Archive for category Space

How Twitter has made my job better

Okay, I know my job is envied by many, but at the end of the day it is a job like everyone else’s. It has its difficulties, frustrations, and other drawbacks. It is easy to become defeated when trying to make positive changes at work, because of the near impossible odds you are up against. Also there is a certain atmosphere of dread around the place due to the looming “END OF THE SHUTTLE PROGRAM” hanging over our heads which will mean the loss of the majority of our jobs.

When I joined Twitter last September, I thought it would be an interesting diversion, but never realized how much it could affect me and my feelings about my work. I eventually found myself in a circle of NASA employees and space enthusiasts who were tweeting excitedly about launches. At the first launch after I started tweeting, I got up to the minute updates from a space center contact, @herrea straight from the Launch Control Complex. It was so cool to know exactly what was happening and any potential delays that posed a threat. It was after this launch that Andy started to see the value of Twitter and decided to join as well. He’s @apacheman, by the way.

After that, I became even more entrenched in the space community on Twitter. I started following Wayne Hale (former NASA flight director), Miles O’Brien (aviation and space journalist), and Leroy Chiao (former astronaut). I saw that I was days ahead of my co-workers and even my upper management when it came to finding out what was happening with the US space program. I started to realize that Twitter  had the potential to help me in my career. What I didn’t anticipate is the effects that it would have on the way I felt about my job.

With this last launch, I had gained some more followers that are what I would call “space enthusiasts.” This was a really good thing because it forced me to look at my job from the perspective of other people who would give anything to be in my position. It made me more excited about the cool opportunities I had and more inclined to seek out new ones. I started posting photos I took during the day of things that seemed mundane, but was amazed to find that there were some followers that really enjoyed seeing these behind-the-scenes shots. I am happy to share these little tidbits with those that find them interesting.

I became Twitter friends with other contractor employees (some even within my own company) from Johnson Space Center in Houston that are facing the same “end of program blues” and uncertainty due to change that we are. It is somehow comforting to know that these people are dealing with many of the same challenges we are facing at Kennedy Space Center. We also can share our pride in each launch or milestone, knowing that we each had a little part in it. I also found an inspirational leader in @rikerjoe, who is trying to make positive changes within NASA and is very supportive of my efforts. 

While I have always tried to attend every launch that I possibly could because I didn’t want to waste the amazing opportunity I have been given, now launches are even more exciting. This is because I get to share the play-by-play with and from other Twitterers: some watching it in person like me and some on the other side of the world.

Last week, I was able to meet a Twitter friend that came from JSC for the launch and just happens to work for the same company as I do. Andy had given her a tour of the launch pad a couple of days earlier, and then, on her last day at KSC, she was able to come down to my work area and visit. It was a pleasure to give a tour of the Hypergolic Maintenance Facility to @absolutspacegrl because she was truly excited to be there. She did not think the hardware was mundane, but saw it with the fresh eyes of a space enthusiast. Even though she has a great deal of knowledge of the systems as a flight controller, she said that they rarely see hardware, and mostly deal with data. It was energizing to see someone that appreciates what they are seeing the way she did. She even blogged about her experience at KSC.

And finally, there is one more group of people on Twitter that help me through a challenging workday. That group is my blog friends that are now on Twitter; many of you I have now known for over four years, some of you I have met in real life, and all of you are people I feel honored to be friends with.  To @susank, @tropicalwonder, @poppycede, @nycwatchdog, @strangeafoot, @patrice108, @beth4158, @MaryKC, @Grynet, @kimsnotebook, @halo969, @felicia4774, @absentcanadian, @yoshi, @fyrchk, @sweetanne, :  I am glad to be able to keep up with you on a daily (or weekly, for some) basis and would be far worse off if not for your support. And Mel, one day you’ll make me truly happy and start tweeting again!

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Hubble Servicing Mission

 

STS-125 Astronauts, originally uploaded by Flying Jenny.

As some of you know, we launched on Monday. It was a beautiful launch, but this one was an exceptionally cool one for me. It wasn’t the first launch that I posted live on Twitter, actually I think this was the third for me. But this one was the first time that I got to meet someone I knew from Twitter. I saw a tweet from @RyInSpace that he was waiting to see the astronauts come out of the Operations & Checkout Building to the Astronaut van. I had never gotten to see that in person before, but it happens less than a mile away from where I was sitting at work. I okayed it with my manager and decided to go over to see it for myself (on my own time, of course). It was definitely cool to see, and I met my twitter friend there too!

Andy had a Twitter encounter too, yesterday. Twitterer @absolutspacegrl was visiting the space center from Johnson Space Center where she works. Andy was able to give her and her co-workers a fantastic tour of the launch pad. Click here to see some of our photos of the launch and prelaunch events.

Oh, and I almost forgot- the iPhone photo of the launch that I tweeted made the wired.com page: Link

Mine is the fourth photo from the top.

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What’s an Alta Pod?

At my work area we recently received the Alta Pods for storage, because they were in the way in the Vehicle Assembly Building due to some major work on the building’s enormous doors. I was thinking about it the other day and I realized that most people have probably never even heard of an Alta Pod. So, I decided to share.

Up until about six or seven years ago, when the Orbiter vehicles were due for a major modification or down time for maintenance, they were shipped out to Palmdale, California atop a 747. The OMS (pronounced ‘ohms’) pods that I work on and the Forward Reaction Control System, or FRCS were removed before shipping, because this major maintenance was always performed at the facility I work in. So, when they shipped the orbiters, the ‘holes’ left from the removal of these components had to be covered, and needed to be aerodynamic as well as protective. What was used in place of the OMS pods were fiberglass mock-ups referred to as Alta Pods. They are even painted to resemble the real thing. There is a dummy FRCS module as well. Chances are they will not be used again, unless they are used to ferry one of the Orbiters to its final resting place at a museum if NASA decides to retain the pods as spares for other orbiters or something like that.

Here are some photos so you can see what I am talking about. First is a real OMS pod:

Then the Alta Pods:

And then the dummy FRCS.  Maybe it is called an Alta FRCS?  I believe I heard it also referred to as an Alta pod, though.

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When we left earth

In case you are interested, there is a really interesting short series on the Discovery Channel about the space program. The series began last week with the Mercury Program and goes each week to chronicle the rest of the space program over the last 50 years.  It airs on Sunday nights at 9pm.

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Late Night Launch

Actually, it should be a really early morning launch of Endeavour at 2:28am or some God-awful time like that. I am off to bed but I have my alarm set to get up and watch the launch. Fingers crossed.

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Backing out of the garage

This morning at work I had to go get something done in the OPF (Orbiter Processing Facility) area, and I arrived just in time to be stuck on the other side of the clear that was established for the roll over of Endeavour to the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) for stacking. Since I was stuck waiting, I took some  photos with my phone to share with you.

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Never routine

Today at 11:38 am Discovery lifted off on its way to the International Space Station. I have seen quite a few launches now, the last seven plus years worth, but they are always special. I can’t see a launch ever seeming routine.

There is always excitement in the air on launch days. Even those workers that have spent their entire careers in the various space programs get excited about launches. You won’t find anyone inside during a launch except those who have to be, for the most part.

I remember when I first started working at the space center, there was a guy in my shop who didn’t care in the least about launches. He couldn’t even be bothered to go outside or even stand in a doorway to watch. He said he’d seen launches and didn’t need to see another one. That is sad. But he is the only person with that attitude that I have ever encountered out there and he’s a little wacked in the head. Personally I think that a person like that shouldn’t be permitted to work on the space program, because there are so many people out there who would jump at the chance and really appreciate it.

I have included Andy’s video of the launch. It isn’t perfect, but it is better than my video, which was really sucky. The durned thing is just so bright it overwhelms the equipment and makes those white lines on the screen. My video did the same thing, and it would probably have made you dizzy because I shook the camera so much.

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The ultimate in girl power

I can’t believe this is the same place I woke up in this morning. The nasty rainy weather has completely moved out and it was beautiful this afternoon. That is one of the nice things about Florida- we don’t generally get days on end of icky weather, it just comes in spurts. And hopefully the weather will stay fair, because we have a launch scheduled for tomorrow at 11:38 am Eastern time.

There are lots of interesting things about the upcoming launch of Discovery for STS-120. One of the most interesting to me is the roles that women fill in this mission. The Associated Press explains it like this:

It will be the first time in the 50-year history of spaceflight that two women are in charge of two spacecraft at the same time.

This is no public relations gimmick cooked up by NASA. It’s coincidence, which pleases shuttle commander Pamela Melroy and station commander Peggy Whitson.

“To me, that’s one of the best parts about it,” said Melroy, a retired Air Force colonel who will be only the second woman to command a space shuttle flight. “This is not something that was planned or orchestrated in any way.”

“This is a really special event for us,” Melroy said. “… There are enough women in the program that coincidentally this can happen, and that is a wonderful thing. It says a lot about the first 50 years of spaceflight that this is where we’re at.”

Whitson, the first woman to be in charge of a space station, arrived at the orbital outpost on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on Oct. 12. She flew there with two men, one a Russian cosmonaut who will spend the entire six months with her.

Before the launch, an official presented her with a traditional Kazakh whip to take with her. It’s a symbol of power, Whitson explained, because of all the horseback and camel riding in Kazakhstan.

Smiling, she said she took the gift as a compliment and added: “I did think it was interesting though, that they talked a lot about the fact that they don’t typically let women have these.”

At least it wasn’t a mop. The whip stayed behind on Earth.

Eleven years ago, just before Shannon Lucid rocketed to the Russian space station Mir, a Russian space official said during a live prime-time news conference that he was pleased she was going up because “we know that women love to clean.”

“I really haven’t heard very much like that at all from the Russian perspective,” Whitson said in an interview with The Associated Press last week. “Russian cosmonauts are very professional and having worked and trained with them for years before we get to this point, I think makes it better because then it doesn’t seem unusual to them either.”

In other mission news, those of you who are big fans of Star Wars will be excited to know that the original lightsaber used by Mark Hamill in Return of the Jedi will be flown to the International Space Station and then will return to earth in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars franchise. Whoopee.

Anyway, we are hoping for good weather tomorrow to see this bird off. I will post photos, video or whatever I get from work at the time if she goes.

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Shuttle Launch

You may have seen it on the news; last night at approximately 6:36 pm was the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour. This was the first launch of Endeavour since 2002, and also was a bit historic as it carried Barbara Morgan, who was Christa McAuliffe’s backup for the “Teacher in Space” program back in the eighties. Barbara actually came to the area I work in sometime last year with one of the other crewmembers from this mission and talked to a few of us for a bit. She’s got a very interesting history with thhe astronaut program.

You may remember a post from January where I wrote about an OMS pod we had just finished working on. Last night’s launch carried that pod into space for the first time in over five years. Normally it doesn’t take so long after we finish working on one for it to go up. but this launch was much delayed due to hail damage to the external tank early this spring, so it sat around for some extra time.

I am just happy that it was a safe launch. It is hard not to hold your breath and worry as space travel is still inherently very risky. We were at dog training class during the event, but everyone stepped outside to see Endeavour off. I hope thhat I can always appreciate watching such a thing. Even in this county where there are regular rocket launches, I feel lucky to get to see a little bit of history each time. I can really watch with a sense of pride now as I have put so much into the processing of this orbiter. Let us hope for a safe, successful mission all around.

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What I have been working for

These are a couple of photos of the Orbital Manuevering System Pod my co-workers and I have been working on for the last few months and that we delivered today for installation on Discovery, or OV-103, for STS-120. Yay! Thank God it is finally done! More blogging to come on an evening when I haven’t been up since 2:30 am as I have today.

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