Mar 31, 2008- Endeavour roll in (trapped in a can)


Heard that familiar sound just as I stepped out the door to leave for work. After cancelling the first attempt, Endeavour was almost home. I went into work later than normal because it was going to be a long shift– I was one of two Space Craft Operators (SCOs) who were riding the vehicle into bay 2 of the OPF where the orbiter is processed between missions. Listened to the landing on the way into work and got there around 9:30 at night. This was my first time doing this operation, so I talked to other SCOs who had done it in the past for an idea of what to expect. Walked through the bay and saw the lasers set up to support roll into the bay. They are used as alignment tools, allowing the Move Director controlling the operation to direct the tug driver into the right spot.

Speaking of which, I had taken Immodium AD around 4 that afternoon. Apparently, it is standard practice so that no unexpected “events” take place inside the vehicle. No one to date has gone #2 while locked inside, and I was not going to be the first– not something you want to be known for. The Waste Management System (toilet) is not useable at that point and without training on how to use it, well, that is something else you don’t want to be known for. It isn’t like your home toilet. It is more like operating a backhoe, but those details aren’t important now.

Around 12:30, the convoy rolled up to the entrance of OPF bay 2. The orbiter and its support vehicles come in and out of the lights during the slow move towards the building and stop just after turning to line up with the centerline stripe.

The other experienced SCO is put up into the staircase truck to spot the whiteroom so the hatch can be opened to changeout the SCO crews. You can see the closed hatch faintly in the background.

Two SCOs on the runway team had opened the hatch for the astronauts and taken control of the vehicle after they departed, performing switch lists and managing the systems during the tow from the runway to the OPF. Now two convoy techs open the hatch to let them out.

Changeout was completed and now we were locked inside until the vehicle was spotted and jacked up to maintenance height. The first thing you notice going in is that the flight deck is warm. The mod we did to the vehicle during the Columbia shut down enabled the orbiter to use space station power instead of its own cryos to run the fuel cells. This allows it to stay up for a longer period of time, but brings back more cryos during normal mission parameters. We now turn every light on in the vehicle to burn off as much as we can so the cryo offload times can be made shorter. The bay is cleared for that because of the potential for flammable hydrogen and oxygen leaks during offload, which shuts down all other processing during that time. So now we do this (can’t see all the lights because of the flash):

The other SCO, Charlie, looks up from the opening between the flight deck and the mid deck.

Sitting in the pilot’s seat, I took readings every hour and observed the roll in from a new perspective. The heads up display (HUD) has a GSE cover on it for protection (see scratches on the cover for proof).

This gauge shows the temperature inside one of the avionics bays, which also was the temp up on the flight deck. Temps would later get to 100 degrees in there as time went on. I can see how claustrophobia could set in for people susceptible to it.

Going in– the orbiter is towed with a vehicle similar to one that moves aircraft around at the airport. You can see the laser dot on the hood of the tug showing the centerline and giving them indications where to bring the nose in order to maintain centerline. Anyone who tows a boat or trailer knows that precise positioning is tricky– imagine doing it on this scale!

Me taking readings on the hour. We had to take them in case the uplink between the vehicle and firing room was lost and to spot trends indicating problems in the vehicle.

Because of the heat, we took 1 hour shifts on the flight deck. It was about 15 degrees cooler on the mid deck, so it was a little bit of a break.

Most of the lockers on the mid deck were removed at the runway, but some were left behind. They are located along the forward wall in front of av bays 1 and 2.

The galley and water heater (orange circle). Here is where food is prepared using water (hot and cold) and a little oven.

The floor area where storage lockers, cabin air fans and LIOH canisters are stored for removing carbon dioxide from the air during flight. Not used during ground operations because we had purge air being supplied by one of the big trucks attached to the T-0s in the aft.

The ceiling of the mid deck had cables routed all around to support electrical, video, and comm requirements for handheld devices,laptops, etc. Fluorescent lighting shines behind clear panels.

We had to bring our own food and water with us for the 13 hour lockdown. Subway and animal crackers– good combo.

Yes, we also had to bring something to handle the output. Lucky for me, I only had to go 3 times in that 13 hour period.

Communication was spotty during roll in because we were using the vehicle’s comm system. The steel beams and structure caused drop outs and other difficulties, but we managed to keep in touch through the static. There was a problem with the air to air channel that caused the annoying static, but once it was discovered and turned down we could hear better. The lightweight headsets used by the astronauts were comfortable to wear for long periods, especially in the heat of the flight deck. I know, I wore the wrong shirt. Behind me is the aft flight deck were the arm and the docking system are controlled.

After ten hours, we started to wonder what was taking so long. Turns out they had problems with some new equipment they were trying for the first time that caused some delays in starting the jack and leveling process. Kept checking out of the side hatch window to see if any progress was being made.

Had to go into the WCS area during a switch list. The black things on the door are rubber cups with slits in them that grab and hold baggies for personal items. Each astronaut has their own color– that goes for food and lockers too. That handle on the left gave me the backhoe reference.


About John Sep

Former Space Shuttle aerospace technician and private pilot now looking towards the next great adventure. Soon to be heading home from my overseas assignment! Transfered my blog from MySpace to here so check my older stuff for info and pictures from my days in space shuttle processing- lots of behind the scenes stuff! He drew pics, flew planes, fought fires and helped launch people into space - what will he do next?
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