Thursday, November 10, 2011

Boosters Gave Fiery Muscle to Shuttle Launches

When Atlantis’ STS-135 mission lifted off from Launch Pad 39A on July 8, 2011, on NASA’s final space shuttle launch, it was carried aloft by the last two solid rocket boosters (SRBs) assembled at Kennedy Space Center for the Space Shuttle Program. Two of the SRB’s major components also helped launch Columbia on the first space shuttle launch.

External Fuel Tank/SRB Vehicle Manager Alicia Mendoza said the cylinder on the left-hand forward motor segment and the forward skirt on the right-hand forward assembly flew on STS-1 in 1981.

“Components flown on the first and last missions of the program are a fitting testament to the robustness of the reusable design of the SRBs,” Mendoza said. “Even of greater significance is the professionalism of the unique team of thousands of individuals who have retrieved, refurbished and assembled the hardware during the past 30 years.”

For three decades, the twin SRBs provided the main thrust to help send space shuttles and hundreds of astronauts on 135 missions into space.

The SRBs generated a combined thrust of 5.3 million pounds, which is equivalent to 44 million horsepower or 400,000 subcompact cars. Each SRB was 149.2 feet tall, which is only two feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty. However, each 700-ton loaded booster weighed more than three times as much as the famous statue. The left SRB sported a black stripe on the forward assembly, just below the nose cone, to distinguish it from the right SRB during re-entry into the atmosphere and retrieval operations out in the Atlantic Ocean.

Several facilities at Kennedy were used to process the SRBs major components. The boosters arrived in eight segments by railcar from ATK in Utah. “It takes 22 days to build the four segments into a flight-ready SRB stacked on the platform,” Mendoza said.

At Kennedy, about 600 NASA, USA and ATK engineers and technicians worked to process the SRBs from beginning to retrieval until after launch. “Their skill, dedication and passion are the reasons for the success of this great nation’s Space Shuttle Program,” Mendoza said.

No comments: