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Shuttle Endeavour Launched

Aired November 23, 2002 - 19:46   ET


ANNOUNCER: The following is CNN's coverage of a live event.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm Anderson Cooper at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

In just a few moments, the space shuttle "Endeavour" is set to launch. It has been a launch that's been delayed several times over the last several weeks. But right now, all systems are go, and we are going to carry this event to you live.

Joined now by Miles O'Brien, who is at Cape Canaveral, Florida, with the latest.

Miles, all systems go?


All systems go. The space shuttle "Endeavour" is looking great. As a matter of fact, it's been a nearly flawless countdown.

The big concern has been all along this evening and yesterday evening, for that matter, when there was a scrubbed launched attempt, the weather in Spain.

But apparently the weather people are telling NASA managers what they want to hear, that the band of rain showers which had gone across the boarded (ph) landing sites in Spain now has a hole in it, a hole in which it would make it possible for the space shuttle to land there if there was an engine that was lost on the way to space and they had to do that emergency landing across the Atlantic.

You're looking at a closeup picture of the gaseous oxygen vent hood. That's at the very top of the shuttle's orange fuel tank, which holds 500,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and oxygen. It is pulled apart away from the space shuttle at about two minutes in -- prior to launch.

It's there on top of the space shuttle to reduce ice buildup at the top of the nose cone.

Let's take a quick tour around the launch pad for just a moment. Crew of seven strapped aboard, they're on their way to the International Space Station. Just show you a wide shot so you can get a sense of what's going on here at the Kennedy Space Center. And you can see that there's a nice, easy breeze here. It's perfectly within weather constrains for the Kennedy Space Center. That's important, because if there is an abort which requires the space shuttle to come back to the shuttle landing facility.

We're inside one minute now in the countdown. And they are pressurizing the hydrogen tanks, getting them ready. The deluge water system will be going, which will reduce the noise which is created by the space shuttle as it launches. That noise creates so many decibels that it could cause some of those tiles on the space shuttle to break off, those tiles protect it as it comes in from the heat of reentry.

Inside 47 seconds now, the flight -- the internal power is activated on the space shuttle, which means it is now in the final stages. And within 30 seconds, coming up right now, the onboard computer is in control of the space shuttle "Endeavour," and the final stages of the launch occur under computer control.

Let's listen in to NASA's George Diller and the crew in the final 25 seconds of this countdown.

GEORGE DILLER, NASA: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) pressure water system activated.

T minus 10, 9, 8, 7, 6. Go for main engine (UNINTELLIGIBLE). One, and liftoff of space shuttle "Endeavour," with another building block for the foundation of the International Space Station.

Houston now controlling the flight of "Endeavour." Three new residents headed for the International Space Station. "Endeavour" completing the roll, the shuttle now in a heads-down wings-level position (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) main engines, throttling back now in a three- step fashion to 72 percent of rated performance, reducing the stress on the orbiter as it breaks through the sound barrier.

O'BRIEN: Now about 40 seconds into the launch of the space shuttle "Endeavour." This is the 19th flight of the space shuttle "Endeavour." This is the 112th space shuttle mission. About now, it is traveling, approaching speeds of 1,000 miles an hour. How's that for acceleration?

Throttle up is the point at which the engines are pushed to the maximum, if you will, Anderson, as it goes through the thickest part of the atmosphere. They reduce the power of the engines because it would put too much stress on the space shuttle. Once it gets a little bit higher and it gets through that period of time, they go at throttle up, they firewall those engines. And on they go into the supersonic realm.

The next big event will come in about 30 seconds' time, when the solid rocket boosters, those twin rockets attached to the orange external fuel tank, are jettisoned. The space shuttle will be traveling at about 3,000 miles an hour at that point, about 28 miles in altitude. That's coming up in 20 seconds' time. As you take a look, in the lower part of your screen you can see the main engines, that bright white light, and then the orange flash coming from those solid rocket boosters. The white light of the main engines caused by the combustion of liquid hydrogen and oxygen.

As you see that flare out there, that is perfectly normal at two minutes and four seconds in. That indicates the beginning of that solid rocket booster separation. There you see those rockets firing it, sending them off like burning cigarettes being discarded.

This is the most, one of the most critical points in the eight- and-a-half-minute ride into space. You'll recall those solid rocket boosters were the cause of the "Challenger" explosion back in 1986, and everybody breathes a bit of a sigh of relief when they are jettisoned.

Now two and a half minutes in, and those trans-Atlantic abort sites now already are becoming a thing of the past. The space shuttle is high enough and fast enough where it could get to the point, very close to begin a abort to orbit, which would mean if one of those engines failed, it has enough altitude to attain an orbit. That'll be coming up in about a minute's time.

The -- there's nothing like a night launch. It's a spectacular sight. It was a pristine evening for it, and...

COOPER: I was going to say -- I was going to say, Miles...

O'BRIEN: ... if you take a look at the crew here -- Yes, go ahead.

COOPER: I was going to say, I mean, you mentioned that this is the 11th mission. But every time, it is just an extraordinary picture to see that space shuttle lifting off. Tell us a little bit about the mission of "Endeavour" this time along. You mentioned this is the 19th flight for "Endeavour." What are they going to be doing this time, and how's on board?

O'BRIEN: Well, we got a seven-member crew on board, and the key for the three people on the International Space Station right now, as they travel over the Atlantic, and I'm sure they're monitoring this launch, there's a relief crew on board. That crew on the space station has spent 171 days there, and the three-person crew will be replacing them, led by a NASA astronaut, Ken Bowersox.

In addition, they'll be putting on an important piece of the space station as they continue the buildout, a schoolbus-sized truss that will carry some solar arrays and some radiators. They got a 11- day mission ahead of them. It's a busy mission, three spacewalks will be conducted.

And most importantly, that crew change-out will occur.

We can show you a quick view of the crew as they were being trapped in earlier this evening. They're led by the veteran Jim Weatherby, who is on his sixth shuttle flight. He's already been to the space station once. He also traveled to Mir. There you see him in the right-hand portion of your screen. This was about 5:00 p.m. local time when these pictures were taken.

The lower left portion of the screen, Michael Lopez Allegria (ph), originally of Spain, ironically, there's a lot of focus on Spain tonight. He will be involved in those three spacewalks.

And out of your screen on the left side is the pilot Paul Lockhart.

It's a busy 11 days ahead of them. These shuttle missions, Anderson, are timelined down to the five-minute increments. They know what is ahead of them over the next 11 days in five-minute segments.

COOPER: It's also the first mission for a Native American astronaut, is that right?

O'BRIEN: Yes, it is, John Herrington, who you didn't see being strapped in there, but was just about to walk in, sits right in the middle, he's the flight engineer. Interestingly enough, he spent the first two and a half years as a rookie astronaut -- this is his first flight, obviously -- as one of the so-called Caped Crusaders, those people in the white suits who strap them in. Says he's quite happy to be on this side of the hatch this time around, well on his way to space.

We're now five minutes, 15 seconds into it, and we're at a point now where they're well beyond the point where they would ever return to that trans-Atlantic abort site. If one of those engines failed right now, they still would be able to make it to orbit, although it wouldn't be quite the orbit they desired, it'd be anybody's guess if they could make it to the International Space Station at this point.

But once again, everything is functioning perfectly right now on the space shuttle "Endeavour."

COOPER: Now, this was supposed to launch yesterday, and the reason it did not launch wasn't because of something at Cape Canaveral, it was because of emergency landing sites in Spain, right?

O'BRIEN: Yes, exactly. What happens is, NASA has to be very prudent in these kinds of things, obviously. If things go wrong on their ride uphill, which is the term that NASA uses, they constantly have to have an abort procedure in mind. The first couple of minutes, the first two minutes and 20 seconds, if something went wrong, they'd come back here to the Kennedy Space Center.

From about two minutes and 20 seconds all the way up to about five minutes, if something went wrong, they lost an engine, they would have enough power to make it across the Atlantic Ocean, in this case, to Spain. And that's why it's very important that the weather is good there, because Commander Weatherby needs to be able to guide the shuttle into a glider landing. There's no go-arounds on these space shuttles, they have no power when they come in. It's the world most -- world's most expensive, heavy, complicated glider.

And you don't want to have bad weather that would require a go- around, because there is no go-around, Anderson.

COOPER: You said there's seven members on this crew, but not all of them are going to be staying at the space station. How many are staying at the space station? And tell us a little bit about what it's like living in that space station. I mean, how long do they have to be there for? What are, what are, what kind of conditions are it? It's got to be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) just very tough.

O'BRIEN: Well, it's interesting you should mention that. I talked to the commander, Ken Bowersox, before he left about this. Now, he's a U.S. Navy captain, spent many tours of duty on aircraft carriers flying F-14s and F-18s. So he knows a lot about what it's like to be away from his family.

I asked him what this sort of mission is like by comparison. Let's listen to him for just a moment.


KEN BOWERSOX, "ENDEAVOUR" COMMANDER: I've been at sea for four months before with 5,000 other guys on an aircraft carrier. But I've never been with three guys in one spot for that long, and I've been told by other people who were up there that it actually is a bigger factor than they thought to be with the same people day after day after day.

But I'm not dreading it, I'm sort of just looking forward to seeing what it's going to be like to surmount the challenge.


O'BRIEN: It's a big challenge indeed.

Ironically, he says, Anderson, he'll have more communication with his family from the space station. He can pick up the phone, an Internet phone, and call them when he wants and stay in touch with them. He has two young children.

Let's take a quick look one more time at the launch before we get away here, a replay. This is the way it looks when those solid rocket boosters ignite, the space shuttle is released, explosive bolts go off, administration within about 10 seconds' time, it is going 100 miles an hour.

So it starts off -- that's actually relatively slow by space standards. Off it went, providing sort of a false dawn here at the Kennedy Space Center. And climbing up, it rolls it to that heads-up attitude. That's for the comfort of the astronauts as they go on up. Makes it easier for them to handle the forces of that launch as they go up the -- uphill to space.

We're now, by the way, eight minutes and 40 seconds into the launch, or into the mission. And the main engines have shut off. They are in space. They have officially made it safely to space and are in orbit, as we look at this replay of the launch. Taking a look at those main engines, the engineering team here will be looking at those engines very closely over the next couple of days, taking a close look to make sure they burn properly, make sure no pieces fell off. This entire thing is gone over like a -- with a fine-toothed comb. it may look kind of routine, but they don't treat it very routinely here, Anderson.

COOPER: Well, no doubt.

Miles O'Brien, thank you so much. It was just amazing, amazing pictures. Another great moment, 112th mission, 19th flight for "Endeavour," and no one better to cover it than Miles O'Brien. Thank you very much for being with us, Miles.


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