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March 24, 2008

Flying off into the sunset

The crew of STS-123 will be putting on quite a show Monday just before 7 PM CDT. That's when Endeavour will pull away from the space station, and the crew will peer out the windows with smiles on their faces as they admire their handiwork.

Expect the images to be stunning!

For almost two weeks, the crew of the shuttle and station have worked to attach the shiny new Japanese logisitics module and the clean white Canadian Dextre robotic arm. The fly-around will be the first time for anyone to see the station's new look from a distance.

It seemed that every time I turned on the TV during one of the 5 spacewalks last week, I saw only gloves and whatever equipment they were twisting or connecting or hammering into place. As a former flight controller, I understand the need to be brief and talk in acronyms. But as a member of the viewing public, I have to admit that the "loop" chatter was about as exciting as someone reading the phone book. I kept wishing for the camera to zoom out and give me some context and some inspiration.

At the tail end of Saturday night's EVA, which was during orbital darkness, I thought, "Surely they will find some excuse to wait outside an extra 5 minutes and let the crew watch a sunrise from outside." But no. I glimpsed a tiny bit of the horizon as Forman pulled down the thermal cover over the hatch.

If the crew had said, "Hey, Mission Control, we're going to hang out a few minutes and watch the sunrise," what could they do to stop them? Were they so exhausted (or hungry?) that all they wanted to do was get out of those sweaty suits? Or were they afraid to dally or ask permission to take in the view from what Gene Cernan called "God's front porch" because their time is so scripted and so valuable that someone would accuse them of goofing off at taxpayer expense? I mean, Mission Control does clock the length of the EVAs to the s e c o n d!

At least we were treated to some spectacular views via the cameras mounted outside after all the spacewalkers were tucked safely inside. I never tire of seeing the intense sparkling blue oceans of Earth with the layered cloud decks doppled on it like some super-fluffy whipped cream. And then the moon appeared!

The PAO commentator in Mission Control mentioned that this crew got to see a "moonset" about every ninety-one minutes. All I could think was, "Wow!" The full moon on the vernal equinox on Easter... what a powerful symbol of the spring of our future and our spiritual awakening, etc. There she was, our daughter world, snuggling up against Mother Earth, slowly slipping behind the thin veil of atmosphere, and then hiding under the sparkling blue and white "covers."

Maybe it is a good thing that there aren't many windows in the space station. If there were, no work could possibly get done. I don't think I could have walked away from the TV if they hadn't "broken the spell" and switched back to a view of some equipment rack.

Sigh. Unfortunately, all good things must pass. If we want to see more of these views, we all have a lot of work to do. But a glimpse is good to remind us of our goal--a spacefaring civilization--that means people like you and me casually looking up from our keyboards to see a moonset.

This crew will soon be riding off into the sunset-- first flying through the fireworks of entry and then landing on Wednesday just before sunset at Kennedy Space Center. That will be the end of the longest shuttle flight yet. One that brought the station closer than ever to completion.

Next flight, the one that will take up the large Kibo module, is scheduled for May.

To the stars!

Marianne Dyson

NSS Member

Posted by m_dyson at March 24, 2008 01:09 AM



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