Endeavour's fuel cells loaded as countdown proceeds
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: March 9, 2008
Engineers pumped liquid oxygen and hydrogen into the shuttle Endeavour's fuel cell system early today in preparation for launch Tuesday on a space station assembly mission. There are no technical problems of any significance launch complex 39A and forecasters say the weather is behaving as expected with a 90 percent chance of acceptable conditions at launch time.
"All of our systems are in great shape, our teams are ready to go, they're very excited to be back again in this posture where we're able to launch just a little over a month or so since the last launch," said NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding. "We're going to be ready ... Tuesday."
Said Payload Manager Scott Higginbotham: "this has been a long campaign for us, but both my team and our international partners are excited for the opportunity to finally see our hardware do it's thing in space."
Liftoff is targeted for 2:28:12 a.m. Tuesday, the middle of a 10-minute launch window and roughly the moment Earth's rotation carries the pad into the plane of the international space station's orbit.
The goals of the 122nd shuttle mission are to ferry a Japanese logistics module to the station; to assemble and install a Canadian maintenance robot; to deliver critical spare parts and supplies; to test a new heat shield repair technique; and to carry up a replacement - Garrett Reisman - for European Space Agency astronaut Leopold Eyharts. Eyharts is wrapping up six weeks of work in space activating and checking out ESA's new Columbus research module. Five spacewalks are planned over the course of Endeavour's 16-day mission.
NASA will have two shots at getting Endeavour off the pad this week. If the shuttle is not off the ground by Wednesday, when forecasters expect a 70 percent chance of good weather, NASA will stand down to make way for launch Saturday of an Air Force Delta 2 rocket carrying a new Global Positioning System navigation satellite. The next opportunity for Endeavour would be March 17.
The forecast for Tuesday calls for winds out of the northeast at 8 knots with gusts up to 12 knots, well within NASA's safety limits. Scattered clouds are expected, but there's a slight chance a more extensive deck of low clouds could move into the area from offshore that could cause problems. The weather at NASA's emergency runways in California, New Mexico, Spain and France is expected to be acceptable for flight.
If launch is delayed 24 hours, conditions will deteriorate somewhat with a better chance of low clouds and showers in the launch area. Forecasters expect a 70 percent chance of good weather Wednesday, with winds gusting to 15 knots at the shuttle's runway.
NASA managers will provide a traditional launch-minus two-day status briefing at 11 a.m. today, followed at 1 p.m. by a Canadian Space Agency briefing on the special purpose dextrous manipulator payload, a high-tech space station maintenance robot known informally as Dextre.
In the nearby launch control center, meanwhile, engineers will carry out extensive checks of Endeavour's main engines starting around noon, followed by a more general avionics system checkout. At 8 p.m. this evening, a 14-hour three-minute "hold" in the countdown will begin, during which the orbiter's communications systems will be activated and tested.
At 6 a.m. Monday, a protective gantry known as the rotating service structure will be pulled away from Endeavour, exposing the shuttle to view and setting the stage for fueling. After hydraulic system tests, fuel cell activation and other preparations, engineers plan to begin pumping a half-million gallons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen rocket fuel into Endeavour's external tank starting around 5:03 p.m.
Fueling should be complete by 8 p.m. and Endeavour's crew - commander Dominic Gorie, pilot Gregory Johnson, flight engineer Michael Foreman, Richard Linnehan, Robert Behnken, Japanese astronaut Takao Doi and Reisman - is expected to begin strapping in for launch just after 11 p.m. Monday.