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DAMON TALLEY: Welcome to the show.
I'm your host, Damon Talley of NASA's Digital Learning Network.
We're counting down to the scheduled launch of space shuttle Endeavour on its STS-126 mission and I'm here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to take you behind the scenes.
Endeavour is embarking on NASA's 27th flight to the International Space Station, orbiting more than 200 miles above us. During the 15-day mission, a well-trained astronaut crew will install several pieces of key hardware and conduct four spacewalks outside the station.
More on that coming up. But first there's no better place on Earth to get a space shuttle ready to fly than right here at Kennedy Space Center. Let's find out what makes America's Spaceport so unique.
Preparing any vehicle for a thundering ride into space is no easy task. It requires a prime location, massive facilities, just the right tools and equipment and of course, a stellar work force. For every one of NASA's human spaceflights, that place is Kennedy Space Center.
Complex and challenging space missions begin here, amid this primitive Florida landscape, where eagles soar and alligators roam.
Launch Complex 39 is made up of a collection of facilities custom-designed for preparing, launching and landing the space shuttle.
The 3-bay Orbiter Processing Facility is where the space shuttle orbiters spend most of their time. Each bay provides access to every square inch of the spacecraft for the technicians who prepare it for flight.
With its 8-acre footprint, the Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, is one of the largest buildings in the world. It dominates the Kennedy skyline and is visible across Florida's Space Coast. In this mammoth facility, the shuttle orbiter is joined with its external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters.
The shuttle's twin launch pads, 39A and 39B, have a prime beachside location a perfect place to begin a mission.
And when the shuttle comes home, its preferred landing site is the Shuttle Landing Facility just west of the VAB. Longer and wider than commercial runways, it was specially designed for the high-speed landing of this unpowered, winged spacecraft.
On STS-126, Endeavour is carrying a reusable logistics module called Leonardo. It's packed completely full of supplies and equipment that will allow the station to support a six-person crew starting next year. Let's take a look.
There are extra crew sleeping bunks and more exercise equipment and a new addition to the station's regenerative life support system. The Water Reclamation System will recycle wastewater. It will work with the Oxygen Generation System to generate drinking water and breathable air for the station's residents.
In addition to the slate of work planned inside the station, there also will be a lot of work outside. The mission will include four spacewalks to make repairs and upgrades to the station's two solar alpha rotary joints. These joints are essential, because they allow the station's massive power-generating solar panels to track the sun.
It's an ambitious mission with a full timeline but the seven-member flight crew is up to the task.
Commander Chris Ferguson is making his second spaceflight. Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Steve Bowen and Shane Kimbrough are the flight's first-time flyers. The lead spacewalker, Mission Specialist Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, flew with Ferguson on her first spaceflight, STS-115. Mission Specialist Don Pettit is returning to the station he served as NASA's space station science officer on Expedition 6. And Mission Specialist Sandy Magnus will relieve station Flight Engineer Greg Chamitoff, becoming part of Expedition 18.
Now, when a shuttle returns from space, a lot of work goes into refurbishing and repairing it before it's ready to fly again.
Space shuttle Endeavour's most recent mission was STS-123 back in March. I recently visited Kennedy's Orbiter Processing Facility to find out how a highly skilled team of shuttle technicians spent the past few months preparing Endeavour for STS-126.
I'm here inside the Orbiter Processing Facility with Ken Tenbusch, NASA flow director here at the Kennedy Space Center.
DAMON TALLEY: Ken, nice to see you today.
KEN TENBUSCH: Hi, Damon. Nice to meet you.
DAMON TALLEY: Ken, can you tell us exactly what is shuttle flow?
Ken Tenbush: Shuttle flow is taking that vehicle from the time that it has landed. It's rolled over here to the Orbiter Processing Facility and all the processing here, along with the external tank processing that's happening at the same time over in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Then, the solid rocket booster processing that's going on, as well the stacking, and getting that all ready and checked out and then bringing all of those components together in one overall integrated shuttle vehicle. Then, once you're at that point you do a checkout in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Roll that out to the pad. Do all the checkout there. Load the vehicle. Get it ready for flight. And then you basically a processing flow, from start to finish from that landing all they way on through to launch.
DAMON TALLEY: Now this is space shuttle Discovery behind us. Space shuttle Endeavour is already out at the pad. What happens to an orbiter in this Orbiter Processing Facility?
KEN TENBUSCH: In the Orbiter Processing Facility, what they do is, from the time that the mission is complete, they land here over at the Shuttle Landing Facility. They roll it over here in the Orbiter Processing Facility, and then they do all of that de-configuration work that they need to do. Checkout of all the systems, take sure that they are operating normally. Taking a lot of doors off. Looking at a lot of different areas. Tiles need to be removed there's a lot of tile that's damaged. And then what you're doing is, you take all those components apart, do all the checkout, and then you start putting the pieces back together again. At that point, you're going in and you're loading up certain things back into the payload bay. You're putting things back into the forward compartment. Aft compartment, you may have had to change out an auxiliary power unit, or something along those lines. But then, what you're doing is, once you're complete will all of that work, and you've got all the engines in the engines have to be installed. Doing all the closeouts, back of each of those particular areas, do a structural leak check when you're all finished. A weight CG (center of gravity) make sure that's all set up properly. Then you're ready to bring the orbiter transporter in. Mate that to the orbiter transporter ready to rollover then to the Vehicle Assembly Building.
DAMON TALLEY: Alright, so we've rolled over to the Vehicle Assembly Building, where we have some other components of the space shuttle that need to be connected, correct?
KEN TENBUSCH: Correct. Exactly. The orbiter comes over. At that point, you know, they've been processing in the Vehicle Assembly Building with the external tank and solid rocket boosters. So at that point the orbiter is lifted and then mated to the external tank. Then at that point they've got the vehicle all assembled one overall shuttle vehicle. Then you're, all of that is on top of the mobile launcher platform. So you've got that assembly all together. You can run a complete, overall functional check, from start to finish, of that integrated assembly. Then you're ready to bring the crawler-transporter in. Hydraulically crank up the crawler-transporter, and then roll out that entire assembly back out to the pad for that final bit of processing and readiness before you actually go to launch.
DAMON TALLEY: So those crawlers move the shuttles around. Didn't we have to do a rollaround? What is a rollaround?
KEN TENBUSCH: What we had to do, is we had to actually rollout to Pad B and process out at Pad B, while they were ready to process the orbiter for STS-125 over at Pad A. We were their rescue mission, is the way we say it. We had to be ready to launch within seven days of their launch because they were not going to station. They didn't have the benefit of getting those resources from station. So we had to be ready to launch quickly. After they were to launch, we were going to rollaround to Pad A and then finish off the rest of our particular processing flow and then get that ready for launch in November.
DAMON TALLEY: Where are you on launch day? And what is it like to see your orbiter launch?
KEN TENBUSCH: I am in the Launch Control Center in Firing Room 4, in this particular case for this launch that's upcoming. As far as the feeling it's just a feeling of jubilation. You know, I think about all of the work that went on, as far as putting that vehicle together and then I get to see it in the culmination of a beautiful launch. So just a very exciting moment all the way around.
DAMON TALLEY: Well Ken, thank you for your time today and good luck with the launch.
KEN TENBUSCH: Thank you, Damon. Appreciate it sir.
DAMON TALLEY: That's our show. You can follow the launch countdown live. Just tune in to NASA TV or go to www.nasa.gov/shuttle for the official launch blog.
You also can follow the action during our live launch webcast on NASA's Digital Learning Network. For that, check out dln.nasa.gov.
I'm Damon Talley. Thanks for watching.
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