After more than a month of being delayed by days at a time — thus testing the patience and resolve of everyone working the mission — STS-119 launched last night at 6:43 p.m. It’s such a relief to finally get this mission off the ground and into orbit. In real-time I was only looking at data, but I watched all the replays on NASA TV. It sure was pretty!
Yesterday was my 5th launch as an ARD Support Officer. I think that qualifies me as a “veteran” by now. I still get nervous, but not like I used to. For my first launch, I was nervous for the entire 7-hour shift! These days, I don’t start feeling butterflies until about 9 minutes before launch, when the count picks up after a planned hold and the voice loops get very quiet. It’s not until that point that it really hits me: we are about to launch a space shuttle with seven people onboard. Whoa.
Everything went very smoothly. The fueling leak that happened last Wednesday did not reappear, and the weather in Florida was lovely. The countdown was uneventful for the flight dynamics team with only one anomaly — and that was on the ground, not on the vehicle. In fact, the biggest “issue” was a tiny fruit bat that found a new home on the side of the external tank. We were all hopeful that he’d wake up and vacate the area — fast — at dusk, but as far as I know the little guy was still hanging on when the engines lit. What a way to go… The ascent was perhaps the smoothest of the five I’ve worked. The solid rocket boosters burned exactly as expected, and our performance trend was flat, flat, flat (just as it should be).
I’m also working the Orbit 1 shift for this mission, so my job has only just begun. That’s the fun shift — the one where the astronauts are awake and busy, and the one that does rendezvous and undocking. I’ll be working from the back room when we dock with the space station tomorrow.
We’re in space!