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Space Shuttle Endeavour was rolled out to its seaside launch pad today (Jan. 6) at the Kennedy Space Center, officially starting the clock for the ‘Final Five’ flights. These five will close out the Space Shuttle era forever by the end of 2010 or early 2011 unless the program is extended for a few missions by President Obama.
I was totally thrilled to witness the trek first hand from just yards away as central Florida was gripped by a rare and truly ‘bone chilling’ cold snap. Endeavour was bolted atop the mobile launch platform (MLP) and hauled out to the pad at about 0.5 MPH by the giant crawler-transporter which dates back to the Apollo moon landing Era of the 1960’s.
The frigid 3.4 mile journey from the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) along the crawlerway to launch pad 39 A began in darkness in the overnight hours, with ‘first motion’ at 4:13 AM. The massive 17 million pound stack was declared ‘hard down” and secured at the pad at 10:37 AM.
Along the way we observed a remarkable clump of icicles (see photo) that formed in the below freezing temperatures. So it felt more like sunny Antarctica then sunny Florida. And all us media and NASA technicians were outfitted with several layers of winter attire more appropriate for the recent ‘bone chilling’ Soyuz launch in Kazakhstan on Dec 20.
Endeavour is scheduled to liftoff on February 7, for what is currently planned to be the final night launch and is targeted for 4:39 AM. The goal of the 13 day STS 130 space station assembly mission is to deliver the last of three interconnecting nodes, dubbed ‘Tranquility’, along with the seven windowed Cupola observation module. See my earlier story here. NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said that these payloads will be delivered to the pad on Jan 15 and then be installed inside Endeavour’s giant cargo bay for the trip to space.
‘Tranquility’ is the final major US element remaining for the International Space Station (ISS) and will be attached to the Unity connecting Node. The unique Cupola module will afford astronauts a spectacular 360 degree panoramic view of the Earth, the station and the cosmos.
“Things are going really well for our launch on February 7th, according to Dana Hutcherson, the Endeavour flow director. We spoke as Endeavour was climbing up the last few meters of the ramp behind us leading to the pad. “We’re not tracking any major issues and there are no concerns at this time. We have about 7 days of contingency time in the pad flow. So everything is looking really well”.
Endeavour’s crew of six plans to arrive at the Cape on Jan 19 for several days of final training, equipment familiarization and a launch dress rehearsal, known as the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, or TCDT, which will simulate countdown activities at Kennedy. NASA’s executive level shuttle management team will meet on Jan 27 to review all aspects of mission processing and preparations and will then set an official launch date.
Photo Album of Endeavour Rollout on 6 Jan 2010 by Ken Kremer