|Ice cares not if you have AWD, Mr. Subaru.|
I know this monster. I've met this monster. I've *survived* this monster. On my birthday, of all days, this beast chose to rear its ugly head and attempted to add me to its collection of broken and charred victims. But not this day. My trusty steed - the venerable Forester - quickly leapt into action, deftly dodging left...then right...as we were locked in an epic battle with Huntsville's silent killer: snowy roads.
OK, perhaps it wasn't quite so dramatic...but I *did* do a bit of dodging to the left and right...mostly because I started sliding on the ice and was doing all I could to keep from hitting the wall, or the other cars sharing the road with me. I don't care how good a driver you are, or what kind of car you drive, ice is the great equalizer. With the 'pucker factor' having risen to dangerous levels after my brief, but near-catastrophic, encounter with the icy roads, I decided to get the heck off the 'skyway' and move down to the surface streets, which I hoped would be clearer.
|I liked the framing of this shot. That's it.|
I know that I've visited MSFC many times - often writing about the trip here in my blog - and I almost feel like it's "my" Center. In fact, I had been to Marshall a scant two months prior to report on the near-completion of the stand meant to stress-test SLS's massive liquid hydrogen tank. Nevertheless, my passion and interest in our nation's space program is such that I could likely visit the Center weekly and not tire of it, or feel jaded about the major role Marshall has played - and continues to play - in America's space flight heritage.
Being the Center responsible for designing, testing, and validating SLS, one would expect any Social event at MSFC to focus heavily on that vehicle...and this day was no exception. Marshall's newly-appointed Center Director - Todd May - greeted the group, welcoming us to the Center and gave us a brief overview of Marshall's activities over the past year, and then took a moment to answer questions.
|Marshall Space Flight Center Director Todd May|
After a few more questions, the group heard from two engineers working on the SLS program - Michelle Tillotson and Nick Case - before heading to the avionics area. There, engineers and programmers are 'tweaking' SLS's flight computers, followed by simulated launches, to gather data about how the rocket will perform throughout nominal - and off-nominal - flight profiles. Even a shortened simulated launch can generate several terabytes of data for the engineers to examine. As various components of SLS move from design to testing to qualification stages, that real-world performance data is integrated into the testing regime. In fact, shortly after the successful test of the new 5-segment booster in March 2015, Orbital ATK had delivered the raw data to the SLS engineers in Huntsville.
|Yes, I took a selfie at a rocket test stand. Not ashamed.|
Though quiet this day, the stand nonetheless presented an imposing sight: its massive concrete and steel structure stood as a testament to the power it was built to restrain. With snow continuing to fall in fits and spurts, and a healthy wind chill to boot, the group was invited to take an elevator ride midway up the structure to get a view of the two SLS stands being built nearby. Once complete, those stands will push, pull, and twist the core stage's liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant tanks, stressing them to flight limits, and beyond, to ensure SLS will be the safest vehicle to launch crew and cargo.
|Les Johnson - Dep Mgr, NASA's Advanced Concepts,|
compares the thickness of the sail to one's hair (or lack thereof).
Our final stop of the day was back at the US Space and Rocket Center. There, the group was given a tour of the new International Space Station (ISS) exhibit, which includes a scaled-down version of the real-life Payload Operations Center (POC) at Marshall, along with a "high fidelity" replica of many of the ISS modules. Save for the lack of cables, computers, and various clutter one many expect to find on an operational space station, the ISS mock-up is an accurate analogue to the real deal.
|This is on the ISS. Really.|
Knowing that I had to take the long route back home in order to avoid the snowy conditions through the mountains, I excused myself from the last, optional bit of the day and headed home. As always, the Social was thoroughly enjoyable, and it's always nice to meet fellow space enthusiasts.
I would like to thank the people at Marshall, and at the Space and Rocket Center, for inviting the group out to take part in this NASA Social event. It's incredible to consider that a "normal person" like me has the opportunity to participate in something like this.