Tag Archives: space shuttle

Spacewalker Ross visits shuttle trainer in Seattle

Jerry Ross

Astronaut Jerry Ross flew on seven space shuttle missions. He spoke March 1 at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Photo: NASA

Retired astronaut Jerry Ross figures he spent upwards of 1,200 hours in the NASA Full Fuselage Trainer preparing for his seven space shuttle flights. It was with mixed emotions that Ross spoke earlier this month at a dinner in his honor, held next to the trainer, which is now on exhibit at Seattle’s Musuem of Flight.

“It’s kind of sad to see it here, frankly,” Ross said of the trainer. “I’m glad that you have it; I’m glad that it didn’t go to a scrap heap somewhere. But I know that the fun years of the space shuttle program are behind us.”

Still, Ross acknowledged that the space shuttle, in use for more than 30 years, was getting a bit worse for wear.

“It was probably time to retire it and go on to something else,” he said. “Unfortunately, that something else hasn’t happened yet.”

Ross spent a couple of days at the museum promoting his new book, Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA’s Record-Setting Frequent Flyer. He said that a main reason he wrote it was to encourage young people to chase their dreams.

“I wanted them to understand that I had a dream as a young person, and I felt that God had designed me to be an astronaut,” Ross explained. He kept scrapbooks about space as a kid in Indiana, and learned from the news articles that he clipped that engineers and scientists, especially  those from Indiana’s Purdue University, were playing an important role. Ross said his dream was crystallized when Sputnik went up.

Spacewalker“I was in fourth grade, and based upon what I knew I decided I was going to go to Purdue University, that I was going to become an engineer, and that I was going to become involved in our country’s space program,” he said. “I really didn’t know what an engineer did, but I knew it was engineers who were doing what I wanted to go do.”

He did it, and flew on as many space missions as anyone. Space runs in the family—his daughter is a Purdue engineering grad and works on space suit design, and his wife, who majored in home economics at Purdue, eventually headed up the program that made food for the shuttle flights.

“I’ve told people for many years the only time I got a home-cooked meal after she took that job was when I flew in space,” Ross joked.

Ross said that being launched into space aboard the space shuttle was an incredible experience.

“One-hundred-eight feet tall, weighed four-and-a-half million pounds,” he said of the shuttle. “We generated over six and a half million pounds of thrust at liftoff. And that’s a real kick in the pants. Disney would have had to get a double-E ticket for that!”

Ross said that he was well prepared for his first flight, but that it was really impossible to actually know how it would feel.

“About 15 seconds after lifting off, I thought to myself, ‘Ross, what are you doing here?’ There was much more shaking and vibration, there was much more noise as the wind was just screaming by the windows of the orbiter, it was much more exciting than I expected.”


Ross drew a nice crowd to the Museum of Flight for his March 1 talk in the shadow of the Full Fuselage Trainer, on exhibit in the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

He said he wasn’t exactly afraid, but added, “You can’t strap on six and a half million pounds of thrust and not be a little bit apprehensive about it. If you aren’t, then you really don’t understand what’s happening.”

“I went back six more times, so it wasn’t too bad,” he added.

Ross said the only time he came close to quitting was after the Challenger disaster. He had a young family to support, and they discussed it at length.

“It took some serious thought and prayer,” he said, but they decided not to quit. “If we did we would let down our friends who we lost on the Challenger. To allow them to die and not pursue with even more vigor and dedication what they had done would have been a mistake.”

The Museum of Flight held the dinner next to the shuttle trainer in homage to a similar event NASA hosted for Queen Elizabeth II in Houston in 1991. The dinner with Ross was well-attended, and indications are that the museum will host more such events to allow some low-key and more personal conversation with celebrity aviation visitors.


Remembering fallen astronauts

By odd coincidence the three tragedies that have befallen the United States space program have occurred at this time of year.

Challenger explosion

The space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after being launched Jan. 28, 1986. Photo: NASA.

Today is the 46th anniversary of the first—the Apollo 1 cabin fire that killed the three-man crew during a launch pad test. Tomorrow marks the 27th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger a minute and 13 seconds after STS-51-L was launched from the Kennedy Space Center, killing all seven crewmembers. And Friday, Feb. 1 will be the tenth anniversary of the deaths of seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated during the re-entry of STS-107.

The Challenger disaster is especially vivid in my memory, even though I didn’t actually see it happen. I was a cub reporter at KJR radio in Seattle at the time, and was working the late-night shift, so I’d slept late that day as usual. By late morning or early afternoon I wandered out to get a haircut. My barber immediately struck up a conversation about the space shuttle that blew up. I had no idea, and remember thinking he must be joking. The whole idea was unthinkable and too horrible to imagine. But later I saw the video of the launch on television, and the photos of the smoke plume of the launch and explosion are certainly iconic images.

The crew of that  final mission included schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, who was one of the astronauts killed in the explosion. McAuliffe was chosen for the flight from among thousands of applicants to NASA’s teacher in space program. As a side note, at the time there also was a journalist-in-space program, and I was all set to apply, even given the long odds that an unknown radio news producer from Seattle would beat out Tom Brokaw for the seat. The program was scrapped after Challenger. Strangely, there was apparently some consideration of starting the program back up a decade ago when the Columbia disaster happened. It may be bad luck to even consider letting a journalist near a spacecraft!

Apollo 1 crew

L-R: Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were killed in a cabin fire during a launchpad test of Apollo 1 on Jan. 27, 1967. Photo: NASA.

I don’t really remember the Apollo 1 fire or watching any news coverage of it. I was nine years old at the time, and already a space nut. I kept a scrapbook of news clippings about the Gemini missions and space walks and the exciting adventures of the astronauts. What I do remember is the big, bold headline announcing the tragic deaths of the astronauts. Again, it was unthinkable. I imagine those scrapbooks are still over at the old homestead.

When NASA looks back on these anniversaries it is in celebration. Earlier this month NASA Administrator Charles Bolden talked about the upcoming day of commemoration while on a tour of the shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

“We go out to Arlington [National Cemetery] and we honor the memory of all three crews that were lost over the history of human spaceflight,” Bolden said. “We think about it every day, but we take those particular times and set them aside when we can let everyone else join us and help celebrate.”

Bolden is in Israel right now helping to celebrate the life of Ilan Ramon, an Israeli astronaut who was aboard Columbia when it was lost in 2003.

“We lost some really valiant people,” Bolden said, “but what their sacrifice brought is what we should really be thinking about. The fact is that they dared to challenge and do things differently. Because of what they did we’re well on the cusp of going deeper into space than we’ve ever done before.”

NASA administrator Charlie Bolden

NASA administrator Charlie Bolden during a February 2011 event at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Photo: Ted Heutter, Museum of Flight.

Bolden said it’s important for museums to tell the story of space travel as we look at the International Space Station, watch the growing involvement of private, commercial companies in space travel, and consider the possibilities for mining of asteroids or of human missions to other planets.

“None of that stuff would have been possible had it not been for the sacrifices of those in the shuttle program,” said Bolden, himself a four-time shuttle astronaut.

The Museum of Flight has a special event planned for next Saturday, Feb. 2, which will remember the astronauts as part of its Michael P. Anderson Memorial Aerospace Program. Anderson is a Spokane native and astronaut who also died aboard Columbia. Former astronaut Robert L. Curbeam, Jr., who was a member of Anderson’s astronaut class, will keynote the event, which also will include a panel discussion by local African Americans who are pursuing successful careers in aerospace. The event begins at 2 p.m. and is free with museum admission. It’s usually an inspiring event; you can read our coverage of it from last year, and from 2011 when Bolden was the keynote speaker.


NASA administrator tours shuttle trainer exhibit at Museum of Flight

NASA Adminstrator Charles Bolden says Seattle’s Museum of Flight scored big when it landed the space agency’s Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT) for permanent exhibit.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in front of the Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer at the Museum of Flight in Seattle Jan. 15, 2013. Photo: NASA/Carla Cioffi.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in front of the Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer at the Museum of Flight in Seattle Jan. 15, 2013. Bolden flew four shuttle missions and trained in the FFT, as did all shuttle astronauts. Photo: NASA/Carla Cioffi.

“I think the Museum of Flight won the prize when it comes to education,” Bolden said during a tour of the exhibit this week at the museum’s Charles Simonyi Space Gallery. “No other place with an orbiter can do what is done here. No other place can have somebody essentially walk in the same footsteps that John Glenn, John Young, other people walked when they go through the payload bay or they go up on the flight deck or the mid-deck. That’s actually where we trained.”

When NASA announced at the end of the shuttle program that it would award the retired orbiters to museums around the country, it set off an intense competition between some two dozen institutions that all wanted one of the prized artifacts. The Museum of Flight went all-in and built the $12 million, 15,500 square-foot space gallery with no guarantee that it would receive a shuttle. When Bolden announced two years ago that the shuttles would go elsewhere, Museum of Flight President and CEO Doug King recognized that being able to go into the FFT would be a great draw for visitors. Sure enough, it’s been very busy since the exhibit opened in November.

Charlie Bolden

NASA administrator Charles Bolden speaks to reporters at the Museum of Flight Jan. 15, 2013. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“It’s been huge,” King said. “We had record attendance all through the holidays and on into this year.” He added that a special education program, though which a small number of visitors actually visit the crew cabin, has sold out every weekend.

The exhibit is truly impressive. For one thing, the FFT is gigantic. I attended several events in the space gallery before the trainer arrived, and the room is enormous. The FFT virtually fills it. The gallery includes a half-scale model of the Hubble Space Telescope, perhaps the most famous payload ever carried by a shuttle, and a mockup of the Boeing-built Inertial Upper Stage that was used to launch satellites into space from the shuttle. There’s also a Soyuz capsule, a Charon Test Vehicle from Blue Origin, and information about many of the commercial spaceflight efforts in the works. These may well be the source for future additions to the exhibit; King already has his eye on one of the Dragon vehicles being flown by SpaceX, and envisions an “arrivals” board for the gallery that identifies what is flying in next. Bolden added that exhibits about the commercial space ventures are important to inspire kids who are the next generation of engineers, space adventurers, and dreamers.

King says he expects the museums with the flown orbiters also will create fantastic exhibits.

Charles Bolden

NASA administrator Charles Bolden emerges from the hatch of the Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer, now on exhibit at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, during a tour Jan. 15, 2013. Every shuttle astronaut used that hatch and trained in the FFT. Photo: NASA/Carla Cioffi.

“The one in Los Angeles already looks great, and the building they’re eventually going to put it in will be spectacular,” he said. “We’ll encourage everybody to go see it, then come here and go inside.”

Bolden flew on four shuttle missions and spent countless hours training in the FFT, so for him the museum’s exhibit brings on fond memories, and some painful ones. He joked about using the trainer to practice emergency escapes from the shuttle, and said every astronaut had just one thought in mind during the exercises.

“Do not fall off the rope. You don’t want to look bad,” he laughed, noting that there were always cameras recording the training. “You did not want to be memorialized as one who slipped and fell and looked like an idiot laying down there on the mat.”

The FFT is a most interesting exhibit. Go walk in the footsteps of the astronauts and check it out at the Museum of Flight. Watch the slideshow below for a preview, and for more scenes from Bolden’s visit!


Museum of Flight to receive keys to shuttle trainer

Officials of Seattle’s Museum of Flight will receive the “keys” to Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT) at a ceremony tomorrow at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. Museum President and CEO Doug King will be in attendance along with NASA officials.

According to a news release from the museum:

The ceremony will include an official signing of the Space Act Agreement that will transfer ownership of the trainer, which includes both a crew cockpit and shuttle cargo bay area, and was used to familiarize astronauts with shuttle cockpit controls and and emergency exit procedures over the life of the Space Shuttle Program.

The museum will accept responsibility for the Full Fuselage Trainer, and its transportation to Seattle. By donating Johnson Space Center’s shuttle training resources to outside partners, NASA hopes to find areas of common interest that will foster new technologies that improve life here on Earth, and pave the way for future human exploration in space.

Simonyi Gallery

The Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at Seattle's Museum of Flight is the future home of NASA's Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer. Museum officials will formally accept the keys to the trainer at a ceremony Jan. 19 in Houston. The trainer is expected to be on display in the gallery in June. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

The museum staged an aggressive campaign to bring one of the retired space shuttles to Seattle, and built the $12 million, 15,500 square-foot Charles Simonyi Space Gallery as part of that effort. However NASA announced in April that the shuttles would go to New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and the Kennedy Space Center. The Museum of Flight received the Full Fuselage Trainer as something of a consolation prize. While it doesn’t have the cachet of a vehicle that actually has flown in space, the FFT does have some upside, as museum visitors will actually be able to go inside it and explore.

The Simonyi Gallery opened in December and has a number of its namesake’s artifacts on display. Exhibits will soon include the actual Soyuz capsule that brought the billionaire space tourist home from the International Space Station. Museum officials expect the FFT to be in town and on display this summer.

Seattle Museum of Flight gets Soyuz capsule from Simonyi

The new Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at Seattle’s Museum of Flight has landed a cool new artifact: the Soyuz-TMA-13 reentry module that brought Simonyi back from a space tourist trip to the International Space Station in 2009. The announcement was made this morning at a ceremony naming the new space gallery for the high-tech pioneer and philanthropist, who kicked in $3 million of the $12 million cost to build it.


Charles Simonyi returned to Earth from the International Space Station in this Soyuz capsule in 2009. He's obtained the vehicle and given it to the Museum of Flight on a long-term loan. Photo: Space Adventures.

“The naming of the space gallery is a great honor for me and for my family,” said Simonyi in a news release. “I have the highest regard for the Museum of Flight and now that we are at the threshold of a great expansion of civilian spaceflight, I fully support the museum’s efforts to engage the public on the issue of space exploration with a focus on civilian space: past, present and future.”

The gallery was built as part of an effort to convince NASA to retire one of its space shuttles to Seattle. That hope was scuttled last spring, but the museum was awarded NASA Full-Fuselage Trainer as a consolation prize. The FFT, in which all shuttle astronauts trained for their missions, the Soyuz module, and other artifacts from Simonyi will be the centerpieces of the new gallery’s permanent display, expected to open in late spring.

Visitors to the museum can check out a new temporary exhibit that opens on Saturday. Many space-themed activities are on tap.

“This imposing new Charles Simonyi Space Gallery could not have become a reality without Dr. Simonyi’s continued support for The Museum of Flight and his vision about what our future can hold,” said Doug King, President and CEO of the museum. “While we are grateful for his monetary contribution, we truly named the space gallery in honor of Charles to recognize his commitment to aerospace education and his tireless enthusiasm for inspiring the next generation of space explorers.”

Congressional delegation makes last push for Seattle shuttle

Space Gallery

Artist's depiction of a space shuttle in the new gallery now under construction. NASA will announce next week if Seattle will be the new home of one of the retiring orbiters. Photo courtesy Museum of Flight.

The congressional delegation from the state of Washington isn’t often unanimous on an issue, but today all 11 of them signed on to a letter to NASA administrator Charlie Bolden urging him to select Seattle’s Museum of Flight as the the permanent home for one of the space agency’s retiring space shuttle orbiters.

It turns out the delegation are big boosters of the museum and its shuttle effort. The letter reads in part:

The Museum of Flight is truly first in class in reputation and museum leadership, and has an unwavering dedication to its educational mission. The facility has been an outstanding curator to some of our nation’s most significant aerospace accomplishments. The Museum of Flight is a source of pride to all of us in Washington state and we are confident that no other facility in the world can match the Museum’s ability to preserve and utilize an orbiter in a manner befitting its historical importance.

Bolden is to announce a decision about the future home of the shuttles next Tuesday, April 12. The Museum of Flight is one of a couple of dozen that have been bidding for a shuttle. This Space.com article from Monday runs down some of the top contenders and pros and cons of each.

The letter also notes that a new Space Gallery to house a shuttle and other out-of-this-world artifacts is already under construction, and reminds Bolden of the Seattle area’s important contributions to the shuttle program and to aerospace in general.

The missive concludes with a strong appeal:

We are confident that the Museum of Flight is an ideal home for a Space Shuttle Orbiter. These important national artifacts deserve to be well cared for in a historically-relevant environment, to have their history told accurately and in an engaging manner, and to inspire the next generation of aerospace workers. No facility is better suited than the Museum of Flight.

The letter was signed by Senators Murray and Cantwell, and Representatives Inslee, Larsen, Herrera Beutler, Hastings, McMorris Rodgers, Dicks, McDermott, Reichert, and Smith.

We note that Bolden visited the Museum of Flight in February, and that one of his former astronaut colleagues, Dr. Bonnie Dunbar, is the former president and CEO of the museum and is now devoting her time to the shuttle effort. Perhaps the connection has improved the museum’s chances to land the prize.

Seattle seeks space shuttle, decision in April

We should learn next month whether Seattle will become the permanent home for one of the retiring space shuttles. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden revealed this week that a decision regarding placement for the retiring orbiters will be announced Tuesday, April 12. The Museum of Flight in Seattle is one of 27 institutions that are vying for one of the shuttles.

NASA administrator Charlie Bolden

NASA administrator Charlie Bolden spoke during a Black History Month program Feb. 5 at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Bolden will announce next month if the museum will become the permanent home for a retiring space shuttle. Photo: Ted Heutter, Museum of Flight.

The date was not just pulled out of the vacuum of space. April 12 will be the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle launch and the 50th anniversary of the first human spaceflight by cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin.

“We believe that our mission to be the foremost educational air and space museum in the country, along with Washington state’s extensive contributions to aerospace innovation, make us uniquely qualified to be the final home for one of the shuttles,” said Museum of Flight President and CEO Douglas King. “We are eager to hear NASA’s decision.”

The Museum of Flight may have a leg up on some of the other institutions in the running. Bolden, a former shuttle commander, visited the museum last month and was courted by King and former museum CEO Bonnie Dunbar, herself a retired shuttle astronaut who now devotes her full time to landing a shuttle, working through the museum’s affiliate organization Wings Over Washington.

Dunbar and Owen

Former astronaut Bonnie Dunbar, left, and Lt. Governor Brad Owen applaud during the groundbreaking ceremony last June for the Museum of Flight's Space Gallery. The gallery, set to be finished in July, would be home to a space shuttle if NASA awards one to the museum. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

In addition, work continues apace on the museum’s new space gallery. Ground was broken on the project last June and, as the Seattle Times reported this week, the framework of the climate-controlled facility’s huge glass front wall went up this week. The 15,500 square-foot gallery, which would be the shuttle’s home in Seattle, is expected to be finished in July.

The shuttle bid also has been supported by the entire Washington state congressional delegation, the State Legislature, and Governor Christine  Gregoire. Congressman Norm Dicks, one of the effort’s most enthusiastic supporters said, “We are cautiously optimistic. As a delegation, we have worked this effort as diligently and thoroughly as possible. We have our fingers crossed!”

If the museum is awarded a space shuttle, it will be part of an exhibit that will not only celebrate the shuttle program, but also look toward the future of space travel while serving as a learning tool to the nearly 140,000 students who participate in education programs at the museum each year.