|The Cathedral of US Spaceflight.|
Where was I? Hmmm...oh, that's right - WE WERE GOING INTO THE VEHICLE ASSEMBLY BUILDING!!!! The last time I was at KSC (1986), the tour bus only drove by the iconic structure and did not stop. In fact, most of KSC was inaccessible in the wake of the Challenger Disaster. But even then, I knew what a special place this is. Every Saturn mission...every Skylab launch...every Space Shuttle flight...was, at some point, in this building. History flowed through this massive structure. It's been in movies, TV shows, and video games. In fact, I think even people that don't pay much attention to NASA would recognize this building. To me, it's as much a national icon as anything in Washington, D.C.,...and through the incredible efforts of Jason and the NASA Public Affairs Office, we were going to be allowed inside...AND ON THE ROOF!
The walk from the press area to the VAB wasn't that far, but it felt like it took ages to cross the expanse of asphalt. We were all chatting amongst ourselves, while periodically stopping to snap a picture or two. I can't speak for the others, but I know that I was pretty stinkin' excited. I've been a fan of NASA and the space program for as far back as I can remember, so being in the "shadow" of the VAB was a thrilling experience.
|Entering the Low Bay|
The interior was both more impressive, and far different, than I'd anticipated. I don't know why, but I had assumed the interior of the VAB was basically an empty shell, with a few cranes for lifting rocket assemblies into position. Though there were cranes, the interior volume was far more filled with "stuff" than I would've thought. I wonder how much change the VAB has seen since Apollo.
At this point, the NASA PAOs started a headcount to see if we needed to split up, and how many groups we might need to split into. I was part of the first group, with Andres and Nancy (NASA PAOs) escorting us up. We were told we'd have to take three elevators to reach the roof - ground to floor 16, floor 16 to 34, and floor 34 to the roof.
|Buttons...LOTS of buttons.|
Entering the first elevator, everyone started snapping pics of the control panel and its rows and rows of buttons. Once we were all packed-in, the elevator shot upwards - and I do mean "shot". That was the most rapid ascent I've ever experienced in an elevator, coupled with a gut-churning deceleration at the stop on the 16th. This elevator was definitely not cut from the same cloth as those at your neighborhood mall.
Exiting on the 16th was a bit anticlimactic. The surroundings looked much like the basement of an apartment complex - bare concrete floors and cinderblock walls. Not exactly what I expected to see on the 16th floor of the VAB. The group was then guided to the next elevator that would whisk us to the 34th floor.
Also, at this point, I became acutely aware of just how high I was...and how much higher I was going. The 'weakness in the knees' began to spread. I'm certain my heart rate jumped quite a bit - it's a good thing that I wasn't wearing any sort of heart-monitoring gear as I think it might've melted down from the increased activity.
As the group made its way to the second elevator, people began to discuss the possibility that this next car might, in fact, be the open-air variety that one might find at a construction site. Cue full-on pupil dilation and a 200 bpm heart rate. Oh dear, I hoped that this next elevator wasn't open-air. Though I would most definitely "suck it up", I preferred to not have to see the girders zip by as we climbed skyward. As the car arrived, it was obvious that it WAS an open-air type...but someone had the foresight to hang heavy "curtains" inside the car so that one couldn't see out. Woo hoo!
|Walkway across 34 floors of nothingness.|
Raised how I was, I couldn't take a place on the elevator if a lady would miss out on a spot. Yes, I know that some people think that's an antiquated mode of thought...and some might take offense...but I'm sorry - that's how I was raised. So, while the first group ascended to the roof, I waited on that seemingly tiny pad of concrete with the rest of the group for the return of the empty car so that we can head up. When the elevator doors opened and the rest of the group started filing in, it became clear that not everyone would fit...and I was one of four people left standing on that high perch. The seconds waiting for the return of the elevator car seemed like hours. I made small talk with the NASA PAO, mainly to get my mind off the heights.
|Look, Ma - I'm on top of the VAB!!!|
Unfortunately, since it had taken so long for us to make it to the top, we only had a few minutes to take in the surroundings. I took some pics with the DSLR (with a nice telephoto lens in order to 'see' the Falcon 9 on the pad) and a few more with the iPhone before we had to head back down. I'm certain that, if given the opportunity, many (if not all) of the group would've bribed/cajoled a few more minutes of roof time out of the PAOs...indeed, some were fantasizing about camping up there...but there was a whole other group of people that were waiting their turn to make it to the roof. Reluctantly, the group made its way back down.
Well, that was the end of Day 1...and, at any other time, it would be hard to approach - much less, top - the awesomeness that Jason and Co. presented to us. But this wasn't "any other time". You see, Orion had just returned to KSC...and we were going to see her the next day!!! But that's a story for another blog entry. Until then, thanks for visiting, and be sure to check out Part 1 if you missed it.
Many more photos are in a Flickr album I've shared - click here to see them all.