Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Endeavour crew focused on first of last five flights

In a question and answer session with reporters this morning at Kennedy Space Center, Endeavour's six astronauts said they are confident a set of coolant hoses they need to fly to the International Space Station will be redesigned and delivered in time to launch Feb. 7.

"Right now the schedule appears for that set of lines to be a couple days ahead," mission specialist and lead spacewalker Bob Behnken said at launch pad 39A. "That's really good news as we move forward to flight."

The crew is visiting KSC for a three-day training session called the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, or TCDT, which features a full countdown dress rehearsal Thursday morning.

NASA hopes to launch Endeavour at 4:39 a.m. Feb. 7.

The 130th shuttle mission is the first of the program's final five flights, all planned this year and all headed to the space station. But the astronauts are only concerned with the mission in front of them.

"We're thinking about STS-130 every minute of every day," said mission specialist Steve Robinson, who will be making his fourth spaceflight -- twice as many as any of his crewmates.

"But it occurs to me, having worked on the space shuttle a really long time, that when we come back, the reality of what this year really means to the space shuttle program is going to kind of set in, and it's bittersweet," he said.

Mission specialist Kay Hire, making her second spaceflight, is a former KSC engineer who still considers Merritt Island one of her homes.

"We know there's obviously changes coming, and I know there are a lot of concerns among the workforce," she said. "But these folks are strong and they believe in space and space exploration, and they're going to be here to support whatever programs are going to follow on."

Joining Behnken, Robinson and Hire were mission commander George Zamka, pilot Terry Virts and mission specialist Nicholas Patrick.

The crew will head back to Houston Friday, planning to return Feb. 2 -- the same day as the new set of ammonia coolant hoses that Behnken and Patrick plan to hook up on the mission's second of three spacewalks.

An original set being built by a California supplier recently failed pre-flight pressure tests. The supplier had come on board in November 2008 after the original contractor got out of the business, NASA said.

Space station program leaders decided that the four 14-foot hoses could be pieced together from shorter segments already approved for flight.

They are being manufactured at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where the crew plans to examine them this weekend "in a pretty good configuration, pretty flight representative," Behnken said.

If those hoses aren't ready in time, the original set that experienced failures is also being modified as backups. If they again become the primary flight set, it's possible a slight launch delay may be necessary.

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