Archive for the ‘STS-135’ Category

Pete Crow STS-135 photograph from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building, 11:28 EDT, July 8, 2011. The full sequence of these photographs and those of Carol Anne Swagler will be posted later.

Among the stories and photographs that will be posted are …

1. STS-135 Launch, additional photographs from roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building showing, in sequence, the Launch of the Shuttle Atlantis, OV-04.

STS-135 Mission Patch

2. Days 2 and 3 prior to Launch — this includes briefings on upcoming NASA unmanned launches, visits to the SpaceX launch pad and firing room and much more.

3. Houston, Days 7 and 8 before Launch — this includes inside of the Shuttle Flight Simulators where astronauts trained (now dismantled), Shuttle OV-95 (to be dismantled after landing of STS-135), the International Space Station and Soyuz mockups, and briefing on NASA scientific and technical programs, including the newest Off-Earth Rover vehicle and Robotnaut, the robot now on the ISS which can perform many of the duties currently performed by the 6 astronauts on the ISS.

4. Houston Mission Control — STS-135 mission, Houston’s Johnson Space Center, Monday, July 11 to STS-135’s expected landing in Florida on the morning of July 20.

5. Apollo 13 and STS-107 Artifacts on display at JSC and KSC, including the Apollo 13 Panel which lit up (“Houston, we have a problem …”) and the flight recorder recovered from Columbia/STS-107.
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.”petecrow/NASA” © 2011 by / Peter M. Crow and the Peter Michael Crow Trust and by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

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And so the Launch Day (L-0) day begins. I have skipped coming to the Cape on L-1, Thursday, July 7, 2011, because of the rain and because what we wanted to see — the press conferences — were on NASA-TV. We could sit in our kitchen, eat with feet propped. Another reason to skip L-1 was because I had been over to the Cape for three straight days — and this was coming off of two days in Houston at Johnson Space Center last week.

Two Canadian journalists walk in front of the countdown clock about 2:30 am, Friday, July 8, 2011. Like many journalists they paid their way, and drove more than a day to get to the Cape. If the shuttle failed to launch on Friday, they might be able to stay Saturday, but by Sunday they would have to begin their long trek home. The space program is a beacon to young journalists like these kids, and to youth in general. The tiny dot on the far right is Pad 39A and the Shuttle Atlantis..

I was tired. Carol Anne was exhausted, and even skipped L-2 (Wednesday).

By skipping L-1 we did miss the restraction of the Rotating Service Structure, but early in the afternoon we got a call from a friend at the Cape asking us if we planned to miss the driving rain and mud out at Pad 39-A. Unn, the answer was Yes.

I noticed, in going through my notes for the recent launches, that I had also skipped L-1 during the STS-134 launch in May. Must have been tired for that one, too.

11 pm, July 7, 2011 — To the Cape. Carol Anne and I had decided to coast over to the Cape starting at 11 pm. That should put us inside the security bubble by 12:15 am if traffic was minimal as we expected it would be. The unknown factor was how many people would be streaming over hoping to find spots to view the launch outside of KSC. We were betting that in the rain the 1-million expected people would be in no hurry — and we were right.

Traffic on the Beachline, Highway 528, was moving at its accustomed 75-80 miles an hour, complete with the usual tailgaters.

The JSC press crew doesn't always love the Tweeters like I do. For the second attempt to launch on STS-134 the Tweet tent vanished. This time Tweeters autos have been banished to a far away parking lot. No matter -- the Tweeters are also enthusiastic and are one-timers (they do not get to come back a second time). There are only 150 of them and I'm looking for them. It's 3 o'clock in the morning and none are anywhere to be seen. Do you know where your Tweeter is? I don't.

Inside the security bubble, 12:15 am, Friday, July 8, 2011. We wanted to be at the media site by the time the decision was made on tanking. This was the crucial decision — unless they tanked, the mission was scrubbed, but I was sure they would tank and, right on, at 2:01 am they began tanking.

The Tweeters had been banned from the media parking lot and must trudge better part of a half mile to their tent. Good for us, and great for finding a parking spot in the media parking lot. Not so good for the Tweeters, especially if it rains.

By the time we were at the Cape the rain, driving at times throughout Thursday, had abated to a sprinkle. At the media parking lot we were waved through and found a spot in the front row. Carol Anne objected because she planned to sleep, but then re-thought it and decided front row, closest to the media center, was all good especially if it rained. The car stayed in the front row.

The media center, 12:45 am. The media center is deserted with only a skeleton public relations crew. Carol Anne and I walk across the street to the cafeteria taking advantage of a break in the rain. The selection is thin, but we get coffee — something which, inexplicably, the canteen wagon which will show up about 3 am never has.

As we walk back rain begins again. Carol Anne vanishes to sleep in the car and asks me to tell her if the tanking and the mission are scrubbed. “If the mission is scrubbed,” I grumble, “we’re going home. You can figure it out if the car starts moving.”

Clearly more sleep and less coffee is in order. I apologize.

Carol Anne sleeps and the mission is not scrubbed.

3:20 am, the press site.I drift the press site out to the Tweetup tent looking for Tweeters. No luck. I find three young kids from Canada covering their first shuttle launch. They’re pumped. I love their enthusiasm. We swap stories about Los Angeles where one of them lived.

The only action at the Tweetup Tent at 3 am was the Spacevidcast. I think I should know who they are and what they do, but fact is I don't and they were busy broadcasting to godknowswho and taking phone calls. So I waded on through the wet grass and occasional mud, stepping over cables and watching out for nearly invisible ropes.

The Tweetup tent is empty but there’s a broadcast going on just outside the front door. I cannot figure out who they are, and no one seems interested in telling me. I drift on.

It is dark and muddy out here. Cables snake everywhere. Normally I cut across areas, but now I find there are even ropes tied to nearly invisible posts. Dangerous. I decide for one of the few times in my life to obey the rules. I follow the road and the signs and while it takes longer to get back to the media center, I arrive alive.

Androlly. We may be inside the bubble, but son Andrew and his son-to-be wife, Molly,are not going to be. I call them Androlly because they are, in their words, “inside the love bubble” and can be considered, for now, a single entity. However, Carol Anne does not entirely approve. I also have taken to calling our two granddaughters, age 6 and 8, whose last name is “Dagner”, “The Dagnets”. Again, there is not rousing approval.

Andrew and Molly earlier had planned to drive overnight from northern Florida where they both work, and then to bunk at our home in Celebration for the weekend.

But, of course, the Friday launch is so iffy that an all night drive after working all week long.

It is now almost 3:30 am and while they are not exactly missing in action, they are out there somewhere in the dark and we’re not quite sure where.

All sorts of memorabilia are for sale in a small wagon that is always parked in the parking lot, but is rarely open. Long before dawn members of the press were lining up. Another shop selling STS-135 merchandise was located adjacent to the cafeteria. Also, companies like Boeing handed out pins, stickers and notebooks at their desk in the media center. Just drift by and ask.

Wait — here’s an idea! Maybe someone should just call them.

They have stayed in Tallahassee — worked late, read the weather reports and figured it would be a no-go. They’ll be here Sunday if they are right.

4:30 am, Media Press Site. I grow weary of working on revisions in a screenplay, and decide to stretch. In a few moments I am outside gazing at the huge assembly of media trucks in the parking lot and now covering the old site of the Grandstand which was destroyed in a hurricane in 2004.

I grow nostalgic realizing that my time at the Cape and at this media site are coming to an end. I have been covering events here since the final Apollo flight, Apollo 17, in December 1972 — before most people covering STS-135 were born.

I will be here only once more — for the landing of the Atlantis in a couple of weeks. And then, in all likelihood, my visits to the press site, and indeed the use of the press site itself, are likely to be rare.

What really will not happen again is the assemblage of media here this morning. It rivals that first launch I covered, Apollo 17, when 2,200 were accredited. For STS-135 there are probably 3,000, plus another 150 Tweeters.

Nothing that NASA has in the pipeline will be-stir media interest like this again for at least a decade — and perhaps, going the way NASA is going, never again.

4:55 am The Annex. I was exiled to the dreaded Annex during STS-134, the previous launch.

When too many media request workspace, NASA/KSC has a backup building called The Annex. During STS-134 I was exiled to the Annex which has great air conditioning, but feels remote.

I always have work space in the main media center and until STS-134 I had never heard of “The Annex.” Then arriving to cover STS-134 in April 2011, I found myself in it, facing some nice German guy and sitting beside other well-meaning foreign journalists who spoke no English but smiled a lot.

It was not that the Annex was bad workspace — it was actually very good workspace.

But reporting from the Annex was like trying to cover the launch from Bulgaria.

The main media center is alive, throbbing with activitiy and I could learn things there by eavesdropping, something that I, like most journalists, excel at and take pride in.

A woman primps before going on the air in one of the many setups for TV lining the edge of the press site.

Well. There was no one and nothing to eavesdrop on in the Annex unless you spoke Farci. The best thing about that well-turned out dump was it had great air conditioning.

I was curious to see how the Annex was faring during STS-135, and wanted to know who’d managed to get themselves shipped out there — so I stopped by.

The Annex was, as expected, rumpled at 5 am with a guy sleeping on four chairs.

I drifted around and was stunned to find such organizations as UPI stuck in the back row. The rest was to be expected — the usual gaggle of TV stations from places like Honolulu and foreign media from countries I’d never heard of.

5:10 am The canteen wagon. Buried in the parking I see a glow that doesn’t quite look like other satellite trucks. The canteen wagon was supposed to arrive about 3 pm, but it is usually parked behind the media center, and this morning it is no where to be seen.

The Snack Mobile actually had coffeee. it never does. But the Snack Mobile got a new, hard to find spot out in the parking lot instead of just behind the media center. Nonetheless, enough people found it fast enough to drink all the coffee. So, then, the Snack Mobile didn't have coffee. Situation Normal.

I decide to investigate since I’m roaming around aimlessly anyway. Lo and behold, it is the canteen, but since they never have coffee I figure I won’t be interested.

Entry to the wagon is from the back, exiting past the driver who is the cashier. I lean into the front door and ask if she has coffee.


“Really?” They never have coffee.


I go inside and find I am standing behind two foreign journalists who are having trouble filling the coffee cups, finding lids, finding the sugar — hell, maybe finding their zippers. Time passes. They continue to dither about one thing and another. They decide to allow me to pass and to get my coffee, so I do. But now they are in front of where the coffee lids are, and they are dithering again.

I smile. They smile. The woman running the canteen smiles.

Eventually I escape with my coffee which, remarkably, is still hot.
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.”petecrow/NASA” © 2011 by / Peter M. Crow and the Peter Michael Crow Trust and by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

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Tanking begins. Candrea Thomas, NASA public affairs office, told media gathered at the press center at 1:50 am that the decision had been made to begin tanking the Atlantis at 2:01 am. Tanking normally tanks several hours.

Shuttle Atlantis at Pad 39-A, Kennedy Space Center, 2 am, July 8, 2011, at the moment when the countdown clock was restarted at T-6 hours. There are a series of built-in holds in the launch schedule. Although the countdown clock shows 6 hours to launch, launch is actually more than 9 hours away. - photograph Courtesy of NASA TV

This is one of the last significant steps in preparing the shuttle for launch.

Chances of weather allowing launch at 11:26 am EDT remained only 30-percent, Ms. Thomas added.

The Friday, July 8, 2011 launch window is 3 minutes and 18 seconds from 11:31:46 am EDT to 11:35:04 am.

Weather throughout the week had deterioirated until by Friday, chances of launch were rated by Kathy Winters, shuttle weather officer, at only 30-percent. Nonetheless, it is policy of the NASA launch teams to continue to move forward, weather and mechanicals permitting.

Sometimes it pays off. Shuttles have been launched in a 90-percent no-go weather window when weather cleared briefly and sufficiently to permit launch. But mostly it doesn’t work out.

If the shuttle is not launched on Friday, betting is that NASA will skip the Saturday window and try to launch again on Sunday. Getting its launch crew home and back, with sufficient time to rest, through roads expected to be crowded by about 1-million people will likely prove impossible.

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Two lightning strikes at 12:31 pm and 12:40 pm, one only 515 feet from the pad caused NASA to conduct an engineering review to be certain the Atlantis was unharmed. It was. - photograph of one of the lightning strikes, Courtesy NASA TV

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NASA Updates on Launch of Atlantis are HERE
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4:30 pm Thursday, July 7, 2011 … from NASA Web Site
Engineering Review Board Meets to Discuss Lightning Strikes
Thu, 07 Jul 2011 04:28:36 PM ED
NASA is convening an Engineering Review Board meeting at 4:30 p.m. EDT to discuss the status of space shuttle Atlantis and the launch pad following a lightning strike earlier today. Lightning was detected within a third of a mile of the pad.

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The shuttle Atlantis on the pad against a gray ominous sky, about Noon Thursday, July 7, 2011, and about 4 pm. The photographs are courtesy NASA TV.

After Atlantis returns from its final mission, the shuttle will remain in Florida, only a few miles from Pad 39A. It will be at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center, suspended innovatively so that visitors can walk and see it from all angles.

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Atlantis covered by the RSS at Pad 39-A, dawn, July 6, 2011.

Wednesday was briefing day. From 8:15 am to 7 pm the media was offered briefings on everything from how NASA is studying air traffic control, running high tech medical experiments on the International Space Station, planning to place an innovative device on the ISS to re-fuel satellites and much more.

The day concluded with visits to SpaceX’s launch pad, hangar and firing room. SpaceX hopes to be allowed to re-supply the ISS beginning later in 2011, and by 2014 hopes to be running a manned space program. NASA is helping with contracts, by making available an old Titan launch pad and finding buildings near the entrance to Patrick Air Force Base for its firing room.

The media has arrived. By Wednesday the media site was jammed, straining its air conditioning. Outside, displays from companies were scattered in tents.

Tweeters will be back (Thursday, July 7), and so will their tent, grandstand and even that faux spacesuit that they can stand inside and have their pictures taken. All had vanished after the first attempt to launch STS-134 failed on April 29, 2011.

Everything was in place to go — except questions about the weather.

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Best VIEWING Places
NASA’s best viewing places

Mission Summary
NASA online STS-135 Mission Summary HERE

Other Mission Vitae

STS-135 scheduled to Launch Shuttle Atlantis 11:26 am (preferred launch time) on July 8, 2011 — final launch in the shuttle program.

STS-135 scheduled for 12 day mission ending at 7:06 am, July 20, 2011.

This shuttle may be launched later, but will not be launched earlier than this date. The shuttle will not land earlier than the landing time, and may, even if launched on time, be unable to land until later orbits, and even may be unable to land in Florida.

Additionally, NASA wants to add an entire day to the mission which may be possible if the Atlantis is launched on time. If the launch is delayed the consumables on board likely will make the one-day extension impossible.

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Looking for good news about weather on July 8, 2011? Ms. Kathy Winters, Shuttle Weather Officer, predicted a small chance that weather would allow a Friday launch.

As early as Monday, July 4, anyone looking at the long range weather schedule had doubts that NASA would be able to launch Atlantis on Friday morning, July 8, 2011.

By Tuesday, the chances of launching remained at 60-percent, according to Kathy Winter, NASA’s weather officer who heads a team of 40 at KSC. Not good, not bad.

By Wednesday morning, July 6, 2011, when NASA held a Prelaunch Press Conference at the media site at the Kennedy Space Center, Ms Winters was rating the chance of favorable weather at a measly 30-percent. The other members of the launch team, Mike Moses, Mission Management Team chairman and Shuttle Launch Integration manager, and Mike Leinbach, shuttle launch director, considered the shuttle ready to go. “Clear tracks to lift off.”

Except for the weather. A big “except”, indeed.

By Wednesday, Mr. Leinbach and Mr. Moses were waxing philosophical. “I’m feeling good about Friday,” Mr. Moses said. “It could be raining everywhere, but if we’ve got a hole and a 20-mile radius, we’re going.” That’s a big “if”.

“Typical July,” Ms. Winters added.

Would they tank the shuttle if the weather was iffy? Tanking begins about ten hours before launch. “We’ve tanked with a 90-percent no-go, and launched,” Mr. Moses said. “We’ve tanked with an 80-percent go, and been unable to launch.”

So … will the weather cooperate? Will Atlantis arc skyward in its narrow launch window on Friday morning, July 8?

Don’t bet on it. The weather briefing at 1 am Friday morning, when tanking is scheduled to begin, will be the next significant marker deciding whether the Atlantis goes on Friday or not.

Stay tuned.

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The final operational shuttle, The Atlantis, OV-104, awaits launch at Pad 39-A, Kennedy Space Center, on July 4, 2011.

The scheduled launch of mission STS-135, was Friday morning, July 8, but by July 4, weather had begun closing in and launch on time was becoming increasingly unlikely.

If the shuttle did not launch at the first window opportunity, a hoped-for opportunity to add an extra day to the final mission would fade.

.”petecrow/NASA” © 2011 by / Peter M. Crow and the Peter Michael Crow Trust and by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

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VAB from where CNN will broadcast the STS-135 launch at the JSC media site in Florida.

Houston to The Cape, July 1, 2011
Finishing the pre-launch briefings in Houston, and having flown the shuttle simulators on July 1, Carol Anne and I flew back to Orlando Saturday morning, July 2, leaving our car near Johnson Space Center in a hotel parking lot.

Guests for the 4th of July were arriving.

On Monday morning, we set out for the Cape to get our press credentials for the STS-135 mission. KSC has two badging offices, one on the causeway, and another on State Route 3. I had guessed that they would be badging on the causeway. Wrong. With 2,400 media already accredited, and more coming all the time, NASA badging at the Route 3 media office. Probably smart given the volume of credentials.

Displays, electronic broadcasting gear, even tents, windows and doors all were waiting to be set up on the afternoon of L-4, (L=Launch; 4= 4 days; L-4: Launch minus 4 days).

The office was open only a couple of hours on the 4th of July, so we arrived early expecting little activitiy. Wrong again. The office was busy, although within a few minutes we had been badged and were on our way.

At the press site, there were also a number of people milling around. Tents were set up, and displays were being erected. This was the final mission and lots of contractors were going to politick the large amount of media who were showing up.

I walked through and picked up the briefing paperwork, was told there was a 60-percent chance of launching on Friday, and checked in to see whether I wuld be given access to certain area during the launch. I got a non-committal answer. “I’ll make that decision about two hours before launch.” He smiled. I smiled. That usually means I’m in — but given the crush this time, I might not be.

By early afternoon we were back to Celebration, and in the evening watching fireworks and dining with friends. The evening would be the last quiet time we are likely to have for several weeks.

Each day before a launch, and each day a shuttle is on orbit, a countdown clock on the highways leading into the space center are updated. When the shuttle is on orbit, this sign (reversible) reads "X Days to Landing"

The countdown clock starts tomorrrow (July 5: L-3). There are two briefings Tuesday, July 5, 2011, in the morning and at noon, and then, Wednesday, an entire day of briefings starting at 8 am.

If the shuttle goes on Friday morning, July 8 — and it won’t, I’m certain — I fly back to Houston and will cover the mission from there until shortly before landing. Then I fly back to Florida, watch the landing, and fly back to Houston that evening where I’ll cover the astronauts arrival home and have been promised access to the JSC Mission Control Center.

Hopefully, it’ll all be over shortly before the end of the month, and I’ll be on to other endeavors.

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