NASA set to begin counting down for Endeavour launch
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: March 7, 2008
The shuttle Endeavour's seven-member crew flies to Florida this evening to prepare for a sky lighting night launch early Tuesday on a quick-turnaround space station assembly mission. The countdown is scheduled to begin at 3 a.m. EST Saturday and forecasters are predicting a 90 percent chance of good weather for launch, targeted at 2:28:12 a.m. EDT Tuesday.
NASA has two opportunities to launch Endeavour, on March 11 and 12, before standing down to make way for the March 15 launch of an Air Force Delta 2 rocket carrying a Global Positioning System navigation satellite. Shuttles and unmanned rockets launched from the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station share tracking, imagery and self-destruct systems.
"Because of turnaround constraints between one launch and the next, we would attempt launches on the 11th and 12th and then stand down, let the Delta rocket play through - it has two attempts if it needs it - and then we could re-attempt, the earliest would be on the 17th, late in the evening," said NASA Test Director Steve Payne. "After that, we'd have opportunities through March 22 if we needed them."
The primary goals of Endeavour's flight are to ferry flight engineer Garrett Reisman to the space station and bring European Space Agency astronaut Leopold Eyharts back to Earth; to install the first of two Japanese modules; and to assemble a sophisticated Canadian robot capable of maintenance tasks that normally require spacewalking astronauts. The astronauts also plan to test a heat shield repair tool that represents one of the final steps in NASA's recovery from the 2003 Columbia disaster.
A launch on March 11 would result in a docking with the international space station around 11:30 p.m. on March 12. Five spacewalks are planned before undocking March 24. Landing back at the Kennedy Space Center is expected around 8:35 p.m. on March 26.
Endeavour's mission is just one in a series of critical flights to the fast-growing space station.
The European Space Agency is gearing up to launch an Ariane 5 rocket Saturday night, at 11:03 p.m. EST, from Kourou, French Guiana, to boost the Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle, or ATV, into orbit on its long-awaited maiden flight. The ATV, capable of carrying about three times the cargo of an unmanned Russian Progress freighter, is making its maiden flight, with docking at the space station expected April 3, after Endeavour is back on Earth.
The Russians plan to follow the ATV docking with launch of a Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to deliver two Russian cosmonauts to the space station to replace Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson and flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko. If all goes well, the shuttle Discovery will take off May 25 to deliver Japan's huge Kibo lab module to the station.
Going into Endeavour's countdown, Payne said the only technical issue at pad 39A is trouble with a high-power amplifier in the shuttle's UHF radio system. NASA typically uses S-band and Ku-band communications links through a satellite relay system, but the UHF radio provides a secondary capability.
"We have the option of flying it as is, because there's redundant capability inside the radio," Payne said. "There are two good low-power amplifiers with redundant power coming to them and that is sufficient to satisfy† the flight rules. The other option is to remove and replace. That involves some work. Either way, both of those options support launch on the 11th, so we're still good."
Other than that, "we have no other issues to report," Payne said. "Systems are clean, it appears it's going to be a good day for us Tuesday early morning and Endeavour and her crew are ready to launch."
Endeavour commander Dominic Gorie, pilot Gregory Johnson, flight engineer Michael Foreman, Richard Linnehan, Robert Behnken, Japanese astronaut Takao Doi and Reisman are expected to land at the Kennedy Space Center around 9 p.m. this evening.
But a front with potentially severe thunderstorms is expected to move through the central Florida area later today and the crew's arrival time could change depending on conditions at the time. But shuttle weather officer Todd McNamara said "it won't be totally socked in and they should be able to make their way in."
After the front passes through, conditions are expected to improve. The forecast for Tuesday calls for a 90 percent chance of good weather with scattered clouds and light winds. The odds drop to 80 percent "go" if launch is delayed to Wednesday.