Experiencing Kennedy Space Center

Elizabeth Mangus

Despite the disappointment of not seeing the launch, I had the most amazing experience at Kennedy Space Center. Each NASA employee was genuinely excited to have us there. The morning of the 28th started off with a demonstration of the spacesuits (officially called the Extravehicular Mobility Unit or EMU) worn by the astronauts during a spacewalk. Did you know those suits weight up to 300 lbs? It is a very good thing they aren’t wearing them in Earth’s gravity! We also learned that the color of the stripes around the astronaut’s legs help to identify which astronaut is wearing the suit.

Next, we had the pleasure of meeting the Chief Scientist for NASA: Waleed Abdalati.

You could feel the passion he had for his job. He wanted us to feel that same passion. His message to young students struck me: There is a “brilliant future ahead that is yours for the creating.” I loved that. He told us to look forward to the future. He explained that although the shuttle program is ending, the best is yet to come. His message was one of hope.

Dana Hutcherson was next to speak to us. She is one of three flow directors at NASA (all three also happen to be women).

She oversees the preparation of the shuttle for launch. Once the shuttle program has official been retired she will be working with the commercial side of  space exploration.

Tara Ruttley spoke next. She is an associate program scientist for the International Space Station.

She detailed many experiments than have happened or are happening on the ISS. She also showed us the Golden Orb spider which will go up with the Endeavour crew on STS-134. Experiments will be conducted on how zero gravity effects them, as well as how webs are spun in space. Salmonella and MRSA cultures will also be taken and studied.

Astronaut Clay Anderson addressed us next. He spoke about perseverance.

He submitted his name 15 times before he was chosen by NASA to become an astronaut. He has spent a total of 167 days in orbit and was the lead spacewalker on his first walk. He had a great sense of humor and explained (in perhaps too much detail) how returning to Earth affects your body.

Sam Ting was last to speak. He is the AMS (Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer) principal investigator.

The AMS is designed to search for various types of unusual matter by measuring cosmic rays. He explained his job is to judge if the data collected by the AMS matches the existing model and if it doesn’t, why.

We then took a tour of Kennedy Space Center. We got to see the giant crane that places the shuttle onto the back of a 747. We saw the inside of the Vehicle Assembly Building. We saw where NASA has placed the remains of the Columbia shuttle. We saw the wall that crews who work on the shuttles sign. We saw A LOT of very fascinating things.

At the end of the day, we were scheduled to go to the launch pad to view the RSS Retraction. A disappointment to all, we were not able to go. A severe thunderstorm rolled in and we had to seek shelter in the Press Auditorium.

We held our own “briefing” as we waited for the storm to pass.

By the end of the day, our brains were full of amazing knowledge, our bodies were exhausted, and we looked forward to the next day. Fingers crossed for a launch!

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