A Flight Simulator Odyssey

by Charles Gulick

Launch Complex 39A

Chart: Jacksonville
En Route Coordinates:
   Aircraft: N11573, E19389
Altitude: Aircraft: 133
   Tower: --
   Heading: 009
Time: Daylight

You're looking, not simply at a shuttle on its launch pad, but at a National Historic Site: Launch Complex 39A. If you look at your map and adjust the zoom, you'll see the site is surrounded by a circular road. Just north is a similar site, though empty. It's also surrounded by a circular road, is a part of the same National Historic Site, and is Launch Complex (you guessed it) 39B. The body of water between the two launch pads is known as Gator Hole. Behind the complex is the Banana River, and ahead of it (you may have to adjust zoom) you'll see Mosquito Lagoon, separated from the Atlantic by a thin strip of seashore that forms a boundary for both John F. Kennedy Space Center and a Wildlife Refuge. The little bump of land southeast of the complex is known as False Cape, the true Cape Canaveral being south of there.

To the left you can see the Shuttle Landing Facility where you made your magnificent landing on the last flight. The road paralleling the runway is Kennedy Parkway, which leads to Launch Control Center and another circular road. Just left of the Parkway, south of the runway, is Banana Creek, a tributary of the Indian River.

Now that you're familiar with this part of the Kennedy Space Center, it's time to get familiar with the shuttle on its launch pad.

Let me tell you something, and you'll have to take my word for it. It is possible to fly between the shuttle and the launch tower from where you are. But your judgment must be unimpaired when you try it. Not only must your heading be precise, but your altitude is critical--and you must judge both of these visually. In particular, you must be at an altitude that will clear the base of the launch pad, but be below the gantry arms. You'll be flying through a little square slot.

Perhaps, the first time, you'd rather just sightsee the shuttle, in which case you should bank a bit to your right before flying by it, and take views out the left side.

Then, maybe the second time .. .

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