This is Shirley Griffith.
And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, EXPLORATIONS. Our Explorations programs often tell about the launch of a NASA space shuttle from Florida’s Cape Kennedy. Today, we tell about the job of making the Space Shuttle Atlantis ready for its next flight.
For many hundreds of years, the only object on Earth made by humans that could be seen from space was the Great Wall of China. That is no longer true. The space shuttle landing area at Cape Kennedy, Florida is so big that it too can be seen from space. The landing area is more than four-thousand-five-hundred meters long and ninety meters wide.
The men and women who work at the Kennedy Space Center of the American space agency say each new flight of the space shuttle begins as the shuttle safely returns to Earth. Preparations for the next launch into space begin when the astronauts leave the huge vehicle.
The space shuttle is quickly linked to a large vehicle that pulls it into a building called the Orbiter Processing Facility. Once in the building, workers begin to prepare the shuttle to return to space.
Work crews begin to immediately test, repair or replace each and every piece of the shuttle’s equipment. Nothing is left to chance. Nothing is forgotten. Each system is studied to make sure it will work correctly during the next flight. The body of the shuttle is carefully examined for any damage. The inside of the shuttle is cleaned. And, workers recently began removing and replacing the engine on each shuttle with one that is better and safer.
NASA says a shuttle will remain in the Orbiter Processing Facility for two or three months before it is declared ready for its next flight. When the cleaning and examining are finished, the shuttle is carefully moved to the Vehicle Assembly Building.
NASA says the Vehicle Assembly Building is the largest building in the world. It is one-hundred-sixty meters tall. The building sits on more than three hectares of land.
The Vehicle Assembly building is the first thing that people see when they visit Cape Kennedy. This huge building is where the space shuttle is prepared for launch.
The Space Shuttle Atlantis is the next shuttle that will be launched. The necessary work on it was just finished in the Vehicle Assembly building. When Atlantis entered the building, each system was examined and final tests were completed. At the same time, two long objects called solid fuel booster rockets were placed on a device called a Mobile Launcher Platform.
Then a larger, orange colored liquid fuel tank was placed on the platform. Work crews then used special equipment to pull Atlantis up into the air so that its nose was pointing toward the top of the building.
Very slowly the shuttle was lowered to within centimeters of the large fuel tank and the two long booster rockets. Then, these three objects were linked to the underside of Atlantis. When this work was completed, Atlantis looked like it does when it is ready for launch.
While NASA crews were busy in the Vehicle Assembly Building, the team of experts who control the launch of Atlantis gathered in the Launch Control Center. These experts direct, control and observe all efforts to prepare the Atlantis for launch.
The Launch Control Center is crowded with computers. This center is often seen on television. It is the control center where the Launch Director gives the final commands that will send Atlantis up into space.
In June, work on Atlantis was completed inside the huge Vehicle Assembly Building. Atlantis was ready for its trip to the Cape Kennedy launch area.
The Mobile Launch Platform was placed on a huge vehicle called a Crawler Transporter. It is the crawler’s job to safely move the space shuttle to the launch area. These giant vehicles are about half the size of a soccer football field. They move very slowly -- only about one and a half kilometers an hour.
On June Twentieth, Atlantis was slowly moved out of the huge building. It was taken to the launch area.
The Crawler Transporters take a shuttle to one of two launch areas called pads. These two areas are Launch Pads Thirty-Nine-“A” and Thirty-Nine-“B.”
Both of these launch pads are the same. The Atlantis was taken to Launch Pad Thirty-Nine-“B”. On each of the pads are two large structures that reach high into the air. These are called the Fixed Service Structures. They are used by NASA crews to work on the shuttle.
Each structure has a long, moveable device that looks like a huge arm. When it is time for launch, the crew of Atlantis will enter the space shuttle through this arm-like device.
Another structure covers the space shuttle until it is ready for launch. It is called the Rotating Service Structure. It protects the shuttle from bad weather and permits workers to enter the cargo area of the shuttle.
Atlantis will link with the International Space Station during its next flight. It will carry a device called an airlock. The airlock will permit crew members to leave the space station or to link the station with other space vehicles. The airlock was placed in the cargo area of Atlantis while the Rotating Service Structure surrounded it.
As the date for the launch of the Atlantis gets closer, the Launch Control Center begins a process called a “count down.” Most count-downs begin three days before the planned launch. This is also called “L-Three.” A special clock begins moving backwards, showing forty-three hours to launch.
The other twenty-nine hours in that three-day period of time are called “Holds.” The countdown clock is stopped during “Holds.” These time periods are used to slow the process and to observe, study and decide again if everything is ready.
The experts in Launch Control may decide to delay the launch if they find a problem. This decision is usually made during a “Hold.”
For Atlantis, L-Three will begin at eight hours U-T-C on July Ninth. The space shuttle is to be launched at eight-oh-four U-T-C on July Twelfth.
The Atlantis astronauts have been in a special medical center in Houston, Texas. They are kept away from other people to make sure they do not become sick before the flight.
Early on “L-Three” day, the Atlantis astronauts will leave Houston, Texas and fly to Cape Kennedy. At Cape Kennedy, they will again be placed in a special medical center to prevent them from coming near anyone who may be sick.
When the count down clock moves to launch minus two days, or “L-Two,” liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen will be placed into special tanks inside Atlantis. The Atlantis crew will use these two extremely cold chemicals to produce electricity during the flight into space.
Workers again will examine all of the Atlantis’ many systems. Other workers will use millions of liters of water to wash the area around the launch pad Thirty-Nine-“B”. They also will carefully inspect the area for objects that may cause damage during the launch.
On launch day, almost two-million liters of super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen will be placed inside the orange-colored temporary fuel tank. More fuel will also be placed in the shuttle. All of this fuel will be used by the shuttle’s three main engines.
Three hours before launch, the astronauts will leave their special medical center and go to the launch pad. They will ride an elevator up to the service arm and enter the crew area of Atlantis. There, they will begin a series of communications tests with Launch Control at Cape Kennedy and with Mission Control in Houston.
When the clock reaches nine minutes before launch, the last “Hold” will be reached and the clock will stop. The Flight Director will ask the engineers, medical advisors and others experts at launch control if all is ready. There are so many experts it is ten minutes before they can all answer his question.
The Flight Director then asks the experts at Launch Pad-Thirty-Nine “B” if all is ready. If everything is normal, the countdown is started again. As soon as it starts, the Launch Control computers will begin launching the Atlantis.
The computers on Atlantis will take control of the countdown when the clock reaches thirty-one seconds. Seconds later, the three main engines of the Atlantis will start. Fire will appear at the base of the two solid fuel rockets. Very slowly and loudly, the American space shuttle Atlantis will lift off Launch Pad-Thirty-Nine “B” for its flight into space.
This Special English program was written by Paul Thompson and produced by Cynthia Kirk. Our studio engineer was Keith Holmes. This is Shirley Griffith.
And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of America.