NASA Sets May 16 for Last Launch of Endeavour; Atlantis Slips to July

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – NASA managers set May 16 as the new launch date for the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour after technicians completed work to rewire and retest a switchbox in the orbiters aft compartment. Shuttle managers ordered the repair work following a heater malfunction that forced NASA officials to call off the planned April 29 launch.

At a briefing for reporters today (May 9) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Shuttle managers Mike Moses and Mike Leinbach announced that Endeavour’s last liftoff is now targeted for 8:56 a.m. EDT on Monday, May 16.

“Right now, we’re in good shape,” said Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach.

“Endeavour’s looking good, the team is upbeat. I went to the meeting this morning and they’re ready to go. Hopefully, this time the heaters will work and we’ll be able to launch on time next Monday morning.”

Repairs to Space Shuttle Endeavour have been completed at launch pad 39 A. Arrow shows location of access door used by technicians to swap out the faulty Aft Load Control Assembly (ALCA-2) near the main engines and install new wiring. Credit: Ken Kremer

The STS-134 mission is the penultimate flight of the space shuttle program and will deliver the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station.

Endeavour’s last launch attempt on April 29 was scrubbed about four hours prior to blastoff when critical hydrazine fuel line heaters failed to turn on inside one of the orbiters three auxiliary power units (APU’s).

Technicians have been working around the clock to resolve the problems and determined that the likely cause of the heater failure was an electrical short inside the ALCA -2 load control assembly box located in the aft section of the shuttle (see photo).

They installed about 20 feet of new wiring, a new ALCA box and then retested all related systems over the past week and a half.

“We’ve replaced everything except the heaters, and we’ve wrung those out with at least five separate checks and full functionals afterwards and now have extremely high confidence that the problem is no longer on the ship or in any of the electronics,” said Mike Moses, the Shuttle launch integration manager at the Kennedy Space Center.

At the NASA Shuttle Logistics Depot in Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Load Control Assembly-2 (LCA-2) is uncovered for testing. Located in space shuttle Endeavour's aft avionics bay 5, the LCA-2 distributes power to nine shuttle systems. LCA-2 was replaced and all systems were retested. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The APU’s control the shuttles hydraulics which power the steering of the main engines, wings, wheels and rudders during ascent and re-entry. The three units must all be fully functional before NASA can commit to any shuttle launch as part of the launch commit criteria (LCC). If the heaters fail during flight, the hydrazine can freeze and clog the fuel lines and render the hydraulics inoperative. A rupture in the lines could result in toxic hydrazine leaking into the shuttles aft engine compartment.

The potential launch window for Endeavour’s final flight extends through May 26, except for May 21.

The all veteran six man crew led by Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly is due to fly to the Cape on Thursday, May 12 from their training base in Houston. The STS-134 mission has been officially extended to 16 days from 14 days and will include 4 spacewalks.

The launch countdown will commence on Friday, May 13 from the beginning of the nominal 41 hour countdown sequence.

As a consequence of Endeavour’s delays, the launch of the very final shuttle mission of Space Shuttle Atlantis will likely be delayed to mid-July, although Moses and Leinbach did not give a specific target date.

Read my related stories about the STS-134 mission here:
Endeavour’s Final Launch further delayed another Week or more
On the Cusp of Endeavour’s Final Flight
Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown
Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight
President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Endeavour Mated to Rockets for Last Flight Photo Album
Endeavour Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building for Final Flight

NPR Radio interview including Ken here:
Shuttle Fixes Will Take At Least One Week

STS-134 crew plans to fly back to the Kennedy Space Center on May 12 in anticipation of May 16 launch. Here they posed for photographers at Shuttle Landing Facility on April 26 ahead of the scrubbed first launch attempt on April 29, 2011. Mission Specialists Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel, Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Greg H. Johnson, Mission Specialist Mike Fincke and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori.. Credit: Ken Kremer
Space Shuttle managers Mike Moses (Launch Integration) and Mike Leinbach (Launch Director) at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer
Ken Kremer and Mike Leinbach (right) discuss Endeavour at a prior news briefing at the Kennedy Space Center.
Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now

Endeavour’s Final Launch further delayed another Week or more

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – The final launch of shuttle Endeavour will be further delayed, perhaps by a week or more – to May 6 or 11 time frame – as technicians working at the pad seek to determine the cause of the failure of multiple heaters in auxiliary power unit-1 (APU) which caused the scrub of Endeavour’s launch attempt on Friday, with just 4 hours remaining in the countdown. The six man crew of Endeavour had just departed for the launch pad inside the Astrovan and was forced to turn around soon thereafter. We saw them pass us by, heading back to crew quarters to await a resolution of the issues.

The launch delay came as a huge disappointment to NASA and the enormous crowd estimated at 750.000 people who came to Florida to watch the momentous liftoff in person for what many call a “life changing experience”. Even President Obama and the entire first family were on hand to witness Endeavour’s launch. But the top priority is to launch the shuttle safely and the launch team emphasized that they made absolutely no changes to the countdown procedures.

Repairs to Space Shuttle Endeavour are in progress at the launch pad. Arrow shows location of access door used by technicians to swap out the faulty Aft Load Control Assembly (ALCA-2) near the main engines. Credit: Ken Kremer
On Saturday, technicians gained access to Endeavour’s aft fuselage which houses the components suspected to have malfunction and found that the cockpit control fuse panel is working. They also verified that thermostats associated with the failed APU heaters are still not working. This indicates that the root cause of the malfunction lies deeper inside the orbiter and it will take longer for technicians to access and fix whatever is causing the problem.

APU-1 is located on the left side of the orbiter in the aft section behind the end of the payload bay.

The heaters play a critical role in keeping the APU hydrazine fuel from freezing in orbit and remain in a fluid state. If the hydrazine were to freeze and then thaw back to a liquid, it would expand and potentially rupture the fuel lines with devastating consequences.

Diagram shows location of all 3 Shuttle APU's. Credit: NASA

The orbiter has three APU’s. Only one is required to fly safely. Three units provide redundancy and all must be in working order before launch. Otherwise the launch commit criteria would be violated, forcing a launch scrub. The APUs provide the hydraulics to maneuver the main engine nozzles, elevons, rudder, body flap, landing gear brakes and nose wheel steering system.

Technical teams got to work inside the orbiter on Saturday after the rotating service structure was rolled back around the orbiter to enable access. If the problem is deeper within the orbiter at the Load Control Assembly it will take several additional days to fix the problem. Retesting of any new components inside the LCA will take at least 48 hours. Furthermore if any ordnance needs to be disconnected, a further delay of multiple additional days is inevitable.

In order to launch Endeavour on Monday, May 2, at 2:34 p.m. EDT, NASA must resume the countdown on Sunday afternoon. NASA only has until May 4 to get Endeavour off the ground until they would be forced to stand down to make way for the May 6 blastoff of an Atlas V rocket carrying an Air Force early-warning missile detection satellite.

NASA officials are in touch with Air Force officials to determine if the Air Force could be flexible in changing their launch date in the event that Endeavour would be ready to launch on the blackout dates of May 5 to 7.

NASA will hold a news briefing at 2 p.m. on Sunday to update reporters on the situation.

Read my related stories about the STS-134 mission here:
On the Cusp of Endeavour’s Final Flight
Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown
Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight
President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Endeavour Mated to Rockets for Last Flight Photo Album
Endeavour Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building for Final Flight

Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – The six man crew for Shuttle Endeavour’s final flight to space arrived today (April 26) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew flew in to the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) on a quartet of T-38 jets from their training base in Houston.

Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly introduced his crew to a large crowd of gathered reporters, photographers and NASA officials including Launch Director Mike Leinbach, KSC Director Bob Cabana and Kelly’s twin brother Scott who recently returned from a six month stint aboard the International Space Station.

Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly addresses the media at the shuttle landing strip after crew arrival on April 26. From left: Mission Specialists Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel, Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Greg H. Johnson. T-38 jet in the background. Credit: Ken Kremer

Speaking on behalf of the entire crew he said, “We’re really happy to be here today,” said Kelly. “We got a chance to take look at the orbiter as we first flew over the field and then the over pad. It’s great to see Endeavour all ready to go again.”

Kelly was exuberant in saying that his wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was well enough to attend the STS-134 launch set for Friday, at 3:47 p.m. EDT.

The shuttle launch countdown officially commenced at 2 PM today. The weather outlook is 80% GO, with a 20% chance of weather violations prohibiting launch according to Shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters.

STS-134 crew arrives at KSC aboard T-38 jets. Credit : Alan Walters, awaltersphoto.com

STS-134 is the 25th and final launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour.

The primary payload aboard Endeavour is the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) ) which the crew will attach to the International Space Station. The AMS will collect cosmic rays, search for dark energy, dark matter and anti matter and seeks to determine the origin of the Universe.

Photos from the Universe Today team of Alan Walters, Ken Kremer and Michael Deep. Check back later for more photos

STS 134 crew pose for photographers at Shuttle Landing Facility on April 26. Launch is set for April 29. Mission Specialists Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel, Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Greg H. Johnson, Mission Specialist Mike Fincke and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori. Credit: Ken Kremer
STS-134 commander Mark Kelly strides across the runway of the Shuttle Landing Facility. Credit: Michael Deep, for Universe Today.
Astronauts Mark Kelly and Mike Fincke land in their T-38 at Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Michael Deep, for Universe Today.

President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29

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President Barack Obama and the entire First Family apparently plan to attend the final launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour, according to government officials and multiple news outlets. Endeavour is slated to blast off on the STS-134 mission next Friday, April 29 from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida at 3:47 p.m. EDT.

There has already been intense drama surrounding the STS-134 mission because it is being commanded by Mark Kelly. Kelly is the husband of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona who was critically wounded by gunshots to her head at point blank range during an assassination attempt while attending a meet and greet with her constituents on Jan. 8, 2011. Six people – including a nine year old girl and a federal judge – were killed and a dozen more were wounded that awful day.

Space Shuttle Endeavour awaits her final launch on April 29, 2011 from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL Credit: Ken Kremer

The Presidents appearance at the STS-134 launch will almost certainly lead to skyrocketing interest, but has not yet been officially announced by NASA and the White House. The event is not yet listed on the presidents official schedule.

However, a tweet by the staff of Congresswoman Giffords on her official website states Obama will attend; “We are very happy that Pres. Obama is coming to Mark’s launch! This historic mission will be #Endeavours final flight.”

NASA spokesman Allard Beutel told me today, “I cannot confirm whether the president will be coming to launch next week. If he’s coming, which I can’t confirm, we are a White House agency.”

“We always welcome a visit from the President,” Beutel said.

Security is always tight at KSC during a shuttle launch. A visit by President Obama will certainly lead to even tighter security controls and even more massive traffic jams.

Giant crowds were already expected for this historic final spaceflight of Space Shuttle Endeavour, NASA’s youngest Orbiter, on her 25th mission to space.

Endeavour is carrying the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) ) on a 14-day flight to the International Space Station, a premier science instrument that will collect cosmic rays, search for dark energy, dark matter and anti matter and seeks to determine the origin of the Universe. See my photo below of the AMS from inside the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) at KSC with the principal investigator, Nobel Prize winner Prof. Sam Ting of MIT.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden just announced that Endeavour will be displayed at the California Science Museum following her retirement from active flight service upon landing.

President Obama last visited KSC on April 15, 2010 and gave a major policy speech outlining his radical new human spaceflight goals for NASA. Obama decided to cancel NASA’s Project Constellation ‘Return to the Moon’ Program and the Ares 1 and Ares 5 rockets. He directed NASA to plan a mission for astronauts to visit an Asteroid by 2025 and one of the moons of Mars in the 2030’s. Obama also decided to revive the Orion crew module built by Lockheed Martin, which is now envisaged for missions beyond low earth orbit (LEO), and invest in development of new commercial space taxis such as the Dragon spacecraft by SpaceX for transporting astronaut crews to the ISS.

Spokesman Beutel said that during the April 2010 visit, “The President met with space workers.” He could not comment on details of the president’s plans for the STS-134 visit and said information would have to come from the White House.

The last time a sitting president watched a live human space launch was in 1998 when then President Bill Clinton attended the blastoff of the return to space of Astronaut and Senator John Glenn. Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth back in 1962. Glenn’s first flight took place a little over a year after the historic first human spaceflight by Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961- which occurred exactly 50 years ago last week.

Congresswoman Giffords is recovering from her wounds and Shuttle Commander Kelly has said that she would like to attend the STS-134 launch. But no official announcement about her attendance has been made by NASA and depends on many factors including decisions by the doctors treating her in a Houston area hospital.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) and Nobel Prize Winner and Principal Investigator Sam Ting of MIT - inside the Space Station Processing Facility at KSC. The STS-134 mission of shuttle Endeavour will deliver the AMS to the ISS. The AMS purpose is to try and determine the origin of the Universe. . Credit: Ken Kremer
Close up of Endeavour crew cabin, ET, SRB and astronaut walkway to the White Room. Credit: Ken Kremer

ISS Commander Discusses Arizona Shooting Tragedy

ISS Commander Scott Kelly, twin brother of astronaut Mark Kelly, spoke with various news agencies this morning about the shooting of his sister in-law, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Kelly was asked several times about the emotional trauma, etc., of the shooting and how he is coping. Scott Kelly confirmed he talks to his brother a couple of times a day, but that is not unusual. Asked about what words the two brothers share about Giffords’ current condition, the ISS Commander said, “We’re not touchy, feely kind of people, … we just talk about her condition, but we normally talk about things like we do regularly.” And later, Kelly was asked if he would like to be there at his brother’s side. “I’m kind of a realist,” he said. “I understand this is the situation I’m in. I would prefer to be there to support everyone, but the fact is that I can’t, even if it was a tragedy worse than this, there is no way I’m coming back to Earth before March 18. We know that going into a flight like this. I just continue to do my job and support my brother and family through the means we have through the station.”