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STS-125--the untold story?

F-14D

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Atlantis' mission (STS-125) was a great success, preserving Hubble for many more years while hopefully work goes on on a successor. One thing noted about this mission was that it was the only post Columbia tragedy mission that didn't go to the ISS. From the orbit necessary to reach Hubble, Atlantis wouldn't be able to reach the ISS. The significance of that is that on missions to the ISS, if it is discovered during post launch inspection that there is damage preventing a return to Earth, the crew can remain on the ISS until another Shuttle can be launched. For STS-125, the plan was that the Endeavor (the next Shuttle scheduled to be launched) would stand by, prepped for a quick launch, if necessary, on a rescue mission, and it was there, erected and on the pad during STS-125.

However, an astute reader at Aviation Week pointed out that when the launch preparations for Endeavor's regular STS-126 mission got underway, a helium link was discovered that took a month to fix. What this implies is that if Atlantis had gotten into trouble, Endeavor would not have been able to be launched in time.
 

Stargazer2006

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Whoooo, scary!

Tell me something, when you say "helium link" do you actually mean "helium LEAK"?
 

F-14D

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Stargazer2006 said:
Whoooo, scary!

Tell me something, when you say "helium link" do you actually mean "helium LEAK"?

You know, you can find Anything on the Internet, so it took a month for them to come down from the helium high they got by following that link. ;D

Actually, touche.
 

OM

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...Sounds like typical CT Nutter bullshit. The real question is why Keith Cowing hasn't been waving this one around as one of his typical anti-NASA conspiracy crusades.
 

TomS

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I suspect that whoever posted that is misinformed. I dug around a bit and this is what I concluded.

1) It was a hydrogen, not helium, leak that delayed Endeavor's STS-127 mission (the flight after Atlantis' STS-125 mission to Hubble).

2) It was a problem with a component installed on Pad 39A (a misalignment of the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate) not a leak within the shuttle itself. If Endeavor had needed to fly a rescue mission, it would have been launched from the Pad 39B, where it had already been stacked in anticipation of such a mission. Obviously, Pad 39B doesn't use the same GUCP, so the issue probably would not have arisen.

3) The month-long delay was only partially due to fixing the technical problem -- the rest of the delay was due to scheduling problems with other launches, weather, and some solar heating concersn that only apply to ISS missions. Had they needed to launch Endeavor on a rescue mission for Atlantis, any other missions competing for the launch window would have been scrubbed automatically. Also, fixing any problems that did arise would have been expedited a lot more than they were for STS-127, where there was no particular urgency. And the solar heating issue woudl have been irrelevant because the dates were different and the mission wasn't going to ISS anyway.
 

F-14D

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TomS said:
I suspect that whoever posted that is misinformed. I dug around a bit and this is what I concluded.

1) It was a hydrogen, not helium, leak that delayed Endeavor's STS-127 mission (the flight after Atlantis' STS-125 mission to Hubble).

2) It was a problem with a component installed on Pad 39A (a misalignment of the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate) not a leak within the shuttle itself. If Endeavor had needed to fly a rescue mission, it would have been launched from the Pad 39B, where it had already been stacked in anticipation of such a mission. Obviously, Pad 39B doesn't use the same GUCP, so the issue probably would not have arisen.

3) The month-long delay was only partially due to fixing the technical problem -- the rest of the delay was due to scheduling problems with other launches, weather, and some solar heating concersn that only apply to ISS missions. Had they needed to launch Endeavor on a rescue mission for Atlantis, any other missions competing for the launch window would have been scrubbed automatically. Also, fixing any problems that did arise would have been expedited a lot more than they were for STS-127, where there was no particular urgency. And the solar heating issue woudl have been irrelevant because the dates were different and the mission wasn't going to ISS anyway.

Well, this makes me feel somewhat better. Just for the record, it wasn't any of the usual conspiracy or NASA-haters that brought this up. As far as any other competing mission, there weren't any because everything else was supposedly cleared in case Endeavor had to fly.

Interestingly and sadly ironically enough, Columbia, the reason for all these extra precautions, was a mission that had a chance of being rescued. If I remember correctly, the schedule at the time had Atlantis being prepared for its next mission departing four weeks after Columbia was to return. Apparently, it could have been readied in time to rendezvous with Columbia, had NASA made the decision to follow the recommendations of its own engineers to seek high-resolution images of Columbia to assess whether it had been damaged by debris during liftoff. Apparently they even received offers from intelligence agencies to do just that and turned them down. The problem was that a decision to use Atlantis would have had to be made during the first three days of Columbia's flight, because even with an accelerated preparation, longer than that and Atlantis wouldn't be able to get there in time before Columbia's supplies ran out. Aviation Week did an article late showing how it might have been accomplished.

A difficult operation to be sure, and one that will forever lie in the realm of might have been.
 
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