Merritt Island, FL
This photo originally shared on Instagram
These reusable closed-cycle, cryogenic liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen-powered monsters were known as the Ferraris of rocket engines, and they set all sorts of records for their class when they were first designed in the late 1970s. In fact, they’re still flying, sort of, almost 9 years after they were last fired in anger, on the last shuttle mission ever, Atlantis's STS-135.
16 leftover RS-25s from the shuttle era are, 4 at a time, being built into the core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket, and as we speak the first flightworthy core stage sits in the B Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center. The Green Run campaign will see all four engines light off and run the full 8-minute launch-to-orbit flight profile while bolted solidly to the ground.
I'll bring the popcorn.
Unfortunately, reusability isn’t part of the deal with SLS, with the engines and rockets burning up on re-entry after their job is done. After the 4th mission, new-build RS-25Es will slot into place.
But all that was theoretical. On this December day with my family, it was enough for me to stand beneath the bell nozzles at the back of Atlantis and stare for a bit. As a child, I used to watch these same nozzles come to life on TV and online, so it was rather unreal to be This Close.
What does any of this have to do with the price of eggs? Aerospace, space, science, rockets and such may not have much of a direct connection to my day job, but when the world gets choppy, these become refuges of sorts, virtual places where I can immerse myself in engineering that opens up opportunity for us all, in ways we can't even begin to imagine.
We all need a bit more wonder in our lives. This is some of what I consider wonder. What’s yours?
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