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February 13, 2008

Flight extended

NASA has decided to add another extra day to STS-122 to allow more time to outfit the new Columbus module. The flight had already been extended one day because of Hans Schlegel's unknown illness.

Schlegel was feeling fine today as he and Walheim did a spacewalk to replace a nitrogen tank. During a press conference yesterday, he was asked about his illness, but, like NASA's spokesman, said it was a private matter and declined to give any details.

Perhaps, despite having flown before, he had an especially bad case of space adaptation syndrome that left him still feeling nauseous on Saturday. Or maybe something he ate caused a reaction. Or maybe he had some 24-hour bug or a bad rash or infection. We will never likely know.

This is pure speculation on my part, but I can imagine that the reason the commander called during the rendezvous was because he needed the flight docs to determine whether or not Schlegel was suffering from something that might be contagious--in which case they'd want to know what precautions they needed to take prior to exposing the station crew. Apparently, the answer was that it was unlikely to be something contagious, because no one was seen wearing a mask. What we do know is that the flight docs decided not to risk him getting sick in a space suit or not having the endurance necessary to complete what turned out to be an almost 8-hour EVA, one of the longest in space history. Walheim and Love had to return to the airlock for more oxygen. But they got the job done Monday, and Schlegel and Walheim got their tasks completed today. Columbus is now attached and functional, and the old nitrogen tank is tucked safely into the shuttle's payload bay.

One reporter asked if other missions had been rescheduled because of crew not feeling well--and I know of at least one during the early shuttle program. To protect crew privacy, I won't say which flight it was, but the commander and pilot were both "under the weather." In case of an emergency deorbit that would require them in good shape, the flight surgeon recommended their activities be scrubbed until they felt better--and that's what was done. They both recovered fully by the fourth day, similar to what appears to have happened with Schlegel, and all the mission objectives were met. These things happen, even with experienced astronauts--and commanders are never first timers. (Note that the shuttle has the capability, though it has never been used, for an automatic landing--except for the deployment of the landing gear.)

The final spacewalk of STS-122 is scheduled for Friday. That one will be Walheim and Love, as originally planned. The tear in the OMS pod blanket was determined to be too minor to require a spacewalk repair.

The extra day means that the landing will be on Wednesday, February 20 at 8:06 a.m. CST. Those of you on the flight path in Florida should hear some sonic booms to celebrate their return to Earth.

The next shuttle flight is scheduled for less than three weeks later, on March 11, and the one after that is targeted for April 24. This is an ambitious schedule, but NASA is optimistic that it will hold as long as the weather cooperates.

To the stars!

Marianne Dyson
NSS member
Assignments Editor, Ad Astra magazine

Posted by m_dyson at February 13, 2008 11:11 PM



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