Thursday, March 1, 2007

SDMs tour Kennedy Space Center

By Lois Slavin, ESD communications director

SDM students, alumni, faculty and staff toured NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in January to see how the experts process launch vehicles for spaceflight.

SDM student Shawn Quinn, who serves as future elements manager for the Constellation Ground Operations Project Office at KSC, designed the two-day tour specifically for this group. He said he thought it would be useful for SDMs to visit the center because so much of SDM’s master’s program involves learning to understand and synthesize large-scale engineering systems.

"KSC offered a close-up look at three distinct approaches to the ground processing of some of the world’s largest launch vehicles in service today—the space shuttle, Delta IV and Atlas V," Quinn said.

SDMs saw elements of the International Space Station being prepared and saw a number of areas and activities vital to space shuttle missions, including firing rooms in the launch control center, launchpad 39B, the crawler–transporter, and solid rocket boosters, which were undergoing stacking operations in the 525-foot-tall Vehicle Assembly Building.

The group also watched the Space Shuttle Atlantis undergoing final preparations for a March launch in the Orbiter Processing Facility. They visited Atlas V and Delta IV launch processing facilities and pads used for uncrewed missions for NASA, the Department of Defense and commercial companies. The tour concluded at the Apollo Saturn V facility, where an actual unused Saturn V is on display, along with historical artifacts from America’s first journey to the moon.

"We compared and contrasted three different vehicle processing architectures and got an up-close look at the scale and scope required to process launch vehicles and spacecraft for flight," Quinn said. The group also saw what it takes to process International Space Station elements prior to launch. (The station is the largest man-made system in orbit.)

Professor Olivier de Weck of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems said he was particularly impressed by the dedication and knowledge of the local workforce, the detailed work required on the thermal protection system in the Orbiter Processing Facility, and the reconditioning of the space shuttle’s main engines and solid rocket boosters. "The KSC tour was especially valuable for SDM because we are trying to emphasize these life-cycle issues in our curriculum," de Weck said.

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