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STS-103 Mission Journal

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Discovery lands! "Welcome back to Earth after a fantastic flight."

Image courtesy of NASA TV*
*No NASA endorsement implied

Discovery's engines have ignited and she is lifting away from the pad

28 December - Discovery lost a heat tile sometime during approach and landing. The Hubble repair mission ended NASA's troubled year on a high note.

27 December - 10:10PM EST - DISCOVERY IS HOME!!! The Orbiter made an evening landing at KSC today, 90 minutes later than its scheduled time (due to high winds). STS-103's mission came to an end one orbit later than expected, touching down at 7PM EST. It was only the thirteenth night landing in the entire 96-mission history of the Shuttle program. Check the play-by-play at Florida Today. The mission, originally planned for 10 days, was curtailed before launch due to Y2K concerns. It takes two days to drain the super-cold liquid oxygen and hydrogen used to generate air and water aboard the orbiter, and the goal is to have all Shuttle systems shut down for the millennium cut-over. The successful Hubble repair mission gave NASA a much-needed image boost after a string of failed missions to Mars. Welcome home Discovery!!

Check Mission Control's morning and evening Shuttle status reports, and Hubble status here. Mission Day 9 highlights here.

27 December - FLIGHT DAY 9 1:00AM EST - Both landing sites (KSC and Edwards) are looking good weather-wise, but there is some concern about high cross-winds (which are still within limits) at KSC. The east coast site would be preferable due to the increased cost of processing and return from California.

26 December - 11:50PM EST - The Discovery astronauts are packing it in for their last night in space, after putting Hubble back into action. Some highlights from this morning's press event...
When asked if HST's design for in-flight repair would let it last through its intended lifespan (2010), Mission Specialist Steven Smith replied that it would, calling HST "the flagship of serviceable spacecraft." He recalled that HST has had 20 different boxes repaired on 3 different missions, and that the lessons learned here would be applied to the International Space Station. He noted that this mission's EVAs were mostly on schedule, and that the crew was well-prepared for the 13 anomalies (boxes not fitting right, bolts too tight, etc) they encountered. Smith stated that the crew pushed harder than usual to meet the tight schedule imposed by the Y2K cutoff.

Mission Specialist John Grunsfeld discussed the decreasing soreness in his hands from the intricate work during his EVAs, and the importance of physical training. He described Hubble as "doing really well".

Mission Specialist Michael Foale, a veteran of both Shuttle and Mir missions (over 160 days in space before STS-103!), said that being on the Shuttle felt "like coming home" after his stint on the Russian space station. He noted the "fast and furious pace" of this mission, and wanted to keep experience in both fast and slow-paced missions. He predicted outposts on the Moon and Mars over the coming century, and colonies in other solar systems by the end of the next millennium.

Mission Specialist Jean-François Clervoy was asked how he felt about spending Christmas in space, and the ESA astronaut said he was looking forward to seeing his friends and family back home (in France), but enjoyed the holiday surprises that ground personnel packed for the crew. He also spoke in French to ESA interviewers in Paris.

Mission Specialist Claude Nicollier, an ESA astronaut from Switzerland, was disappointed that the crew would not perform a fourth EVA, but supported NASA's decision to shorten the mission to three EVAs. He spoke in English, then switched effortlessly to French and German to converse with ESA in Geneva. He recounted his tremendous emotion upon his first space-walk, marveling at the huge field of vision, and the sense of being suspended between earth and sky.

After the half-hour news conference, the crew went back to work, putting their gear away and testing the flight control surfaces and reaction control thrusters for tomorrow's landing. The KU-band antenna will be stowed, resulting in decreased TV transmissions from the ship.

26 December - 3:10PM EST - Discovery has begun its 102nd orbit, flying eastward over the United States. The crew is transmitting email to the surface, including some messages to and from the families of the astronauts on board, and have completed their checkout of the systems necessary to leave orbit and land. STS-103 is due to touch down at Florida's KSC tomorrow afternoon (Monday) at 5:40PM EST, with 2 more opportunities to land there later in the evening. If the weather doesn't co-operate tomorrow, Edwards AFB in California is the backup site. 

26 December - 2:00PM EST - Discovery is in its 101st orbit, and has just tested its flight surfaces and reaction control system jets, in preparation to leave orbit tomorrow. Stay tuned for highlights from this morning's press conference! 

Check Mission Control's morning and evening Shuttle status reports, and Hubble status here. Mission Day 8 highlights here.

26 December - FLIGHT DAY 8 11:30AM EST - As the newly repaired Hubble telescope gains 5 miles per orbit on Discovery, the shuttle crew is spending today stowing their gear in preparation for tomorrow's landing. Live press conference at 11:50AM EST!

25 December - UPDATE 11:40PM EST - As the STS-103 crew prepares to turn in for the night, let's review Flight Day 7's highlights: Mission Control woke the guys up this morning with Bing Crosby's "I'll Be Home For Christmas". After 3 successful EVAs (the fourth was cancelled before launch due to the curtailing of the mission), it was now time to re-deploy the refurbished Hubble Space Telescope. Holiday greetings were exchanged with Houston, Santa Claus stopped by, and at 6:03PM EST, Hubble was grappled and released back into orbit with the robotic arm. After a media interview and more good wishes for the people of Earth, Hubble is now back in orbit on its own, but observations won't begin right away. 

Discovery is about 18 statute miles from HST now. Mir veteran Michael Foale declared that "Human missions are the most exciting thing", but that robotic missions are a necessary precursor to manned exploration. He noted that NASA had a good balance between the two. Mission commander Curt Brown requested tomorrow's flight plan in order to get familiar with tomorrow's activities. 

Watch Santa's visit (requires RealPlayer) courtesy of the Houston Chronicle. Happy Christmas to all our web visitors! 

25 December - UPDATE 9:40PM EST - The folks at Mission Control sang Christmas carols to the astronauts on Discovery (not audible on air-to-ground  channel). Santa hats look funny in zero-gravity! The second shift is coming on at JSC now.

Check Mission Control's morning and evening Shuttle status reports, and Hubble status here. Mission Day 7 highlights here.

25 December - UPDATE 9:00PM EST - The live interview scheduled for 10:30 EST tonight has been cancelled. The crew is going through their pre-sleep routine (bedtime is at 11:50PM), but live video from the Shuttle (and from Mission Control) is available now.

25 December - FLIGHT DAY 7 - The astronauts of Discovery became the third American crew to spend Christmas in space (the others were the crews of Apollo 8 and Skylab III - and that doesn't include Mir personnel). The Hubble telescope was returned to orbit today at 6:03PM EST, after final repairs were made yesterday to install a new, tapeless data recorder, a new radio transmitter (a tough job since it was not designed to be "field-replaced"), and some of the stainless-steel sun shading (the rest will have to be installed in 2001's repair mission). Way to go, guys! Live interview tonight at 8:12 EST on NASA TV.

25 December -  Merry Christmas!!!  Did you know? STS-103 pilot Scott Kelly (from the same NJ town as your faithful editor!) has a twin brother who is also in the Astronaut Corps? This makes the Kellys the only astronaut siblings! The shuttle crew released HST back to orbit today.

24 December - FLIGHT DAY 6 - The seven-man crew of STS-103 are spending Christmas Eve in space today, as a final EVA is planned to repair a malfunctioning radio transmitter and re-enforce some worn insulation. Watch the space-walk live at 2:40PM EST on NASA TV! Until then, check out the BBC's space-walk photos, and follow the "play-by-play coverage" at Florida Today.

Check Mission Control's morning and evening Shuttle status reports, and Hubble status here. Mission Day 6 highlights here.

23 December - FLIGHT DAY 5 - Space-walkers Michael Foale and Claude Nicollier gave HST a "new brain" when they installed a new computer processor into Hubble, swapping out the aging CPU with 3 "radiation-hardened" Intel 486 chips. A 25-MHz 486 may seem obsolete to the average Earth-bound computer user, but it's plenty for the computing tasks required of Hubble - and it takes longer to develop the "space versions" of these things. Could your PC withstand the stresses of a launch to orbit, the extremes of heat and cold in space, and run on only 30 watts? We didn't think so. Today's EVA also saw the swap-out of one of Hubble's three Fine Guidance Sensors, which help aim the rail-car-sized telescope.

Check Mission Control's morning and evening Shuttle status reports, and Hubble status here. Mission Day 5 highlights here. Mission Day 5 highlights here.

22 December - FLIGHT DAY 4 - Astronauts Steven Smith and John Grunsfeld performed the second-longest space-walk in NASA history today, making important repairs to the captured Hubble Space telescope. They installed six new gyroscopes used to aim and steady the orbiting observatory, and installed six voltage regulators to improve battery power.

Check Mission Control's morning and evening Shuttle status reports, and Hubble status here. Mission Day 4 highlights here.

21 December - FLIGHT DAY 3 - 10:26PM - Discovery, in its 367- statute mile- orbit, had another productive day, reporting a successful rendezvous, grapple, and berthing of the 4-story-high Hubble Space Telescope today. The solar arrays on HST (which is sitting upright in the cargo bay) will be moved from 90-deg  position (their normal vertical position) to a 0-deg position (parallel to the bay doors) to allow for more working room. Astronauts plan an EVA tomorrow at 2:40PM EST to replace all 6 gyroscopes and do some functional testing. The gold Mylar thermal blanket covering HST is reported to be in good condition, but that was the side facing the Earth, away from the Sun's harsh rays. The other side has yet to be examined - that will happen overnight as cameras on the Remote Manipulator System (AKA CanadArm) and in the cargo bay will give HST the once-over. 

Check Mission Control's morning and evening Shuttle status reports, and Hubble status here. Mission Day 3 highlights here.


20 December - FLIGHT DAY 2 - After last night's spectacular launch, NASA reports that the crew had a full day's work today in preparation for tomorrow's rendezvous with HST at 6:41PM EST. Watch for a live interview from orbit tonight at 9:35PM EST on NASA TV. Hope they fix their email trouble!

Check Mission Control's morning and evening Shuttle status reports, and Hubble status here. Mission Day 2 highlights here.

19 December - 9:30PM EST - NASA spokesmen described tonight's launch as "near-perfect," and expect Discovery to catch up to Hubble on flight day 3, Tuesday evening. The mission is planned to end on 27 December, with 3 EVAs scheduled for repair of the Space Telescope.
Why was the mission delayed 3 times last week? Other than the weather-related scrubs on Friday and Saturday, Thursday's delay was due to a subcontractor, Arrowhead Products, coming forward last Tuesday (14 Dec) and saying that they thought that the wrong material may have been used in welding a pressure line for the giant external fuel tank. After poring through records reaching back 20 years, it was determined that there are no structural flaws in the tank. Ongoing investigation may be necessary.  

19 December - 9PM EST - Mission Control at Houston reports that the crew has moved out of their ascent checklist, and is preparing for on-orbit operations. They will be opening the payload bay doors, a standard procedure to cool off the orbiter's systems from the heat of launching.

Check Mission Control's evening Shuttle status report, and Hubble status here. Mission Day 1 highlights here.

19 December - 8:38PM EST - Discovery has just completed its first of several rendezvous burns to align its orbit with that of the Hubble Space Telescope. This is the 96th Shuttle flight, the 27th for Discovery. The ship is over the Indian Ocean, heading for Australia.

19 December - 7:55PM EST - Discovery is UP!!! Rocketing toward orbit at 11000MPH, things are looking great!

19 December - 7:30PM EST - Twenty minutes to go! Florida today offers minute-by-minute launch coverage (we're going to try and keep up!). Things are looking good at KSC.

19 December - 7PM EST - Less than an hour to go! You can track the Shuttle's course here and see live telemetry data here

19 December - The weather's fine!! We are GO, baby!!! STS-103 will launch at 7:50PM, becoming the last manned space flight of the century, and the first time humans have returned to space since the August abandonment of the Mir space station. KSC Shuttle Launch Control reports no problems.

18 December - Due to bad weather at The Cape, STS-103 will not launch today as planned. The new schedule calls for a Sunday evening launch (7:50PM EST). If the weather does not improve, Discovery may not launch until next month, in order to avoid having the ship in orbit over the Y2K transition.

17 December - 8:52PM EST - FLASH!! Shuttle launch delayed yet again due to adverse weather conditions at KSC. With 9 minutes left on the countdown clock, and 30 minutes left in the launch window, the mission had to be postponed for one more day. As this is being written, the new launch time is Saturday night 18 December 1999, at 00:21 GMT (8:21 PM EST). The cryogenic fuel is being drained from the huge external tank, and the crew will leave the spacecraft after this dangerous procedure is over. It is unknown how this latest delay will affect the mission duration. Earlier today, it was thought that Discovery would finally launch after several other delays, but Mother Nature is not co-operating.

16 December - 8PM EST - FLASH!! Shuttle launch delayed one more day!! NASA is concerned about engine welds, and they are re-checking documentation and X-Ray films. Check the NASA TV schedule and tune in tomorrow to watch the launch live!

16 December - STS-103 launch scheduled for today at 9:18PM EST. Dicovery will embark on a 10-day mission to repair the dormant Hubble Space Telescope, making it only the third U.S. mission to spend Christmas in space.

15 December - Discovery prepares for launch after fuel line is repaired.

10 December - Hubble repair mission may have to be scaled back due to last-minute repairs!

9 December - Shuttle launch moved to Sunday after a dent was discovered in a fuel line. Discovery may be in orbit for Christmas!

8 December - When Discovery blasts off on its Hubble Telescope repair mission, it will be carrying thousands of school kids' signatures into space, including some in Braille!

7 December - Shuttle launch may be delayed again - routine launch pad inspection turns up more damaged wire. Discovery may still lift off Saturday night, or Sunday.

6 December - Shuttle is on track for Saturday launch - FLASH! more damaged wire found - repairs may still allow Saturday flight.

4 December - More on Discovery's launch delay. Will a paperwork error threaten the next launch?

2 December - Discovery's Hubble servicing mission is officially re-scheduled for 11 December. This will be the last manned space flight of the century. Check the countdown at KSC!

28 November - This Week In Space History - A big five Shuttle anniversaries:
STS-9 (28 Nov 1989); and 4 more on the same day (2 December): STS-27 (1988), STS-35 (1990), STS-53 (1992) and STS-61 (1993). 

23 November - NASA needs three more days to repair damaged Shuttle wiring - Discovery set to launch 9 December.

21 November - KSC personnel to continue Shuttle repair work in preparation for launch on 6 December (date tentative).
This Week In Space History - (Besides my birthday, that is...) Three Shuttle anniversaries: STS-33 (22 Nov 1989); STS-44 (24 Nov 1991) and STS-61-B (26 Nov 1985). 

18 November - Discovery launch may be delayed due to nicked wiring. It is scheduled for a Dec 6th mission to repair the ailing Hubble Space Telescope.

14 November - This Week In Space History - Three Shuttle anniversaries, a Skylab mission, plus an Apollo anniversary!
STS-38 Shuttle mission (15 Nov 1990); STS-80 (19 Nov 1996) and STS-87 (exactly one year later, on 19 Nov 1997). 

13 November - Discovery rolls out to launch pad.


10 November - NASA outlines plans for Hubble repair mission next month (see story on 6 Nov) - despite new wiring problem.


7 November - Florida Today is calling for a special review team to examine Shuttle operations, in light of the recent troubles with Atlantis and Discovery.
This Week In Space History - Four Shuttle anniversaries
plus a Gemini mission!
STS-51 Shuttle mission (8 Nov 1984); STS-5 (11 Nov 1982); STS-2 (12 Nov 1981); and STS-74 (12 Nov 1995). STS-74's crew included Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to visit Mir. STS-2 was the first time in history that a spacecraft had been re-flown with a new crew, and the first flight of the CanadArm remote manipulator. 

6 November - NASA is in a hurry to get Shuttle Discovery up to the Hubble Space Telescope, which is in urgent need of repair - if HST loses one more gyroscope, its guidance system will fail, and the telescope would shut down!


3 November - Discovery launch schedule pushed back to 5 December or later in order to swap out an engine and replace defective thermal tiles.


2 November - NASA reviews wiring work on Shuttle Discovery.

8 October - Next ISS mission won't fly until next year.

7 October - Latest Shuttle launch dates finally set - STS-103 (Discovery) is heading up for the third Hubble repair mission on 2 December 1999. This will mark the first time since the August 28th Mir abandonment that any humans will be in space! 

2 October - Latest Shuttle news from Yahoo!

Live shuttle telemetry! See the current Shuttle mission's pitch, yaw, speed, etc.


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