“Space: the final frontier…To boldly go where no man has gone before.”
These words uttered at the beginning of every Star Trek episode by James T. Kirk, captain of the starship Enterprise, fueled many a boy’s imagination of becoming an astronaut. William Shatner’s portrayal of Kirk as a brash man of adventure only fueled the fire for otherworldly exploration. Of course, my friends didn’t much appreciate me trying to perfect the Vulcan nerve pinch on them. But growing up, countless afternoons were spent listening to the Lost in Space
robot warning “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger” or watching Ultraman karate-chopping aliens. It is because of this boyhood fascination with space that I wake with restless excitement. Not only am I getting to ride Star Motorcycles factory custom chopper, the 2011 Stryker, but a small group of us is heading to the Kennedy Space Center for a VIP tour. And it just happens to be the day the space shuttle Discovery is landing after its final space voyage.
The sun hangs just above the rim of Daytona International Speedway and the wind barely stirs the flags on top of the stadium. Temps ar e already approaching 70 degrees making for ideal riding conditions. We’re grateful for the opportunity to hitch a leg over the Star Stryker again, a motorcycle we familiarized ourselves with at its press introduction in Austin and which proved itself as a solid ride in our Stryker vs. Harley Rocker C comparison. Star did a quality job for a first-time factory custom chopper. Its 1304cc engine provides plenty of snap when you crack the throttle and it doesn’t handle like a bike with 40-degrees of total rake and a 21-inch front tire. It’s got a stretched, low stance with a custom-looking tank that’s short in height but wide side-to-side.
The Stryker drums to life with the first push of the starter button. There’s no cold-blooded nature here as I give the throttle a couple of twists to enjoy the thumping cadence of the twin pipes. We mount up and hop on I-95 South toward Orlando. Hitting freeway speeds in a couple of gears and I have to stop accelerating long before I’m ready to sign off, but Bike Week 2011 brings heavy patrols so I settle into a low rpm in fifth gear and enjoy the ride. The road is straight as can be through a green tunnel with palms fanning out above the heavy undergrowth. After about a half hour in the saddle I smell the smoke of the recent fire before seeing the charred remains of trees and shrubs. The wooden frame of a half-burnt billboard still stands as the “Look Twice Save a Life” message of the other half somehow escaped the flames.
The Star Stryker is raked out to 40 degrees, has a 21-inch tall front hoop and one-inch handlebars connected directly to the upper triple clamp.
It’s a quick one hour ride to the space center from Daytona Beach. We turn off at 405 which leads to the visitor’s center, stopping off at the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame first to snap a picture of the Strykers with the shuttle in the background. Busloads of children on school field trips empty into the parking lot, their laughter filling the air. Maybe the next John Glenn is among the bright-eyed bunch. A group of travelers, I’d guess Italians by the bits of conversation, are there to take a family portrait with the shuttle as a backdrop, but it isn’t long before the father and uncle venture off to admire the bikes. Nodding heads are an international sign of appreciation as they watch us wheel the Strykers back and forth trying to get them staged just right. After a short photo stop, we head out over the NASA Causeway as land yields to water.
Before our tour begins, we steer the Strykers into the Kennedy Space Center Badging Office. Gaining VIP access meant providing names and social security numbers weeks in advance for a thorough background check. The space shuttle Discovery is landing today, so security is on high alert. While my friend Kevin gets the third degree about a second source of identification from a grizzled badging office employee, my experience in the other line is made more enjoyable by the lady at the front desk who thinks my last name is cool and happens to own a Harley. The common bond between motorcyclists makes the process much easier for me than my comrade.
But not everybody appreciates bikers. We would find this out first hand while trying to get past the security gate when I inadvertently blip my horn while trying to pull up my glove. A firecracker of a security officer, all five-foot-two, 105 pounds of her, thought I was beeping my horn to get her to hurry up and end her conversation with the car in front of us. She waved us up to the booth unable to hide the contempt in her eyes. Our passes granted us access into the base but only with a chaperone, who happened to have already rolled through the checkpoint and was a quarter-mile down the road. This gave her the authority to tell us to turn our bikes around and head straight back to the badging office where we would have to phone our escort. Our request to park on the side of the road and call was denied. Five minutes later our friend was back and we rode through together, but not before the security guard told him “Your friends better not ever honk at me again or they’ll never get into the space center.” Her feistiness only made us grin beneath our helmets as we rolled past the gates.
(L) We made a quick stop at the Kennedy Space Center Badging Office to get our passes. (M) A single shuttle engine puts out 375,000 lbs of thrust at liftoff. (R) The crew of ST-133 shortly after landing.
Buildings are clustered together at Kennedy Space Center in between large expanses of wetlands. KSC is located within the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and is home to 500 species of wildlife and over 1000 species of plants. Snowy egrets do one-legged dances precariously close to channels filled with the peering eyes of alligators. This is not a place a motorcyclist would want to end up in a ditch. A passing biker gives our trio of Stryker riders the thumbs up. On the base, there are quite a few motorcycles parked in the lots, from cruisers to sportbikes. It’s good to see the motorcycling community strongly represented at KSC. We roll by a behemoth of a building, a larger-than-life American flag painted on one side and the NASA logo decorating the other. Known as the Vehicle Assembly Building, it’s where the solid rocket boosters and the fuselage are attached to the orbiters before they are wheeled out to the launch pad.
It’s amazing to think that every square inch of the shuttle’s exterior is covered by tiles, around 22,000 of them in all. Each tile is stamped with an identification number which tells what batch it came from and its location on the shuttle. The outer portion of a tile is covered with a black-glazed coating of borosilicate. Tiles covered in borosilicate shed about 95% of heat, while the other 5% is absorbed by the tile’s interior, preventing it from reaching the orbiter’s aluminum skin. The interior of the tiles are composed of 90% air and 10% silica fibers that look and feel like plastic foam. The silica fibers are derived from high-quality sand and are extremely absorbent. Our guide demonstrated their absorbency by squirting them with a water bottle. The interior filling of the tiles absorbed every drop of the stream of water without as
Talk about power! A shuttle engine generates about 375,000 lbs of thrust at liftoff. Each engine operates for 8-9 minutes and consumes 500,000 gallons of cryogenic propellants.
much as a splash escaping the surface. With their absorbent properties, it’s easy to see why the tiles need to be coated. If the interior carried any water into space, it would freeze, only to expand during the intense heat of re-entry, which would cause it to rupture. A silicon-rubber glue bonds the tiles to a felt pad which in turn are meticulously bonded to the orbiter’s skin. The felt acts as a buffer that absorbs the stresses of airframe bending which could damage the tiles. The tiles are capable of dispelling the amazing 1650-degree Celcius (3000-degrees Fahrenheit) temperatures the shuttle experiences upon re-entry. In areas like the nosecap and on the wing’s leading edges that are subjected to the most extreme heat, the black, reinforced carbon-carbon tiles are used. The majority of the rest of the orbiter is wrapped in white felt reusable surface insulation.
All this tech talk gives me a deeper appreciation that goes into motorcycle engineering. Whereas the shuttle’s frame consists of an aluminum skin, the foundation of a Stryker centers on a double-cradle steel frame. They both have powerful, complex engines. The Stryker uses four valves per cylinder and dispenses fuel through 40mm throttle bodies with 12-hole injector nozzles to dole out a very usable 72 lb-ft of torque on land. A shuttle engine generates an astounding 375,000 lbs of thrust at liftoff. Where the tiles of the shuttle receive a ceramic-like coating, the Stryker’s cylinder sleeves are composed of a ceramic-composite to keep the pistons churning smoothly within the 100mm bore. There’s also a lot of geometry that goes into making a bike with a 40-degree rake angle that still feels light at the bars and doesn’t flop. Maybe making a good motorcycle is rocket science after all.
We discovered an interesting story online regarding the crew of STS-132, which was supposed to be the orbiter’s last flight. Before landing, the astronauts wrote the words “The first last flight of Atlantis left Earth on 14 May 2010 from Pad 39A” on the bottom of one of the lockers along with an STS-132 mission sticker. Around the sticker, the astronauts of the mission signed their names – Ham, Antonelli, Reisman, Good, Bowen and Sellers. It had to have been written in the weightlessness of orbit, otherwise the
Our visit to KSC was highlighted by the opportunity to watch the space shuttle Discovery come in for its final landing.
astronauts would have had to have been standing on their heads. It was discovered by a United Space Alliance inspector going over the orbiter in standard post flight operations after the shuttle landed. This caused quite a furor amongst the powers that be and earned the group the label of “rogue” astronauts. Being rebellious is a trait that motorcyclists can admire.
Our trip to KSC coincided with the landing of the space shuttle Discovery, so we headed out to an outdoor observation deck. Necks craned looking for the small speck of the orbiter re-entering the atmosphere. Ba-boom! The double crack of a sonic boom startled the sky-gazing crowd. The Discovery began its rapid descent, swinging out over the Atlantic Ocean before banking around to line up with the landing strip. It came in fast from a steep angle of descent, its landing gear deploying at the last second, nosecone tilted slightly skyward. Discovery touched down with a litheness that belies its size, a parachute deploying dragster-style to help slow its momentum. A cheer erupted from the crowd of space center employees who put their work day on hold to witness Discovery coming in from its final mission. Walking back to our van after the landing, a Nissan Armada full of NASA employees rolled by with Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” blaring on the radio.
After Discovery is rolled into High Bay 2 for post-flight inspection, we return to the Strykers for the ride back to Daytona Beach. We head out a different way than what we came in, returning on a rural two-lane road through swampy forests before hopping back on Hwy 1 and rolling through small towns. Riding back, parallels between
We took a ride to the Kennedy Space Center on Star Motorcycles’ new factory custom chopper, the 2011 Stryker.
astronauts and bikers continue to pop into my head. Both are fans of combustion engines, from the gas-fed 60-degree V-Twin of the Stryker to the earth-shaking space shuttle engines which are the most complex propulsion units ever developed for spaceflight because of their ability to be used repeatedly. We both are adrenaline junkies that love the feel of acceleration. Helmets and suits are standard attire, be it a spacesuit and astronaut helmet or a full-faced motorcycle helmet and leathers. And racing is inherent, be it on the track or the “Space Race” for supremacy of the cosmos. I ride back, conflicted between the melancholy of knowing the space shuttles are heading into their final flights and the elation from watching Discovery land. A roll on the throttle helps melt the melancholy away.
* Special thanks to Star Motorcyles and Kevin Foley for making this amazing trip happen. We also would like to thank the Kennedy Space Center for its hospitality.