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Astronaut Candidates 2004
IMAGE:  Astronaut Candidates at Stennis Space Center
Members of NASA's 2004 astronaut candidate class view a Space Shuttle Main Engine test at Stennis Space Center.
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Class Trip to Stennis Space Center, Michoud Assembly Facility and Marshall Space Flight Center

Journal #9
October 18 - 22
, 2004

If 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.

Our 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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


Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 03/25/2005
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