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Behind the Scenes With STEREO's Launch Directors
08.02.06
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"Go For Launch Podcast"

You're listening to NASA Direct.

Spacecraft separation. We've released the spacecraft.

(applause)

George Diller: NASA's Launch Services Program is the conduit between thrilling science missions to faraway planets and the powerful rockets that provide a spacecraft's ride into space.

By the time a spacecraft is ready to embark on its journey to a distant orbit, the launch directors are preparing for the countdown to liftoff to send it on its way.

Chuck Dovale and Omar Baez take turns giving the "go for launch" on launch day. So, what's launch day like? Omar and Chuck describe it this way.

Launch day is a culmination of two or three years, four or five on some missions, of work that's gone into this final day of loading up this launch vehicle and putting the spacecraft up into, into orbit. So, it's kind of like your wedding day. You build up to it, and here it is, and it's today. And it's a very serious day and it'll impact that mission from here on out because you're sending it on its way.

Chuck: When I come in for, for launch day and launch night in the firing room. And I come in, I can see a frenzy of people going around, and I know it's going to be one of those nights. That's one. And the other side is, if it's quiet and the weather's good, and people just seem to be kind of, just now ramping up, ready for a count, it's nice to be able to ease into it and prepare for a somewhat relaxing countdown.

The launch day countdown is a carefully orchestrated dance between dozens of launch vehicle and spacecraft engineers. The launch director is in the mission director's center, keeping his finger on the pulse of activity as the final hours before liftoff unfold. He monitors a flury of activity in his headset, and conducts a series of readiness polls from the team.

Omar: This is the NLM, we are ready to proceed with terminal count at t minus twenty minutes.

SEVERAL VOICES COMMUNICATE COUNTDOWN PREPARATIONS USING NASA LAUNCH CODE

Omar: NASA team is ready to proceed at t minus twenty.

You have roughly seven or eight channels on at one time, so the one thing that we launch managers are very good at is filtering out conversations. We're able to sit there and absorb about seven or eight channels, and even be talking at the same time while we're listening to some of the stuff going on in the background.

JUMBLE OF SEVERAL VOICES TALKING AT ONCE

Omar: Can you imagine, if it's like seven or eight different conversations, all on a different topic possibly. And you're trying to pull this all together and make sure that everybody's talking about the right things at the right time and make sure that we're able to grasp that right recipe to be able to launch that day.

As the launch directors will tell you, there is no crystal ball to ensure success; they must rely on and trust in the team.

Chuck: Even though we practice, simulate problems prior to launches and dress rehearsals, you can't always predict what problem is going to present of itself on launch day.

VOICE 10: NLM, this is SMD on NLM net.

Omar: Go ahead, SMD.

VOICE 10: We do have a PCC issue on our power control console.

Omar: Is that going to be a problem?

VOICE 10: Still assessing.

Omar: The working relationship that Chuck and I have stems back roughly 13, 14 years. We're very comfortable with each other. We enjoy each other's professionalism, and vice versa when I do the role as the ALM, the assistant launch manager on his missions we're doing the same thing.

Chuck: I try to give Omar as much support as, as I would want myself. I want him to be as, as successful as he can be. There's kind of a lot of unwritten things that we do for each other that you probably, it's just a reflex.

George: In the final few minutes, launch is close, but until the "go" is given, anything can happen.

Chuck: T-3 minutes and counting is not the point of no return. It is the point where we're getting much closer, and the blood pressure is rising and, and, but it's an exciting time because again, we've gotten through a lot, a good part of the countdown and we're getting really close.

Omar: This is the NLM on the NLM net for ready to proceed with terminal count and final launch poll.

Omar: NASA CE?

NASA CE is go.

Omar: NASA MIM?

NASA MIM is go.

Omar: SMA?

SMA is go.

Omar: SMD?

SMD is go.

Omar: NAM?

NASA advisory team is ready.

Omar: Copy that. NASA Team is ready to proceed into terminal count and final launch readiness.

Omar: MD, NLM on mission management?

MD: Go ahead.

Omar: Sir, NASA is go for launch

Voice: Roger that, copy. NASA is go for launch.

VOICE COMMUNICATES NASA IS GO FOR LAUNCH.

And when there are just seconds left--

Chuck: The last 60 seconds, for me, are very exciting. A big part of my job has been completed. It's still quite nerve-wracking. You know, the pressure is up, the stress level is up. But with the launches I've done, and with rehearsals and stuff, I feel confident that I'll be able to do that.

Voice: Green board.

Voice: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 zero liftoff.

Omar: Working with the LSP team is, is something that's phenomenal. It's a disciplined program, in the sense that there's a structure to everything we do. It is great work for engineers. It's satisfying.

For NASA Direct at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, I'm George Diller.

This podcast was presented by NASA Direct.

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