NASA Podcasts

Cool Under Pressure
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Final Inspection Team:
"Final Inspection Team and Closeout Crew have entered the pad."

"Copy that."

It's shuttle launch day.

Dressed in bright-orange protective suits, an elite group heads to the launch pad where a space shuttle awaits liftoff.

But this crew isn't made up of astronauts heading for space it's the Final Inspection Team.

Tom Ford, NASA Final Inspection Team Leader:
"The Final Inspection Team has seven members on it. We have two photographers, we have an infrared camera operator, we have a member from safety, we have two people looking with binoculars at the exterior of the whole tank and taking notes on what we find, and we have a person sending photos, images back to the firing room on a laptop computer."

During a time when most workers are cleared from the launch pad, this group spends more than two hours inspecting the fully fueled vehicle.

Ivan Bush, United Space Alliance, Final Inspection Team Photographer:
"It's a beautiful sight up close. When you're there at that moment you know just a very few people are allow allowed the privilege of being out here. The crew, the people that support the crew to get them on board, and ourselves, that's all. So it's special. It's personal. It's very real."

The Final Inspection Team has the crucial and potentially dangerous job of inspecting the spacecraft, external tank and solid rocket boosters for the last time before launch.

They look for any unusual ice build-up caused by the super-cold propellants, earning them the nickname the "Ice Team."

The inspection includes looking for any debris or damage that could endanger the shuttle and astronauts after liftoff.

Using their cameras, binoculars, infrared sensors and other equipment, team members begin their inspection at the launch pad's 255-foot level.

They methodically work their way down the launch pad's service structure, checking in with launch control at each level.

"Right now we're at the 215 level, and this is a pretty extensive level for us because we head out on the haunch to do a close-up inspection of the tank and the SRBs, and we can go around on the RSS platform to look at the front side of the orbiter."

Along the way, they electronically send images back to the launch control center for analysis.

"Imagery is really what we're all about. We're responsible for giving the launch team, the launch director and the crew assessments via imagery of how the space vehicle is ready to go for flight. And post flight, how did it perform on post flight."

The team finishes its inspection at the base of the shuttle stack on the surface of the mobile launch platform.

There they check solid rocket booster aft skirts as well as under the external tank and main engines.

After departing the pad, they head back to launch control where the team leader reports their findings to the launch director.

Final Inspection Team:
"Final Inspection Team is complete and we will be rolling back to AB11."

"Copy that."

From consoles in the launch control center, they continue monitoring through the rest of the countdown using the remote cameras, as the shuttle's final checks are completed.

Then comes the pivotal moment when the main engines ignite, the solid rocket boosters thunder, and the spacecraft roars off the pad amid billows of smoke and steam.

Ground and on-board cameras capture the shuttle's ascent and separation from the boosters and tank, allowing the team to begin analyzing the results before ending a 12-hour day.

It's all in a launch-day's work for the Final Inspection Team.

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