Shuttle Endeavour Powered for one of the Final Times

On Friday, April 6th  me and a handful of other members of the media were given the incredibly rare opportunity to enter the space shuttle Endeavour while the orbiter was powered up. This allowed us to photograph the flight deck, which includes Multifunction Electronic Display Subsystem (MEDS), more commonly known as the “glass cockpit”, all lit up just as the astronauts would have seen it during a mission.

Both Atlantis and Discovery have both been powered down for the final time, while the final power down for Endeavour is scheduled for mid-May. Once the final power down occurs the shuttle will go dark forever. The vehicle must be powered up at times in order for workers to open valves, etc as they perform decommissioning activities on the orbiter.

Access to the crew module of an orbiter is tightly controlled and very few have had to opportunity to actually go inside. This number becomes even smaller when the orbiter is actually powered.

The orbiters are each housed in their own special hangar known as Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPF), while there are three of these facilities at Kennedy, only two are still active. OPF-3 has been leased to Boeing, one of NASA’s Commerical Crew Development candidates. Endeavour is currently housed in OPF-2, while Atlantis is in OPF-1. Space Shuttle Discovery, which has completed decomissioning resides in High Bay 4 of the Vehicle Assembly Building, it will depart Kennedy Space Center next week for the final time and head to the Smithonian’s Udvar Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA for permanent display.

Canon 5D III, 24-105 ISO 4000 F4 1/400

After entering the white room inside the OPF you quickly notice the walls lined with the signatures of astronauts, workers and VIP’s who have had the opportunity of entering the crew module. Some of the more notable signatures are those of the STS-107 Columbia crew and Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister. Once I gathered the cameras and lenses I wanted to take inside I crawled across a plank that led to the hatch of the orbiter and then inside to the mid-deck. Once on the mid-deck I climbed the ladder to the flight deck where I was greeted by Space Craft Operator (SCO) Bill Powers who was just finishing his duties of powering up the orbiter. I quickly noticed that the environment was completely different than the previous occasions when I was able to enter Discovery last June and Endeavour last month while both were powered down, this time the orbiter felt alive. The fans were humming, lights were being turned on and screens were scrolling with info from a special test program that had been loaded into the computers . Small LED flashlights had been placed behind both Heads Up Displays (HUDs) atop the dash which illuminated them allowing for a neat effect. After taking things in for a few moments it was time to get to work, I had 30 mins to produce as many images as possible and document the flight deck to the best of my ability. Bill worked with me to ensure that the light levels and screens were at the correct intensity so I would get the best images possible.

Canon 5D III, 8-15 ISO 250 F8 13.0sec

The flight deck was quite dark which made taking the photos difficult, luckily I was allowed to bring in my tripod which allowed me to take longer exposures.

Canon 5D III, 8-15 ISO 250 F8 13.0sec
Canon 7D, 10-22 ISO 320 F8 6.0sec
Canon 5D III, 8-15 ISO 200 F8 5.0sec

After taking a few of the main shots I had come for, I climbed into the commanders seat for some different angles. Climbing into the seat is quite difficult as you do not want to bump into one of the over 2,000 controls and displays that blanket the flight deck. Bill put a cushion on the center console where I put my right foot and then I put my left foot on the seat and grabbed a handle next to the heads up display (HUD) sliding into place, once I was positioned in the seat I then began to take photos.

Canon 5D III, 8-15 ISO 6400 F4 1/20sec

My time was quickly coming to an end and my escort Charlie was beginning to tell me to wrap it up. I continued taking some photos of the aft-flight deck and some closeups of the display and controls around the flight deck. After finishing up I thanked Bill and climbed down to the mid-deck and proceeded to exit the orbiter into the white room.

Canon 5D III, 8-15 ISO 250 F8 13.0sec
Canon 5D III, 8-15 ISO 250 F8 13.0sec
Canon 5D III, 24-105 ISO 4000 F4 1/6sec
Canon 5D III, 24-105 ISO 4000 F4 1/6sec

After exciting the white room I was able to take a couple photos of workers working around the mid-body of Endeavour and also the nose of the orbiter.

Canon 5D III, 24-105 ISO 4000 F4 1/80sec
Canon 5D III, 24-105 ISO 4000 F4 1/60sec
Canon 5D III, 24-105 ISO 4000 F4 1/60sec

I then proceeded to exit the OPF, but not before taking a photo of the “Vehicle Powered” sign all lit up signifying the special moment. It is a special feeling knowing that I am one of the last people to ever enter a space shuttle while it was powered and I consider myself very privilege to have been given the opportunity that so few have had.

Canon 5D III, 24-105 ISO 1250 F4 1/100sec

More photos from the day can be found here


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