Brobdingnag to Lilliput:
Travels Through 30 Years of the Space Program
Diane K. Fisher
In the early 70s, as minor character in the Apollo Program, I worked in
the Vehicle Assembly Building at KSC. Stepping into the VAB, I felt
like the incredible shrinking woman. The space inside accommodated
six 45-story office towers with vast open spaces to spare. In the
vertical spaces between the office towers, the 363-foot high Saturn Vs were
From my third floor office in one tower, I often delivered documents to
higher floors in other towers. Between riding the stomach-dropping glass
elevators and dashing across to other towers on narrow, open catwalks at
the 28th or 44th floor levels, I soon overcame my fear of heights.
On these excursions, I would see the Saturn Vs come together in the 500-foot
high bays. After hundreds of engineers and technicians had toiled around
the clock for months, the morning of high-bay rollout would arrive.
Slowly, the Crawler Transporter would bear forth the Mobile Launch Platform
and the majestic Saturn V rocket. The morning sun reflecting off its
gleaming white form would take my breath away.
The last Apollo mission was 30 years ago. As the Apollo program ended,
some thought human missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond would continue
apace. Though they didn't continue, the Apollo program remains a single,
large step in our technological evolution as a species. It is a great
tribute to the intelligence, ingenuity, and dedication of the people responsible
for the Apollo missions that they were so successful and the disasters so
few. NASA's program today continues to build on the technological
and managerial legacy bequeathed us by Apollo.
And just where are we now? Among its other tasks, the International
Space Station is teaching people to live in space for long periods.
Robotic space missions are studying issues like land use and global warming
and discovering the wonders of the universe, its history, and our place
in it. With humanity's many other pressing needs, such quests must
be done efficiently.
Part of NASA's mission is to develop the technologies to do cost-effectively
what has never been done before at all. NASA's New Millennium Program
develops and validates new technologies for space. Missions such as
Deep Space 1 and Earth Observing 1 carry and test multiple new technologies
(such as ion propulsion and advanced imaging instruments) previously untried
in space. And, unlike the Saturn V, the ultimate gas-guzzling muscle
car of the 70s, the new technologies must be the "zero emission" vehicles
of the 21st century-small, efficient, and capable beyond anything done before.
Many of the New Millennium technologies are described for adults at nmp.nasa.gov
and for children at The Space Place, spaceplace.nasa.gov.
Diane K. Fisher is the developer and writer for The Space Place web site.
This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute
of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space
The Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, completed in
1965 for the Apollo Moon Program.
The Saturn V and Mobile Launch Platform are carried to the launch pad on
the Crawler Transporter. Notice the tiny humans below the platform.
|Volume 34, Number