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May 16, 2011

The value of launch

STS-134, the next to the last Space Shuttle flight, is poised for liftoff at 7:56 a.m. Houston time on Monday, May 16. If all goes well, recovering Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford and half a million other people will watch Endeavour take her husband Mark Kelly and his crew into space.

Besides Kelly, the all-male crew includes Pilot Greg Johnson, Spacewalkers Mike Fincke, Andy Feustel, and Greg Chamitoff, and Roberto Vittori who is doing all the heavy lifting (of the robotic arm).

The average person will likely know Kelly’s name, but be hard-pressed to name the others (that’s why I listed them up front—space geeks should know these things!).

What they do know is that this is almost the last Space Shuttle launch, and the last for Endeavour, which will be headed to a museum in California after this flight. So though the stated purpose of this flight is to deliver the Alphamagnetic Spectrometer (AMS) and other supplies to the International Space Station ISS), what the public cares about is the launch.

Seeing humans launch into space is one spectacle that is on a lot of people’s “bucket” lists. And if they miss this shuttle launch or the next one, the only option for the near future is to travel to Kazakhstan and watch a Soyuz launch. I’m sure that must be pretty spectacular, too, but the sheer size of the shuttle produces a more thunderous show. Plus there aren’t any beaches or Disney World’s near Kazakhstan.

Politicians have been focused on the effect of the shuttle’s retirement to the aerospace workers, and it certainly is a huge blow. Thousands of dedicated skilled employees will be getting pink slips this very week--notices that come July, they will have to find some other way to pay the mortgage.

And all the businesses that depend on launch tourism will be in trouble, too. Sure, some folks will still want to tour the (barren) launch pads and buy space souvenirs. The military launches some cool rockets, though none with people on them. The beach is still the beach.

But let’s face it, there’s nothing like the promise of the roar and spit of a blastoff carrying astronauts in blazing glory across the sky to make you decide to stick around another night at the hotel, gulp down a cold drink with a friend, and buy a plastic space shuttle for the kids.

So, I hope the politicians take notice of all the hundreds of thousands of people watching this launch and the next, last, one. Not only do the crowds prove that space remains important to the public, this week’s tourist dollars probably paid for the launch.

Speaking of paying for launch, even if you can't afford to travel to Florida, you can help support space by using the Amazon links on the NSS site. Just go to page and use the link at the top. You don’t have to buy one of the reviewed books—any purchase (software, tools, Kindle, etc.) made after using the link will earn NSS a credit and cost you nothing.

Flight Overview

Assuming the flight goes off on Monday, Endeavour will dock to the station on Wednesday at 5:15 a.m. Houston (CDT) time. (I’ll be on my way to Huntsville, Alabama for the ISDC. I hope to see many of you there!)

The shuttle crew will be out of sync with the ISS crew day. The shuttle crew will be going to bed in the afternoons, starting at around 3 p.m. on the first day and shifting to almost 10 p.m. by the end of the flight. They will get up at around midnight the first day, and shift to getting up around 5 a.m. by the last day. The ISS crew will be going to bed around 4:30 p.m. and getting up around 1 a.m. every day.

Quiz for space geeks: how many women are in space right now? Answer: One.

Expedition 27 Commander Dmitry Kondratyev and Flight Engineers Cady Coleman of NASA and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency have been on ISS since December 2010. In April, NASA astronaut Ron Garan and Russians Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev joined the crew. But during this shuttle flight, the first three will be departing. Their replacements, NASA astronaut Mike Fossum, Russian Sergei Volkov and Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa are scheduled to launch May 30.

The first spacewalk, by Feustel and Chamitoff, will be Friday, May 20, from 2:21 a.m. to 8:46 a.m. The second one will be Sunday during the same timeframe.

A special event that is sure to produce photos that will be in all the books happens a week into the flight. Next Monday at 6:06 p.m. CDT, the Soyuz TMA-20 will undock from the ISS with Kondratyev, Coleman, and Nespoli. The crew will take photos of the shuttle docked to the ISS from a distance. With Coleman’s departure, there will be no women in space again until the next, and last, shuttle flight.

Quiz for space geeks: what woman is on the STS-135 crew? (Go look it up!)

The third spacewalk will be on Wednesday, May 25, starting a little earlier than the previous two, at 12:51 a.m. and running until 6:46 a.m. The fourth spacewalk will be during the same timeframe in the wee hours of Friday.

The plan is to undock on Sunday the 29th, separate just after midnight on Monday morning and land at KSC at 1:32 a.m. CDT or 2:32 a.m. Florida time. I won’t be surprised if they get an extension to stay in space a few days. Regardless, which day they return, those sonic booms may wake a few folks from their sleep!

The detailed schedule for the flight is online:

Check for ISS flyovers of your city during the time the shuttle is docked to the ISS when it is especially bright

I'll be tweeting from the NSS Twitter account during ISDC. Follow the action with #ISDC.

To the stars,

Marianne Dyson
NSS Advisor

Posted by m_dyson at 01:01 AM


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