight from Virginia

Why wait until next week? You can watch a launch tonight. The Minotaur 1 was scheduled to launch last night, June 28, but the liftoff was scrubbed because of rain.  It’s rescheduled for tonight with the same launch window of 8:28-11:28 PM EDT.

Minotaur 1

Launch is planned from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Va. This is at the top of the Eastern Shore.

The U.S. Air Force plans to launch a $226 million mission aboard a Minotaur rocket Tuesday to reshape how deployed forces receive battlefield imagery from space, a breakthrough in the Pentagon’s program to field tactical satellites on smaller budgets and faster schedules.

The Minotaur 1 rocket is partially made of decommissioned Minuteman missile stages. Recycling!

After accelerating into orbit on the power of four solid-fueled rocket motors, the Minotaur launch vehicle should release the ORS 1 spacecraft 248 miles above Earth less than 12 minutes after liftoff.


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Welcome News Sentinel Readers!

I hope you are as excited to watch this launch as I am, be it from Florida, the TV, or where I watched several: from my computer screen watching a NASA live link. And hopefully, I’ll be able to post some pictures, stories, and video that make anyone who can’t make the trip feel like you’re there.

If you are even halfway thinking about coming, I encourage you to do it. Yes, the crowds will be big but so what? There are still some on-site tickets for sale on the secondary market, but there are also plenty of good spots available for free. My family is going down and will either go to Titusville or watch it from the beach in Daytona.

Space View Park in Titusville is a great view, only about 13 miles directly across the water from the launch area. You can see the VAB and launch pads. It will be crowded but that could also be part of the fun. There will be vendors selling food, drinks, and lots of space souvenirs. There are also plenty of other good spots in Titusville.

I’ll do an entire post about where and how to view the launch later tonight. But for now, if you’re interested, some fast facts about this shuttle mission STS-135, a brief history of the shuttle program (the cliff notes if you will),  a little about the Vehicle Assembly Building (a truly amazing construction), some shuttle pictures, and fast facts about the shuttle.

Plus two lists  you will need: a mission day-by-day checklist, and the guide to the final countdown starting July 5th.

And for fun, shuttle mission patches, space shuttle on stamps, and the 12 men who walked on the moon.

Posted in NASA history, Space Shuttle Atlantis, Space Shuttle history, STS-135, Tweetup experience | Leave a comment

10 Days Until Launch

Holy moly, how did it get to be just 10 days ’til liftoff? July almost here already? I’m not prepared! My to-do list too long! The things I’ve ordered haven’t arrived.

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Zombie Prepardedness Protocol

NASA is very good at preparing for almost every conceivable problem. In that spirit, visitors to NASA should also be prepared. Wear sunscreen, drink plenty of water, observe fire exits, and always be ready for zombie attack. Even the Center For Disease Control recognizes the need for preparedness for the zombie apocalypse.

If zombies attack the shuttle itself, the heat and energy from the SRBs should be sufficient to blow apart any attackers. And if the attack before launch, well, let’s just say there are defense mechanisms, but I’m not cleared to talk about them.

You’re real concern, citizen, is if the zombie attack you. You first step is to determine if the zombies were created by a supernatural force or by a freak accident of science, possibly involving Mentos, Diet Coke, and Pop Rocks. If it was supernatural, you will have to also defeat the power behind them. On the up side, sometimes defeating that power kills all the zombies at the same time, saving you effort.

If zombies approach your launch viewing area,

  1. Don’t panic. Fear is your enemy. Stay calm and focused
  2. Never underestimate the zombies. This can be tempting because they are slow and cannot reason, but they have advantages like superior numbers, no ability to feel pain, and persistence.
  3. Don’t be tempted to humanize them, reason with them, or feel sorry for them. They make look like your poor dead friend, but they’re not.
  4. Don’t run away. While it make seem smart to avoid zombies altogether, you’ll just have to face them later, and they may have zombiefied more people. Go ahead and face them now, unless your retreat is tactical, moving to a better defense position.

Once you’ve decided to engage the zombie, you must choose your weapon. And you will need a weapon. Don’t let a zombie grab you. They are wicked strong. Keep this handy weapon guide close:

Weapon Useful? Comments
Shotgun Yes Can separate head from body. No need to get close. This is the best zombie fighting weapon.
Rifle/Pistol Maybe Bullets themselves will not stop a zombie. You may be able to remove the head with a hail of bullets, but this isn’t the most efficient way to defeat zombies.
Sword/Axe Yes Can separate head from body, but you must get close. This holds true for almost anything you can swing at a zombie to remove its head. A tripod for example.
Fire Maybe Just being on fire won’t stop the zombie but once the flame reduces them to ashes, they are defeated.
Cross No Zombies are not vampires, pay attention.
Silver Bullet No Do you even understand what a zombie is?
Water No You know, I’m not even sure that really works on witches, much less zombies. Dorothy lies. 
Camera Flashes Maybe While more study is needed, some research does indicate camera flashes will temporarily stop zombies, allowing escape
Smacking on nose with rolled up newspaper No Seriously? You just want to die, don’t you?

Remember, there is no such thing as overkill when fighting zombies. But be safe, because although zombie fighting is fun, it can also be dangerous. Please obey all safety rules when handling sharp knives or using guns.

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A Thousand Words

The worst part of the tweetup experience: I just had my picture taken a hundred times. Actually, I wasn’t counting, but a lot of times. I hate getting my picture taken. Hate, hate, hate. The gentleman kept me talking to put me at ease. So between those shots where I’m flapping my pie hole, maybe I look relaxed and natural in one.

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Didn’t you see it? It was in the paper.

A week or so after the TV station read a bit of my media release, the local paper, the Knoxville News Sentinel, called me. A reporter called this morning before I went to work and interviewed me. He said they were going to run a story now, with a follow-up while I am at the tour/launch. I only wish NASATweetup had released the agenda so I’d have more to tell him. If I’m going to meet Neil Armstrong or something like that, I’d like to know now. Rumor has it that Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek is coming. 

I don’t think mine is just a story of a super cool prize won by a local woman. NASA picked tweeters to come to the launch so we could tweet about it. The story is that anyone who cares to follow my tweets or blog can also have a front row seat, or as best I can provide. If each of the 150 attendees has 1000 followers, that’s 150,000 people turned in to the play-by-play details of launch day. And 150 different angles on what to cover. What an honor to be in that role. And what a responsibility!

Makes me feel guilty for two or three light days of blogging. I haven’t even touched on the two shuttle losses, an intro to the ISS, some hints on good locations to watch the launch if you don’t have Causeway tickets, and a dozen other ideas I have floating around for blog posts. Get to work, Renna!

On that line of thought, at the actual launch itself, when a million cameras will be focused on the pad, (well, hopefully on the pad), I’m thinking about using a second camera to turn around and get a shot of the crowd. All those cameras, all those smiling upturned faces. It’s almost like, instead of watching the bride walk down the aisle, watching the groom’s face during that time. 

Meanwhile, the FRR is ongoing. I’m reading the tweets from NASA and if I thought I knew what a Flight Readiness Review would be like, I was wrong. It is very thorough, as they are in the third hour. Here are the last four tweets:


#FRR-After a ground flammability test failure, thorough testing cleared nickel filters installed in spacesuits and station oxygen systems.

#FRR-Space station’s life support systems are operational and can support STS-135, recycling water, making oxygen, removing carbon dioxide.

#FRR-Station altitude will be raised because of peak solar cycle drag but not too high because that increases orbital debris/radiation risk.

#FRR-Station has enough supplies for 10 – six station and four shuttle crew – while the shuttle crew gradually returns on Soyuz capsules.


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They Can Say Hamlet

The dress rehearsal for the July 8th shuttle launch was last Thursday. The day started at 6:30 a.m.. The astronauts in full gear were taken to the shuttle, loaded, and the close-out crew shutting the door. Sounds simple but what happened in that last sentence took about 3 hours.  For the next 1-2 hours, members of the crew and mission control practice all the sequence of events that will happen for real the Friday after next. The countdown was handed over to the Ground Launch Sequencer at T-9 minutes. (countdown events)

But like some bomb diffusion in a movie thriller, the countdown was halted at T-4 seconds. As planned. At that point, the rehearsal was no longer a practice of a normal launch but became a rehearsal of a pad abort scenario. In other words, what they would do if the computers detect a problem and shut down the engines before the SRBs are ignited. That has happened five times in shuttle history.

After shutdown procedures, the crew practices an emergency egress scenario, exiting the shuttle and hurrying to the slidewire baskets, although they didn’t ride the baskets down.

After coming back down the shuttle platform, they returned past the press area. The crew will be back at KSC on the 4th to prepare for the July 8th scheduled launch.

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11 Days Until Launch

I have my cameras now, including a nice HD video camera, tripod, and all the accoutrements of someone who actually knows what they are doing with cameras. Which I don’t. However, my kind benefactor was telling me what aperture was. I’m not quite that uninformed.

It is the first camera I’ve had that corrects for nearsightedness. He laughed that “all cameras do that.” Uh, not all. Not the little $100 digital snapshot cameras. 🙂

Tomorrow is the last Flight Readiness Review. I hope flight plans aren’t delayed, but if by some chance they are, my consolation will be knowing that I waited to make hotel reservations.

My husband registered for the next Tweetup, for the Atlas rocket launch in August, sending the Juno probe to Jupiter. It will be fabulous if he wins. And hilarious if HE made the papers when apparently, all the radio, TV, and newspapers aren’t the least bit interested in me or any pictures/stories I may get of the final launch that they probably will not.

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13 Days Until Launch

My mission patches arrived today! I ordered one for this mission, STS-135, and 3 others.

STS-135 Mission Patch

I ordered STS-134 because I have 131, 132, 133, and now 135. But I have all those because I went to their launches. I didn’t go to STS-134, but I got it to complete the “set.” Then I ordered patches for launches I saw in 1990 and 1995, STS-36 and STS-67. I have 8-12 more on a cork board at work.

Tomorrow I am meeting my brother-in-law at the gardens of University of Tennessee. He’s going to show me how to use his awesome camera. Besides being a top cop, also runs his own photography business.

For this mission’s patch, the shuttle is centered over a blue circle of space, with the red NASA chevron, symbolizing that the shuttle has been at the heart of the NASA program for the past 30 years. The blue circle and red chevron reflects the ‘meatball’ NASA logo.

The gold omega, the last letter in the Greek alphabet, recognizes that this is the last space shuttle mission.

The black exhaust pattern on the bottom of the patch mimics the shape of the Shuttle 30 year patch.

The last names of the four astronauts surround the design. I can’t find why it is a black diamond shape overall. Perhaps someone reading this will know and let me in on it. Maybe they’re skiers. 🙂

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Brief Atlantis History

City of Atlantis

If some kid visits this page looking for info on the sunken city of Atlantis, they’re in for disappointment.

NASA awarded the contract to Rockwell International to build Atlantis on Jan 1, 1979, so she’s a child of the 70s. The final assembly was completed in April 1984, but she didn’t roll out from Palmdale until March of 1985, delivered to KSC  the next month.

Her real name, or Orbiter Vehicle Designation, is OV-104. She was named Atlantis after RV Atlantis, a sailing ship for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

RV Atlantis


Atlantis’ maiden flight was STS-51J on Oct 3, 1985. She has flown 32 flights to date, traveling more than 120 million miles.She has spent 293 days in orbit, completed over 4600 orbits, deployed 14 satellites, and docked 11 times at the ISS.

Her last launch was May of last year. I was there for that one, BTW. Sitting with my family at Space View Park at Titusville.

During her career, Atlantis has launched Magellan and Galileo, probes to Venus and Jupiter. Atlantis made seven flights to Mir and made the 100th US manned flight. She has helped build the ISS she is now stocking, and took a crew to service the Hubble.

Atlantis cannot draw power from the ISS so must remain under her own power while docked there. She is the lightest and was built in half the time of Columbia because of lessons learned with the first three orbiters.


  • Weight (with three SSMEs): 176,413 pounds
  • Length: 122.17 feet
  • Height: 56.58 feet
  • Wingspan: 78.06 feet
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14 Days Until Launch

Rumor is the shuttle will be taking up and installing a retro encabulator on the ISS.

Tweetup attendees got a teaser today about the agenda for our tour day. In case you missed it, we will arrive early the day before the launch and tour, meet people, and attend the RSS rollback. I presume we’ll get to go inside the VAB, and hope we’ll be “our” astronauts. Our teaser today is that our jaws will drop when we read the agenda. More shocking than the fact we get to be there at all? That certainly stirs the imagination.

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Countdown! 4-3-2-1

We’ll be right here, in front of the world famous countdown clock. We’ve watched it our whole lives. We’re thrilled. But what exactly will happen? When does it start counting down? When does it hold?

Wonder no longer: the countdown sequence is given below for your enjoyment. Print it off and check off the milestones as you watch the launch at home.

T-43 hours and counting – Start Countdown Clock

  • The countdown gets underway with the traditional call to stations by the NASA Test Director.
  • Mid-deck and flight-deck platforms are removed.
  • Navigational Systems activated and tested.

T-27 hours & holding

  • Preliminary Flight Deck inspections completed.
  • Complete preparation to load power reactant storage and distribution system and complete flight deck preliminary inspections

 T-27 hours & counting

  • Clear launch pad of all nonessential personnel.
  • Begin operations to load cryogenic reactants into Atlantis’s fuel cell storage tanks

 T-19 hours & holding

  • Demating of the Orbiter’s mid-body umbilical unit takes place.
  • Final preparations for Shuttle’s three main engines begins.

 T-19 hours & counting

  • Begin filling sound suppression systems water tank.
  • Close out the tail service masts on the mobile launcher platform

 T-11 hours & holding

  • Move Rotating Service Structure (RSS) to park position.
  • Activate Orbiter’s inertial measurement units.
  • Activate Orbiter’s communications systems.
  • Perform ascent switch list

 T-11 hours & counting

  • Activate the Orbiter’s fuel cells.
  • Clear the blast danger area of all nonessential personnel.
  • Switch Atlantis’s purge air to gaseous nitrogen.

 T-6 hours & holding

  • The Final Inspection Team conducts a detailed analysis of the vehicle as they walk up and down the entire launch tower.
  • Begin loading the external tank with about 500,000 gallons of cryogenic propellants as we begin T-6 and counting.

 T-6 hours & counting

 T-3 hours & holding

 T-3 hours & counting

 T-20 minutes & holding

 T-20 minutes & counting

 T-9 minutes & holding

 T-9 minutes & counting

 T-0 – Liftoff!

Posted in Countdown, Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-135 | 3 Comments

Call Me Scoop.


This is how I’m thinking of dressing on launch day.

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Desperately Seeking Approval

The floodgates are open and everyone from L-Z got their approvals! Well, I guess I don’t know that *everyone* got their approvals from NASA, but I assume.

Amusingly, the email from the Tweetup telling us to ignore some parts of the KSC emails arrived 2 minutes before the KSC emails.

At 8:44PM an email from STS-135 Tweetup Registration came which said:

Please be advised that your STS-135 Tweetup registration has been accepted by the KSC Media Accreditation System.

The automatic emails you have received from the system giving you directions to pick up badges DO NOT APPLY TO YOU – please disregard.

You will be receiving periodic emails from the HQ-Twitter email account with instructions specifically for Tweetup participants. It is imperative that you only follow the instructions from the HQ-Twitter account.

Thank you and we look forward to your participation at the STS-135 Tweetup!

At 8:46, KSC Media Accreditation informed me that my request was “verified.”

Your request submitted on 06/14/2011 has passed our verification screening process and has been submitted to the approval authority.
Event: STS-135 Tweetup (Confirmed NASA HQ Invitees ONLY)

The next step in the process to gain access to KSC is to approve your request. The next email you receive will be sent at the completion of the approval step. This email originated from an application and uses an internal email address which cannot be replied to.

Verified, but not approved? There is yet another step? Fear not, the approval came from the same address at 8:50. Apparently, a grueling 4 minute approval process once verified. 🙂

Your request submitted on 06/14/2011 has been Approved.

Event: STS-135 Tweetup (Confirmed NASA HQ Invitees ONLY)

This is the last email you will be receiving regarding your request. You will pick up your badge depending on one of the following three scenarios on the first day of your visit:

[stuff that didn’t apply to Tweeters]

ALL MEDIA must have two forms of government ID to be able to obtain your badge(s) – only one must have a picture.
Download a list of acceptable documents to accompany a Federal or State Identification: https://media.ksc.nasa.gov/assets/docs/PhotoIdentificationSources.pdf

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15 Days Until Launch

Welcome! I haven’t updated much yesterday and today, so in the mean time, please enjoy other posts. I like Stinking Badges, Acronyms, and Stamps the best.

I’m thinking I need one on zombie space bats

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16 Days Until Launch

“Not even bacon could make this better.”

It still seems the clearance emails from NASA are going out alphabetically. Meaning no one has posted that they’ve gotten their email, and someone earlier in the alphabet not. I was expecting to wake up to an email, but nothing so far. There appears to be a lull. I hope it’s just a lull. It’s past 5pm.

There was a violent thunderboomer in Knoxville last night and upwards of 65% of my fellow citizens are without power, so I should be happy I have email at all.

For no particular reason, if anyone asks me if this is the greatest experience I’ve had, or anything about my degree of joy, I’ve decided to answer, “Not even bacon could make this better.”

Still can’t bring myself to push “Buy your room” on the travel website. Got all the way to the final step a minute or so ago. I just think the odds of a shift in plans are greater than the odds of rooms selling out.

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Postage Due – The Shuttle on Stamps

Stamp collectors around the world, like the rest of us, have been in love with spaceflight since it began. There are countless stamp collectors who specialize in space stamps, and likewise countries have issued countless space stamps for them to collect. So many, in fact, that people who specialize in space stamps often have to specialize still further. Like I’m going to here, and only discuss stamps with the Space Shuttle itself.

America’s first space stamp was in 1948, with a rocket launch pictured on the Fort Bliss Centennial stamp, Scott #976.  The space shuttle was first honored on a stamp May 21, 1981, just 39 days after its April 12, 1981 first launch.

In 1985, the shuttle made its first airmail stamp, Scott #C122, showing mail delivery methods of the future. By 1991, America was ready to think about the space shuttle of the future, with Scott stamp #2543.

In 1992, three years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the US and Russia released a joint stamp issue,  called International Cooperation In Space. The shuttle appeared on one of the four stamps.

Almost ten years after her last voyage, Challenger was honored on her own stamp #2544, in June 1995. This was the first time a specific shuttle orbiter was honored. But Endeavour followed up two months later with her own stamp, Scott #2544a.

Three years later in 1998, the shuttle orbiters were again used on the priority and express mail stamps on #3261-3262. Hidden text on the stamps listed each orbiter’s name, but Endeavour was misspelled. It has, as you know, the extra “British” u because it is named for Cook’s ship Endeavour, not just after the concept itself.

At the end of the century, the US Postal service issued stamps honoring each decade. Shuttle stamps were featured in both the 1980s sheet and the 1990s sheet.

Also in 2000, a busy year for our shuttle, a souvenir sheet was issued honoring all Space Achievement, stamps #3409-3413.

Many people in stamps think was the last US stamp to date with the space shuttle, but often miss the 2002 Greetings From Florida stamp #3569. When you have as much class as the shuttle, you don’t mind playing a supporting role now and again.

Even though the space shuttle is US born and bred, the world loves her as much as we do. Just the quickest of searches online yielded over a dozen countries that had pictured our shuttle on one or more of their stamps. Of course they’d like it very much if American collectors bought the stamps





Guinea Bissau

Sao Tome and Principe






Posted in Images, Space Shuttle history | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

17 Days Until Launch

I was on TV last night. Or so I hear. Not an interview or picture, but a friends tells me they read a bit from the press release near the end of the 5:00 news. Nifty.  I was hoping that the local media would see me not so much a story, as a source. I want to be on the phone to our local drive-time DJ on the morning of the launch.

(Drum roll) An initial FRR, flight readiness review (You  ARE learning your NASA acronyms, right?) is today. If it’s a thumbs up, I may finally book that room. I’ve been waiting, while other Tweetupers have booked rooms, designed “badges” for their respective lodgings, and printed t-shirts.

Today I also ordered 4 mission patches and sent 5 press releases. I am determined to do my intro video tonight. Some others attendees have gotten their clearance notification. I was concerned until someone else said they were still waiting, and I noticed all those celebrating had A or B last names. So far it does appear to be going alphabetical. Why didn’t I keep my maiden name!

Being an astronaut may have it’s dangers, but I don’t think the cold vacuum of space or riding a flaming rocket of exploding gasses built by the lowest bidder would terrify me nearly as much as the sliding escape baskets from the launch pad.

Escape baskets

Those puppies slide 1200 feet, at 55 mph, and are stopped by a net and drag chains.

The viewing looking down the slidewire.

Posted in Countdown, Images, NASA history, Space Shuttle Atlantis, Space Shuttle history, Tweetup experience | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Without Looking, Name 12 Men Who’ve Walked on the Moon

I’ll bet most everyone can get one, and more than half can get three. But you, you’re a space nerd. You’re reading this aren’t you? You should know this.

The 12 men who’ve walked on the moon: Learn it, know it, live it. There’ll be a quiz later.  And, no it wasn’t Louis Armstrong. Or Lance. 🙂

  • Neil Armstrong – Apollo 11
  • Buzz Aldrin – Apollo 11
  • Pete Conrad –  Apollo 12
  • Alan Bean –  Apollo 12
  • Alan Shepard –  Apollo 14
  • Edgar Mitchell –  Apollo 14
  • David Scott –  Apollo 15
  • James Irwin –  Apollo 15
  • John W. Young –  Apollo 16
  • Charles Duke –  Apollo 16
  • Harrison Schmitt –  Apollo 17
  • Eugene Cernan –  Apollo 17
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We DO Need Stinking Badges

Manhattan Program patch

Mission and Program patches have been created since the early days of NASA, a tradition borrowed from the military. Designing the patch is the job of the flight crew, although they may use ideas or people outside of the mission.

Mercury program

The first mission patches worn were for the Gemini program, but the space store at Kennedy sells a Mercury program patch, and a patch for many of their missions, starting with Mercury 3, the first US manned space flight, with Alan Shepard in 1961.


There are patches for flights that were never flown, small souvenir patches, and the official 4″ patches. As you can imagine, there are those who collect patches.

I about nine patches, some 4″ patches for missions last year and this year, and a half dozen 3″ souvenir patches I bought during my last tour at KSC. I plan on buying patches for this mission, and for launches I saw in 1990 and 1995  when I’m there next month.


But the big question is, which are the best and worst looking shuttle patches? You can view them here. Perhaps it is some form of bias, but I like -132 as the best circle design, and -134 for its unique and attractive shape. As for worst, I don’t know. Probably one with rainbows.

Posted in Images, NASA history | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

My First News Story

After sending out several emails to media last week in vain, I asked the lady at my office who handles press releases for our company to send a couple out. Within an hour or so, my story was on the website of WATE, a local TV station.

Thank you, Kathy!


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I Call It A Very Easy Distance*

These distances came from a shuttle photography website, so they may be slightly off, but the essence remains: we’ll be close.

Distances to Pads

      Viewing site                                                                         Pad A (mile)           Pad B (mile)

Press Site 3.1 3.4
Barge Turn Basin 3.1 3.4
VIP/Family Banana Creek Site 3.9 3.3
Static Test Road 5.0 6.3
NASA Causeway (west end) 6.1 7.3
NASA Causeway (mid point) 6.6 7.8
NASA Causeway (east end) 7.1 8.5
KSC Visitor Center  7.5 8.1
Astronaut Hall of Fame 10.9 10.9
Closest point in Titusville 11.9 11.2


* The first person who knows the reference of the title of this post wins…, well, the smug satisfaction of being the first person to know the reference of the title of this post. Post it in the comments. 🙂

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STS-135 Mission Checklist

Here is a great checklist, or yet-to-do list for the STS-135 mission from spaceflightnow. Print it up and check ’em off as you play along at home. 

Upcoming STS-135 mission events:

  •  June 20: Payloads installed into Atlantis
  • June 23: Launch day dress rehearsal test
  • June 24: Payload bay doors closed for flight
  • June 28: Flight readiness review
  • June 30: Pre-flight mission news briefings
  • July 4: Crew arrives for launch
  • July 5: Countdown clocks begin ticking @ 1 p.m.
  • July 6: Fuel cell servicing
  • July 7: Pad gantry retracted @ 2 p.m.
  • July 8: LAUNCH @ 11:26 a.m. EDT <——–!!!!!!!!!!
  • July 9: Heat shield inspections
  • July 10: Docking to space station @ 11:09 a.m.
  • July 11: Install Raffaello on station
  • July 12: Spacewalk No. 1 @ 8 a.m.
  • July 13: Raffaello module unloading
  • July 14: Continued work in Raffaello
  • July 15: Continued work in Raffaello
  • July 16: Finish stowing Raffaello
  • July 17: Raffaello returned to shuttle bay
  • July 18: Undocking from station @ 1:59 a.m.
  • July 19: Test re-entry and landing systems
  • July 20: LANDING in Florida @ 7:06 a.m.

Can’t get enough Space Shuttle? Need to know more, more, more?  Here is an hour-by-hour checklist leading up to the launch, starting July 5. And another hour-by-hour checklist of activities during the mission, so you can follow along with the Atlantis crew.

You’ll know when they are sleeping; you’ll know when they’re awake.

Posted in Countdown, Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-135 | 2 Comments

18 Days Until Launch

Is it weird that I wish I had longer to wait until the launch so that I could enjoy this whole experience longer? The planning and anticipation have been so great that one month hardly seems long enough.

Started off today by having the media person in our office try sending out my media releases again. Maybe she’ll know the right person because the ones I sent out last week were apparently ignored.

I watched this video first thing this morning about the Closeout Crew, the folks that load the astronauts, and do all the last hands-on things before launch, including sealing the door. Like every single other person who works at NASA/KSC that I’ve ever heard talking about their job, they radiate joy over working there. My intense jealousy of anyone who gets to work at NASA is tempered seeing that, to a person, they’re continually and acutely aware of how awesome their job is. They are living history every moment and count themselves lucky. What a tragedy it would be if they were blasé.

Activities at KSC today

Space shuttle Atlantis’ astronauts will be welcomed to the Kennedy Space Center this afternoon to begin the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test activities. TCDT week includes emergency training drills and a launch day dress rehearsal for the crew.

Oooo, a new acronym for my list: TCDT. The astronauts will arrive a little before 6, and if I or you the reader are so inclined, we can watch it live. They began x-raying the external tank yesterday and will continue all week, looking for cracks.

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Space Shuttle…by the numbers

  • The most recent shuttle orbiter built cost $1.7 billion.
  • There have been six shuttle orbiters: Enterprise, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour
  • The average Space Shuttle launch costs about $450 million.
  • At liftoff, an orbiter and External Tank carry 835,958 gallons of the principle liquid propellants: hydrogen, oxygen, hydrazine, monomethylhydrazine, and nitrogen tetroxide.
  • The total weight of the fuel is 1,607,185 pounds. The weight of the entire shuttle at liftoff is 4,500,000 pounds.
  • The Shuttle must reach speeds of about 17,500 miles per hour to remain in orbit. The exact speed depends on orbital altitude, which normally ranges from 190 miles to 330 miles.
  • A shuttle is 184.2 feet long, with the orbiter 122.17 feet long. Its wingspan is 78.06 feet.
  • SRB separation is at 2 minutes.
  • The ET separation is at 8.5 minutes.
  • Maximum cargo weight: 63,500 pounds.
  • The longest shuttle mission was 17.5 days
  • STS-135 is the:

    • 135th shuttle mission
    • 22nd post-Columbia mission
    • 110th post-Challenger mission
    • 33rd flight of Atlantis
    • 100th day launch
    • 60th day launch from pad 39A
    • 82nd launch off pad 39A
    • TBD 51.6-degree inclination
    • 25th night landing
    • 78th KSC landing
    • 19th KSC night landing
    • 25.46 years since STS-51L
    • 8.44 years since STS-107
  • Jim Wetherbee flew on 6 flight; commanded 5 of them; including first rendezvous with Mir.
Posted in Space Shuttle history | 1 Comment

19 Days Until Launch

Happy Juneteenth. Did I mention I love all kinds of history, not just space program history?

I am so far behind in preparing for the Tweetup. I still need to re-send media releases, borrow and learn to use my brother-in-law’s nice camera, and book reservations. Oh, and make a intro video. But in my defense, yesterday was all-day Manhattan Project history, and today is Father’s Day. Good thing I boned up on my nuclear history, because my relatives are coming to town this week and want a tour of Oak Ridge, TN.

In STS-135 news, the External Tank, called ET-138, will go up with some body art. Painted on its nose is a design commemorating the 30 year space program. Well, it’s been 30 years since Columbia lifted off in 1981, but the shuttle program started in 1969.

Posted in Countdown, Space Shuttle Atlantis, Space Shuttle history, STS-135, Tweetup experience | Leave a comment

We interrupt this program…

This gallery contains 18 photos.

Instead of the space program, today I spent touring The Manhattan Project. We were in the former Clinton Engineering Works, a town we all know today as Oak Ridge. I toured the graphite reactor: The oldest reactor in the world, … Continue reading

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20 Days Until Launch

The best news today was that my family may get to come. Of course they can’t go with me to KSC, but we can travel and stay together, and I’ll like knowing they’re just over in Titusville watching the same launch I am. It will be the fourth launch for my children. It would have been five but Discovery scrubbed once while we were already in FL.

As for Atlantis, it’s just sitting there. I’m sorry, SHE’S just sitting there waiting for us. But here she is at rollout.

Posted in Countdown, Images, Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-135, Tweetup experience | Leave a comment

National Wildlife Refuuuu..What’s That??

Juxtaposition is a great word. At Kennedy Space Center, the cutting edge of technology and human achievement, there are also huge tracts of land that are undeveloped, natural. KSC and Merritt Island’s National Wildlife Refuge, born at  the same time.

I’ve been on the KSC bus tour three times: as a child, a young couple, and with kids. Each time, the guides made a big deal out of the wildlife at Kennedy.

When my husband and I were on the tour, between every stop, our guide would go on and on about what a great job NASA does taking care of the endangered and threatened species.  At one point, we were all looking at him at the head of the bus, while he was once again singing NASA’s praises, with such earnest pride, such enthusiasm at how NASA cared for the wildlife.  Just then a huge white bird smashed into the windshield. Yep, we killed it.  Right behind him. Dead Great White Heron. Juxtapositioned with what he was saying, plus the look on his face, it may have been the funniest moment of my life.

It’s the age old story of nature versus man, I mean, van.

*No actual birds were harmed in the writing of this post. If you’re upset about the first bird, blame NASA.


Posted in NASA history, Tweetup experience | 1 Comment

Some Great Images

Since I can use all the images I want, I’ll just post a bunch I’ve been holding on to. If I wait to have a post to go with each one, I’ll run out of time before the launch.

Is there anything that combines the majesty of space with the amazement that is human achievement like the space program? These images always leave me in awe, a word overused and often hyperbole, but not here.

Endeavour landing after STS-134, its final mission.

And credit to all images to NASA.

Posted in Images, NASA history, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

NASA image use guidelines

Just a heads up for those who don’t work with things like copywrite every day, the NASA gallery guidelines state

NASA (media) generally are not copyrighted. You may use NASA (media) for educational or informational purposes, including … Internet Web pages. This general permission extends to personal Web pages.

So thank you to NASA for making all their images and video available for free use. However, they do ask one thing:

This general permission does not extend to use of the NASA insignia logo (the blue “meatball” insignia), the retired NASA logotype (the red “worm” logo) and the NASA seal. These images may not be used by persons who are not NASA employees or on products (including Web pages) that are not NASA-sponsored.

So don’t use the blue ball. You’re not using the blue ball, are you? I didn’t think so. And finally, they’d like credit.

NASA should be acknowledged as the source of the material except in cases of advertising.

Seems fair enough.

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21 Days Until Launch

The first week has flown by. Only 3 more. I heard rumors the canister holding the shuttle payload was damaged, which could delay take off, but I’m not listening to any rumors yet.

It *appears* that every single person on the Tweetup has their lodging sewn up except me. Of course, those who don’t probably aren’t posting about that. It seems prudent to wait but rooms can fill up. Life, as always, is a tradeoff.

This STS-135 crew/mission had originally been STS-335, rescue mission for STS-134. Since the Columbia disaster in 2003, typically, the next crew to fly served as the rescue crew for the current mission. Which made me question, who is the rescue crew for STS-135, since there is no next mission? If the orbiter is damaged, extra Soyuz capsules will return the crew to Earth.

Here’s some eye candy: the Space Shuttle orbiter attached to the ISS.

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Acronym! Acronym! Learn Your TLAs PDQ

Every world has their own language. If going to France, one bones up on their French. Thus it behooves (yes, I said behooves) us to learn to speak NASA.

And that means acronyms.

Acronyms, initialisms, abbreviations, call them what you will (and there ARE some differences). But for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call them all acronyms.

Yesterday, I talked about the VAB. That’s the Vehicle Assembly Building. But what about SRBs (solid rocket boosters), SSME (Space Shuttle main engines), the OPF (Orbiter Processing Facility), or my favorite, ELVIS (Enhanced Launch Vehicle Imaging System)? It’s a hunka hunka burning imaging.

Actually, none of the acronym lists I found have ELVIS.

But Tweetupers such as myself should probably take a few minutes and browse the acronym lists at spaceflight.nasa.gov, at ksc.nasa.gov, or by reading the daily articles about flight prep and noting down some of the acronyms that are new to us.

I left out a bunch, but those should be covered in the links. Feel free, however, to suggest any you are sure I should post here.

  • APU                       Auxiliary Power Units
  • CGLSS                   Cloud to Ground Lightning Surveillance System
  • CTS                        Call To Stations
  • ERB                       Engineering Review Board
  • ET                          External Tank
  • FCS                        Flight Control Surfaces
  • FRCS                     Forward Reaction Control System
  • FRT                        Flight Readiness Tests
  • GSE                       Ground Support Equipment
  • HPU                      Hydraulic Power Units
  • HST                       Helium Signature Test
  • IPR                       Interim Problem Reports
  • LOS                      Loss Of Signal
  • LOX                     liquid oxygen
  • MECO                  Main Engine Cut Off
  • NDE                       Non Destructive Evaluation
  • NTD                       NASA Test Director
  • OPF                        Orbiter Processing Facility
  • PR                          Problem Report
  • QD                          Quick Disconnect
  • RCS                        Reaction Control System
  • RTF                        Return To Flight
  • SRB                        Solid Rocket Boosters
  • SSME                     Space Shuttle Main Engines
  • STS                         Space Transportation System
  • TPS                         Thermal Protection System
  • TVC                       Thrust Vector Control
  • VAB                       Vehicle Assembly Building
  • WCCS                    Window Contamination Control
Posted in NASA history, Tweetup experience | 2 Comments

Construction of the VAB – 1966

The VAB is the largest single-story building in the world, the fourth largest building by volume, and is the tallest building in the US outside of an urban area.

The VAB is 526 feet tall and covers 8 acres.

10,000 pounds of AC keep moisture under control. It’s so big inside, the VAB has its own weather. Clouds can form near the ceiling. A flag and bicentennial star were painted on it in 1976. The star was painted over with the NASA logo in 1998.

Posted in Images, NASA history | 2 Comments

What to wear to the Tweetup

From almost the first moment of getting our selection emails, the STS-135 Tweeters have been communicating, on twitter and on facebook. On the facebook page, there are dozens of posts introducing ourselves, coordinating lodging, discussing cameras, media, and posting NASA memories. All have several comments, but about 2 hours ago someone asked what everyone is going to wear. The last I checked there were 225 comments.


I suggested pretending it is 1961.

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Putting the luggage in the trunk

If all goes well, they should be moving the payload for this launch to the pad tonight, and “lift it up the pad structure” tomorrow. I presume that means load it. 🙂

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Brief Shuttle History

The Space Shuttle program was born only two months after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. President Nixon had appointed a Space Task Group to plot the future US course in space earlier that year, and they delivered their report in Sept 1969. They recommended developing new systems, and by early 1970, NASA began engineering studies for a space shuttle. They considered a wide range of concepts, weighing risks and costs. So although I am younger than the space program, I am older than the shuttle program.

On Jan 5, 1972, Nixon announced NASA would develop a reusable low cost space shuttle system. Rockwell won the contract to design first the main engines, then the entire orbiter. Martin Marietta built the external tank.

What most people normally think of as the shuttle is more correctly called the orbiter. The orbiter, together with its external tank and rocket boosters, is the space shuttle. So space shuttles launch: orbiters land on the airstrip.

In 1976, the first orbiter, Enterprise, was rolled out. The Enterprise was a test vehicle, not built for space flight. Originally to be named the Constitution, a write-in campaign asked the White House to rename it Enterprise. Yes, by Star Trek fans.

Enterprise flew 13 test flights in 1977, and the image of the orbiter atop a 747 became a familiar sight in the news. In 1979 Rockwell won the contract to build two space worthy orbiters, Columbia and Atlantis.

Columbia lifted off on April 12, 1981 on mission STS-1. Challenger was delivered in 1982, Discovery in 1983, and Atlantis in 1985.

In January 1986, Challenger broke up 73 seconds into flight on mission STS-51L, and the crew perished. Shuttle launches were suspended for more than two years, returning in Sept 1988 with Discovery. The shuttles got back to work, launching craft to other planets, the Hubble, and supporting space stations including Mir and the ISS.  The orbiter Endeavour was rolled out in 1992 to replace the Challenger.

In 2003, 15 minutes before the end of their mission, Columbia broke up, and again all crew members were lost. As before, NASA halted launches to investigate, focusing on foam insulation which broke off during launch.  On returning to space in 2005,  Discovery also lost foam insulation, but completed its mission. After another year’s delay, a launch in 2006 had engineers worried once more about foam insulation. But again, the mission was completed.

By 2010, it was clear the space shuttle program, along with plans to return to the moon, had been canceled. Four final missions were expanded to five, with the scheduled July 8, 2011 launch of Atlantis ending the 30+ year program.

Posted in NASA history, Space Shuttle history, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

22 Days Until Launch

Today is the first day I haven’t wanted to talk about, think about, plan about the shuttle trip constantly.  I think 6 days to come back down to earth (heh) is a new record.  And on the 7th day, she took a breath and thought about other things.

The folks at NASA get no such break. After the tank test yesterday, they are starting to bring the payload to Pad 39A. They should start moving the Raffaelo module to the pad at 9PM tonight, and move it up the pad structure tomorrow.

Here’s Atlantis on the pad.

Posted in Countdown, Images, Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-135, Tweetup experience | Leave a comment

Tank Test: Lightning and Leaky SSME-3 Valve

From Spacetrails, the tank test got underway today.

The launch team at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida now is targeting 12:30 p.m. EDT today for the start of the tanking test for space shuttle Atlantis’ external fuel tank. The team plans to fill Atlantis’ external tank with about 535,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen and then begin draining the tank tonight.

Meanwhile, other engineers have been assessing three lightning strikes within a quarter mile of Launch Pad 39A during yesterday’s storms, but preliminary data indicate no damage to either Atlantis or the pad.  (credit NASA)

From the link, you can read they had storms last night, lightning, power outages. But all seems well. Mostly.  A Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME-3) Main Fuel Valve (MFV) leaked during tanking, which will require replacement and launch date assessments.

BTW, go to the Spacetrails homepage and view all their posts. Awe inspiring images.

Posted in Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-135 | Leave a comment

What’s the Opposite of Bittersweet?

I received another email from KSC today. I thought it was more on the Tweetup, but then I saw it was my notification that I had once again lost the lottery to be able to purchase public viewing tickets.

I laughed at first. Oh darn, I can’t view from 6 miles away, which is fine because I’ll be 3 miles away. But upon reflection, it would have been nice. My husband, children, and parents may come down. But a minor disappointment in the face of spectacular luck. I did a quick check and Causeway viewing tickets are going for $728 each on one site.

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Go go gadget

I can see now, I’m going to need 3 cameras for the launch. One taking video, one taking still shots, and one taking a long exposure shot to get a bright streak. If it works in daytime.


No, I’ll need 5 cameras. Because I need two more to get video and still shots of the crowd, recording their reaction. And a sixth for a cool shot framed with the countdown clock. And another one framed with a flag pole, or grass, or with me in the picture, or… (collapses on table).

Eh, maybe just 2 cameras with video and still is fine.

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23 Days Until Launch

CBS News Space shows launch windows for STS-135, from the July 8th projected date all the way until July 28th. I really hope it isn’t delayed.

As with all the Tweetupers, I’m trying to figure out how long I could wait. Saturday the 9th? Sure. Monday the 11th? I don’t know. With uncertainty rising with each passing day.

The launch window starts at 11:26AM on July 8th, for 10 minutes. On the other hand, if it’s delayed as far as, say, July 23rd, the launch window is around 5:30AM. It will be a (dum dum DUM!) Night Launch! Yes, that could be better.

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Fast Facts: STS 135

Atlantis will fly mission STS-135. STS stands for Space Transportation System and this is the 135th space shuttle flight.

Atlantis is scheduled to take off at 11:26AM July 8, 2011, will have a launch window of 10 minutes, and is taking off from pad 39A. She’ll stay up for 12 days, there is 1 spacewalk, and she’ll land back at KSC.

She is going to the ISS to take Raffaelo multi-purpose logistics module.

Posted in Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-135 | 1 Comment