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IMAGE: John Grunsfeld Reports

Launch and the First Day in Space
Dispatch #5 (Tuesday, December 21)

IMAGE:  Discovery's Launch
Discovery's launch. Liftoff occurred at 6:50 p.m. CST from Launch Pad 39B.

After more launch dates than we could remember, the weather finally gave us a break. With a countdown whose perfection was only matched by the weather, we sat on the launch pad in the final few minutes amazed that all was so smooth. We tightened our straps, focused on the displays and computers, and with six seconds to go the main engines came alive. A great cloud of steam loomed into our view in the forward windows with red and pink hues. At T-0, the solid rockets lit off and with a jolt we were clear of the tower and on our way to space.

First stage flight, with both the solid rocket boosters and the shuttle's main engines, is a very rough ride. Since we launched into the night, the light from the solids' exhaust produced a near daylight effect out our windows. On this, my third ride into space, the amount of vibration seemed less than the previous flights. I don't know whether this is because I was less surprised by the power, or if this combination of vehicle and payload really was smoother. This is my first trip on Space Ship Discovery.

At two minutes the solid rockets depart, everyone on board breathes a sigh of relief and we start to accelerate on up to orbit. The ride on the main engines is smooth, more like an electric train than the bucking bronco of the solids. Discovery performed flawlessly, without even a burp to put us on edge. Nearing the main engine cutoff, the acceleration is three times gravity, meaning I had the effect of a 600-pound gorilla standing on my chest. Breathing at this acceleration takes some effort.

At main engine cutoff comes the magic of weightlessness. The transition is instant, one moment you have the force of the engines pushing you into your seat, and suddenly as if gravity were turned off, you float. For Scott Kelly this was his first experience, and his glee at making it to space and from the first moments of floating was infective. For me it is remarkable that I remember so well how to live in weightlessness. Mike Foale was in heaven, back in his element, after 134 days in space on the Mir space station.

IMAGE:  Smith and Nicollier take a look at space suits
Steven Smith and Claude Nicollier take an early look at their extravehicular mobility unit space suits.

So far we haven't had much time to enjoy the fantastic view of planet Earth as we are working hard for our rendezvous with the Hubble Space Telescope. Today we prepared the four space suits on board for the upcoming space walks. It seemed like we had four extra crew members on board with these large white fellows floating around, with their helmets and backpacks.

Preparing for a space walk is similar to preparing for a mountain climb. You have all kinds of equipment preparation and big backpacks to fill. In our case our large backpacks are filled with all the components to make our suits self-contained space ships. They contain batteries for power, a lithium hydroxide cartridge to take the carbon dioxide out of our air, oxygen bottles for breathing air, a UHF communication system, a cooling water system, and even a small canteen for drinking water. In fact we even reduced the cabin pressure to the equivalent of a 10,000-foot mountain today, to help prevent decompression sickness when we do our space walks.

IMAGE:  Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble Space Telescope

We are rapidly catching up to the Hubble Space Telescope, using the shuttle's orbital engines and primary jets to adjust our orbit. Curt Brown and Scott Kelly perform these critical tasks to get us in position to grab the Hubble. While the space walkers were preparing the suits, Jean-Francois was preparing the space shuttle's robotic arm for the grapple task. This long thin carbon fiber arm will reach out and grab the Hubble Space Telescope tomorrow, when Curt and Scott fly us to within reach of the telescope.

Tonight we set up our camp, sleeping bags spaced all around the space shuttle's spartan interior, and go to sleep dreaming of a rendezvous with Hubble as smooth as our launch.

Grunsfeld Missions
IMAGE: Grunsfeld looks out of Discovery's aft flight deck window
Grunsfeld looks out one of Discovery's aft flight deck windows on flight day 1.
Grunsfeld Reports
Related Links
*Clervoy Notes
*Hubble Space Telescope Servicing
*Space Telescope Science Institute
*Hubble Space Telescope Description
*Space Sciences Home Page

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 04/07/2002
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