Posted by: pyeager | September 11, 2009

Shuttle Landing Delayed Again

I always think people who design space shuttles, launch them into space, conduct complex scientific experiments, and land the shuttles safely are exceptionally intelligent———-until I realize that they put their main base of operations in the part of the country that has the greatest frequency of thunderstorms, Florida.

Phrases similar to “The weather at Kennedy Space Center is unfavorable for the landing of [insert shuttle name here] today,” and “The weather at Kennedy Space Center is unfavorable for the launching of [insert shuttle name here] tomorrow” are said more of than “Did you remember to pack the dehydrated chocolate pudding?”

That’s because thunderstorms are more common in Florida than anywhere else in the country–as is indicated in the map below:

Thunderstorm frequency map of the United States--courtesy of earthstorm.mesonet.org

Thunderstorm frequency map of the United States--courtesy of earthstorm.mesonet.org

The east coast of Florida, which is where the facilities are located, has thunderstorms on 70 to 90 days per year on average.
 
Better Locations?
I understand that part of the reason that coastal Florida was chosen was safety. Having rockets and shuttles launch and return over the ocean is less dangerous to residents than having the launch and return over populated areas; however, wouldn’t there be better locations in terms of isolation and weather?
 
From a thunderstorm frequency standpoint alone, the coastal Carolinas would be a better spot, but the frequency of large scale storms (such as a winter storm), which might not contain lightning and therefore not be accounted for on the above map, most likely counteracts any advantage. In addition, the Carolinas are exposed to more winter cold, which negatively affects operations.
 
Coastal Texas, however, would most likely be a better location than Florida. There is a slightly higher likelihood of cold weather, but the decrease in the number of interruptions related to thunderstorms would compensate for that.
 
Desert locations might be the best choice. They offer at least as much isolation as coastal areas–most likely more–with less of a problem with storms. This is why Edwards Air Force Base serves as a secondary facility. Perhaps that should have been the primary facility, or, as long as astronauts don’t mind navigating around buried nuclear waste, much of Nevada would work.
 
Thundestorm State
All I know is that Florida is called the Thunderstorm State for a reason—wait, it’s called the Sunshine State. Maybe that’s why NASA picked Florida; they fell for the marketing!
–Paul Yeager 
 
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