of NASA's 2004 astronaut candidate class view a Space Shuttle Main Engine test
at Stennis Space Center. |
Trip to Stennis Space Center, Michoud Assembly Facility and Marshall Space Flight
October 18 - 22,
you ever plan a trip to the New Orleans or Huntsville, Alabama, area, you may
want to visit one of the three NASA Centers located nearby: Stennis Space Center,
the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans and the Marshall Space Flight Center
in Huntsville. We took this trip as part of our familiarization training to visit
the various NASA centers.
first stop was at the Stennis Space Center located along the Louisiana-Mississippi
border. The Stennis Space Center focuses in two main areas: 1) large engine testing
and 2) applied sciences. We were very fortunate because they tested one of the
Space Shuttle main engines while we were there, and we were able to watch. We
had some idea of how awesome it would be by first touring the huge test stands.
About 30 minutes before the test began we were taken to the Test Control Center
where engineers were monitoring data and video in preparation for the test. Some
engineers were even looking through periscopes (like those used on submarines)
to view the engine before and during the test. We then went to the roof of the
Test Control Center which was located about one-half mile from the test stand
that held the engine. We were given earplugs and waited in anticipation. All of
a sudden there was a very loud boom. You could feel the rumble going through your
body. The water they pump in to help with cooling turned to steam and even formed
small clouds downwind. We were told that during some tests rain will actually
fall from these clouds. We did not get any rain, but we did see a nice rainbow.
The test lasted about 350 seconds. It was amazing. Now imagine the 2 solid rocket
boosters and the 3 Space Shuttle main engines all going at the same time. That
is some serious power.
large yellow-orange external tank used by the Space Shuttle is assembled at the
Michoud Assembly Facility located just outside of New Orleans. Since the Columbia
accident, where foam came off the external tank and damaged the wing of the Space
Shuttle causing it to break up upon reentry, the external tank has been the center
of attention. The Manufacture Building is about 43 acres (roughly 43 football
fields) under one roof. It is a huge building! We actually drove into the building
and toured the facility on a tram. The workers ride bicycles to get around. While
everything they do there is amazing, we were all impressed by what they call “friction
stir welding.” Instead of regular welding with a torch, they use a “bolt-like”
drill-bit that spins really fast under great pressure to melt the two pieces together.
This welding process happens at a lower temperature than normal welding so the
material is not weakened as much. Strong welds are very important when traveling
to space. If you have never seen an external tank up close, be ready for a surprise.
It is BIG. It is about 154 feet tall (as tall as the Statue of Liberty from its
base to the top of the torch) and 26 1/2 feet in diameter. After seeing all of
the required improvements, we all felt assured that the NASA team was doing everything
possible to make the external tank safe for future Shuttle missions.
Marshall Space Flight Center is known for making engine components and its space
science research. For many students, it is a chance to experience life as an astronaut
through Space Camp. There were so many cool things going on at the Marshall Space
Flight Center, it is impossible to mention them all. We met with scientists working
on sensors that allow spacecrafts to rendezvous and dock with satellites without
human guidance, which will be important for Lunar and Martian missions. We also
saw the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing. They are doing things that
were once thought of as science fiction. They are able to make tools and replacement
parts out of various powders (metals, ceramics, etc.), lasers and computer programs.
Again, this will be very important for exploration missions because you never
know what tools or equipment you may need.
people at all three Centers are working very hard to improve space flight and
our everyday way of life on Earth.
The Astronaut Candidate Class of 2004