Monday, October 24, 2011

You, Too, Can Visit the Vehicle Assembly Building

The space shuttle Discovery inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy Space Center, August 4, 2011. Photo by the author. 

KSC's Visitor Center has just announced on their Facebook that they are allowing - for the first time in ages - tours of the famous Space Cathedral, the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). From their press release:
"For the first time in more than 30 years, guests at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will have the chance to disembark their tour buses and tour inside the VAB to see firsthand where monstrous vehicles were assembled for launch, from the very first Saturn V rocket in the late 1960s to the very last space shuttle, STS-135 Atlantis, earlier this year.

The opportunity to visit the VAB will be offered for a limited time to a limited number of Visitor Complex guests per day as part of KSC Up-Close, a new two-hour, guided special interest tour. Beginning Nov. 1, the tour will be offered eight times daily for $25 for adults and $19 for children ages 3-11, plus the cost of admission which is $43 + tax for adults and $33 + tax for children ages 3-11.

Making this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity even more special, for a very limited time, guests on the KSC Up-Close tour may see a space shuttle orbiter inside the VAB as they are being prepared for display in their new homes in Los Angeles, CA, Washington, DC and Florida.

Tickets will be on sale soon. Stay tuned for more details!"
 Here's another shot I took of the VAB during the Juno NASA Tweetup:

The building is even more unimaginably enormous when one sees it through his or her own eyes. If you've never seen it before and you happen to be a space enthusiast, I would recommend that you visit it before they stop the tours. It's a breathtaking experience and an immense honor to have stood where those great vehicles were once assembled. The VAB is the world's largest one-story building and was home to the Apollo space vehicles and the space shuttles during assembly. It was built in 1966. At one point, it had an interesting bicentennial logo painted on it; the classic NASA vector logo was repainted on the building in 1998. 

In addition, NASA's Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle now has a page on Facebook. Apparently astronauts are already doing simulations involving the next-generation spacecraft which hopefully will fly within the next decade, ushering in a new era of spaceflight to the Moon and other worlds (we'll see). This page has a ton of information and photos. See it now before it becomes mainstream, so you too can be a Space Hipster

Monday, October 17, 2011

More ESCANDALO in Space: In Which a Certain Astronaut Racks Up 28 Parking Tickets at JSC for the Lolz

"But I can't go to jail; I'm a doctor!" Dr. Kerwin reacts to finding out the consequences of his Emily Carney-style approach to parking problems. (BTW, I am Emily Carney.) 1973 NASA photo. Agony at its finest despite the blurriness provided by Kerwin. 

We at This Space Available are big fans of the first U.S. doctor in space, Dr. Joseph P. Kerwin. I've heard though the grapevine that he's a really nice guy and a total gentleman. He provided probably some of the best photo opportunities in NASA history and was absolutely shameless about looking like a total goober. At some point, he did some important scientific stuff in the name of science (in all seriousness, he was the Director of Space and Life Sciences at Johnson Space Center in Houston for some time). He got to participate in one of the longest in-orbit parties ever called Skylab 2. He was bros with Pete Conrad. You get my point. 

In the mid-1960s he also decided to break the record for the most parking tickets acquired by anyone at JSC. He made it to 28 parking tickets total. This is, in itself, an astonishing feat. No one, including Neil Armstrong, had probably ever done this before. His knowledge of all things medical and spaceflight-related was inversely proportional to his skill at using a parking meter. As the story goes, Kerwin received a nasty-gram from JSC's security people about his number of tickets. He brought this letter to his supervisor, who happened to be the extremely terrifying Alan Shepard, first U.S. man in space and a bit of a grumpy guy. 

Kerwin asked Shepard, "Is this the record or should I keep trying?" Shepard then told Kerwin to "knock it off." He also probably dislodged a foot in the poor naval flight surgeon's behind just for craps and giggles, topped off with shouts of "I WAS THE FIRST U.S. MAN IN SPACE AND DON'T YOU EVER FORGET IT." (Did you know that Shepard was so scary in the mid-1960s, according to the miniseries Moon Shot poor Stuart Roosa would literally avoid him in the hallways around NASA? Eventually Big Al loosened up and became buddies with everyone around his moon landing in 1971.)

If you'd like to read more about Dr. J.P. Kerwin's brush with the Long Arm of the Law, check out this interview from a few years back. In addition, it is a great summary of his entire career at NASA and beyond.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Carrying the Ire: The Most WTF Spaceflight Books

Slayton: "Guys, if you can't play nice together, WE WILL GO BACK INSIDE DAMMIT." From left, Thomas Stafford, Deke Slayton, Gene Cernan and Buzz Aldrin try to keep the peace, 1966. 

I suppose this is the beginning of what will become a long series of posts, because there are a ton of nutty spaceflight-related books floating around (so to speak) in the ether. Today, I'll focus on Buzz Aldrin's Return to Earth (1973) and Gene Cernan's Last Man on the Moon (1999). 

First, I'll focus on Last Man on the Moon, because I'm going to save the best for last. Last Man on the Moon (titled because, well, Gene happened to be the last man on the moon) certainly has its share of crazy moments. Perhaps the best sections involve Gene's not-entirely-irrational, VERY PUBLIC hatred of astro-colleague and Group Three alumnus Buzz Aldrin. He begins the book with a (sort of) heart-warming reminiscence about his late buddy Roger Chaffee blatantly trolling Ol' Dr. Buzz with a "broomstick trick" (an athletic feat of insane'd have to read the book to understand) and Buzz stomping off in a huff about this. (In retrospect, it's not hard to imagine Roger doing this. He always had a mischievous twinkle in his eye.) 

Buzz regularly gets the stick in more than one way in Last Man on the Moon. We hear in great depth about Buzz trolling Gene to an annoying degree around the time of Gemini 9 over extracurricular activities (Gene had a difficult EVA during that mission, which is chronicled in terrifying detail). We also hear about Buzz's unsurprising, bombastic efforts to be the first man on the moon, an honor which went to the rather quiet, unassuming Group Two astronaut Neil Armstrong. Gene's complete lack of tact in discussing Buzz's, um, craziness is pretty hilarious. There are other vignettes in the book which are worth discussing, such as the time Gene accidentally on purpose crashed a helicopter (????) and the time Gene got in deep doo-doo over throwing around cusses on Snoopy, Apollo 10's LEM. He also refers to Alan Shepard as a "sumbitch" (well, Big Al was kind of a sumbitch, at times) and recounts a lovely time in which he was cussed out by Tom Stafford. Yikes. There are more cusses in Last Man on the Moon than most gangsta rap albums made around the same time. If you need some hearty giggles in your spaceflight books, sans cuteness (because 2008's Homesteading Space: The Story of Skylab will MAKE YOU DIE OF CUTE), Gene's your man.

...BUT THE REAL BIG DADDY OF ALL CRAZY SPACEFLIGHT BOOKS IS BUZZ ALDRIN'S RETURN TO EARTH. This book is the Too Much Damn Information Extravaganza of Spaceflight Books. Really, Buzz gives away ENTIRELY TOO MUCH about his personal life in this one. I do think his decision to go public with his alcoholism and depression issues was - and continues to be - a brave one. However, Buzz cushions the noble message of his first stab at an autobiographical sketch with the craziest stories you can ever imagine. I believe he had his first sexual encounter with a Juarez hooker (I DID NOT MAKE THIS UP. He wrote this!) and he recounts the experience of being the first man to take a piss while he was standing upon the moon's surface in excruciating detail. He also buys a monkey named Popo just for the lolz (seriously, he went out and bought a monkey, because he just wanted one). To this day NO ONE knows why the monkey was named Popo. The monkey, last I checked, was not available for comment. 

At any rate, Buzz Aldrin's Return to Earth remains the gold standard for slightly inappropriate astronaut memoirs. Neil may have been the first man on the moon, but Buzz was arguably the first astronaut on the moon who gave zero shits about anything at all. He probably ate more unauthorized sandwiches and took more dumps than John Young ever did. And that's my last word on that subject. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs, A True Innovator

From the Apple Web site
Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor. Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple.
His pioneering spirit will be missed. 

Image copyright 2011 by Ben Hughes from Tumblr. Thank you! 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Space Movie Review Korner - Apollo 18 Edition

"THE SPACE CAPSULE IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE." Apollo 18 brings the lolz, disappoints. 

So here's my review of the hot mess soon-to-be space horror classic Apollo 18. 

I hope this review encapsulates the feelings I had when I watched this movie tucked into a seat in the back of the theater hoping no one would see me there. I literally started laughing violently at some of the scenes in the movie and took a picture of myself doing this. However, I deleted the photo because some usher at the theater got mad. Oh, well. At least he didn't kick me out. However, I wouldn't have cared, because I knew how the movie was going to end anyway. 

Here's some selected text of this review to ponder:
"The word 'predictable' is almost too predictable of an adjective to even begin to describe Apollo 18. In fact, I think I broke my computer’s thesaurus trying to find more synonyms for 'predictable.' (My hard drive is going to start smoking a cigarette in about two seconds.)"
Read the review and draw your own conclusion. EDIT: SPOILERS INCLUDED! If you were going to see this movie, I am going to ruin it for you. 

Text and photo courtesy of Popshifter, September/October 2011.