NASA not stuck in the 70s

If your impression of NASA were to be formed solely by their backward-looking visitors' exhibits in Houston and in Florida, you would think that NASA was stuck in the 70s, living their past glories. But that's not really the case. Unfortunately, you need a behind-the-scenes tour to know that.

I was at a "total lightning" conference in Florida last week. (The "total" refers to a new type of sensor that detects intercloud lightning and not just cloud-to-ground strikes.) NASA had put in a new type of lightning rod to protect their launch site for the next generation of Ares shuttles and so we got a special tour of Kennedy Space Center.

This was the lightning rod they wanted to show us. Note the wires that lead from the rod. They connect a set of three rods to the ground:
It was quite underwhelming: lightning rods are not exactly rocket science.

We got to peek in through glass doors at the monitors. And we saw weather imagery! Enough to get the bunch of weather geeks humming. Also, it was good to see that NASA does have LCD monitors; if you go solely by their visitors centers, one would think they hang on to CRTs.
This is the vehicle assembly building. 518 feet in height. The third largest building in the world by volume. They need the building in order to assemble the shuttle vertically.
We saw parts of the first Ares test shuttle too. It took the vehicle assembly building and parts of upcoming shuttles to really drive home the scope of NASA's ambitions. Pity that not all visitors get to see this.
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