Jun 16, 2008- STS-124 landing highlights

Was chosen to be an SCO (Space Craft Operator for those not up to speed yet) to support landing Saturday. It was my first time in that position and was a very cool spot to be in. I was one of two people who open the hatch and take over the vehicle after the astronauts leave it. So what happened?

Had our briefings in the morning and at 10 a.m. we headed to our vehicles for staging. I was driving the Orbiter Access Vehicle which goes over the hatch area and allows us to get in and out of the orbiter.

Staged at the southern end of the runway since the orbiter was landing on runway 15. These were the vehicles in front of me- that one is a big fan used to blow any vapors away from the forward end of the orbiter if the wind is coming from the rear,

and these were the vehicles behind me. That square-shaped one is the Crew Transfer Vehicle (CTV) which is where the astronauts are taken into for medical checkout, preparation for the post landing meet & greet, and transport to the O&C building for their post landing interviews. It is also where the ASPs, astronaut support personnel, ride– they help the crew off and do an initial vehicle cockpit configuration prior to handing it over to us.

Look– a flock of astronauts! They got off of the CTV to get a better view of the landing.

Got the double booms and saw a nice landing, then staged at 1250 ft for the initial safety assessment. Once the safety team sniffed the thrusters to make sure they aren’t leaking, we got to go in.

Things got a little busy at this point, so I wasn’t able to take pictures but here was how it went: The Move Director guided me up to the hatch, the experienced SCO was up in the little room above me and removed the carrier panels covering the hatch access port while I lowered the trucks outriggers and secured the vehicle. Then I headed up to assist with hatch opening. We opened the hatch to see a smiling astronaut and said welcome home to them all. We set up the platform access, then retreated to the CTV which came in behind us while we were busy and docked right up against the white room. We stayed out of the way while the crew was offloaded one at a time. Didn’t take pics in there so that they could have their privacy, but it is roomy and each astronaut has a very comfortable leather chair to sit in during their stay in there.

Astronaut Jerry Ross, seen here helping with equipment offload, gave us a nice compliment regarding how quickly we got the hatch opened and set up access for them. That portion is time critical– they don’t like to see fumbling or wasted time that impacts access to the crew.

Once everyone was out, astronauts Kathy Hire and Italian Paulo Nespoli went up the the flight deck to perform the post landing checklist- got a picture of Paulo as I looked up from the hatch. Didn’t want to distract him by using a flash, but it came out o.k with a little photo tweaking.

Thought it was roomy in there, huh? This is what it looks like from the hatch just after landing. The curved piece is the escape pole that is for abandoning ship in the atmosphere. Hope it stays unused!

Most of this stuff was removed on the runway by the flight crew systems techs. Here is another view from inside on the middeck looking aft.

The orbiter was handed over to us by the ASPs and we got to work doing the towing switchlists and vehicle safing. It was a busy time, but we have a couple of minutes here and there while work steps were being bought. We were using the lightweight headsets the crew used and talked to the test controllers over the orbiter’s comm links. Had time to get a picture out the front window. You can see the towbar being positioned and the vehicle where the offloaded equipment was stored.

They closed the hatch with us inside around 1430 hr. and we continued with the switchlists while heading toward OPF-3. We were so busy that before we knew it, we were outside of OPF-3 and they opened the hatch to send in the relief crew at 1600 hr.

The guys who relieved us were stuck inside until the orbiter was spotted correctly in the hangar– usually about 13 hours. It was a great experience and another completed piece of the puzzle that I need for my next certification.

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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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