Monday, January 18, 2010

Endeavour crew excited for February launch

Standing side by side in blue flight suits, Endeavour's six astronauts today said they were thrilled to be at Kennedy Space Center for training.

It means the launch of their 13-day International Space Station assembly mission is just around the corner.

"We just flew over Endeavour out on the pad there, and she looks just beautiful," said 44-year-old mission specialist Steve Robinson, a research scientist and veteran of three shuttle missions since 1997. "We can't wait to borrow her for a couple weeks."

The mission is targeted to launch at 4:39 a.m. Feb. 7.

The crew flew from Houston to KSC in four Northrop T-38 jets, the first two planes arriving a little after 4 p.m. and the second two about an hour later, just before sunset.

Joining Robinson were mission commander George Zamka, 47, a Marine Corps colonel; pilot Terry Virts, 41, an Air Force colonel; Bob Behnken, 39, an Air Force lieutenant colonel; Kay Hire, 50, a Navy Reserve captain and former KSC engineer; and Nicholas Patrick, 45, who has a doctorate in mechanical engineering.

Virts will be making his first spaceflight, the others their second.

"This is a very special trip for us," Zamka said before introducing the crew at the three-mile Shuttle Landing Facility. "It marks the transition for us from flight preparation and training to the operational stage of our flight. We're looking forward to flying this flight here in just a few weeks."

Zamka and Virts tonight will practice landings in a Shuttle Training Aircraft, a Gulfstream II jet modified to handle like an orbiter on descent.

On Tuesday, the crew will practice driving a turret-less M-113 tank that they would use to race away from a launch pad fire, if time allowed.

On Wednesday, they'll answer questions from reporters and then review more pad escape procedures, including how to use the slide wire baskets that would whisk them from the orbiter access level to a bunker on the ground.

They'll also take a look at their payload -- the Tranquility module and attached cupola -- inside Endeavour's payload bay. The module was delivered to the pad early today and should be installed in Endeavour Tuesday.

The training known as the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, or TCDT, culminates Thursday when the crew will dress in orange launch-and-entry suits, ride out to pad 39A and strap into Endeavour for a full countdown dress rehearsal.

"I'm very excited to be back at KSC for my second TCDT," said Patrick. "It's always a fun and exciting week."

The astronauts plan to depart Friday, hoping to return Feb. 2 for the real countdown.

"It's good to be back at KSC," said Hire, who grew up in Mobile, Ala., but considers Merritt Island home when she's not in Houston. "Folks have worked very hard, and we're very happy to be able to take this fantastic vehicle on orbit."

Endeavour's mission is the first of five planned this year before NASA retires the shuttle.

IMAGE NOTE: The Endeavour crew arrived at Kennedy Space Center for the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test training. From left: Mission specialists Bob Behnken, Nicholas Patrick, Steve Robinson and Kay Hire, pilot Terry Virts and commander George Zamka. Photos by Craig Rubadoux, Florida Today.

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