ET-134 Arrives at Kennedy Space Center

This video montage shows space shuttle external tank ET-134’s arrival at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


Watch this video (Windows, streaming)

At approximately 8:00 a.m. EDT on Oct. 24, NASA ship Liberty Star transferred Pegasus and ET-134 to tug boats Lou Anne Guidry and WP Scott in Port Canaveral. After a four-hour trip along the calm waters of Port Canaveral channel and the Banana River, Pegasus and ET-134 arrived on dock at the turn basin in front of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), where it was prepped and off-loaded.


Public affairs officer/blogger Steve Roy surveys the ocean ahead during the voyage of
Liberty Star, Pegasus and ET-134 from Gulfport, Miss. to Kennedy Space Center.

Remaining Shuttle Missions

As “Sailing with NASA” winds down, I’d like to remind everyone of the remaining space shuttle launches and their respective missions, all headed for International Space Station. Check it out and go see a launch. It’s good for you!

Remaining 2009 Launch

Date: Nov. 16 +
Mission: STS-129
Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Atlantis
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center – Launch Pad 39A
Description: Space shuttle Atlantis will deliver components including two spare gyroscopes, two nitrogen tank assemblies, two pump modules, an ammonia tank assembly and a spare latching end effect or for the station’s robotic arm to the International Space Station.

2010 Launches
Date: Feb. 4 +
Mission: STS-130
Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Endeavour
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center – Launch Pad 39A
Description: Space shuttle Endeavour will deliver the final connecting node, Node 3, and the Cupola, a robotic control station with six windows around its sides and another in the center that provides a 360-degree view around the International Space Station.

Date: March 18 +
Mission: STS-131
Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Discovery
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center – Launch Pad 39A
Description: Space shuttle Discovery will carry a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module filled with science racks that will be transferred to laboratories of the International Space Station.

Date: May 14 +
Mission: STS-132
Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Atlantis
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center – Launch Pad 39A
Description: Space shuttle Atlantis mission will carry an integrated cargo carrier to deliver maintenance and assembly hardware, including spare parts for space station systems. In addition, the second in a series of new pressurized components for Russia, a Mini Research Module, will be permanently attached to the bottom port of the Zarya module.

Date: July 29 +
Mission: STS-134
Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Endeavour
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center – Launch Pad 39A
Description: Space shuttle Discovery will deliver an EXPRESS Logistics Carrier-3 (ELC-3) and the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) to the International Space Station.

Date: Sept. 16 +
Mission: STS-133
Launch Vehicle: Space Shuttle Discovery
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center – Launch Pad 39A
Description: Space shuttle Endeavour will deliver the Express Logistics Carrier 4 (ELC4), a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MLPM) and critical spare components to the International Space Station.

Pegasus Arrives on Dock at KSC

12:41 p.m., Eastern Time
Pegasus Arrives on Dock at KSC

After a four hour trip from Port Canaveral to Kennedy Space Center (under observation by numerous alligators, dolphins, manatees and pelicans), Pegasus has arrived on dock at the turn basin in front of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). ET-134 is being prepared for immediate off load and move to the VAB. More later…

In the meantime, check out this this awesome video that just became available this morning. It shows Liberty Star on Day Two and day Three of the journey, under way in the central Gulf of Mexico after leaving Gulfport, Miss. The seas were rough, swelling to 12 feet, with high northeasterly winds with gusts up to 30 knots.

Meet John C. Fischbeck III,Master Mariner

John C. Fischbeck III, Master Mariner
John Fischbeck III, 59, is a native of Honolulu, Hawaii, a graduate of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, in business administration and a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War. His entire Navy service, 1965-1971, was spent aboard the aircraft carrier Yorktown.

In 1979, he completed training as a Merchant Marine Officer and today has achieved the highest rank in the commercial maritime industry, Master Mariner. At NASA/USA, he serves as solid rocket booster retrieval operations supervisor.

Let’s ask John what achieving Master Mariner means. John says, “Achieving Master Mariner is one of the most important goals in my life.” The term Master Mariner was introduced in the United States in the mid-19th century; earlier in England. Currently, a U.S. Master Mariner License is reserved for those few who have attained the level of Unlimited Master, as well as Unlimited Chief EngineerSenior. Traditionally, a person holding an unrestricted master’s license is called a Master Mariner.  The term unrestricted indicates that there is no restriction of size, power or geographic location of the vessel on the license.

It is the highest level of professional qualification amongst mariners.

John has served as Master on all three booster recovery ships including the Liberty Star, Freedom Star and Independence. He has served on 125 booster recovery missions, more than any other member USA Marine Operations.
John’s current responsibilities include onboard Marine Operations Manager for the Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) Retrieval Operations and External Tank (ET) Ocean Transportation Operations.
What does John like most about the job at sea? In his own words, “supporting America’s spaceflight program, the great team of people I work with, and the ever-changing conditions that confront us everyday. Challenge, Adjustment, Success!”
What does John like to do when not sailing with NASA?  He ships out again…on ocean yacht racing, sail cruising and studying the  guitar/banjo.

Liberty Star Transfers Pegasus and ET-134 to Tug Boats Lou Anne Guidry and WP Scott in Port Canaveral

8:00 a.m. Eastern, Oct. 24
Liberty Star Transfers Pegasus and ET-134 to Tug Boats Lou Anne Guidry and WP Scott in Port Canaveral

Pegasus is now under way in the calm waters of Port Canaveral channel enroute to the Banana River and eventually, the turn basin at the Kennedy Space Center near the Vehicle Assembly Building. Television producer Mick Speer and public affairs blogger Steve Roy negotiated, with excellent help from the crew on the tug boat WP Scott, the transfer to Pegasus without incident and without getting wet. The transit from Port Canaveral to the Vehicle Assembly Building will take approximately four hours. 

In the Port Canaveral channel crews of Pegasus and Liberty Star complete the
break of the tow in preparation for tug boats Lou Anne Guidry and WP Scott to
move into position and begin the final leg of the trip to Kennedy Space Center.
Credit: NASA

As planned, after dropping the tow to the tugs, Liberty Star sailed off ahead of Pegasus, eager to prepare for the next mission.

The weather is beautiful this morning in the Cocoa Beach area as we progress thru the Port Canaveral locks. ET-134 looks sharp and ready to unload, perhaps even chomping at the bit.

The watch reports…all is well.

Liberty Star is in the Home Stretch

6:15 p.m., Eastern Time, Oct. 23
Captain’s Corner, Liberty Star

This evening Liberty is under way for home waters, currently just north of Ft. Pierce, Fla., making about 5 knots with quartering winds from the southeast. This speed permits arrival off Port Canaveral early tomorrow morning, at approximately 7 a.m., for a daylight transfer of the barge Pegasus and ET-134 to two commercial tugboats.

The tugs will tow/push Pegasus through the Port Canaveral channel to the Banana River, then north to the turn basin at the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center. Meanwhile, Liberty Star will proceed on her own through the Port Canaveral channel to the Banana River and on to her dock at Hangar AF, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Today, we’ve shortened the tow cable from 1,800 feet to 300 feet, permitting safer transit in shallow waters along the remainder of the route.

The ship is in great shape, but has a lot of work to accomplish before getting under way on Monday to support the Ares 1-X Test Flight scheduled for Tuesday.

The crew of Liberty Star is eager to close home port and get ready for the next mission.

Mike Nicholas
M/V Liberty Star

Life On Board Liberty Star: A Typical Day

9 am Eastern Time, Central Gulf of Mexico, Bearing south for the Dry Tortugas

From the point of view of sailing on a ship, everything at sea seems to be integrated into one experience; the sea and the weather as one, the crew and the ship.  I could be wrong, but that’s what it seems.

The Weather and the Sea
The weather is clearing but still partly cloudy, giving the sea an unqualified, but pleasing, purple color. Swells are rising from 4-6 feet and north northeasterly winds at 20-27 knots are continuing to roll the Liberty Star from port to starboard rather unpleasantly for land lubbers — but certainly not dangerously. Some rolls to starboard are up to slightly over 20 degrees; these you really notice, throwing you off your feet, if not prepared. Winds are expected to continue unabated throughout the voyage. 

Pegasus’ bow plunges majestically a few feet, throwing white sea spray onto and over its bow. Reports from Pegasus say ET-134 is doing fine, its black beak occasionally lifting skyward, as if doing its part; lunging forward to reach Kennedy Space Center. 

A few rain squalls are passing on all sides of Liberty Star, but don’t pose any problems. Hundreds of white caps top the sea’s surface. 
In other words the weather is fine, posing no problems for Liberty Star or crew, except anticipating that side-to-side roll, which is absolutely relentless and perfectly normal.

The Crew
The ten-person, well-trained and highly-experienced crew of Liberty Star is in constant movement throughout the ship. Captain Mike Nicholas roams the vessel keeping his own schedule, checking the tow, the engines, the sea and weather, and questioning the status of operations. 

The cook, Dragan Jurkovic, is in constant motion in the galley preparing meals as he is hurtled from starboard to port, saved by grabbing on to galley furniture and other fixtures. Dragan sustains the crew with wonderful full comfort meals of pork chops grilled to perfection with browned potatoes, peeled by the blogger public affairs officer — well, it’s what he does at home for his wife! — tasty stewed vegetables, crisp baked fish, savory chicken marsala, grilled New York strip steaks, cups of piping hot café latte, spreads of luncheon meat and six kinds of bread, chicken salad wraps and this afternoon…BBQ pork ribs…and tonight, filet mignon and sea scallops.

In the main deck engineers Trish Hershock and Danny Dugan share tough six hour shifts monitoring the status of the two Electric Motor Division (EMD) engines and drive shafts, generators, status of fuel and all other machinery necessary to push the ship forward. In addition to keeping up with Liberty Star’s current operations, the engineers are also planning for future operations: Trish ordering fuel for the sailing the next Monday for support of the Ares 1-X launch and booster  recovery operations, and Danny, who normally serves as Maritime Operations Port Engineer, also making plans for future operations and upgrades for port facilities.

The rest of the crew performs their primary functions as well as the vital function of standing watch on the bridge. A two-person team is always on watch: Cody Gordon and Al Grivina stand the watch together; John Jacobs and Clint Small another watch; and finally, John Bensen and Todd Rose stand watch.  Each team stands watch four hours and is off duty, roughly speaking, eight hours. 

Oddly, when moving around the ship in the middle of the day, one encounters few members of the crew, as many crew are resting for the next shift. At night, the bridge watch stands vigilant in near total darkness preferring to use radar imagery and personal vision conditioned for darkness rather than spotlights to view the ocean ahead.

The crew knows what to do, when to do it and how to do it.  Orders don’t seem to be issued per say; just quiet conversations, heads nodding agreement, crew moving off to work on some tasks.

It reminds me of a passage in one of the Patrick O’Brien books in the Master and Commander series. HMS Surprise under Jack Aubrey is under full sail heading south with the trade winds toward Brazil for his own rendezvous with destiny. The ship plows on, steadily, easily over one hundred miles a day, the watch changes with little fanfare, the cook serves up meals in the galley three times a day, the crew lounges on deck, rigging is adjusted with hardly an order; sailing on in this routine day after day for weeks on end; like sailors for thousands of years; like spacefarers in the centuries ahead, beautiful.

The Ship
Liberty Star yaws and pitches, rolls starboard to port and back to starboard; engines humming continuously; vibration is constant.  Frothy seas follow Liberty Star and 1,800 feet to our aft, the Pegasus as well. 

Constantly rotating radars in the masts high above the living and working decks of the ship point out crossing vessels to the watch as the sea sloshes by and occasionally sprays the upper weather decks.

The American flag stands straight out in the 27 knot wind, as Liberty Star sails on with little fanfare.  Freighters pass in the distance; identified well in advance.

During the day, you don’t notice the creaks and bangs you will notice later during the night in your bunk; as cabinets and minor loose storage in your stateroom rolls around the floor. In the staterooms of the second deck living quarters are stuffed with personal possessions, clothing and carrying bags. The RV-like-equipped staterooms are more than sufficient for these relatively short voyages and at night you have little problem hearing the sea rush pass the bow and sides of the ship.

The ship bends like the crew; to the routine of sea and weather; all seemingly working together; rolling, pitching, sleeping, standing watch, cooking, eating, quietly passing each other in the ship.

Liberty Star and Pegasus are under way over the sea; weather and sea; crew; ship; timeless; relentless; beautiful.

When You’re Hot,You’re Hot: Engine Room of Liberty Star

Assistant Engineer Danny Dugan takes us on a tour of the engine room as he checks and services the all-important propulsion system.

Starting aft of the engine room is the very end of the ship, a very cramped area called the lazarette. Here the hydraulic actuated rudder posts and steering gear are located.

Forward of the lazerette a few feet, we find the main engine room. A lot of very warm (hot) physical work goes on here in the engine room, where now we are below the water line. The all-important engine room houses the main propulsion system for Liberty Star, two main engines made by General Motors, providing a total of 2,900 horsepower turning two-six-foot propellers with controllable pitch. Controllable pitch provides greater response time and maneuverability. The engines generate 900 revolutions per minute (rpm) at full speed and at idle about 400 rpm. The Chief Engineer, Trish Hershock, and the Assistant Engineer, Danny Dugan, share continuous six-hour watches monitoring the engines.

Life Aboard Liberty Star

10:00 a.m. Eastern Time, Oct. 23
On Board Liberty Star

Liberty Star, Pegasus and ET-134 are well north of Miami, but moving north much slower than hoped. A much-hoped for pick up from the Gulf Stream has not occurred, apparently a very unusual occurrence for these trips north along the Florida coast.

Sail along with Liberty Star at sea! Windows, streaming

Scenes from a day at sea: looking at Pegasus from the weatherdeck of Liberty Star.
View all blog images in this Flickr gallery

 A new arrival time at Port Canaveral has been set for Saturday morning, Oct. 24,  7 a.m. Eastern Time. Liberty plans to sail to the eastern edge of the Port Canaveral channel, where it will rendezvous with two tug boats.The tugs will take up the tow/push of Pegasus for the final leg of the trip into and then north along the Banana River and channel to the dock at the turn basin in front of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center. 

Scenes from a day at sea: Pegasus navigates swells. Credit: NASA

Unfortunately, the delay in return to home port will mean several members of the dedicated, hard-working crew will not have the opportunity to go home over the weekend before sailing Monday for recovery operations associated with the Ares 1-X test flight scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 27. A wide variety of equipment, including Doppler radar and booster recovery gear, absent from Liberty during external tank towing operations, will have to be returned to the ship for installation.

Scenes from a day at sea: Libert Star’s crew pays out tow line. Credit: NASA

At this point in the trip Liberty, which sailed from home port with 40,000 gallons of diesel fuel, is down to about 13,000 gallons.  Engineer Trish Hershock has already placed an order to replenish the ship in readiness to sail Monday. Cook Dragan Jorkovic has already set his plans for replenishing the crew.

Newly promoted Second Mate Allan (Big Al) Gravina has just supervised on deck shortening the tow of Pegasus from 1,800 feet to about 500 feet. A shortened towing cable reduces the depth of the cable between the two vessels as Liberty moves into more shallow waters at slowed speeds, limiting the possibility of the tow snagging on unreported, underwater obstacles. The way the tow cable rides between the vessels, like a heavy kink of chains between two fence posts, is referred to as the catenary from the Latin word catena.

Scenes from a day at sea: Liberty Star and ocean skies. Credit: NASA

Sustainment of the crew continues at a heady pace. Cook Dragan providing tasty, wholesome, and comfortable field rations that every worried mother would appreciate, including more perfectly grilled New York strip steaks; mixed, steamed vegetables; homemade fish soup; crisp bacon and sausage; eggs Benedict; perfectly textured mashed potatoes; savory chunks of roasted pork smothered in piping hot gravy; mixed green salads with all the fixings and of course Balsamic vinaigrette; mixed fruit plates covered in strawberries, raspberries, cantaloupe, kiwi and pineapple; choice of three kinds of cheese cake; chocolate ice cream and, oh well — chocolate mousse covered in whip cream. Aarg!  Aarg! And Aarg!

Scenes from a day at sea: mornings clouds over the horizon. Credit: NASA

The bridge has just sighted St. Lucie Inlet! Liberty Star, Pegasus and ET-134 are bearing north for homeport.

The watch reports — all is well.

Sailing With the Stars: International Space Station

Bringing ET-134 to Kennedy Space Center has one purpose; launch STS-130 to the International Space Station. NASA’s top priority today is to fly the space shuttle safely and complete construction of the space station. It’s been a long road getting from there to here!

International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Do yourself a favor one day and go to this website:

Scroll over to your right, then down to space station over flights of your town. Click and you’ll find yourself on a NASA Johnson Space Center Website. In the left column you’ll find a place to enter your country and find your home town and that’ll show you when the space station will overfly your town.

The over flight will be fast; and the time of day is important because space station is best viewed just before dawn or the beginning of morning nautical twilight and just after fading evening light or the ending of evening nautical twilight; perhaps the station will approach from the southwest, sail over your town in 2-5 minutes at 220 miles above you and depart to the Northeast. 

I hadn’t made an effort to see the station over fly Huntsville, Ala., for quite some time, until one day last year I studied the tracking charts, found that it would make a spectacular flight over Huntsville in a few days. That evening I hooked up my two bichons and went out to see the station. It was an amazing over flight. With ten-power binoculars I could detect a great deal of detail including that the space shuttle was docked, a gigantic spread of sail, or rather, solar arrays, and the space station had grown — big time — to the size of a football field.

Astronaut Nicole Stott, Expedition 20 flight engineer, participates in the STS-128
mission’s first session of extravehicular activity (EVA) as construction and maintenance
continue on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA
View all “Sailing With NASA” images in this Flickr gallery

When I joined NASA in 1991, I was immediately joined at the hip with space station. It has been part of my daily duties ever since in one public affairs capacity or another. The space station has evolved from development models and design charts to real hardware during the intervening years.  It is simply a marvel, flying through space at 17,000 miles per hour, brighter than the stars; so much so you might say it is a star…well, it is a Star!

Partnerships: Are Getting Us From There to Here
The space station is why we’re on this journey. We are bringing the gas tank, ET-134, for space shuttle mission STS-130, during which space shuttle Endeavour will deliver to space station Node 3, named Tranquility, the last of the three nodes built by our Italian and European space partners. 

The space station has been a dynamic and fruitful partnership for its members; including the United States represented by NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency — I particularly like the title of the Japanese space agency because they have included the word “exploration.” The specific nations in the partnership have included Canada, Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Great Britain, Japan, Russia, and our very own United States.

Space station flight operations are controlled from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and the station science command post is located at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.  European Headquarters is in Paris; the Canadian Headquarters is in Saint-Hubert, Quebec; the Russian Station Mission Control is in Korolev, Russia; and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency headquarters is in Tokyo, Japan.

By any stretch of the imagination space station has been an unqualified success in political, technological, engineering and scientific partnerships and is perhaps the greatest demonstration of peaceful human cooperation and achievement in history.  It is a testimony to what humanity can achieve in unity of purpose and peace; and a testimony to the role of space travel to bring together diverse peoples for common good.

An Exciting Time for the International Space Station
This year the spacefarers expanded the crew on space station from three to six and expanded the available working and living space.  Three space shuttle flights delivered Japan’s Kibo scientific research laboratory module, a supporting logistics module and a unique facility for mounting science experiments outside the Station. Also, in the past year a space shuttle delivered the Columbus science experiment module built by the European Space Agency. 

A close-up view of the unpiloted Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV)
in the grasp of the International Space Station’s robotic Canadarm2. Credit: NASA

View all “Sailing With NASA” images in this Flickr gallery

The Russian Space Agency continues space station support by launching frequent logistics flights using their Progress automated rendezvous and docking vehicles. Russia also launches astronauts, cosmonauts and other visitors via their Soyuz launch vehicles.  Russia also maintains Soyuz vehicles on station for potential emergency evacuation.

There were two recent additions to the family of spacecraft arriving at the station this year as well. The European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) docked at station in March 2008 and just last month, in mid-September 2009, the H-II Transfer Vehicle of Japan successfully launched and arrived at the station. Both transfer vehicle arrivals mark a substantial increase in operational capability at a time when the shuttle program is due to be completed. 

A Time of Transition Ahead for Station
Up until now the emphasis of work on station has been directed at the assembly of arriving components such as nodes, solar arrays, and life support systems; and mastering the operational and engineering tasks necessary to keep the station properly functioning and maintained. 

Check out this great NASA website about the International Space Station:

On this site you will find a mountain of information about the station, including great image galleries, how to view the station as it passes over your town, many interactive features, tons of statistical information and my own favorite aspect of space station, science experiments on station. 

The transition that will gradually occur on station over the next few years will involve the transition from assembly activities to science.  Today there are some 96 science experiments on station encompassing almost every science discipline found on a university campus or at a national research laboratory. Indeed, NASA has officially designated the space station a national research laboratory open for business. Much of the science on station up to now has focused on study and analysis of how humans adjust to low levels of gravity and human physiology. Just a few months ago, in August 2009, space shuttle Discovery delivered the new Materials Science Research Rack (MSRR) and the Fluids Integration Rack (FIR). The MSRR will permit study of materials such as alloys, ceramics, crystals, polymers and glasses for new materials applications and ways to improve existing materials. The FIR will help add to our storehouse of knowledge about fluids under microgravity conditions and aid in development of better fuel tanks and water systems for spacecraft.

Science in space began gradually. The Gemini program astronauts and even the Apollo astronauts had precious little space in their spacecraft for experiments dedicated to science although they performed an impressive amount of science, regardless. The first American spacecraft dedicated to science in a substantial way was Skylab and later Russia added the Mir Space Station. Skylab was America’s first space station, it was fairly roomy compared to cramped Gemini and Apollo and Skylab hosted a vast array of science work.

Spacelab came after Skylab. Spacelab, planted in the cargo bay of the space shuttle, flew some 25 missions dedicated to science investigations. Twenty-one of these science missions were controlled from Marshall’s Payload Operations and Integration Center, while Johnson Space Center controlled the flight operations.

It may not be generally known but the European Space Agency designed the science facilities of Spacelab, the inner functioning and layout of the working module, while NASA provided the spacecraft, the shuttle, and many science experiments sponsored by universities, NASA centers and other government agencies. The partners of Spacelab learned a great deal from space-based science and how to control and operate experiments autonomously from ground stations located at universities or NASA centers. 

Unfortunately, the Spacelab missions had short durations, only 7-16 days. The promise of space station was to deliver a state-of-the-art orbiting laboratory and one that could function 24/7. 

And deliver it did. Today, scientists see their experiments launched into space and once the experiments are activated, scientists can control and collect data from those experiments from ground stations. Many experiments require direct astronaut involvement, but many do not, freeing the astronauts to perform their own science investigations and operate the station. The increase in the number of astronauts and experiment facilities on station will triple the number of hours dedicated to science in the next few years. And it’s not in 7-16 day increments — the duration of a space shuttle mission!! — it’s 24/7.

Just last month NASA published a report on the progress of science experiments on space station. The link to see the report highlighting science results from Station research experiments is below:

So there you have it. Long term it’s about utilization of space station for a growing array of science investigations that will enhance our knowledge of living and working in space while enhancing our knowledge of science for all of us on Earth. 

What’s ahead? The International Space Station will play a major role in getting us ready for the next big step, human exploration of the Solar System. It has been a long road getting us from there to here! Now we’re here!