Sunday, 10 July 2011

Atlantis spreads its wings

Just experienced history in the making - a once (and last) in a lifetime event. It will take a while to sink in, hence I am posting my thoughts and impressions in the days afterwards.

Friday morning 10.30 am. It was getting hotter by the minute as the clouds scattered over Kennedy Space Center, like curtains unveiling a giant stage for one last drama. The forecast showers hadn’t materialised and controllers in the ‘firing room' gave the ‘go' for ascent after a positive poll from their ground teams.

In reality the weather was just good enough for launch – based on some additional acceptance on the forecasted conditions at the nearby Shuttle Landing Facility had a Return To Landing Site abort been required.

But then the countdown clock dramatically stopped at T-31 seconds, just prior to the final automatic sequence. This was based on a lack of an indication that the‘beanie cap’, technically known as the GOX Vent Arm, had properly retracted and latched from the top of the external tank.


We were told in the post-launch briefing that this is something engineers were aware could happen but were still surprised it showed during an actual launch countdown.

Thankfully, the Firing Room teams were prepared. In three long minutes they ran through a pre-determined procedure to verify the arm was retracted and latched using a closed circuit camera.

As the countdown resumed - with only 58 seconds left of the launch window - launch director Mike Leinbach told the Atlantis crew - Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim - to "have a little fun up there" with "a true American icon".

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