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Kennedy Space Center Tour with RT Riding Astronaut (long/pics)


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Space Center Tour – Jan 2, 2004


Not really a ride tale, but a tale of meeting people on the board. That’s the most incredible part about this board!


Many of you may already know this, but one of our fellow riders, Dex, is an active astronaut in the NASA Space Shuttle program. I’m sure Dex will be a little embarrassed by some of the things I write. I went back and looked at all his posts and he hasn’t thrown the astronaut thing out there one time. I asked how he could possible exercise such humility grin.gif. I know he would just rather talk bikes, riding and accessorizing, so I hope I don’t cause problems for him by posting this tale.


Dex and I were classmates at Georgia Tech (Class of 86…Go Jackets!!). At the Unrally in Eureka Springs we started discussing a possible visit to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, FL.


Luckily, the timing of our visit to KSC worked out perfectly with Dex’s extremely busy schedule as he had business at KSC that day. My family (Wife Christine a.k.a HoonTang and kids Abby and James) and I were very fortunate to get the tour of KSC with our own personal astronaut guide. What a thrill!!


Dex’s Bio


Dex, as a Lt. Cmdr USN, was a member of the Astronaut Class of 1998. At the time he was nominated for the program, he had logged over 2500 hrs in over 30 aircraft types and had logged over 450 carrier landings. In addition he had received several awards for his efforts in Desert Storm. Dex was assigned as the lead test pilot for the F-14 Digital Flight Control System where he logged the first carrier landing and catapult launch of an F-14 with the upgraded flight controls. Dex was Aircraft Division Test Pilot of the Year 1996 and a Top Ten Carrier Aviator. The list goes on….. shocked.gif





Sorry Dex, had to put that picture in grin.gif


The astronauts have access to T-38 jets to take them between KSC and Johnson Space Center (JSC). Dex flew in from Houston that morning in one of the T-38s in about 90 minutes (Sweet!). They also have access to a Gulfstream jet which they use to practice the shuttle descent at the precipitous angle of 18-20 degrees, compared

with a commercial airliner's descent of about three degrees. Wow! crazy.gif


Heading out to the plane at the Shuttle Landing Strip




James gets to try on Dex’s Helmet




Family shot :




Start of Tour

As a NASA guest, we met at protocol office to get our badges. The kids received some cool rocket toys, patches and stickers. Dex also gave them several more patches and pins. James got the Columbia patch, and Abby got the patch from the mission with the 1st lady astronaut.



Our 1st stop was the large astronaut memorial, a very large wall with all the names of the astronauts who have perished. Dex carefully and respectfully went through every person on the list and shared a fact about each astronaut.

He personally knew all of the Columbia astronauts and had been classmates with a couple.

Gut wrenching stuff! frown.gif



Next stop was the display of the shuttle and booster mock up. They boosters appear quite large, until you compare them against the Saturn rocket housed in an adjacent building. Holy cow was that thing huge!








Space Station


Then we went over to the payload building where they load all the cargo on the shuttles.

Dex’s mission STS-120 is responsible for taking Node 2 up to the space station. He will be up the space station for 12-15 days.


Node 2 is the sort of universal joint toward the bottom. The completion of Node 2 will signify the completion of the US portion of the space station.




Here’s the Node 2 connecting module in the Payload Assembly area (covered up back in the corner)




Node 2 controls and distributes resources from the Truss structure and the US laboratory Destiny to the connected elements; European Columbus Laboratory, Centrifuge Accommodation Module, Japanese Experiment Module (Kibo), Multi-Purpose Logistics Module and H II Transfer Vehicle. It also provides a working base point for the Space Station Remote Manipulator System.


Here’s a picture of Dex and Christine inside one of the Space Station modules as Dex describes all the workings of the module. The kids thought the space toilet was very cool! smile.gif




The kids were allowed to check out the Shuttle Robot arm simulator which the astronauts use to practice getting the payload out of the shuttle cargo bay. Who says playing video games won’t help you get a job one day grin.gif




We then drove by the Astronaut complex. Dex is standing in front of door C-7 which is where you always see the first video of the astronauts getting ready to get into the AirStream to go to the shuttle launch complex. The stickers above are from all the other missions. The astronauts all slap the door frame as they walk under it for good luck.



Here’s a picture of the Columbia crew coming through those same doors. Very sobering. frown.gif




Shuttle Launch Complex


Next we drove out to shuttle Launch Complex 39a. On the way we saw the booster retrieval ships on the banana river. We peeked over at the historic Mercury, Atlas and Gemini launch pads as well as the active Atlas and Delta launch pads.


On the way over to LC-39A, we stopped at the very secluded beach house that the astronauts are allowed to spend time with their SOs prior to launch. It’s a very cool beach house, totally isolated, nothing on the beach in either direction for as far as you could see. There were no other human footprints on the beach besides ours. I would venture to guess that that is the only place on the East coast of Florida that you can look and not see another hotel/condo/house.




After dragging Christine kicking and screaming from her private beach grin.gif we drove right up to the launch pad and up to the fire trench.






The fence that surrounds LC-39A is a good ¼ mile away, but you can see the huge dents and holes from rocks that got picked up and hurled into it during take-off. Talk about some serious thrust.




On the back side of LC-39A, you can see the shuttle escape lines which the astronauts slide down into the nets in case of an emergency. There a tank waits for them to make their getaway crashing straight through the fences.


Yes, as part of the astronaut training, Dex convinced them that they also need tank training…fun!! grin.gif




Vehicle Assembly Building

The VAB was originally constructed to assembly the Saturn V rockets of the Apollo program during the late 1960's and 1970's. When the Apollo missions ended, it was renovated for the space shuttle program.


At 52 stories (160 meters or 525 ft), the Vehicle Assembly Building is not the tallest building in the world, but it remains one of the largest. With a volume of 3,664,883 cubic meters, it can hold nearly four Empire State Buildings.


The outside of the building sports an American flag that is as big as a football field. Added in 1976, it required 24,000 litres of paint to complete. The width of each strip is equivalent to the width of a tour bus.


The large track in front of the building is only 1 side of the tracks for the enormous crawlers that slowly (1MPH) take the shuttles/boosters from the VAB out to the launch site.




We always grab a couple rocks as souvenirs from the places we visit. Dex grabbed us a couple special Delaware River rocks from the crawler track. There are only rocks left on the edges as the weight of the loaded crawler pulverizes the rocks into dust.


IMAX Movie

The final stop was the IMAX theatre where we saw the IMAX movie “Space Station”.

What a wonderful film that really inspires the imagination. I got goose bumps watching the astronauts work and play in the weightless environment. I can only imagine the feelings Dex gets when he watches the movie knowing he will be there one day. Amazing!


I just couldn’t resist posting this tale. It was such a wonderful experience. To see the look on my son’s face when he met his first real astronaut…priceless!! To hear my kids asking questions and see the sparkle in their eyes as they imagine the possibilities of their futures…too cool!


Thanks so much for everything Dex! I know how hard it is for you to get time to do this.

Definitely a trip we will never forget!


Now let’s go ride the Hill Country in 2 weeks. WooHoo!



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What an incredible story! Thanks for the very detailed and accurate facts. Your kids will look back on that and cherish it.



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  • 2 months later...

I was fortunate enough to visit the Space center in April of 2000 and thought it was very cool. But... to have a personal guide - a friend and an Astronaut no less - to take you on a tour... THAT is as cool as it gets. (can you feel the envy?).

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Mark, what a great Ride Tale! And Dex, it's quite something to read a resumé such as yours. Quite impressive!



SteveHerbert said Your kids will look back on that and cherish it.


At least! I'm thinkin' it's only a matter of time before those kids turn teen-age and start buggin' Dex: "Hey, it's Friday night, can I borrow the Saturn V tonight? Just a quick spin around the Earth ... " eek7.gif



Chris (aka Tender Vittles),

Little '77 KZ400 in the Big Apple

Black '99 RT for Everywhere Else, such as ...


See you at Mayhem '04

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My wife's grandparents live near Daytona and a shuttle launch was scheduled while we were down visiting one summer. We drove down to Coco Beach to watch the launch. It was amazing! Even from that distance.


Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of being an astronaut (and ended up a space cadet! dopeslap.gif ). Great write up Mark. Sure would love to talk to Dex about his adventures. He's living my dream.

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