Saturday, August 22, 2009

Live At KSC: NASA Counts Down To Night Launch

NASA is counting down to a relatively rare night shuttle launch that promises to light up dark, starry skies on Florida's Space Coast early Tuesday.

Discovery and seven astronauts remain scheduled to blast off from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A at 1:36 a.m. Tuesday -- the middle of a 10-minute window in which NASA can put the spaceship on course for a ground-up rendezvous with the International Space Station.

Moonset will come at 10:28 p.m. Monday, so the skies should be dark and clear early Tuesday.

"You know, in this business there are few sights as beautiful as a night-time launch, and I expect this to be a spectacular sight as Discover roars to life early Tuesday morning and lights up the night sky," said NASA Test Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson.

"The skies are going to be completely dark at launch time, so that's going to make for a very impressive launch if the clouds all get out of here, which they should by the time we get to launch," added Kathy Winters, shuttle weather officer with the Air Force 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron.

The wing provides tracking, range safety and weather forecasting services for all launches from KSC and nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

NASA's 128th shuttle launch will be the 37th for orbiter fleet leader Discovery and the 33rd after-dark liftoff. Launch countdown picked up at 11 p.m. Friday.

The official forecast calls for a 70 percent chance conditions will be acceptable for launch. The only concern at launch time is a chance of rain showers or electrically charged clouds in the area.

Meteorologists also will be keeping close tabs on the weather around 4 p.m. Monday, when NASA and contractor engineers are scheduled to begin loading more than a half-million gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen into the shuttle's 15-story external tank.

Winters said there is a 30 percent chance of lightning within five miles -- conditions that would force NASA to delay the three-hour fuel-loading operation.

NASA would need to start-up fuel-loading within by about 6 p.m. or so to make a launch attempt early Tuesday.

Discovery's astronauts aim to haul up a huge load of supplies and equipment to the International Space Station, including new crew quarters, an air revitalization system, three refrigerator-sized science research racks and a smaller mouse "hotel" for research into bone loss that could yield new treatment to counteract osteoporosis.

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

Stott, who worked in a variety of shuttle processing posts at KSC between 1988 and 1998, will remain on the station, replacing flight engineer Tim Kopra, who will return to Earth aboard Discovery.

Stott will be the third former KSC worker to be selected to the astronaut corps and fly in space. Former Lockheed Space Operations Co. engineer Kay Hire flew on a medical research mission in 1998 and is slated to fly on a station assembly mission in February.

Former NASA payload and orbiter engineer Joan Higginbotham flew on a station assembly mission in December 2006.


Anonymous said...

My question is this: It is indeed correct that this is the 33rd night launch, going by NASA's 15 minute rule, however NASA says this is the 32nd because they don't count STS-61C (21 minutes before sunrise), because, they say, they did not have a 15 minute rule back then. Silly, yes, but why not just say it was a night launch? (And in addition to that, their 'night launches' list on is currently incorrect as it lists STS-119 which was 12 minutes after sunset).

Anonymous said...

OK, I have a question, same question I always have: Why does NASA close Playalinda Beach beginning 6 pm on Friday and then they leave the MINWR open? I have been dealing with this since moving here mid-90s. I don't begrudge them their business and don't expect them to launch when unsafe - but here we had maybe the 6th or 7th Saturday since April when the beach has been closed. Here it was an absolutely perfect summer day. And the beach is closed. Why? Can terrorists survive in the bushes for 48 hrs but not 72 hrs? What is the true purpose to close the beach so long before the shuttle launches? Can FT do some detailed reporting and actually ask NASA some pointed questions? Sure, it's a nude beach we're talking about, but it's part of 2 miles of nude beach out of 825 miles of Florida coastline so it's like all we have to call ours.

In this new day of Obamaism where we're supposed to be more sympathetic toward all diverse people, can NASA spend a brief second or two in consideration of all those who visit CNS and try - I know it's hard - but really try to be that "good neighbor" they say they want to be?

Otherwise...7 more shuttles...please, get them over quick, and give us our beach back. And PLEASE don't add any more shuttles.