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Clean Room Interview with Mike Weiss
Studio Interview with HYTHIRM TEAM
- Debi Tomek
- Tom Horvath
STS-125 Launch

Days from launching last fall, STS-125 was postponed when the Hubble science computer failed. NASA EDGE talks to one of the Hubble Space Telescope’s key masterminds, Mike Weiss, to find out how NASA pulled together to extend the life of one of its greatest achievements. Plus, after their success during STS-119, HYTHIRM visits the NASA EDGE Studio to demonstrate their program. NASA EDGE cross training begins in earnest as the Co-Host steps behind the camera to capture the brilliance of a NASA Space Shuttle launch.


CHRIS: Welcome to NASA EDGE.

BLAIR: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

CHRIS: This is our special edition STS-125 Vodcast.

BLAIR: We wanted to capture this real important story. We’re here with Mike Weiss at NASA Goddard, in the clean room. It’s an interesting story. Back in September, right before Hubble SM4 launched the Hubble Science computer failed.

MIKE: Right.

BLAIR: And I was sad. I was in mourning and I called Mike to express my condolences. He surprised us with a lot of information. Mike, what exactly did you and the Hubble team do when you were faced with this complex problem?

MIKE: We were all loaded into Atlantis, all 22,300 lbs. of our hardware. We were ready to go. It was 17 days from launch. It was a beautiful, spectacular fall day. We were all driving to the airport to fly to Houston for our very last simulation. We got a call from our control center saying, we just think we had a hard failure on the science computer. You guys better turn around and come back to the control center. We all jumped on our cell phones, called each other and decided almost everybody would go back to the control center and deal with that failure. A couple of us flew to Houston so we could continue the simulation.

BLAIR: What actually does it do for the Hubble?

MIKE: It is the thing that sends all the commands to the instruments, takes the science data and formats it and sends it back to the vehicle for transmission to the ground, so all the commands and all the data flow through SIC & DH.

BLAIR: So in other words without this device…

MIKE: Without it we could have a fully functioning spacecraft orbiting the earth but no science data flowing. Hubble has five science instruments onboard. The agency made the instant decision to postpone the mission, giving us the fighting chance of pulling the flight spare out of storage and getting it ready for flight. The team instantly responded. We were pulling hardware out that very day. The folks in the water tank were looking at the procedures for doing this job. They were modifying hardware in real time at the water tank. It demonstrates the resiliency of this agency to respond to situations like this.

CHRIS: How long had that been in storage?

MIKE: Since about 1992. That’s when we took delivery of it. Flight spare was taken delivery in 1992. We absolutely didn’t want to fly this mission and leave Hubble Space Telescope with zero fault tolerance to science. There was just no way the agency could do that. We took a little bit of time to figure out what we could do to reconfigure what we had for flight, get it tested and back down to Kennedy. And also figure out how to get it on board this flight and get it into the mission. That was no easy task. We knew with a little extra time the crew had a fighting chance of getting a little more efficient at doing their EVA task. We brought the crew up here once a month from September to now to continue training on the instrument repairs and on SIC & DH. The team didn’t stand down at all. We were plenty busy. We went back into the water tank four more times, continued to train. We did a lot of testing here at Goddard on the SIC & DH, environmental testing, performance testing. We brought the crew in here so they could see the flight hardware, take their flight tools, put them on the flight hardware. The crew went back in our high-fi simulator and continued training on the ACS repair task. We came up with a few creative ways to make the task go a little bit faster.

CHRIS: Take us through your mindset when you get the word that there’s a failure on Hubble. What is going through your mind at that point as a manager? How am I going to do this daunting task in just seven months?

MIKE: On one of our previous flights we had a reaction wheel fail 3 months before the flight. We managed to pull that out of storage, get it tested and actually flew it in the crew cabin and got that on board.


MIKE: It was actually the last mission, SM3B. Mike Massimino did that task. We know this team knows how to respond very quickly. We also know they are extremely creative. As a manager, we knew to give our team time to let them think and to work.

CHRIS: The great thing about this mission is you have Mike Massimino, Astro_Mike, for you twitter fans out there. You have Mike Massimino and John Grunsfeld, who have serviced the Hubble before.

MIKE: Twice.

CHRIS: Twice. So you have some good experience out there of course with Scooter and Ray J as a pilot and of course, Megan, Mike, and Drew are going to be the new astronauts.

BLAIR: Which is really interesting to think they’ve gone through this before. Is it a good idea to have Mike, maybe he’s jinxing the whole thing. Don’t tell him I said that ‘cause he’s a tough guy. That’s just a fantastic story and that’s why we wanted to come talk to you today about this. In my mind it was over but it just goes to show that your team gets together the second you know and everyone pulls together and gets it done.

MIKE: They responded brilliantly and they also came up with a way to get it on board our equipment which was already down at Kennedy. We had taken it out of Atlantis. Fortunately there was a physical spot on the MULE carrier, the Multi-Use Logistics Equipment carrier, the one that flies in the back. The folks at Kennedy figured out how to mechanically attach it. The folks here were testing it. The astronauts were training. The EVA folks were figuring out how to do the task and we just walked through it. At the end of the day, we delivered it early to Kennedy. We got it onboard the MULE. The crew went down and saw the flight hardware and flight configuration. Right now our flight hardware is ready.

CHRIS: Mike, that was a fascinating story. Do you want to head down to the launch?

MIKE: You bet.

CHRIS: Let’s go do it.

BLAIR: Let’s go to Kennedy. You’re watching NASA EDGE

CHRIS: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

CHRIS: Let’s go.

BLAIR: Yeah, let’s go.

MIKE: Blair, luggage… your luggage.

CHRIS: Yeah. See you later.

BLAIR: Uh… with all this luggage they should have tried to squeeze some of this in the payload bay. Ah! Oh! That’s not good. Ugh, thank goodness we’re only going to Florida. Ugh, oh.


CHRIS: Welcome back to NASA EDGE.

BLAIR: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

CHRIS: We’re here to talk about an exciting program called HYTHIRM and with us we have Debi Tomek, who is the project manager and Tom Horvath, the principal investigator.

BLAIR: What is HYTHIRM? I did my research but I would like to hear what you guys have to say.

DEBI: HYTHIRM is an acronym. We use a lot of acronyms with NASA, so of course we had to have one here. But acronym stands for Hypersonic Thermodynamic Infrared Measurements.

BLAIR: Makes sense.

CHRIS: What does that mean, Tom?

TOM: [sighs] What we’re trying to do is take a picture of the shuttle when it reenters where we can look at it and infer from the picture how hot the vehicle was, measure the surface temperature.

CHRIS: And what’s the purpose of that?

TOM: After the Columbia accident investigation, we had a sensitivity to damage. The lower surface of the shuttle here is comprised of over 10,000 of these little individual tiles that are bonded to the lower surface.

DEBI: This is a non-damaged one.

TOM: This is what protects the shuttle astronauts from the heat during reentry.

BLAIR: From the heat, okay.

CHRIS: What’s the difference between this tile and the one here? I see a protuberance here.

BLAIR: That’s the door stop version of the bump.

DEBI: Speed bump.

BLAIR: Speed bump. Yes, very good.

TOM: When these tiles are butted up against each other, it sits like this. You don’t even see this thermal barrier. Occasionally during launch, there’s a lot of shaking, rocking and rolling…

BLAIR: I can’t imagine that.

DEBI: What would be causing that?

TOM: And what happens is this gap filler will come out with the flow. We’ll see that on orbit with the pictures. You guys have seen a rock or big boulder in the middle of a stream. When the water level is really high water level is flowing over the rock but it’s still pretty smooth. But when the water level is really low that boulder sticks out of the water and creates a lot of turbulence, white water. For a kayaker, they love that but for an aero-thermo guy like myself…

BLAIR: Or astronauts.

TOM: Or an astronaut.

CHRIS: This is representing a gap filler.

DEBI: A gap filler. We wanted to understand better how it was behaving with these gap fillers. You guys have heard in the media about the gap filler problems. We even saw an EVA by Steve Roberts where they repaired one. What we’ve done is we’ve called this a Detailed Test Objective, a DTO BLT, Boundary Layer Transition, where the HYTHIRM’s sister experiment to this BLT DTO… Sorry for all the acronyms.

BLAIR: Did you say BLT? I’m hungry now. I need lunch.

CHRIS: That’s a good call.

DEBI: Boundary Layer Transition. So what they’ve done is taken a tile, altered it and put a fixed protuberance on there. It’s a quarter inch.

TOM: The image you’re looking at here was taken on a scale model, approximately that size in our wind tunnels here at Langley. We put a bump at model scale in the appropriate location of the wing. This data we actually measured.

CHRIS: From a wind tunnel?

TOM: From a wind tunnel in our ground test facility.

BLAIR: I understand how you did that in a wind tunnel but with STS-119, you’re coming in out of orbit.

CHRIS: Why don’t you demonstrate how you took that picture.

DEBI: We can.

BLAIR: I can fly the shuttle. Sure.

DEBI: We can do that.

BLAIR: Because I’m a skilled pilot.

CHRIS: You’re going to…?

BLAIR: Yeah, I’ll be the shuttle.

TOM: Is this your first reentry?

BLAIR: No. I’m actually very skilled. I’ve done this on a simulator many times.

CHRIS: Tom, are you okay with this?

TOM: Yeah.

DEBI: We have a scaled P3 Orion.

BLAIR: Now granted it is in the simulator.

TOM: Now you’ve been docked at the Space Station and you’re getting ready to do the burn on the engines.

BLAIR: So I do that. It pitches me over like this.

DEBI: Yes.

BLAIR: Right? I bleed off a little speed.

TOM: You’re initially at about 400,000 feet, mock 25.

BLAIR: And now I want you to see my good side. What’s the P3 doing?

DEBI: The P3 is coming in running a race track pattern. It’s at about 28,000 feet. You’re at right when it captures it at about 180,000 feet. You’re coming in swinging around.


DEBI: What we do is bring it around to what we call the closest approach.

BLAIR: Okay.

DEBI: All the cameras are right here on the starboard side of the P3. All the cameras are looking at the belly. At this point we’re probably 23 nautical miles.

BLAIR: I was curious about that because the scale isn’t correct here.

DEBI: 23 nautical miles capturing the belly and flying tandem. Capturing a total of about 8 minutes. It’s running kind of like a fat paper clip pattern, race track pattern is what we’d call it. We’re still able to see the belly when it’s out here. The cameras still have somewhat of an optical view.

BLAIR: You mentioned on the last mission where you actually got some data where there were weather concerns that allowed full even shot here.

DEBI: Right. There were a lot of high cirrus clouds where we were. They were concerned we weren’t going to get anything, but the sky somewhat opened up. They were able to capture horizon to horizon, a total of nine minutes of video from the 180,000 feet when you’re up there, running the race track coming down; the closest approach 23 nautical miles. The nice thing was we were able to see the belly the whole time.

TOM: The challenge was… Debi, you’re aircraft is traveling at 300 miles/hour. When the shuttle is flying overhead and we’re looking at it during it’s closest approach, the shuttle is traveling in one second over a mile.


TOM: In one second.

DEBI: This particular STS-119 we flew a one over wave-off. This crew had planned to run the race track down north of Cuba, south Key West. They had to deploy to a different location in less than 90 minutes because of the one orbit. They had to change what we call their test support position. They had to redeploy to that different location then start that pattern up and wait for it to swing by having been fed a whole new trajectory based on the one orbit wave-off. The expertise of this crew flying this P3… there’s just nobody like them.

BLAIR: After this at this stage, the Orbiter is off to land.

DEBI: Right.

BLAIR: And where do you land?

DEBI: The P3 also lands at Kennedy on what they call the “skid strip” or they land at Patrick’s Air Force Base depending on where there’s availability. Part of our HYTHIRM team is deployed down there also. We upload the data from their data systems onboard.

BLAIR: I’m going to land back at the studio desk.

CHRIS: Thanks for the demonstration. That was pretty cool.

BLAIR: Orbiter landed safely, by the way.

TOM: Got the gear down?

BLAIR: Oh yeah. I got the gear down and everybody’s home safe.

CHRIS: What did the data tell you compared to your wind tunnel data?

TOM: It was fantastic within a few hours. Debi holds up her cell phone.

DEBI: Our very first image. And what was so exciting was the whole mission planning phase of it we thought what we were going to capture was what you’re seeing right there, on that surface.

BLAIR: With the protuberance right here.

DEBI: Right. The turbulent wedge created by the fixed protuberance on the tile. What we saw in our very first images was not only had we captured that, which was our stretch goal, but we had captured what we call an ABLT, an Asymmetric Boundary Layer Transition that was occurring.

TOM: A very small imperfection, could be as small as a tenth of an inch, and it caused an area of high temperature heating much larger than what you see on that wing.

DEBI: Which we did not expect to see.

TOM: Very dramatic. There are a handful of thermal couples, temperature sensors, located at strategic spots on the bottom of the shuttle. We’re able to correlate the appearance of when this area of turbulence appeared. We can actually see Orbiter deflect its control surfaces. There was never any safety of flight issue but you can actually see the responding, the computer sensing…

DEBI: …to account for the shift in the loading because of the BLT.

CHRIS: The ABLT, did that effect your data at all?

TOM: Actually no it didn’t. It was on the opposing wing. I viewed it, the team viewed it as bonus data.

DEBI: A major bonus.

TOM: Not only did we captured the heating temperatures within the flight experiment but we now have data in which we can go back and look at our tools to predict when this occurs and when it does occur, how hot the shuttle gets.

BLAIR: How long did it take you to figure out what it was that caused that?

TOM: Instantly. Based on our ground based test, we’ve done a lot of testing similar to that. I think some of the team thought is was the sun reflection originally but when Debi…

DEBI: That’s what the Cast Glance crew thought at first as they were capturing it. They thought it was the sun reflecting off the surface.

TOM: Debi pulled me aside and showed me. I knew right away what it was.

BLAIR: So HYTHIRM really knocks one out of the ball park in the STS-119.

CHRIS: On the first go around. That’s pretty good.

BLAIR: That’s awesome.

DEBI: And what’s interesting, we just demo’d the pattern Cast Glance Because they were able to have such a good optical view at those higher mocks, we actually see that ABLT develop, fully develop to full transition over that trip.

TOM: That’s important.

DEBI: That’s something that’s never been captured before.

TOM: To know when it happens and when it does happen what is the area of influence.

CHRIS: I understand you’re going to be doing not with the protuberance but you’re going to be imaging Atlantis in STS-125.

TOM: This time around in addition to the aircraft we going to have a land-based telescope that will be sitting on the west coast of Florida.

DEBI: The tricky part about HYTHIRM we have all these optical assets and we get these trajectories fed to us at the last minute and we’ve got to deploy them to the right spot.

BLAIR: I can see you guys in a F-150 driving around with a telescope on the back.

DEBI: Pack it up; one minute wave-off.

CHRIS: Trying to find the right spot.

DEBI: It like that with the mobile team.

BLAIR: I could be on that team.

CHRIS: Maybe we should.

DEBI: We could put you down there.

BLAIR: We’ll be seeing in the future HYTHIRM being involved in Constellation launch, Ares I-X perhaps or eventually in general Ares V?

TOM: If Debi and I do our job correctly.

BLAIR: This is very exciting stuff. I want to give a shout out to Christina J in the Inspire program and Kirsten who made the Inspire program and even McKinley who wants to be an astronaut from Tennessee. These guys just don’t show up at NASA and are told what to do. They are inspired and these kids were inspired to come in and do the kind of things you’re doing for the space program. So thanks to you guys. I really appreciate it.

DEBI: Thank you.

CHRIS: Thanks for coming out.

DEBI: I’m glad we could talk about it.

BLAIR: Hopefully we might see some of you guys down at STS-125 launch?

DEBI: Absolutely. We’ll be there.

CHRIS: All right.

BLAIR: Hopefully we’ll catch up with you guys and Mike Weiss. You’re watching NASA EDGE.

CHRIS: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

BLAIR: I really want to get on that truck going around with the telescope.


CHRIS: Did Blair show you his new custom, space telescope?

MIKE: Yeah, he thinks since we work on Hubble he can ask for advice any time.

CHRIS: Oh, there’s Blair.

BLAIR: Hey guys.

CHRIS: Dude, you doing a little stargazing?

BLAIR: That’s funny. No, I’m about to do some modifications to my telescope but I’m a little concerned about violating the factory warranty and what not. What do you think, Mike?

MIKE: I think it could definitely use some help and right about now I’m thinking an NBL run.

BLAIR: Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory?

MIKE: Yeah, you know the place where we practice procedures underwater?

BLAIR: Ah, ah!


CHRIS: Do you think he can work underwater with that?

MIKE: It works for our team in Houston. Do you think he’ll remember to come up for air?

CHRIS: As we stand in front of Pad 39A, you see the beautiful Atlantis on the pad, RSS rollout just took place. What are some thoughts you just had?

MIKE: It’s just an awesome feeling. Hubble has been a real roller coaster, ups and downs, ups and downs. This is a real up. We’re going to Hubble for the last time. This is such a magnificent vehicle on the launch pad. The payload is ready to go and the next time anybody sees it, it will be 304 nautical miles above our head. Two magnificent flying machines will be united again for the last time. I think on a personal level it’s like sending a kid off to camp.

CHRIS: Right.

MIKE: You drop your kid off. They go off and explore. You come pick them up and it takes forever to extract out of them what their experiences were. Well, we’re about to go pick our kid up and drop them off for the very last time.

CHRIS: That’s a great analogy.

MIKE: It will probably take forever to figure out everything that Hubble has found.

CHRIS: Now after the launch tomorrow, what is your role?

MIKE: Those of us on the Hubble program that are here will immediately fly to Johnson Space Center. We’ll be on consul in the Hubble Control Room as flight controllers.

CHRIS: All right.

MIKE: Right before landing a couple of us will fly back here to cover the landing event here at Kennedy.

CHRIS: Mike, you’ve been working on Hubble for quite awhile. What’s going to happen once you’ve completed your mission? Time to move onto another project? Is it going to be a sad day?

MIKE: It will be sad and happy at the same time. A lot of people say how do you feel? This is the end. I don’t think this is the end at all. I think it’s the beginning of what NASA does next. NASA is going to go on with the Exploration program. We’re going to go back to the moon. We’re going to go beyond the moon. Hubble has always been a pathfinder. This is the beginning of what NASA does next. We all get to see a bit of history tomorrow with the last mission to Hubble, one of the last flights of the United States Space Shuttle. And as we leave Hubble for the very last time, they’ll probably be a lot of tears in people’s eyes waving goodbye but at the same time it’s the beginning of what we do next.


CHRIS: Ready for the launch?

BLAIR: Oh yeah. Ron gave me a camera. I’m covering it for NASA EDGE exclusively.

CHRIS: Cool. We’ve got a spot right here. Let’s go.

BLAIR: No, no, no. Look, this is where everybody…

CHRIS: This is the best spot right here.

BLAIR: I’ve got an angle. I’m going to go shoot it.

CHRIS: Where?

BLAIR: I’ve got a special spot. It’s just perfect. Trust me on this. Okay? I know what I’m doing; STS-125, right here on the cards, buddy.

CHRIS: I’m going to go see Ron.

BLAIR: All right. You go do that.

BLAIR: Ah, Ron gave me one of the prized NASA EDGE cameras. I’m NASA EDGE cam 1 for the Hubble Shuttle launch. Oh yeah. I think… yeah it’s on. Good. Yep, there we go. We’ve got the camera. Everything’s working. There’s the shuttle. Nice, nice lightening protection system. A lot of commotion out here on launch day. Where is it? I’ve lost it.

[exclamations from the audience & cameras clicking]

BLAIR: Oh, there we go. Bring it into focus. Everything’s automatic. Anybody can shoot this kind of video.

[roar of shuttle engine]

BLAIR: I’m all set for the launch. I wish people would be quiet. It’s hard to concentrate. Oh yeah, this is going to be gold. Nobody saw this spot. Perfect for the launch. Looks like there are some fire ants around here. I’m ready. I can take one for the team. Ah, there’s some cramping up. I hope this happens soon. Oh yeah.

CHRIS: Hey, wasn’t that a cool launch?

BLAIR: Ah, well, I’m optimistic. Everything is right in line. It should be. Yeah. Perfect.

BLAIR: Where did the shuttle go?

CHRIS: See, right up there.

BLAIR: But it’s still on the pad. How did…? Are you sure you’re not using some filters? That doesn’t make sense.

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