Vomit Comet Blog: Thursday, May 11, 2006

posted by Vinaya

Busted! I got so busted today trying to stowaway on today's flight. Okay, I didn't really *try* to stowaway. I told Donn Sickorez, the program director, that I wanted to go again. He laughed at me.

I've been getting up most days right before sunrise. Today was the first day that I was able to actually see it, because it's been so cloudy and hazy. This is view from my hotel room, which overlooks Clear Lake in Houston.

Our morning briefing was very short this morning. Yesterday, there was some scuttlebutt about moving the flight to the afternoon. One of the pilots was in California and couldn't get here in time for the morning flight. However, they found a substitute and we were able to go in the morning. Group B had their medical briefing and pre-flight briefing and then boarded the plane about 9:00 a.m.

Group B boards the C-9

Group B boards the C-9

Group B boarded the plane and waited for the pilots and crew to complete their final checklist. While we were waiting, two Texas Air National Guard F-16s took off to "protect the Gulf Coast." I've been meaning to tell you this all week, but kept getting distracted with other things. Ellington Field, which is a retired Air Force base, is shared by NASA, the Texas Air National Guard, the Department of Homeland Security and by the U.S. Coast Guard. We've been hearing the Coast Guard choppers all week and enduring the VERY loud F-16s as they scream by. Even though it's loud, it's still cool to see the F-16s every day.

US Coast Guard Chopper

US Coast Guard Chopper

An F-16 takes off, while the C-9 taxies

An F-16 takes off, while the C-9 taxies

Texas Air National Guard F-16

Texas Air National Guard F-16

The C-9 finally took off with Group B on board starting their first day of flight. While they were flying, we had the opportunity to check out Ellington Field. The first KC-135 used for the reduced gravity airplane is "on the stick" near the entrance to the field. "On the stick" means that it's been retired and now on display, supported by...wait for it...a stick. (Those NASA folks are clever.) That plane was retired in 1995 and they started to use another one. And that one was retired last year and is in the airplane graveyard in the Arizona desert. They began using the C-9 because parts were becoming increasingly difficult to find for the KC-135. Also housed at Ellington Field is NASA's "Super Guppy," the air-freighter that they use to transport large equipment. We haven't seen it take off, but they say that it takes off tail first. Would be interesting to see, but I don't think they've got any take-offs planned soon.

The retired KC-135

The retired KC-135

NASA's Super Guppy

NASA's Super Guppy

We got back just in time to greet the plane as she returned. It was a quick trip today. A beautiful day to fly. Sunny and clear and not too hot. (It's about time!) We all ran out onto the tarmac after the pilots cut the engines. We waved and clapped and cheered. (All the non-flyers greet the plane as it arrives.) The Greendale team was the first to disembark. Group B had one kill on the flight. We're still waiting for a NO KILL flight. We're hopeful about tomorrow.

Greendale Team returns to Ellington Field.

Greendale Team returns to Ellington Field.

The tail of the C-9 barely clears the hangar room.

The tail of the C-9 barely clears the hangar room.

Me and C-9 pilot Triple Nickel. (His real name is Jack.)

Me and C-9 pilot Triple Nickel. (His real name is Jack.)

After the flight, Triple Nickel, one the pilots posed for pictures with the groups. He's become very popular this week. He's a bit of a trouble-maker, but a great guy and a good pilot. He was in the Air Force for 20-plus years, now he pilots for NASA. Great job, huh? He stopped to pose with me.

After the flight, the plane's ground crew inspects the plane and prepares her for tomorrow's flight. Her tail is so high, that it barely clears the hangar roof. (They have a special door addition, that goes up, just for the tail section.)

After the crew is done servicing the C-9, the teams had the opportunity to get back on the plane and make small and necessary adjustments to the experiments. And of course, share stories of their flight, and give advice to the team members that will fly on our last flight tomorrow.

Circle Team makes adjustments before flying again tomorrow.

Circle Team makes adjustments before flying again tomorrow.

Columbus Team figures out how to do things better tomorrow.

Columbus Team figures out how to do things better tomorrow.

Greendale Team had to move their experiment. It was too close to Columbus and they kept bumping into each other.

Greendale Team had to move their experiment. It was too close to Columbus and they kept bumping into each other.

After all the adjustments were made, we grabbed a quick lunch before our private behind-the-scenes tour of Johnson Space Center...specifically Mission Control and the shuttle simulators.

The tour began with a little history. We were able to see the "old" Mission Control room. The room from where they controlled the Gemini, Apollo and shuttle missions. This is the room in which we heard, "Houston, we have a problem" and "One small step for man, one giant leap for Mankind." Congress declared this a historical site, and as such, it's now on the National Registry of Historic Places. From the retired mission control to the modern-day one...

From here they control all Shuttle missions and the day-to-day operations on-board the International Space Station. 24-hours a day, seven days a week, they monitor what the astronauts are doing while they're in flight. They can control all of the systems on board, making it easier for the scientists in space to do research, as opposed to just keeping up with maintenance. Very cool, as the ISS orbits miles above the Earth.

From there, we proceed to Building 9. This facility houses full-size mock-ups of the Shuttle and several modules of the ISS. From here, NASA can perform simulations for the astronauts and ground crew. Every situation and scenario is mapped out. And it's all planned out from here in Houston.

After our tour of the simulators, we got an explanation of the modern-day space suit...it's construction and all it's functions. They call it the smallest space vehicle because of all the things it can do, while an astronaut performs an EVM, or Extra-Vehicular Maneuver. We even got to try on certain pieces of the suit. (On a side note, one of our test directors, Dominic Del Rosso, used to work in suit design. Some of his ideas and concepts are still used on the space suits today. VERY cool.)

It's been a very long week. Very fun, and the experience of a life-time. We picked a GREAT group of teachers. They're fun to work with and very focused. I'll be sad when I have to leave them tomorrow. But we'll cross that bridge then. In the meantime, we have one more night in Houston before tomorrow's flight. Even though I'm not flying tomorrow (I could try and stowaway again, but I think they're on to me.), I should get some rest. That morning meeting...

One last post from Houston tomorrow...sigh

Time until flight home: T-minus 22 hours, 9 minutes...and counting (but this flight won't be nearly as much fun...)


Entrance to Mission Control in Building 30.
Entrance to Mission Control in Building 30.

Old Mission Control from where they controlled the Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle missions before they moved to the modern day MC.

Old Mission Control from where they controlled the Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle missions before they moved to the modern day MC.

Modern-day Mission Control.
Modern-day Mission Control.

shuttle

Almost our whole group of teachers, plus me! (Two are missing.)

Almost our whole group of teachers, plus me! (Two are missing.)