Taming Dragons

It is 8 PM on Monday night, March 25, but if you asked me what day it was when I woke up this morning I don’t know how accurate the answer would be – I have been awake on odd hours since Friday. I am headed into work in 2 hours to work a night shift – 10 PM to 8 AM. Usually the night shifts start at 11 PM in ISS mission operations, but tonight the ISS crew is getting up early – at about 4 AM on their clock – so we have to get there early as well. Usually on a night shift in the ISS Flight Control Room you would expect to see 5 to 10 people, but tonight there will be well over 10 for the unberth and departure of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, the 3rd to visit ISS.

As far as NASA TV is concerned, the action happens tonight (or tomorrow morning, if you prefer). They will cover the departure and landing of the capsule tomorrow intermittently – just the exciting bits. But as with most things in this job, the successful execution of an event is really just the last step. Last Thursday morning there was a big ISS management meeting (the IMMT, or ISS Mission Management Team) wherein the Monday morning departure of Dragon was approved. Just 24 hours later I found myself in another ISS operations meeting listening to SpaceX explain why they had to delay departure and de-orbit due to bad weather forecasts for the Pacific landing zone. Suddenly instead of comfortably heading into the weekend with a great Monday morning plan, we were trying to get a one day slip plan together before close of business. We had a working meeting with everyone from the planning team, from systems specialists to flight surgeons, to discuss how to easily do the replan. A replan is more complicated than just saying “we’ll do it the same time tomorrow” because of the multiple space agencies and scientific institutions with a stake in day-to-day operations aboard ISS.

So, long story short, I put a few extra hours in and worked until 6 on Friday – not bad – while I know some other people put in more hours over the weekend working on the plan. Up in space, the astronauts got an extra day to pack cargo that is supposed to be sent back home on Dragon. The hatch was closed today, and the crew should be asleep now, with a long day ahead tomorrow. The crew is closely involved with both the unberthing process (taking out the bolts holding Dragon to ISS) and then the procedures to let go of Dragon with the station robotic arm.

This will be my first time supporting a “free-flyer*” docking or undocking – I will be in the MPSR (or Multi-Purpose Support Room) while a more experienced ADCO sits in the main Flight Control Room. The motion control system is a key part in free-flyer release, so I will be excited to monitor the system and even get to send some important commands tonight. If you want to follow along on NASA TV, release is planned at about 7 AM (Eastern) on Tuesday (maybe a few minutes early or late). And for the real geeks, I would suggest pulling up ISS Live, which lets you monitor live ISS telemetry. You can use my post from HTV-3 rendezvous to get a sense of what events will be happening (release is basically just a rendezvous in reverse).

*Free-flyer refers to all visiting vehicles to ISS for which rendezvous involves capture with the SSRMS (Space Station Remote Manipulator System). This inclues SpaceX Dragon, JAXA’s HTV, and Orbital Cygnus.

March 25, 2013 8:09 pm

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