NASA Podcasts

Shuttle Era: Astrovan
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Narrator: Throughout the Space Shuttle Program, a familiar launch-day sight was the shiny silver vehicle known as the Astrovan. Before each launch, astronauts smiled and waved as they left crew quarters and boarded the van that would carry them to meet their fully fueled ride to space. The vehicle would wind its way across NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida as it carried the crew to the launch pad. It was an exciting ride for the crew members, but especially for the rookies ready for their first trip to space.

STS-135 Pilot Doug Hurley: "The first time is just everything about it is just, you know, the anticipation, excitement, you know, you're a little bit nervous, but it's just neat to know that, you know, you're one in a series of a very long line of astronauts who've rode in this vehicle going to the pad, you know, for flight to space. It's pretty cool."

Narrator: Early shuttle crews had fewer astronauts so they rode to the launch pad in an Apollo-era transport van. But since 1984, each shuttle crew traveled those nine miles aboard the current vehicle. The modified Airstream motor home only racked up about 27,000 miles in its 27 years of service. That's because it's used solely to transport the astronauts for each mission.

STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson: "I always associate this vehicle with flying, because you only get in here twice. You get in here for TCDT, which, of course, is the launch rehearsal, and then launch day."

Narrator: The only other time the Astrovan was used was to take the astronauts back to crew quarters after landing. The vehicle's appeal is rooted in its tradition rather than its décor.

Ferguson: "It's not really extravagant it's kind of like bench seating. And it's pretty crowded on launch day, especially with a crew of seven I think everyone's trying to cut the tension with a joke or two from time to time."

Narrator: The interior's narrow center aisle is paralleled by long benches. Lift-out sections accommodate the ventilator units used to circulate cool air through the astronauts bulky orange launch-and-entry suits.

Ferguson: "This is the only place that they have liquid air. And liquid air is really, really good. You know we have this cooling garment that circulates water cooling and in the hot Florida sun it's nice to have it. But they plug that liquid air into you and it just blows this cool air throughout your suit, and it's really nice because it actually dries you, and the only place we get to have it is in here. And I don't know why but it's like a special treat on launch day."

Narrator: And while each crew no doubt had their own unique take on their ride to the launch pad, shuttle Atlantis’ STS-135 mission crew took in the significance of the final ride for the Space Shuttle Program.

Ferguson: "It was really special this time because there were so many people here. And I think even though it's kind of an anxious time as you head out to the launch pad because you know this might actually be the day, on this particular day, you know the last flight, I think we were all amazed at how many people showed up. But even on the road, you hang the right turn to go to the pad, and the road was lined with people waving American flags. It made me feel good, you know, to know that the shuttle program meant this much to so many people, and not just national, but international. I mean, a lot of people turned out to watch, you know, the grand finale, if you would."

Narrator: While the vehicle won't be taking any more shuttle crews to the launch pad, NASA plans to keep it ready to ferry future astronaut crews to the pad.

Hurley: "I would like to keep this tradition. I don't know if any of us will get to fly on the next vehicle, whatever that vehicle may be, U.S vehicle. It would be kind of neat to have some of it be the same."

STS-135 Astronaut Sandy Magnus: "Actually traditions are important in a business like this to keep everybody connected."

Ferguson: "Everybody ready? Hold on everybody."

Narrator: So, after riding the Astrovan to the launch pad a number of times, what would it be like if a space shuttle commander got the keys to take it for a spin? STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson found out.

Ferguson: "0-to-35 in a minute-and-a-half! That was the most white-knuckled event I've had. I pronounce this vehicle fit for another space program."

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