NASA shoots for Nov. 14 launch of shuttle Endeavour
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: October 3, 2008
Shuttle program managers are now targeting Nov. 14 for launch of the Endeavour on a space station repair and resupply mission. No target dates have yet been set for shuttle Atlantis' launch on a now-delayed flight to service the Hubble Space Telescope, but it appears the earliest possible launch slot is mid February.
Atlantis had been scheduled for launch Oct. 14 from pad 39A, but the flight was put on hold earlier this week after a critical electronic component aboard Hubble malfunctioned, preventing science data from reaching the ground. The component is part of a redundant computer system and a backup channel is available. But with the failure of the A-side electronics, Hubble could be knocked out of action for good by a subsequent failure. NASA managers opted to delay Atlantis to give engineers time to prepare replacement hardware.
Engineers at the Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md., currently are reviewing the complex procedures needed to switch Hubble over to its B-side data management system, which has not been activated since before launch in 1990. It's not yet clear when the switchover will be attempted. Because of the critical nature of the operation, Hubble managers want to make sure the procedure is solid before it is implemented.
At the Kennedy Space Center, shuttle engineers are setting their sights on getting Endeavour ready for flight, preparing to remove the Hubble payload from Atlantis' cargo bay so the shuttle can be hauled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building Oct. 20. Endeavour, the Atlantis rescue vehicle, is mounted atop pad 39B. The current plan calls for Endeavour to be moved from pad 39B to 39A on Oct. 25 for final preparations.
Shuttle program managers plan to hold a flight readiness review Oct. 21 and 22, followed by an executive-level review Oct. 30. Endeavour's crew, meanwhile, plans to fly to the Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 26 to review emergency procedures and participate in a dress-rehearsal countdown on Oct. 29.
If all goes well, the countdown will begin for real on Nov. 11, setting up a launch attempt at 7:55 p.m. on Nov. 14. Docking is expected around 5:10 p.m. on Nov. 16. Four spacewalks are planned, each one starting around 1:50 p.m., on Nov. 18, 20, 22 and 24. Undocking is expected around 10:49 a.m. on Nov. 27 with landing back at the Kennedy Space Center targeted for 2:18 p.m. on Nov. 29.
In the near term, the Russian space program is gearing up to launch a fresh crew to the space station. Expedition 18 commander Mike Fincke, flight engineer Yuri Lonchakov and Richard Garriott, a space tourist, are scheduled for launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:01 a.m. EDT on Oct. 12 aboard the Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft. Garriott, the son of former Skylab and shuttle astronaut Owen Garriott, will be the first second-generation American to fly in space.
Fincke and Lonchakov will replace Expedition 17 commander Sergey Volkov and flight engineer Oleg Kononenko, who were launched to the station April 8 aboard the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft. Volkov, Kononenko and Garriott are scheduled to undock from the station around 8:20 p.m. on Oct. 23 for a landing in Kazakhstan three hours later, at 11:46 p.m. EDT.
The two previous Soyuz entries ran into problems that triggered steep, off-course landings. Russian engineers believe the electrical environment around the station caused arcing that, in turn, affected specific pryo bolts used to separate the Soyuz crew module just before atmospheric entry.
Volkov and Kononenko removed a pyro bolt from the TMA-12 spacecraft during a July 10 spacewalk and plan to bring it back to Earth for a detailed analysis. With the bolt removed, Russian engineers believe the TMA-12 vehicle will separate normally.
"They sent us a report and they assured us that everything should be OK," Volkov told CBS News today. "Of course, we've done a spacewalk to remove this pyro bolt that they thought might be causing the problem for previous crews' landing. They made some mathematical calculation for the re-entry into the atmosphere. And they said everything should be OK."
Expedition 17 flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff, launched to the station aboard a space shuttle on May 31, will remain aboard the lab complex with Fincke and Lonchakov when Volkov and Kononenko depart. Chamitoff is scheduled to return to Earth aboard Endeavour in November, taking the seat of his replacement, Expedition 18 flight engineer Sandra Magnus.
Chamitoff said today he was excited at the prospect of visitors after four months in space.
"We're ready to have them on board, we're very excited they're coming," he said of the Expedition 18 crew. "Of course, I'm going to miss these guys very much. We've had a great time together for a long time. If we were ... to go to Mars and back, we'd have done great together I think. But we're looking forward to our friends that are coming up. I can't wait to welcome them here. And it's the same for the shuttle, too. We've done a lot of work to prepare for the shuttle and all the shuttle's going to do here, all the stuff that has to be off loaded and all the stuff that has to be loaded on the shuttle. We're looking forward to it."
Outgoing station astronauts typically spend several days briefing their replacements on the intricacies of station operation. Fincke is a station veteran, but the lab has changed considerably since he was there in 2004.
"It'll be easier for him to come on board for the second time," Chamitoff said. "I won't have to worry about showing him all the ropes, he'll know most of everything. But since he was here, we've added many modules to the space station. Everything behind me, actually, is brand new since he was here. So two spectacular laboratories. ... So there's a lot to show him, how we do everything and what's going on in those laboratories. So there's plenty of us to talk about."
Including politics. Chamitoff said he's been able to watch presidential debates and speeches from the Republican and Democratic conventions that were beamed up from mission control. Both Fincke and Chamitoff will cast their votes from orbit via computers aboard the station.
"It's great that we're able to do that, it's really important to vote, especially this time," Chamitoff said. "There's a lot going on on the ground. We've been following and we're both really glad we're going to be able to vote. It's basically like an absentee ballot, an electronic ballot especially set up between NASA and the county. We fill it out electronically, send it down and then the county records it. They actually convert it to a paper ballot. Anyway, this is all in place and we should be able to vote. So it's great."
Chamitoff rode out Hurricane Ike aboard the space station. The storm was so huge, he said, it wouldn't fit in his camera's field of view.
"Our hearts go out to everybody in Houston right now because we know it's a very big effort now to recover for everyone and a lot of folks have a lot that they have lost," he said. Because mission control and the Johnson Space Center shut down the week of the storm, "we didn't really see much of what happened other than what we heard directly from the control center until afterwards. And it's devastating to see everything that happened there, really devastating. But my family could leave town. Our house does have some roof damage, but of course, nothing compared to what many other people have had to deal with."
He said the crew tracked Ike's progress as the station flew over and "we certainly saw the hurricane before it approached and hit Houston."
"You know, this hurricane was so massive," Chamitoff marveled. "Other ones we were able to sort of see clear borders around the hurricane and the center and see kind of the flow of clouds entrained into the hurricane. This one was so difficult to get the whole thing in any camera lens. It was unbelievable. And of course, afterwards now, when we're flying over with a high zoom lens, it is possible for us to see the changes there. I've been able to see Galveston and taken some pictures. There's clearly missing structures along the coast. Those pictures will kind of be good to help look at exactly what happened, before and after."