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AstroVan - NASA’s Famous Silver Motorhome
After watching many Apollo and Shuttle launches on the TV and internet, and many visits to Kenny Space Centre I became interested in the AstroVan, the vehicle you see transporting the astronauts to the launch pad in.
Silver in colour, I thought it looked as though it was a derivative of a motor home - although a small motor home by today’s standards. Further investigation proved this was correct – the current AstroVan being a modified 1983 Airstream Excella motorhome, used by NASA since 1984. The Airstream Excella is manufactured in Ohio - a design easily recognised by its distinctive aluminum body – a uniquely North American vehicle. Originally designed in the 1930’s by Hawley Bowlus, the chief designer of Charles Lindbergh’s aircraft, the Sprit of St Louis. In I
After their mission to the moon in 1969, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michel Collins were quarantined in a modified Airstream trailer until NASA were sure that there was no risk that they had bought back any ‘lunar germs’ from their trip. Quite amusing to look back at a photograph of these three astronauts who were about to become so famous, being visited by President Nixon who could only wave and shout through the rear door of the AstroVan!
This origianl AstroVan can now be viewed at the Kennedy Space Centre Visitor’s Complex’s at the Apollo/SaturnV Centre. It has individual seats with arms and large spaces between each chair. Up until 1984, early Shuttle crews were small, sometimes only two astronauts, so there was no requirement to change the vehicle.
However it was changed in 1984 as recent missions can have up to 7 crew members. The current AstroVan is designed with navy, long, padded benches each side, with lift out sections to accommodate the ventilator units used to circulate cool air around their bulky orange suits that are used for launch and entry. It’s not the most luxurious interior but the outside is so synonymous with the US space programme, so easily recognisable that the exterior has remained the same- often at the request of rookie astronauts. Dark gold drapes and venetian blinds hang at the windows whilst the walls are lined with dark wood paneling.
The current AstroVan has only done 24, 000 miles in its 24 year life being used solely for transporting astronauts. There are five drivers who ‘pilot’ the AstroVan proudly heading up the motorcade. Each shuttle crew has three journeys – launch dress rehearsal, the actual launch day and collecting the astronauts after landing
Astronauts are prepared in the Operations and Check Out Building, stopping for the obligatory crew photo and wave just before boarding and then driving the nine mile twenty minute journey to their spacecraft in the AstroVan. An ‘extra’ astronaut rides along with the Shuttle crew to the Shuttle Launch Facility where their job is to exit and board the Shuttle Training aircraft to assess the local weather conditions for the launch. Senior NASA management may accompany the crew. They are dropped off a the Launch Control Centre.
There are not many Shuttle launches left – it will be interesting to see if the AstroVan survives life after the Shuttle – I hope so!
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