Chapter 14: “Patience is a (difficult) virtue...!”
The Space Shuttle Discovery and her crew recently completed a highly successful mission, returning the Shuttle to flight after two years of delay. While a tremendous accomplishment by the entire NASA/contractor team, the external tank (ET) again shed some pieces of foam, this time unexpectedly. We will figure out why this happened and how to correct it. The Shuttle will not fly again until we understand and fix the problem. The ultimate length of the resulting launch delay is unknown (no earlier than March of 2006), perhaps more due to the results of Hurricane Katrina.
Image at left: Astronaut Clayton Anderson undergoes survival training in the Neutral Bouyancy Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center.
One of the difficulties with an astronaut training flow is the “upset” by delays such as caused by the ET foam shedding that the training teams must grapple with. The International Space Station Program has a ton of things they wish to accomplish in orbit for each expedition...experiments, spacewalks, repairs, you name it. The same is true for a space shuttle mission, but to a different degree. A space shuttle mission is more “self-contained” in that their mission objectives typically don’t get handed off to a later space shuttle mission. In the International Space Station world, what doesn’t get accomplished with one increment must be done by a following one; and the order may be important as it is driven by an internationally agreed to assembly sequence.
Imagine building a model airplane when you were young. Usually, the pieces need to be assembled in a particular order. Some could be done out of order, but it might complicate the overall process and cause you to perform some type of “work-around.” The International Space Station training team (one for each expedition) receives a specific “to do” list for a given expedition (from the Program) and then must determine how to best train the assigned crew to execute those tasks.
For example, back when the STS-114 Discovery mission was to fly in May, some jobs were allocated to the space shuttle crew (e.g., control moment gyro replacement) and others to the Expedition 11 crew (installation of automated transfer vehicle camera equipment). In addition, the proposed task list for the Expedition 12 crew had been established. But when the first delay (to July) occurred, these plans changed almost immediately. Tasks originally assigned to Expedition 11 that could be moved without impact, slid out to Expedition 12; tasks scheduled for Expedition 12 moved on to Expedition 13 and so on. It’s the “domino effect” personified!
Image at right: Astronaut Clayton Anderson trains in the Neutral Bouyancy Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center.
There is a silver lining in this gray cloud. I am working more closely with the space shuttle crew that is scheduled to deliver International Space Station crew members to orbit. That does make everything seem a bit more real and helps to keep the “training energy” at a high level. I can hear my mom, Alice, now clear as can be, “...have patience, son. Your time will come.” She’s right, you know!