I have been so busy, that I totally missed the fact that the Shuttle STS-116 crew had launched last Saturday onboard Orbiter Discovery (OV-103); the first night launch in 4 years. Night launches are one of the most spectacular things to watch, and see how literally night becomes day for a couple of minutes while the bird flies up, and up…
Because it was a night launch, engineers on the ground must rely mainly on radar to track and analyze falling (ice) particles that might hit the vehicle, as (obviously) photography can't be leveraged that much during the night, except for what the bright solid rocket boosters (SRBs) and main engines can help the engineers see. But the good news is that “so far so good”, and with the new procedures put in place to visually check the vehicle and even try to fix damage tiles etc while in orbit, something that should have, and which BTW was considered and proposed by many engineers many years ago, are finally now in place:
During tonight’s Mission Status Briefing, Mission Management Team Chairman John Shannon said that engineers have completed the first review of Sunday’s inspection of the orbiter’s heat shield. “The team has looked and gone through and done their first pass on all of the wing leading-edge RCCs and the nose cap,” Shannon said, “and has identified no issues. It is a very rigorous process.”
The goal of the STS-116 mission is to continue growing/expanding the station itself, for example, this mission will install the P5 integrated truss using the shuttle’s robotic arm. See the Shuttle's website for more information on the current Space Shuttle mission.
In addition, the Shuttle mission will impact the current Space Station crew:
The Expedition 14 crew lost one member and gained another Monday night during the first crew exchange at the International Space Station during a shuttle mission in four years.
See the Station's website for more information on the current Space Station Expedition.
Congratulations and good luck to the crew of STS-116, and Expedition 14…