What did we find when we
walked around Atlantis and looked at her belly? Over 700 heat tiles had
been damaged so badly that they would later have to be replaced. Only one
tile was completely missing, but the others around it had protected
Atlantis' aluminum skin from melting. We had been very lucky.
What had caused all this damage? In the factory, the very tip of the
right-side rocket booster had been made too weak. The wind pressure
during launch had broken it off and it had hit the belly. To make certain
it could not happen on another mission, NASA changed the way the boosters
were built to make them stronger.
ON BEING AN ASTRONAUT
There are two types of NASA astronauts: Pilot Astronauts and Mission
Specialist Astronauts. Pilot Astronauts sit in the front seats and have
the controls and instruments to fly the shuttle during launch and
landing. The Pilot Astronaut that sits in the front-left seat is also
called the Commander. He/she is the overall boss. The Pilot Astronaut
who sits in the front-right seat is called the Pilot and helps the
Commander to fly the spaceship. He/she is really like a copilot in a
regular airplane. Mission Specialist Astronauts (called MS's) are the
crewmembers (usually three) who do most of the work once the shuttle
reaches orbit. They operate the robot arm, do experiments, do spacewalks
and release satellites.
What kind of an education do you need if you want to be an astronaut?
NASA requires that all astronauts have a college degree in math, science
or engineering. You can't be an astronaut if you get a degree in things
like english, history, music, physical education, law, etc. NASA says you
only need a Bachelor's degree to be eligible for an astronaut job but
almost everybody they choose has at least a Master's degree. Ask your
teacher to explain Bachelor, Master's, and Doctorate degrees.
Do you have to be a pilot or be in the military to be an
astronaut? No. About one-third of the astronauts are civilians who are
not pilots. But if you're not a pilot you can only apply for the Mission
Specialist Astronaut position.
To be a Pilot Astronaut, NASA requires that you have at least 1000 hours
of jet flying time. For this reason all Pilot Astronauts are military
flyers. You should plan on being a military test pilot if you want to be
a Pilot Astronaut.
THE SPACE TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM (STS)
The mission of the space shuttle, or STS as NASA calls it, is to carry
satellites and experiments into orbits about 150 to 350 miles above the
earth. While it can't fly to the moon (that's about 240,000 miles away),
the shuttle can do something no rocket before it could ever do. It can be
recycled. Before the shuttle, all of our rockets, including the moon
rockets, were "throw-away" rockets. In other words, during their missions
all of their parts were jettisoned to fall into the water or burn up in
the atmosphere. The only thing that ever came back was the capsule with
the astronauts in it. Even that was never used again. It was sent to a
museum. But almost all of the STS can be used over, which saves money.
There are three parts to the STS: The Orbiter is the winged vehicle that
carries the astronauts. Five Orbiters have been built: Columbia,
Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. The Orbiter Challenger
was destroyed and her astronauts were killed on January 28, 1986 when a
hole burned through the side of one of the solid-fueled rocket boosters.
The External Tank (ET) is the giant, orange-colored fuel tank that's
attached to the belly of the Orbiter. The ET is the only part of the STS
that's not reused. It's jettisoned into the ocean.
The Solid-fueled Rocket Boosters (SRB's) are the giant, white booster
rockets that are attached to each side of the ET. When they burn out,
they are jettisoned and parachute into the ocean. Tug boats pick them up
and tow them to shore so they can be cleaned, refilled with more solid
fuel and used over again.
The STS, the shuttle, is not the end of America's space program. It's
just a step, like the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab space projects
before it. Soon, if our Congress gives NASA the money, the next step will
be taken. We will work with the Russians, Japanese, Canadians and
Europeans to assemble a space station about 300 miles above the earth. We
need such a station so astronauts can live and work in space for very long
periods. While the shuttle may be recyclable, it can only stay in orbit
for about two weeks before it runs out of electricity. That's not enough
time to complete many experiments. If we could stay in orbit for years on
a space station, we might be able to make new medicines, metals, computer
chips, and many other things that will help us have better lives on earth.
After the space station, NASA plans to return to the moon.
Astronauts would build a permanent moon base with telescopes and other
instruments to help us better understand our universe.
Then, NASA wants to send men and women to the planet Mars. Who
will be the first humans to step foot on the red planet? Could it be
you? A mission to Mars could begin in as little as 30 years. The
astronauts who take that trip will be about 40 to 45 years old. That
means they are now children between 10 and 15 years old. That's your
age! That means YOU could be the first Martian! Imagine that incredible
After blasting away from
earth orbit at a speed of 25,000 miles per hour, you would begin a long,
silent drift into deep space. The earth would shrink to a ball and then to
a marble and finally it would appear as just a bright star. You and your
crewmembers, men and women from several nations, would now depend upon each
other more than ever.
Then, as the months passed, Mars would grow bigger and bigger. Its polar
ice caps and two small moons, Deimos and Phobos, would become visible.
Olympus Mons, a volcano three times taller than the tallest mountain on
earth would appear. You would see the great Valles Marineris, a canyon
that's so long and so deep it makes our Grand Canyon look puny.
Finally, with the red planet looking huge in your window, you would fire
your braking rockets. The first firing would stabilize you in Martian
orbit. A second firing, weeks later, would start you to the surface.
Clouds of reddish dust would swirl around your windows and block your view,
but your instruments would help guide you. A warning light and a thump
would indicate landing. You would open the hatch and back down the ladder.
For a moment you would hesitate, trying to control your excitement. Slowly
you would open your hands and let the weak Martian gravity pull you the last
few inches to the ground. Then, you would raise your boot. Through tears
of joy, you would look at the first human footprint on another planet...
Enjoy this free electronic copy of Astronaut Mike Mullane's children's book,
Liftoff! An Astronaut's Dream. This book is now out of print and the
copyright has been returned to Astronaut Mullane. (Anyone interested in
re-publishing the book should contact Mike Mullane through his website at
This electronic copy of Liftoff! may be forwarded to others for their
personal reading enjoyment and it may be converted to hard copy. However,
it remains copyrighted material and all rights are reserved to Mike Mullane.
Any use of the book text in other documents or sale of the text in any form
to anybody is forbidden unless written permission is obtained from Astronaut
Mullane. Liftoff is the true story of the author
achieving his childhood dream of flying into space. The story blasts young
readers into space and thrills them with the fear and excitement of riding a
space shuttle and watching the earth from 300 miles in orbit. This is an
educational, inspirational, and motivational story. With flashbacks to his
youth, the author emphasizes his "normal" childhood. He wasn't academically
gifted. He wasn't an athlete. He wasn't popular. Yet, he was able to make
a dream come true. Mullane's message is that any child can aim for and
achieve significant dreams. Liftoff is the winner of the Children's Book
Council 1995 Outstanding Science Trade Book Award.
Mullane's space fact book, Do Your Ears Pop In Space is a great companion
book to the Liftoff story. Autographed copies of Do Your Ears Pop In Space
can be ordered from Mullane by visiting his website at:
1301 Las Lomas Rd. NE
Albuquerque, NM 87106