B Pad Construction Photos - Space Shuttle - Page 17


Odds & Ends 2

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Odds & Ends

Top left is Jack Petty on the pad deck with the RSS behind him.

Top right is Harvey Dixon, Wade Ivey's right-hand man, in the Ivey field trailer out at the pad.

Bottom left is my son contemplating an armadillo out at the Air Force Space Museum on Cape Canaveral.

Bottom right is my son sitting on the Mercury 7 Memorial next to the entranceway to the Mercury Atlas pad (Pad 14) on Cape Canaveral. (This sort of thing is not recommended, but he was a little kid, loved all things spaceish, and what kind of a father would I have been if I'd denied him the opportunity?)


Additional commentary below the image.

Top Left:

Not much to say about this one. Jack in front of the RSS. We're over on the far side of the flame trench, but I have no idea what we might have been doing this day. This shot is fairly late into the game, with the RSS becoming more and more encrusted with stuff, an awful lot of which was Orbiter Weather Protection, but that had not yet reached its final form, which involved the removal of the hated OMS Pod heated purge covers (which themselves were a sort of rudimentary OWP), and the installation of some very large "sliding door" affairs, all in an effort to... wait for it... protect the orbiter from the weather.

Initially, they just thought they could roll the damn thing out there to the pad, and let it sit for days, weeks, and sometimes months, but as time went on they discovered that might not have been such a great idea.

Tiles. Blankets. Reinforced carbon-carbon. Thermal Protection System. Stuff that keeps the orbiter from burning up on re-entry. Pretty hard-core pass-or-fail system, and in fact it did fail one time, and that's not good, and my heart still goes out to all those people, all these many long years later. It's tough. It's tough as fuck, goddamnit, and when things go badly wrong.....

Anyway all that TPS stuff looked pretty damn slick on paper, but, as ever, the real world has a way of coming around all sneaky-like from the side, or behind, and then throwing things right into your face.

It turned out that the tiles and the blankets both had a propensity for taking on water when it rained, and then holding on to that water, which stayed put and remained as part of the vehicle on launch day.

Go fill up a five-gallon bucket with water and then pick it up and carry it around somewhere. Maybe try to run up a couple of flights of stairs with it.

Water, despite its ever so light and splishy appearances, is fucking heavy.

Which meant that the Space Shuttle was significantly heavier come launch day, than it was when they first rolled it out to the pad, which would very clearly require more energy to lift the now-heavier orbiter and insert it into its intended orbit up there somewhere a couple of hundred miles above your head and traveling at five fucking miles per second, and which additional energy was nowhere to be found once the tanks had been topped-off and the thing was fully-fueled, and there's not any gas stations up there so you work with what you've got, or you don't work at all. Nevermind what that water might have been doing to things, down there underneath the surface, wicking around into things, possibly introducing corrosion into areas where corrosion could be fatal, or who knows what else, just the mere weight of the stuff alone was enough to cause very real problems going uphill, and then of course when you're up into the rapidly-darkening sky a mile or ten, and climbing higher and higher, it gets cold and all that water will very reasonably freeze, and the expansion of ice formation which routinely splits boulders down here on the ground introduced yet another whole set of potentially fatal issues, and yeah..... fucking water.

And so, piecemeal, by slow degrees, as the ever-worsening scope of the very real problem with the fact that it rains like hell in Florida on a regular basis continued to manifest itself in more and more and more unforeseen, unpleasant, and unexpected ways, they built themselves quite the OWP edifice on the RSS and then on the FSS, too.

In this image, we're only part-way down that road, but there's already a bunch of OWP stuff hanging off the RSS.

Immediately to the right of the top of the funnel that extends and faces upward from the top of a gray pole (pretty sure this was water drain for the MLP, but I might be wrong with that, so take note, please) over on the left side of the image, you can see some stuff on the RSS that does not follow the straight up, straight down, straight side-to-side orientation of so much of the rest of it, but instead angles down and to the left. Look across the face of the RSS to the right, and you'll see another large contrapted object on the other side, with a similar look.

These things were added on later as an afterthought, as a change order to protect the wings of the orbiter (hence their angled aspect, which followed closely the angled aspect of the leading edge of the wings on the orbiter) from rain. Since the fundamental design of the RSS, and the particulars of how it moved in on and mated with the Space Shuttle, which had been frozen into an unalterable state literal years before, precluded just swinging this part of the OWP around with the RSS (if they did that, it would hit the wing, and of course that would be a Bad Thing), so instead the whole damn thing was hung on hinges which allowed for it to be lifted up out of the way and locked into position until the RSS was in its fully-mated position, slap up against, but not quite touching the orbiter, at which point it could be unlocked and lowered down to encase the leading edges of the wings on both sides, and please remember that the upper surfaces of the orbiter's wings were very close to an awful lot of cold unyielding steel, and keep the goddamned rain off of them.

Extending straight up from that left-hand (as seen in this image) wing cover, stark against the clear-blue sky, with a pair of platforms extending over even farther to the left along its vertical run up and out of the top edge of the frame, is an OWP modification to a thing that was itself a modification in the first place which had nothing whatsoever to do with weather protection.

Behold the glories of the ET Access Platforms Guide Column System. Gah. I don't even know how I'm going to explain this one at all. It's just too stupid. Too contrapted. Too ridiculous. And oh yeah, it came a gnat's whisker from killing one of our ironworkers one day, who only suffered a broken leg, if memory serves, plus some other, somewhat less serious, injuries, but who should in fact have fallen a hundred and fifty feet to his death on the concrete surface of the pad deck. But he didn't. Can't remember his name. Maybe Joe something. Maybe not. GodDAMN but my disability with faces and names is such a fucking pain in the ass sometimes. Anyway, Joe was lucky that day, despite the fact that his extraordinarily good luck resulted in a broken leg. Imagine that. Imagine a broken leg being good luck.


Anyway, the stupid guide columns were already there as an open latticework of steel on the RSS, and they just decided to panel over them as yet another installment in their never-ending series of stop-gap methods for keeping more rainwater off of more of the orbiter in more places.

The right guide column (right as seen from the point of view of the RSS and orbiter, and left as seen in this image) is the tall, narrow, dark shadowed-side thing running vertically between, and above and below, those two platforms that poke out in front of the pretty blue sky behind them a little further yet, each having a curiously-curved inboard, toward the center of the RSS, edge to them. Zoom in, dammit. Get a proper look at these things. There was a set of guide columns on the other side, too, but they were different and they were different because the requirements for lifting, swinging, or retracting them out of the goddamned way as the RSS closed in on the stack during mating operations were different and they were perforce constructed completely differently, but in the end, they performed the exact same job and supported those funny-looking curved platforms you see there, which were the point of the whole deeply-stupid schmutz in the first place.

Those funny-looking curved platforms came to be, as one half of an insane answer to an insane problem, which caught NASA completely unawares the very first time they ever rolled Columbia, the very first operational Space Shuttle, out to the pad. The other half of that insane answer was even more insane, and we shall not be discussing it now, but stick around, I'm pretty sure I'll be returning to this one later on somewhere.

So anyway, after they first rolled Columbia, which was the first operational Space Shuttle, out to Pad A, for the very first time, on a cold, windy, and gray December day in 1980 (A day which, by the way, featured some extraordinarily excellent waves here in Florida, which almost never sees excellent waves, and which I managed to get home from work in time to grab my board and paddle out and ride for a while, down at Sea Park, but that's not part of this story now, is it?), one of the first things they needed to do before they could launch it was to give it a full-dress-rehearsal countdown, including fully tanking it up with with its bizarrely-cold fuel of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, which filled up the great bullet-looking volume of the External Tank, which, because of that bizarre cold, needed a layer of insulation to keep the lox and LH2 sitting there in the tank from becoming too warm too fast, and boiling off into a cloud of vapor which would have had to be released into the air, or some damn where, slowly but surely draining the tank, to prevent gaseous pressure from building up inside until it burst the tank, which would then explode as unto a small atomic bomb (literally, kilotons, really), all of which could come together in an unkind way and result in them either not having enough remaining liquid fuel left inside the tank to make it to orbit, or not even having an orbiter and its launch pad any more, which of course would be a Bad Thing, or a Very Bad Thing.

So they needed that fucking insulation on the ET.

Some of which promptly popped right off the tank as a result of thermal effects, when they first fueled it up, out on the pad, and freaked everybody out.

At which point, politics entered the fray.

Keep in mind that the RSS had no proper access and was never designed in the first place to provide top-to-bottom all-around access to the ET, and had nothing whatsoever by way of the sorts of access platforms that the VAB is more or less overflowing with, to get somebody right up next to the tank, in any and all areas on that tank, and give a damn good and close eyeballing of things to see what the fuck might have been wrong with the foam, the tank, or whatever the hell it might have been that rendered our very first Space Shuttle unflyable until it got properly dealt with.

So of course the sensible thing to do, would have been to roll the stack off the pad, right back into the VAB, where proper access could be gotten to all areas around the ET to inspect it, test it some, and try to get to the bottom of the matter as regards unpleasantly large pieces of foam insulation just falling off.

But that's not what happened.

From on high, up in the thin air of political power where there's never quite enough oxygen, the dictum was handed down: "There's no way in hell you're going to roll that sonofabitch back to the VAB. That would make us look bad. And we're not going to be made to look bad. So forget rolling back, and come up with something to give that tank a good close inspection, while it's still out on the pad, and make it snappy."


Just fucking lovely.

So they needed to cook up a system that would permit them to access the goddamned external tank all the way around, from top to bottom, and they needed to do it in a hurry, while the bird was sitting right there on the pad, next to them.

And one of the places they needed to go was that narrow little defile running vertically between the orbiter's lower wing surface and the ET, which meant that you could not just hang something off of the face of the RSS and come swinging on in to the orbiter with the rest of the RSS, because you'd go through the wing on your way to your final location, and of course going through the wing would kinda fuck the wing up some, and for that reason they had to build this ridiculous set of contraptions and the support framing which would hold them up which were movable in different ways, in different places, that not only would not go through the wing (or the orbiter itself, for that matter) when the RSS was swung around into the mate position, but would also not interfere with existing mission critical things like the OMBUU, and a few other people in there, too, and that once moved into place would result in a seamless vertical run of steel that the platforms in question could run smoothly up and down on, said platforms themselves requiring an ability to flip and hinge in places to keep them from hitting the struts that held the tank to the orbiter as they were run high and low in that claustrophobic defile along the side of the External Tank that faced the belly of the orbiter. Holy fuck! Wheels inside of wheels, inside of wheels!

Pretty hairy set of marching orders if you ask me, but somehow they pulled it off.

And so, for the side of the tank closest to the RSS (and the orbiter too), they came up with a set of guide columns which carried those "funny-looking curved platforms" vertically for the length of the tank. And there were two platforms, one above the other, on each side. Never did find out why they did it that way. Maybe it was to double their manpower with one guy working low while another guy worked high, at the same time. Dunno.

And so it was done.

And the saga of the guide columns unfolded over on A Pad even as we were still in the process of building B Pad, and the series of change orders that resulted in the work being done over at A were duly transfered to B, and the work was initiated there, too.

And oh god this thing just keeps getting away from me, and lurching off into areas that have nothing to do with what I'm talking about, and it's become recursive and fractal-like, and I'm beginning to think I'm going to come sneaking up on myself from behind, from on the other side of the mirror, or something.

Ok. Whatfuckingever.

The guide columns of course needed to be tied to the existing steel of the RSS, and framing was designed for that purpose, tying the guide columns to the RSS at a bunch of different elevations, from top to bottom.

And a set of detail drawings was worked up from the engineering first principles, and then submitted to the customer for approval, which was given, to fabricate and install first the support steel, and then the guide columns themselves, which would be hanging on that support steel, solely supported by it.

And of course things just could not proceed in any kind of normal fashion, right? Oh no. Not at all. Things just had to get weird.

The great tall hulking edifice of the RSS had a front side, of course, and if you look at the goddamned thing it's just as clear as the nose on your face that it's vertical on that side, right?

Of course.

Except that it wasn't!

And goddamned if we hadn't fabricated, delivered, and welded up all the steel that would tie the guide columns to the RSS exactly per the approved plans and specifications, only to find out that none of it was in the right place!


How can this be?

Well, the guide columns had a pretty stringent set of requirements for being plumb, square, and true as did everything else we built, but when the ironworkers ran a piano wire with a weight on it down from the top member of the support steel, they discovered that things were horribly out of plumb. The guide columns support steel was not vertical.

Far from it, in fact.

And so a great hue and cry was raised, and the work stopped dead in its tracks while all parties concerned (and there were many) attempted to get to the bottom of the matter.

And as part of that little tableaux, Ivey's ironworkers ran another piano wire, but this time they ran it from the top piece of guide column support steel to the bottom piece of guide column support steel, and they made an interesting discovery: The guide column support steel was in a perfectly straight line from one end to the other, but that straight line wasn't vertical. It was as if a small error had been introduced into the lengths of the support members that very gradually and very precisely increased from one end to the other along their full vertical run.


And finally, the truth of the matter dawned, and we discovered that the RSS, by virtue of the ever-increasing encrustations of change-order steel along its front side, had been weighted down, forward of its forwardmost supports along Column Line B at the Hinge Column and Column Line 7, to the point where it was now standing cockeyed, eight full inches out of plumb, leaning forward in the direction of where the Space Shuttle would be sitting when it was out on the pad! Go find somebody who knows structures and tell them that and see if they even believe you. My guess is that they will not.

But there it was, and it vindicated our fabrication and installation of the guide column support steel, leaving us blameless in the matter, but before we went ahead with the installation of the actual guide columns themselves (which, remember, were there to permit close access to the Space Shuttle) we formally asked NASA, "Is the Space Shuttle plumb?"

And you'd be hard pressed to ask a question more stupid and insane, but we had to, and so we did.

And they couldn't answer us!

Oh lordy god, the poor fools literally could not tell us.

It took weeks.

And something tells me it took as long as it did because they knew that it was going to cost them a pile of money to answer that question, and so they became very reluctant to do so.

But that's just a guess. Who knows? Maybe they really didn't know if the Space Shuttle was plumb.

Eventually the answer came back, and when it did, the manifest plumbness of the Space Shuttle dictated that all of the support steel for the guide columns which was already in place needed to be cut down and custom altered at each elevation where it attached to the RSS in order to render the guide columns just as plumb as the Space Shuttle, and yeah, it cost 'em a pile of money. Oh well.

And so the guide columns finally went up, and were welded in place and all was well.


Nope. Not even close.

Those small platforms with the funny-looking curved sides (which were of course shaped that way with a curve that exactly matched the curve of the ET, which they'd be very close to, but not quite touching) were finally installed on the guide columns, proof-tested, and bought off by the customer's representatives, and the way they were run up and down those guide columns (remember everything is adjustable out here) was via a small winch which was installed as part of the overall system, and that winch lived on top of the RCS Room, in a place where there was no possible way to see or even hear, what was going on with the platforms that it raised and lowered. A wire rope ran from the winch drum which was threaded across and down into the guide columns and attached to the platforms, and you could put the winch in forward or reverse, working with somebody else on the other end of things with a radio to tell you when to pull the platform up, or let it down, via the setting of a small innocuous control lever on the side of that winch. The platforms moved smoothly up or down to any degree or location you might choose to move them, and they were solely supported by the wire rope on that winch in similar fashion to a spider basket, with no mechanism whatsoever to lock them or pin them in place, wherever they might wind up on the guide columns.

And this is what came an inch from killing "Joe" our ironworker.

The fucking winch.

We, of course, furnished and installed it exactly as specified (How could we not? NASA quality control would have murdered us if we'd tried to substitute it with something else.), complete with that small unobtrusive control handle which had an unnoticed freewheel setting on it that was never mentioned, never discussed, never even suspected.

And so one day Joe gets on one of the platforms, which are freely available to anyone and everyone who might need them to perform some task or other, and is raised or lowered, I do not know which, to wherever he needed to be in order to do whatever he needed to do, and all is well with the world.

Until, by means that will never be known, the handle on that fucking winch moved into the "freewheel" position and the platform took a fall. With Joe on it.

I was nowhere around that day, when the events unfolded, but I was told that he went thirty or forty feet, and what stopped him was the second platform, beneath the one he was standing on. Good thing nobody was standing on that one, right?

The jolt and recoil of hitting that second platform should have knocked Joe over the side of the frighteningly small platform he had fallen with, into a sheer drop all the way down to the pad deck, but it didn't. He remained, with broken leg and other injuries, right there on top of it when everything finally came to rest.

Close call. Close fucking call.

And of course that erupted into a great battle with NASA over who's fault it was, and once again we had to beat them into submission to prove we had nothing to do with it but were instead the goddamned victims of their criminal incompetence.

But like I already mentioned, right up there at the top of these words regarding this picture, there's "Not much to say about this one."

Top Right:

Harvey Dixon, Wade Ivey's right-hand man. Oddly enough, I did not interact with Harvey all that much. My day-to-day was mostly with my own boss, Dick Walls, and Rink Chiles who was the general foreman on most of the jobs I was associated with, along with his various crews of ironworkers, each with its own foreman, so Harvey remained at a distance for the most part.

Harvey's sitting up on one of the makeshift drawing tables, and behind him is just a small slice of the normal clutter that you'd find in our field trailer. That phone looks downright quaint now, but back then that's all we had.

Bottom Left:

And of course a couple more shots of my son, when he was just little.

We're out at the museum at Complex 5/6 over on the Air Force side, on Cape Canaveral proper, as opposed to the Kennedy Space Center, which was mostly on Merritt Island. Me and Kai spent a lot of time together running around and having fun, and since the museum was free, and wide open to the public at that time, most every weekend we'd get in the car and drive on out there. That museum was kind of unknown at the time, and many times we'd find ourself out there alone, just us and the rockets they had sitting on display in the open air, and maybe every once in a while something else, like this armadillo that Kai was considering before he turned to face me when I told him I was going to take a picture.

Bottom Right:

And the standing joke between me and Kai, even when he was this little, was that he was the adult, and I was the child.

I was forever coming up with goofy things to do that he, even at that early age, knew full well to be stuff we shouldn't be doing, and he's such an ethical motherfucker that even at this very young age he would always be quite reluctant to involve himself in whatever crack-brained scheme I had most recently cooked up, but the crack-brained schemes were always so cool, so interesting, so informative, and just so goddamned much fun, that in the end he could never resist. We talk and laugh together about all of it, to this very day. And we never did anything that was actually harmful or hurtful, either. And, on top of that, he's always, even when he was very small indeed, shared my deep sense of "We may never pass this way again," too. And now that he's grown, well.... we have done all we're ever going to do when he was a little kid and there shall be no going back. So yeah, the both of us tended to, for lack of a better word, maximize things whenever fate handed us an opportunity, although it was always me that was a little farther out toward the ragged edges of things.

And so you see him here, very unauthorizedly, but also very harmlessly, sitting on the Mercury 7 memorial that is located on the corner of ICBM Road and the access road to Complex 14, which is where John Glenn was rocketed into orbit on an Atlas rocket, back in 1962.

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