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  Viewing a shuttle launch from on the pad

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Author Topic:   Viewing a shuttle launch from on the pad
ASCAN1984
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From: County Down, Nothern Ireland
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posted 01-24-2012 04:21 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ASCAN1984   Click Here to Email ASCAN1984     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Couldn't get to sleep for ages last night and a crazy thought came into my mind. If you were willing to risk it, accept the risks and were authorised to do so, would it have been possible to view a shuttle launch while on the pad structure itself. Is there anywhere that this would be possible?

garymilgrom
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From: Atlanta, GA, USA
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posted 01-24-2012 06:13 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for garymilgrom   Click Here to Email garymilgrom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Within some fairly large distance — 1,000 feet or so — the acoustic vibrations generated at launch are fatal. These sound waves are so strong they would damage the rocket without the sound suppression system.

capoetc
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posted 01-24-2012 07:17 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for capoetc   Click Here to Email capoetc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
You could do it once.

goldbera
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posted 01-24-2012 09:24 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for goldbera     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Also, if you managed to survive the shock waves, the main engine/SRB exhaust would turn you into ASCAN1984 flambe.

tfrielin
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posted 01-24-2012 10:32 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for tfrielin   Click Here to Email tfrielin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I was told when on a VIP tour that took us up to the perimeter fence surrounding LC-39A that if we got left behind here (this was less than one day before liftoff) and were in this spot when Discovery lifted off, the acoustic energy of the Shuttle would kill us.

We got back on the NASA bus.

cycleroadie
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From: Apalachin, NY USA
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posted 01-24-2012 11:00 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cycleroadie   Click Here to Email cycleroadie     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As others said the acoustic energy would get you (not to mention the flames). The shock wave would be so forceful it would stop your heart.

FFrench
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posted 01-24-2012 12:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by ASCAN1984:
Is there anywhere that this would be possible?
It would be possible inside the shuttle crew cabin... viewing the launch out of a window.

Rick Boos
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From: Celina,Ohio U.S.A.
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posted 01-24-2012 03:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rick Boos   Click Here to Email Rick Boos     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I remember during the GT-5 scrub that two guys were caught on CBS cameras in the scubland near Pad 19. Security picked them up. From what I remember they swam in from the ocean. I still remember Walter Cronkite's reaction.

Blackarrow
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From: Belfast, United Kingdom
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posted 01-24-2012 05:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by FFrench:
It would be possible inside the shuttle crew cabin... viewing the launch out of a window.
OR WOULD IT?? We could quite easily start another conspiracy theory here. If the acoustic shock waves hundreds of feet from the pad would prove fatal, obviously no-one could survive the acoustic shock waves about a hundred feet from the engine nozzles and only protected by the thin skin of the shuttle and a flimsy space-suit! It therefore stands to reason that no astronauts were on board any shuttle; the vehicles were flown and landed by remote control; the TV transmissions were produced in Hollywood; and the space station is a movie-set (apart from the empty dummy-station which we can see in orbit...) It all fits! And there are far fewer problems with the "shuttle hoax" theory than the "Apollo hoax" theory. Wow!

Jay Chladek
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posted 01-24-2012 05:54 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The shuttle has enough internal sound dampening from its construction to prevent the astronauts from getting injured by it. The sound itself isn't really the culprit, but rather the acoustic blast wave, which requires air to move. So if you are tucked inside your own little air pocket with no interaction from the outside, you are likely going to be fine. Plus, the engine bells and nozzles of the SSMEs, SRBs and OMS motors are designed to channel the rocket exhaust and energy AWAY from the crew. To use an anology, stand right behind a giant amplifier speaker at a concert and see how muffled the noise is, compared to being in front of it or just off to the side. Remember the Turkey buzzards on STS-114? They were busy thermal soaring over and around the pad on launch day and one got clobbered by the ET on its way up (with the other getting flame broiled by the SRB plumes). They were above the shuttle stack, so they were still alive and within the 1,000 foot radius when the engines fired since the exhaust was channeled away and down the flame trenches (but not for long).

It is kind of like navy Battleships as there typically was an exclusion zone on the deck where people could not walk close to the ship's main guns because when they fired, the concussion wave was apparently enough to blow somebody off the deck of the ship. As I recall in WW2, when a US Navy Battleship with 16" guns got ready to fire, gun crews manning the anti-aircraft guns had to get below decks because the resulting concussion would NOT be fun to deal with.

There are people who have gotten a lot closer to shuttle launches that the rest of us and they are the KSC Security SWAT team members (usually snipers). These are NOT the guys who wear the khakis, but rather they dress in black overalls and spend most of their time hiding out in seemingly impossible to pass areas on launch day looking for people where they are not supposed to be on the roads and trails. I don't know how close to the pad they are (likely classified) but I knew they were out there watching me and all the other press guys when I was out looking at a shuttle during RSS rollback or at the press site on launch day. If they are out there close to the pad on launch day, I doubt they were turning around to look at the shuttle when it lifts off though since that isn't their job.

Go4Launch
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posted 01-24-2012 09:26 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Go4Launch   Click Here to Email Go4Launch     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Ted Ballenger, 17 and Gary Young, 22, were picked up by Air Force police about 1,000 yards from Pad 19 just beyond the pad's security fence on August 19, 1965 after they were spotted by closed-circuit TV cameras. They were enroute to Miami from Beaver Falls, Pa. while on vacation. Pan Am said they had "apparently parked their car in a tourist area and walked along the beach." They were fined $100 each.

dabolton
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posted 01-25-2012 09:02 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dabolton   Click Here to Email dabolton     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
How close were these guys?

Jay Chladek
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posted 01-25-2012 10:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by dabolton:
How close were these guys?
That would be the KSC fire crew. I don't know if they were staged at the slide wire basket landing spot or if they retreated to a further distance during the final countdown. But, they are indeed pretty close as well.

Ben
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posted 01-25-2012 11:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ben   Click Here to Email Ben     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by dabolton:
How close were these guys?
One mile mark. They are supposed to remain inside but they usually pop out around tower clear. No, there is no one stationed closer than that other than the astronauts.

There are a few other people inside the three-mile mark, such as three to four tracking cameras around two miles out with 2-4 men each. They are required to have LDA and airpack training.

star61
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posted 01-26-2012 05:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for star61   Click Here to Email star61     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Gary Sinese was rather close in Apollo 13! An unfortunate moment in an otherwise pretty good film...

ASCAN1984
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posted 01-29-2012 05:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ASCAN1984   Click Here to Email ASCAN1984     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
So just to summarise, it's possible but only for a second. LOL.

Jay Chladek
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posted 01-29-2012 07:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well, maybe 3 or 4 seconds... if you are a turkey buzzard.

p51
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posted 01-29-2012 09:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I can't go into details but when I was in the Army, we once got a brief on specialized terrorist scenarios from a government agency and they talked about someone getting too close to a shuttle launch to whip out a man-portable heat seeking missile to take a chunk out of a launch as it left the pad. Something like an SA-7 (or more likely, a stolen Stinger or Redeye) in the hands of someone in those marshes was a real possibility back in the day, or at least one that was taken seriously. We were briefed on the security measures NASA takes at the Cape and I was quite impressed. There were plenty of fears on the Apollo 17 "Black September" threat. We now know the main worries were for the family members, but they DID take a literal threat to the stack as well. I don't much has come out about that, and I wonder why not.

But one thing they stressed was the fact that someone would likely die for all kinds of reasons if they got within a certain distance of the pads. I distinctly recall being briefed on the hazmat issues with the fuels and how that could likely kill someone who survived the acoustic, blast and heat dangers of being too close to a launch.

Anyone who's ever been to the Cape in person knows there's an almost infinite number of places to hide and ways to get in there. FLIR and motion sensors won't help you much as there are ways to defeat each (motion especially due to all the wildlife crawling and flying around out there).

Jay Chladek
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From: Bellevue, NE, USA
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posted 01-29-2012 10:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by p51:
There were plenty of fears on the Apollo 17 "Black September" threat. We now know the main worries were for the family members, but they DID take a literal threat to the stack as well. I don't much has come out about that, and I wonder why not.

Probably the main reason why the story hasn't come out is due to the nature of the threat and talking about the steps NASA and KSC security took would potentially reveal too much to the outside. That and the fact that even mentioning the threat alone would draw publicity, resulting in some other crackpot with an axe to grind at least trying something similar, regardless of whether or not they will be successful (because the act of trying to do it will draw attention).

I think of KSC's black clad security SWAT as like the launch pad security version of Seal Team 6. You know they do something good, but you don't know exactly how they do it or who they are. And, they like to keep it that way as it keeps the bad guys guessing.

cycleroadie
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posted 01-30-2012 04:19 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cycleroadie   Click Here to Email cycleroadie     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by ASCAN1984:
So just to summarise, it's possible but only for a second. LOL.

Well more like 1/10th of a second, or less, depending just where on the pad you were standing, since the shock wave will travel as fast as the speed of sound.

Rick Boos
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posted 01-30-2012 11:23 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rick Boos   Click Here to Email Rick Boos     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I remember Guenter Wendt always talked about the fallback area where he and his crew would standby in case they were needed, but never asked him how close to the pad they were. That distance would differ from program to program I would think.

dabolton
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posted 01-30-2012 03:28 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dabolton   Click Here to Email dabolton     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Ben:
They are supposed to remain inside but they usually pop out around tower clear.
Based on their stances and the proximity to the shuttle clearing the tower (1-3 seconds), it looks to me like they were standing outside for the duration of the launch sequence.

Ben
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posted 01-30-2012 05:58 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ben   Click Here to Email Ben     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have heard rumors that that photo resulted in some trouble for the team back then (STS-26). Today, I have my own photos showing the hatch not opening until after tower clear.

p51
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posted 01-30-2012 10:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Jay Chladek:
Probably the main reason why the story hasn't come out is due to the nature of the threat and talking about the steps NASA and KSC security took would potentially reveal too much to the outside.
I agree with you to a degree, but the Apollo 17 threat was pretty well known by the press but not heavily reported at the time. It was also so long ago for the layman to understand that a LOT has happened in the art of security technology since then. But even in the Apollo days, I am certain that anyone who walked up too close were known well in advance (getting to them, well, that’s another story as some places are hard to get into without a boat).

We were briefed on the capability to secure the launch sites because it was somewhat relevant to a mission we were looking into at the time. From a security standpoint, a location next to an ocean with marshlands all around it (and somewhat nearby a massive tourist area) is a nightmare to protect. But NASA does an excellent job. From what I learned, I now know that anyone near a launch is probably known long before they could get anywhere nearby to cause harm to themselves or the equipment. There have been test of their capability and my understanding is that they’ve passed those tests admirably. Just like the SEAL team analogy, NASA has a lot of talented people at the Cape who will make sure you can’t just walk up to the launch pad when there’s a rocket sitting there.

But back to the topic, I remember many years ago hearing that there was blast shelters on the pad that someone can duck into if they find themselves under the nozzles and they hear, “Five… Four…. Three…” Since that time, I now know that’s not the case. You couldn’t possibly make a booth strong enough for a person inside to survive a launch from the gantry. I recently talked to someone who was at the VIP section in a Apollo launch, and he swore it blew the hat off his head from a long way off (I’m not sure how far away that was, 3 miles seems to stick out in my mind).

I know exhaust fumes for missiles and rockets is a real issue. My brother was a missile launch officer for the USAF for several years (GLCMs and Peacekeeper ICBMs) and we have talked about this over the years. He did a test launch (“Glory Trip”) of a Peacekeeper from Vandenberg once and they went over the dangers of being near the silo after the missile left for its trip to the Kwajalein Atoll. They told the launch crew under NO circumstances were they to get near the silo, even though it was a long way away from the LCC and a lot of venting would have taken place by then.

I always chuckle at how inaccurate you see missiles portrayed in movies. Many of them look like they should have, “Made by ACME” on the side of them. I always have to fast forward through the opening of “Iron Man” when they launch a missile only a few feet away from sentries standing guard (who don’t flinch or hold their ears as it leaves the rail). I’ve been around a few ‘fire and forget’ missiles after they’ve been fired and you don’t want to breathe that stuff in. Look up the MSDS for the propellants the shuttle used. It was really nasty stuff!

Jay Chladek
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posted 01-31-2012 03:53 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
You are absolutely correct. The SSMEs themselves produce just steam, but it is the solid motors that produce the nasty stuff (a sulfuric acid cloud if I recall correctly, and hydrocloric acid on the pad partially diluted by the rainbirds on the FSS). They don't allow anyone to go to the pad for 2 hours after launch (longer if there is a leak). Considering you like the film Armageddon, do you have a copy of the Criterion DVD release of it? If you don't try and find a copy as the DVD commentary from the director of photography is fascinating about the challenges his film crew had capturing the shuttle launch on film using NASA's camera mounts. One Panavision lens literally shook itself apart completely in the box. It didn't break, it just disassembled itself (all the screws backed out). Plus, even after two hours the acidic stench at the pad was still so intense that the guys they sent out to retrieve the film were still practically upchucking since it was so intense.

When I got my first press pass to STS-121, I saw a handout at the media center saying that there was a chance on launch day that the prevailing winds could blow the SRB cloud towards the media center. So I asked the guy next to me if he had ever been pelted by particulates from the SRB exhaust. He said once in his eye and it HURT like the dickens until he got it flushed. So indeed when 121 lifted off, I noticed that a cloud was creeping towards us. So we pretty much all decided to wait it out inside until it had passed.

When I got back to my car to drive to the airport, I noticed its white paint was covered with a very fine layer of what looked like gray ash (not like after Mount Saint Helens mind you, but sort of like gray tiny specks on a car which I probably wouldn't have seen if it wasn't white in color). I didn't make it to the airport that day to get home as I missed my flight, but after arranging to have the car one more day and booking a new flight for the next morning, the first thing I did was to take the car to a car wash in order to get that stuff off before it damaged the paint (because it can if left on too long).

Concerning the VIP areas for Apollo, they are about 3 miles away. The press site and media center today occupy the original VIP site from Apollo with a building (the media center) replacing the spot where outdoor grandstands once stood up through the early 1990s. While I have never seen a hat blown off by the sound at launch of a shuttle, I don't doubt it happened during Apollo if the atmospherics are right. I compared shuttle with Saturn audio I've heard and it seems that the overall decibel level of liftoff is similar. What made Saturn different is it started its ascent more slowly compared to the jackrabbit of shuttle. So the F-1 engines are putting out noise and it keeps building as it reflects off buildings back to the pad while more sound is generated. So you are likely getting shook by the echos of those engine roars.

There are plenty of stories of shuttle liftoffs setting off car alarms. STS-121 being my first launch was loud, but I don't recall the "shockwave in my chest" possibly because I was crouched down. Same for STS-131 and STS-135. Ares 1-X however (my second launch) was LOUDER than I expected and it seemed louder than a shuttle. It could be that the acoustics generated by two SRBs partially cancel out one another at certain angles. So from the side you hear one SRB, but from front or behind, I'll bet it would be one hell of a racket in stereo (with the SSMEs acting as tweeters). The loudest launch racket I EVER heard though was the seemingly full audio collected by the IMAX sound engineers for the film "Hail Columbia". I saw it in the Omnimax dome at Space Camp in 1985 and every seat in that theater SHOOK! Considering the inadequite rainbird coverage at that pad for that first launch of Columbia, it may have been a little louder than the later shuttle missions. I have cranked the audio on my DVD copy of it and with the decent set of speakers I have, it is pretty dang close to what I heard in person.

Chip Davis's music group "Manheim Steamroller" (normally known for doing the rock style Christmas albums) has sent sound engineers to record shuttle launches on at least three occasions. One was for an album and two others were for live concert tracks. I had an offer from one of the sound engineers who recorded it to visit him at their studio (which is located near where I used to work) to have a listen at what they collected in their full audio setup. I have regrettably been unable to take him up on that offer though (I still plan on it).

crash
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posted 01-31-2012 05:19 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for crash   Click Here to Email crash     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Ben:
I have heard rumors that that photo resulted in some trouble for the team back then (STS-26).
On one of my visits to the U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum, Titusville, I was being shown around by a very nice gentleman who had been a long time member of the NASA Fire Service. He wasn't there on the day but told me the facts behind the photo.

Apparently they were all tucked up inside with doors closed, as they are supposed to be, when there was an unexpected hold. It was a hot day so they got out and took off helmets, jackets etc. The launch clock restarted but the person responsible to call them and tell them to get back in forgot.

It launched, they watched with surprise, and the photo was taken from behind by a press camera (can't remember the network/paper). The photo then gets published and all hell breaks lose with NASA denials that it ever happened.

Apparently NASA senior management wanted the crew sacked but they negotiated their way out by reminding them of the screw-up in safety protocol by the person who omitted to call them.

Undoubtedly someone here will know the museum gentleman by name and support or correct what I've posted.

Jim Behling
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posted 01-31-2012 05:43 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Jay Chladek:
Considering the inadequate rainbird coverage at that pad for that first launch of Columbia, it may have been a little louder than the later shuttle missions.
Rainbirds have no effect on the sound level produced by the shuttle, they only dampen the noise towards reflected by the top of the MLP. The changes after STS-1 were to dampening the ignition pulse of the SRBs and those mostly were the installation of the water wienies.

Different sound levels between launches and one or two SRBs is due to atmospherics and not noise cancellation.

p51
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posted 01-31-2012 09:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Jay Chladek:
...the DVD commentary from the director of photography is fascinating about the challenges his film crew had capturing the shuttle launch on film using NASA's camera mounts.
Funny you'd mention this, I've had that DVD for a while now and just watched it about a month ago and caught that very part. I was going to cite it on this thread but I know how many space fans seem to dislike the movie.
quote:
Originally posted by crash:
The launch clock restarted but the person responsible to call them and tell them to get back in forgot.
Oh yeah, I can so easily imagine that happening with a government operation, even one as professional as NASA (you can't imagine the insanely unsafe things I saw as an Army officer, even stateside, pre-9/11). I'm glad none of the firefighters got in too much hot water. Thanks for the info, I'd always wondered about that photo!

Jim Behling
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posted 01-31-2012 09:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by p51:
Oh yeah, I can so easily imagine that happening with a government operation, even one as professional as NASA...
The gov't doesn't have a monopoly nor a majority on screwups. Happens in the commercial world just as much.

Captain Apollo
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posted 02-02-2012 05:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Captain Apollo   Click Here to Email Captain Apollo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Jay Chladek:
So if you are tucked inside your own little air pocket with no interaction from the outside, you are likely going to be fine.
So could I do it if I was inside my little armored cylinder?

kyra
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posted 02-18-2012 06:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for kyra   Click Here to Email kyra     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
What happens to the birds that are within this deadly 1000 ft. zone for humans? They still fly around startled during the launch, but I've never thought of their health after the shuttle has cleared the tower. Is there a "Mr. Wizard" explanation that their smaller bodies have a different resonant frequency? Obviously the turkey buzzard incident shows they can survive if not directly hit or in the SRB plume.

Jim Behling
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posted 02-18-2012 07:06 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There are bird deaths from each launch.

Fra Mauro
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posted 02-18-2012 09:16 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fra Mauro   Click Here to Email Fra Mauro     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Sadly, we should be using past tense verbs. Alas, the shuttles are retired and we will have to wait for the next manned launch.

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