Endeavour completes frigid journey to launch pad
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: January 6, 2010
Working through bone-chilling temperatures gripping the Kennedy Space Center this morning, a small team of technicians moved the space shuttle Endeavour from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad for its early February trek to the International Space Station.
An Apollo-era transporter carried the shuttle stack along Kennedy Space Center's rock-covered crawlerway leading to the oceanfront launch complex at barely a walking pace. Powerful hydraulics jacked up the platform, keeping it level as the crawler ascended the pad's concrete incline.
A laser alignment system helped technicians precisely position the platform, then the crawler lowered it onto the pad's pedestals to complete Endeavour's rollout at 10:37 a.m. EST.
The shuttle's move came on a morning of remarkably cold temperatures in Central Florida that dropped below freezing with an even harsher wind chill.
Heaters and warm air purges have been established to protect the shuttle from the frigid weather. The ground crew devised a special plan to rotate personnel every 30 minutes, shifting between their duties and getting warmed up inside vans.
In the next few hours and days, the methodical process of hooking up the crew module assess and hydrogen vent arms extending from the launch tower, as well as electrical, propellant, communications and other lines between the ground systems and mobile launch platform will begin.
The mission's payload -- the Italian-made Tranquility module and attached cupola -- is being readied for flight at Kennedy Space Center's Space Station Processing Facility. The module is slated for delivery to the launch pad on January 15 for placement into the gantry's cleanroom and subsequent installation into Endeavour's payload bay.
"February 7th is looking great. We got a little bit of contingency time, so everything is looking well. We're not tracking any major issues or concerns," said Dana Hutcherson, the Endeavour flow director.
The two-week flight will be led by commander George Zamka, along with rookie pilot Terry Virts, veteran mission specialists Kay Hire and Steve Robinson, and spacewalkers Bob Behnken and Nick Patrick.
Three EVAs are planned by the crew to help with the transfer and activation of the new module. Tranquility will be used to house many of the space station's life support systems and equipment once fully operational.
The seven-windowed cupola will become the robotics workstation, allowing operators panoramic views around the outpost. It'll also provide a spectacular viewing portal to the cosmos.
The STS-130 mission marks the 130th mission overall for the shuttle program that began in April 1981, Endeavour's 24th spaceflight since its maiden voyage in May 1992 and the 32nd space shuttle flight to the International Space Station dating back to December 1998.
The launch also begins the sad countdown to the final five shuttle missions, all slated to occur between February and September.