Today, while at a NASA facility, we saw a test of a Space Shuttle rocket. It was a high point for a number of reasons. We've been working pretty much constantly, interviewing people whose lives were ruined following Katrina. This was my first chance to talk to people about their actual day-to-day jobs. Everyone seems to have an almost child-like enthusiasm for the rocket tests, they seemed giddy showing us around. We were told that, in the minutes leading up to the test, water is pumped through the system at a rate of 100,000 gallons per minute to cool it; the space shuttle rocket itself (not the rocket boosters) actually just produces a giant cloud of steam; the rockets produce some ungodly amount of thrust; one of the test facilities is build with enough concrete to build a 4 lane highway "from here to Jacksonville"; inside the rocket, a wall of a half inch separates the 6000 degree firing from a -400 degree liquid nitrogen coolant; that one of the booster fuels is a liquid that combusts when it comes into contact with... air.
The rocket fired for 710 seconds, which is the longest it would ever have to fire during a launch (on most launches it takes the shuttle about 500 seconds to get into orbit). It was loud, but the vibration was even more powerful. The steam cloud was incredible, and looked beautiful drifting away and raining down on the forest buffer zone surrounding the test facility. I didn't have a camera with me, but one of my colleagues did. If his pictures turn out well, I'll show them to you. The rental cars seemed pretty inadequate transportaion on the way back to the hotel.