Space shuttle crew fields questions at launch pad
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: June 14, 2006
Discovery's launch window opens July 1 and if commander Steve Lindsey has anything to say about it, that's the date management will pick.
"I've been telling the crew that I'm guaranteeing July 1," he joked today at the base of launch pad 39B. "Seriously, looking at technically what's going on with the vehicle, the issues we've been working through, the issues that are coming up for the flight readiness review, I don't know of anything out there right now.
"There are a couple of controversial issues that could push it a couple of days maybe, but I don't really know of anything out there that would preclude a July 1 launch. So I'm very optimistic that we're going to shoot for early July, as early in that window as we can get."
In recent days, flight planners have debated whether it makes sense to delay launch a few days to get better lighting to photograph the shuttle's external tank as it separates in orbit.
Since Discovery's last flight nearly a year go, NASA has removed foam wind deflectors from the tank to minimize the chances for large pieces of debris to break away during ascent. But agency managers decided to delay making changes to ice/frost ramp foam used to insulate external fittings on the tank
As it turns out, getting good separation footage is not considered mandatory by NASA management and given the uncertainties involved, shuttle program manager Wayne Hale decided last week not to give up July 1. A final decision will be made at the upcoming flight readiness review, but Lindsey said the crew agrees with the preliminary decision not to hold the flight up for a possibly minimal improvement in lighting.
"It's my understanding the lighting issue that came up, to say delay a couple of days to get better lighting of the ice frost ramps, is not a done deal that that would improve things," Lindsey said. "The lighting analysis was done with the external tank separating and being in perfect orientation with no tip-off rates, in other words it's not going to tumble at all.
"But every flight I've ever been on, when the ET comes off it starts tumbling, usually slowly, but it starts tumbling because you get a little bit of venting that comes off the tank as you separate. So just because you delay three or four days is no guarantee you're going to get good lighting on those ice/frost ramps.
As far as what the crew might actually see on launch day, "I don't think anybody really knows," Lindsey said. "So I think it was a good decision. There was no guarantee that waiting two or three days would yield us any better results than if we go on the first."
Lindsey, pilot Mark Kelly, flight engineer Lisa Nowak, Stephanie Wilson, spacewalkers Piers Sellers and Mike Fossum, along with European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter, reviewed emergency procedures today in a standard pre-launch exercise. All seven will don 70-pound pressure suits and strap in aboard Discovery early Thursday for the dress rehearsal countdown, known as a terminal countdown demonstration test, or TCDT.
"The vast majority of our training happens at the Johnson Space Center in Houston where we're in simulators," Lindsey said. "Well, this is definitely not a simulator! The training we get here is invaluable. We learn to drive (a NASA armored personnel carrier) in an emergency, we learn how to operate the slidewire (pad escape) baskets ... and the bunker system."
For the practice countdown Thursday, "we'll go through the entire process just like we would on a normal launch day. We'll get up in the morning, have a quick breakfast, have a weather brief, get into our suits, get our suits checked, come out to the pad and get strapped into the vehicle, which is the only time we ever get to do that prior to launch.
"So to get out, get in the vehicle in the vertical, get a feel for what the vehicle looks like - it's close to the simulator, but it's not exactly like the simulator - and then get a chance to egress out of there and see what that feels like, it's really invaluable training for us.
"The TCDT is a real enjoyable week for us, because it's not quite as intense as a normal training week in Houston," he said. "But then when we go back from TCDT, we know that we're really, really close and we're getting close to the end. So this event more than any other probably makes it feel like to us that it's real, it's really time to go and that we're really about ready."