Monday, September 12, 2011

GRAIL Tweetup - Geeks in Paradise - The Tour

Yes, that's right, last week's GRAIL tweetup was a paradise for geeks, science aficionados and all kinds of "rocket scientists" (including the real ones).
It was a great opportunity to see the workings of NASA and many people involved around every space mission. And NASA delivered, packing the first day of the event with an amazing program.

It started early Wednesday, September 7th, with the event registration in front of the Kennedy Space Center's Visitor Complex:

After a brief, but multiplied by 150 participants, introductions, we were off to a special tour of the facilities.

As this was my first tweetup, I did not realize how good the tour was. I was prepared to visit some of the regular sites, maybe with an extra guide. This part turned out to be much, much better.

First, we were taken the the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Normally, the KSC tour just passes by the gigantic building, but we were taken right to it. As we entered its enormous interior, we could hardly contain our awe: the VAB is big.

So big in fact, that you only realize it when you have something seemingly large inside to compare it to. Like... hmm, I don't know... Space Shuttle Endeavour:

Yes, the real thing...

Our next stop was the press site at the Launch Complex 39, the one used for the Apollo missions (Saturn rockets) and, more recently, for the Space Shuttle launches. We were able to see the press building and the famous launch clock:

After the press site, we were off to see some real rocket launch sites. First on the list was the famous Complex 39, most recently used for the Space Shuttle program:

It was very interesting not only to see it up close, but also to hear some amazing facts about space shuttle launches from our tour guide, who was extremely knowledgeable.
After a quick visit to the Launch Complex 17, which included an overview of the operations by the employees of the United Launch Alliance, and a peek at this bumper sticker that made me very jealous,

we finally arrived at the Launch Complex 41. The main attraction there was a fully stacked Delta II rocket, with GRAIL twin probes on top, ready and mostly fueled for the first launch attempt. We received an in-depth explanation of the actual Delta II stacking process, as well as numerous details on the countdown and launch process. All of them equally fascinating!

Visiting the Launch Complex 41 was the last step of our tour as our buses returned to the KSC's Visitor Complex for an afternoon of meetings with GRAIL mission scientists and other interesting guests. But that's a story for another blog post...