B Pad Construction Photos - Space Shuttle - Page 2


OMBUU Lift 2

Additional commentary below the image.

Top Left:

Ok, the OMBUU is starting to gain a little elevation. Notice that most of the sightseers have departed. Lifts like this proceed very very slowly and carefully, and a lot of time goes by and not much happens that's particularly entertaining to most people. It gets boring pretty quickly, and then stays boring for the duration. So a lot (but never all) of the people who aren't actually involved with things directly eventually drift off and get the hell out of the way. Which is nice, 'cause if anything was to go badly wrong, that means less people get killed and injured.

And, speaking of stupidity and safety, maybe take note of the boom on that crane. If, god forbid, that boom was to come crashing down, it would do so on a line that runs from the crane cab forward, right between all the people still in attendance, all of whom have very wisely backed off in either direction, away from where the boom would come violently crashing down, were it to fall. All except for one idiot. The idiot taking the goddamned picture, who wanted to get the fucking angle on the picture, "just so." Me.

Top Right:

Ok, now the idiot with the camera has finally gotten out from being directly, exactly, beneath the crane boom, but he's only done so in order to get a better fucking angle on things. Some people. Nothing you can do for them. Also, notice that we can now see two red-shirted ironworkers, working the pair of taglines attached to the OMBUU. These two guys will stay on those lines for the duration of the lift, both of them working to stabilize things, but also working to gently rotate the OMBUU to match the facing of the RSS, once it gets up where it's going. It's some tricky business, but it seems to work well enough. The fact that both guys are wearing red shirts kind of gives me pause, though. Hasn't anybody told them about what happens to the guys down on the ground wearing red shirts in Star Trek?

Also, in the background, you're getting a pretty good look at the North Piping Bridge. There never was a "South" piping bridge, but it was always referred to as the "North" Piping Bridge anyway. Some of the names of stuff out there never ceased to amaze me as to how the names were chosen, altered, and used in day-to-day activities on the job.

Anyway, the north piping bridge spans the flame trench from side to side, and carries the cryo (cryo being short for cryogenic, which is a fancy word they use for seriously fucking cold) piping that runs from the big liquid hydrogen (always referred to as "LH2" and never anything else) tank that sits a quarter mile away, across an open field out of frame to the right, into the pad area, where it can pump thousands and thousands of gallons of LH2 into the Space Shuttle. It's rocket fuel. It's cold as fuck. Has to be kept at a temperature of roughly four-hundred twenty-five degrees below zero. But no matter how hard you try to keep it that cold, some of it's always going to be boiling off into gaseous vapor and getting into the air. It will go "BOOM" if you're not careful. The north piping bridge is up as far as it is to keep the pipes full of explosive liquid hydrogen up and out of harm's way when the flame trench gets filled up with a volcano of fire as the Space Shuttle lifts off. It's there for good and sufficient reason.

Ok, fine. Why are you telling us this, MacLaren?

Good question. It's because that on a previous job out on B Pad, I was working for an outfit called Sheffield Steel, and we were the people who fabricated and delivered all of the heavy iron that went into making up the RSS, the north piping bridge, and a few other fairly substantial items.

The the north piping bridge was assembled complete, in the Sheffield Steel fabrication shop on the shores of the beautiful St. Johns River in Palatka, Florida, and barged down to KSC to the turn basin out by the Press Site, and from there was placed on a special rig and rolled on out to the pad.

Ok, fine. So far, so good.

Except that when it arrived, it was discovered that the support tower on one end did not quite exactly, perfectly, match the one on the other end.

The bridge itself was ever so slightly twisted, such that there was about an inch and a half of mismatch between the two ends of it.

NASA promptly red-tagged it with an IPD (In Process Discrepancy), and that sonofabitch wasn't going anywhere until matters had been resolved to the satisfaction of the customer. NASA.


According to the AISC Manual of Steel Construction the north piping bridge was out of tolerance, and that was that.

But in truth, and in particular, for the purposes to which our bridge was going to be put to, and the loads that it would see, it was perfectly fine.

We requested a deviation waiver, and NASA put their engineering people on it, and when they finally came back with an answer, I thought my boss was going to have an apoplectic fit and die on the spot from it.

NASA fucked us, and they fucked us pretty hard.

Their structural guys ran the calcs and when they did, they found the same thing that we already knew. The mere force of torquing down the nuts on the anchor bolts that hold the north piping bridge to the pad deck would be more than enough to straighten out the slight twist in it, and would not leave enough residual stress in the damn thing afterwards to even measure.

The fucking thing was perfectly fine, as built, and they knew it.

And so, being the pleasant gentlemen that they were, they put their cost guys on it and worked up the cost for removing it from the pad, barging it all the way back to our fab shop in Palatka, cutting it apart, rewelding it, repainting it, barging it back down to the Cape, and then hauling it back up to the pad.

If memory serves, the number turned out to be lower than I thought it would be, but it was still two-hundred some-odd thousand dollars.

A significant chunk of change, and this was back in the early 1980's, when two-hundred grand went a lot farther than it does today.

And then, since they were such pleasant gentlemen, they made us an offer: You can keep the north piping bridge right here, and let Wilhoit (who was the steel erection company on that phase of the construction work) go ahead and install it on the pad, as is, with no modifications whatsoever, since it's perfectly adequate for the job it will be doing, and since no harm will come to any of our support systems for the Space Shuttle, and we will generously allow you to do that in exchange for offering us a small credit against the cost of your contract to fabricate and deliver the goddamned thing.

Their credit amounted to about ten thousand dollars less than the total two-hundred thousand plus dollars that it would cost to remove it, rework it, and bring it back.

Take it or leave it, there shall be no further discussion in the matter.

And that dear children, is how I learned how certain things were done out on the Cape by certain entities, and how some of the people out there will try to hurt you, for no fucking sensible reason at all.

And so I learned that once you've properly identified someone or some thing you are dealing with as a snake, and you find that you are now dealing with a snake, you must take on snakey ways, and learn to beat the miserable sonofabitchs at their own game so badly as to cause them to seriously question ever fucking with you again. The assholes.

Bottom Left:

Ok, now we're really starting to get somewhere.

For starters, this image begins to give a sense of scale to things, which is very helpful.

The whole place, and the objects which make up the whole place, are all improbably outsize in a way that completely thwarts proper understanding, even when you're looking directly at it. In this image, the people on the ground give a sense of scale to things and allow you to see just how far up the OMBUU has been lifted, and then, looming in the background, the RSS continues right on out of the frame above and to the left. It's fucking gigantic!

The OMBUU has reached its final elevation, and the crane operator has just begun the delicate business of swinging the crane cab, and boom, to his right, moving the dangling OMBUU in on the RSS, aiming for its final location, where it will be bolted into place. Basically, he's dealing with something almost as large as, and definitely heavier than, your house, and he's going to be swinging it around mid-air, well over a hundred feet above him, until it hits something as big as a high-rise tower downtown, and he has to do it in a way that when it hits the high-rise, it hits it so softly that nothing gets bent or broken. Remember, it's heavier than your fucking house! Imagine trying to do this for yourself. On the ground. Where everything's nice and accessible! This is insane, and yet these guys do this every day like they were putting a box of old clothes into a closet or something. And not only does the OMBUU need to hit the RSS softly, it also needs to hit the RSS accurately. Insanely accurately, in fact. Over a hundred feet above the crane operator's head, and the contact point will be completely invisible to him, too. The far side of the OMBUU, and the connection plates on the RSS that are waiting there to meet it, will both be completely blocked from the crane operator's view. And the accuracy of the contact, when it's made, has to be fine enough to permit the ironworkers who will bolt things together to pass a bolt through the holes in the connection plates on both the RSS and OMBUU which are only slightly over an inch in diameter!

Ironworkers have differing jobs and specialties as part of their trade. Connectors are the guys who climb up to the tops of columns or otherwise access the places where large steel elements will be coming together, whether to be bolted, or welded, or perhaps some tricky combination of the two. No chair, no stairs, no platforms, no ladder, no nothing, or at least not until the connectors are done with their work and someone else can come along and build them, so it's all done mid-air, like a trapeze artist or something, and it's pretty fucking hard-core, in case you were wondering.

Things that weigh more than a car, or even a house, are unforgiving bastards, and when they come together, even softly, they do so with a force that admits to no mistakes on the part of the ever-so-crushable humans who must be there to finish things off. There is no room for error when connecting heavy steel.

The crane operator can see nothing. He's flying blind and is receiving instructions via radio and hand-signals, and he's easing things along with his controls in the crane cab like a goddamned brain surgeon or something despite the fact that the things he's easing are occasionally as large and heavy as a diesel locomotive, or even larger and heavier than that.

And so he takes his load where the ironworkers instruct him to, without being able to see exactly where it's going or who might be there to greet it, or where they might be positioned, and everybody's lives hang in the balance while it's going on.

The two metal surfaces that shall be connected finally get close enough to each other that one or more of the connectors can shove the handle of a spud wrench, or perhaps a drift pin, through the partially-aligned set of bolt-holes and drive things home to their final alignment with whatever judicious combination of brute-force and finesse as might be required for any given situation, to the point where high-strength structural bolts can be slipped through the adjoining holes in the connection and torqued down properly to hold the joint together from that point on.

Down on the ground, the assembled watchers continue to watch, and I've had to back sufficiently far enough away from the lift to keep it within frame as to also bring my little yellow VW Beetle into frame as well, down there on the left.

Bottom Right:

And now the OMBUU is well and truly on its way in. The crane operator is booming right, and the two ironworkers on the taglines start to really step things up, to keep the OMBUU steady and to carefully align it with the connection surfaces on the RSS it will soon be meeting.

This is real work, done by real people and you're not allowed to fuck it up, give one of those nasty little self-exculpatory half-laughs coupled with a little smirk, and say "Sorry dude," when you're doing it. Try that kind of shit with a crew of union ironworkers if you don't believe me, and find out for yourself what happens next, maybe.

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