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NASA Launches Space Shuttle Endeavour

Aired April 19, 2001 - 14:37   ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Got a closeup view here of the space shuttle Endeavour, which is about to steam its way into orbit. Countdown is ongoing in Florida, and CNN space correspondent Miles O'Brien is there. He is with an astronaut, so we have every possible element in place for this expected flight.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: He gets to get the front-row where it sound so remarkable too, from the spot where you're at.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: You are invited -- Natalie, you know you are invited here every time, and there are lots of people who still remember you from your Orlando days, so we invite you to come down and join us anytime.

I'm here with Janice Voss who is a five-time shuttle flier, knows a little bit about what is going on three miles over my shoulder, as the space shuttle Endeavour now three minutes away from T-minus zero and an expected launch. It's the 16th launch of Endeavour, the 9th run to the international space station. Janice, just take us aboard for a minute, what is going on right now?

JANICE VOSS, ASTRONAUT: We are at 2 1/2 minutes, so we are about to close the visors. Clear caution warning to make sure that there are no messages that were left over from the launch count that would cause any problems. They will know instantly if anything comes up, and then it gets very quiet for two minutes.

O'BRIEN: All right, we're taking a closeup view right now of the thing that is called in the vernacular "the beanie cap." It's the gaseous oxygen vent hood, which is lifting up, and that essentially takes the oxygen which is bleeding off out of those tanks, it is rather cold, and steams off and kind of recycles it.

VOSS: That's right.

O'BRIEN: And you don't want to -- you want to have that in place before you fire the rockets, because that would slow you down pretty badly. What -- these missions to the space station are aggressive missions. So far, they had nine. So far, they have gone well. It's not to understate the complexity that lies ahead, is it?

VOSS: No. There are enormously complex. This is one that has very intricate maneuvers, that the two arms running, and that's just a beginning of a whole sequence where we have lots of robotics operations and lots of structure to weave around, and cables to connect, and it just gets more and more complex as the station gets bigger.

O'BRIEN: And you're referring to that arm; it's a billion- dollar, 59-foot arm built by the Canadians that will inch-warm its way across this sprawling space station. It's in the cargo bay of the Endeavour, along with a cargo module loaded with food and clothing and supplies. The seven-person crew strapped in, representing four nations.

Let's listen to Bruce Buckingham, NASA public affairs commentator. He'll be joined in a moment by representatives from Houston James Hartfsield who are helping us -- helping us guide our way through the 8 1/2 minutes to orbit. Janice Voss here, let's listen in for a moment.

BRUCE BUCKINGHAM, NASA PUBLIC AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: T-1 one minute and counting. Everything is still looking good for launch of shuttle Endeavour from Kennedy Space Center.

We are transferring to orbiter internal power at this time. Endeavour is now running off its three onboard fuel cells. And it's coming up on a go for "other systems start."

VOSS: Thirty-one seconds. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) where the computer stops at 31 seconds, but looks like...

O'BRIEN: It was one time the engines -- they actually fired and they shut down?

VOSS: Three seconds before liftoff.

O'BRIEN: Yeah.

VOSS: I tell my guests when they say: "Well, just tell us when you are going to launch?" And I say: "When the solids light, that's when I can tell you when we're going to launch."

O'BRIEN: That's when you're going to ride. We are at 17 seconds and counting. We are going to turn around and take a look. Flight of Endeavour, about to begin.

BUCKINGHAM: Ten, nine, eight. We have a go for main engine start. Six, five, four, three, two, one. We have booster ignition and liftoff of the space shuttle Endeavour, extending the reach of the space station while extending partnerships above the Earth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Houston, a double roller-coaster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger roll, Endeavour.

BUCKINGHAM: Houston is now controlling. Endeavour is rolling on course toward the international space station. The shuttle is already traveling -- Endeavour is going now at 1 1/2 miles. Speed now about 500 miles an hour. Three engines on board the spacecraft are throttling down to two-thirds throttle. Here, the shuttle just passed through the area of maximum air pressure and goes supersonic.

O'BRIEN: And if they call this the throttle bucket, why do they slow down the throttles at this point?

VOSS: There is a lot of air they're going through very fast, and it puts a load on the structure, so they slow the engines a little bit to take some of that load off from the thickest part of the atmosphere.

O'BRIEN: And do you -- go with throttle up there now, bringing the throttles to 104 percent, correct?

VOSS: It depends on the flight. I'm not sure what they use -- 104 1/2.

O'BRIEN: OK. Now, how can an engine do more than 100 percent? That's just an arbitrary number then, I guess?

VOSS: Because originally it was rated for a certain power level, and as they flown the engines, they got smart about how they worked. They could increase that number, and rather than re-do all their data sets, they just told that it's greater than 100 percent.

BUCKINGHAM: Weighing less than half of what it did at launch.

O'BRIEN: Solid rocket boosters will drop off in about two minutes time, right?

VOSS: That's right.

BUCKINGHAM: Fifteen miles.

O'BRIEN: And as I understand it, when you are riding with those solid rocket boosters blazing, it's a rough ride indeed, isn't it?

VOSS: Very bumpy. And then it gets very smooth.

BUCKINGHAM: ... standing by for burnouts and jettison at the twin solid rockets for the shuttle.

O'BRIEN: I noticed the plume changes there as they burn out.

VOSS: That's right, because of the mix of the propellant changes.

O'BRIEN: And there they go.

BUCKINGHAM: A good solid rocket booster separation for Endeavour.

O'BRIEN: And a sigh of relief for a lot of people who followed the shuttle program.

VOSS: That's right.

O'BRIEN: As these solid rocket boosters break off. BUCKINGHAM: Speed: 3,700 miles per hour.

O'BRIEN: Up until that point, you are going for a ride. There is not a lot you can do.

VOSS: That's right.

O'BRIEN: At this juncture if, for example, they lost a main engine, there are all kinds of options that the crew has for emergency landings, right?

VOSS: That's right. And same options existed earlier, but you have to wait to this point to implement them, because there's not just much you can do to get rid of those solids. You can't turn them off.

O'BRIEN: When he said two engine maroon -- Moron, he essentially was saying, if you had two engines remanding or lost two engines?

VOSS: No, it is remaining.

O'BRIEN: So, it is remaining. You can make it to Moron, Spain, which is the trans-Atlantic abort site. So, three minutes after leaving the cape, they are in a position to coast down to Spain. I think that gives you some sense of the acceleration, altitude and down-rage velocity that this vehicle has.

And as the higher you go, the more options you have, obviously.

That ride got a lot smoother for them once those solids went off?

VOSS: It did. The main engines burn hydrogen oxygen, very clean. Basically, water vapor is what they produce, and so, once you get on those, it's very smooth. It's a lot less thrust as well.

O'BRIEN: But the interesting thing is, as you -- as I understand it, as you get further along here, your highest g-load is actually toward the end of the ascent, which lasts about 8 1/2 minutes. Why is that?

VOSS: Right. Because you are getting light very, very fist, and the thrust is constant. So, the longer you go, the thrust to weight ratio keeps getting bigger.

O'BRIEN: OK. And at this high point, you feel as if you are three times heavier than you sitting here on the planet, which means you are -- you are pressed against your seat, but then, in an instant, what happens?

VOSS: When the engines cut off, you go instantly to micro- gravity, as we would call it. And the interesting thing is, for me on my first flight -- because you have the belt strapped to your chest, so that you're still tightly held, and because the fluid shift causes your head to feel full, I actually couldn't tell that the engines have stopped. Because I was -- my body was so swamped with all these unusual sensations.

O'BRIEN: And then, all of a sudden, things start to just kind of appearing.

VOSS: When you see stuff coming of off the floor, you know something has changed.

O'BRIEN: You might say that's a buoyant moment, I'm sure, aboard a space shuttle. I'm sure even after five times, it's a moment of great relief and excitement.

VOSS: It's wonderful!

O'BRIEN: All right. Space shuttle Endeavour now four minutes, 45 seconds into its flight.

ALLEN: Miles, any astronauts taking their first flight today?

O'BRIEN: Well, yes, as matter of fact, one of them, the Russian, Yuri Lonchakov, is a rookie. Yuri, interestingly, looks a little bit like Yuri Gagarin. Here he is, 40 years after his forbearer flew.

In addition to that, John Phillips, who is a NASA pro, he's been around for a while. He has got a Ph.D., he's got an incredible resume, but this is his first ride. I'm sure he's enjoying this moment.

It's kind of -- must be kind of fun to share it with the rookies.

VOSS: Oh yes. The commander usually makes the call. There's officially defined line, when you're officially an astronaut, and the commander will say: "Welcome to space."

O'BRIEN: Welcome to space. All right. That's what's going on right now. We are going to watch Endeavour as it continues its ascent, still another three minutes to go in that, Natalie, and we will keep you posted as it falls out of our camera's range. And we will be keeping you posted all, of course, all throughout the mission.

WATERS: And I'm sure, Miles, you meant to invite me also to Florida for one of these space launches.

O'BRIEN: Oh, I didn't mention that?

WATERS: No, you invited Natalie twice, but no mention of me. But no matter, it doesn't matter. I'll be fine.

O'BRIEN: The engraved invitation is on the way.

WATERS: I'll be fine. Don't worry about me.


ALLEN: You are invited, of course. Thank you, Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. My pleasure.

ALLEN: Thank you, NASA! WATERS: They are safely away, and that's always a relief. Space shuttle Endeavour on the way to the international space station. We will continue to follow the mission.



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