Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Live at KSC: Crew looking forward to launch

From space shuttle Atlanis' launch pad this morning at Kennedy Space Center, six astronauts had a clear view of the Ares I-X test rocket that is the first draft of the rocket NASA hopes will launch crews after the shuttle stops flying.

"It's extremely exciting to see not only the current mission coming but also the next-generation vehicle," said Charlie Hobaugh, commander of the crew planning to launch Nov. 16 aboard Atlantis, speaking minutes after the Ares I-X rocket was secured on its pad.

Dressed in blue flight suits with the shuttle's orange external tank and white solid rocket boosters looming behind them at launch pad 39A, the crew answered questions from reporters during a second day of training at KSC.

The astronauts reviewed launch pad escape procedures, practiced landings, checked the fit of their launch-and-entry suits and examined the large spare parts they'll haul to the International Space Station.

"We don't get to see this hardware that you guys live with all the time down here, so it's great for us to get to come down and see it," said Mike Foreman, the crew's lead spacewalker. "It's great to be here and we're looking forward to launch."

Crew members nearing their first trip to space - pilot Barry Wilmore and mission specialists Randy Bresnik and Bobby Satcher - said their excitement was building after seeing Atlantis on its launch pad.

"It's really a thrilling, thrilling time and a thrilling moment for all of us, and certainly for me being a first-time flyer," said Wilmore, who has waited nine years for a flight.

A launch countdown dress rehearsal was rescheduled for Nov. 3 because some spaceport teams were occupied with the Ares I-X rocket's move Tuesday to launch pad 39B, about a mile north of Atlantis.

Ares I-X - scheduled to launch next Tuesday morning - looks similar to the rocket astronauts would ride into space after the shuttle is retired, if the Obama administration and Congress stick with NASA's Constellation program.

A blue-ribbon panel presenting options to the president is expected to release its final report Thursday, likely fueling more speculation about the direction to come.

But the shuttle astronauts said they were too busy getting ready for their upcoming 11-day flight to worry about it.

"We've kind of been in the trenches, heads down, getting focused on this mission," said Leland Melvin, the crew's lead robotics officer. "When we get back, we're ready to get started and help inspire the next generation of explorers."

Whatever happens, Bresnik said it was a proud moment to see both a shuttle and a test rocket poised for launch after the agency's past fits and starts developing shuttle successors.

"In between this vehicle and that vehicle, we've spent quite a few years where we've had vehicles that are planned, vehicles that are on PowerPoint," he said. "Well, we built this vehicle, it's ready to fly, and that is just a pretty awesome thing for us and the American people to see."

If the crew's Nov. 16 target launch date holds up, shuttle astronauts will be in orbit on Thanksgiving for the second consecutive year.

Hobaugh said that created a hardship for families of NASA teams supporting the mission, but he hasn't changed his menu to include a turkey feast in space.

"I don't really care what I eat. It's another day in the month, it's another day in the week," he said. "We'll hopefully have a celebration."

Some of the crew will return to Houston tonight, the rest tomorrow morning.

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