Shuttle Processing at KSC

written by David Mixson

Early in my career, I worked at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on a three-month developmental assignment.

While there, I pretty much ate, slept, rode my bike, and spent the rest of my time learning everything I could about Shuttle processing.

My office was on the first floor of the massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), where the Shuttle was mated to other propulsion pieces before rolling it to the launch pad. The VAB was originally built during the Apollo program to assemble the Saturn V vehicle.

When I was at KSC, every employee was given a paper badge that signaled what places they could access. Since I was working out of the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) Project Office, I had access to more places than I probably should have. But I never complained about it.

On my first day at work, a colleague gave me this advice.

“David, you should try to see as much as you can while you’re here—and the best way to do that is to look like you know what you’re doing when you go around flight hardware, especially when you’re by yourself. Always walk with purpose and look concerned about something. And whatever you do, NEVER give the impression that you’re a tourist.”

So that’s what I did for the entire three months. I faked it. And wow, I got to see some incredible things. If cell phones had existed back then, I’m certain my parents would have grown tired of me sending so many pictures.

The first place I started exploring was the VAB. The External Tank (ET) was processed in one corner of the building, and the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) were stacked in another area.

One morning, I heard that Columbia was scheduled to be rolled over from the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) next door and rotated into the vertical position in the VAB that afternoon. I stayed and watched the entire thing in awe until almost midnight. It took longer than I thought it would, but I suppose the downside of dropping an orbiter warranted extra caution.

Being around flight hardware is about as good as it gets.

There’s more. Stay tuned.


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

Shuttle Columbia

Rolling from OPF to VAB.

Shuttle Columbia

Being mated to ET and SRBs.

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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