Tuesday, May 25, 2010

STS-132 Timeline for landing attempts for Wednesday, May 26, 2010

DISCLAIMER: I am posting times according to NASA's auto-generated landing data found in http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/shuttlemissions/sts132/news/landing.html and http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/shuttlemissions/sts132/news/dol_pad.html. This may change due to any change deemed necessary by Mission Control Center. For the ground track maps and the landing data, use the above links respectively.

Revision B 5/26/2010 1AM (added MILA acquisition to timelines)

All attempts will be for Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility. All times Eastern Daylight Time. Timelines are after the Quick Explanation section.

Acronyms used:

TDRS: Tracking Data and Relay Satellite
fps, Kfps: Feet per second, thousand feet per second
KFT: Thousand feet
EI: Entry Interface
NM: Nautical miles, or knots
TAEM: Terminal Area (of) Energy Management
MACH: Speed of sound. (Example: Mach 2.5 means 2.5 times the speed of sound)
HAC: Heading Alignment Circle/Cylinder

Quick explanation:

Landing of an orbiter consists of safely entering back into Earth's atmosphere, and bleeding off the tremendous energy generated on the ascent to orbit, and by energy, it means mostly speed and altitude. This is accomplished by slowing down the orbiter just enough to let it drop into the atmosphere, and the atmosphere does the job of slowing things down. By entering with a high angle of attack (with the nose aimed 40 degrees up), it creates a higher effect of drag. Since reentry at such speeds (17 thousand MPH) causes friction against the thickening air, a high-temperature plasma engulfs the vehicle. The angle of attack allows for the orbiter's thermal protection tiles to act as a shield for the rest of the vehicle from the superheated air. A series of pre-programmed steep banks during this phase will help increase drag further, therefore slowing down more, and helps to steer the orbiter towards the landing site. Once at the landing site and at a normal flying speed, the commander must manage the orbiter's energy (speed/altitude) by steering it correctly towards the runway, since at this stage there are no engines. It is essentially a heavy glider, or as astronauts have affectionately dubbed it, a flying brick. This phase is known as TAEM. The orbiter reaches the HAC and travels along it, coming out of the circle at the correct altitude, speed and alignment for the final dive to the runway. The landing gear is armed as the orbiter does a steep dive towards a point slightly a mile before the runway. Once at 1750 feet, the commander pulls the nose up (this is a pre-flare maneuver) as the pilot deploys the landing gear. This is done to decrease the orbiter's sink rate as it approaches the runway. As the wheels near contact, the commander pulls up on the nose further (final flare maneuver) to decrease the sink rate further, allowing for a flawless, soft touchdown of the rear, main landing gear wheels. The pilot, under Mission Control's command (received while they were entering the TAEM), will either deploy the drag chute at this point (nominal chute), or after the nose gear touches down (late chute). The commander makes the nose drop gently until the nose gear contacts the runway. The chute is ditched when their ground speed drops below 60MPH. Usually there is no braking on the wheels until the runway's midpoint is reached. Eventually, the orbiter slows to a stop (wheelstop). This marks the official end of the mission, and the Mission Elapsed Timer is stopped.

Attempt #1 on orbit #186

7:36:53AM TDRS-W acquires Atlantis's signal

7:41:49AM Deorbit burn ignition (lasts 3m10s, speed change by 342 feet per second)

8:16:28AM Entry interface (Alt. 399.9 thousand feet, speed 24.9Kfps, range to landing 4363NM)

8:21:26AM First roll command (80 degrees to the left)
8:34:47AM Second roll comand (Roll Reversal, 58 degrees to the right. Speed 13Kfps)
Third roll command (2nd roll reversal to the left, speed 7Kfps)
Fourth roll command (3rd roll reversal to the right, speed 3Kfps)

8:35:14AM Merritt Island Launch Area tracking station has C-band radar acquisition of Atlantis

8:41:43AM MACH 2.5, TAEM (Alt. 83.6Kft, speed 2.5Kfps)
8:43:56AM MACH 1 (Alt. 50.1Kft, speed 0.9Kfps)
8:44:09AM HAC Interception (Alt. 46.7Kft, speed 0.9Kfps, turn angle 317 degrees)

8:48:14AM Main Gear Touchdown (generated ground track points to runway 33)

Attempt #2 on orbit #187

9:17:24AM Deorbit burn ignition (lasts 3m10s, speed change by 342 feet per second)

9:17:46AM TDRS-W acquires Atlantis's signal

9:51:15AM Entry interface (Alt. 399.9 thousand feet, speed 24.9Kfps, range to landing 4393NM)

9:56:11AM First roll command (80 degrees to the right)
10:06:31AM Second roll comand (Roll Reversal, 65 degrees to the left. Speed 18Kfps)
Third roll command (2nd roll reversal to the right, speed 9Kfps)
Fourth roll command (3rd roll reversal to the left, speed 4Kfps)

10:09:58AM Merritt Island Launch Area tracking station has C-band radar acquisition of Atlantis

10:16:28AM MACH 2.5, TAEM (Alt. 83.9Kft, speed 2.5Kfps)
10:18:41AM MACH 1 (Alt. 50.1Kft, speed 0.9Kfps)
10:19:12AM HAC Interception (Alt. 42.2Kft, speed 0.8Kfps, turn angle 280 degrees)

10:22:58AM Main Gear Touchdown (generated ground track points to runway 33)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Nobody likes a braggart, but…

I got tweeted by Astronaut T.J. Creamer onboard the ISS!!! :D

Ok, I heard that the ISS had to do regular reboosts because over time, it drops in altitude. They mentioned DRAG as the cause. I’m like, whaaa? But doesn’t the atmosphere end at 400,000 feet? They are around 200 miles in altitude, and that’s over a MILLION feet, (1,056,000ft = 200 miles)so I asked the following question, with pic evidence (click to enlarge):

“@Astro_TJ ..., wow, even over a million feet in altitude, ISS suffers atmospheric drag? (reason why you need reboosts?)”

Question to @Astro_TJ

I seriously didn’t expect to get an answer. Those guys up there are extremely busy. Still, after some minutes, I checked Twitter. And to my surprise, I had gotten my first out-of-space tweet response.

“Astro_TJ @neosonic2k Yes (on drag) and yes (on reboosts)”

Reply from @Astro_TJ


I feel good.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Concerning Space Related Reality Shows (AKA Can you really look at them in the face?)

*UPDATE: It looks like the whole thing is a hoax, about the Starwalker reality show, given its producer’s track record and NASA denying any participation in it. Anyways, I’ll post this.*

A few hours ago, a Twitter user I follow, namely @geekygirlau, (yes, I follow her because she’s really into space exploration. Am I THAT predictable?) was selected as one of 100 participants for the upcoming reality show “Starwalker”. For those who didn’t know, this is an Australian-based reality show, and the winner of this show will get what some have been getting by paying around 20~30 million dollars (USD) to RKA for: A Spaceflight Participant ticket. This entails training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center at Star City, Russia, and after successful training, hitching ride with a Soyuz crew rotation flight to the International Space Station, for a stay of a week or 2, before coming back with the exiting crew in their Soyuz spacecraft for landing in Afghanistan.

For most people, this might be the ultimate reality show. A chance to reach outer space, just by ‘beating’ 99 other individuals to the prize. Feel confident? Feel that space is just at an arm’s length away thanks to this? Then, hey… this might be your chance… but before you jump the gun and enroll, let me tell you what @geekygirlau thinks… and why she’s gained my respect completely.

I can imagine when she received the news. At first disbelief, then joy… then this train of thought kicks in:

*after trying to copypaste the tweets, gives up*

…I’ll just summarize it. She believes that winning something like that, something that astronauts have worked hard for, for years on end, is like cheating, and decided to reject that participation. She gave a lot of comments about it, but that was the summarized version a la neosonic2k.

I had congratulated her at first, feeling happy that she’s gonna participate in that reality show. I had shut down my laptop and had to raise my legs on pillows to help ease the pain in them after downing some aspirin (3 days carrying heavy stuff up and down stairs… and they were heavy, even with HELP.) After the pain was mostly gone, I set up my futon in the living room and checked twitter one last time from my iPhone before going to sleep. It was then that I read @geekygirlau’s tweets… and I realized that I was in error. She got me thinking so much that I had to start writing a blog. So I set up this wacky setup and I’m typing now.

My personal thoughts:

This is not meant, in any way whatsoever, to demean any reality show whatsoever. This is just my own personal opinion.

Let’s assume for a second that I was the one who got that participation. Fine. I go ahead, with a lot of knowledge on space and Kepler’s Law and all that (compared to real astros, I know baby stuff, but I do know way more than the average guy… I love reading the NASA SCOM, you know…)… participate, go through whatever crap they make me go through, rise above it all, and I am actually selected as the winner. Whoopedee whoopin doo, right? I get sent to Star City, train, train, and train, then I get strapped onto a rocket with two other guys (to which the next paragraph also applies), blast off, reach the ISS, dock, and after leak checks, open the hatch.

…just how the hell am I going to be able to look at the ISS crew in the face? Or any astronaut crew? Let’s take this small example… (run)

Astronauts didn’t become astronauts overnight. Cosmonauts didn’t become cosmonauts overnight. They all grew up like any other person, went to college, struggled through college, earned a bachelor’s degree, aimed for a master’s degree… some even went as high as a doctorate degree… some had to go through military service while they did that, or before, or after… they got jobs, be it at an actual space agency or a related agency, or somewhere else… and then they started to apply for the Astronaut Corps. And their application got turned down. And they tried again, and again, and again… years go by, dreams of flying in outer space start to wane, becoming seemingly unreachable… you reach your 20’s…. your 30’s… maybe your 40’s… and you keep trying and trying, but you just can’t be selected… and just when you think it was fun while it lasted… you’re selected. Out of thousands of applications, you were selected alongside a handful of lucky ones. Because EVEN after your screwed out the last of your strengths for almost half of all your life attempting to be a desirable candidate for the astronaut corps, you weren’t picked because of that. YOU GOT LUCKY and got accepted, because thousands of others may have screwed themselves just as hard or harder than you, and NASA had a hard time selecting. Thousands of others aren’t that lucky. You did ALL THAT just to hope to get lucky and get selected. You report to Johnson Space Center, NASA’s Headquarters, in Houston, Texas, USA, tears in your eyes, a grin on your face so wide it’s hurting your cheeks, your almost dead dreams coming back with the fiery resolve of a revived phoenix. Then comes training. Oh, and not just any training. Survival training. The military types find this ‘easy’… the ones that were lucky enough to be accepted just because of their academic and work experience will not. But you run through the training. You were selected. You got lucky. You cannot afford to waste this chance. This pushes you harder, past your limits, beyond them. And before you realize it, training’s over. You are now sent to work as an astronaut. In preparation for being selected for a shuttle crew, they send you to work in processing shuttles for flights. You finally meet Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, face to face. First, you meet Discovery. You feel like a small bug as you look up at the towering orbiter, run your hands throughout its hull, feeling the texture of the material against your skin, while not touching it too hard for fear of ruining such beauty, such a marvel of engineering, a testament of almost perfect detail and precision. You run your hand through the length of the left wing leading edge, feeling the reinforced carbon-carbon panels there, which also exist in the nose cap and the right wing leading edge. You’re touching something that was previously subjected to over 2500 degrees
Farenheit, but you know. You know this was the spot where a measly block of foam stuck at infernal speed and perforated the panel, allowing for disaster to set in on a tragic noon on February 1st, 2003. You know part of your job is not only to get to fly to space, but to help others before you to come back safely. Your job as an astronaut gains new meaning, and you give your all on shuttle processing. You’re a bundle of unstoppable energy. You want to do anything and everything, and even more, to support the safe execution of the upcoming missions. You pour your heart and soul into setting up Discovery for its upcoming flight. You grow attached to Discovery… OV-103 is Discovery’s Orbiter Vehicle Designation, and you remember this. You know this is the leading orbiter in the fleet, as it is currently the oldest of the fleet. This shuttle has special meaning… it flew all of the return to flight missions… it launched the Hubble Space Telescope… it was the first shuttle to actually launch on the 4th of July, and what a 4th of July that was, the others tell you. Discovery hold a special place in your heart. The crew that will pilot Discovery make an appearance and look the orbiter over.You feel more and more fulfilled: you worked hard and did your part so these people can reach space and come back safely. When processing is complete, you sign your name on this big banner, and you carry it along with all of the others who helped get Discovery up and running, and you walk with Discovery as it is rolled over from the OPF to the towering Vehicle Assembly Building nearby. You proudly hold this banner and walk. This banner reads “We’re behind you, Discovery!”, and is filled with signatures all over, signatures left by others who, like you, gave their all to get Discovery ready. You see as Discovery is mated to its brand new External Tank and reused Solid Rocket Boosters. But there’s no time to rest. Another orbiter needs your care. In comes OV-104, Atlantis, the middle sister of the fleet. After careful processing of Discovery, you notice several differences that aren’t visible to any other person. Atlantis does indeed have some differences to Discovery, and you learn those. You process Atlantis with the same care as Discovery, and you also grow attached to her. Atlantis made the final visit to Hubble, leaving it more powerful than ever. Atlantis delivered Destiny, Columbus and the Quest Airlock to the ISS. She really is a workhorse… but most impressive was that Atlantis has the least amount of problems reported of all 3 orbiters! You’re not about to ruin Atlantis’s record either, so you take real good care of her. You see Discovery rolling out to the pad on its massive mobile launcher platform, slower than a mile per hour. As you took care of Atlantis. you saw how Discovery was prepared for launch. Then comes launch day. As you are a NASA employee, you can go see from the VIP viewing area. You go there and you watch as the countdown makes its final holds and you hear the launch readiness poll go underway, with Gos across the board. Then the T-9 minute hold releases and counts down, and you know all the milestones by heart. You know that the sound will take a while to reach your ears, so you fix your eyes on the shuttle at T-20. At T-7, you see the engines flicker to life, and a column of smoke blocking your view, until a few seconds later, you see Discovery emerging from the smoke, being pushed towards low earth orbit on its solid rocket boosters and engines. Then you hear it, and FEEL it. The subsonic rumble of the engines hits you. This is nothing compared to hearing a bass beat, you say. Then you hear and feel the outrageously loud sound of the boosters hit you, a deafening roar indeed. Such an overwhelming sensory experience. You watch as Discovery gets smaller and smaller into the sky, before you see that instead of one light, it became 3: the boosters were cut loose and Discovery is under its engines’ power, engines you helped to install. Soon, you can’t see the light anymore. With renewed resolve, you work with the team preparing Atlantis, get it ready, and walk it over to the VAB. Then comes OV-105, Endeavour… the youngest of the fleet. You take extra special care with this one. Youngest, but still a capable orbiter. It came when NASA was in need of another orbiter, since Challenger was lost shortly after liftoff. Endeavour later carried the hopes of Challenger on its back, taking the backup teacher for Challenger’s ill-fated launch up to space and back. You see it through, as you also see Atlantis’s launch, and walk Endeavour to the VAB, before meeting up with your old friend: Discovery. However, there’s no time to waste: you’ve been selected for a mission! You meet your crewmates, your commander, pilot and other mission specialists, who have endured all hardships just like you have. You train, and train, and train. You have to deliver a new module to the International Space Station. You visit the Station Processing Facility, and get hands-on work with the module you’re about to deliver, and learn station procedures along with your new family, your crewmates. You jump onto a T-38 frequently, commuting between Houston and Kennedy, participating in training with your crewmates. If you have family, you spend less time with them as you go into quarantine and spend more time training, which is bad… but in your case, your family is backing you up! This adds more fire to your resolve, and you keep grinding forward. Your other crewmates also go through the same thing, and you help each other out. Finally, TCDT training comes and goes, and then launch day comes. You suit up, walk to the astrovan, waving to your friends and family, and get in the van. You are taken with your crewmates to launchpad 39A where, by stroke of luck, or destiny, Discovery awaited you faithfully. This time, others had prepared it for you and your crewmates. Having full faith in their dedication, you ride the elevator up, and you sit between the commander and pilot. When your communication leads are connected, you can’t help but smile when you say, “NTD, MS2, Comm check.”. You run through your comm checks, as your buddies are strapped in, the side hatch is latched and sealed for flight. You also do internal comm checks between everyone, as there are 4 on the flight deck, and 2 more below in the mid deck. You’ve done this before, sitting, rather, laying on your back with your feet raised for a few hours. You’ve endured everything so far, this was nothing. The counts run, the final launch readiness poll commences, your heart skipping a beat when the launch director gave the Go to launch. You see the countdown running from T-9 minutes, you and your crewmates busy, what with APU prestart, APU start, activating the flash evaporator, clearing the caution and warning memory, and basically keeping an eye on everything. But you didn’t have that much work, as you were sitting away from important controls during ascent. You simply held your flight plan tightly as the count went down. Then, T-31, auto sequence start… Discovery took control of the count. This is it, you say. This is the day you fought for, the day you toiled in college, in work, in every single place you walked through in your life. Then you feel the slight shuddering as the engines come to life. You glance at the displays a few feet away from you and see the engine power climbing to 104%, just when the shuddering becomes horribly hard. The SRBs ignited. You almost can make out that the displays switched to OPS-102. The point of no return was here. Next stop: low earth orbit. You look as the launch tower disappears from view to your left in the windows, as you feel yourself getting pressed down on your seat. Then you see the clouds turning, as the shuttle rolls to the correct direction to catch up with the ISS. You hear your crew leader, the commander, call out the roll program, and you hear Houston acknowledge the call. You see as you break through the clouds, and only blue sky lies ahead. You see as the engine display graph lowers as it throttles down as it breaks the sound barrier and goes faster than sound itself. You hear your friends call that out, and call it again when they see the engines go back to 104%. Shortly after, Houston calls it too. “Discovery, Go at Throttle Up.” You hear the commander acknowledge the call, but you can sense it. There was the glee of a child noticeable in his voice. It was everyone’s dream of being here, whether it was their first flight or not. You glance over to your buddy sitting next to you, and he looks at you, grinning wildly, and the both of you do a high five. The dreams all came rushing back… Then you hear the commander say PC 50… The chamber pressure on the SRBs was lowering. You glance at the timer, you’re already past 2 minutes. The shuttle gives one last shudder before the shuddering becomes just slight shaking again, as the SRBs separate from the external tank. Almost immediately, you hear the commander and pilot say “103, second stage, alright!!”. Surely enough, the displays read OPS-103. The SRBs were gone, and now the shuttle was climbing on the power of its 3 main engines. You heard the different abort and milestone callouts, but even before Houston called them out as a reminder, the pilot and commander were calling them out to all of the crew. Then, the acceleration became  so great, the shuttle reached 3 Gs in stress. The engines started to throttle back to prevent that from getting even worse. Feeling 3 times as heavy was nothing, you kept saying. You trained for this. Then, suddenly, you feel the stress easing. You still felt like when on the pad, laying on your back. Then suddenly, you lose all sense of direction, you can’t seem to ‘find’ which way is up… but most importantly… you feel like you’re not even weighting anything. It hits you quickly… you made it. You can’t help but laugh out loud. Your other crewmates were also shouting and laughing and whooping. Your commander said “Welcome to space, guys! MECO, who-hoo!! Nominal MECO!!”. The child in him came out. The pilot help his arm mirror for you to see, he was also smiling like his teeth would pop out any second. The tank cuts loose, and you start photographing it quickly, as everyone else sets up the orbiter for in-orbit use. After the first day, you get used to freefall, thanks to training. Mind over matter. You help out with surveying the heat shield. You help with reaching the ISS, monitoring the displays and all. Finally, contact. After lengthy leakchecks, you open the hatch, and greet everyone who was at the ISS… and you see, to your surprise, someone who is impossibly young to be there. You recognize him/her as the person who got into that reality show and in less than a year, something that took you more than 1/4 to almost 1/2 of your lifetime, reached the ISS.

Damn… all that just to hit ya square in the face with that last sentence. But, think about it… @geekygirlau hit it square on with her remarks. It does feel like cheating… and how would the other astronauts feel? I know spaceflight participants have paid hefty sums of money for that privilege, but let’s face it: it cost them that money, which may have taken them years to acquire. While not as tedious as going through what astronauts and cosmonauts went through in their lives, it still cost them something. Winning a reality show, after putting what real astros have to go through, is plain ol cheating by comparison. It’s STEALING, even. Because they have to give the space a person who went thrugh all that to the winner of the reality show.

I completely agree with @geekygirlau in her stand against participating in such a reality show. This feels like undermining real astros, when we have to support them for all the stuff they had to go through to get to where they are, and to have them as role models so we can one day walk down that path. I feel nothing else needs to be said. Now, I go sleep. Too tired. Bleh.  *falls asleep*

Saturday, January 23, 2010

In space… no one can hear you tweet directly…

…unless you’re 5 lucky astro/cosmonauts flying at 17,500MPH (almost 5 miles a second), over 200 miles above the surface of the Earth, looping the earth every 1 1/2 hours, up to 16 times per day, in that:

Yes, we are living in this thing right now.

Yes, there are people in space 24/7 inside that, even now, as you read this. Maybe they’re passing over your hometown...

This, if you didn’t know, is the infamous International Space Station, or ISS, o ‘estaciĆ³n espacial internacional’, ‘EEI’, whatever the language you use.This high-quality picture was taken by the STS-119 crew at March 25 after undocking and doing the flyaround maneuver around the station, known as “TORF” (Twice Orbital Rate Flyaround), around 600 to 700 feet away, as they circled around it before doing an OMS separation burn to leave the vicinity of the station.

It’s called the International Space Station because it is a massive collaborative effort by different space agencies around the world, mainly USA’s NASA, Russia’s RKA, Canada’s CSA, Europe’s ESA, and Japan’s JAXA. The modules in the ISS were built by each of the international partners, and NASA and RKA launched the modules as they were built and tested, and put them together in orbit. The ISS should have been completed by now, but Columbia’s unfortunate and tragic accident on the last part of its last mission, STS-107, threw a wrench in the plans. However, the station is nearing completion steadily.

The station is pretty roomy now (it wasn’t before), and pretty lively. Since STS-119’s contribution to the station, there has been, at almost all times, a total of 6 people living and working inside the ISS, and the crew is considered collectively as an “Expedition”. So far there has been 22 expeditions to the ISS, or, 22 different crews. Russian Soyuz spacecraft take 3 people at a time to and from the station, and the astronauts and cosmonauts onboard can clock up to 6 months of stay at the ISS before being relieved by another crew and them returning on their Soyuz back to Earth. At most times, there are 2 Soyuz craft docked and a Soyuz lookalike called “Progress”, which is unmanned and is used for bringing supplies, food, air, etc to them. After they’re done with that Progress, they fill it with trash, and they let it go, and the craft burns up in the atmosphere, and Russia sends another one with more stuff, lather, rinse, repeat.

At this point in time, January 23, 2010, the station crewmembers, Expedition 22, comprised of Station Commander Jeff Williams (NASA), and Flight Engineers T.J. Creamer (NASA), Oleg Kotov (RKA), Maksim Surayev (RKA), and Soichi Noguchi (JAXA), are preparing and awaiting the arrival of Endeavour on its STS-130 mission. The STS-130 crew will deliver a major module (MORE SPACE!) to the ISS called Tranquility and a connecting node called “Cupola”, which is practically all windows, giving them an unobstructed view of both the Earth and the ISS exterior, making it an ideal place for robotic arm operations (and photo ops!).

However, I was going to talk about a feat Expedition 22 have achieved. After working solutions and setting up and testing, Expedition 22 have achieved what others couldn’t: to be able to directly (in a manner of speaking) access the internet from the ISS laptops while having KU Band connectivity (the high-speed data communications antenna link often used for live video feeds).

The method they used to be able to, say, post in Twitter, or send emails, is precisely that: emails. They directly sync their emails to Mission Control, and Mission control sends the emails as if it were them. In the case of Twitter, they send instructions in the form of an email to Mission Control, and Mission Control posts for them. Not really efficient but it got the job done. However, since we now have a “computer geek” astronaut on board, T.J. Creamer (MY HERO!), the guy did what I would have done if I had ever set foot there (nice feat considering you’re in free-fall microgravity)… actually work on direct internet access. And he got it!

Now, you’re probably saying “They have Macs up there right? or else the viruses will knock the station out of orbit!”. No, they don’t have Macs up there, they have laptops with Windows XP Professional (SP3?) loaded, with special software for controlling aspects of the ISS. While, yes, the danger of a virus knocking them out of orbit is plausible, I don’t think NASA would have left such a wide security hole in that. I have zero knowledge of the ISS’s control systems, so I can’t really say, but, hey, this is NASA we’re talking about.

However, additional layers of security aren’t bad. You can never have too much security! So, instead of actually having a DIRECT link to the internet, they access another computer down at NASA which has internet access through the ISS’s laptops… kinda like LogMeIn. (hopefully this computer comes with good antivirus software… I wonder, what did NASA pick for AV software and why?). This way, they can post on their own accounts, whenever they have time to do so, live. And of course, regular net browsing, email sending, the works. If the computer gets infected, the remote host (ISS laptop) is untouched. Of course, the browsing cannot interfere with work. Yes, they WORK up there doing scientific experiments to help us down here.

Even computer geeks get their way. We got one on the ISS right now. PH34R us.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Your typical Space Shuttle Mission Part 4: Getting back home (AKA Deorbit, Reentry, TAEM and Landing)

So, the shuttle blasts off, reaches orbit, and does its mission, be it working on a satellite, or going to the ISS to deliver parts, either for spare storage or for making the station bigger and more efficient, and to exchange crewmembers. Actually, to date, the last remaining shuttle missions will go to the ISS to resupply it and complete it. There will be no more crew rotations by the shuttle. Crew rotation is now the sole responsibility of the Russian Space Agency and their Soyuz spacecrafts.

So, finally, after a successful mission and the orbiter’s heat shield is cleared for reentry, the mission enters its deorbit preparations phase. Typically, this takes a day, done the day before scheduled deorbit. The astronauts check the flight control system, and makes a hot-fire test of the RCS thrusters, which are critical in controlling the shuttle’s attitude during most of reentry, at least before the airstream is thick enough to be able to use the aerosurfaces. Also, the RMS arm and the OBSS boom is stowed for landing, and the KU band antenna, responsible for high speed data transmissions between the ground, shuttle and station, is deactivated and stowed. Only the regular antennas are used for communications and telemetry.

Remember that NASA has 2 main landing sites and a backup landing site. The first main landing site, and the primary main landing site, is the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The second, ‘backup’ main landing site is Edwards Air Force Base at California. The actual backup landing site, only used once in all of the space shuttle program, is the White Sands Testing Range in New Mexico.

Finally, the day has arrived. The crew wakes up and immediately jump into action for the return home. Let’s assume, as always, that the shuttle in question is Discovery, and that landing is possible at Kennedy.


The start of the Deorbit Burn, in terms of the countdown to it, is called “Time of Ignition”, or TIG. With that in mind, we start our journey back home.

TIG-4 hours. Final Deorbit preparations start here.

The crew has been briefed about the weather conditions at the landing site, this time at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility. The crew executes an alignment of the Inertial Measurement Units used for guidance of the orbiter. They also activate systems that aren’t in use during the mission that support entry and landing operations.

Now, the commander’s and pilot’s seats cannot be removed, but the mission specialist seats, both in the flight deck and the mid-deck, are stowed to increase space within the orbiter (it gets kinda cramped with 6-7 people). At this time, the seats are installed back into their positions.

TIG-3 hours.

“Discovery, you have a Go for Payload Bay Door Closing.”

This means the crew can now close the payload bay doors. Now, the radiators on the doors were stowed before this. They were used to maintain correct thermal conditions for the orbiter’s systems during its mission. Well, how does it maintain it now that the doors will be closed?

Flash Evaporation, that’s what.

During launch, right around the point of SRB separation, the Flash Evaporator System activates and rejects heat from the coolant system by means of water boiling, all the way until the Payload Bay Doors are opened and the radiators are deployed, which take over. From radiator stowage until less than 100,000 feet in altitude, the Flash Evaporator System takes over once again. However, under 100,000 feet, water loses its efficiency to reject heat with this method. The Flash Evaporator switches to ammonia boiling to maintain temperatures until the shuttle lands and the ground cooling system is hooked up to it.

The crew had stowed the radiators, and checked that the flash evaporator system is working correctly, before Mission Control gives a Go for Payload Bay Doors closing. The crew does so, and the doors are closed.

TIG-2 1/2 hours. Roughly around this timeframe, another call is given from Houston.

“Discovery, Houston. You are Go for OPS-3".

The crew starts to set up the shuttle’s GPCs for the deorbit, entry and landing program, called OPS 3. Remember that OPS 1 controlled launch, ascent and stabilization of the orbit, and OPS 2 controlled everything during orbit? OPS 3 will bring them home. Since on-orbit operations isn’t as dynamic as a launch and a landing is, the backup computer, GPC 5, and normally one of the 4 main GPCs, is shut down. At this point, both are re-enabled and configured for OPS 3, and the program is loaded. Now, all GPCs are running on Major Mode OPS 301, the ‘coast to deorbit’ portion of the software. Shortly after, the Star Trackers, used for navigation, two small doors on the front of the orbiter, are closed and deactivated.

TIG-1 hour, 30 minutes. Starting with the Commander and Pilot, the crew begins to put on their bright orange Launch and Entry Suits, actually called the Advanced Crew Escape System. These suits provide them with their own pressurized oxygen supply in the event of cabin pressure loss, and are equipped with survival tools in case of a bailout, including, of course, a parachute and a life raft.

TIG-1 hour. Everyone is ready to get strapped into their seats. A call from Houston confirms that deorbit looks realistic.

“Discovery, Houston. You are go for fluid loading.”

This means that the crew must consume large amounts of liquid and salt tablets. This helps them to adapt better to gravity once they land. The liquids can be water or any kind of drink.

TIG-20 minutes.

The crew is strapped into their seats, and the landing team polls are made. The weather has been assessed, and everything looks great.

“Discovery, Houston. You are go for the deorbit burn.”

This call tells the crew that their trip home is sealed. The pilot and commander transition the GPCs to OPS 302, the “deorbit burn” mode, load the deorbit burn targets and execute the attitude adjustment. The shuttle then changes its attitude so that at the point of deorbit, the shuttle’s engines are aiming at the direction of travel, for the retrograde (backward firing) deorbit burn. The pilot executes the APU (auxiliary power unit) Prestart procedure, putting all 3 APUs ready to start. The APUs are critical to landing, since they will power the hydraulics needed to move the aerosurfaces needed for control of the shuttle in the atmosphere, and for lowering the landing gear for landing.

TIG-3 minutes. The pilot activates one of the 3 APUs needed for landing. Before actually committing the shuttle to reentering the atmosphere, it must be checked that at least one APU works and operates correctly. Only 1 APU is needed for a safe landing. The APU checks out perfectly. The OMS engines are armed, and Mission Control confirms that the shuttle has the correct configuration for the burn. The minutes become seconds, and…


TIG. OMS Engine Ignition.


The deorbit burn commences, and the shuttle begins to slow down from its stable orbital speed as the twin OMS engines fire against the direction of travel. This burn is executed half a world away from the landing site, so that the perigee (lowest point of the orbit) is precisely there. The perigee is dropped all the way to ZERO miles during this burn, and even after that, the burn continues. The burn typically lasts around 3 minutes, depending on the orbit’s height. The commander and pilot see the displays as the burn timer ticks down to zero. After chopping off at least 200MPH off their ~17,500MPH speed, the OMS engines cut off, and they disable the OMS engines for good, as this was their very last job in the mission.

Discovery is now on a decaying orbit, its altitude slowly dropping. It is now committed to land, officially one hour away from landing, and roughly half an hour away from the Entry Interface, the next milestone in landing. Before hitting the atmosphere, the commander and pilot transition the computer to OPS 303, the “coast to EI” mode. At this point, they manually maneuver the shuttle to its correct reentry angle, where it will enter the atmosphere with the nose pitched 40 degrees upwards, the reentry angle of attack. It is done like this so the thermal protection system, the heat tiles, are the ones aiming at the airstream, and to bleed off its tremendous orbital speed by increasing drag.

Moments after they maneuver the shuttle to the correct attitude, the pilot activates the other APUs, and all 3 APUs are running. After that, they do a check of the aerosurfaces, mainly to prime them, to run warm hydraulic fluid through them. The engine nozzles are gimbaled (aimed) to prevent damage to them during reentry. Also, ALL of the Forward RCS fuel is dumped. This is done to prevent pollution of the air when the shuttle lands. The forward RCS jets, as you may have guessed, are not needed for reentry.

5 minutes before Entry Interface, the computers are transitioned to OPS 304, the “entry interface” mode. The shuttle is ready for reentry, and the GPCs assume automatic control of the descent.

Entry Interface begins roughly half an hour away from landing. As Discovery drops below 400,000 feet, it encounters the airstream, a bit at first, then slowly but steadily thickening. Soon, a halo of plasma covers the entire shuttle as friction of the shuttle against the thickening airstream increases. The shuttle is essentially a fireball at this point, streaking down and across the sky like a meteor. Temperatures from the friction can increase up to 2000 degrees Farenheit on the nosecap and wing leading edges at the point of Maximum Heating. The Thermal Protection System is designed to dissipate this tremendous heat and protect the shuttle from burning up.

Of course, Discovery is encountering the thickening airstream. It’s become a fireball. Thanks to the plasma generated by the superheated air coming off the shuttle’s belly from the effects of friction, there are no communications. Only NASA’s Deep Space Network, powered by their Tracking Data and Relay Satellites (TDRS), is still tracking Discovery. But something important is happening. The atmosphere is slowing Discovery down!! As the atmosphere thickens, it creates more and more of a stopping force for Discovery, braking it even further. The speed drops from 17,000MPH… to 16,000… to 14,000…. to 12,000….

However, the GPCs onboard Discovery know that if they maintain this course and angle of attack, by the time they reach a stable flying speed and altitude suitable for landing, they would have overshot the landing site by too many miles. You’re asking yourself, why did they deorbit so late then? This is done to allow a great margin of error to be able to reach the landing site with sufficient “energy” to land. If they deorbit too soon, they run the risk of running out of “energy” before reaching the landing site, and having the shuttle crash-land. They prefer to have the GPCs correct for this, rather than have no alternatives at all.

So, a few minutes into EI, the GPCs command the aft RCS yaw jets to force the shuttle into roughly an 80-degree bank to either left or right, depending on the trajectory. This is the first of 4 steep banks, and the first is known simply as a “roll”. For now, let’s say it did a left roll. By doing this steep bank, Discovery increases the drag effect, slowing down even further, getting rid of the excess “energy”.

Oh, the term “energy” is how fast and how high the shuttle is going. Of course, at launch, that energy is acquired as the shuttle reaches its orbital speed and altitude. So now it must get rid of this energy, and get rid of it just enough to be able to have the correct amount of “energy” at the point of reaching the landing site in order to land.

A few minutes after this first steep bank, the GPCs see that it is veering off course. Of course, banking to the left would have an effect sooner or later since the speed is steadily decreasing and the atmosphere is steadily thickening as it drops in altitude. So, the GPCs command the second steep bank, in the opposite direction of the first one. This is know as a “roll reversal”, since it is reversing itself from that previous roll. This allows the same drag effect as the first steep bank, but it is more of a course correction maneuver. When you see the ground track zoomed way out to thousands of miles, you notice that the track is a mega-stretched S due to these banks. It executes 2 more of these roll reversals later on during Entry Interface.

The plasma eventually gives way as the shuttle descends and slows down. Communications are regained and it is confirmed that the crew is doing well. The shuttle keeps doing its roll reversals to bleed off speed and altitude, aligning itself with the landing site. Soon it reaches Florida airspace, and comes within range of the Merrit Island Launch Area (MILA) tracking station (Merrit Island is the name of the island where Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center are located).

As the shuttle slows down below 3 times the speed of sound, the commander deploys the air data probes. Two small doors open on each side of the orbiter, revealing air probes. These probes relay wind speed and direction to the commander and pilot during the landing phase.

By the time Discovery’s roughly 85 thousand feet high, and slowed down to MACH 2.5, which is 2 1/2 times the speed of sound, the pilot sets up for HAC interception and landing. At the landing site, they have what is called a “Microwave Beam Landing System”, or MBLS. This beams information to the shuttle about its position with relation to the runway, and helps guide the shuttle to the Heading Alignment Cylinder (cylinder, circle, whatever, those terms are used and are correct), and subsequently towards the runway. As soon as the shuttle comes within range of MILA’s MBLS, the crew engages the landing system.

And the shuttle keeps slowing down, this time with the aid of the speed brake in its tail. And finally, it reaches MACH 1 and goes under that.


Several things occur when the shuttle hits MACH 1 as it slows down.

At this point, throughout Central Florida, especially at the Kennedy Space Center, 2 sonic booms sound in rapid succession. These sonic booms are the announcement that Discovery has arrived at the landing site. They’re pretty strong, especially if the proximity to the landing site is nearer. I’ve read somewhere that you hear 2 sonic booms instead of 1 because of the length of the orbiter as it breaks the sound barrier as it slows below the speed of sound, being considerably longer than those supersonic fighter jets.

Also, reaching MACH 1 automatically transitions the GPCs to mode OPS 305, the “TAEM” portion of OPS 3. The RCS jets that were still active at this point are finally cut off, as control passes completely to the aerosurfaces, now fully active. The commander switches from automatic control over to manual control, and begins piloting the shuttle. Discovery is, at this point, a heavy, unpowered, hi-tech glider. Some refer to the shuttle as a ‘brick’ at this point, as this is what it feels like to pilots to land it. The commander calls it out.

“Houston, Discovery. On Energy, approaching the HAC.”

“Copy. You’re Go for nominal chute deploy.”

Usually that call from Mission Control comes accompanied with a last-minute weather update concerning winds at the landing site, which the commander has to compensate for in the case of a crosswind. “Nominal chute deploy” means that they have to pop the drag chute upon MAIN GEAR touchdown, that is, the back tires. If the call had asked for a “late chute deploy”, the chute would be popped after NOSE GEAR touchdown

Also, when they say on energy, remember what I said about energy, about how high and fast they’re going? Now they have to manage it correctly in order to make it to the final approach with the correct altitude and speed. This is something commanders and pilots train for YEARS: landing the shuttle successfully in their first try… because that’s the only try they’ll ever get. Remember, the shuttle’s engines are useless, and the OMS engines only provide adequate thrust when in orbit (they take 3 minutes to change the shuttle’s speed by 200 MPH. Sports cars do better than that, and they’re on the ground), but are otherwise useless under the full influence of Earth’s gravity, much less the RCS jets. This is a one-shot deal. Fly in too low, and the shuttle crashlands before the runway. Fly in too high and too fast and you overshoot it and, of course, crashland. This is also one of the reasons why the runway at KSC is wider and longer than most regular airplane runways. So far, all 127 missions that have successfully completed their mission have landed successfully (STS-3 was a bit of a scare… maybe that’s why they created the drag chute? Search YouTube for the STS-3 landing). There have been 129 missions, but remember, 1 of them never even reached space (STS-51L Challenger), and the second didn’t even reach Kennedy (STS-107 Columbia)…

Thanks to the MBLS, GPSs onboard the shuttle, and the air probes, the commander and pilot have all the info they need right on their GPC displays and HUD (Heads Up Display, like them fighter jets). The GPC displays show their position with relation to the Heading Alignment Cylinder and the runway, range, direction of travel, and so forth. and the HUD, an even more important, if not the most important piece of equipment used for landing, shows altitude, speed, and most importantly, and thanks to the MBLS, a small diamond representing where the shuttle must be aiming at to successfully land with the correct amount of energy (speed, altitude).

The commander (and in a brief period of time, the pilot) guides the shuttle to the HAC. Once it reaches it, the shuttle begins its slow, wide, final turn into the final approach to the runway, still losing speed and altitude. Usually the turns are long. Let’s assume this is a 230 degree turn. It begins the turn, and the degree counter decreases. When it is just 180 degrees from facing the runway, Houston calls it.

“Discovery, on at the 180.”

They might accompany that with remarks to their speed and/or altitude. Another call comes up when there are just 90 degrees left in the turn.

“Discovery, on at the 90.”

And the turn progresses, and they still lose altitude, keeping speed stable, until…

“Houston, field in sight.”

The commander and pilot see the runway dead ahead as the come out of the turn, seeing the graphical overlay of the runway generated by the HUD (thanks to the MBLS down there) overlapping the actual runway, with a point generated roughly a mile in front and before the runway’s start. This is it.

The shuttle comes out of the HAC and into the final approach glideslope as it hits 10 thousand feet, at around 460MPH, its wings level and centered on the runway line. It’s called the final approach “glideslope” because, obviously, the shuttle is an unpowered glider and most importantly, the shuttle goes into an apparent dive here, as if going down a steep slope. It pitches its nose down to around 20 degrees, which, by airline standards, is a damn STEEP dive of an approach. Nearly 7 times steeper than the angle of an airliner approaching the runway, the commander pilots Discovery into this steep dive, aiming at the point generated by the HUD overlay. Discovery divebombs closer, dropping quickly in altitude and approaching the runway, as the pilot primes the landing gear. It is done like this to have the correct energy for landing, that is, the speed and the correct sink rate, or the rate in which the altitude drops at the moment of touchdown. Almost like seconds, the altitude goes 9000’… 8000’…. 7000’… 6… 5… …4… …3…

Discovery hits 2000’, roughly 400MPH. The commander pulls on the stick and the shuttle straightens up from the steep dive and raises the nose to 1.5 degrees, in what is called a “pre-flare” maneuver. This slows down the shuttle’s rate of descent and speed, converting all that accumulated energy from the dive into rising force with reduced speed, and just the right amount to carry Discovery over to the runway threshold. At this point, the shuttle hits 600’ in altitude, and the landing gear is commanded to lower. Doors below the left and right wing and the nose open up, and wheels come out, all 3 locking down in place in a matter of seconds.

As the shuttle reaches the runway threshold, hitting 600’ in altitude, the commander pulls more on the stick, performing what is called the “final flare”, increasing the shuttle’s rising force and further decreasing the speed. The orbiter’s sink rate is slowed down to a safe touch-down sink rate as the shuttle finally passes the runway threshold. If the speed is too high, the speed brake is used to compensate.

The landing gear lowers slowly… 50 feet… 40… 30… 20… 10…. 5…

The 2 wheels under the wings are the first to touchdown on the runway, at 230MPH. These are the “Main Gear”, which, of course, is why that is called “main gear touchdown”. As soon as that is confirmed, the pilot presses a couple of buttons which pop a door off on the back of the shuttle, at the base of its tail. This carries a drag chute that aids in braking Discovery to a halt into its open position, pulling back on Discovery and braking it. The nose of the shuttle slowly comes down until it also touches down on the runway, know as both WoW (weight on nose wheel… not world of warcraft) and “nose gear touchdown”. The shuttle keeps rolling on the runway, steering provided by the nose gear in case it needs to be centered. As soon as it slows to 70 MPH, the chute is released, as it loses its braking effectiveness, and also to avoid having it tangle up with the engine nozzles. By then, the commander and pilot are braking Discovery with actual brakes in the wheels. Soon, the speed is reduced to 0 and the shuttle comes to a complete stop. The commander calls it immediately.

“Houston, Discovery. Wheels stop.”

This marks the end of the mission. After this, the crew commences shutdown and safing of the shuttle. Meanwhile, outside, the landing convoy begins operation. Two men with an air probe are sent in pressure suits to detect any poisonous chemicals in the air around Discovery, before giving the go ahead for the convoy to move in and get the crew out of the shuttle. After the crew are given quick medical checks, they walk around the shuttle, a tradition in NASA, and they leave for their crew quarters to meet with their family. The ground crew assumes control of the shuttle, and they take it to the OPF.

And the cycle repeats. At least, in Atlantis’s case, as of this date, the turnover process it’s undergoing for mission STS-132 will be its last, as STS-132 is Atlantis’s last mission before it is to be decommissioned.

Now that you’ve read all this, look at the following video:

This was STS-128, Discovery, with a landing at Edwards AFB. This one called a late chute deploy.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

STS-129: IMHO Pretty much the coolest mission so far


I have got to say, STS-129 went by so fast, so flawlessly, and so greatly. Several interesting things happened during the mission. And the crew was pretty funny too! And the most amazing thing is, there were no scrubs nor delays!!! Everything went right off on the first try!!!


The two guys in front holding helmets are Commander Charlie “Scorch” Hobaugh to the left, and pilot Barry “Butch” Wilmore to the right. The 4 on the back, from left to right, is Mission Specialist #1 Leland Melvin (Astro_Flow on Twitter), Mission Specialist #3 Mike Foreman, Mission Specialist #4 Dr. Robert “Bobby” Satcher, and Mission Specialise #2 Randy “Komrade” Bresnik.

Here’s the full launch. Remember that it takes 8 minutes and 29 seconds from SRB ignition (T-0 seconds) for it to reach initial orbit and main engine cutoff. Once again, this is the first launch attempt, and they DID launch!

After MECO, the crew went to work, and after setting up the shuttle for on-orbit operations, went to sleep. On flight day 2, they begun some rendezvous burns to start catching up to the ISS, and in the meantime, checked out the Thermal Protection System with the OBSS. On flight day 3, they catched up to the ISS and performed their routine RPM, or rendezvous pitch maneuver. I found this video which sped up the RPM for our benefit (the backflip alone takes 9 whole minutes), and cuts to docking (after the RPM, the shuttle then travels forward and pitches up, getting in front of the station, its payload bay and docking port looking AT the station. That’s when docking starts).

(For those ppl not yet fully familiarized with the english (french?) vernacular, “rendezvous” is to meet, to catch up with someone or something. It’s used in NASA to point out that vehicle 1 is catching up to vehicle 2, and the point where the two finally meet is the rendezvous point. English pronunciation would be like “run, day, voo” all together. Spanish is like “rondeivu”.)

(for those people that seriously asked me what is vernacular… http://www.answers.com/topic/vernacular)

After 2 hours of leak checks to see if the docking system had a good airtight seal, hatches were opened and the crews greeted themselves like long lost friends.

After that, all 3 spacewalks and transfers went by like it was meant to be done perfectly. I won’t bore you with the details, but, MAN!

And the whole thing was done with the STS-129 crew cracking jokes at every possible moment, ever since launch day, up until landing. I laughed my head off several times. I was like, OMG he did not just say that during <extremely serious maneuver/procedure/etc>!!! :P

The only issue was an alarm going off in the ISS. Apparently it was a false alarm. And there was a problem with one of the spacewalkers’ drinking tube (they have a small tube close to their lips that they bite and suck fresh water from it while they’re outside of the station and in their spacesuits. remember they can be out there for 5 to 8 hours. one does get hungry and thirsty, but at least the thirsty part can be covered) which did delay them an hour. But in all 3 spacewalks, they were HOURS ahead of schedule!!! (which kinda negated that delay). They got a heck of a lot of get-ahead tasks. I think they even did something a future space shuttle crew had to do later on! Talk about efficiency!!! And for Satcher and Bresnik, it was their first spacewalk. Could have fooled me!!!

Randy Bresnik was supervising another launch of sorts from the ISS: his baby daughter Abigail Mae Bresnik was due to be born around the timeframe where he would be at the ISS. NASA went to great lengths to get private conferencing between him and his wife while he was up there. After the event, Bresnik thanked NASA for helping him with that, and a celebration was done in the ISS’s Harmony node, with Bresnik handing out pink cigars to every crewmember of ISS-21 and STS-129, sporting a black tee with the pink words “it’s a girl!”, and proudly displaying a pink onezie with the STS-129 patch on it.

Also, an actual ISS change of command was made while a shuttle crew, the STS-129 crew, was there (a first for the program), and they stood (floated) witness to the ceremony. Frank De Winne of the European Space Agency (ESA), Commander of Expedition 21 and first ISS commander from the ESA, handed over control of the ISS to Jeff Williams of NASA, now Commander of Expedition 22. Frank, Roman Romanenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (RSA) and Bob Thirsk of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) will soon leave the ISS as 3 other crew members, Oleg Kotov (RSA), Souichi Noguchi (Japanese Space Agency, JAXA), and Timothy Creamer (NASA). Also, Jeff Williams awarded Nicole Stott her gold Astronaut Wings. Let me remind you that Nicole Stott is the last ISS crewmember to be rotated in a space shuttle. They did this before Atlantis left so they could close the expedition with Nicole present, as a closure for her. When she leaves, crew rotations will be the sole responsibility of RSA until further notice.

After that, the crews said their goodbyes, “transferred” the final piece of cargo known as Nicole Stott to Atlantis and the crews closed hatches. Nicole Stott now is about to be on her way home.

And the day after… Atlantis undocks fro the ISS and pilot Barry “Butch” Wilmore executes the flyaround around the ISS, a maneuver known in NASA jargon as TORF (Twice Orbital Rate Flyaround).

After that, Atlantis burned its OMS engines for a few seconds, initiating the separation of Atlantis and the ISS. The STS-129 crew then made a final inspection of their TPS before calling it a day.

The day after, the crew did several preparations and checkouts prior to reentry. All these checks were successful, so Atlantis was cleared for reentry. The day after, everything went by flawlessly. The final preparations. The deorbit burn (the first attempt to Kennedy was a go!). The entry interface, the roll/roll reversals, and finally… TAEM, as depicted in the video below.

Hobaugh: Couldn’t have picked a clearer day!

Twin sonic booms were heard at 3:48 in the video, signaling the arrival of Atlantis at Kennedy. Slightly low on the Heading Alignment Cylinder turn, but all in all a perfect landing.

Man, I loved this mission! :P It was all to carry a new antenna assembly and 2 external logistics carriers (massive things) to support continued operation of the ISS after the shuttle retires. And of course to bring Nicole Stott back home, where she can finally have her Coke in a Styrofoam cup and a slice of New York style pizza. :P And a nice hot shower where water will actually go DOWN. :P

Oh, didn’t you know? Astronauts take sponge baths. There are no showers in space. Which is especially why a long duration (2 to 6 month stay) ISS crew member considers a hot shower “A LUXURY”.


Great mission, fellas!

Computer problems :P

Actually, it was more of an upgrade, but I consider it a problem in that I forgot to backup what I had of my “reentry” blog entry. …oh well.. *starts to type again* It’ll just take a bit more.