TheAtlantis astronauts aim to complete a critical training exercise at KennedySpace Center this week while managers sort out the effects of Hurricane Ike andminor technical problems on an Oct. 10 target launch date.
Mission commander Scott Altman and his crew jetted to KSC for standardemergency training and a two-day practice countdown that will culminateWednesday with a launch-day dress rehearsal.
The Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test -- or TCDT -- is carried out beforeevery shuttle launch and is the last major training exercise at the launch sitebefore astronauts embark on a mission.
In this case, the test almost serves as a way for the crew to refocus on themission after Ikehammered the communities where they live near the Johnson Space Center.
"Some worse than others" is how Altman described how the astronautsfared during the hurricane. "But we're all still standing and lookingforward to a nice distraction."
Altman and pilot Gregory "Ray J" Johnson aim topractice landings later tonight at the Shuttle Landing Facility. They'll fly aGulfstream 2 aircraft modified to mimic the shuttle's brick-like descent to anairstrip -- one seven times steeper than a commercial airliner.
A media Q&A is scheduled at that bunker at 9:40 a.m.Tuesday. Florida Today will webcast the live NASA TV broadcast in The Flame Trench.
The crew will go through emergency training out at launchpad 39A, where Atlantis is being readied for flight. They'll get familiar withthe launch tower escape system -- a 1,200-foot-long metal "slidewire"that would whisk the astronauts in baskets down to an emergency evacuationbunker on the western perimeter of the pad.
The crew also includes fivemission specialists: John Grunsfeld, Drew Feustal, Mike Massimino, MikeGood and Megan McArthur. All seven will don partial-pressure launch-and-entrysuits on Wednesday and then board Atlantis for the last few hours of thepractice countdown.
"It's great to be down here returning our focus fromthe hurricane that's behind us now to the flight that is in front of us,"Altman said. "It's really great to be at this point looking forwardinstead of behind."
The target launch date will be reviewed this week during ashuttle program-level flight readiness review that will be held Wednesday andThursday.
The date is expected to slip back as a result of theweeklong shutdown of the Johnson Space Center (which reopens Monday) and minortechnical problems that have cropped up with the payload for the mission.
A firm launch date will be set at an executive-levelflight readiness review on Oct. 3 and Oct. 4.
Published under license from FLORIDA TODAY. Copyright ? 2008FLORIDA TODAY. No portion of this material may be reproduced in any way withoutthe written consent of FLORIDA TODAY.
- Video - Hubble Service Mission 4 Countdown
- New Hubble Images - When Galaxies Collide
- Video - Back to the Moon with Orion and Ares
Get the Space.com Newsletter
Breaking space news, the latest updates on rocket launches, skywatching events and more!
Todd Halvoron is a veteran aerospace journalist based in Titusville, Florida who covered NASA and the U.S. space program for 27 years with Florida Today. His coverage for Florida Today also appeared in USA Today, Space.com and 80 other newspapers across the United States. Todd earned a bachelor's degree in English literature, journalism and fiction from the University of Cincinnati and also served as Florida Today's Kennedy Space Center Bureau Chief during his tenure at Florida Today. Halvorson has been an independent aerospace journalist since 2013.