Christer Fuglesang's newsletter: Waiting game
Houston, 14 July 2009 The weather in Florida is causing us problems! They have had to postpone the launch of STS-127 three times over the last few days. The first attempt, scheduled for 11 July, was abandoned already the day before when lightning strikes around the Shuttle on the launch pad caused a thorough recheck to be carried out to make sure nothing had been damaged by the lightning.
Besides, the weather forecast wasn't too good for Saturday 11 July. But both last Sunday and Monday everything was prepared and the crew were strapped into the Shuttle for a few hours before the launch attempts were abandoned about a quarter of an hour before take-off. The countdown clock in both cases was then at 9:00, that is nine minutes to go, but in reality the attempts were abandoned a little earlier.
There are checkpoints built-in during the countdown when the clock is stopped and you wait for ‘real time’ to catch up, so to speak. This is because you want to have a margin in case some smaller problems appear so that you then have time to fix these. But the weather isn't easily fixed, so there was nothing to do but give up. The thunderstorm was too close to risk a launch. I felt for the crew aboard. The same thing happened to us aboard STS-116 on 7 December 2006, our first launch attempt. I think we were only five minutes from T0. But if anyone should be used to waiting by now it is Roman, who was our commander on STS-116. He is the commander of STS-127 as well.
At first the story was that the last chance for STS-127 in this ‘launch window’ would be 14 July, i.e. today. After that there would have to be a delay until a Progress capsule docks with the ISS on 26 July. But in this line of business the last word never seems to be said. So now they will try for two more days with STS-127: 15 July and 16 July, and the price to pay will be a shorter trip, by one or two days, respectively.
So, what's happening to us? Well, so far nothing has been said officially, so we continue to aim for 18 August, even though few believe that's realistic. Before STS-127 gets off the ground, or alternatively has to wait until after 26 July, there is no use in making new detailed plans. My guess is that we'll be delayed by at least a few days even if STS-127 launches tomorrow (15 July). But if STS-127 is delayed until the end of July we risk a traffic jam at the ISS in September and October.
In early September the first Japanese cargo vehicle, HTV (similar to ESA’s ATV) will be launched, and it is expected at the ISS on 7 September. Then it's time for a Soyuz change-over, that is preceded by a Progress undocking on 29 September, followed by a Soyuz docking on 2 October and undocking on 11 October. It’s rumored that we, at worst, might have to wait until the second half of October. First we'll see if STS-127 can’t get on its way on one of the next few days! But as I've said, in this line of business the last word is never said.
Training and other preparations are moving along, as you can see in the images. For two weeks I carried a so-called activity clock on my left arm (you should wear it on your non-dominant arm) and kept a log every morning about how much I slept during the night. It's an experiment that will investigate how we sleep in space compared to on Earth. The activity clock measures how much I move and the level of light. Today I could look at the results from the two weeks, and on the whole my view of how much I slept agreed with how the scientists interpreted the activity clock results. On average I had estimated half an hour more per night than them. According to the clock I actually slept less than seven hours per night. It's fun to see that kind of data.
Some of you have probably noted that Jose has begun twittering: http://twitter.com/astro_jose. There are several astronauts that write about preparations for upcoming flights through Twitter. I'll also be trying it out in a while. I figured I'd start just before we go to Florida for the last rehearsal, TCDT (Terminal Count Down Test). There won't, however, be any twittering from space (real twitter is actually not possible from space). It means that the newsletters in their present form will be phased out.
But there will actually be more information from me, partly through Twitter, and partly through images and image captions that I will continue to publish via the new Swedish Rymdkanalen (Space Channel), rymdkanalen.se, and the ESA web site. I'll also try to do a series of video interviews that will be published by Rymdkanalen as well as other places.