Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Launch:

The Launch:

Every mission is a remarkable feat. The orbiters carry remarkable persons and remarkable cargoes. Astronauts. Men and women who’ve worked harder and harder to experience the inestimable privilege of super-supersonic space adventurers: zealous dreamers, explorers, scientists & the adventure of reason.

Weightlessness. A look at the void, a view of earth from above, a look at the whole of it instead of one tiny parcel at a time. There it is spinning like an illustrated dinnerplate.

No one involved in a launch is a character, a specific individual; all parties are tiny cogs in a much larger automated process. Gears in an enormous cukoo clock.

The Space Shuttle, NASA's Earth Orbiter is getting old to be cutting edge technology but they keep getting to space & back. The Shuttles define High Technology with the most extensive research & the most rigorous testing. Some companies report having made no profit on Shuttle technology. Shuttles carry the largest payloads & the most people. The space shuttle is still the best thing to & from space. No matter how ye slice it. No trip to space is cheap.

Are we just supposed to wait for someone else to show up here from out there and we haven’t even been trying?

The tension is routine by now for the fastest humans. They go thru hundreds upon hundreds of checks, double-checks and triple-checks by rote. The routines must be followed to execute a successful liftoff. When things aren’t right: disaster.

Hate to be the result of human error. Poof.

The crew are strapped in their seats. The gantry is enormous beside the shuttle. Most of its aspects are disengaged just before launch: the nosecap that fills the giant orange tank and the footbridge the Astronauts cross to the orbiter.

Tiny men gobbled up by the enormous machine. The entire thing, crawler & shuttle assembly, is the largest thing that moves. The shuttle, tank and boosters are the largest thing that flies and the fastest. 4.5 million pounds at launch. Mach 26.

Tiny men inside the enormous machine. Tiny organisms in the great big mechanical bird. Veins and arteries of power, controls, nerve impulses. A skin composed of plates laid together. Bricks laid in rows like scales: armadillo, snake, horny toad, lizard, dragon, water bear; glued together with a mucosal mortar. Hold together bricks, scales, skin. Be armor. Hold together interlocking components of an exterior. Be Armor.

Once the nosecap and footbridge are free a deep rumble roars through the shuttle. The crew go through their routines. Each has a book of procedure that tells them when flips switches and recite statistics aloud.

The cockpit contains four Astronauts: Commander, Pilot, Flight Engineer & Mission Specialist. The mid-deck, below, holds three more Astronauts.

That enormous rumble. Total body rumble. Deep resonant earth-shaking rumble. Every iota of every Astronaut rattles like a million billion chimps in a million billion cages jumping up and down screaming and shaking the doors of their cages simultaneously.

The heartrates of astronauts skyrocket when the engines start.

The Space Transportation System consists two solid rocket boosters & the enormous orange External Fuel Tank, which fuels the Orbiter vehicle's main engines with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

The crew are rattled in their strapped-in seats. The engines all blow full fire for liftoff. The enormous cloud soon obscures the gantry & shuttle. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water are sprayed allover the crawler and Mobile Launch Pad in less than a minute by the sound suppression system.

The Space Shuttle Main Engine nozzles gimbal to both steer & thrust during takeoff to confound gravity. The shuttle is off the ground. The largest thing that flies moving at hundreds of miles an hour at first to be far enough from the surface to go faster.

Once clear of the tower the shuttle performs a roll that places the orbiter toward the earth and the external tank and boosters toward orbit. The shuttle gains speed & as quickly loses weight as fuel is expended & it is able to go even faster.

Nary an Anvil Cloud for 600 miles in any direction. Got to have a clear clean day because of the enomous con-trail that could electrically connect the shuttle to the ground in the case of a lightning strike.

Two minutes into flight the solid rocket boosters are released via explosive bolts. The boosters deploy parachutes and fall safely to the Indian ocean where they are reclaimed. By this time the shuttle is moving many thousands of miles per hour. Not long after, when the liquid fuel is almost used up, the External Tank is released with its explosive bolts. The remaining fuel in the tank causes it to explode in the heat of reentry & rain smaller fragments on the Indian Ocean.

& they are largely there. They have crossed the highest height, leapt the greatest leap, stept the greatest step. Spaceflight. Broke free of the gravity well.

Out the windows of the shuttle Atlantis for this lady and gentlemen to see: Stars, all those shining things. Galaxies. Flashing passing meteors. Comets. Luminous gas clouds. Black nothingness. There’s a lot more nothing than there is something in the universe.

Turn away from the stars. The fars away. The blacks & whites. The inexplicable colors. The lack of twinkle for most lights.

Look at that dancing dinnerplate. Illustrated mesmerizing spinning disc. Look to home Astronauts. Our delicious apple of an earth.

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