Wallops Island Will Still See NASA Action After Shuttle Program Ends | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

WAMU 88.5 : News

Filed Under:

Wallops Island Will Still See NASA Action After Shuttle Program Ends

Play associated audio
The Wallops Island Flight Facility is one of NASA's oldest facilities. It's still one of the busiest rocket launch sites in the country.
(U.S. Army photo/Patrick Bloodgood) http://www.flickr.com/photos/armyengineersnorfolk/5534202141/
The Wallops Island Flight Facility is one of NASA's oldest facilities. It's still one of the busiest rocket launch sites in the country.

If you've seen a rocket launch on TV, chances are it blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. But the oldest and busiest launch site in America is actually in Virginia, near Chincoteague on the Eastern Shore. Three rockets launched from the Commonwealth this month and five more will go up in July.

From the Wallops Island facility's rooftop observation deck, communications director Keith Koehler surveys a field of sophisticated dishes and antennas.

"We have three runways so from up here you'll be able to see different military aircraft use it for practice landings and takeoffs, the NASA aircraft, and NOAA, which are the weather guys, they're also located here in Wallops," he says.

NASA decided to build on Wallops Island in 1945. The location was ideal: on the water, near Langley Air Force Base, close to the Chincoteague Naval Air Station.

"We've launched over 16,000 rockets since then," Koehler says. "Today we launch everything from suborbital rockets to targets for the military to a rocket to launch a satellite into orbit."

About 1,700 people work here, and the center is a draw for tourists. Children like the interactive, multimedia visitors center, where they can learn about a range of space related topics, from satellites that monitor hurricanes and wildfires to how astronauts go to the bathroom in space. Rohan Webb, a youngster from Falls Church, started packing for his trip to Wallops on the last day of school:

"That was the launch of summer vacation," he says. "I like to call it the launch because I like rockets!"

Big kids often outnumber the little ones on launch days. Andrew Westerman came from Salish Kootenai Tribal College in northwestern Montana.

"Oh it was amazing. It was definitely on the top ten list," says Westerman. "There was vibrations, and we got to watch the other piece fall into the ocean, and then you could hear it. It was pretty cool."

Allison Hott, a recent high school grad from West Virginia, was also on hand to watch a rocket carrying 17 experiments developed by university students and instructors across the nation.

"You don't get to see a rocket launch every day," she says.

In the early '90's, there was talk of closing the facility, but managers were determined to keep the operation alive. They built partnerships with private sector space companies and universities, and persuaded the state of Virginia to invest in the MidAtlantic Regional Spaceport or MARS, which now offers launch facilities at Wallops for commercial, government, scientific and academic users from the U.S. and abroad.

This week, Wallops will launch a Department of Defense spy satellite aboard a 70-foot Air Force rocket. It’s a relatively small, modular device, which is a model for what the military says it needs: not the big, multi-purpose satellites that take years to assemble and test, but small units that could be ready in a matter of weeks.

"It's kind of what they call the plug-and-play system," says Koehler. "When you say, 'we need a satellite that can do this,' you go to the shelf, get those instruments, plug them in, get the satellite onto the launch pad, and launch it in, eventually, we'd like to get from several days to a couple of weeks.

If the idea takes off, it could mean the space program is here to stay in Virginia.

NPR

Jon Stewart's Replacement Is Unlikely Choice For 'The Daily Show'

"The Daily Show" replaces departing host Jon Stewart with South African comedian Trevor Noah. He is a relatively unknown comedian and an unlikely choice for the program.
NPR

Our Food-Safety System Is A Patchwork With Big Holes, Critics Say

More than a dozen federal agencies play a part in keeping food from making Americans sick. Critics say the system has gaps, and we'd all be safer if federal food safety efforts were under one roof.
WAMU 88.5

Q&A: Maryland State Sen. John Astle On 'Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day'

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed a bill into law Monday evening declaring every March 30 "Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day." WAMU spoke with Astle at his office in Annapolis.
NPR

Bringing Internet To The Far Corners Of The Earth

About 5 billion people are mostly or entirely disconnected from the Internet. So to capitalize on this opportunity, Google and Facebook have begun high-profile campaigns to connect the unconnected.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.