Friday, August 07, 2009

Live At KSC: Astronauts Complete Countdown Drill

Discovery's astronauts just exited their orbiter at Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A, winding up a launch-day dress rehearsal with an emergency drill on the 195-foot level of NASA's oceanside shuttle launch gantry.

Countdown clocks came to a halt at T-Minus 4 seconds as NASA engineers simulated a main engine shutdown and launch pad abort, capping a two-day practice countdown for Discovery's planned launch later this month.

Clad in bright orange partial-pressure launch-and-entry suits, the astronauts crawled out of the side hatch of the shuttle orbiter one at a time and then moved in groups to the north side of the gantry.

There, the astronauts climbed into metal escape baskets they would use to evacuate the tower in a real emergency. The baskets would zip down a 1,200-foot slide wire to a bunker on the outer perimeter of the pad area.

The emergency drill is a standard part of the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test. The TCDT is the last major training exercise for shuttle crews at KSC prior to launch.

NASA and contractor engineers staged the countdown exercise from Firing Room 4 in the Launch Control Center adjacent to the landmark Vehicle Assembly Building.

The Discovery crew includes mission commander Rick "C.J." Sturckow, pilot Kevin Ford and mission specialists Jose Hernandez, Patrick Forrester, Danny Olivas, Nicole Stott and Christer Fuglesang of the European Space Agency.

The astronauts are tentatively scheduled to launch Aug. 25 on a mission to outfit the International Space Station with new crew quarters, science research racks, a freezer for experiment samples and a treadmill.

The largest assortment of supplies and equipment ever hauled to the station -- 33,000 pounds -- will enable the U.S., Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan to keep the station fully staffed with six people.

A firm launch date will be set at an execute-level flight readiness review to be held on Aug. 18. NASA mission managers will brief the media on the mission during day-long briefings that will be broadcast live here in The Flame Trench beginning at 9 a.m. next Thursday. Click the NASA TV box on the right side of the page to launch our NASA TV viewer and refresh the page for periodic updates.

ABOUT THE IMAGES: Click to enlarge and save the outstanding images of Discovery rolling out to launch pad 39A earlier this week. You can also click on the enlarged images to get ever bigger, more detailed views. Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis.

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