Good weather expected for Wednesday's landing
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: February 19, 2008
The Atlantis astronauts checked out the shuttle's re-entry systems today and packed for landing Wednesday at the Kennedy Space Center to close out a successful space station assembly mission. Forecasters are predicting near ideal conditions at the Florida spaceport, with scattered clouds, light winds and good visibility expected.
"The weather forecasts, I've been looking at them almost the last week, the models and the weather forecasts have all been real consistent on what today and tomorrow are going to look like," said entry Flight Director Bryan Lunney. "Today panned out exactly as they said it would and I've got every expectation tomorrow will as well."
He said Atlantis is in good condition and that problems with a heater circuit affecting four small vernier rocket thrusters would have no impact on the shuttle's re-entry. Engineers are equally confident a kinked Freon coolant line in the shuttle's cargo bay will not cause any problems.
Atlantis has enough supplies on board to remain in orbit until Friday in a worst-case scenario. But NASA has activated its backup landing site at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in a bid to get the shuttle down Wednesday, on one coast or another, to clear the way for a Navy attempt to shoot down a falling spy satellite.
It's not known when the shoot-down attempt will be made, but amateur satellite trackers monitoring the descent of the crippled NROL-21 satellite say a "notice to airmen," or NOTAM, issued by air traffic control in Honolulu Monday https://pilotweb.nas.faa.gov/distribution/center.html establishes a restricted zone west of Hawaii that NROL-21 will pass over Wednesday evening East Coast time. But the NOTAM does not specify the reason for the restricted airspace and the subject line of an email alerting satellite trackers ended with a question mark.
Editor's note: Interested readers can check the current location of NROL-21 (also known by its orbital designation USA 193) at the Heavens Above website.
Commander Steve Frick and his six crewmates - pilot Alan Poindexter, flight engineer Rex Walheim, Leland Melvin, Stan Love, European Space Agency astronaut Hans Schlegel and returning station flier Dan Tani - have two opportunities on successive orbits to land in Florida Wednesday, followed by two opportunities at Edwards.
The wind is expected to kick up in Florida for the second opportunity, making crosswinds a potential issue, while forecasters are predicting a slight chance of rain within 30 nautical miles of Edwards.
Lunney said the astronauts likely will only have enough water on board for cooling after the cargo bay doors are closed to support three of the four opportunities.
"If in the morning we realize we're only going to have three consecutive opportunities ... we'll assess the weather, and if the weather looks good at KSC, we'll shoot for those first two opportunities with the third being Edwards," Lunney said. "If the weather at KSC goes really bad for us against all the forecasts we've had so opportunities as our backups."
Asked if he was under any pressure to get Atlantis down before the satellite shoot-down attempt, Lunney said "no pressure. I'm not going to land the vehicle until its safe to do so for the crew and we're not going to alter any of our rules, because it's not safe. So if the weather's good on Wednesday, we're going to land on Wednesday. If not, then I'll push to Thursday."
Here are the latest deorbit and landing times for Wednesday (in EST/GMT and mission elapsed time):
07:59:54 AM...12...17...14...Deorbit ignition (orbit 202) 09:07:39 AM...12...18...22...Landing at KSC 09:35:20 AM...12...18...50...Deorbit ignition (orbit 203) 10:42:35 AM...12...19...57...Landing at KSC 11:05:15 AM...12...20...20...Deorbit ignition (orbit 204) 12:12:31 PM...12...21...27...Landing at Edwards Air Force Base 12:41:25 PM...12...21...56...Deorbit ignition (orbit 205) 01:47:34 PM...12...23...02...Landing at Edwards Air Force Base
"We're certainly very hopeful we'll be getting home tomorrow to the Kennedy Space Center," Frick told ABC News earlier today. "It sounds like we'll be very likely to land either at Kennedy or Edwards tomorrow and we'd like very much to land at Kennedy. All our families are waiting for us there, we've been up here for all of two weeks, most of us, Dan of course has been up here much longer, and we're very excited to see our families. We miss them very much and we're looking forward to getting home."
Asked what he thought about the satellite shoot-down effort, Frick said "my first thought when we talked about that was 'go Navy!'"
"But Capt. Poindexter and myself are obviously very excited about the upcoming event they're going to have with the satellite, we're interested to see how it happens," Frick told CNN. "We're not concerned about it, certainly we're going to be safely on the ground and the space station is going to be safely well above the deorbiting satellite. But we'll be interested to watch it and see what happens."
He described the risk of space debris as minimal, to either the shuttle or the space station.
"The only reason we're concerned about the space shuttle is because ... that satellite is below us," he said. "We, of course, have to descend through its altitude on our re-entry. The space station is up at about 185 nautical miles, well above any debris, and once they break the satellite up, the debris is just going to slowly descend ... and drop into the atmosphere and burn up."
Over the course of the mission, the Atlantis astronauts staged three spacewalks, delivered and installed the 26,627-pound European Space Agency Columbus research module, two external experiment packages totaling 1,409 pounds and a fresh tank of high-pressure nitrogen for the station's ammonia cooling system that tipped the scales at 1,.069 pounds.
The shuttle is bringing 2,242 pounds of station hardware back to Earth in its cargo bay, including a spent nitrogen tank and a faulty control moment gyroscope. Some 1,299 pounds of supplies and equipment were transferred from the shuttle cabin to the space station, including a new solar alpha rotary joint drive motor, and 1,343 pounds of equipment was moved from the station to the shuttle's cabin for return to Earth.
The astronauts transferred 1,386 pounds of fresh water to the space station, 95 pounds of oxygen and 27 pounds of nitrogen.