Sunday, December 11 (GMT 346) – (ISS on-orbit status for today)
Sundays on Orbit 1 (graveyard shift) in Mission Control are really Mondays. The crew wakes up at GMT 0600 every day which is midnight in Houston. The weekend is effectively over and it’s back to work in space. Today there’s not much of interest going on, at least not in the areas that I have any expertise. All of the fun stuff is coming up later in December with the docking of the rest of the Expedition 30 crew and then computer hardware upgrades around the New Year (see upcoming blog posts).
Rather than bore you with one more day describing what it’s like to sit alone in front of some computer screens hoping nothing bad happens – six is quite enough – I’ll skip ahead to the end of my shift. It’s my last shift, so of course I’m happy to be done and to start shifting back to normal life. But in the interest of keeping everything in perspective – and having material for my blog – I stopped at the “Rocket Park” on the way out of the center. I’ve been there at least a dozen times, on tours with friends and family. But this year we gained a new addition, which to me is just as awe-inspiring as any of the other artifacts, and it’s not even a rocket!
For a child of the Space Shuttle like me, the Orbiter Access Arm may be even more emotionally powerful than the monster Saturn V rockets. I never watched a live Saturn V launch but I probably watched most Space Shuttle launches between 1990 and 2005 – at least those that occurred during waking hours in Hawaii. Who knows how many times as a child I watched on TV as a crew of astronauts suited up in that white room. The dreams of my childhood, in a way, fit into this little white box that now sits in the sun in Houston.
So it was definitely with some sadness that I followed the demolition of pad 39B over the past couple of years (check out this long thread at CollectSpacewith photos from 2009 to 2011 of the 39B overhaul). I’m trying to remind myself that the reason the pad was disassembled was to make way for whatever is next. I hope that whatever comes next will maintain the type of powerful, inspiring imagery that we got from the long walk down an access arm to a white room. You never know, with commercial single-stage-to-orbit space planes in the works, the “age of the white room” may be coming to an end.
A sobering part of the new OAA display is that the Challenger STS-51L crew was the first crew to take their last steps on Earth in this white room. I’m glad that they chose to remind visitors of Challenger in the display text (see photo below). I hope that most people will take a few moments to think about the bravery it takes for all astronauts to take those last few steps through the hatch, not knowing if they will be back again. As a flight controller, I am a part of the link the chain to help ensure our astronauts do return home safely. If I ever start to forget the significance of that responsibility, I can always come back here and look for the Challenger crew’s bootprints on the white room floor.
Here’s hoping the age of the white room goes on.
The sign reads:
You are looking at the astronaut crew Orbiter Access Arm and White Room that was used at the Kennedy Space Center, Launch Complex 39B. this access arm/white room was first used by the astronauts for the Challenger, 51L mission in January 1986. Afterwards, from 1988 (STS-26 was the “return to flight” mission after the Challenger accident), until 2006, a total of 54 Shuttle missions used this launch complex. The last mission to use this access arm/white room was STS-116, in 2006. Astronauts would walk through the access portion after riding the elevator up to the top level (147 feet above the pad surface) of the launch tower to enter into the white room just before being positioned inside the cockpit and mid-deck of the Shuttle Orbiter.
Here’s another good photo gallery from CollectSpace of the OAA being readied for transport.