Mission almost complete for Herrington's first space 'endeavour'

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. - As we go to press, Commander John Herrington and the crew of the Endeavour flight were scheduled to land either Dec. 6 or Dec. 7. The mission landing had to be postponed due to bad weather. Check out Indian Country Today next week for further information on the landing. For updates, check out the ICT web site at www.indiancountry.com for continuing coverage.

In the course of the flight, Herrington, Chickasaw, spoke several times about his historic mission as the first enrolled tribal member to go into space. During an inflight interview with Indian Country Today, he said "It's fabulous. It's more than I dreamed about. It takes a bit of adaptation initially. You really have to control your body. If you're not careful you can go flying into things. The sensation of actually just floating through one module and to the next is fantastic. Way more than I dreamed about."

Rockin' wake-up

Each day mission control radios up a wakeup song for the crew. The song is usually one chosen by the astronaut's family or close friends, or it can be one selected by the flight controllers because of what's happening that day or something unusual. For example, when there were problems with too much gas in the crew's drinking water on one flight the wakeup call was "Tiny bubbles". When another mission's return got delayed several times the wakeup call was "I'll be Home for Christmas." - the mission was in July.

On Nov. 26 John Herrington's heard his first wakeup song in space. Mission control radioed "That was "Gimme All Your Lovin'" by ZZ Top from Debbie and the girls. Today they'll be wishing you lots of luck and lots of love as you take your first spacewalk today." Herrington replied "'Morning Houston. I'm feeling the love, that's great. It gets the heart beating in the morning. Thank you."

View of a lifetime

Herrington's feelings and comments during the first space walk need no explanation. "Holy Mackerel! This is phenomenal!" he exclaimed.

During the STS-113's second spacewalk, Herrington had to go to the end of the P1 Truss. If he looked one direction Herrington would see just empty space, the other direction the Earth would fill his view. Behind him, the entire space station. When Herrington reached the end he commented "If I ever thought about being on the edge of the universe this is it - right here."

He then made the biggest understatement in his life "That's a view you don't see every day." U.S. spacewalk record holder Jerry Ross had told Herrington to frame a picture in his mind of the amazing sights he would see. Herrington commented "I'll remember that for a lifetime." and asked "What did we just pass over?" when Lockhart replied "over the Caribbean," all Herrington could add was "Oh my goodness."

"Houston, we have a problem?"

John Herrington's third spacewalk, on Nov. 30, was supposed to be the simplest and least glamorous of the three. Herrington and his spacewalking partner Mike Lopez-Alegria were scheduled to spend most of their six-and-a-half hours installing Spool Positioning Device (SPD) adapters.

The Space Station is cooled by ammonia - not the three percent household ammonia used for cleaning, but 99 percent pure ammonia. Each hose has a "quick disconnect" connector which can be easily operated by an astronaut wearing a spacesuit glove. The quick disconnects were designed with dual seals in case one seal failed. But after the design was finished engineers realized one of the seals could leak, resulting in a build-up of ammonia between the two seals. This would make it very difficult to open up the quick disconnect lever in the future, like trying to unscrew a garden hose while the faucet is open.

So engineers developed the SPDs, which are squeezed around the quick-disconnect and held half way open, enough to let the ammonia leak past one seal but not the second.

Herrington was assigned the task of installing the SPDs on the newly installed P1 Truss. The plan called for the Mobile Transporter (MT), a railcar/work platform to move from the center of the space station to the end of the P1. The space station's robot arm would grab on to the MT and provide a stable work platform for Herrington to install his SPDs.

So much for the best laid plans of mice and men and NASA. The MT started moving down its rails but suddenly stopped. Initially flight controllers thought it was a software problem but when they turned on the secondary motors the MT ground to a halt, indicating that something was blocking the way. Camera views couldn't find anything obstructing the path though.

Herrington quickly discovered what had happened, saying: "Houston, I've found the problem. On the MT, it looks like the IUA (interface umbilical assembly) is bumping into the UHF antenna. I can deploy the UHF antenna and you'll have free clearance."

Herrington was given approval to deploy the antenna, even though it wasn't one of their planned tasks.It turned out that Herrington and Lopez-Alegria were so efficient, even without the robot arm, that they were able to complete all of their scheduled tasks, plus two additional tasks.

Even with all of their additional tasks the spacewalk only went half an hour longer than originally planned, clocking out at seven hours. That gives Herrington a total spacewalking time of 19 hours and 55 minutes. While Herrington was a rookie just a week ago, he's now the 19th most experienced U.S. spacewalker.

In addition to concentrating on these tasks, Herrington also had two personal items to note. His sister Jennifer Monshaugen had given birth to a baby girl, Ashley Joyce, Nov. 29. In addition his parents Jim and Joyce Herrington were celebrating their wedding anniversary.

Back to earth

As Herrington and the crew prepare to land there is a bizarre ritual astronauts go through before returning from space. In weightlessness the blood in the body moves around and tends to concentrate in the torso. In an effort to push more fluids into the arms and legs, astronauts are required to drink over a quart of salty liquid a couple of hours before landing.

Herrington has chosen lemon-orange drink with salt tablets. His re-entry "cocktail" will consist of eight ounces of water, 16 ounces of Lemonade with Nutra-sweet, 16 ounces of Orange-Ade and five salt tablets. One hour before the burn he'll start his drinking. He is supposed to be finished before the shuttle enters the atmosphere. If there's a one orbit wave-off, he needs to re-drink half as much again. If longer, he repeats the whole protocol from scratch. There is a possibility that the mission might set a new record for fluid loading with the delay of the landing scheduled at least a day later then expected.