Santa Looks to Final Rendezvous With NASA's Space Shuttles
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Santa Claus is expected to make an unforgettable flyby of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida this Christmas Eve to see the three space shuttles as they are prepared for their final missions.
NASA granted the jolly ol' elf and his nine reindeer permission to fly over various Kennedy sites, including the Shuttle Landing Facility, the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), and orbiter processing facilities (OPF) where Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis are being readied for launch.
The VAB is considered to be one of the few structures outside the North Pole that is big enough to hold Santa's giant sack of toys. Reaching 525 feet into the Florida Space Coast sky and covering eight acres, the VAB could hold more than 129 million typical toys.
Inside the VAB, Discovery's external fuel tank is being evaluated to make sure there are no cracks in 21-foot-long support beams, called stringers, on the outside of the tank's intertank region, before launching on the STS-133 mission to the International Space Station. Santa's leading reindeer, Rudolph, might even pick up some tips on how to spray foam insulation onto his coat, and nose, for future out-of-this-world, gift-giving journeys.
Mr. Claus also can sneak a peek inside Discovery's payload bay to check out a small shuttle replica, made entirely of LEGO building blocks. The toy shuttle is the beginning of a three-year partnership between NASA and the LEGO Group, and is meant to spark children's interest in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.
Also going up with Discovery is a human-like robot called R2, which is short for Robonaut 2. The robot vaguely resembles "Eve" from the Disney movie "Wall-E" and is equipped with humanlike hands and arms and stereo vision to help astronauts with tasks aboard the orbiting laboratory.
Next, St. Nick can drop by OPF-2 to get an up-close view of Endeavour, which is being processed for the final scheduled shuttle mission, STS-134. He also can get a look at Endeavour's payload by stopping off at the Space Station Processing Facility where the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, or AMS, is undergoing testing. The AMS will measure cosmic rays as they move through space and is expected to unlock more answers to the structure of the universe while raising more questions after it is installed on the outside of the space station next year.
Comet and Cupid could also pick up some horsepower tips from Atlantis, which just got its three main engines installed this month -- the last planned space shuttle main engine installation before the Space Shuttle Program retires in 2011.
And as is tradition, Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility will be available for Santa and his reindeer crew if they would like to make one last "touch-and-snow" while it is still an active space shuttle runway.
For up-to-date information on the final space shuttle missions, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle
For more information about NASA's Kennedy Space Center, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/kennedy
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