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May 21, 2009

Obama Praises Exploration

President Obama called the astronauts on STS-125 today (5-20-09) to congratulate them on restoring and upgrading the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

"Like a lot of Americans, I've been watching with amazement the gorgeous images you've been sending back and the incredible repair mission you've been making in space," the president said. "I think you're providing a wonderful example of the kind of dedication and commitment to exploration that represents America and the space program generally. These are traits that have always made this country strong and all of you personify them."

Obama also noted that the spacewalks "excited my 10-year-old and my 7-year-old." He added, "By allowing Hubble to continue on its journey, you've really allowed all of us to continue on our journey of growth and exploration. You know, here in Washington, there's a lot of talk about clarifying our focus, our vision for where the country needs to go. And I really think that what you guys represent is an example of what 'vision' means."

When I heard this, my response was, "Roger that!" (and maybe a little bit of yeehaw :)

There are lots of excellent summaries online about what the Hubble crew accomplished technically, all of it fantastic stuff--but the lasting impact of this mission is not only the newly-expanded spectral "vision," but the vision of exploration that President Obama aptly recognizes is the key to inspiring this nation to achieve great things.

Now is a perfect time to remind people everywhere of the National Space Society's vision: "People living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth, and the use of the vast resources of space for the dramatic betterment of humanity."

The Hubble crew showed yet again that humans can indeed work in space and take advantage of its resources. One space resource is its lack of air--the vacuum of space provides a crystal clear, cloud-free view for Hubble, and other space telescopes, to capture of the wonders of the heavens.

HST can now see farther into space and across a wider spectrum than ever before. Soon we may image new worlds for us to probe, and one day, explore.

So thank you to the STS-125 crew for reigniting the fire of exploration. And thank you to President Obama for recognizing the importance of our space program to the future growth of the United States!

NSS members and friends in Houston can welcome the crew home at 4 p.m. (gate opens at 3:30 Central time)) at Ellington Field the day after landing. If landing is Friday, the welcome home will be on Saturday. Maybe I'll see some of you there--if not, at ISDC next week in Florida!

To the stars,

Marianne Dyson
NSS Advisor

Posted by m_dyson at 01:18 AM

May 11, 2009

Endeavour Standing By

As I noted last September, this shuttle mission is considered the most dangerous to date. The chance of impact from orbital debris was then estimated at 1 in 185 for the 350-mile altitude orbit. Since September, the debris danger has been somewhat reduced to 1 in 229 compared to 1 in 330 for the 200-mile-high space station orbit.

But foam falling during launch remains the primary danger. Damage to the wings from foam falling off the external fuel tank caused the destruction of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003. Though new processing methods limit the amount of debris hits during launch, the risk remains at about 1 in 80. Shuttle Program Manager John Shannon told reporters last fall that historically, the risk of a catastrophic failure is closer to 1 in 60.

If an orbital inspection (to be performed on the day after launch) reveals damage to critical areas on Atlantis, the space station is not available as a safe haven. Some students asked me why they can’t just descend to the station’s altitude. The problem is that the station is at a different inclination (angle) to the Earth’s equator than Hubble. It is as if Hubble is going around on the outer lane of a racetrack, and the station is on an inner lane that goes above and then below the Hubble track. To “cross over” from one to the other requires a tremendous amount of energy—more than the space shuttle has available.

Therefore, if damage is found, the Atlantis crew will power down the vehicle and wait for the Space Shuttle Endeavour (STS-400), to launch and provide a ride home. Endeavour is waiting on launch pad 39B, but it would not launch from there. That launch pad is already being converted for use by the new Ares booster. So if Endeavor is needed, it will be moved and then launched from 39A as soon as May 18 (if Atlantis launches May 11).

The STS-400 crew will be commanded by Chris Ferguson and include pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Shane Kimbrough and Steve Bowen. The two shuttles would then perform an unprecedented rendezvous in space. Endeavour would approach to within (robotic) arn’s reach of Atlantis, grapple it, and hang on with the two payload bays facing each other. Two days of dramatic spacewalks would get everyone transferred across. A good summary of the mission by Chris Gebhardt.

However, the Hubble repair mission with its five choreographed spacewalks is plenty dramatic without a rescue. So fingers are crossed and prayers offered that STS-400 will be unnecessary.
Remember launch is scheduled for 2:01 Eastern/1:01 Central. The next day will be inspection, and if they are given the all clear, Hubble capture is anticipated on Wednesday just before noon Eastern time.

You can watch the press conferences on NASA TV, or "tune in" to online coverage. Fellow fans of Miles O’Brien, formerly of CNN; Marc Carreau, formerly of the Houston Chronicle; and Craig Covault, formerly of Aviation Week, will be happy to know that all three will be covering the flight for Spaceflight Now in an interactive format. You can follow them on Twitter—and don’t forget to follow NSS on Twitter, too!

To the stars,

Marianne Dyson
NSS Advisor

Former NASA Flight Controller;

Posted by m_dyson at 12:18 AM

May 04, 2009

Hugging Hubble

My favorite quote from the STS-125 crew press conference on April 23 was John Grunsfeld saying, “Hubble needs a hug, and we’re ready to go.”

This crew is more than ready for launch, hopefully Monday, May 11. Commander Scott “Scooter” Altman joked that he hoped the April 23 press conference was the last one prior to the flight, and admitted, “The slip was hard to take at first.” The flight has been delayed and delayed again, most recently after a key computer failed just weeks from launch last October. But after a brief rest, the crew dove right back into training. “But it is good to be here now,” Altman said with a broad smile. “We are ready. We are trained.”

The number of spacewalks was already maxed out at five, so to add in the computer task on the first extravehicular activity (EVA), the team had to shoehorn a two-day task (the repair of the Advanced Camera for Surveys in EVA 3) into one. Grunsfeld alluded to there being a betting pool at Johnson Space Center on whether or not they will get it all done. But he said he is “highly confident that we’ll finish [the Advanced Camera repair] in one day.” I would put my money on this team!

Besides Commander Altman and lead spacewalker Grunsfeld, the crew includes veteran spacewalker Mike “Mass” Massimono, and four rookies: Pilot Greg “Ray J” Johnson; flight engineer and arm operator Megan McArthur; and spacewalkers Andrew “Drew” Feustel and Michael “Bueno” Good.

For launch, McArthur will sit behind Altman, and Good will sit behind Johnson. Grunsfeld, Massimino, and Feustel will ride up on the middeck, with Grunsfeld having the seat closest to the hatch.

To watch the launch and spacewalks, tune in via the NASA cable channel or NASA TV online. All spacewalks start around 7 a.m. Eastern time, last about 6 and a half hours, and end by 2 p.m.

STS-125 Summary Timeline

Monday 05/11: launch, 2:01 p.m. Eastern time
Tuesday: tile inspection
Wednesday: Hubble capture (just before noon)
Thursday: EVA-1 (Grunsfeld/Feustel): Wide Field Camera 3; Science Instrument computer; new grapple fixture
Friday: EVA-2 (Massimino/Good): gyros; batteries
Saturday: EVA-3 (Grunsfeld/Feustel): Cosmic Origins Spectrograph; Advanced Camera for Surveys repair (was 2 EVAs in original plan)
Sunday: EVA-4 (Massimino/Good): Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph repair; new insulation (begins around 7 a.m.)
Monday: EVA-5 (Grunsfeld/Feustel): more batteries; fine guidance sensor replacement (lowest priority, deleted if necessary); more insulation
Tuesday: Hubble release (around 7:30 a.m.)
Wednesday: crew news conference (around 9:15 a.m.)
Thursday: entry prep
Friday 5/22: landing, 11:41 a.m. Eastern time

For more details about launch and flight operations, I highly recommend Bill Harwood’s blog.

To the stars,

Marianne Dyson

Member NSS Board of Advisors

Posted by m_dyson at 03:17 PM


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