Monday, July 11, 2011

Ultimate Offroad: Terminus Overtakes Space Shuttle

Clearly the most iconic image of space for most of us is the "Pale Blue Dot" taken by the Appolo astronauts back sixty's or so. The beautiful blue earth in its entirety poised in its rightful place against the beek black vacuum of space. The photo has been "updated" several times by subsequent spacecraft; but, none hold the relevance to an entire generations' neural pathways as does the original which we saw taken live in the wee hours of the morning.

Many other space related icons clutter the minds now of the "internet generation" not the least of which is the ubiquitous "Google Earth" planet with its day and night terminus marching across the globe. "Terminus," now that's a word that none but scientists knew until Google. The demarcation on a map or globe representing the current position of the sun's shadow – the end of daylight… the beginning of the dark… the night.

One would have to be living under a rock in a jungle not to know that the United State's Space Shuttle Program is comming to an end… NOW! With this last flight of the good ship Atlantis: the mission known as STS 135 [Space Transport System - 135th planned mission].

Nearly all of the readers of this blog are "life-experienced" enough to remember the last time the Democrats got charge of the country during a period of blazing sunlight for the space program – Appolo; it was cancelled! And we remember all to well how long it took for the next great adventure to take hold. We are lucky, really, to have lived through two such times. For us, there may not be three.

For our kids, there will be long term human exploration above low earth orbit (LEO); because, anything short of a complete dismantling of NASA cannot prevent it! American's will only tolerate sending billions of dollars to Russia to purchase passage on their functional but antiquated "space taxi" for so long.

This is NASA we're talking about. They will merely quietly but effectively keep plugging along behind the scenes until a more intelligent government is elected who recognizes the enormous financial and societal benefit the space program yields to the U.S. when enabled to do so.

But, for now, the terminus between the blaze of the shuttle era and the frigid darkness is marching all to relentlessly across our consciousness. For months, reporters like Marsha Dunn and others without any apparent science background, have beat on NASA officials in press conferences with "touchy-feely" questions about: "what are you feeling," "how are employees feeling," "what does it feel like," etc., almost to the point of nausea.

With the on-time launch on July 8th, however, reality is all too in our face. And, frankly, it doesn't matter what answers the reporters get – many of us are pissed. Only an idiot would even think that asking a NASA leader "how you feel" in a public forum would get you a true answer. It would be stupid for them to do it!

If the NASA Channel isn't one which you have set up to watch normally – you definitely should now. If not to see the final docking, the final space walk, the final hatch closure, the final undocking, the final landing… the final press conference – the final EVERYTHING; then, surely to see a terrific and well done documentary which NASA-TV has produced and is narrated by Star Treck's William Shatner. They are airing it multiple times and it's something where you will be the looser if you don't make the effort to view.

To have Mr. Shatner narrate it is both fitting and poingant. The shuttle has "lived" Gene Roddenberry's vision of multi-national, multi-gender, multi-occupational, routine space travel into existence! The U.S. Space Shuttle Atlantis was the very vessel which opened the era of space detant by docking to the RUSSIAN Space Station MIR.

We just saw it launched for the thirty-third time to travel to the INTERNATIONAL Space Station. Can you comprehend, even for a little, what that means to us… and the world?

Today it sits peacefully docked at primary mating adaptor two (PMA2) as the thirty-seventh shuttle to visit the station a structure for which it can take sole credit! [Along with the Hubble Space Telescope and countless other projects.] It doesn't intend to undock until all 8200 pounds of its years worth of supplies have been safely stored on the station and its empty holds have been filled with items needing a return flight to earth. A twelve day (thirteen if we're lucky and have enough oxygen) mission in total.

A cadre of experienced astronauts were chosen for this 135th flight of a space shuttle, largely due to the short time-frame for training. And, despite its age, Atlantis is exactly how NASA intended it to be: better than it has ever been!

It seems as though the cosmos is smiling on Atlantis' final flight. It was slotted to end its career as only a "back-up" "launch-on-need" vehicle for a prior flight – but, national outcry miraculously found funding and safety work-arounds that enabled it to fly.

The luck of the draw caused it to be mated to an external tank which was made of stuff similar to a previous tank that had troubles and caused delays; so, this tank preventively underwent similar upgrades.

It also underwent an unusual "tanking test" to make sure the repairs were correct, which "fortuitously" revealed a completely unrelated minute piece of dust in the fueling valve that wouldn't let it work properly; and which, if the tanking-test hadn't been done, would have caused the launch to be scrubbed and delayed.

As a result, the test turned out great and the valve was proactively repaired; but then the weather at the launch pad was forcasted to be 70% likely to prohibit launch for days prior. Reporters badgered NASA to admit that they were likely to scrub or delay for weather. The internet was ripe with rumors and rumors of rumors that it wouldn't go as scheduled.

The largest crowd of "launch-watchers" ever to be assembled was anticipated to be so big that if there really was a weather-scrub NASA employees wouldn't even be able to make it home and back in time for a launch the next day!

Through it all, Bill Gerstenmeyer (headquarters), Mike Moses(program) and Mike Linebaugh (launch) had to respond over and over that "we are continuing to focus on the goal and follow established proceedures" and "we will launch when we can do so safely." It was as if every idiot reporter thought that if they just kept asking the same question over and over the answer would change.

The crowds did come and the weather was just as forecasted: 70% chance of prohibiting launch. However, what nobody except NASA seemed to understand was that – the forecast was 30% in favor of allowing launch!

The fueling and countdown was amazingly flawless – the flight directors rapid-fire "GO/no-go" poll was a resounding "GO" all around – the weather cleared a hole – the beany cap lifted and swung away – the launch director said his standard: "Godspeed Atlantis"

But, as if to make it absolutely clear from the outset that it was she who was running the show, when control was transfered to Atlantis' onboard computers she stopped the countdown at thirty-one seconds! The sensor which tattled on whether or not the beany-cap arm was locked out of the way was faulty and the ship wanted controllers to scramble one more time to check and make sure…

Cameras were tilted – years of practice and experience allowed the launch team to fly through its proceedures with lightning speed – and countdown resumed with time to spare. "T-minus twelve," water began to flow – "ten," sparks began to fly – "nine, eight, seven, six," engines ignited and the whole stack lurched sideways then back to center – and perfectly timed, "one" the Utah-produced solid rockets exploded alive – "zero," the eight massive bolts holding back the shuttle bursted apart on command and …

All that remained was for the veteran voices of NASA to say:

"Liftoff, the final liftoff of Atlantis. On the shoulders of the space shuttle, America will continue the dream" (George Diller-Kennedy);
"Atlantis spreads its wings one final time for the start of a sentimental journey into history" (Rob Navias-Houstin).

Learn A Little More

Atlantis Last Launch

[[ Sorry, apparently the vmixcore server which contained all these archives has terminated too. One would think NASA would be above all that but then again we didn't count on Obama either. ]]

More Than Tradition

Last Backflip


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