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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.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Good landings

"Go for the de-orbit burn" -- These dead stick glides to earth of the big old heavy warhorse shuttles remain an absolute miracle to me and other incurably addicted "space junkies." Listening to the NASA channel, it is a tense process. You can hear it in the voices of the people at the consoles and in the pilots' flying the Atlantis shuttle -- voices just a bit rushed report the minute by minute landing sequence. "Copy, good config for the burn," says Commander Steve Frick. The engines will burn for a little over two minutes in a braking maneuver. The shuttle will drop out of orbit at 16,000 miles an hour towards its inevitable fiery 2500 degree reentry into the earth's thin blanket of atmosphere. It has been a 5.1 million mile mission.

The shuttle comes in just west of Cuba, a small country attempting to make a good a landing, itself, after Fidel Castro's resignation from office. We wish them well as Memeorandum headlines: "CNN: be kind to Cuba." Atlantis does a series of "s-turns" to slow its speed. For direction, NASA makes use of the GPS positioning technology, just as if they had "OnStar" and were lost outside of Poughkeepsie. Eighty miles out we get the first dim view of the still upturned shuttle. Twin sonic booms "heralded the arrival of Atlantis." With s-turns to slow their speed, and a big overhead turn towards the field, the shuttle makes an amazing landing at 8:07 CT, with Commander Frick at the controls. We get to see this landing through the same "heads-up display" used the Commander and Pilot in Atlantis -- another one of those "Wow!" things for space junkies.

This was a big trip for the STS-122 crew, and for the cooperating international space community. The 12-day mission completed the installation of ESA's Columbus science module, complete with a French crew member Flight Engineer Leopold Eyharts, deployed to see to the activation of the module and its experiments. It was also a big trip home for Mission Specialist astronaut Dan Tani, who has lived for an extended four-month period at the International Space Station. He lost his mom in a car accident in December and now he is coming home to the arms of his family.

A long convoy of vehicles meets the shuttle crew after the landing. After a period of "safe-ing" the hot, huffing and puffing vehicle, a flight surgeon checks out the crew. There is a private disembarkation, because coming back to earth is a rough experience, particularly for Tani, who will get several weeks of rehab for the after effects of his 120 days of weightlessness. The crew will have lunch with their family members.

"Next stop for Atlantis, the Hubble Space Telescope in late August," says the familiar voice of the NASA announcer. The boys are home and I can breathe again.

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(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

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4 comments:

The Future Was Yesterday said...

I know I've said it before, but after each of these technological miracles, I always wonder why in the HELL can't we solve and stop an ancient old thing called war?

Carol Gee said...

I have often thought about the interpersonal aspects of human space flight. In recent months, the three-member crew did multiple "stage" space walks. Commander Whitson has done them with Dan Tani, while Yuri Malenchinko, the Russian crew member was inside seeing to safety, systems maintenance, etc. Each of the three crew member's lives is in significant ways utterly dependent on the others. Talk about complete trust. It is a lovely thing -- when their leaders are threatening to deploy missile shields!

LaPopessa said...

I'm with you on the "I can breath again" statement. It's sad that we've had enough bad experiences to almost dread the landings, but always so glad to get them back safely.

Carol Gee said...

lapopessa, I am such an old space junkie that I can remember seeing the first Mercury and Apollo astronauts plunked out of their bobbing capsules by a seagoing vessel. They were and are such brave and trusting souls.
One of the current needs is more women astronauts. Those in the pipeline are not as numerous as in the past. If you know any bright kids, point them in the right direction.