A very good question

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GlitterGlamGirl05 asked a very good question earlier, and I am going to answer it and talk about some related things in this post.

She wrote:I meant to ask you, when the shuttle lauches in July, will you be putting in lots of crazy hours to get things ready?

And the quick answer is no, my areas work towards this launch is complete, and things have actually slowed down for us. My husband Andy, on the other hand is having to work a lot of extra hours right now, due to the fact that his job is on the launch pad.

In shuttle processing there are two main groups, horizontal and vertical, or ground ops and launch ops. The ground ops group’s work is substantially complete by the time the stack rolls out to the pad, then the launch ops guys take over.

The parts of the vehicle that I currently work on are the OMS Pods and the FRCS. OMS stands for Orbital Manuevering System and consist of the two pods or bumps on the back of the orbiter- shown circled in red on the photo above. The FRCS is the Forward Reaction Control System and can be seen circled in the second picture. Both the pods and the FRCS are removed from the orbiters for maintenance and taken approximately five miles down the road to the facility where I work, the Hypergol Maintenance Facility, or HMF. The pods and FRCS contain thrusters for manuevering the orbiter in space, and a bunch of tanks filled with hypergols to fuel the thrusters. This is what allows the orbiter to do things such as position itself, dock with the space station and come out of orbit to return to earth. Fairly important stuff.
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Hypergols are chemicals that when combined will combust without oxygen. This is necessary because of the lack of oxygen in space. Due to the volatility of the hypergols, it is safer to work on the pods at a remote location, and that is what we do. So our work has to be completed well before the launch because the components we work on have to be delivered to the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) for installation well before the vehicle can roll out to the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) and stacked vertically with the external tank (the orange thing) and the two solid rocket boosters.

Even when we do get busy, most of the time we can’t work too many hours because there are limits on that due to safety reasons. We do work some overtime (I think 60 hours is the limit; 40 hours of regular time plus 20 hours of overtime per week) but also most of the space center is a three shift operation with 24 hour coverage, especially when things get busy.
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This picture shows Atlantis, known to us as OV-104, with the FRCS removed. Anytime the FRCS or pods are moved it is a delicate operation due to the tanks full of hypergols, as they are extremely dangerous substances and if something was to go wrong there is the potential for spills or exposure so every move is carefully choreographed and takes quite a few people to carry out. I hope this clears things up and I am very glad that our super busy time is over. That way I get to enjoy the long weekend like everybody else, although poor Andy may have to work. He is there until 3:30 am tonight, and may be going in again tomorrow. Everyone has their turn, though, and it has been slow for them out at the pads for a long time after the Columbia accident.

  1. #1 by Stacey on July 1, 2005 - 5:48 pm

    Very interesting! Space shuttles are so fascinating and all the technology and intricate details that go into a launch is just incredible. You’ve got such an interesting job. Wow!

  2. #2 by absent.canadian on July 1, 2005 - 7:39 pm

    Fantastic explanation. Sounds a little more complicated than taking the engine out of my old Honda motorcycle!

  3. #3 by Suzi on July 1, 2005 - 7:39 pm

    What an interesting blog you have here! I came in through Battle of the Blogs. I like your painting, too. I thought we had to choose between being a scientist and being an artist, but you’ve managed to pull off being both!

  4. #4 by Johnny on July 5, 2005 - 8:28 am

    ie, i work with bubbly goo that can explode.sweet.sooo, i guess youre not gonna fess up to the time you accidentally dropped your chewing gum in there, right?i mean, how do you tell the director… um sir, we have to remix the whole batch cuz there’s some gum in there.:p

  5. #5 by GlitterGlamGirl05 on July 5, 2005 - 1:20 pm

    Wow, I feel so privileged you answered my question. It’s so complicated and amazing to think if takes all of that to get into space. You are one cool chica!

  6. #6 by Jen on July 5, 2005 - 5:41 pm

    Thanks for all your comments. I felt like I should explain a little bit about what I do, even though it is hard to explain.

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