Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Shuttle crew trains at KSC; managers review flight

Endeavour astronauts this morning will try their hands behind the wheel of a Kennedy Space Center armored personnel carrier, while shuttle program managers make sure a planned Feb. 7 launch to the International Space Station is still on track.

The managers this hour are set to begin a two-day flight readiness review, meeting by video conference from various NASA centers to discuss the health of shuttle systems.

The main concern so far has been the ability to manufacture new sets of ammonia coolant hoses that will be connected between the station and its new Tranquility module, which Endeavour will haul up and install during the 13-day mission.

The original set failed some pre-flight pressure tests, but NASA is confident new 14-foot hoses can be cobbled together from smaller sections already approved for use on the outpost. The new hoses are expected to arrive Feb. 2 at KSC for stowage in Endeavour's mid-deck.

Meanwhile, the crew led by Marine Corps colonel and veteran shuttle pilot George Zamka will practice driving M-113 tanks that would be used to escape the launch pad in an emergency.

The crew arrived at KSC late Monday afternoon from Houston for three days of standard training called the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, which ends Thursday with a launch countdown dress rehearsal.

In addition to Zamka, the six-person crew includes pilot Terry Virts and mission specialists Bob Behnken, Kay Hire, Nicholas Patrick and Steve Robinson.

Today, they'll take turns driving the lime-green, turret-less tank along roads surrounding launch pad 39B, the pad handed over from the shuttle program to the Constellation program before last year's launch of the Ares I-X flight test.

During a real countdown, the tank is parked outside a bunker at the base of pad 39A where the crew would first attempt to take shelter in the event of a fire or other emergency.

If time allowed, they would hop into the tank and smash through the pad's perimeter fence to a triage site a safe distance away.

The mission's payload, the Tranquility module and its attached cupola, are scheduled to be installed in Endeavour's paylaod bay early Wednesday.

At the end of their meeting Wednesday, the shuttle program managers will make recommendations that will be evaluated during an executive-level flight readiness review scheduled Jan. 27 at KSC.

That's when an official launch date will be set for the mission, which is the first of five planned this year.

NASA plans to retire its fleet of three orbiters after the fifth flight in September.

IMAGE NOTE: Above, at Kennedy Space Center today, STS-130 mission specialist Robert Behnken takes his crew and instructor for a ride in an M-113 armored personnel carrier during driving practice. Left of Behnken is the instructor, Battalion Chief David Seymour. The crew members of space shuttle Endeavour's STS-130 mission are at Kennedy for training related to their launch dress rehearsal, the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test. Endeavour's launch is targeted for Feb. 7. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett. Below, at launch pad 39A on Jan. 6, flags caught the breeze off the Atlantic Ocean as space shuttle Endeavour arrived at the pad. Photo credit: NASA/Amanda Diller.

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