STS-134 #NASAtweetup Day 2: Space Is Hard!
Less than twelve hours after arriving back at my aunt and uncle’s from #NASAtweetup Day 1, I headed back for more. The rotating service structure was successfully retracted around midnight, so everything was on target for the scheduled launch at 3:47:55pm. Finding my way there went a good deal more smoothly this time, and when I arrived, the press site was hoppin’!
Our day kicked off with a group picture in front of the countdown clock (I’m in the front row with bright blue sleeves, sitting on the concrete thing), and then headed into the twent for a few more awesome speakers!
- STS-119 Astronaut Ricky Arnold came first, telling us a lot about working in space, loving what he does (even when he’s not in space) and who he does it with, the STS-134 crew, and space food (PB&J tortillas being his go-to meal)! He described the constant acceleration of the trip up, “You just keep thinking, ‘Wow, boy, a really can’t go any faster than I’m going now…’ and you continue to go faster than the last time you thought it!” and compared it to the much more gradual and gentle trip down, as you start feeling gravity again, “Things that were long since lost eight days ago on the mission mysteriously start falling from the sky.”
- NASA’s Associate Administrator for Education, STS-122 & 129 Astronaut Leland Melvin (@Astro_Flow) was chock full of inspirational lines like, “When you’re given lemons, you make lemonade, and hopefully you have some sugar,” and “If we stop exploring, we’re going to falter as a civilization.” He talked about supporting the space program and military families, play as science/engineering education, Earth’s 37 shades of blue, “family dinner” in space with the shuttle and ISS astronauts, and how he got the name “Astro Flow” (wanting to be like one of the ISS crew who’d been up for a few months, flowing like a fish around the station).
I got to ask him where he’d want to go if he could go back to space. “Probably Mars… if I could, I think to go to another planet, to go past the moon and go somewhere that we haven’t been before. The thing is to build propulsion systems to get us there… Also maybe L1 or L2, where you’re just kind of hanging out, you don’t have to worry about orbiting around anything to get your microgravity, but you’re actually in the ultimate sense of no gravity, because all the forces balance out. But just the experience of looking back at the planet. Every time you get that opportunity, it’s just breathtaking!”
- LEGO Designer Daire McCabe (@DaireMcCabe) came up and told us how LEGO and NASA partnered up on education programs, creating new space themed LEGO models and curriculums. They’re sending a few lego sets up on the shuttle to be built in space, including some, like one of the ISS, that can’t support themselves in normal gravity, but will be fine in microgravity. They’re also going to have building races between kids at home and astronauts in space! (Check out LEGOspace.com!) He has pretty much the coolest job ever (besides the astronauts, of course), with his desk covered in piles of LEGO bricks, 6 meters of drawers full of pieces in his office, and a store room with bins and bins of every piece ever. *jealous* Also, he brought a huge thing of the STS-134 mission patch made out of LEGOs!
- Lt. Col. Patrick Barrett, USAF 45th Weather Squadron is the man who makes the final call on whether the weather is go for launch! His team monitors the observed and forecast weather for the launch pad, and coordinates with the Spaceflight Meteorology Group out of Houston, which monitors the weather at the TAL sites (Transoceanic Abort Landing sites, the emergency back-up plan if the shuttle launches but can’t get to orbit for some reason). He talked some about how the meteorological technology and knowledge have improved over the years the shuttle’s been launching, some specific tools and models they’ve developed specifically for the shuttle’s requirements and silly Florida weather. Most importantly, he announced that there was a 70% chance of favorable weather for launch!
Lunch happened, and then it was time to wave at astronauts.
Around 12:30, the STS-134 crew would be passing through on their way to the launch pad, so we all made our way down to the rope in a field indicating how close to the road we were allowed to get, and waited for the snazzy silver bullet known as “the AstroVan” to bring them by.
They showed up right on time, and we all waved as they turned in to the Launch Control Center to drop off a few important-type passengers who would be watching the launch from there. It seemed like they sat there for ages, but then they started moving again and came back out to continue on. Except when they came back to the road…
They turned the wrong way!
The AstroVan, along with its armored truck companion and the rest of the caravan all went back the way they had come, and thus, we discovered we’d been scrubbed. (And by “we,” I mean the launch, and by “scrubbed” we mean not happening today, in case you’re not up on your NASA lingo.)
Smartphones were promptly whipped out to see what the internet knew of this new development while the NASA folks amongst us got in touch with people who knew things. We started meandering back to the twent, and I got a picture with Seth Green in front of the VAB!
While we waited to hear what the story was and what sort of delay we were looking at, Stephanie from JPL offered us show and tell as a consolation prize, featuring aerogel! It’s the world’s lightest solid, and completely bizarre!
Aerogel is solid, not gel, but it’s made from gel, sort of like a hardened foam. It’s currently used mostly for insulation, as it’s the lowest density solid, but it’s incredibly light and strong, though if you hit/drop it hard enough it would shatter like glass.
The surface is slightly rough, but it’s so freakishly light, this piece hardly weighed enough for my hand to notice it was there at all… it even looks like it’s floating in my hand… and it was translucent and kind of glowy, so I’m not entirely convinced it wasn’t actually just a hologram. 😀
So basically, it was perfect for entertaining a tent full of disappointed nerds! (She even let us put our names in for a drawing to keep one of the three pieces she brought! Would have been an awesome souvenir!)
Poo on you, APU!
So we eventually were informed that the scrub was because a problem somewhere in second of the three Auxiliary Power Unit‘s cooling systems. They’re not sure exactly what/where, just that it didn’t come on when it was supposed to or something, so they have to run tests before they can fix it, and the testing alone will take at least 48 hours, so no launch until Sunday or later.
But hey, we were witness to the first time the AstroVan ever turned around on the way to the launch pad! So that’s special, right? 😛
Definitely a bummer, but NASA’s priority is rightly the safety of the crew, so if Endeavour isn’t in perfect working order, she’s not going anywhere! It may be a little thing in a redundant system, but it’s better to not launch than to launch and then have something go terribly wrong in space!
Honestly, when you consider all the gazillions of pieces that have to work together exactly right to keep the shuttles flying and the astronauts safe, riding a sort-of-controlled explosion into space, it’s pretty impressive (and a testament to the intelligence, hard work, and dedication of the people working in the shuttle program) that there haven’t been more tragic accidents than there were. As we’ve been reminded…
Space is hard!
And in any case, I can wait. 🙂