Spaceflight Now: STS-97 Mission Report

Endeavour returns to Earth with nighttime landing
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
SPACEFLIGHT NOW

Posted: December 11, 2000

  PPOV
A video camera in Endeavour's cockpit shows commander Brent Jett's view as he piloted the shuttle towards the Kennedy Space Center runway. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
 
The space shuttle Endeavour glided to a smooth Florida touchdown today just minutes after the international space station sailed overhead, closing out a successful flight to equip the outpost with the most powerful solar arrays ever launched.

First-time shuttle commander Brent Jett guided the orbiter through a sweeping left overhead turn, lined up on runway 15 and swooped to a high speed touchdown at 6:03:25 p.m., 170 orbits and nearly 4.5 million miles since blastoff Nov. 30

Barreling down NASA's 3-mile-long shuttle runway, pilot Michael Bloomfield fired a mortar that deployed the spacecraft's braking parachute, bringing its nose gear gently to the runway.

A few moments later, the black-and-white spaceplane coasted to a stop on the runway centerline, officially ending the 101st shuttle mission, the fifth and final flight this year.

"Wheels stopped, Houston" Jett radioed.

"Endeavour Houston, roger wheels stopped," replied astronaut Gus Loria from the Johnson Space Center. "Outstanding job, welcome back."

It was the 16th night landing in shuttle history, the 11th at the Kennedy Space Center. Mission duration was 10 days 19 hours 57 minutes and 24 seconds.

  Landing
Endeavour touches down on Runway 15. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
 
Shuttle program manager Ronald Dittemore was elated at the successful conclusion to one of NASA's most challenging missions, installation of a $600 million set of solar arrays on the international space station.

"It's a good way to end this year, a very successful five missions," Dittemore said. "A lot of confidence is in the air and we're really going into the Christmas season with a great spirit.

"I think one way to sum it up is to say in anybody's ball park, this mission was really a home run."

Jett, Bloomfield, Canadian flight engineer Marc Garneau and spacewalkers Joseph Tanner and Carlos Noriega climbed out of the orbiter about an hour after touchdown for a quick walk-around inspection before reunions with family members.

Looking fit and in good spirits, the astronauts were greeted by NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin and other agency VIPs. All five will spend the night at the Kennedy Space Center before flying back to Houston Tuesday.

"It's great to be back in Florida," Jett told shuttle workers on the runway. "It's been a pretty exciting 11 days for us. It was real challenging, we were happy to get all of our objectives accomplished.

"The one thing during the whole flight that never gave us one problem was Endeavour. And that's a tribute to everyone here at KSC. If would have had any troubles, pull out the malf (malfunction) book and work any problems with Endeavour, it would have really seriously impacted our timeline and our ability to complete our mission.

"Endeavour performed flawlessly," he concluded, "we enjoyed spending time her and hopefully we brought her back to you in good condition."

Just moments before Endeavour's picture-perfect landing, the international space station sailed 240 miles above the Florida spaceport, its three-man crew asleep after its 40th day on board the orbiting complex.

Commander William Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev are scheduled to remain aboard the station until late February or early March, returning aboard the shuttle that ferries their replacements into orbit.

But first, Shepherd and company will activate and check out the U.S. laboratory module, Destiny, scheduled for launch aboard the shuttle Atlantis on Jan. 18.

The power-hungry lab module will be the prime beneficiary of electricity generated by the huge P6 solar power tower installed by Endeavour's crew. The new solar array is the largest structure ever deployed in space, its two solar wings stretching 240 feet from tip to tip.

Despite a few false starts and an emergency repair job to tighten up a loose solar blanket on the array's starboard wing, engineers say the power system is performing flawlessly during its initial checkout and activation, generating more than 50 kilowatts at peak efficiency.

ISS
The 97-ton international space station with its solar wings spread as seen by Endeavour during undocking. Photo: NASA
 
Getting the P6 array installed was a requirement for launching the Destiny module in January.

But Atlantis's rollout to pad 39A, originally scheduled for today, has been delayed at least 48 hours -- and possibly longer -- for inspections to make sure its booster separation system is healthy.

One of two explosive detonators in a strut connecting Endeavour's left-side solid-fuel booster failed to fire during launch Nov. 30. The second detonator worked as planned, however, and the booster separated cleanly.

"One of two pyrotechnic devices did not fire on the left-hand SRB on the lower strut," said Dittemore. "This is the first time we have seen this in the life of the program. Now, it's one of two, which means we were perfectly safe; you only need one of two to fire to separate properly.

"But what concerns us is we don't like going into a mission knowing that perhaps we have lost one leg of our redundancy."

Preliminary inspections indicate a broken wire in an electrical component on the booster may have been responsible for the failure and not a problem with the detonator itself. That's good news for NASA because replacing or inspecting detonators would have required taking the shuttle and its external tank off the two boosters to gain access.

As it is, NASA managers ordered X-ray inspections of Endeavour's separation system wiring in the Vehicle Assembly Building where engineers have access to the hardware.

"The folks have narrowed it down to looking at a particular cable," Dittemore said. "It looks like we have had some damage in a cable that would have fired this pyrotechnic device and it appears this is the cause that it did not fire, that we had damage in the cable.

"What we're off looking at is trying to determine what caused the damage. That's going to take a little bit of time to understand. And you need to really understand what the root cause is to define an plan of action to verify that we have good integrity on the vehicle that's in the VAB before it rolls out to the pad."

Assuming no additional inspections or repairs are ordered, Atlantis will be moved to the launch pad Wednesday and the 32,000-pound Destiny module will be installed in its cargo bay early next year.

  Atlantis
Space shuttle Atlantis is lowered into position for attachment to its external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters inside the Vehicle Assembly prior to a mission earlier this year. Photo: NASA
 
But Dittemore said the booster assessment could well take longer than two days. But if rollout is held up more than seven days or so, launch will begin slipping on a day-per-day basis.

Dittemore said the flight after Atlantis's - a mission by shuttle Discovery to ferry supplies and the station's next full-time crew into orbit - already is in danger of a one- to two-week slip because of turnaround problems in the wake of a California landing in October.

The flight currently is scheduled for launch Feb. 15, but sources said it likely will slip to around March 1. Dittemore said a meeting to discuss Discovery's processing flow is planned for Wednesday.

"We found four thrusters that need to be replaced," he said. "It's our policy that when we change a jet out, we change all the jets on that particular manifold. If we don't do that, we have some risk of having leaking jets on the following flight.

"So that means even though four jets need to be replaced, we have to change out 10. And that's going to affect our schedule," he said. "It was already a tight schedule to meet the middle of February. Adding this additional complication of changing out the jets only puts us further behind."

While no decisions have been made, "it looks like we should expect some delay," Dittemore said. "It may be a week, it may be two. But we'll just have to wait and see."

He said if Discovery does, in fact, slip, it likely will affect the next mission in the sequence.

And in a final bit of news, Dittemore said work to complete an overhaul, inspections and extensive wiring repairs on the shuttle Columbia will delay that orbiter's return from California to the Kennedy Space Center next year and likely will limit the ship to just one flight in 2001.

Video vault
Shuttle Endeavour glides to a nighttime landing on Runway 15 the Kennedy Space Center, ending a mission that spread the power-generating solar wings of the space station.
  PLAY (299k, 34sec QuickTime file)
A video camera mounted in space shuttle Endeavour's cockpit shows the view commander Brent Jett had as he piloted the spaceplane to a smooth touchdown.
  PLAY (398k, 42sec QuickTime file)
An infrared tracking camera positioned near the runway shows the glowing hot Endeavour landing at Kennedy Space Center and deploying its drag chute.
  PLAY (422k, 59sec QuickTime file)

Landing tracks
See the path Endeavour followed during its return to Earth Monday evening in our STS-97 Landing Tracker.

KSC Orbit 170 - touchdown in Florida at 2304 GMT.


Status Summary
The Expedition One mission to the space station is being extended two weeks due to delays in launching the space shuttle to bring the three men home. Read story.

Endeavour landed at Kennedy Space Center right on time Monday at 6:03:25 p.m. EST (2303:25 GMT).


See the Status Center for full play-by-play coverage.

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