Wait a minute…

I have a book entitled, “Space Shuttle: The First 20 Years” which details the shuttle missions from the perspective of the astronauts. It’s from the editors of Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine, is definitely a cool read, and provides plenty of photos. One in particular caused me to stop and stare at it closely. It’s reproduced below, photographed directly from page 143 of the book, the only place I have found this image. For those of you who are very sharp-eyed, the distortion comes from the original, the wide-angle lens used for the image, and not from my shooting with the page leaning away from me…

Scott Andrews, Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine
Credit: Scott Andrews, © Air & Space/Smithsonian

What you’re looking at here is Discovery on the launch pad, obviously well before launch time (there are too many people around,) but I have no idea what mission or even which of the two pads, 39-A or 39-B.The big grey platform under the shuttle is the pad itself, still atop the crawler (the lower half, separated by the dark line) that brings it from the Vehicle Assembly Building. I’ll have more on that shortly.

To the left of center, there’s a massive structure supported on the left side by a couple of columns, or seemingly so – the inner one is actually a light pole and well in front of the structure, not connected at all. This whole structure, hinged pretty much smack in the center of the image and supported by wheels on the bottom of the column, can swing closed over the shuttle while it’s on the pad, allowing for payload work just before liftoff. You can see a long white section that encloses the payload bay. And something else. Look at the dark spot in the lower right corner of the payload enclosure area (on the structure, not the shuttle itself.) I’ll give you a closer look.

This is as good a resolution as I’m going to get, limited by the print process of the book itself. But is that a guy standing there?

Yes, that’s a door, and yes, the scale and the proportions are right, it would appear. There’s just no reason for anyone to be there, I would think, and it’s something like a ten or twelve story drop not far ahead of him (of course, it has to be male.) I started looking at every image I could find of the launch pads, and have never seen anything resembling this in any other photo. See for yourself, here (sans the crawler,) and here (a wonderfully detailed image from someone’s vacation shots – I can’t find their name on the site, just igbarker.com.) And while I’m at it, this is a shot of the whole structure closed over the orbiter, and I think this is an image of a payload being prepared for lifting up into the structure, before being slapped into the orbiter itself.

The only thing that has me hesitant is that there is another person in the image I reproduced at top (not visible at this res,) and he’s in a T-shirt – the daredevil above looks like he’s in heavy clothes. But now I’m on a quest to find out more. Anyone with any ideas should feel free to write me directly, or comment below.