Sunday, April 3, 2011

Space Shuttle Endeavour: Did you know...?


UPDATE: STS-134 launch date pushed to April 29th.
An official launch date will be set at the conclusion of the April 19th FFR.


Hello fellow space enthusiasts!  As you can tell from the post's title I will be exploring the history Space Shuttle Endeavour. I feel now is a great time to get a background or refresher on this fantastically elegant, historically significant, soon to be retired space vehicle. As you know from previous blog posts, I like to use pictures, videos, and embedded links as part of the journey. It is your choice to stop and look, push the play button, or click the link to read more. I've tried to choose these carefully to make sure it is worth your time to explore beyond this to blog. For me, these links, pictures, and videos were part of my discovery to learn more about OV-105. I hope they will serve you well.

I also wanted to let you know, I am working on the Sun Earth Day 2011 posts that I promised in my March 21, 2011 post titled: So little time, so much to write.... But, this story on Endeavour, and another one that has been years in the making, are taking up my blog time. I want to keep the SED2011 momentum going until SED2012, so stick with me and I will get my updates out to you as soon as I can.

First my limited knowledge about Endeavour. Then the real history.
  • It's orbiter designation is OV-105. The 5th & final orbiter in the NASA fleet.
  • It was built by Rockwell International (now Boeing) in the late 80's, early 90's at Rockwell's Palmdale, CA facility.
  • It's named after Capt. James Cook's ship Endeavour as a result of a national competition of grade school students.
  • Endeavour was built as a replacement for the Challenger (OV-99).
  • Endeavour flew the STS-130 mission to deliver the Cupola ("a room with a view") to the ISS.
    • This mission is also personal for me since I made a special trip with my boys (no Mom this time) to see the launch from the KSC Visitor Center. It was an early morning launch window which meant our arrival st Kennedy Space Center (KSC) was around 10PM...this translates to two very tired boys. And we had to do it 2 days in a row due a 1st attempt weather scrub. Tired or not they loved it because the visitor center has a lot more going on than the NASA Causeway does (which was where we saw STS-128 launch from). My favorite quote from them was..."it's fun to watch the Space Shuttle from here Dad so we can play on the playground..." then the other one says..."ya but, we didn't get to see the business end light up like last time." Got to love kids, they have their priorities.
Sadly that's all I've got for facts in my head. Now you understand why I am compelled to go learn more. That's not a lot on information on something so well documented. And it shows sometimes a passionate space fan does not always know every bit of space history. Thanks to the internet, NASA, Boeing, etc... a lot of the information I went looking for was readily available. Again, this post is really about my journey to learn whatever I can about this spacecraft, NASA's youngest but no less experienced orbiter. A vehicle that made history on more that on flight. A workhorse who is about to prematurely retire, with years of design life left, after her last mission set to launch on April 19th, 2011.

Construction to maiden voyage:
  • Feb 15, 1982 - Start structural assembly of the Crew Module. (Wait, 1982? I thought Endeavour was built in the late 80's, early 90's. It was. OV-105 was built with many parts that were made as spares for Discovery and Atlantis.)
  • Jul 31, 1987 - Contract awarded to build Space Shuttle Endeavour.
  • Sep 28, 1987 - Start of the aft-fuselage.
  • Dec 22, 1987 - Wings arrive from Grumman.
  • Jul 6, 1990 - Completed final assembly.
Subject: OV-105, Endeavour Completion
Credit: Science Photo Library
  • Apr 25, 1991 - Rollout from Palmdale
Subject: Rollout at Palmdale 1991
Credit: NASA
  • May 7, 1991 - Delivery to KSC atop the modified Boeing 747
Subject: Endeavour arrives at KSC in May 1991
Credit: NASA
  • May 7, 1992 - Launched on her maiden voyage STS-49
Subject: STS-49
Credit: NASA
Subject: STS-49
Credit NASA
  • Primary Mission: Retrieve and repair the Intelsat VI (603) communications satellite that was left in an unusable orbit following it's March 1990 launch. Three EVA's were needed before a successful 3rd attempt when astronaut Pierre J. Thuot was able complete a hand-capture of the 4.5 ton satellite. They completed the repairs including the installation of a new rocket motor that would push the Intelsat to its required geosynchronous orbit.
  • Mission Records:
    • First EVA involving three astronauts.
    • The first (8 hrs 29 mins) and second (7 hrs 45 mins) longest EVAs to date.
    • First shuttle mission to have four EVAs.
    • First time a live rocket motor was attached to an orbiting spacecraft.
    • First time a drag chute was used by a Space Shuttle during landing. (An upgrade added to all Shuttles to shorten the rollout distance by 1,000 to 2,000 feet.)
  • Mission Time, Distance, and Revolutions:
    • Duration - 8 days, 21 hours, 17 minutes, 38 seconds
    • Miles Traveled- 3.7 million
    • Orbits - 141
Subject: Intelsat IV - First Three Person EVA
Credit: NASA
Facts and notable missions (does not include STS-134 data):
  • Measurements - 78 tons, 122 feet long, 78 feet wide
  • Miles traveled - 103 million miles
  • Time in space - 280 days, 9 hours, 39 minutes, and 44 seconds
  • Totals laps around the planet - 4,429 orbits
  • Number of flights - 24
    • Launched from: Pad 39A 15 times and Pad 39B 9 times
    • Landed at: KSC SLF 17 times and EAFB 7 times
  • Last landing at EAFB - Nov 2008
  • Crew Members - 148
  • Mir Dockings - 1
  • ISS Dockings - 10
  • STS-49 - Maiden voyage

Subject: Hubble Space Telescope - SM1
Credit: NASA (?)
Subject: Russian Space Station Mir
Credit: NASA
  • STS-100 - ISS mission to deliver Canadarm 2
  • STS-123 - ISS mission to deliver DEXTRE
  • STS-130 - ISS mission to deliver the Cuploa, "room with a view"
Subject: Astronaut Tracey Caldwell-Dyson in the Cupola
Credit: NASA
My thoughts:

I think my earlier sentiments about Endeavour being a fantastically elegant, historically significant, reliable workhorse who is about to be retired prematurely is exactly how I feel. I am disappointed we were unable to achieve the goal of making Shuttle operations a more frequent more cost effective program. Don't read this statement wrong, I am not disappointed in Shuttle operations, just in the lack of progress in reducing the per flight operating costs.

I know that rocketry is a very complex, extremely challenging, high risk business (aka HIGH COST), but we need to figure out how to do it right, at a reasonable cost, with nothing but the safety of our crews as the number one priority. Had NASA (and the Shuttle support contractors) figured out how to reduce operating costs (which was absorbing a huge percentage of NASA's budget, sometimes at the cost of other worthwhile programs) we should have been able to keep the Shuttles flying  deeper into their design lives as well as working on the next generation of launch vehicles. I think the progress in commercial space is awesome, but NASA needed to be investing in their ideas years ago. I know limited funds (as a result of high costs of current programs and too small of a budget from Congress and the taxpayer) this did not happen at an appropriate level, so commercial space is a little behind. On a positive note I believe this situation is temporary and we will see progress accelerate significantly over the next 2 years.

I want to end this post on a positive note with a heart felt THANK YOU to Endeavour. As supporter and enthusiast of NASA, the space program, and a child of the Space Shuttle generation, your service will be missed. I've had the privileged to see you soar into the next frontier of exploration with my kids by my side. You delivered one of the most spectacular parts to the ISS....the Cupola. The views form there have been inspirational for those of us both on and off the planet.

Since my words don't do Endeavour or her spectacular history any justice, I will end with NASA's "Endeavour Retrospective" video:


Links, Sources, and Resources:
NASA Space Shuttle Endeavour Overview
NASA Another Endeavour Overview
NASA Mission Page STS-49
Space Shuttle Endeavour on Wikipedia
Story about the historic Palmdale Hanger
Boeing Site - Shuttle Backgrounder
Boeing Site - Shuttle Facts
Boeing Site - Shuttle Legacy Stories
Boeing Site - More on the Shuttle Legacy
NASA - Shuttle Era Photo Page
NASA - Archive of early photos
NASA - GRIN Photo Site's - Building a Space Shuttle Photo's

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