René Arriëns knows the mix of excitement and tension the STS-114 astronauts will feel as they make their way to the Space Shuttle Discovery on launch day.
He's stood at the base of the launch pad and looked up to see the Shuttle looming above. He's navigated through the shroud of cool mist hovering above the "yellow brick road," the egress route painted on the walkway leading to the White Room, where the astronauts board the Shuttle. He's grown accustomed to the strange sound effects made by the pad's metal structure as it comes into contact with chilled air, cooled by the super-cold propellants within the Shuttle's massive External Tank.
Arriëns was raised in North Merritt Island, Fl just outside the gate of Kennedy Space Center. He began his career at the Apollo launch pad 39B where in 1983 he was part of the team hired to convert the launch pads for the new Shuttle program. As a Launch Pad Technician, he supported the first launch from Pad B “Challenger” in 1986. After that fateful flight he moved into Orbiter operations where he was selected to train as a Space Craft Operator.
"When there's a Shuttle on the pad, the orbiter forward crew module is my work area," Arriëns explains. "It's one team and one mission, contractor and NASA alike, and everybody's focused on getting it right and flying it right and doing it right the first time."
Arriëns tells us about is experience and shares clips that may just a bring tear to your eye. “NASA has a lot of plans,” said Arriëns. “They are going to build a new rocket, capture and explore an asteroid, venture to Mars, and launch the next generation space telescope.”
“NASA is more than astronauts. Scientists, engineers, IT specialists, human resources specialists, accountants, writers, technicians and many other professions can be found at NASA and the Kennedy Space Center, “ Arriëns explains. “For example, at Kennedy Space Center, there are engineers working on the Cryogenic Refuge Alternative Supply System, or CryoRASS. CryoRASS and a small liquid-air filled backpack called CryoBA, short for Cryogenic Breathing Apparatus, are being developed by a KSC engineering team in collaboration with The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. This system will provide miners with twice the amount of breathable and cooler air than traditional compressed systems.”
Arriëns also goes into extensive details about The International Space Station. “It’s primary purpose is to conduct scientific research that will benefit humanity both on Earth and in space exploration. Through advancing the state of scientific knowledge of our planet, looking after our health, and providing a space platform that inspires and educates the science and technology leaders of tomorrow, the benefits discussed today will drive the legacy of the space station as its research strengthens economies and enhances the quality of life on Earth for all people”, continues Arriëns.
Kennedy Space Center has been the launch site for every American manned mission as well as hundreds of scientific missions. “With the end of the Space Shuttle Program, KSC is changing. They are making changes to accommodate commercial partners, such as SpaceX, and the new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that NASA is building. Changes are being made across the center – from things you can’t see like the wiring at the launch pads, to things that are more noticeable like modifications to high bays in the Vehicle Assembly Building. KSC is working hard to become the world’s multi-user spaceport of the future,” concludes Arriëns.