Friday, June 13, 2008

A troubled shuttle Dicovery?

An aged shuttle may have a problem.

"NASA engineers inspect floating object, protrusion"


Juan A. Lozano

This image provided by NASA shows a view of the Space Shuttle Discovery soon after the shuttle and the International Space Station began their post-undocking relative separation on Wednesday June 11 2008. One of the Expedition 17 crewmembers recorded ...

This image provided by NASA shows a view of the Space Shuttle Discovery soon after the shuttle and the International Space Station began their post-undocking relative separation on Wednesday June 11, 2008. One of the Expedition 17 crewmembers recorded the photo with a digital still camera. Landing is targeted for Kennedy Space Center at 11:15 a.m. on Saturday.

Associated Press:

NASA engineers were trying to identify an object that floated away from Discovery and were analyzing a protrusion found on its rudder Friday, a day before the space shuttle was scheduled to land. The two issues were noticed after a routine test of the spacecraft's flight control systems and steering jets.


"No Problems Seen for Shuttle Landing"


John Schwartz

June 14th, 2008

The New York Times

Astronauts aboard the shuttle Discovery prepared for a Saturday landing as their 14-day mission to the International Space Station neared an end.

There was a flurry of activity Friday morning as members of the crew noticed an object floating away from the shuttle into space and saw what appeared to be a small protrusion sticking out of the rudder at the back of the craft. Such objects can be worrisome, since they could indicate a broken part of the shuttle.

But in the past, they have simply turned out to be bits of ice or errant plastic bags floating out of the payload bay. Within a few hours, however, experts on the ground determined that neither issue was a problem. "We're confident that there’s no impact for entry," said Col. Terry W. Virts, Jr., an astronaut serving as the point of contact on the ground for the crew.

Commander Mark E. Kelly of the Navy, the shuttle commander, radioed to the ground shortly after 7:30 a.m. Friday that the object had been spotted floating behind the aft starboard wing. Commander Kelly also pointed out what he called "a bump" seen sticking out from the trailing edge of the port side of the shuttle's rudder, which sits on the craft’s vertical tail fin. The crew transmitted video and still images of the object to the ground.

The object floated away after a series of routine pre-landing procedures in which the crew tested the steering jets, a test which often shakes loose objects off of the spacecraft. The procedures also include working the craft’s flaps. A commentator for the space program's TV service said that the entry flight director, Richard Jones, called in imagery experts and structural and mechanical experts to, as the commentator put it, "hammer this one flat" and make sure there is no concern for landing on Saturday.

If a serious problem had been discovered, the crew could have take the shuttle back to the International Space Station, which it separated from on Wednesday, under what is known as the "safe haven" plan, so that mission managers could determine whether to repair the craft or attempt to send another shuttle as a rescue vehicle.

At 11:30, Colonel Virts radioed to the crew that the issue had been resolved. The object floating away from the craft was one of three clips that attach to the rudder and protects against heating during ascent. It has no function during reentry, and so its loss presents no problem for the craft or crew, he said. As for the protrusion, it is a normal part of the rudder assembly that was exactly the same as it had been during launching, Colonel Virts said, but might have appeared to protrude because the rudder was now being seen at a slightly different angle than before.

Rob Navias, a commentator on the space program's NASA TV service that can be viewed online, said that mission control was now pressing ahead with its previous plans for landing. Discovery is scheduled to land as early as Saturday at 11:15 a.m., though problems like rain, low clouds over the landing strip or high winds could lead mission managers to delay the landing to later on Saturday or put it off to Sunday or even Monday.

The shuttle's mission has been devoted to further construction of the $100 billion space station. Discovery delivered the $1 billion main module of the Japanese laboratory known as Kibo, or Hope. The lab — a cylinder about the size of a tour bus — is the second component of the three-part lab to arrive at the station; a smaller storage module containing equipment for the lab came up on the previous shuttle mission in March. Another section that will expose experiments to space will be delivered on a future mission. Three spacewalks and extensive use of the station's and the shuttle's robotic arms got the new Kibo module out of the shuttle's payload bay and attached to the station. The first part of the module was also moved from its temporary storage position to the top of the main Kibo module.

The crew also carried replacement parts for the station's single toilet, which had been malfunctioning for a week before the shuttle arrived. At a news briefing on Thursday, LeRoy Cain, the head of the mission management team, said that the flight had gone exceptionally well. "It’s been an outstanding mission for us — we have accomplished all of our objectives, and then some."

Discovery is bringing Garrett E. Reisman home from the station, where he has lived since March, and left his replacement, Gregory E. Chamitoff. Mr. Reisman has made no secret of the fact that he is looking forward to seeing his wife, and Friday, mission managers radioed wake-up music selected by Mr. Reisman's wife: a recording of Baby Won’t You Please Come Home by Louis Prima with Keely Smith.

Mr. Reisman thanked the people on the ground for the song, and said "A special good morning to Simone, my favorite earthling." He added, "Get ready, doll face: Discovery's coming home."

In a later interview from orbit with CBS News that was broadcast over NASA TV, Mr. Reisman, who has a reputation as an orbital wit, said, "I'm looking forward to being back home and sleeping in my own bed and using my own toilet." He declared himself "cautiously optimistic" about being able to recover quickly from his time in space, in part because he’s a little over five feet tall and short people tend to recover more quickly than tall people.

"My sensory organs are a little closer to my center of gravity, and my heart has a little less distance to pump to my brain," he said. "I’ve been waiting my whole life, and I think finally this being short is going to come in handy for once."

No comments: