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August 22, 2006

Ready (and then some) for STS-115

At the press conference on August 11, the six members of the STS-115 crew filed in and sat down in front of a room full of reporters at Johnson Space Center. As they adjusted their microphones and chairs, I could not help but notice something different about this crew: they were relaxed!

I’ve attended dozens of these press briefings over the years, and while astronauts are not generally as nervous as their managers when the TV cameras start rolling, astronauts, especially rookies, always appear as if they are afraid to breathe and expect to have their knuckles rapped if they don’t sit perfectly straight. Not this crew. They were more like friends who can’t wait to share the good news that they all got straight A’s on their report cards.

The reason for this confident and happy attitude became apparent as Commander Brent Jett reviewed their training history. This crew had completed their training and would have flown the next shuttle flight if Columbia and her crew had not been tragically lost in 2003. While the shuttle fleet was grounded and preparations were made for the two return-to-flight missions, the crew of STS-115 continued to train for their mission to deliver the second set of giant solar arrays to the space station. And trained some more. If they gave out college degrees in shuttle training, this crew would have graduated with honors by now. They may be the best-prepared crew since the first shuttle flight. “I get the record for the rookie with the longest training flow,” Mission Specialist Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper said with a smile.

This crew also has plenty of practical experience in space. Commander Jett is on his fourth mission. He and lead spacewalker Joe Tanner flew together on STS-97 that serviced the Hubble Space Telescope. This is Tanner’s third flight. The reporters laughed when he said, “I’m a bit of a slow learner, so it helps me to have done this before.” Tanner and rookie Piper are paired for two challenging spacewalks. Commander Jett will be “camping out” in the airlock with the spacewalkers overnight, providing rookie Pilot Chris Ferguson with an opportunity to command the shuttle. He is also operating the robotic arm. The other spacewalk team, Daniel Burbank and Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean are both on their second flights. As MacLean said, “I really feel I’ve been part of a dream team, and will be going on a dream adventure.”

The STS-115 crew’s enthusiasm for their “adventure” was evident at the press conference. They are ready, and then some, for it to begin.

Please join your friends here in the National Space Society as we follow the progress of the STS-115 crew during one of the most-challenging space missions in history. The five-minute launch window opens on Sunday, August 27 at 3:24 p.m. Central time (4:24 p.m. Eastern). There are launch opportunities every day up through September 14. It won’t be long now before the crew will finally hear the long-awaited words, “You are GO, Atlantis!”

Marianne Dyson

Posted by m_dyson at August 22, 2006 05:05 PM



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