White Sands Test Facility employees Decommission Atlantis’ Pods

Propulsion Test Office Test Conductor Greg Hall stands near one of Atlantis’ pods.
Propulsion Test Office Test Conductor Greg Hall stands near one of Atlantis’ pods.
In 1973, when the Apollo Program was waning due to budget reductions, the newly initiated Space Shuttle Program began to create test requirements at White Sands Test Facility (WSTF), a remote test site located near Las Cruces, NM. WSTF quietly began its early testing of Space Shuttle orbital maneuvering subsystem (OMS) engine technology and prototype engines in 1973, a few years before the onset of the program and, today, is finishing up the final acts of cleaning the propulsion systems of the toxic propellants so that they can be safely displayed in a museum setting at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

Early in the program, candidate OMS engines from four manufacturers were tested at WSTF to select the OMS engine manufacturer and define baseline data in the official OMS engine design. In addition, OMS and reaction control system (RCS) qualification testing helped WSTF earn its stellar reputation in spaceflight propulsion knowledge.

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Gene Kranz, Apollo Flight Director, looks at the pods before they are cleaned and shipped back to Kennedy Space Center.
A lot of qualification testing was performed prior to the initial STS-1 launch at WSTF. WSTF was also in the forefront of the OMS/RCS development, qualification, and management of the follow-on test program.

WSTF became a key player in the investigation and resolution of metal nitrate contamination in oxidizer systems, fuel-valve seal extrusion, primary reaction control system (PRCS) direct-acting valve development, and the PRCS re-designed pilot-operated valve.

Early shuttle testing at WSTF included the development of functional checkout, decontamination and initial propellant tank acquisition screen checkout processes for both WSTF and KSC. Activation of the Shuttle Component Repair Depot at WSTF contributed significantly to the program by adding the capability to repair PRCSs and vernier RCSs, orbital maneuvering engines, quad check valves and propellant manifold isolation valves.

Greg Hall, Propulsion Test Office, Test Conductor, recently invited employees and their families to view the pods before their shipment to KSC.

“It’s sad, but it is the end of the shuttle program,” Hall said. “We are completing the job.”

Cheerie Patneaude
White Sands Test Facility

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