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A Booster's Journey Begins
Solid Rocket Booster aft skirt in transportThe photo at left may appear simply to show a flatbed truck hauling some heavy equipment from one Kennedy Space Center facility to another. But this is no ordinary piece of hardware. It's the aft skirt -- a skirt-shaped bottom segment -- of one of two Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) that will help to propel Shuttle Discovery skyward on Return to Flight mission STS-114 next year, and this short journey is a significant milestone in the march toward that goal.

Image to left: KSC Security escorts the first SRB aft skirt for mission STS-114 as it travels between processing facilities. Credit: NASA

The transport of the booster's aft skirt to a special processing facility signals the upcoming start of the stacking process, in which the various SRB segments are assembled into the familiar shape of the tall, gleaming white boosters that flank the Space Shuttle on the launch pad.

During its stay in KSC's Assembly and Refurbishment Facility, the skirt was broken down and overhauled following its most recent mission. After a sendoff from employees, the skirt was relocated to the Rotation Processing and Surge Facility. Here, SRB segments arrive by rail from the manufacturer, where they have been reloaded with solid propellant. Atop the aft skirt, technicians will place the bottom segment of a solid rocket motor and a ring that will attach the booster to the orange external fuel tank.

A full Space Shuttle launch assemblyWhen these activities are complete, the assembly will move to the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building for further build-up. Inside that cavernous structure, the remaining segments will be integrated to create a complete booster. A twin pair of SRBs will be mated to the external tank, followed by orbiter Discovery, completing the Space Shuttle launch assembly.

Image to right: Space Shuttle Discovery sits poised to launch on mission STS-96 in 2000. The white orbiter is attached to the orange external fuel tank and flanked by twin Solid Rocket Boosters. Credit: NASA

Then, it's off to the launch pad, where each booster will lend one million pounds of thrust when Discovery finally roars into orbit on a long-awaited launch day.

Anna Heiney
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center