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February 20, 2008

Atlantis lands safely at Kennedy Space Center

Space Shuttle Atlantis has landed safely at the Kennedy Space Center, ending a successful mission to install the European Space Agency's Columbus module on the International Space Station.

The landing frees up the US Navy for their attempt to intercept a failed spy satellite as soon as tonight.

Stay tuned for more details later today.

Posted by george_whitesides at 10:39 AM

February 19, 2008

The Way Home

The shuttle Atlantis is coming home, hopefully to Kennedy Space Center Wednesday morning (opportunities at 9:07 and 10:42 a.m. EST), but if not, then to Edwards AFB (two opportunities) in California. One way or another, they have to get down Wednesday to avoid the temporary debris cloud that will be created when the US military blows up their malfunctioning spy satellite.

The shuttle mission was an outstanding success. They delivered the European Columbus module and performed three spacewalks to get it attached and connected. The shiny new module adds about 1,000 cubic feet of pressurized volume (about the size of small bedroom) to the space station with ten scientific racks to support experiments. They also supplied 1400 pounds of water and 95 pounds of oxygen and boosted the station's orbit 1.4 miles using the shuttle's vernier jets.

The shuttle is also providing a gentle ride home for astronaut Dan Tani, whose tour of duty on the station was extended two months because of launch delays--and who suffered the loss of his mother just before Christmas. His commander, Peggy Whitson, will have to wait until the next shuttle for her ride home. That flight is currently scheduled for March 11, but may be delayed because of this flight's extension (it was originally supposed to land on Monday). The April 24 flight may also be impacted, especially if Atlantis ends up landing at Edwards instead of KSC.

It is not clear whether or not the shooting down of the military satellite will have any impact (sorry for the pun!) on the next shuttle launch. The military predicts that most of the debris created will burn up in the atmosphere within a few weeks--but March 11 is within that timeframe. (The debris should not impact the station because the station is in a higher orbit than the satellite.)

So let's all hope for clear weather in Florida Wednesday and that the military has a nice clean "shot" at their satellite.

To the stars!

Marianne Dyson

NSS Member
Assignments Editor, Ad Astra magazine

Posted by m_dyson at 12:22 PM

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 11:11 PM

February 10, 2008

The Extra Day

Although timeline planning for a shuttle mission is exacting, NASA always makes provision for an extra day or two on orbit, should a contingency arise during the mission that requires a change of plans. Usually that extra day is tacked onto the end of the mission, to handle any unfinished business. For STS-122, the extra day is squeezed in toward the beginning. Hans Schlegel, the ESA astronaut who was scheduled to be one of two crewmembers to perform the first spacewalk of the mission, fell ill. He has been replaced by his backup, American Stanley Love. The change necessitated a delay of a day, to prepare Love's spacesuit for the mission, and to review what needed to be done with the new crew assignments.

Because the spacewalk was put off for a day, this enabled the critical inspection of the Shuttle Atlantis' thermal protection system (TPS) to be conducted earlier than planned. A torn seam on the protective blanket covering the starboard OMS pod received a detailed inspection. The analysis of that inspection will determine whether there is a need to do anything about the tear or to leave it as is for reentry.

In addition to the blanket tear, a couple of tile chips near the orbiter windows were also discovered. The management team believes that analysis of the data on these will probably show that no action will be required. At present, the prognosis is that all mission objectives will be met, and perhaps even some get-ahead tasks will be accomplished as well.

Allen Taylor
NSS Member
President, Oregon L5 Society, A chapter of the NSS

Posted by allen.taylor at 05:14 PM

February 09, 2008

Spacewalk Delayed-Crew Sick

The shuttle successfully docked to the station today (Saturday), and grappled the orbiter boom. While the boom was being lifted out, Mission Control called up and asked Commander Frick to call them on a private channel. Earlier, during a press briefing with one of the flight directors, Houston Chronicle reporter Mark Carreau had asked if the crew had a medical issue. The flight director said he didn't know of one.

A few minutes after Frick called Mission Control back, the word was sent up that the first spacewalk, scheduled to begin Sunday at 8:30 AM, was postponed until Monday. And Stan Love would replace Hans Schlegel.

At the Mission Management briefing that followed shortly after this, Chairman John Shannon said that the commander had called Mission Control and asked for a private medical conference during the rendezvous ("which kind of surprised us," he said--that being a very busy time for the commander). Despite reporters efforts, Shannon refused to confirm that Schlegel is the one who is sick or whether this is a case of extended space sickness or something more serious.

This is purely speculation on my part--but I doubt that it is simply space adaptation syndrome (SAS). Schlegel has flown before, and most astronauts who have flown before adapt quickly (the brain "remembers" what to do, and once fluid levels are reduced through sweating and urination--and sometimes vomiting, they are fine). Even newbies are usually adapted after the first 24-48 hours. They launched on Thursday, so if he had symptoms, they should be going away by now.

Having just gotten over the flu that is making the rounds here in Houston, I certainly hope he wasn't somehow exposed to that. If so, he's in for several days of high fever and up to a week of nausea and lack of energy. At least that is how it hit me (and the flu shot didn't protect the person I caught it from). One of the reporters asked if the sickness were of the contagious variety, but Shannon refused to provide any information.

What we do know is that EVA 1 will be moved to Monday. They will retain the day off between EVAs, so the second one will be postponed to Wednesday, and the third one to Friday. It has not been determined yet if Schlegel will do EVA 2 as planned. Love has been trained as his backup and can do both of Schlegel's EVAs if necessary.

It has also not been determined if the mission will be extended a day or not. Mission Control has asked them to power down a bit so that the option to extend beyond the usual day is available.

They may need this extra time to take a closer look at a tear found in the orbital maneuvering system (OMS) pod thermal blanket. The tear appears smaller than the one on the OMS pod on STS-117 that was repaired with staples last year. Only the white blanket is sticking up this time, and the location is farther back and not in a critical heating area. No damage has been found on the wings or belly thus far.

Another issue they will be working has to do with one of the computers that isn't behaving. They have plenty of computers, and only needed 2 to do the rendezvous--so no one is very worried about this. They no longer carry a spare, so there won't be any replacement--like computer folks everywhere, they are going to recycle it and see what that does.

I'm sure we all wish for Hans to recover quickly from whatever is ailing him, and hope that no one else falls ill. It is good to know that Love is trained to do those tasks--and Shannon said that if necessary, the station crew could also be called upon to help with spacewalks. One way or another, Columbus will become part of the station this week--starting Monday. Leland and Eyharts (with some help from Tani) positioned the orbiter boom as planned in preparation of the move--and the view of the shiny silver Columbus backdropped by the blue Pacific sure was pretty. I think we can look forward to more beautiful views as this mission progresses this week.

To the stars!

Marianne Dyson

NSS member
Assignments Editor, Ad Astra magazine

Posted by m_dyson at 04:36 PM

STS-122 events

Atlantis and its crew of 7 men (Commander Steve Frick, Pilot Alan Poindexter, and Mission Specialists Leland Melvin, Rex Walheim, Stanley Love, Hans Schlegel, and Leopold Eyharts) will dock to the International Space Station around 11:25 AM CST Saturday, February 9, 2008. ISS Commander Peggy Whitson, the sole woman currently in space, said this is a great 48th birthday present for her. She sure doesn't look her age--but even non-astronauts tend to look younger in space thanks to the benefits of fluid shift. Because the heart does not have to pump "up hill" in freefall, blood builds up in the upper body, providing a freefall face lift.

The three shuttle spacewalkers will quickly transfer their space suit gear to the station's Quest airlock in preparation for this mission's three EVAs.

The first EVA is Sunday, February 10 from about 8:30 AM to 3 PM CST. Rex Walheim and German astronaut Hans Schlegel are the crew. Their main task will be to remove launch covers and install a grapple fixture (like a doorknob) on the Columbus module. Then the module will be lifted, or "unberthed" from the shuttle's payload bay. Way back in the mid-80s, I worked on operations plans for Columbus--even gave a talk about it at the ISDC in 1989. I will join our European partners in celebrating and cheering this long-awaited delivery.

The module will be hooked up on the inside on Monday and French astronaut Leopold Eyharts will have the honor of being the first person to ingress the Columbus in space. Housewarming is scheduled for about 2:15 PM CST Monday. I guess I'll have to be content to send virtual flowers!

The second EVA is planned for Tuesday. The crew will be Walheim and Schlegel again. This EVA also runs from about 8:30 AM to 3 PM CST. They will be removing a nitrogen tank from the station that has been depleted, and putting it in the shuttle's payload bay. The nitrogen tank is about the size of a small refrigerator and has a mass of about 550 pounds. After removal, they have to reroute some cables.

The crew is given some time off on Wednesday.

Valentine's Day, February 14, Love is going for a spacewalk. Really! The astronaut Stan Love will be making his first spacewalk, joining Walheim in outfitting Columbus. They will also be retrieving a failed Control Moment Gyro and adding some translation aids. If you hear them talking about WIFs, it is not a new computer game. WIFs are worksite fittings. Because the shuttle crew has to gradually shift their sleep periods earlier to line up with landing opportunities, this EVA starts an hour earlier than the other two, around 7:30 AM, and runs until about 2 PM.

On Friday, the crew will be getting up at 1:45 AM. They have a lot of supplies to transfer across. When that's done, they will be closing the hatch, around 1:45 PM, then going to sleep about the time most Americans are getting home from work. Leopold Eyharts will be staying on the station, and Dan Tani will be coming home.

The undocking is planned for Saturday around 5:30 AM CST. They will do the usual inspection the next day, and practice landing procedures. Landing is scheduled for Monday at Kennedy Space Center around 8:40 AM CST, 9:40 AM EST. The crew will have been up since 1:15 AM CST.

For more details on the crew schedule, I recommend Bill Harwood's coverage on CBS:

To the stars!

Marianne Dyson
NSS Member
Assignments Editor, Ad Astra magazine

Posted by m_dyson at 12:15 AM

February 07, 2008

Astronauts on Board, ECO Sensors Go!

It's T-Minus 2 hours, and all the astronauts for STS-122 are onboard and ready to go. Good news: The long-troubled Engine Cut Off Sensors on the external tank are functioning well. Bad news: Weather is going in and out of 'green'. Right now, at 12:39pm local, weather is green, and the countdown is proceeding. More updates as they come!

Posted by george_whitesides at 12:36 PM


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