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Space travel revisited

Minnesota husband wife team fly their Cirrus into NASA Space Center


C.M. Swanson

Tracy Lovness and Patrick Kluempke, both pilots and owners of the Cirrus SR22 they flew to NASA.

Proceed direct to earth

Admitting they get few requests but were happy to oblige (after confirming our arrival with the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) Tower), Orlando Approach advised us to expect the RNAV GPS 15 approach.

We were on a route from Atlanta via the MCN VOR to the famous SLF. Having received vectors upon reaching KEVB, we were more than just a little excited when Orlando issued directive.

"Descend to 3,000," and moments later, "You are 5 miles from Earth (IAF)...proceed direct Earth...maintain 2,500 or higher until established on the published portion of the approach...cleared for the RNAV 15 approach Sierra Lima Foxtrot (SLF)...report turning inbound at Rocit (IA)."

When we reported turning inbound at Rocit, Orlando Approach advised us to contact tower, which we did, and tower requested, "Report reaching Stars" (FAF).

Our spacecraft is a Cirrus SR22, which we both pilot and, when not in low orbit, base at KANE, Anoka, Minnesota. We had the rare opportunity to land our plane on a 15,000 x 300 foot concrete strip. The strip also has a 1,000 foot over-run at each end known as the Shuttle Landing Strip KTTS.

How did we get to do that?

As founding members of the AirSpace Minnesota, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization formed to honor and grow the region's innovation legacy, Pat, my husband, and I received a private tour from NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center Director and Hall of Fame Astronaut, Robert Cabana.

AirSpace Minnesota leverages the unique power of flight to ignite imaginations, which led our group to arrange a tour at the Kennedy Space Center as part of a fund raising event.

The past

We were fascinated by the history of NASA as well as their many challenges and accomplishments through the years. From the past to the present to the future, it is an inspiring story.

When Russians launched the famous Sputnik satellite into orbit in the fall of 1957, the U.S. was in a state of disbelief and embarrassment. It was the era of the Cold War. The attitude that we were not going to be outdone by Russia was formed. The U.S. had performed a number of previous rocket launches as part of the military research and development era. After Sputnik, the U.S. government quickly created a brand new entity, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

NASA came into existence the late summer of 1958. Prior to the famous speech President Kennedy made in 1962 stating, "Within the next 10 years, we will land an astronaut on the moon," the story began earlier comprise of competing programs, unbelievable spending appropriations, development of new technologies and systems, and a race to be dominant in space exploration.

During our tour, Pat and I learned NASA conducted many programs including Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Sky Lab, ASTP, Space Shuttle, International Space Station, and the latest focus, Exploration to Mars.

Many of us remember when John Glenn first orbited Earth. America was proud of this accomplishment. We were all riveted to our televisions when, even tough the Apollo 13 mission had a major explosion on the flight to the moon, NASA successfully brought the ship and crew back home. We progressed further when landed our first Lunar Module on the moon in 1969 during the Apollo 11 mission. Americans regained a sense of pride with our country's capabilities and accomplishments.

Once we completed the moon landing, ideas of building a reusable space vehicle and habitation environment in low orbit emerged and the Space Station became reality. In time, as numerous shuttle launches started to blur, public interest in and appreciation of space exploration began to wane.

In July 2011, NASA launched the last Space Shuttle. In total, the shuttle made 135 launches, two of which had catastrophic results. With the recession of 2008-2010, the Federal government was experiencing an ever larger budget deficit. There was a lack of political support in spending money on space exploration.

After the cessation of the shuttle program in 2011, NASA appealed to Congress to appropriate money in the proposed budget. However, with the sequestration process in place, funding was delegated to other priorities.

From its inception in 1957 to its operations through 2012, NASA spent $486 billion dollars. In the minds of those with competing interests for funding, NASA had little to show for its money spent.

President Kennedy rallied the masses for space exploration in September 1962. From 1963 to 1976, NASA received funding and support to expand their horizons beyond the known. As we entered the mid 90's, funding started to decline as a percent of the overall federal budget. There was also an increasing challenge to manage expectations of various vested interests. NASA's mission/vision went through a major transformation, one they are successfully managing today.

The Present

In the past, the funding and mission for NASA was a given. Today, it is a more rigorous process with a new, over-reaching goal to become "Earth Independent."

To achieve this goal, priorities have changed. The role of commercial and international partners is being leveraged. During the presentation, Pat and I were particularly impressed with the clarity in today's mission/vision as outlined by the director.

NASA continues to be the custodian of the Kennedy Space Center. It has entered into various vendor contracts with private/commercial companies focused on space travel and cargo delivery for profit.

Recently, a Space X launch was conducted at the center. They are one of five major companies NASA has entered into contractual agreements with to use the facilities at Kennedy, all paying the U.S. government for services rendered.

One arrangement is with the state of Florida to operate the landing strip. Another is continuing the role of the international space station through collaboration with a number of countries. While the international space station continues as a core component, we were briefed on NASA's current goal of obtaining "Earth Independent."

Quoting from NASA's web page, "Earth Independent activities build on what we learn on the space station and in deep space to enable human missions to the Mars vicinity, possibly to low-Mars orbit or one of the Martian moons, and eventually to the Martian surface."

This is a major undertaking. With it, a tremendous amount of research and technology development is required. We were also briefed on the funding changes that have taken place over time. At the high point in 1966, the annual spend was some 4.4 percent of the federal budget, which amounted to $43.5 billion.

Doing more with less was the underlying tone of the briefing. We ended with a tour of the launch pads and surrounding area. We departed that day with a greater appreciation for what NASA has achieved and, more importantly, for what it has set out as its future.

The opportunity is yours

For those members of the AirSpace Minnesota group who desired to fly their own aircraft to the SLF, completing the necessary security paperwork and obtaining a clearance from NASA prior to departure was mandatory. That clearance specified our arrival window in the a.m. and our departure time that same evening. There are no aircraft services or fuel at the landing strip. Visitors are not allowed to stay overnight.

Photo courtesy of Tracy Lovness

View from the Lovness/Kluempke Cirrus on approach to the NASA Space Center

It was a thrill to be able to fly the approach and land on such a renowned landing strip. Tower was very accommodating. After taxing to the ramp, Pat also had the opportunity to depart and land SLF. Neither of us got it right the first time as we both landed on the approach markers and had a very long taxi to the end of runway 15. There are obviously no taxiways at the Shuttle Landing Strip KTTS.

Our experience remains a treasured memory for its uniqueness as well as its potential to impact the future of aviation. Making social changes doesn't happen by some unknown entity. It is what each of us does as individuals that impacts the whole. Pat and I are grateful for the privilege of being part of Airspace Minnesota. It is the effort of all members working together that will truly make a difference in the development of aviation.

The opportunity in Airspace Minnesota is there for all Minnesotans, whether in business, with an aviation group, or as an individual. You may not visit the NASA Space Center, but you do have the ability to make a difference.


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