Endeavour Comes Home to Kennedy Space Center

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Space shuttle Endeavour loudly announced its arrival with twin sonic booms, then two minutes later emerged like a phantom out of the darkness to touch down beautifully on runway 15 at Kennedy Space Center. The landing at 10:20 p.m. EST Sunday ended the two-week STS-130 mission to the ISS. After early concerns about the weather, conditions were almost ideal for landing.

“STS-130 is mission complete, and we’re safe on deck” said Commander George Zamka, speaking on the runway after the crew disembarked from Endeavour. “The Cupola is beautiful in both design and function, and Endeavour was perfect throughout the flight… Now it’s time for us to hit the showers and get used to life on Earth again.”

“It was really exciting to land on the first opportunity,” said astronaut Bob Behnken, “and we’re happy to put this capstone on such a great mission.”

Part of the convoy of vehicles heading out to service Endeavour after landing. Credit: Alan Walters

The STS-130 crew delivered the “room with a view” to the ISS – the Node 3, or Tranquility module with the attached Cupola that will provide astronauts with 360 degree views of Earth, space and robotic operations outside the space station.

At the post-landing press conference, mission managers echoed the astronauts’ sentiments.

“It was a fantastic landing day, and Endeavour’s landing here tonight at KSC capped off a perfect mission on orbit,” said Mike Moses launch integration manager for the space shuttle program. “The vehicle performed absolutely flawlessly, the crew did outstanding job,… the installation of Node 3 and Cupola all went perfectly. This just illustrates the great job the all the teams did. Just a spectacular mission.”

Space shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach also looked to what is ahead for the space shuttle program.

“One of the most magical things we get to do here is to walk around the space shuttle on the runway after a mission,” he said. “The shuttle looks outstanding out there, and we’re going to start the final processing flow of Endeavour tonight. So that will be a milestone for the space shuttle program, and we will go into that with our heads held high and we’re going to process the vehicle as we always do and be ready to fly her last mission. A little bit of a sad note, but a great ending to a great mission and we’re looking forward to the next one.”

With this mission the ISS is now 98% mass complete.

Next up for the shuttle and ISS programs is Discovery’s STS-131 mission, currently slated to launch on April 5, 2010.

While this marks the end of this mission — which Ken Kremer and I have been reporting on live from KSC — I will still be hanging around the Space Coast for a few more weeks, so look for more news (and launches!) coming up. And we hope to have photographer Alan Walters on location at KSC for Universe Today covering the final flights of the space shuttle program.

What’s the Internet Really Like in Space?

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With the internet now part of daily life on the International Space Station, inquiring minds want to know! Can astronauts visit any websites they want, and what kinds of download speeds do they have in space? And what about that chicken, seen above, that has been gracing the STS-130 execute packages? And what’s the view from the new cupola really like? Astronauts answered those questions and more, at the joint crew news conference last night, where I had the chance to talk the crew members of Endeavour and the ISS.

“Thanks for asking about the internet!” replied ISS astronaut T.J. Creamer with a laugh. “This is a project that many people have worked on to make this possible for us, and some have pulled their hair out to make it successful, so many thanks to those folks. We have access to any website we are allowed to go to as government employees – that’s my best answer! And in terms of download speeds – you know, back in the old days, it kind of compares to 9.6 and the 14.4 kilobyte modems, so it’s not really fast enough to do large file exchange or videos, but it certainly lets us to do browsing and the fun reading we want to do, or get caught up on current events on that day. It’s a nice outreach for us, and of course you’ve heard about the Twittering which is a nice feature that we can partake in also.”

Later, Soichi Noguchi said he could keep up with results of the Olympics just like those of on the ground. Noguchi has been taking advantage of Twitter by sending several Twitpics from space.

The personal web access on the ISS takes advantage of existing communication links to and from the station provides astronauts with email, texting, Twittering and other direct private communications, which NASA says will “enhance their quality of life during long-duration missions by helping to ease the isolation associated with life in a closed environment.”

As for the chicken on the STS-130 execute packages, the STS-130 crew was perplexed. “That is possibly an inside joke that we are not on the inside of,” answered Commander George Zamka. “We don’t see the front pages, so it’s probably on the front pages of the execute package that we don’t get.”

You can see the STS-130 execute packages (and chickens) at this link.

Asked about the views from the new cupola, the astronauts waxed poetic. “It’s so hard to put into words the view that we see out those beautiful seven windows,” Kay Hire said. “It’s like comparing a black-and-white analog picture to a super high-def color picture. It’s just phenomenal what we can see out there. The most stunning thing I’ve seen so far is just some beautiful thunderstorms from above. It’s really interesting to watch the way the lightning jumps from cloud to cloud far below us.”

A view from the new Cupola, with all the window shutters open. Credit: NASA

“Getting to look out the shuttle windows and the station windows has been awesome,” added pilot Terry Virts. “But when we looked out the cupola, it’s impossible to put into words, but it took my breath away. We’ve only had a few opportunities to go down there because we have been busy inside doing work, but I think the favorite view that I’ve had has been watching a sunrise.

“At night, you can see cities if you’re over land and then when you pass into the sunlight you get the blue limb (of Earth) and then it turns into pink and different colors like that and then when the sun pops up, it’s like an instantaneous floodlight in your eyes, it kind of overwhelms you. But the view is amazing. You can sit there and perceive the entire Earth limb and you can really see the Earth has that round shape. It’s just amazing.”

ISS Commander Jeff Williams agreed. “To be able to see the entire Earth in one glance and see the entire limb of the Earth all the way around and see the spherical shape of the Earth is going to be new to us. Obviously, we’ve seen a lot of those segments of that view before, but only one segment at a time through a narrower field of view,” he said. “We have taken a lot of photography up here, we will continue to do so. The cupola will offer us a very unique and new opportunity for photography in a new way, particularly with wide angle lenses, which we’re already playing with a little bit to try to be able to share that experience with folks on Earth.”

Spacewalker Bob Behnken said the view from the cupola was as good as or maybe better than the view from a being out on an EVA.

“The reason being you actually have time to look around through all the windows,” he said. “Usually during a spacewalk, there’s a fair amount of work to get done. There wasn’t a lot of time for the sightseeing you might like to do out of a window like cupola.

“The other thing the cupola affords you is the opportunity to share some of those views with other people. We’re really limited on the photography we can do during a spacewalk, but taking one of the HD cameras or some still photos inside the cupola is really going to allow us to share those beautiful sunrises and sunsets and Earth views in general with everyone on the ground.”

You can watch the entire ISS/STS-130 news conference below.

Pirouettes and Twitpics from Space

If you were watching NASA TV late Tuesday/early Wednesday you likely saw the beautiful backflip maneuver that space shuttle Endeavour performed before docking at 12:06 a.m. EST with the International Space Station. It was a striking sight to behold (see video above) as Commander George Zamka guided the orbiter through the nine-minute Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver, rotating the orbiter backwards so that space station astronauts could take high-resolution pictures of the shuttle’s heat-resistant tiles. Meanwhile, the ISS astronauts not taking the hi-res images were busy taking pictures of the approaching orbiter and posting them on Twitter.

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See more Twitpics from @Astro_Soichi

The detailed images of the Endeavour’s heat shield were analyzed on Wednesday and showed that everything looked “nominal” in NASA speak, and that no further examinations are required until after the shuttle undocks with the ISS. There are two other minor problematic items that NASA is monitoring for the shuttle.

Endeavour approaches ISS. A Soyuz docked to the station above the shuttle. Credit: NASA

A round ceramic spacer near one of the cockpit windows is sticking out. And a thermal tile repair that was made before the flight has failed, and the original crack is back, right over the cockpit.

Mission management team leader LeRoy Cain said Wednesday that neither problem appears to be serious. But he said everyone wants to be “very vigilant and take a closer look” in case spacewalking repairs are needed.

The shuttle astronauts had to wait about an hour longer than usual before entering the ISS. The vibrations that normally occur when the two spacecraft meet up and dock lasted longer than usual. Space shuttle flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho said this was caused by the massive and unsymmetrical bulk of the joined space station and shuttle, as well as the constant pull of Earth’s gravity on the “stack.” “It certainly not unexpected,” Alibaruho said.

The ISS and shuttle astronauts are now working together, getting ready for taking the Tranquility Node from the shuttle payload bay to attach it to the station. the first spacewalk of the mission. Today Endeavour’s crew transferred supplies from the shuttle’s middeck to the space station, including spacewalking equipment. Tonight, spacewalkers Bob Behnken and Nicholas Patrick will sleep in the Quest airlock as part of the overnight “campout” procedure that helps purge nitrogen from their bloodstreams, preventing decompression sickness once they move out into the vacuum of space.

See this interactive Flash feature from NASA which highlights the activities for each day of the shuttle mission.

Hat Tip to Stu Atkinson on the Twitpics

Launch Scrub for STS-130

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The launch of space shuttle Endeavour was scrubbed about 9 minutes before the scheduled 4:39 am EST (9:49 GMT) liftoff due to low clouds that moved into the area. Mission managers have scheduled space shuttle Endeavour’s next launch attempt for Monday, Feb. 8 at 4:14 a.m. EST (9:14 GMT)

The Mission Management Team will meet at 6:15 p.m. Sunday to give the “go” to fill Endeavour’s external fuel tank with propellants. Tank loading will begin at 6:45 p.m.

The launch of the Solar Dynamic Observatory has subsequently been moved one day forward, and is now scheduled for Feb. 10 at 10:26 am EST.

“We tried really, really hard to work the weather,” said Launch Director Mike Leinbach to the crew when the decision had been made to scrub the launch. “It was just too dynamic. We got to feeling good there at one point and then it filled back in and we just were not comfortable launching a space shuttle tonight. So, we’re going to go into a 24-hour scrub. Thank you all for the efforts you all put in tonight. We’ll see you back again tomorrow night and we hope the weather’s a little bit better.”

Space Shuttle Endeavour on the pad in the early morning hours of Feb. 7, 2010. Image: Nancy Atkinson

“And Mike from Endeavour, we understand and we’ll give it another try tomorrow night,” STS-130 Commander George Zamka replied.

Nancy Atkinson and Ken Kremer will provide full coverage of both launches and missions –no matter how many attempts it takes! So stay with Universe Today!

RSS Rollback: Watch Endeavour Appear Before Your Eyes

This morning I had the opportunity to see up close the rollback of the Rotating Service Structure for space shuttle Endeavour on the launchpad for the STS-130 mission. The RSS protects the shuttle from any inclement weather while it is being readied for launch out on the pad. The rollback is the first big event in the cycle leading up to launch, so it means liftoff is not far away! The sight was absolutely amazing on such a beautiful sunny morning –albeit it was quite windy. I got chills when I first saw the right wing and the front windows of the orbiter appear (and it wasn’t because I was cold!) Currently, the wind is the only “if” about launching early Sunday morning at 4:39 am EST. Weather officials say there is an 80% chance of favorable conditions for liftoff. Since it is a night launch, it should be visible well up the East Coast of the US. I’ll have the good fortune to be just 3 miles away, about the closest anyone can be.

Countdown is on for Last Night Launch of Space Shuttle

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Note: Nancy Atkinson is at Kennedy Space Center covering the launch of STS-130

The official countdown clock is ticking for the STS-130 mission of space shuttle Endeavour to the International Space Station. This is the last planned night launch for the shuttle program, with a scheduled liftoff time of 9:39:47 GMT (4:39:47 a.m. EST) on Sunday, February 7. “Everything thus far is going exceeding well… we’re right on schedule where we’re supposed to be and we’ll continue to work through the day on our preparations,” said NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding during this morning’s L-3 Countdown Status Briefing at KSC. The weather forecast might be the only issue, as forecasters are predicting a 70% chance of favorable weather, with high winds being the only concern for Sunday morning.

The seven-member crew will bring the Tranquility Node and a “cupola,” an observation deck for a full 360 degree view of Earth and the station. It will also serve as a robotic work station. With these new additions, the ISS will be 98% complete.

Tranquility, also known as Node 3 was built in Italy under direction of ESA, in coordination with NASA. “It is one of the most complex modules we’ve brought to the station,” said NASA Payload Manager Joe Delai. “Node 3 is over 3,600 kg (8,000 lbs) heavier than any other module,(with a total weight of 15,115 kg (33,325 lbs.)

At Thursday's press conference, Jeff Spaulding, Joe Delai, and Shuttle Weather Officer Kathy Winters. Image: Nancy Atkinson

Delai said adding the modules will make the ISS larger than a five bedroom house. With all the storage space in Tranquility, the ISS will in total be able to house 100 telephone booth-sized racks and store the supportive equip to allow for a 6-person crew on the ISS.

Delai said they are taking advantage of the 7 X 4 meter (24 X 14 ft) volume of the Node and bringing 33 bags of stowage containing 485 kg (1,068 lbs) of provisions for the crew.

Space shuttle Endeavour as seen from the press viewing area at KSC. Image: Nancy Atkinson

Preparations and tests at Launch Pad 39A will continue with final flight crew stowage occurring after communications checks Saturday. The rotating service structure that protects the shuttle from weather prior to launch will be moved away from the vehicle at about 8 a.m. EST Saturday, and we hope to bring you pictures and an update at that time.

For more pictures and an inside look at what it is like to cover a space shuttle launch, I’m writing about my adventures on my personal blog.

Tweet Your Way Into Mission Control

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Listen up Space Tweeps: you can now Tweet your way to a personalized tour of Mission Control at Johnson Space Center during the upcoming STS-130 space shuttle mission. Well, personalized with 99 other Twitterers. NASA is hosting a unique Tweetup on Wednesday, Feb. 17 during Endeavour’s STS-130 mission to the International Space Station. Endeavour is targeted to launch on Sunday, Feb. 7. NASA will randomly select 100 individuals on Twitter from a pool of registrants who sign up on the Web. An additional 50 registrants will be added to a waitlist. Registration opens at noon EST on Tuesday, Jan. 26, and closes at noon EST Wednesday, Jan. 27.

“We’re excited to be hosting NASA’s sixth Tweetup,” said NASA astronaut Mike Massimino, who also is known as @astro_Mike. “This is the home of all of the astronauts and the historic Mission Control Center. It’s an outstanding location to provide our Twitter community with an insider’s view of human spaceflight. I’ll be on one of the two mission control teams working at that time to keep Endeavour and space station operating safely. Hopefully a few of my Twitter followers can participate in this exciting event.”

The event will provide NASA Twitter followers with the opportunity to take a tour of Johnson; view mission control and astronauts’ training facilities; and speak with flight directors, trainers, astronauts and managers. The Tweetup will include a “meet and greet” session to allow participants to mingle with fellow Tweeps and the staff behind the tweets on @NASA.

For more information about the Tweetup and to sign up, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/tweetup


And if you don’t make it into the Tweetup, just follow the members of the Space Tweep Society on Twitter. They’ll tell you everything you need to know. And of course, so will I, so follow me on Twitter, too, and be sure to check Universe Today for lots of coverage of the STS-130 mission, as I’ll be live from Kennedy Space Center.