Shuttle News: August 2006 Archives

NASA farms out moon rocket, AP

"The program will reduce the risk of a fatal accident to astronauts from 1-in-200 currently for the shuttle to 1-in-2000 for the new Constellation program, Orion project manager Skip Hatfield said last week."

Editor's note: "1-in-200 currently for the shuttle"? Um, Skip: we haven't even had 200 shuttle flights yet - the number is actually closer to 100 - but we have had two fatal shuttle accidents thus far.

Editor's note: According to NASA HQ PAO: "If we don't have any ill effects from Ernesto, NASA would attempt a shuttle launch on September 6, 7, and 8. The Soyuz would go on the 18th if the shuttle launches and if not, the Soyuz would go on the 14th."

Atlantis may have three shots next week, Orlando Sentinel

"However, by eliminating one of two optional mission extension days that is included in Atlantis' flight plan, the 8th becomes available. The key is that Atlantis has to undock from the station by Sept. 17 to allow the Soyuz mission to proceed."

Schedule Pressure

NASA considers relaxing daylight rule if Atlantis misses September window, SpaceflightNow

"If the shuttle Atlantis fails to get off the ground before the Sept. 7 end of its current launch window - a scenario that could delay the flight to late October - NASA managers may reconsider an earlier decision to only launch in daylight to ensure photo documentation of the ship's heat shield and external tank, officials said today."

Editor's note: In other words NASA is considering lessening requirements as a result of schedule pressure.

Editor's note: NASA HQ called me twice today to tell me about a JSC telecon (they won't put me on their list at JSC for some reason). JSC called to link me up to this second telecon but never called on me. Oh well. My question would have been: NASA is an agency which seeks to describe its programmatic risks in a number of ways - most of them numerical. What numerical level of confidence do you have that the predictions you are relying upon will be valid throughout the storm's passage? If there is no numerical evaluation, can you describe how you made this decision and what established criteria you based that decision upon?

[Follow up/alternate question] Given that you spent several days pondering whether or not to scrub and do the rollback to the VAB in the first place - and then suddenly reversed your decision in just a few hours today, do you feel that your decision to return to the pad was given enough consideration, and, if so, did you therefore spend too much time debating the initial decision to roll back to the VAB?

Atlantis going back to the pad, Orlando Sentinel

"In a stunning turnaround, shuttle Atlantis is being rolled back to the launch pad after getting halfway to the Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building."

Editor's note: Less than 2 hours ago NASA completed a telecon with reporters regarding the roll back of Atlantis to the VAB. At that time not the slightest hint whatsoever was dropped by either Wayne Hale or Mike Suffredini that there might be a change in NASA's plans. Now it is sending Atlantis back to the pad. It would seem that NASA is making these major decisions in near realtime - otherwise, why spend an hour answering questions (between 12:00 and 1:00 pm EDT) based on the premise that a roll back to the VAB was a done deal?

Atlantis no longer seeks shelter and returning to pad, SpaceflightNow

"Atlantis' rollback began at 10:04 a.m. after a long debate about the forecast and whether to ride out the storm at the pad. In the end, Leinbach decided predictions of 65-knot gusts were too much and the slow move began."

Editor's note: The Tuesday 29 Aug weather weekly outlook from the 45th Weather Squadron at Patrick AFB calls for sustained winds at 50 knots with gusts up to 60 knots on Wednesday evening. That forecast has a differential of 5 knots from the number Leinbach determined was unacceptable - and warranted a rollback to the VAB. Comparing 60 with 65 knots, a 5 knot differential is around 7%. Is NASA that confident that their forecast is that accurate - in terms of storm track and expected conditions on the pad? It would seem so. It will be interesting to see how they assure that nothing hit the ET so as to cause underlying foam damage - especially given the ease with which ET workers - and woodpeckers - have been shown to damage it.

Reader note: "The forecast you referred to was posted at 8am using the 5am NHC bulletin... As I think you are aware, NHC downgraded the threat at 11am and even further at 2pm, which was one of the last tidbits they used to stop the rollback and return to pad. The number Mike gave was 70kts as the cutoff for being on the pad, not 65kts."

Editor's note: I stand corrected - alas, portions of the audio we had on the phone bridge - especially the beginning - were unintelligible due to overlapping echoes. None the less, my point remains: is the difference between the wind speeds comensurate with the accuracy with which NASA has been assured that the weather predictions are correct?

KSC Shutting Down

Kennedy Space Center Closes for Tropical Storm Ernesto, NASA KSC

"As a result of Tropical Storm Ernesto approaching Central Florida, Kennedy Space Center will close at midnight tonight. All non-essential KSC employees are being asked not to report to work on Wednesday, Aug. 30. Based on current conditions, the center is expected to reopen Thursday, Aug. 31, or as soon as the "all clear" is given."

Shuttle Launch Options

Rollback continues, launch options discussed, Orlando Sentinel

"After Ernesto passes, NASA cannot get back to the launch pad in time to lift off by Sept. 7. The next launch opportunity after the Russian flight that would meet lighting requirements is Oct. 26-27. In short, NASA will suffer at least a two-month launch delay unless one of two things happens: (1) The Russians agree to give Atlantis more opportunities by landing the Soyuz mission in the middle of the night or (2) NASA relaxes its daylight launch requirements."

Roll Back

NASA Decides to Move Shuttle Atlantis Off Launch Pad

"NASA has decided to roll the Space Shuttle Atlantis off its launch pad and back inside the protection of the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. The roll back of Atlantis is targeted to start at approximately 10:05 a.m. EDT Tuesday.The decision was made due to Tropical Storm Ernesto's track. Ernesto is expected to bring high winds as it passes Kennedy."

  • KSC Video Feeds
  • Hurricane Ernesto Updates, NOAA
  • Lightning, Hurricanes, Russians - and Space Shuttles, SpaceRef

    "Launching Space Shuttles has always been complicated - thousands of people and millions of parts all have to work just right - all while nature (and sometimes human politics) cooperate. All it takes is one small thing - and a bit of bad luck - and a launch can be delayed again - and again.

    This time NASA's bad luck arrived in threes."

    Editor's 28 Aug 9:50 am EDT update: The briefing has slipped to 10:15 am EDT.

    Editor's 28 Aug 7:50 am EDT update: The briefing has slipped to 10 am EDT.

    Editor's 28 Aug 7:30 am EDT update: Dean Acosta just announced in the newsroom that NASA mission managers decided this morning to scrub Tuesday's launch attempt . Rollback preparations will begin, but the actual decision to rollback will not be made until midday tomorrow. There will be a news briefing at 9:00 am EDT.

    Editor's 28 Aug 7:25 am EDT update: Newsroom staff are now saying "yes. but its not official" with regard to questions about roll back.

    Editor's 28 Aug 7:10 am EDT update: The KSC launch site news room staff suddenly dashed out a few moments ago. Those who remain are talking about "rollback".

    Editor's 27 Aug 9:10 pm EDT update: NASA did indeed announce that they have put off a final decision as to whether they will proceed with launch preparations - or prepare to roll the shuttle back to the VAB until 7:00 am EDT on Monday. The track of Ernesto seems to have developed in a way that gives NASA some optimism that it will not affect launch preparations. In addition, analysis of the SRBs shows that the lightning strike most likely did not affect SRB systems.

    Editor's 27 Aug 7:41 pm EDT update: NASA will announce at 8:00 pm EDT that they have not made a decision after all and that we have to wait until 7;00 AM EDT Monday for a final answer. Meanwhile, a L-1 MMT meeting is being planned for 10 am EDT on Monday.

    Shuttle Update

    Solid rocket booster tests could be ordered, Spaceflightnow

    "NASA managers are meeting tonight to discuss whether or not to conduct additional tests to make sure a lightning strike Friday didn't cause any problems with the shuttle Atlantis' solid-fuel booster rockets. If such tests are ordered - and the booster project team is making that recommendation - launch could be delayed until the middle of the week, sources said this evening."

    Lightning strike forces postponement of Shuttle launch, Orlando Sentinel

    "The lightning strike, described by NASA managers as the largest ever recorded at the launch pad, occurred about 2.p.m. Friday. The bolt hit the pad's lightning suppression system and caused some electrical components on Atlantis and ground-support equipment to show brief spikes."

    STS-115 Launch Postponed

    "The Space Shuttle Mission Management Team decided Saturday afternoon to postpone the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis for at least 24 hours to allow more time for teams to assess ground and flight systems following a strong lighting strike to the lighting protection system at the launch pad on Friday afternoon."

    Editor's note: Yesterday's lightning strike may have caused some damage to the shuttle launch pad. NASA scrubbed tomorrow's STS-115 launch for a least 24 hours to investigate possible pad damage. A MMT (Mission Management Team) meeting Sunday morning will discuss this topic. Word of a launch attempt on Monday - or a further delay - will be announced midday Sunday. Right now we are under a stage 2 lightning alert and the press center is being pounded by rain.

    STS-115 Update

    Shuttle communications antenna bolts a concern, Spaceflight Now

    "Engineers are trying to determine whether critical bolts holding the shuttle Atlantis' KU-band antenna box in place are securely threaded, a potentially serious issue that could require tricky repairs before the ship's Aug. 27 launch, sources said Sunday."

    NASA Announces Post Readiness Review Press Conference

    "NASA officials will host a news conference no earlier than 2 p.m. EDT, Wednesday, Aug. 16, following a two-day detailed assessment of the readiness of Space Shuttle Atlantis for launch. The briefing will air live on NASA TV from the Kennedy Space Center, Fla."

    Reader note: Hi, Keith. I was amused by this obvious typo on the main Space Shuttle news site at

    "With the tracks of the crawler transporter visible in the foreground, Space Shuttle Atlantis is in position at Launch Pad 39B for lift off of mission STS-115 to the International Space Photo Station."

    I suppose by dropping microgravity research, and the whittling away at life science research, all that will be left is an "International Space Photo Station".

    Editor's note: NASA fixed it.



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    This page is an archive of entries in the Shuttle News category from August 2006.

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