STS-107 Caramba log 8 - Lighting the Candle

On 9 January 2003 the STS-107 crew participated in a teleconference in Houston during which the shuttle main engine nozzle bearing cracks were discussed as they might affect the flight. About halfway through the conference it became obvious the cracks were not showstoppers and the crew, displaying smiles all around, departed for Kennedy Space Center. On the morning of 13 January the STS-107 crewmember families flew from Houston to Patrick Air Force Base adjacent Kennedy Space Center. Extensive security arrangements encompassed all aspects of the mission and the Kennedy Space Center area was not a place to be for anyone contemplating mischief.

We spent our first evening at astronaut crew quarters in Kennedy Space Center where we had dinner (red team) and breakfast (blue team) while being serenaded by the crew physician on a guitar donated by a local music/pawn shop. The music efforts earned the physician a tip of $1.07 scrounged together from the crew. The physician also mentioned seeing the Dixie Dregs live and wondering "Who are these guys?!" and later exchanging pleasantries with Steve Morse in the men's room. Dinner/breakfast complete, we departed. Stopping by the supermarket on the way back to the air force base involved a significant security detail. A little too much trouble for milk and bread, I say, but unfortunately necessary given the nature of the STS-107 mission.

The next day saw us touring "Columbia" on its launch pad. This entailed each person removing or securing with twine all loose items - or any item that could come loose. Even small objects on the launch pad can damage the shuttle tiles when the rocket exhaust starts stirring things up during liftoff. We took an elevator to the highest accessible level of the rotating service structure (RSS) which provides access to the shuttle assembly, then leisurely inspected various items of interest before descending via stairs to the next lower level. After about an hour we departed the launch pad for lunch at the Kennedy Space Center beach house made famous in "The Right Stuff".

We returned to beach house later that evening for a barbeque with the crew and guests, mainly extended family members and close friends. Kalpana's family barely made it for the last one hour due to airline delays incurred during the trip from Delhi via Amsterdam and Detroit to Orlando. At 8:30 the party broke up to enable the red team to sleep on schedule while the blue team toured the launch pad with their families.

Wednesday lunch was again spent at the beach house followed by a round of receptions in the afternoon while family guests were given a guided tour of Kennedy Space Center. The day was ended with another hour at the beach house before the red team was again sent to bed.

Launch day, 16 January, prompted early wakeup times followed by a 7:30am departure from Patrick Air Force Base for Kennedy Space Center. Rona Ramon deserves a medal, at least, for having having all seven members of her party - including children - ready on time. After arriving at the Launch Control Center, all children were encouraged to stay in a separate room where they drew a mission poster for display on the walls of the facility. Such posters extending back into the history of the space program adorn the walls of the Launch Control Center. Adults by and large stayed in the Launch Director's office, generously made available for this purpose. Outside the window sat "Columbia" on the launch pad three miles distant, while immediately on the other side of the glass four bald eagles soared just above eye level. Time leading up to the launch was spent exercising will power by ignoring the various culinary items laid out before us, watching the crew being strapped into their seats aboard "Columbia" on TV, checking email, and other sundry activities.

At the nine minute hold we were all ushered to the roof atop the Launch Control Center shortly after which the countdown resumed. This time was spent posing for and taking photographs, making oneself comfortable and adjusting to the glare from sunlight reflecting from the white roof beneath our feet. As the countdown entered its last few seconds all eyes were directed towards the launch pad. Precisely on time, the main engines fired, followed by booster ignition six seconds later. First a crack, then a roar followed by vibrations were felt through our feet as "Columbia" lifted off. As the shuttle cleared the launch tower, four-year old Noaa Ramon exclaimed "I want to see that again!" White steam drifted up and away from the launch pad as "Columbia" accelerated upwards into the clear blue sky. The mix of colours reminded one of the Israeli flag, significant due to the presence of Ilan Ramon, Israel's first astronaut, aboard "Columbia". At the two minute mark the boosters separated and flew away to deploy their parachutes for splashdown in the waters off Cape Canaveral. The three engines at the aft of "Columbia" consumed fuel at the rate of 1,000 gallons per second until at eight minutes and 30 seconds "MECO" (main engine cutoff) was heard over the loudspeakers. "Columbia" had reached its apogee above the Earth. All that remained was to fire the engines one more time to establish a stable, constant radius orbit around the Earth before the perigee was reached. This occurred on schedule as we sat in the Launch Director's office after being led down from the roof. Awaiting us was the traditional serving of black-eyed peas and ham with cornbread for good luck, a tradition dating from the early days of the space program. After some time a ceremony was held in which the individual most responsible for the successful launch affixed an STS-107 patch to the Launch Director's door.

A little later we toured the Launch Control Center followed by breakup of our little band since two of us stayed on in Cocoa Beach while the rest returned immediately to Houston.

The mission is proceeding with great success and the home TV is tuned into the NASA channel 24 hours a day. On Saturday 18 January, the crew woke up to "Space Truckin'", and this morning, 22 January, myself and Kalpana's family held our first video conference with Kalpana in orbit.

J P Harrison

The foregoing are the personal observations of Jean-Pierre Harrison and do not constitute an official statement or endorsement by NASA or any NASA employee or contractor.

Commander Husband
Rick D Husband
William C McCool
Payload Commander
Michael P Anderson
Mission Specialist
Kalpana Chawla
Mission Specialist
Laurel B Clark
Payload Specialist
Ilan Ramon
Mission Specialist
David M Brown

Click here to go to the Columbia mission STS 107 Logs index