Monday, May 16, 2011

Final Endeavour

       At 6.20 p.m. (IST) on May 16,2011, the command from the launch control centre at Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre was ``We are ready for launch.''

       Closer to the launch time there was a 9-minute hold during which 1000 paremeters of the space shuttle were checked. At T-7 minutes the scene shifted to the space shuttle missions operations control centre at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston. Kyle Herring who was giving the commentary said that the ascent team  has been on the consoles since 3 a.m. (CDT--Houston time). The launch time was 8.56 a.m. (EDT corresponding to about 6.30 p.m. (IST).

       Earlier, it was stated that the launch team and the crew had declared a `go,' and the clouds posed on issues. The weather forecast was a `go' and there was no issue with the space shuttle's heaters which had earlier created problems resulting in the mission being resked.

       The final command for igniting the shuttle'e engines came at T-6.6 seconds prior to lift off.

       Then around 6.30 p.m. (IST), the space shuttle Endeavour lifted off majestically on its final mission with a seven-member crew. The primary role of this flight is to deliver a major physics experiment to the International Space Station called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.

        ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' watched the Endeavour launch coverage on Nasa TV right from 2 p.m. (IST) on May 16 2011 and every moment of it was exciting and thrilling, apart from it being informative. Wondered why Isro cannot do the same thing with its missions and reach out to the public more effectively?  For instance why cannot Isro have its own TV channel?

         A few minutes before lift off BMM activated CNN too. It was surprised to find that for unknown reasons there was time difference between the sequence of events connected with the mission being shown on CNN and Nasa TV. CNN was a few minutes ahead of Nasa TV. In plain terms it means that the lift off Endeavour first came on CNN and then a few minutes later on Nasa TV.

         BMM's house at Breach Candy in Mumbai is currently undergoing a major renovation. Even the electrician and carpenter who were watching the lift off were somewhat puzzled by this difference in timing. Why should it happen?

        CNN carried some of the tweets of the crew members and one of them said that he was displaying a boyish enthusiasm. What is wrong with this? Nothing. It is good.

        About this mission itself ,Nasa launch director Mike Leinbach said that his team faced a number of challenges,but successfully returned to the launch mode. When he polled the status of different stations, all systems were a `go for launch.' giving the final green signal for a 6.30 p.m. (IST) take off of Endeavour.

        Endeavour will dock with the International Space Station on Wednesday and return finally on June 1,2011. According to Nasa, it has completed 116,372,930 miles, finished 4423 orbits in 25 flights carrying 166 crew members. It has docked with the space station 11 times.

         For the sake of comparision the space shuttle Columbia did 121,696,993 miles; Challenger 23,661,290 miles; Discovery 148,221,675 miles and Atlantis 120,650,907 miles.

        This particular space shuttle, Endeavour, was the result of a tragedy. It was born as a replacement for space shuttle Challenger which blew up 70 seconds after lift off on January 28,1986. Nasa was given the `go' for asking Rockwell International to construct Endeavour on July 31,1987. It was ready in July 1990 and delivered to the Kennedy Space Centre in May 1991.  Its maiden flight was exactly a year later in May 1992.

        The name Endeavour was given as a result of a competition among American school kids. BMM with the secretary of India chapter of Moon Society, Pradeep Mohandas, has been suggesting that a similar competition should be held in India to name the rover which will land on the moon during the Chandrayaan-2 flight presumably 2014.  We suggested this to the Nehru Science Centre in Mumbai sometime back. But, there has been no response.     

         It was a great five-hour afternoon watching every moment of the drama taking place at the Kennedy Space Centre. BMM has ordered a book called ``Wings In Orbit,'' which is about the space shuttles written by those connected with it. It is expected to receive it any day.

         Next is the last space shuttle mission--Atlantis slated for launch in June 2011.

         With the flight of Atlantis the era of the space shuttles will finally draw to a close. Maybe scientists who were opposed to manned space missions all along will sigh a relief!!!!!


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