New station crew and tourist set for Soyuz launch Sunday
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: October 10, 2008
A Russian Soyuz spacecraft was hauled to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Friday, setting the stage for blastoff early Sunday on a critical flight to the international space station. The Soyuz TMA-13 capsule will ferry Expedition 18 commander Mike Fincke, a NASA astronaut, and Russian flight engineer Yuri Lonchakov to the station for work to prepare the lab complex for next year's planned crew expansion from three to six. They will be joined for launch by space tourist Richard Garriott, a computer game designer and the son of former shuttle astronaut Owen Garriott, who paid some $30 million for a 10-day visit to the space station.
Liftoff is targeted for 3:01:29 a.m. EDT Sunday. If all goes well, Lonchakov will guide the Soyuz spacecraft to a docking at the downward-facing port of the station's central Zarya module around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, five weeks shy of the lab's 10th anniversary.
"Mike's experienced, he's done this before, Yuri's experienced as well, although this will be his first long-duration flight," Brent Jett, director of flight crew operations at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said today from Baikonur. "But they know what's ahead of them, they're prepared. They're doing some final things, tweaking up their flight data file, but they're ready to go."
Here is a timeline of major events in the rendezvous sequence (in EDT and mission elapsed time):
DATE/TIME..DD...HH...MM...EVENT 10/12/08 03:01 AM...00...00...00...17 Soyuz TMA-13 launch 03:10 AM...00...00...09...Orbital insertion 06:36 AM...00...03...35...DV1 rocket firing (dV: 44.2 mph) 07:28 AM...00...04...27...DV2 rocket firing (dV: 17.0 mph) 10/13/08 04:01 AM...01...01...00...DV3 rocket firing (dV: 4.5 mph) 10/14/08 12:24 AM...01...21...23...ISS US-to-Russian motion control system handover 02:06 AM...01...23...05...Automated rendezvous and docking start 02:22 AM...01...23...21...ISS maneuvers to docking attitude 02:28 AM...01...23...27...AR&D DV4 impulse 1 (dV: 47.5 mph) 02:50 AM...01...23...49...AR&D impulse 2 (dV: 2.6 mph) 02:53 AM...01...23...52...Soyuz/KURS-A rendezvous nav activation 02:55 AM...01...23...54...Zvezda/KURS-P activation 03:13 AM...02...00...12...AR&D DV5 impulse 3 (dV: 49.3 mph) 03:14 AM...02...00...13...Range: 62 miles 03:18 AM...02...00...17...Good KURS-P data at 50 miles 03:39 AM...02...00...38...KURS short test at 9.3 miles 03:47 AM...02...00...46...Range: 5 miles; Soyuz TV activation 03:55 AM...02...00...54...AR&D impulse 4 (dV: 15.3 mph) 03:56 AM...02...00...55...AR&D ballistic targeting point 04:00 AM...02...00...59...AR&D impulse 5 (dV: 7.9 mph) 04:03 AM...02...01...02...AR&D impulse 6 (dV: 3.3 mph) 04:04 AM...02...01...03...AR&D fly around mode start 04:13 AM...02...01...12...AR&D stationkeeping start 04:20 AM...02...01...19...Russian ground station AOS 04:23 AM...02...01...22...AR&D final approach start 04:32 AM...02...01...31...ISS Docking at Zarya nadir 04:37 AM...02...01...36...Russian ground station LOS 04:52 AM...02...01...51...Sunset 04:52 AM...02...01...51...Soyuz hooks closed; ISS to LVLH 06:04 AM...02...03...03...ISS Russian-to-U.S. motion control system handover
Fincke is making his second long-duration station flight after a six-month stint as flight engineer in 2004. Lonchakov has visited the station twice himself, once with a shuttle crew and once as a short-duration Soyuz crew member.
"To go the first time was absolutely wonderful and it was my fondest desire to get a chance to fly again," Fincke told reporters this summer. "As far as the American side goes, only Mike Foale and Peggy Whitson have flown twice on long-duration missions and this is a great chance to do something I really felt comfortable doing.
"The first time around it was really nice, I flew with (cosmonaut) Gennady Padalka and he showed me a lot, just by example, how it is to be a good commander. He made that mission everything I wanted it to be and he brought out the best in me. So that's the kind of thing I think about this time. Not just being responsible for the lives of my crewmates, because in many respects, we're all responsible for each other. But also just so I can help with my knowledge and experience, make this mission as successful as we had on Expedition 9, if not even better. And with this crew I'm sure we can get there."
Fincke, Lonchakov and Garriott will be welcomed aboard the space station next Tuesday by Expedition 17 commander Sergey Volkov, flight engineer Oleg Kononenko and U.S. flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff. Volkov and Kononenko were launched to the station aboard the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft on April 8. Chamitoff was launched aboard the shuttle Discovery on May 31.
After a week-and-a-half of joint handover activity, Volkov, Kononenko and Garriott plan to strap into the Soyuz TMA-12 vehicle and undock from the station Oct. 23. Landing in Kazakhstan is targeted for around 11:36 p.m. that night.
The most recent two Soyuz landings ended with module separation problems and steep "ballistic" re-entries that led to off-course landings and a rougher-than-usual descent for the returning crew members. Russian engineers believe the problems were caused by electrical shorts in space that affected a specific pyro bolt in the module separation system. The arcing, engineers believe, was the result of the charged environment around the station and an ungrounded aluminum insulation blanket on the docked Soyuz spacecraft.
Volkov and Kononenko staged a spacewalk in July to remove the pyro bolt in question on the TMA-12 vehicle. They plan to bring it back to Earth for a detailed analysis. In the meantime, engineers say the TMA-12 spacecraft should perform normally when Volkov and Kononenko return and Fincke said he's confident his own spacecraft, TMA-13, will operate as expected.
"Our Soyuz, TMA-13, it's been really well tested," he said. "To help find the smoking gun, or what the problem was with the previous two Soyuzes, they really extensively tested ours. ... The good news is it passed all its tests and they haven't run into any trouble. So we're really confident we're going to be launching on a safe vehicle that's going to act the way we expect it."
Chamitoff will remain aboard the station with Fincke and Lonchakov when Volkov, Kononenko and Garriott depart, officially joining the Expedition 18 crew. Chamitoff, in turn, will be replaced next month by astronaut Sandra Magnus, who is scheduled for launch Nov. 14 aboard the shuttle Endeavour.
Garriott is the sixth tourist to book a seat on a Soyuz crew rotation mission through Space Adventures Ltd. The flights cost between $20 million and $30 million and require months of training at Star City near Moscow. Garriott's father flew as a NASA astronaut aboard the Skylab space station and later, aboard the space shuttle. As such, Richard Garriott grew up in a neighborhood surrounded by astronauts and space engineers.
"I think everyone probably goes through a period of time in their life when they desire or believe that they might one day grow up to be an astronaut," he said. "But interestingly, the thing that set me on the course to pursue the privatization of space, to ultimately get me there, actually happened (at the Johnson Space Center). I was at the clinic here on base and one of the optometrists was noting I had poor eyesight and said, 'hey Richard, I'm really sorry, but that poor eyesight is going to keep you from being selected as an astronaut.'
"But (instead) of being crushed and giving up on that dream, that just set me on the path of saying wait a minute, you can't tell me no. ... Literally, throughout my entire professional career, I've been investing in the privatization of space, everything from companies like Spacehab, which flew hardware on the shuttles, to a number of suborbital spaceplane companies down through Space Adventures.
"And so my father, he was not shocked at all to see me pursuing this. In fact, he has helped put together some of those companies I've invested in down through the years towards the privatization of space. So I would like to believe, anyway, that I've been a modest player in opening the doors to allow a broader cross section of citizens to be able to participate in activities like this."
He made his fortune developing multiplayer computer games like Ultima.
"My mundane life, so to speak, has been in the business of creating virtual worlds to explore," he said of his computer gaming business. "Most of them have been in medieval fantasy. My most recent is actually a science fiction game involving humanity's spread throughout the galaxy. In my game, it was by necessity because of a calamity that befalls the Earth.
"And so as you might imagine, since I'm getting a chance to go to space myself, I would be remiss without finding a way to connect to the community of players and gamers in general from space. So not only will I be sending messages down to players in my game, but I'll actually be taking up something we call the 'immortality drive,' which is a repository of the wisdom and knowledge of mankind. Gamers can ... contribute to the information that I'll be storing up on the space station just in case such a calamity was to actually befall the Earth."
While some NASA astronauts have criticized the Russian space program's willingness to fly non professionals to the space station, Fincke said he was glad to have Garriott as a crewmate.
"Having spent time with Richard, I can see he really understands the importance of what we're doing with space and he understands the operational side of things where you just can't randomly push buttons or do something that seemed like a good idea at the time," Fincke said. "And that's first and foremost, can you trust your crewmates? And with Richard, we have complete trust. That goes a long way.
"It's only going to be 10 days (but) it's going to be really enjoyable to watch somebody who's flying in space for the very first time, going through all the same things I went through, all the happiness and the learning how to float around the cabin and just looking at the expression on his face when he looks at our planet for the first time. Those are some memories I have from my first mission that I'll get a chance to relive by watching somebody else go through it. It's going to be really enjoyable."
Fincke, Lonchakov and Chamitoff will have a busy three weeks preparing the station for Endeavour's arrival on Nov. 16. Then the real work will begin.
U.S. and Russian flight crews, engineers and controllers hope to expand the station's crew size from three to six next year. To do that, the station must be able to recycle condensation, cooling water and even urine to provide enough potable water for the astronauts, their experiments and the station's U.S. oxygen generator. Additional astronaut sleep stations, a second toilet and a second galley also must be delivered, installed and checked out.
"Our main mission during Expedition 18 is to get the space station, which is currently sized for three people, up and running and ready to go for six people," Fincke said. "It's going to take a lot of work, but it's the next step in getting the space station fully operational. We've got the right team for it."
Along with carrying Magnus to the station and providing a ride home for Chamitoff, Endeavour also will deliver two racks of water recycling gear, two sleep stations, a galley and a second toilet identical to the one in the Russian part of the station.
The recycling gear, the toilet and the galley will be installed in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module and tied into the same water system. The sleep stations will be mounted in a connecting module attached to the front end of Destiny.
Up to this point, the station's fresh water has been supplied by visiting Progress supply ships and space shuttles. But the shuttle is scheduled to be retired in 2010 and the Russians cannot make up the difference, much less expand production to accommodate a six-person crew.
"Recycling is a must," said station flight director Ron Spencer. "We can't be delivering water all the time for six crew. So the highest priority is to install and activate the water treatment hardware first. And we want to have this operate for 90 days before we give a 'go' for six crew operations on board station. So we want to start this 90-day clock as soon as possible. We're actually going to try to activate this hardware, the initial activation of it, during the (Endeavour) mission itself so that we can get the first processed water sample returned home on that shuttle mission to verify acceptable water quality."
Said Fincke: "Right now, we're running kind of a water deficit and it's being supplemented by the shuttle. Without the shuttle flying, we really have to manage our water, so our water racks are going to be really important to us so we can recycle a lot of our water. That's going to be key. I think the biggest milestone, or biggest measure of success, is getting those racks up and running. We have a 90-day test period to see if they're going to actually be able to use that water. That water is also going to be used not just for drinking and food preparation but also for oxygen generation, which is a key component in life support. Because I think we're all pretty much addicted to breathing!"
And drinking. NASA hopes to have the new recycling gear up and running, hooked into the new toilet, before Endeavour departs at the end of November, but it will take at least three months for Fincke and Magnus to complete initial testing to make sure the water quality meets requirements.
Magnus agreed there is a bit of a "yuck factor" when it comes to drinking recycled urine, but for long-duration stays on the station and eventual flights to the moon and Mars, recycled water is a must.
"Yeah, that's part of what we have to adapt to in our new lifestyle," she said. "This is water, OK, yeah, it used to be urine, forget about that part. It's water, it's important, it'll be clean and that's fine. Yeah, there is a certain amount of I guess you'd call it a yuck factor to it. On top of that, of course, is the fact that (bathroom operations) in space are intensely interesting to everybody on the planet, it's the most popular topic. So there's a lot of interest in this."
As for her role in the system's activation, she laughed, saying "I kind of look at it as being on the front line of an evolutionary change. 'One small step for man' kind of thing."