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NASA's Launch Blog - Mission STS-116

NASA's launch blog was activated on Dec. 9, 2006 at 2:30 p.m. EST

NASA's launch blog was deactivated at 9 p.m. EST

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9:00 p.m. - After years in training and two launch countdowns, the crew of Space Shuttle Discovery has reached orbit and can get down to the business of completing the most challenging and complex International Space Station mission to date. Thank you for joining our coverage tonight. For the latest on this and future missions, visit NASA's Space Shuttle Web site.

8:56 p.m. - Main engine cut-off! Commander Mark Polansky confirms a good separation. "Discovery, Houston, we saw a nominal MECO," Houston Flight told Polansky.
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"You've got a lot of smiling faces up here," Polanksy responded.

8:55 p.m. - Discovery's speed is 14,000 miles per hour. The vehicle is downrange 643 miles from the launch site.

8:54 p.m. - Discovery could now reach Istres, France on one main engine at this point in the ascent. Discovery's speed is 11,000 miles per hour.

8:52 p.m. - The "Press to ATO" order has been given. Discovery now could land on two engines if necessary. The vehicle is now 290 miles downrange from the Kennedy Space Center with three good engines, three good auxiliary power units and three good fuel cells. So far all is going well and Discovery will roll into a heads-up orientation shortly.

8:50 p.m. - Five minutes remaining until Main Engine Cutoff. Discovery is downrange 110 miles from Kennedy Space Center as it climbs to orbit after lighting up the Central Florida sky.

8:49 p.m. - Discovery's twin solid rocket boosters have separated and are falling away, having completed their part of the mission.
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8:47 p.m. - Ten... nine... eight... we have a go for main engine start... five... four... three... two... one... booster ignition and liftoff of the Space Shuttle Discovery, lighting up the night-time sky as we continue building the International Space Station.
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Discovery will roll into a head-down position, with wings level and aligned with the launch pad.

Half a minute into its climb, Discovery's main engines will throttle down to about 72 percent. The engines will throttle back up to 104 percent about a minute into flight, just before the vehicle passes through maximum aerodynamic pressure known as Max Q.

Solid rocket booster separation should take place about two minutes into flight.

8:46 p.m. - T-31 seconds. The Ground Launch Sequencer is go for auto-sequence start, and Discovery's onboard launch sequencer is in control at this point.

At T-16 seconds and counting, the launch pad's water sound suppression system will begin flooding the mobile launcher platform with 300,000 gallons of water. This system protects the shuttle and its payloads from any damage caused by the energy generated during launch.

At T-10 seconds, flares are ignited under Discovery's three main engines to burn away any residual hydrogen that may have collected near the main engine nozzles.

At T-6.6 seconds, the main engines will begin firing in anticipation of liftoff.

8:45 p.m. - T-2 minutes and counting. The crew has been advised to close and lock the visors on their launch and entry helmets and initiate the flow of oxygen into their helmets.

8:44 p.m. - The orbiter's aerosurfaces and three main engines are being put through a pre-programmed series of movements.

8:42 p.m. - T-5 minutes and counting. APU pre-start is complete and the units are ready for activation. The orbiter's "black boxes" to record flight data are now in the recording mode and will continue to collect data from the shuttle systems performance during the flight.

8:41 p.m. - Pilot Bill Oefelien has been given the go for APU start. He is flipping the three switches inside Discovery's cockpit to start each of the three Auxiliary Power Units.

8:40 p.m. - The Orbiter Access Arm is being retracted from the space shuttle. In an emergency it could be returned to its extended position in as little as 28 seconds if necessary. The White Room, which only hours ago provided access to Discovery's crew module, is at the tip of the Orbiter Access Arm.

8:38 p.m. - T-9 minutes and counting. Nine minutes until the first nighttime launch of a space shuttle in four years.

8:34 p.m. - Launch Director Mike Leinbach polled his team and launch is "go" all the way. He told Commander Polansky that 48 hours makes all the difference and he wishes them good luck and Godspeed.
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"We're looking forward to lighting up the night sky and rewiring the ISS," replied Polansky.

Standing by to release the hold.

8:33 p.m. - NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding has polled the Launch Team and the team is "go."

8:32 p.m. - The Mission Management Team has been polled and all members have given a "go" for launch.

8:29 p.m. - Houston has contacted Discovery to advise the crew that all three transatlantic abort landing sites are go, but they will go with Moron, Spain as the preferred site.

8:18 p.m. - The countdown clock is holding at T-9 minutes, and there are about 20 minutes left in this last built-in hold. The final prelaunch polls by Mission Management Team Chairman LeRoy Cain, NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding and Launch Director Mike Leinbach should be taking place shortly.

8:03 p.m. - Launch Director Mike Leinbach has announced that we will aim for our preferred launch time in the middle of tonight's window. Again, 8:47:35 p.m. is the preferred launch time.

8:00 p.m. - We are inside the T-9 minute built-in hold. Everything continues to go well with the countdown tonight.

Did You Know?
This mission to the International Space Station will be one of the most complicated ever. The seven shuttle astronauts and three space station astronauts will work with flight controllers at Johnson Space Center, Houston to reconfigure the station's electrical power and cooling systems. + Read More

7:53 p.m. - T-9 minutes and holding for approximately 45 minutes.

7:50 p.m. - T-11 minutes and counting. We are just two minutes away from entering our final built-in hold.

7:48 p.m. - The weather officer continues to report that we are "green" on all constraints, meaning the weather is still acceptable for liftoff. The countdown is proceeding as expected and we are on target for launch at 8:47:35 p.m.

7:47 p.m. - Exactly one hour to go.

7:44 p.m. - T-18 minutes and counting. Commander Mark Polanksy has reported that the transitioning of the back-up computer is complete.

7:42 p.m. - T-20 minutes and counting. There is only one hold remaining, at the T-9 minute mark.

7:38 p.m. - The NASA Test Director is giving the launch team his final instructions for the remainder of tonight's countdown. There are four minutes remaining in the T-20 minute built-in hold.

7:32 p.m. - T-20 minutes and holding. This is a built-in hold lasting 10 minutes. The countdown will resume at 7:42 p.m.

7:30 p.m. - The crew has been informed that their prime transatlantic abort landing site for tonight's launch will be Moron, Spain.

7:25 p.m. - The crew is receiving some instructions to update their flight checklists for launch.

7:19 p.m. - The Closeout Crew has left the pad and is heading back to the Launch Complex 39 area. All the roadblocks to the pad are being secured. At this time, the only people at Launch Pad 39B are the seven astronauts awaiting their ride into orbit at 8:47 p.m.

7:15 p.m. - At T-36 minutes and counting, we are just 16 minutes away from our T-20 minute hold. This will be a 10-minute, scheduled built-in hold. After that, there will be one hold remaining, at T-9 minutes for approximately 40 minutes' duration.

7:11 p.m. - The NASA Test Director will complete the Eastern Range open loop tests shortly.

Did You Know?
The SPACEHAB module is carrying 5,800 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station. + Read More

7:00 p.m. - At the Launch Complex 39 Press Site -- home of the Launch Blog -- the sound of the T-38 piloted by astronaut Steve Lindsey can sometimes be heard overhead, although it's almost impossible to see the aircraft in the dark. Lindsey is monitoring the weather tonight in the Kennedy Space Center area.

6:51 p.m. - T-60 minutes and counting. Everything continues to go as planned for tonight's liftoff of shuttle Discovery on a complex and critical mission to the International Space Station. The countdown is proceeding well and weather is shaping up.

6:41 p.m. - Welcome news from Shuttle Weather Officer Kathy Winters: With the crosswinds improving and other weather issues having cleared up, the revised forecast calls for only a 30 percent chance of weather prohibiting launch tonight. This is a dramatic improvement over previous forecasts, which indicated a 60-70 percent chance of the shuttle being grounded due to weather.

6:35 p.m. - The only weather issue we're still following is the crosswinds problem, and it is trending towards positive. The launch team is extremely hopeful that the winds will die down enough to allow launch tonight.

6:34 p.m. - The Closeout Crew has reported that the crew module is closed, latched and pressurized, and cabin leak checks have verified the integrity of the cabin door seal. With a little more than two hours remaining before liftoff, the astronaut crew is safely sealed inside Space Shuttle Discovery, awaiting liftoff at 8:47 p.m.

6:28 p.m. - In addition to the bright lights at the launch pad, a bright orange flame can sometimes be seen inside the pad perimeter. This is actually a safety feature: The flame burns away excess hydrogen in the area so it doesn't become a toxic hazard.

6:21 p.m. - With the entire STS-116 crew safely aboard Discovery, the Closeout Crew is finishing up in the crew module. Once the Closeout Crew members have completed those last procedures, they will close and latch the crew module and depart the launch pad.

Did You Know?
When the shuttle lifts off it will weigh 4,521,350 pounds.

6:16 p.m. - Air-to-ground voice checks are continuing between Mission Control in Houston and the Discovery crew at Kennedy to ensure that all communications are working as expected.

6:01 p.m. - The two solid rocket booster recovery ships, Freedom Star and Liberty Star, have reported on station in the Atlantic Ocean about 140 miles northeast of Kennedy Space Center, off the coast of Jacksonville, Fla. The ships will retrieve the boosters and return them back to the Cape in preparation for their trip by train to Utah, where they'll be readied for a future shuttle launch.

Additionally, the Ground Launch Sequencer (GLS) has been started. The GLS will control the final phase of the countdown to Discovery's launch and will monitor approximately 1,000 different measurements to ensure they stay within their predetermined limits.

5:59 p.m. - Now that both the commander and pilot are seated on the flight deck, control of the orbiter has been turned over to them. They are completing their comm checks. The countdown is proceeding smoothly and no technical issues have come up.

The Closeout Crew helps the astronauts with their gear and closes the hatch after they're securely seated.
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5:52 p.m. - Kathy Winters, launch weather officer, has given Launch Director Mike Leinbach the latest weather briefing. Her observations indicate that crosswinds seem to be improving, and astronaut Steve Lindsey in the Shuttle Training Aircraft is not reporting any cloud ceilings so far.

The sun is nearly gone, and Space Shuttle Discovery is illuminated against the darkening sky by the powerful xenon lights at Launch Pad 39B.

5:50 p.m. - The Ice Team has reported that its work is complete at the pad. After a careful, methodical inspection, the team found no foreign object debris that needed to be cleared.

5:46 p.m. - Mission Specialist Robert Curbeam will be the last astronaut aboard. His goodbye signs read, "Hi Eva!" and "Go Colts!"

5:44 p.m. - Like her crewmates, Mission Specialist and Chicago native Joan Higginbotham also held up a sign to friends, family and the world saying "Love all of you" and "Da Bears."

"It's only natural that she'd be a Bears fan," remarked NASA Launch Commentator Bruce Buckingham as Higginbotham prepared to board Discovery.

5:39 p.m. - Weather update: Crosswinds have been at or near the 15-knot limit and are still a concern. But there is hope these conditions will continue to trend in a positive direction for launch this evening.

5:36 p.m. - As mission specialist Nicholas Patrick finished getting ready to board, he waved to the TV camera in the White Room, then grasped hands with astronaut Christer Fugelsang and the two waved together.

5:32 p.m. - Now that Commander Polansky is seated, he is performing communications checks, or "comm checks," with the launch team here at Kennedy and also with Mission Control in Houston. As each of the crew members are seated, they will perform these same checks.

5:31 p.m. - As Christer Fuglesang prepared to enter the orbiter, he held up a sign written in Swedish, his native language, and waved.

5:27 p.m. - Pilot William Oefelein will be next to board Discovery. He'll take his seat on the flight deck next to Commander Polansky.

5:24 p.m. - As each crew member is suited for entry, orange glow sticks are tucked into the shoulder pockets on their upper arms. Like the bright orange suits, the glow sticks are intended to give the astronauts a means of identifying their locations in the unlikely event of an emergency landing in darkness. Next onboard is astronaut Sunita Williams, who held up a sign saying "Go Red Sox, Go Pats, Go for Launch" as she finished her preparations.

Williams will be joined on the middeck by Joan Higginbotham, who will be seated in the middle, and Christer Fuglesang on the other side.

5:18 p.m. - The astronauts have specific seating designations for each launch. Often the seating assignments are changed for descent. The shuttle flight deck and middeck can accommodate up to four seats each. As shuttle commander, Mark Polansky will be the first astronaut on board. He will have the forward-left seat on the flight deck. As he finished preparing to enter the orbiter, he held up a sign saying "hi" to his family.

5:15 p.m. - The STS-116 crew has arrived at Launch Pad 39B, where the seven astronauts are exiting the Astrovan. A few of them are taking one final look at the shuttle before they board the elevator of the Fixed Service Structure for the ride up to the 195-foot level. From there they will enter the White Room, make their final preparations, and then board the shuttle.

5:08 p.m. - The Astrovan just stopped briefly in front of the Launch Control Center, where astronaut Ellen Ochoa, head of Flight Crew Operations at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Chief Astronaut Jerry Ross exited the van and joined their colleagues in the Firing Room.

5:00 p.m. - The lights have been turned on at Launch Pad 39B, where the seven STS-116 crew members will arrive in 20 to 25 minutes. The Astrovan will make two stops: one to let out astronaut Steven Lindsey, who will be heading to the Shuttle Landing Facility, and the second in front of the Launch Control Center. Steve Lindsey, the weather pilot for this mission will alternately fly a T-38 training jet and the Shuttle Training Aircraft to monitor weather conditions up until launch. The weather coordinator for this mission is Dominic Gorie.

4:57 p.m. - The crew is leaving the suit-up room and heading for the elevator in the Operations and Checkout Building. This suit-up room is of historical significance since the same room has been used since the Apollo missions. As they walk, the astronauts are waved off by friends and employees as they exit the astronaut crew quarters and enter the elevator, and again when they walk out of the building and board the silver Astrovan.
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4:52 p.m. - T-3 hours and counting. The next scheduled hold is at the T-20 minute mark. We'll go into that hold at 7:32 p.m. for a duration of 10 minutes. Everything is still going as planned with today's countdown to the liftoff of Discovery on mission STS-116.

4:48 p.m. - The Final Inspection Team has arrived on the "zero level," or surface, of the mobile launcher platform. Also, a note on the weather: The forecast has been revised and the chance of weather prohibiting launch has improved slightly, down to 60 percent from 70 percent. Showers are no longer expected to be an issue, but clouds and crosswinds still require close monitoring.

4:34 p.m. - The Final Inspection Team is proceeding down to the 135-foot level at Launch Pad 39B.

4:33 p.m. - The astronauts are in the suit-up room at astronaut crew quarters, being helped into their launch and entry spacesuits by several suit technicians. These suits are extremely intricate and must be checked thoroughly to ensure they're functioning properly.

4:26 p.m. - The STS-116 crew members just received an updated weather briefing. The main concern is two cloud layers moving in off the Atlantic Ocean. Clouds are scattered at 35,000 feet and broken at 6,000 feet. The layers are being closely monitored. Crosswinds also continue to pose a problem, but the team is hopeful that they'll calm a bit by launch time. The winds have been running from the northeast at 9 to 17 knots, straight across the runway, but they have shown signs of backing off.

The Final Inspection Team has arrived on the 195-foot level. So far, the team members are reporting no environmental conditions that might prevent flight crew ingress.

4:20 p.m. - The team is activating the NAVAIDS.

4:05 p.m. - The Orbiter Closeout Crew has arrived at the White Room, a climate-controlled space at the end of the Orbiter Access Arm catwalk allowing access to Discovery's crew module. The Closeout Crew members will make the final preparations for the astronauts' arrival at the pad in about an hour and a half.

4:02 p.m. - The Final Inspection Team has completed its inspection of the 255-foot level and is now proceeding down to the 215-foot level.

Did You Know?
European Space Agency astronaut Christer Fuglesang was once a Swedish national Frisbee champion, holding the national title in "maximum time aloft" in 1978. Fuglesang will take one of his personal Frisbees to the International Space Station.

3:51 p.m. - The Final Inspection Team has arrived at Launch Pad 39B and is progressing up to the 255-foot level.

3:47 p.m. - At least two of the three transatlantic abort landing sites are available for launch. Only one is required, so we should not have any concerns regarding this requirement for today's countdown.

3:42 p.m. - The Final Inspection Team (also known as the Ice Team) has been given clearance to go to the pad to begin its inspection of the External Tank. The team's seven NASA and contractor personnel assess the integrity of the thermal insulation on the external tank. They also look for ice and frost formations on the tank, measure temperatures on various parts of the vehicle, and assess debris concerns on the vehicle and pad that could impact launch or flight safety.

During the two-hour inspection, team members take the launch pad's elevator from the surface of the mobile launcher platform up to the 255-foot level, and methodically work their way back down. Using binoculars and a telescope, the team can get a better look at hard-to-see areas. This launch marks the first use of a new ice detection machine.

The Orbiter Closeout Crew has also been given clearance to proceed to the pad. They'll enter Discovery's crew module through the climate-controlled White Room to make the final preparations for the astronauts' arrival at the pad at about 6 p.m.

Assisting the Closeout Crew are the Astronaut Support Personnel. Nicknamed the "Cape Crusaders," they'll help prepare the crew module for launch today. The team supporting today's launch is led by astronaut Barry (Butch) Wilmore as Prime and astronauts Michael (Bueno) Good, Kathryn (Kay) Hire, Jose Hernandez and Robert Behnken.

3:39 p.m. - Tanking is complete, with 500,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants loaded into Discovery's external tank. Both are in stable replenish and will remain there until the final minutes of tonight's countdown. Today's tanking operations took just under three hours total.

3:34 p.m. - Liquid oxygen fast-fill is complete and we are into the topping phase now.

3:18 p.m. - The external tank's liquid hydrogen supply is being topped off now, a good sign that tanking is drawing to a close. The liquid oxygen loading is also nearing completion. Both should be finished in the next 30 minutes.

Did You Know?
The STS-116 patch design depicts the shuttle rising above the Earth and the space station. The U.S. and Swedish flags trail the shuttle, depicting the international composition of the crew. The seven stars of the constellation Ursa Major are used to provide direction to the North Star, which highlights where the P5 truss element will be installed on the station. + View image

3:06 p.m. - In the dining room of the astronaut crew quarters, the crew members are sitting down to a snack and posing for pictures before climbing into their pumpkin-colored launch and entry suits. They'll also receive a weather update prior to their departure for the launch pad.
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Due to the delay in tanking activities, there may be a slight delay in the astronauts' arrival at the pad, but there is enough time in the countdown to allow for the crew to be ready to launch on time.

2:51 p.m. - At the time of Discovery's launch tonight, the International Space Station will be 51 degrees north, 2.1 degrees west over southern England near Southampton.

2:45 p.m. - At T-3 hours and holding, tanking operations continue as Discovery's external tank is filled with propellants for launch. There are no technical issues in work this afternoon, and although the launch team is behind on the timeline, there is sufficient time left in the countdown to catch up. The weather remains the big question mark, with crosswinds predicted to exceed the 15-knot limit.

Tanking should be complete in about an hour, and at 4:52 the countdown clock will pick up the count at the T-3 hour mark.

2:43 p.m. - The Eastern Range has been given the go to start open loop communication checks.

2:30 p.m. - Good afternoon, and thanks again for joining NASA's STS-116 Launch Blog. Space Shuttle Discovery stands ready for liftoff tonight at 8:47 p.m., provided the weather cooperates. The forecast for tonight calls for a 70 percent chance of weather preventing launch due to crosswinds and the possibility of showers in the Kennedy Space Center area. But weather is acceptable at all three of the shuttle's transatlantic abort landing sites in Spain and France.

Launch coverage begins with opening remarks by NASA Commentator Bruce Buckingham.
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Weather could continue to pose a problem for the next several days. There's a 60 percent chance of unfavorable weather on Sunday and Monday, and a 40 percent chance of weather preventing launch on Tuesday and Wednesday. Cloud cover, crosswinds and the potential for rain are the concerns cited in the forecast.

For now, though, the skies are blue and the sun is shining at Kennedy Space Center as the launch team presses on toward a liftoff tonight. Prior to the activation of today's Launch Blog, the following events took place: At 9:31 a.m. the Rotating Service Structure was rolled back to its parked position in anticipation of tanking. The Mission Management Team gave the go-ahead to proceed with tanking operations at 10:25 a.m.

After a record-breaking late start, filling of Discovery's external tank began at 12:46 p.m. with the chilldown thermal conditioning of the propellant lines and Discovery's internal plumbing. The chilldown prepares the systems for the shock of the nearly 500,000 gallons of super-cold cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fuels that are pumped into the enormous orange tank. The propellants began flowing into the tank at 12:53 p.m. The umbilical vent line provides continuous venting of the external tank during and after loading of the volatile liquid hydrogen. The vent line is disconnected from the vehicle at first motion and retracts vertically downward to a stored position.

Across the space center, in the astronaut crew quarters, the STS-116 crew members received their "wake-up call" at 11:00 a.m. and began their preparations for launch today. After breakfast and a weather briefing, they'll don their orange launch and entry suits and depart for the launch pad at about 5 p.m.

The MILA Tracking Station here on Merritt Island, Fla. has aligned its communications antennas with the launch pad, and initial communications checks with the Air Force-controlled Eastern Range are complete.

The countdown clock entered the T-3 hour hold at 1:52 p.m. This is a built-in hold lasting three hours.

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