Facilities operated by NASA Dryden's Western Aeronautical Test Range, including this radar complex located on a hilltop west of the center, provided telemetry, radar, voice communication and video support of shuttle missions. (NASA / Carla Thomas) › View Larger Image
Dryden Supported Many Aspects of Space Shuttle Missions
Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California's high desert, where NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center is located, was selected as the initial primary landing site for the space shuttles because of the safety margin presented by Rogers Dry Lake and its long runways, one of which stretches 7.5 miles. It was also the location of the approach and landing tests of the prototype shuttle Enterprise in 1977 that proved the bulky, high-drag shuttle could be safely maneuvered to a precise landing on a runway after returning from space.
After NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Florida's east coast became the primary site for operational landings, Dryden continued to serve as an alternate landing site when unfavorable weather precluded recovery in Florida, or special circumstances (such as heavy payload weight) necessitated a lakebed landing.
Scores of NASA Dryden personnel supported each shuttle landing at Edwards. Support activities included operating the Dryden Mission Control Room where orbiter re-entry and descent parameters were monitored, post-landing orbiter servicing and processing operations; post-landing crew physicals, hosting agency and program visitors viewing the landings, and staffing a media information center for domestic and international news personnel covering the landings.
The Western Aeronautical Test Range (WATR) at NASA Dryden supported all segments of the space shuttle program, including launch, on-orbit, and landing phases of each mission.
The WATR provided telemetry, radar, voice communication and video support of shuttle missions to NASA's Johnson Space Center, support that continues today for the International Space Station.
During the more than 30-year orbital program, 54 shuttle landings occurred at Edwards, beginning with STS-1 on April 14, 1981, and ending with STS-128 on September 11, 2009. Another 78 missions landed at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility, while one – STS-3 in 1982 – landed at White Sands Space Harbor, part of the Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
NASA Dryden's Shuttle and Flight Operations Support Office also provided management and coordination of facilities, systems, and ground servicing equipment in support of space shuttle launch, on-orbit, landing, recovery, and turnaround operations including:
- Navigation and visual landing aids for the shuttles and Shuttle Training Aircraft approach and landing flight activities at Edwards.
- Microwave Scanning Beam Landing System (MSBLS) Precision Approach Path Indication (PAPI) lighting system, the Ball/Bar lighting system and the Xenon lighting system, the latter of which bathed the approach end of the runway in brilliant white light before a nighttime landing.
- The Mate/De-mate Device to place the orbiter atop the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Servicing of the shuttles to prepare them for the cross-country ferry flights also took place in this gantry-like structure.
- The shuttle hangar, a 25,580 square-foot hangar with 8,200 square-foot office and shop space.
- A ground operations control room for landing, recovery, & turnaround operations.
- A 10,000 square foot logistics warehouse.
- A 4,000 square-foot Payloads Processing Facility.
- A 4,000 square-foot Shuttle Carrier Aircraft ground service equipment and spare parts storage facility.
- 4,000 square foot Post-flight Sciences Support Facility.
- Maintenance of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft– the two modified Boeing 747 aircraft that transported the shuttle back to the Kennedy Space Center after landings at Edwards.
For a more detailed look at NASA Dryden's involvement in and contributions to the space shuttle program, visit:
A long string of specialized NASA vehicles convoys down a taxiway at Edwards Air Force Base to begin a Space Shuttle rescue and recovery training exercise in April 2005 (NASA / Tony Landis) › View Larger Image
By Peter W. Merlin, Historian
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center