National Space Society header banner

« November 2008 | Main | May 2009 »

March 27, 2009

STS-119 Welcome Home

The photos the crew took of the space station as they left on Wednesday were truly spectacular. My comemnt was, "Finally, it looks like the model I've been showing at schools!"

I was also very happy to hear that the new urine recycling system appears to be working. The STS-119 crew is bringing back samples for testing to clear the way for the use of this water by an expanded crew planned for the end of May.

The STS-119 crew landing can be seen Saturday, March 28, on NASA TV, or on the Web at: at 12:39 Central time. A second opportunity is available at 2:13 p.m. CDT.

Earlier on Saturday morning, 7:14 a.m. Central time, the Soyuz carrying Expedition 19 Commander Gennady Padalka, NASA Astronaut Michael Barratt, and repeat spaceflight participant Charles Simonyi will dock to the station. Expedition 18 Commander Mike Fincke and Flight Engineer Yury Lonchakov, and Japanese Astronaut Koichi Wakata will greet them. Fincke and Lonchakov will take the older Soyuz home after handover next week. Wakata will stay on the station until June.

Those in the Houston area are invited to welcome the STS-119 crew home at Ellington Field Hangar 990 on Sunday at 4:00 p.m. Gates open at 3:30 p.m., and if you don't want to park on the grass, get there early!

Returning from space are Commander Lee Archambault, Pilot Tony Antonelli, Mission Specialists Joseph Acaba, John Phillips, Steve Swanson, and Richard Arnold, and Expedition 18 Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus.

PS to NSS members: Sign up to follow NSS on Twitter and get notified when these blogs are posted. And if you're on Facebook, come be my friend! (Search for Marianne Dyson)

Welcome home STS-119 and Sandy!

Marianne Dyson
NSS advisor

Posted by m_dyson at 02:06 PM

March 21, 2009

Shuttle Timeline

While eating lunch today, I turned on NASA TV and watched some of the spacewalk. The camera was focused on what the astronaut was doing, removing bolts to set up for a new set of batteries to be installed on the next mission.

While that task is certainly important to monitor if you're a flight controller, as a member of the public "looking over their shoulder," I was captivated by the view of our blue planet. The solar array and truss structure blocked most of the view so that I had the feeling of being on a giant skyscraper towering all the way into deep space--sort of like being on a space elevator. As I've said many times before, I don't know how spacewalkers can ignore that view and focus on bolts and tools. I bet my editors would love it if I had that kind of focus--I'd get so much more work done!

At least one crewmember has the wonderful job assignment of watching the spacewalk--the Commander. According to the Flight Day (FD) 7 timeline, he is assigned to control the TV of the spacewalk. Of course being a steely-eyed space commander, he is watching for problems with the equipment and his spacewalkers, probably not even noticing the way the white clouds decorate the blue Earth ornament glimpsed between sections of truss...

A look through the Execute Package for today shows that John Phillips and Richard (Ricky) Arnold were busy transferring equipment between the station and shuttle. All the items are numbered to help (I assume) with inventory of what is where on the station. It is hard to keep track of where everything is, especially with crews coming and going and the ability of stuff to float away when no one is looking. Can you imagine what your house would look like if it were suddenly tossed into freefall? A snow globe full of papers and dust bunnies!

I guess this is why they have filter and middeck duct screen checks listed under "FD7 EZ ACTIVITIES" (things to do if they have time) for the pilot (I can almost hear him saying, "I became an astronaut for THIS?!"). Checking filters and screens for lost items is important (now where did I put my sunglasses...), but like working on those bolts... gee if I were onboard, I'd sure rather be looking at the glowing home world!

Some of the items in the transfer list, such as 723, "Integrated Immune Blood Sleeves" and 901 "Saliva Collection Kit" and especially 726 "Microbial Capture Device" (which I think is what they connect to the toilet hose!) remind me of a discussion I had with another NSS member about the use of the station refrigerator/freezer.

She wondered if they had any ice cream in there, and I said I thought the frig was probably packed with blood/saliva/urine samples. Would you want to store ice cream in the same freezer as you and your crewmates' saliva and urine samples? Even if there were room? I bet that freezer fills up fast whenever a shuttle flight is delayed. The Soyuz does not have a refrigerator for bringing back frozen samples.

When there is room in the frig, the station crew can make Jello. That was a favorite of Shannon Lucid when she was on the Russian Mir station. Shannon is serving as a capcom on this flight. I bet the new folks really appreciate having someone with her experience to guide them through their days in space.

We all know that it doesn't rain in space, but it does "snow" occasionally. The shuttle has limited room for used water, so it has to be vented to space periodically. The water quickly changes states from liquid to solid to gas, and because it is in freefall, sometimes the ice crystalizes. Astronauts have reported seeing this frost in the airlock as the final little bit of moisture in the air sublimates. In the Execute Package, the crew are cautioned to check with Mission Control Houston before starting the dump, to be sure the shiny new solar arrays are out of the way. Would doing a water dump before moving the arrays be the equivalent of washing the car and having it rain?

The next spacewalk is scheduled for Monday starting around 10 a.m. central time and lasting to about 5 p.m. Tuesday, they will close the hatches, and the shuttle will undock on Wednesday morning. Landing is scheduled for Saturday in Florida at 12:42 p.m. central time.

To the stars,

Marianne Dyson
NSS Advisor

Posted by m_dyson at 03:56 PM

March 19, 2009

Solar Space Walks

Astronauts Steve "Swanny" Swanson and Richard Arnold will begin the first of the three planned STS-119 space walks Thursday afternoon starting at 1:13 p.m. Central time. Their primary task is to install the Starboard outboard solar array wing called S6.

Because of clearance issues, the S6 was pulled from the shuttle cargo bay by the space station's robotic arm (operated by Sandy Magnus and John Phillips). Then it was handed to the shuttle arm (operated by Tony Antonelli and Joseph Acaba)which moved it out to the right (starboard) side of the shuttle. Then the station arm rolled down its rails on the front of the truss, and (Phillips and Koichi Wakata) grabbed the S6 from the shuttle arm. The shuttle arm let go, and the station arm then provided "valet parking" overnight.

The two spacewalkers will connect the plumbing and electrical and data cables needed for the solar panels to deploy and begin operations. The spacewalk is planned to last six and a half hours, ending around a quarter to 8.

The IV crewman--who will be coordinating the spacewalk from inside, is Joseph Acaba. Phillips and Wakata will be operating the station arm.

Mission Control said today that no focused inspection of the shuttle tiles is required. This cleared the timeline so that if the first spacewalk goes well, the deployment of the golden arrays (definitely worth watching!) will be on Friday, putting the crew ahead of schedule.

I can't help but wonder if they will somehow manage to squeeze in that fourth EVA after all (it was scrubbed when the launch was delayed).

The timeline keeps shifting, giving the flight planners (which is what I used to be) a good workout. Updates to the timeline are included in what are called "Execute Packages." These are uplinked to the crew and posted online as pdf files for those who want details: However, you should be warned, these messages are full of acronyms (DAP to LVLH is Digital Auto Pilot to Local-Vertical Local-Horizontal) and are not likely to make a lot of sense even when decoded (DAP to LVLH is setting prior to an attitude maneuver) unless you have some detailed knowledge of shuttle and station systems.

I am no longer familiar with all the terms, but I did glean some information from reading the Flight Day 4 package. One thing I learned is that the station arm snare cables, the two wires that rotate and wrap around the "doorknob" grapple fixtures, were not in the proper configuration. The solution, open and close them! I don't know if that worked or not, but it always helps with my models! (See my Space Station Science book to make a robotic hand of your own.)

They are also having some trouble with the bicycle ergometer on the middeck of the shuttle. This is their exercise bike. The plan was "to reseat the braking band and/or untwist calibration strap on flywheel, check for floating debris." The creative procedure had them cut a 6x6 square from a T-shirt to use as a filter over the vacuum cleaner hose. The directions called for wetting the shirt to help it hold on to debris. This is classic Mission Control problem solving--use what they have on board to troubleshoot and fix things. There is no option to run to the hardware store!

These kind of activities are the nitty-gritty of spaceflight. In order for astronauts to do big things such as move 31,000-pound truss segments and perform breathtaking spacewalks, all, or at least most, of the little stuff has to work.

I salute the team of people working 24/7 on all these activities, big and small. They make human spaceflight seem easy--and also put on a great show for all of us to watch online. Thanks!

To the stars,

Marianne Dyson
NSS Advisor (Though the views expressed here are my own and not those of NSS!)

Posted by m_dyson at 12:47 AM

March 14, 2009

Sunset Launch?

NASA has rescheduled the launch of Discovery for Sunday at 7:43 p.m., less than 15 minutes after official sunset.

After Wednesday's scrub, the big orange external tank was drained of hydrogen. They had to wait until Thursday afternoon to get access to the launch pad because of venting from the tank. (Hydrogen is very explosive--that's why it is used as rocket fuel!)

Once it was safe, workers carefully inspected the vent line at the shuttle interface. No obvious leaks were found, but all components were changed out just in case. The helium used for the leak checks was at ambient temperatures, so there is some concern that a leak could reoccur when the cryogenic liquid hydrogen is pumped back into the tank on Sunday afternoon.

If a leak or other problem scrubs the launch Sunday, they will try again on Monday or Tuesday--but one or more spacewalks will be cancelled. This is because the shuttle has to undock from the station by March 25 to avoid a conflict with the Soyuz launch that will bring up two new crewmembers. If they can't launch by Tuesday, the flight will be postponed until after April 7.

If they launch by Tuesday, the number of spacewalks that have to be scrubbed depends on whether or not the shuttle sustains debris damage during launch. If an initial inspection of the shuttle and launch videos show suspicious damage, then the crew must set time aside on orbit for what are called "focused" inspections. If the shuttle launch is delayed until Tuesday and a focused inspection is required, there would only be time for one spacewalk. That spacewalk would unload the S6 array from the cargo bay and mount it on the station.

If all but one spacewalk is scrubbed, it is not clear whether or not the station crew or a future shuttle crew would complete the complicated installation and deployment of the new array or when that would be done. How this would impact the plans to increase the crew size from 3 to 6 is also not clear.

Delaying into April would cause a domino effect that would delay the Hubble flight from May to June and delay the next station flight, too.

So fingers are crossed and prayers offered that the countdown goes smoothly for the Space Shuttle Discovery to liftoff near sunset on Sunday, March 15.

If you don't live in Florida to watch it live, or have the NASA cable channel to see it in hi def, you can watch the launch online at

Marianne Dyson
NSS advisor

Posted by m_dyson at 01:40 AM

March 11, 2009

Shuttle Night Launch

If all goes as planned, the Space Shuttle Discovery will light up the night sky along the upper Florida coast tonight at 9:20 PM (Eastern daylight time). With the full Moon still low in the sky during launch, there should be some fantastic photo opportunities.

At the controls will be first-time Commander Lee Archambault, making his second space flight ,with rookie pilot Dominic (Tony) Antonelli in the right seat. The five other members of the crew are John Phillips who was part of the Expedition 11 crew in 2005 and is making his third trip into space; veteran spacewalker Steve (Swanee) Swanson making his second flight; educator astronauts Richard Arnold and Joseph Acaba on their first flights; and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata who will replace Sandra Magnus on the space station. Wakata flew to the station on STS-92 in 2000.

The main purpose of the flight is to deliver and install the last of the giant solar arrays. This last one, called S6, will be mounted on the starboard side of the truss. This is the side of the truss whose sun-tracking rotation ability was restored through lubrication of the damaged solar alpha rotary joint on a previous mission. NASA reports that the fix is holding up well.

The first of four spacewalks to install the new array is planned for Sunday, March 15, which is two days after they arrive at the station, or four days after launch. It will begin at 2:50 PM EDT and last until early evening. The deployment of the radiator should be especially interesting to watch around 8 PM.

The shuttle is also taking up a backup urine recycling unit to repair the one that was installed during the last shuttle flight. The crew is not currently recycling their water, and there are sufficient supplies to increase the crew size from 3 to 6 without this capability—but the ability to recycle water from urine is important to reduce supply requirements after the shuttle is retired next year, and also to support future long-duration missions beyond Earth orbit.

The unfolding of the golden arrays is sure to provide some exciting and beautiful video. The deploy is currently scheduled to start on Wednesday at 4:50 AM. One bay will be gently pulled from the box and allowed to warm up for several hours before another bay is deployed. That will happen around 11:35 AM—a much more reasonable time of day to watch!

NASA will broadcast all mission activities live online. Check for the schedule. If you miss the live coverage, highlights from the previous day will be played each morning around 7 AM.

Ad astra,

Marianne Dyson

Posted by m_dyson at 02:28 AM


Help Us Make 2011 a Successful Year

NSS Logo   
1155 15th Street NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC  20005
Tel: (202) 429-1600 -- FAX: (202) 530-0659 -- E-mail:
Direct questions about membership matters to:
NSS Privacy Policy for members, customers, and Web site visitors

Copyright © 1998-2011, National Space Society

   Powered By CyberTeams