Author Topic: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty  (Read 42625 times)

Offline Ares67

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #40 on: 02/22/2013 10:26 PM »
Sunday, February 25, 1990 (Launch Attempt 1) – Bad trip

In “Riding Rockets” Mike Mullane recalls: “February 25 looked as if it would be the day. The weather forecast was good for the midnight opening of our launch window. J.O. looked and sounded like a consumptive, but he somehow managed to convince the flight surgeons he was okay.” Leaving the Operations and Checkout Building as the count ticked down to a 12:55 a.m. EST lift-off, Mullane made an interesting observation: “In the elevator I noticed J.O. and Casper had net bags filled with flight surgeon-prescribed Afrin, throat lozenges, antibiotics, and other treatments. Casper held up his medicine bag and suggested a STS-36 motto: ‘Just say maybe to drugs.’ I wondered if this was a first in the space program… a Commander and Pilot carrying a small pharmacy as they headed for their machine.” – Later that night Mullane would notice more evidence the Commander and Pilot were well equipped for this…um, ‘trip’… “Before complying with LCC’s call (i.e. ‘Atlantis… close helmet visors.’) I heard J.O. and John snort Afrin for the last time. I would be flying with a CDR and PLT on drugs.”

And then they rode out to Launch Pad 39A. “The van continued toward the pad and I sucked in every detail of the journey. The memories would have to last me the rest of my life, be that another few hours or decades,” remembers Mike Mullane. “I watched the crew. Hilmers was quiet. I knew he was praying and that was more than fine with me. If God protected him, He would be protecting the rest of us Playboy Channel-watching children of Gomorrah. J.O. and Casper, still struggling with the effects of their illness, were subdued. Pepe and I were the motormouths, trying to hide behind our joking.

Pepe quipped, ‘I forgot my badge. We’re going to have to go back.’ We had left our NASA badges in our EOM bags – standard prelaunch protocol. With NASA security cars leading and trailing our van, the roadblock guards weren’t about to stop us and ask for badges. It would be like the Vatican Swiss Guard stopping the pope mobile to check the badge of the guy in the funny hat.

Atlantis appeared above the darkened palmetto as an incandescent white obelisk. I couldn’t imagine the gates of heaven appearing more brilliant or more beckoning. Everybody twisted in their seats to look and have their breath taken away. The scene instantly brought to mind Chesley Bonestell’s painting Zero Hour Minus Five from my childhood book Conquest of Space. His winged rocket had been made of stainless steel but otherwise he had nailed the image. He had foreseen the soul-tugging drama of an illuminated spaceship standing ready against a star-filled sky.”

A week of rainy, overcast weather had cleared as predicted Saturday night, leaving cool temperatures that dipped toward the mid-40s as the secret countdown progressed. Overall, the odds of favorable weather for a liftoff were 80 percent, Air Force meteorologists said. The potential for a stiff northerly breeze posed a slim threat to the launch plans. "Operations are going very smoothly out at the launch pad," said NASA spokeswoman Pat Phillips. "It appears we will have an excellent shot at a launch tonight.”

The cold temperatures, while not a launch violation, allowed a light frosting to spread across the belly of the External Tank. The tank turned a white color, reminiscent of the early days of the shuttle program when External Tanks had been painted white. NASA determined that the frost posed no danger to launch, as would a heavier icing which might break off and damage the orbiter’s heat tiles.

Again, Mike Mullane: “As we stepped from the crew van, the pad sights and sounds closed around me: the screeching his of the engine purge, the shadows playing on the vapors, workers marked with yellow light sticks hurrying to the booming call of the countdown, a light fall of snow from the maze of frosted cryogenic propellant lines. I crammed it all into my brain.

I stood at the edge of the gantry awaiting my turn for cockpit entry. I could feel Judy’s presence. At this exact spot she and I had waited for our entry into Discovery… four times. My STS-27 flight had launched from Pad 39B, so this return to the 39A gantry was sort of a homecoming for me. I could see Judy’s smile, her wind-whipped hair. I could hear her voice, ‘See you in space, Tarzan.’ I missed her. I missed them all.

Pepe came to my side. ‘Sure hope it all works.’ I appended his comment. ‘I sure hope it all works today. I’ve got a sorry record for launching on the first attempt. This will be my seventh strap-in for a third ride into space.’”

The count drained into its final moments – pad and shuttle in perfect shape for launch. Unfortunately, miles away, a $3-million tracking computer chose this moment to fail. With two minutes to launch, the backup of two computers used by range safety to track the shuttle stopped accepting data from six sources. "It was a software problem," Capt. Ken Warren, an Air Force spokesman, would say later. Lt. Col. Jim Janette, another spokesman, said the primary computer was functioning but that the backup also required for the shuttle launch failed. Launch rules dictate that both computers be operating at lift-off. The computers are used to track the Space Shuttle as it ascends to ensure it does not veer out of control, endangering populated areas.

Range safety raced against impossible odds. A T minus five minutes, as is normal, Pilot John Casper had flipped the switches to turn on the Auxiliary Power Units, the turbines that provide power to the hydraulic systems. The APUs, with a limited fuel supply, dictate that launch occur in about ten minutes after they are started – meaning only about five minutes of hold time existed.

Mike Mullane describes the astronauts’ perspective of the problem: “Around T minus 45 minutes the Range Safety Officer threw in the first wrench of what had been a smooth countdown. ‘RSO is no-go for blast.’ The blast to which he referred was the Space Shuttle being blown up. The RSO’s computers had determined atmospheric conditions would amplify the power of the shuttle’s destruction and jeopardize the safety of those around the LCC. His no-go call elicited groans and profanities in the cockpit.

The RSO must have sensed the universal outrage at his no-go call and quickly reran the calculations to come up with acceptable numbers. ‘The RSO is go for the blast.’ We all cheered… and laughed at the irony. We were cheering because a detonating shuttle would now kill only us and that was good because it meant the countdown could continue. Everything was nominal and I was beginning to actually believe I had carried my luck from the (suit room) card table to the cockpit.

And then… ‘RSO is no-go for backup computer.’ The intercom was immediately alive with our colorful assessments of the RSO. The Launch Director ordered the countdown held at T minus 31 seconds in the hopes the RSO could clear his problem and the count resume. But we couldn’t hold for long with the APUs burning their fuel. A minute ticking away. Come on… come on… fix your freakin’ computer and give us a go for launch! But as we waited, the liquid oxygen inlets on all of the SSMEs got too cold. The mission was scrubbed. I just melted into a formless blob. The suit technicians would have to look for me in the bottom of the LES.”

“We have scrubbed for today,” KSC launch commentator Lisa Malone said shortly after 1:00 a.m. EST. The three main engines carried the label as official cause of the scrub. During the delay, their temperature had dropped too low to allow launch even if the RSO computer had risen from the dead. The temperature of the propellant inlets in the SSMEs dipped below the minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit limit. The threshold was exceeded by super cold liquid oxygen draining through the engines in the latter stages of the countdown.

Also, during the period while the APUs were operating, three instrumentation anomalies occurred: The failure of exhaust gas temperature sensor 1 on APU 1; erratic operation of APU 1 injector temperature sensor; and a bias on the gas generator valve module temperature on APU 1. In addition, General Purpose Computer GPC-4 experienced a “failure to synchronize” and had to be reinitialized. None of the described problems would have prevented the launch. (Countdown, April 1990; The Houston Chronicle, Feb. 25 and 26, 1990; Mike Mullane, “Riding Rockets,” Scribner 2006; STS-36 Mission Report, April 1990 – NSTS-08354 – edited and supplemented)

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #41 on: 02/22/2013 10:28 PM »
Monday, February 26, 1990 (Launch Attempt 2) – Sit and watch

The KSC launch teams went into their exhausting 24-hour turnaround, aiming for a 12:54 a.m. lift-off on the 26th. The five shuttle fliers were awakened after sunset Sunday for a meal and weather briefings, a routine followed the night before. They re-boarded Atlantis late Sunday in a fifth bid to begin their secret mission. The four previous delays were the most for post-Challenger era shuttle flights. The era opened in Sept. 1988 and includes eight successful missions.

Forecasters charted the chance of acceptable weather at only 40 percent. Blustery winds kicked up from the north late Sunday, and the temperature dropped toward the upper 40s. "We're going to have to sit and watch our wind gusts," predicted Capt. Tom Strange, an Air Force meteorologist. The high winds threatened to exceed the limits for the shuttle to clear the launch pad safely and to use the emergency runway should an emergency develop during the ascent.

With wind gusts raking the area NASA proceeded to count – then waited. Launch Director Robert Sieck and his crew were hoping conditions would improve. And then the launch attempt was stopped at 2:32 a.m. EST, as a thick layer of low level clouds drifted on Cape Canaveral's shore, obscuring the end of the shuttle's emergency runway at the Kennedy Space Center. "The final decision was based on cloud cover," said Capt. Tom Strange, an Air Force meteorologist. "But we were fighting the winds all night.” At one point, space agency engineers even relaxed the launch pad wind restraint from 27 mph to 30 mph in an effort to get Atlantis launched. The strategy might well have worked had the cloud cover not drifted over the runway.

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #42 on: 02/22/2013 10:30 PM »
"We're disappointed we didn't launch today, but we're convinced the launch team    made the correct decision," STS-36 Commander John Creighton said after the scrub. The launch teams and flight crew are given a short rest now, with the next attempt set for two days hence. NASA spokeswoman Lisa Malone said another attempt would be made during a four-hour period that begins Wednesday, February 28, at 12 a.m. EST. Even then, the weather outlook is poor as winds, rains and clouds are expected to move into the Cape Canaveral area. "We're just in a bit of a stalemate with the weather right now," said Capt. Tom Strange.

“With J.O.’s illness, the two scrubs, the Ariane blowing up, and the Challenger movie, it was a good thing I didn’t believe in omens,” Mike Mullane tells us in Riding Rockets. “The advertisements for that show (the docudrama on the Challenger disaster) were in all the newspapers and magazines, and the network was constantly hyping it. The stations played the video (of the Ariane rocket) again and again. There was no way Donna and the rest of the families could possibly miss it and I was certain the images of the flaming rocket falling into the sea would add to their anxiety.

The evening of February 26 our crew flew to Houston for a refresher simulation. It had been so long since J.O. and John had practiced ascent emergencies, the mission trainers thought it would be a good idea to get them back in the JSC sim. I made the trip even though I had no duties associated with ascent. I just couldn’t face the thought of sitting around the crew quarters all night with nothing to do. I had already watched more movies in the past thirteen days of quarantine than I had watched in the past thirteen years. I couldn’t watch another. After landing at Ellington Field, I left the crew to their sim, drove home, watered the houseplants, and went running.”

The movies they had watched during the past two weeks – well, here is a short list: Lawrence of Arabia, The Great Escape, How the West Was Won, The Terminator, Predator, Alien, Top Gun… “We had seen more blood and guts than a meat packer. I resolved that the next movie I watched would be Heidi,” Mullane states in his “outrageous tales of a Space Shuttle astronaut.” (Countdown, April 1990; Mike Mullane, “Riding Rockets,” Scribner 2006; The Houston Chronicle, Feb. 26, 1990 – edited and supplemented)

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #43 on: 02/22/2013 10:33 PM »
February 27: BOY, WE ARE READY!
The space agency Monday prepared for a sixth bid to launch the shuttle Atlantis on a secret mission, the most attempts for a single flight since the Challenger accident four years ago. NASA resumed a suspended countdown today and plans to launch the shuttle, its spy satellite and crew of five sometime during a four-hour period that begins at 12 a.m. EST Wednesday. Unofficially, lift-off of Atlantis is expected at 12:50 a.m. EST. "We're ready. Boy, are we ready," Mission Specialist Mike Mullane said when the STS-36 returned to the Kennedy Space Center earlier today. Commander Creighton gave a thumbs up sign as the astronauts stepped from their planes.

Bad weather again threatens the launch. "The big factor will be cloudy skies," said NASA spokesman George Diller. But stiff northeasterly winds gusting to 20 mph were also expected to be a concern. Overall, weather experts predicted just a 40 percent chance of favorable conditions, a slight improvement over earlier forecasts. The clouds and winds would restrict the shuttle's use of the emergency runway at the Kennedy Space Center in the event trouble developed during the ship's ascent. Diller said the weather outlook was not expected to improve later in the week if there were further postponements.

After the latest delay, shuttle managers elected to wait two days for another attempt so that the launch workers could rest and more fuel could be trucked to launch pad storage facilities. As fuel once again is flowing through the veins and arteries of Pad 39A and Atlantis in preparation of tonight’s launch attempt, NASA has already lost 300,000 gallons of propellants during the two scrubs and a total of just over $3 million for all the delay. (Countdown, April 1990, and The Houston Chronicle, Feb. 27 and 28, 1990 – edited and supplemented)

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #44 on: 02/23/2013 04:33 PM »
Wednesday, February 28, 1990 (Launch Day) – Night into day

Tuesday evening, under mostly clear skies, the secret countdown ticked toward the launch again. But strong winds blowing across the shuttle's SLF emergency runway threatened to thwart the sixth attempt to begin mission STS-36 – the third attempt in as many days with Commander Creighton and his crew boarding Atlantis. "We do have a chance," said Capt. Ken Warren, a spokesman for Air Force weather forecasters. "Essentially what we think is that there will be wind gusts at the beginning of the period and they will die down toward the end." NASA's crosswind limit for the runway is 11 mph, a safety factor for the astronauts should they have to attempt an emergency landing following their launch.

Taking note that forecasters expected the winds to calm, NASA's mission management team instructed engineers to load the shuttle's external fuel tank Tuesday afternoon. The five Atlantis astronauts were awakened after sunset. They dined and received a weather update before donning pressure suits worn during the ride into space. Then, under a security escort that included a helicopter following overhead, they were driven to the launch pad, where they began boarding Atlantis about 10 p.m. EST.
« Last Edit: 02/23/2013 04:33 PM by Ares67 »

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #45 on: 02/23/2013 04:39 PM »

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #46 on: 02/23/2013 04:46 PM »

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #47 on: 02/23/2013 04:54 PM »

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #48 on: 02/23/2013 05:06 PM »

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #49 on: 02/23/2013 05:12 PM »

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #50 on: 02/23/2013 05:23 PM »

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #51 on: 02/23/2013 05:29 PM »
PAO (Lisa Malone): This is shuttle launch control; we’re about one hour away from the beginning of our launch period today for the STS-36 launch countdown. Everything is proceeding smoothly here in the Firing Room 3 and at the Launch Pad 39A area. Lift-off of Atlantis’ sixth mission into space will occur sometime during the four-hour launch period that extends until 4:00 a.m. Eastern Time. This mission is dedicated to the Department of Defense and all mission objectives and details are classified. For a nominal end-of-mission landing, that will occur at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The day of landing will be announced sometime tomorrow morning.

This morning marks the third time we have fueled the External Tank to attempt a launch. The other two launch attempts were postponed once because of a computer with the range safety system, and the second time was postponed because of bad weather. This morning the weather does look favorable for a launch today, sometime during our launch period. The winds are acceptable at the launch pad and at the runway for return to launch site. There is a band of rain showers south of the space center around… by Vero Beach. They are moving to the west and there’s a possibility they could be in the area. But it is not expected that they would at all impact launch for today. They’re moving very quickly and there’s no chance that they would be building up.

This launch will mark the fourth launch in darkness in the history of the shuttle program. There were three others – one in 1983, 1985, and the most recent one was STS-33 this past November. The five-member flight crew for mission STS-36 is currently aboard the vehicle. Commander is John Creighton, Pilot is John Casper, the three Mission Specialists are Mike Mullane, David Hilmers and Pierre Thuot.

Atlantis’ external fuel tank has been filled with its liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants and the ice team has made its assessment of the ice and frost on the pad. And this morning it is very minimal, only in certain areas; everything is acceptable for launch in that area. The team has completed taking their measurements of various temperatures on the surface of the tank, the boosters, the orbiter and the main engines. And all is go for launch in that area for today. Again, everything going smoothly in the countdown for mission STS-36; this is shuttle launch control. 

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #52 on: 02/23/2013 05:37 PM »
The countdown was placed in a prolonged hold at 12:30 a.m. EST when the thin band of showers moved onshore toward the launch complex. Launch safety guidelines do not permit the shuttle to fly through precipitation. The unexpected rain moved into the 10-mile limit set in the weather criteria. The main band arrived at about 1:00 a.m. EST. It was expected to pass in about an hour… but an hour later, a light sporadic drizzle was still falling. The crew reported rain on the windshield. The rumor mill for “secret” flights pegged the close of the window at 2:25 – 2:30 a.m. EST. That end of the launch period proved “soft.” NASA and the Air Force managed to crack the window open a bit more, to 2:50 a.m. EST.

The countdown was held at the nine-minute mark for one hour and 57 minutes as Launch Director Bob Sieck and his team waited for the rain and the low level, loosely organized clouds that produced the showers to clear. They relied on both weather radar readings and the first-hand observations of astronaut Mike Coats to find the break that would allow a safe lift off. Coats flew through the launch path and the runway approach in a NASA jet, radioing back his findings. Sieck said the astronauts aboard Atlantis had been "pretty quiet and very patient."


PAO: … T minus 8 minutes 30 seconds… still monitoring the weather here at Kennedy and at the TAL site… the plan is to count down to T minus 5 minutes and to hold if the weather hasn’t cleared by then. And we will hold and continue to monitor the weather at T minus 5 if we don’t have a final go at that point… coming up on the T minus 7 minute 30 second-point when the Ground Launch Sequencer will start retracting the orbiter crew access arm… and we have a go for OAA retract… the access arm now being moved back from the vehicle. And it can be re-extended in just a few moments if necessary… T minus 7 minutes and counting… We will count down to T minus 5 minutes and we will not start the orbiter’s Auxiliary Power Units until the T minus 5 minute and counting mark. The countdown will hold at T minus 5 minutes… in just a few moments Pilot Casper will be asked to set the switches in the cockpit for the prestart position for the orbiter Auxiliary Power Units… this consists of positioning a number of switches and verifying that they are in the proper position… T minus 6 minutes and counting… counting down to the launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis’ sixth flight into space… Mission Control has transmitted the signal to start the onboard flight recorders. These recorders will collect measurements of shuttle systems performance during flight, and they will be played back for evaluation after the mission… T minus 5 minutes 30 seconds… The countdown will be holding here coming up in twenty seconds waiting on a clear for weather… and Pilot Casper reporting the APU prestart is complete… T minus 5 minutes and holding…

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #53 on: 02/23/2013 05:41 PM »

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #54 on: 02/23/2013 05:46 PM »
And so the launch team held the countdown to be ready to jump off. Weather in other locations also was not cooperating. Due to the targeted high 62-degree inclination, the Transatlantic Abort Landing sites available for Atlantis in an emergency were located in Spain at Zaragoza and Moron. Due to the unusual inclination, Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, also  was targeted as a landing site should two main engines fail. The TAL sites reported unacceptable weather – until Zaragoza finally cleared. The weather was declared acceptable for launch and the countdown resumed. "We didn't bend any rules," Launch Director Bob Sieck later assured reporters.

That’s being confirmed by Mike Mullane in Riding Rockets: “I listened to the urgent voices of the launch controllers. Like us, they were exhausted and wanted to put this flight behind them and escape the inhumane sleep-work cycle. We were all gripped with a dangerous ‘launch fever,’ a headlong rush to get Atlantis flying. The sane one among us was our Launch Director, Bob Sieck. Nobody was going to stampede him into a wrongheaded decision.

As he did a final poll of his LCC team he was calm, deliberate. Mr. Rogers singing ‘It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood’ sounded manic compared with Bob’s measured voice. Everybody listening wanted to jump in and finish his sentences. He was the perfect man for one of the most stressful jobs within NASA… and another person I would remember forever.

He polled the STA weather pilot and we heard Mike Coats reply, ‘Go.’ Next he polled the TAL weather pilot in Zaragoza, Spain, and there was another go. There had been a blessed nexus of satisfactory weather conditions on both sides of the Atlantic. We were cleared to fly. ‘Atlantis, we’ll be coming out of the hold in a few moments. It’s been a real pleasure working with you guys. Good luck and Godspeed.’

I was shocked. For hours I had been convinced we would scrub. Now Casper was going through the APU start procedures. The clock was running. God had smiled on us. It had to have been Dave Hilmer’s work. The rest of us reprobates didn’t warrant any breaks from the Almighty.”

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #55 on: 02/23/2013 05:50 PM »
PAO: And Houston Flight reporting we are go for weather here at Kennedy, and TAL site weather is go. The countdown clock will be picking up… 3… 2… 1… T minus 5 minutes and counting… we have a go for orbiter APU start… Pilot Casper now flipping switches in the cockpit to start each of the APUs… and Commander Creighton has been asked to reconfigure the orbiter heaters for launch; T minus 4 minutes, 32 seconds… T minus 4 minutes 15 seconds and counting… Coming up on the T minus 4 minute and counting mark, the main engine final purge sequence is underway. Main engine valves are being configured for flight. Orbiter flight control surfaces – elevons, speed brake and rudder – are now being moved through a preprogrammed pattern to verify they are ready for launch…  T minus 3 minutes 40 seconds and counting… three main engines now being gimbaled in a pattern to verify their readiness… and they will be positioned for launch…

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #56 on: 02/23/2013 05:55 PM »

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #57 on: 02/23/2013 06:00 PM »
PAO: T minus 3 minutes 15 seconds and counting… T minus 3 minutes and counting; at T minus 2 minutes 55 seconds we’ll start External Tank liquid oxygen pressurization – and we just received a go for that… and we’ll begin the gaseous nitrogen purges of the main engines – we’ll begin terminating that… that activity… T minus 2 minutes 40 seconds… and Pilot Casper has been instructed to clear the caution and warning memory… the gaseous oxygen vent arm is now being retracted away from the External Tank. T minus 2 minutes 20 seconds and counting… and Pilot Casper reports there are no unexpected errors… T minus 2 minutes and counting, the crew has been instructed to close and lock their visors for flight… and we have a go for pressurization of the liquid hydrogen tank… T minus one minute 45 seconds… just ninety seconds away from lift-off of STS-36… T minus one minute 30 seconds… less than two minutes away now from launch; Ground Launch Sequencer will verify that the main engines are ready to start at the one-minute point…

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #58 on: 02/23/2013 06:05 PM »

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Re: Atlantis STS-36 – Tour of Duty
« Reply #59 on: 02/23/2013 06:08 PM »
PAO: T minus one minute and counting, the sound suppression water system is now armed; pre-lift-off water will be released at T minus 16 seconds. The Solid Rocket Booster joint heaters have been turned off… T minus 45 seconds and counting; all systems are go for the launch of Atlantis… T minus 31 seconds and counting, we have a go for auto sequence start; Atlantis’ four redundant computers have assumed primary control of the vehicle… T minus 20…

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