Christer Fuglesang’s newsletter - Cape, 16 November 2006
We have just completed the TCDT (Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test) in Florida. Here is a description, in diary format, of what we have done during the week.
We flew from Ellington (the airport in Houston where NASA has its base) to Cape in the afternoon. We flew in pairs, Billy O and I, with Suni and Brent Jett, who was Suni’s pilot, down to Cape. Wonderful weather!
We flew at an altitude of 43 000 feet. When we arrived our landing gear was a bit sluggish – it took more than twice the normal time to get it down. Due to this we flew an extra circuit above the runway while Brent and Suni checked that everything looked good before we landed. On the ground there was a small press contingent waiting, including some Swedish journalists.
It was only commander Polanski, however, who said a few carefully chosen words, the rest of us just waved happily. There then followed a long briefing about what would happen in the coming days. In the evening there was a meeting under more relaxed circumstances with the majority of those who will take part and help out. Even a few Swedish products like Absolut Vodka were in evidence :-).
In the morning we learned to drive an armoured personnel carrier. In certain emergency evacuation launch pad scenario’s the crew jump into the carrier and drive away to a safer place.
The weather was wonderful and we all enjoyed the practice session; but there have been instances previously where others have not succeeded in controlling the carrier: a pond in the area has been named after a previous astronaut :-).
After lunch there was a briefing about how the external security is operated. Since the attacks on 11 September 2001 (9/11) the security has been heightened enormously. There is now a ban on flights within 40 miles (64 km) of the launch pad within 7.5 hours prior to launch.
After that we had a final fitting of the spacesuits and all of their parts. It was the last time we will see the G-suits that we will have under the spacesuits themselves for landing. Now they are packed in a box on board. For the first time I saw some of the things that I had asked to have with me in my pockets during the launch, for example a Dictaphone.
Beamer, Nick and I went off with our photography teacher to the launch pad for a review of the photography and filming of the external tank. It isn’t likely that we will do this during the flight, as we will launch in the dark, but despite everything we took a few pictures of the tank for the sake of practice.
The day finished with dinner with some of the heads of the KSC Management in ”the Beach House” – which resembles a Swedish summer cabin and is about 20 m from the Atlantic Ocean. The Beach House is otherwise available to us whenever we want and have free time during the whole of our stay in Florida – both now and during the three week quarantine.
The morning started with lectures: partly concerning the upcoming test the next day and partly about Discovery’s condition. Our Space Shuttle experienced a few minor problems during the previous flight, which were discovered during the preparations for our flight. Everything is fixed and she seems to be in prime condition; it will be Discovery’s 33rd flight.
After lunch in the "crew quarters" (we eat all our meals here) we were bussed out to the launch pad and to Discovery again. There was a larger press contingent waiting there and we began with a half hour press conference.
Then we went up into the launch tower itself. We looked at how we would enter the Space Shuttle in the morning and how we would emergency evacuate.
There are baskets on lines that one can jump into if it is really necessary to make a fast getaway. In around 15 seconds one is down on the ground and a few hundred meters away from the launch pad where there is a bunker to hide in.
The armoured personnel carrier we drove yesterday is parked opposite and if it is so bad that no-one can get to us, then it can happen that we will be instructed to jump into the armoured carrier and drive away. Unfortunately we didn’t get a dummy run in the baskets, but Suni got to deploy one of them filled with sandbags (to simulate the weight of two to three people) and it was fun just to see it travel down.
At the end we were able to carry out a detailed inspection of Discovery’s cargo bay, where almost everything is in place: the docking equipment, SpaceHab and the tunnel, P5, the cargo pallet ICC with the SMDP-panels and the STP-H2 experiments, the robot arm and the boom.
There are currently only a few small things remaining to be loaded, like one of the robot arm’s cameras that I noticed still wasn’t there yet; and then naturally the cargo bay doors must be closed.
When everyone had finished looking we travelled up to the very top of the tower and enjoyed the unbeatable views while the sunset. Wonderful!
Breakfast already at six thirty and then directly to dressing in the orange spacesuits. At a quarter to eight we gathered into an organised group and went from the building to the Astrovan (a small bus). Despite the fact that it was only a practice and early in the morning and drizzling outside, there were a whole lot of people waving and cheering; including one Swedish reporter with a large Swedish flag!
It is around a ten minute drive to the launch pad; and it was carried out in a convoy with flashing blue lights and everything.
Up in the tower we were fastened in, in the same order that we will be when we launch in three weeks, i.e. first crew commander Roman up above at the same time as Suni down below.
Then the pilot BillyO and myself, followed by Nick and Joanie. The last in place is Beamer.
Despite the fact that there are only a few inbuilt pauses in the countdown (when the countdown clock stops, sometimes for up to 40 minutes) we lay there for a couple of hours. The only thing we did on the mid-deck was a number of communications tests.
I noticed though that you get really desperate to urinate when you have been lying for a long time with your legs in the air! Lucky that we have absorbent pads, although these are not easy to use when you are lying down.
Maybe this is something to practice in the remaining weeks – Jerry Ross, a very experienced astronaut after seven space flights who is helping us at Cape said that it isn’t wise to launch with a full bladder and experience 3Gs of pressure. The countdown was aborted 5 seconds before launch and we finished off the exercise with an emergency evacuation of the cockpit.
Now we will fly back to Houston and tomorrow there is a whole day in the pool for spacewalk number two.
Last update: 27 November 2006