Johnson Space Center
JSC is a federal facility, home to Mission Control Center, where Space Shuttle missions are monitored and directed from seconds after launch to landing. This is where astronauts are trained and the Space Shuttle program is managed. JSC is also the lead center in design and implementation of the International Space Station, and now is leading the way to return us to the moon with project Constellation.
In March 2010, Jeff Hoff and I had the opportunity to visit JSC and on my first day we toured the facility under a Level 9 VIP Tour. We had a chance to see the Space Shuttle Crew for the STS-133 mission while they were training on the space shuttle mock-up in Blg. 9NE. We took some great pictures of the astronauts and their "Pad Rats" during their training exercise. We talked to one of the Pad Rats and she gave us permission to watch. The Pad Rats are also called the Close Out Crew. These are the guys who help suit up the astronauts before their training and their actual flight. They are also on hand shortly after landing to help them remove their space suits.
This tour included:
Building 3 - Astronaut Cafeteria (We enjoyed a free lunch where the astronauts eat every day.)
Building 9NE - Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility (Observation Catwalk) Which included mock- ups of the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.
Building 30S - New Mission Control Center (Viewing Areas)
Building 30N - Historic Mission Control Center (Apollo Era Mission Control Room). We got to go inside and actually sit at the historic Apollo flight consoles.
Building 32 - Space Environment Simulation Lab (Vacuum Chamber)
Sonny Carter Training Facility - Neutral Buoyancy Lab (Observation Catwalk) Astronauts were training underwater at the time of our tour.
Later that night Jeff and I had a chance to attend the STS-130 Crew Debrief in the Space Center Houston Northrop Grumman Theater on March 23, 2010. The event consisted of awards presentation, Crew presentation with slides and video and question and answer session. After the event we got to meet each STS-130 crew member.
One the second day we had another VIP Tour with a friend who worked with NASA. We had the privilege of going back to Blg. 9 were the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility is located. This time we got a personal one on one guided tour inside the International Space Station Mock-up where all astronauts train for their perspective missions. Then we got the rare opportunity of a touring inside the Space Shuttle Mock-up simulator. We entered into the crew cabin and then climbed up the ladder to the flight deck. I was then given permission to sit in the commander's seat of the Space Shuttle. While inside the space shuttle training simulator, we were given very fascinating hands on tour of the space craft.
Kennedy Space Center
KSC is NASA launch headquarters. Here at the KSC you are able to see NASA’s awesome facilities, including the massive launch pads, gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building, and the awe-inspiring Apollo/Saturn V Center. This is where our country's human space flight missions started with the Mercury Program. From Mercury we went to the Gemini Program then on to the Apollo Program which took men to the moon. Now KSC is launch headquarters for the Space Shuttle Program.
Jeff Hoff and I visited KSC on April 20, 2010. The day of our planned visit was the same day the Orbiter "Discovery" was to return from space and land at the Kennedy Space Center. We arrived at the Kennedy Visitor Center about 20 minutes before the landing of the STS-131 Crew aboard Discovery. A few minutes before landing we heard the sonic boom (Boom-Boom) and shortly after the boom, there it was dropping from the sky right above our parking lot. That was a fantastic site to view. Discovery landed at 9:08 AM that Tuesday morning on April 20th.
Short of becoming an astronaut, there’s no better way to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Kennedy Space Center than on the Kennedy Space Center Tour. We had a panoramic view of space shuttle launch pads at the LC-39 Observation Gantry, we saw International Space Station modules being prepared for space flight, and we experienced the historic Apollo 8 launch and then marveled at a massive 363-foot-long Saturn V moon rocket at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. We also got a chance to see the gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building that was used to assemble the massive Saturn V rockets during the Apollo era and is now being used to vertically stack the Space Shuttle to the external tank and the solid rocket boosters then ready them for flight.
Early that night while at our hotel restaurant, I overheard the people next to us talking about the Orbiter Discovery landing. I asked one of the guys if he saw the landing. He just smiled and one of the other guys said, "Yeah you could say he saw the landing, he unsnapped the shuttle commander from his seat in the STS-131". While talking with them several more arrived and then I remembered their faces. As it turned out these were the same "Pad Rats" or Close Out Crew we saw training with the STS-133 Crew while in Houston on our VIP tour in Blg 9 at the Johnson Space Center back in March. We had a big laugh and visit with them and they rewarded us by giving us flight mission patches for the STS-130 and the STS-131. My friend, Jeff Hoff surprised all of them by bringing out his camera and showing them all the pictures he had taken of them while they worked with the STS-133 crew in Houston the previous month.