CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - When Santa Claus makes his routine pit stop at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility on Christmas Eve, he may do a bit more than chow down on milk and cookies. In the next few decades, humans could be living, working and playing on the moon, including millions of good little boys and girls counting on Santa to put presents under their trees, no matter where those trees are. So this year, Kennedy is inviting Santa to check out the progress being made with the agency's Constellation Program.
After Santa and his reindeer-propelled sleigh glide to a stop on the 15,000-foot-long shuttle runway, he can head over to Launch Pad 39B where modifications are being made for the Ares I-X rocket test flight targeted to launch in July 2009. Workers are using the Manitowoc 21000 model crane, which extends 640 feet off the ground, to lift the lightning protection system's three 600-foot-tall steel and fiberglass towers. Word has it Santa's elves began constructing a similar launch pad and lightning protection system at the North Pole last year in preparation for Santa's sojourns to the stars.
Santa also has the option to check out the new Ares I-X firing room, which is fairly empty in comparison to space shuttle firing rooms. It takes more than 200 controllers to launch a space shuttle, whereas Ares calls for about 100. The firing room also has the capability to go paperless. Shuttle controllers can have up to 6,000 procedure documents at their consoles, but the new system will provide all necessary documents online.
Next, Santa can swing by the Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, to look at the first pieces of Ares I-X hardware. The test flight rocket's upper-stage simulator, consisting of 11 cylinders that look like enormous tuna cans, will help engineers prepare NASA's next generation human spacecraft launch system for space travel. Rumor has it elves are looking to have a similar system like the Ares I and will call Santa's fleet, "Jingle Bell Rockets."
Santa's last stop would be Kennedy's Parachute Refurbishment Facility where workers are manufacturing and packing Ares parachutes. The drogue parachute that will gently slow the descent of the spent Ares I-X first-stage motor has faired well during testing at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.
Santa reportedly requested a mock-up moonsuit from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The new red suit is expected to support a week's worth of moonwalks. Santa may only need to wear it one night a year, unless of course he relocates his workshop to the north pole of the moon, Mars or beyond.
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