web analytics
Your Independent Alternative!

Workers Ready Shuttle Discovery for a Final Flight

Landing_STS-26,_Shuttle_Discovery,_October_3,_1988CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Everything was just as the astronauts left it when Ron Delaney climbed into Discovery's cockpit.

The shuttle's crew of seven had boarded a convoy truck on Kennedy Space Center's runway to begin medical exams, their 15-day spaceflight officially over.

Now, about an hour after Discovery's touchdown, Delaney sat in mission commander Alan Poindexter's seat and donned his headphones and began to monitor systems still humming for flight as teams prepared to tow Discovery back to a hangar.

"Once we're in and we take control of that orbiter, it's ours," the 42-year-old United Space Alliance technician said. "And we're like, OK, we've got the next mission to get ready for."

For Delaney and roughly 1,000 KSC employees, Discovery's roll to a stop more than 2 miles down Runway 33 on April 20 marked the end of one mission and the start of five months of work to get the ship ready for its next flight, work NASA calls a "processing flow."

"It's the flow of work to take us from the point where we land until where we're ready to fly again on the next mission," said Stephanie Stilson, the NASA manager who oversees Discovery's launch preparations. Her official title is flow director.

With Discovery's next flight expected to be its last, the orbiter and teams working on it are likely embarking on their final flow.

Over the coming months, some 13,000 different components and their sub-components will be scrutinized and more than 600,000 man hours exhausted before Discovery is given a "go" for launch again.

More than 26,000 tiles and blankets lining the space ship's belly and upper surfaces will be checked for dings, scratches or missing stitches.

Workers will service the orbiter's three main engines and install a different set, remove a thruster pod to replace a failed valve, and prepare the payload bay to hold a refilled International Space Station cargo module.

At the same time, inside the Vehicle Assembly Building, twin solid rocket boosters will be stacked on a mobile launcher platform and attached to a 15-story external tank that was expected to arrive Saturday by barge from New Orleans.

The completed shuttle must be ready to roll to the launch pad in mid-August for a targeted Sept. 16 launch.

"When you see it slowly lifting off the launch pad, and knowing what it took to make that happen, it's just amazing," said Stilson, 40 of Canaveral Groves.

For Discovery, which has flown more than any shuttle, the next liftoff would be its 39th in 26 years.

The fleet leader's missions include some of the most historic: the Hubble Space Telescope's 1990 deployment, John Glenn's 1998 flight at the age of 77 and missions after the disasters that destroyed Challenger and Columbia.

"We've always called it the workhorse," said Stilson.

Among colleagues, however, she usually refers to Discovery by its technical name: "103," short for Orbiter Vehicle-103.

After the final shuttle mission, planned late this year or early next year, KSC teams will prepare each orbiter for a new mission: public display. (Discovery is expected to go to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington; Brevard County is lobbying to keep Atlantis or Endeavour.)

Roughly 8,000 employees - more than half the KSC workforce - could lose their jobs.

But Delaney, like most others, plans to stick with the job he loves despite the uncertainty ahead.

"It is a sad but yet exciting time," he said. "Everything is still up in the air, and I hope to ride this out as long as I can and see what comes along next."

Growing up in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Delaney played with Saturn V rocket models and gazed at stars and passing satellites, dreaming of a future in the space program.

After an eight-year Navy career, he moved to Brevard County in 1996 with his wife and two children to turn his dream into reality. He completed degrees at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and took a job at United Space Alliance in 2000.

Most of his time is devoted to electrical work on the forward section of Atlantis.

But he's one of two dozen employees certified to serve as a "spacecraft operator," the people who open a returning shuttle's hatch and ride the vehicle back to its hangar.

"We have to know every system on that orbiter," he said.

Early April 20, Delaney and other technicians staged at the north end of KSC's 3-mile runway, awaiting Discovery's arrival to conclude a glide across the United States.

"I still get butterflies," said Delaney, who has worked dozens of landings.

After the 9:08 a.m. touchdown, crews allowed the orbiter's brakes to cool and "sniff checks" confirmed no toxic propellants or explosive reactants were leaking.

Delaney and partner David Rath, 55, or Titusville approached in a blue vehicle nicknamed the "White Room truck," a near-replica of the inside of the room that is the astronauts' last launch pad stop before entering a shuttle. They inflated a seal around the hatch.

With gloved hands, Delaney unscrewed two warm panels and attached a device called the "milk stool," used to lower the door. A quarter-turn of a T-tool cracked the hatch's seal, releasing a 30-second whoosh of air.

Two more turns opened the cabin door, revealing the three astronauts seated on Discovery's mid-deck. Delaney immediately spotted a wide grin on the face of Naoko Yamazaki, the second Japanese woman to fly in space.

"Great job, congratulations" he said.

"Thanks, it was a lot of fun," they replied.

Poindexter, the mission commander, was the last out.

"Good ship," he remarked to Delaney and Rath before they entered, and the hatch was closed behind them.

The two technicians - called "ground astronauts" by some colleagues - climbed a ladder to the flight deck and began checking systems and configuring switches throughout the cockpit, placing guards over some switches to ensure a thruster didn't fire inadvertently.

"It's still a live bird and it still thinks it's flying," Delaney said.

Underneath Discovery, a group of VIPs mingled with the astronauts, celebrating the mission's end and inspecting the vehicle's condition.

Stilson scanned the heat shields for signs of damage that might mean work during the upcoming flow.

"For me, it's what kind of trauma did Discovery go through during this workload that she had on orbit and then coming back through the atmosphere," she said. "This time, I didn't see a lot, so I was very happy that things looked real good."

Around 1:15 p.m., a tug turned Discovery around and began a 4-mile tow back to its hangar, called Orbiter Processing Facility Bay 3, to start its final flow.

That's where Delaney often wraps up his work, sometimes without hardly having had a chance to look out the windows. But this time, with Discovery returning from the runway's far end, he had time to pause and soak in the experience.

He wasn't sure if this would be his last ride in a shuttle cockpit.

"We actually got to stop and breathe for a second and take it all in," he said. "Once we're done and we can now savor it, it's like, wow, this is incredible. Where else in the world can you do this?"

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Everything was just as the astronauts left it when Ron Delaney climbed into Discovery's cockpit.

The shuttle's crew of seven had boarded a convoy truck on Kennedy Space Center's runway to begin medical exams, their 15-day spaceflight officially over.

Now, about an hour after Discovery's touchdown, Delaney sat in mission commander Alan Poindexter's seat and donned his headphones and began to monitor systems still humming for flight as teams prepared to tow Discovery back to a hangar.

"Once we're in and we take control of that orbiter, it's ours," the 42-year-old United Space Alliance technician said. "And we're like, OK, we've got the next mission to get ready for."

For Delaney and roughly 1,000 KSC employees, Discovery's roll to a stop more than 2 miles down Runway 33 on April 20 marked the end of one mission and the start of five months of work to get the ship ready for its next flight, work NASA calls a "processing flow."

"It's the flow of work to take us from the point where we land until where we're ready to fly again on the next mission," said Stephanie Stilson, the NASA manager who oversees Discovery's launch preparations. Her official title is flow director.

With Discovery's next flight expected to be its last, the orbiter and teams working on it are likely embarking on their final flow.

Over the coming months, some 13,000 different components and their sub-components will be scrutinized and more than 600,000 man hours exhausted before Discovery is given a "go" for launch again.

More than 26,000 tiles and blankets lining the space ship's belly and upper surfaces will be checked for dings, scratches or missing stitches.

Workers will service the orbiter's three main engines and install a different set, remove a thruster pod to replace a failed valve, and prepare the payload bay to hold a refilled International Space Station cargo module.

At the same time, inside the Vehicle Assembly Building, twin solid rocket boosters will be stacked on a mobile launcher platform and attached to a 15-story external tank that was expected to arrive Saturday by barge from New Orleans.

The completed shuttle must be ready to roll to the launch pad in mid-August for a targeted Sept. 16 launch.

"When you see it slowly lifting off the launch pad, and knowing what it took to make that happen, it's just amazing," said Stilson, 40 of Canaveral Groves.

For Discovery, which has flown more than any shuttle, the next liftoff would be its 39th in 26 years.

The fleet leader's missions include some of the most historic: the Hubble Space Telescope's 1990 deployment, John Glenn's 1998 flight at the age of 77 and missions after the disasters that destroyed Challenger and Columbia.

"We've always called it the workhorse," said Stilson.

Among colleagues, however, she usually refers to Discovery by its technical name: "103," short for Orbiter Vehicle-103.

After the final shuttle mission, planned late this year or early next year, KSC teams will prepare each orbiter for a new mission: public display. (Discovery is expected to go to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington; Brevard County is lobbying to keep Atlantis or Endeavour.)

Roughly 8,000 employees - more than half the KSC workforce - could lose their jobs.

But Delaney, like most others, plans to stick with the job he loves despite the uncertainty ahead.

"It is a sad but yet exciting time," he said. "Everything is still up in the air, and I hope to ride this out as long as I can and see what comes along next."

Growing up in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Delaney played with Saturn V rocket models and gazed at stars and passing satellites, dreaming of a future in the space program.

After an eight-year Navy career, he moved to Brevard County in 1996 with his wife and two children to turn his dream into reality. He completed degrees at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and took a job at United Space Alliance in 2000.

Most of his time is devoted to electrical work on the forward section of Atlantis.

But he's one of two dozen employees certified to serve as a "spacecraft operator," the people who open a returning shuttle's hatch and ride the vehicle back to its hangar.

"We have to know every system on that orbiter," he said.

Early April 20, Delaney and other technicians staged at the north end of KSC's 3-mile runway, awaiting Discovery's arrival to conclude a glide across the United States.

"I still get butterflies," said Delaney, who has worked dozens of landings.

After the 9:08 a.m. touchdown, crews allowed the orbiter's brakes to cool and "sniff checks" confirmed no toxic propellants or explosive reactants were leaking.

Delaney and partner David Rath, 55, or Titusville approached in a blue vehicle nicknamed the "White Room truck," a near-replica of the inside of the room that is the astronauts' last launch pad stop before entering a shuttle. They inflated a seal around the hatch.

With gloved hands, Delaney unscrewed two warm panels and attached a device called the "milk stool," used to lower the door. A quarter-turn of a T-tool cracked the hatch's seal, releasing a 30-second whoosh of air.

Two more turns opened the cabin door, revealing the three astronauts seated on Discovery's mid-deck. Delaney immediately spotted a wide grin on the face of Naoko Yamazaki, the second Japanese woman to fly in space.

"Great job, congratulations" he said.

"Thanks, it was a lot of fun," they replied.

Poindexter, the mission commander, was the last out.

"Good ship," he remarked to Delaney and Rath before they entered, and the hatch was closed behind them.

The two technicians - called "ground astronauts" by some colleagues - climbed a ladder to the flight deck and began checking systems and configuring switches throughout the cockpit, placing guards over some switches to ensure a thruster didn't fire inadvertently.

"It's still a live bird and it still thinks it's flying," Delaney said.

Underneath Discovery, a group of VIPs mingled with the astronauts, celebrating the mission's end and inspecting the vehicle's condition.

Stilson scanned the heat shields for signs of damage that might mean work during the upcoming flow.

"For me, it's what kind of trauma did Discovery go through during this workload that she had on orbit and then coming back through the atmosphere," she said. "This time, I didn't see a lot, so I was very happy that things looked real good."

Around 1:15 p.m., a tug turned Discovery around and began a 4-mile tow back to its hangar, called Orbiter Processing Facility Bay 3, to start its final flow.

That's where Delaney often wraps up his work, sometimes without hardly having had a chance to look out the windows. But this time, with Discovery returning from the runway's far end, he had time to pause and soak in the experience.

He wasn't sure if this would be his last ride in a shuttle cockpit.

"We actually got to stop and breathe for a second and take it all in," he said. "Once we're done and we can now savor it, it's like, wow, this is incredible. Where else in the world can you do this?"

Comments are closed.