Space Shuttle Endeavour Takes Frigid Trip to Launch Pad
Space shuttle Endeavour atop the crawler transporter nears Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 6, 2010 to prepare for a Feb. 7 launch.
CREDIT: NASA TV
NASA braved below-freezing temperatures in Florida Wednesday to move the space shuttle Endeavour to its seaside launch pad for a planned Feb. 7 blast off to the International Space Station.
Endeavour is due to launch from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral at 4:39 a.m. EST (0939 GMT) on Sunday, Feb. 7 on the first of NASA?s five final shuttle missions before the three-orbiter fleet is slated to retire this fall. The predawn liftoff is expected to be the last night launch of a NASA space shuttle.
A cold front passing over central Florida forced NASA to make extra preparations for today?s launch pad trek to combat the bone-chilling weather.
?We?re not really worried so much about the hardware, we?re worried about the software - the people,? NASA spokesperson Allard Beutel told SPACE.com. ?Nobody will be outside along the way for more than a half hour.?
NASA?s safety rules for shuttle launches prohibit liftoff attempts during extremely cold weather below 36 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), but chilly weather alone is not enough to delay a space shuttle?s trip to the launch pad, Beutel said. Today?s shuttle move began at 4:13 a.m. EST (0913 GMT).
?Certain parts of the orbiter have to be kept warm at a certain temperature, but that?s part of our standard operations anyway,? Beutel said.
NASA was more concerned for its shuttle engineers and technicians accompanying the orbiter on its 3.4-mile (5.4-km) trek to the launch pad, a journey that took about six hours.
Dozens of technicians accompany the a shuttle to the launch pad, many stationed inside the massive Apollo-era crawler carrier vehicle that hauls the combined 12 million-pound (5.4 million-kg) load of Endeavour and itself to the launch pad. Instead of spending the entire time walking alongside the shuttle or standing atop the crawler carrier?s deck, the workers rotated out every 30 minutes to warm up inside nearby vans or other vehicles, Beutel said.
Endeavour?s STS-130 mission will mark NASA?s first shuttle flight of 2010 and will deliver a brand-new connecting module, called Tranquility, to the International Space Station. The shuttle is also carrying a new observation deck called the Cupola, which will be attached to Tranquility to provide a seven-window vista of the station?s exterior and Earth below. Three spacewalks are planned for the mission.
The Tranquility node and the Cupola will be delivered to Endeavour at the launch pad next week, Beutel said.
Endeavour commander George Zamka and his crew are expected to arrive at the Kennedy Space Center spaceport on Jan. 19 to begin several days of final training and a launch dress rehearsal. Top NASA shuttle officials plan to meet Jan. 27 in a standard review to determine if Endeavour is ready to launch next month.
?That should put us on target to be able to support a Feb. 7 liftoff,? Beutel said, adding that shuttle workers currently have a full week of buffer time to handle any unexpected glitches with launch preparations.
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