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February 22, 2010

STS-130 Home

I joined the large crowd at Ellington this afternoon to welcome the STS-130 crew home to Houston. Commander George Zamka, a.k.a. "Zombo" said, "It is great to be talking to people in the day time!" The crew worked nights for their 13-day flight.

Each astronaut took time to thank their families and the people who helped with training and operations.

Perhaps the most poignant comments considering the upcoming retirement of the space shuttle came from the rookie, Pilot Terry Virts, who said that standing by the space shuttle prior to launch, listening to it come to life, filled him with pride to be an American. He thanked everyone who had worked on the shuttle program, and the audience erupted in loud applause.

Steve Robinson added to these sentiments by thanking the workers who have already left the program, saying that he was grateful to them for making "this dream come to life." He asked that if anyone knew any retired NASA workers to please thank them.

I must admit I got a little choked up when he said that, as someone who worked the first shuttle flights, standing there wearing my NASA Alumni League badge. The 14-year-old son of one of my good friends came up to me afterwards, and said, "I'm supposed to say 'thank you' to you' so 'thank you!'"

The crew were so tired that JSC Director Mike Coats forbid them to stay after the ceremony and sign autographs.

It is hard to believe that there are only four more shuttle flights. The old workhorse has just about finished assembling and outfitting the International Space Station. Another Expedition crew is getting ready to launch, and the next shuttle is scheduled for April 5.

To the stars,

Marianne Dyson

NSS Advisor
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Posted by m_dyson at 07:57 PM

February 08, 2010

STS-130 on the Move

After a one-day delay, the Shuttle Endeavour thundered to orbit before sunrise on Monday morning. The ship will rendezvous with the space station just after midnight Houston time Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.

Once the shuttle docks with the station, the real moving begins. The crew gets up about about 4 PM Houston time on Tuesday, works overnight, and goes to bed about the time Americans are getting up.

This puts most of the action of this flight during the late evening and wee hours of the morning. But don't worry, you can catch the highlights most mornings. Check the NASA Website or CBS site for the schedule.

Here's a quick summary of what's happening on this flight:

The first EVA starts on Thursday night around 8 PM Houston time and ends Friday around 2:30 AM. The Tranquility Node will be lifted out of the Shuttle bay and installed on the port side of the Unity Node. Highlights will be aired at 10 AM Houston time Friday.

Friday night, the crew will open the new module for the first time. But they won't be looking out through the cupola yet. They have to move it from its launch location on the end of the module to the side facing Earth (called the nadir port). But even then, they won't be able to loook out until the bolts are removed holding the protective covers over the glass--and that doesn't happen until the third EVA. Word is that Kay Hire gets first dibs on the view.

The second EVA starts Saturday night around 8 PM Houston time, and ends at 2:30 AM Sunday. That spacewalk will include lots of long hoses and this very odd-shaped thermal blanket. The crew said they expect this one to be the most challenging.

You might plan to tune in to NASA TV on Monday night at dinner time. That's when they will be moving the PMA-3 (the bent looking "funnel") from the top of Harmony to the "outside" of the new Tranquility node. The install is scheduled for around 7:30 PM. PMA-3 was used twice for shuttles to dock to while they moved things around, but a shuttle can't dock to it in its new location. So PMA-3 is the new high-tech closet for the "rec room."

The third EVA starts Tuesday night around 8 PM Houston time and ends at around 2:30 on Wednesday. They'll be moving lots of cables and installing handrails.

It is likely that this mission will be extended to allow more time to move all the life support equipmet out of the lab and into Tranquility--it is basically becoming the gym/bathroom/kitchen/rec room, and will have the toilet and the Colbert treadmill. Destined to be the most popular room in the "house," I bet the "new module" smell doesn't last too long!

Currently, the plan is to undock on Thursday and do the fly-around at 7 PM Houston time. That will be the first time an ISS crew will get to see a shuttle fly past the new "bay" windows of the cupola. Should be some very pretty pictures!

Landing is planned for Saturday night at 10 PM Florida time.

To the stars,

Marianne Dyson
NSS Advisor

Posted by m_dyson at 11:43 PM

February 04, 2010

Last Shuttle Night Launch

The last night launch of a Space Shuttle is planned for 4:39 a.m. Eastern time Sunday. The five-man, one-woman crew of STS-130 are: Commander George Zamka, Pilot Terry Virt, Mission Specialist (MS)and primary Shuttle arm operator, Kay Hire, MS and station arm operator, Steve Robinson, and spacewalkers Nick Patrick and Bob Behnken.

This mission's primary objective is to deliver and install the last big piece of the space station, the Tranquility Node. Old models and lithographs show this "Node 3" on the Earth-facing (nadir) port of Node 1 (Unity), but a decision was made to move it the port side instead to allow it to be used as a docking port once commercial cargo ships are available.

The big picture window, called the cupola, will be moved to the Earth-facing port of Tranquility, providing a view that every member of the crew is anxiously awaiting to experience.

The pressurized mating adaptor # 3 (PMA3) is also being moved-to the port side of Tranquility. This location will not support docking of a shuttle or Soyuz, but it is hoped that it will eventually be used by commercial cargo ships. In the meantime, it will provide some badly needed closet space.

The new location of Tranqulity requires a series of complicated spacewalks to hook up the ammonia cooling system via a fancy set of "extension cords" that must be covered with a huge long white thermal blanket.

There will also be plenty going on inside the space station including a test of the recalcitrant water recycling toilet. The last shuttle flight brought back the distillation unit and discovered that it was clogged by calcium deposits. STS-130 is taking up a filter that should help prevent that problem in combination with a change in operating the system--basically emptying the tank more often. They will bring the tank back on the shuttle to see if this worked, so they want to get as much run time on it as possible before they have to disconnect it. The flight may even be extended an extra day to allow more time for this test.

If launch happens on time Sunday, Endeavour will arrive at the station on in the wee hours (12:23 a.m. Central time) on Tuesday. First EVA will be on Thursday.

I was fortunate enough to witness a night launch back in 1999. Night became day, fish jumped out of the water, and then the roar of the liftoff washed over us--powerful enough to rock our van back and forth (and blur my photos!). This is the last Space Shuttle night launch. I envy those who will experience it in person. If you haven't ever seen a launch with your own eyes, felt it through the soles of your feet, and heard it with your own ears, you may want to plan a Florida vacation between now and September when the last shuttle flight is currently scheduled. If you want to see a shuttle night launch, this Sunday is your last chance.

To the stars,

Marianne Dyson
NSS Advisor

Note: any opinions expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of the National Space Society.

Posted by m_dyson at 03:43 PM


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