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Viewing space shuttle launch more than incredible PDF Print E-mail

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1- BLASTOFF!!!

It was absolutely incredible to watch the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery last Monday in Florida, just after singing the National Anthem with respect to our nation. 

Thousands of hours by multitudes of people go into making that moment successful and safe for the astronauts and everyone involved.

We took particular interest in Mission Specialist Clayton Anderson, a homegrown Nebraska boy who is one of the seven astronauts on the mission.

Weather circumstances were perfect and the launch happened on schedule to the second. And that’s how it has to be. One component can’t happen without the other.

As we waited for takeoff, announcement was made that the space station would be appearing in three minutes over our right shoulder. In the previous couple days, I had learned a great deal about space at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Center and the VIP debriefing.

An interesting video gave a quick review of what parts had been added to and removed from the International Space Station by several different countries and what would be happening on this mission. 

How peaceful to know that there is no war in space.

But I questioned how we could see that space station from our seats. Lo and behold, in exactly three minutes, there it was. The science of it all is unbelievable!! 

What looked like a blinking star floated in the sky and passed in front of the moon. And to think that is where the astronauts were headed. 

It’s so difficult to fathom how predictable the orbit schedule is.

However, all along the way, those involved in the space program have to be prepared for the unpredictable. Astronauts train again and again to be prepared for what might happen. Every imaginable issue is analyzed and solved just in case.

Imagine the force it takes to lift those millions of tons off the ground.

Two solid rocket boosters give a thrust, then fall to the ocean two minutes after liftoff. Their purpose is complete. Those are retrieved and refurbished for the next launch. The enormous external tank holding fuel lasts about nine minutes when it is separated from the shuttle and breaks into pieces as it dissipates into space.

And just like that, within 10 minutes, the shuttle is in space. We weren’t even out of the bleachers yet. INCREDIBLE. I was shocked to learn that they were actually only a couple hundred miles away.

I have taken great interest in reading and watching action in space this week. It was interesting to watch the astronauts enter the space station and to greet others with hugs who were already there from other countries.

During the 13-day mission to the International Space Station, the plan is to deliver science experiments and supplies, take three space walks to switch out a gyroscope on the station’s truss, install a spare ammonia storage tank and return a used one and retrieve a Japanese experiment to return to earth.

Clayton was involved in the space walks and I watched the last part of the third walk this morning (April 13). 

The 6.5 hour plan was completed in 6

hours 24 minutes. Again, the timing is phenomenal. The timing of the two astronauts on the walk and the one inside the shuttle giving step-by-step guidance and operating the robotic arms was again precise.

The 15’ diameter and 60’ long size of the ammonia tank assembly that provides coolant for the space station was partly determined by what would fit in the shuttle cargo area. The 1800-pound unit was big and cumbersome but the weight wasn’t an issue due to no gravity.

Everything seemed to work in slow motion. Once the walk was complete, the astronauts didn’t just toss off their space suits and jump into something more comfortable. Their cohorts had to help them undress, first removing the tools and components of the space suit and continuing one piece at a time.

Each astronaut (the four men and three women) has an interesting background.

I’m sure NASA must study personalities before picking the team as they have to get along and rely on each other. And that was obviously the situation as they high-fived each other.

Interestingly enough, those in the shuttle were dressed in khaki pants and dark shirts, like another day at the office.

Another day at the office. Clay’s two children returned to school. Dad’s at work like another day at the office. He’s doing the same thing that he has done for months, but this time it’s for real and he is floating in space. 

And this time he won’t be gone for five months like on his first mission to space.

Clay’s wife, Susan, was most gracious in welcoming friends and family at a fun Cocoa Beach party the day prior to the launch. She’s amazing herself,

also a full-time NASA employee.

There were other Nebraskans present, all of us so proud of Clay. Another treat was meeting Curt Tomasevicz, the Nebraska gold medal Olympian as well as his friend, Emily Azevedo, who was on the women’s bobsled team.

Connections with them and other people (like Neil Armstrong) make for another whole story. 

To be continued . . .