Exploring Discovery on the Launch Pad

written by David Mixson

I was lucky to be at KSC when there was a Shuttle on both launch pads. Columbia was on 39A, and Discovery was on 39B.

Over time, I became the guy in our office who gave VIP tours of the pad. I loved doing it, especially since I was moving back to MSFC soon. But I had never gone by myself to explore places I had never been.

It was a beautiful afternoon, and I felt like getting out of the office. What better place to go than a launch pad with Discovery sitting on it?

As I recall, I checked out a government vehicle and drove up to the gate at the pad. The guard verified I had the proper access and swapped my badge for an orange Pad Perimeter Badge. I parked and walked the rest of the way.

When I reached the elevators on the service structure to go up, another guard swapped my orange badge for a white badge with “PAD” written on it. Now they knew I was there in an emergency.

I entered the elevator by myself and hit the button labeled “195.” This was the level where the crew access arm extended to the orbiter.

As the elevator doors closed, my heart began to race. At that moment, I realized I was taking the same ride every Shuttle astronaut takes on launch day. I kept repeating to myself, “David, look like you’re here for a reason. Act confident. Don’t look like a tourist.”

When the doors opened, I exited to my left and followed the black and yellow painted lines to the access arm that extended to Discovery. I was so caught up in the moment that I kept walking toward Discovery, not knowing if anybody could see me—and frankly, not caring.

At the end of the walkway, a set of butler doors opened into the White Room. This is where the crew does final suit preps before entering the Shuttle.

When I got close, a lady popped open the doors. I hadn’t seen her and figured I was about to be in trouble. Instead, she looked me square in the eyes and, with a sweet voice, said:

“Honey. Do you want to stick your head inside Discovery?”

At that moment, I was glad I had used the restroom before I left my office.

“Yes!” I said.

She told me to put my knees on the board that extended into the opening. I did as she said and stuck my head inside Discovery as far as possible. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

I kept my head in there as long as I thought I could get away with it, then I pulled out and thanked her for letting me do it.

With a big smile, she said, “Sure.” She knew she had made my day.

I exited back through the butler doors and left the pad area—smiling the entire way. At this point, I didn’t care if I looked like a tourist.

This was a neat moment in my life.


* This article originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of the “Make NASA Great” series.

Crew Access Arm

This is how crew accessed orbiter. The White Room is at the end.

Inside White Room

Hatch to orbiter is behind astronaut.

Walkway to White Room

Every crew member walked down this before getting on board.

About the Author

David Mixson writes about Old Space and New Space. He worked as an engineer at NASA for more than thirty years and is the author of three books.

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