Christer Fuglesang's newsletter: Midsummer holiday
Houston, 22 June 2009. Typical! You go on a week's vacation, and they mess up! Last Friday (12 June) I climbed on a plane in Houston with Lisa and Rutger and everything looked OK for STS-127 to start the day after.
But when we land in Stockholm and I can switch on these small communications appliances everybody carries around with them, I read that the launch attempt has to be scrubbed due to a leak in the hydrogen system during topping up of the hydrogen tank. Four days later they try again in Florida, but this time there was an even worse leak.
The earliest possible date for STS-127 is now 11 July, but it can also be later. For our part it has been said that the launch will be on 18 August at the earliest, but it will probably be a week or two before we get more definite information. But this is the way it works in the space business: you have to be flexible and prepared for changes all the time. And security is always at the forefront.
When we started training for STS-128 in September last year I was surprised that in the long term schedule they'd put in a week's vacation, and only a month or so before launch. The midsummer week to boot! Previously there only used to be training and nothing else for basically the last six months, but they discovered that many were more than a bit run down when it was time to launch. So these days we get a week's vacation as late as possible.
When I saw this I thought we'll see how it turns out – changes are often made at a late stage that require extra training. But it worked out all the way and there was a Midsummer pole with dancing, pickled herring, beer and snaps in the archipelago, exactly as it's supposed to be. There might even be another short trip to Sweden this summer due to the hydrogen leak problem. You win some and you lose some.
This week is a press week. Journalists from Scandinavia and ESA follow the training on site and do interviews during a few days (and nights). They finish with a full day at the Kennedy Space Center and so will also see the ‘real’ stuff. Unfortunately I can't be there as we're in training in Houston at the same time.
Now NASA has also made its choice of new astronauts. It will be the smallest class in forty years, only nine in total including three pilots. Unfortunately our spacewalk trainer Zeb didn't make it. That the class is small reflects the fact that the Space Shuttle will be retired next year and that there is still some time before the next American spacecraft, the Orion, will fly. The new astronauts will begin their training on 10 August, and they will be joined by the two new Japanese candidates and the two from Canada. The six new ESA astronauts will start at EAC on 1 September.