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September 11, 2006

Living on Shuttle Time

If you live in the United States and have hopes of watching the spacewalks this week, plan to get up early. Or, if you live in California, just stay up all night!

Why are the spacewalks starting in the middle of (our) night? Blame it on the buses in Moscow. At least that is what I heard. Apparently the buses don’t run at night in Moscow, and the flight controllers need them to get to work. The main space station control center is in Houston, Texas in the USA, but the crew module and systems, the Soyuz escape ship, some communications, engines, and other systems, plus at least one of the crewmembers, are Russian. The Russians work a full team when the crew are awake, and it requires buses to get the controllers there, so the crew are awake when it is daytime in Moscow. Moscow is 9 hours ahead of Houston, so their day starts in the middle of our night. (I’m in Houston.)

The shuttle crew will be working hand-in-hand with the station crew to coordinate the transfer of supplies, the use of the robotic arms, and the spacewalks. So the shuttle crew has to sync up their sleep/wake cycle with the station crew.

So starting on Monday, both crews will get up when Americans go to bed (11:15 p.m Houston time) and float to sleep between 2:45 and 3:15 p.m. in our afternoon. (The ISS crew gets 8.5 hours off-duty/sleep, and the shuttle crew 8 hours.) This schedule makes it hard for American space enthusiasts who work regular jobs to watch the mission events in real-time; but if you are not an early riser, there are sure to be replays by the press later in the day! The crew schedule is posted on, but in case you don’t happen to know what an SRMS (shuttle remote manipulator system=arm)or a SARJ (solar alpha rotary joint=the thing that makes the solar array spin, which it won't do on this mission because the "tree" tower is in the way) or P3/P4 (port/left side truss solar arrays), here are some suggestions for some cool stuff to watch for and when (use “Watch NASA TV” link on NSS front page):

All times for Central Time Zone (Houston)

Monday: 7:35-8 AM, hatches between shuttle and ISS open and welcome.
Monday: 10:25, handover of solar array (P3/P4) from shuttle arm to station arm

Tuesday: 4:15 AM, Joe Tanner (red stripes) and Heidi Piper (no stripes) exit airlock. This is Heidi’s first EVA: what will she say about that first view?
Tuesday: 6:45 AM, open the aft solar array wing box, basically a big square folds out into two halves.
Tuesday: 7:45 AM, open the forward solar array wing box.
Tuesday: 10:35 AM, its all over, they are in the airlock.

Wednesday: 4:15 AM, Dan Burbank (diagonal stripes) and Steve MacLean (broken stripes) exit airlock. This is Steve’s first EVA: what will he say about the view, and will he say it in French for his fellow Canadians? The work involves a lot of electrical hookups, and so any time after the first hour, you’re likely to see them removing restraints and covers and talking about their PGT: pistol grip tool.
Wednesday: 10:35 AM, its all over, they are in the airlock.

Thursday: the BIG event! No, not a spacewalk! The solar array masts will be deployed, unfurling the gold and blue blankets. It is going to be an amazing sight! Unfortunately, this will begin at 2:55 a.m. and run until about 5:05 am. I’m betting they will replay it just before the crew press conference at 10:15 a.m. and/or the next one at 10:50 a.m.

Friday: 4:15 AM, Joe and Heidi go out the airlock again.
Friday: 4:45 AM, Joe will be climbing “the tree” to fix something holding the current set of solar arrays that stick "up" from the Z1 truss. The view should be pretty spectacular.
Friday: 5:50 AM, the solar array’s radiator will be deployed. This won’t be as dramatic as the wing deployment, but still pretty cool to watch.
Friday: 9:40 AM, the crew will pick up MISSE, a materials science experiment to test how materials and seeds respond to exposure to the space environment. It includes some student experiments and has been out there since STS-114, more than a year ago.

Saturday: the crew are taking a day off to rest. Only thing happening is a news conference at 6:35 a.m.

Sunday: 5:25 a.m. farewell ceremony, followed by hatch closing at 5:40 a.m. and undocking at 7:50 a.m. There will be some fancy flying for the cameras: they’re checking for meteorite damage. The crew shift their bedtime an hour earlier.

Monday: Checking out the wings one last time with the shuttle arm. The crew shift their bedtime to 2:45 PM, and get up at 10:45 PM, also on Monday.

Tuesday: Deorbit preparations (dress rehearsal for entry). There’s a news conference at 5:55 a.m.

Wednesday: 12:55 a.m. Deorbit burn (that slows them down).
Wednesday: 4:57 a.m. Landing at KSC, right at sunrise. Should be beautiful!

I hope this schedule is helpful to my fellow NSS members. Check back here during the week for some further translation of acronyms and various comments on the accomplishments of the 8 men and 1 woman who are currently enjoying some fantastic freefall and out-of-this-world views of our home planet.

Marianne Dyson

Posted by m_dyson at September 11, 2006 01:18 AM



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