Shuttle Endeavour rigged for entry; Atlantis heads for launch pad

CBS News

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL--Commander Mark Kelly and his five crewmates rigged the shuttle Endeavour for re-entry and landing early Wednesday to close out the orbiter's 25th and final mission, the next-to-last flight for NASA's iconic orbiter. With forecasters predicting good weather, Kelly and pilot Gregory Johnson planned to fire Endeavour's braking rockets at 1:29 a.m. EDT (GMT-4), setting up a landing at 2:35 a.m.

As recovery crews gathered at the Kennedy Space Center's 3-mile-long shuttle runway to welcome Endeavour back to Earth, another team of engineers began hauling the shuttle Atlantis to launch pad 39A for work to ready the ship for blastoff July 8 on the shuttle program's final flight.

Atlantis' crew -- commander Christopher Ferguson, pilot Douglas Hurley, flight engineer Rex Walheim and Sandra Magnus -- marveled at the view as the spaceplane, mounted atop a powerful crawler-transporter, rolled past a throng of spaceport workers who gathered near the Vehicle Assembly Building to witness NASA's last shuttle "rollout."

"It's going to be a long time until you see a vehicle roll out to the pad that looks as beautiful as that," Walheim said, pointing at Atlantis. "How can you beat that? An airplane on the side of a rocket. It's absolutely stunning. So I think we lose a little bit of grace, of beauty, and also a little bit of majesty (when the shuttle fleet is retired). You can't watch that vehicle roll by without thinking what an amazing achievement America has, that America can build something like that, put people inside and sling them off this Earth into space. It's absolutely amazing."

With Atlantis on its way, Kelly and his crewmates -- pilot Gregory H. Johnson, Michael Fincke, Gregory Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori -- closed Endeavour's 60-foot-long payload bay doors at 10:45 p.m.

The astronauts had two landing opportunities Wednesday, the first at 2:35 a.m. and the second one orbit later at 4:11 a.m. If the weather or some other problem prevents re-entry, the crew plans to stay in orbit an extra 24 hours and try again Thursday. In that case, NASA also would activate its backup landing site at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and bring Endeavour down on one coast or the other.

But mission managers were hopeful it would not come to that and if all goes well, Kelly and Johnson will oversee a two-minute 40-second firing of the shuttle's orbital maneuvering system rockets starting at 1:23:49 a.m., slowing the ship by about 200 mph to drop it out of orbit for an hourlong glide back to Florida.

After a half-hour free fall, Endeavour will plunge into the discernible atmosphere at an altitude of about 76 miles. Approaching Florida from the southwest, Endeavour will streak high above the Yucatan Peninsula, across the Gulf of Mexico and then over the west coast of Florida above Naples, descending steeply toward the Kennedy Space Center.

Taking over manual control at an altitude of about 50,000 feet, Kelly plans to guide Endeavour through a sweeping 245-degree left overhead turn to line up on runway 15. Touchdown is expected at 2:35 a.m.

This status report will be updated after landing or as warranted. In the meantime, here is an updated timeline of events for both of Endeavour's Florida landing opportunities (in EDT; best viewed with fixed-width font):

Rev. 248 deorbit to KSC
Deorbit dT: 2:40
Deorbit dV: 201 mph


09:29 PM......Begin deorbit timeline
09:44 PM......Radiator stow
09:54 PM......Astronaut seat installation
10:00 PM......Computers set for deorbit prep
10:04 PM......Hydraulic system configuration
10:29 PM......Flash evaporator cooling system checks
10:35 PM......Final payload deactivation
10:49 PM......Payload bay doors closed
10:59 PM......Mission control 'go' for OPS-3 software load
11:09 PM......OPS-3 transition
11:34 PM......Entry switchlist verification
11:44 PM......Deorbit maneuver update
11:49 PM......Crew entry review
12:04 AM......Commander/pilot don entry suits
12:21 AM......Inertial measurement unit alignment
12:29 AM......Commander/pilot strap in; mission specialists don suits
12:46 AM......Shuttle steering check
12:49 AM......Hydraulic system prestart
12:56 AM......Toilet deactivation

01:09 AM......Mission control 'go' for deorbit burn
01:15 AM......Mission specialists seat ingress
01:24 AM......Single hydraulic power unit start

01:29:43 AM...Deorbit ignition
01:32:23 AM...Deorbit burn complete

02:03:33 AM...Entry interface
02:08:33 AM...1st roll command to left
02:16:58 AM...1st roll left to right
02:22:23 AM...C-band radar acquisition
02:28:48 AM...Velocity less than mach 2.5
02:31:01 AM...Velocity less than mach 1
02:31:56 AM...Left turn to runway 15
02:35:23 AM...Landing

Rev. 249 deorbit to KSC
Deorbit dT: 02:39
Deorbit dV: 199.8 mph

02:46 AM......Mission control 'go' for deorbit burn
02:52 AM......Mission specialists seat ingress
03:01 AM......Single APU start

03:06:53 AM...Deorbit ignition
03:09:32 AM...Deorbit burn complete

03:39:18 AM...Entry interface
03:44:15 AM...1st roll command to left
03:58:31 AM...1st left to right roll reversal
03:58:07 AM...C-band radar acquisition
04:04:33 AM...Velocity less than mach 2.5
04:06:46 AM...Velocity less than mach 1
04:07:14 AM...Left turn to runway 15
04:11:07 AM...Landing