A Bit Jittery

endeavour at cape canaveral getting ready (AP photo)

Working by remote control, engineers at the Kennedy Space Center began pumping a half-million gallons of super-cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen rocket fuel into the shuttle Endeavour’s external tank early Wednesday, setting the stage for launch on a space station assembly mission at 6:36:42 p.m., ….

(That’s Eastern time.)

…if all continues to go well, Endeavour’s crew — commander Scott Kelly, pilot Charles Hobaugh, Tracy Caldwell, Rick Mastracchio, Dave Williams, educator-astronaut Barbara Morgan and Al Drew — will begin strapping in around 3:15 p.m.

I always get a bit uneasy when one of these things is about to launch or land. This mission has added significance (re: Challenger), as you may know. There’s more in the story by CBS’ Bill Harwood, from which I quoted above. (See also an AP/Yahoo story by Rasha Madkour…and there’s a slide show.)

As a means of distracting myself (and maybe you) from the whole thing, here’s a bit about the Endeavour itself, from NASA’s site on the craft. I noticed just now, by the way, that this is one of rare examples where the combination of “o” and “u” is used the British way (hurrah! 😉 ) on this side of the Atlantic. This is because it is a name (although I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been changed to protect the delicate sensibilities of the populace, as is commonly done with book and movie titles), and:

Endeavour was named after a ship chartered to traverse the South Pacific in 1768 and captained by 18th century British explorer James Cook, an experienced seaman, navigator and amateur astronomer. He commanded a crew of 93 men, including 11 scientists and artists.

Cook’s main objective, tasked by the British Admiralty and the Royal Society, was to observe the Transit of Venus at Tahiti. This reading enabled astronomers to find the distance of the Sun from the Earth, which then could be used as a unit of measurement in calculating the parameters of the universe.

Cook’s achievements on Endeavour were numerous, including the accurate charting of New Zealand and Australia and successfully navigating the Great Barrier Reef. Thousands of new plant specimens and animal species were observed and illustrated on this maiden voyage. Cook also established the usefulness of including scientists on voyages of exploration.

Ah, “the usefulness of including scientists”…


[Update: It’s up! Sigh.]

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8 Responses to A Bit Jittery

  1. Ryan says:

    As a research scientist who works at the Michoud Assembly Facility where the External Tank is built, I have more than a passing interest in today’s launch. Today’s launch is particularly poignant for me because I remember sitting in Mrs. Guiterrez’s second grade classroom and watching the Challenger go down, taking Mrs. McAuliffe and the rest of the STS-51L crew with it. I feel that I have come full circle today. All my best to Barbara Morgan and the crew of STS 118, you carry the dreams of a 28 year old man and a 7 year old boy with you today.

  2. Clifford says:

    Thanks Ryan!

    Fingers crossed for luck…


  3. Jude says:

    I wish we didn’t have manned space flight so we wouldn’t be required to worry so much about the liftoffs.

    As the chief metallurgist for Rockwell, my uncle was involved in the Apollo flights and worked on the originally problematic tiles for the space shuttle. It was always great fun when he’d bring souvenirs and the latest film from NASA to show to my grandmother’s rock club meetings (and to us in the living room). I love the space program and because I grew up reading science fiction, I still have a desire to go into space, but I view the shuttle as out-dated and dangerous.

    I do appreciate the history about the Endeavour (although the only British spelling I truly admire is judgement–it’s more logical than our spelling).

  4. Torbjörn Larsson, OMa says:

    Cook also established the usefulness of including scientists on voyages of exploration.

    Sonce this is the Linnean Tercentary we could note that one of his “apostles”, Daniel Solander (inventor of the Solander Box, btw) was one of the scientists on Cook’s first journey.

  5. Navneeth says:

    …I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been changed…

    Well, it was changed, for a tiny while. 🙂

  6. Clifford says:

    Oh my, that’s brilliant! Thanks!


  7. Yvette says:

    I was born five days before Challenger, so news articles of the like always pop up right when I’m reaching a significant birthday.

    I remember Columbia quite well though. I was at a science fair and they announced it during the awards ceremony, and I was so crushed that I didn’t even care about getting 2nd that year. 🙁

  8. John Branch says:

    I have some questions about shuttle launches. I understand that certain fuels (those called hypergolic) combust of their own accord when mixed together, but that there’s a risk in using them because they tend to be toxic. Hydrogen and oxygen aren’t toxic, and aren’t hypergolic, and hence have to be ignited, which is the reason we can see showers of sparks, as if a bunch of sparklers had been lit, in the area of the shuttle’s main engine nozzles at the time of ignition. Am I right? And if so, how are those showers of sparks produced?