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June 09, 2007

Space Worth Watching

NASA manager Wayne Hale called the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis today, “Outstanding and magnificent.” As another manager said, “it was a great day for NASA.”

I know I’m not alone in being very glad that I got to watch this “magnificent” launch live. My cable carries the NASA channel, so I enjoyed listening to the flight control loop chatter as much as seeing the shuttle through the eyes of the many cameras mounted on Atlantis itself.

There are only 14 more shuttle launches in the works (including one to Hubble and 2 contingency flights) before the shuttle is retired in 2010. I plan to see all of these historic launches to our first international outpost in space, and hopefully, experience at least one more in person.

I also plan to view at least the highlights of each assembly mission. For STS-117, I don’t want to miss seeing the shuttle arm handoff the 35,000-pound solar array box to the station arm. The crew may make it look easy, but wow: stop and think about what all is involved in that transfer! And I especially don’t want to miss seeing the new solar array wing unfolded in all its golden glory.

Everyone I know is overwhelmed with work and family and volunteer activities—it is summer, after all--but if we can’t watch the entire STS-117 flight, we can at least pause in our routines, like many of us did for the launch today, and experience a few of the most spectacular moments live. To help you plan when to set your alarms and pop-open your browsers or set on your various TV recorders, I’ve compiled a schedule below of what I consider the most interesting things to watch.

The crew schedule is posted (in Eastern Time) at: STS is the shuttle crew of 7 that includes Clay Anderson who will replace Sunni Williams on the Expedition 15 crew. The ISS crew goes to sleep a half hour before the STS crew most days, but they get up together. This is because the ISS crews get 8.5 hours of “down” time, and the STS crew only gets 8.

Generally, the STS crew gets up with the ISS crew every day at 8:38 AM central time. The three planned spacewalks will be in the afternoons and early evenings. The crews go to bed around midnight.

Note: FD stands for flight day.

FD 2 Saturday

The shuttle will be enroute and doing inspections of the tiles and checkout of the space suits. Not much to watch.

FD3 Sunday
3:19 PM. The shuttle docks to the station, with the hatches opening more than an hour later, at 4:38 PM. There will be a welcoming ceremony. This is your chance to see what Commander Rick “CJ” Sturckov and Pilot Lee “Bru” Archambault and the new ISS crewmember, Clay Anderson, look like. The cameras will be focused outside on the spacewalkers for most of the rest of the mission.

The robots are going to steal the show on Sunday, though! The shuttle arm (controlled by Pilot “Bru”) will grapple (meaning the end effector will wrap around the doorknob-shaped grapple fixture) and lift the S3/S4 (Starboard, third and fourth segment) truss out of the payload bay. Then the station arm (controlled by Sunni) will take it and “park” it “overnight.” NASA has not said how much parking costs in this “satellite” lot!

Spacewalkers Jim ”JR” Reilly and Danny Olivas will “camp out” in the Quest airlock at 10.2 psi pressure (compared with 14 psi sea level normal). The lower pressure will help to purge some of the nitrogen from their bodies, reducing the time spent “prebreathing” oxygen before getting in the low-pressure space suits in the morning.

12:08 AM, bedtime for the ISS crew. 12:38 CDT for the STS crew.

FD4 Monday

10:38 AM CDT. The station robotic arm will install the S3/S4 on the S1 truss. This might be worth watching!

2:28 PM –8:53 PM EVA 1 with Reilly and Olivas. Their job is to connect a bunch of cables, release launch restraints (these have been troublesome on previous flights), and install the Solar Alpha Rotary Joint (SARJ) drive lock assemblies. The SARJ is the part that makes the arrays able to twirl around and track the Sun. The views of the station and Earth are sure to be breathtaking whenever you tune in, but the “zenith” utilities work around 4 PM may be especially cool. Zenith is the “top” of the station, the side farthest from Earth, and thus offers the most amazing look “down.”

FD5 Tuesday
11:28 to 12:58 PM is when the two masts (like the mast of a sail on a ship) will be deployed to 49 and then to 100 percent. Try not to miss this!

Pat Forrester and Steve “Swanny” Swanson will camp in the Quest airlock overnight at 10.2 psi pressure.

FD6 Wednesday

10:23 AM Mission Control will attempt (a sign they expect to have some trouble) to retract the old P6 starboard array. This is the array that is sticking “up” like a tree and provided power for station before the new port wing was added and connected in December. The December crew retracted the other half of that set of arrays, the one that went out over the port side. This half now must be retracted so the new array will be able to swing around and not run into it. On a future flight, the P6 will be moved to the port side truss.

1:38 PM to 8:03 PM EVA2 with Forrester and Swanson. Their job is to release SARJ locks and deploy the braces in preparation for its initial rotation. Let the technical chatter wash over you and think about what it would be like to be doing that job out there in space, building a space station with your own human hands. How can they stay focused on all that tiring and technical and dangerous work of a spacewalk with the gorgeous Earth shining below them!

FD 7 Thursday

This day the STS crew gets up a half hour earlier, at 8:08 AM. They have to shift early in preparation for landing day.

This is a rest day. The main thing on tap for this day is the retraction of the P6 array if it didn’t get done already.

Bedtime 12:08 AM. Reilly and Olivas will sleep in the Quest again.

FD 8 Friday

1:08 PM to 7:33 PM EVA3, Reilly and Olivas. Their main job is to install an external hydrogen vent valve on the Destiny lab for the new oxygen generation system.

FD 9 Saturday

9:58 AM The station arm will demonstrate its gymnastic abilities as it is moved from the truss to Destiny in what is called a “walkoff.” Watch it flip end-over-end!

5:53 PM Crew news conference with the ISS and STS crews. This is followed by the farewell ceremony. Watch for Sunni to get a bit teary-eyed as she leaves her home in space for the past six months! (Remember, tears don’t run down your face in freefall: they stick to your eyes.)

7:08 PM They seal the hatches, but do not undock until the next day.

FD 10 Sunday

11:16 AM Undocking. There will be some fancy flying for the cameras: they’re checking for meteorite damage. The crew shift their bedtime an hour earlier.

FD 11 Monday

Deorbit preparations (dress rehearsal for entry).
2:58 PM News conference.

FD12 Tuesday

5:38 AM crew wakeup.

12:45 PM. Deorbit burn (that slows them down).
1:47 PM Landing at Kennedy Space Center. If you’re there, listen for the sonic booms!

I hope this schedule is helpful to you all. Check back here during the week for some further translation of acronyms and various comments on the mission activities.

Marianne Dyson

Posted by m_dyson at June 9, 2007 01:44 AM



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