Sunday, May 10, 2009

Live At KSC: Countdown Enters Final Full Day

NASA is stepping through the final full day of its countdown to the launch of shuttle Atlantis, and Endeavour is on a pad a half-mile away, ready to fly a rescue mission if its sistership sustains critical damage during a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission.

Atlantis and seven astronauts remain scheduled to blast off at 2:01 p.m. Monday, setting sail on a fifth and final mission to NASA's flagship observatory -- a celestial spyglass that has revolutionized our understanding of the universe.

The big job overnight will be filling a 290-foot-tall tank with 300,000 gallons of water. The reservoir is a key part of NASA's sound suppression system at launch pad 39A.

In a deluge that starts gushing when the shuttle's three main engines ignite 6.6 seconds before launch, the water in the tank pours through 16 nozzles on top of flame deflectors at the pad and from outlets in the main engine exhaust hole in the shuttle's mobile launcher platform.

The system, which empties all the water within 41 seconds, plays a large role in creating the billowing cloud of steam and smoke that envelopes shuttles at liftoff. It reduces acoustical vibrations that otherwise could damage shuttles or their payloads as they roar off pads 39A and 39B at KSC.

NASA installed the system early on in the shuttle program when engineers discovered reflective energy from the top of the shuttle's mobile launcher platform was causing minor damage to the shuttle's solid rocket boosters while stressing orbiter wings. The system halved the acoustical pressure shuttles are exposed to at main engine ignition and liftoff.

The three-hour operation was scheduled to pick up about 1 a.m.

With work ongoing out at the pad, NASA will stage a series of news briefings that will be webcast here in The Flame Trench. Simply click the NASA TV box at the righthand side of the page to launch our NASA TV viewer and live coverage of the briefings. Be sure to refresh this page, too, for periodic updates.

The schedule follows:

++10 a.m.: L-1 Countdown Status Briefing. NASA Test Director Charlie Blackwell-Thomas will present an update of work done overnight as well as final preps for launch on Monday.

NASA payload manager Debbie Hahn will cover payload preps and shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters of the Air Force 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron will brief the latest launch forecast.

++1 p.m.: Hubble Program Briefing. Participants include: Jon Morse, director of NASA's Astrophysics Division; Hubble project scientist David Leckrone; Hubble project manager Preston Burch; and Mike Kienlen, deputy Hubble project director.

++2 p.m.: Hubble Science Briefing. Taking part: Ed Weiler, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate; Hubble project scientist David Leckrone; John Trauger, principal investigator for the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 -- the instrument responsible for all iconic Hubble images; and Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md.

Also on tap is a grand unveiling. NASA at 5 p.m. will move the Rotating Service Structure at pad 39A away from shuttle Atlantic, where it will be bathed in million-candlepower Xenon lights on the eve of launch.

Should be quite a sight.

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge the Florida Today image of shuttle Atlantis at pad 39A and Endeavour in the background at pad 39B. It was shot last month after Endeavour rolled to pad B, where it would be launched on a rescue mission if Atlantis sustains critical damage during its Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. This is expected to be the last time shuttles are simutaneously on pads 39A and 39B. Photo credit: Michael R. Brown/Florida Today.

No comments: