NASA engineers are working around the clock to prepare the Space Shuttle Endeavour for its ferry flight to Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida, still targeted at this point for tomorrow (December 7).
The KSC-based crew has been trying to overcome a snag with the ferry flight tail cone attachment which may force a slight delay to the start of the trans-continental return trip on the back of NASA’s Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA). The issue concerns four large connection bolts which hold the cone to the aft of the orbiter, currently installed in the 100 ft. tall mate-demate device (MDD) at Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards AFB, Calif.
Endeavour in the MDD (all pics: Guy Norris)
The bolts have to be installed in the cone before the entire assembly, measuring more than 20 ft. long, can be attached to the orbiter. During AW&ST’s visit to the MDD, around 12 hr ago, engineers could not insert the bolts in the attachment points. “For some reason they don’t fit,” says Dean Schaaf, a seasoned KSC-based ground operations manager who has worked every Shuttle mission recovery from Edwards. “We’re going to try and cool them down to see if that will work,” he adds.
The low-drag cone awaits attachment.
The cone, which arrived from KSC in crates and is made up of six major sub-assemblies, is currently in the nearby Space Shuttle hangar. In an ironic twist, this building is also being used to prepare for tests of the crew module for the Orion project that will partly succeed the shuttle.
Preparation work continues as night descends.
Any serious hold up to loading the cone could push back departure into the next day says Schaaf. “We can only fly in daylight, and with short days and flying east, that doesn’t give us long if we leave here late in the day.” Schaaf, along with more than 40 of the 260 plus personnel who are working on the shuttle return, will fly in a USAF C-17 which will act as a pathfinder for the SCA. The pair will fly east at between 10,000 and 15,000 ft. avoiding clouds and rough air and plan to route via an unspecified stop in Texas. Depending on weather the transit flight can be protracted. Schaaf recalls the last flight back from EAFB routed via refueling and overnight stops at Amarillo, Omaha and Fort Campbell, Kentucky.