This Week at Cape Canaveral

With all the changes taking place on Florida’s Space Coast AmericaSpace would like to keep its readers up-to-date with the latest from America’s spaceport. This week was both memorable and historic in a variety of ways. There were twin events that symbolized the end of the shuttle era, some excitement at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the layoffs continue at KSC.

Twin Events Herald Shuttle’s End

The final external tank of the shuttle era, ET-122, rests in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

Starting early Monday morning the last Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) segment was prepped to leave Kennedy Space Center’s (KSC) Assembly Refurbishment Facility (ARF) – unfortunately the local weather played its part and the move was delayed two days. Storm clouds swirled around the space center all morning long and this impacted the move from the ARF to the expansive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

The final SRB segment was given a ceremony marking the historic nature of the occasion. It included speeches by Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and American astronaut Greg “Ray J.” Johnson as well as numerous other officials with NASA and contractors. At the end of this event workers, some who have spent there entire careers working on these boosters, posed for photos with the last segment to leave the facility.

Over at the turn basin, which lies between Launch Complex 39A and the VAB, the Pegasus Barge disgorged the large, orange External Tank (ET) that fuels the shuttles to orbit. The ET was removed slightly ahead of the originally-planned 10:30 a.m. EDT. This too was due to the deteriorating weather. This ET had a plaque placed on it, symbolizing this as the final tank produced of the shuttle era – ET-122.

With the SRB segment now in the VAB it will be stacked to the other segments already there. It will then be mated with ET-122 and wait for the almost-certain launch of STS-135.

Man Held for Incident at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

Image Credit: USAF

The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office has taken man into custody under the Baker Act on Monday, Sept.27. The man tried to enter Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in a van that contained a suspicious package. No charges have been filed. The BCSO’s bomb squad found antifreeze, motor oil and a briefcase. Both bomb-sniffing dogs and an X-Ray were used to inspect the case’s contents which turned out to be papers.

According to investigators the man had been corresponding with the U.S. Navy’s ordinance removal team, his identity has not yet been revealed. Nor what brought on the security concerns.

The event started at around 9 a.m. EDT at Gate 1, the entrance to the base off State Road 401 and ended at 12:30 p.m., with the base reopening at that time. An FBI agent also was called to the scene to conduct an investigation. The event was soon cleared out and base personnel were soon back to work.

Second Falcon 9 Launch Delayed Until November

In this image the Falcon 9's nine Merlin engines are on full display. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has announced that the second flight of its Falcon 9 rocket will be pushed back until November. This delay is to give technicians and engineers more time to prepare the rocket for launch. The Falcon 9 and the Dragon spacecraft it will be hoisting into orbit are now targeted to launch around Nov. 8 – 9.

The mission was originally scheduled to lift off on Sept. 23 from the company’s facility at Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX is launching under the $1.6 billion Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract. These flights are scheduled to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).

Under this contract, SpaceX is to fly three demonstration flights, although after the Falcon 9’s one successful flight the firm pushed to have one of these flights removed. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk still wants NASA to pay for all three flights, at a cost of some $10 million each.

The company is now aiming for mid-2011 to conduct the first of 12 operational missions to the ISS.

NASA’s Skilled Workforce Continues to be Laid Off

United Space Alliance laid off 877 workers on Oct. 1. Image Credit: USA

Workers can no longer afford to hope that Congress will save their jobs nor can they continue to live in denial. However, as shuttle workers with United Space Alliance were forced to surrender their badges all illusions evaporated. Close to 900 USA workers lost their jobs on Oct. 1, the largest amount to date. It is expected that all total the Space Coast will lose some 8,000 jobs within the space industry.

Elsewhere an additional 200 employees joined the ranks of the unemployed. Many of these workers have spent decades helping to send Americans into space. They now are looking at unemployment during one of the worst economic periods in American history. Brevard County, where Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station are located, currently has an unemployment rate hovering around 12 percent.

Many workers were hopeful that the House of Representative’s bill would be passed, which worked to curtail many of President Obama’s plans for the space agency, however the competing Senate Bill, S. 3279, passed instead which confirmed most of the president’s agenda and would lead to little change in their current situation. After it became apparent that this was not to be the case a worker who was still employed at KSC and who wished to remain anonymous had this to say.

“I heard a joke that sadly sums up what many view as the future here.” He paused and offered a wry grin. “What do they call folks that follow America’s manned space flight program?” When he was asked what they were called, the smile faded and he said – “Historians.”

See Video: Astronauts address workers at final SRB segment ceremony

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