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December 31, 2007

Shuttle Flight Delayed

There will not be a shuttle launch on January 10. The problem with the external tank sensors has not been resolved. Please check for the latest news.

No new launch date has been set.

Wishing everyone a safe and happy 2008!

Marianne Dyson

NSS Member

Posted by m_dyson at 01:05 AM

December 17, 2007

Spacewalk Dec. 18/STS-122 Jan. 10

Expedition 16 Station Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Dan Tani are set for a spacewalk Tuesday, Dec. 18 starting at about 6 a.m. EST (coverage starts at 4:30 a.m.). They will inspect the giant rotary joint (SARJ) where contamination was found last month. The astronauts will also inspect a Beta Gimbal Assembly (BGA), another device that rotates the arrays. The BGA experienced electrical problems last weekend, unrelated to the SARJ.

NASA's Space Shuttle Program managers have targeted January 10 for the launch of shuttle Atlantis' STS-122 mission to the International Space Station. This launch date assumes that the problem with the tank sensors is resolved. Check for the latest information.

Marianne Dyson
NSS member

Posted by m_dyson at 01:17 PM

December 09, 2007

STS-122 Delayed to January

Early today, one of the sensors inside the liquid hydrogen section of Atlantis' external fuel tank gave a false reading while the tank was being filled. NASA had decided to launch only if all four sensors were functioning properly, and planned to let Mission Control call the crew if a fuel leak or other problem required an early shutdown of the engines. This procedure reduced the launch window to only 60 seconds. But the failure of a sensor during the countdown compromised this procedure. So the launch has been postponed until no earlier than January 2. The crew will be heading back to Houston tonight.

How this delay impacts the rest of the assembly missions remains to be seen. STS-122's Eyharts is to replace Expedition crewmember Tani, so the immediate impact is that Tani will remain on the station for an extra month. Whitson remains in command of the station with Malenchenko as flight engineer. Eyharts was to come back on STS-123 in February. Whitson and Malenchenko are to come back on the same Soyuz that took them up. However, if STS-123 slips past the April Soyuz flight, Eyharts will likely come down on the Soyuz instead of Whitson because otherwise, there would be no American on the station.

Although these delays are disappointing, they are nothing new in the space business. I'm sure we all are hoping the questions with the sensors can be resolved quickly, and STS-122 will launch at the earliest opportunity in January.

In the meantime, we all should remember that it is better to be delayed than risk an accident. Please have a safe holiday, everyone!

Marianne Dyson
NSS member

Posted by m_dyson at 01:53 PM

December 07, 2007

Getting Ready for STS-122

STS-122 is currently planned to launch on Saturday at 3:43 p.m. EST. If you turn on your TV at that time and find reruns of old movies instead of launch coverage, check for updates to the schedule.

This mission will deliver the Columbus module to the space station and include at least 3 space walks to get it installed. Plans for a fourth space walk to check out that failed Solar Alpha Rotary Joint (SARJ) are "up in the air" depending on how the other space walks progress and also the length of the mission, which is constrained by lighting. If the launch is this Saturday, the spacewalks will be on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday next week, and include the 100th space walk in support of space station assembly.

NASA has created a new site on YouTube that astronaut fans are sure to enjoy, especially considering the friendly sense of humor displayed by this all-male crew at their press conference. It was fun to listen to the light-hearted banter of Commander Frick and Mission Specialists Melvin and Love as they admire Atlantis on the launch pad.

Fingers are crossed that the weather cooperates Saturday to get this last mission of 2007 into space!

Marianne Dyson
NSS Member

Posted by m_dyson at 04:36 PM

December 06, 2007

Shuttle Launch Slips to Saturday (at least)

The launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis was delayed today by mission managers by at least two days. The cause? Troublesome fuel sensors at the base of the External Tank -- the same sensors that have malfunctioned in a few recent launches. The sensors are meant to show when the tank is emptying of fuel, to prevent unexpected shutdown of the engine or a catastrophic failure. The problem now is that two of the four sensors were not working properly when tanking began early this morning.

Interestingly, NASA managers are discussing using the crew as a backup system to the sensors' failure -- potentially enabling them to fly with only two good sensors. In that scenario, the crew could potentially manually execute the Main Engine Cut Off (MECO). That concept will be discussed further on Friday by senior NASA leadership, so stay tuned!

In the current plan, NASA managers are not focused on opening up the shuttle vehicle, rather they are focused on different operational scenarios. That may change on Friday, depending on the latest data and analysis.

I believe (perhaps a reader could confirm my memory) that these sensors have never been actually needed in the history of the shuttle program. I seem to remember that the only time that they were a factor was when one malfunctioned during ascent, and caused premature shutdown of one of the engines. The crew then overrode another sensor that was on its way to malfunction, which could have caused the premature shutdown of another engine and the only abort to land in the history of the shuttle program. Thankfully, mission control and the crew's fast action enabled the vehicle to make orbit.

Posted by george_whitesides at 10:20 PM

Space Shuttle Atlantis Poised for Launch

Space Shuttle Atlantis is poised for launch at 4:31pm on Thursday afternoon. This critical mission will carry the European Space Agency's major contribution to the International Space Station: The Columbus Laboratory Module. Over 700 Europeans space engineers and scientists, flown over in two charter jets, are on site to watch Columbus fly. Word is that laboratory space on ISS will double with the addition of Columbus.

The weather at the Cape is looking very favorable -- 90% positive, a nearly-unheard of level. And the vehicle is looking good as well; there are no major issues being worked.

So, on behalf of the members of NSS, we wish Commander Steve Frick and his crew a safe launch, a successful mission, and a smooth return to Earth. Ad Astra!

Posted by george_whitesides at 12:57 AM


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