quinta-feira, 27 de março de 2008

Aterragem do Space Shuttle Endeavour ontem à noite

Devido às nuvens, a aterragem foi adiada uma órbita em relação ao previsto ontem, pelo que teve lugar apenas às 0:39 desta madrugada, hora de Lisboa.

No vídeo da aterragem nota-se uma chama perto do leme traseiro do Shuttle, que provém do escape das unidades de alimentação hidráulicas.

Fonte: Email da CBS Space News

Fotos: Damaris Sarria

Update: Shuttle Endeavour glides to smooth night landing
8:55 PM, 3/26/08

Running one orbit late because of troublesome low clouds, the shuttle Endeavour plunged back to Earth today, dropping out of the night for a picture-perfect landing at the Kennedy Space Center to close out a marathon 16-day space station assembly mission. Joining the shuttle astronauts for the trip back to Earth was European Space Agency astronaut Leopold Eyharts, launched to the station in February and returning after 48 days in space.

Flying upside down and backward over the Indian Ocean, commander Dominic Gorie and pilot Gregory Johnson fired Endeavour's twin braking rockets for two minutes and 48 seconds starting at 7:33:14 p.m., slowing the ship by about 206 mph and dropping the far side of the shuttle's orbit deep into the atmosphere.

After a half-hour free fall, Endeavour plunged back into the discernible atmosphere at 8:07 p.m. at an altitude of 76 miles above the south Pacific Ocean. Minutes later, the shuttle's heat shield was subjected to 3,000-degree temperatures as the spaceplane decelerated from its orbital velocity of 5 miles per second.

Crossing high above Central America's Yucatan Peninsula, Endeavour's flight computers guided the shuttle across the Gulf of Mexico and then over the west coast of Florida just south of Tampa, dropping through 84,000 feet at 1,700 mph seven minutes before touchdown.

Three minutes later, at an altitude of about 50,700 feet, Endeavour's speed dropped below Mach 1 and a double sonic boom rumbled across the space center. Gorie took over manual control a few seconds later and after letting Gregory get a few moments of "stick time, guided the shuttle through a sweeping 255-degree left overhead turn to line up on runway 15.

As Gorie pulled the shuttle's nose up just before touchdown, Johnson lowered Endeavour's landing gear and the orbiter settled to a tire-smoking touchdown at 8:39:08 p.m. as jets of flame from the exhaust ports of the ship's three hydraulic power units flared in the night.

"Houston, Endeavour. Wheels stopped," Gorie radioed as the shuttle rolled to a stop.

"Welcome home, Endeavour," astronaut James Dutton called from mission control. "Congrats to the entire crew, to JAXA and CSA (the Japanese and Canadian space agencies), on a very successful mission."

"Thanks, Jim," Gorie replied. "It was a super rewarding mission, exciting from the start to the ending and we just thank you for all your help. Looking forward to seeing you guys soon."

Mission duration was 15 days 18 hours 10 minutes and 54 seconds, covering 6.6 million miles and 249 complete orbits since blastoff March 11 from nearby launch complex 39A.

Observers were startled by the hydraulic power units' exhaust jetting from vents on either side of Endeavour's vertical tail fin. The exhaust is produced by the orbiter's three auxiliary power units, which provide the muscle needed to move the ship's wing flaps, speed brake, landing gear brakes and nose wheel steering. The exhaust appeared normal in infrared views, but was more pronounced than usual in NASA's visible-light camera. NASA spokesman Kyle Herring in mission control said the APUs were operating normally.

Gorie, Johnson and their shuttle crewmates - flight engineer Michael Foreman, Richard Linnehan, Robert Behnken and Japanese astronaut Takao Doi - were expected to doff their pressure suits for a traditional runway walk-around inspection about an hour after landing.

Eyharts made the flight back to Earth resting on his back in a special recumbent seat on Endeavour's lower deck. As with all returning long-duration space station astronauts, a team of flight surgeons was standing by to monitor Eyharts as he began the long process of readjusting to Earth's gravity. The French air force general was replaced aboard the station by NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman, who hitched a ride the lab complex aboard Endeavour.

Eyharts and his shuttle crewmates are expected to fly back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston on Thursday.

Endeavour's 16-day mission was the longest yet for a space station assembly flight and the five spacewalks carried out by Linnehan, Behnken, Foreman and Reisman set another one-flight station assembly record of 33 hours and 28 minutes.

Endeavour took off Feb. 7 and docked with the space station two days later. The day after that, Doi, operating the shuttle's robot arm, moved a Japanese storage module into position for attachment to the station while Linnehan and Reisman staged the mission's initial spacewalk.

During the next spacewalk, Linnehan and Behnken then began assembly of the Canadian Space Agency's special purpose dexterous manipulator, a maintenance robot known as Dextre. Attached to the end of the station's robot arm, Dextre can be used to replace components on the station that might otherwise require a spacewalk.

Along with mounting the Japanese module and building Dextre, the astronauts also transferred critical spare parts to the station and mounted Endeavour's heat shield inspection boom on the lab for use by the next shuttle crew, scheduled for launch in late May. That shuttle, Discovery, is carrying Japan's huge Kibo lab module and does not have enough room for the inspection boom as well.

NASA is still assessing its schedule for subsequent shuttle flights. Eleven more flights are planned before the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010, with four flights on tap this year, four in 2009 and three in 2010. In the near term, the shuttle Atlantis is scheduled for launch Aug. 28 on a final mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Endeavour returns to orbit in October for a space station resupply mission and Discovery closes out the year in December with a flight to deliver a final set of solar arrays to the international lab.

But external tank production problems threaten to delay the next several flights. The tank needed by Discovery in late May reached the Kennedy Space Center today behind schedule and while that flight remains on track, the Hubble mission could slip into October when all is said and done, triggering domino-like slips for subsequent flights.

While sources say delays appear inevitable, NASA managers have not yet made any official changes.

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