From Sea to Space
With the arrival of the redesigned External Tank (ET) that will help launch the Space Shuttle Discovery, technicians at NASA's Kennedy Space Center begin final processing of the hardware for the STS-114 Return to Flight mission.
Once the 15-story tank was removed from the barge that carried it to Florida, it was moved into the Vehicle Assembly Building's (VAB) transfer aisle.
Image at Right: Accompanied by KSC employees, the newly redesigned External Tank rolls into the Vehicle Assembly Building. Image credit: NASA
But what happens after it disappears into the cavernous building?
Processing the components for any Space Shuttle launch entails the choreography of massive, yet delicate, flight hardware.
From the transfer aisle, the lifting operations place the tank in the upright position. It is then secured in one of the VAB's high bays and the checkout work begins.
Image at Left: Viewed from an upper level in the Vehicle Assembly Building, the redesigned External Tank is being lifted into the "checkout cell." Image credit: NASA
The first order of business is inspecting the bronze-colored tank for any damage that may have occurred during shipping, followed by electrical testing and check-out.
After the tank processing is complete, it is joined to the twin Solid Rocket Boosters, and preparations to mate the orbiter with the stack begin. When all is ready, the orbiter is lifted and attached.
Image at Right: In Vehicle Assembly Building high bay 1, the orbiter Atlantis is lowered into position for mating to its external tank/solid rocket booster stack for mission STS-104. Image credit: NASA
When all the components are in place, umbilical and electrical connections are completed. After testing is performed, the entire stack is rolled to the pad.
Image at Left: A Space Shuttle slowly travels on the Crawlerway between the Vehicle Assembly Building and Launch Pad 39A. Image credit: NASA
Moving at one mile per hour, one of the massive crawler transporters has the heavy task of moving the Mobile Launcher Platform and assembled launch vehicle -- with a combined weight of 12 million pounds -- to one of the two Space Shuttle launch pads at Complex 39.
Image at Right: Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off from Pad 39-B. Image credit: NASA
After final preparations at the pad, the External Tank is fueled, the astronauts are strapped in, and it's 3…2…1 and liftoff!
Cheryl L. Mansfield
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center