Monday, March 10, 2008

Countdown to Launch: NASA's STS-123 & Crew Ready to Fly

Florida's space coast got an early sunrise as the Space Shuttle Endeavour soared aloft, bearing the new Canadian Dextre robot arm and the first section of a Japanese science module. Flying on wings of brilliant fire sparkling against the black night sky, Endeavour and her seven-member crew headed to the International Space Station. .

Earlier, the astronauts performed the traditional walk-out from the O&C Building at Kennedy Space Center enroute to the launch pad.

All seven astronauts are onboard Space Shuttle Endeavour at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A. The mission, set to launch at 2:28 a.m. EDT, will take the Japanese Kibo Logistics Module and the Canadian Dextre robotics system to the International Space Station..

They're also ferrying up NASA Astronaut Garrett Reisman, who'll replace European Space Agency astronaut LĂ©opold Eyharts, who'll hitch a ride on Endeavour back home. A veteran space flier, Navy Capt. Dominic L. Gorie, commands the STS-123 mission, with Air Force Col. Gregory H. Johnson as pilot. Mission specialists include Richard M. Linnehan, Air Force Maj. Robert L. Behnken, Navy Capt. Michael J. Foreman and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Takao Doi. Johnson, Behnken and Foreman will be making their first spaceflight.

The 16-day mission will include five space walks. The astronauts will use the Canada robotic arm to continue work on the ISS. The new Dextre equipment essentially is a pair of extended electronic hands intended to assist with crucial repair and construction tasks.

There's a rhythm to a launch. After someone has worked a few, the sounds and the paced flow become a song, a part of self that transcends mere technical achievement. Humans and machines, working together, to again fly to not only the heavens, but to an orbiting, manned space station.

Those of us who remember the days before space flight was common, and when each flight was literally a life-or-death experiment, know the awesome, awful truth: we dare the skies, but at a price. So far, we've lost one vehicle and crew on the pad (Apollo 1) and two Space Shuttles with full crews (Challenger and Columbia).

Although not in the business may think that the losses are far too high, in reality, given the complexities and dangers of the missions, they're very low. One of the frustrating things for space workers is that when an aircraft falls out of the sky, killing 300 or so people, no one demands that all passenger air flight cease immediately.

The benefits of space flight are many to those on planet Earth. The spin-off technology from advances made to support spaceflight have ranged from medical advances to Earth sciences. Many people don't realize that the weather forecasts we take for granted use the satellite surveillance of Earth that we now take for granted.

On a clear, cold, starry night oh, a few years back, I stood outside on a small rise in New York state with my grandfather and parents. Like many others, we were waiting. Unbelievably, there it was: the tiny moving dot of light that was Sputnik.

And so it began: Dadelus inspired.

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