Recently, I was cleaning out some old email when I stumbled across some old email letters I had sent to some on-line friends during the STS-76 Shuttle mission that took place March 22-31, 1996.  I was Lead FDO for STS-76, it was my first rendezvous mission (3rd Shuttle flight to Mir), and I was (as you will see) very excited.

As I read over these letters, it struck me how much this mission meant to me, and how much enjoyment it gave me to “tell my story” to my friends at the time.  None of these friends were NASA-related, so I had a great time trying to put into words what was happening.

It brought a smile to my face to re-read these… I hope you have a similar reaction.

STS-76 Launch Report
Flight Day 2
FD3... the rendezvous!!!
FD6 ... the EVA
FD8... undocking day!
Kinda FD8 / kinda FD9
One-day wave-off

To: (distro)
From: Roger
Date: March 22, 1996
Subject:STS-76 Launch Report

Okey dokey, boys and girls…

The pre-launch countdown proceeded without a hitch. The weather cooperated with us throughout the count, and we tracked the Mir space station with our ground radar sites around the world with no unexpected updates. At L-3 hours, we performed our final launch time calculations based on the Mir tracking, and we found that there was no change in what we had calculated *yesterday*. Somewhat unusual, but comforting, to know that we had a very good handle on Mir’s “state vector” (the position and velocity data that tells us where an orbiting body is and where it is going).

STS-76 launchLaunch occurred on-time at the opening of the launch window at 3:13:04am EST. Night launches are always spectacular, and this one was no different. The Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) and the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) lit up the sky around KSC like a bright day at noon. As Atlantis rose off the pad, it rolled to a “heads-down” attitude and began steering up the east coast of the U.S., starting its “catch-up” game with Mir. At 2:07 after launch, the SRBs were jettisoned after serving their purpose. At 8:39 after launch, the SSMEs shut down and Atlantis was left in a “sub-orbital” orbit. An Orbital Maneuver System (OMS) engine firing at 42 minutes into the flight placed Atlantis in a 160×85 Nautical Mile (NM) orbit.

This was somewhat significant (but planned) orbit. Usually, the post OMS-2 orbit is somewhat circular at 160 NM. We had to leave one end of the orbit purposely low, in order to “catch up” with Mir faster. It’s an orbital mechanics thing… trust me… But, 85 NM is pretty low. We consider the “edge” of the measurable atmosphere (where drag really starts to pull an orbiting spacecraft back into the “soup” of the atmosphere) to be about 65.8 NM. So… 85 NM is *much* closer to 65 NM than our normal 160×160 NM orbits.

I spent the first two hours post launch re-planning the rendezvous burns. We have to perform a series of maneuvers between launch and the actual rendezvous and docking to constantly adjust our phasing rate between the Orbiter and Mir. We decided to combine a planar correction burn with one of our phasing burns. This allowed us to actually *save* some propellant by combining the two burns into one.

I left, after putting in 10 hours in pre-launch, launch, and post-ascent activities. As I sit here, typing this, the Orbit 2 team (I’m the Orbit 1/Rendezvous FDO) has just performed the first burn (that I described above). It was successful, and we’re on our way!!!!!

Tomorrow, we perform two more of these phasing burns, designed again to gradually slow our phasing rate so that on Saturday, we willl start the rendezvous profile 40 NM behind Mir and transition to 8 NM behind to start our final intercept orbit trajectory.

I’ll write more tomorrow, but for now… I’m tired… g’night!!! Or… g’morning… whichever…


To: (distro)
From: Roger
Date: March 23, 1996
Subject:STS-76 Flight Day 2

Today was a long day, tomorrow will be even longer, and sleep right now is at a premium, so this update will be shorter than yesterday’s…

The rendezvous and docking will occur on Flight Day (FD) 3. Today was FD2. We performed one more phasing burn (a maneuver designed to slow down the speed with which we are catching up to Mir) this afternoon, and I set up the next team with their phasing burn data before I left. Both of these burns were designed to place Atlantis at a point 40 NM behind Mir tomorrow at the start of the rendezvous.

The rendezvous starts at 40 NM behind Mir. An very large OMS burn (approximately 144 feet per second) will transfer Atlantis to a point 8 NM behind Mir one orbit later. At that point, the final “intercept” burn (called Ti – for Terminal Intercept) is performed that puts the Orbiter on a trajectory that will meet the Mir just under one-and-a-half hours later.

The times for tomorrow’s activities (Yes! They’re in prime time!!!) are:

Event Time (CST)
Ti 5:51 pm
Docking 8:34 pm

I hope everyone gets a chance to “look in” on us… if you don’t get NASA TV, CNN should carry the docking live.

My best to you and yours, and wish us luck!!!!


To: (distro)
From: Roger
Date: March 24, 1996
Subject:STS-76 Flight Day 3… the rendezvous!!!

YES YES YES YES YES YES YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

*WHAT A DAY*!!!!!!!

Do I sound excited? Well… that’s good… ’cause I *AM*!!!!!

This day… well, okay, it’s *yesterday*, now… was absolutely incredible. The rendezvous and docking with Mir (did you see it?) was as picture perfect as it could be.

I arrived on console about an hour prior to the rest of my team’s arrival, so that I could make sure that the planning team had “set us up” correctly. I knew they would, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. After looking over everything, I was very happy with the plan. They had solidified what I had left from the day before, so there were very few differences. I let the planning team go home early, and I took over with about an hour and a half before the first major engine firing, called NC-4, that would start the rendezvous.

Mir above EarthEverything progressed smoothly leading up to NC-4. Ground radar tracking showed that both Atlantis and Mir were where we expected them to be within (literally) feet. With that, we gave a “GO” to the crew to burn NC-4. It was pulled off without a hitch… we were on our way!!! NC-4 was targeted to transfer the Orbiter from 40 NM behind Mir to 8 NM behind Mir in one orbit.

As soon as NC-4 was complete, the crew maneuvered the Orbiter to point the Payload Bay towards Mir. This allowed a device called the Star Tracker (ST) to “track” the Mir. We use the STs to “find” stars to give us an inertial attitude reference on orbit, but we also use them to track bright targets when we are rendezvousing with them. By knowing where we *think* the target is, the STs allow us to “fine tune” the exact position by looking at angular measurements coming into the filtered state vector and updating our relative position and velocity (called the state vector).

About 30 minutes after NC-4, after taking in the ST data, we performed a burn called NCC, which stands for the “corrective combination” burn. By incorporating the angular measurement from the STs, we were able to adjust precisely the difference between our orbital “plane” and that of Mir to be exactly the same. About one hour after NCC, we arrived at 8 NM and performed the Terminal Initiation (Ti) burn.

So... close...Prior to this burn, we had moved close enough to Mir to use the Rendezvous Radar (RR) to start tracking the target. The RR data gives us precise range and range rate data that, again, allowed us to update and fine tune our relative state vector. The RR data, incorporated in to the state vector, allowed us to target and execute the Ti burn. The Ti burn sent us on an intercept trajectory with the Mir in slightly less than an orbit. Several small correction burns later (again using RR data), we had arrived at our first stationkeeping point 600 feet below Mir.

Several “built-in” holds allowed us to transition from 600 feet to 170 feet to 30 feet in an orderly manner. At 30 feet, the crew used a special camera, aligned on the Orbiter Docking System (ODS), to show that we were perfectly aligned. After a final “GO/NO-GO” conference with the Russians, the Flight Director polled all of the flight controllers in the MCC. We gave our “GO” to the crew and they started in.

Chili (STS-76 commander, Kevin Chilton) started the approach on time and moved the Orbiter gracefully towards the Mir. The ODS and the Docking Module (DM) on Mir were perfectly aligned and we all watched the final few feet of the approach on the live television shots coming down from the Orbiter. Chili made contact within one second of the planned docking time… a new record!! The ODS and DM hooks captured each other and we were there!!!!

HandshakesAfter some initial checks, the ODS/DM hooks pulled the Orbiter into a “hard mate” condition with Mir. Then the process of checking pressure seals on both sides was made, found to be solid, and the hatch was opened!!!

Lots of handshakes, both on board Atlantis/Mir and in the MCC, were exchanged. We did it… and made it look easy. This is the way space flight should be done… 🙂

The next 5 days will be spent transferring cargo from the Orbiter to Mir. We’ll undock next Thursday and land on Saturday.

Thanks for listening… I just *HAD* to tell this story… and I feel *GREAT*!!!!!!!!


To: (distro)
From: Roger
Date: March 25, 1996
Subject:STS-76 Flight Day 4

Okay, okay… this one wasn’t as exciting as yesterday…

We’re docked now, for the second of 5 days. Starting yesterday when I left after the rendezvous, the crews (both the Shuttle and Mir crews) started the transfer of about 3000 lbs or so of equipment and supplies from Atlantis to Mir and about 500 lbs or so of items to be taken back to Earth on Atlantis. They accomplished almost 70% of their transfer activities in the first afternoon, so they’re way ahead of schedule!!

Crew press callBut, the most important transfer took place this afternoon. Shannon Lucid, one of the Atlantis crew, has been officially transitioned to the Mir-21 crew. Shannon will be spending 4 months onboard Mir as a “guest cosmonaut”, similar to what Norm Thagard did last spring/summer. We will replace Shannon with another astronaut in late July/early August on STS-79. So, Atlantis went up with 6 crewmen, but will be coming back with only 5.

Not much else happened today from a FDO standpoint… tomorrow should be more of the same. Tuesday, however, should be pretty visually “neat” again. Two of the Shuttle crewmen will perform an Extravehicular Activity (EVA… or more simply, a “spacewalk”) to install four experiment packages on the outside of the Mir Docking Module. That should be interesting.

I’ll end here with this short note… take care of yourselves and I’ll write again tomorrow.


To: (distro)
From: Roger
Date: March 26, 1996
Subject:STS-76 Flight Day 5

Another day of transferring cargo from Atlantis to Mir. For a FDO… pretty boring stuff. For the programs (both NASA and the Russians), another successful day in space.

Soooooooooooo….. we kept busy preparing for the EVA tomorrow and for the undocking and separation burn on Thursday. The EVA tomorrow will have Clifford and Godwin installing four experiment packages (MEEPs – Mir Environmental Exposure Platforms) on the outside of the Docking Module. That’s the large orange module directly connected to Atlantis and the Orbiter Docking System (ODS). The MEEPs will measure the environment directly around Mir. This includes the presence of debris (both man-made and natural — micrometeorites, dust, etc.), radiation, etc. This will help in the design choices of the International Space Station Alpha (ISSA) that NASA and its partners are finalizing even now.

Other than one event that I can’t discuss (one of those “I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you” type things… ), it was another slow shift. Again… better to have a very successful “slow” shift, than to have a very “exciting” shift fighting major malfunctions at every turn.

It’s bedtime now… 4am is late enough for me… 😛


To: (distro)
From: Roger
Date: March 27, 1996
Subject:STS-76 Flight Day 6 … the EVA

Today… while still not very busy from a FDO standpoint… was a lot more visually stunning than yesterday!!!

EVAThe two crewmembers scheduled for an EVA (Extravehicular Activity — NASA lingo for “spacewalk”) on this flight, Rich Clifford and Linda Godwin, started their activities early after crew wake-up. This involved attaching all of the biomedical sensors on various places on their bodies (ick). Rich’s biomed data wasn’t being received properly, but the problem was eventually resolved. That put us about 45 minutes behind the timeline. Eventually, the two were in their EMUs (Extravehicular Mobility Units — again… NASA lingo for “spacesuits”) and in the airlock for pre-breathing of the EMU oxygen. For anyone who’s ever been diving, the process for starting and ending an EVA is similar to that of coming “up” from a deep dive. You have to allow your body to process the extra oxygen in the bloodstream and deal with it at different pressures.

At any rate, Rich and Linda opened the hatch and left the tunnel connecting the Atlantis crew compartment and the ODS (remember that acronym from the other night?) and entered the payload bay. The object of this EVA was to remove a camera that was on the DM (remember this acronym? It’s a test… ) and had been used on STS-74, when the DM was installed onto the Mir from Atlantis. In addition, 4 MEEPs (Mir Environmental Experiment Packages) were installed on the DM. Actually… since the EVA is still going on (I just got off shift and am watching on NASA TV while I’m typing this), the MEEPs are being installed as I type!!! How ’bout that… real-time reporting!!!

Each EVA crewman was outfitted with the SAFER (I forget the *exact* acronym, but the “ER” stands for EVA Rescue). It is a small “jet pack” that is wrapped around the backpack containing the crewman’s oxygen and instrumentation. It is to be used *only* if the crewman’s tether line connecting him to the Orbiter were to be severed for some reason. It would allow the crewman to control his attitude and translate back to the safety of the bay. Both Rich and Linda had SAFER packs on them. We do *not* intend to use SAFER as a “nominal” translation aid.

If you remember some 10+ years ago, there was a large “jet backpack” called the MMU (Manned Mobility Unit) that was actually used several times in satellite retrieval missions. It was too bulky, though, to be a “common” tool in EVAs. As you can tell (if you saw the EVA), spacecraft constructed on-orbit (like Mir and the future US space station) tend to have a lot of items on their exterior that make mobility and agility a requirement.

KidSatI received something nice today on my shift. One of the secondary payloads on STS-76 is KidSat. KidSat uses the ESC (Electronic Still Camera — ask Artemis ’bout electronic cameras) mounted in one of the Orbiter’s overhead windows. During the pre-rendezvous days, the Orbiter “flew” in a “heads-down” attitude (i.e., with the top windows facing the Earth) so that the ESC could take pictures of different features on the Earth. KidSat was set up to allow camera “commands” to be uplinked to the ESC as to *when* to take pictures. A group of students at the University of California – San Diego, led by former astronaut Sally Ride — now a physics professor there, created a “mini” Mission Control there. They distributed data to high school and middle school students across the U.S. and allowed *THEM* to pick when and where to take pictures. Using data provided by me and my other two teams of FDOs, the KidSat students at UCSD generated a groundtrack that the secondary school students were able to view. Okay… enough background on KidSat… suffice it to say that I did a lot of pre-mission work with them and have been providing them with a good deal of important data to them *during* the mission. Okay… you’re with me now… I received a very nice e-mail from Sally Ride yesterday thanking me for my contributions and she asked for my “shirt size”. Today, the KidSat representatives here at JSC brought me a very nice polo shirt with their embroidered logo and “KidSat Mission Operations” on the front. I was very pleased with this and will wear it with pride… 🙂

Okay… enough bragging… 😛 Time for bed… my best to you all as we prepare for the undocking in two days…


To: (distro)
From: Roger
Date: March 28, 1996
Subject:STS-76 Flight Day 7

Today was “interesting”. Console operations have a way of so totally engrossing you in the activities of the flight that you sometimes tend to lose sight of what’s important in life.

There’s a very high divorce rate among flight controllers in the MCC. We’ve discussed it among ourselves from time to time, and we’ve never been able to pin it down to “just one thing”. Could it be that our spouses/SOs don’t understand the demands and the physical/mental drain of working missions (both the pre-flight activities and the actual flight)? Could it be that we, as operators, tend to treat life as we do space flight (i.e., cold and analytical), and are surprised when others in our lives don’t? Could it be that our spouses/SOs feel that they are being relegated to “second tier” status during flights? Could it be that we flight controllers actually focus *too much* on the mission and can’t “let it go” away from console? Ah well… one of the mysteries of life, I guess…

Sorry… I rambled a bit there… Anyway, here’s the news from today (which won’t go out until after I wake up later (probably around noon), since it’s 3:40am now and AOL is down until 6am CST):

The EVA yesterday was a complete success. All four MEEPs were installed on the DM and the DM camera was returned to the Orbiter. A humorous note — Linda Godwin was the third American woman to walk in space… but the first American woman to walk in space to not be named “Kathy”. The airlocks were repressurized before the crew went to bed and the hatch between Atlantis and Mir re-opened.

Shannon Lucid continues to prepare for her extended stay on Mir. One problem that has plagued her since the arrival is the fact that her computer connection to the Mir printer (a European version of the Cannon Bubble Jet) didn’t have the correct connection. It required a 9 pin serial cable and she only had a 25 pin connector. There have been lots of discussions on the ground with the IFM (In-Flight Maintenance) folks on how to “construct” one out of parts on-orbit. Remember, it’s not like we can just “send” a new connector to her in the mail! If this doesn’t work out, Shannon may not have a way to have hardcopies of her mail, flight plan, procedures, etc. A definite hinderance…

Other than that, though, everything is proceding towards a nominal undocking tomorrow evening. For the undocking, the Atlantis/Mir stack will maneuver such that Atlantis is tail-forward at the “bottom” of the stack (i.e., closest to Earth). Atlantis will then (after all hatches are closed and the ODS (remember that acronym?) is depressurized) separate from Mir and move out to approximately 500 feet. Chili (commander Kevin Chilton) will then initiate a maneuver that sends Atlantis in a loop around Mir. The shuttle crew will take pictures of the Russian station as the move around it. At the “bottom” of their transit around Mir (once again, closest to the Earth in their loop), Chili will perform a 3 foot per second separation maneuver that will carry Atlantis away from Mir at an opening rate of approximately 8 NM per orbit. After that… it’s button down the hatches and prepare for entry!!

Entry, nominally scheduled for 6am CST on Sunday morning, may be moved up one day due to the potential for bad weather at KSC on Sunday and Monday. We’ll know more tomorrow morning after a standard management meeting at JSC. If we *do* plan to come home on Saturday, rather than Sunday, the timeline after the undock will be *very* hectic, as the crew tries to cram two days worth of activities into one. But… I’ll fill you all in on that tomorrow.

Oh… remember I told you all about KidSat? They have posted their downloaded images on the Web… the address is: (NOTE: OFFLINE NOW, ARCHIVE.ORG VERSION)

Take a look… you’ll see what they’ve been doing!

With that… good night…


To: (distro)
From: Roger
Date: March 29, 1996
Subject:STS-76 Flight Day 8… undocking day!

Well, we did it! We’ve completed our mission with Mir for this flight… and we’re outta there!

When I left console yesterday, there was still some question as to whether we would shorten the mission by one day or not. That decision was made at the daily management meeting this morning. Based on the APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) leak that occurred during launch (I looked back on my reports… I forgot to mention this… sorry!) and the forecast for bad weather at KSC for both Sunday (the original planed landing day) and Monday, the consensus was to bring home the crew a day early. This had no effect on the duration of the docked mission or the undocking procedures today (with one exception that I’ll mention later). So, for now, the planned landing Saturday morning at KSC has a “wheels down” time of 6:57am CST.

Mir post-undockingNow… to the undocking! I came on console about 3 hours prior to the actual event. I reviewed the previous two shifts’ work and released the planning team a little early, so that I could concentrate on the task at hand. The crew awoke and immediately started into the undocking procedures.

As the time arrived, Chili withdrew the hooks on the ODS that had, almost 5 days earlier, secured the two spacecraft together. The actual undocking time was one second early (not too bad!), giving us a total docked time on this mission of 4 days, 22 hours, and 34 minutes.

As the ODS hooks withdrew, a small set of powerful springs gently pushed Atlantis away from Mir. About 15 seconds after undocking, Chili fired a set of Atlantis’ maneuvering thrusters to provide a slow, but steady, opening rate from Mir. As Atlantis reached approximately 500 feet below Mir, Chili started the TORF (Twice Orbital Rate Fly-Around). This, effectively, was a loop over the top of Mir. It has been performed on the previous Mir missions, and would be done again on this flight, in order to take a photographic survey of Mir for both our uses and the Russians’. This is where the only modification to the undocking procedures occured as a result of the one day early landing. We, originally, were going to perform *two* loops around Mir. To save some time in order to get the crew working on the pre-entry packing procedures, we deleted the second of the two loops. This was not a big deal, as the second “loop” would be in the dark anyway and wouldn’t have produced too many meaningful pictures.

At any rate… the flyaround *did* produce some spectacular views. We had live television images downlinked during the daylit loop, and we all enjoyed the view along with the STS-76 crew. I hope you got to see *some* of the pictures on your evening news.

As I get access to some of the pictures… I can make them available to you… either by e-mail, or perhaps on my Web site… I’d appreciate feedback from you all on your preferences…

Okay… at the “end” of the first loop, Atlantis was directly “below” Mir if you were to draw a line from Mir to the center of the Earth. At this point, Atlantis was in a “tail-forward, belly to Earth” attitude (i.e., the payload bay was facing Mir). Chili fired the aft maneuvering thrusters for 12 seconds. This provided a 3 foot per second velocity change that caused a significant opening rate between the two spacecraft. We opened up to approximately 9 NM in the first orbit and are continuing to phase out in front of Mir by about 9 NM per orbit. By the time we get to the deorbit opportunity on Saturday, we’ll have phased out to almost 180 NM (do the math… that’s 20 orbits!!!) in front of Mir.

At the end of my shift, the entry FDO had come in to start work on preparations for tomorrow’s entry shift. And…… with this shift…. my direct influence on STS-76 has come to an end. The entry team takes my place tomorrow… and (hopefully) lands Atlantis.

It’s been a tremendous flight… the work I’ve put in over the last year or so has finally paid off. I’m both happy and sad to see it end. After any flight that I’ve been lead FDO on (and other FDOs have expressed the same thing), there’s a period of “post-flight depression” that sets in… not in a personal sense, mind you… but in a “professional” sense. This flight has been my primary focus for the last 3 months. The last few weeks prior to flight I was working many long hours in preparation for all of the contingencies that we had to account for. Fortunately… we didn’t need any of them… but I was ready, if we did. Now, well actually on Monday, I start work on the post-flight reviews and presentations to management. That should cover about two weeks worth of work… and then… well, to be honest… I’ve been so involved with STS-76 that I’m not sure *what* flight I’m working next. I do know that I’m lead FDO on STS-84, the 6th Mir docking flight, so… I’m sure work on *that* will start in the next month or so… no rest for the weary…

I’ll drop everyone a line tomorrow night as I watch the entry preparations… and, perhaps, one detailing the actual entry operations.

Thank you all for your kind words and encouragement… they meant more to me than you know… this has been a long, and sometimes trying, week… I think I’m glad it’s over…

Until I “see” you all again…


To: (distro)
From: Roger
Date: March 30, 1996
Subject:STS-76 Kinda FD8 / kinda FD9

See… with the crew shifting themselves for a landing tomorrow (Saturday) morning at KSC, they had a slightly longer day today (FD8) than normal. They’re asleep right now, and the planning team is on console preparing everything for entry.

The landings tomorrow morning will utilize KSC (the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, if I failed to define that acronym before…) only for two potential deorbit opportunities. The weather (Wx) looks kinda “iffy” right now. It will definitely be a “wait and see” day.

The first opportunity to KSC will result in a landing time of 6:56am CST, with the second (if required) giving a landing time of 8:32am CST. If the Wx doesn’t cooperate with us, we’ll “go around” one more day and try again on Sunday morning. If we *do* wave off one day, we’ll bring up *both* KSC and EDW (Edwards Air Force Base in California) for support. That will almost guarantee a landing on Sunday at the latest.

Officially, my flight support for STS-76 ended with my shift early this morning. This was one for the record books… and a great set of memories for me. Next week, I try to sort through the *reams* of data generated during the flight and start working on my post-flight summary reports for management. In addition, I need to figure out which upcoming flights I’m assigned to… ’cause I have some good news!

I’ve arranged with the ex the times that my son, Andrew, will be coming out here for a visit!!! He arrives on May 25th and leaves 🙁 on June 29th. So… I need to make sure that I’m not assigned to any flights during that time, or have any *required* sims that I have to support. I’m going to try to spend as much time as possible with him… perhaps take a week from work during that time and just “go” somewhere… don’t know where yet.

Oh well… I’ll probably toss a quick “we’re down” note out tomorrow morning… but, I think the long detailed flight support reports are done for this flight… thanks for listening!

Any questions?


To: (distro)
From: Roger
Date: March 31, 1996
Subject:STS-76 One-day wave-off

Bad Wx at KSC forced a one day postponement of today’s landing. Both of the two opportunities today had low ceilings that violated our landing Flight Rules. Our Rules state that we must have at least ceilings (i.e., cloud decks) no lower than 10,000 feet. If I heard correctly, the ceilings were on the order of 5,000 feet.

The reason for this is that the Shuttle performs its final turn to the runway (along an invisible cone called the Heading Alignment Cone, or HAC) at an altitude of less than 20,000 feet down to a final altitude of around 10,000 feet when the crew lines up on the runway. We want the crew to be able to *see* the runway as they come off the HAC. The ceilings today precluded that, so… we decided to go around one more day.

Today, only landings at KSC were considered. Tomorrow, if the Wx at KSC is still expected to be bad (which it is), then we will look at landing at EDW. The EDW Wx for tomorrow is very favorable, so I would expect that we’d be landing there, after the KSC opportunities have been ruled out. It’s always preferable to land at KSC, since that’s where the launches occur, and it doesn’t require a very expensive and time-consuming flight on the back of the 747 Carrier Aircraft to get the Orbiter back to KSC, as it does when we land at EDW.

But… there *was* some minor “excitement” this morning. After the landings were waved off, the crew went to re-open the Payload Bay Doors (PLBDs). There are four sets of four latches each that close the PLBDs and provide the structural strength along the top of the Orbiter. The first set opened as expected, but the second set, even though to the crew’s view from the mid-deck looked like they opened, reported through the microswitch electronics that they remained closed. A lot of discussion, I’m sure, went through the MCC about whether to believe the electronics or the visual reports from the crew. Fortunately, on this flight, we had the SpaceHab module almost directly under the latches in question. So… Linda Godwin went into the ‘Hab module and looked through the overhead viewport and was able to report that the latches were, indeed, open. The crew was given the “GO” to open the PLBDs manually, rather than with the automatic drive. They opened just fine…

If the doors had *not* been able to be opened, a landing today would have been required, as the Orbiter uses the open PLBDs to vent heat from the avionics and other equipment into space.

So… tomorrow’s opportunities at KSC have landings at 0700am CST and (approximately) 0830am CST, with EDW landing opportunities at (all approximate) 0830am CST, 1000am CST, and 1130am CST. Unless the Wx at KSC is *really* bad, the first EDW opportunity will be at 1000am CST.

I’m going to take this *entire* weekend to recover… 😛 It usually takes a couple of days to get “back to normal” after a flight… and then… it’s Monday (yecch).

Take care all…


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