The Union Recorder

Columns

April 8, 2014

OUR SPACE: Good things come to those who wait

MILLEDGEVILLE — It’s the kind of thing older folks say to impatient young’uns.

And it sure isn’t always true. But in recent NASA news it certainly worked out that way.

Exhibit A: Getting a spacecraft from idea to first signal from space can take years, even decades. No surprise there — spacecraft are highly complicated machines that have to withstand the most averse working conditions without any chance of repair or update. Often they require all-new untested technology — stuff that’s being invented specifically for this particular mission. And that takes time for research and development. A spacecraft is often a one of a kind item so all parts are carefully manufactured and assembled in a cleanroom. Once the spacecraft is finished and tested it’s usually already scheduled for launch and fast-tracked to a spaceport, mounted on top of a rocket, and there it goes, off into the great blue yonder.

That’s not how it worked out for the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 19 spacecraft, a military weather satellite. Its construction began in 1993, and it was completed in 1998. And then it was put in storage because the satellite it was supposed to replace just kept going and going and going. Seems like a good thing, right?

Alas, it wasn’t good news for our pal No. 19. Some parts of a spacecraft actually do deteriorate over time - lubricants for one. And then of course - new technology has since become available that would significantly increase the satellite’s life expectancy and usefulness. No. 19 enjoyed two such makeovers while in storage.

But at last its time had come, and it was finally launched last Thursday morning from Vandenberg. Hurrah for No. 19!

Another unexpected delay occurred with a recent Soyuz launch to send new crew members to the International Space Station. In recent launches the Soyuz has employed an accelerated six-hour, four orbit chase-down of the ISS. But a technical glitch forced flight controllers to abandon the quick route and get to the ISS the old fashioned way — via a two day trip.

Talk about a detour! We’re not talking about a pine tree that fell across your street here, where you can just go around the block the other way and get home a minute later. This is a two-day trip extension!

Fortunately such an event is always planned for — crews carry extra food and supplies and engineers are always standing by to switch to an alternate flight path. So while the disappointment over the change of plans may have been great it was not entirely unexpected, because in spaceflight there’s never just one plan. There are backup plans, alternate plans and third plans. And backup, alternate and third plans for all of those, and all of them are practiced during training.

And so while the crew had to wait an extra two days to reach their destination they got there just fine and received a warm welcome, just as the DMSP 19 spacecraft should — at long last!

Read more about the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defense_Meteorological_Satellite_Program.

Beate Czogalla is the Professor of Theater Design in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Georgia College & State University. She has had a lifelong interest in space exploration and has been a Solar System Ambassador for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/ NASA for many years. She can be reached at  our_space2@yahoo.com   

 

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