of all let me give a
BIG thank you to Al Hollinquist, Steve Zarelli and all the rest for putting together a
marvelous space weekend for the benefit of the Space Walk of Fame
The Space Walk of Fame
Museum is wonderful place and I would highly recommend anyone visiting
the space coast to visit there. Also please consider making a
donation to this worthy organization.
part of the weekend Al put together an offer where two lucky bidders
could spend a day at the Kennedy Space Center with Cosmonaut Yury
Usachev. I was one of the two winning bidders.
no small miracle Al pulled a rabbit out of the hat and arranged for us
to get a VIP tour of KSC with Yury. I was walking on cloud nine.
I have had a VIP tour of the KSC facilities before, but this was the
first time that my wife was able to experience this with me. The
opportunity to share with her what I have seen before truly meant a lot
of Al's good friends Randy Segal was to be one of our escorts for the
day with Yury. Randy is a great guy and I enjoyed meeting him and
Tom Edmonds (the other successful experience bidder) the night before
the tour and swapping space stories with them in the lobby of the
motel. Randy is a part time radio broadcaster and covers launch
events from the press sites for a Florida radio station.
Our day began shortly after
9:00 AM. Mary and I met
up with Tom and his family near the ticket
booths at the KSC Visitors Center.
Tom's family would not be
participating in the tour. There is a 12-year-old age restriction for
the tour and Tom's children were not old enough.
long we saw four men walking towards the Visitors Center from the parking lot. They
were Randy, his son Josh, John Masters, and Cosmonaut Yury
Usachev. For our benefit Yury had dressed in his blue flight
suit. It's a really neat feeling to see a veteran space
walking over to meet you.
is one of the warmest, most sincere men I have ever had the privilege
to meet. He is quick with a smile and his ability to speak
English is outstanding.
NASA escort for this VIP tour was Scott Vangen. Scott was an
alternate payload specialist for the Astro-2 mission on STS-67.
Scott is a great guy and was a gracious host for our tour of KSC.
Meeting an alternate payload specialist was certainly a huge bonus
first stop on our tour was the building at KSC where the space station
hardware is prepared for flight. After cleaning our shoes by walking
across a sticky pad on the floor, we were taken into the actual room
where the flight hardware of the space station resides.
next to these truss structures and modules gives you a sense of awe at
how big the space station will be when it is finally completed.
We were encouraged to take as many photographs as we wanted.
the Japanese Experiment Module was a toolbox. The drawers of the
toolbox were labeled, but only in Katakana, Hiragana, and Kanji.
The Japanese characters on that toolbox emphasized the fact that the
station is not a US program but a truly
Our tour stops were
supposed to be 30 minutes each, but often the stops were extended when
excited workers would come up to greet Yury. I am convinced that
the mere presence of a cosmonaut in their midst picked up the moral of
teams working on the hardware.
next stop on the tour was Orbiter Processing Facility 3. This
stop was the one that I was looking forward to the most. OPF-3 is
where space shuttle Discovery is being prepared for the return to
a space enthusiast there is not much that can top being in the presence
of a vehicle that has been and continues to go into space. The
view of an orbiter in the OPF is surreal in the sense that you can
hardly distinguish the vehicle from the infrastructure and catwalks
surrounding it. It is almost like the Borg has assimilated it.
no doubt; enough of the vehicle is visible that you can tell what the
center of attention is. The vehicle itself is raised off of the ground
by what looks to be about 8 or 9 feet. This elevation provides the
workers with easy access to the heat resistant tiles on the belly.
walked over to the nose of Discovery, where technicians were working
around the front wheel well. From this position we had our
picture taken with Yury.
then walked around the port side of the OPF and towards the back. The
view of the port wing of Discovery showed that many of the leading edge
caps, which are made out of reinforced-carbon-carbon, were
removed. It was the failure of the integrity of this heat
protection system that doomed Columbia on that ill-fated day in 2003.
Much to my surprise and
delight, our tour guide Scott, took us underneath Discovery. We were
standing directly below the main wheel wells. The wheel wells
were closed at the time, but the umbilical access doors were open.
never ceases to amaze me how smooth the underneath of the vehicle
is. Composed of thousands of silica tiles, it is still an
aerodynamic form to be marveled at. Technicians were working on
replacing some of the tiles around the umbilical doors. Each tile
fabricated for precisely one spot on precisely one vehicle. Scott
asked one of the technicians to give Yury an explanation of what he
the explanation, one of the supervisors came over to Yury to ask if he would
mind posing for a picture with some of her guys. Yury was more
than happy to comply. The supervisor told Yury that her
technicians were really excited to see him because they had never met an astronaut
before. That comment really struck home to me how important it is
for the astronauts to visit the people working on their mission.
was really pleased that in a very small way, I had a part in providing
a boost to the people working on the return to flight. That was
worth the whole auction cost of the experience right there.
left the OPF and headed over to the VAB. How awe inspiring this
huge building known as the VAB is. The only thing that
would have made the VAB tour more impressive would have been to have
had a launch vehicle stacked up in there. Sadly that won't be
happening for quite some time.
were able to take photos inside the VAB and saw some SRB components such
as the forward nose cone structure, aft skirts and the like.
There was an SSME nozzle sitting in a rack and an OMS pod at the far
end of one of the bays. Scott took us up in an elevator to the
9th level of the VAB, where we were able to view the opposite bays from
the VAB we drove out to pad 39-A. We were closer than I had ever
been to the pad before. In fact the van drove to the top of the
pad next to the launch tower assembly. There was also a mobile launcher
platform in place on the pad.
photo op was permitted down below the pad in the area that the
points out towards. It was not the place that one would want to
be during a launch. The galvanized fencing the rings the
perimeter of the pad area was actually brown with rust in the area
the rocket exhaust impinges upon it.
had a choice to either go to the Saturn V center, back to the
Visitors Center or tour the
new life sciences
building. Scott works as a manager in the life
sciences building. We all decided that we wanted to go to the life
sciences building instead of the other
is a new building that was funded by the state of Florida and leased back by NASA for
conducting life sciences research.
There were two Russian
gentlemen there, who working at the life sciences center. Both of
them were very excited to be able to meet a comrade from their home
country. One was a scientist who has been investigating growing
plants under a reduce pressure environment. It was
very interesting research that will be important if mankind ever
ventures to Mars.
scientist showed us some experiments where they are trying to grow
plants under various colors of light emitting diodes. While this
portion of the tour was not as visually stimulating as seeing
Discovery, hearing about state of the art space research from the
scientists was fascinating.
van then took us back to the Visitors Center and Scott provided us with ticket for
admission. We had a quick lunch. After that we headed to
the IMAX Theater to see the Space Station 3-D movie.
was really amazing to be sitting in the theater sitting next to
Yury. Not only did he have a hand in filming parts of the movie
but also appears in the film. So I guess with Yury sitting next
to us, this wasn't a 3-D experience but more like a 6-D experience.
the movie we parted company to head back to our respective hotels in
order to freshen up for the private cocktail party that began at
6:30 PM on Friday night.
As I said earlier, Yury is
one of the most sincere and sweetest men you will ever meet. He
responded to all of our questions with genuine interest.
Undoubtedly he has heard all of these questions hundreds of times
asked him to compare the ride during a launch of a shuttle with the
launch of a Soyuz. He said the G-forces are similar in magnitude,
but he preferred the Soyuz launch. It seems with the Soyuz and staging
you get a break from the G's in between the stages and on
shuttle there is not that kind of break.
asked him about the differences between the Orlan and US EMU
spacesuits. His preference is the Orlan. He said it is much
more comfortable. The Hamilton Standard EMU he thought was very
restricting and made it tough to breath.
question that I asked Yury was how old his daughter was at the time of
his first launch. She was 6. I asked him if she knew how
long her father was going to be gone when he left. He said at
that age, she really did not comprehend.
then related a story from the last time that he parted company
just before the launch. He said that after the bus
him, his daughter was crying and told her mother "I'll never see Daddy
again." Of course this was rather upsetting to Yury's wife, as
one never can tell what premonitions a child might be in tune with.
final meeting with Yury was after the dinner on Saturday night.
did not attend the autograph signing on Sunday. I wanted to make sure
for her sake that we did something other than space that weekend.
was with sadness that we told Yury good-bye. After spending the
day with him touring KSC on Friday it was like we were saying good-bye
to an old friend or even a family member. We told Yury that if he
family ever makes it back to Texas they have an open invitation to stay with us or we will
drive to meet them.
I told Yury that someday we
might come to tour
would try to look him up.
He said please do and said that if there was anything he could do in
order to get us a better tour of any of their space facilities that he
haven't really discussed the autograph event or dinner at the Air and
Space show, as I wanted to concentrate on the Yury experience in this
entry. Suffice it to say, the show was a first class event.
Al and his merry band of elves did a fantastic job. It was a
Christmas that I will never forget.