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Astronauts recall mission
Sept. 23, 2005
 
From left, Dryden Deputy Director Steve Schmidt and Dryden Shuttle Program Manager Joe D'Agostino greet Discovery Commander Eileen Collins and the crew. Not a day went by that the Discovery astronauts didn't think of their fallen comrades from the Columbia mission.

Image Right: From left, Dryden Deputy Director Steve Schmidt and Dryden Shuttle Program Manager Joe D'Agostino greet Discovery Commander Eileen Collins and the crew. NASA Photo by Jim Ross

A picture of the Columbia crew was affixed to the commander's side of Discovery's flight deck. The small memorial wasn't a mission mandate for the Discovery crew, but for everyone on board, honoring Columbia's sacrifices was; the photo was posted out of respect for their memory and their mission.

"The Columbia crew was behind what we did," Commander Eileen Collins said at a press conference held at Dryden about six hours after landing at Edwards Air Force Base.

"The Columbia crew believed in what they did and believed in the space mission. I know if they were listening to us now they would most certainly want us to continue this mission."

Discovery's systems worked perfectly and "we felt very safe," Collins told the large media assemblage. "It was a significant accomplishment to get the shuttle flying again."

The Discovery crew pauses for a photo after giving Discovery her post-landing once-over. From left are Stephen Robinson, Commander Eileen Collins, Andrew Thomas, Wendy Lawrence, Soichi Noguchi, Charles Camarda and Jim Kelly. Image Left: The Discovery crew pauses for a photo after giving Discovery her post-landing once-over. From left are Stephen Robinson, Commander Eileen Collins, Andrew Thomas, Wendy Lawrence, Soichi Noguchi, Charles Camarda and Jim Kelly. NASA Photo by Jim Ross

For a rapt audience, five members of Discovery's crew recalled their experiences from the nearly 14-day space mission that included re-supplying the International Space Station and a space walk to attempt a first-ever repair on the orbiter in space.

Two crewmembers were still undergoing post-flight medical exams and were not present for the press conference.

The STS-114 crew included Collins, Jim "Vegas" Kelly, who was the pilot and manned the Shuttle's robotic arms during the repair, and Mission Specialist Soichi Noguchi of Japan, who completed three space walks and was a television specialist for documentation of the mission.

Also on board was Steve Robinson, the flight engineer and systems expert who completed three space walks – including one in which gap fillers were pulled from Discovery's thermal protection system tiles. Wendy Lawrence was chief of transfer of materials to and from the orbiter and space station. Charlie Camarda transferred approximately 12,000 pounds of cargo, equipment and supplies from Discovery to the space station in his logistics role, manned the robotic arm and completed day two inspections with Andy Thomas.

Astronaut Steve Robinson, at right, looks at where, during a space walk, he removed gap fillers from the thermal protection system tiles on the orbiter's belly. Also inspecting the orbiter are astronauts Jim 'Vegas' Kelly, left, and Japan's Soichi Noguchi. Image Right: Astronaut Steve Robinson, at right, looks at where, during a space walk, he removed gap fillers from the thermal protection system tiles on the orbiter's belly. Also inspecting the orbiter are astronauts Jim "Vegas" Kelly, left, and Japan's Soichi Noguchi. NASA Photo by Jim Ross

Crewmembers acknowledged that while the mission was successful, much work remains. For example, a piece of foam that was shed at launch from the external tank – but which did not inflict damage on the orbiter – will be examined by STS-114 mission managers. NASA has postponed the next Shuttle launch no earlier than March 2006.

"People around the country were praying for us and their prayers were answered. We'll find out exactly what happened (to cause the foam divot to be shed) and find a way to fix it," Collins said.

On the whole, the astronauts said they were impressed with the orbiter's condition after looking it over out on the Edwards runway.

"I was amazed how clean it was – it was the cleanest I have ever seen it (after a mission)," Camarda observed. "Damage to the shuttle was minimal. Foam came off and we have to look at that. I knew the probability and risk (of a shuttle mission) and I accepted the risk. We'll clean up the external tank so that it doesn't 'liberate' foam."

Camarda was optimistic that future missions will have greater flexibility for performing in-space repairs.

"We touched on repair techniques for tiles, and we'll be able to fix reinforced carbon-carbon tile. We may be able to repair something as difficult as the (wings') leading edge in orbit," he said.

Robinson shared Camarda's optimism about the prospect of additional repairs being possible in space, which will benefit future long-duration missions.

"Things are going to fail. Things are going to fail during the violence of launch, or maybe on the way there (to a destination in space) and they need to be repaired. We're good at repairing things on the inside. What we haven't done much of, is replacing or repairing things that aren't really designed to be repaired," he said.

"We took the first baby steps in that direction on this mission. We got right up close to the vehicle. The operation itself was simple, but you have to be very careful. There were two delicate things in very close contact – the underside of the orbiter, and in this case, me. You have to realize that Wendy Lawrence was flying this arm; Jim Kelly was helping out with camera views. She had no windows. She was inside the space station and it's like flying a jet by watching TV. This was a very delicate operation she performed," he explained.

During the mission, crewmembers said they were not concerned about damage sustained by the thermal protection shield blanket on the orbiter's front left exterior.

"I wasn't concerned about that blanket damage at all. There was consideration of a fourth space walk (to further examine the area); it was a good decision not to do that," Collins said.

For the most part, the astronauts said that during STS-114, their time was largely spent just staying focused on work.

"When you're flying, you have tasks and you're busy, focused on the mission." Collins said.

During re-entry preparations the astronauts were busy with related tasks, but not so busy that the Columbia crew was far from their thoughts.

"There was a moment of trepidation right before Eileen hit the 'execute' on the de-orbit burn, because once you do that you're coming home," Kelly said. "There was a moment of reflection on the Columbia crew."

Several crewmembers also described their pride in participating in the mission and the excitement of flying in a space shuttle.

"It was a great honor participating in this mission," Noguchi said. "It was a great opportunity for an international astronaut to join a great American crew and do the tasks on space shuttle. Hopefully other foreign nationals will have such an opportunity. Columbia is in our minds during mission, but I concentrated on what I should do."

For Kelly, there was no doubt about what constituted his favorite part of the mission.

"I enjoyed watching the world go by, and I enjoyed the challenges," he said. "There are a lot of game-day challenges. I thrive on those, and what we did was a success."

Collins said the view of Earth from space was her fondest memory.

"This experience that we had was just absolutely wonderful – breathtaking, and a challenge. It was a huge achievement," she said. "The human side of being in space is something I wish I could share with all of you. I wish I could have taken all of you up there with us.

"We saw some of the most beautiful parts of the Earth. During the day we flew over North American, Europe, Africa, Asia, the Pacific Ocean and Australia. At night we saw the Southern Lights. In fact, we flew through the Aurora Borealis and beautiful, moving lights with colors. We saw many sunrises and sunsets."

Concerning future shuttle missions, Collins said obstacles remain but that NASA will be ready.

"The shuttles will not fly forever; we do see signs of aging," she said. "Airplanes' age is just like people age. We're going to continue to fly the shuttle until we finish our commitment to the International Space Station. I think that the work that's been done on the shuttle program has been fantastic.

"I accepted the risks to fly this flight. I was right in there with the controversies and issues on what should be fixed and shouldn't be fixed. We did all the right things. We fixed what needed to be fixed. We realize more work will have to be done. Eventually the shuttle will make its last flight and that will be a sad day, because I believe the space shuttle program has been very successful."

And, she said, the mission of space exploration must continue.

"This mission was a very important step toward exploring space and making life better for everyone. We all believe in space exploration. Space exploration is a fantastic part of the human experience and people must continue to support it."

 
 
Jay Levine
X-Press Editor