Friday, April 17, 2009

Photo Gallery: Rescue Shuttle Rolls To Pad 39B

Shuttle Endeavour is at launch pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center, where the spaceship is being readied to fly a rescue mission if sistership Atlantis sustains critical damage during NASA's fifth and final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission.

Now a half-mile to the south on launch pad 39A, Atlantis and seven astronauts are scheduled to blast off at 1:31 p.m. May 12 on a mission to equip NASA's flagship observatory for another five to 10 years of orbital observations.

A crew of four astronauts would board Endeavour and launch on a mission to rescue Atlantis mission commander Scott Altman, pilot Gregory "Ray Jay" Johnson and five mission specialists: spacewalkers John Grunsfeld, Andrew Feustel, Mike Massimino, Mike Good and robot arm operator Megan McArthur.

The rescue crew would be commanded by veteran astronaut Chris Ferguson and include pilot Eric Boe, flight engineer Stephen Bowen and mission specialist Shane Kimbrough.

Endeavour Flow Manager Dana Hutcherson told reporters today that NASA will continue preps for what would be an unprecedented "Launch-On-Need" mission under the assumption that a rescue mission in fact will be required.

"We're going to march down the path to some degree. The (shuttle) program is going to tell us how far," she said. "We have a plan that will get us to launch within seven days."

In the event of an emergency, the Atlantis astronauts would be unable to seek safe haven on the International Space Station. The Hubble telescope is in an entirely different orbit and the shuttle would not have the propulsive power to fly to the outpost.

Consequently, Altman and his crew would have to power down all-but-essential systems to save life-sustaining electrical power and then hunker down in a dark spaceship until the Endeavour crew could be launched.

The Atlantis astronauts would only be able to survive for about 20 to 25 days, so the rescue mission would have to launch in a timely manner. That's why the shuttle was rolled out to pad 39B overnight.

With Endeavour mounted atop a mobile launcher platform the size of a baseball diamond, a giant tracked transporter originally built for Saturn 5 moon rockets crept out of the KSC Vehicle Assembly Building at 11:57 p.m. Thursday.

Running at a top speed of just under one mile per hour, the transporter reached pad 39B as dawn broke over Florida's Space Coast.

Looming large around the perimeter of the pad are three 600-foot-tall towers that were built to protect next-generation Ares 1 rockets from potentially deadly lightning.

NASA is converting pad 39B for the Ares I rocket and aims to launch an initial test flight -- dubbed Ares 1X -- from the 39B pad in late August. The "no-earlier-than" launch date now is Aug. 30.

Note that the single lightning mast that protected shuttles since pad 39B was opened in 1986 now longer is mounted atop the Fixed Service Structure at the complex. The original mast and associated catenary wires have been removed as part of the Ares I conversion project.

If no rescue mission is required, NASA will roll Endeavour around to pad 39A, freeing up pad 39B so it can be prepped for the Ares I-X test flight.

Endeavour in that case would be launched June 13 on a mission to deliver the third and final section of the Japanese Kibo science research facility to the International Space Station.

ABOUT THE IMAGES: Click to enlarge the awesome images captured this morning by award-winning Florida Today photographer Michael R. Brown.

The images show Endeavour on launch pad 39B after an overnight rollout from the Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building. First motion was marked at 11:57 p.m. Thursday and the spaceship arrived at the oceanside launch complex as dawn broke over Florida's Space Coast. Photo credit: Michael R. Brown/Florida Today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Are there extra seats on Endeavour? How would 11 crew members make the trip back?