Ever since the tradegy of the Columbia disaster many additional safety precautions were put in place to ensure that in the event that the shuttle could not be guaranteed to make it back to earth there would at least be somewhere for it to hang out while the rescue crew was sent up. Right now that takes the form of the International Space Station which is well equipped to accomodate the additional crew. I’ve previously blogged about NASA’s last planned rescue mission for the hubble but up until now I’d never mentioned how they actually go about the process of determining if the shuttle is damaged or not. Typically it is done with what’s being referred to now as a “belly flop” when it’s actually closer to the inside loop manuever (although that’s moot as well since the shuttle is rotating around its center axis, there’s no real equivalent):
During this time the ISS crew takes several hundred photographs of the exterior heat shield on the shuttle and then sends them back down to mission control for inspection. This gives us a good idea if any damage was caused during launch and what the chances are of the shuttle making it back to earth. This isn’t the only time they perform such a task either, as just before they take off the ISS crew will perform a similar check to make sure that no micro-meteroites or space debris caused any major damage. When the shuttle Atlantis went up to the Hubble they used a similar procedure using the payload bay arm to get to the underside of the shuttle.
The video is pretty darn awesome in its own regard since it really demonstrates what space flight is really like. Such a manuever can not be performed by any aircraft and to see such a huge structure slowly rotating itself around is just beautiful. I can see it making a few people a bit motion sick though with the backdrop of the earth below it whipping along at 25,000KM+ per hour. Which brings me to another point, NASA completely fails at geography.
Friends on Facebook and my beloved followers on Twitter (go on, follow me ;)) will have already picked up on me retweeting this slight fail from NASA:
Shuttle Atlantis docked with the station at 11:51a ET while flying 220 miles up between Australia and Tasmania.
Now while I like to make fun of Tasmania as much as the next mainlander the fact still stands that yes our little apple isle is a part of this wonderful country. To say that the ISS passed above the area between “Australia” and “Tasmania” may give some the wrong impression that Tasmania is its own country. If they said mainland Australia or the Bass Strait we’d be all peachy but whoever is behind NASA’s twitter feed needs a boot up the bum. Universe Today also gets a mention of shame for regurgitating that nonsense, since they’re supposed to be a respectable source of space news.
I had planned to write off this entire weekend on gaming (Nearing the end of Dragon Age: Origins and picked up Assassin’s Creed 2 yesterday) but it looks like I’ll be spoilt with a constant background of live feeds from STS-129. It will definitely make for good watching whilst I’m getting my home vSphere deployment up, but more on that next week 😉