Wednesday, August 19, 2009

NASA: Tank talk was constructive, not contentious

Roughly eight engineers recommended more tests to shuttle Discovery's external tank to clear its safety for flight, but none dissented with a final decision to launch the shuttle and seven astronauts Tuesday morning, NASA officials said today.

Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operations, said such differing points of view were welcome and healthy during a final review of Discovery's readiness for a 13-day flight to the International Space Station, which started Tuesday morning and wrapped up this morning.

"It wasn't a contentious discussion, it was just really an engineering discussion about what we know and what we don't know," he said during a news briefing at Kennedy Space Center following the review.

"No one chose to appeal the decision, but there were some differing opinions in the group, and I think that's really good. That's what we've been trying to get."

Discovery is set for launch at 1:36 a.m. Tuesday.

Engineers tested the orange insulatng foam covering the shuttle's 15-story external tank for weeks after seeing pieces break away from two areas of Endeavour's tank during its flight last month.

Those areas were the intertank, which connects the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks, and foam ramps covering metal brackets near the top of the tank.

John Shannon, Shuttle Program manager, noted that the largest piece of foam debris during Endeavour's flight was one 50th the size of the chunk that ripped a hole in Columbia's left wing in 2003, leading to its destruction.

"That's how close we're looking, that's how sensitive we are," he said. "That is exactly what we want the team to do, is to look at it that closely. I feel extremely good about the results of the meeting."

One final technical issue must be reviewed again during a meeting planned Sunday.

A power switching device on Discovery that failed and was replaced recently at the launch pad must undergo additional analysis to ensure that it's not a problem for the mission. The small device turns power on and off to various orbiter systems.

Discovery's crew of seven astronauts, led by veteran commander Rick Sturckow, is due to fly into KSC around 7:30 p.m. today.

The launch countdown will officially begin at 11 p.m. Friday.

Discovery will deliver more than 15,000 pounds of supplies in a giant Italian-built canister named Leonardo.

The equipment includes new racks of science experiments, a sleep station and the treadmill named after comedian Stephen Colbert.

Space station managers are troubleshooting a problem with the outpost's oxygen generation system, but said it would not affect Discovery's mission if the next repair attempt, planned Friday, is unsuccessful.

However, if Discovery sustained serious damage and the crew needed to shelter at the station for an extended period of time, NASA would have to make up a projected 20-day gap in oxygen supply.

Mike Suffredini, the station program manager, said those estimates were conservative and the gap coul d be made up by adding oxygen to upcoming deliveries by robotic resupply spacecraft.

Discovery's launch window extends until Aug. 30, with each day offering a chance to complete a full mission with three spacewalks.

If the launch could not be accomplished by then, NASA would likely stand down until October to make way for the planned Sept. 10 debut flight to the station of an unmanned Japanese cargo ship.

If all goes as planned, Discovery would land at KSC around 8:40 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 6.

IMAGE NOTE: Sitting on top of the mobile launcher platform, space shuttle Discovery arrived on top of launch pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 4. Photo credit: NASA/Troy Cryder


Anonymous said...

Well, since they are closing the beach, the refuge and the river for YET ANOTHER summer weekend (this makes about 6 since April), it would be nice to decide on this power switching device EARLIER than Sunday night.

How bout deciding Friday or Saturday so those of us taxpayers interested in recreation can have our land back.

Yes, it isn't NASA's land. Read the Constitution - it belongs to "We, the People." My first ancestor landed in America (Talbot County, MD, to be precise) in 1647 and we have been fighting and dying for much longer than NASA has existed. It's about time someone in Congress (that means you Sen. Nelson) got NASA to be that "better neighbor" that they like to talk about.

Unfortunately NASA's policy is close everything down for as long as possible and then to decide at the last minute to delay four or five days and keep everything closed. I've been dealing with this policy for years so you can bet it's out of abject frustration that I write. Amazing how they plan these launches ten years in advance and then decide a few hours before, "Well, dang it, Homer, maybe we should delay and think some more." This power switching device has probably been part of the shuttle configuration since the 70s. Figure it out already and make the decision BEFORE you close everything.

Signed, Microwave, taxpaying citizen of the United States of America ($18,000 last year in federal tax alone)

Anonymous said...

Drive down or up the road a bit to the next beach.

*Launches bring in tourism dollars to hotels, gas staions, food, state parks, etc.
*Create jobs in the community.
*Provide extensive knowledge in Science.
*Promotes international cooperation.

I live on the Cape Canaveral beach and it's never closed.
The Indian River is full of boats watching the launch.