S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Monday, August 27, 2007

NASA's Endeavor

(Image: NASA)
NASA's shuttle, "Endeavor" lands for the first time in several years in this picture. The STS-118 mission was a big success, despite intermittent problems aloft. According to NASA,
“The mission has lots of angles,” Matt Abbott, lead shuttle flight director, said. “There’s a little bit of assembly; there’s some resupply; there’s some repairs. And there are some high-visibility education and public affairs events. It’s a little bit of everything.”
It was as much about the people as about the technology. Shuttle crew-118 members are an interesting lot with a variety of very rich backgrounds:
  • Mission Specialist Barbara Morgan - "Barb" was the load master responsible for the 5000+ pounds of supplies brought up to the ISS, and an almost equal amount brought back to earth. She is a former teacher now a fully trained astronaut, "twenty-two years after first being selected as Christa McAuliffe’s backup in the Teacher in Space Project." She is an expert robotic arm operator, as well as the teacher interacting with earth-bound ham radio operators and students in classrooms. At age 55, Barb's thorough organization and hard work kept the cargo exchange ahead of schedule so that Endeavor was able to leave the station early enough to land ahead of a hurricane headed for the Gulf.
  • Mission Specialist David Williams - Canada's veteran astronaut, "Dave" made his nation and fellow crew members proud as he expertly led and performed multiple equipment repair and installation space walks. Easy going and solid, Dave's articulate and wonderfully interesting commentary was the highlight of some of the communication from space to ground with the media. Williams is a physician trained in family practice and emergency medicine.
  • Commander Scott Kelly - the very effective leader of this important mission was in charge of making sure his space walkers were properly prepared and supported before and after each space walk. Decisive, but laid back, "Scott" was responsible for the extremely good flexibility that this often changing mission demanded. As each new situation presented itself, he was always willing and able to get his crew to do whatever the ground decided it would take to be successful. He flew as the Pilot of NASA's 1999 mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Kelly was trained as a Navy test pilot. He served for a time as director of NASA' operations group in Star City Russia.
  • Mission Specialist Tracy Caldwell - "TC-" the PhD was trained in chemistry. TC was the choreographer of the space walks. Responsible for the "intra-vehicular activity," her IVA direction helped make the EVAs of the 4 space walks work like clockwork. Like many astronauts her early experiences helped to prepare her for working in space. Donning her first tool belt at age 15, Tracy's dad taught her to be an electrician in his business. Tall and fit, Caldwell was a college sprinter and long-jumper in track and field in California. Racking up many special honors and awards, she also worked with hazardous materials as a student there.
  • Pilot Charles Hobaugh - "Scorch" is a Marine colonel and a graduate of the Naval Academy. Big and strong-jawed, with prominent ears "Scorch" seems popular with his crew mates. He was a robotic arm operator for the mission, teaming up with ISS Mission Specialist , Clay Anderson. He is very athletic and seems to be enthusiastic about flying for NASA, while coming across with a kind of quiet humility. Another test pilot, Scorch qualified in STOL (short take off and landing) aircraft, such as the Harrier, as well as many other types of aircraft. Charley's first NASA mission was STS-104 in 2001, which installed the Quest airlock.
  • Mission Specialist Richard Mastracchio - the veteran. An electrical engineer and highly skilled computer geek, "Rick" "has logged over 588 hours in space, including 3 EVAs totaling 18 hours and 13 minutes." He served as the ascent/flight engineer for the second time and participated in 3 of the 4 space walks on this mission. On this mission, Rick showed himself to be the epitome of honor and ethical choice, in my opinion: He reported damage to one of his space suit gloves, then accepted the mandatory sitting out of the remainder of his EVA assignment in the airlock, while Clay Anderson finished his own and Rick's tasks. He deserves respect for his example of the exact kind of good faith behavior in astronauts for which they have been selected.
  • Mission Specialist Alvin Drew - "B-Alvin" the rookie high achiever - knew he wanted to be an astronaut at age 5 1/2. One of only a handful of African-American astronauts, he was born and raised in Washington D.C. He has double major BS degrees in Astronautical Engineering and in Physics from the Air Force Academy, as well as double MS degrees in Aerospace Science and Strategic Studies in Political Science. His jobs on the mission included working with Barb Morgan on materials transfer, as well as doing some computer and equipment repairs. An Air Force Colonel with lots of combat hours, he is a test pilot qualified in both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft with over 3000 hours of time in 30 types of aircraft. Chosen as an astronaut in 2000, he was selected almost at the last minute (May 2007) for the STS-118 mission, when Clay Anderson went aboard the ISS to replace Suni Williams.
What is behind all this success? Kenneth Chang at the New York Times wrote a very good analysis of NASA's safety culture headlined, "Caution Over Shuttle Shows Shift at NASA." To quote,
Confronted with the same kind of problem that doomed the space shuttle Columbia, NASA officials, chastened by years of criticism and upheaval in the agency, took a markedly different approach during the current mission of the Endeavour, calling on an array of new tools and procedures to analyze and respond to the problem.

While the Columbia faced much more serious damage — a 6- to 10-inch hole punched in a wing that let in hot gases during re-entry — outside officials said that with the Endeavour, NASA had taken steps far more elaborate and methodical in concluding that the craft was still safe.

“The comparison is night and day,” said John M. Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, who served on the investigation board that looked into the Columbia disaster. He said he thought NASA had handled the Endeavour situation perfectly.
Later - I will feature the ISS Expedition 15 crew members, Flight Engineer Clay Anderson, Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, and Flight Engineer Oleg Kotov in a subsequent post. The post landing story is well covered in an article in, headlined: "Astronauts Thank Engineers, Scientists."
My “creativity and dreaming” post today at Good Second Mondays is about the late Grace Paley.
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The Future Was Yesterday said...

I am, and have been since my very young days, "an airplane nut." Every time I watch this (now a glider without an engine) land, perfectly on the centerline, I am just in awe of what human beings are able to accomplish when they work together.

After the safe landing, I always get depressed, because I can't help but think: "what in hell is wrong with the rest of us??

I eagerly await your series!!

Carol Gee said...

Thanks for your comment, Future. I am old enough to remember the first hero astronauts, Glenn, Aldrin, et al. They, too, were airplane nuts who just loved to fly.
We all get to ride along as humans expand frontiers peacefully. There is something very heroic about the International Space Station. I look forward to writing about it.

Regarding your previous comment, "Went out tonight with two of my wife's colleague's (Professors). One was a new hire just this year. She asked "How did "_____" know. . . "
There is something about prying eyes that gets to any of us, unless we've got broken boundaries, I think. I remember saying as a kid, "mind your own business!"