We climbed the launch tower for the first time. In the beginning of our 11th week we were in Cape Canaveral - the whole crew. It was a clear day, we looked out into the distance along the coastline - it is a breathtaking scene. Before getting onto the deck leading to the spacecraft door, there is an antiquated telephone installed with large buttons, from which astronauts hold their conversation with their loved ones before lift-off. The wall has signatures of everybody that has been launched from there into the heavens. This is the same metal tower, from which scores of astronauts have embarked on voyages to space and to the moon, the two top floors of which even the astronauts, completely dressed in their space suits, have to climb on foot. We walked along this deck about eighty meters above the ground. We could imagine the slow, confident stride and, from there, the entry into Dragon. The rocket, which is supposed to launch us from there into space - is not there yet.
Back to reality: Practicing escape from the tower via capsules, which descend at a speed of 40 kilometers per hour of free fall on a cable, until they reach a restraining net that slows them down, and a sandy platform from which one must escape to a shelter. Next to it there are escape vehicles, at our disposal and ready to move. The keys are inside because there’s nobody else present nearby.
The next day - practicing self-evacuation from Dragon. The evacuation boat placed an old Dragon in the water, and we simulated situations of a sea landing in calm seas and in stormy seas. The water was cold but the sun was shining and it warmed us in the lifeboats.
Finally, the rescue boat pulled Dragon out of the sea and placed it back in the Dragon Nest - a rotund rubber platform that stabilizes the spacecraft on deck. The rescue boat has a recovery room, a medical center and a helipad, from which we will be flown back to shore.
Later on we visited the rocket maintenance center. We stood in awe between four enormous Falcon-9 rockets, all balanced, in various stages of refurbishment in preparation for their return to the launch pad. The nine engines are a lot smaller than I had imagined them to be, especially in comparison with the jet engines I am familiar with from the civil aviation industry and from the Air Force.
From there we went to the Dragon maintenance center and saw our spacecraft, Endeavor, undergoing maintenance. It stands on a platform at the center of the maintenance hangar. Dozens of people work on it, attending to it from inside and from the outside. It was hard to divert my gaze from this sophisticated machine, with eight Super Draco rocket engines capable of finding its way in the void, to dock with the Space Station and to return safely to Earth.
My recommendation: Come visit the Cape Canaveral Visitor Center to feel the special world of space, the people and the systems that get launched into it.
SpaceX has developed four types of rocketengines: Merlin, Kestrel (which are two species of raptors - birds of prey), engines named Draco and SuperDraco, which are assembled onto Dragon 2 spacecraft, the engine is intended for maneuvering when rising into space and when re-entering the atmosphere. It also is used for quick disengagement from the rocket in an emergency and it also enables dry landing without a parachute (Dragon 2 will be making a parachute landing in the sea. This option is reserved only for an emergency).