Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Live at KSC: Crew simulates shuttle countdown

LIVE IMAGES: The images above are from live video feeds of Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, where the Atlantis crew is rehearsing the countdown to a planned Nov. 16 launch. They will automatically refresh to the most up-to-the-minute image every 30 seconds.

Update, 5:30 p.m.: The crew has returned to Houston.

Update, 11:06 a.m.: T minus five...four -- this morning's practice countdown has stopped as planned at T minus four seconds.

Six Atlantis astronauts are strapped into their shuttle seats in shuttle Atlantis as Kennedy Space Center countdown clocks tick toward the T minus 20-minute mark.

It's only a simulation, one that will mimic all the steps the crew plans to take before a planned 2:28 p.m. Nov. 16 launch to the International Space Station.

Led by commander Marine Col. Charlie Hobaugh, who turns 48 on Thursday, the crew members dressed in their orange launch-and-entry suits this morning and rode to launch pad 39A in NASA's silver Astrovan.

The countdown will proceed until T minus four seconds, after which the crew will practice emergency escape procedures, including a primer on how to hop into and activate the slide wire baskets that could whisk them to the ground.

Later, the astronauts will inspect the more than 30,000 pounds of cargo now secured in the shuttle's payload bay.

That's primarily two platforms holding large spare parts that will be stowed outside the station during Atlantis' 11-day, three-spacewalk mission.

Only the shuttle is capable of hauling the bulky parts, including nitrogen and ammonia tanks and gyroscopes, so the parts must be stowed before the shuttle stops flying to ensure that the station can last for years to come.

Atlantis' flight is one of six remaining before NASA plans to retire the three-orbiter fleet.

Joining Hobaugh inside the shuttle now are pilot Barry Wilmore and mission specialists Randy Bresnik, Mike Foreman, Leland Melvin and Bobby Satcher.

Former KSC astronaut Nicole Stott will ride Atlantis home from the space station, where in late August she began a tour as a flight engineer for Expeditions 20 and 21.

The crew would have typically completed today's countdown dress rehearsal a couple of weeks ago, when they arrived for what is normally a three-day training visit called the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, or TCDT.

But it was cut short because KSC teams were also juggling preparations for the Ares I-X flight test, which launched Oct. 28.

The Atlantis crew plans to return Nov. 12 to get ready for their real countdown.

IMAGE NOTE: The STS-129 crew waves to onlookers this morning before boarding the Astrovan for a ride to launch pad 39A. From left, the crew includes: mission specialists Bobby Satcher, Mike Foreman, Randy Bresnik and Leland Melvin, pilot Barry Wilmore and commander Charlie Hobaugh. Credit: Mike Brown, Florida Today.

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