Mission manager says launch appeared flawless
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: March 16, 2009
A quick-look at ascent imagery and other data indicates the shuttle Discovery came through its launch and climb to space Sunday in very good shape with no major issues or anomalies, the chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team said late today. Space station controllers, meanwhile, decided a piece of space junk they had been tracking posed no threat and would not require an avoidance maneuver by the lab crew.
"We also have some good news for you regarding that possible debris avoidance maneuver," mission control radioed. "It will not be required. We've had three good data points, the last two have been very converged in terms of the miss distance, and so we will not need to perform the debris avoidance maneuver."
"OK, the entire crew copies, no debris avoidance maneuver," station commander Mike Fincke replied from orbit.
With no changes to the station's flight path, the Discovery astronauts will carry out their previously planned rendezvous sequence of rocket firings, a carefully choreographed procedure that will result in a docking with the space station around 5:13 p.m. Tuesday.
Mission Management Team Chairman LeRoy Cain told reporters late today Discovery was in excellent condition after a "picture-perfect" launch Sunday.
"We have no major problems of note from the launch or from the ascent," Cain said. "The space shuttle vehicle performed flawlessly during the ascent phase. ... We only have a very few minor anomalies. But none of them is significant and there isn't anything that's affecting the mission or the vehicle performance in any way whatsoever."
Discovery's launch was delayed more than a month, primarily by concern about suspect hydrogen flow control valves used to pressurize the hydrogen section of the shuttle's external tank. During the previous shuttle launch last November, a small piece of a valve poppet broke off.
Discovery's launch was held up for tests and analyses to better understand what happened and what the potential impact might be. The shuttle was finally cleared for launch using three valves shown to be crack free using a new inspection technique.
Cain said today telemetry from launch Sunday showed "all three valves performed nominally, they were right down the middle of their expected performance. So no indications of any issues there."
The Discovery astronauts spent the day checking out the spacesuits they'll use during upcoming station assembly spacewalks and carrying out a detailed inspection of the shuttle's nose cap and wing leading edge panels. Cain said no obvious problems with the shuttle's heat shield had been seen, but it will take engineers another day or so to complete their analysis. A decision on whether or not an additional, "focused," inspection might be needed after docking is expected late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
Discovery is in a slightly lower orbit and slowly but surely catching up to the station. Shuttle flight planners were prepared to implement minor changes to the rendezvous sequence if the station crew had been told to carry out a debris avoidance maneuver, but that would have had "a very minor impact" on the shuttle crew's timeline.
Last week, the station astronauts briefly entered the station's Soyuz lifeboat to ride out a projected close encounter with another piece of space debris. Cain said two such incidents so close together was probably a coincidence.
But he agreed "space debris is an issue for us. It's real, insomuch that there are objects small and large that we have to contend with. We have to be constantly mindful of the fact there are things being tracked, there are objects too small to be tracked, and that's an issue as well."
Tracking and occasionally dodging space debris "is part of the business, it comes with the territory, and we'll continue to do whatever is necessary to avoid debris when we can and when we know about it."