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Deep Impact: Launch Status Briefing
Tiffany Nail:
It's a privilege to have NASA launch manager Omar Baez here in the studio. Omar, thanks for stopping by.

Omar Baez:
Thanks, Tiff, it's an honor to be here to brief you on Deep Impact.

As we heard earlier, this mission required a lot of coordination between JPL and Kennedy Space Center. How important is a successful integration to the launch?

Tiffany, the integration's the most important part of the building blocks to get to a successful launch. The Launch Services Program, which is the program that you and I both work for, start the process about four or five years out, working this type of mission. And what we're doing is, these spacecraft are one of a kind. They're different shapes, they're different size, they're different weights, and we have to basically custom fit it into the different launch vehicles that we have and the different accommodations within the launch vehicles. We have a whole host of folks -- analysts, engineers -- that work these missions for us to make sure that we give the spacecraft a great ride to its intended destination. It's a real violent ride. Going into space is not a ride in your dad's Cadillac, it's a tough way up there. You go through extreme changes and accelerations from six or seven G's to minus three or four G's when you turn your engines off. When you stage, you go through some violent events. Then there's temperature changes and acoustics, and a whole host of things that can affect a real fragile spacecraft, and we've got to make sure that everything works and doesn't turn your spacecraft into a basket of parts. So, the integration is a huge, important part of this.

The other piece of this is the contract where we're, you know, going out and buying a rocket that costs 60, 70, 80 million dollars, it's not like going out and buying a car. It's a specialized way of going out and purchasing these things, and there's contract folks that are keeping us that work for the Launch Services Program out of jail. It's real easy to get in legal tangles when you're dealing in the multiple millions there, and we have a whole host of folks that work the financial and the contractual side of this early on out. We have these vehicles available for our use. The integration is a huge part, the contractual/financial part is another huge part, and towards the end is when we get the launch vehicle hardware finally cut, and that's, to me that's when the integration is basically done at that point. You've already set your parameters, you start cutting hardware, and the folks that cut this hardware, make these launch vehicles, they've been doing it for 40, 50 years, so they know what they're doing. This is, for this mission it's probably the 300-something Delta that's been built. So once the hardware starts getting cut, that's the simple part. It's the integration that's utmost important. You've got to get it right and you've got to do it right the first time. And it's certainly the most important part of our missions.

We do have a tape that we're going to show you, if you would roll that on the arrival of the booster and how we put that up, and how the rest of the...this is the first stage going up on Deep Impact. This was done the week of Thanksgiving. We put that up in the three stages before we broke for the holidays. And this is just the first stage. While I'm here, I'd like to say hi to some of the folks viewing us. I know there's a group in Strasburg, France, that's watching us from International Space University, and do I want to give a shout out to them, people studying space along the lines of our careers here, so... This is the GEMS going up, graphite epoxy motors, we put nine of them up on the Deep Impact mission. Three were put up right before the Thanksgiving day holiday, and when we came back after the holiday we put the other six up. And basically what we do is, we hang these up in the tower and then the tower moves it up around the launch vehicle, and these rockets or solid rocket motors get bolted to the first stage core.

Up on top of the first stage core, we'll put an interstage up, and the interstage is what this piece here, the second stage, will be resting inside of. We actually did have a problem with that interstage which caused us to delay the launch by about four days, 'cause some heat-treat problems in some of the brackets inside of there, so we decided to change out that bracket and it did cost us four days. We went from Jan. 8 to Jan. 12 because of that change-out. This is the Deep Impact spacecraft arriving at the pad, it's inside this canister here. We call it the can, spacecraft can, and it will go inside the white room. The white room is a clean environment. We'll take the can apart and it'll be covered in a protective shroud we call the "shower curtain," and all this will get bolted together and the spacecraft will be exposed once we have a clean environment in that room.

You'll notice here that the folks are donning head gear, and that's because we're going to expose the spacecraft here shortly, so the requirements for keeping it clean get a little bit more stringent. This is the Deep Impact spacecraft there, exposed, and you see the two fairing halves coming together there. And that's what protects the spacecraft on ascent, and we take it off shortly after the second stage starts to burn. It's just to keep the spacecraft protected. And that concludes my briefing on the processing of the Delta II Deep Impact mission, and we're looking forward to this launch on Wednesday.

Omar, thanks so much for being with us today. Good luck on launch day.

Thank you, Tiffany.

Coming up, we'll be joined by Dr. Lucy McFadden, professor of astronomy at the University of Maryland. She's going to explain the science and technology involved in the Deep Impact mission. But first, here's a dazzling animation of the impactor as it collides with Comet Tempel 1.