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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 March 21, 2009 03:56 PM



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