Friday, February 12, 2010



Where was I? Oh right, the space budget. Russian agency representatives finally weighed in -- but at this point, if you're even mildly conscious, it's pretty impossible not to trip over the press coverage on our favorite space news sites.

So, I'll try to take things a bit more lightly today. I have some best wishes for a birthday boy, as well as a question I received over email -- and really, this kid was just so sweet and polite, I wanted him to be able to see his name in cyber-print.

Richard Stakowiak of Enterprise, Alabama asks: What does the T mean when we are watching the Space Shuttle get ready to launch and they always say "T minus" in counting? I know they are counting backwards, but what do those words mean?

First of all, you are from the awesomest city ever. How lucky! And not at all surprising that you became a space enthusiast! "T" simply stands for Time. Before the launch is considered negative time... and after launch, mission time moves forward. (However, it's interesting that we don't say T-plus, only T-minus.) So when you hear the Shuttle Control guys say that last hold is "T-minus 9 and counting" -- what they really mean is: "Time until launch is minus 9 minutes and continually counting backwards."

Shuttle Launch Countdown
Ricky, your Dad also passed along your address, so look for a box in the mail with the new NASA baseball cap you requested! Let me know if it fits your head! Happy 9th birthday, definitely don't give up on your dream of being an astronaut.

You may not ever fly in a craft like the Shuttle, but if we grown-ups can get our act together with our goals and our wallets, I have faith that by astronaut-age, you'll have something far more amazing in which to sail toward Mars.

In the meantime, I also hope you're able to travel to Marshall sometime soon, and I thank you for all your kind words about the "tour" I've been describing on my blog. The great news is, I've shown only a taste of what is there to explore! I had a few more posts about Marshall lined up and had planned to save their shuttle for last, but I'm moving it up in the rotation just for you, today. And this alone is worth the drive to Huntsville...

Shuttle Park at Marshall Space Flight Center
Tiny, tiny me, beneath Pathfinder's External Tank
(the first tank ever built for the Shuttle program in 1977)

Shuttle Pathfinder is a 75-ton Orbiter Simulator which was used to practice lifting and handing the real Orbiters. It was originally built at Marshall in 1977 as a stand-in for Shuttle Enterprise to fit-check the facilities to be used during the Mated Vertical Ground Vibration tests. In 1978, Pathfinder was shipped to Kennedy Space Center, where it was used to fit-check the mating device and Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) platforms. It was also used for ground crew training, and later, post-landing procedures before being returned to Marshall for show-and-tell.

Click here, or on the picture above to see the full gallery of Pathfinder photos. Now what they really need to do is build one that we can all climb on... :)