Spending twenty four hours at Kennedy Space Center, one absorbs all sorts of trivia. Here are some tidbits:
– 5 astronauts have masters degrees. 3 were successful football players. 1 has a PhD (and an MD as well, just for good measure). I’m not sure what that says about the requirements to go into space.
– The astronauts go into quarantine for a week before the launch. They don’t want any swine flu in space.
– We are on hallowed ground. This is where humans left the Earth to touch the Moon.
– This is the 129th space shuttle launch. The first was in 1981, for an average of one launch every three months. The whole idea was to make space launch “routine”.
– I calculate that it takes roughly thirty times more energy to get to the space station than it does to get a jet aircraft to altitude. Radius of the Earth: 6,400 km. Altitude of a jet: 12 km. Altitude of the space station: 350 km. (Gravitational potential energy goes as one over the distance.) However, it is to be noted that you want to actually stay up there once you get there, which means you need to be moving pretty fast (specifically, 28,000 km/hour at the altitude of the space station). Kinetic energy goes as velocity squared. This is why you need a kiloton bomb (see my previous post) to get up there.
– As a mission control specialist described launch: “It’s like going over the top of a rollercoaster. Forever.” Actually, that sounds more like what it must be like in orbit: free-fall.
– They monitor everything that happens on the space station. Including light switches and toilet flushes. Think big brother.
– The countdown clock is not linear. There are a number of planned “holds”, where they STOP THE CLOCK and check various systems, and then resume.
– We are roughly 3 miles from the launchpad. This distance was selected by calculating, should the unthinkable happen, how far a 50 pound chunk of debris would fly. We are just beyond that distance, trying not to think about what 40 pounds might do to the media tent.
We are now 1:35:37 from launch.