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December 13, 2006

Share fun and excitement of space with family

As I watched the spacewalk by Robert Curbeam “Beamer” and “Christer” Fuglesang on Monday, I marveled at their handiwork and envied them the view of a lifetime. How could they concentrate on all those intricate fastenings and connections while the blue and white Earth danced below them! As NASA manager John Shannon said at the press briefing on Monday night, the crew and ground team made “extremely hard things look easy.”

Today, Tuesday, is the start of a 4-day sequence that will, assuming all goes as planned, result in the station finally getting its wings, as in solar-array wings. These wings will rotate to track the Sun, boosting the power available to the existing Destiny lab and also allow the addition of the Japanese Kibo and European Columbus labs. In order for the wings to rotate, the “tree” of wings that now extends out the top of the Z1 truss has to be folded up. This is no easy task, especially considering that the wings have been in that position for six years.

“Beamer” said at the pre-mission press conference, “If it [the P6 array] doesn’t retract, we’ll do it by hand using a pistol grip tool [PGT] if that’s necessary. We’ll latch it if that’s necessary. All these things have mechanical backups. …One way or another we’ll get them retracted. I’m much more concerned about things on the main truss, powering them up, because they have been on orbit a little bit longer than we expected them to prior to actually using them as designed.”

All this talk of wings that move has unfortunately added to a misconception that the station “flies” by flapping these wings! We space buffs know that flying requires air to move faster over the wings than under them, generating lift. The shuttle didn’t really “fly” into orbit as much as it was pushed via the solid rockets and its main engines, but it does fly to a landing, further reinforcing the idea that spaceships “fly.”

We know that the station does not fly, it falls. It does not fall to the ground because of its speed and altitude, which are maintained by boosts from its engines, the Russian Protons, and the shuttle. It has nothing to do with the wings. So if you encounter this misconception, please kindly set these folks straight: and resist the urge to laugh. It is not their fault that we have adopted aviation terminology to describe space-flight! Or call freefall zero-g when in fact there is gravity in space…

I had planned to post these blogs throughout this amazing mission, but the death of my father-in-law this past weekend has changed my priorities, as I’m sure you all will understand. My husband works for NASA, and his dad never missed a chance to brag about that fact to people he met. Before my husband and I went to work for NASA, his dad confessed that he hadn’t paid much attention to space. But it wasn’t long before he was following the missions with us and sharing in the joy of discovery and the hope that one day, his grandchildren might visit a space station or live on the Moon because of what we are doing today.

My father-in-law was certainly not alone in sharing the pride and joy of his son’s work in the space program. During the pre-mission press conference, I asked STS-116 Pilot Bill Oeflein (“Billy O”) about taking his family into space. He said, “I think it’d be great if I could take my family and show them all the great things out there to explore. My dad’s always been a space enthusiast, and he’s trying to work his way onto the orbiter even now. He always talks about space travel and so forth. Just like the crew, it’s fun to be around people who are excited about space.”

So as you rush around this holiday season, please take a few moments to share the fun and excitement of STS-116 and the space station assembly with your family. Maybe you will interest someone in your family who wasn’t interested before, or maybe you will interest your children or grandchildren who will fly into space one day like Billy O. His dad may not be up there with him in person (yet), but I feel certain he is as proud of his son as my father-in-law was of his, as are all members of our extended space family who take pride in knowing that someone they love is taking part in creating a bright future that all of us will one day inherit.

Marianne Dyson

Posted by m_dyson at December 13, 2006 02:19 PM



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