KSC officials have learned that Santa Claus is planning a late-night landing at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) to install a new robotic toy distribution aid on his sleigh. Although KSC employees will be at home enjoying the holidays, the SLF will be left in full operational mode to accommodate the world-renowned sleigh commander, who has been granted special security clearance.
In response to a touch of arthritis in his joints, Santa spent months creating an EXtra-Manual Aid System (X-MAS). While the reindeer propulsion team is grazing in the lush grass adjacent to the runway, Santa will install X-MAS on the sleigh's midsection, directly between the cockpit and the cargo area. X-MAS will allow Santa to select the most appropriate toy at each child's home without having to reach backward, preventing arthritis flare-ups brought on by overextending his elbows in the chill night air.
X-MAS was inspired by the Canadian-built Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS), installed on the International Space Station in April 2001 during Mission STS-100. A longer, stronger and more flexible version of the Shuttle's robotic arm, the SSRMS is 56 feet long when fully extended and has seven motorized joints. It is self-relocatable with a special latching end effector that can be attached to complementary ports located throughout the Station's exterior surfaces.
"If all goes according to plan, Santa will perform the Ground Integrated Functional Test (GIFT) immediately after installation of the X-MAS just to ensure that it works," said Tip Talone, director of the ISS/Payload Processing Directorate. "Our folks here gave Santa some pointers on testing methods. This means the families in the local area could be the first to receive their Christmas gifts with the new system."
Cloaked in darkness and miles away from the prying eyes of children, the SLF is an ideal North American rest stop for Santa and his team of reindeer. First opened for flights in 1976, it was specially designed for returning Space Shuttle orbiters. With its 15,000-foot-long and 300-foot-wide paved runway, the SLF is longer and wider than runways found in most commercial airports. Typically, 16 powerful xenon lights, each producing up to 1 billion candlepower, light the SLF during nighttime landing operations. However, so that Santa can retain his anonymity, the lights are always left off on Christmas Eve.
"It doesn't cost the government or taxpayers a penny," said a security supervisor who wished to remain anonymous. "We don't know for sure that he stops here every year. But there's too much ice in the North Pole for him to properly install the X-MAS. And since he did contact our security office to request clearance to land this Christmas Eve, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he stops here."
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