Johnson Space Centre, 1995:
Visiting JSC for the first time in 1995
was a dream-come-true.
Not only was it a chance to finally get my hands on the Shuttle photos I was desperate to see, it was also a visit to the Holy Land for a space enthusiast like myself:
Walking around in the heat and humidity with a plastic ID badge giving me permission to enter buildings 2, 423 and 424 with busloads of tourists driving past made me feel 10 feet tall. One can scarcely imagine what it would be like to be an ASTCAN or actual crew member in training, strutting around in crisp blue flight coveralls with an embroidered mission path on your breast. The mind boggles.
Deep in Building 2 is 'the vault', where all the video, cine and still photographs are kept in their air-conditioned crypt. I spent two days in there completely unsupervised, leafing through books of contact-sheets in a dark, snug corner. It was immensely gratifying to be trusted and left to my own devices. The later post-Challenger missions were kept on rolls of positives out in Building 242, and I spent a further solid week there, barely taking lunch breaks, poring over a light-table and giving myself double-vision as I spun through the rolls as rapidly as I could:
I made some poor frame choices, but when I went back in 1997 I did a better job because I was in less of a hurry.
Still, I was dismayed to find that many
pictures I wanted didn't exist. If you've never seen a picture of Galileo or Ulysses or
the TDRS on STS-26 horizontal in the payload bay it's because they don't exist. I HOPE
that some cine footage was taken of them, but failing that a video still will be the best
anyone will ever see.
Public visits to JSC are now banned! Unless this idiotic policy is changed, my collection will cease to be updated for the forseeable future...
Kennedy Space Centre, 1997:
In 1997 I combined a trip to JSC with a
detour to Florida to take in the launch of the Cassini/Huygens probe to Saturn.
I knew that it would be the last of the 'big science' missions lofted atop a Titan IV, and being far too jealous ever to watch a Shuttle launch it would be the closest I would come to the real thunder and light-show of a manned night-launch. After the frustration of a weather-postponment on the first attempt, everything went like clockwork two nights later. The countdown ticked slowly by, then everything happened in a rush. At liftoff the Titan IV lit up the night before disappearing into a low cloud, the rumble reaching us on the Bennett Causeway after a long delay:
It emerged on the other side and arched out over the Atlantic, visible almost all the way to the horizon. I confess that it wasn't quite as awesome as I was expecting, but still highly worthwhile from a historical perspective.
Between launch attempts I wandered around the tourist centre and enjoyed seeing the restored Saturn V and Command Module , although I'd rather have seen it upright next to a launch tower! The mock-up orbiter Explorer looks very much like the real thing, even up close. The rocket park was also nice. The Space Mirror memorial was also a highlight.
My timing turned out to be perfect, and
not just for the Cassini launch. There were no Shuttles on either pad 39-A or 39-B, nor any flight hardware
visible through the doors of the VAB as the bus drove past, which suited me just fine.
(One of the first things I asked when I went out to Building 242 at JSC was whether any
astronauts ever came in. Upon being told 'yes' I asked to be informed if any were on their
way so I could leave and not have to lay eyes on them. Knowing they exist is painful
enough. Coming face to face with one would be intolerable.)
The size of the VAB certainly is deceptive:
Sure, it looks big close up, but when we were taking off from Orlando, some 40 miles distant, I looked out my window and there it was, looking no more than a fraction of that distance away! If I'd been thinking I would have had a shot taken of myself in front of it, but I have my memories, and that's the main thing.