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Kennedy Space Center

Scott Carpenter – A tribute to a curious but ordinary superman

Scott Carpenter – A tribute to a curious but ordinary superman

“Conquering fear is one of life’s greatest pleasures and it can be done in a lot of different places.

– Scott Carpenter, May 1st 1925 – October 10, 2013-

Scott Carpenter, a curious but ordinary superman. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Scott Carpenter, a curious but ordinary superman.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

 

One of only two remaining Mercury Program Astronauts from the 60’s, Scott Carpenter, sadly passed beyond the veil on Thursday October 10th 2013 following a stroke in September. He was 88 years of age. Carpenter was one of the earliest pioneers in the infancy of the Space Age. He was the 2nd American to cross the threshold into orbital space on his MA-7 “Aurora 7” spaceflight and the 6th man overall.  He also held the unique distinction of being not only an astronaut but an aquanaut following his NASA career in the US Navy’s various Sea Lab projects.

For each last step, there is a first step. Born in Boulder, Colorado, USA on May 1st 1925, Malcolm Scott Carpenter was impressed by planes at the age of 5 when his father took him to his first airshow. His love of flight grew as he continued to build and fly model balsa wood plane kits as a boy. He gained a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Colorado, before entering flight school with the US Navy at Pensacola Florida and Corpus Christi Texas. After the Korean War where he flew aerial anti-submarine surveillance and patrols, Carpenter enrolled at Patuxent River’s Navy Test Pilot School in Maryland. Following this, he was assigned as an Air Intelligence Officer on the USS Hornet. During this time he received special orders to report to Washington DC for an unnamed meeting. That meeting led to his selection in Project Mercury on April 9, 1959, which was instituted as the newly formed NASA’s first step to catch up to the Soviets who had taken an early lead in the rapidly escalating Space Race.

What followed is fabled history. The exhaustive raft of testing of 110 candidates down to what are now known as the “Original Seven” and Carpenter formed part of that elite fraternity of Mercury Astronauts. Their every move was recorded and lauded by the public at large as the nascent American Space Program took its initial steps forward. Due to his communications and navigation experience Carpenter was back-up on his good friend John Glenn’s orbital flight. Upon launch, as Glenn cleared the tower, Carpenter’s words of “Godspeed John Glenn” were recorded and have echoed through the years of spaceflight history. Carpenter repeated this goodwill message when Glenn went into orbit again aboard the Shuttle in 1998.

The brotherhood of the Original Seven. Front row, from left, are Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donald "Deke" K. Slayton, John Glenn Jr., and M. Scott Carpenter. Back row, from left, are Alan Shepard Jr., Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, and Gordon Cooper. Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

The brotherhood of the Original Seven. Front row, from left, are Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donald “Deke” K. Slayton, John Glenn Jr., and M. Scott Carpenter. Back row, from left, are Alan Shepard Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and Gordon Cooper.
Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

On May 24, 1962, Carpenter’s own flight dubbed “Aurora 7” launched and completed 3 orbits of the Earth. His mission; to prove a human could work in space. This was an important link in the chain of events which ultimately resulted in a manned landing on the moon just 7 short years later. For the first time he demonstrated humans could perform tasks, experiments, communications, navigation and eat solid food in space. Due to some technical faults, inadvertent errors during the mission, all of which Carpenter compensated for, Aurora 7 came home safely but overshot the target landing zone due to fuel mismanagement during the mission. He was found by rescuers almost 5 hours late, 1000 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral, coolly relaxing in the life raft alongside his spacecraft.  Ever the gentleman astronaut he even offered his rescuers food and water from his survival kit.

The launch of Scott Carpenter on Aurora 7. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

The launch of Scott Carpenter on Aurora 7.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Looking out for John Glenn's fireflies... Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Looking out for John Glenn’s fireflies…
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Carpenter, awaiting recovery after splashdown. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Carpenter, awaiting recovery after splashdown.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

As with many space explorers who are comfortable with the risk of space exploration, Carpenter had remarked that his mission realised a long held dream and that “This is something I would gladly give my life for.” In today’s modern world of Google Earth and armchair exploration, we should remember that back then it took a special kind of person to ride fire into the heavens to expand knowledge at risk of their own life. Unlike many of his Mercury astronaut peers who were recovered and debriefed after their space shots relatively quickly, Carpenter had time for introspection and reflection on the events and meaning of his experience on Aurora 7. Carpenter was also blessed with a curious and philosophical mind. Peering through the small periscope of Aurora 7 into the endless night outside, Carpenter remarked,

“From that view … you are a long way away. Everything you see gives you satisfaction of the expectation which involves curiosity. The most important driver in everything we did then was curiosity. Can we make machines do this? Can we put our bodies through this? It’s revelatory. Addictive. Beautiful beyond description. To have been in space is very satisfying of one’s curiosity. It’s instructive. It’s marvellous.”

At the time, some may have perceived those comments and qualities to be extraneous for a test pilot / astronaut, favouring engineering rigour and zero margin of error during those early missions.  Consequently, Carpenter never flew in space again. In later years his curiosity and philosophical mind have become more appreciated by his peers.

Following NASA, Carpenter’s curious mind to banish unknowns led him to meeting with the French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. He saw many parallels, between deep space and the deep ocean, with transferable skills, technologies and parallel experiences. But more personally for him, like with his Mercury flight, working beneath the waves to satisfy his curiosity would remove any “unreasoned fears”, just as he had done above the clouds on Aurora 7. As part of the Navy’s Sea Lab II experiment, Carpenter spent 30 days in spring 1965 on the ocean floor of La Jolla as an aquanaut, proving humans could survive in this environment.  At one point during his time under the waves, he even spoke by phone to the crew of Gemini 5 orbiting far overhead. Old Mercury Seven buddy Gordon Cooper was no doubt happy to hear him. His work on the ocean floor has yielded cross benefits for NASA too as Carpenter became the Navy/NASA liaison for underwater zero gravity training – or neutral buoyancy, which has become mandatory for NASA EVA astronaut training. For this work, Carpenter was awarded the Navy’s Legion of Merit medal.

Carpenter on top of SEA LAB II shortly before being lowered to the ocean floor where he stayed for a month. Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

Carpenter on top of SEA LAB II shortly before being lowered to the ocean floor where he stayed for a month.
Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

In his later years after retiring from the Navy, Carpenter had remained active on various projects utilising his aerospace and oceanic engineering expertise. From enhancing ocean resource usage, to consulting on underwater, diving and submersibles, and lecturing on the future of technology developments and impacts Scott Carpenter had continued to actively contribute to the quality of our lives here on Earth.  Not stopping there, he had also authored three books, one of which is his memoirs “For Spacious Skies” which he wrote with his daughter Kris Stoever. Carpenter remained a staunch advocate of manned spaceflight, and pushing our exploration to Mars.

“We need a goal other than the International Space Station. We need to get cracking on a manned flight to Mars, because that is going to capture the interest, support and imagination of people who pay for spaceflight…We need to go to Mars… Mars is interim, but for now that is a goal that NASA and the country and the planet can live with enthusiastically.”           

Looking back, Carpenter remarked that he and John Glenn bonded over common interests, mutual respect and being Air Force boys. Upon hearing of his great friend’s passing, the last remaining torchbearer of that age, Mercury astronaut John Glenn paid tribute with his friend’s simple words and remarked “Godspeed, Scott Carpenter.” Carpenter himself has said that he believes he is very fortunate to have lived life during a time when there were so many unknowns to be solved during this century. That had pleased him immensely as he was always a very curious person and he has had a lot of satisfied curiosity in his time.

Brothers in Arms; Carpenter (left) and John Glenn (right). Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Brothers in Arms; Carpenter (left) and John Glenn (right).
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Meeting Scott Carpenter at Spacefest V in May 2013 in what turned out to be his twilight months, was a special privilege and for myself, the highest honour, to meet a member of the Original Seven. Meeting Scott himself, who truly understood the wider more nuanced experiences of manned spaceflight, the continuing importance of manned exploration and the questing nature of humanity, was even more special to me. The hallmark of his character, curiosity, still burned brightly in his alert eyes even though his health was visibly failing. I briefly asked him about what lessons he has taken with him on his explorations of the ocean and space into his life. Scott merely whispered, as if sharing a secret;

“Be led by your curiosity. And never forget the fun of learning and discovery. It can take you places you have never dreamed”.

Curiosity brought us here. Scott Carpenter and myself. Credit: Amjad P. Zaidi

Curiosity brought us here. Scott Carpenter and myself.
Credit: Amjad P. Zaidi

Words from a curious but ordinary superman that will stay with me forever. May fair winds be at your back Star Voyager for you have returned to the place where we all came from. You are stardust.  We thank you for your bravery, your discoveries, your humanity and your continuing inspiration.

Godspeed, Scott Carpenter.

Scott Carpenter and his children. His legacy. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Scott Carpenter and his children. His legacy.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

 

Sources:

http://www.scottcarpenter.com/

http://www.rocketstem.org/2013/10/03/spacefest-v-ultimate-party-space-lovers/

http://www.astronautix.com/astros/carenter.htm

http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/291542-1

http://life.time.com/history/scott-carpenter-rare-and-classic-photos-of-a-nasa-legend/#4

http://news.discovery.com/space/history-of-space/the-right-suff-scott-carpenters-mission-photos-131011.htm

Space Shuttle Mission Schedules: Late 2007-2011

I just uploaded my collection of Space Shuttle mission schedules here.  The zip files include all of NASA’s mission schedules, including as many revisions published during the missions. Missions in this zip file are: STS-119, STS-122, STS-123, STS-124, STS-125, STS-126, STS-127, STS-128, STS-129, STS-130, STS-131, STS-132, STS-133, STS-134, and STS-135.

You can use these Excel files in conjunction with the free Windows program I wrote: NASA Space Shuttle TV Schedule Transfer to Outlook Calendar.  It reads the Excel file that NASA published for each Space Shuttle mission and copies the events into the Calendar of Microsoft’s Office Outlook.

Project page

#NASATweetup Juno Launch

Today is the launch from the Kennedy Space Center to study Jupiter. Want to know about why Jupiter is important? Follow us with the hashtag #NASAtweetup

Challenger’s Enduring Mission: 25 years strong

Challenger's Enduring Mission: 25 years strong

The loss of the space shuttle Challenger and her crew of seven a quarter century ago this Friday marked not just a significant place in American history, but helped capture the imagination of the country and it’s youth.

As Challenger sat poised to begin the twenty-fifth space shuttle mission, students around the United States and select countries around the world tuned in to CNN to watch the launch as it happened. Cable News Network was the only network to carry the launch live. In fact, the White House staff was tuned to the Atlanta-based network to watch the lift-off.

This flight attracted both the youth of the nation and their teachers. After all, one of their own was on board — Teachernaut Sharon Christa McAuliffe.

McAuliffe, along with Barbara Morgan as her back-up, were chosen by NASA in July 1985 for the Teacher in Space project, and it was McAuliffe’s excitement for science and space which created a media likeness toward her.

As the launch neared on that January morning, television sets clicked on in classrooms and student halls.

This aerospace reporter was one of those students, and my school’s choral room was one of those rooms.

Challenger’s crew of seven included commander Richard Dick Scobee, pilot Michael Smith, mission specialists Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair and payload specialists McAuliffe and Gregory Jarvis.

As an early-teen, I developed a strong respect for several astronauts in the corps. including Dr. Resnik. During 1985, I was able to place several phone calls to her office, including a few letters. She offered a lot of information about training, strength and the choices you make in your life.

A beautiful, personally signed portrait and a few items from Dr. Resnik remains in my possession to this day.

Tuesday, January 28, 1986 was extremely cold. Ice coated the launch tower where Challenger waited passively following a one day delay due to a stuck hatch handle.

I can recall the days leading up to the launch as if it occurred only twenty-five months ago.

Challenger’s STS-51L mission, or STS-33 as the technicians handling Challenger’s prelaunch payloads knew it, was originally targeted for Jan. 24 at 3:43 pm. The delays of the launch of Columbia weeks earlier forced a three day delay.

Much of America watched the Chicago Bears win in Super Bowl XX, but for the crew of Challenger and the launch support teams it was bedtime before halftime of the game the night before launch.

Recalling that morning before school, I had CNN on watching the smiles on the crew as they left the Operations and Checkout building. I remember thinking, “there (Dr. Resnik) goes.”

The freezing temperatures forecast for launch morning did cause concern with key managers and their support personal, however almost everyone concluded late into the night that it would be safe fly.

The concern was the rubber O-ring seals on the solid rocket boosters which help trap hot gases from leaking out of the several sections which stack up the booster.

Recalling that morning before school, I had CNN on watching the crew walk out and their smiles as they left the Operations and Checkout building. I remember thinking, “there (Dr. Resnik) goes.”

The space shuttle Challenger lifted-off into the blue skies over Cape Canaveral following a delay to allow for outside temperatures to warm up at 11:38:00 am EST.

“And, lift-off. Lift-off of the twenty-fifth space shuttle mission, and it has cleared the tower,” launch commentator Hugh Harris announced.

It was the first space shuttle launch from pad 39-B.

It was to be an exciting mission as McAulliffe planned to make two 15 minute lessons from space from her classroom on the middeck; and collect data on the other space news of the month, comet Halley’s return.

A science satellite called Spartan-Halley would be deployed by Dr. Resnik using the ship’s robotic arm for forty hours of comet Halley observations. Experiments on Spartan would look into the ultraviolet regions of the comet.

Two seconds after the boosters ignited and Challenger began to rise, around eight puffs of black smoke shot out of the right hand booster and then stopped.

The tenth mission of Challenger was underway, and her crew of seven soared toward super sonic speeds.

In classrooms, teachers and school children cheered the space shuttle as it sailed out over the Atlantic Ocean.

Then it was over in a flash.

As Challenger passed through a region of strong winds, pressures from Challenger’s speed and the crosswinds from a recent jet stream forced the same o-ring seal which had puffed smoke earlier to allow flame to burn through the seal and lick the lower back section of the external fuel tank.

The flame burned the booster’s lower attach point to the tank, causing the forward nose of the booster to veer into the upper section of the external tank and puncture it.

The entire vehicle disintegrated. The orbiter itself did not explode. The force of the disintegration broke apart Challenger.

Challenger’s crew cabin was thrown free and traveled upward for a few seconds prior to falling into the ocean.

It’s hard for most to put into words their memories of that day. I never have wanted to write about this for fear of… I guess I want to keep my memories to myself, many I will not write about here.

Moments after the tragedy, I finished a math exam and literally ran to the school’s front office to call my mother.

I went home and mourned for weeks. Not just for the space program and the crew, but for an innocence lost. I grew up a bit and I vowed to improve myself and aim high.

I think a lot of students of all ages learned from the loss of Challenger, and made personal commitments to achieve higher goals.

In the years that followed, the families of the crew began the Challenger Center for space science education. Today, there are 48 learning centers across America, Canada and the United Kingdom teaching the science involved here on earth and in space. They’re making math and science fun for young students, and that’s important.

We all have our heroes, those who inspire us deep down to stay strong and strive further to meet our dreams. My father who taught me to fly planes, fish and work a computer at an early age, and Dr. Resnik are sincerely those two heroes who have reached out and ‘touched the face of God.’

God bless.

Discovery: America’s Spacecraft of the Ages

The
space shuttle Discovery — a beautiful white dove and NASA’s work horse
for a quarter century — is just days away from the start of her
thirty-ninth and final voyage upon the ocean of space.

This
reporter has personally witnessed several of Discovery’s milestones,
including a beautiful low pass over Kelly AFB, Texas in 1989 as she
rode a top a Boeing 747 after her STS-29 mission; the launches of
several of her flights beginning with STS-53 from inside Kennedy Space
Center; and the beautiful IMAX high quality video as she sailed around
two different space stations.

Although
her first flight was in 1984, one would need to go back to America’s
Bicentennial to witness the start of her construction at the Rockwell
plant in Palmdale, California.

Named
after two traditional exploration ships of the early 1600′s and the
1770′s, Discovery has spent the last 26 years making discoveries of her
own in the way we see not just our earth but the space around us.

Structural
spares from the building of two previous orbiters were built in 1976.
These segments later began to form Discovery’s crew cabin once the
government gave NASA the funding to build a fourth orbiter in January
1979.

At this point
in time, three other orbiters were completed or neared completion.
Enterprise was already performing air flight drop tests, however it was
not space flight rated; Columbia was built and just weeks away from her
delivery to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center; and Challenger was under
construction at the Rockwell plant in Palmdale.

Discovery
and her sister ship Atlantis were built when it was determined in 1978
that upgrading Enterprise for space flight could not happen due to the
way she was constructed.

Discovery’s wings were completed and were attached to her fuselage in the summer of 1982.

NASA’s
third space shuttle orbiter vehicle (OV-103) destined to soar through
space rolled out of Rockwell for delivery to America’s spaceport on
October 16, 1983.

Once
arriving at Kennedy a few weeks later, Discovery was towed to her new
home in the orbiter processing facility for tests and inspections prior
to her first planned flight in June 1984.

Discovery’s
maiden flight was to have been the sixteenth space shuttle mission
(STS-16), but cancelled missions moved it up as the twelfth flight
under a new designation, STS-41D.

STS-41D
was the fourth flight under the new payload identification system:
Space Transportation System (STS) and the 4 meant the fiscal year of
1984, the “1″ stated it was a KSC launch (where “2″ was to have been
the Vandenberg, AFB site); and “D” is the designation for the payload
flight of the year.

Discovery’s
maiden flight was delayed one day to June 26th, but a dramatic shutdown
of two of her three main engines seconds before launch would keep the
craft earthbound another two months.

“6,
5 we have main engine start… (NTD states “cut-off”)… We have a
cut-off. We have an abort by the on board computers of the orbiter
Discovery,” NASA’s launch commentator stated as it happened.

Suddenly,
launch control began reading all of their data. Engineers began safeing
both Discovery and her boosters as they scrubbed the launch. Launch
director Bob Seick and his team knew the entire stack would need to be
returned to her hanger to replace the three used engines.

Discovery would later return to her ocean side launch pad, and on August 30, 1984, set sail on her first flight:

“3,
2, 1. We have SRB ignition and we have lift-off! Lift-off of mission
STS-41D, the first flight of the orbiter Discovery, and the shuttle has
cleared the tower!”, the launch commentator exclaimed at 8:42 am as she
rose into the blue Florida sky.

STS-41D’s
“Zoo Crew” of six — commander Henry Hartsfield, pilot Mike Coats and
mission specialists Steve Hawley, Richard M. Mullane, Judith A. Resnik
and Charles Walker — spent six days in space deploying three
communications satellites; deploying a 102-foot solar sail mock-up; and
testing Discovery’s on board systems as this was her maiden flight.

The
Zoo Crew reference was an internal crew joke as Resnik kidded Mullane
and Hawley upon their meeting of actress Bo Derek who had just starred
in the movie remake of Tarzan. Judy would call Mullane “Tarzan” and
Hawley “Cheetah”. Mullane’s answer to Judy, “Well you must be Jane
then.”

When I worked
for Space Camp and Astronaut Hall of Fame, I became Mullane’s personal
guide during his two day visit in 1996. I asked him a lot about that
flight and he shared with me several great stories of 41D.

Discovery
flew her second flight STS-51A two months later on an exciting mission
which saw two spacewalking astronauts go out and capture two wayward
satellites stranded in low earth orbit. The two satellites were
launched earlier in the year, and Discovery captured them and returned
them home to be repaired and relaunched.

The
orbiter would fly four times in 1985 on satellite delivery flights and
one classified military mission which earned the white dove the name
“Battlestar Discovery”.

During
1985, the space shuttle’s second launch site at Vandenberg, AFB was
being prepared for it’s first launch. Discovery was destined to become
the military orbiter and fly the first California shuttle flight in
March 1986 on mission STS-62A (6 for 1986, 2 for VAFB and A for the
first payload of the year).

However,
fuel tank contamination issues at the launch site saw that the launch
would likely be delayed past the March target date.

Then
came the loss of Challenger on January 28, 1986, loosing both Resnik,
school teacher Christa McAuliffe and five astronauts due to high upper
level winds placing stress on a frozen, frailed o-ring seal on the
shuttle’s right solid rocket booster. The failed seal allowed for a
small plume of fire to lick the external tank and causing the tank to
explode, causing Challenger to break apart.

NASA
spent the next thirty-two months adding a new capture feature to a
redesigned SRB; performing over 100 modifications and upgrades to the
three remaining orbiters; and learning how to fix how NASA conducts
flight safety.

Discovery was then selected to lift America back into space.

On
September 29, 1988, Discovery mission STS-26R carried a crew of five
and a new tracking and data satellite to replace the one lost on
Challenger’s flight.

Discovery
spent the next few years carrying aloft space observatories and
spacecraft destined to observe the planets and galaxies.

In
the spring of 1990, Discovery and a crew of five launched the Edwin
Hubble Space Telescope into earth orbit. On her next flight in October,
the Ulysses spacecraft was deployed from the orbiter to begin an
unexpected nearly 19 year mission to understand
“the Global Structure of the Sun’s environment-the heliosphere“, according to NASA’s JPL.

Discovery
became the first orbiter to rendezvous with a space station when in
February 1995, the craft began a station keeping flight next to Russia’s Mir
station. A few of us referred to this mission as the “Mir-go-round”
flight.

I still recall standing at the launch pad hours before her launch and thinking that this spacecraft will be flying in formation with a space station. There’s something truly special about that… I wanted it to inspire me.

Ironically,
the orbiter would dock only once during the nine shuttle-Mir docking
flights. In June 1998, her STS-91 flight performed the final Mir
docking as her crew picked up astronaut Andy Thomas from his multiple
month stay on the station.

A
few months later, Discovery’s 25th flight carried a crew of seven
including former Mercury astronaut John Glenn to space on a science
mission. On February 20, 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit
the earth and became a national hero. So much so that then President
John Kennedy denied Glenn’s return to space for fear of loosing him to
a tragic space flight accident later.

Discovery revisited Hubble twice in the late-90′s, and also flew the 100th space shuttle flight on October 2000.

The
2000′s are known at NASA as the construction years of the International
Space Station. It also became the start of America’s ten-plus years of
continuous living and working in space. Beginning on November 2, 2000
and thru today, at least one American has been in space.

In
2001, Discovery carried both the station’s Expedition two and
Expedition three crews to orbit to begin their three month stays aboard
earth’s orbital outpost in space.

By
2002, NASA was running at full steam. The space station was growing and
her crews were performing great science 220 miles above earth.

Then on February 1, 2003, America lost Columbia during her return to earth.

America
stood down and began to focus on how the physics of the loss of foam
insulation from the external tank can damage the belly of an orbiter
during launch. This is what doomed Columbia as insulation traveling at
a high speed slammed into the wing’s leading edge on the underside of
the orbiter. It punctured a hole and when Columbia completed her 16 day
flight, the hot gases and temperatures of reentry began to fill the
inside structure of the craft causing section after section to break
off over Texas.

Long hours were spent fixing the way the foam insulation was applied to the shuttle’s external tank.

On board the space station, NASA and Russia downsized the crew compliment from three to two until the shuttle program resumed.

Then
in July 2005, Discovery’s 31st mission returned America to space once
again, however this time during her launch several insulation pieces
had broken off without damaging the craft. NASA stood down another year
to make more adjustments to the tank.

An
Independence Day launch in 2006 on a space station resupply flight gave
America a much needed lift, and helped resume the building of the
station.

Since then,
Discovery has carried up to station the huge Port 5 and the Starboard 6
truss segments; the Japanese Kibo science module in 2008; and the
Leonardo multipurpose logistics module to resupply the complex.

Now
as we witness Discovery’s final flight this month, her 39th mission
will again carry Leonardo, but this time her crew of six will leave the
Italian-built module docked to station permanently as a storage section.

Discovery’s
shortest flight of 3 days, 93 minutes was a January 1985 Department of
Defense mission STS-51C. Her longest single flight occurred last April
when it flew a 15 day, 2 hour and 47 minute trip to resupply the
International Space Station.

When
Discovery breaks out of orbit in two weeks and returns home, she maybe
flying into the sunset of her storied career, but will pass the torch
on to the spacecraft of the future.

It
takes thousands of people to cleanup and turn each orbiter around for
her next flight. It’s great people like these here at Kennedy and
around the country who have kept Discovery flying safely and in great
shape for more that a quarter century.

The
Smithsonian Air and Space museum in Washington, DC wants Discovery to
be her next home beginning in early 2012. A formal announcement will be
made this spring.

Discovery has been a favorite of mine for the past 26 years, and I look forward to seeing her again in our nation’s capital.

Story: Charles Atkeison


Space Tweep Gatherings for STS-133

We had really tried to plan a big gathering for this launch where tweeps involved in the NASA Tweetup and those just attending launch could all meet up. The schedule for the Tweetup made it very difficult to find a time when all could gather. 

Due to the launch delays, there is now a much better opportunity for tweeps to get together, because the launch time is earlier in the day. So tweeps, if you are on the Space Coast for the launch, try to make it over to Grills in Port Canaveral at some point afterward. The food is good, and hopefully there will be a lot of us who can make it. Expect heavy traffic and large crowds. There will probably be tweeps there until pretty late, so don’t stress if you get stuck in traffic. 

There are also other opportunities for small gatherings, so if you’d like to list any impromptu get togethers you’re having here, you can leave details in the comments on this post. Registered tweeps can click on a link at the bottom of this post to “watch” it so they will be emailed when new comments are posted. Look for a link that reads, “You are not watching this post, click to start watching.” 

Don’t forget, you can also use tools like Foursquare to find out where tweeps you’ve friended are hanging out. 

Welcome to the Space Coast; travel safely!

Next Space Shuttle Launch – Informal Poll

Hi.

I’m conducting an informal poll on Spacepirations with the purpose of understanding how much first level acquaintances of space enthusiasts know about the upcoming launch of Space Shuttle Discovery.

It would be great to get all of you (obviously space enthusiasts) ask your friends and family 4 simple questions and report back, preferably on Spacepirations.

The questions are:

  1. Which Space Shuttle is getting ready for launch?
  2. When is the next launch?
  3. How many Space Shuttle launches remain after this one?
  4. What mission number is it going to be?

After the launch I will tally the responses and gauge in a non-scientific way how well we space enthusiasts and NASA keep these historic last few shuttle launches and space on people’s minds.

The full post with the poll questions is here: http://www.spacepirations.com/2010/09/next-space-shuttle-launch-informal-poll.html

Thanks for your help!

The time has come…

You may have seen my tweets about it: this week I volunteered for the upcoming layoff from my job as a space shuttle technician. I will be leaving after 8.5 years of service on October 1st. Since many of you would give your right arm to work on the shuttle program, you probably think I’m crazy to volunteer for this. Leaving the shuttle program is a tough decision for sure, but it really isn’t a matter of if, only when. I am not choosing to leave, I am just choosing the time it will happen. Ultimately, the vast majority of shuttle workers will be let go. So why go before I am forced? Here’s an explanation so you can see it from my perspective. 

One of the biggest reasons I am taking this layoff is that it will allow me to plan for my future. It is nearly impossible to make plans or look for a new job when you have no idea when your end date at work will be or what the future holds. We hear a different story every week about what is happening with the program, or with our benefits/severance. The uncertainty is exhausting. I’m not blaming my management for this- I think they are in the same boat. By volunteering for this layoff, I now know what is going to happen to me and when. Crazy as it seems, that feels good. Now I can start figuring out a good strategy to move forward. 

Along the same lines, morale was a big push for me to self-nominate for this layoff. You can’t imagine what it is like to be at work surrounded by constant doom and gloom, now with a dash of panic. It is not pretty. Once the people who are to be laid off involuntarily are notified- which will be at the end of July- I expect that it will be even worse. As far as the work goes, we are finishing up with Discovery’s right OMS Pod now, and will deliver it for reinstallation this week. After that I have a few thrusters to bench test for Atlantis, which is being processed for launch on need (in case of emergency). Once that is complete, the bulk of the work we will have left in my area is decontamination of our facility for shutdown, or Transition & Retirement as NASA likes to call it. I started working on the shuttle program because I wanted to contribute to something incredible, human space exploration. I don’t find decontamination and shutdown very inspirational. In fact, it is downright depressing. For many workers, it is just a job and they don’t care what goal they’re working towards as long as they are paid. To me, it makes a difference, and I would much rather try to find work I can feel good about again. 

Other reasons for taking this layoff are more practical than emotional. Leaving early gives me a better chance of finding a new job or pursuing other options because the market won’t be flooded with thousands of others doing the same. Also, it makes sense for my particular situation, because my husband Andy (@apacheman) works on the shuttle program as well. He will have work to do up until the last launch because he works at the launch pad. We figure that it will be best for us to take a phased approach rather than both being laid off at the same time. This way, hopefully I can get something figured out and can carry him once his job is complete, sometime next year. 

So, that’s basically it. I hope this helps you understand why I am volunteering for this layoff, and I hope you can be supportive of my choice. I don’t want sympathy; I’m not feeling sorry for myself and you shouldn’t either! I am looking for my next great adventure, whatever it may be. I’m working on some things, and really hope to bring one of my ideas to life. If you haven’t seen my tweets about it already, Project Mercury Rising is something that I feel could be an amazing way to inspire and educate youth about space exploration. I’d really love to see it happen and I’m working on it. Also, I have created a personal website/portfolio to promote myself to anyone who may be looking for someone with my skills/talents. It can’t hurt, right?

Keeping The Faith

For Space Tweeps teetering on job loss and scrambling to find new opportunities while preserving their valuable space technology experience, I can only offer my deepest condolences and support.  I hope your voices are being heard, locally and nationally, and I hope that they are making a loud noise in the right ears.

Somehow our space society must survive and prevail if we hope to continue to move our nation both forward and upward.  It is easy in these really depressing times to just get totally frustrated and chuck it all; leaving your space careers behind.  Please don’t if at all possible.  This is not an easy request and may seem insensitive, but believe me I have walked in your shoes and I know the sadness and despair.  I repeat, don’t give up. In fact, get aggressive about yourself and your skills. Don’t let doubt and despair cripple your efforts to move forward even in these times. You are invaluable and all of your experience is priceless and essential to all those who seek to continue our efforts to move the space sciences and technology forward.

Yes, I know the politicians keep mouthing faint promises, but keep in mind this is a mid-term election year, and so politicians have at least partially opened their minds and their ears.  Knock on a door, tell you story, demand that space not be deserted.  It can make a difference first for you, and secondly for the entire space program.

Bottom line: Keep The Faith.  From the days of Mercury to now, there are endless men and women who have kept that faith and helped move us forward.  They are looking to each of us to carry on.  We must not fail.

Shuttle Stories- Potty Mouth

In my work area at Kennedy Space Center, there is only one other female technician. Nancy has worked at KSC for a total of about 38 years in a couple of different jobs. She is stubborn and sometimes ornery- that’s what I like best about her. She puts up with me, so we end up working together quite a bit. During these times, she often entertains me with stories from working during the Apollo years or from the early days of the Shuttle Program.

Nancy has told me a lot of crazy stories, but I was really floored one day when she casually mentioned being pissed on by Crippen & Young, the crew of the first shuttle mission. My response was something like, “WHAT?!” and she proceeded to explain what she meant.

It was shortly after STS-1, and Nancy was working in the OPF, or Orbiter Processing Facility. It was OPF Bay 1, the only one in existence at the time. Bays 2 and 3 were built later. All of the shuttle processing tasks that we have perfected now, nearly 30 years later, were just being pioneered. The task of the day was to service the “potty.” The job was being conducted by engineers in the firing room, who were providing instructions to the SCO, or Space Craft Operator inside the crew module, over the headsets they were wearing. They would tell him which switches to flip or buttons to push. Nancy and her co-worker also received instructions from the engineers over their headsets. They were told to hook up a length of flexible tubing to a port on the orbiter, and place the other end of the tubing into a bucket partially filled with water. 

Apparently the engineers were having trouble with the procedure, or there was some confusion. After about an hour they told the technicans to disconnect the tubing, even though no liquid had been drained. It was not clear why the procedure hadn’t seemed to work, so they would have to investigate. Nancy disconnected the tubing and leaned down to pick up the bucket. You can probably guess what happened next. Apparently engineering had relayed one more switch throw to the Space Craft Operator in the ship, and it caused a spray of, well you-know-what to be released, all over Nancy.

As soon as she realized what had happened, she began spewing forth a healthy stream of obscenities, as almost anyone would in that situation. She says she remembers that her co-worker stealthily snatched the headset off her head, not to protect it from the liquid, but to keep her from getting in trouble or even fired for cursing like a sailor over the comm system. At the time, there was no “white room” leading into the crew module of the orbiter, it was all open around the hatch. Nancy said she looked up and the SCO had poked his head out of the hatch and was convulsing in fits of laughter. 

So, that’s basically it. Nancy got cleaned up as best she could and got a new shirt and went back to work that day in 1981, perhaps smelling a bit foul. Ever since, her claim to fame has been that she was peed on by the crew of STS-1. I’m pretty sure no one else in the world can truthfully say that has happened to them. 

STS-130 Space Tweep Weekend Gatherings

For anyone attending the STS-130 launch this weekend, there are several opportunities to get together with fellow Space Tweeps for celebrating. There are three gatherings planned so far, and if more come up I’ll add them here. Come to one, come to all – just have fun! 


Saturday, February 6 – 7PM 

Dinner at Dixie Crossroads

Coordinated by @mgrabois


Sunday, February 7 – 8AM 

Post-Launch breakfast at Simply Delicious 

Coordinated by @comtnclimr & @astrogerly


Sunday, February 7 – 2-6PM (come & go) 

Post-Launch Tweetup at Grills Seafood Deck and Tiki Bar 

Coordinated by @astrogerly 

From @astrogerly’s orginal post: 

Directions: See this interactive map 

Entertainment: Besides being able to meet and socialize with fellow space tweeps,  

@flyingjenny’s coworker,  @rusallen and his band will be playing from 2-6PM!

You can see @astrogerly’s original post with comments over here


Thanks to everyone who is coordinating, and hope to see you all at one of more of these gatherings! 

Remembering the morning of January 28, 1986

On January 28th, 1986 I was 15 years old. I awoke knowing that the Space Shuttle Challenger would be launching around lunch time. It was a school day. At 15 I was enjoying my time in high school. I had every reason to look forward to going to school, seeing my friends. I was one of those kids, who for the most part, liked school. This morning though I wanted very much to stay home. I showered and got dressed and looked my self over in the mirror. I took at deep breath and decided to try something. I walked down stairs to where my mother was pouring herself a cup of coffee. I asked, “Mom, the shuttle is going up later this morning…”. She looked straight into my eyes. I froze. After a second, I continued, “I know they won’t say anything or show it at school…” She interrupted, “I suppose you aren’t feeling well today.” She said it in almost a flat tone and as she spoke the word, “today”, she drew it out, her lips turned to a sly smile. “No, I suppose I don’t”, I said. My smile was far more obvious than hers. I could hardly hold my self back from laughing. The cause of my joy, wasn’t simply because of my mother’s good nature in supporting my interest in all things space. No, she had been doing that since before I was born. I was happy because, I had watched, with great excitement, every shuttle launch until that point. I had cut newspaper articles since before Columbia first flew and put them, carefully more or less, into kind of scrap book. A year before Columbia’s first launch, I had toured Kennedy Space Center and seen the preparations for the launch. I was so hooked on space and had such a supportive family that on that day back in 1986, I was simply over joyed.

Leading up to the launch, I had a frustrating time actually finding any news coverage of the launch itself. I was growing up in a small suburb of Indianapolis, Mooresville.  The local ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates weren’t showing or mentioning anything about covering the launch. My mother, always an avid news radio listener, began in parallel to my efforts, of scanning the AM and FM dials for any coverage.  We found it shortly before launch, maybe 10 or 12 minutes before.

I won’t describe what happened to the vehicle or crew after launch. What I remember, what is burned into my memory is this; my mother and I were standing in the kitchen together, smiling at one another. We were sharing some rare teenage son and mother quality time. Our little secret (Mooresville High School, I didn’t have the flu that day), that I wasn’t sick. Both of us, fans of our country’s space program. My mother, who had watched every Apollo launch, the one who had sat me upon her lap at watched the last mission to the Moon, the one who had covered one part of our kitchens wall with clippings from each mission.

I remember her face. I remember as how the words changed her giddy smile and joy from the announcers description of a beautiful launch, that turned so quickly to tragedy. I remember she stared straight into my eyes. We never broke our gaze. As the words began to register in her brain and sudden denial washed over her, her eye brows furrowed. She stared at me as confused as my own child would later when Columbia was destroyed. My mother began to shake visibly. She continued to look me in the eye and ask what the words the announcer was speaking, meant. I translated into half technical terms and half gibberish. I was trying to take it all in, to rationalize it. I tried by offering words of comfort to my now sobbing mother. I tried to think of ways the crew could have survived. My mother added into the conversation, remembering how show had seen a video or photo of astronauts and an ejection system in the Shuttle.. I corrected her. Her lip trembled as I had hastily spoken what I knew was fact. I said it in such a matter of fact way, I was oblivious to how it had the affect of a knife to her gut. She reached out and put a hand on our stove to steady herself. I pulled up some chairs and we say there in our kitchen, huddled close, listening to the tinny AM signal coming through a 30 year old radio perched on a small shelf above our range.

In the living room, the reporters were not turning their attention from a launch, to a national tragedy.  We both watched and listened for the rest of the day. We talked. We yelled. We yelled at the sky, we yelled out for a reason this had happened, for someone to blame. We prayed together for the crew, for their families, NASA and for the country.

I don’t remember the first launch after Challenger. It seems strange to me now. I don’t remember the launch that came three years later. What I do know is that my mother was watching and I remember her smiling again.