First woman station commander set for launch
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: October 9, 2007
A Soyuz rocket is poised for blastoff Wednesday from Kazakhstan to ferry a fresh crew to the international space station, kicking off one of the most complex expeditions in the history of station assembly. NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, a station veteran who will become the first female to command the orbiting lab complex, was jokingly presented with a ceremonial whip during a final news conference "for the men to remember that you are the boss."
"Are you going to use it? Or are you going to be a nice commander?" someone else, presumably a reporter, asked in Russian.
"I'm hoping that I will not be needing this," Whitson replied, according to a translator. "But just in case..."
Whitson, Soyuz commander Yuri Malenchenko and Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, a Malaysian physician flying as a guest of the Russian government, are scheduled for launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 9:22:37 a.m. EDT Wednesday. If all goes well, the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft will dock with the international space station around 10:52 a.m. Friday.
Whitson spent six months aboard the space station in 2002 as a member of the fifth expedition crew. Malenchenko is a veteran of three space missions including a visit to the old Mir space station, a shuttle flight and as commander of the space station's seventh crew.
Whitson and Malenchenko will replace Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Oleg Kotov. Both men were launched to the station aboard a Soyuz on April 7. Expedition 15 science officer Clay Anderson, who was launched to the station aboard the shuttle Atlantis June 8, will remain aboard the outpost with Whitson and Malenchenko until his replacement - Dan Tani - arrives at the end of the month aboard the shuttle Discovery.
Shukor, who will return to Earth on Oct. 21 with Yurchikhin and Kotov aboard the Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft, won a competition to become the first Malaysian in space after the Russians offered a space trip as part of a fighter jet sale to island nation.
"Being a Muslim and going to space is a big responsibility for me, not only for the Malaysian people but all the Muslims all over the world," Shukor said. "I'm sure I'll find a way how to pray and fast in space and I'll come back and I will share it with all the rest of the Muslims all over the world."
For her part, Whitson said she was looking forward to launching aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from the same launch pad used by Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, at the dawn of the space age.
"The last time I did a six-month mission I launched and landed on the shuttle," Whitson said in a recent interview. "I'm looking forward to the opportunity of actually launching and landing on the Soyuz. For me, it's an additional challenge because I had to learn how to be the left-seat (flight engineer). Yuri is the Soyuz commander but I'm the left-seat flight engineer and it's very involved, it's more involved than I ever would have been, for instance, on a shuttle mission.
"I was pretty impressed with the training program, that they're able to teach a biochemist - in Russian - how to be a left-seat engineer. So it was very challenging for me, but I think it's going to be very satisfying."
Once aboard the space station, Whitson will replace Yurchikhin to become the first female commander of the orbital laboratory.
"I think that the Russians ... are a little further away from our perspective of what the woman's role is," she said. "Knowing other cosmonauts, knowing the trainers, once you get to know them and once you're a part of their lives, they have accepted me in my role and it's very satisfying to me to have them accept me in spite of the fact that culturally, it's not necessarily the norm there.
"And I hope I can influence that as well. But launching on the Soyuz is probably going to be part of that role. And I think being commander is going to be noticed in Russia as well, a female commander."
By coincidence, shuttle Discovery will be commanded by Pam Melroy, a veteran shuttle pilot making her first flight as commander. In another coincidence, Melroy and her crewmates - Tani, pilot George Zamka, Stephanie Wilson, Scott Parazynski, Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli and Doug Wheelock - planned to strap in aboard Discovery for a dress-rehearsal countdown about an hour before Whitson's launch.
"There's a tremendous amount of coincidence as we are moving forward in our individual flows to launch," Melroy told reporters Tuesday at the Kennedy Space Center. "That actually is pretty stressful for the organization, if you stop and think about trying to have all these things happening in a very short period of time. We're probably more focused on that than we are about this element of the two women commanders being up there together.
"I think for me, the biggest part is the friendship between us and how special that is and how special that makes this moment for us," Melroy said. "But I think that when your compatriots are launching in a space vehicle you cannot help but have your heart and mind be with them. And so as we strap in tomorrow morning, I know that we'll all be acutely aware of our colleagues over there, wishing them the best. And I'm sure they're going to be watching us with the same kind of excitement in a few days."
Whitson's Expedition 16 crew will be responsible for one of the most critical phases of space station assembly yet attempted.
After Shukor and the Expedition 15 crew departs, Whitson, Malenchenko and Anderson will prepare the station for arrival of the shuttle Discovery, scheduled for launch Oct. 23. The primary goal of the flight is to deliver a new multi-hatch module called Harmony that will serve as the connecting point for European Japanese research modules scheduled for launch late this year and early next.
Discovery' crew also plans to move a huge set of stowed solar arrays from an initial central location to the far left end of the station's main power truss, an especially complex task involving handoffs from the station's robot arm to Discovery's and back again after the former is moved from one work site to another. The shuttle astronauts will stage four spacewalks to activate Harmony, move the P6 solar array segment and test heat shield repair techniques. Whitson and Malenchenko plan to stage an EVA of their own before the shuttle crew departs to make preparations for connecting power and cooling to Harmony.
Harmony will be temporarily attached to the left hatch of the station's central Unity module. After Discovery departs, the station crew will use the lab's robot arm to move the main shuttle docking port from the front of the Destiny lab module to the newly arrived Harmony. Harmony and pressurized mating adaptor No. 2 then will be be moved back to the front end of Destiny.
If all goes well, Whitson and Tani will carry out spacewalks Nov. 13 and 17 to route electrical lines and ammonia coolant loops between Harmony and the station's solar power truss. That will set the stage for attachment of the European Space Agency's Columbus module in December and two Japanese modules scheduled for launch in February and April.
"The complexity of the shuttle mission is astounding," Tani said in an interview. "Even a few years ago, any one of the major things we're doing, any one of them would have been a full shuttle's worth of activities. Bringing the node up, attaching it to the station in a temporary location, starting the outfitting - that's a huge task - moving the P6 from its temporary initial location out to the side location, huge, that's a big robotic operation, a big EVA.
"So the significance of this particular mission is big, we're doing many, many complex things and again, allowing the international partners to then bring their hardware up and join the station. ... Once the shuttle leaves, we do some very complex robotic operations and maneuver the node over to its final location. ... and then I would say the big technical part of my stay on station is the EVAs that will follow, where we take fluid trays that have been stored on the station for years and we install them on the lab to provide cooling and power to (Harmony) so it can offer it to the Columbus module and the JEM (Japanese Experiment Module).
"We talk about this as a 45-day shuttle mission in terms of pace," Tani said of his Expedition 16 work. "Shuttle missions are scheduled down to 10-minute increments and generally, usually station timelines are a bit more relaxed. But we are not, we are all go. From the moment of launch to probably until (the shuttle) comes to get me to bring me home, we are go, go, go."
Here is a timeline of Soyuz launch-day activities (in EDT throughout):
EDT...........EVENT 03:22:37 AM...Batteries installed in booster 03:22:37 AM...Crew arrives at site 254 03:52:37 AM...State commission 'go' for launch 04:22:37 AM...Fueling begins 04:32:37 AM...Crew dons pressure suits 05:22:37 AM...Booster is loaded with liquid oxygen 05:42:37 AM...Crew meets delegations 06:17:37 AM...Crew reports to the state commission 06:22:37 AM...Crew taken to launch pad 06:22:37 AM...1st/2nd stage oxygen fueling complete 06:42:37 AM...Crew arrives at launch vehicle 06:47:37 AM...Crew ingress through orbital module side hatch 07:17:37 AM...Crew in re-entry vehicle 07:37:37 AM...Re-entry vehicle hardware tested; suits are ventilated 07:52:37 AM...Hatch sealed and tested 08:22:37 AM...Launch vehicle control system preps; gyro activation 08:37:37 AM...Launch pad service structure halves lowered 08:42:37 AM...Suit leak checks; re-entry vehicle testing complete 08:52:37 AM...Emergency escape system armed 08:57:37 AM...Service towers retracted 09:07:37 AM...Suit leak checks complete; escape system to auto 09:12:37 AM...Gyros uncaged; on-board recorders activated 09:15:37 AM...Pre-launch operations complete 09:16:22 AM...Final launch countdown operations to auto 09:16:37 AM...Launch complex and vehicle systems ready 09:17:37 AM...Onboard systems switch to onboard control; commander's ..............controls activated; helmets closed; launch key inserted 09:19:22 AM...Combustion chamber nitrogen purge 09:20:07 AM...Booster propellant tank pressurization begins 09:20:22 AM...Ground propellant feed terminated 09:21:37 AM...Vehicle to internal power; 1st umbilical tower separates; ..............automatic sequencer on 09:21:57 AM...Ground power umbilical to 3rd stage separates 09:22:17 AM...Launch command given; central/side pod engines on 09:22:22 AM...Second umbilical tower separates 09:22:27 AM...Engine turbopumps at flight speed 09:22:32 AM...Engines at maximum thrust 09:22:37 AM...LIFTOFF 09:23:47 AM...Velocity 1,118 mph 09:24:35 AM...Stage 1 strap-on boosters separate 09:24:37 AM...Velocity 3,355 mph 09:25:17 AM...Escape tower/launch shroud jettison 09:27:35 AM...Core booster separates at 105 statute miles 09:30:07 AM...Velocity 13,421 mph 09:31:37 AM...Third stage shutdown; Soyuz in orbitAfter the Soyuz capsule's solar arrays unfold and communications antennas deploy, Whitson, Malenchenko and Shukor will settle in for a two-day rendezvous with the space station. Two rendezvous rocket firings are planned Wednesday with a third burn Thursday before the terminal phase of the rendezvous begins with a series of rocket firings Friday morning.
Here is a rendezvous timeline (in EDT and mission elapsed time):
DATE/EDT...DD...HH...MM...EVENT 10/10/07 12:58 PM...00...03...36...DV1 rocket firing (dV: 35.6 mph) 01:42 PM...00...04...20...DV2 rocket firing (dV: 23.8 mph) 10/11/07 10:17 AM...01...00...55...DV3 rocket firing (dV: 4.5 mph) 10/12/07 07:19 AM...01...21...57...US-to-Russian motion control system handover 08:09 AM...01...22...47...ISS maneuvers to docking attitude 08:22 AM...01...23...00...AR&D automated rendezvous start 08:42 AM...01...23...20...AR&D DV4 impulse 1 rocket firing (dV: 32.8 mph) 09:05 AM...01...23...43...AR&D impulse 2 rocket firing (dV: 2.4 mph) 09:08 AM...01...23...46...Soyuz/KURS-A rendezvous radar activation 09:10 AM...01...23...48...Zvezda/KURS-P rendezvous radar activation 09:28 AM...02...00...06...AR&D DV5 impulse 3 rocket firing (dV: 52.8 mph) 09:35 AM...02...00...13...Good KURS-P data at 50 miles 09:56 AM...02...00...34...KURS short test at 9 miles 10:01 AM...02...00...39...Range: 5.6 miles 10:02 AM...02...00...40...Range: 5 miles; Soyuz TV activation 10:10 AM...02...00...48...AR&D impulse 4 rocket firing (dV: 15.8 mph) 10:12 AM...02...00...50...AR&D ballistic targeting point 10:15 AM...02...00...53...AR&D impulse 5 rocket firing (dV: 9.1 mph) 10:17 AM...02...00...55...AR&D impulse 6 rocket firing (dV: 3.5 mph) 10:19 AM...02...00...57...AR&D fly around mode start 10:28 AM...02...01...06...AR&D station keeping start 10:41 AM...02...01...19...Russian ground station AOS 10:43 AM...02...01...21...AR&D final approach start 10:48 AM...02...01...26...Sunset 10:52 AM...02...01...30...ISS Docking 10:57 AM...02...01...35...Russian ground station loss of signal 11:12 AM...02...01...50...Soyuz hooks closed 11:59 AM...02...02...37...U.S. motion control system resumes attitude control