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Arrival - Discovery lands at Dryden, prepared for Kennedy return
Sept. 23, 2005
 
Dryden's Mate/Demate Device was used to raise Discovery and then lower it onto the NASA 747 aircraft that ferried it across the U.S. to Kennedy Space Center, Fla. A summer storm delayed operations, above, illuminating the night sky. When Discovery landed Aug. 9, it marked a successful return to flight for the space shuttle program.

Image Right: Dryden's Mate/Demate Device was used to raise Discovery and then lower it onto the NASA 747 aircraft that ferried it across the U.S. to Kennedy Space Center, Fla. A summer storm delayed operations, above, illuminating the night sky. NASA Photo by Tom Tschida

Discovery's landing also marked the 50th landing of an orbiter at Edwards Air Force Base and Dryden. It was the 112th landing of the entire shuttle program.

Prior to Discovery's arrival, Endeavour was the most recent orbiter to visit Dryden, landing here following STS-111 on June 19, 2002. Discovery has landed at Dryden 13 previous times, including its last appearance on Oct. 11, 2000. Dryden also hosted the landing of each new orbiter on its maiden flight.

For the preparation, landing and turnaround of Discovery, Johnson Space Center, Houston, had a few dozen people at Dryden to join the more than 200 from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., beefing up the standing contingent of 50 people at Dryden dedicated to shuttle work. (See related story.)

Technicians close the orbiter's landing gear doors, a final step before Discovery can be hoisted. Image Left: Technicians close the orbiter's landing gear doors, a final step before Discovery can be hoisted. NASA Photo by Tony Landis

STS-114 Commander Eileen Collins, NASA's first female shuttle commander and a 1990 graduate of the Edwards Air Force Base Test Pilot School, made brief statements on the runway after landing and giving the orbiter a post-flight once-over. About six hours after touching down, five of Discovery's seven-member crew gave a press conference detailing the mission. (See related story.)

On the 14-day mission, astronauts re-supplied the International Space Station and tested new safety modifications made in the wake of Columbia's loss. Crewmembers completed three space walks, including one on which they took a closer look at gap filler in the orbiter's heat shield, removing filler from between the delicate tiles.

Joe D'Agostino, manager of space shuttle support operations at Dryden, said equipment and facilities have been upgraded since Endeavour's visit. The list of improvements is headed by refurbishment of the Mate/Demate Device, or MDD, one of just two that exist for maneuvering the orbiter atop the NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. The other is at Kennedy Space Center.

Dryden also has a new universal coolant transporter, a key piece of equipment in the convoy of vehicles that greet the shuttle. It is used to cool internal systems on the orbiter and the flight deck. The new unit replaces the aging cooling unit used previously and its much-less-mobile host, explained Mike Mercer. Mercer is acting site manager for United Space Alliance, NASA's contractor for day-to-day space shuttle operations.

Discovery is towed from the runway to the Mate/Demate Device, where it will be prepared for a piggyback trip on the NASA 747 to Kennedy Space Center. Image Right: Discovery is towed from the runway to the Mate/Demate Device, where it will be prepared for a piggyback trip on the NASA 747 to Kennedy Space Center. Photo courtesy Curtis Peebles

The new unit consists of a portable purge unit and two large generators that power it, positioned on a German-made Kamag truck. The Kamag truck is as big as four mobile homes lined up end to end and has wheels capable of moving the vehicle through tough maneuvers – including driving the vehicle sideways if necessary.

Another flight crew systems vehicle, which also is called a Dobbs unit because the truck is commonly used to deliver food and services for commercial aircraft, is used to unload shuttle cargo. It resembles a bread truck at first glance, but its rear box can be elevated to bring it even with the white room/stairs lined up to the orbiter's hatch for crew use in disembarking. It replaces a system shuttle workers called "the shark cage," with a truck able to more efficiently move payload from the orbiter, Mercer said.

The white room/stairs truck also was modified to allow the flight crew transfer vehicle to hook up more quickly, allowing experiments to be unloaded after the astronauts enter the crew transfer vehicle, which also is hooked up to the stairs/white room. In the crew transfer vehicle, astronauts receive medical attention as they exit the shuttle.

Discovery sits on its host NASA 747 for the journey to Kennedy Space Center. Image Left: Discovery sits on its host NASA 747 for the journey to Kennedy Space Center. NASA Photo by Lori Losey

Mercer said that USA workers have the enviable task of taking the astronauts' place on the orbiter after landing to complete tasks inside the vehicle until systems are no longer required to be running.

It takes a large team of diverse organizations to manage a shuttle landing, D'Agostino said. Some of these include the U.S. Department of Defense Manned Space Flight Office, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. and Colorado Springs, Colo., and Northern Command Contingency Operations, with security assistance from the U.S. Army's Fort Irwin, near Barstow, Calif., and China Lake Naval Weapons Center, Ridgecrest, Calif. China Lake personnel assisted with helicopter services and video support, and key support was provided by Edwards Air Force Base fire and security departments, disaster preparedness and flight operations personnel and meteorologists.

Dryden's Darrell Townsend and Gary Beard provided 24-hour shuttle support and Dryden's Health Unit, Life Support and Kay and Associates also were key, D'Agostino said. In addition, Dryden photo and video staff captured Discovery's landing, preparations for the return to Kennedy and departure, and Public Affairs personnel, with volunteer help, assisted 170 members of the media present for the landing and responded to community questions about the landing.

Bill Gries, Edwards Air Force Base Flight Test Center airspace manager and shuttle contingency coordinator, said the relationship between the Air Force and Dryden is exceptional.

"We have a great working relationship. Seven days prior to launch we knew who was going up and what the potential landing opportunities were. All this information is relayed to supporting personnel not only at Edwards, but China Lake, Vandenberg Air Force Base and Fort Irwin. Joe (D'Agostino) updated those and the response was great. We couldn't ask for it to be any better," said Gries, who was in Dryden's Blue Control Room for the landing.

The bulk of shuttle workers assigned to Dryden are employees of Lockheed Martin. They maintain and operate vehicles and equipment required when the shuttle lands here, said Lance Dykhoff, Lockheed Martin site manager for shuttle operations.

The 750-million-candle-power Xenon lighting that guides the shuttle to Edwards was the most visible evidence of Lockheed's work on the recent landing. In addition to a number of landing-light systems, employees also operate and maintain two Microwave Scanning Beam Landing systems, one on Runway 22 and the other on Runway 04, which are navigational aides that provide precision and final approach information to the shuttle pilot. That system provides the space shuttle with the capability to land automatically if pilots cannot see the runway due to weather.

Lockheed employees also maintain 50 generators used to power shuttle equipment, several vehicles – including a truck that refuels the convoy on the runway – and the NASA convoy command vehicle. In addition, they are responsible for maintenance of the MDD.

Often assisting the Lockheed crew is the Dryden Calibration Laboratory. Richard Elliott, AS&M, Calibration Laboratory lead, said the lab's function is to calibrate and repair test equipment to National Institute of Standards Technology specifications.

STS-114 was the first mission to fly since Feb. 1, 2003, when Columbia was lost on its return from STS-107 and its crew of seven perished. That crew included Mission Specialist David Brown, Commander Rick D. Husband, Mission Specialist Laurel Blair Salton Clark, Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist Michael P. Anderson, pilot William C. McCool and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon.

 
 
Jay Levine
X-Press Editor