Thursday, May 20, 2010

I Need My Space!

I need my space..that is the line you see on mugs and t-shirts at the Kennedy Space Center gift shop in Florida. How true it is, at least for me and my sister Janice.

We are so much alike, especially when it comes to needing our space. I think we get this from our dad. While we like to be around people, there is nothing wrong with having some good quality "me" time to do nothing, or do the thing/things we want to do without having to answer to anyone and to be in a space that is our own. To a lot of people I know, they just cannot understand this, and I have given up even trying to explain it to people, so I just take advantage of it whenever I get the chance. To just stop talking, stop answering questions and just get lost in a crowd, watch and observe people and things and do what I like to do. Some call if being selfish, but I have no problem with it as I find it keeps me somewhat sane.

This past weekend was just that weekend for me, and it took on multiple meanings for me. In addition to a person needing their own "space" we actually all need "space". I always learn something about myself when I get some serious "me" time and I learned quite a lot this past weekend about the space shuttle and all of the scientific miracles that have been discovered in space to save and extend lives for all of us on earth, the space space station and the future of space exploration. On Friday afternoon, May 14th, I got to witness the 132nd launch of a space shuttle, the last mission for the space shuttle Atlantis. This is the last mission for Atlantis after its first flight back in 1985, which I remember from college. There are also only 2 remaining shuttle missions as the shuttle program will be ending with the completion of the international space station later this year. Both Russia and Japan will be taking up astronauts and supplies to the space station. The purpose of the shuttle was used to bring the equipment up there and back to earth for repairs and then back again and since the space station is nearly complete, the program will focus on other exploratory missions to Mars and other areas of the universe. The Hubble telescope is revealing some amazing discoveries which is mind boggling. I remember the first space shuttle launch when I was a junior in high school, October 1981 and here we are 29 years later and the program is ending. What is amazing is that there have been 132 space shuttle launches in the last 29 years, and it seems it has become so common people seem to take this for granted, and I have always tried to watch every launch on TV when possible, as they all give me goose bumps, and this one was no different-this was intense!

I always wanted to be an astronaut and remember the Apollo missions as a little kid and seeing them walk on the moon. How cool would that be? Well then throughout school I realized I was really bad at math, so that blew my dream of being an astronaut, but I could still fly, so I was determined to at least travel by plane. I always wanted to travel on the Concord, but missed that as well. At the Kennedy Space Center I did get to go on a Space Shuttle simulation, that takes you through the 8.5 minutes of the flight to space, which I am sure was just a sampling of the really feeling.

If you are lucky enough to get a ticket, there are two locations to watch a shuttle launch at the Kennedy Space Center. I secured a spot in a grassy knoll at the Kennedy Space Center next to to John and Alissa, a couple from Maine who just graduated from college and took a rode trip down to Florida and drove 32 hours straight. This viewing spot is 7.4 miles from the launch site which still offered a great view, however it was obstructed by the tree line. The grounds were packed and the temperature was in the mid 90's at launch time, with scattered white puffy clouds. High clouds are OK for a launch and a few puffy clouds in the lower atmosphere are fine. Viewers prefer having some puffy white clouds as that helps the sound bounce and enhances the viewing experience. So with no rain or storms predicted, the launch was on schedule for 2:20pm on Friday May 14th. The grounds had large screen TVs that documented the astronauts as they made their way to the astrobus, over to the shuttle launch pad, suited up and ran all of the tests hours before lift off. Guest astronauts also spoke to the crowd and talked about their experiences and answered questions.

At the time of launch, the crowd was on their feet when Shuttle Launch Control announced a 10-minute count down and when it came down to 10-seconds, the crowd counted down like it was New Years. With the launch, you See, the Hear, then Feel the launch and what a feeling it was. We watched the big screen for the initial launch and within 2-3 seconds the shuttle was already above the tree line, heading towards space. About 2 seconds later you could hear the rockets and the puffy white clouds help bounce the noise around, and they also use water at the launch pad to help silent the noise, then about 6 -10 seconds later your body starts to vibrate from the shock waves that are hitting you - a truly incredible feeling that lasted several seconds, all the while you are taking in this bright gold/white light as bright as the sun. Within seconds the shuttle was out of site, with just a plume remaining. The TV cameras with zoom definitely capture more and make it appear almost in slow motion. I couldn't believe how fast this went. Within 8.5 minutes the space shuttle was in space, traveling 17,500 miles per hour. How fast is that? Light travels at 2,500 feet per second, and the space shuttle travels 10 time faster at 25,000 feet per second. It actually travels faster than a rifle bullet.

Once in space they will perform 3 space walks as well as deliver more supplies to the space station and they also have a Russian built component for the space station. The final two missions will be taking up a few more space station "rooms" which I also got to see on a tour of the space center, including the Atlantis launch pad. The space station really is an amazing structure and is a living research lab.

Did you know...

If you are anywhere within 200 feet of the shuttle launch, you will die from the heat of the rockets which is just over 3,000 degrees.

If you are within 800 feet you will die from the rocket sound as your eardrums would explode, so I felt safe being 7 miles away.

The space shuttle get 6 inches per gallon

The shuttle flies about 53 miles above the earth and connects to the space station in about 48 hours after take off.

They will be in space for 11 days and they circle the earth every 90 minutes

The shuttle is the only machine that is a rocket, a space craft and a glider. It converts itself in the different stages - an amazing machine.

In the event something was to go wrong with launch, there is no turning back, however immediately after liftoff, the shuttle could land in either Spain or France within 2 minutes. All launches are weather dependent on sites in Florida, California, Spain and France.

As the shuttle heads back to earth at 17,500 miles per hour, it needs to reduce speed to 300 mph in 30 minutes and they then glide to a landing which takes 45 minutes, at 200 mph. They only have the one chance to land once they are in the atmosphere.

You can see the space station from earth.

The outside temperature at the space station is -455 Fahrenheit.

There is security around the launch pad and emergency vehicles and underground tunnels the astronauts can escape to if necessary. Bunkers are located around the area as well. Helicopters and jets are flying around the sky prior to and during launch protecting the launch.

Upon reentry, it will only take them 45 minutes to land. When landing the shuttle exterior heats up to 2500-3000 degrees, so to keep the interior cool, they cool it down to 60 degrees and when landing in Florida, it is typically 90 degrees, so by the time it lands, the inside of the cabin is back up to 90 degree and they have to stay in the shuttle for another hour as they wait for it to cool down and to make sure they can readjust to gravity. The gravity test that take is to try to catch an apple. No astronaut has ever caught an apple when it is tossed to them as they drop it as to them it weighs as much as a bowling ball.

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