Wednesday, October 31, 2007

STS-120 MCC Status Report #17

STS-120
Report #17
12:15 a.m. CDT Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – Crewmembers on space shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station will spend today preparing for a spacewalk designed to learn more about the joint that rotates the starboard side solar arrays.

The wakeup song, “Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu” by Domenico Modugno, was played at 11:38 p.m. CDT Tuesday for Mission Specialist Paolo Nespoli, who’s scheduled to receive a congratulatory phone call from the president of Italy at 3:13 a.m. today. The song’s title translates as “In the blue (sky), painted blue;” it is widely known as “Volare.”

Today spacewalkers Scott Parazynski, Doug Wheelock, and spacewalk coordinator Nespoli will review newly written procedures for tomorrow’s fourth spacewalk, devoted to examination of the starboard Solar Alpha Rotary Joint. They’ll also reconfigure a spacesuit for Parazynski to wear in place of one that was having issues with cooling. Wheelock will use a backup pair of gloves for Thursday’s spacewalk in place of a pair that was damaged during EVA 3.

The starboard SARJ has experienced a slight increase in friction during rotation the past month and a half, and metal shavings were found inside the joint during Sunday’s spacewalk. During Thursday’s spacewalk, the astronauts will remove the covers from the SARJ, inspect the interior, take samples of debris if any is found, and look for clues to the root cause of the friction.

Meanwhile, specialists in Houston are working on their next steps to complete deployment of one of the two solar array wings on the P6 truss. That truss was successfully installed on the P5 element during yesterday’s EVA. One of the two solar array wings on P6 was completely deployed, but the other suffered a tear in a solar blanket that prompted a halt to the deploy operations.

International Space Station program officials say the current configuration is safe and note that the array is producing more than 95 percent of the power it would generate if it were fully deployed.

Today station Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Dan Tani will work inside the new Harmony module, deploying the Zero Gravity Stowage Rack and removing the anti-vibration mount launch bracket from the common cabin air assembly.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Wednesday afternoon or earlier if events warrant.

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Discovery hit by large Micro-Meteoroid or Orbital Debris?

As nasaspaceflight.com reports, Discovery has probably been hit by an object this morning. It is still unclear what the object was. Candidates are micrometeoroids or orbital debris, but it may also be a false alarm. The sensor reading, however, tells that the hit was tripple the previous max hit.

It is far too early to draw any conclusion. NASA is currently evaluating the issue. A final decision will probably be postponed until the end of the mission. Then, the heat shield is inspected with the so-called orbital boom sensor system (OBSS), which can detect damage. The late inspection is done since some flights now and it is especially targeted towards detecting on-orbit damage. So it is perfectly valid to wait for it.

Let's hope this is no real incident. So far we had a flawless mission and I hope it remains that way ;)

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STS-120 MCC Status Report #16

STS-120 Flight Day 8: A view of a damaged P6 4B solar array wing on the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA TV STS-120
Report #16
Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2007 - 5 p.m. CDT
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – The crew of space shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station executed a flawless spacewalk today, but ran into some unexpected issues afterward.

Scott Parazynski and Doug Wheelock left the space station at 4:45 a.m. to begin what would be a 7 hour, 8 minute excursion to complete all of their scheduled tasks and a few get-ahead items for future spacewalks.

They were able to install the port 6 – or P6 – truss segment with its set of solar arrays to its permanent home and install a spare main bus switching unit on a stowage platform for future use if needed.

Additionally, Parazynski took a look at the port Solar Alpha Rotary Joint to gather comparison data for the starboard rotary joint, which has been experiencing increased friction over the past month and a half. Parazynski described the joint as being “pristine,” unlike its starboard counterpart, which was found to have some debris inside the joint during a similar inspection on the mission’s second space walk.

As the spacewalk ended, the P6 solar arrays were deployed with one experiencing a tear in a blanket as it reached the 80 percent deployed point. The crew immediately halted the deploy as engineers in Mission Control began a detailed forensics analysis to determine what the next steps would entail.

The current configuration is safe and there is no urgency to solve the problem immediately allowing station managers and engineers plenty of time to understand the problem before taking any action. The other half of the array deployed perfectly with no issues.

Space Station Program Manager Mike Suffredini said the array is currently producing almost as much power as it would be expected to if fully unfurled – just 3 percent less than normal.

“This will take time and needs to be worked,” Suffredini said. “But my personal opinion is we’ve got the time to work this issue, so we can be methodical about it. And we will.”

After reentering the station, Wheelock noticed a small hole in the outer layer of his right glove thumb. Further analysis will dictate the options as he prepares to join Parazynski on the fourth spacewalk Thursday.

The crew is scheduled to spend Wednesday transferring cargo from the shuttle to the station and preparing for the mission’s fourth spacewalk. They will also participate in a news conference, scheduled for 6:48 a.m.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Wednesday morning or earlier if events warrant.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

STS-120 MCC Status Report #15

STS-120
Report #15
1 a.m. CDT Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – Astronauts Scott Parazynski and Doug Wheelock today install the International Space Station’s P6 truss in its final location. A new task was also added to this third spacewalk of the mission to provide comparison data of the station’s two solar array rotary joints. The spacewalk is set to begin at 3:53 a.m. CDT.

Today’s wakeup music at 11:38 p.m., “Malaguena Salerosa” by Chingon, was played for Pilot George Zamka, who will be operating the shuttle robotic arm.

After analyzing photos of debris found inside the station’s starboard Solar Alpha Rotary Joint, mission managers decided Parazynski should take time near the end of the spacewalk to inspect the port rotary joint to provide a comparison. The joints rotate the solar arrays to track the sun for electrical power generation. Parazynski will take photographs and samples of any debris he finds for evaluation.

On Monday managers also decided to devote the mission’s fourth spacewalk on Thursday to additional inspection of the starboard joint. That joint has been experiencing increased friction during rotation for the past month and a half and station operators have limited its use while the situation is assessed.

The fourth spacewalk originally was to test a shuttle tile repair dispensing “gun” known as the T-RAD. That test has been deferred to a future shuttle mission.

During today’s spacewalk, Parazynski and Wheelock will work at the end of the port truss to help station robotic arm operators attach the P6 to its new location on P5. The two will provide verbal cues to Expedition 16 Flight Engineer Dan Tani and Mission Specialist Stephanie Wilson as they align the truss.

Once the 17.5 ton truss is in place, Wheelock will secure it with the mechanical capture claw so the two can install the bolts that will permanently hold it and then attach its power source.

Next, the spacewalkers will remove thermal shrouds on P6 and configure the P6 radiator for deployment by ground controllers. Wheelock will also install a spare main bus switching unit on a station storage platform. Zamka and Wilson will operate the shuttle robotic arm during this hardware transfer task.

Following the spacewalk the giant solar array wings on P6 will be redeployed so they can begin gathering sunlight for power again.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Tuesday afternoon or earlier if events warrant.

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Tropical Storm Noel and STS-120

Tropical Storm Noel on its way to the Florida East CostI headed to Seaworld Orlando today in an effort the move away from the effects of tropical storm Noel. Even in Orlando, the morning had lots of rain and high winds. But the day at Seaworld turned out to be a good one. When I came back to Cape Canaveral this evening, I noticed the strong winds (especially on the bridges). I am staying in a beach codo here, and I can really feel the wind on the window (and I have to admit I do not like such weather ;)).

I thought how lucky we were to have Discovery launch last week. Since then, most days had thick cloud cover, definitely a no-go for launch. Only yesterday was quite well, but I am not sure if clouds would still have prevented the launch. And the forecast for the next five days or so is strong winds plus ample of rain due to Noel. The Pic shows its current location, and it is heading to the Florida east cost now. Titusville, Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach and Kennedy Space Center are among the most-affected areas.

So in short words, I think if Discovery hadn't launched last week, the launch would probably have been delayed for at least two weeks. That would have brought it close to the end of the launch window and would also have affected, if not prevented, Atlantis' STS-122 launch.

I just can't say how grateful I am everything worked right on the first launch attempt! A bit of luck is quite helpful from time to time... I thought this is worth noting and so I blog it;)

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STS-120 MCC Status Report #14

STS-120
Report #14
Monday, Oct. 29, 2007 - 5 p.m. CDT
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – As crewmembers aboard the International Space Station and space shuttle Discovery prepared for the third spacewalk, they learned that the shuttle will spend an extra day in space, with landing now scheduled for just after 4 a.m. Nov. 7.

After analyzing photos of debris found inside the station’s starboard Solar Alpha Rotary Joint, mission managers today decided to devote the mission’s fourth spacewalk Thursday to further inspection of the joint. That spacewalk originally was dedicated to testing of a shuttle tile repair dispensing “gun,” which has been deferred to a future shuttle mission.

The additional docked day has been inserted between the fourth and fifth spacewalks and provides for some crew off-duty time, along with ample equipment preparation and turnaround for the fifth spacewalk, scheduled for Saturday. Mission flight planners now are working detailed timelines to reflect the decision by the Mission Management Team. Discovery now is scheduled to undock from the station on Nov. 5 and land a week from Wednesday completing the STS-120 mission.

As a precursor to the additional rotary joint inspection spacewalk, Tuesday’s spacewalk by Scott Parazynski and Doug Wheelock will include a short task to inspect the port rotary joint to provide comparison data to station managers who will spend the night developing procedures for the fourth spacewalk. All other tasks for the third spacewalk remain as trained with the focus being on installation of the P6 truss to its permanent location outboard of the port truss.

Today the crew completed final preparations for the P6 truss installation and continued outfitting and activation of avionics and systems racks inside the Harmony Node. Despite the shutdown of the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly in the U.S. Destiny laboratory, work continues as normal with no interruption to operations with other means of carbon dioxide scrubbing equipment on board.

The crew day ended with Parazynski and Wheelock beginning their routine overnight “campout” in the Quest airlock. They plan to begin the spacewalk at about 4:28 a.m. Tuesday following a wakeup call from Mission Control late tonight about 11:30.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Tuesday morning or earlier if events warrant.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

STS-120 MCC Status Report #13

STS-120
Report #13
12:45 a.m. CDT Monday, October 29, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – With two successful spacewalks completed in three days, the crews on Space Shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station have some time to relax today while also completing a big handoff and getting prepared for another EVA on Tuesday.

This morning’s wakeup music at 11:39 p.m., “One by One” by Wynton Marsalis, was played for Mission Specialist Stephanie Wilson, one of the robot arm operators for this morning’s hand off of the P6 truss element between the shuttle and station robot arms.

P6, which was removed from the station during Sunday’s spacewalk, spent the night in a parked position in the grip of Canadarm2, which is based on the station’s Mobile Base System. At 2:08 a.m. CDT Wilson and Pilot George Zamka will fly the shuttle robot arm to grapple P6. Mission Specialist Clay Anderson and Flight Engineer Dan Tani will command the station arm to let go and then they will position the arm for a ride across the station’s truss.

At 4:23 a.m. the Mobile Transporter will begin a 90-minute transit to work site 8, the last stop on the port end of the station’s truss. Once the railcar locks down there, Anderson and Tani will reach out with Canadarm2 and take P6 back from the shuttle arm. It will be held there overnight and then installed on the port end of the truss during the mission’s third spacewalk Tuesday morning.

In between the two handoffs the crews are scheduled for off duty time. After lunch Tani and space station Commander Peggy Whitson will begin outfitting the avionics rack in the Harmony node while Mission Specialist Paolo Nespoli helps spacewalkers Scott Parazynski and Doug Wheelock prepare the airlock for the next spacewalk.

At 12:43 p.m. shuttle Commander Pam Melroy, Wilson and Anderson will join Whitson, Tani and Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko in the Harmony node to talk about the progress of the flight with ABC News, NBC News and CNN News.

The station and space shuttle flight control teams and mission managers are discussing options following the discovery by Tani during yesterday’s spacewalk of particulate matter (of unknown composition) inside the station’s starboard Solar Alpha Rotary Joint. That joint has been experiencing increased friction during rotation for the past month and a half. Station managers have decided to limit the use of the SARJ while the situation is assessed.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Monday afternoon or earlier if events warrant.

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STS-120 MCC Status Report #12

STS-120
Report #12
4:00 p.m. CDT Sunday, October 28, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – Astronauts Scott Parazynski and Dan Tani successfully completed all major tasks during STS-120's second spacewalk, the 17th this year and the 94th dedicated to the International Space Station's assembly and maintenance.

During the 6 hour and 33 minute spacewalk, Parazynski and Tani teamed to disconnect cables from the Port 6 (P6) truss, allowing it to be removed from the Z1 truss. Once completed, Mission Specialists Stephanie Wilson and Doug Wheelock used the station’s robotic arm to move the P6 and park it overnight. The space walk began at 4:32 a.m. CDT and ended at 11:05 a.m. CDT.

Tani also visually inspected the station’s starboard Solar Alpha Rotary Joint and gathered samples of “shavings” he found under the joint’s Multi-Layer Insulation covers. The task was added so engineers could gather additional information on possible causes of increased friction detected for the past month and a half as the joint rotated for solar array positioning.

Mission managers today decided to limit the use of the rotary joint as they continue to assess the anomaly. Managers also determined Discovery’s Thermal Protection System is cleared for reentry.

In addition to detaching the P6 truss, the spacewalkers outfitted the Harmony module, mated the power and data grapple fixture and reconfigured connectors on the starboard 1 (S1) truss that will allow the radiator on S1 to be deployed from the ground later.

Tomorrow, Wilson, Wheelock and Mission Specialist Clay Anderson will handoff the P6 element to the shuttle robotic arm, operated by Mission Specialists George Zamka and Commander Pam Melroy. The station’s arm will then be move down along the truss railway closer to the P6 outboard installation point and the P6 will be handed back to Canadarm2 for installation in its new location on P5 during the mission’s third spacewalk.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Monday morning or earlier if events warrant.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

STS-120 MCC Status Report #11

STS-120
Report #11
12:30 a.m. CDT Sunday, October 28, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – The second of a record five spacewalks on one space shuttle visit to the International Space Station begins this morning, and it will end with a major station element en route to a new location.

Today’s wakeup song at 12:09 a.m. CDT, “What a Wonderful World,” by Louis Armstrong, was played for Mission Specialist Scott Parazynski on the day he makes his second spacewalk of the mission. He and Flight Engineer Dan Tani spent the night camped out in the Quest airlock to purge nitrogen from their bloodstreams to help prevent them from experiencing decompression sickness.

While the spacewalkers suit up, mission specialists Stephanie Wilson and Doug Wheelock will maneuver the station’s robot arm to grapple the P6 truss element, now secured atop the Z1 truss. When Parazynski and Tani exit the station at 4:58 a.m. CDT they will head for the intersection of the P6 and Z1 to disconnect the last umbilicals and bolts holding the two components together.

When they finish there the spacewalkers will move to separate jobs. Parazynski will go to the new Harmony node, installed on the Unity node Friday, to install handholds and other equipment. Tani will move to the starboard truss for two inspections. He will look for sharp edges on handrails on the Crew and Equipment Translation Aid cart and then move to the Solar Alpha Rotary Joint to look for the cause of increased friction that has been observed recently when that joint is rotated.

At the same time, Wilson and Wheelock will use Candaram2 to lift P6 off of the Z1 truss, the first step in its move to the far port end of the station’s truss structure. The 45-foot-long truss will remain on the arm tonight and will be handed over to the shuttle robot arm Monday. This allows the station arm atop its mobile operating base to move along the truss railway closer to the P6 outboard installation point and then P6 will be handed back to Canadarm2 for installation Tuesday during the mission’s third spacewalk.

Late in today’s spacewalk Parazynski and Tani meet up again to install a new grapple fixture on Harmony, a fixture that the station arm will use next month to remove Harmony from Unity and install it at the front of the Destiny laboratory. At that location Harmony will provide docking ports for the European and Japanese laboratory modules scheduled to arrive later this year and early next year.

Today’s spacewalk, the fifth of Parazynski’s career and the second for Tani, is scheduled to end at 11:38 a.m. CDT.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Sunday afternoon or earlier if events warrant.

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STS-120 MCC Status Report #10

Joint STS-120 and Expedition 16 Crews inside the newly added Harmony moduleSTS-120
Report #10
2 p.m. CDT Saturday, Oct. 27, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – Astronauts at the International Space Station now have a little more room to float around in – 2,666 cubic feet more, to be exact.

The hatch of Node 2 – or Harmony, as the module was named by school children – was opened at 7:24 a.m. CDT today. Station Commander Peggy Whitson and Mission Specialist Paolo Nespoli – who is from Italy, where the module was built – were the first to enter, and took advantage of the opportunity to remark on the appropriateness of its name.

“We think Harmony is a very good name for this module,” Whitson said, “because it represents the culmination of a lot of international partner work and will allow international partner modules to be added on.”

Crew members spent part of today hooking Harmony systems up for use. Rick LaBrode, lead shuttle flight director, said it was going well.

“It’s beautiful,” LaBrode said. “Bright, shiny. The report from the crew is that it’s as clean as can be. Perfect shape.”

The module won’t be ready for full use while space shuttle Discovery is at the station. It’s been installed in a temporary location because the shuttle’s docking port is currently situated at its final location. The station crew will move the docking port and Harmony, and finish bringing all of its systems online after the shuttle leaves.

After the module’s ventilation system was up and running, some crew members were able to take time out from their work for interviews with a few television stations. They answered questions on subjects ranging from the challenges of the missions to the historic significance of having Whitson, the first female commander of the station, in space at the same time as Pam Melroy, the second female commander for the shuttle.

“We hope to see a woman leading a mission to Mars someday,” Melroy said.

The other major tasks for the day centered around preparations for the mission’s second spacewalk on Sunday. Mission Specialist Scott Parazynski and the station’s newly arrived flight engineer, Daniel Tani, are scheduled to leave the station at 4:58 a.m. They’ll finish disconnecting the Port 6, or P6, truss segment from the top of the station, where it was installed temporarily in 2000, and help direct robotic arm operators as they move the solar array section to its permanent home on the end of the port truss.

In addition, mission managers also have asked Tani to take a look at a rotary joint used to rotate solar arrays on the starboard side of the truss. The joint has been showing some increased friction lately, and mission managers hope Tani may be able to identify the cause.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Sunday morning or earlier if events warrant.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

STS-120 MCC Status Report #09

HOUSTON – Today is the grand opening of the International Space Station’s newest module, a connecting node that will host new laboratory complexes from around the world.

The day began with an Italian wakeup song at 12:39 a.m. “Bellissime Stelle” (Beautiful Stars) by Andrea Bocelli was played for European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli of Italy, the country where the new node, Harmony, was built.

This morning Nespoli, a member of the crew on Space Shuttle Discovery, will work with Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson to outfit the vestibule between Harmony and the Unity module, to which it was installed yesterday during the first spacewalk of the mission. They are scheduled to open the hatch into Harmony at 7:58 a.m. CDT, and the crewmembers will get to enter the module for the first time. They will install a ventilation line to circulate the air and begin setup operations.

Harmony will be relocated to the front of the Destiny laboratory after the shuttle departs, and provide the docking ports for laboratory modules from the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency that are to arrive later this year and early next year.

This morning shuttle Commander Pam Melroy, Pilot George Zamka, and Mission Specialists Stephanie Wilson and Doug Wheelock will use the shuttle and station robotic arms to return the Orbiter Boom Sensor System to the starboard payload bay sill. Plans for a focused inspection of Discovery’s thermal protection system were cancelled by mission managers after a thorough review of detailed imagery yielded no evidence of damage that required more examination.

Additional time was added for today’s review of the updated plans for the second spacewalk of the mission, which takes place Sunday morning. In a newly-added task, space station Flight Engineer Dan Tani will visually inspect the truss’ starboard Solar Alpha Rotary Joint. He will look for possible causes of increased friction in that joint that has been detected for the past month and a half during its rotation for solar array positioning.

Tani also will spend time with astronaut Clay Anderson, his predecessor on Expedition 16, to get acclimated to life on the space station. This afternoon at 1:03 p.m. Anderson will join Whitson and Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko plus shuttle astronauts Melroy, Zamka, Wilson and Wheelock in the new Harmony node to discuss the mission in interviews with CBS News, FOX News, and WHAM-TV of Rochester, New York, Melroy’s hometown.

At 2:23 p.m. Tani and his spacewalking partner, Mission Specialist Scott Parazynski, will begin their overnight campout pre-breathe inside the Quest airlock as they get prepared for their spacewalk starting at 4:58 a.m. Sunday.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Saturday afternoon or earlier if events warrant.

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How to take a great up-close picture of a shuttle launch...

What do you do if you would like to take a real up-close picture of a space shuttle sitting in the launch pad? Or even an up-close view of it launching? OK, the first thing you should do is obtain launch transportation tickets to the NASA causeway. That will bring you to the closest viewing spot available to the public.

But, hey, that spot is still six miles away from the launch pad. So you need a very strong zoom lens to get a real up-close picture. And, of course, most of us will not be able to afford one. In fact, most will not even be able to afford renting one. End of the game? For me, yes. I lend a 300mm lens, giving roughly 500mm equivalent on my digital camera. I was quite satisfied by the result.

A fellow launch viewer and astronomer did not give up that quickly. He actually took a Celestron C8 telescope and mounted it in front of his camera. The result was the great picture you see right at the start of this post. However, I find it even more astonishing how he managed to take those pictures. Have a look:


Using a Celestron C8 telescope to take space shuttle launch pictures

He even managed to hand-hold it while taking pictures! Congratulations to this great job!

As you can see, there is always a solution if you are motivated to do it. I think this is the spirit that made spaceflight a reality and I was extremely pleased to see it applied to solve launch viewing issues ;)

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STS-120 MCC Status Report #08

STS-120
Report #08
4:30 p.m. CDT Friday, Oct. 26, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – It proved to be a perfect day for a spacewalk.

In just over six hours, STS-120 Mission Specialists Scott Parazynski and Doug Wheelock installed the Harmony module in its temporary location on the International Space Station, readied the P6 truss for its relocation on Sunday, retrieved a failed radio communications antenna and snapped shut a window cover on Harmony that opened during launch on the space shuttle.

The astronauts plan to enter Harmony for the first time at 8:03 a.m. Saturday after Mission Specialist Paolo Nespoli and Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson open the hatches. The station’s newest pressurized module adds 2,666 cubic feet of volume, increasing the station’s living space by nearly 20 percent (from 15,000 to 17,666 cubic feet).

Mission managers today determined a focused inspection of Discovery’s heat shield is not necessary Saturday following detailed review of the imagery gathered over the last two days. The Mission Management Team declared the shuttle’s Thermal Protection System is cleared for reentry. A routine final inspection focusing on the wing leading edges is planned for late in the mission.

Station managers also decided to add a 360-degree visual inspection of the station’s starboard Solar Alpha Rotary Joint (SARJ) during the second spacewalk on Sunday. The SARJ has shown increased friction for the past month and a half. Though the increase is not constant and averages less than a tenth of an amp, managers decided to add the inspection because the spacewalkers will be near the joint.

During the spacewalk, astronauts will remove the multi-layer insulation covers on the joint to better see the swing bolts beneath and document their inspection with photographs.

Parazynski and Wheelock began the spacewalk at 5:02 a.m. CDT and wrapped up at 11:16. First, the two removed and stowed the S-band Antenna Structural Assembly which is being returned to Earth on Discovery. Next, they secured a Payload and Data Grapple Fixture onto Harmony that could not be in place during launch, removed contamination covers and disconnected the power cables linking Harmony to Discovery.

Once the spacewalker’s preparations were complete, Mission Specialists Stephanie Wilson and Clay Anderson and Expedition 16 Flight Engineer Daniel Tani used the station’s robotic arm to remove Harmony from the payload bay and move it to its position on the port side of Unity. Nespoli coordinated spacewalk activities.

Harmony will be relocated to the front of the Destiny laboratory after the shuttle departs. It will provide the docking ports for laboratory modules from the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency that are to arrive late this year and early next year. Outfitting of the station’s newest module will continue throughout the mission.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Saturday morning or earlier if events warrant.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

STS-120 MCC Status Report #07

STS-120
Report #07
1 a.m. CDT Friday, October 26, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – Delivery of Harmony highlights the day as the crews of Space Shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station prepare for the first of a record five spacewalks planned for a single shuttle assembly mission.

The day began at 12:39 a.m. CDT with the wakeup song “Rocket Man” by Elton John, played for Mission Specialist Doug Wheelock on the day he performs the first spacewalk of his career.

Wheelock and Mission Specialist Scott Parazynski exit the Quest airlock at 5:28 a.m. for a six-and-a-half hour spacewalk. They will retrieve an S-band antenna assembly from the Z1 truss and pack it in the shuttle payload bay for return to Earth for refurbishment, disconnect umbilicals running between the P6 and Z1 trusses to facilitate the demating of P6 later in the flight, and prepare the connecting node Harmony for removal from the payload bay.

After the spacewalkers unplug Harmony from shuttle power, the station’s Canadarm2 will grapple it, lift it from Discovery’s payload bay, and install it on the port side of the station’s Unity node. Leak checks between the two modules will continue the rest of the day and overnight before the astronauts enter Harmony for the first time Saturday.

Harmony will be relocated to the front of the Destiny laboratory after the shuttle departs. It will provide the docking ports for laboratory modules from the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency that are to arrive late this year and early next year.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Friday evening or earlier if events warrant.

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thanks to all I have met!

I am still trying to keep up with personal notes. But, hey, there is so much to do in Florida and my family is taking its time. I have also to update a German blog, care a bit about my day job (I need to be available by mail, a small price for the ability to view the launch), try to gather more information on STS-120 and some other things. So the personal notes receive somewhat less time.

One thing I would like to do right now is to thank all those folks that greeted my at Kennedy Space Center! I was quite surprised that a number of you not only followed my blog, but recognized me at the center (the "bag question" picture seems to have done wonders ;)). Wow - a new experience: strangers (now friends) approached me based on this little blogging site. That really touched me. So to all of you once a again a warm thanks -- and keep reading and posting. It really makes a difference!

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STS-120 MCC Status Report #06

Discovery's STS-120 Crew is greeted by the ISS Expedition 16 CrewSTS-120
Report #06
5:30 p.m. CDT Thursday, October 25, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – Two female commanders made space history today as they greeted one another with smiles and hugs in the International Space Station’s Destiny laboratory after a flawless rendezvous and docking.

Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson warmly welcomed the Space Shuttle Discovery crew at 9:39 a.m. CDT when STS-120 Commander Pam Melroy and her construction crew floated into the station, joining forces for a mission that is setting the stage for rapid-fire expansion of the international outpost.

The shuttle and space station docked at 7:40 a.m. over the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of North Carolina. Prior to docking, Melroy flew Discovery through an orbital back flip while about 600 feet below the space station, allowing Expedition 16 Flight Engineers Clay Anderson and Yuri Malenchenko to take a series of high-resolution photographs of the orbiter’s heat shield.

Just before bedtime, the combined crew was informed that based on early analysis, mission managers are anticipating no need for a focused inspection of Discovery’s heat shield while it is docked to the station. A final decision is expected to be made tomorrow after the images from the rendezvous pitch maneuver are considered.

On board the station, the official exchange of Anderson for his replacement on Expedition 16 took place at 11:12 a.m. with the installation of Dan Tani’s customized seat liner in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that would return him to Earth in an emergency. Anderson will return home with the STS-120 crew.

Mission Specialists Scott Parazynski and Doug Wheelock will spend tonight "camped out" inside the Quest airlock with air pressure lowered to help purge nitrogen from their bodies in preparation tomorrow’s spacewalk, the first of five planned for this mission. The spacewalk is scheduled to begin at 5:28 a.m. CDT Friday.

During the spacewalk, Parazynski and Wheelock will go outside to assist with the installation of the Harmony module. The Italian-built hub will be grappled by the station’s robotic arm, lifted from Discovery’s payload bay, and installed in a temporary location on port side of Unity. The spacewalkers also will retrieve a broken S-band antenna for return to Earth and disconnect the utility connections between the station’s first solar array and the station’s truss. The Port 6 solar array section will be moved to its final assembly location on a spacewalk later in the mission.

Parazynski, a veteran of four spaceflights, will serve as the lead on four of the five spacewalks. Wheelock is making his first spacewalk tomorrow.
Inside the space station, Mission Specialist Stephanie Wilson, Tani and Anderson will operate the station’s robotic arm for unberthing and installation of Harmony and antenna retrieval during the spacewalk.

The Expedition 16 crew will use Canadarm2 to move and install Harmony to its permanent location on the front of the Destiny laboratory after the shuttle departs. The new addition will increase the living and working space inside the station by more than 2,600 cubic feet and provide docking ports for laboratory modules from the European and Japanese space agencies. Those components are due on orbit late this year and early next year.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Friday morning or earlier if events warrant.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

STS-120 MCC Status Report #05

STS-120
Report #05
1 a.m. CDT Thursday, October 25, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – A new crew member and a new module are only hours away from arriving at the International Space Station. Space Shuttle Discovery is due to dock to the station at 7:33 a.m. CDT to begin 10 days of docked operations.

Today’s wakeup song at 12:39 a.m. CDT was “Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest for astronaut Dan Tani. He should go to sleep tonight as a flight engineer on the space station Expedition 16 crew. The official exchange of Tani for Flight Engineer Clay Anderson, who arrived at the station in June, is to occur within the first few hours after docking. The transfer becomes official with the installation of Tani’s customized seat liner in the Soyuz.

Commander Pam Melroy and her shuttle crewmates begin rendezvous operations shortly before 2:00 a.m. CDT. At 6:32 a.m., at a range of 600 feet below the station, she’ll command Discovery to perform a back flip so Anderson and Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko can photograph the thermal tiles on the shuttle’s belly. Those digital images will be sent to Mission Control so specialists can look for evidence of any damage.

After docking at 7:33 a.m. and hatch opening two hours later, the crew members start moving spacewalking equipment into the Quest airlock to prepare for the first excursion on Friday. Mission Specialists Scott Parazynski and Doug Wheelock will go outside to prepare the Harmony module to be grappled by the station’s robotic arm, lifted from Discovery’s payload bay, and installed on the port side of Unity.

Harmony, which will be permanently installed on the front of the Destiny laboratory after the shuttle departs, provides docking ports for laboratory modules from the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Those components are due on orbit late this year and early next year.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Thursday evening or earlier if events warrant.

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STS-120 MCC Status Report #04

STS-120
Report #04
5 p.m. CDT Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – The seven-member crew of STS-120 on board Space Shuttle Discovery is ready for tomorrow’s rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station, planned for 7:33 a.m. CDT.

Commander Pam Melroy and her crewmates today completed a five-hour inspection of Discovery’s heat shield using the shuttle’s robotic arm and the Orbiter Boom Sensor System.

During today’s initial look at Space Shuttle Discovery’s heat shield, mission managers received no reports of visible damage. However, engineers on the ground will add today’s three-dimensional sensor images to imagery and accelerometer data collected at launch and during the climb to orbit and continue their analysis. The images gathered during tomorrow’s back flip will help verify the heat shield’s condition.

Also today, Melroy and the rest of the crew, Pilot George Zamka and Mission Specialists Stephanie Wilson, Doug Wheelock, Scott Parazynski, Dan Tani and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency installed the centerline camera that will be used during docking, extended the outer ring of the Orbiter Docking System, and checked the tools that will be used during rendezvous.

Tomorrow, Melroy will perform the rendezvous pitch maneuver, an orbiter back-flip just 600 feet below the space station that will allow Expedition 16 crew members Clay Anderson and Yuri Malenchenko to take detailed photographs of the orbiter’s underside.

The STS-120 crew is on a two-week mission that will set the stage for delivery of new research laboratories from the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in the upcoming assembly missions. During the mission, the crew will install the Harmony module, a connecting port and passageway for the new laboratories, in a temporary location.

The crew will also relocate the Port 6 (P6) truss segment and solar arrays to the end of the Port 5 truss and then redeploy and reactivate the P6 arrays, increasing the station’s capacity to generate power.

On board the space station, Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineers Malenchenko and Anderson readied the station for the arrival of Discovery’s crew by conducting a leak check of Pressurized Mating Adapter-2, Discovery’s docking point, and set up spacesuits already in the station’s Quest airlock.

Anderson, now in the 139th day of his flight, charged the batteries, formatted memory the cards, and configured the 400 and 800 milimeter lenses on the cameras that will be used during tomorrow’s orbiter maneuver. Anderson and Malenchenko also did a practice run of the photo shoot.

Anderson will return to Earth aboard Discovery. Tani will stay on the station to work with Whitson and Malenchenko to put Harmony in its permanent location on the front of the Destiny laboratory. The next shuttle mission, targeted to launch in early December, will deliver the European laboratory module Columbus.

Discovery’s crew went to sleep at 4:38 p.m. and will awaken at 12:38 a.m.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Thursday morning or earlier if events warrant.

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STS-120 MCC Status Report #03

STS-120
Report #03
1 a.m. CDT Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – The astronauts on board Space Shuttle Discovery have begun their first full day in space on a two-week mission to set the stage for delivery of new laboratory modules from two more of the International Space Station’s partner agencies.

The main payload on STS-120 is a connecting node, named Harmony. It will expand the pressurized volume in ISS to approximately 18,000 square feet and provide the docking ports for labs furnished by the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Those components are due to arrive on orbit late this year and early next.

This morning’s wakeup song, “Lord of the Dance,” performed by John Langstaff, was played for Commander Pam Melroy at 12:39 a.m. CDT.

Today Melroy and her crewmates, Pilot George Zamka and Mission Specialists Stephanie Wilson, Doug Wheelock, Scott Parazynski, Dan Tani and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency will perform an inspection of Discovery’s heat shield using the shuttle’s robotic arm and the Orbiter Boom Sensor System. They’ll also check out the tools they need for Thursday’s rendezvous and docking to the station and install a centerline camera in the shuttle’s orbiter docking system. Spacewalkers Parazynski, Wheelock and Tani will prepare spacesuits that will be worn during the five spacewalks planned during ten days of docked operations.

The International Space Station’s Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineers Yuri Malenchenko and Clay Anderson started their day at midnight. Today they will set up spacesuits already in the station’s Quest airlock, and conduct a leak check of the Pressurized Mating Adapter where Discovery will dock to the station Thursday morning at 7:35 a.m. CDT.

Anderson, now in the 138th day of his flight, will spend time exercising to prepare himself to experience the pull of gravity again when he returns to Earth with the shuttle crew. Tani will stay onboard to work with Whitson and Malenchenko to put Harmony in its permanent location on the front of the Destiny laboratory so the next mission, targeted to launch in early December, can deliver the European laboratory module Columbus.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Wednesday evening or earlier if events warrant.

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STS-120 MCC Status Report #02

STS-120
Report #02
Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2007 - 5 p.m. CDT
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON -- The Space Shuttle Discovery is headed to the International Space Station, carrying the Harmony module, destined to become the first expansion of the orbiting complex's living and working space since 2001.

The addition of Harmony, a connector module also known as Node 2, will set the stage for the arrival of new research laboratories from the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on future shuttle missions.

Following a flawless launch today, the seven crew members aboard Discovery opened the shuttle’s payload bay doors, successfully deployed the Ku-Band antenna that provides high-rate communications and television, and checked out the shuttle's robotic arm. They also transmitted video and photographs of the shuttle's external tank to the ground for standard post-launch analysis by engineers.

Discovery is commanded by veteran astronaut Pam Melroy. The pilot is George Zamka and mission specialists include Stephanie Wilson, Doug Wheelock, Scott Parazynski, Dan Tani and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency. The crew will awaken at 12:38 a.m. Wednesday to begin their first full day in space.

On Wednesday, the crew will perform a close inspection of Discovery’s heat shield using the shuttle’s robotic arm and the Orbiter Boom Sensor System. They also will check the spacesuits that will be used for spacewalks during the mission and install a centerline camera in the shuttle docking hatch that is used to help align the vehicle for docking.

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STS-120 MCC Status Report #01

STS-120
Report #01
Noon CDT Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON -- The Space Shuttle Discovery raced into space this morning with an on-time launch at 10:38 CDT. Onboard are seven crewmembers led by veteran astronaut Pam Melroy. Discovery's crew will join the International Space Station’s Expedition 16 crew Thursday morning.

Melroy, Pilot George Zamka and Mission Specialists Stephanie Wilson, Doug Wheelock, Scott Parazynski, Paolo Nespoli and Dan Tani began unstowing equipment and checking systems after reaching orbit.

On the way to the space station, Discovery’s crew will oversee a complete checkout of orbiter systems, including the robotic arm which will see extensive use throughout the mission beginning on Wednesday when it will be used to inspect the thermal protection system of the shuttle.

Discovery and its crew will arrive at the station at about 7:30 a.m. CDT Thursday and Tani will swap places with astronaut Clay Anderson. Anderson will come home aboard Discovery after serving 4 ½ months as a station flight engineer.

The launch of Discovery on its 34th mission begins a flight that will see the space station grow in size and capability with the addition of the first U.S. pressurized module since the Quest Airlock was delivered in 2001. The Harmony module, also known as Node 2, will add 2,600 cubic feet of living and working space to the complex. It will serve as the permanent docking port for international laboratories from the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The shuttle astronauts are set to go to bed about 4:30 p.m. CDT today and awaken at 12:38 a.m. CDT Wednesday to begin their first full day in space.

As Discovery launched, the station crew, commanded by astronaut Peggy Whitson, watched live via a laptop computer as they sailed 218 miles above the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ireland.

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Official Status Reports...

I have to admit that I like to keep this blog, even though its original purpose has been solved. As a starter, I'll post the NASA status reports to it. The reason is that I have seen there is no official archive and I think it is neat to have all here together at a single place. If you are interested in them, search for the keywords "statusreport" in this blog. I'll add them as separate postings.

And, btw: I am currently quite busy over here with my family and I have not yet found time to go in full depth. More personal opinions and views are coming. So stay tuned...

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Launch Pictures from NASA Causeway

Discovery rockets into Space (October, 23rd 2007, STS-120)Over the night, I managed to upload some of my STS-120 launch pictures. All of them were taken from NASA Causeway. There are more to come and I'll also post a number of them on Flickr. However, I thought it would be a good idea to put them up so everybody can have a look.

I also intend to do a write up of all launch day activities, which is quite interesting. I have a number of facts that I haven't seen somewhere else before. Stay tuned for more, but I am on the road today.

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View and Share the Pictures!

My friend Armando had a great idea: he created a STS-120 group on flickr! I have just checked and there are already a number of great shots from the launch. The interesting thing is that they are from all different locations, so you can compare your view.

If you made pictures yourself, please share them for the enjoyment of all of us.

I think this is such a beautiful resource, I wanted to make it know before I finally fall to sleep. Folks, it has been a veeeeeeeery long and exciting day. I think I'll have to write much for the days to come, so stay tuned! Also, you own comments and experiences are very welcome. But now it becomes harder and harder to type ... ;)

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tickets for December launch (STS-122) go on sale!

STS-122 Tickets Sales is opens MondayNASA seems to have just waited for the successful STS-120 launch. I just received notification that tickets for the STS-122 launch go on sale next Monday (October, 25th) at 9am EDT. If you'd like to see Atlantis launch, hurry up! Tickets typically sell out within minutes (really!). So be at your computer at 9a sharp and get those tickets as fast as you can.

After whitnessing the STS-120 launch, I can definitely say that it is a very good idea to get launch transportation passes!

Update: If you could not get launch transportation tickets, there is still a chance to go to the causeway. Read my article on using tour operators to view a launch from NASA causeway.

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Launch Day Notes ...

As i can not send anything online, i'll probably cover the rest in one post. Today's previous posts and events can be found here:


8:10 astronauts arrived at the pad and inspect shuttle. We are watching nasa tv from inside ksc.

8:30 countdown status briefing: weather has improved (and, yes, it is sunny)

9:00 in the bus line, ready to board the next one. Many astronaut invited guests also on these busses

9:10 boarding the bus, let's see when we go off to the causeway. Its really sunny now, but the still seem to be some clouds over the sea. I think I would be quite disappointed now if the launch is really scrubbed. And, by the way we have handed over our LTTs, so if it scrubbed, we have lost (except if we could get new ones) - the bus driver is right now explaining this once again.

More explanations: there is a roped area which we are not allowed to leave. After launch, there may be some harmless drops from the exhaust, which causes irritation at most. We are recommended to go back to the bus quickly. This happens only occasionally (probably depending on the wind). You always stay with your assigned bus. There seems to be a one-to-one mapping, and that is probably because of safety reasons. The bus leaves back 1 hour after launch.

9:20 off we go to the causeway

10:05 we are on the causeway for quite a while now and i have set up my camera and taken some shots from the shuttle as it sits in the launch pad. There is some commentary via public speaker system. The still talk about the weather and a potential scrub. Oh man, am I excited. I hope sooo bad that Discovery will launch.

10:25 more clouds move in ... Nasa continues launch preparations. We are currently in the t-20 hold.

10:50 still clouds. Lots of clouds.. Lots and lots of clouds ... Nasa is still proceding, now at the t-9 hold. I guess they will scrub, if needed, within the last 10 minutes or so. I still hope we get away without a scrub. And if it is scrubbed, I hope we'll manage to get new tickets. Oh man, this is so cool here, I woukd really not like to give that up. But lets keep optimistic.

11:03 the public announce system has very bad quality. Especially for me non-native speaker its hard to grasp what's going on. We get shadedue to the clouds. Doesn't look promising. Discovery is in shade now too. The crowds get bigger and bigger and more and more cameras appear...

11:07 right now low clouds are directly above the shuttle -- or are they not? Maybe its a question of perspective. Btw... Did I mention that I had forgotten to turn off my vide camera? Thankfully, it turned itself off, so I hope to be able to take some shots if the shuttle launces (well, as it looks I seem to be positive about that....)

11:15 still low clouds, shuttle still in shade. We are at t-9 and holding. Less than half an hour now...

11:17 now it looks like it starts raining close to the shuttle. If so, that's it...

11:21 ice buildup on the shuttele (if I got the announcement right). Still go for launch...

11:26 still go! Cloud moves away, discovery is in the sun again - as we are, becsuse the clouds clear up. Ist probably a question of how fast they move (out)

11:28 still go! Announcement that booster droplets should be avoided

11:30 T-9 and counting! I am crossing my fingers...

11:57 I still can't believe it - we had a liftoff! What an excitment. And all that sound. Hat surprised me the most was how bright the exhaust was. I nearly couldn't look without hurting me eyes.I even managed to take some pictures without distracting me too much. Oh man, am I happy! I whish the crew an excellent mission and I am extremely grateful that I could witness the launch! We are now waiting inside thebus (as advised). It probably takes around an hour to go back to the main complex. The next thing I do is save my pictures, as I definitely do not want to loose them!

Also, my deepest thanks to all who helped me make my trip. Special thanks to Armando for the launch photography link, which enabled me to take pictures without being detracted.

One note: I've written this on my pda, there are for sure some typos in it. However, I refrain from editing the post as it covers my excitment and fears as things progressed. I don't want to destroy that by editing. Even typos may convey my excitment level ;)

13:05 we are back at the main complex for roughly 20 minutes now. The space center is so full of people - even though there already is big traffic jam going out. Getting something to eat is extra challenging. But does that matter after such a great launch? ;) Interestingly, all the temporary facilitiesat ksc are already being taken down. On the causeway, they dismantled everything even while we waited in the bus. These guys seem to do everything highly efficient. Through the public speaker system, I listen to shuttle ground communication. From what I grasp, everything went well, not just the launch.

EDIT: you can now view my space shuttle launch day pictures. I have uploaded them into my gallery. They contain comments, and I think give a good impression of the overall experience.


And here is the picture that probably shares the most enjoyment:

space shuttle launch

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Still clouds, no cell coverage

Ok, looks like i need to send all these notes when i am back at the hotel. No wireless internet here, can not connect via cell network.

Its 7:45 now and tehere are still a lot of clouds above us. Ksc gets busy now, mire and more folks come in.

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Arrived at ksc

I am for 2 hours now inside ksc. The weather curently is not so well, some rain and clouds. But lets hope for the best. We just finished launch with an astronaut, which was a good experience. I am reporting now from a pda, for which i unfortunately just now lost the stylus.

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to launch ... or not to launch ;)

Today was a quite good day. The weather was OK, with lots of clouds in the morning and only very few ones in the evening. No rain at KSC, but there would have been too many clouds if it were a launch day.

The Internet connectivity in the Super 8 Titusville where I managed to stay is even worse than expected, my room seems to be too far away from the wi-fi hotspot. So I'll be brief with this post.

The bad thing this morning was that the Up Close tour was sold out, so we had to go for the regular program. But not that bad at all.

The cool thing of the days was that I actually met Armando (a frequent commenter on this blog) in person. Out of the sudden, he spotted my at Saturn V center. Armando, it was really great talking to you!

NASA so far sticks with tomorrows launch date. The constraint is still the weather. NASA officially says that there is a 60 percent chance that the launch will be scrubbed. On spaceflightnow.com, however, a knowledgeable meteorologist just said that he'd give a 80 percent chance for a launch. His data was probably more current, so I stick to his point of view.

I'll need to get up by 3a tomorrow (yeah, that's in roughly 6 hours) as we booked "Breakfast with an Astronaut" and the breakfast is scheduled for 5:30a. So don't expect an early morning post from me. I'll try to post via my cell phone from KSC, but I do not know if I get coverage (at the hotel, it looked bad).

Stay tuned ... and cross your fingers, please ;)

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Monday, October 22, 2007

only the weather seems to be the constraint

I was to Orlando' Discovery Cove today, so I think I just quote NASA's shuttle home page for now:


At the STS-120 Launch Readiness News Conference Sunday morning, LeRoy Cain, launch integration manager, pointed to the weather as the only question mark for the launch week ahead. He reported all is "ready to move forward to launch on Tuesday."

Weather officer Kathy Winters called Tuesday's weather "promising" at 60 percent favorable. She explained that they continue tracking a frontal boundary that may now arrive on Wednesday, earlier than previously predicted. The front should be out in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, but the timing of the front's arrival could cause problems for a Wednesday launch attempt should Tuesday's launch not occur. Weather should improve once the front passes through the area. There is still only a 10 percent chance that weather could prohibit tanking for Tuesday's liftoff.

That's excellent news. The weather, however, seems to be a problem. Again, we had rain over here in Orlando and so it looks like viewing the launch becomes a betting game. We'll see.

I'll drive over to Titusville tomorrow and try to catch Kennedy Space Center's "up close" tour. I hope the weather is well enough so that we can really see something.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Pam Melroy found the right words...

I though this excellent quote was left, as I didn't see it on NASA Space Shuttle homepage. This morning I saw I had kept a browser open. So here the quote is:

"There's something special about showing up in Florida," said Commander Pam Melroy. "There's a time when you need to talk, and the Flight Readiness Review was a time to talk. Then there's a time when you need to go do it. And I'm happy to say we're really here, and ready to go do it."
In my opinion, these words actually tell everything that is needed to be known ;)

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countdown started

As scheduled, the countdown for STS-120 started today at 2pm EDT in Kennedy Space Center. All systems are still go and it looks like we have an on-time launch -- weather permitting.

I visited Seaworld Orlando today and have booked a trip to Discovery Cove tomorrow. So I am currently not following STS-120 in depth. That'll change Monday, when I drive over to Kennedy Space Center.

Today, we had big clouds over Orlando. I hope the weather in Kennedy Space Center will be better on launch day. Else we probably have a scrub. Anyhow, let's see how it evolves...

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

arrived well...

Just a quick note: we arrived well yesterday and are currently staying in the Orlando Residence Inn. We just got up (struggeling with the jet lag) and will have breakfast. More news probably this evening.

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Two hours into flight ...

If I had boarded a space shuttle, I would already been in orbit for quite a while. But, nah, I am sitting in a good ole Boing 767 on my way to Florida. And I try to be a little less bored by hammering my poor pda keyboard (no, the laptop is with my son for movie viewing).

The plane doesn't offer Internet service, so this post will probably take a while to actually show up on the blog. I need a wlan hotspot (free, of course) to send the post mail. Good that I have my own hotspot with me. If I write more posts, they may show up mixed up and not in order of creation - so don't wonder too much.

The really cool thing is that I got a different plane very quickly - we started just one hour delayed. Nd what is even cooler is that the pilot will fly faster (probably to save theschedule) and we so we actually should arrive at the originally scheduled time.

In essence, I have just exchanged one hour of flight time for one hour of being able to roam at he airport - not a bad thing ;)

If all issues during my trip can be as simply fixed as this plane problem, I'll probably have a great time.

Well, enough for now... another 7+ hours of flight time ahead of me ...

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Not only shuttles have technical problems...

I am right now sitting at Frankfurt airport and, guess what: the gangway was just rolled back from the plane. We were told that an engine problem was discovered during system checks... Lol - isn't that a good start for a shuttle launch viewing trip? ;) The delay, we were promised, will only be short (but do I trust that?). We'll see...

Now back to blogging silence.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

My personal "launch" day...

The plane I flew with to the USA in 2006Well, not a real launch... My plane will "launch" tomorrow (Friday) from Germany to Orlando, Florida. Not within a few minutes, but a more than 10 hour flight. But, hey, isn't a shuttle launch worth that? ;)

This is probably my last post for the next day or so.
When I arrive in Orlando, it will be late in the evening and I'll head to the hotel to have a good night's sleep. The next morning, me and my family will get a bit acquainted to Orlando's attractions. I do not know how long it will take me to get my notebook and everything else back online ... and how long it will take to get some time off for blogging from my family. So please bear with me if it will take a little while before there are new entries here in the blog. I promise I'll keep you informed.

And please keep your fingers crossed for me that everything goes well on my trip ;)

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Launch Viewing from Kennedy Space Center's Main Visitor Complex

Kennedy Space Center's main Visitor Complex is set for a launch dayI intended to write a longer post on viewing from Kennedy Space Center's main visitor complex (not the causeway. Unfortunately, it was an unexpectedly busy day, so I simply ran out of time. However, I'd still like to provide some information for my fellow launch viewers.

In short: viewing from Kennedy Space Centers's main visitor complex is not as bad as you may think. Granted, the view is obstructed, and you won't see the (exciting) first seconds of the launch. However, there are lots of activities scheduled at the center on launch days. There are kid's activities, special astronaut encounters and much more (at least this is promised by KSC, but I am confident they live up to the promise). Compare that to waiting hours on a parking lot - especially when traveling with your family. So viewing from KSC's main complex is probably worth considering - especially if you have other opportunities to view launches (e.g. if you live relatively close to Titusville). For the greatest view, you should try to obtain launch transportation tickets at a later launch. If you just have one time and did not get launch transportation tickets, you may consider purchasing those NASA causeway tickets via official tour operators.

To get you an impression of what a launch looks like form the main complex, you may want to have a look at this youtube video:



And this Google video may be even better:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2505328158758910223&q=shuttle&pr=goog-sl&hl=en

Finally, I have a few select impressions from KSC's launch day setup from one of my failed attempts ;)

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Discovery Processing still on track

NASA's launch preparations are still on track. There are no negative news and the astronauts will fly into Kennedy Space Center tomorrow (on Friday). From the public weather services, it also looks like Titusville and Cocoa Beach weather is improving starting this weekend, so chances for a great launch are good. There is currently no contingency (buffer time) left, but the great NASA workforce is keeping on track with the launch schedule. The countdown start for Discovery's STS-120 mission is scheduled for Saturday, 20th October. If all goes well, it culminates in a launch on Tuesday, 23rd October.

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Bags allowed into KSC on launch day

Do you remember my question about which (size of) bags is allowed into Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on launch day? I received a number ofa encouraging nswers from fellow space launch viewers. And a few minutes ago, official word from KSC arrived:

Those bags will be just fine and security will check them and the contents when you come in.
A quick, efficient and very satisfying answer. I am happy to got it (especially as I already put the bags into my luggage for tomorrow's flight ;)).

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Internet Connectivity while Launch Viewing ...

I have seen some questions on whether or not Internet connectivity is available during launch viewing. Most importantly, you'd need access to follow the countdown procedure and probably some cool web sites. This would be excellent to cover the hour-long wait that is often required.

As I have never before succeeded in viewing a launch, I have only limited information. What I know is based on my summer 2006 visit to Kennedy Space Center. I wanted to see STS-115, but the launch was so much delayed that I couldn't make it. However, I have been several days at KSC (as well as many years before).

At that time, there were no public wi-fi networks on all on KSC premises. Neither at the main complex, nor at the Saturn V center, ISS center or anywhere else. And especially not on NASA Causeway, which is nothing but an open area. From what I have heard, that has not changed since then. The good news, though, is that there are public displays with, I guess, NASA TV and the countdown. So you are informed about what's going on.

If you absolutely insist on wireless Internet, you need to bring your own wide-area (cell based) wireless. Verizon and others offer this type of service. Being German, I have no idea what the cost in the US is, except that the international roaming charge is prohibitively expensive. I will probably use it only to do some blog posts while waiting for the launch (that's too tempting to not do it ... provided the service actually works on the Causeway, which I have been told it does).

If you view the launch from an off-site location in Titusville, Cocoa Beach or somewhere close to it, the situation is probably much the same. Wireless hotspots have a very limited range and unless you roam very close to them, you won't be able to connect. If you happen to view the launch from your hotel's premises, you may be able to use their wireless Internet service. In this case, you've won. In any other case, you again need to resort to Verizon and other such services.

I hope this writeup is useful for your personal trip planning. If you have any additional information or tip, I'd love to hear about it.

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How to view the launch from closeby when no tickets are available?

A view from NASA Causeway, the best viewing spot for space shuttle launchesWell ... if there are really no tickets available, then you are out of luck. But there are always some tickets left! Here is the story.

If you go to Kennedy Space Center to view a launch, you will of course try to get the best viewing spot. That, without question, is NASA Causeway. The causeway is just six miles away from launch pad 39A and the closest place you can get to it without being a NASA invited guest. The picture above was taken from the NASA Causeway viewing site in summer 2006. It is taken without a zoom lens and resembles what you can see with the naked eye. Hazy Florida weather makes the pad hard to spot. Click on the image to get the hi-res version. Then, look to the right. Watch closely. You'll see a number of structures. The largest is pad 39A with space shuttle Atlantis sitting on it (that pic also proves the point to bring binoculars - but in reality it is still a very exciting view even to the naked eye).

Access to the Causeway is either via a VIP pass (relatively hard to obtain) or via paid tickets available to the general public. These tickets are called "launch transportation tickets" or LTTs. There is only a limited number of them available. They are typically sold out within a few minutes after sales opened. So to obtain them the normal way, you need to know exactly when they will be sold. To know when that is, sign up to Kennedy Space Centers "Armchair Astronaut Newsletter". But even if you know the date, you may not be lucky enough to get the tickets. Game over? Not necessarily ...
For each launch, there are some extra LTTs available via tour operators. I don't know what deal they have, but their supply is either unlimited or few people book them, because of reasons I will state below. In any case, I've never seen them run out of tickets.

One word of caution, though: ticket resales (including LTTs) is forbidden. So it is not a really good idea to bid in ebay auctions or at some other places. There is also a number of fake tickets on sale for every launch. Even if you do not get into legal troubles, chances to be ripped off are great. So do not get trapped, stay away from those filthy offers. Use only KSC-approved tour operators.

For years, Grayline Orlando is KSC's partner. This time, Florida Dolphin Tours is also listed. This selection may change in the future, so be sure to check with KSC visitor services which ones are official partners.

There are a number of drawbacks when using their services. First of all, they pick you up from the Orlando area. That most probably also means they depart very early. And if you stay in the Titusville or Cocoa Beach area, you probably need to get to Orlando first. You may want to check with them. For Titusville, I could envision that they allow to pick you up near I-95 when they come into the center. But no guarantees...

The next thing is cancellation policy. Using LTTs is always a betting game. With the genuine KSC tickets, they are used up when you board the Causeway bus. If you have handed over your ticket and the launch is scrubbed, you have lost. With the tour operators, you actually loose your tickets if the launch is scrubbed within a 72 hour window before target launch date. For me, this is the biggest problem. Three days in advance, there is a high probability for a scrub (few missions have launched on the original target date). So your chance to loose the LTT game is very high with the tour operators. Interestingly, the tour operators state you will not have a chance to get new LTTs once you have lost. KSC mentions there is no auto-renewal, but I have heard that it is possible to purchase new ones when you get back. Again, no guarantees here.

Lastly, the tour operators charge a much higher price than KSC directly. It's not so much of a rip-off if you consider the transport from/to the Orlando area. But it's not nice either.

So should you try to get LTTs via them? Though question. I'd say "it depends". When I was at KSC last year (in my unsuccessful attempt to view the STS-115 launch), I decided against it. I considered the "scrub risk" too high, especially given the high price and my ability to stay for more than a week, which included multiple re-attempts. However, things would be different if I would come for just a single day and bet anything on that day in any case. If so, it doesn't hurt to bet the LTT, too. After all, coming down just for the launch is expensive enough, so that extra money does not really hurt.

It's all your decision - at least you now know you have a chance ...

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STS-120 press kit available

NASA has yesterday released the STS-120 press kit. Even though it is named "press kit", the download is available to everyone. It provides excellent information, including great pictures, over the STS-120 mission. I suggest that everyone interested in this mission at least has a brief look at it. It's a free download from

http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/192719main_STS120_Shuttle_Press_Kit.pdf

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Discovery will launch as scheduled on October, 23rd!

Space Shuttle Discovery is go for launch on October, 23rd 2007Discovery is "go" for launch on October, 23rd! With great joy and relief, I quote today's NASA shuttle home page (accentuation is mine):

NASA senior managers Tuesday completed a detailed review of space shuttle Discovery’s readiness for flight and selected Oct. 23 as the official launch date. Commander Pam Melroy and her six crewmates are scheduled to lift off at 11:38 a.m. EDT on the STS-120 mission to the International Space Station.

Tuesday's meeting included a discussion about concerns raised by the NASA Engineering and Safety Center regarding the reinforced carbon carbon on three of Discovery's wing leading edge panels. This issue initially was brought before the Space Shuttle Program during a two-day, preliminary review held last week to assess preparations for Discovery's mission.

"After a thorough discussion and review of all current engineering analysis, we have determined that Discovery's panels do not need to be replaced before the mission,” said Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier.
Believe me, I am extremely happy with that decision. If Discovery had to be rolled back to replace the wing leading edge heat shield, the launch would have been delayed by weeks, if not month. In that case, I had lost my ability to experience it myself. When there were no news yesterday, I got increasingly excited: if NASA discussed that long, did it indicate a serious problem and a no-go for launch? I was already relieved when there was unofficial news that the launch would be as originally scheduled. So I could even go to sleep without having seen the news conference (it simply got too late ...).

The first thing I did this morning was check the NASA site and the good news finally officially appeared. Man, am I relieved. This late in the process, it would have cost me a bunch of money, as I couldn't have canceled most of the things I had booked (including some hotels). Thankfully, now my trip to Orlando, Titusville and Cocoa Beach is secured.

And -- don't get me wrong: if there would be a real safety concern for crew and vehicle, I would have been more than happy with a decision to roll back. I have to admit I have a bit of launch fever, but I can still think of consequences. It is a very good experience to see how NASA handles such cases: any concern can be brought up freely and receives serious consideration. I am sure that the final decision is based on very good data and there is very good reasoning to go for a launch. Thanks guys for your great work!

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

it's getting to late...

OK, folks, it's getting too late for me. Looks like I have to miss the press conference. I hope, and am confident, that the target launch date of October 23rd remains. Will check the NASA homepage tomorrow and post anything I find out. I am sure you'll find the most current status in the mean time...

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Discovery to launch on October 23rd?

Well, I just found some news. Nasaspaceflight.com claims that Discovery will launch on October 23rd, just as scheduled. Usually, that site is quite well informed, so there is a good chance the news is correct. This is excellent news and I hope it is true.

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FRR news conference rescheduled to 5pm EDT

Still no news - but I have now seen this announcement on NASA's shuttle program home page:

NASA managers are gathered at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida today for a final readiness review for the upcoming flight of space shuttle Discovery. The STS-120 mission to the International Space Station is currently targeted for launch on Oct. 23. At the conclusion of today's review, agency managers will announce an official launch date at a live news conference on NASA TV. The conference is scheduled to begin no earlier than 5 p.m. EDT.
Looks like I need to wait at least for another half hour. I hope the conference will actually start at 5pm, because otherwise it gets too late for me (over here in Germany). After all, I have two more very busy days in front of me ...

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waiting for NASA FRR press conference

At this very time, the post agency-level flight readiness review (FRR) press conference could start. It is scheduled no earlier than 3pm EDT. I have tuned to NASA TV to watch it, but so far the "this week at NASA" regular programming is running. I wonder when the FRR press conference will actually start - and what will be the status of STS-120.

Keep your fingers crossed with me ;)

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Discovery still set for October 23rd launch

Space Shuttle Discovery is still set for a launch on October 23rd. Launch pad processing for the STS-120 mission is continuing very well. However, there is no longer any contingency left in the processing flow. If now there is any unexpected problem, the launch date will most probably be delayed. Except, of course, the Wizards at NASA manage to make up for lost time once again (they have done it numerous times, for example on the shuttle landing gear strut repair). But: don't let's even think about delays and remain optimistic.

The next big action to come is todays Flight Readiness Review (FRR). This is an agency-level FRR, which means that the senior level meets and finds final decisions. Most importantly, it will be decided if Discovery needs to be rolled back due to anticipated problems with the wing leading edge heat shield. From what can be read on forums and the NASA homepage, this is unlikely but still a possibility. Let's hope the problem is not that bad and the FRR able to give a go for the launch. If they do, we will also receive final word on the actual target launch date. It is still anticipated to be October, 23rd. Even if it slips, it will only be a day or two if they do not need to rollback.

So it will be a very important day today. There is a news conference scheduled after the FRR. It will be held no earlier than 3pm EDT (7pm GMT). Depending on how late it actually is, I may miss it and get the news only tomorrow morning.

Stay tuned ...

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Windows XP will go into space...

Space Shuttle flies Windows XP into space...No, my dear Linux buddies, Windows XP will not be shot to the moon and earth will be relieved of it. But ... it will be shot to the space station.

Being a computer guy, that news drew my attention: nasaspaceflight.com reports that Windows XP will be rocketed into orbit with space shuttle Discovery's STS-120 mission. If I may summarize the deep technical content of the original article:

The space shuttle uses a variety of computers for different purposes. First of all, relax: Windows XP, nor any other off-the-shelf system, will not control essential shuttle operations like starting and stopping the main engines. However, there are a number of utility functions that are performed by the usual hard- and software that is also setting on our very own desktops. The news source claims that they are used for up- and downloading imagery, mission documentation and emails. I assume NASA does this for cost reasons. A failure in such a system is probably not problematic at all.

What I found even more stunning is what Windows XP has been upgraded from: previous missions used Windows ME! Have you ever watched live NASA TV during a shuttle mission? From time to time (frequently enough), you hear somebody saying "the computer hang, I rebooted it". I now no longer wonder why ... ;)

To come back to the side of seriousness: Of course Windows ME was not the most stable operating system on earth, umm, in the solar system. But the main reason for in-orbit computer malfunction are cosmic rays. Even though the shuttle orbits well within earth's protective geomagnetic field, the exposure to high energy cosmic particles is much larger in an orbiting spacecraft. Everyday electronics, like the one used in the "auxiliary computers" is not hardened against it. So every now and then a cosmic particle will put an electron to where it does not belong to in turn causing some computer failure -- a good cause for a system hang.

So when the next time a computer needs to be rebooted in the space shuttle, do not (just) blame Microsoft for it ;)

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expedition 16 arrives at the ISS

Expedition 16 Crew arrives at the international space station (ISS)The expedition 16 crew already docked on Friday to the international space station (ISS). I had set up a webcam robot last Friday, but could not check the recordings until now. I think I discovered some nice images of hatch opening and and crew arrival. I created an animated gif file out of the few frames I have. The first two images show the hatch, and the later ones show how the joint expedition 15 and 16 crews gather together for the welcome ceremony.

Again, proper station handover is a prerequisite for a successful STS-120 mission. So Discovery won't start until the station is ready to support it.

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on the bag issue...

I got a number of feedbacks on my question what Kennedy Space Center considers as a large bag. They look promising. However, no official word from KSC yet (but, granted, it was weekend and now is nighttime in KSC local time, so it's not the time to be impatient).

I'd like to thank all of those who commented. And if you have any thoughts on the issue, I sill appreciate any feedback. I'd like to quote two comments which probably make a good summary:

One is from the nasaspaceflight forums. Thanks to mceddiemac for it:

I think you will be OK with those. Last two times I was down there (STS-116 & STS-117) they allowed me (and others) to bring in medium size backpacks. Mine had all my camera equipment in it and measured 18" x 12" x 8" (45cm x 30cm x 8cm). They also allow the compact folding umbrella chairs that are carried in shoulder bags. Security will check the contents of the bag before entering the Visitors Complex and will let you know if its too big and probably allow you to put them back in your car if thats the case. Like I said, I think you'll be OK.
The other one is from Cloudy Nights, thanks to mattbtn for it:
I think you'll find that NASA is far more restrictive on their website than they are in person once you get to KSC. I was easily able to get in with a large camera bag, which is about as large as your sling bag, and my wife carried her purse. They understand people want to carry large camera equipment, folding chairs, etc...so as long as you aren't bringing something just truly obnoxious I think you'll be ok.
In summary, it looks like my bags are OK. I will now pack them. I will also be at KSC the day before launch, and I'll check with security as a late measure. Maybe they even allow my small backpack in... But anyways, I don't want to ask too much. I am happy if I can get along with the mentioned bags ;)

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

no news is good news...

... at least I hope so. I've just gone over all the "interesting" places on the Internet and nowhere is real coverage of Discovery's pad flow. Oh ... one thing, though. As already anticipated, the APU hotfire test carried out last week was successful, so there is one less chance for a late-in-countdown scrub (APU failures occur after (!) T-5 minutes, so that would be a really late scrub).

The lack of news is also expected. The pad flow seems to be on a good track, but nothing really newsworthy is expected during it. So if we had news, something would need to go wrong in order to make it a real news. So absence of any is a good thing. More on todays's trip progress tomorrow: it's already later over here ...

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not finished with packing...

Well, I wanted to pack my luggage yesterday. But then the weather turned out to be really nice and so I ended up doing some other "pre-flight" activity: I prepared my garden for the coming cold temperatures. Where I live, it can become well below 32°F in November. Of course, it can also stay much warmer. But with me being absent, I need to prepare for the cold temperatures, just to be on the safe side. And, of course, there were a lot of other things that needed to be done in the garden. Thankfully, most of this is done now and I can begin to re-focus on packing (but the sun is already shining very nicely...).

As far as the space shuttle is concerned, there were no news yesterday. Workflow is is slow over the weekend, so I do not expect anything before Monday.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

What is a large bag?

What is a large bag - that's the question if you want to enter Kennedy Space Center on a launch day ...
What is a large bag -- that's the question if you pack to view a launch ...

I received a sheet of instructions together with my launch viewing tickets. On the first pages, It is recommended that I bring a couple of things with me:

What should I bring with me?
The launch viewing area is an open field that is standing room only. You are free to bring blankets and compact “umbrella-style” folding chairs that are carried in shoulder bags, but flat folding chairs, lawn chairs and large beach umbrellas are not permitted. For muggy summer launches, you should bring insect repellant and sunscreen. Don’t forget your camera; a shuttle launch is the ultimate photo opportunity. The viewing area is 6 miles away from the shuttle launch pad. Some people bring binoculars, telescopes and tripods, cameras and long-range lenses. Because sound travels slower than light, you will SEE the shuttle launch before you hear it, so watch!
Obviously, that's a lot to carry. But then, the security section of the instructions document reads as follows:
The following items are NOT permitted at the Visitor Complex
  • Firearms of any type (with or without a permit)
  • Ammunition (live or spent)
  • Pepper/mace sprays
  • Knives of any size
  • Box cutters or like items
  • Nail clippers with knife blades
  • Any other sharp/pointed items, including pointed scissors or nail files
  • Backpacks, coolers, luggage or other large bags
  • Outside food items
  • Large Beach umbrellas
  • Lawn or folding chairs (blankets are permitted)
All bags, purses and other items will be opened and inspected at the Visitor Complex. If any of the above items are discovered, you will be required to return them to your vehicle. If the items are confiscated for security reasons, they will not be returned.
OK, so I am not permitted to use my backpack to bring things in. But what is a "large bag"? I neither like to end up with my belongings in paper bags nor do I like to be not allowed to bring them in into KSC. To me, it currently is a mystery (maybe a language issue not being a native English speaker - is "large bag" well defined? It all boils down to "what do I need to pack today"?

I'll inquire at KSC and hope to get an answer. I'll also try some forums. If you happen to know it, I would also be very grateful if you let me know. This is really a distracting question for me, even though it probably looks funny. And look at my picture above -- I have even photographed my bags, so that size can be know. Are they "large bags"? Or is it OK to enter KSC with them on launch day (you may want to click on the picture for a higher resolution one ...).

As I have said -- feedback is deeply appreciated ... When I find something out, I'll let you know.

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